Uncle Hime, Part One
“Look at all them bottles. That’s a sin and a shame,” my grandmother said sadly. We were outside, diggin’ weeds and pluckin’ worms in Muh’s tomato patch. Well, to be more precise, we were in the tomato section of Muh’s garden patch, if a hundred foot long and wide could be rightly called a “patch.” That’s what she called it, so take it up with her, when you get to Heaven. And, if you don’t make it that high, I guess it really don’t matter then, will it?
Anyway, we were diggin’ and pluckin’, the weeds went into a trash bag, and the worms went into a jar, ‘specially the green cutworms. Made real good bait for sac-a-lait and sheephead that ran in the creek nearby. Between the garden and the fishin’, not to mention the local cattle and pigs the farmers raised, we ate pretty good. We raised tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, okra and corn, chickens, too, and the neighbors raised root crops and such, and everybody traded one with another and sold the surplus. We went to the grocery store for what we didn’t raise or trade, stuff like sugar, flour, you know, what they call “staples.” Life was simpler back then, and I don’t have the foggiest idea how we got to where we are now.
Anyway, we had taken a break, kinda stretched our backs, and Muh had cast her eye on a pile of wine bottles on the side of the barn my Uncle Hime had gotten rid of.
I guess I have to explain about my Uncle Hime.
I say “my” Uncle Hime, cuz I claim him, he’s my blood and kin. Muh’s baby brother, he was disabled and Muh got a check every month to help take care of him. I don’t know if it was the VA or Social Security, I just know that Muh took care of him the best she knew how. It was kind of hard on her, because he had a bad drinkin’ habit. You know how some people drink social-like, sittin’ around a table chattin’, playin’ dominoes or some such, with a beer, or a fifth amongst friends?
Well, no, Uncle Hime wasn’t a social drinker, no sir. And he didn’t waste time with beer. Nope, Uncle Hime was a T&T man, and he didn’t believe in sharing the bottle. When he made a purchase, that bottle of White Port was his, and his alone.
He’d sit on the barn step and read the label, don’t ask me why. It wasn’t as if T&T made something a con-no-seer would be interested in. But he’d read it, then he’d hold the neck of the bottle in one hand, and turn it upside-down. Then he’d take the palm of the other hand and give the bottle a good smack! Then he’d turn it over and twist the cap of in one motion, snnicck! He’d throw the cap as far as he could, like he knew he wouldn’t be needin’ it no mo’, not in this lifetime, no sir!
Then he’d take that first cold sip, and then, real quick, he’d read the label again, like the clerk had sold him the wrong brand. Then, he’d sip again, a good long one this time. Aahhh! Yep, he bought the right one, baby.
After that, it was all over but the shoutin’. He’d lean back and get to pullin’ on that wine, and before the sweat done dried off the bottle, he done drained it dry. Yes sir, and you could be sittin’ right next to him, he wouldn’t offer you a drop. Not one drop. He’d throw the bottle in the pile, and lean back and scratch his belly, like he waitin’ on that wine to settle in. Then, he’d snatch his hat and take off. He’d walk all over town, just rubbin’ hisself and mumblin’, aint talkin’ to nobody, just rubbin’ and mumblin’, till that first bottle wear off, then he’d make his way to the nearest likker store, and buy him a refill. Sometimes he’d get to walkin’, and he end up in Church Point, or Jennings, and he can’t find his way back. No problem, he’d just sit on somebody’s porch steps, they call the cops, and, since they all knew him, they’d call Muh to send somebody to pick him up. Time they drop him off, he’d go into the barn and sleep it off. Next day, Muh would have something good for him to eat, and she’d offer him a bath. Nine time outta ten he turn it down, but sometime she get outdone with him an’ make him get in the tub. I’d try to hang aroun’ for that, make sure he didn’t get too out the way with her, cuz when he had that wine on his mind, a bath was just one mountain he had to move outta the way, if you know what I mean.
Once, we was having our Fourth of July bobbycue, and Daddy and my older cousins and uncles was playin’ dominoes around the brick pit. The wimmens was inside, makin’ custard for the homemade ice cream an’ frying fish. I was around 12 or so, so I hung around the menfolk, fetchin’ beer and ice, you know, while they pretended not to see me sneak a quick sip before I handed it to ‘em. They had a fifth of Johnny Walker on the back side of the pit, so’s if Momma or one of my aunties came outside, they wouldn’t see ol’ Johnnie. Anyway, Uncle Hime was sittin’ on his step, with a fresh bottle of T&T, mindin’ his own bitness. Cousin Fetch said, “Watch this, Uncle Matt. Hey, Uncle Hime!”
Daddy said, “Leave Hime alone, man.”
Fetch said, “Hush, Uncle Matt,” and started laughing.
Daddy said, “Alright, smartazz, I aint tellin’ you nothin’. Hime aint botherin’ you none, why don’t you let him drink his wine in peace?”
Fetch had a few beers in him, cuz normally he would’a listened, but you know how Budweiser do, it put a plug in your ears, so nothin nobody says make sense. Fetch got up, and walked over to where Uncle Hime was, and tapped him on the arm and said, “Uncle Hime, why don’t you sit with us? We got some cold beer, an’ a fifth of Johnnie Walker Red, you welcome to drink as much as you want.”
Uncle Hime looked at him. We all got quiet, cuz we didn’t know how he was gonna take it. Uncle Hime was always a kind that kept to himself, didn’t bother nobody, y’know?
Hime looked at him, and Fetch told him agin’, “Come on, sit with us, and drink all you want.”
