Pages Navigation Menu

The Liberation of Uncle Eddy (1981)

The Liberation of Uncle Eddy (1981)

©1972, 1981, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1981, Fall-Winter). The liberation of Uncle Eddy. Cumberlands, 18(2), pp. 28-30.

I wrote this story after watching the evening news on a Knoxville, Tennessee television station. The owner of a junk store had a skeleton in a coffin in his display space. I remember wondering who the person was and being outraged at the way he or she was treated.


Cumberlands (PDF


The Liberation of Uncle Eddy

By Dallas Denny


David first saw the mummy on the six o’clock news. After the strikes and slayings, the mistakes and misunderstandings had all been chronicled, there was some time to kill and the mummy story was aired as a filler. Someone at the station had thought it would be cute to send the most junior newsperson out to the salvage barn to do a feature, because there was a mummified body on display there. The mummy was of unknown lineage and antiquity, although it was presumably of local origin. It was undoubtedly Big George’s biggest attraction. The most junior newsperson was commenting on this fact when David called his wife, Betty, to come and watch.

Big George’s country manner and grooming made him look oafish and unsophisticated in contrast to the studied poise and carefully contrived casualness of the most junior newsperson.

“Nobody rightly knows, Miss Hope, where Uncle Eddy came from. When I bought the salvage barn back in ‘43 I found him in a corner with a lot of other junk. Nobody seemed to know anything about him, so I just moved him out to the center of the floor, dressed him in this tuxedo and wig, and started telling everybody it was my Uncle Eddy.”

David and Betty stood watching, transfixed, until the commercial came on. That night, in bed, they speculated about the mummy.

“Maybe Big George was short the down payment on the salvage barn, or something, and he did away with the original proprietor. It was wartime; things must’ve been in an uproar.”

Betty raised herself up on one elbow. “I think Uncle Eddy was killed for love. George came home from work early one night. He caught Uncle Eddy with his wife. There was a struggle—there were shots! He wondered what to do with the body. Ah! The perfect solution. The purloined person.”

“Maybe—maybe it’s not ‘Uncle’ Eddy at all. Maybe it’s ‘Aunt’ Eddy. Make that Aunt Edie. George’s wife.”

“Could be. He dressed her in a tuxedo and a yellow wig to disguise her sex.”

“He got rid of the bloody clothes. He ripped them to shreds and scattered the bits from a speeding car.”

“A Hudson.”

“From a speeding Hudson. Then came the process of embalming the body, the delicate explanations of his wife’s absence.”

“It didn’t really look like a mummy to me. Just a skeleton!”

“The rascal! He’s calling Eddy a mummy when he’s—when she’s really a skeleton. It is easier to make a skeleton than a mummy?”

“It must be,” cried Betty. “Big George sure looked lazy to me.”

“Now comes the inevitable visit from the inspector. The slow, measured pace, up and down the aisles of the salvage barn, past the porcelain figurines, past the plumbing supplies, past the moldering books. He stops, leaning on Uncle Eddy’s casket and points his pipe at Big George.”

“Uncle Eddy didn’t mind the smoke.”

“Big George is sweating. He’s wondering how he can get away with killing the inspector. But the inspector tells Big George he is closing the case.”

“Big George smiles in smug satisfaction.”

“The inspector smiles in bewilderment.”

“Uncle Eddy smiles—”

“—because skeletons always smile”!”


“Good night to you, Big George. I hope you sleep comfortably tonight.”

“Good night, Uncle Eddy. Good night, Inspector.”


It was about a month later that David and Betty passed Big George’s salvage barn. The words “George’s Collosal Salvage” spanned the entire length of the building. But although the salvage barn was visible from the interstate highway, there was no exit nearby, so they simply discussed the mummy anew and decided to stop by the next time they were in the vicinity.

