chasing Charlie

My Appalachian roots are deep in the wilds of southern West Virginia/northwestern Virginia. I spent every summer of my childhood / teen years with my grandparents in WVa. I recall fondly many activities including berry picking and making jam, wildflower picking and visiting relatives. A more vivid memory is that of visiting my grandfather's aunt Sally. Sally lived just over the mountain in Tazwell County, Va., in the old family farmhouse. It was a rambling wreck of a home, added onto as fortunes waxed; fallen into disrepair as fortunes waned. I usually did not enjoy the 'visiting relatives' part of my summers. I wanted to be outside roaming the mountains, playing with the dogs. Not cooped up inside with 'old folks.'

Typically, we'd all be greeted with noisy kisses and big hugs, pinching of youthful cheeks; then offered a 'soda' - 7-up or RC cola in a glass bottle. To the 'parlor' we'd go and sit while family gossip ensued. I especially liked Aunt Sally's house because it had so many rooms and lots of dusty out of the way poking-into places. But I was forced to sit with the adults. On one such visit, I remember staring out the window at a patch of mountain sunshine and all of a sudden a grizzly, bearded old man popped up in the window and stared right back at me! I squealed. The adults in the room pretended nothing had happened and kept talking right over me. I squirmed. I looked again. Gone. Did I see right ??? A few more sips of my 7-up. Then JUMP! The MAN, again, peeking around the corner of the door into the parlor. I squealed, again! This time Aunt Sally laughed and told me, "That's your great-great uncle Charlie. He's shy." I got permission to go outside. I was going on a hunt. The Charlie-hunt. He'd hide around doors, peeking at me. I'd jump and say BOO! He ran. I followed. Much like chasing a feral cat, I chased Charlie: through the house, outside, around corners, in and out of barns - I almost caught him in the springhouse, once. I just wanted to SEE him. Ask him endless questions like 'Why is your beard so long and white?' Later that night my mom tried to explain Uncle Charlie's strange behavior to me. Apparently he was a war veteran (and figuring ages and such, I'm thinking he fought in WWI) and came home from the war 'that way.' Sally, his sister, never married. She cared for her brother Charlie and her aging mother until they both passed away.

Charlie never spoke. He came into the kitchen once when Sally called him and took a bottle of soda. But he skittered away quickly. I never hugged him or talked to him. But I like to think he enjoyed our games of 'hide & seek' after we both got over our initial 'fear' of one another. At least, I hope he did. Maybe my churlish self terrorized him!! EGADS!!!!



Anonymous said...

Many came back from war "that way", unfortunately.


Adullamite said...

Excellent story. many did indeed suffer, and many do today, from shell shock, or Post traumatic stress disorder as they call it today.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

No, I think you probably did more good than you realize.