Hime picked up his T&T and put it to his mouth, and I’ll be dogged if he didn’t drain it dry. I mean dry, didn’t leave nothin’ behind! Then he threw the bottle on the pile, stood up, and said, “W-w-where-where at?” Uncle Hime kinda stammered when he talk, y’know.
Fetch led him over to where we were, set him down in a chair, and said, “Now we is actin’ like kinfolks, we all sittin’ together,” and he give Daddy a wink.
Daddy say, “Yo’ head too hard for yo own good.” Fetch just laughed, and slapped Uncle Hime on the shoulder, and he asked him, “You wanna play a round with us, Unc?”
Uncle Hime looked at him and say, “P-pas-pass me th-that-that bottle.”
Daddy snorted, and Fetch said, “What?”
Uncle Hime pointed at Johnny and said, “P-p-p-pass me that bottle.”
Well, now Fetch was in a fix, seein’ he was the one who invited Uncle Hime over in the first place, specially when Hime wasn’t askin’ to come over. Fetch looked around the menfolk, but he wasn’t getting no help.
Daddy said, “You the one brought him over here, now give him what he want.”
Fetch reached over to pick up the bottle, kinda slow, cuz him and Johnnie was real good friends, if you know what I mean. He picked it up, and hand it to Uncle Hime. Hime took it, and looked at the label.
Daddy reached in his pocket, quick-like, pulled out a ten-spot, and dropped it on the table. “Bet’cha he kill it ‘fo he put it on the ground,” Daddy said.
The two other guys, Homer and Cousin Billy, pulled out a few bills, but the tenner had some room left.
“What you say, Cuz? Want what’s left over?” Daddy asked Fetch, kinda laughin’ at him. Hime was still staring at the label, I dunno why, maybe cuz it wasn’t sayin’ what it usually say. Your guess is good as mine.
Fetch dropped a bill and some change. “Aint no way he could kill that. Not that much. He a wine drinker, not a Scotch drinker. He might hit some, but Johnnie gonna kick his azz ‘fo he finish.” Daddy looked at Hime, who was still reading the label. Daddy reach in his back pocket, pull out his wallet, and fished out a twenty, and he says, “How much o’ that you want, nigga? Hime gonna drain Johnny dry.”
My eyes popped, and I wasn’t the only one. Homer made a motion at his back pocket, but Billy reach over and grab his arm and says, “Don’t be a fool, man. Anybody that can drink as much’a that Scotch in one sittin’, it be Hime.”
Daddy says, “Hurry up and drop yo money, ‘fo he starts drinkin’ Once he unscrew that cap, all bets is off.”
Fetch rubbed his chin, tryin’ to decide. Uncle Hime was sittin’ calm, just lookin’ at that label, like he didn’t have a care in the world. Fetch reached in his back pocket, pull out a ten-spot, and says, “If I lose twenny, I have to shoot you and Uncle Hime,” and drop the ten on the table.
Daddy say to me, “Want some o’ this, son?”
I says, real quick, “Hell, no!” I wasn’t crazy, I had seen Uncle Hime in action. T&T or Johnny, brown likker or white, didn’t make no difference to him.
Daddy handed Fetch a five off the table. Fetch took it, and stuck it in his pocket. We all looked at Uncle Hime, who had braced the bottle on his knee. He scratched his head, just as slow and calm as you please. We watched, and the tension started to build up. Daddy was leanin’ back in his chair, just waiting to see what Uncle Hime would do. Daddy had told me once, “Son, once you put yo’ money on the table, jes’ pretend it aint yours. That way, if you win, great, and if you lose, it don’t matter none, it wasn’t yours anyway.”
Time passed a bit, and Fetch was just a-sweatin’. It started gettin’ to him, you could tell.
He said, “Come on, Uncle Hime, you can’t hold the bottle all day. Hit it, an’ pass it.” Hime never give him a glance. He bounced the bottle on his knee, an’ you could hear Johnny, just a-splashin’. Finally, it just got too much for Fetch, and he says, “Damn, Uncle Hime! Shit, or get off the pot!”
Daddy started laughing at him, Fetch, I mean. It was kinda funny, I guess, specially since I didn’t have no money on the table to worry about. Anyway, Hime reads the bottle again, then he reach for the cap, an’ I holds my breath while he twist it off. Sure ‘nuff, he throw it away. Daddy lean forward, but he didn’t say nothing. Uncle Hime took a sip, and look at the label with a surprised look on his face.
Fetch started laughin’, an says, “Ya see? He aint used to nothin’ like that.”
I says, “He do the same thing with his T&T,” and Daddy says “Hush, son, don’t give the play away.”
Uncle Hime took a second pull, longer this time.
Fetch says, “That got to knock ‘im down,” but Hime didn’t even blink. He took another draw on it, and he says, “Aaaahhh!” like he was drinkin’ a cold bottle of Coke. He smacked his lips an’ belch, then he swirled the bottle around a bit. Then he leaned the bottle back, and started puttin’ some heavy hittin’ on po’ Johnny. Gulp, gulp, gulp, glug-glug-glugg, and that was it. He held it up for a few more seconds to catch the dregs, then stood up and threw it in the pile.
Fetch said, “Damn!” Billy and Homer just shook their heads while Daddy pulled in the money.
Uncle Hime turned to Daddy, and he hold out his hand an’ says, “Five.”
Daddy said, “What?”
Hime says, “Giv-giv-gimmie five!”
Daddy didn’t say nothin’, just hand Uncle Hime a five-spot. Hime took it, and pointed at the BBQ pit. “You-you-gonna bu-bu-burn the chicken, you ain-ain-aint careful,” and he walked off, straight as a razor.
You know Uncle Hime. He stammer a bit…..