Carl Wells grew up and lived in the vicinity of East Bernstadt and Hazel Green in Laurel County, KY. I doubt if he ever traveled very far from that vicinity in his life. Carl was what most people in the area would call “simple”. Or they might say he was “a little off” or that he was “not right”. By those expressions they were not being unkind. Rather they were trying to describe his mental and social capabilities in a polite way. I am sure there were many who expressed their thoughts about him with less kind words.
I guess Carl lived with family members and I think he did a few odd jobs for people in order to get a little money to sustain him. When I was growing up I would see Carl on the streets of East Bernstadt but mostly I would see him at visitation services at the funeral home. If Carl knew the deceased or was the least bit related to you he would be at the funeral home to pay his respects. When Carl saw me he would greet me with “Hey Cous – you and I’s kin”. He would get this goofy grin on his face that revealed his pride that he had done his research and knew our family connection and was able to educate me about it. Carl was right. We were related. His mother and my great-grandmother were sisters. I think that made us third cousins. My great-grandmother’s name was Sally and his mother’s name was Laura. There maiden name was Dees. If you lived in Laurel County, KY and had Dees in your family lineage that meant you had a lot of kinfolks. Carl knew the family tree and all the branches. He was proud of his knowledge and he was proud of his kin. Problem was most of his kin were not nearly as proud to claim him as he was to claim them. We were a little embarrassed by Carl’s eccentric behavior. When he reminded us of our shared bloodlines we would acknowledge his greeting with a nod and a grunt and move on hoping that he would not spread the news of our kinship very far. We should have been ashamed ourselves. I honestly hope that Carl did not recognize and internalize our indifference. But he was pretty intuitive and I suspect he did.
I have not seen Carl Wells in nearly forty years. I guess he has long since passed. But I have thought about him a lot over the past decades. In reflecting upon him, Carl Wells has taught me a valuable lesson. He taught me to be proud of my kin. I mean, think about it. Here was a man who had observed and asked questions and kept a record in his head of who he was kin to. When he saw you he wanted to acknowledge it to you and advertise it to others. I think if someone is that proud of me then I should be proud of them! So I have decided to be proud of my kin, the good ones and the bad ones.
I hope I meet up with Carl one day on the streets of glory. If I can get to him before he gets to me I am going to say “Hey Cous- you and I’s kin”.