By: Taylor Reese
Todd's mother rushed into the bedroom, removed the blanket, and took him from his crib. She ran out of the house, down the
short lane and onto the unpaved road with the baby in her arms. It was a quarter of a mile to the next farm and another hundred
yards or more to the Thomas house.
She stood at the gate with Todd in her arms and yelled,
"Mr. Thomas, Mr. Thomas,"then waited for him to respond. He didn't. She rushed a little closer to his house, stopped and called
again, "Mr. Thomas."
After a few moments the kitchen door opened, and a man stepped out onto
the back porch.
"Yeah, Willa Mae. What do you want?"
as fast as you can," she yelled. "Uncle Zack's having another one of his crazy fits, and I can't handle him when he's acting
like that. Can you help me?"
"All right, Willa Mae." Mr. Thomas reached up to the hat rack,
grabbed his cap and ran as fast as he could to catch up with her and Todd. Together they rushed back to her house.
As they entered the yard, Uncle Zack was still fussing. "Damn you. If I had wanted you to sing I would have asked you; and
besides, you--you over there on that top limb--you don't even sing on key. Shut up! Shut up! I told you to shut up."
His warning made no difference to the birds. They continued to sing. He became so angry that he picked up a small chock of
wood and threw it at them. Leaves and limbs prevented his powerful throw from hitting any of the birds, but the commotion
caused them to fly to a nearby tree, where they continued their morning ritual.
in her arms, Willa Mae went inside the house and closed the door. Mr. Thomas walked up to the old man and put his hand on
Uncle Zack's shoulder.
"Zack, them birds aren't harming you. God put them here to brighten
"Then God didn't know what He was doing. That's not music. Has He ever heard me
play the piano?"
"I'm sure He has, Zack, but He doesn't comment on everything that goes on
down here on earth; you know that."
"Well, He should hear me. Where are his priorities?"
Mr. Thomas took him by the hand and gently led him to the front porch. "Let's just sit here
for a while. Willa Mae will fix you some breakfast, and I could use a cup of coffee myself. Have you had breakfast?"
"No. You know, I live alone in the old place down yonder, ever since mama died. I miss her, but I know everybody's got to
check in sooner or later. It seems to me that sometimes the Master takes the good for himself and leaves the evil down here
on earth. Do you think you and I will go someday or will the Master make an exception?"
afraid God doesn't make that type of exception. But, I'll tell you this, you'd better get right with Him. Don't keep cussing
them birds. They aren't doing you any harm.
"And, Zack, in the first place, why do you cuss?
You don't have to use profanity like that when something doesn't go the way you think it should. It's normal to be upset now
and again, but there are other ways to handle your frustration or dissatisfaction."
might be right, but it sure helps to say what you think in the way you want to say it. What do you say when you're angry?"
"I try to sorta hold it back, and the first thing you know it goes away."
"Well, I'm not married and you are, so I guess you've had more of those situations. I'm telling you right now, though, it
doesn't sound normal to me, and it's not healthy, either, to hold all that feeling inside."
Willa Mae came to the door and said, "I'll have breakfast in a few minutes."
was Willa Mae's husband's uncle. He was a bachelor, lived alone in the old home place since his mother died, except for when
Annabelle, the colored woman, came to clean and cook. Some days she was there all day and then would stay overnight. Most
said that Uncle Zack never had a girlfriend, but others knowingly nodded their heads.
young--I'll bet you not more than thirty-five--and she's neat and awfully helpful to his every wish," said one of the church
members. "And besides that," she continuned, "she's not black, not black-black, you know. She's sort of in between. Somewhere
along the line a spot of yellow got mixed in. Plus that, I think she's pretty."
was well-educated and a gifted pianist. He did bookkeeping for many of the small businesses in Leviton, located in eastern
North Carolina. When he was not doing that, he played the piano at civil and social affairs, weddings, and at the homes of
some of the people in the area. He loved playing the piano and would do so for hours, socially or for his own amusement.
He had previously been conscripted for service during the Civil War, but shortly after he entered, the doctors learned that
he had kidney problems, piles and a bladder infection. They gave him a medical discharge, and he returned to the old home
place in Leviton, a small town of only about 1000 people, but an active community.
