We all have a “character” in our lives. For some of us, that character may be as peripheral as the lady down the street with 18 cats, all named after famous authors; or the old guy in the next apartment who always wears a sea-captain’s hat and says “Ahoy, Matey” when he meets you in the hall. Even though you know the largest body of water he’s ever seen is the swimming hole at the end of main street, you answer in kind, give him a salute and carry on your way. He’s harmless, and if it makes him happy to imagine he’s on the open seas, captaining his vessel, ever-vigilant for pirates, that’s fine with you.
The “character” in the Bag Lady’s life is the Cowboy’s uncle. He looks like a cross between Festus (Matt Dillon’s sidekick) and Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. He has looked exactly the same for 50-odd years (the Bag Lady knows this, because she has seen photos of him from his youth!) and his looks will probably never change. He HAS changed in recent years, though. About 10 years ago, he moved into a senior’s lodge in the little town where he lives, and started THINKING he was old. So he got old overnight.
A life-long bachelor, he has managed to survive 75 years unencumbered by wife, children, a home, or any sense of responsibility. He never accumulated much beyond what he could carry down the road. When he did have more than he could carry, he would abandon it with nary a backwards glance. He worked winters in logging camps, and spent summers on the chuckwagon circuit, or working on his brother’s cattle ranch.
He has spent his life staying with friends in one place after another, always coming back to his brother when he was down on his luck. Which was often, because as soon as he had money in his pocket, he was in the bar, drinking with his ‘buddies’ until the money was gone.
In his youth, he was incredibly fast on his feet – could catch a rabbit with his bare hands - and could work hard if he wanted to. He had a hair-trigger temper, and would take off down the road at the least slight, real or imagined. Occasionally, it would be years until he showed up again, down and out, looking for a place to stay. His brother always took him in. Now, with his brother gone, Uncle G. stays with the Cowboy.
When the Cowboy was young, Uncle G. was his hero. He told great stories, and the Cowboy would hang on his every word. The Cowboy would put his tiny feet into Uncle G.’s cowboy boots and stomp around, pretending to be a wrangler.
Once the Cowboy was out on his own in the world, Uncle G. would stay with him, ostensibly helping on the ranch. Uncle G. was totally incompetent when it came to running any kind of machinery. He once took off down the field in the combine, forgetting to take the brake off. Wasn’t too long before the Cowboy (back at the house) noticed a plume of smoke from up on the field and decided he had better go have a look. There was Uncle G., blithely driving along the field, with the entire row smoking behind him. The brake had gotten hot; the shoes fell out into the swath and set it on fire. Uncle G. never looks back. When the Cowboy’s father found out, he yelled, “You didn’t let him drive my combine!!?”
Another time, the Cowboy got the grain-truck stuck in the mud. He got Uncle G. to bring the tractor to pull out the grain-truck. Uncle G. hooked up the chain, jumped in the tractor and took off, never looking back. Pulled the bumper right off the grain-truck. The Cowboy’s father’s response? You guessed it. “You didn’t let him drive the tractor, did you!!?”
Uncle G. is full of stories. In fact, he never stops talking. He will tell you his stories over and over. And over. He has foot and mouth disease. As soon as his feet hit the floor, his mouth opens. He talks constantly, and the Bag Lady, being accustomed to spending a good portion of her day alone, has a hard time with that. She was raised to be polite to her elders, to never interrupt, and to never leave a room when someone is talking. She has spent many of his visits feeling trapped, unable to maintain her daily routine because she couldn’t bring herself to be rude. Uncle G. would follow her from room to room, telling his stories. He even followed her into the bathroom one day!
Uncle G. has been visiting the Cowboy and the Bag Lady. The Bag Lady has been politely listening to stories, and not getting any housework done. Uncle G. left today. As peace descends once more on the Bag Lady’s house, she remembers what her mother always said about house guests:
“House guests are like fish – they should be thrown out after 3 days.”