Chuck and Fran

Fran's laugh was genuine, from the gut.  It resembled a cackle and was accompanied by a firm slap of the knee.  Chuck's laugh was subtle, from the throat, a subdued "hee, hee, hee."  Like a prankster setting up the perfect practical joke.  A prelude to a roaring guffaw.  He had a prominent "Adam's Apple" and stuttered when excited.

I could never think of one without thinking of the other. It was hard for me to picture a time when the two were not together. Charles Webster Walker, of Kanawha Two Mile, and Frances Lenore Pritt, of Allen's Fork, were married 22 July 1949 in Charleston.   They lived in Columbus, Ohio, where Chuck worked for Timken Roller Bearing.  They drove home almost every weekend, which is where my memory of them begins.

The car with Ohio plates pulled into the barnyard. It was fresh off the  dealer's lot and still had that new car smell. Every few years, Uncle Charlie would trade up toward longer, more luxurious and more automatic.  Always a Chrysler equipped with every available factory option. Loaded! He drove a '59 New Yorker to Florida in 1962 to visit my family in Tampa.  There was also a "honeydew" colored ''71 Imperial LeBaron, a long boat of yacht-like luxury.  My favorite was a 1962 Newport.

Chuck rolled down the sleeves of a white dress shirt, wrinkled from the three-hour drive.  He straightened his tie clip and tightened a loose, half-Windsor knot.  The freshly pressed gray suit coat, that matched his pleated baggy pants, hung on a hanger on the hook above the rear door.  He drove fast, with tires screeching and squealing, like Jack Lord on the set of Hawaii Five-O, but always reminded me more of Richard Widmark.

Aunt Frannie got out clutching an overnight case. She wore Cuban heels, a frilly blouse and pants suit.  In a few minutes, she changed into "pedal  pushers," what my daughters call Capri pants, and white canvas shoes.  Sometimes she wore a sweater.  A more casual look, granted, but every bit as elegant.  That was when you first noticed that she wore an ankle bracelet.  She always reminded me a little of Kate Hepburn, a lot of Lauren Bacall.

Chuck sat in the swing and smoked a Phillies Panatella while he jotted notes on a rolled up Racing Forum.  Some days he'd borrow a 12-gauge and slip up the "holler" behind the house to squirrel hunt. Beyond the strawberry patch.  It wasn't uncommon to find Uncle Charlie, empty shotgun across his lap, leaning against a hickory and napping.  Usually just across or down from Uncle Bob's tree stand.

Sometimes Chuck would excuse himself and go visit his people over on Two Mile.  His parents, Delbert and Ora Painter Walker, were always Mr. and Mrs. Walker to the rest of us.  Mrs. Walker is now 95 and still mows her grass, weedeats and takes care of a small garden.   Charlie's brothers were Leonard, Reno and Cecil. He had a sister, Juliann.

Chuck died in 1988. Fran left us this past summer.  Family members got together recently to clean their home and prepare the estate for probate.  The house was built in 1917 in a part of Columbus that used to be known as "Old Orchard."  It is a block south of the old Reeb's Restaurant.  I remember the double doors between the living room and the "parlor," heavy oak doors that slid into the wall.    There used to be a coal burning stove in the basement.

The last time I visited Frannie at the house, she gave me many pictures.  We sat for hours, talked of family and ate Frannie's favorite fast food--French fries and a Whopper.  One picture she gave me was of Darla Britt's Dad,  "Curley" Slater, a fellow classmate from the Asbury School.  Darla is a Kanawha County researcher.  We talked about the Reed, Crank, Hinzman, Westfall and Mathews families--other Asbury surnames.  

We sorted though the personal effects of Uncle Chuck and Aunt Fran.  The catalog of items would please any genealogist. There was parquet furniture made by my grandfather, Obert Coleman. Pictures.  Obits found in dresser drawers. Uncle Charlie's funeral book.  More pictures.  Old Bibles with pictures and wedding announcements-- bookmarks between the pages.  One Bible was from 1917 and another from 1947.  Five beer steins sent to Chuck and Fran in 1959 from Bitburg, Germany where my family was stationed.  A music box my father gave Frannie.  Still more pictures between newspapers that lined the shelves of closets.  In another drawer, I found an old wallet with pictures, many I'd never seen before.  A watch worn by my great grandmother Icie Boggess Pritt.  A box owned by Grandma Icie contained some of Charlie's cuff links, tie clips and tie bars.  We found pictures behind pictures in 8 x 10 frames.   And still more pictures.

We talked about the time Chuck paid a neighborhood boy to cut the grass.  When the boy was finished and wanting his wages, Chuck inspected the work.  The front yard was immaculate, neatly trimmed and edged.  The back yard was a different story.  Along with the grass, the boy had cut down everything in Chuck's garden.  Chuck reluctantly paid the boy.  We laughed when Uncle Chuck, still steaming, told us the story.  Our rebuttal was that it was a lazy man's attempt at salad.

Together they raised French poodles, trained racehorses and smoked Lucky Strikes.  Separately, Chuck played the ponies and Fran did the crosswords.  He collected old books and she taught Sunday School at the Southside Baptist Church.  Fran never slept in the upstairs bedroom after Chuck passed.  It was 14 years of sleeping under an Afghan, on an uncomfortable couch in front of a TV that did most of its work on third trick.  I guess the crick in the neck was much more bearable than the pain of a bedroom without him.

Rich Crank, another of Fran's classmates at the Asbury School, said that he "will always remember her as one of the prettiest ladies throughout these hollers."  I see a sleek young woman walking toward a gate.  She is carrying an overnight case--a small piece of luggage full of ordinary cosmetics and toiletries.  Nothing special. But it made her nephew feel that way.  It meant that Fran had come to stay.

I brought the overnight case home with me.  It was not an important part of  the estate and nobody else wanted it.  I filled it with all of her pictures.  It was already lined with the fondest of memories.

Thanks for listening and as Grandma Coleman, Fran's older sister, used to say, "Ya'll come!"


Mike Peters
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