Mae yelled from the front door, "Uncle Zack, your breakfast is ready. And, Mr. Thomas, I fixed you a big cup of hot coffee."
They went inside, and while Uncle Zack was eating scrambled eggs, biscuits and thickened
gravy, Mr. Thomas had a cup of Willa Mae's good, strong coffee.
When Uncle Zack finished
eating, Mr Thomas said, "Zack, don't you think we ought to take a walk down to your place?"
"All right. I'm ready." As they were leaving Uncle Zack said, "Willa Mae, you sure can make that gravy just like mama used
As they started out he turned, looked up to the top of the the old oak tree and said,
"Damn birds. They're up here every morning with their singing, chattering and squealing. God might have put them here for
a purpose, but I sure don't believe He's the one responsible for their singing. He has to have better taste than that. And
if He is responsible, He ought to listen to my playing. He'd change his mind."
down the road, and Mr. Thomas asked, "Zack, why haven't you ever married? You're talented, and you ain't bad looking. Now,
I know you're not twenty-one, but a lot of women like you, and they love the way you play the piano. I just wondered why you
never did hook up with one. There are a lot of them around, you know."
"Well, it's like this:
My mother always said I shouldn't marry unless I found someone I really loved--someone I loved more than anything else in
the world. And you know something, I never have had that feeling. I've always loved myself. Don't you?"
Mr. Thomas nodded.
"Now, I do have a love, but it's not a woman."
"What is it, Zack?"
"It's music, Leon. I love to play that piano, and people love to hear
me play. That makes me happy and it makes them happy. What more can a sane man ask for?"
got a point, my friend."
"Then we agree."
The two walked
on down the road to Zack's house. And when they stepped on the porch, Mr. Thomas said, "Zack, why don't you just lie down
and take it easy for a while. Rest never hurt any of us."
"No, I don't want to. I'd rather
play the piano. Come on in and listen."
They stepped inside and Uncle Zack immediately walked
over and sat on the piano bench. He was dramatic in anything he did.
He pushed himself slightly
away from the piano, extended his arms over the keyboard, looked over at Mr. Thomas and said, "Now, Leon, this is real music.
It's called 'Moonlight Sonata.' It was mama's favorite. I play it for her at least once a day. She's not with me any longer,
but I know she can hear it."
He lowered his head, and for a moment was silent. Then he looked
upward and said, "Mama, this one is for you," as he placed his hands over the keys and, after a dramatic series of delicate
grace notes, he began playing. Mr. Thomas sat quietly, with his head bowed, until the old man completed the piece. And as
he raised his head Uncle Zack rose from the bench, turned and, standing erect, looked straight at Mr. Thomas and took a bow.
Mr. Thomas clapped lightly and said, "Zack, that was wonderful. You're really good. I like
that piece; it's no wonder it was your mama's favorite."
Mr. Thomas got up from the chair,
turned and said, "Well, old friend, I'll be seeing you. Take care and don't you mess with them birds any more. God put them
here for a purpose, just as he did you and me, and they like to sing their tunes as much as you like to play yours. So be
a little easy on them."
Without saying a word, Uncle Zack smiled, took another bow, and sat
back on the piano stool and began playing a series of Chopin études.
Mr. Thomas walked back
to Willa Mae's. She stood inside the screen door. The fright Uncle Zack had given her had not dissipated.
"I think he's okay now, Willa Mae. He's back at the piano, and that's where he's the happiest. Let's hope that he won't have
another one for a while. I'd better be going now, but call if you need me."
Willa Mae thanked
him for the help he had been, but at the same time she knew that Uncle Zack was often a scary problem. She smiled as she reminded
herself that you don't always have a say in who your relatives are, whether by marriage or otherwise.
Todd contined to grow and Uncle Zack continued to tell the boy his tall tales with only an occasional bout with the birds
or one of his crazy fits. The fits were not too bad when some of the older children were around. Their antics would turn the
old man's attention to other things, and, with luck, the seizure would pass without incident.