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.