Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

Uncle Frank


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 would have been folks who liked him a lot and folks who didn’t care for 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 him fighting down a hundred machine guns at one time, 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 he saw the law coming up the road, he went out the back door of Papaw and Mamaw’s house, up through the woods, 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 went back and forth between Mamaw’s, she was his sister, 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-waiting to eat breakfast with us.

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 go get him a jug of water from the old spring he’d pay him a dollar. Being the little rat that he was and since he knew Uncle Frank couldn’t see him-Paul got 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.” I guess Frank could taste the difference.

One Sunday night-Frank accidentally set fire to the trailer. While building a fire he got the gas and kerosene cans mixed up.

Once the trailer was engulfed he simply walked up the road to my Uncle’s, went in, and had a seat. You can imagine how he looked-how he 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 yet. I was terrified he was still in there. 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 a horrible war, 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.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in August of 2010

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  • Reply
    June 26, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Uncle Frank was a hoot! I can just see him sitting there eating that sandwich while the police officer waited for him. My uncle Jim and Uncle Frank would have gotten along very well!

  • Reply
    June 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Yep, she’s right – there’s good and not so good in all of us, but if we take the time to look beneath the surface of many we think aren’t so good, we’re often blessed to find a heart of gold there.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Wow….just heard Watermelon Wine and its beautiful! Enjoy the playlist every single day and thank you so much. Your family stories are interesting too & even tho I am way across the country in Oregon, like to know about your history & traditions.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I had Papaw Frank. (My mother was the oldest of 8 so a few of them were not much older than I.) She told us about a friend of Papaw’s who came their house and passed out on their couch late one night after having one drink too many. He was out cold and the kids went out and picked flowers and put them all over him. When he woke up they never heard such carrying on! He thought he had died and was being made ready for his funeral!

  • Reply
    José Luis
    June 25, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, you act on June 28, is it?
    Dear friends of the blind pig and the acorn, and beloved twins Presley.
    Unfortunately I am far from you, but, when they performed at the old courthouse, to be very careful because from my balcony I will scream out loud watching it towards the Northeast, Bravo!, Bravo!, Bravo!, Surely I will be the fan farthest of you in this presentation.
    Likely receive much applause, and his countrymen will enjoy his music.
    From Buenos Aires, Argentina for you and for those who go see send a big hug, and God Bless you all, your loyal fan, José Luis, “The only one Gaucho Banjo Player”, of the “Joy Riverbank ‘s Bluegrass Band ”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I too, had an uncle Frank and he fought
    the Germans in WW2. He would take a
    snort of whisky when he was with his
    friends, but I never saw him dog drunk.
    Frank was left-handed and I can remember
    playing Set-Back on our front porch, and
    his laugh when he captured the pot. My
    older brother and I helped carry Frank’s
    body at his funeral, and he was a closer
    Uncle than all the others…Ken

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    June 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    I had a great uncle like Frank. My Papaw’s brother. He liked to drink but you really couldn’t say he was an alcoholic. He would take spells and quit drinking and would quit cold turkey for 2,3,5 years at a time. Everybody loved him and he LOVED to devil people. If he didn’t devil you about something, you needed to worry that maby he didn’t like you. LOL. 🙂

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    June 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Tipper, I probably am and have known many men like Uncle Frank. Veterans of WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. Lats month I attended a reunion of Asia Sailors in Branson, MO. I wrote the following about it:
    The Weight of Our Years
    By: Garland Davis
    For a time, the old men would tell of years and wars past…
    Stories and laughter among a forest of empty bottles
    scattered in a graceless pack across the table.
    Rain filled the darkness outside the window,
    and the tables filled with memorabilia abetted the
    desperation with which they yearned for those long gone days.
    Reluctant to leave the companionship, once again
    found for a few days at the spring reunion
    and held close in that bitter pall of tomorrow’s leaving.
    But, the thrill of our shared derangement, and stories
    true and not that evoked both joy at remembering
    and sadness, knowing that one cannot go back.
    The old men remain, with their lives caving in around them,
    crushed by the weight of years and lost among memories and bottles.

  • Reply
    Joyce Heishman
    June 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

    It is a good thing that Frank lived at the time he did. In today’s world the law is more harsh. I can’t imagine what he must have lived trough during the war. Thank goodness he was loved by your family

  • Reply
    Mel H.
    June 25, 2014 at 11:46 am

    The late, great William Gay wrote about the “Uncle Franks” of the south. He (& the late, great Larry Brown) are the only ones that really captured these type characters on the page….

  • Reply
    Carolyn Hunt
    June 25, 2014 at 11:39 am

    My “uncle Frank” was uncle Will.
    He ran a “hole in the wall” (sold bootleg) out of his home from the 1930’s until 1959.
    We live down the hill from him.
    He would send his girlfriend down to get the baby “me” and make his customers give the baby some money.
    My mother made my daddy move when I was 3 yrs old. She was concerned about stray bullets.
    He was saved in 1960 and stopped his
    bootleg business.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 25, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I had two Uncle Franks. My mother’s brother Frank served in Korea. My uncle had the same problem Pap’s uncle had, only it was his wife that drove him to it, not the war. Knowing his wife, I think I would rather go through a war than try to live with her. I remember one night when he came to our house with dried blood all over his head and running down his face. His wife had hit him over the head with a likker jar. Mommy spent half the night cleaning him up and picking tiny pieces of glass out of his scalp.
    When Uncle Frank came home from Korea he gave me and Harold each an “Army Hat”. It was the kind that folds flat. Soldiers would slide it under their belt. I think they call it a Garrison cap or side cap. Anyway, that cap was my pride and joy. I wore my crown everywhere I went.
    One day we were playing soldiers out in the woods and came up on an old four strand “bobwire” fence. I couldn’t climb over it and was afraid to climb through it, so I decided to scoot under it. No problem! I felt a scrape on my head but it didn’t hurt enough to worry about so I stuck my Army Hat back on and went back to war.
    Well I guess that little scrape was worst than I thought. By the time I got home, I was a bloody mess. My chapeau had soaked up all it could before blood began to run down my face.
    The trauma of the war wound was negligible compared to what came next. The first thing Mommy did after she peeled my prize off my head was to throw it in the trash proclaim “I ain’t washing that thing!”
    My head headed up good and left only a minor scar. The scar on my heart is a different matter. I could go to a military surplus place and buy a gross of them but none would be the same. None could be the one that my Uncle Frank brought home to me from Korea.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    June 25, 2014 at 8:52 am

    i knew a few Uncle Franks in Western North Carolina in my many years living there. Probably some other UNCLES around today?
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    June 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Yes. We all have an Uncle Frank somewhere, that angel with demons.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 25, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Today your uncle Frank would probably be diagnosed with PTSD and alcoholism. The VA would try to help him. In those days though, the damage done to young men by brutal war was not recognized. I believe some spirits are just too fragile to survive the kind of trauma caused by war.
    Tipper, I love the way you look at Uncle Frank as a man and not as a drunk.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 25, 2014 at 7:25 am

    I enjoyed reading again the story of Uncle Frank. I think most of us who grew up in Appalachia (and elsewhere, too) have an Uncle Frank (maybe by some other name). Most of them had a heart of gold as your Uncle Frank.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 25, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I think most families have an “Uncle Frank” loved despite his faults

  • Reply
    June 25, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Yep, John 8:7 –he who is with out sin cast the first stone.. There no big ones and little ones all is sin… War is an awful thing, some folks never get over it and trying to cope and deal with it leads down a wrong path …

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