While visiting the town where I grew up, a month or so ago, memories both good and bad resurfaced. One of those memories involved my uncle. Blake was one of my father’s three older brothers. My dad (being the youngest) was always the one who seemed to get the most amount of chores, as his older brothers and sister felt that they had paid their dues and pushed many of their chores off on him. If the garden needed weeding and apples needed to be picked from the three apple trees in the orchard, Dad had the unpleasant task of pulling the weeds out in the direct sunlight, while his brothers would just sit on one of the limbs in the apple trees with shade in abundance, slowly picking apples, while occasionally having to sample them to insure quality (or that’s the excuse they gave Pop at the end of the day and dinner was not a priority).
My uncle Blake was very different. He worked hard at everything he did and while the other two brothers gathered apples at a snail’s pace, Blake would have his load picked by midday and then go over to where my Dad was pulling weeds and tilling the ground. He called my Dad Jun (as my Dad was named after Pap), another reason his siblings felt he needed to earn that name and work like double the amount that they would do. Blake would send Dad to get some water and he would take over, often not leaving until they were finished. This sort of behavior went on for years until all were married and had children of their own, except for Blake.
Blake went on to college and although not being able to finish, he absorbed all the teaching in business just like sponges absorb water. Blake worked two jobs, one at night at Frigidaire as a technician and the other managing a small apartment complex. He saved almost all of his money from his night job and with outstanding credit and a couple years later, he was able to buy a couple of the apartments. Blake wasn’t near content with just two of the twelve apartments, as he continued to save all that he received in the form of apartment rent. He also began playing cards on the side and with exceptional mathematical skills, he began with a bankroll of $200 and soon was making the equivalent of what he was taking in for rent. He then purchased another two apartments and hired someone to manage them as he worked nights and played cards during the day.
After a while the poker games began to dwindle down (or he was not as welcome at the tables as he once was). He began hanging out at the local bar and began playing pool. He even bought a secondhand table and put it in his apartment. Just like everything Blake attempted to do, he became a very good pool player and because he rarely played outside his home, very few people knew just how well he could play. He began frequenting bars and playing different games and at ten dollars a game, he quickly built up quite a large sum of money. As we all know, after hanging out at bars for years you begin to consume more than your fair share of alcohol. Blake was very fond of Kentucky bourbon and usually a night would begin with a drink and more times than not, the night would end the same way. I loved all my Uncles, but really enjoyed going to visit him.
One night while visiting him, he asked if I would like to walk down to Mackey’s and he would teach me how to play nine ball. About the time we got to the pool hall, the place was at near capacity. So we pulled up a couple bar stools and watched the games being played. One thing I respected about Uncle Blake was that when I visited him, he never drank around me, telling me the bad things that can go awry when you consume too much.
As we were watching the games, one table in particular was by far the betting table. The guy taking everyone’s money appeared to be a local college football player. He was “hammering” beers faster than the barmaid could bring them to him. After about six or seven straight winning games, the competition conceded. I asked my Uncle to take him on and show him what an old man could do. After a couple more jabs, he wandered over to the table and asked what the bet was and the guy said, very disrespectfully, “Whatever you can lay on the table old man, cause you aren’t going to see it again anyway.” Uncle Blake pulled out his wallet and only had a dollar bill and a hundred dollar bill inside. He asked the guy if he could break it and the guy said, again in a disrespectful manner, “If you got the balls old man we can play for the hundred and I will even let you break.” Uncle Blake said to the young man, “That’s an awful lot of money.” The guy just kept running his mouth until Uncle Blake laid the hundred dollar bill on top of the five 20s the other guy had already laid down. He quickly racked the balls, while my Uncle removed his jacket. He made a great break sinking three of the striped balls. He had a little touchy second shot, but as I had seen him so many times, he finessed it in leaving himself in great shape for his third shot.
Just as quickly as the game began, the game was over without a shot from the other guy. Uncle Blake knew this was a college kid and certainly could use the money more than he. He picked up his hundred and said, “That’s okay son, I just wanted to play.” The guy’s face turned red and you could see the rage coming through and as my uncle turned to get his jacket, the guy knocked him onto another table and began trying to shove the five 20s down my uncle’s throat. As he did this he busted my uncle’s lip in two places and his nose was bleeding as well. This guy was about 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed around 245 pounds. There was no way that my uncle was going to be able to get up. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his Chiefs Special and shot the guy once in his chest. The guy fell back onto the floor and someone called 911. Just as if it had been a bad dream, a man lay on the ground not moving as my uncle had picked himself up off the pool table and had a blank look on his face as the blood was flowing from his nose and mouth.
By the time the paramedics got there the man had died. My uncle was taken into custody and another relative came to pick me up. After about 11 months the trial was over and although he was found guilty of manslaughter, he was allowed probation due to his exemplary record and military service. A civil suit was filed and after months of long drawn-out days that turned to months, my uncle was found guilty and the man’s family was awarded a settlement that exhausted my uncle’s entire wealth. He said at the trial that he was very sorry for the family and with a tear running down his cheek said that he never intended to kill their son and if there were anything that he could have done to avoid it he would have.
I will never forget the answer my uncle gave my dad when my Dad asked him why he would shoot a man over a pool game, especially after winning the game. Uncle Blake’s words were, “Jun, you have no idea what it felt like when he pushed me down on that table and tried to shove that money down my throat.” “The taste of the money, blood and chalk as everyone around the room was laughing.”
Several years passed and my uncle died and I cannot help but feel that after he had killed the guy, lost his entire work that he had built over the years, that grief was what he succumbed to until his death.