After a long struggle during which he cheated death many times, Jack Putnam Huff, my last uncle, headed for heaven in mid-May. Jack was my dad’s youngest brother and was the last sibling standing of four. He will be greatly missed.
My first recollections of Jack were when I was very young in the early ‘50s. He came home from the service and lived for a time in a small pink mobile home that was parked to the side of Grandma and Grandaddy Huff’s house— just a few hundred yards from ours. I would arrive at their house many mornings ready to do whatever work was on tap for the day. Grandaddy, a strict boss, would ask me to go wake Jack up. I wondered how he managed to sleep later than me but I never questioned it. I would timidly knock on the door and yell for Jack to get up. I’m sure he was annoyed, but it was better than having Grandaddy yell at him.
Jack was courting a girl who lived on top of the hill just a few more hundred yards up the road. Betty Thomas was her name and she became aunt Betty before too long. Their wedding was the first I ever attended at a home across the road from Ashley Heights Baptist Church. The house still stands, as does the church, and each time I see it I think of the wedding so many years ago.
Grandma Huff had her idiosyncrasies, and one of them was a disapproval of Betty. I loved Grandma, but she was definitely wrong on this one. Whatever she disapproved of was never evident to me, or anyone else, as far as I knew. Betty was a jewel and they made a grand couple and remained so until Betty died 13 years ago. She was a character and their good natures complemented each other. They were a hoot to be around.
Jack and Betty bought a farm on Carolina Road that I did not realize until lately was one of several parcels of land, including Frog Holler, that were bought by my family on the Sinclair/Riley side around 1920. Jack farmed the land and raised livestock including chickens. Betty was a nurse who worked for decades at the McCain Sanatorium. This nurse/farmer pairing was a good one. We would receive word through dad that Jack needed some help for one chore or another. We would be delivered to his farm, feet swinging off the tailgate of a pickup truck and proceed to do whatever needed to be done. Each time we finished the work, Jack would humbly say, “Thanks ’till you’re better paid.” Of course, that day never came, but it was not expected to. In later years, Jack repaid me with many conversations, much laughter and much wisdom.
When we moved back into our house at Frog Holler in 1987, the first thing we did was start clearing land around the house for pastures. At that time, I wanted to keep all the trees I could and when Jack counseled that we remove all of the cherry trees, I ignored him. Big mistake! I have fought against cherry trees each day since then and would snap my fingers and make every one on this property disappear if I could.
As I became more interested in the history of the property and the family, Jack became a great source of information. I thought that the pond behind our house had been there forever until he informed me that it was built by Grandaddy Sinclair and my friend, employer and mentor Dave Sharp in 1950. It was actually a new pond when I first remember it in the early ‘50s. Jack told the story of being sent to Lumberton as a teenager driving a rickety truck to pick up cases of dynamite to blast for the construction. While I’m sure this was safe, I’m glad it wasn’t me driving.
Jack had a warm personality and always had a smile on his face. He was always glad to see me, but would let me know, with that little subtle smirk, that it had been too long since my last visit. He was a cherished guest at parties at Frog Holler. “Here’s Jack, early as usual,” Charlotte would say as we rushed to make last minute preparations. The party had started!
We will miss his cheery disposition and great stories. RIP uncle Jack!