Uncle Asa’s House
By Judy Lyons Kuehnel
(Inspired by a true story)
It rained the morning we laid Uncle Asa to rest. It was a fine gentle rain, the kind that makes you want to close your eyes and turn your face up to the sky.
Uncle Asa would have liked the day. He said he didn't need sunny days because we were his "sunshine." Uncle Asa was like that. He said that his life really began the day he first saw us. Looking back, we wonder what our lives would have been like without him.
It was hard to imagine life without Uncle Asa.
My mother drove by the house every morning for a whole week. It was just perfect, she said. The 'For Sale' sign in the front yard was a beacon, drawing her back, day after day. Finally she decided to call the realtor and set up a time to see the inside of the house. It seemed made to order for our family of five.
Saturday was the day we would see the house. My brothers,Todd and Seth, and I sat in the backseat with our eyes glued to the magnificent white home that slowly came into view. We all knew, even before we entered the front door, that this would be our home, probably forever.
The owners were at work, so the realtor lady unlocked the ‘lock box’ on the front door, while the boys and I waited eagerly on the front walk. My parents followed the lady into the front foyer, and signaled us to come in.
We walked from room to room. Each one seemed more perfect than the last. My mother nodded as the realtor talked on and on about the beautiful hardwood floors, the Corian tile counters and solid panel doors. She poked my father every once in a while, and he would nod in approval. The boys and I decided to skip her explanation of the thermal glass windows. Instead we slowly climbed the stairs to what we hoped would be our own special rooms.
It was THEN that we saw him!
He was sitting in the small bedroom, just to the right of the upstairs landing. His wooden rocking chair was pulled up close to the front window. His bearded face, tan and weathered, was partially hidden by the newspaper he was holding. He wore faded blue overalls over a red plaid flannel shirt.
We sucked in our breath and stopped short in our tracks.
Without looking up he said, "I ain't movin', you know!"
Without turning around, we backed up toward the stairs, and then made a mad dash for the foyer below. My brothers were the first to reach the bottom, and I was close behind.
"There's a guy up there!" Seth shouted. "He's sitting up in the bedroom!"
The realtor turned toward us and placed a reassuring hand on my mother's arm. "That's impossible!"
"Tell HIM that! Come on. We'll show you!"
The six of us climbed the stairs as quietly as possible. When we reached the upstairs hall Seth, who was in the lead, pointed to the figure in the rocker, hunched over a newspaper. The man stopped rocking. Without looking up, he turned the page of the paper, folded it in half and placed it on his lap.
Only then did he look toward us.
"Like I said before, I ain't movin' nowhere!"
The realtor lady took one step back. "Oh my God! She reached inside her purse for her cell phone. "I have to phone my office!"
We all followed her down the stairs and out the front door. When I turned back to look at the house, the man was looking out the window from his post in the upstairs room.
He slid open the window, and leaned out over the sill. "Like I said, I ain't movin' nowhere! You can count on that!"
That was the day we all met Uncle Asa. And, guess what? Just like he said, he didn't move anywhere!
We entered the funeral home together. Mom and Dad and my brother Seth and his wife were first. My brother Todd, and then my husband, Aaron, and I followed behind. We were allowed to go in before anyone else because we were Uncle Asa’s ‘family’. Mom knelt down and Dad put his hand on her shoulder. Seth and Amy, Todd, and Aaron and I stood behind them. I could feel the tears, warm on my cheeks, and I used the back of my hand to wipe them away. Aaron slid his arm around my waist.
I heard Dad whisper, "He looks so peaceful."
My mother gently adjusted the ribbon on the white roses so the words, ‘Uncle Asa,’ would show. I swallowed over the lump in my throat, and made myself remember the happy times like the day we first met him, and I smiled to myself. It seemed so long ago.
I remembered how, that day, we could hear the voice on the other end of the realtor's cell phone.
"Oh that must be old Asa Hunter," he said. We could hear the other agent laughing. It was clear that our realtor lady was not nearly as amused as the guy on the other end.
" That's the owner's cousin. He’s been living there for years, but she said he’d be outta the house. For Pete's sake, what the heck is he still doing there?"
"I'm sure I have no idea," the realtor lady answered. She tried to keep her voice down low. "But this is certainly not helping me sell this house! These people are really interested, and there’s some old guy up there in a rocking chair who swears he isn’t moving."
And then we heard her say, "Well just tell her she has to move him somewhere else."
Then she sighed and said, "Well, he told us he ISN’T moving!"
The realtor lady turned her back to us so we couldn't hear, but Todd, Seth and I had good ears, and we heard her say, "What the hell am I supposed to do, sell the house with the old guy IN it?"
And, guess what? That's exactly what happened!
