Charles Price died in his sleep on Halloween. His son Robbie discovered the peaceful corpse still watching television. The head, with spiraling long hair was resting peacefully upon soft pillows. Charles’s reading glasses were snug in place upon his humble nose, secured firmly behind enormous Price ears. His hands were crossed over his heart, as if in prayer.
Robbie Price drove to the Price homestead on Penn Street in Huntingdon the morning of November 1st to check on his father. The elder had recently undergone a stinting of his circulatory system and having not called his son early in the morning as was the routine, his son Robbie became worried. After placing an unanswered phone call to his father, Robbie rushed over to Penn Street and ran up the steep sidewalk leading to the rear entrance of the Price mansion, nearly losing his hat as he made his way under a trellis of grape vines that have been growing alongside and over the back porch for as long as anyone in the family can remember.
The door was locked and a spare key was missing from the milk box that generations ago was actually used by a delivery man from nearby Strickler’s Dairy. Robbie grabbed an aluminum ladder and crawled to the top of the porch and waded through a mesh of vines to his father’s bedroom window. Glancing inside breathless, he discovered his father resting in peace.
Charles Price was the man I was named after. The account of Charles Price’s death was told to me by his sister, my grandmother, one week later. She said she “screamed her head off” after hanging up the phone on Robbie who called to tell her the tragic news.
“He was just up here yesterday. I don’t know how I’ll get by with him gone. He took me everywhere and just the other day, we drove to the Amish farms in Belleville. The doctor said Charlie wasn’t supposed to drive, but you know, he could never sit still. He stayed for dinner. I made roast beef with potatoes, carrots and turnips. He said it was good. He took a plate home but I don’t know if he ever had the chance to eat it or not.”
“He was my name-sake,” I reminded grandma.
“Oh, I know. There must have been at least three boys in the family named after my brother Charlie. Oh, you should have seen how many peopled showed up at his funeral service. There was no viewing. He was cremated. Robbie and his sister scattered his ashes around Charlie’s favorite hunting spot. Your Dad had the nerve to show up at the church service,” grandma snickered.
My mother, despite a new husband and twenty years that have passed since divorcing my father, refuses to acknowledge that the man who impregnated her with me is still alive. Provoked by the site of her first husband, my mother could have easily taken a church hymnal and hit my father over the head during the singing of ‘Old Rugged Cross”. She would not even consider it a sin, nor disrespectful to our dead uncle Charlie. Grandma, at least, still says hello to him when she crosses his path.
Although Uncle Charlie is my mother’s uncle, my father, who lives just a few doors away from the Price homestead with his new wife Jan Price (no relation to the Penn Street Prices) has remained cordial with Uncle Charlie over the years. It was, after all, Uncle Charlie who introduced my dad to my mother when my mother was only fifteen and my father, just under twenty-one.
Dad was working at the sneaker factory in Smithfield when he met Uncle Charlie. According to Dad, he was trapped by the Price/ Miller family and its lead hit man Uncle Charlie, into marrying my mother. Uncle Charlie always seemed fishy to my father– as if he had set Dad up for the catastrophe that was my parent’s union. Dad claims that when he wanted to spend time with my most precious, fresh mother on Sunday afternoons, he simply took a ham to my grandfather—advice whispered to dad by my uncle Charlie over the boiling hot rubber machines at the shoe factory. My father insists that using a ham as an indiscrete payoff for pussy was common in little towns back then, considering there were many large Christian families whose eldest offspring were old enough to get out from under the cross of being a dependent. What was poor old dad’s role to church and community? He came from a family with lots of land and hams could be bought for just a few bucks back then.
Pap Pap would roast the ham while little dad and mom went skinny dipping in Shaver’s Creek, which was where, according to dad, my brother Bill was conceived.
“That’s how I want to go, grandma. I want to die in my sleep,” I said. “He seemed like a nice man to be named after. I’m sorry for our loss. He was the one who introduced dad and mom.”
“Oh? Was he now?” grandma asked, trying to sound surprised.
“Yep! Dad told me all about it. I guess naming me after him was some sort of offering.”
“I guess so,” grandma laughed.
“What’s that sound?” I asked. “Are you in the bath tub again?”
“Yep, I just pulled the plug. You always call me at this time on Sunday morning, Charlie. By now, you’d think you’d have learned my routine. Well I gotta go now. Water’s gettin’ cold. I love you.”
“I love you too, grandma. I wish you would get a shower,” I said before hanging up from my weekly call. “I worry about you slipping while crawling out of that old bathtub. You live alone. Who comes by to check on you every morning?”
“Ain’t that the truth! Well listen, if it ain’t that, it will be something else,” she said, giggling, as if she no longer feared death.