Rons Rants

A Blog Is A Self-Inflicted Invasion Of Privacy

Location: Newland, North Carolina, United States

I'm a fifty two year old happily married man who doesn't really like many people which is why I live on the top of a mountain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Maternal Grandfathers…yep…plural!

My Mom sent me a link today from a radio station, WCSC in Charleston S.C.

(sorry..I've forgotten how to add hyperlinks) brought back a bunch of memories and started me thinking about how strange it is to have TWO maternal grandfathers.

The link was ‘a brief history’ of that particular radio station and I was pleased to see that the only picture on the page was one of BOTH of my maternal grandfathers.

Hmmm… can a guy have TWO maternal grandfathers you might ask.

Well….let me do a little of ‘splainin’ here.

As I have mentioned before, I come from a long line of musicians. EVERYONE on my Mom’s side of the family and my immediate family could play and/or sing….or both.

The funny thing about this is that I grew up thinking that my ‘real’ grandfather was Roscoe ‘Shorty’ Wiggins….the fiddle player in the middle of the picture above. He was and will ALWAYS be my ‘real’ grandfather but, in truth…the big guitar player on the right of the picture is my ‘biological’ grandfather!

Pretty wild huh?

I learned this many years ago after my Grandaddy Rock (as we called him even though most folks called him ‘Shorty’) passed away when I was seventeen years old. My biological grandfather and my ‘real’ grandfather were the best of friends for many years UNTIL my ‘real’ grandfather ‘stole’ my grandmother away from my biological grandfather…Jack Glisson who was a rogue and a heavy drinker but by all accounts, an otherwise great guy.


Ain’t THAT confusing?

Well….both of my grandfathers were hard drinkin’, women chasing extremely talented musicians/singers but, my grandmother chose the right guy to stick with.

Shorty Wiggins, my ‘real’ grandfather was the finest man I’ve ever known in my life. Unlike my biological grandfather, Granddaddy Rock was a responsible, loving man who took care of his large family and taught them all what love was all about. He taught us music but he taught us ALL so much more.

That little man could wring more enjoyment out of life than anyone I’ve ever known. He played in ‘juke joints’, the Grand Ole Opry and on the front porch of his home on James Island with equal fervor. He raised six children ( his only ‘step child’ was my Mama who everyone swears he loved even more than his own), built a roofing business and was beloved by almost all who knew him.

He was also my hero.

Every summer from the time I was fourteen till I graduated high school, my brother and I would go down to Charleston from our home in Columbia and work for him in his roofing business.

He only stood about five six but could carry two packs of shingles on each shoulder up a ladder without breaking a hands required. I once tried to emulate him and wound up damn near breaking my neck. I was about six feet tall and weighed one hundred and eighty pounds at the time.

After my grandfather rushed over to check on my condition and realized that I wasn't really hurt, he sat back on his haunches like roofers do and laughed his ass off.

"Boy...what in the hell did you think you were doing?" He demanded.

I remember telling him that I thought that I could carry at least as much as him since I was younger, stronger and bigger than he.

He had this funny way of sucking on his teeth (probably dentures)before he spoke sometimes which sounded like a couple of 'tisk-tisks' even if he wasn't reprimanding you.

It's just the way he spoke. this situation, it sounded as if he WERE reprimanding me and he chuckled.

"Tisk-Tisk" he began. "Bubba...ain't no doubt that you're a lot younger and sure as hell a whole lot bigger than me. Hell boy.... you might even be stronger than your old granddaddy but it's my sad duty to inform you that you ain't NEVER gonna be smarter than me!"

I just stared at him trying to figure out what 'smarts' had to do with me damn near breaking my neck trying to emulate him.

Before long, he realized just how dense I was so he spoke up as he got to his feet and helped me up.

I grabbed his hand and he easily pulled me to my feet, promptly yanked me to his body and flipped me over his back in some sort of 'judo' move.

Damn it!

Of course, I found myself lying on my back looking up at my grinning grandfather as my brother, four uncles and the rest of the crew laughed at me.

