When you are a child, most family stories seem rather cute accounts of people that lived long ago. As you grow a little more mature, you sometimes notice that family stories creep in that no one is particularly proud of, but they nonetheless happened.
I noticed many of THOSE stories in my family began with “Uncle So and So, who liked to drink a little too much. When he drank he usually got into some trouble…”
One such uncle was Uncle Victor. He was my father’s uncle and a son of my great-grandpa William “Bud”, who was also known to like his liquor. Maybe it was a family heritage, but it seemed that liquor to Uncle Victor was like spinach to Popeye, and his strength and stamina increased with each and every drink.
It also seemed that Uncle Victor was drawn to the dinner on the ground gatherings, as they were known at the time. After large church gatherings, those who gathered brought baskets of food for their meals, or sometimes to even sell to others for their meals. Several stories of Victor and arrests were recounted at a dinner on the ground.
My father told me one such tale, when Victor was doing his usual thing and stepping on the food, taking bites from the food on people’s plates, carrying their food off. It took 3 or 4 men to round Victor up and hold him and tie him to a tree. Then the sheriff was sent for and people went back to their meal and celebration. However, they got a little too busy and while they were busy, Grandpa Bud crept up behind the tree and untied Victor and then the pair ran for the hills as fast as they could and escaped for that day. Public drunkenness seemed to be more of a deal in those long ago years though than it does today.
Tucked away in the family papers I found a newspaper article telling about another of Uncle Victor’s adventures at an association meeting. The writing was so different from the writing in a newspaper today. It was a charming little story that had comedy and humor inlaid amongst the seriousness of the crime.
I could find no name of the newspaper or author for the article, but wanted to share it anyway. I guess that it was written sometime between 1910 and 1915 and the even described probably took place near Rugby, Va. My family was born in the Sturgill’s community of Ashe County and kind of skipped back and forth across the border.
“Unlike an ordinary cross cut saw which two men can handle, it took three to rope young Victor Spencer at the sitting of the New River Baptist Association. His tankage capacity was filled to the limit on Mountain Dew, White Lightning, or whatever the polite name is for mean liquor. He had to be corralled like a rangy bronco and lassoed like a Texas steer. We desist from saying he is a typical Mountain youth, in conduct, but in the Herculean strength with which he girdles himself about, he is one among us, and his like comes not from less God favored sections. And yet we breathe a sigh for his misguided strength, for he did stunts before which the feats of the clannish feudalists at Harlan C.H. (KY) pale into insignificance.
Our own ex Sergeant, Deputy Sheriff and ‘officer’ S.M. McGrady had taken well filled baskets to the grounds at the noon hour. His good wife had displayed her cleanly platter upon the board, friends from far and near, among them many things to eat. It was dishes, glassware, etc., and not fragments, that filled the seven baskets which “Uncle” Spence shouldered and commenced to wend his weary way homeward. Along came this young giant and smashed the whole of Mr. McGrady’s cut glass berry bowls, etc., etc. Giving a high kick at McGrady’s hat, the youth exposed from his hip pocket a long, dark-green looking bottle, containing a glorious old quart, more or less.
This beading fluid had not crossed and re-crossed old ocean twix oaken staves until, grown mellow with age it gladdened the heart of a man. Possibly it had never been farther from Rugby than the Bolenite Chapel. Be that as it may Mr. McGrady’s eaglelike eye sized upon it. His right hand clasped its long tapering neck n a hearty embrace, and with it he hit the owner a fell stroke over the head, J.F. McGrady, Deputy Sheriff, came up to command the peace. Young Spencer resisted arrest. He was thrown to the ground. Sheriff H.A. Hoffman came up to take matters in charge. He was kicked in the stomach. Being something of a man himself standing 6 feet two inches in his stockings, our splendid High Sheriff rallied and this time came with rope in hand to tie his man. But unhappily the Sheriff this time received prints of the young fellow’s feetsteps full in his face. The youth gave bond in $500 for his appearance at trial.
At trial, Spencer was fined $25 and 30 days in jail. He broke away from the officers and in a flat-footed, free for all race along the wagon road, distanced all pursuers in the first half mile boot. He is much a man and somewhat athletic on a run. The only one holding anything like a close second was Steve McPugh on the Sheriff’s fast mare, complaining good naturedly at every jump about the Sheriff being so long legged. As he couldn’t reach the stirrups his pursuit was spectacular in the extreme. Then followed Dr. Caudill and Phleet and Blaine Greear in automobiles. Then the small boys brought up the rear. Fox creek was swollen by the recent rains and when Spence “forded” his clothing became so disagreeably adhesive to his body that his progress was impeded. Sitting down by the wayside upon a rock he rested and gave himself up.”
This picture in my mind struck me as funny…deputy sheriff on a horse with too long a stirrups and can barely hang on, two doctors and another citizen in cars chasing behind and bringing up the rear the young boys all giving chase. Almost a scene out of an old movie, but instead just a scene in the ever day life of a mountain boy, out for a little fun and enjoyment. He just got his tankage too high on that mean mountain liquor.