My Uncle Bill

by Herman Edward Smith

My Uncle Bill Rose was a Dandy. In one sense of the word, he was the finest fellow that ever lived and then again, he was somewhat of a rascal. He loved a good joke and could always come back with one which was equal to, or better than any that you told him. He was an avid sportsman and loved to fish and hunt, always drove a new car, dressed in a blue serge suit when he wasn't working and loved the ladies.

Uncle Bill was one of several boys and was younger than my mother, his half-sister. His first wife Aunt Ida, died at an early age from typhoid, which was very prevalent in those days, probably due to contaminated water. He and all of his brothers were coal miners and worked hard, long hours. Uncle Bill ran a tram motor in a coal mine in the little town of Fall River (now called Roderfield), West Virginia. They worked 12 to 16 hours each day, six days a week. On payday Saturday nights Uncle Bill would go down to Roderfield and get a hair cut. He really didn't have all that much hair to cut but by golly, what he did have, he kept trimmed neatly and he also got a shave. He loved to listen to Ben Ciampanella's string band and maybe, shoot a game of pool occasionally. If there was a dance anywhere in town, he would probably wind up there for a while.

I well remember the way Uncle Bill dressed for his Saturday night forays. I already mentioned the blue serge suit but to complete the outfit, he wore a celluloid collar, fastened to his shirt at the back of his neck with a collar button, a knit tie and sleeve holders. His shoes were high tops and buttoned up. He used a button hook to button his shoes, wore supporters to hold up his socks and always wore a billed cap. A dash of cologne and he was off for the evening.

Uncle Bill was very conservative unless he saw something that he wanted or needed. As I said, he always kept a new car, fished with the most expensive Southbend rods and reels and hunted with a 12gauge Remington model 10 pump gun. He smoked Reyno cigarettes which he ordered by mail. They were packed in a small cardboard box with a little slide-out drawer. On the other hand, he and his brother Charley, would make pick handles to sell to the miners. They would split hickory logs into pick-handle size and season the wood naturally. The handle was then roughly trimmed with an axe or sharp hatchet, then whittled into shape with a pocket knife. The handles were then scraped with the edge of a broken fruit jar until they were as smooth as if they had been sanded. I think a pick handle would probably bring them twenty-five cents. An evenings work would produce about fifteen to twenty pick handles..He owned the first record player in Fall River. It was an Edison (probably the first one Old Thomas Alva made) and it played wax cylinder-type records. Thinking back, it wasn't exactly stereo sound, but it was music, nevertheless.

He had a small hand-held gadget to sharpen double-edged razor blades. One had to open a little door, slip in a double-edged Gillette blade , close the door and crank away. After about 4 or 5 rotations in one direction, the blade would flop to the other side and continued to flip-flop until the blade was sharpened as good as new. The crank turned a leather stropping rotor against the blade to sharpen it. Another thing that Uncle Bill would do that showed how conservative he was, was his habit of burying potatoes in the fall of the year. He would buy about ten bushels of potatoes when they were cheap and bury them for the winter. He would dig a hole about three feet in diameter and five feet deep. He would line the hole, bottom and sides with dry grass. After the potatoes had been carefully placed in the hole, he would spread a grass blanket over them and the whole works covered with dirt. An old piece of kitchen linoleum held in place with several boards covered the mound of dirt to keep things dry. In the winter, he would scrape away the snow and open the hole enough to take out about a half bushel of potatoes and then cover it up again. This action was repeated all winter as needed, or until the potatoes were all gone.

To show how Uncle Bill could con you into doing things, can best be illustrated by the following scenario. He would order a big load of wood cut to block size, about twelve inches long, which had to be split into kindling to start fires in the cook stove and grates The stove and grates burned coal but needed kindling to start the coal burning. After lining up five or six kids aged ten to fourteen, he would divide the load of wood into as many piles as he had axes which the kids had brought. He then would give them this pep talk."Now boys, we are going to have a contest . I am going to put this nickel on that block and the first one to finish his pile of wood gets the nickel." And to illustrate the good side of Uncle Bill, after the winner headed for the Company Store with his nickel, he would give all the other boys a nickel and they loved him to death for being so generous even if they did work two hours for it. I guess that was pretty good wages for a young boy back in 1928.

