Talking to Squirrels

Uncle Chet

Uncle Chet

Uncle Chet was the person you wanted to be with if you were a child. Uncle Chet could fly kites, take walks with you in country meadows and woods. A rainy day was never wasted or boring when you were with Uncle Chet. His stories and tales would hold you spellbound for hours. He was unlike any adult I knew, as he preferred to be with us youngsters rather than the adults. He was the most gentle and kindness man I have yet to meet.

I was with my cousin when Uncle Chet came up in conversation. She told me that he taught her how to speak to squirrels. She also said that she has a picture of him on her desk at work. She was nine years old when Uncle Chet died in 1966. He remains an influence on her life still today. I was a month short of 15 when the telephone rang in our house. My father called me to the top of the stairs. Looking up he announced that Uncle Chet had died. This was the first death in our family that I would experience. The second would be my Father’s death in just three short months.

First some facts about my Uncle Chet. His real name was Edward Bushey, born in 1895. Where the name Chet, came from is now a family mystery. It was to be many years before I was to learn his real name. Also, he was not my uncle, but my first cousin once removed. My parents had us call him Uncle Chet, due to his age. He had a rough childhood growing up. Today we would call it abusive. He left home at a very early age and started making his way at around 14 or 15. Sometimes relatives would give him food and a place to stay for a night or two.

When the Untied States entered World War l Uncle Chet, found himself in France. He was to take part in Meuse-Argonne Battle and the Saint-Mihiel battle. Uncle Chet was to be buried alive when an artillery barrage caved the trench in which he was taking shelter. He was to dig himself out with the aid of a mess spoon and sheer determination. When he broke out into the open to what should have been a breath of fresh air, all he got was poison gas. He was to spend the next several years hospitalized. The rest of his life his sister and her husband my Aunt Mary and Uncle Page would give him a home. He was broken physically and mentally. He would require hospitalization many times over the years. His mind went to a simpler place a more tender place that would reach out to children and make their world a better place. It has been 47 years since his death, and he still brings a smile and a warm feeling when I think of him.

I wish I could say that he forgot all the horrors that he had to endure. That when his mind slipped off to that beautiful place it made for itself the war was left behind. But I was to learn that horror like that never leaves. Uncle Chet was my first lesson. Once we were watching a movie on the television and it had a war scene in it. Uncle Chet started talking about his experience in World War l. He told me in detail what a battle was like and the terror and the savagery of it. It was unmatched by anything I had ever heard at that time. It is still the best first-hand description I have ever heard. My father who had cautioned me about the tall tales he could tell simply told me to believe every word of it.

That is the story of my first cousin once removed, my Uncle Chet. He is missed by those that were blessed to know him. A man who I truly believe changed the world into a better place. I know he did for me.

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10 Responses to Talking to Squirrels

  1. He sounds like such a lovely man.

  2. Reminds me of my cousin Randolph. But it wasn’t death that separated my cousin from us. My father and he had a disagreement. A bad one apparently, as he left that day and never returned. I still miss him. Your post is a lovely tribute to a wonderful relative.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment. Family disagreements can go to such extremes. I have some great ones in my family history.

  3. What a lovely way to be remembered. It’s amazing the way in which some people endure such unbelievably difficult lives and yet manage to inspire others. If he’s able to know about this in any way from some other dimension he must be delighted to have your respect and admiration. Stories like this should be remembered and told, just as you’ve told this one about your Uncle Chet.

  4. chmjr2 says:

    You are right ” stories like this should be remembered and told…” That’s one reason I do genealogy. Thanks once more for looking over my blog and your thoughtful comments.

  5. cabb1234 says:

    What a sad and moving story. When you watch some of the old film of WW1 you can understand how so many were so badly affected by their experiences. At least, despite his terrible ordeal, your uncle was able to inspire his younger relations.

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you for sending me to this post. (I hadn’t seen it since it was before I was blogging myself.) It gave me the chills. Your uncle and my cousin Frank may very well have known each other, as both fought in Meuse-Argonne. Frank fortunately was not injured during the war, but we never know what internal scars these young men bore. Frank never married or had children, and I can’t help but wonder whether what he saw in France had a long term effect on him. Like your uncle, he was adored by his family (and apparently had many girlfriends), but never had a family of his own.

    • chmjr2 says:

      If they did not know each other they certainly knew the same ground. I am sure what Frank saw in France stayed with him for the rest of his life. I do not mean to get political but when we start beating the war drums we never think it through as to the burden to the people we send out. And now since most of us have no skin in the game we give it even less thought.

      • Amy says:

        Oh, there is never enough space and time to fill with words about the horrors of war. I’ve never experienced it first-hand, but I’ve read enough and seen enough to believe that no one comes back without scars.

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