OPINION: Uncle Henry calls upon his talents

There was a conversation drifting out through the screen door of that huge home place. Some interesting words were about to catch the attention of a certain second-rate pirate who was currently pondering the patterns of chicken poop that lay there just ahead. Not a conventional beginning to an ordinary adventure, but a reasonably familiar type of beginning to a “Henry adventure.”

Lying there, now crouched under the front steps of the old house, Henry could hear a male voice.

“Leslie, it’ll be just fine. I have references from The Sanders in South Carolina. They have used Charles as a housesitter for 15 years now.”

Then came the reply from Leslie.

“Yes, but leaving the house to the care of a perfect stranger for six months makes me so nervous. Jim, it seems all too ‘spur of the moment.’”

Jim replied, “We have been talking about visiting the cousins in Europe forever; this is anything but ‘spur of the moment.’”

The discussion above went on for several minutes. Henry didn’t miss a word of it. Leslie and Jim, along with the kids Toby and Sarah, were leaving for Europe. They would be gone for six months. Scheduling conflicts prevented the family from meeting the new housesitter. Still, Jim had assurances from his trusted friends in Charleston as to his character and work ethic. A note on the kitchen table was filled with instructions for the arriving housesitter, who would arrive by stagecoach in the morning. A horse awaited his arrival at the stables, and there was money tucked away in the pie safe. The root cellar was very well stocked, and the garden was ripe for the picking. Henry cataloged all this and more into his memory so that he could be most helpful to his hosts.

Before the dust had settled into the ruts left by the departing family’s wagon, Henry had figured a way to be of maximum service to his new friends. Leslie was uneasy about having someone who had never even spent a single night under their roof minding the house for so long. Jim certainly would be placed in an awkward position if this Charles fellow were to be a rogue. Henry would not be able to live with himself if he were to let his friends down. No, it simply wouldn’t do for this lovely home to be put in jeopardy.

Henry waited until the wagon was entirely out of sight before emerging from beneath his hiding place. He promptly relieved the big rock beside the steps from its duty of hiding the front door key and made his way into the house. Arriving at the kitchen in the back of the house, Henry retrieved the letter from the countertop. He flattened the letter out on the kitchen table and took a seat to have a read.

“Charles, you will find everything that you need to sustain this place and yourself here. We apologize for the change in departure dates that prevented us from meeting. As per our earlier correspondence, the root cellar and smokehouse are fully stocked, and the money is where I said it would be. There is also an emergency fund under the stairway in the hutch. Take care, and we look forward to meeting you upon our return in the spring. Until such time, please make use of the telegraph in Unionville once a month to keep us abreast of any news from home.

James (Jim) Tarbultlen III”

To protect the Tarbultlens from possible abuse from this fellow Charles, Henry had to rewrite the letter before tomorrow. For now, though, his stomach reminded him that his hosts would not wish for him to go hungry. As luck seems to prevail upon Henry in typical fashion, the chickens were returning home. In a typical fashion, luck also prevails upon chickens when someone is hungry. There are two different kinds of luck. The big red hen was soon adorning the kitchen table. The Tarbultlens had already proven to Henry to be gracious hosts of the finest caliber.

Henry discovered a bevy of brown jugs in the root cellar while looking for some side dish for his chicken. Although Henry disapproved of hard liquor, he felt it would insult his hosts if he were not to take a small sip or three. Back at the table now, Henry took a healthy swig from the jug. Two more immediately followed the first, and soon Henry was feeling all “piratey” again. He knew that if he were going to get to that letter, he’d better do it before the pirate completely took over. One more swig and Henry laid the jug away—not too far away, mind you.

Luckily, James Tarbultlen had left an ample blank space between the body of that letter and the signature. In a former life, Henry had become very skilled in duplicating the handwriting of others. This was so that he could save those others from having to write too much. He had become so good at it that the United States gave him free room and board for 10 years. It was during that time that Henry lost his left eye. Come to think of it, it’s when Henry became a pirate. He even had a parrot that perched upon his shoulder once. Times got tough, and Henry got hungry; it turns out parrots taste like chicken.

In the void on the letter above the signature, Henry called upon his talents and added the following:

“P.S. There has been a slight change of plans, but not as to negate our need for your services. My uncle, Henry, should arrive on the following morning as your arrival. He is to be treated with the utmost respect. I have placed Henry in charge of the house and the finances. Your duties will, of course, still include tending the livestock and general housekeeping and meal preparation.”

After cleaning up after himself, Henry retrieved his bedroll and tucked his thumb into the jug’s handle. Locking the door on his way out and placing the key back under the rock, he was off. As he turned up the jug, he felt the call of the sea. “Avast there ye scurvy dogs,” Henry shouted as he disappeared into the piney woods.

To be continued…

Michael “Mike” Braswell is a graduate of Swainsboro High School and Swainsboro Technical College. He returned to Swainsboro after many years of living on the coast with his family. He loves fishing and hunting as well as traveling. Braswell is now retired and, when not partaking in one of the three before-mentioned activities, he spends much of his time with his three children and four grandchildren.

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