Aug 11 2011

My Little Town 20110810: Uncle Bill and his Friend

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I never write about living people except with their express permission, but since he is long gone, he is fair game.  He was not really an uncle, but rather was my great uncle, the brother to my paternal grandfather.  I always called him Uncle Bill, but did not know him very well, and hardly at all until his old age.

Uncle Bill was always nice to me, and I liked that.  When I grew to know him, he lived in the little, shabby rent house up the street.

I really know little about him as I said, in his old age.  He was the brother of my paternal grandfather, as were two others about whom I am aware.  One was a Doughboy who died of the influenza pandemic of of 1918 - 1920, whose name was Walter, and the other was Uncle Fletch (actually great uncle Fletcher, who I knew well.  Uncle Fletch was not as colorful and Uncle Bill).

Uncle Bill was an electrician by training.  I do not know much about his education, but since he was a pretty good electrician, he must have had some decent learning.  The only thing that I remember about him from the family stories was that he almost went to the penitentiary for coming close to beating a man to death with the heavy line pliers that electricians used at the time, but that was WAY before I was born.  As far as I know, the other man lived and Uncle Bill was allowed to walk.  The old man that I knew was just nuts enough to do it.

Ma was a bit dubious about allowing me to visit Uncle Bill, not because of any child abuse, but rather because he was sort of unstable and getting senile.  But she would let me go visit him from time to time, since his rented house was just a small distance from hers.  I got to know him pretty well as he got older, but I was so young that I remember almost none of his stories.  I apologize for not having any from him, but I do not make up things for this series.

One of the conditions for me going there was that I was not to eat or drink anything that he might serve me.  Ma was not afraid of him drugging me, but rather was concerned about his housekeeping.  She need not have worried!  Everything in his refrigerator smelt bad, and his well water also smelt bad.  I visited him only for half an hour or so at a time.

What I do remember is that he was happy that I was his brother’s grandson and that my mum was my mum.  He always liked mum very much, in an agape way, and that meant a lot to him.  They were never very close (otherwise I would have more family stories), but he liked her quite a bit.  I will tell you about the gift that he gave me later.

Other than the gift, I have only two stories to tell about him, and I do not know which one to use first.  I guess that I will start with the gift, since it is sort of a segue into next part.  Uncle Bill LOVED to run dogs and hunt foxes (still common around Hackett).  He did not really want to kill them, but just to catch and release them.

Thus, Uncle Bill had fox dogs, hounds trained for that purpose.  He was so old that he could not do that anymore, and his last fox hound was very old as well.  He loved that dog, but I can not remember it’s name or sex.  I DO remember a few years back when Uncle Bill still bred dogs, and my father mentioned to him that he might be able to find a bitch for his stud to breed.

“DON’T YE ACALLIN’ THEM THAT BAD WORD!”  Uncle Bill was really intent on that.  “THEYS BETTER THEN MOST PEOPLES ARE ADOIN’!”  Dad was sort of taken aback, since he had used the proper technical terms for dog breeding, but to his credit, gave the old man some room.  After, he WAS my mum’s uncle.  Dad said something like, “I’m sorry, Bill, I meant no disrepect.”  Those memories are so distant that I can only paraphrase.  Uncle Bill perked up and forgave Dad.  Dad NEVER tried to help him with dog breeding again.

Anyway, the kind of fox hunting that he did involved running hounds trained to smell out foxes and chase them down until the dogs found them.  Then the dogs and the fox would get into a fight, and the mark of the dog and the owner was to get the dog to release the fox for hunting another day.  Yes, it was brutal, but that is just how it was at the time.  Sometimes the dog would kill the fox, and the dog was severely punished for doing so.  Very rarely, the fox would find a fatal bite to the dog.  That was good sport for Uncle Bill.  I am not at all defending this activity, but rather just telling you how it was.

Anyway, the way that he hunted foxes was at night.  He did carry a firearm, but not to kill the fox, but other critters that might be of bad intent, or the occasional coon or possum that would make a good dinner.  As far as I know, Uncle Bill never killed a fox unless it was killing his dog.  Since it was at night, he needed light to follow the dog(s),so he had a red, single mantle Coleman lantern that ran on gasoline.  When he got too old to hunt, he gave me the lantern since he knew that I liked to camp.  I still have it, although it is in Arkansas at present.  Everyone there knows that it is mine, and they will keep it safe until I can claim it.

