© Grandpa Jim 2013
Aaron rushed through the shop door.
“What was that sound, Joe?” Aaron surveyed the interior. “That was loud. Really loud.” He focused back on his uncle. “You hurt? Okay?”
Uncle Joe stood wiping his hands with a rag and looking at a hole in the roof.
“Wow, Joe. Did a satellite hit your shop?”
“No,” Uncle Joe laughed. “My tractor wheel just got launched into space.”
“Huh?” Aaron stared at the opening in the ceiling. “Where were you, Joe, when it happened?”
“On top of the wheel. Inflating the tire.”
Aaron jerked his head around to his uncle and then back up at the hole. “Then, why aren’t you up there, Joe? In outer space?”
“Good question.” Uncle Joe set the rag down. “I was on top, helping to fix the seal with my feet. Compressor running. You know how we do it.” Joe paused in thought. “Strange. Something hit the back of my neck and I jumped off. Soon as I hit the floor, the tire blew.”
Uncle Joe reached into his collar, pulled out his fist and opened his palm.
“It’s a big fuzzie black caterpillar, Joe.”
Uncle Joe carefully set the caterpillar down on a shelf.
“Joe, they’re all over.” Aaron pointed to the work bench, the tool shelves, Uncle Joe’s desk. “They’re everywhere.” He picked up a fly swatter. “Don’t worry, Joe. I’ll smash ‘em.”
“You leave those little guys alone. They’re not hurting anyone. We can work around ‘em.”
“Sure, Joe. You okay, Joe? You bang your head or something? Never knew you to have a fondness for bugs.”
“They aren’t bugs, Aaron. They’re fuzzie crawlies. Now, put that fly swatter down and let’s go find where that tire landed.”
* * * * * * *
Well, over the next couple of weeks that big old shop was crawling with those bugs. Sorry, I mean those “fuzzie crawlies.” Uncle Joe didn’t seem to mind one bit, and he thanked everyone to watch where they stepped and not walk on any of his “little friends.” Folks were beginning to talk, about how the tire going through the roof may have somehow given Joe a concussion, or maybe something had come down through that hole, like an alien space ship, and was changing Joe, turning him into a giant caterpillar or something. Uncle Joe just helped his customers as always, and they left thanking him as always, but scratching their heads wondering what might be going to happen next.
* * * * * * *
It was about two weeks later, near the end of March.
Uncle Joe sat at his desk in the shop paging through a torn and frayed copy of “Farm & Ranch.” He stopped at one of his favorite articles: “What is a Tractor?”
It was hard to find writing like that anymore.
Glancing over the top of the magazine, Uncle Joe spied a postcard leaning against his desk lamp.
A traveling relative sent that one.
Tall corn dwarfed an overall-bibbed farmer chewing on a stalk of wheat.
Probably photo shopped.
Corn only grows that high in Texas.
Those Iowans, they sure had some nerve.
Just then, there, in the shop, in the afternoon quiet, he noticed something.
Not a critter in sight.
Not a fuzzie crawlie to be seen.
Joe leaned back in the old swivel chair and stared into the rafters.
Dark up there.
Patched that hole.
Something hanging down.
Like smallish stalactites or stalagmites.
Look up to the “c” in ceiling for a stalactite, and down to the “g” in ground for a stalagmite. Grandpa Jim taught me that.
Those were little stalactites, way up there.
On the “c,” for ceiling.
Uncle Joe glanced at his watch.
Should climb up.
Check it out.
Have to wait ‘til later.
Things to do.
Joe grabbed his hat and headed back to work.
* * * * * * *
It was Easter Sunday.
Joe lifted the lid of the long black-barreled barbecue.
Chicken was his specialty. He’d made plenty of sausage, but the chickens were his claim to fame. “Best Barbecuer in Hill County.” He had the trophy back in the shop.
Secret was the special fluid.
His own recipe.
Looking around to be sure he was alone, Uncle Joe pulled the foil back from one of the birds, reached over for the can and poured a healthy dose of Dr. Pepper onto the roasting fowl.
“Hey, Joe, how ya’ doing?” Aaron walked out of the house, screen door swinging behind him.
Uncle Joe quickly turned his back to the chickens and took a swig of soda.
“Just having a Pepper.” Joe set the can down. “These birds will take another minute or two. Sausages on the far end there are done.” Joe reached a pan to Aaron. “Come and help me take ‘em off.”
Aaron held the pan as Joe heaped on the sausages.
