Uncle Warren

My uncle Warren passed away on (or near, my memory is not perfect) New Year’s day this year.  He had suffered a serious heart attack a few days earlier and declined to have bypass surgery.  He died at home with his family near.  His grandson Jeffery kept a vigil at his side during his final days.

Our family always pronounced his name as one syllable–“Warn”–that is the Ozark dialect, I suppose.  I was pretty old when I realized he had the same name as president Warren G. Harding or the actor Warren Beatty.

Uncle Warren reminds me of the cowboy philosopher in Tom T. Hall’s song, “Faster Horses”–except that he didn’t care much for cows.  Or maybe Clint Eastwood’s character in “Gran Torino”–except that he didn’t use such offensive language, at least in polite company.  He was a tough man; you wouldn’t want to pull a knife on him in a dark alley.

He had faced several hardships in life.  He and my aunt Betty lost twin girls at birth and then later a son, my cousin Jeffery, who was I believe about six or seven when he died from an illness.  Jeffery’s was the first funeral I remember attending.

In more recent years Aunt Betty was disabled with Alzheimer’s disease.  She died a year or two ago in a nursing home.

I visited my cousins at the family home a day or two after Uncle Warren’s death.  He wasn’t really a farmer (or a cowboy) but lived in the country.  I noticed the absence of coon hounds, something that had always been a feature at his place.  Mary Lynn reminded me that he usually had a few beagles around as well.

He spent several hours nearly every night following his hounds through the woods.  He told me last year he thought those nightly miles of walking was probably what helped stave off diabetes–the family curse–until he was in his seventies.  (Most of us develop the symptoms much earlier.)

I used to think it was a cruel pursuit–hunting animals for their fur–though I did tag along one night years ago and can testify to the thrill of following the bay of the hounds through a moonlit woods.  I changed my opinion somewhat when Margaret (our friend who keeps us supplied with fresh eggs from happy, free-range hens) told us about a coon that got into the chicken house and tore the heads off of a dozen or more hens.  Raccoons can be pretty cruel themselves.

I did enjoy some good conversations with uncle Warren in the last few years.  He always enjoyed kids (he showed it by teasing us when we were young), especially his grandchildren.   He remained close to his sisters and his kids, my cousins, Charles, Mary Lynn, and Rhonda.    I regret that he won’t be able to take our grandson Elijah fishing some day.

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