Appalachia Pap

Meet Uncle Frank

sinners and saints

Pap sitting in the chair on the left of the photo, Big Grandma lying in the bed, Uncle Henry and Aunt Sue sitting on the couch, Uncle Frank at the right of the photo on the end of the couch

See the gentleman sitting at the end of the couch? He was Pap’s Uncle Frank, my Great Uncle Frank. He died when I was in high school, but lately he’s been on my mind.

Depending on who you talked to there was folks who liked him a lot and folks who didn’t like him at all. He was what you might call an outlaw.

Frank served in World War II. As kids we were forever impressed he killed the Germans. We all told the tale of his bravery in fighting down a hundred machine guns at once leaving the enemy in his wake. Looking back, I don’t ever remember Uncle Frank talking about the war. I think one of my cousins made the story up for the gospel and we all went along with it.

To say Frank had a drinking problem was an understatement. I believe all his brush ups with the law were caused by it.

One morning I was outside playing when a cousin ran up to the house to tell me “The law is down at Papaw’s and they’re looking for Frank.” I chased him back at break neck speed. There leaned the officer against his parked car. As he stood by the line of mailboxes he said “I’ve got all day to wait.”

Where was Frank?

As soon as Frank saw the law coming up the road he went out the back door of Papaw and Mamaw’s house up through the woods and down the bank and in the back door of my uncle’s house.

While the policeman stood his post, Frank sat on the couch and ate a sandwich.

Although they didn’t get him that day, there were other times when they did like the night they busted in the doors of Papaw and Mamaw’s house.

Frank was one of my Mamaw Wilson’s brothers. After he was in the war he was a very successful builder in Ohio and in California. He also held a prestigious position in a large church. Pap told me if it wasn’t for Frank we wouldn’t have the land we all live on. I never got all the details, but I believe Frank bought the acreage or at least paid for most of it. When he died there was still 80 acres of it in his name. Sadly no one in our family could afford to buy it, but thankfully E.J. Whitmire bought it since it adjoins his sprawling cattle ranch of over 2,000 acres.

Just after Pap died I learned of another gift Frank gave us.

Granny and I were sitting around reminiscing about Pap and somehow we got to talking about the days after we first moved into the house Pap built. Paul was a baby, I was about 5, and Steve was about 10. Granny said “We were so anxious to get into the house and not pay another month’s rent that we moved in without any door knobs.” I said “Oh you mean none of the bedrooms had a door knob?” She said “No, none of the doors had them not even the front or backdoor.” After I got over the shock of Granny living in a house where the doors didn’t lock I asked her how long it took for them to get doorknobs. She said “Oh not too long. Frank come to see the house and when he saw we didn’t have any doorknobs he went and bought them all.”

During my lifetime Frank stayed in various places often going back and forth between Mamaw’s house and one of their other sisters who lived across the mountain in Pine Log. Sometimes on weekend mornings we’d wake to find him sitting on the front steps waiting for us to get up so he could eat Granny’s good breakfast.

After Mamaw died Frank bought a trailer and put it in the pasture down the road. He entertained other outlaws, most harmless, and drank a lot till the end of his life.

Not long after he moved into the trailer Paul was riding his bicycle up and down the road when Frank hollered out the door and told him if he’d get him a jug of water from the spring he’d pay him a dollar. Knowing Frank couldn’t see him Paul took the easy route of getting the water out of the creek instead of going to the spring. A few day’s later Frank offered him another dollar for a jug of water, telling Paul “And this time don’t get it out of the creek. Go to the spring.”

One Sunday night Frank accidentally set fire to the trailer. He got the gas and kerosene cans mixed up while building a fire in the woodstove.

Once the trailer was engulfed he simply walked up the road to my uncle’s went in and had a seat. You can just imagine how he looked not to mention smelled.

They asked him “Frank what in the world happened to you?” He told them “Oh I set the house on fire.”

When we arrived home from church the blaze was huge and the fire trucks hadn’t arrived. I was terrified Frank was still inside.

Later that night after the terror was over and the fire was out Frank spent the night with us. I’ll never forget the way Granny’s blue bathroom looked when he got done taking a shower. Let’s just say it was no longer blue.

Frank was good as gold to me, he served his country during war time, he took Pap under his wing in Ohio and California, and yet somehow he was an outlaw too. That’s what I’ve been thinking about: how most of us to one degree or another are sinners and saints at the same time just like Uncle Frank.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    July 9, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you for this story. You have the ability to write a story and make people feel like they were there experiencing what you wrote about. I have known quite a few people who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam who had drinking problems. It was only after I grew older that I realized that these problems were caused by what they experienced in combat. We sure owe these people a lot. It sounds like Uncle Frank was a nice person for all the things he did for other people.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2018 at 10:55 am

    ….like a lot of us veterans…we’ve seen a lot of things during times of war you choose to not share with those you love… From one Uncle Frank to another… a belated thank you too for your service…

  • Reply
    Shirley Burns
    March 16, 2018 at 12:29 am

    Tipper,I loved this story and I so enjoyed reading all the comments . I too had an Uncle Frank ,my daddys yonger brother.He was very much like your Uncle Frank .It seems that most of us do have someone in the family that is just a bit different from the rest of us ,but we loved them and always enjoyed their visits .

