The Neighborhood Story Teller
Growing up in the South offered a wide
range of unique conditions, beliefs, and things to be proud of. One would
especially be proud of having General Robert E. Lee as an ancestor.
Ancestors of Lee worked his name in wherever possible. One of my
classmates, named Mary Lee Parker, jumped on any opportunity to let you
know she was kin to Robert E. Lee. Another friend, who was not kin to
Robert was named Robert Eley any way. Having Jefferson Davis as an
ancestor, as I did, was less prestigious, even though he had been the
president of the confederacy. Even though he had been a very accomplished
man even before the War Between the States, he never won the respect that
the General had won because he was a politician, not a soldier.
I understood who Robert E. Lee was only after I was about 14 years old, but I knew Mr. Lee down the street from the time I could walk around the neighborhood alone. Mr. Lee was famous among the neighborhood kids, not because he was a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee, who was no one to us, but because he was the neighborhood story teller for the kids. Often when we ran out of something to do, someone would suggest, "Let's get Mr. Lee to tell us a story".
All the kids loved his stories, which I think he made up as he told them. And maybe we enjoyed, even more, the lemonade and cookies that usually followed the story. The same routine always followed. "Mr. Lee, please tell us a story." And after the story, "Mr. Lee, please tell us another story." And his response was always, "Well maybe tomorrow, but now let's have some lemonade and cookies."
I have forgotten every single story but one; why I remember this one I cannot imagine, but it has stayed with me since the day he told it, while all others long since faded from memory. Mr. Lee spent about half an hour telling it and we were all captivated. The story is about a group of cowboys, jealousy, and punishment. The bad guy is jealous of a new, young broncobuster who is admired by everyone, especially the boss man, who is the young cowboy's mentor. The bad guy slips a burr under a saddle and the horse throws the young cowboy, leaving the bad guy laughing at him. When the boss man discovers the bad guy's prank, he makes him stand against a wall and he shoots off a tiny piece of the bad guy's earlobe.
I also will never forget one other visit we made to Mr. Lee's home. That was the day that someone greeted us at the door and told us that he had gone away and would not be back for a long time. When we pressed the issue we all were puzzled as to why the lady began to cry.
I met Mary Lee in the first grade, long before I discovered that she was Mr. Lee's granddaughter. She was the smartest person in the class and was the first girl ever to kiss me. Within the first week of school she came up to me and said, "You are cute." And she kissed me on the cheek. I thought that meant she was my girl friend forever. It took a while for me to realize that there was a long line in front of me. The first realization came on St. Valentine’s Day when everyone exchanged valentines. I was proudly showing my valentine from her to my friend, Andy. After I finished, he showed me one that she gave him, which, to my great puzzlement, was much bigger and nicer than mine, but I was not puzzled for long. Neither one of us ever actually dated Mary Lee.