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