Uncle Ephraim

by H. S. Caswell

For some years, when a child, I used daily to pass the dwelling of Uncle Ephraim, on my way to and from school. He was not my uncle; indeed he bore no relationship whatever to me, but Uncle Ephraim was the familiar appellation by which he was known by all the school-boys in the vicinity. He was among the oldest residents in the section, and although a very eccentric person, was much respected by all his neighbors. How plainly do I yet remember him, after the lapse of so many years! His tall figure, shoulders that slightly stooped, his florid complexion, clear blue eyes, and hair bleached by the frosts of time to snowy whiteness. The farm on which he resided had improved under the hand of industry, till since my earliest recollection, it was in a state of high cultivation. His dwelling was an old-fashioned structure, placed a little back from the main road, and almost hidden from view by thick trees. In an open space, a little to one side, was the draw-well with its long pole and sweep; and I have often thought that I have never since tasted such water as we used to draw from that well, as we used often to linger for a few moments in Uncle Ephraim's yard on our return from school during the hot summer afternoons. He must have been fond of children; for he was a great favorite among the boys; and he often gave us permission to gather fruit from the trees in the garden, provided we broke none of his prescribed rules. But the unlucky urchin who transgressed against a command, forfeited his good opinion from henceforth, and durst no more be seen upon his premises. I happened to be among the fortunate number who retained his approbation and good-will during all our acquaintance.

It was from Uncle Ephraim I received the first money I could call my own. In those days school-boys were not supplied very liberally with pocket-money, and when on one occasion I rendered him some slight service, for which he bestowed on me a piece of money, I felt myself rich indeed, and the possession of as many hundreds now would fail to afford me the same pleasure as did the few cents which made up the value of the coin.

Like all others, he had his failings and weak points; but he had also many very estimable traits of character. Among his failings very strong prejudices were most noticeable, and if for any reason he became prejudiced against one, he could never after see any good whatever in them. He also possessed rather an unforgiving temper when injured by any one. But on the other hand he was a friend to the poor; and seldom sent the beggar empty-handed from his door. He also gave largely to the support of the gospel, as well as to benevolent institutions. One very noticeable and oftentimes laughable peculiarity was his proneness to charge every thing that went wrong to the state of the weather. I think it was more from a habit of speech than from any wish to be unreasonable. I remember one day passing a field when he was trying to catch a horse that to all appearance had no idea of being captured. He tried various methods of coaxing him into the halter, and several times nearly succeeded, but just when he thought himself sure of him, the animal would gallop off in another direction. Out of all patience, he at length exclaimed, "What does possess that critter to act so to-day?" then glancing at the sky, which at the time happened to be overcast by dull murky clouds, he said: "It must be the weather." I chanced one day to be present when Uncle Ephraim was busily occupied in making some arithmetical calculations regarding his farm-products. The result not proving satisfactory he handed his slate to a friend for inspection, and it was soon discovered that he had made a very considerable error in his calculation. When the error was pointed out to him, he looked up with a perplexed countenance, saying; "It is the weather: nothing else would have caused me to make such a blunder." His son happened to marry against his wishes; so much so, that he had the ceremony performed without his father's knowledge; who afterwards, making a virtue of necessity, wisely made the best of the matter. On learning that his son was actually married without his knowledge, the only remark he made was this: "What could have induced Ben to cut up such a caper as to go and get married without my leave; it must have been the weather, nothing else," and as if he had settled the question to his own satisfaction he was never heard to allude to the matter again. Years passed away, till one day the tidings reached us that Uncle Ephraim was dangerously ill. He grew rapidly worse, and it was soon evident that his days on earth would soon be numbered. I have a very distinct recollection of stealing quietly in, to look upon him as he lay on his dying bed; of the tears I shed when I gazed upon his fearfully changed features. He was even then past speaking or recognizing one from another; and before another sun rose he had passed from among the living. I obtained permission to go in once more and look upon him as he lay shrouded for the grave. I was then a child of ten years, but even at that early age I had not that morbid terror of looking upon death, so common among children. With my own hands, I folded back the napkin which covered his face, and gazed upon his aged, but now serene, countenance. There was nothing in his appearance to inspire terror, and for a moment I placed my hand on his cold brow. He had ever been very kind to me, and I regarded him with much affection, and the tears coursed freely down my cheeks when I looked my last upon his familiar countenance now lifeless and sealed in death. I have forgotten his exact age, but I know it exceeded seventy years. It so happened that I did not attend his funeral; but he was followed to the grave by a large number of friends and neighbours, many of whom still live to cherish his memory.