  • Reply
    Mike Norris
    March 15, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Good piece, Tipper. Story well written, well told.

    Looking out the window at the sunshine, I can imagine that the Kudzu Man is starting to wake up.

  • Reply
    Anne D
    March 15, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Tipper, Once again, your day’s subject has touched hearts, brought precious memories to mind, and given me thoughs to ponder.
    The poem about veterans is one of the best I’ve read. Thank you for bringing those thoughts to a very clear picture.
    Seeing your Great Grandma in bed with family visiting all around reminds me of my husband’s maternal and paternal grandmothers, with chairs circling their beds, usually in the only room with a fireplace, everyone sharing in family stories, and more importantly, Love abounding.
    Families with an Uncle Frank are blessed with having someone that all have the opportunity to learn the lessons of love ever forgiving, and being able to judge not. Some, in this life do indeed “march to a different drummer” and the world is richer for them.
    Mine was my Mother’s younger brother, my dear Uncle Buddy. I named him Buddy when a tike, not able to pronounce Latrelle…He was talented, gifted in so many ways, loving, generous, with a yearn for adventure.. He was a decorated WWII veteran, though stashing all the medals in a box in his workshop, behind lumber and electrical parts, and tools, where he created amazing items for the family and fortunate others.
    Until his death, and the shop dismantled, the little metal box wasn’t discovered, along with his service record. My goodness, what memories of war he lived with. No wonder he seemed to have several different personalities.. He must have ‘fought’ to make it through many days or nights.
    Buddy blessed me with love, laughter, stories of his youth, my first ride on a horse, first trip fishing in a tiny wooden boat, how to turn a scrap of wood into a precious piece, and I could go on and on.
    Thank God for the persons in our lives who had those special quirks. They were rainbows after the rain of life many times.

  • Reply
    Lisa I.
    March 15, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I think we all have someone like Uncle Frank in our lives. So glad to read about him.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    March 15, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    Alcohol has ruined many lives, lives of their families and abuse on their bodies. I’ve read that alcohol enhances your personality rather than changing it. So Uncle Frank was surely a good man with an addiction.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    I would like to tell everyone about Buster Conley. He died Wednesday and in just 6 days, he would have been 100. I knew Buster, I graduated with one of his daughters. Donna was the youngest daughter, married to Eddie Adams. Sherri, married to Eddie West, at one time worked at Baker Furniture. And Darrel, the youngest son is married and lives somewhere in N.C.

    I was at Ingles awhile back, staring at the meat section and Buster walked up. We started talking
    about the high price of meat when he asked me “Ain’t you Harley’s boy?” He was about 96 then, and I told him I was the youngest of our bunch. Daddy loved Buster too. …Ken

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing Uncle Frank. There are so many layers to people we do not always see.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    There is a saying, ” But for the Grace of God go I “. I was, as my Mother in law calls it climbing Fools hill, she found out about my wayward past and almost stopped my Wife from marrying me. But with my wife by my side and Jesus in my heart I turned from my wicked ways.

  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    March 15, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    hi tipper uncle frank sounds like he made life interesting its good to have interesting relations to keep us not taking things for granted as we usually do have a great day

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    I loved the stories of your Uncle Frank and all the commenters that had someone like Frank that blessed their lives. I had an Uncle Frank too, daddy’s brother just under him. He served in WW11 against Hitler, but he never talked about it. Me and Harold was asked to be Pallbearers and we were so proud to carry Frank to his Resting Place at Red Marble Cemetery. He is missed greatly. …Ken

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Wonderful tribute. Frank seems kind of like some weeds – often found in “the wrong” places, they are a lot more valuable than one might know at first look; but if you are observant, you will come to appreciate them.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    March 15, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I would’ve liked your Uncle Frank. I actually DID have an Uncle Frank. Technically, he was Mom’s first cousin; but since she had no brothers or sisters, we called her cousins “Aunt” and “Uncle.” You know, my father-in-law served in WWII, also. He went ashore in Normandy D-Day+2, fought through France, Holland, and Belgium (Battle of the Bulge). He then was in the Battle of Hurtgen Forrest and into Germany where he built bridges over the Rhine. Thing is, he never, ever talked about the real war stories. I don’t think too many who saw the real ugly action did. He only spoke of humor (which was sparse). He had to leave the theater during “Saving Private Ryan.” I guess it hit too close to home. God called him home just three days before his 93rd birthday. He’d been ailing but was doing better. He was on his way to the hospital for some tests, talking about his kids, when he just stopped. God made his passing merciful. I guess it was His way of rewarding him for his bravery. I know Dad was at peace and so happy to be with Mother (the truest love story I ever knew) again.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Uncle Frank was Robert Frank Elliott. His father was murdered when he was about 7 years of age. Uncle Frank was in the Marines and was wounded. I don’t know if you knew that. I’ll send you a clip. Uncle Frank had been married and might have had children. I can’t find names for his wife or children. Yet!
    I think Uncle Frank looks like the first President Bush.

