In Memoriam: The Things My Uncle Mert Told Me

“…He asked Aunt Ruth’s forgiveness for what he did to Larry many times. Though he didn’t respond to my questions, his repeated pleas for forgiveness confirmed my worst suspicions. My Uncle Mert was a murderer…”

“…There are many things that I hate about living in a small town. There are whispers and secrets galore but when one attempts to confront the truth, he often meets an impenetrable wall, a conspiracy of silence…”

Aunt Ruth passed away a couple of years ago. Otherwise, she’d have gone through Uncle Mert’s stuff and put it all in corrugated boxes to give to the Salvation Army, something that uncle Mert would have protested if he knew about it. He was pleased when my wife took Aunt Ruth’s many gaily flowered dresses, shoes, scarves, and wide-brimmed sun hats and wore them after she was gone. Ruth’s wardrobe stayed in the family.

Aunt Ruth and Uncle Mert were high school sweethearts, though Uncle Mert dropped out of school during the tenth grade. Aunt Ruth stayed in school and graduated Valedictorian.

“High school. I didn’t have time for such foolishness,” he told me once without explaining why he dropped out. Uncle Mert considered many things foolishness, and he was sure to tell me what those things were. By the time I was ten years old, I stopped counting them all.

He was proud of the fact that he married the smartest and the prettiest girl in the school. His proclamation that “I had to get rid of that good-for-nothing Larry in order to get Ruthie for myself” lingers in my memory for its enduring mystery. Something as simple as bringing a plate of chocolate cookies to Mert’s Va-Va-Voom used car dealership or placing a fragrant bouquet of home-grown red and yellow flowers upon the dinner table prompted Uncle Mert to call forth that memory. He always waited until Aunt Ruth walked out of earshot to say it. Nobody knew who Larry was and nobody asked until I did during one of Uncle Mert’s summer extravaganza backyard barbecue parties. I was about twelve years old. I saw Aunt Ruth alone in the kitchen preparing the coleslaw. I asked her about Larry and if he was among the many guests in the backyard. Her eyes widened in alarm. She assured me that Larry wasn’t around. She said that Uncle Mert could tell that story better than she could, but I shouldn’t ask. It was their secret, she said and shooed me outside to play with the other kids.

I asked Uncle Mert. Like other personal questions, any attempt on my part to solve the mystery failed to get a rise out of him. He sidestepped the question by saying that every man will have his own Larry to deal with, myself included. “Just be careful and do a better job of it than I did and you’ll have a happy life. You’ll see. I guarantee,” Mert said and turned the steaks on the smoky barbecue grill.

Uncle Mert punctuated almost all of his predictions and pronouncements with “You’ll see. I guarantee”. When we fished in the Wannapaw reservoir, he’d tell me where to cast. “Cast your line right there and you’ll catch a whopper. You’ll see. I guarantee.” He was right only about twenty-five percent of the time, but that didn’t stop his guarantees.

“A woman can’t own too many fancy dresses or pairs of shoes and no woman needs a pair of pants. Nope,” he said countless times. I spent most summer afternoons at his Va-Va-Voom used car dealership, and he’d say it every time an attractive woman came to shop for a car with her husband. I guessed that Uncle Mert was a leg man but there was more to it. When he issued that proclamation for Aunt Ruth’s benefit, I noticed that he left off the part about the pants. There was no question in anyone’s mind (especially Aunt Ruth’s) about who ran the house. I never saw Aunt Ruth in pants; even when she reached her mid-seventies, she always wore one of her many bright multicolored floral print dresses accompanied by a color-coordinated pastel lipstick. She saved her red lipstick for special occasions such as her and Mert’s wedding anniversary party. Even as an elderly woman, she maintained a trim, youthful figure and kept her silver hair tied in a tight knot atop her head.

Uncle Mert’s girth, however, expanded as his used car dealership became more successful. As his waistline grew, so did his collection of trousers. As I removed his pants from his closet to send them to the Salvation Army, I felt like I was collecting something as revelatory as the rings of a felled tree. I knew that Aunt Ruth had tried to make him change his diet but he refused to submit. In summer, when I sat in the office of the dealership listening to his stories about fishing, he’d call Nancy’s Better Than Mama’s restaurant and place two orders of fried chicken to go. We’d fly down the state road in his battered pickup truck, pay for the order, and return to the mercifully cool air conditioning of the dealership office and munch that chicken as if we were victors of some sort.

