It started towards the end of the school year, when Mom got really tired. She grew frail, had trouble walking from the car to the store. By summer, her skin was grayish and she stayed in bed with the curtains drawn.
Daddy was busy being mayor, although it seemed everyone in town was turning against him. When he wasn’t running the town or defending himself, he took to the bedroom to look after Mom, rubbing her head and telling her maybe he should quit. But she would never let him.
I knew things were getting worse, both for mom’s health and Daddy’s politics, especially when Uncle Roy showed up out of the blue. I was too young to remember anything about my mom’s brother, but I’d heard the stories. Mom’s smile would light up whenever she talked about him, even when she called him a loose cannon. I figured since she called me a firecracker, we’d get on just fine.
He’d come down from Canada, arriving late in the night. I was in my pajama’s, half asleep when he waltzed in, limb-long and wide open, filling the whole house with his story of how he’d caught a train then a bus then hitchhiked clear across Ohio and West Virginia. He had longish hair that curled at the ears. He smelled of the road, dried sweat, and adventure. He had no luggage. When he asked Daddy for a beer, Daddy came back with antacids.
I followed Uncle Roy around the house, giddy to have some company. The way he spoke about things was a shock. I was used my daddy, who as mayor I’ll remind you, never badmouthed anyone, even when Barton Lindsey called him all sorts of terrible names. But hearing Uncle Roy talk about the war, about Nixon and how it was ’72 and we’d been through enough, it was scary and new. I think it made Daddy uncomfortable, though. People in Crawford didn’t talk much about the war. Well, they did, just not the bad parts.
But Uncle Roy had come for Mom. And when he hopped in bed beside her, set his arms around her shoulders and called her Sissy, right then, for a split second she was herself again. You could see they were related. Same sandy blonde curls, same sad blue eyes. Mom said he shouldn’t have come. Why did take a chance with customs and enter the country? Uncle Roy just fixed her pillow and said the draft was finished. And he’d tell any judge in any courtroom he wasn’t going anywhere to fight an unjust war.
I was twelve and only partly knew what they meant. I knew a lot of people didn’t like Nixon and what Mom said were dirty tricks, but sometimes, on the news, it felt like our country was going to split in half. Uncle Roy said McGovern had a chance, even though Daddy always said we should wait and see.
Since it seemed my uncle was a real live criminal, we didn’t drive anywhere. During the days, we’d go up to the record store or maybe grab ice cream. Uncle Roy wasn’t a loose cannon at all, but more like a sparkler, burning bright and alive and a little bit scary as it reached your fingertips.
On the Fourth of July, Mom sent us up to the drug store to pick up a prescription. Truth was, I was excited to show off my cool Uncle to all my friends. He was younger than my parents, and with his long hair and sunglasses to go along with his hitchhiking ways, he wasn’t the type you saw around our town very often.
My friends weren’t at the drugstore, but the sidewalk was lined with American flags and streamers and I was hoping we’d go down to the park that night for the fireworks. Maybe Uncle Roy could take me at least, and Dad could keep Mom company. Those thoughts left me soon as I saw Baron Lindsey out there campaigning–if you could call it that–talking his usual filth about how white and black kids shouldn’t be learning together.
I slowed my steps, wanting to turn around, but Uncle Roy just kept walking in that casual way of his. Everything stopped then.
“Argo?” Barton said, like a question. Again, Barton Lindsey was probably my least favorite person in Crawford. And now that he was running against my daddy to be mayor, no less, he was nearly unbearable.
“It’s Margaret,” I snapped. Only friends called me Argo, not fat sweaty pigs who accused my daddy of being a communist in the papers. Fat Barton had no right to speak to me at all, although he wasn’t paying attention to me by then. He had deep set eyes on Uncle Roy, and I knew there was going to be trouble, just knew it.
Uncle Roy sounded like he was trying to scrounge up a hello but his voice didn’t make the trip. Again, I tried to nudge him inside, thinking my uncle didn’t know Barton, what kind dirty tricks he could pull. But they only stood there, didn’t shake or nod or do any of that stuff men usually did when getting acquainted. It was more like they were about to count steps for a duel.
The old men sitting around sort of snickered, grumbling and watching closely. Finally Barton blinked. He gave me a lasting look before he got back to his filth talk with the old timers. We entered the drug store, and I pretended not to notice the Barton Lindsey, Fixing Crawford sign in the window.
“Do you know him?” I asked Uncle Roy once we were inside the store.
“Sorta, I guess you could say I knew his son.”
“He has a son?”
“Had. We played football together. He died in the war.”
“Yeah,” Uncle Roy shook his head. “You’d think he’d have changed his ways by now.”
I turned back, sort of feeling bad for Barton Lindsey. Uncle Roy was trying to cheer me up, buying a couple Roman candles, store bought bottle rockets and ice cream. Fourth of July to go, he called it. I smiled, despite being stuck on Baron Lindsey losing a son, not really in the mood for ice cream even on a screaming hot Fourth of July day.
By the time we were leaving, I’d almost changed my mind about Barton, thinking how hard it must’ve been for his family. How hard it must be for his family. But that didn’t last.
Through the doors I saw Officer Haywood had arrived. He was talking with Barton and the others. They motioned towards us, jabbing fingers and nodding and right then I knew what was happening. So did Uncle Roy. He was from Crawford. I realized then why Mom was upset he’d come back at all.
We stood at the doors, as Officer Haywood strode towards us. I was clutching my mom’s medicine, an ice cream sandwich, our small, sad assortment of fireworks. In the distance I saw Dawn, Janet, and Vicki, crossing the road, towels over their shoulders from the pool.
I guess they’d get to see Uncle Roy after all.