One Saturday morning, I ran by the bank to pick up a checkbook that had arrived and found the place to be unusually busy. I did a double take when I saw my nephew, Jay, a financial advisor, in an office with clients. He’s a family man who devotes weekends to his kids.
“What’s he doing here?” I asked Erin as she got the checks and we chatted. We’ve known each other since childhood so we always share what we know about what’s going on in town.
“We are slammed. I asked him to come in for two appointments. He was so sweet about it.”
I noticed that a gentleman sitting on the sofa, waiting for his appointment, kept looking at me. Jay came out with his two clients, who introduced themselves to me, with the husband saying, “You know my daddy.” Yes, I do. Most people in these parts know each other.
As I breezed toward the door for an exit, the gentleman on the sofa arose. Very politely and in a gentle voice, he said, “May I ask you something?”
I stopped and smiled. “Yes.”
“How were you related to Oscar Cannon?”
For anyone who wants to know about my great-Uncle Oscar or great-Aunt Fairy, I’ve got all the time in the world.
“Uncle Oscar and Aunt Fairy raised my daddy from the age of 13.” That’s the first and most important thing I want to share. When that young, sorrowed boy took his only pair of shoes, shirt and overalls and ran away from a bad home life, he asked no favors of anyone. He crawled into barns of unsuspecting farmers and hid, eating raw corn that he pulled from stalks until Uncle Oscar found him and said, “You’re comin’ to our place and ya goin’ to school. As long as ya go to school, we’ll see after you.”
Jay introduced us then I continued. “Uncle Oscar’s wife, Aunt Fairy, and my grandmother were sisters.”
“I’m glad to know the connection. I knew y’all were related but I wasn’t sure how.” This commenced a conversation about Uncle Oscar and the gentleman recounted how his family had moved to the mountains when he was a boy in 1979 from the bustling city of Miami. They settled near the Cannons’ farm.
“I never had seen people who lived so simply. They were living 70 years in the past. He played the fiddle and raised everything they ate.”
That’s true. Uncle Oscar was an artist of wood and could make everything from fiddles to tables to baskets to spinning wheels. They lived purely on what the land provided — garden, beef, pork and milk and butter from their old cow. They survived as though they were poor but both were thrifty Scotch-Irish so they made money from selling what the land brought forth as well as the masterpieces created by Uncle Oscar’s hands. They were so good in managing money that they became a makeshift bank.
“Back then (early 1950s), you couldn’t just go to the bank and borrow money like you can today,” remembered a daughter-in-law of one of Aunt Fairy’s sisters. “So, Uncle Oscar loaned us the money to buy our first chicken houses. We made payments until we paid it off. We’d never have got ahead if it hadn’t been for them.”
Daddy borrowed money from them, too, to buy a farm. Recently, I found a receipt in Aunt Fairy’s handwriting after he made the final payment. Even though he was like a son, she kept careful accounting so that when the loan was repaid, she gave him her handwritten accounting of every penny and, at the end wrote, “Paid in Full” then signed it.
“He was a fine, fine man,” he said, smiling warmly.
Yes, he was. My family’s true debt to the Cannons could never be paid in full.
Ronda Rich, author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’,” writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.