JENNY and UNCLE GROVER

By Kathryn J. Foster

As a child Jenny suffered a life-altering trauma, involving Uncle Grover, her Dad's only brother still alive, and many years his senior. In the 1890's, Uncle Grover survived diphtheria's lamentable death-march after four close siblings died, all before the birth of Dad the youngest of 13 children.

Dad inherited their father's Blacksmith and carpentry trade, bringing in some money, while Uncle Grover focused on farming.
When Dad brought his schoolteacher bride to the family homestead, a new phase for the century-old house began. Uncle Grover lived a quiet bachelor life, subservient to his younger brother, whose children saw more of him on a daily basis than their father who labored long hours in the shop.

One day Uncle Grover was sitting on the porch beside 11-year-old Jenny as they watched horses hauling loads of hay to the barn. He lamented, "I'm useless now that I can't work along with your brothers in the hayfield." Jenny answered, "But you are too sick, and would be helping if you could."

She thought of times when Uncle Grover soothed her childish fears and patiently watched over all of them when their parents were not home.

Suddenly Uncle Grover slumped sideways falling off his chair. She was horrified to see his mouth twisting as he made garbled sounds. The family circle became frayed when Uncle Grover suffered his stroke.

The doctor came, left medications and ordered him kept quietly in bed.


A sister of Dad and Uncle Grover came to help Mama with the numerous chores.

One hot July day Jenny was helping Aunt Eva shell peas from the garden. Jenny left to take a bowl of chicken soup to uncle Grover in his bedroom nearby. She carefully placed it on a towel draped over the pillow, yet somehow the bowl tipped, slopping greasy broth & bits of meat onto the towel, staining uncle Grover's nightshirt. Jenny was terrified, fearing a reprimand from Mama, who was high strung and nervous with too much work overwhelming her. Jenny had only wanted to please uncle Grover, now this dilemma. Gently in halting words he said, "Accidents happen", motioned her to be quiet and continue after changing the towel & clothing.

Relieved, she recalled how when she felt helpless as a small child with storms pounding and wind screeching in dark spaces, Uncle Grover was always there to comfort.

Even though uncle Grover had always lived in the old homestead, Jenny realized they had taken him for granted. She felt sad because Uncle Grover had no wife, children or home to call his own.

After the "soup- spilling" incident Jenny returned to the kitchen. The wood cook-stove was stoked for baking bread. Buzzing houseflies struggled to escape the sticky flycatcher hanging over the table. Feeling tired, Jenny lethargically placed dishes on the table.

A puzzling sound came from uncle Grover's bedroom that sent Jenny rushing to investigate. Looking inside she saw him beginning to fall backwards, eyes vacant with his spirit already departing. She screamed, horrified to see he had climbed out of bed and used the commode chair, though warned not to get up by himself. Aunt Eva rushed in unsuccessfully trying to break his fall. Mama became hysterical; Dad was called from the work- shop. Jenny carried the repugnant- smelling pail from under the commode chair and emptied it in the outside toilet, cleansing it as discreetly as possible. Nauseating odor clung to Jenny's nostrils; even the disinfectant used to wash the chamber pail seemed offensive. That night, checking the room shared by Jenny and her older sister (already asleep), Mama noticed how Jenny, clinging to the side of the straw-filled mattress was shaking and clammy. She was allowed into Mama's bed, since Dad was sitting up all night in the front room with uncle Grover's remains. This was the custom in those days. A neighbor, who performed such rituals, had bathed & " laid Uncle Grover out", placing him in the coffin delivered from town.

Jenny's passionate nature longed to express her grief. She drew a heart and printed, "God go with you," on a piece of paper. Slipping into the room she tucked it into the coffin, hoping nobody would notice.

By the third day when a church service was conducted, the coffin-room was odious.

The local Pastor spoke of Uncle Grover's life of service and kindness.

Women from the church arrived to sing, "We are going down the valley one by one". Mournful organ tones accompanied the singing and added to the pathos. Jenny could not free herself of the poignancy surrounding Uncle Grover's illness and death for a long time. Yet when grown, Uncle Grover's life finally lost its pitiableness, and brought sweet, lasting memories.

Published in 2013 in an Anthology of Short Stories titled " Sketches of Memory" (Uncle Grover is Uncle Den, Aunt Eva is Aunt Nina, Jenny is Author)