You Think You Can Whip Me?

Dad usually disciplined me and my brothers by whipping us with his belt although he knocked me down once when I was 13 or 14 with a right to my face because I was late coming home.  And I saw him wail on one of my brothers, Pop, with a crutch.

Part of the crutch story was told to me but I saw the wailing part with my own eyes.

Pop ran away from home when we lived on a farm near Gadsden, Alabama.  He was 15, 16 years old, about 1950. He went up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to work in a cotton mill.

Charles T. (Pop) and John F. Stith Sr. (Dad) Christmas, 1960, about 10 years after the crutch incident.
Charles T. (Pop) Stith and John F. Stith Sr. (Dad), Christmas, 1960, about 10 years after the crutch incident.

Dad made some phone calls, figured out where he was, and sent my oldest brother, John, to bring him home. Dad would have gone himself but he was in the hospital, Jane Greer, one of my sisters, told me. According to the way I heard it, Dad broke a leg when the brakes on a coal truck failed and the truck went over the side of a mountain near Altoona, AL.  According to the way Jane remembers it, Dad was in a jeep that went over the side.  In any event, his leg was broken and he was in the hospital.

John and his wife, Mary, and Jane and her husband, who was also named John, went to Chattanooga, to the cotton mill, to get Pop. But he wouldn’t come.  Pop swung first and he and John fought, Jane said.  The police came and took Pop away, first to jail, and then to some sort of juvenile detention facility, she said.

The four of them drove back to Gadsden, Jane said, and my brother reported to Dad, who, like I said, was in the hospital.

According to Jane, Dad checked out of the hospital and hired an ambulance to take him, Brother John, and Jane’s John back to Chattanooga, about 90 miles.  They arrived at the juvenile detention facility after dark.

Dad identified himself to the fellow in charge and said he had come for his boy.  According to family lore the keeper said he couldn’t have him, that Pop had to go to court.

“You don’t understand,” Dad told the man.  “We’re not talking about whether I get my boy — I’m going to get him.  What we’re talking about,” pointing to John, “is whether he has to put you on the ground first.”

Now the keeper understood.  Dad got Pop and they rode back to Alabama, I was told, in silence.

I was there when they came in the farmhouse, into what we called the back living room.

“You think you can lick the old man now that I’ve got a broke leg, don’t you,” I heard Dad say to Pop.

“No sir,” Pop replied.

“You think you can, but you can’t.”

He leaned on one crutch, toss the other one in the air, caught it about a third of the way from the bottom, and commenced to whacking Pop with the crutch.

Postscript: Pop revered our father and imitated his mannerisms. Years later Pop and I were up at Snowbird, sitting by the fire outside the  cabin, when he told me: “If I go to hell it’ll be for idol-worshiping Dad.”

Coming Monday: Lucky’s Best Story



“Get A Gun!” – Part 2 of 2

My second mother was beside herself, tugging on Dad’s shirt sleeve, trying to get his attention, trying to get him to calm down.

Vergie Mae Wynn Stith had only been married to Dad for a couple of years and she may never have seen this side of her husband up close, the white hot side, the side that would threaten to kill a man who had been drinking, had come into his house, at night, while he wasn’t at home.

The fact that our visitor had knocked on the door, been told he could come in, and left when he was told to leave made not one whit of difference.

Dad was on the phone with the guy — he had just finished telling him, “Get a gun!” Dad told him he was going to kill him.  My father didn’t know what the guy looked like but he said he had son who did: I would point him out, and Dad would shoot him.   

I was eight or nine years old.

I would try to do whatever my father told me to do, I was sure of that. I would try to do my part. But I was sweating. What if I pointed to the wrong man and my Daddy shot him? What if that guy shot back and hit my Dad.  What if he hit me?

I didn’t say a word, but my mother was pleading with my father.

“Jack, he didn’t do anything,” she said over and over. “He left when I told him to leave.”

Finally, she calmed him down some. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, “Vergie, what do you want me to do? I can kill him, I can put him in jail, or I can make him apologize.”

And she said, “Oh, Jack,” she always called him by his nickname. “Make him apologize!”

My Dad told the man, “When I tell you to, start apologizing. Now! Start apologizing!”

And he held the phone to my mother’s ear.
I don’t know what the guy said, but my mother told my Dad, “He apologized real good, Jack. Real good.”

Coming Monday: Biscuitville