It was over a year later and their marriage was on shaky ground when David and Betty drove up to Big George’s salvage barn in their two-seater Fiat. David parked the car in front of the extra L in Collosal and he and Betty wandered into the gloomy innards of the salvage barn. David remarked that he had already ranked Big George’s place right up there with Disneyland, the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and the copper mine in Bisbee, Arizona as a monument to the American way of life. Betty didn’t answer; she wasn’t in a good mood.

As his eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the building, David saw Big George, feet propped higher than his head, lounging behind a mahogany-and-glass display case. He was holding a newspaper and looking at David, grinning. A world of meaning was implied by that grin. David took it to mean, at the very least, “Hi! I’m Big George, and you are a fine, nice, young married couple that is here to browse around and probably not buy anything. I can see you’re not Negroes or Jews or Yankees, so go ahead and look around, and for heaven’s sake make yourself at home. I won’t be doing much talking, though, unless it’s about Uncle Eddy. I’m always happy to talk about Uncle Eddy.”

David and Betty walked past piles of tractor parts, lighting fixtures, and lumber, and approached Uncle Eddy’s coffin. Inside, Uncle Eddy grinned at them through a Plexiglas window Big George had put on the lid. Bits of powdery, brittle-looking grey-hair stuck out from under the preposterous yellow wig on his head. Brown, leathery skin was stretched across the bones like a balloon is stretched over the open end of a tin can. In places the bones plainly showed. The teeth were discolored, as if from smoking.

David grinned back at Uncle Eddy, but when it became apparent that Uncle Eddy could hold his grin far longer than David could hold his, David wandered away to browse through the hodgepodge of household appliances, Harlequin romances, and World War II surplus that filled the salvage barn. And then the salvage barn was behind them, receding in the rear-view mirror. Betty sat in stony silence.

That was the day of their biggest fight. David sat for some time after Betty had taken the Chevrolet to work at her evening job. Finally, he got up, walked to the refrigerator, opened it, and removed a can of beer.

By seven p.m. David was roaring drunk, his judgment borne away by the brew. When the idea struck him, the mediating mechanism that would ordinarily have vetoed any actual tendency to action was not consulted. Thought became action; a whim was translated into muscular movement. David got an envelope full of almost—matured savings bonds from their hiding place and got into the Fiat and drove it, top down, to Big George’s salvage barn.

Big George smiled his usual smile when he saw David stumble into the salvage barn. David passed him, unseeing, and walked right up to Uncle Eddy. Big George came up behind him. “I wonder who he is,” mused David, aware that Big George was looking over his shoulder.

“A body can’t rightly tell,” speculated Big George.

“I guess not,” said David, “but would a body be willing to sell Uncle Eddy?”

Big George was an entrepreneur and a man of quick thought. He named a price. It was not more than a piano would have cost. David named another, lower figure. Eventually they settled on a third, intermediate sum. David paid Big George with the savings bonds. Before he did, he asked, “Well, how about it, Uncle Eddy?” Uncle Eddy didn’t object.

And then David and Big George were lugging the heavy coffin to the Fiat. The casket was big and the car was small, but eventually the two men managed to wedge it into the open space where Betty usually sat. David leaped into the other side of the car, backed out of Big George’s lot, and drove drunkenly home.

Had David been sober he could never have been able to lug Big George up the stairs and into the apartment. But by nine o’clock he had propped Uncle Eddy, still in his coffin, against the living room wall.

David opened the casket and inspected Uncle Eddy closely. He was definitely a homemade mummy. Some of the joints were held together with cotter pins and baling wire. Uncle Eddy had more than a faint odor of corruption, but then he hadn’t bathed in years.

David was too intoxicated to mind. He gently lifted Uncle Eddy from the reclining coffin and sat him in an armchair. The joints bent easily.

David removed the yellow wig from Uncle Eddy’s head and placed it on his own. On Uncle Eddy’s head, David placed his cowboy hat, and in Uncle Eddy’s yellowing phalanges David placed a beer can. As David stepped back to admire his handiwork, he bumped into the coffin. Turning, he climbed into the reclining casket and pulled the cover with the viewing window in it closed. And David went to sleep, wearing Uncle Eddy’s smile.