Uncle Harry

My Grandma had a best friend who loved all the things my Grandma did as well as having a few quirky beliefs of her own . All the cousins  plus  my brother and I called her Aunt Belle. At that time, my brother and cousins managed to disappear whenever Aunt Belle came to visit, as the visits tended to be boring to a group of active kids. One day, my Grandma went to visit Aunt Belle.  Aunt Belle’s grand-daughter was also visiting, so I was drafted to meet Winnie. She was the same age  as I.  Both grandmothers hoped we would entertain each other while the adults enjoyed their coffee and gossip undisturbed.

I thought I knew a lot of stuff at 7 years. After all, I was the one with an older brother, a toddler sister and gazillion  cousins. Winnie was an “older” 7 year old and an only child. She knew things I had never heard of and delighted in educating me.

“I want you to meet Uncle Harry,” she said.

“Okay,” I agreed. I never knew there was an Uncle Harry at Aunt Belle’s, but maybe he was visiting too. Winnie walked over to the pig pen. Climbing onto the lower rungs of the fence, she leaned over and called out, “Hi Uncle Harry.”  And a huge pinkish-gray pig waddled over to the fence and grunted at her. Winnie proceeded to introduce her “uncle” to me. He swivelled his head to glare at me and belched a belly-rolling grunt that resulted in a cloud of toxic fumes. I looked at the pig in disbelief.

“That’s not your ‘Uncle Harry’—that’s a fat, ugly, smelly pig!”

“Nope—this is really my Uncle Harry. Grandma said just before Uncle Harry passed on, Desdemona gave birth to two piglets. One died at birth and at the exact moment, Uncle Harry died, the surviving piglet was born. My Grandma called it karma and declared this was Uncle Harry. As a final word on that subject, Winnie fiercely added, “Grandma doesn’t lie.”

That statement alone should have ended the conversation, but I was a 7 year old who didn’t believe that an uncle could somehow morph into a pig. How was this even remotely possible?

“It just is and I believe my Grandma,” Winnie insisted. Since Winnie and I were supposed to like each other like Aunt Belle and my Grandma, I reluctantly let this moment of truth slide past.

I spied the swings by the apple orchard. It was basically a wooden board, worn smooth by the countless bottoms and feet of past generations. The “seat” was held by ropes on either side and attached securely over a sturdy wood frame. We each took a swing by standing on the seat. Holding firmly to the ropes on either side, we propelled ourselves into space by furiously pumping our legs. Winnie was really good at gaining great heights. She was fearless. If there was a competition, she would have been the one who gained the highest heights and farthest swings than any one else.

The apple orchard had the best apples at the top, where it was impossible to reach, even if you climbed to the higher branches. Someone who could swing higher and farther could quickly stretch an arm out and snatch a few large, juicy apples to share with her new best friend. In our young minds, this was definitely do-able. What we didn’t count on was that apples had to have that certain ripeness that made it easily pluckable. These apples didn’t have that yet. Each pass that Winnie made only gave her a handful of leaves. By this time, failure was not an option. There was determination to grab an apple or two—even one apple would be enough to prove  the theory was possible. The final  attempt had Winnie high enough on her swing out but, before she hit the downswing, her hand quickly reached out to grab an apple from one of the branches. Success!  Giggling we slowed our swings to a stop and examined our prize. One side was  a lush, juicy red while the other side held a hole large enough to see a fat, contented worm, blissfully drunk on the warm juice. We both shrieked and Winnie threw the apple into the pig pen. Uncle Harry enjoyed his snack.

Sighing with disappointment that we didn’t even shared a bite of the fruit, Winnie suddenly asked, “Have you ever gathered eggs?” Shaking my head, Winnie grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the hen house. “It’s really fun. All you have to do is lift the hen off her nest and grab the egg.” She demonstrated by marching up to a plump white chicken, deftly plucking her off the nest and grabbing the warm egg. Then she gently set the chicken back on her nest.

“See? Easy-peasy.  We put the eggs in this basket after the chickens poop them out.”

“This is so fun,” I said enthusiastically. “Let me try.” Copying Winnie’s attitude, I marched over to another plump hen to lift her off her nest.  Somehow, Winnie had made it look easy. But she never told me the chicken would weigh a ton. Sensing my inexperience. the chicken began to flap her wings and shake her feathers while staying firmly in her nest. Looking disgusted, Winnie lifted the chicken, grabbed two eggs and set the bird down again. The next chicken made us both pause. That chicken had a mega-size black rooster with  a brilliant red comb and distinctive wattles, guarding her nest.

“That’s not another ‘uncle’ is it?” I asked nervously.

“Of course not,” scoffed Winnie. “This is Big Red. He rules the barnyard and keeps all he hens happy. At least, that’s what Benjy told me. I don’t really understand that but I think it’s the ‘birds and bees’ stuff that adults are always yammering about. We’ll skip the next two and try that one over there.”

Again, I tried lifting the hen. Shocked, she expelled an egg directly into Winnie’s palm just as I dropped her in her nest. By the time we finished in the hen house, we had collected 30 eggs.

And before Winnie could show me more stuff, Aunt Belle was yelling for us to return to the house. Why is it that just as things were getting interesting, adults tend to interrupt?


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