Anyone who had a childhood worth remembering had an Aunt Rainie and Uncle Ruff, the aunt and uncle who seemed larger than life and made the growing-up years the wonder years.
Uncle Ruff had a deep and I’m talking very deep voice, and a laugh that came out of deep place within him as well. He had a slightly roguish air about him and was always grinning a mischievous little grin, and he loved a good joke, and the bluer the humor the better.
But he bore the scars of war his whole long life. He was in heavy combat at the Battle of the Bulge and suffered what used to be called “shell shock.”
In my growing-up years in the fifties, my grandmother and I would take the Greyhound bus to Corsicana where Uncle Ruff and my Aunt Rainie lived and spend a few weeks with them. (We then went on to Rockdale to spend days with Uncle Ledell and Aunt Newell, but that’s another aunt and uncle story for another day and I’ve writ about my very Pentecostal Aunt Newell’s deep Christian faith here before.)
Aunt Rainie and Uncle Ruff never had children–Uncle Ruff’s war “scars” were such that Uncle Ruff couldn’t have handled the chaos of little ones around him at all times. But he loved kids and he and Aunt Rainie lavished love and generous gifts on me and my brothers and then lavished love and gifts on our children too.
I remember a curious thing about my Uncle Ruff. One Fourth of July when I was staying with them, Aunt Rainie bought me and a neighbor’s kid who was my age, and who lived a few houses down, enough firecrackers to keep us entertained for a week. Aunt Rainie warned us, though, to confine ourselves to a certain area a good ways away from her and Uncle Ruff’s house. Many years later, when Uncle Ruff was gone to his reward and I pumped Aunt Rainie for more information about Uncle Ruff and his war experience, she told me that he hated holidays that involved fireworks because he didn’t like the banging noises because, well . . . the war and all that. I pointed out that he carried a pistol in his truck for protection because he and Aunt Rainie had a vending machine business and carried enormous amounts of cash. And Aunt Rainie said yes, they’d both been robbed before and Uncle Ruff would have used the pistol to protect himself and her (and me and us all) in a heartbeat. But gunfire, cars backfiring–even firecrackers going off too close to him unexpectedly–such blasts were hell on his war nerves, she told me.
She actually called them that.
His “war nerves.”
He just didn’t want some kid setting off a firecracker behind his back or something, unexpectedly, because it wouldn’t have been a pretty scene once he got over the shock of it.
All of his life, Uncle Ruff’s hands shook without ceasing. I used to marvel at how he could drink one cup of coffee after another, with it filled almost to overflowing every time, and not spill a drop in spite of the shaking hands. (Well, most of the time there was no spilling anyway.)
Uncle Ruff was one of the happiest and most well-adjusted and stable of men, his “war nerves” notwithstanding”–a model of a husband and provider and a joy to his nieces and nephews and all of his family and extended family and friends and their kids too. And like Aunt Rainie, about as generous as generous can be, not only to the family members, but to his war buddies in Corsicana and nearby Athens, Texas where he grew up. And a lot of his war buddies didn’t readjust to civilian life as well as he did and were extremely needy men, some of them to the point of being way down and out. They knew they could count on my Uncle Ruff for money or an empathetic ear or both, any time.
Uncle Ruff was a combat survivor and a living witness to Sherman’s assertion that war is hell.
That’s something we should never forget in this country, but we have forgotten it, and we do forget it.
Below is the posting from yesterday which I’m going to post again tomorrow as a reminder that war is hell and that we have two wars going on while we in this country argue over a lot of stuff that’s silly and not really even arguable.
But I suppose that’s why we have Memorial Day.
In order to remember.
The latest warrior killed in Afghan is a 24 y.o. Marine from College Station, Texas, the hometown of my son the former Marine and Iraq War vet Adam McKay, who (thank you God) made it back to College Station where he’s living a good civilian life. Let’s not forget the reason for this holiday weekend.
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht, 24, of College Station, Texas, died May 27 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Also, this is the report from Associated Press in the Bryan-College Station Eagle:
AP: 1,000th U.S. death in Afghanistan is CS man
An Associated Press tally shows that the 1,000th U.S. serviceman killed in the Afghanistan war is a 24-year-old Marine from College Station.
The Department of Defense announced Saturday that Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht died Thursday.
His brother Jesse Leicht says the Marine had been in Afghanistan for only a few weeks when he stepped on an explosive and was instantly killed.
The AP bases its tally on Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan.
It was Jacob Leicht’s second overseas tour. His first one in 2007 lasted only a few weeks after his Humvee drove over an explosive, breaking his leg.