Last week I told y’all of my Uncle Obery Tweed’s challenge that was met by future North Carolina Speaker Liston B. Ramsey.
I promised a follow up. To be honest, I have racked my brain on how to write the story.
Here is what I came up with……….
We had just moved back to the Shelton Laurel Community of Madison County, North Carolina about two weeks before.
The OPEC Oil Embargo had caused my dad to be laid off from Ford Motor Company’s stamping plant in Woodhaven, Michigan which is on Detroit’s south side. He & mom had elected to bring us back home and I guess it was a safety net for them.
One day I was in the bedroom allocated to my brother and me in Grandpa & Grandma Tweed’s three bedroom farmhouse. I was curious and I took down the unknown box on top of the tall chest of drawers. It was a small, personal cedar chest. In my nine years on Earth I had never seen one.
I did not remove the hat on the dresser. It looked like a beat officer’s hat on television. It was faded black with a hard white bill and it had some type of embossed patch on the front that said “Harley Davidson Motorcycles”.
Little did I know at that time that this would wind up being the one single event and action which would unlock my passion and love of history.
The box was somewhat small, measuring maybe ten inches by five inches. I lifted the unlocked top, discovering a small treasure of items:
One red, semi-translucent comb
A few papers and receipts which I cannot remember what they pertained to on this day.
Although the comb was special and seemed to be a prize, the best was the black and white photographs.
There were only three or four photographs but they were special, featuring some guy with wavy brown hair loved and devil-may-care smile loved up on a brunette girl from behind in front of what appeared to be a 1950 or 1951 Ford.
One shot showed him wearing a monkey faced Halloween mask but I knew it was him due to the same smiling girl and the Ford.
About that time, Grandma Tweed walked in as I had all of the items spread carefully before me on the bed, studying them.
Grandma asked “What are you doing, Stevie?” more inquisitive than angry.
She sat down at the end of the brass bed. She then used her hand to softly pull the wrinkles from under the photographs.
She was as careful as I was with my baseball car collection.
Her eyes filled with sorrow but seemed to go to a distant, loving place as she replied “That is Obery and some Hensley girl up off the creek.”
“Who is Obery?” I asked.
“He was your Dad’s older brother”.
She paused……. “My son”.
I was mowing our family cemetery on an unbearably hot & humid summer afternoon. My wife and my step-daughter brought me a personal cooler of ice water to the cemetery.
Grateful for a break, I sat down on top of a headstone, pulling heavily from the drinking spout.
My wife and step-daughter started looking at headstones as I pulled off my drenched baseball cap.
As I poured cold water from the spout over my head, I heard my step-daughter Selena exclaim from behind me:
“Who in the world is this?! He is gorgeous. I would have his children!”
Without having to look around, I softly chuckled as the hot sweat ran from my face trying to escape the cool relief which was in close pursuit.
“That is my uncle, Obery Tweed.” I replied.
“How did he die?” Selena asked.
I lit a Marlboro.
November 07, 2016
I called my cousin Kim, asking her if she thought it would be okay if I called her Dad, eighty-nine Doward Gentry.
“Sure” Kim replied.
“They watch the news at six and Wheel of Fortune at seven. Baseball season is over so you should be golden”.
When I dialed the phone, it rang a few times. Doward was the one who picked up
I told him it was Stevie and we began to talk.
I told him why I was calling. I informed him that I only had a few questions but it turned into a 30 minute plus conversation, same as it always does on the rare occasions we get to talk.
I ask about the Harley.
“It was red and I think it was a ’47 but I cannot remember to be honest. It had overhead valves and a three or four speed transmission. Man, that thing was fast, Stevie.”
“Obery had been after me to sell it to him for a while but I wouldn’t. Then one night I was heading home from up near Asheville. I was on River Road between Asheville and Marshall. I went out to pass a car and here came a car. It was too late. I was half way around the vehicle and the one coming at me was coming at a double rate of speed. I just twisted down on the throttle and was intent to head towards the oncoming cars left front bumper, forcing him to move and I would lay it down to save myself. I made it out unscathed but it scared me so I sold that motorcycle to him in late Spring or early Summer of 1951 for about eight hundred dollars.”
I have always known that Doward had sold the Harley to Obery and knew that there were hard feelings but I did not interrupt. My late father, Tracy Tweed, was ten years old at the time of the transaction. He told me that my grandpa, Ted Tweed, told Obery when he bought the motorcycle that he would give him “X” amount of months to live before he was dead and according to Dad, Grandpa called it almost to the day.
“Well, it went on and it was fall of the year. Obery was raising tobacco for Chapel Tweed. On October 29th, I went up and helped him hand some of his tobacco. I told him he needed to slow down on that thing but he just said “nah”.The next day, he came to the school house at Laurel Elementary & High School. He asked me if I wanted to go with him to the Halloween Carnival in Hot Springs. I told him that I couldn’t because I had to drive the school bus to the head of the creek and work, so he went on down the creek and picked up Charles & Leonard Gosnell.”
“There were three of them on that motorcycle: Obery, Charles Cook & Leonard Cook. They were heading up the Hot Springs Mountain. He hit that left hander meaning to hit the inside but I think the front end kicked out on him. He went across the road, hit the posts which were guardrails then and rolled/hit 36 feet to the bottom of that little holler. His head was bashed in”.
Doward then tells me, almost looking for forgiveness (as if it is my place) “Stevie? I didn’t mean for that to happen. It wasn’t my fault.”
I reply “I know, Doward. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just life.”
Some in my family (wrongly), including my own father blamed Doward for selling that Harley to Obery but it was without merit.
I was at the 6th Annual Tweed Reunion almost 57 years after Obery’s death..
Although I hadn’t thought about it in a while, a lot of stories had been told about Obery and his motorcycle. I had heard every tale under the sun about it:
This man or that man had died while riding it, blah, blah, blah.
However, on this particular day I sat down with seventy nine year old Frank Fillers from just across the line in Tennessee.
Frank was a strapping man for his age with snow white hair, combed straight back and piercing pale blue eyes that would make Paul Neman turn away.
Well, we got to talking and somehow Obery’s name came up.
Frank Fillers looked at me and said “Steve? I bought that motorcycle.”
I was floored, asking “What did you say?”
Frank said “After Obery’s death, during the winter, I came over to North Carolina to visit. We were at Talmadge Franklin’s store. Your Grandpa Ted Tweed was there. He said that he sure would like to sell that motorcycle because after Obery died he had put it under the corn crib and all your grandma did was stand at the window staring at it, crying.”
“Well, I paid Ted about three or four hundred dollars for it. I fixed what little was wrong with it. Then I traded it for a hay baler, a hay rake…..”
Frank went onto mention an unimaginable amount of farm equipment that he traded that Harley for.
“I made my living and raised my family off of that motorcycle. Later on, I tried to track down that bike and buy it back but never could”.
In final, I started typing this as a story about death but as I typed it with my limited skills I came to realize it was about life, dreams…..and forgiveness.
From what little I know, I think Grandma wished she would have not let Obery buy that Harley Davidson but what’s done is done as she used to say.
One man’s dreams died along with his life, which led another to provide for his family.
Last but not least another man, Doward Gentry, lives with wrongfully placed guilt.
I, for one, forgive him for a burden which should never have been placed on his shoulders to begin with.
Meanwhile, that old knucklehead’s whereabouts is still unknown.
Y’all have a great week!
Harley Davidson Knucklehead Photo Credit: www.barrett-jackson.com