Monday, April 25, 2016

I Lost Another Uncle

Well, I lost another uncle.  This time it was my Uncle Robbie.  

Here’s what the obituary says:
Obituary for Robbie Randall McMillin
A celebration of life service for Robbie Randall McMillin, 88, of Jonesville, Louisiana will be held at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on April 26, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. with Bro. Craig James, Bro. Dustin Robertson, and Bro. Lynell Hatten officiating. Interment will follow at Heard Cemetery in Manifest, Louisiana under the direction of Young’s Funeral Home. 

Robbie was born on October 14, 1927 in Catahoula Parish to Tolbert Roy McMillin and Lillie Hazel Terry. He passed away Saturday, April 23, 2016 at his home in Sandy Lake. 

He was a retired Gas Inspector for the State of Louisiana, owner and operator of the Lakeside Fish Finn. Robbie served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was a member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. His life revolved around his wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a host of family and friends. 

He was preceded in death by his wife, Imogene (NeNe) Swayze McMillin; children, Randy McMillin and Janice Pritchard; grandchild, Jamie Pritchard; sisters, Maxine Gumbaravic, Irene Wiggins, Helen McMillin; and brother, Leroy McMillin. 

Survivors include: one sister, Margie Beasley; two brothers, Charlie McMillin and Terry McMillin; three daughters, Robbie Wilson and husband, Mike Wilson; Corrie Porter and husband, Bobby Porter; Mary King and husband, Ken King; one son, David McMillin and wife, Gayla; eighteen grandchildren, Elizabeth Spinks and husband, Denny; Jennifer Kinberger and husband, Robert; Nick Nicholson and wife, Cari Ann; Karen Richmond and husband, Kevin; James Porter and wife, Kelli; Corrie Davis and husband, Chris; Kristy King; Vanessa Graves and husband, Chris; Camille Charrier and husband, John Michael; Cliff Wilson and wife, Candy; Morgan Woods and husband, Will; Angela Neal and husband, Kyle; Dani Pendarvis and husband, Drew; Kelcey King; Davin Sullivan and husband, Matt; Justin Richmond; Chase McMillin; and Avery McMillin; twenty-six great-grandchildren; Carter Spinks, Cameron Spinks; Hunter Nicholson and wife, Jessica; Natalie Nicholson; Ali Kinberger; Emma Kinberger; Autumn Jackson; Blakely Porter; Addsion Porter; Taylor Neal; Kullen Neal; Rowyn Sullivan; Rilynn Sullivan; Roman Sullivan; Brooke Graves; Katheryn Graves; Gabriel Graves; Peyton Graves; Ava Wilson; Madeline Wilson; Austin Marceaux; Leila Marceaux; Eli Charrier; Davis Paul; Brandtly Davis; and Gahvin Davis. 

Pallbearers are grandsons and great-grandsons: Nick Nicholson, James Porter, Carter Spinks, Hunter Nicholson, Justin Richmond, Cameron Spinks, Chase McMillin, and Avery McMillin. 

Honorary Pallbearers include: Ken King, Mike Wilson, Bobby Porter, Robert Kinberger, Denny Spinks, Will Woods, Drew Pendarvis, Kyle Neal, Matt Sullivan, and Kevin Richmond.

Obituaries never tell the whole story of a person.  How could it.  There's always more to a person's life than the few words that try to say so much to so many.

But as I read it I was immediately reminded of the first time I can ever recall seeing him.  I was probably about five years old.  He had just returned home from World War II, and was lucky enough to get a job at the ice house in Jonesville, Louisiana.  

Mama and Daddy were living in Jonesville too because I remember stopping by the ice house sometimes when Mama and me would walk down to Brown Brothers store where Daddy was working, or as he told me later in life, ‘learning the grocery and meat business.’

Anyway, when we stopped at the ice house we always ended up with a piece of ice to suck on.  It tasted good and it was cold.  Apparently, that was enough to keep me happy back then.

One time, Uncle Robbie took me for a tour of the plant in back where they made the ice.  He talked about how the ice was being made but it just went in and out of my head, mostly because I was mesmerized by seeing water turn into huge blocks of ice.  When the ice was ready, someone would lower some big ice tongs down into the vat and grab onto the ice.  Then as if by magic the ice would rise and then be moved over to a room where it was kept cold. 

And the hole where the ice came out started filling with water again, just like magic.

I stayed there a long  time with him one day and watched how people would come up and say they wanted to buy some ice.  Some just wanted a dime’s worth, which was about the size of his hand.  Others wanted large pieces that might cost a whole dollar.  But most just wanted about a quarter’s worth, or as the customers would say, "About two bits worth."

The reason I’m mentioning the size is because of the way that huge piece of ice that came out of the hole, was dragged out and quickly chipped away with an ice pick to the size the person wanted.  My eyes almost popped out as I watched that ice pick, pick away at the ice, almost always into a perfect square and size for the money.

But that was nothing after I saw what they did to a big block of ice when the customer wanted it crushed.  Uncle Robbie would chip out just what the customer wanted and then toss it into a big machine that turned it into small pieces, scaring the daylights out of me with the noise it made.

One time Uncle Robbie asked me if I wanted to go deliver ice to folks out in the hills near Manifest.  Mama said I could go and all I could remember about Manifest was a spring where Mama and Daddy and me always stopped for water.  It was cool there under those trees by the spring.

Only we didn’t stop at the spring.  That old rickety ice truck with a load of ice in the back under a tarp just passed it up.  We went way back in the hills around Manifest, places I had never been, stopping now and then at people’s houses to deliver ice to them.

Most of the time, there wasn’t anyone around and he would take a chunk of ice inside and place it in an ice box.  There would be a dine or sometimes a quarter on the table and Uncle Robbie would take it back to the ice house and turn it in to somebody.  We would ride around in those hills all day and stopping a lot to deliver ice, so there were a lot of dimes and quarters to take back. 

Sometimes there would be a letter to be mailed and a nickle for a stamp.  And sometimes there would be a slice of pie sitting there.  He would take out his pocket knife and cut it in half and always give me the bigger half.

I noticed that sometimes the dime size pieces of ice were larger than he sold at the ice house but I figured he had a reason for giving them more than a dime’s worth.  I think it was because they were real poor.  My Daddy did stuff like that too when he opened his own grocery store.  I learned later in life that there’s some who really appreciate being nice to like that, but there’s also some who kinda grow to expect it and will get mad when they don’t get it.

Later on Uncle Robbie had a gas station about a block from the ice house.  I liked the smell of the gas and how he would sell people a quarter’s worth of gas and put air in their tires and clean their windshield and lights, check their oil and even sweep out the floorboard if they wanted. 

It was about twenty years later that I went to work for him one summer while on break from LSU.  He worked for a butane company and said he needed some help.  I didn’t know anything about the butane business but he figured I’d learn soon enough.  The first thing I learned was that there was no training program of any kind. He just gave me the keys to the service truck and turned me loose.  I guess he knew I was mechanically inclined and figured if being ‘self taught’ about the butane business was good enough for him, it should be good enough for me.

The second thing I learned about the Butane business is that it’s endless hard work with a considerable amount of danger thrown in to make it more interesting.  Going back to LSU was a little easier to take when that summer job ended.  But I'll never forget it.

We rarely saw each other after that, but when we did meet and talk a bit, it was like he still had that natural presence about him that demanded respect.  I still do.   

Goodbye Uncle Robbie.

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