He looked over behind him. "But you've thrown your sheath in the water, and it's now floating downstream."
I looked where he was looking. The sheath had reached midstream and was bobbing along in the brown water, now about 15 yards away. I said, "I can fix that!"
I was only wearing jeans, it being summer, so I just upped on the side of the boat and dove in. I caught up with the sheath about 50 yards downstream. Meanwhile, Uncle Joe had untied the rope from the tree limb and had paddled his way down to get me. After a little maneuvering I was back in the boat. I had the sheath and held it up, water streaming off me. I said, "Well, now, what do you think of that? Got it back, didn't I?"
He didn't say anything for a long minute. Then he just pointed back from whence we'd come. I looked. All along that bank were fallen cypress trees that looked exactly like the one we'd been tied up next to. My knife was now buried in the mud below the brown water at an unknown site. I had recovered the sheath, but had lost the knife. That's like being married without a wife. I thought for a minute that it was Uncle Joe, not me, who had lost sight of the spot where my knife went in. If he hadn't untied the boat and come downstream to pick me up, I'd have got them both back.
But Uncle Joe just grinned at me as he grabbed hold of the oars. He said, "Junior, have I ever recounted to you a tale by Washington Irving?"
Uncle Joe wasn't an educated man in formal terms, but he knew as much about literature, the kind he wanted to know, as any man I've ever met. And he could tell it. He could even stop a poker game—a poker game, mind you—with his recitation of Robert Service's poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew. So I knew I was in for it.
Still looking at me and still rowing, he laughed malevolently, "Heh, heh, heh." Now my Uncle Joe was a compact man with Popeye-like forearms and strong, square hands. He had a habit, which wasn't going to win him any votes, of jabbing you in the chest with his right forefinger when he was trying to make a point. It was like being hit with a small pile driver. It wouldn't actually separate your ribs from your sternum, but it could, depending on the duration of the point he was insisting you agree with him on, make laughing a painful matter for some days afterward.
I had, on many occasions, been the recipient of that forefinger, but, as much as I hated it, I hated that "heh, heh, heh" much worse. It meant he had you by the nape of the neck and, struggle as you might, you weren't going to get loose.
So he said, "Well, Junior, this is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Or the tale of the Headless Horseman." Then he commenced to tell me the story, dwelling with some relish on just how dumb Ichabod Crane was and how he was made to lose sight of his objective by the Headless Horseman who assailed him in a moonlit lane. He even went into some detail on the possibility of my resemblance to Ichabod Crane (as well he might, for I was rather tall and slim at that time).
Then he paused and looked thoughtful, resting on the oars. He said, "But then I don't reckon you were any dumber than the Headless Horseman. Hell, all he had was a pumpkin for a head."