I haven’t really ever blogged about my Uncle Curtis. I’ve only ever posted about him a couple of times on social media. He was the inspiration for our cat, Andy’s, name. And next to my parents, he was my closest family member.
My father was the youngest of four. Gladys, the oldest, died at age 7 when she was scalded from water in her mother’s wash tub. She had put her little hands on the sides and tried to lift herself up to see what was inside and the tub tipped and poured scalding hot water all over her. Next, was Uncle Curtis, born in 1922, then Uncle Romie, born in 1926, and finally my father, born in 1931. They were all children of the coal fields, living in Kingston, West Virginia, their father a miner for the Kingston Pocahontas Coal Company. The town originally had a population of about 2,500, had two YMCAs, a theater, bowling alley, and was the last stop on the Paint Creek Branch of the C&O Railroad. Eventually, the mine shut down and everything was removed except for the school, which still stands today but is derelict.
Uncle Curtis attended school until the 11th grade. I know he, his brothers, and parents eventually moved to South Charleston, West Virginia, and built the house on Kentucky Street where I grew up, but I don’t know all of the particulars. What I do know is that he worked as a stock boy for the GC Murphy Company store in downtown South Charleston. He was completely deaf in one ear and only had partial hearing in his other ear, but what he lacked in hearing he made up for in photographs.
He was extremely unobtrusive and could melt into a crowd, old beat up second-hand Nikon in hand, the frayed strap around his neck, ball cap on backwards, and take pictures of anyone and everyone. People were his favorite subject and when I inherited all of his photographs and negatives, I had no clue who was in the photos he took, but they were all so amazing, giving one the impression that the people didn’t even know he was there. Or, at least, didn’t mind. I tried taking up the lens after his death and found that people would spot me, stare, and turn away. I didn’t have the ability to fade into the scenery like Uncle Curtis did. So, instead, I packed up his Nikon and took it to Egypt, where it captured the pyramids, temples, and tombs of that amazing country.
His passion may have been photography, but his love was me, Sarah, Lollie, and Tommy, his nieces and nephew. He never married nor had children of his own, but I know he loved us. Any time I mentioned taking an interest in something, he would truck off to the library, intent on finding out more about that interest which he would then bring up in conversation later on. I remember a happenstance mention by me about watching Wimbledon which led to a his lifelong interest in the sport and you could always find a tennis match blasting from the television in his one-room apartment. In the summer of 1993, I spent ten weeks doing research in the field of space plasma and aeronomics and was actually published. Uncle Curtis was the only member of my family to read that academic paper and ask me questions about it. He had an incredibly curious mind, a sweet personality, an amazing sense of humor, and magnificent fashion sense. Some of my favorite clothes were Christmas and birthday gifts from him that he had picked out.
He died two weeks after my father from, what we can only assume, was a broken heart. Were he still alive, he would have turned 97 this week. He was one of my most favorite people on Earth and I miss him. It has been long past due that I write about him and remember him properly. Love you, Uncle Curtis, and hope you had a wonderful birthday in the great beyond!