Of all the giants that strode through my childhood, some loom larger than others: Some due to their innate kindness or acts towards me, some for the wisdom they imparted or their willingness to share life experiences, and some simply due to the fact of just how damn likeable they were. But there are a few who loom large for all those reasons.
Lynn Carl Middleton was born on May 15, 1942 in Vendor, Arkansas to Dave and Oshia Middleton. His father, Dave, had ten children from his first marriage, nine who survived to adulthood, so by the time he married Oshia and had two more sons, Lynn and Ken, they were born into a large family. Though most of his siblings were much older, Lynn always felt close to them and would often speak of them in kindly memories. It was due to his forward thinking that he took the time and effort to make recordings of all of them with an early 8mm camera. If not for his work, I would not have any footage of my great grandmother (his half sister) and her siblings. One year at the family reunion he got us all copies of the tape and I will forever be grateful for that.
Growing up poor in Vendor, Lynn worked on the farm and did chores like all country children. He remembered well and would tell me of how he would take many a whippin’ on the bank of the creek below their home. He would say “Now it ain’t that I minded the bath, but that ol’ water was COOOLLLDDD!” So he said he would refuse to jump in until his dad got after him! Lynn grew up and soon demonstrated he had an eye for working smarter and not harder. He early on signed up to drive for Walmart, after working a few other places around Boone County, and became driver #79, a position he would hold for decades without an accident. Less than a month before he was to be awarded his watch for safe driving, a man ran into his trailer. Though no fault of his own, the dispatcher sought to deny him the watch. In response, Sam Walton himself, who spent many hours on the road with Lynn Carl in the early days, personally presented the watch to uncle Lynn.
Of course, I can’t remember Lynn Carl driving or working for Walmart, because I was too young, but by the time I got old enough to begin remembering things, he was always around! He was yet another one of those that I took for granted, thinking as a child that he would “always be there.” When I was in upper grade school, we began having a deer camp over at a place another great-uncle jokingly called “Butcher Holler” (after Loretta Lynn’s home). Lynn Carl was always there and he soon made a lasting impression on all of us. Lynn Carl had a nickname, “Windy”, that was bestowed upon him for his storytelling, and me being a storyteller in training, I immediately got interested in what he had to say (though a good amount of it was inappropriate for young ears, but we will blame that on too many years running the road with truckers!). Lynn also had a wild streak and was known for having a drink and attending parties and his rowdy ways. One of my favorite stories of his was when they were having a party near Mt. Judea one cold winter at a friend’s house. Lynn had ran out of ice to make Canadian Mist on the rocks, so one of the party scooped up the glasses and dashed outside, coming back with them full of ice again. Lynn said they poured them up and continued when he suddenly took a drink and noticed something moving in his glass. “Son, where did you get that ice at?” The man replied he had broken it out of the old pool outside. Lynn Carl roared, “SON, there’s TADPOLES in the whiskey!” I always got tickled at that.
Lynn could take me back in time, talking of people he grew up and worked with (he spent a good amount of his life working, whether on the road or on the farm, and never asked for a handout or complained about his situation) who I never got to know. He once showed up unexpectedly and took my dad and great-grandmother down to Limestone Valley to see the headstone of their grandfather, Jiles. My great-grandmother rarely went anywhere, so this was quite a feat! It was the last time, far as I know, that she ever saw his grave. Lynn was good and kind to his family. He would often show up and spend hours talking. Sharing experiences and life lessons he had learned. When I began hauling hay, my buddy Dusty and I would always work for Lynn. We would get stories (some of them, again, unfit for young ears) about many things that he had learned the hard way, but in every one there was a lesson to take away. As I told his children after his funeral, “there ain’t a person in the world who taught me more than Lynn Middleton, but there ain’t a bit of it I can share around all these people!” That was an exaggeration, of course. Lynn taught us about a lot of things: The value of hard work, the importance of family, loyalty as a virtue, and many other things, along with the questionable advice! I still remember it and hope I always shall.
As I grew into a young man, Lynn grew older. He took up riding a trike and going to Sturgis every year, which was hilarious to us. He truly loved it. A late life Hell’s Angel! It fit him somehow, though. He always had the wild and wooly streak in him, and I’m glad that never died out. He remained the same uncle Lynn to the very last. Years of smoking and age began to take its toll, and Lynn entered the hospital in early 2020. He was brought home in May to pass away where he had spent a good part of his life, at his home near Deer, Arkansas. I was privileged in getting to go in and speak with him before he passed. I thanked him for all his advice, for the lessons and the help and, most of all, his friendship and kindness towards me and mine.
Lynn Carl Middleton died at home on May 14, 2020. He died an Arkansawyer. He died an Ozarker. He died a Southerner.
I awoke this morning out of the blue, and laid in bed randomly thinking about Uncle Lynn, as I do from time to time. I may be out working on something, or just reading or (most often) telling stories, when the memories strike me suddenly. It’s still yet hard to believe that he’s gone; another part of my childhood gone the way that we all one day must go. Uncle Lynn was a good man, a story teller, and one who wasn’t afraid to share his life lessons, even if they were “down and dirty” at times. You got the good and the bad. My only regret is that I didn’t spend more time with him, but I know that’s everyone’s regret with their lost loved ones.
Sometimes I sit outside and look out over the valleys and hills that my ancestors worked and died on. In my mind’s eye I can see him yet, coming to visit, that ever present grin breaking out as he sees me in his approach. I can hear his distinct laugh in the wind as it whistles through the leaves. He is forever with us, and of that I’m glad. This short write up can’t do justice to the life of Lynn. There are just too many stories and tall tales that would fill a book’s worth of reminiscing. But I leave you with this happy note: Recently my wife stumbled across where she had secretly recorded Lynn telling me stories that his father told him. It brought a tear to my eye as I once again listened to that voice from my childhood. I will forever miss uncle Lynn, but he is forever with us.
Remember all those who came before you and were brave enough to share not only the good, but the bad side of life also, as they are truly the ones who can guide you through the darkness and to the light.