Pardon me, dear Reader, for this hurried letter. You see, my beloved Uncle Tab, the baby of Floyd and Ollie McCoy’s children, passed away last Friday at age eighty-nine. His funeral is in two days in Lexington, Kentucky.

My four sisters and I now have one older surviving hero on my mother’s side. Uncle Herm. I’ve introduced you to these brothers and Appalachian coal miners before.

I hope I didn’t neglect to tell you that when I was a child, they took turns bouncing me on their knee and recited, “Ars Lee caught a flea sitting on her daddy’s knee.”

The root of my love for stories, I believe.

For there’s more to the tale than that. When my mother, the eldest in her family, was a child, her daddy bounced her on his knee and said, “Sadie Lee caught a flea sitting on her daddy’s knee.”

Imagine how such affection and inheritance bonds an uncle and niece.

Our summer vacation surrogate fathers, Uncles Tab and Herm ran leg races with us around the Homeplace in the McCoy Bottom, a flatland between the bosoms of surrounding mountains. The first to touch the snowball bush from where we started, won the race.

Uncle Tab would insist I beat him and Uncle Herm the summer of my twelfth year. I think they rigged the race.

Meanwhile, our daddy, an O’Brien, barbered in his shop on Seven Mile Road and Joann Street in Detroit as Mommy helped Granny put up her garden in canning jars at her house in Phelps.

As they wiped sweat from their brows, my sisters and I played in Phelps’ alleys with the Charles children. A lady named Beulah who wore too much makeup owned a store and roller rink that Granny forbade us to enter.

The baby of ten children, our father’s brothers were older and played baseball instead of running races. After the mine fell in on Uncle Ed and crippled him, the men stopped playing baseball in the Bottom.

My sisters and I called Uncle Ed our Uncle Daddy because they looked so much alike. Sadly, there’s not one O’Brien alive of their generation to say good-bye to Uncle Tab. Since my sisters and I are half O’Brien, we’ll stand in for them.

After we received the expected news about Uncle Tab, my husband and I celebrated the forty-fifth birthday of our baby, Ruth. After she read the birthday letters we wrote, she said, “If I live to ninety, I’ve spent half my life.”

Milestones such as this cause a mother to linger in the moment. “If I live to be ninety, I’m in the last quarter of my life,” I replied.

Last night, our daughter Kelly called from California. “Mom, was it Uncle Tab or Herm who paid all us kids $20 for standing on our heads in Nana’s family room?”

“Uncle Herm. So, you remember?”

“Who could forget an uncle shelling out twenty dollar bills to his nieces and nephews for standing on their heads?”

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