About that Uncle in the Basement

or Sometimes seeing Elvis isn’t the hallucination of a crazy person

Ronald Wayne Hayes age 60

If you play the Kevin Bacon game with me and Elvis Aron Presley and me, there is one step. My uncle Ronnie. Same for me and the original line up of KISS and countless other acts who played in Evansville and needed a limo. One time he even gave us the towels KISS used to clean up their makeup. My uncle knew what KISS looked like before the rest of the world.

He was born in the 1939, the son of grocer and a homemaker. He was an only child for about 7 years. He graduated high school and served in the Marine Reserves. Worked in his family business, Married, Had a son. He got divorced when I was a little kid. He got remarrried. It didn’t work.  

His dad, my grandfather, had a heart attack. Sold the family grocery store. Ron got a job at a bank or a printer. A security guard. He drove limos for the guy grandpa knew who owned limos.

He was a pretty cool uncle. He had a CB. I really have ton of good memories from when I was little. His kid was a little younger than me and little older than my little brother. He took us to the zoo. I think we maybe went ice skating. He took us to a park.

He had a CB when CB’s were cool.

But at some point, around 40 years old, things took a turn.

He got a series of apartments that spiraled into grandma and grandpa’s basement. His car broke down after work and he walked all the way home. I think this was the thing my grandpa pointed to as the moment something was wrong. I don’t know what it means.

He got a red Chevrolet Chevette. Kept his security guard job, his gun and his badge. His relationship with his son fractured. My grandparents became Ronnie’s guardian and emancipated the grandson.  They stopped talking about the grandson. It wasn’t talked about. Not just my grandparents, my mom and my aunt too. 

I can tell you the last words I heard him speak were his son’s name. I know this because I, my brother and our wives were in the room when he passed. I would also tell you that his son’s name were on his lips when he passed. 

I can also tell you that my cousin was on his own path. I don’t think we could have done anything to stop it. I can also see clearly how I have developed the ability to burn a bridge as soon as I have crossed it. 

I have gotten ahead of myself. Ronnie was in a twenty year long decline. There were an assortment of diagnosis. Bottom line, he was not able to work, not able to care for himself, not able to live independently. It got progressively worse for twenty years. 

My grandfather had been the authority figure that kept him going. When he died, my mom became his guardian. He moved into a nursing home. His health declined. He was hospitalized. He died. 

His ability to communicate had declined to the point that things were in short hand. Around the time my grandfather passed, Ronnie would defiantly point towards the garage where his car had been covered and stowed just in case he magically got better and moved out. “Dad, I am an independent person, I have autonomy, I could leave right now” became “red chevette”

My grandparents went to incredible lengths to preserve his dignity. He kept the gun and the badge privileges right up to the nursing home. I think maybe his employer was a family friend. The car sat in the garage until my grandfather passed and we moved grandma out. 

As a kid, you assume everybody has an uncle that lives in grandma and grandpas basement. It’s just the way things were. We could tell how much it worried my mom and grandparents but it was like everyone agreed to pretend this was normal. One time my mom bought him a grow light for his room in the basement, just in case this was a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It didn’t help.

He came to visit one time at my own home when we were newly married. We were standing in the back yard, waiting on dinner. I don’t remember a great deal about what he could express, but the well of grief that opened when he spoke his son’s name. He would also pull the “red chevette” line on my mom and dad. He could hear his “brain popping”.  That is my uncle Ronnie in a nut shell. No pun intended.

This is pretty summarizes my memories from my birth in 1969 to his death in 1999. He has been gone for 20 years. 

My parents were moving after three decades in their home. I was helping them pack for the move. 

There was still an ugly green trunk that my mom had kept. Uncle Ronnie’s whole life in one box. Evidentiary proof of a life lived. Proof that he was a man, who lived and breathed. A functional adult with two little sisters, one of whom was my mother. 

My mom was showing me the contents, ready to let this stuff go, until she realized that there were a ton of pictures and ephemera that hadn’t been scanned or reviewed. 

I offered to take the box on the condition my mom stop crying. We had a ton of other more important memories to process before the move. 20 years on, the possessions of a man who died surround by two nephews and their wives needs to be dealt with.

There is a shadow box with stuff that mattered. 

The Shadow Box

A cigar box of fetish objects and treasures that only a crow or the man who collected them would appreciate. There was also a vulgar, cheap plastic whirly-gig that turned up. I threw it in the trash. If you get to my hard drive after I die please do me the same courtesy, thanks in advance. 

There was also the matter of all of the pictures and ephemera of Ronald’s life. Unprocessed. I took the whole trunk with the promise that I would get it sorted out. 

