Earl Vernon Barnett was my uncle, and he passed away in 2009. I saw him when our family took trips to visit relatives in Phoenix, Arizona. I had such a good time on those trips. Part of it was hanging out with my cousins-we’d and walk down the street from my grandmother’s place to the “candy house”, where a woman sold all kinds of goodies out of a window in the front of her house. The best part though, was sitting in my grandmother’s living room, surrounded by cousins, aunts(I have 10 of them) and listening to the stories and anecdotes that were passed around the room like a box of chocolates. As a shy little girl, I didn’t have much to say, but I adored my aunties. They have some great nicknames-Pappy, Cookie, Bright, Peanut–and you can only imagine the stories behind how they got those names. It was and is a very, very rich heritage that has nurtured and sustained me all my life. They picked on each other, laughed a lot, and I if I kept quiet, sometimes I would hear some sort of adult things, although I am sure that much of it was veiled and told in grown-up code words when the little grandkids were around.
Back to Uncle Earl. Actually, we called him Uncle Toby, and that’s another story for another time. Mostly, I missed his arrival at my grandmother’s house when we were visiting because he liked to make an appearance just after the sun rose and have coffee with Grandmother and raid her fridge. I would be curled up somewhere in another room, knocked out. There was no mistaking his voice. He was not a quiet man and he really did not care if he woke anyone up. Uncle Toby would pontificate on whatever was his fancy at that time-politics, racism, money, real estate, all while eating Grandmother’s leftovers. He liked to call his younger sisters out on their opinions on world affairs with his booming voice, and they’d pretend to be offended, or ignore him, but they all adored him. His star shone so bright, and so strong, and he always, always had an opinion. He didn’t have much time for foolish talk. He’d say what he had to say, and then he’d be out the door to begin his day.
Many years later, when I was attending classes at the University of Arizona, working toward my library degree, I spent a weekend at my grandmother’s. It takes almost 2 hours to drive from Tucson to Phoenix, and I’d go to see my relatives some weekends and get some home-cooked meals. On this particular weekend, I remember that I went over to Aunt Pappy’s and Uncle Toby was there. He and Aunt Pappy were very close friends and as Grandmother got older, Aunt Pappy’s place was where everyone would gather for special meals. It was a very strange day. For some reason, I asked Uncle Toby for advice on a situation I was dealing with at the time. I had never done that, because I was always afraid of what he might say. I valued his wisdom, but I wasn’t really sure if he had time for little old me, when he usually had world affairs on
his mind. So I timidly stammered out my question, and it all happened very quickly-he looked directly at me and said, “It sounds like you already know what you need to do. It’s very clear, and I think you know it.” Boom. Like that. End of conversation. I guess I was hoping that he would tell me that what I was planning was too big, too hard or too crazy, but he didn’t. And I knew better than to push him to say more, this man who, I found out later, had a very strong presence in the South Phoenix community(not surprising) and had used his business sense and common sense to help many people.
As a children’s librarian, I love a good story and I love to share it with others, but especially with kids. Lately, I’ve been sharing this one with classes that come for a visit. The best stories, in my opinion, are the ones that make you feel that you are in it. I’ve read many stories and shared just as many. I wanted to share this one from my family so that I could also ask you a question. 2017 is just about one-fourth over. Is there a goal that you have for your work with children? Is there something that you already know that would flourish with your particular skill set? Perhaps you’ve thought of stretching yourself and adding to your repertoire? I’ve been thinking of delving deeper into graphic novels, and become an expert on a particular series. My daughter has been introducing me to some that she likes, and I think this may just be the year that I explore more, which will have the added benefit of giving us something to talk else we can talk about. Like my Uncle Toby told me a long time ago, we usually already know what is we need to jump into-it’s just a matter of getting started.
This story left me in tears….beautifully done.