My uncle Rebel Green went to the "big" war in Europe sometime in 1918, having been told by Uncle Sam that the kaiser needed a comeuppance. At that time, he was just an ordinary semieducated 18-year-old from the deep hollers of Spruce Pine Creek in eastern Magoffin County, Ky., but a combination of patriotism mixed with the draft put young Rebel in uniform.
A picture he sent home to his sister Martha, my mother, showed a fresh-faced kid of middling size, black hair, strong cheek bones, standing proud in the uniform of the day. I particularly remember the wrapped leggings, certainly one of the strangest and most impractical items of clothing developed by any Army quartermaster. But that's beside the point.
The kaiser was vanquished, the war ended, and Uncle Reb came home. I have no recollection that he sported a chest full of ribbons and combat medals, but to me, a ragtag eight-year-old boy, he was a hero and he looked the part.
With his mustering-out pay, he'd splurged extravagantly. When he arrived at our little house on Third Street in Catlettsburg, Ky., he was a picture of sartorial elegance from his rakish fedora to the tips of his ox-blood, ankle-high button shoes. His shirt was silk, white with red stripes. His tie was wide, very wide, and very red. There was a fitted look to his jacket, and his trousers were definitely "pegged," flared wide at the hips and tight at the ankles. To me, he was an awesome sight.
Two things happened next that remain clear in my memory.
First, he took me uptown to the corner drug store, hefted me onto a high, wire-legged stool at a marble counter, and bought me the very first malted milk I had ever tasted. It was pure ambrosia.
Second, at supper that evening (we called all evening meals "supper) my mother served pan-fried round steak. She had emptied the family treasury to buy this big cut of meat, which she cut into small chunks. She beat the chunks unmercifully with the edge of a plate, dipped them in seasoned flour, and fried them to a full-scale brown crispness. Piled high on a big platter in the center of the table, flanked by a bowl of gravy and a mountain of golden baking-powder biscuits, it was a sight to behold.
Now, Uncle Reb's favorite part of home-fried chicken was the gizzard, and as he gazed at that great platter of temptations, he had nary a doubt about the treat that had been prepared for his homecoming.
He ate those delicious portions of tough beef with gusto and goodwill. The gravy was perfect, and the biscuits, well, my mother never made a bad biscuit in her life.
Finally, our young returning soldier, dressed in his new civilian finery, pushed back from the table and sighed. "Marthy," he said, "that's the first time in my life I've ever had all the chicken gizzards I could eat!"
Nobody said a word.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society