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Arts & CultureJohn Dunn's StoriesThe Uncle: A John Dunn story

The Uncle: A John Dunn story

About John Dunn

First came the Uncle.

Like Ulysses, returned from the campaign against the Trojans, and the disaster of the Trojan Horse in assault, the Uncle had returned to his native ‘plage’, wide-awake, but unrecognized by the people of the village. Years before, Uncle had left as a young sprig of a lad, and now, a weather-beaten, grizzled, and altogether unrecognized tall tale teller.

He’d drifted, or been pulled to the blacksmith shop’s open door, and, without the blare of trumpets and the fanfare of the mercenary mob, nor the blare of trumpets, nor skirl of pipes which accompany most returned men from this place, because the senators on the front step of the blacksmith shop were conservative in their estimates of both horseflesh and humans. With suspicious hard-lidded squints at the interloper, their judgment came speedily: this man is a manure-spreader. He’s a tall tale-teller, with stories arising from an overheated imagination, like the vapours rising from a manure pile on a frost-encrusted morning. The man’s stories are lurid as sin.

He spoke of deeds done under the light of the moon in far-off places, legendary spots somewhere on the map of the world, but, so far removed from the community of the Anvil Parliament that there was no way to find any back-up to attest to the veracity, or the notorious unconcern for veracity of the Uncle’s proclamations. All the legendary figures he spoke about immediately became suspect, which, according to the rules of the Anvil Parliament, meant they were left lodged on the order paper, the manure pile of hoof scrapings and detritus at the side of the building.

Hence Uncle tended to veer away from the open door.

He was like Joe Clark. A hero in his own mirror, a fool to many, another misaligned Tory. A sparrow hunting for spent oats in the manure pile on the outside wall of the blacksmith shop.

But time passes on, and the years accumulate, and the strength of a man declines. So came decline even to Uncle.

The capitals of this world have seen strange groups of men in threes, whose appearance on the public thoroughfares excited first wonder from onlookers, to be followed by a surge of amusement, and which concluded with head-shaking that revealed nothing left but uncomprehending astonishment. To Jerusalem once upon a blessed time came Three Wise Men from the East, bringing precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to a babe in a manger. At the university in Paris on the Seine in 1245 a trio of philosophers walked from the lecture hall to lunch on the boulevard, one an Irishmen, one a Frenchman, and the third an Italian, but all speaking the one language, Irish.. To Rome on the Tiber years before had come the mystic threesome led by Paul of Tarsus.

Yet none of these, mystics, philosophers, or the truly wise, aroused more wonder in onlookers than the group of three which moved along Spring Street in Almonte on the Mississippi in mid-August, 1932. It was remembered afterwards that the early potatoes from Howard Sadler’s garden had found their way to the noon-hour dinner tables in both Outer and Inner Irishtown, and that it was about two o’clock on that afternoon that day that a procession of three travelled along Spring Street, almost parallel to Jimmy Moreau’s creek, in the direction of the Rosamond Memorial Hospital.

The Nephew in the role of ‘lead dog’, bowed responsibly to exclamations from gentlemen- onlookers peering over hedges, who said “What in the world is going on anyways?” and to ladies who interrupted their taking in the washing from the line, standing on the stoop with a handful of clothespins, open-mouthed, tongue fallen loose, eyes staring at the goings-on on the sidewalk..

“We’re taking Uncle to hospital,” came the satisfactory explanation from the lead dog.

Rosamond Hospital, 1909

The doctor in the stern, steering the pseudo-equipage, saw little reason for jocularity, and bent his arms to the uplifting task of patient transport without responding to the unruly, if untrained comments concerning the patient’s welfare.

People along Spring Street, neighbours all to Uncle, were moved to admiration and the small dose of entertainment by the strange spectacle of two men and a reclining figure of a man — much like a fierce Chinese potentate carried along by two strong slaves in a sedan chair with only the singular difference that the figure of Uncle reclined full length on the chair but his pipe stood upright in his mouth, a fierce object of uprighteousness reflecting the independence of mind characteristic of Uncle.

“I’m helping the doctor bring Uncle to the hospital”, remarked the lead dog to a lady passer-by.

“I could loan you my wheelbarrow,” she offered.

“I think we’ll be able to make it from here,” panted the lead.

Thus to this and many similar snide innuendos and suppressed chuckles, the procession came to the street intersection which marks the eastern limits of Irishtown Anterior and the northern limits of Irishtown Exterior, the hither and yon of the Celtic Connection There, the equipage stopped momentarily, when, with a drift of his right elbow in the direction of his mouth, the patient retrieved the upright pipe by the bowl, and uttered a plaintiff cry for relief..

“Doctor,” the patient addressed the helmsman, “Might I ask a question?”

“Certainly,” came the response.

“Well then,” said the patient, “Since I have the feeling that this is my last ride while breathing on this side of the Great Divide, I would much prefer to have a final image of mankind left to me in the form of the back of your head rather than that of the great imposter in the lead of this carryall. Could you arrange that as a last will?”

“Certainly. We’ll change places here.”

And it was accomplished. In that conformation the strange group of three arrived at the bottom of the steps leading to the front door of the hospital. There two nurses came to assist in the reception of the patient.

“We’ll leave you here, Uncle.” said the lead, and lately helmsman.

“All together now,” came a nurse’s direction, and Uncle disappeared inside, muttering, “Claim-jumper!”




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