He looked down at me without offering his hand and told me something I've tried never to forget.

"Bubba...young, strong and big don't mean NOTHIN' without SMART!" He laughed. "By the's all about your center of gravity..whether it's carryin' shingles up a ladder or livin' your's all about the center of gravity."

I thought about it for a second but he interrupted my train of thought when he spoke again.

"Are you hurt?" he asked tenderly.

I told him that I wasn't hurt at all.

He laughed and stomped down HARD on my right foot!

"A fella that took a tumble like THAT oughta hurt a little bit don't you think?" He cackled as the crew went wild.

Even through the pain in my foot as well as the embarrasment of the situation, I remember reveling in the moment. It was like a rite of passage for me. I was one of the boys then...the whole crew was laughing and making fun of me but somehow...I knew that Granddaddy Rock had played a prank or two on THEM as well from time to time.

It was a great moment in my life.

Must be a southern thing.

I'll never forget the time he caught me smoking his Lucky Strikes.

No....he didn't make me smoke the whole pack as in your typical 'I got caught smoking' yarn....

This was MUCH funnier...unless you were ME.

But...that's another story.

When he died, a funeral procession of three hundred cars caused a traffic jam in Charleston as it winded its way to the cemetery.

To this day, all our family talks about how much fun Granddaddy Rock's funeral was!

The funeral was a celebration of a life well lived and while everyone would miss him....there was just NOTHING we could regret about the way he had lived his life or how he touched all of ours.

Damn I miss that little old man.

My biological grandfather however died alone, penniless and a hopeless drunk.

I never met him.

My Mama still mourns Granddaddy Rock but not her ‘real’ father.

In the caption of the picture, the lady quoted, Emma Lee Heitman is my aunt and the sister she refers to is my mama. They both used to sing on the same radio station with and without my granddad’s band.

They were quite popular as a duo in those days.

Well….I just thought that was kind of interesting.

See ya’ll later.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Things That Happen When I'm Minding My Own Business...The End.

When I reached him, I could see that the old man was long dead. His eyes were open, his skin a dark bluish hue and he had a large gaping wound to his forehead. The wound wasn’t bleeding at all. It was instantly obvious that he had bled out long ago.

It was a disturbing sight to say the least.

With very little trouble, I hauled him out of the river and laid him on the nearest bank. Finally, Barney left the water and came to sit beside the old man and me.

As I sat there collecting my wits, I noticed that the old man's jacket sleeves were shredded badly and that one of the straps of his waders was ripped off.

As I sat there trying to figure out what had happened to Mr. Thornton’s clothing it finally hit me….Barney had tried to save the old man…probably several times but he couldn’t get a good enough grip to haul him out of the rushing water.

I grabbed Barney and held him for a bit and tried to calm him down but he was truly ‘all to hell’. He whined and whimpered and he kept trying to go to Mr. Thornton. I held him back and finally remembered that I had my cell phone.

I called 911.

It’s kind of funny but I remember that call like it was yesterday. I would readily admit to being a nervous wreck at the time but DAMN…the guy who answered the phone sounded like a freakin’ moron!

The call went something like this….

“Emergency services…how can I help you?” a male voice asked.

“I found the body of a man in the river above the bridge at the Toe River.” I answered.


“Hello?” I said.

“Sir….I cain’t hardly hear you…can yun’s speak a little louder.”

I repeated myself…..louder.

“Did you say yun’s has found a body in the river?”

“Yes….up above the bridge on the Toe River off of Watauga Street….at the waterfalls” I explained.

“Oh lord!” the man said. “Who is it?”

“It’s an Englishman named Mr. Thornton.” I answered a bit impatiently. What the hell did it matter WHO it was?

“Are yun’s sure he’s dead?” He asked.

“Yes….he’s dead.”

“Have yun’s tried CPR on him?”

I was getting frustrated.

“NO…I don’t know how to do CPR but I’m certain that CPR wouldn’t do any good. He’s dead…he HAS been dead for quite awhile.”