    There are people in this world who, if you could see past their grubby grimy exterior, would reveal a heart of pure gold. There are many more who, if you could see through their thin layer of gold plating, would a present a heart of pure dog$#!+. I suspect Uncle Frank was the former. First they do battle for the world’s princes and principalities then they do battle against them. I suspect that the officer there, leaning on his car, was not in full agreement with the law he was there to enforce.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    March 15, 2018 at 10:01 am

    Our family had Uncle Dan. During the depression he could not find work so he became a preacher.
    I do believe he was asked to leave the church for running around with too many women in the congregation. Everyone loved uncle Dan.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Uncle Frank looks so much like Pap in the picture that I kept thinking you surely had made a typo when identifying them. Pap inherited Uncle Frank’s good looks and big heart. Thank God he didn’t inherit the bad genes!

  • Reply
    Wayne G. Barber
    March 15, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Very good memoir and I think we all have a Uncle Frank in our family, different times with many different choices. Wayne

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 8:45 am

    Hi Tipper,I enjoyed your story about your uncle Frank and his fancy outfit.Looking forward to your first book! And your right , we all have short coming.God Bless.Jean

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 8:37 am

    I think every family has one of these wonderful characters. Back when CPA was not a threat we gained a new family member. In the middle of the night a bedraggled teen came to our door with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. My dad helped him through those trying years, and he was as much a part of the family as a sibling. We called him Junior, and he would show up often unannounced through the years. He was a bit of a genius, but also a bit eccentric. In his spare time he studied geography and knew all the roadways in Europe. He was a member of the boilermakers and made a great living for his family and step children. Yet, he would sometimes leave them to visit the only family he knew, bringing with him all the latest exciting fads and world event news. If it was the week end we would end up in an all night card game usually rummy. I recall the hippie era when he came with long hair and beads around his neck. He once showed up at my work a bit intoxicated needing a small loan. I have wondered how my calm, no nonsense dad was able to take on this interesting but very troubled teen. He remained a lifelong friend and unbeknown to us even bought his cemetery plot just a few feet from where my dad is buried. We never realized how dear he was until he died, and what a loss. This taught me to never judge a book by its cover.

    Families back then lived their lives without a lot of intervention from the government. That is, unless they were making moonshine! That was a punishable crime, and even the children did not know who made shine. Junior was able to come into our lives without parents or government caring. Thank you, Tipper, for reminding us all there are diamonds in the rough right in our own families. Junior has been gone about twenty years now, but I will never forget the teen who introduces our family to Frankie Laine music. Through those years I was better able to respect the differences in people, and that is a lesson I may not have learned if that young man had not shown up at our door all those many years ago.

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      OOPs CPS not CPA. I wrote that before my coffee kicked in 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 15, 2018 at 8:11 am

    It is a strain to know ones’ own failings, want to be better and not be able to fix it on our own. And it is a bit worse when our nature is not to tell anybody else about the struggle. Like you, I think some degree of that dark thread runs through us all. Hopefully that helps us be merciful and gracious to ourselves and others. Lincoln reportedly said about the Confederates, “Don’t be too hard on them. They are just as we would be in similar circumstances.” It is close to the “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    Whatever else he was, it is obvious your Great Uncle Frank was generous and was not bound by things. When it comes to ancestors, we would like to understand them as being better than bare facts would suggest. My grandpa, who I never knew, is like that; more dark than light known of him and little understanding of what made him that way and whether he had regrets. It would be some redemption if we could know he was sorry.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    March 15, 2018 at 8:04 am

    We have always sent our young men off to war, asking them to do things that are deeply disturbing and contrary to what they were taught as children, and then failed to understand them when they returned. I grew up surrounded by the heros of WW II and Korea. I had siblings who served in Viet Nam, while the only foreign country I was sent to while in the service was Miami Beach! I have friends who have been to the Sand Box and have returned safely, thank God. We have young men and women serving at home and around the world on this day, and seldom even think about them.

    Thank a veteran fir their service today.

    I have done things that haunt me at night, so that you can sleep in peace.
    I have been away from my family a long time, so that yours can be safe.
    I have sacrificed a lot in my life, so that you may live free.
    I have done these things because I have sworn an oath to my country;
    And I will live by this oath until the day I die, because I am and always will be
    A United States Veteran.
    —Author unknown

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 7:54 am

    I think every family has or had an Uncle Frank. Some admit it, some don’t. Loved this story, Tipper…I feel like I knew him.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Thanks Tipper, great story. I would have liked Frank.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2018 at 7:41 am

    How blessed Uncle Frank was to have a loving, patient, forgiving family. And I am grateful for his service in WWII.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 15, 2018 at 7:32 am

    Uncle Frank looks a lot like Pap in that picture! Most times you only see men like Uncle Frank in the movies. His type usually live hard and die young. Life is too hard for them to take seriously especially those who have seen war first hand. It’s interesting that no matter what they do people always like them. There are just some people born into this world that are just too sensitive to take anything here too seriously. I knew one of those men once. He was great, but totally unable to live by the same rules the rest of us follow.
    Tip, I sure am glad you knew Uncle Frank! They are rare men.

  • Leave a Reply