He was tall and lanky, with a beard and piercing eyes. He didn't participate much in the conversations about long ago-events in the hills of Kentucky and the exploits of husbands and wives. He sat in an old easy chair, smoking cigarettes, his face illuminated in firelight like an otherworldly creature. After awhile, he grabbed his car keys and left without a word, driving out into the darkness of the Indiana countryside.
Was he a secret agent, off to fight evil Russian spies? Or maybe he was a wizard, off to the cemetery to summon the spirits of the undead?
I thought he was the coolest guy in the world.
But the curtain was always drawn.
Uncle Edd never played with us, and he didn't say much, but he wasn't indifferent. He often brought out gifts of comic books and candy. He sent me a Christmas present every year -- an unabridged dictionary, a world atlas. It's just that he was the strong, silent type, not used to kids.
Later I discovered that he was a writer! He didn't make a living off his writing, but he published some photo-journalism, and some Western stories, back when Western stories were popular. After he died, my cousin sent me one: "My Sister Sue," about a female gunslinger who rescues the male narrator from the villain.
Coolest guy in the world!
After I "figured it" out in 1978, it occurred to me that Uncle Edd might be gay. After all, he was over 40 years old, not married, and he had never been seen with a woman or mentioned a girlfriend. My mother said that if he was a Catholic, he would have become a monk.
But before I could bring up the subject, my Grandpa Howard died, and three weeks later Uncle Edd shocked everyone by moving in with a widow with three teenage sons. Apparently they had been dating for years without telling anyone, because they didn't want Grandpa Howard to feel guilty about Edd living there to take care of him.
Not gay. Still pretty cool.
I have a good story about Uncle Edd.
One day when we were nine or ten years old, Cousin Buster and I sneaked into the barn, planning to steal some eggs. The outhouse gate was closed. In the dim light, we could see Uncle Edd's pants drawn around his ankles inside.
"He's cleaning his gun in there," Cousin Buster whispered. "An AK-47. He shoots Russians with it. Let's go up and look." He pointed up to the loft.
"That doesn't sound like a good idea," I whispered. "Uncle Edd'll get mad."
"He won't get mad -- I do it all the time. Besides, from up there you can see his peter."
I don't know why Cousin Buster thought that male nudity would seal the deal, but it did. We climbed up to the loft, careful that the rickety wooden ladder didn't creak.
The stench was overpowering.
But Cousin Buster was right -- I could see his peter, a gleam of white in the dim light.
And lost my balance and tumbled down into the outhouse, crashing into the wall and onto Uncle Edd's lap.
Later, after three stitches in my head a tetanus shot, and a lot of yelling from my parents, I was back at Aunt Nora's house, where we were staying.
"Whatever got into you?" she asked. "Climbing onto an old outhouse like that!"
"I wanted to see Uncle Edd's gun," I said.
My older cousins started laughing. It would be ten years before I understood the joke.
See also: Cousin Buster and I Get God Mad and Seeing Cousin Joe's Shame.