Uncle Ement

His fingers were the size of turnips. When hornets were stinging his three-year-old grand-nephew one summer afternoon, my Uncle Ement used his bare hands to yank the hornets from the dinner bell that little Quentin had rung. Then he picked an aloe leaf to staunch Quentin’s pain.

By the time Ement Lyon reached 21, he had walked his herd of cows twenty-five miles across East Tennessee to his and Aunt Cora’s new home. His only companion was his collie, Shep. “When we got there,” he recalled, “Shep just collapsed.”

Every Saturday, Uncle Ement would sit on the steps of Greene County Courthouse and talk politics with other farmers. Thomas Jefferson imagined that American democracy would prosper with citizen farmers like Uncle Ement.

Very little of his family homestead remains. The two-story frame house is gone. Pokeweed grows where the barnyard used to be. What was a tobacco field is now the site of a Walmart Distribution Center. But Aunt Cora’s white narcissi still bloom every spring at the family graveyard.

When it came time to leave that summer afternoon, Quentin was hiding in a tree. He didn’t want to leave Uncle Ement.

Neither did I.