Thursday, February 23, 2012
RIP Uncle Worley...and thanks for all the smiles you leave behind.
For most of us that blog, storytelling is the underlying motivation that brings us back to a blank page to start anew time and time again.
But even the best story can't hold up without interesting, compelling characters. Successful writers are quick to point out the larger a base the central character appeals, the better chance the story will be widely accepted.
A day not too long ago, the Crazy Tomato and I were driving in relative silence as she looked out her window in deep thought.
Crazy Tomato: Dad, are there any real dragons?
Tony C: (playfully) Not anymore honey.
Crazy Tomato: They're all dead? Were there any around here?
Tony C: The last dragon around these parts was killed in McPheeter's Bend a long time ago by your Uncle Worley.
Crazy Tomato: Uncle Worley?
Tony C: Actually, he's your great uncle. You've never met him, but he's a retired dragon slayer.
Crazy Tomato: Does he have a real sword? Can I meet him?
Tony C: You sure can. When you do, ask him about killing that dragon.
Silence once again feel in the car as I quietly chuckled to myself.
Some of you might find lying to a 4-year-old a bit distasteful. Personally, I can't differentiate between the colorful anecdotes I embellish for her amusement and the nightly stories she reads before bedtime.
Fact is, the character of this particular story truly is a larger than life person...or I should say... was. Uncle Worley passed away lasted night at 10:30 after a battle with lung cancer that, unlike that dragon, he just couldn't beat.
Unfortunately, the Crazy Tomato never got to meet and ask him about that dragon.
My uncle by marriage to my father's middle sister, Worley was as unique as human beings can be and the center in many, many real stories that actually require no embellishment from a storyteller like me. He was as genuine as he was free-spirited...as generous as he was caring.
Worley travelled the country working for a good part of his life after she passed. Every new town he entered as a stranger he left as a friend. His gregarious demeanor and uncomplicated approach made him not only easy to get to know...but also quick to accept.
He believed strongly in the mission of the Shriners and was stereotypical of the large hearts and good times the group is noted. I recall passing through a certain fundraising roadblock the Shiners were conducting while travelling through a town several hundred miles from my home. As I dropped a dollar in the bucket...
Tony C: Do you guys know Worley B by chance?
First Shriner: From up in East Tennessee? You better believe it. Great fellow!
Second Shriner: That where you're from?
Tony C: Sure is, and he's my uncle.
They both passed business cards to me to give to him when I returned with salutations. That was just Worley.
While on an exercise in Twenty-Nine Palms California during my service, I took leave and travelled to Victorville where he was working to visit. The trip coincided with a visit from his mother and daughter. Worley had been there about 8 months working on a new plant for his employing company. Shortly after arriving, he invited me and my cousin to accompany him to his local "watering hole." She was very reluctant, but I persisted until she came along while her grandmother rested from the long trip.
As we walked into the bar/restaurant attached to the local Ramada Inn, words simply won't do justice to what I'm about to describe. A live band was playing for the forty or so people gathered and kicking off their weekend. As we walked through the double doors, a scene that Norm from Cheers would be jealous to witness transpired...as the singer for the band literally stopped in mid-song to announce "Worley!"
Glasses went up in salute. My cousin and I paid for absolutely nothing that evening as people went out of their way to buy us stuff. He was well loved when he finally departed California a year or so later, but he was well loved long before then too. That was Worley, and just a couple of the many stories he leaves behind.
I grieve with my family today at the loss of this larger than life character. But much like his wife who left us some 35 years ago, his fingerprint of influence will continue long after the pain of that hurt subsides.
...and he will keep killing dragons as long as I can manage to spin a story or two.