“How come you’re sure he’s dead?”

This moron was getting on my nerves!

“Okay….let’s see….he’s got a head wound that looks like he got hit with an axe…there’s no bleeding from the wound…he’s not moving…his eyes are open and he’s not blinking and oh yeah….he’s hasn’t drawn a breath since I dragged him out of the water five minutes ago! Call me crazy but yep….I’d say he’s dead.” I said sarcastically.

“Okay….you’re right…he’s probably dead.” He offered. “How you reckon the man died?”

I couldn’t believe my ears.

“How the hell should I know dude…just send someone up here to get him down the mountain!” I snapped.

There was a pause on the other end.

SIR…..I’m just doin’ my job.” He answered indignantly.

“Yeah Yeah….whatever…..just send someone NOW!” I ordered.

I gave him my cell number, exact directions as to how to get to where I was sitting. Hell…EVERYONE in town knew where that fishing spot was but I gave him the directions anyway.

I remember sitting there for at least thirty minutes trying to comfort Barney. Okay…I was trying to get Barney to comfort ME too.

What the hell was taking so long?

You have to remember, this is a tiny town in a sparsely populated county in the mountains…hell, the fire department/rescue squad building was so close to my house that when the sirens went off my windows rattled!

I called 911 AGAIN.

The same guy (I later learned that his name was Burl) answered the phone.

“Where the hell is the rescue squad?” I asked. “It’s getting cold up here.”

“Yessir…it is gettin’ a little chilley out there.” He answered. “I called the rescue boys right after yun’s called but they said that they’s a-changin’ the oil in the unit and it’s gonna be a few minutes ‘fore they’s gonna get there. They’s gotta go get a new filter at the parts place.”

I started to feel my self get really angry. I couldn’t believe this crap!

“Well hell!” I chuckled. “It’s a damn good thing this man is already dead ain’t it?”

There was a pause on the line.

After a bit…Burl chuckled too.

“Yeah…I guess he’d be shit outta luck if he was really in trouble huh?”

As odd as it sounds now thinking back on it…..we both began laughing our heads off!

Here I was sitting ten feet away from a really nice old man’s body comforting a grieving dog, freezing my ass off and talking to guy I didn’t know and I was laughing so hard my ribs hurt!

I guess that’s what they call ‘gallows humor’.

Side Note:

I later met and got to know Burl a little.

Turns out that Burl was a bit of a local legend with his main claim to fame being that he had once accidentally captured a mountain lion in his tool shed.


Apparently, Burl had left the door to the shed open over night and when he went to the shed the next morning, he slammed the door shut and rushed over to fire up his kerosene heater. It was really cold that morning so, Burl’s only concern was getting the heater going. Before he could light the heater, the mountain lion jumped on him and began to maul the hell out of him!

Burl later told me the tale in his own ‘mountain style’.

“Son….lemme tell yun’s! They ain’t nothin’ that’ll get yun’s attention like a pissed off mountain lion! ‘Parently, that sumbitch was sleeping like a baby when I slammed the door and he just jumped on me like beggar lice!” He intoned seriously. “He was all over me!! Ever time that sumbitch bit or scratched me, I’d try to grab him but ‘fore I could get holt of him, he done bit or scratched me someplace new!! I swear…it was like dancin’ with a chain saw!”

I had a hard time keeping a straight face while he told me the tale.

He continued and then, in spite of my best efforts…..I lost it!

“Son…I couldn’t take it no more so I fell on the floor and started spinnin’ ‘round as fast as I could. I’m so big…I figgered ah could squash his ass if I got lucky.” He said seriously. “Problem was....” he gave me a conspiratorial look.. “I think that sumbitch liked it better on the floor!”

I still laugh thinking about old Burl’s story.

Turns out, that cat tore poor old Burl to ribbons. He was in the hospital for quite a while and ended up with a ruined left hand and a face that looked as though he had been attacked by well…..a mountain lion.

“I think that sumbitch liked it better on the floor!”

