Sep 01 2011

My Little Town 20110831: Aunt Agnes and Uncle Guy

(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.

Aunt Agnes was really my Great Aunt Agnes (my grandmum’s sister), born Agnes Roberts in the 1910s.  She was the baby, although Ma outlived all of her siblings.  Uncle Guy was a McBride, and a really nice fellow.  I never heard anyone say anything bad about Uncle Guy.

They lived a few miles south of Hackett near James Fork creek, the only all weather running water nearby.  They had a farm, and raised cattle and some truck.

Aunt Agnes was one of those people who never had a positive thing to say.  Everything was just gloom and doom, and nothing good ever happened in her view of life.  I remember both of them well, and Uncle Guy was the polar opposite.  They say that opposites attract, in their case that was true.

I know only one story about her childhood.  Back in those days in rural Arkansas you had to make your own entertainment.  One morning the girls (the only boy out of nine children died in infancy) were having fun by spitting on the flue from the wood kitchen range, listening to it sizzle as it hit the very hot pipe.  Aunt Agnes was about three or four at the time, and spitting on the pipe was not enough for her.  According to Ma, she stuck her tongue out, and placed in on the hot pipe.  Of course it instantly stuck, and she could not remove it until enough of the surface of her tongue had literally cooked enough that it peeled away from the rest of her tongue.

Ma said that she had never heard such “ascreemin’ and asquallin'” in her life!  It took a couple of weeks for her tongue to heal, and Aunt Agnes pretty much made everyone miserable until she got better, squalling most of her waking hours.

Of course, Aunt Agnes was old when I knew her.  Sometimes she and Uncle Guy would visit Ma, and sometimes we would drive to their farm.  I liked it there because they had a mule.  Uncle Guy used the mule to plow his truck patch until he got too old to raise truck, and never had a tractor.  When it was time to cut hay, he had one of his sons use his, in return for part of the hay.  But Uncle Guy always used the mule for plowing.

Aunt Agnes was a very small person, very petite, whilst Uncle Guy was a very large (not fat, but tall and muscular) man, polar opposites again.  Uncle Guy chewed tobacco, the kind that comes in the dry twists.  Aunt Agnes “dipped” snuff, the Garrett kind that came in glass that could be used as tumblers after they were empty as I described a few weeks ago in this series.  This was not uncommon for women her age at the time, and I had another great aunt who also dipped.

One of the things that they grew in their truck patch was sweet potatoes, and they would supply the family with lots of them every fall.  I developed a taste for them as a child and still love sweet potatoes almost any way that they can be cooked.  Not only are they delicious, they are really good nutrition.

Uncle Guy had two serious near death experiences when I was little.  The first time he started getting very pale and faint, and in a day or two could not get out of bed.  Aunt Agnes could not drive, so one of their daughters-in-law took him to hospital (this was before EMS service came to be).  He was obviously in shock, so they admitted him immediately.  After some X-rays (there was no MRI, CT, PET, or anything like that at the time) and other diagnostic tests, they determined that he had a ruptured spleen.

After emergency surgery to remove his spleen and some blood transfusions, he made a rapid and uneventful recovery.  It turned out that the mule had kicked him in the abdomen, rupturing his spleen.  Uncle Guy was from the generation who just sucked it up and soldiered on regardless of the pain.  It was only when he literally became too weak to rise from the bed that he sought help.

A couple of years later he started feeling ill, but once again soldiered on with his routine.  He found it difficult to walk well, and developed a strange sort of grinning look.  It got to the point where he could not eat or drink, so off to hospital he again went.  It turns out that he had full blown tetanus, a disease hardly ever seen in the United States any more, because folks get a tetanus shot almost any time they go to the doctor with a wound.  Since Uncle Guy hardly ever went to the doctor (I am sure the spleen rupture was the first time he had been in decades), he never had a tetanus shot.  Of course, living on the farm with constant splinters, cow manure, dirt, and the like is a very likely way to contract that disease if you have not have the vaccine.

To be a bit Geeky, tetanus is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, a close relative to the bacterium that causes botulism.  Both bacteria are obligate anaerobes and produce neurotoxins.  This is why tetanus usually is associated with deep cuts and especially puncture wounds, because these wounds are difficult to clean AND because they are deep enough that atmospheric oxygen does not penetrate to the bottom, giving the bacteria a perfect place to grow and express the toxin.

They got to Uncle Guy just barely in time.  He was hospitalized and given the specific treatment for the muscle involvement, tetanus immunoglobulin.  This specifically binds to the toxin and inactivates it.  He also was put on heavy antibiotics, because the immunoglobulin only treats the symptoms, not the infection itself.  He had to be fed with a tube for some time, and also had IV fluids.  As I recall, he also had to be ventilated.  It turns out that patients with cases this bad require lots of calories, as much as 4000 per day, because their muscles are constantly in contraction until the symptoms finally dissipate.  He was in hospital for several weeks, and had muscle difficulty for months afterwards until the affected nerves healed sufficiently.

Well, that is the saga of Aunt Agnes and Uncle Guy.  If you have any stories that you would like to share, please feel free to add them to the comments.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at Daily Kos


and at firefly-dreaming


  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


  2. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


Comments have been disabled.