OF UNCLE BOBby
AND A WOODEN BOX
|"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." |
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
shoe horses, don't they?" 5-6-2006 Column