“She sold her soul to the Devil for a Cadillac.”
“Who sold her soul to the Devil?” I asked.
When she was in her mid-nineties, my mother and I would spend time together at the kitchen table having coffee and cookies. Mother would often reminisce about her past life, and her recollections could be both humorous and informative, especially when she was telling stories about her long-departed relatives. As long as the coffee and cookies lasted, she would relate stories about who was who, or who did what, or who was said to have done whatever it was that she remembered from that particular chapter of her family’s history.
Aunt Ruby was one of mother’s aunts.
“Did I ever meet Aunt Ruby?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. She came to your sister Rosemary’s wedding, when she married Bernnie.”
“Yes, I think I remember her. She must have been the one who looked like a saloon woman out of one of those old black and white westerns. She was kind of, well, different.”
Mother leaned back in her chair and laughed. “Different? I’ll say she was different.”
She dipped a cookie in her coffee, took a bite, and continued.
“Everyone said that she married Uncle Roy for his money, but I don’t know. I think maybe she did love him.”
“Did Uncle Roy have a lot of money?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, but not as much as everyone liked to think.”
I heard about Uncle Roy many times while growing up, but never met him. Like many of my mother’s family, he was a character.
“How did he make his money?” I asked.
Mother took another sip of coffee and set the cup down on the table. She paused for a few moments, then got a serious look on her face, like she was about to say something very important.
“Roy would hypnotize people who were going to have a long operation. He was paid well for that, but that isn’t where he made most of his money.”
I had heard many stories about Uncle Roy, but I did not mind hearing them told again. There was always the chance that I would learn something new. Even if I didn’t, a good story is always a good story.
“I heard that he was a fortune teller, and that’s where he made his money.”
Mother laughed the sort of laugh that said she considered fortune telling a bunch of nonsense, and those who fell for such nonsense, just plain “goofy.”
“Uncle Roy,” she continued, “was run out of Detroit by the police.”
“Really?” I asked. “Why?”
“He was a crook,” she replied in a tone that said I was asking a dumb question. Her assessment of Uncle Roy was based upon common sense logic. All fortune tellers are crooks. Uncle Roy was a fortune teller. Therefore, Uncle Roy was a crook.
“Wasn’t he more than just a hypnotist and fortune teller?”
I asked the question because I knew from stories other members of mother’s family told that there was a lot more to Uncle Roy, and some of it was downright scary.
She sipped a little more coffee. “Uncle Roy worshipped the devil.”
“I heard that he was a spiritualist,” I said.
She continued: “I don’t know whether he was a spiritualist, whatever that is, but I do know that everyone was nervous around him. They said that Roy could read minds. He knew what you were thinking. You had to be careful of what you were thinking if he was in the room.”
Like I said, I had heard all of this before, and not just from my mother.
One evening, right after I graduated from college, I attended a family gathering at the home of Uncle Joe and Aunt June. “Aunt Junie” was one of Mother’s two sisters.
As I remember, we were all seated in the living room eating ice cream. Uncle Joe finished his, and then set the bowl on the floor for his dog to lick clean.
Someone mentioned Uncle Roy and immediately the conversation took a new and much more interesting direction. Uncle Joe began to tell of a night he spent with Roy.
“I was never so scared in all of my life,” he began. “Roy just sat at the dining room table, staring into a plate full of blood. “
“Blood?” someone asked.
“That’s right, blood.”
“But why blood?”
“I don’t know. I guess he was meditating. Or maybe he was calling up demons, or something worse.”
No one had to ask what he meant by “worse.” We all conjured up images of a séance complete with spooky sounds and ghostlike voices.
“He could make the window shades go up and down and the doors open and shut. There were all sorts of weird sounds all over the house.”
Uncle Joe had our undivided attention. Everyone just sat there starring at him, anxious for more. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
“I’m not easily frightened,” he said, “but I don’t mind admitting I was scared shitless. I didn’t know if I would make it to morning, or if maybe a demon or the Devil himself would get me.”
Uncle Roy and Aunt Ruby both passed on many years ago. Whether they caught a ride in a chariot to higher ground or on a subway to deeper realms is anyone’s guess.
Uncle Joe did survive, and his story of that night alone with Uncle Roy became part of family history.
Uncle Roy and Aunt Ruby were not the only members of mother’s extended family about whom many stories are told. There was also Uncle Ed and Aunt Lola. I always wondered why that other man we called Uncle Chuck lived with them. Then one day while we were having coffee and cookies, I asked mother.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always live under the mercy.