“A man’s got to eat what he’s got to eat,” he’d say, wiping his fingers on a napkin. “Ruthie’s diets? I don’t have time or patience for such foolishness and neither will you when you grow up. You’ll see. I guarantee.”

As I sorted the things in Uncle Mert’s chest of drawers, I recalled that on really hot days we sat inside the air-conditioned office behind the storefront window and sipped iced tea while reruns flickered on an old tube television set in the corner. “It’s hotter than a stolen Wannapaw County sheriff’s patrol car out there,” he’d say as the heat waves rose from the hoods and roofs of the dozens of automobiles parked in his paved lot.

Once, after he bought a nearly new Ford pickup truck at auction, I asked him why he didn’t drive that truck instead of his beat-up old Chevy. He answered in his typical philosophical way. “For some, a car is a statement of status. For me, that truck is a friend and a way to get to work and to get us to the lake to fish. It never lets me down.” When I asked him why he insisted that Aunt Ruth drive a shiny new Cadillac, his answer was simple.

“Because,” he said and promptly changed the subject to fishing. There was no doubt that he loved Aunt Ruth and that he didn’t need to explain his demonstration of steadfast love for the woman who not only adorned his life with her beauty but also provided focus. When he wasn’t on his used car lot, not much mattered to Uncle Mert except Aunt Ruth.

And fishing.

Uncle Mert was a serious angler who possessed a repository of fishing philosophy as large as the U-Store-It U-Fetch-It Self Storage facility on the state road. “Never take a man to your favorite fishing spot that you wouldn’t trust with your wife or your girlfriend,” he advised every time we discovered a productive spot on Lake Wannapaw. One of his adages that justified our many fishing expeditions was “Fishing is a necessity. Catching a fish is a luxury.” Of all his maxims about fishing, though, my favorite is “Some folks go fishing for fun. I go fishing to catch fish.” He was as serious (but perhaps more philosophical) about fishing as he was about his love for Aunt Ruth.

Though he often came across as a glib hick to those who didn’t know him, he had a good understanding of human psychology. Once, I hooked something that took my bait and swam off with a bobber and half of a spool of monofilament before it broke the line. I sat in the Jon boat and stared into the distance in tears.

“Hey, boy. Cheer up. It’s good to lose one every so often,” he told me. “By the time you get home, that fish will be the size of a whale. It wouldn’t have fit in the boat anyway.”

What I knew of Uncle Mert was that he was a gentle and kind man. One time, as we ate fried chicken in the sales office, a small field mouse scurried across the floor. I grabbed the broom intent upon killing it.

“No. Don’t hurt him. He might grow up to be king someday. Just open the door and give him a swat to tell him to grow up to be king somewhere else,” Uncle Mert said.

When I gathered no less than ten bright red bow ties from his closet and at least as many white short-sleeved shirts and red suspenders, I recalled Uncle Mert saying that “a man can’t just look the part. He’s gotta be the real thing. I’ll never wear one of those foolish clip-on bow ties. Wearing a clip-on bow tie is like driving a Cadillac with vinyl upholstery. Where’s the class?” When Mert went to work, he surely looked like a used car salesman. His prodigious waistline, white short-sleeved shirt, shined shoes, neatly pressed pants, red suspenders, and the matching red bow tie said it all. In summer, he wore a straw boater hat to protect his balding crown. I am sure that to most who saw him, he appeared to have walked out of a cartoon.

I knew what Uncle Mert would have said if he knew that his remaining possessions were being gathered together and put in boxes like so many toys to be given away to the needy. I know that he’d object to the word needy.

“Nowadays, there aren’t many needy people, not in America, anyway,” he told me while we neared the Lake Wannapaw dam one summer day. “Most people are wanty. There’s a difference. I came up dead poor and so did Ruthie, but we weren’t needy. We never went to bed hungry and we always had shoes on our feet. Needy is no house, no food, no shoes, no friends, and nowhere to be buried when your time is up.”

If that is true, then Mert and Ruth weren’t just rich. They were extravagantly wealthy. My aunt and uncle had many friends, and Aunt Ruth had a different pair of shoes, a different colorful floral dress, and a different shade of lipstick for every day of the year. The sight of Aunt Ruth rolling up the driveway in her convertible pink Cadillac on a spring day with a matching pink polka-dot kerchief covering her head and wearing Wayfarer sunglasses could have been a scene from an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Except for Ruth’s pink Cadillac convertible, my aunt and uncle lived frugally and made no great show of their wealth. Though the house appeared devoid of most trappings of affluence, Aunt Ruth’s cheerful disposition, frequent hugs and kisses, and Uncle Mert’s dispensation of sage advice, stories, and interesting observations of daily life compensated for anything that the home lacked in décor.

