Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sifting Through the Shavings

My Uncle Raymond McWhorter lived to the ripe old age of ninety-five. Actually he was my great-uncle being married to my grandfather’s younger sister Ann. Together Raymond and Ann raised five children, all of whom went on to live successful, productive, and honest lives. Uncle Raymond did a lot of things in his life. He was deputy sheriff for a while and made an unsuccessful bid to become sheriff. He drove a school bus and ran a gas station for brief periods of time. Mostly he was a farmer and he always had a truck that enabled him to pick up a few extra dollars hauling for neighbors and others who did not have a truck. Uncle Raymond lived slow and easy never getting overly excited about much. That is probably what made him a good trader and such a good at handling cattle (and maybe what helped him to live so long). When I knew Uncle Raymond he would go to the stockyards two or three times a week. I guess he practiced what we called “pinhooking”. Meaning that he would go to the sale barn, buy a animal or two from those bringing cattle to market, in the hopes of reselling them at a small profit perhaps even that same day. Or maybe he just went to the stock yards because it was a good place to loaf and catch up on the news. I knew Uncle Raymond as a kind and gracious man who was always willing to help a family member or neighbor. He took an interest in people, even if you were a great nephew who was just a boy. Now Uncle Raymond had his vices. He smoked a lot of Lucky Strikes. He was known to have sampled his share of Kentucky Whiskey (though I have to say I never detected any evidence of that). For leisure he loved to fox hunt and would stay out all night with his dogs and buddies enjoying the sport. Sometimes he would have to spend the daylight hours rounding up his dogs. He would sooner sleep in a lawn chair in the yard, day or night, than he would sleep in the house. But if that is the most harmful thing you can say about a person you really don’t have much to say. That is particularly so when these habits are accompanied with a persona of kindness and charm.

Uncle Raymond was not a churchman. But that changed one Sunday afternoon when he was in his mid 60’s. Upon testimony and encouragement given by a family member he gave his heart to the Lord and that very day was baptized into Christ and joined the fellowship of the Mt. Carmel Christian Church. To the surprise of a lot of folks he became a faithful worshipper of the Lord Jesus. As Aunt Ann aged she developed Alzheimer’s. When this occurred Uncle Raymond blossomed into a gentle and compassionate caregiver. For two years he barely left her side tending to her every need. When it finally became necessary to transition her to a nursing home he still made the trip every day to see her.

After Aunt Ann passed away Uncle Raymond re-married. Stories get a little twisted sometimes but here is the way I heard it: One of Uncle Raymond’s old fox hunting buddies had died. Uncle Raymond called his widow one day and said “I am looking for a wife.  Do you want to get married”? She said “I don’t know I’ll have to think about it”. Two hours later he calls her back and said “Well did you think about it”. The details are probably a little different than that but he and Mary did get married and enjoyed several years together before she passed away. Sometime before she passed he had also buried one of his sons.
I stopped to visit Uncle Raymond one day not to long after Mary had died. His eyesight was failing him. But I found him sitting under a shade tree whittling. He did a lot of that because there were enough shavings under that tree to fill a garbage bag. I enjoyed visiting with him. I asked him a few questions and then waited and listened to his careful drawn out responses. It took time to listen to Uncle Raymond. He was not going to give you much quick. He was not going to give you any information he did not want to tell you. That is the way he always was and that part of him had not changed with age. He said something to me that day that I have reflected upon quite a bit. He said “I don’t know why I whittle, I don’t make anything. I just whittle. It is just something to do”.  I guess if you live to be ninety-five and all your friends are dead and gone, you have buried two wives and one son, and your eyesight has failed and you are not able to do much and you are limited in where you can go, finding a shade tree and whittling is an ok thing to do. But I think he did make something. He made shavings. And as he whittled he looked down into those shavings and remembered and relived and reflected on his life. Each shaving he whittled from those sticks of wood was part of his life story. In that pile of shavings were his memories of joys and sorrows, people and places, events and ideas. In that pile of shavings were his thoughts of who he was and who he had become and who he would become in that glorious place he would go when his life on earth was over. Uncle Raymond kept most of his thoughts close to his vest. But if I had the opportunity to sift through that pile of shavings I think I might have his whole story.

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