Uncle Tom was my hero, the youngest brother to my mom, and the last to leave home. He was there when I first remember going to grandmother’s house in Alabama, living in the back room where I was not allowed, because it was off limits to a little boy with too much energy.
Tom was almost ten years older than I was; just about the same number of years that now separates my brother and me. To me Tom was there to play with me, and when he did not want to, I would “try self” as I was known to say and do in those days. To “try” myself meant I would through a small fit – just a tiny one. The attractive fit consisted of standing in one place, stomping my feet up and down, and flapping both my ears with my hands as I screamed!
I suddenly stopped “trying myself” one day a few years later when a man, a stranger to me who worked with my dad, got into the backseat where I was engaged in one of my tantrums. I only became aware of him as he said in a loud voice, “Here son, let me clean you off a place,” as he took off his ball cap and made dusting moves back and forth in the floorboard near my feet. “Now, have your self a big ol’ fit!” and laughed.
That one moment shocked me so much that from that day forward I never had another tirade! I was just too ashamed to be caught like that again I suppose.
Meanwhile, back to Uncle Tom who was about to fall victim to my mischievous spirit.
Having turned down my plea to play with me, he went into his sanctuary and lay back across his big feather bed. Once he entered the safety zone I knew it was useless to beg anymore, so I sat down and waited.
Several minutes later I tiptoed into his room and sprinkled black pepper onto his eyelids. To my surprise this did not awaken him. I got between him and the door and bumped his foot, screamed, and ran as hard and as fast as I could.
Uncle Tom woke up, blinked his eyes, and then suddenly jumped up yelling and rubbing his eyes! As soon as he could see his hands he knew exactly what had happened and with his eyes watering and his sight still blurred, he ran after me.
Around and around the house we went with Tom yelling at me and me screaming for my mother. I had “tried myself” one too many times and I figured he would kill me when he caught me, but I was a little faster and quicker than he was. The chase was not the fun I had hoped for, but at least he was playing with me – even if it was a weird kind of “catch me if you can!”
Tom joined the Air Force a few months after that and spent twenty years traveling around the world. He was always someone I looked up to and I actually entered the Air Force years later with a thought in the back of my mind to “be like Tom”, but because of Vietnam, I decided not to make it a career.
Nowadays I look forward to his visits and our trips to Alabama to watch his team play Tennessee. He raps his elephant on the head, it says “Roll Tide,” and I rap ol’ Smokey and he plays “Rocky Top!” We tease each other a lot and we love each other even more, because we have a special bond all seasoned with black pepper and no one can ever take that away.