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Spires: Remembering unusual relatives

Spires: Remembering unusual relatives

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My Uncle Cratus was an enigma of sorts.

He was one of those people with many characteristics, some bad, but most of them good. He had married my father’s sister and they had been married over 50 years when he passed away.

The bad was he liked to drink and if you can be good at something, he certainly was good at drinking. He was not above making his own spirits, by the way, and as a young man he had done quit a bit of that, I understand.

By the time I got old enough to remember him, he had slacked off his drinking ways a lot, so my memories don’t include much of his drinking years. Which is probably a good thing, by the way.

He was the wittiest person I have ever known. He was fun to be around and was always telling some sort of story to keep us entertained.

Family gatherings were always a blast as long as Uncle Cratus was around. He played the fiddle and, like Buddy Epson, was an excellent buck dancer. There is an 8mm video of him dancing, made by one of my father’s brothers, still floating around the family.

He was also a jack-of-all-trades and could fix just about anything. He made his living as a mechanic, so I guess that came in handy as well.

I would give just about anything to remember all of the stories he told about growing up and all of his exploits. I like the movie “Big Fish,” because it reminds me so much of my Uncle Cratus.

As I grew into adulthood, we became a lot closer. I had a wholesale store, and he would come by two or three times a week to see me.

Like I said, he was capable of doing just about anything so imagine my surprise one day when this very unattractive women showed up in my store. She was tall and lanky with a very distinct large nose.

I was suspicious, to say the least, thinking how odd this person looked. When she walked up to the counter, I realized it was Uncle Cratus dressed up like a woman.

He had decided that morning he was going to town dressed like a woman. His daughter had helped him with his makeup and he even fooled me until he got close enough.

I cannot to this day imagine what got into him to do such a thing, but he did it.

My store was in the same shopping center as an IGA, so, after he left me, he went to the grocery store and shopped. I watched him as he walked down the sidewalk, acting very prissy.

One day, a year or so later, he came in the store and I could tell he was not feeling well. He had been to the doctor that day and I was his first stop. When I asked how he was feeling he told me that they had just diagnosed him with lung cancer.

“I’m going to beat this thing,” I remember him saying.

He took all of the treatments and it was very hard on him. I went to see him many times in the hospital while he was recuperating from each treatment. Each time my Aunt Nilene was sitting by his side.

He passed away in 1978 and I still miss him to this day. In all of my travels and the people I have met never have I met someone like him. He was certainly different, to say the least.

Byron Spires is a retired newspaper editor. He has written dozens of short stories and serials in the Havana Herald. He recently published “The Curious Life of Marci Bell” in a series of three books. You can email him at


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