Sunday, 10 February 2008

Ava's Man

Ava's Man is Charlie Bundrum. To people around him, he's "Chollie" Bundrum. He nailed roofs to the top of people's house for a living. He also worked many jobs to feed his family. He fished and hunted for fun, and when food was not affordable to him. He knew the forests and rivers and streams like a ranger would. He needed to, because from time to time he would have to run from the police. Not because he was a crook, but because he illegally made and sold his own liquor. He drank of course, but never in his house in front of the children and wife. Same thing he did with cursing.

He was dashing man, but more than others he was blessed with the gift of gab. In men, that's a rare thing. He loved to talk. Stories would come out of him like water out of an unclogged tap. Everybody knows Ava loves Charlie because of this. A lot of men would return from work and wait for dinner quietly, but never Charlie. They are happy that way. Their happiness is further shared with their children, including Margeret, the silent survivor. Margeret's story was told in All Over but the Shoutin'. Margeret is Rick Bragg's mother, and Charlie is his Paw-Paw.

Ava's Man is my second Rick Bragg book. I love the first one greatly and consider it one of the best I've ever read. Shoutin' was a book I bought without any plan. I had never of Bragg. I just went to a sale one day and saw it lying the table. I opened it up and read the first page. He described something about seeing redbirds in flight. I couldn't understand much but I was sold. Then I saw Ava's Man in a nearby pile. I couldn't believe it. It was rezeki.

Charlie passed away a year before Bragg was born. Even if he never met Charlie in the flesh, he's convinced that the man is still alive. The way his family and relatives talk about him is almost as if he's out at the back minding his business by working his hands at repairing stuff or something. He's gone, but never far.

With the help of the surviving Bundrum clan, and folks who know Charlie, Bragg retraces the steps once took by a man who is himself nothing short of a legend. He was fast, they say, fast enough to be able to grab a squirrel in a tree with his bare hands. He drank and sold his own moonshine, and that brought all sorts of people to him. He taught some rude people a lesson or two in manners, and sometimes manners would come into people only after some of their blood got out. He let his fists or his gun talk for him at one or another, but this Alabama-Georgia in the era of the Great Depression. Sometimes talking plain sense makes no sense. Action, on the other hand, speaks volumes.

As larger than life as he was, what is most legendary about the man is his heart. Charlie was poor but he never turned down a plea for help.

For over a decade, even at Ava's disapproval, the Bundrums sheltered a man called Hootie. Hootie lived alone by river in a shack, and Charlie found him living alone when he went fishing there. He was a harmless, timid man and Charlie calls him son although Hootie is older than him. Charlie was like an angel to Hootie. Nobody understood with anyone would allow a strange-looking person like Hootie to live with them like he's family. Nobody, not even his daughters. But that's just Charlie.

Clearly he was dearly missed by all. He was the kind of man his daughters loved to be around, and modelled their future husbands over. When Charlie walks in a room, the babies in it laughed. Babies melted him, and softened the edges that make unscrupulous people stand well out of his way. Principles matter to Charlie. Being poor is no excuse to steal or beg.

Ava's Man is heartaching for me because Charlie reminds me so much of my deceased grandfather, who is himself a legend in our family. The two men share a few traits, and very much missed by the people they leave behind. They stand like giants —as flawed as they are human— their shadow loom over us. We look up to them, and we wonder how do they get so tall.


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