Remembering My Uncle Jimmy

From front to back:  Frank, Tom, Bob and Jim Caudill

I grew up in a very unique situation.  The street that I grew up on was a one way street in which everyone on the street was a close relative.  It was the old Caudill farm road that was cut off when I-64 was constructed in 1957. When the street was adopted into the country road system, it was given the obvious name of Caudill Drive.  Two old farmhouses were there when I was growing up.  My great-grandmother lived in one, my great-grandfather (and my dad's namesake) had passed before I was born.  In the other lived my dad's parents, it was the home my dad grew up in with his 3 brothers.  Those brothers and other cousins, and their families were the residents of Caudill Drive during my formative years.  The oldest brother of the bunch being James David Caudill, Uncle Jimmy as I called him.  My uncle Jimmy passed away a few days before I am writing this.  While, there is sadness with his death, I want to focus on some positive things I gathered from my relationship with him.  I dont think everyone has interest in my life so much that you will find this fascinating stuff.  I do however, hope it sparks some memories you have had with your family or friends and it gives you an opportunity to pause and enjoy some of those times, like I have done in recalling these memories of my uncle.  I have a very distinct memory of the last time I spoke to him that I will share later.  I knew then it was going to be the last time I spoke to him, and I think he knew too.  Not all of us have that luxury, so if you have someone close to you, dont ever lose the opportunity to heal wounds or to increase the love for one another by saying what you are thinking. 

