Taps for Private Tussie by Jesse Stuart

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(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

There was trouble at Grandpa Tussie’s. In the coal shed behind the schoolhouse where the Tussies lived, Uncle Kim’s body was beginning to smell. Kim Tussie had been killed in the war. The government had sent his body home, and now the Tussie clan had gathered for the funeral. Kim’s folks, Grandpa and Grandma Tussie, comforted Aunt Vittie, Kim’s wife, who was screaming and wailing. Uncle Mott, Kim’s brother, was telling how he had identified the body. Sid, Kim’s young nephew, was just excited. There had not been so much going on since he could remember. The noise the Tussie kin made as they carried the coffin up the mountainside could not soon be forgotten by a young boy.

Uncle Kim had left Aunt Vittie ten thousand dollars in government insurance, and the day after the funeral, she rented the Rayburn mansion and filled it with new furniture, all ready for Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle Mott, and Sid to move in. It was the biggest and best house any of the Tussies had ever seen. Uncle Mott flicked the electric lights off and on all day. Sid used the bathroom over and over. Aunt Vittie bought them all new clothes to go with the house. To Sid it was all wonderful, but his happiness was spoiled a little when he realized Uncle Kim had to die in order for the rest of them to have that splendor.

The next few weeks were really a miracle in the lives of the Tussies. Grandpa continued to get his relief groceries, and Aunt Vittie bought more groceries at the store. Grandpa began to look for more of the Tussies to come when they heard about the money. Grandpa thought his brother George would be the first. Brother George had been married five times. He could play a fiddle till it made a man cry.

Grandpa was right. When George heard about the money, he decided to come home to die. Uncle Mott hoped that that time would come soon, but Aunt Vittie looked at George and smiled. George played his fiddle far into the night, playing tunes Aunt Vittie asked for, and Grandpa knew George had come to stay. Aunt Vittie bought George new clothes, too, and Uncle Mott began to look mean.

Then more Tussies came, first Uncle Ben, then Dee, then young Uncle Ben, then Starkie, then Watt, then Sabie, then Abe, all with their wives and young ones. The mansion was ready to burst. Only Grandpa knew them all. When Grandma counted forty-six of them, she would stand for no more.

The money began to go fast. Sid knew now why Grandpa and Grandma had not cried at Kim’s funeral. They had known Aunt Vittie would get the money, and all the Tussies would live high. Brother George’s fiddle playing had Aunt Vittie looking as she had never looked before. Uncle Mott was losing out, and he looked dangerous.

Grandpa knew things were bound to change. He was right. First the government man came and stopped their relief. It hurt Grandpa to lose his relief. He had had it for years and had expected it to go on forever. Then George Rayburn came to inspect his house. When he saw the floor full of nail holes, the broken windowpanes, the charcoal and pencil marks on the walls, he threatened to bring suit if the Tussies did not leave at once. The uncles, the brothers, and the cousins twice removed, however, refused to leave. It was not until Sheriff Whiteapple came with the law papers that they knew they were whipped. That night there was the grandest dance of all. Aunt Vittie kissed Brother George and then she kissed Uncle Mott, but not very hard. It looked as if George were winning.

The next day, the Tussies began to leave. Grandpa and Grandma, Aunt Vittie, Brother George, Uncle Mott, and Sid were the last to go. Aunt Vittie had bought fifty acres of land and an old shack with the last of her money, and she put the farm in Grandpa’s name. They had no furniture, no sheets, no dishes, since Rayburn had attached everything to pay for damages to his house. There was only Grandpa’s old-age pension check to look forward to. Uncle Mott and Brother George made a table and sapling beds and...

(The entire section is 1,131 words.)