Uncle Mert displayed his belief system early in life. His statement of commitment was usually expressed in terms of purchase. He bought his and Aunt Ruth’s burial plots shortly after their fifth wedding anniversary, much to the consternation of everyone except Aunt Ruth. “This marriage is a purchase, not a rental,” he said.

He applied different versions of that maxim to many commitments, including his guarantee of customer satisfaction with one of his used automobiles. Once, a young couple test drove a badly dented but serviceable Volkswagen Beetle from his car lot. It was the only car on the lot that they could afford and they were reluctant to buy it. They expressed no complaints after the test drive but Uncle Mert held out the keys and said, “You’re about to enter into a purchase, not a rental. Take it home and drive it around for a weekend. See how you like it. If you don’t like it, just bring it back. There’s no sense in keeping something in your life that you don’t like.” He didn’t even ask for a deposit.

When I asked Uncle Mert how he could trust people that he didn’t know, he replied, “They’re not exactly the Bonnie-and-Clyde type.” The couple returned the following Monday with cash for the car, signed the paperwork, and thanked my uncle. “You’re gonna love that car,” he told them. “You’ll see. I guarantee.”

He waved as the couple drove away in the battered Volkswagen. “You have to judge people by what you know of them. If you don’t know them, trust your instincts. Otherwise, you’ll never get anywhere in life. I don’t know the particulars about them. I know that they’re good folks. They came back and paid for the car.” Of all of the advice that Mert gave me, that one was indelible. Trust your instincts.

The town of Wannapaw didn’t seem like a good place to own a used car lot, so one hot summer day while we ate fried chicken in the sales office, I asked Mert how he became so successful.

“It’s all about luck,” he told me. “Luck favors the rich, so I always believed and acted like I was rich.” I expected one of his stories, but all I got was that short apothegm. Uncle Mert preferred simple solutions and explanations of complicated matters, so I never asked him about his business again.

Later on, as I rummaged through my uncle’s belongings, I hoped to discover a clue to the identity of the mysterious Larry that Uncle Mert had rid himself of. I found nothing. It surprised me to find a copy of Moby Dick on a bookshelf. Some pages were dog-eared and stained with fried chicken grease. McLane’s Fishing Encyclopedia and a book titled Big Bug Big Fish bore the same dog-eared pages and greasy fingerprints as did Moby Dick.

I was surprised by the scarcity of personal belongings in the house. After Aunt Ruth had passed away, Uncle Mert had given many of his possessions to friends and family members. He gave me his Jon boat after Aunt Ruth died because he lost interest in almost everything, including fishing. Mert gave my wife all of Ruth’s clothing, china, and silverware. Aside from the bedroom furniture, essential kitchen items, his TV, his leather lounger, and the refrigerator, not much remained in the house. In the kitchen cupboard was half of a fifth of Old Heaven Hill bourbon and two glass tumblers with worn ESSO logos on them. He had gotten them from a gas station many years before.

“You can drink a man’s whiskey when he dies, but you can’t just give it away or throw it out. It’s not right,” Uncle Mert said after my father died and came across my father’s bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon with a torn label while he, Aunt Ruth, and I packed up my father’s belongings. The Salvation Army wouldn’t accept a donated bottle of bourbon, so Uncle Mert whisked it away to be sure that it went to someone who appreciated it, namely himself.

In Mert’s cupboard was half of a fifth of Heaven Hill. Not thinking, I put Uncle Mert’s half-bottle of Old Heaven Hill into a box with all of his things destined for the Salvation Army. The label on the clear glass bottle distracted me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put it in the box. I was sure that it was the half-consumed bottle of bourbon that came from my father’s cupboard years before. It was the same brand and the torn corner of the label was as I remembered my father’s bottle of bourbon.

