Meet my Uncle Wardie (“The Chief”), who inspired some of the traits of the crazy but lovable fictional character Ole Albert in the book. Cornelius Warden Haskins, born on this day, 1917, is my grandmother’s youngest brother, and the one who stayed back in Virginia while his siblings journeyed to Harlem during the Great Migration, the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. Actually, he did follow his siblings to Harlem but quickly realized it wasn’t for him and headed back to Buckingham County pronto. Carsue, my grandma and Wardie’s oldest sister (born February 2, 1897), was the first to leave The Homestead, third grade education and all. (More on the schools for blacks in another post.) You can see pictures of my Grandma if you head over to the Photo Album page.
Wardie never married, never had kids. He kept The Homestead going, farming various crops and raising pigs for a living. And he scared the heck outta me every summer I went to Virginia as a young girl! Somehow, though, I adored him at the same time. I remember those childhood summers fondly. Uncle Wardie wheezed something terrible with his asthma and stunk to high heaven in his dirty coveralls that he wore every day and rarely washed. You could smell the whisky on his breath, too, and his beard was stained yellow from the chewing tobacco he spit out–the spittle that didn’t quite make it into the odious coffee can he kept near. He had a fingertip or two missing from a farm accident. “How’s my girl?” he used to wheeze and cackle as he would reach for me. Whenever he saw one of us kids headed for the outhouse behind the house (the same house that was built in 1850 for Virginia and Robert when they married), his face would crack impishly. “Watch out for them snakes!” he’d call behind us.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Wardie. Miss you. xo