Maynard, Now Gone
by Cathy Rose
When I think of Uncle Maynard, I think of ham, salty Smithfield ham, a pig shank half the size of me, one laid out on the dinner table, the other wrapped in cotton and tied with twine for us to take home. When my father’s father died, he left seven children to fend for themselves, and it was Maynard, the eldest, who’d taken their father’s failing hog business, there in the three-store town of Walters, Virginia, and turned into a thriving industry. It was Maynard’s business that put my father through the university, that bought my Uncle Frank a general store after he lost his arm from hanging it too far out the window of his pick-up one drunken night, and it was Maynard’s business that supported my Aunt Lucille when her leg swelling got so bad she couldn’t keep her job at the mill.
“Can you carry the ham to the boot, little lady?” Maynard said to me when I was still a very little girl. He called the trunk the boot. All the country relatives did, and I remember the sheer weight of the beast in my arms, the thud as I dropped it in our trunk, and the excitement at Maynard’s attention towards me. He was a striking man, taller than my father — with jet-black hair, thick and wavy and parted just shy of center, and his teeth, they fascinated me, were short and perfectly straight across like someone had taken a saw to them. Maynard was a farmer, with a garden out back, but he dressed like a southern gentleman, in crisp white short sleeve shirts and dress slacks up high around his waist, not under his paunch as the others did. Sometimes Maynard wore suspenders, but the thin ones you sometimes see under the suit coats of businessmen.
“They drive into Norfolk to shop for clothes,” my mother said approvingly of Maynard and his wife. She hated my father’s ties to my father’s relatives on the other side of the James just a ferry ride from our town, but culturally worlds away. But over the years, she warmed towards Maynard. It wasn’t lost on her that Maynard, while he’d only moved one house down from where he and my father and all the others had been raised, even though he’d married an uneducated girl (by necessity, they say), in many ways, he was the cosmopolitan man my own father had never quite become.
It was hard that year in high school, when I joined a Hindu sect from D.C. that came to our town, became a strict vegetarian, but still had to make the family trip to the country, to Uncle Maynard’s. What would Maynard, my ham uncle say? Even my brother, usually indifferent to my problems, worried for me. But our Atticus Finch — after he’d gathered us at the table, after he’d said his traditional grace — Uncle Maynard, still standing, just turned to my father, “Roy, pass this lovely young lady the butter beans fresh-picked from our garden this morning. I reckon she’ll enjoy those.”
Cathy Rose grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, and much of her fiction is set in that region. Her stories have appeared in Steel Toe Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Santa Clara Review, Fourteen Hills, Rosebud and elsewhere. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she works as a psychologist in private practice.