They had an uncle named
NOTES: Part of a cycle of stories about "family."
"Lagan" is also part of that cycle.
by Hart Williams © 1986
They had an uncle named Hercules . A French
family relocated to the farm country of Nebraska. Prairie people, they named their eldest son Hercules after a forgotten grandfather, and only learned to write later.
He was a different sort of child, the family
reported. Very strong, very serious. He strangled a King snake in the barn at three. He
was a hard worker, not very interested in anything but working.
There were many family stories about him.
About the time at a party when he wagered a drunk that he could take his best punch, and
not vice versa. Hercules hadn't meant to do it.
But the best stories were always the war
stories. Uncle Hercules had been stationed in France, with the tank corps. Nobody was
really sure what the medal had been for, but Uncle Hercules had been cited for
"Meritorious Service Under Fire" in a plaque Grandfather found hidden away in
his duffel bag.
Uncle Hercules could really drink. One Aunt
told the story of the night Uncle Hercules, well, it was after the war, and "we
didn't know about the medals yet. He worked like a mule that first year, the year of the
early frost that killed most of the crop. He decided one night that he had to go into town
and get a drink.
"It took most of the family's money to
keep him out of jail. The lawyers just said your Grandfather could pay on time, and by the
time they finally got Uncle Hercules out of jail, there were five years of debts
accumulated. And Hercules had to pay for all the damages and hospital bills."
Uncle Hercules had very few pictures in the
family album. One showed him as a baby, on the back porch of the house in St. Louis. A
serious little face, and a rattle clutched in his hand: in the arms of his proud mother,
with a dazed-looking Grandfather. Grandfather was a stern man. A proud man. A little bit
of a clothes horse when he was younger. There are twenty years of pictures in the family
album of Grandfather dressed in his trade mark beret. Grandmother said that for years he
never took it off except to sleep.
After Grandmother's death, one of the cousins
revealed that Grandfather had never really liked Hercules because he wasn't Grandfather's
son. A traveling salesman had been the father.
Of course, by the time this all came out, no
one in the family thought Hercules was anything but everyone's favorite crazy uncle. He
used to play with all of the grandchildren. Mostly little games and checkers. Everyone
loved to play checkers with Uncle Hercules.
One Cousin confided a story. Her mother, and
one of the three aunts (four sisters, two sons, and Hercules) had gone out shopping, and
her brother disappeared, leaving her alone in the Family house, and Uncle Hercules had
emerged from his room in the basement, and cooked her lunch (no one knew Uncle Hercules
could cook) and played her three games of checkers that she won, barely. And drawn her
pictures of kittens and butterflies, and even 'helped' her solve the crossword puzzle,
until the aunts and her mother returned. Uncle Hercules had always been her favorite
The family had all sorts of stories about
Uncle Hercules. The year he'd been offered a football scholarship to the University in
Lawrence, Kansas, but hadn't been able to pass the entrance examination. "It wasn't
his fault, really," one Aunt was fond of saying. "he never could seem to get the
hang of reading. We had a conspiracy to do his homework with him, and he would write down
the answers we gave him, for years and years. But they wouldn't let us go with him to
Kansas to take the entrance examination. He did a lot better than anyone expected."
No one likes to talk about the funeral. It
was a very happy time and a very sad time. Every remembered Uncle Hercules. We all loved
him. He was our favorite uncle.