My dad’s only brother, Noel D. Grant passed away last month at the ripe old age of 89.  Heck, I don’t even know where to begin.  He was my neighbor, my “partner-in-crime” in a plethora of projects, and most of all, was my friend.  I often told folks that I was the mayor of our little Deep East Texas community, and that Uncle Noel was the sheriff and dog catcher.  He took his role as “sheriff” serious and relished taking the law into his own hands, including making citizens arrests and vehicle impoundments!

I honestly can’t tell you what the middle initial D. was for.  He said, “it didn’t stand for anything.”  I do know that his dad’s middle initial was D (for Doice) and that his grandmother’s name was Dee.  Ironically neither my mom nor my dad has middle names.  Arcadia was apparently so poor back in the day, that they couldn’t even afford middle names!

Although Uncle Noel didn’t go to college, he was a very smart man, could patiently solve just about any problem, and was very good as a pipe fitter, welder, electrician, and plumber.  He also cut and raked thousands of bales of hay for my dad and his cows and was the best fence builder around.  My favorite talent that he had however was inventing gadgets and gimmicks to make things work and to “wire around the switch.”  He was the original MacGyver.

Not only did Uncle Noel not graduate from college, but it was also said that he barely graduated from high school in nearby Timpson.  Apparently, the THS principal came to my Grandmother Ruth and told her Noel wasn’t going to graduate because he wasn’t attending school.  My Granny assured him that Noel got on the bus every day.   According to Uncle Noel, when the bus made its last stop on the way to school, he and his buddies would get off and spend the day in town before catching a ride back home that afternoon!  How’s that for a rural transit system?  If nothing else, Uncle Noel was born to be a cowboy, storyteller, and an outlaw.

His life was far from a cakewalk.  He was married seven time (his last, Dot, a saint), spent time in the penitentiary for cattle rustling, and battled alcoholism for many years.  He seemed to have replaced alcohol with chewing tobacco during his last quarter of life.  After he passed away, he left me the last unopened bottle of vodka he ever purchased to show what one could do if he sets his mind to it.  That was nothing.  Dot even turned him into a Pentecostal!  He also left me a Mason-pinned felt cowboy hat (even though the Masons kicked him out), an almost new .22 rifle (he wore out many), and an original dog painting of what I suspect was a dog he owned.  He loved dogs and knew I did too.  He loved having me bring my merry band of terriers over to find and catch chicken snakes when he lost sight of them.

Despite being good with horses, dogs, cows, chickens, goats, and anything else in the animal world, he was quite good with farming and gardening as well.  For many years he grew a fine garden in the ground and then in large tubs that cattle feed came in, and like his mother, loved growing and eating Asian persimmons.  He also helped me with my sugar cane production for years as he grew up eating ribbon cane syrup along with my dad.

Other than entertaining and unbelievable stories that will be told for years, Uncle Noel’s greatest legacy in Arcadia will be all the restoration projects he helped me with.  The man could make or repair just about anything.

One of our very first project together was saving my maternal grandparents’ old, dilapidated barn which was about to fall.  Uncle Noel resurrected it for me, and I later had it fully restored.

The next I think was retrieving his parents’ old buckboard wagon entombed in the shed next to their corn crib and restoring it to working order for me.  I used to pull it around the yard with my Pappaw’s old 1953 Model M. John Deer tractor.  Uncle Noel told me how they used that very wagon to harvest their dried corn crop each year before loading it into the corn crib.  He and my dad would pick the “up” rows while poor John Paul Johnson from down the road would have to pick the “down” row that the wagon pushed over.

The next project was moving that old corn crib from my paternal grandparents’ place to my maternal grandparents’ place where I live.  He literally cut it in half, loaded each crib on a trailer somehow, and hauled them here to the exact spot where I wanted the finished product out back.  After he got both halves moved, his billy goat wandered several miles down the highway to rejoin them!  Noel explained how they’d use the crop of corn to feed all the livestock, including feeding un-shucked ears to the horses, shucked ears to the cows and pigs, and shelled ears to the chickens.  The ground corn would get used for grits and meal for cornbread to feed the family.

Next, was the restoration of his maternal grandparents’ house (“Big Momma’s”) where Uncle Noel entertained me with a million memories and built the new fence around the one-acre yard for me while friend and master carpenter Larry Shelton restored the house.

After that was dismantling the old dogtrot house my mom was born in so the wood could be used in restoring the old dogtrot house (“The Emanis House”) my mom was raised in and where I now live.  He built the fence around my back garden here.

He also helped me gather up and collect all the old horse and mule drawn farm implements our kin had used.  I have them all in a row between Big Momma’s and what used to be my sugar cane patch (now my Earth-Kind Narcissus trial).

There was nothing my Uncle Noel wouldn’t help me with, fix for me, or come driving over in his truck ASAP with rifle in his hand and tobacco in his mouth.  If Mrs. G wonders where I learned to use “truth distortion for educational purposes,” he was a wellspring, albeit much more replete with four-letter embellishment.  There will never be another Noel D. Grant.  Not even close.  He was truly one of a kind.