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 Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Peacock, Texas

MEMORIES OF UNCLE BOB
AND A WOODEN BOX

by Delores Miles
They shoe horse
"Really he must have been a most intelligent man for how else could he have known to give a child joy you must let them have it a little at a time."

The old town was quite small, really just a little farming village in the middle of Texas. The buildings were weather worn and most of them were empty showing signs of better days. The main street consisted of a grocery store with a slat bench in front of one of the two plate glass, dusty windows, a drug store where the people gathered for first aid supplies, ice cream cones, cold sodas and the latest comic books/magazines. The third building held the post office that had been established in a building that by the sign hanging overhead told you it had once been Smith and Son's Mercantile store. Watching the reflection in the windows you were attracted to the windmill across the street which was also responsible for the screeching noise you could hear. Many months had probably went by since it's blades had been greased and the noises of it, along with the sound the anvil and tools being sharpened on the whetting wheel from the blacksmith shop were the only sounds of disturbance in the little town.

At the north end of main street and setting back about twelve feet was the gas station-garage with it's dirt drive and domino table, where all the older men of the town spent most of their days playing their games. Then a small white house with a green top would catch your eye. It set about a half-a-mile north west of the gas station. Across the field of cotton you could see that the yard of beautiful flowers and fruit trees were neatly kept. This house was owned by a man I shall never forget, although I only remember him through the eyes of a child. Yes, Uncle Bob lived here and he had a magic box.

Uncle Bob wasn't a blood relative to anyone in this community but everyone called him Uncle Bob. He had been a grown man with a family when my mother was a child and she'd often told me stories of him. He'd always carried trinkets in his saddle bag for the children he knew. Knowing my mother had a great desire for a ring to wear; he'd added this to his saddle bag collection on one of his trips to town. I could feel the excitement still as my mother told how many years ago he handed her the little gold ring and how she had admired and loved the sparkling red heart. She had cried for many nights when she lost it and Uncle Bob knowing of this surprised her again with the same little ring or so she thought it to be. Of course my mother had never forgotten the kindness this man had shown her as lonely country child. So it was through my Mother I had the pleasure of knowing Uncle Bob.

A day in town was like a holiday for a country family and especially a child. Oh, it was wonderful to have cold sodas, ice cream and my favorite comic books to read. I could play with other children my age. My parents always bought groceries, supplies of things they'd need to last a month, took tools to the black smith to be sharpened and pick up their mail. When all of this was taken care of Daddy would wonder over to the gas station to discuss current events and crops with the other farmers. Mother and I would start down the dirt street that led to Uncle Bob and his wife's house. They were now too old to make the short journey to town.

I can still remember the excitement I felt on those visits as I skipped along holding Mother's hand. She would say, "We must go visit them because they are old folks and they need and enjoy company". This wasn't why I went happily down the dirt street, leaving all my playmates behind. There was a certain wooden box that I believed to be magic and it drew me like a magnet. I always went thinking that perhaps this day Uncle Bob would lift the lid in full view of me and tell me to help myself to its contents. I figured that would be the most wonderful happening of my life but Uncle Bob never allowed me that privilege and now that I'm grown , I've found that Uncle Bob gave me one of the most valuable gifts a child can receive by not allowing me to have my wish. If you pay careful attention as you read these next few paragraphs I will convey to you what this gift was, as I tell of Uncle Bob and his antics.

About half way down the dirt street we could see Uncle Bob sitting in the shade, under the large old peach tree. When his ears picked up the vibration of our voices, he'd stand as straight as his crippled back would allow and put one hand up to shield the sun rays from his tired old eyes, framed with gold rimmed glasses and strain to see who his company would be. With the other hand he'd adjust the elastic suspenders that were attached to neatly pressed, khaki pants and you could see a smile cross his wrinkled warm, friendly face as he'd roar, "Hello, nice day ain't it". At this point I'd always tear loose from Mother's grip on my small hand and run as fast as I could to hug Uncle Bob's neck. He'd hug me back and tell me how much I'd grown, that I was getting pretty and that he believed I was going to be as nice a little girl as my Mother had been. All this time my eyes were glued longingly on the wooden box. Yes, in his aging years Uncle Bob had traded his saddle bags and horse for a wooden box and a nail keg stool. Money was scarce for him, so he filled the box with hand carved wooden toys that he carved beneath the drooping branches of the old peach tree.