Uncle Bill was an excellent horse trader, or rather I should say a dog trader. Let me tell you how he " bought " Old Leed, the best squirrel dog that ever lived. Uncle Bill made a deal with a fellow with whom he worked at Premier, WV. to buy his daddy's squirrel dog. The fellow's name was Jess Underwood and he was raised on Slate Creek, which is on Dry Fork above Iaeger, WV. One Sunday morning Uncle Bill, Jess and myself set out for Slate Creek to buy the dog. I had made me a run-about out of an old Chevrolet automobile by stripping most of the body off and installing a 1/4 ton Ford truck bed on the chassis. It wasn't much of a vehicle but I was proud of it. Well, we went down to Slate Creek and started up the holler where Jess' daddy lived. After about 3 miles, we ran out of the graveled road and onto plain dirt, rocks and mud. 2 miles of this kind of highway and we had to get in the creek and plough through it. I only drove about 1 or 2 miles in the creek and refused to abuse my little truck any more. I pulled out into the only spot I could and parked. When we had walked about 2 more miles, we came to a cabin on the bank of the creek and proceeded to walk on past the cabin. After walking about 50 yards, one of the wildest men I ever encountered came out of the cabin and hollered for us to stop. As the man approached us, I'm glad we stopped because he had the biggest Luger sticking out of his overalls pocket that I had ever seen. He had a full beard, a slouch hat and was barefoot. He had on a pair of overalls with one strap across his shoulder and no shirt. Jess undertook immediate steps to convince him that we meant him no harm. "Hello Frenchy, don't you recognize me? I am ole man Underwood's son," Jess said. Frenchy said he couldn't be too careful, that a couple of his boys were making a run that morning. The three of us proceeded on up the holler and presently came to the still but there was nobody around. Frenchy whistled a short blast and one guy came down the mountain on one side and the other one came down the opposite side,. Both of them had high powered rifles all I can say is, that we were danged lucky to have Frenchy on our side. Uncle Bill, Frenchy and Jess proceeded to get pie-eyed on 100 proof before we continued on. About a mile on up the holler, we heard a dog barking and met Ole man Underwood and his son. The boy was in the process of cutting a poplar tree at least 12" in diameter to retrieve a squirrel that had lodged in the top when they shot it. Jess introduced us and said that he had brought Uncle Bill over there to buy old Leed. Ole man Underwood immediately started to back out of the deal but Jess would not let him. He said, Pap, you told me the first man over here with $10 could have old Leed. I know Jess, but you're taking the meat off my table. The power of 100 proof won out in the end and Uncle Bill left there with the dog, 6 squirrels and a half gallon of white moon, all for $10. All I got out of the deal was a mess of squirrel. We had many wonderful hunts with old Leed and believe we killed at least 500 squirrels that he treed.

This story would not be complete without at least one fishing tale. Uncle Bill and I were on our way to Guyan River for a days fishing and were going down Huff Creek. About a half mile from the Guyan River bridge, there was a long, deep hole of water, where Huff Creek made a stiff bend against a long cliff. Uncle Bill stopped the car and told me to go down and throw in a line to see if there were any fish in the hole. I went down, baited the hook with a big worm and tossed it over near the cliff. It had no sooner sunk out of sight, when I hooked a 10" horny head. I quickly baited up and caught another one. By this time, Uncle Bill was beside me and confiscated my fishing pole and to make a long story short, all I did the rest of the time was to string fish and bait hooks. We didn't make it to Guyan River but we surely had a nice string of horny heads, red eyes and sun perch. Uncle Bill had a grand time.

Here is another story that I must sneak in here somewhere because it is so vivid in my memory. Uncle Bill, Uncle Charlie, his older brother, and I went to Day Camp Creek to catch some spring lizards for a fishing trip planned for the next day. The creek was clear and pure and the banks were covered with moss covered rocks. Uncle Bill turned over a large rock and there was the biggest spring lizard that I ever saw in my life. Well, the lizard took off for more cover and the rocks flew, Uncle Bill intended to have that lizard. After moving a large pile of the rocks, Uncle Bill came up with a half-gallon of white moon that had a 1" growth of moss on it. That jug must have been hidden for at least 20 years. It didn't take long for the spring lizard to be forgotten and the lid to come off that fruit jar. As a matter of fact, the whole fishing trip was forgotten and I had one more time getting them to the car and back home.

Aunt Maude Tate was a pretty young thing, not more than 15 years old and she lived on the top of the mountain at the head of Shabby Run holler with her dad, mom and brother. Now I believe that Uncle Bill was becoming bored with being a bachelor and had decided it was time for him to seek another wife and a mother for his daughter, Lucille. Without a doubt, he had taken long looks at Maude on her treks with her parents to the store at Flanagan to buy groceries. They had to pass the tracks at Shabby Run mine where uncle Bill worked. What happened next was the thing that I believe, inspired the song "Wolverton Mountain" by Claude King in 1962. Uncle Bill had made up his mind that he was going to marry Maude one way or another and I think he took a whale of a chance by going up on that mountain and messing around with old man Tate's daughter. But somehow, he got to the old man and brought Maude home with him. They stopped off on the way and got married, of course. Uncle Bill surely bit off more than he could chew because Aunt Maude soon became used to her new way of life and she liked it very much. About every chance that Maude had to take off, she surely took advantage of it and would disappear for weeks at a time. Uncle Bill would eventually locate her and bring her back home for a while.. During these episodes, they managed to have a little baby girl but it didn't survive and died early. A boy was born soon afterwards that seemed to change Maude's outlook on life. She actually settled down just like a wife and mother and proceeded to raise her son, be a mother and a housewife. Edward grew up to manhood and settled in Indianapolis, Ind. Sometime, during the next few years, Maude left Uncle Bill for good and went to live with Edward. It was said that they came back to Hampton Roads, WV once a month to collect her social security check which apparently came to Uncle Bill's address. This was a sad time in Uncle Bill's life. He contacted diabetes in a worst way and he lost both of his legs. The last time I saw him, he was living alone trying to keep house while confined to a wheel chair. His smile and jolly personality were gone. He looked so old and worn out that my heart ached to see him in that condition. He passed away in November, 1971, shortly after my visit and was buried in Iaeger Memorial Cemetery at Roderfield, WV.

So the curtain comes down on another episode of life which, for the the most part, is a joy for me to remember. It is sad that there are realities which exist that tend to off- set the happiness of the good ones.

Herman E. Smith, September 5, 2001
Additional family history is available on the Internet at:\smith\wyoming_wv.htm

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