Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part II)

Yesterday, I told you a Tale about my daddy’s parents.  Today we visit the rest of his family.  Even though Daddy grew up with little in material possessions, Daddy’s family was rich with characters, and characters generate Tales, and Tales generate a kind of wealth that no bank can count–or take away.

Daddy grew up surrounded by his mother’s family.  To continue the intros of yesterday, Mama Lucy and her sister Willie Sim had two half-brothers, William and Lynwood.  The boys (Daddy’s uncles) teased their mother unmercifully.  Their mother, Eula Lee, was their favorite target.  As Daddy put it, “When you’re growing up in a small town in south Georgia during the Depression, there isn’t much to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Uncle William and Uncle Lynwood would make their own fun.”

No matter how often Uncles William and Lynwood would pull the same stunt on their mother, she took the bait every time.  The Uncles’ “weapons of choice” in their one-sided battles of wits involved a can of snuff and a Chrysler Imperial.  No matter which item was chosen, the result was hours of fun–at least for them.  Poor Eula Lee found it to be no fun at all.

It never mattered which brother started it; as soon as one began the tease, the other would seamlessly pick up where the other left off.  Why all the falderol over a snuff can?  This was the 1930’s.  South Georgia.  Small town.  If Moultrie wasn’t the buckle on the Bible Belt, it was at the very least the hole in which the buckle fastened.  Like almost everyone else, Mama Lucy’s family were strict Southern Baptists–no drinking, no card playing, and most certainly no tobacco!  No way, no how, no never!  Still, it didn’t prevent the two Uncles from claiming that their mother had once indulged.  The conversation would go somewhat like this.

Uncle William:  Mama, I sure am glad you stopped dipping snuff.

Eula Lee:  William!  You know I’ve never dipped snuff in my life!

Uncle Lynwood:  Why Mama, don’t you remember?  You’d give me a dime before I left for school and tell me to stop by the store on the way home?  Don’t you remember, Mama?

Eula Lee:  I most certainly did not!  You know I’ve never even touched the stuff!

Uncle William:  What was it you used to get for her, Lynwood?  Was it Bugle Boy or Tube Rose?

Eula Lee:  You boys know good and well that I would never pick up such a nasty habit!  Whatever gave you the idea that I would ever dip snuff?!?

Well, you get the idea.  Daddy spent many a long Sunday afternoon listening to his uncles consume hours reeling in the baited hook that had snagged their mother–that is, when Daddy wasn’t confined to his seat at the Sunday dinner table staring at the piece of chicken he refused to eat.  Southern children are taught at a very early age that it is an unpardonable sin to leave food behind on your plate, and we are given a litany of reasons why we should eat every crumb, no matter how unpalatable.

Now, back to my great-grandmother, poor Eula Lee.  If you think it takes imagination to entertain yourself for hours using nothing but a non-existing can of snuff, think of what they could do with a true story.  As I mentioned before, although they enjoyed social status and privilege as the family of the first attorney in Colquitt County, my great-grandfather’s untimely death at a time he was deeply in debt caused poor Eula Lee (and Mama Lucy as well) to scrimp and save the rest of their lives. 

There were few ways a “respectable widow” could make money in those days, but one way was to operate a boarding house.  The boarders provided enough to live on, but that was all.  Keep in mind that this is during the Depression and no one had money.  In one case, an impoverished boarder had no idea what would result from his creativity in settling his bill.  In lieu of cash, this particular Sad Sack had nothing with which to provide payment but his Chrysler Imperial.  Since titles for cars did not yet exist, Great-Grandma Eula Lee accepted the car in trade for boarding and the now-anonymous boarder went on his way.

Since Eula Lee did not know how to drive, use of the car (which came to be nicknamed “Spirit of the Blue Ridge”) wound up being divided among Uncles William and Lynwood and Eula Lee’s hired hand, a black man known only as “Jaybird.”  According to my great-uncles, one day their mother had Jaybird drive her out to the country on some errand.  While out in the sticks, Eula Lee got it in her head that Jaybird should teach her how to drive.  After expressing as much reluctance as he dared (jobs were even harder for African-Americans to hold onto than whites at that place and time), Jaybird pulled over the car and switched places with Eula Lee. 

No one doubted that Jaybird did his best to try to instruct the poor woman, but Eula Lee’s stubborn streak was about as wide as it could go that day, and apparently, she wasn’t in much of a listening mood.  Maybe she just panicked.  Who knows, but, according to the story, the next thing anyone knew, the Imperial’s wheels were a good foot off the ground, the undercarriage was now being supported by a tree stump, the axles (and perhaps the body too) were bent, and the car was a total loss.  To make a long story short, whenever Uncles William and Lynwood tired of using the snuff can to “get Mama going,” they would remind her of the ill-fated driving lesson–an event which she denied ever happened for as long as she lived, never mind that if it didn’t happen, how did the Chrysler get totalled?  Jaybird remained smart enough to stay away from those conversations!



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