  • I grew up next door to my uncle Jimmy, his wife Saundra and his three kids, Kelly Ann, Catherine and David.  His son, was older than me and was often times the Batman to my Robin. Some of the best times of my life were on that street as a kid.  Jimmy was  strict disciplinarian and his kids were regularly being disciplined.  I remember one time my cousin and I had done something that we deserved some punishment. It happened often, so I cant remember what it was. Whatever it was, he was not allowed to leave his yard.  So we spent the day passing baseball back and forth across the boundary line of our yards and eventually looking at a Sears catalog.  The spine was on the boundary line of the yards too, half in his yard, half in mine so we did not go against his dad's reprimand. 
  • My uncle Jimmy and his brothers were heavily involved in the National Muzzleloading Rifle Assocation and the Kentucky Corps of Longrifleman.  We did a lot of blackpowder shooting. We had a dove shoot once in which we only used muzze loading shotguns.  My uncle Jimmy used a smooth bore flinter and was absolute the death on those doves that day with that thing.  He also let me shoot it once and I nailed a dove with the only shot that I took with it.  I was hooked on those smoothbores from that moment on.  (More on that later)
  • One year my Uncle Jimmy gifted me a small belt knife that he had hammer forged from a file.  It was crude and oddly shaped compared to other knives I had seen as a kid.  Which was perfect for me.  I never wanted to be like everyone else.  Having a knife that was different from the others was just fine with me.  I used that knife to clean so many rabbits and squirrels I could never count them all.  That knife is pictured here. 
  • I spent much of my teens and early twenties in canoes paddling any stream I could possibly get into in the state of Kentucky.  All of that got started however, when my uncle Jimmy allowed me and his son to take his aluminum Grumman out for a paddle on Cave Run Lake, while he and my dad fished from the bank. I was probably around 12 or so on this, my first, canoe "trip".   We were told to not be splashing water on each other.    My cousin and I quickly made our way into a nearby tributary away from their watchful eyes and did exactly that. It was the kickstart to a lot of great paddles. We were not disciplined for it.  How could you discipline two boys for having fun in a canoe right?
  • One time Uncle Jimmy was taking me and David squirrel hunting to the Pioneer Weapons WMA without my dad, which is weird to me as I think about it. Because I am thinking that only happened once. As we were travelling through Salt Lick an old woman came around a curve taking up all of our lane of the highway.  He told her she was number one in a way that I did not understand at the time, and my older cousin filled me in on the details later. 
  • My family had a hog killing every year the day after Christmas and everyone in the family had specific roles.  Uncle Jimmy took on the responsibility of gutting all the hogs, as best as I can recall.  I remember hanging out with him and him teaching me how to gut hogs long before I gutted my first deer.  He let me help him and was very clear on how I was to cut certain parts and not cut other parts.  After removing the entrails on one, he cut open the stomach for me to see, and smell, why I was not to cut certain parts.  It was a lesson I think of every time I field dress my deer. 
  • Speaking of field dressing.  The Caudill family used to get together every year for Christmas, it was a fun time for sure.  I received the gift of a Buck 119 from my uncle Jimmy one year, the Christmas before I started deer hunting. It is also, pictured along with this piece here.   He did not know it, but up until I designed my own knife a couple of years ago, I used that Buck 119 to field dress every deer I ever took.  I also bought my son a Buck 119 when he started hunting and he has field dressed all of his deer with his as well.  Making sure to cut parts that are supposed to be cut and not cutting others.
  • After my grandmother passed away, my uncle Jimmy and his family, then my family moved to a farm that he and my dad farmed together until recently when his health took a decline.  It was on that farm that we put up fences and hay, tagged and banded cattle, corraled people to help us cut tobacco, ground corn and so much more.  I spent nearly most of my high school years on Saturday's grinding corn in Jimmy's barn and then hauling it out to the feeders. That farm was basically where I learned a work ethic.  We built barns and outbuildings, fixed broken tractors and hay balers, found arrowheads, shot rabbits and doves.  As you can tell I did a lot with my Uncle Jimmy and my dad there.  My dad and Jimmy both had regular jobs and I would often feed the cattle after school.  There is so much I learned on the farm from my dad and uncle Jimmy, that I dont think I could possibly share a fraction of it.  Some of which was how to communicate with his brother, my dad, in such a way that we mostly all got along, even through our differences. 
  • One distinct story I will never forget about when I was putting up hay on the farm. Prior to me leaving the farm, there was no such thing as a hay roller, it was all hay bales and I picked up alot of them (ie most of them). Prior to this my dad had told me for many years that he never wanted me to call him "old man" and to never call my mom "the old lady". He also added that he never wanted me to call my future wife my "old lady".  He was clear that is was rude and demeaning on all accounts.  One day while putting up hay I thought my dad was driving too fast and I said "slow this thing down old man".  Both my uncle Jimmy and dad immediately took a break from the hay to teach me a lesson that I will never forget.  I have never used that term since, and I never will.
  • Jimmy was an expert story teller and even though I despised working tobacco I absolutely relished the time in the stripping room with my family with Jimmy telling stories.  My dad is a quiet fella, but Jimmy never was.  I dont think he knew how to be quiet.  He would tell stories of his brothers when they were little, like when my dad hopped on an old Poppin' John Deer somehow when he was just a little kid. They saw him coming around the barn and driving it across the farm, not being able to reach the peddles, which included the brakes. He talked about how one of his brothers threw another another threw the walls at the old farm house.  He told stories of hunts and the one hunt that made him quit deer hunting.  He even told a story that lasted several nights and took on parts 1, 2, 3 and more that I now occasionally tell at my classes that I teach over numerous nights.  It truly was the greatest story I have been told.  Those of us in the stripping room for that story, will never forget it. 
  • Jimmy made a lot of leather rifleman, shotgunner and possibles pouches.  He gifted me a shotgunners pouch that I carried for a couple of decades while using a muzzle loading 10 gauge double barrel to hunt squirrels in the very tall trees of the Pioneer Weapons area.  My dad also makes pouches, as do I occasionally, much of which got a start from Jimmy.  My dad likes using patterns, and his first patterns came from Jimmy.  I dont like using patterns at all, and Jimmy taught me how to look at pouches and see the intricacies and how to recreate them.  All of my leatherwork has some of my Uncle Jimmy in it. The pouch pictured here is the one Jimmy gave me.  
  • I truly could go on with many, many stories enough to fill a book about my Uncle Jimmy.  They are stories of him and his brothers and their parents, and their parents. What I dont have are any stories of Jimmy working at East Kentucky Power which was a huge part of his life. Other than to say that he gave me the best gift he could have ever given me, way back then. Since Jimmy was the Manager of Construction, he worked closely with an Engineering Manager there who had a pretty daughter. Jimmy told me I should go out with her about 31 years ago.  I have been going out with her ever since.
  • In the last few years, Jimmy's health has declined like all our health will also decline.  Every one of us.  In these last years my dad would regularly give me parts of trees, branches, and leaves of plants that Jimmy had given him but did not know what they were.  I was incredibly pleased to be able to teach him a few things, which as I write this seems impossible I could teach him anything. 

A couple of years ago I built a Kentucky smoothbore fowler flintlock, similar to the one Jimmy let me shoot when I was a kid.  The one that got me hooked on them.  I had wanted one since then, 30+ years or so ago.  Jimmy, in his recent and declining health, had passed word to my dad that he wanted to see it.  My dad and Jimmy would meet morning at the barn to talk "shop".   So I went out there one morning to show him.  By this time, Jimmy was having trouble even getting in and out of the truck.  I passed it to him through the window and he had trouble holding it up, so I held up the barrel end so he could check it out.  He sighted down the barrel, looked over the lock and finish.  When he was done he told me it was a beautiful rifle.  This coming from a man that actually knew how to make and understand beautiful rifles.  It felt good to have him say that.     The last thing he said to me before we parted was "Craig you have done well".  He never called me Craig, he always called me hon or some other endearing term like that. 

It was then that I knew we were talking for the last time.

It felt like the scene in the movie Jeremiah Johnson where Bear Claw Chris Lapp told Jeremiah he had done well after eating Jeremiah's spit-cooked rabbit and then promptly walking off into the snow to kill more grizz.  Jimmy, like Bear Claw, walked his own walk until he could not walk anymore.  He is no longer with his family, and we will miss him.  His effect will last much longer.  It is up to each of us that have positive things we learned from him, to use them, and pass them on to others.

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