In the corner of the garage hung Uncle Mert’s bamboo fly rod. In its worn canvas case, I found an old Smith Brothers cough lozenges tin holding several of Uncle Mert’s colorful, immaculately tied dry flies. I often expressed admiration for his deft hand in tying the delicate feathers onto the small wire hooks. “Oh, sure, they’re pretty and all, but what’s important is the presentation. Presentation is everything in fly fishing. It’s everything in life, in fact,” he explained. “It’s got to go over just right.” He was right. When we fished, he could predict if he’d get a strike. “Oooh. That cast feels right and looks good. No splash. Something’s gonna hit that bug. I guarantee. You’ll see.” His predictions about his own casts were much more accurate than his predictions about mine.

Uncle Mert entertained no illusions about himself. He was often self-critical, usually for losing a sale or for not being more generous in his discounts. Several times, he sang a song that I am sure he composed himself. The title and the tune were pure Uncle Mert. He called the song “I Sell Used Cars.” Though I am sure that he completed the lyrics, all I ever heard was the first verse.

I sell used cars.
And every car I sell is like
A man I once knew.
From the day he’s born
To the breath his last
Lies the story of a fella
Who couldn’t outrun his past.
I sell used cars mmm hmmm hmmm hmmm.

The words and the tune were catchy and twice I suggested that we pack up the truck and head to Nashville to record a hit record but Uncle Mert ignored me. Through the years, I wondered if the lyrics described how he had failed my Aunt Ruth somehow. I couldn’t perceive it by intuition but I wondered if the song was one patch in the quilt of the story of Mert’s life and (worse) if the mysterious Larry figured into the short narrative. As the years passed, the thought that Uncle Mert had killed a man named Larry in order to claim Ruth’s love gnawed at me. I had begun to trust my instinct as Uncle Mert advised.

Beneath an exterior of great cheer and pithy phrases lived a man of tremendous depth; to me, anything about Mert seemed possible. During his last hours, I sat at his bedside. He spoke of many things. Though unaware of my presence, Uncle Mert’s conversations with people who were not in the room indicated that he would not pass gently. He asked Aunt Ruth’s forgiveness for what he did to Larry many times. Though he did not respond to my questions, his repeated pleas for forgiveness confirmed my worst suspicions.

My Uncle Mert was a murderer.

With the exception of Uncle Mert’s bamboo fly rod, everything that the Salvation Army would accept fit into three boxes. The furniture and refrigerator would have to remain in the house until they could be picked up. I placed the boxes on the front seat of his beater Chevy pickup truck and put his prized fly rod in the bed of the truck. It pained me to throw Mert’s well-crafted possession away. For years, I admired its graceful flexibility and its ability to cast a large bass bug at great distances with deadly accuracy, but I had my own modern graphite fly rod. That one was good enough for me. His words about needy and wanty came to mind. He told me an improbable story about that bamboo fly rod and how long ago a Chinese man who bought a car from him was so happy with the automobile that he called his brother in China to ask him to make him the best bamboo fly rod ever made. It was an excellent fly rod but the story was much better. As far as anyone knew, no Chinese man had ever set foot in the dusty scrub of Wannapaw County, much less bought a used car from Uncle Mert. Mert was comically fond of his fly rod. Maybe that was Mert’s one wanty.

The Chevy truck started with an enthusiastic growl. I backed it out of the driveway and headed down the state road toward town. The old truck’s acceleration surprised me in light of the fact that its transmission was over thirty-five years old and the engine hadn’t had so much as a distributor cap replaced. Mert was sure, however, to buy a new battery every year and to change the spark plugs whether it was necessary or not. He changed the oil religiously. When I was older and Mert and I went fishing, he often said that he wanted to be buried “beside Ruthie inside this old truck.” The solemnity of his comment indicated to me that his wish, though impractical, was sincere.

Our fishing trips near the dam at Lake Wannapaw spun through my head and distracted me from my intended destination. Instead of continuing past the intersection toward town, I turned left onto Morton’s Fork Road until I found myself on a bluff overlooking the lake about one-hundred feet from the dam. On really hot days, we fished for catfish in the deep water not far from where the water trickled over the concrete structure.

I sighed when a big bright E lit up on the dashboard. The truck had run out of gas. I engaged the parking brake and got out of the truck. I had driven Mert’s old beater to the bluff overlooking Lake Wannapaw.

“That E on this dashboard should be an N for non-negotiable,” Uncle Mert had proclaimed when he had gassed up the truck at Stepchild’s Gas’n Go one morning. “If you don’t believe me, scoot over behind the wheel, turn the key, and push on the pedal. See how far you get.” I hadn’t accepted Uncle Mert’s challenge when I was a kid, and as I stood upon the bluff looking down at the lake, I felt no inclination to accept it then. There was wisdom in everything that my Uncle Mert told me. I saw no point in turning the truck around to go to the gas station now. It wouldn’t even take me back to the state road that I had come from.