Mom and Dad loved the house so much they agreed that Uncle Asa could stay on in the little bedroom, Todd and Seth would share a room, I'd have my own room, and Mom and Dad would have the master bedroom. They even said that Uncle Asa didn't have to pay any rent because he agreed to help out with the chores, cut the grass, tend the garden and baby-sit us kids until Mom and Dad got home from work.
It wasn't always easy living with Uncle Asa. At first it was pretty awkward. But Uncle Asa was true to his word and he pitched right in to help in whatever way he could, right from the beginning. Uncle Asa's cousin couldn't believe that we actually bought the house, Uncle Asa, and all.
"You've got to be kidding?" she had said. "Your letting Asa stay?"
"Well I ain't goin' nowhere, that’s for sure!" Uncle Asa piped in.
Then my mother, always the diplomat, added, "Actually we can use an extra hand around here. It will be good for the kids. We don't have any relatives close by."
The truth was that my mother had her heart set on buying that house and nothing, even old Uncle Asa, was going to change that. She decided that, if the only way she could buy the house was with Uncle Asa IN it, then that was the way it would have to be!
Uncle Asa turned out to be the best pancake maker on the planet. Every morning he would set his alarm for 6 a.m., and by 7:00 the smell of blueberry pancakes would find it's way up the stairs and into our bedrooms. One by one we would succumb to the delectable aroma. Once his audience had arrived Uncle Asa would entertain by flipping the flapjacks up into the air. Occasionally one would miss the waiting griddle and land with a ‘splat’ on the kitchen floor.
"Damn!" he’d mutter, and my mother would give him ‘that look.’ We thought he sometimes did it on purpose just to make us laugh.
The grumpy old man we first met, turned out to be kind and sweet. Both of our parents worked full time, but Uncle Asa was always there when we needed him.
He laughed at our ‘knock-knock’ jokes, packed our lunches for school and picked us up when the school nurse called and said we were sick. He could make scratched knees heal in no time flat. He knew how to fix a bicycle chain, finish a 500- piece puzzle and bake the best sugar cookies on the block.
I remember fitting perfectly in his lap. It was a safe place to be when my small world looked grim. His chest was a fine pillow, and Uncle Asa and I would rock in his old wooden rocker by the window for what seemed hours on end.
Sometimes Uncle Asa and I walked, hand in hand, out into the garden. He knew just about everything there was to know about growing roses. I laughed when he said he was going to ‘dust’ his roses. If Uncle Asa had a hobby, other than us kids, it was caring for his roses.
The years passed quickly, and Uncle Asa stayed on even after we kids were grown and gone. Uncle Asa never seemed to age. At least not until the day I stopped by the house on my way to work and found the paramedics wheeling Uncle Asa to the waiting ambulance. I rushed to his side and grabbed his hand.
He winked at me. "Don’t worry, Sweetheart. You can’t kill this old bird! I ain’t goin’ nowhere!"
I watched silently as the people passed by Uncle Asa. Each mourner spoke kind words. Uncle Asa had made many friends during his 92 years of life. One by one, they filed by, shaking hands. Neighbors, his old Navy buddies, and lots of our friends all came to pay their respects. Flowers were banked on either side. I breathed in their sweetness, conjuring up memories of happier times.
My wedding, with my father on my right and dear Uncle Asa on my left. Uncle Asa said it was the proudest day of his life and thanked my father over and over for letting him share that special day.
"White roses," he whispered as we walked down the aisle. "They’re your favorite."
After the funeral everyone went back to the old house. Neighbors brought in dishes filled with a variety of food. Casseroles, salads, cakes, pies and plates of cookies lined the long dining room table and sideboard. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, and the constant din of chatter gave me a headache.
I slipped out into the hall and made my way slowly up the stairs. More than 20 years stood between my first trip up to Uncle Asa’s bedroom, and the one would make today. I reached the top landing and looked to the
right. The door was open to his room. His old wooden rocker stood empty and still.
I rubbed my hand along the smooth oak wood of the rocker and glanced at the wall, filled with photographs. Uncle Asa playing with Todd and Seth, photographs of me at my dance recital, Uncle Asa mowing the grass, and blowing out the candles at his 90th birthday party. There were pictures of all six of us at Disney World, Uncle Asa’s special treat for ‘his’ family.
Thumb-tacked to another wall were crayon drawings, representing various stages of a child’s artistic development. My eyes fell on a drawing of a family of three adults and three children, the names of each member clearly printed in black crayon.
I sat down in his rocking chair and tried to feel his presence. He was here. Uncle Asa would always be here in this house, and in our lives. It was then that I noticed Aaron standing in the doorway, watching. His smile said he understood.
I smiled back. And then whispered over the lump in my throat.
"I ain’t movin’, you know. You can count on that."