Is it just me or is that friggin’ hilarious?

Okay…back to the story.

When the rescue squad finally showed up, they put Mr. Thornton on a stretcher and took him down the mountain with Barney and I following close behind. Once we reached the bottom of the hill, they put his body into the rescue vehicle and slammed the doors. I spent the next hour or so talking to the authorities until they finally left.

It had been a long day to say the least but…it wasn’t over yet.

I had just gone back inside the house after having to literally drag Barney away from the ambulance when my front door burst open.

It was Miss Rose.

“So…..tell me what happened.” She said as she plopped into the MY recliner. “Don’t leave nothin’ out while you’re making me a drink.”

Miss Rose was a not an old woman to be disobeyed so….I made us both a strong drink, took it to her and sat on the sofa.

I told her the entire story and she didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, she got up slowly and headed for the door. Just as she opened the door, she turned to me and chuckled.

“I swear….folks been comin’ here to die for years.”s She said sadly. “Your friend Mike came here to die…but he weren’t the first one to come here to do that.”

I didn’t say anything.

I was stunned.

“I’ve been living here all my life and I’ve seen a bunch of folks call it quits in this house.” She stated flatly.

“Oh really?” I asked. “Like who?”

She grinned and turned to leave.

“I’ll have to tell you about it someday…..right now, I’m goin’ home and take a nap.” She said softly.

With that, she was out the door.

It must have at least a week later when I got a phone call late at night. I think it was around 9:45 or 10:00.

It was the daughter of Mr. Thornton.

She had gotten my number from the county coroner I suppose.

In the next few minutes, she explained to me that her father had been suffering from a heart disorder which was fatal. I think it had something to do with cancer but…I really don’t remember the details. Apparently, he had decided to travel to our area because his father had actually lived here as a child and always spoke of the trout fishing.

He simply felt compelled to come here before he died I guess.

Anyway, she proceeded to tell me that the old man had told her that he knew that he was dying so, he decided to take the trip he had been dreaming of for a long time.

Of course…he did take that trip but…..the REAL trip for me was that Barney had KNOWN that the old man was sick. I don’t know if he knew that he was going to actually die but somehow….that big ole goofy dog had a ‘gift’ for knowing that people were sick or in trouble.

I found out later from the coroner that Mr. Thornton had suffered an explosion of a major artery leading to his heart which apparently killed him faster than a lightning strike.

He simply died, fell down and in the process gashed his head on a rock.

The woman who gave me the report added that there were many marks on his body that suggested that Barney had tried desperately to drag him out of the water.

I know…..I’m probably making too much of the situation but I firmly believe that in several cases…Barney somehow KNEW that people needed help.

Don’t believe me?

Try this on for size.

I'm NOT making this up.

For a long time after we got together, Barney was cordial to Michelle but….not really friendly.

Barney was still, quite clearly MY DOG.

All of the sudden, over a period a few days however, Barney would constantly shadow Michelle. He suddenly went everywhere with her and even tried to lie in her lap when she would sit down. He refused to let her out of his sight.

Barney was NOT a ‘lap dog’ kind of dog.

This was really unusual.

Michelle had been experiencing a lot of neck and back pain for quite awhile at the time and even though she rarely complained or made a big deal of it….she was quite obviously in a LOT of pain.

It was during this time that Barney became MICHELLE’S DOG.

He followed her everywhere. He would whine and moan as he laid his huge head in her lap.

He just really began acting strange.

Approximately one week later, we found out that Michelle’s cancer had returned and had metastasized all over her body.

Call us crazy but somehow…..that big ole goofy dog KNEW.

He just knew.

Shortly after that, Barney simply disappeared. We're pretty sure that he was 'dog-napped' but.....that's another story I suppose.

We still miss that old mutt terribly.

I still keep a big picture of him running towards me as I snapped a picture all those years ago.

I keep it over my work bench and think of him often.

Someday...I hope to see him running to me again.

Okay...I've 'meandered' this tale long enough.

Back soon ya'll.

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