I rolled the windows down and strapped the boxes together with the seat belt. I removed the bottle of bourbon that I had packed with all of Mert’s other things. His copy of Moby Dick had parted in the center, revealing a few photographs and some papers, so I took those, too.

With the transmission in neutral, I released the parking brake and pushed the old beater to the edge of the bluff. A slight decline made the job of pushing it into the water of Lake Wannapaw easier than I had anticipated. The truck glided from the ground cleanly and splashed into the reservoir front bumper first. The bed of the truck protruded from the water, then disappeared like a fishing bobber stolen by one of the many catfish that lurked about the dam.

I paused for a moment and stared at the spot where the truck hit the water until the bubbles quit roiling the surface. At that moment, sadness pelted me harder than when Mert’s casket had been lowered into the ground a month before. Uncle Mert’s prized bamboo fishing rod floated to the surface without its reel and slowly spun in the water like a broken compass. It was a fitting symbol for Mert’s passing. Aunt Ruth had kept him on the course like a fishing reel keeps a fish on the course for the boat. Now both Aunt Ruth and Mert’s fishing reel were both gone.

I turned and walked to the state road, Moby Dick under my left arm and my right hand clutching the neck of the half-bottle of Old Heaven Hill bourbon. I had walked about a half of a mile when the Wannapaw Sheriff slowed and pulled alongside me.

“Kinda early to be drinking, isn’t it, Tom?” It was Jesse Greathouse, the county sheriff and Uncle Mert’s oldest and closest friend. “Get in. I’ll drive you home.” I recognized him from my aunt and uncle’s many barbecues.

We drove in silence for a few minutes. “I’m sorry about your uncle,” he said. “A lot of people will miss him.”

“Yes,” I said in agreement. I wondered about the possibility of telling the sheriff my suspicions about Uncle Mert. There was nobody and no other evidence that Mert had killed anyone, so I hesitated to say anything.

“Mert was absolutely crazy about Ruthie. He and about every other guy in the school wanted her. She was beautiful and smart. People who didn’t know Mert couldn’t understand why she’d take up with a high school dropout. Ruthie was smart but so was Mert. Smart in a different kind of way and Ruthie knew it,” the sheriff said. “And he did love that Ruthie.”

“Enough to kill for her?” I asked as if joking.

“You never know about people, do you?” the sheriff said, swerving the car to avoid hitting roadkill on the blacktop. He grew quiet, and we drove another mile through the monotony of the tires rolling over the recently paved road.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this but truth is truth. You know, your aunt and uncle’s marriage was a bit rocky at the beginning. The nearest house that time was a quarter-mile away but I’d get calls about disturbances at Mert and Ruthie’s from time to time. It was kinda weird. By the time I got there, Mert had already walked a couple of hundred yards up the road. I’d take him back to the house to sort things out and the whole time he’d say that it was his entire fault and beg me not to go into the house to talk to Ruthie but I had to investigate. It was part of the procedure.”

“What did Mert do?” I asked.

“He’d warn me that Ruthie was madder than a wet hen — one of Mert’s favorite sayings — and that everyone would be better off if he got locked up for the night. He’d never tell me what started the fights, so I’d go inside and talk to Ruthie but she wouldn’t say anything either. The first few times that I responded to a disturbance, I saw that Ruthie had trashed most of the house. Nobody got killed and nobody got hurt, so there wasn’t anything to report except that there was a domestic disturbance of unknown cause. It happened maybe a dozen times, and I’d usually find Mert walking up the road with his bamboo fly rod and take him to the jail for his own peace of mind. Things quieted down after a couple of years. People who are crazy about each other do crazy things sometimes, huh?”

“Yes, I suppose,” I said.

“It took a long time for Mert to tell me what the fuss was about,” the sheriff said.

“What was it about?” I asked.

“Aw, you don’t need to know,” he said.

I wondered if Uncle Mert was so crazy over Aunt Ruth that he’d killed a guy named Larry.

“Jesse, tell me something. Mert often spoke about someone named Larry. Do you know anything about him?” I asked.

