It was the late Sixties, and I was about four years old. My hungry siblings and I sat around my family’s dining room table looking at sacks from Krystal, one of the first fast food restaurants to open in Warner Robins, Georgia. Uncle Edwin sat at the head of the table, unloading the contents and handing boxes of square burgers and long, greasy french fries to each of us.
“We’ll play a game while we eat, okay?” he said. “Let’s see who has the longest french fry.”
Andy, Audrey, and I were intrigued—each of us digging in our boxes to retrieve our longest fries for the competition.
As my little hand held up a french fry toward Uncle Edwin, he held a longer strand of limp, greasy potato next to mine, and said, “Nope. Mine’s longer,” then grabbed the fry from my hand, popped it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.
One-by-one, we held up our fries for him to measure, and each time, he snatched them from our grasp and devoured them like the Cookie Monster. He ate almost all of our french fries as we laughed.
It’s a beautiful memory and one of the first I remembered when my mother called to tell me Uncle Edwin had passed away over Memorial Day weekend a few weeks ago. He was 91 and sharp as a tack until the very end.
Uncle Edwin was born in a small, yellow house on the outskirts of Collins in 1924 and grew up on a farm just a few miles from the Ohoopee River during the Great Depression. He was drafted during WWII when he was still a teenager and served in the US Navy as an electrician aboard the USS Wesson (DE-184) in the Pacific.
“I was just a young country boy who’d never been out of the South,” he told me one time in his deep voice. “One day, I was on deck, and I could see places in the water that were bright red, and I remembered a passage in Revelations that said the sea would turn to blood at the very end. I got really upset and the cook asked me what was wrong. I told him, ‘It’s the end of the world. The water is turning to blood.’ He laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry, Ed. We’re in the Ring of Fire. That’s just red, hot lava seeping up through cracks in the ocean floor.’”
My uncle’s ship was in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 when Japan officially surrendered. When he returned home, he fell in love with my Aunt Monteen (Higgs) of Toombs County. They married in 1948 and started a family.
He and my father opened AAA Trailer Hitch and U-Haul in Macon in the mid Sixties. For forty-six years, Uncle Edwin ran the business, talked politics with the customers, and helped install the trailer hitches. In fact, even in his eighties, he scooted under cars and trucks to help.
He was a lifetime member of Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Tattnall County. He loved to garden and eat heaps of Southern foods including greens, biscuits, fried chicken, fried fish, stewed tomatoes, steaming-hot cornbread, and anything and everything Aunt Monteen cooked up in the kitchen. He was happiest with a fishing rod in hand or surrounded by family at reunions as he shared stories while deep frying fat back in a pool of bubbling grease. Oh, how he loved family reunions.
We were all there at his burial. A serviceman played “Taps,” and another serviceman presented a folded American flag to my aunt. My husband and I stood close enough to hear what he said to her.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
At times when I think about Uncle Edwin’s passing, a wave of heavy sadness crashes into me. I close my eyes and hear the slamming of a screen door and footsteps on a porch. I envision him sitting down at the large farm table in my grandparent’s kitchen surrounded by the others—my grandmother, Ona; Papa Hub, who I’ve only met in my dreams; Archie, Gilbert, Robert, and Leon; and other family members and friends who have died. In my mind’s eye, I watch that kitchen come alive with conversations, laughter, and love—so much love. I smile at the thought of such a reunion, and my sadness dissipates for a little while.