Fiction | June 01, 1984

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Word of Uncle Luden’s visit came in the form of a postcard from Reno, Nevada, with his loose purple scrawl: Make plenty that good cornbred, Il’e be there soon.  He signed both names, Luden Sorrells.

My grandmother didn’t allow me to examine the postcard because it was a photograph of dancing girls naughtily clad.  Johnson Gibbs, the eighteen year old orphan boy who had come to live and work on our farm, sneaked it out for me and we looked at it for a long time behind the corncrib, but I was disappointed.  A long line of girls taken from a distance and all the important details blurred.  “I can’t see anything,” I complained

He grinned.  “You sure you know what to look for?”

Though the photograph was disappointing, the message was glorious news.

My father nudged Johnson’s elbow.  “We’re going to eat fine now.  Uncle Luden is the prodigal son.  Any fatted calf in the neighborhood, his days are numbered.”

“Prodigal son how?” Johnson asked.

“Just like in the Bible,” my father said.  “Uncle Luden will lie down with the swine.  Or anything else handy.”

The farm work that had got the best of us until Johnson showed up to help had disgusted Uncle Luden early in his career.  My mother’s brother had little of her sunny but long-suffering patience.  In the back alfalfa fields he had found a dilapidated old hay wagon and had worked it over until it looked sturdy and bright and something like new.  On his sixteenth birthday he sold the wagon to a gullible neighbor, bought a second-hand motorcycle, and sped off to California in a cloud of gravel and a hail of loose bolts.

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