Monday, January 9, 2023

Summer 1970: Looking for Uncle Edd's Gun

Year after year, summertime and Christmastime, we would visit my Grandpa Prater in the old farmhouse outside of Garrett, Indiana, and Uncle Edd was there.

He was tall and lanky, with a beard and piercing eyes.  He didn't participate much in Mom and Dad and Grandpa's evocations of long ago-events in the hills of Kentucky, or the more recent exploits of uncles and aunts.  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.

My Cousin Buster lived nearby, and saw him all the time, but he, too, thought of Uncle Edd as a mysterious, otherworldly character.  One of his favorite games was spying, hiding beneath Uncle Edd's bedroom window and trying to catch a glimpse of what he had in there.  Spy equipment?  Treasure? Magical implements?

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!

I also discovered the reason he left during our visits to drive into the Indiana darkness.  He wasn't a spy or a necromancer after all.  He was going to work at the night shift at the foundry.  On the nights he wasn't working, he went to a tavern downtown.

Still cool.

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 Prater 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 Prater to feel guilty about Edd living there to take care of him.

Not gay.  Still pretty cool.

He died in 2010, leaving a library of over 3,000 books on every subject imaginable.  My nephew hauled three carloads back to his apartment.

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 outhouse was a little stall built where the loft met the barn wall.  It had no ceiling -- I could look right into it, down to where Uncle Edd was sitting on a bench with a little hole in it.  He wasn't cleaning his gun after all -- he was reading Photoplay magazine, with a Sears catalog next to him, to use as toilet paper.

The stench was overpowering.

But Cousin Buster was right -- I could see his peter, a gleam of white in the dim light.

I bent my head down to get a better look.

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 had already explained a million times, so I just said, curtly, "I wanted to see Uncle Edd's gun."

My older cousins started laughing.  It would be ten years before I understood the joke.


  1. Um, an AK-47 is a Russian gun...

    You've got to admire Kalashnikov's design, though. There's a reason terrorists around the world prefer the Kalash.

    1. I imagine Cousin Buster just said the first gun that came to mind, since he was just making it up to convince me to participate in the spying.

  2. I think every guy has cleaned his gun in the bathroom before. In those pre-internet days, magazines were often involved.



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