Mack Williams column: Uncle Clarence, Aunt Lola and Cousin Gene
My uncle, Clarence Elledge, was married to my father’s sister Lola, and they had a son named Gene. As I remember, we didn’t see them often, and when we did, it was usually when our family and their’s happened to be visiting my grandparents the same time, at their home on Sparta Road in the Wilkes County community of Fairplains.
There was a famous North Carolina outdoor-drama actor back then by the name of Charles Elledge. He portrayed the Rev. Sims in Kermit Hunter’s “Horn in the West,” always performed in the town of Boone’s “Daniel Boone Amphitheater.” I seem to remember someone saying that Uncle Clarence was related to Charles Elledge, but I’m not sure. Anyway, my Uncle Clarence was entertaining in his own right, not needing to bask in the reflected entertainment value of someone else. Back then, I also liked to think that our branch of the Williamses were related to Andy Williams and Roger Williams, the latter not the theologian of Rhode Island (but who knows?), instead the popular pianist.
Uncle Clarence was very intelligent and talkative, and I always enjoyed being around him because, as I said before, I found him to be to very entertaining.
His son, Gene was highly intelligent, and although I haven’t seen Gene in 40-some years, I’m sure that is still the case. Gene scored the highest grade ever made on the SAT at West Wilkes High School up to that date. Although a chemistry major, his beer-making prowess left something to be desired, for I later got “sick as the proverbial dog” at Appalachian State from a batch which he brewed there. Only the opening of a window and the “mouth-gulping” of voluminous deep breaths of frigid, Appalachian Mountains mid-winter air seemed to calm my stomach.
Aunt Lola had that wonderful North Carolina mountain-foothills accent, as did all of my paternal aunts. She was a larger lady, having the kind of great, soft arms with which a child likes to be hugged and enfolded. I remember her practically always smiling and her voice frequently seeming to be just one step away from a laugh. One time, she gave me some of Gene’s old science-fiction books, saying “Gene reads all sorts of truck” — ”truck” being slang for “junk.”
Uncle Clarence was short and portly with jet black hair and high cheekbones (those also a little “portly”). His wealth of part-Cherokee heritage was reflected in the color of his hair and the prominence of his cheekbones. It may sound funny, but his speaking voice was very similar to that of the soft-spoken voice of the late actor Howard McNear, who played Floyd the barber on the old “Andy Griffith Show.”
Uncle Clarence would talk about many things, often ending up with something pertaining to World War II. He had been in the Army in the European Theater of the war and spent time guarding German prisoners, sometimes while they were en route to someplace else.
Germans ‘just like us’
No matter on what subject his musings began, Uncle Clarence’s ending remarks always dealt with the similarities between the English and German languages, pointing out to me the German “roots” of many English words, such as “trinken” for drink and “sitzen” for sit, along with their conjugations: “Trinkt, trank, getrunken” for “drink, drank, drunk,” and “sitzt, sass, gesessen” for “sit, sat, had sat.” He would also, and always without fail, remind me that the average German soldier of World War II was “just like us.”
Whenever Uncle Clarence embarked on this last, lingual subject of discussion (and he embarked on it a lot), he would always end up by asking me if I knew what the German word “pissen” meant; and although he had told me before, I always acted as if he hadn’t, and he would always tell me again.
Well, as Uncle Clarence often told me, it means exactly the same thing as the English abbreviation (slang) of it means. So if by chance, you have been in a state of “unenlightenment” regarding the meaning of the German verb “pissen,” in reading this bit of information, you can now consider yourself to be one of the “illuminati” (sort of).
I wondered back then why Uncle Clarence’s discussion of the German language invariably ended on that verb, and now I think I know. Perhaps the frequency of his mention of that word to me reflected the frequency of its mention to him during the war, becoming reiterated over and over in his mind by that multitude of German prisoners requesting use of the available “facilities.”