It will come as a surprise to many that older blacks, slave or free, were referred to as “Auntie” or “Uncle” by many people whether they knew them or not. I had read this before, but wasn’t really sure about the truth of the matter until I started reading diaries and letters. In Sarah Morgan’s diary, she mentions several times how they had seen and elderly black man somewhere and would call out, “Uncle!”
It goes beyond that, however. Even today a person might hear someone in the south refer to someone as “Aunt” or “Uncle” who isn’t related to them. The theory is children were taught to address someone close to the family by the term who is close enough they might not call them “Mrs.” or “Mr.”
So, the word of the day is “uncle”.
Forgive me for going so long here, but I thought it needed a bit of setting up. On the plus side, we’re nearing the end and y’all are about done with these rambling posts. As always, Rain Crow is rough draft, so bear with me.
Baron and his men waited and watched off the road in a copse of trees. Stuart would be along shortly if all went well and his guardian angel had flown fast enough to keep up with him. Shorthorn cows across the road grazed peacefully. On a small hummock a lone cow stood watch over a nursery of napping babies while the other mamas ranged away eagerly nipping at the tender growth. It was a scene suitable for a bucolic Constable painting.
“I’d like to have a coat out of that big roan cow,” Billings said, sizing up the herd.
London’s saddle squeaked when he leaned forward. “You take the coat, I’d settle for a nice beefsteak.”
“Maybe the owner will sell us a fat yearling when we’re done,” Baron replied. “I could use something hot in my belly for a change.”
“If the colonel doesn’t have some wild plan up his sleeve again.” London dismounted and walked over to a birch to relieve himself. “How long we supposed to wait here?”
Baron swept the horizon with his looking glass. There was no trace of dust in the air betraying a large group of riders coming. There was, however, a solitary figure topping the hill down the road. He watched with interest as it drew closer, then turned Byron deeper into the shelter of trees. “Until we see something or he catches up with us. Someone coming, back up.”
They sat under the cover of trees, watching the figure plodding steadily toward them. It was an old negro man ambling along as if he had not a care in the world or was too tired to care. A hush fell over the men who held their breath, hoping he wouldn’t notice them. Aged as he was, judging from his nearly white hair, his eyes didn’t suffer and he turned off the road to approach them. His spindly legs made him look like a daddy long legs spider in a ragged frock coat. On he came.
“Kill him,” London whispered. “He’ll betray us.”
There was mumbled agreement. Baron knew they were right. There was a chance he’d tell any Yankees in the area about them if they let him go and they couldn’t afford any mistakes. “No, let’s see what he wants. I’m not killing an old man for no reason.”
“Saving our necks seems like a good enough reason to me, Cap’n.” London was firm in his distrust.
Baron rode out into the sunshine to meet him. His men would melt away while he distracted the intruder. “Hello, Uncle,” Baron dismounted so the old fellow didn’t have to look up at him.
“Mornin’, Marse. Don’t suppose you one of Jeb Stuart’s boys?”
“Just out riding.”
“Yassuh. Mule colicked and we got the boy slogging him through the mud trying to save the beast. Baby colicked, and I got the piles. Been on the road a bit goin’ to fetch the Andersons. Not that they care about my piles, but we need help with the colic.” He reached around to scratch at his backside as if reminded of his discomfort. “Used to be a little crick runnin’ through these trees. Thought I’d get a drink, but didn’t bring no food and gettin’ kind of hungry. Don’t suppose you have any to spare. I got a couple of coppers on me.”
Baron ran his fingers through Byron’s mane. “No need to pay. Don’t have much on me I’m afraid, but I can share some stale cornbread and dried beef. I think I might have a few dried apples left.”
“I’d appreciate it, suh.” He looked over his shoulder. “Might take care going over yonder hill if you don’t want a bunch of lead in your britches. Yankees got a dry camp ‘tother side waitin’ for Jeb.”
Baron stopped tracing his fingers through the mane. “Really? That’s good to know. Thank you, Uncle.” Baron divvied up what he had from his saddle bags and handed it to the old man who stuffed part in his pockets and bit off a strip of beef. Baron handed him his canteen and watched him drink greedily. “Try some cider vinegar on those piles when you get home. Take care of yourself.”
The old man handed back the canteen and touched the brim of his hat, then winked a yellowed eye at him. “You, too, suh. Send them bluebirds packing back north where they belong.” With that he strolled back toward the road, waving a farewell.