Robert P. Tristram Coffin
He stood out splendidly above all my uncles because he did not stand out at all. That was hisdistinction. He was the averagest man I ever knew.
You would never pick him out in a crowd. He became just another man the minute he was inone. So many more pounds of man. Good solid pounds,but just pounds. You would neverremember his hair or his chin, or the shape of his ears. If he said something, you would agreewith it, and, an hour later, you would be sure you had said it yourself.
Sometimes I think men like that get along about the best . They are the easiest on theirhouses, their wives, and their children. They are easiest on the world. They slide along withouthaving to do anything about it as small boys do on their breeches after they have slid on themenough to wear them down smooth. The world is all so much pine needles under them.
Uncle Amos was easy on his wives and children. He had three of them, in all. Wives, I mean. Inever did get the count of his children straight, there were too many assortments of them.Three wives. It seemed surprising to me at the time. With all the trouble I had, myself, havingto stand on my head and work my legs, or bung stones at cherrybirds, to keep the attention ofjust one girl for a month. I often wondered how Uncle Amos, who never stood on his head orwhittled out even a butterpat, could attract so many women as he did. Wlth hair a little thin onhis head, and legs that could not possibly do more than three and a half miles an hour on theroad, there he was with three families behind him. Of course, he had the families spaced. Thewives of Uncle Amos did not come all at once. They were drawn out . One batch of children grewpretty well up by the time the next batch hove insight, waddling and falling on thek faces-tosave their hands-as waddling children do.
I knew my Bible, especially the marital parts, in which I took deep interest. I had read the Biblethrough many times under the eye of one particular aunt. I knew a lot about matrimony fromthat. But Uncle Amos had me puzzled. He had broken no commandments. All his marriageswere open and aboveboard. He wasn’t like the patriarchs who didn’t always wait for one wifeto go before another came. Yet Uncle Amos’s status and his children’s status were rathercomplicated.
The women must have been drawn to him because he was so muchlike whatan average fairhusband would seem to a woman to be.
This man made no flourishes to attract anybody. He never drove a fast horse. He never woretrousers with checks any larger than an inch square-which,for the time, was conservative. Hishouse never got afire and burned downjust after the fire insurance had run out. Not one of hisboys and girls got drowned or run over by the steamcars. The few that died growing died ofdiphtheria or scarlet fever, which were what children died of then, the usual ways.
Uncle Amos never had a fight.
Uncle Amos never lost a pocket-book. At least not one with much money in it.
Uncle Amos never went even as far as Boston.
But there he was, never making much money, but with all the comforts of home around him,eating his stewed eels, sitting in his galluses out in the orchard in the cool of the evening, witha plump baby to climb up in his lap,whenever he felt like having a baby on his lap and had hisold trousers on and didn’t care much what happened to him. There he was, shingling his houseonly when it got to leaking so it put the kitchen fire out. Drinking a little ale now and then,when he came by it easy. No big hayfields to worryabout. No wife that craved more than onenew dress a year, and that one she generally ran up herself on her sewing machine. One bestpair of trousers to his name, which the moths got into, but not so deep but what they couldbe healed up with a needle. Not many books to excite him and keep him awake nights, or putideas into his head and make him uneasy. No itch ever spreading out upon him to go out andtake the world by its horns .There he was, in clover!
Amos was a Republican. But then, most everybody around was. It was an average condition.Uncle Amos didn’t have much to do except carry a torchlight when the Republican Presidentsgot elected, as they did regularly. And if Uncle Amos got grease on him, it never was very muchgrease, and his current wife took it out of him with her hot iron. Politics passed him by.Greatevents passed him by. And big taxes.
But we nephews did not pass him by. We were strangely drawn to him. Especially when some ofour specialist uncles wore us down with their crankiness and difference. I spent some of thequietest Sundays of my life in Uncle Amos’s yard, lying under apple trees and listening to beesand not listeningto Uncle Amos who was bumbling away at something he did not expect me tolisten to at all.And caterpillars came suddenly down on fine wires shining like gold, and hit UncleAmos on his bald spot, and he brushed them off and went on bumbling. The heat was aburden, and the apple blossoms fell to pieces and drifted down on me, and I could see the roofof the world over the black twigs they came from. These were my solidest hours of pure being. Idid not have to do anything to live up to this quiet, friendly man. He did not expect me to standon my head and show off, or go after his pipe, or keep the flies from lighting on his bald spot.And he always had lemon drops somewhere deep in his roomy pockets? fore or aft, and he likedto give them to me.
The only trouble Uncle Amos had in his life was after he had got through with it. When theycame to bury him, they could not fix it so he could lie next to all his three women. He had likedthem all equally well. But there was not enough of Uncle Amos to go round. So they put him onthe end of the row.
Uncle Amos did not mind, I am sure. I am sure he sleeps average well.
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