One of ‘Cholly’s Boys’ remembers his uncle, Charlie Dixon
In the South and pockets of New England, speakers of English typically drop the post vocalic /r/, making words like paper papuh, water watuh, and Charlie Cholly, as one would pronounce Holly.
As a young man in Barnwell, I would hear people exclaim, "You must be one of Cholly's boys!" And as a good Southern boy, my answer was always, "Yes, sir."
But this isn't a lesson in sociolinguistics; it's a tribute to my Uncle Charlie Dixon who died almost one year ago.
Like many Barnwellians, Uncle Charlie came to Barnwell in the early 1950s to work at the Savannah River Plant, known by locals as the Bomb Plant.
My brothers, Sam, James, and John, sister Kathy, and I came to live with Uncle Charlie in the 1960s.
Our father, Sam, died in December 1955, leaving our mother, Marie, with five boys and seven months pregnant with our sister. Our mother, a teacher-turned-housewife, had a very difficult time with our father's untimely death.
Uncle Charlie, along with our mother's sister, Darthie (Dot) stepped in to help. Over time, this led to five of the six of us coming to live with them.
Even though Uncle Charlie never had children of his own, he adopted Aunt Dot's two children and became guardian of us for a total of seven. Fortunately, at least roomwise, our older cousins were already transitioning out of the household when we came.
While Uncle Charlie was quite strict with all of us, he was a very good surrogate father and role model in so many ways.
We worked hard on the farm, plowing, planting, fertilizing, plucking, and picking from the land as well as feeding, watering, castrating, and butchering animals as necessary. And we ate very well.
In all my days with him, the worst "curse" words I ever heard Uncle Charlie utter were John Brown it and Pshaw!!!
As far as I know, Uncle Charlie never drank a drop of whiskey or smoked a cigarette in his life. As a young boy, Uncle Charlie was in a truck driven by his father when a drunk driver ran into them, hurting Uncle Charlie's foot badly. He never forgot that experience.
We respected Uncle Charlie very much. Later in life, we spent hours, listening to his interesting and sometimes funny stories about growing up in small town Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s.
One of things that really impressed us about Uncle Charlie was his penchant for honesty and fairness. He never showed favoritism toward any of us, going overboard to ensure equality in his dealings with us and everyone.
On behalf of my brothers and sister, I want to pay tribute to Uncle Charlie, a man's man with attributes worthy of emulation. While we hated losing our father, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of Cholly's boys.