What can I tell you about my uncle that ain’t been said a million times before?
Well for a start he’s been my hero for as long as I can remember. He took up the slack when my father passed and treated me like one of his family, even ‘though he and Jean had five kids of their own.
He isn’t the tallest man in the world, but as he says: ‘they packed a whole universe into a real small body’. When he was a kid he always wanted to do one thing, and that was walk on a tight rope across the Niagara Falls – the Horseshoe ones – not the flat US side.
Sometimes he was out in his yard, and his kids were tired of watching their father fall off a rope strung across the rear of the house – I’d just sit there with and ask him things about the world and the universe – to me he was the most exciting person I had ever met. My uncle would cross his legs, sit down and smoke a cigarette he’d rolled himself, and I would just chill in the shadow of my hero wait for the great man to talk.
Every time I asked him about crossing the Niagara Falls, he’d always tell me ‘next year’. Always the crossing was some ways down the road.
Then one summer’s night – which may I say are the best nights in the world down our way – I walked over to my uncle’s place (Ted’s his name, by the by) but he was nowhere to be seen. I asked my eldest cousin – who was sitting on his daddy’s rocking chair – where his father was, and he just pointed out into the desert as if that explained everything.
I tell you, I went out into that desert all right, ‘cause there was nothing going to stop me, but it was just a weird place to go – especially when it was so late.
My cousin had just said, ‘follow the wires’ and that is what I did. I began thinking that maybe I had missed my uncle and perhaps he had gone home by some other route when suddenly, I hear his whistling.
“That you, Unk?”,I shouted. Nothing came, then I heard the whistling again. “Hey, are you there?”
“Up here,” came a voice from, you guessed it, up there.
As I looked up, I could hardly believe my eyes, there was my uncle walking along the wires that reached from our county to the next.
“What you doing?” I asked.
“Nothing special,” he shouted back.
“Are you coming down?”
“Soon,” he said. “Soon.”
Well every day, when he had the time, my uncle would walk along the wires for a few miles and then come back.
Then one night, me and him were sitting on porch, he was sitting on his rocking chair and I was sitting on mine.
He just looked at me funny like and then said, “Nephew.”
I said, “yep that’s me”
“Can I tell you something – I ain’t going to cross the Niagara Falls.”
“Nope, ‘cause everyone done that. Know what I’m going to do?”
I told him I couldn’t guess and then he said, “I’m going to walk along the wires and see how far I get.”
Well you could have knocked me over. “How far do you think you’ll get?” I asked.
“Beats me, little one, beats me.”
The following Saturday he took a little knapsack with some money and some water and he climbed to the top of the pole. There was just me, my cousins and my aunt to wave him goodbye.
“You be sure and write,” shouted my aunt Jean.
“Sure will,” my hero called back.
He’s still up there. Last week I got a card from Albuquerque. He walks most of the days, then sleeps at the bottom of the poles most nights. Sometime a rancher will give him a bed in their barn for the night but from what I can tell, he ain’t going to stop until he gets to the ocean.
That’s him – my uncle, my hero. The man who’s walking across America on the wires.
bobby stevenson 2016
picture: Mark Brabant