Now to his friend.  This guy was a little younger than Uncle Bill, and was a radio evangelist.  His name was Braxton B. Sawyer, and I met him only once, when he preached Uncle Bill’s funeral.  I often listened to him on local Fort Smith radio, and he was quite popular.  I do not know what denomination the he represented, most likely the Sawyer one.

Braxton was all hell fire and brimstone, and take no enemies.  He would have been a nice fit with the obscene American Family Association these days, since he had a method of converting religious fervor to money.  He did it over and over and again.

He flourished around 1966 to 1976 or so, and railed against Senator McGovern as a candidate for President, calling him a Communist and the like.  He hated Johnson because “he give in to th’ niggers!”  Obviously he was big fan of George Wallace,  and chirped with pride when Wallace was doing well in 1972.  But money was Braxton’s goal.

Most of you know that I am not a religious person, but that I also think that the great books of religion and philosophy are more right than wrong, if you can get the esoteric stuff away from them.  Two passages from the Bible are apt, I think.

First is, “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.”  If ANYONE has a problem with this thesis, you are just WRONG.

Second is, “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”  Does anyone have an issue about that?  I thought not.

I present these two statements just to make clear that even atheists can recognize good sense.  I make no further religious statement.

Now, back to Braxton.  Remember, he was all hellfire and brimstone, and in 1971 or 1972, pornography was becoming more mainstream.  Braxton went on a week long tirade against it, and except for the underground, Playboy and Penthouse were about the only accessible sources for what we now laughingly call very softcore.  By the way Guccione died just a couple of months ago, whilst Hefner still lives.

One Friday, driving somewhere, I tuned into Braxton’s radio show.  He was still raving against porn, and then said words that I still remember almost to the letter even now>

I cain’t describe this evil stuff to ye on the radio!  These pictures are SINFUL and have to be stopped!  But I know that ye cain’t aknow about what I am atalkin!  So if ye would jest send me a leetel love offering of five dollars, I weel send ye a sample of this horrible pornagraphy so ye can see for yerselves how evil it is.

Then he gave his address to send the five bucks so he could pander.  At the time, in Fort Smith, it could well be prison time for distributing porn, but he was able to survive it because he was a respected preacher.  Also, five dollars in 1972 equates to around $25 or more now, so he was raking in the money!

Anyway, Uncle Bill passed away when I was still pretty small, but he was nice to me.  But there are two other stories that you HAVE to see!

The first one has to do when he lived in the little rent house.  Uncle Bill had a car, and I guess that he could drive OK.  But the Hoodlems in Hackett liked to steal gasoline, siphoning it out of the tanks.  Uncle Bill did not go for that, but since he was so old he would be asleep before the kids did their mischief.  Uncle Bill, being a professional electrician, had a solution.

He went to the pole that supplied his rental house, and spliced into the high voltage supply line, running a hot wire to his car.  This was quite a bit more that the 125 volt supply line.  He secured it under the hood so it was not obvious, and waited.  Around 11:00 PM, a kid came with a gasoline can and a cut off piece of hose, and inserted the hose into the gasoline tank.  He was wearing sneakers, with rubber soles, so all was well, UNTIL he put a knee on the ground whislt touching the car.

The shock sent him backwards from his object of theft, and Uncle Bill came out with a pistol to keep him there until the deputy sheriff, Dee Kirkendall, came.  Dee arrested both of them, the kid for theft and Uncle Bill for setting a booby trap that might have killed someone.  The prosecutor did not press charges against Uncle Bill, because he was so old, but gave him a stern warning not to do anything like that again.

To wrap it up, many years later I was working for a high tech company and traveled to the main laboratory in Maryland for a business meeting.  I met the laboratory manager and we talked about this and than, and I told him my home.  He asked if I had ever heard of Braxton B. Sawyer, the radio preacher!  I told him yes, and that he was my Uncle Bill’s best friend.  It turns out that that this guy was Braxton’s great nephew, and that he knew about Uncle Bill.

It is a very small world!

Please add in comments any stories you have about growing up years ago.  Many people, including myself, like to read them.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and


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