The backyard was full of relatives and they were hungry.
“Great chicken, Uncle Joe.” The nephew smiled and raised two thumbs up.
Lounging on mismatched chairs around the lawn, the crowd of relations joined in the acclaim.
From the high ground where the house sat, the wide valley spread down and off, rising in the distance to a soft ridgeline. Pieced together in an irregular pattern, the patches of plowed fields formed a crazy-quilt landscape, thin strips of new greens looking as if they’d been appliquéd down the furrowed rows of dark soil.
“What’s that?” On her lawn chair near the edge of the garden, Ms. Christine, Joe’s mother, pointed to something fluttering in front of her.
“It’s a butterfly, Mom.” Joe’s sister, Mary, leaned forward in her chair. “I’ve never seen one that big. The colors are amazing. See the hot pinks in the middle of the wings and those purples around the edges? It’s beautiful.”
Everyone stared at the giant butterfly as it hovered here and there, moving from one person to the next.
Suddenly, the creature lifted and dropped straight down in front of Uncle Joe, looked him in the eye, flew twice around his head and took off.
“It’s headin’ for the shop,” Aaron shouted. “Let’s follow.” He jumped up and started running.
Relatives pushed out of their chairs and hurried across the yard.
At the shop door, the bright wings beat in place, waiting.
“Open the door,” Uncle Joe said.
Everyone looked at him.
Then, as Aaron grabbed the handle and yanked, they all turned around.
Thousands upon thousands of purple and pink butterflies exploded out the door and flashed like firecrackers among the astonished relatives. Lifting and soaring, zooming and dipping, the winged creatures froze each person in place, the smiles on the relatives’ faces growing bigger and bigger, eyes opening wider and wider.
“Look at Joe!” Aaron yelled.
Heads rotated and eyes focused back. . . .
A thick pulsating blanket of butterflies covered Uncle Joe, whose head was bowed, arms lifted slightly from his sides.
Slowly at first, and then faster and faster and faster, the butterflies lifted off Uncle Joe, rising into the air, joining in a fluttering dance, breaking into separate spirals, twisting over and between, reaching higher and higher and higher, and, then, in an instance, every last butterfly shot off toward the west into the bright rays of the setting sun.
No one spoke.
At the far horizon, the sunset started to show, growing wider and wider. Bands of pink and purple swirled and splashed into the sky. Broad bold strokes leaped to paint the canopy overhead in a wash of winged color.
No one moved.
Every eye stayed fixed on the display.
As the last hues faded into the soft gray dusk, Ms. Christine broke the silence.
“Joe,” she said, “you looked just like a big purple and pink Easter egg with wings.”
It was too much.
Everyone started clapping and shouting, laughing and smiling, patting each other on the back, flapping their arms like wings and waving into the sky, pointing at Uncle Joe and saying “Flying Easter Egg Man” and “Butterfly Man” and smiling and laughing again and again, over and over again.
* * * * * * *
Of course, everyone heard about it — for miles around. I think the whole state of Texas heard the story, maybe the whole world.
Uncle Joe would be delivering grain, at the stock barn, in town at the hardware store or just getting a burger, and this one would point and say, “There he is, the Butterfly Man.” The other would pop the arm of his friend and add, “He doesn’t look like a Giant Purple and Pink Easter Egg.” “With Wings,” the first would finish and they would both laugh.
Strangest thing, it never seemed to bother Uncle Joe.
He’d just smile and be on to his next stop.
Back at the shop, someone new was always stopping by to say hello and shake Joe’s hand. They weren’t even bringing their tractors in for new tires. Often, they just smiled, touched the door and waved as they left.
Another thing, something that Aaron noticed, Joe was very careful changing tractor tires. He never stood on the tire while it inflated, and he often glanced up at that patch in the ceiling.
* * * * * * *
A couple of months later, I was down to the country.
Leaning against a cabinet in the shop, I watched while Joe worked. He had a big tire on the rack and was finishing up.
Reaching over, he clicked off the compressor.
Wiping his hands with a rag, Uncle Joe stood and looked at the patch in the roof.
I couldn’t resist. “What are you thinking, Butterfly Man?”
Uncle Joe grinned and said quietly, “Sometimes, little friends are the best.”
After that day, I found myself pulling away from what I was doing and staring off, not really at anything, with that statement in my head.
You know, I think Uncle Joe is right.
Sometimes, little friends are the best.
Have a Happy Easter,