When finally after a long time (probably five minutes) Uncle Bob's wife, Mother and I were seated in the cane bottom chairs, Uncle Bob would sit down facing us on his nail keg stool with the wooden box in front of him with the lid opening toward me. He'd begin to reminisce of days gone by. I'm sure now that they were not all true. It didn't matter then for I heard very little of what he said for all I could think of was when he would open the wooden box. Uncle Bob usually started off by recalling, "When I first came to this county as a bare footed youngster, there wasn't even a tree to get a switch." Then he'd slowly pull the dancing dolls from the wooden box. There were about four different ones joined together by their hands like dolls you cut from folded paper. Each body part was separate and I suppose they were held together with bolts and wires but I never really knew for they were dressed in crepe paper dresses of many different colors with ruffles and frills. They were attached to one long board that was made of several smaller boards joined with bolts. Uncle Bob held the other ends with his hands while the dolls danced, kicked their legs and swayed to and fro as they kept time to the rhythm of Uncle Bob's colorful tales. Then he'd go on to say, "Our nearest neighbor lived ten miles away, near the one room schoolhouse and we had to walk through the snow to go to school". The dolls would move more slowly and just before they would get completely still, he'd add, "Jack rabbits had only one ear". He'd lean forward, roaring with laughter and the dolls would dance with more movement and gaiety than ever before so much that I'd almost believe that they were dancing on their own will. I would have given anything to have held those dolls and made them dance but that was one thing I learned on my first visit that I couldn't touch them or the wooden toys.

Once more Uncle Bob would go on with his stories and the dolls would go back in the box to be replaced by a miniature wooden model A car with a rumble seat, windmill that had tin blades and a sucker rod, frogs that hopped, horses pulling buggies and wagons. There were mules pulling plows and I think the most unusual wooden toy was a doll that resembled Aunt Jerima. All these toys were mobile by pulling strings that controlled their moveable parts. Uncle Bob kept me sitting still through his many tales and I never once got tired of seeing him take toys from the box. Last of all he'd bring out chewing gum and candy while I knew these I could keep for my very own, I'd of gladly traded them for one chance to hold the wooden toys or to have took them from the box myself.

Uncle Bob's wife was always quarreling and saying that if she would let him he'd keep that box of wood in her neat clean house. She'd get after him for messing up the neatly swept yard with his wood shavings or for telling such yarns in front of ladies and little girls. He'd just laugh, wink at me and began whittling, doing toy act and telling yarns again. I thought she treated him just the way my parents treated me and I couldn't understand why she didn't love those wooden toys as I did.

Always and much to my disappointment Daddy would arrive to take us home. I reluctantly would start to leave. Then Uncle Bob would slowly stand up, closing his knife and putting it into his pocket. He would hand me what had been a block of wood but now was a perfectly carved wooden trinket. Even now I wonder if he carved it while I watched or if it came from the magic box. It wasn't really important for I would be so happy and hate to leave so bad. I'd hardly notice the trinket until I was on my way home. Once I even decided that I would just live with Uncle Bob beneath the peach tree but my parents insisted that I go with them. I left with tears rolling down my cheeks. Uncle Bob whispered that if I wouldn't cry he'd have some wooden, dancing dolls for me to take home next time I visited. I left happy and looking forward for our trip to town the next month.

The next week Uncle Bob became very ill and had to lie quietly in bed for many weeks. I never got to go back to visit him again and he never got the chance to carve and fix my dancing dolls. Before too much longer he passed away. He was eighty two years of age. I went to the funeral with my parents. It seemed everyone in the little community was there to pay their last respects to Uncle Bob. As people filed by his coffin, the looks on their faces let you know that the tales he told and the smiles he'd worn would long be remembered. As I walked slowly down the isles behind my Mother I saw visions of dancing dolls with rustling paper skirts, wooden trinkets of different kinds and most surprising of all a Jack rabbit with one ear. Then as I stood on tip toes and peeped into the coffin, Uncle Bob smiled at me and I smiled back as I whispered good bye to a man who had been old in years and still a child at heart. Walking sadly out of the church building, I glanced over my shoulder to see his wife crying so softly as if she really had cared for Uncle Bob. Then I remembered the ruffles and frills and I knew that Uncle Bob did not sew them.

Uncle Bob had the heart of a child but he wasn't childish for he gave of himself to the young as well as the old. Really he must have been a most intelligent man for how else could he have known to give a child joy you must let them have it a little at a time. You always put back a little for later.

What child is happy when he gets everything he wishes for? In the time we live in now, we leave it to television, expensive toys and people trained to entertain our children. I have yet to see the joy on my children's face that I felt in my heart as Uncle Bob brought his wooden toys, one at a time from his magic wooden box.

Delores Miles
"They shoe horses, don't they?" 5-6-2006 Column

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This page last modified: May 6, 2006