Say "Uncle"


Dear readers, I hope you enjoy this article by my mom, the McAdoo Marvel. In her absence, she lives on through her stories and in my memories. Thank you for reading.

I probably was the first of the McAdoo clan (a pretty big extended family) to see a dentist’s chair. Another way to say it, I was a pioneer at the age of 10. I tried to let them down gently at home, announcing to anyone who would listen, “I think I have a sweet tooth. It hurts when I eat something sweet.” No one listened. Eventually, I had to change the announcement.

“I have a hole in my tooth,” I proclaimed bluntly. Wow. Did I get attention! Everyone had to see the tooth. The powers that be, mostly Mama, decided that I must see a dentist as soon as possible. The next day, she and I loaded up for the 14-mile trip to Crosbyton’s dentist. I don’t know if fillings didn’t exist at that time or just weren’t talked about; I didn’t hear a discussion of such things. The dentist seemed to have one thing on his mind. He grabbed what looked like a pair of fancy pliers. Holding my head still with one hand, he twisted and tugged at my tooth with the other hand until he triumphantly held that tooth up for me to see. I had a huge hole where the tooth had been.

Uncle Rush, of course, had to take a look to make sure everything was okay. He used both hands to hold my face at the proper angle. His cigar was going full steam, with smoke curling up my nostrils as though it belonged there. But if I’d died of smoke inhalation, I wouldn’t have said a word. Not because a child shouldn’t say such things to an adult, but because it was Uncle Rush. He nearly always had a cigar – either lit or completely smoked with only the end left for him to chew. It was almost a part of him. On occasions when we saw him, the cigar was usually chewing size. It didn’t matter to me. That’s where I parted company with most women when I was grown; I loved the smell of cigars, because it reminded me of Uncle Rush. But other women hated the smell.

I don’t know how the other kids felt, but I thought Uncle Rush was the nearest thing we had to a grandparent. Mama’s dad was alive, but he wasn’t like a grandpa. He was introduced to me on three separate occasions, but hardly spoke to us kids, because he hardly spoke to our mother. En route to Albuquerque from Baltimore during the war years, we once spent about three days at our grandpa’s house. We got along fine with Miss Cora, Mama’s stepmother, but I don’t remember his saying a word. I was surprised, when my sister Louise died at age 28, that he showed up at our house. I always suspected it was Miss Cora’s idea. When I stayed with my Aunt Sue for a short time, I was introduced to my grandfather – yet again. He was told I was the one whose name was shown as author of some feature and news articles for the San Antonio Express oil page. His comment was that I would make someone a nice wife.

Uncle Rush, on the other hand, felt we could do nothing wrong, and seemed to believe what he said. He thought we girls were the best looking in Dickens County. After we were grown and on our own, Theresa and I drove to Clinton, Indiana, to visit Doris and her new husband, Bob. On our return trip, we stopped to spend a few days with Daddy. Uncle Rush lived in Lubbock at the time. He was getting old; his Parkinson’s was bad, and he was sick. Sick enough for the Lubbock hospital. As soon as we walked through his door, we heard that familiar refrain, “Best lookin’ girls in the county.”

One of his favorite things was to get us all assembled, and announce to any cronies who were there, “They can do tricks the preachers can’t do.” Then he’d have us quote Bible scriptures and where they were found in the Bible. I doubt he ever knew it wasn’t a big deal, even for the preachers.

Uncle Rush had one visitation habit that could’ve been a flaw. He never knocked; he simply walked in. Like everything else, we accepted it without criticizing. It was just the way he was. However, I almost got caught by it. Everyone else was gone, leaving only Louise and me. We did as we often did in the summer – set up a #3 washtub and heated water for a bath. I was luxuriating in the tub, reading a book, and acting as though I were one of those novel heroines I read about. Instead of bonbons, I was nibbling on homemade cornbread and peach butter. Thankfully, we heard a car stop outside. Louise checked to see who it was.

“It’s Uncle Rush.” There was a little panic in her voice. I knew I had to move fast. I was out of that tub and in the nearest bedroom in record time – almost too late.

Uncle Charlie and Uncle Rush were the only uncles we knew very well. It was natural that Uncle Charlie wouldn’t act like a grandparent; he had kids our age. But some of Uncle Rush’s grandkids were our playmates. You’d never have known the uncles were brothers, anyway. Daddy had traded in our last car on a truck, and sometimes made trips specifically for someone else. Uncle Rush always checked to see where everyone needed to be while the truck was gone. If Louise had play practice, one of our cousins, either Jack or France, was waiting in the pickup at the correct time to transport her – going and coming. Uncle Charlie never thought of it. I heard him ask only once. A childhood friend of theirs had been staying with us, heard Uncle Charlie talking about it, and told Uncle Charlie he should at least ask if we would need transportation.

Daddy’s trips he made for Uncle Rush were actually swaps – trips for groceries. We charged groceries at Uncle Rush’s store until time for a “settling up.” To change the figures, Uncle Rush would say something like “Well, let’s make that trip to Fort Worth $60.00.” The settling went on until they broke even or Uncle Rush owed Daddy. Even after Uncle Rush opened a store in the town of McAdoo, his highway store was where we went for the little stuff. He was there for quite awhile, then one of his sons, Joe, and Nettie Mae lived at the store. Eventually, it was sold or leased to another family. When we were “sent to the store,” it was the little store on the highway.

Usually, Doris and I got that chore while the others were in school. I’ll always remember, but never understand, the day Doris changed so rapidly. She was fine on the way there, but something obviously happened. On the trip home, she cried and cried. I would stop to wait for her; she would sit in the road and cry. When I began to walk again, she would follow, crying. We finally made it home, where she told Mama I had run off and left her. That was a no-no, of course. However, we older ones were never allowed to tell our side of anything. That would be “back talk.” So I had to take it, when it involved my younger sisters, Doris and Theresa. I don’t know whether I got the older ones in trouble. If so, I was too young to remember. When Doris was sent to the store alone after I started school, she got as far as the little culvert bridge we had to cross, then she turned back. When she said she heard a lion that scared her, Mama pretended to believe the story. When I got home, Mama told me what had happened to Doris, and asked me to go with her.

Occasionally, we were allowed to get a nickel’s worth of penny bubble gum. However, we never chewed it. The gum was taken home to Mama to divide among six kids. At the time, I accepted that. It was the way we’d always done it. Later, I wondered why we didn’t buy three pieces and really save. Or why didn’t we spend another cent for a piece for each of us? Where did the extra pieces go?

I wished I could live it up like those people driving through town – have a candy bar and a soda pop at the same time. Such heaven. The only time we had anything carbonated was when someone was sick, and only the sick person got it. But I found a dime once on the way to the store. When I had the money, what did I do? I bought a big Hershey bar and a carbonated drink, exactly like I wanted. But instead of consuming them on the spot, I took them home for Mama to divide six ways.