I had the privilege of growing up around a lot of loving people. No, I don’t remember any of them ever telling me they love me but clearly their actions reflected it. Most all of them had time to make a little boy feel special; from the biscuits the women baked just to see me devour them to the stories they would tell as they watched my enraptured facial expressions.
I need to tell more of the stories that thrilled my ears as they settled into secret places in my inquisitive mind.
Today, I will tell one from a favorite uncle of mine, Uncle Elmer Duvall.
Uncle Elmer had served at sea during World War II and rambled around the United States for as long as I knew him. He just took all kinds of jobs, from rough necking on oil rigs, sailing as a merchant marine, to waiting tables in posh restaurants in New Orleans. He never had much but I really loved him and was especially mindful when he was around. He never married but loved his baby sister Maggie, my mother, and frequently visited in our home.
One particular story that he told me in private was of an encounter with a shoe shine boy on the streets of the Crescent City.
He had just finished watching the young man spit polish his shoes to a shine that would have made the captains of the ships he had served on proud. Uncle Elmer liked to dress well and those shoes gave him a look that pleased him this day.
He lifted himself up from the makeshift box that the boy used for his customers to sit on, pulled change from his pocket, poured it carefully into his left hand, sorted around, pulled out a shiny new dime, handed it to the boy, and said, “Much obliged son.”
The young boy grinned as his eyes focused in on the remaining change in Uncle Elmer’s hand, “Thank you sir.”
As Uncle Elmer turned to walk away, the little boy spoke up, “Excuse me sir.”
Uncle Elmer turned and returned the boys gaze, “Yes son, what can I do for you?”
The boy really wanted that bright silver quarter that stood out from the other coins that had been in Uncle Elmer’s hand just a few seconds ago.
“Mr. Elmer, for that case quarter you have I will tell you where you got your shoes, I will tell how many children your father had, and then I will tell you what state you were born in.”
Intrigued, he listened carefully to the boy’s words. Now how could this boy possible know those three facts about me? In fact, no one around here knows that much about me.
“Ok son, you have a deal; Now tell me where I got my shoes?”
“That’s easy the boy said, you got your shoes on your feet.”
Uncle Elmer thought a second and said, “Your right about that, now tell me how many children did my father have.” Very few knew that fact seeing that Uncle Elmer’s father had been married before he married Elmer’s mother and there were more than fifteen children between both wives.
“Your father didn’t have any children, your mother had ‘em all.”
Uncle Elmer thought again and said, “I can’t argue with your logic there; now tell me what state was I born in?”
“That’s the easiest question of all, you were born in the state of infancy.”
“Okay, you win,” Uncle Elmer just smiled, pulled out that shiny new case quarter that had hardly had time to cool since he had received it as part of his wages just a short time ago and handed it to the youngster.
It didn’t bother him at all that an eleven-year-old had just hornswoggled him.
When Uncle Elmer related the story to me, he was very clear that he had a lot of respect for that young entrepreneur.
Thank You Elmer Duvall for sharing your life and tales with me.
by Wayne Brady 2/9/2016