What I found would make an interesting podcast, if there is a market for a podcast that would only interest my two cousins and my brother, I am looking for a sponsor. The contents of the trunk filled in the picture.

Wayne Hayes, Vivian Hayes, Ronald Wayne Hayes

Probably the most valuable thing I found was my grandmother’s smile. She lived close to us towards the end of her life. She was always anxious and worried. She was a world class fusser in health. At the end, it was a constant distraction. The end was the only thing I could access in my own memories. Here in the trunk, I found evidence of a young mother and wife who could genuinely light up a room with a smile. There is even a magnificent picture from one of my uncle’s nursing homes of her just beaming. Inexplicably beaming.

Vivian Hayes, My Aunt Laura (who probably would not approve of this photo) and Ronnie

Same for my grandfather. He was as young man with a tragic hairline that will afflict generations of his descendants. Glorious.  

My uncle was born in 1939. He was born at a dip in the national birthrate. He was also an only child for 7 years. His first seven years were excessively documented. I would tell you my grandparents were very thrifty, but they spent some money on their only child. He played organized sports, he had a bicycle. My mom and her twin sister were born in 1946, baby boomers. There were so many babies born in 1946, you couldn’t swing a cat and not hit five of them. All of Ronnie’s school pictures are also packed with kids. The schools must have been bursting at the seems when the boomers hit.

My uncle and a peer recreating Joe Lewis versus Max Schmeling (just a guess)

He wasn’t really tall. I saw one place that listed his height as 5 foot 7 inches. There was a mention in middle school or high school as “our little man”. He lettered twice as manager for the football team. I never noticed he was short. He was always my uncle. I looked up to him for so long I don’t ever remember noticing that I was looking down when I became an adult. Maybe he had a late growth spurt. Some of the kids in the sports pictures are wiry, barrel chested giants. My uncle was none of those things. 5’7” would have been close to average height for a guy his age. Maybe he wore platform shoes to the Marine Recruiters.

some sort of gather of young people

He wasn’t that short.

Oh yeah, my uncle was a mutherfuckin’ United States Marine Corp Reserves Devil Dog, a 17th Rifle Company Leatherneck. 1957-1965. Honorably discharged. Trained at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The Evansville paper did a nice write up of the Evansville Reservists training. My uncle was on the front page, top of the fold, washing dishes after a delicious training meal. He was on the bottom of the fold tending the ammo belt in a machine gun bunker. Until now, the machine gun nest photo glued to the back of the shadow box was the only proof of this chapter. There is also a great picture of Ronnie in his uniform with his little sisters. A wood box has all the insignia and awards from his uniform, an M-1 Garand tool, a cleaning brush, grenade pins and spoons.

Linda Hayes Bruce, Ronald Hayes USMCR, Laura Hayes Rueger

caption from caption

Ronnie was a husband. He married twice. I don’t have any memories of the first wife. My mom would argue that I still have a thing for red heads because his first wife doted on me until her own son was born at which point she divorced my uncle and I never saw her again. His second wife, I remember from an awkward holiday or two. She came with her own kids from a previous marriage. It didn’t last. 

Ronnie was a father. His son was born in 1971. I cannot understate how big of a deal this was. I was the first grandkid. I think we can all agree the best and most favorite, but this was a son and grandson to carry on the family name. Ronnie was a devoted father. He coached youth sports teams. He showed up for his weekends. He worked it so we could spend time with our cousin.

Ronald and his son were not immune to the charms of Olan Mills/Sears Portrait Studio

He was a private eye. His security badge, CrediThrift Security Officer badge number 004, licensed to kill. His private detective credentials are preserved in the box along with a yo yo with his initials carved by hand and a couple of tie tacks.

He was a graduate of Evansville Central High School, class of 1957. I scanned the whole year book if you need a copy. His high school in 1957 was more diverse than mine in 1988.

Right in the Middle

TLDR: To Long Didn’t Read

Ronald Wayne Hayes
Son of Wayne Chapman Hayes and Vivian Hayes nee Sullivan
Born – 04/28/1939 – Evansville, Indiana
Graduate Evansville Central High School – 1957
United States Marine Corp – May 1957 – May 1965 – Honorable Discharge
Married – May 21st, 1966
Father of Jay Wayne Hayes – 1971
Died – 06/05/1999 – Indianapolis, Indiana
Interment – Pleasant Hill Cemetery Marion, Kentucky

2 thoughts on “About that Uncle in the Basement

  1. Very well said Jon. Ronnie was such a caring, gentle man; then that terrible illness hit.

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