Friday, February 21, 2014


The mind is a wonderful thing, and it’s strange the things people remember.
That's Uncle Bill, the oldest, in the back.
Looks like he'd turn out to be a rip, doesn't it?

I remember my mother telling me about her oldest brother, Bill, and his job as a New York State Trooper, stationed out of Malone, New York.  She didn’t pass on all the stories; some must have been pips because he was a sort of a wild and crazy guy. When he was younger he left school and worked his way around the world on tramp steamers. I think I once asked my mother why his face was so scarred. In one port somewhere in Asia he got a treatment for teenage acne that must have been an acid because it left his face looking a bit like the craters of the moon.

He was a Trooper during prohibition, and Malone was just below the Canadian border. Evidently he and his partner, a native Indian called Smoke, blazed through the back roads, back and forth over the border, headlights off on moonlit nights, chasing smugglers. Mom and one of my aunts, and perhaps another of my uncles, were visiting up there and went driving with him one afternoon in his own car. Mom was sitting back in the rumble seat. My uncle spotted someone he was after and gave chase. Talk about hair-raising, Mom said it took her hours to comb the knots out of her hair.

One of the best stories was about Smoke. He hated cats. The landlady of their boarding house owned a cat. It had a regular routine, a regular route around the center of the house. It would tear around from its favorite perch on top of the parlor piano, through the parlor to the stair hall, back through the dining room, through the sliding door and up again onto the piano. One day though, while the cat was mid-route, Smoke closed the sliding door and you guessed it, the cat, going all out, smashed into the door. No more cat. Poor landlady, poor cat, but I always get a mental image of this and something perverse in me has to just smile.

I thought him the most interesting of my uncles, perhaps because my mother had told us stories about him.  Of course he’d told his brothers and sisters many of the stories, and they had passed them on. When we were all at the wedding of my cousin Paul, my brother and I were seated across from Uncle Bill and his son, my cousin Edwin. We asked Uncle Bill to tell us some of the Trooper stories.  Poor Edwin was hurt: his father had never told him any of the stuff his cousins already knew. Uncle Bill had to explain to him that they weren’t storied he’d ever tell his own young son.  I’m hoping that after that my cousin did get to hear some of the good stuff.


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