Sunday, April 27, 2008

Goodbye Uncle Aster

The next day, the three of us (my brother John, his wife Barbara, and I) checked out of the Hampton Inn Hotel in Johnson City. We loaded up our van and drove down Roan Road the few miles to Erwin, Tennessee, and Aster Lewis’s house. It was another cool April morning bright with sunshine and the aromatic mixture of spring blossoms. Uncle Aster and his wife Mary greeted us at the door of his house. We would be going to the Johnson City Cemetery and visit the grave of his mother, Rissie Johnson Lewis. We also visited other Tipton graves in the cemetery. Uncle Aster was going to show us where Oscar Brown lived. Oscar was the son of Josie Tipton, a sister of our grandfather Fieldon Tipton. She married an Oscar Brown, the father of the Oscar Brown we were to visit today. Mr. Brown had a very impressive farm located on the outskirts of Johnson City. He told us he didn’t have too much time to talk to us as he was busy with his daily chores. Upon questioning, he said he didn’t remember too much about our grandfather other than his name. We were getting a similar reaction from most of the people we talked to. They didn’t remember much about Fieldon other than his unusual name. I also had the feeling the Fieldon was a man of few words and thus didn’t leave a lasting impression on those we were talking to now. In Oscar Brown’s case, he would have been too young to remember Fieldon. Next, we were to visit Phyllis Hensley. She was the daughter of Geter Tipton, the youngest brother of Fieldon Tipton. Phyllis’s house was a small, rundown house on the outskirts of Johnson City. There was a pile of dog doo on her front porch. For some reason, this sad image is one I will never forget. We knocked on the door. No one answered. We knocked again. Her house seemed so forlorn and lonely. If there was someone in the house, they weren’t answering the door. We left. Phyllis and her father Geter would continue to remain a mystery to us. It was time for lunch. John, Barb and I took Uncle Aster and his wife Mary to lunch. We told them they could go anyplace they wanted to go. I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant scene in Johnson City, Tennessee, but I expected Uncle Aster to choose something special. So where did he want to go? Long John Silver’s. That’s right, the chain restaurant with the murky reputation for quality food. We asked Uncle Aster again, is this where you want to go for lunch? He insisted that Long John Silver's was his favorite restaurant, and he would be delighted to have lunch with us at that eatery. So Long John Silver’s it was. John, Barb and I were not expecting a gastronomic adventure, and we weren’t disappointed. We did not have to wait in line. In fact, we had a delightful dining experience. I think the company had a lot to do with it. As we loaded up in the van outside and drove Uncle Aster and his wife back to their home, a feeling of melancholy swept over us. We arrived at Uncle Aster’s home and said our goodbyes. Something Uncle Aster said as we departed has stayed with me all these years. He said “I’ll probably never see you again, and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed meeting all of you and spending time with you. I hope I was of some help, and I wish you the best in your search.” Although we had planned to visit Uncle Aster again in a few years, we never did see him again. We returned to Johnson City on August 15, 1996, for the bi-annual Tipton Family Association of America reunion, but we did not get a chance to visit Uncle Aster. The next year I received a phone call from his sister Daisy Buckles. She told me that her brother died August 6, 1997. He was 78 years old. Uncle Aster was right on the April day in 1994 when he said it would be the last time we would see each other. We would never see or talk to our Uncle Aster again, but we did have these precious memories of him that will last us a lifetime. And now I am sharing them with you, the readers of this blog. Uncle Aster will not be forgotten.

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