Mama Remembered: Uncle Gene’s Glass Eye

When I look at this picture of my uncle and great-grandma several things cross my mind.  Was this before you were “required” to smile for a picture?  What a couple of “sad sacks”.  I didn’t know Uncle Gene when he was young so I’m a little surprised that even looking so somber, he was a fairly attractive young man.  I do remember him smoking a pipe when I knew him as an old man, so since he’s holding a pipe in this picture of him at 23, I assume he must have been a life-long pipe smoker.  I had totally forgotten that he had a glass eye when I found this picture to put with another of Mama’s stories that I posted recently.  In Mama’s story that follows she says it was his right eye, but I think it’s hard to tell in this picture.

Anyway, here from Mama’s book I Remember, is her story of Uncle Gene’s glass eye:

When Gene was only six years old he and a playmate opened Dad’s truck and found a shotgun shell.  They took it out in the back yard and put it in a tin can and built a fire on top of it.  Then they ran behind the barn and waited for it to explode.  They waited a long time and when nothing happened they went back to the can to see why it didn’t explode.  Just as Gene leaaned over to look at it, it exploded.  It shattered his right eyeball.  They called Dad at work and then took Gene to the hospital where they had to remove the shattered eyeball.  They must not have kept him in the hospital because Dad talked about walking the floor with him all night.  The pain must have been terrible.

After Gene grew up, he wore a glass eye.  When we would visit him he would tell our kids he left his eye on the chest of drawers when he wasn’t there, to watch them.  They believed him.  He had several glass eyes and kept them in a little velvet case.

I remember Mama, Daddy and I visiting Uncle Gene and Aunt Peggy in Colorado Springs one time when I was about 11 years old.  They all went next door to play cards one evening and left me home alone.  And, true to Mama’s story, before they left, Uncle Gene told me his glass eye would keep an eye on me.  I was old enough to get the “joke” but I do remember being fascinated by his extra eye that resided in a special little box that looked kind of like a ring box on top of a chest.

By the way, I’ll make another little confession here.  While I was there alone I was looking at a collection of key rings in a bowl on a table and one of them was a little pipe just like Uncle Gene smoked.  Uncle Gene was the only person I had ever known who smoked a pipe so that little tiny pipe (I would guess about 3 inches long) was of particular fascination to me.  Annnnd I wondered “How would it taste to smoke a pipe?”  so “Miss Inquisitive” went to an ash tray, disassembled a cigarette butt, put the tobacco from the butt into the bowl of the little pipe, and then used matches laying on an end table to light the tobacco!  I don’t remember ever putting that little pipe to my lips because, the way I remember it, it immediately became realllly hot, and I ran to the sink to shake the hot tobacco out of it.  But before I could get that done, the varnish on the outside of the lit pipe (which, of course, had never been intended to be used) had bubbled up.  I finally got the tobacco out of it and assessed the damage in horror.  There was no doubt about it that what had been a pretty little polished pipe was now a mess.  I washed it and cleaned it up as well as I could but it was absolutely obvious that it had been “used”.  I was so embarrassed by what I had done, and I dreaded the return of the adults when I would have to confess my “crime”.  But the longer I thought about it, a little voice in my mind said, “If you tell them that it is really going to spoil this visit for everyone … Mama and Daddy will be mad at you and Uncle Gene and Aunt Peggy will be disappointed.  And, after all, there’s no benefit that can come from anyone knowing this.  You’ve certainly learned your lesson!”  So, I took the clean-as-possible, now cool little key chain pipe and put it in the bottom of the bowl of key chains, hidden under all the rest. And then I sat down to read the library book I had told the adults I would be reading during my time alone.

I never heard any more about that key chain.  Bless his heart, when Uncle Gene eventually found it he must have decided that I had surely learned my lesson and so he didn’t feel like he had to report me to Mama!  No wonder I always liked Uncle Gene.  (But I bet he did wish I had believed his extra eye was watching me, because then I might have just read my book, like a good little girl!)

5 Responses to Mama Remembered: Uncle Gene’s Glass Eye

  1. carlahoag says:

    Oh, Sandra, this story reminds me of two things:

    1. The Leave It To Beaver story where Larry Mondello talked Beaver into smoking his dad’s Meerschaum pipe. Of course it turned brown and everyone knew. Unlike you, Beaver and Larry got caught.

    2. When I was about 12 years old, my good friend (Carol) and I went to see the movie “Bonnie and Clyde”. Soon after that, we were alone at my house one day and my dad’s package of cigars was lying on the hall shelf. So, we went out on the back porch, struck Faye Dunaway poses and smoked away. We were so sick after that. And that may be one of the reasons I never smoked cigarettes.

    What an interesting family you had.

  2. carlahoag says:

    And one more thing; about them not smiling in the photo – I guess most people just didn’t. I don’t know why.

    The only photograph that I have of my dad and his siblings is rather grim looking. My mother said they looked like outlaws.

  3. Sandra says:

    Well, Carla, it made me laugh to mentally put together various components of your comments and suddenly picture Uncle Gene and Great-Grandma as a multi-generational version of Bonnie and Clyde! 🙂

    I’m so glad to hear you ‘fess up to your little “crime” too. I think Hubby is the only one I have previously told about the smoke-the-key-chain episode before. So it was a little uncomfortable for me after I shared it here. It makes it easier to know I’m not alone! Thanks, friend. 🙂

  4. Suldog says:

    Fascinating. My Grandma (104, as of this writing) lost her eye when she was one-year-old! It always amazes me that folks can go through something so traumatic and come out the other end with decent personalities and whatnot. I guess it’s true, that God never gives us more than we can handle.

  5. Sandra says:

    Suldog — I agree. It’s amazing. And I’m really impressed with your grandma’s longevity! I hope she is still enjoying life. 🙂

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