B&W photo of my grandfather (Alton), grandmother (Lillian) and her brother and sister in law, Louis and Ada, sitting on a front stoop. Lillian looks grim, Ada and Louis look faintly amused, hard to read my grandfather's expression

Family Stories: Uncle Louis

I’m doing some electronic file cleanup today, and ran across a piece of writing my dad must have sent me years ago but I have no recollection of reading. It’s an interesting window into the lives and attitudes of my grandparents and great aunt and uncle, all of whom I barely knew.

. . . a small piece of meat, bone, and gristle went flying out the kitchen window.

            ‘What was that your threw out? I asked.’

            ‘A piece of somethin’ that floated to the top of the gumbo, why?’

            ‘Shape a little like a banana with a little bone inside o’ it?’

            ‘Yeah, but so what?’

            ‘You idjit! That was the penis bone from de possum we trew in de gumbo!’

            ‘Animals do not have a bone in their dicks, Uncle Louis.’

            ‘Louis! You see now what you’ve got the boy doing with your filthy language?’ said my mother still in her housecoat.

            ‘He said “dick”, I said “penis”. Besides, possums do have a bone in they dicks!. I got an ole black guy in Opelousas that buys a five cent life insurance policy from me. He swears that if you got a possum’s penis bone on your watch chain, you can screw any girl you take a eye to – and Alton, you sure need somethin’ like that. Haven’t seen  a lot o’ girls knockin’ down your door. You better go outside and  find that thing.’

            I didn’t really  think that possums had  that bone, but I went out to that growing pile beneath the kitchen window, the window Uncle Louis usually sat beside, and began to rummage around in the pile with no fixed intention. Lacking such intention, of course a “banana-shaped bone”  came to the surface of the heap and it was exactly as my Uncle had described it. I never told him or any other participant in that gumbo meal that I’d found it – but I did wonder if that’s what got me in trouble so often. Or was it that pile of garbage, kitchen wastes, and insurance policy books and the occasional auto part chopped from his aging Plymouth?

Midden Heap. The humble midden heap, an accumulative garbage and trash heap, conveniently located near a cooking or eating area, served a family as a single, out-of-the-way spot to rid the living area of unwanted house items to isolate odours or as often to be a family archive. This has endowed academia an excellent means to describe the culture of “Everyman”.

Welcome to the Midden Heap.

Tales from the Midden Heap

The many tales of Uncle Louis.

No one ever called him “Lou-ee”, it was always “Lewis”. I would not have dreamed of calling him just “Louis” – he was always Uncle Louis. Why begin with this man to introduce my family’s midden heap? Uncle Louis would have started the heap (he was a practical man and a window was much closer than a garbage can and the idea of separating and setting out three bags to be recycled as we are told to do today would have led him to revolution).  Neither was Louis an innovator or  leader, but he was an entertainer par excellence. He didn’t always intend to entertain, it just happened . . .

Aunt Ada was Uncle Louis’ marvellous wife whom he loved and respected greatly, even if it didn’t seem that way at times. She was frequently also his foil . . .

One morning, the rooms of the small house were filled with visiting family, still asleep as Louis and Ada scurried about in the tiny bathroom trying to get ready for work. Ada was accustomed to hanging her undies she’d washed the night before here and there to dry. Louis was trying to get ready for his biweekly trip to Cajun country to sell insurance. At the moment, his own problem was plugging in his electric shaver.

‘Ada, move your goddam girdle, it makes the hole to small to get it in!’

‘Louis, that damn thing is already so small it’d fit through the eye of a needle!”

‘Oh yeah? Well let me tell you somethin’ – that thing’s been in and out o’ that hole so often dat de hole’s as big as some garage door but I can’t see around the size o’ yo’ girdle . . . ”

And so forth. By the time the laughter that pealed through the house penetrated the door of the bathroom, Louis had long since managed to get what was – from Ada’s point of view – a “tiny thing” into the “big hole,” they’d realized that their efforts had been heard by everyone. Embarrassed? Not Louis, he never missed a moment for applause. He strode bravely out of the bathroom with the voluminous towel tied as closely around his huge belly as was possible and came into the kitchen, took several deep bows as he rotated about the happy faces and  said,

‘It really isn’t so small, she wants a damn Greyhound bus!’

By now, Ada’s face was decidedly red, but her smile was large and forgiving. My dad was wearing what he’d call “proper” trousers with a pyjama shirt over his ribbed undershirt, he always wanted to uphold some sort of  standards at the dining table.

            My dad chimed in, ‘Now Lillian, Louis didn’t  mean anything. He was just teasing Little Alton (I was 15 years old and six feet two inches tall at the time and seething at this name). Let it go.’

            ‘Honestly, the two of you. You’d think Louis was raised in a bordello for the language he uses.’ She turned to Louis.  ‘And you. At least my husband covers up his  undershirt while the one my daffy brother wears barely covers his big belly and he couldn’t care less. Louis, we are New Orleans people and my bayou-bred husband has to show you how to dress!’

            With that, Lillian Straughan rose and pulling her housecoat around her flounced from the table, spreading acres of correctness and resentment in her wake.

            Welcome to the Midden Heap*, all aboard!

Al Straughan, © June 2008

* I guess the “Midden Heap” was or was intended to be a pile of miscellaneous writings, we’ll see whether I can unearth any more!

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