Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 20, 2013

Uncle Ed: Vain as a peacock, cool as a cucumber

By Keith Kappes
CNHI

— He was a bright, witty and dapper man who did his best to look as young as he could for as long as he could.

His sense of humor and competitive spirit left indelible impressions on me. I know that he crammed all of the living he could into 76 years.

Uncle Ed was smart and worked hard to improve his mind, his physical skills and, most of all, his personal appearance.

He had little tolerance of politicians, once saying that many famous leaders may drink from the fountain of wisdom but his congressman had only gargled.

As a young boy, I became aware that he was a “riverboat man” and that sounded exciting, like he was a swashbuckling pirate.

Actually, he was a deckhand on a towboat on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, bringing crude oil from New Orleans to refineries in Kentucky.

Years later, after being hustled by him in tennis and golf, I realized I had been right all along about him being a pirate.

We were playing a new, 18-hole golf course and I had been practicing almost every day to be ready for him.

I was playing well that day and had a two-stroke lead when we came to a hole with a large water hazard.

I teed up a brand new ball, the most expensive one I had ever owned.

He was looking out at the water and said softly but loud enough for me to hear:

“Man, I’d hate to lose a $6 golf ball in that swamp.”

I tried to ignore him but hesitated just long enough for him to toss me an old ball.

Almost without thinking, I swapped his beat-up old ball for my shiny new one and then proceeded to hit it about 50 yards into the center of the lake.

I also hit the next three balls into the water as he collapsed in fits of laughter. He had gotten into my head and I was a goner.

As a result, I got to pay for the golf, the cart and lunch while listening to him analyze my game for the next two hours.

He was the type of person Mark Twain was describing when he wrote that each of us should live our lives in such a way that, when we die, even the undertaker will be sad.

He was as vain as a peacock, as cool as a cucumber, and as charming as a riverboat gambler.

Uncle Ed was one of a kind.

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Keith Kappes is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at kkappes@cnhi.com.