The sheriff cocked and swiveled his head as if to release muscle stress. He paused for much longer than necessary to decide to answer a simple question.

“You know, Tom, everyone has secrets. Let’s let Larry be one of your Uncle Mert’s secrets, okay? A lot of time has passed. It’s too late to make amends.”

“But you know who Larry is, right?” I asked, hoping to get more information.

“Yes, I knew about him. He wasn’t much so let’s just let it go,” he said.

“Did he move away from Wannapaw or did he die?” I asked.

“Tom, it doesn’t really matter. You should have good memories about Mert,” the sheriff said. “I’m going to drop you off here at your house. I know how you feel about Mert and all, but it won’t do you any good walking off and getting all likkered up on the far side of East Cupcake. Go take a nap, and you’ll feel better. And forget about Larry. Nobody needs to know. And no more booze, you hear?”

I got out of the patrol car and thanked the sheriff for the ride and promised that I wouldn’t wander into the wasteland of the howling nothingness of Wannapaw County to get drunk as Noah. The thought of drinking the bourbon hadn’t even occurred to me until then.

There are many things that I hate about living in a small town. There are whispers and secrets galore but when one attempts to confront the truth, he often meets an impenetrable wall, a conspiracy of silence. Nobody wants to be the first one caught telling someone else’s secret when the majority likes that person. You’ll usually hear it fourth hand, but the first person to speak about it can never be found. Since I had heard nothing about Larry except from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Mert, I believed that something unspeakable had happened to him. Even the sheriff refused to say anything about him. It figured. Uncle Mert and Sheriff Jesse Greathouse had been near and dear friends.

My wife was visiting relatives, so I was alone when I got home. I lay on the couch until it grew dark, thinking about what I had done that day. Packing Uncle Mert’s things and then watching his old truck roll off the bluff into Lake Wannapaw had worn me out. I didn’t know what to think of the conversation with Sheriff Greathouse. I sat up and turned on the light on the end table and reached for Uncle Mert’s copy of Moby Dick. It surprised me that he would read such a book. I found its symbolism indecipherable and its prose impenetrable and beyond my intellect, but I believe that Uncle Mert understood it. He hid his genius beneath the guise of a rube, but it manifested itself in his many buoyant adages and lively anecdotes rather than quotes from dead authors. He was more than a hayseed from Wannapaw County.

I flipped through the fried chicken-smudged pages inspecting various slips of paper, most of which were small grocery receipts and reminders of his and Aunt Ruth’s upcoming anniversaries. There were several laundry receipts from the dry cleaner for pants and starched white shirts and a receipt for fly-tying supplies from a place in Vermont. Black-and-white and color photographs marked his progress through the book.

I poured two fingers of Old Heaven Hill into a tumbler and sat back to sip the bourbon while I looked through the photographs in no particular order. Most of the images were taken at the barbecue parties held in Mert and Ruth’s backyard. On the backs of each photograph were written the dates of the parties and the names of the people in the photos. The older photographs were black-and-white images. Though there were some individuals whom I had never seen before, none stood out as out of place. One photograph that Mert had stuck in the first chapter of the book was a black-and-white image of a stunningly beautiful Aunt Ruth; her face pressed against the mottled furry face of a calico cat. The photo must have been taken over fifty years ago. There was nothing written on the back of the photo. Another photo that I found among the pages of the book was a blurry photo of Aunt Ruth holding hands with a young man who could not have been my uncle Mert. I looked at the image several times, unsure of what I was seeing.

I drank the tumbler of Old Heaven Hill bourbon and poured another. The day’s tension vanished quickly. Whether it was the effect of the bourbon or the discovery of the photos and a possible solution to a mystery that gnawed at me for much too long didn’t matter. I remembered what Mert told me about judging people by what you know of them and using one’s intuition when you don’t know them. Based on what I knew of Uncle Mert, it seemed impossible that the man holding Aunt Ruth’s hand in the picture was Larry. Like the field mouse that found its way into his sales office, Mert probably gave the cat a swat and told it to become king of someone else’s jungle. That must have been Larry.


I wanted to believe that the man in the photo wasn’t the mysterious Larry.

I finished another tumbler of Old Heaven Hill on an empty stomach. Before I drifted off to sleep, I hoped to remember to return to Wannapaw Dam to retrieve Uncle Mert’s prized bamboo rod in the morning. He knew me well enough to forgive me for being wanty.

Photo by Mariusz Blach/Adobe Stock


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