Smith and Hall family stories

When Uncle Willie was struck down by the Lord

In the late 1990s, as I recall, I talked with a Smith relative who lived in Calhoun. He told me how we were related, but I have forgotten what he said. But he spoke of a man named “Uncle Willie” Smith who was known for his abuse of his wife and children, and who was struck down by the Lord. He said the man’s name was William Franklin Smith, but there is no William Franklin Smith in the family tree that I could find, and my aunt still living did not know of a William Franklin Smith. There is, however, William Thomas Smith, my great grandfather, who was born September 1866 in Georgia of parents born in South Carolina, and died in 1949 at the age of 83. And there is William Smith, Albert Canada Smith's son and William Thomas's grandson. I have come to suspect that the relative was a descendant on the Brownlow side and that William Thomas Smith was "Uncle Willie."

In any case, this is the story:

Uncle Willie, as said, was known for beating his wife and children. That is, until one day when he suddenly collapsed and could not move. His family put him on a bed and he lay there for a full week in a coma. When he awoke, he was a changed man.

He said that while he was lying on the bed, God said to him, “Now, try to lift your little finger.” He could not, and the message he took from that was that God was all-powerful and had stuck him down for his wicked ways.

He never beat his wife or children again. Instead, he would testify in churches about how the Lord had struck him down. It was said, when Uncle Willie died, that “If anybody gets into heaven, Uncle Willie will.”

Chain Gang Bill

Robert Jasper "Bob" Hall's brother John had a son by his first wife that came to be known as "Chain Gang Bill." I don't know his given name, but I assume it was William. Bill earned his nickname by being a car thief, but not a typical one. He would steal a car, drive it until it ran out of gas, then park it on the side of the road and leave. He never damaged any of the vehicles, nor did he ever do anything to cause people real or lasting harm, according to Bob's son still living. Bill said that by being in jail most of the time, his room and board was taken care of, and his family could get welfare.

Once a Gordon County sheriff's deputy came to Bob's house and told him he was going to have to arrest one of his sons. Bob probably didn't crack a smile, but called his two sons still at home from where they were playing behind the house. Both of them were still children.

"I guess I'm going to have to go back to Calhoun," the deputy said.

"You're looking for Bill," Bob said.

Once a deputy or detective came to Bill's house, I believe he was living in or near Plainville, Georgia, and told him he was going to arrest him.

"Could you come back tomorrow morning?" Bill asked. "I'd like to spend one more night with my wife and kids."

The officer apparently knew Bill real well and agreed. When he showed up at Bill's house the next morning, Bill was there, but met him in the yard.

"Could you wait until my kids get on the school bus?" he asked. "Come in and have a cup of coffee."

The officer again agreed, went in and drank his coffee, and when the children got on the school bus, Bill went to jail as promised.

While working on a road detail, probably in Floyd County, Bill was driving one of the dump trucks. About 4:30, the officer in charge of the detail told Bill and the other drivers to go on back to the jail. But that night, there was no truck in the county lot and no Bill in jail. However, by the next morning, both were where they were supposed to be. When a jailer confronted Bill about it, he said simply, "I had to go see my wife and kids."

Another time, Bill found out one of his children was sick. When he got out into the yard at the Floyd County jail, the back gate was open (Bill was apparently a trustee) and he started to walk out the gate.

"Bill, if I see you walk out that gate, I'm going to have to shoot you," a jailer hollered at him.

"Turn your head then," Bill yelled back and kept on walking.

Satan Bill

One of Alex (Elic) Hall’s son had two unusual nicknames: “Preacher Bill” and “Satan Bill.” He was called Satan Bill because he was really mean to his wife, Alice Kinsey, and beat her and his kids. One day he was caught beating his wife in a ditch on the side of the road. That night a cross was burned in his yard and he was warned never to beat her again. He didn’t.

Bill worked for the Plainville Brick Company until it closed, when he retired. He lived on Brickyard Hill, on the right going south on old Plainville Road. He worked at night at Trend Mills in his old age.

The “Preacher” nickname may have reflected his behavior after the cross-burning, especially in his old age. “I loved my pawpaw,” one of his descendants told me. She remembers sleeping in his storm shelter as a child.

Rosa Alice and the baby diaper

Rosa Alice Davis, wife of James Henry "Jim" Smith, found out that one of her sons was dating a girl who had had a baby. Rosie saw a discarded wet diaper in the back floorboard of his car and secretly took it into the kitchen. She cooked a sweet potato, peeled it, and put it in the diaper, then poured coffee on it and put it back where she found it. Needless to say, her son was very surprised when he found the diaper.

Thiddo and the carburetor

Thiddo Smith was a wheeler and dealer. Once, on a visit to his wife Gladys' aunt's house, he took notice of their front door. It was a solid wood door, very substantial and a little out of place on the front of the ramshackle house they lived in. Thiddo talked to her aunt's husband about it and made a deal for it. He took it off the hinges and strapped it to the top of the car to take home. That night, Gladys' aunt, still living, and her family slept without a front door on their house. She laughs about it yet.

Once Thiddo went with me to buy a car from Adcock Ford in Adairsville. They had a 1964 Plymouth Custom 4-door that fit my budget ($400). Thiddo and I arrived early and began negotiating with Odell Adcock, brother to Wilson who owned the dealership. Odell wanted $400 for the car, but Thiddo insisted I only had $300. Throughout the morning, Odell would be interrupted with other customers or company business, but afterward Thiddo would set in on him again about selling the car for $300. Odell kept insisting on $400. Lunch came and Odell left, but Thiddo and I sat in the dealership waiting and when he got back, Thiddo began the negotiations again. And so it went until late in the afternoon when Odell, no doubt exhausted, finally agreed to sell the car for $300. Ironically, it wound up having an engine problem that cost me $100 to fix!

But the best example of Thiddo's cleverness involved a four-barrel Chevrolet carburetor. One day in the summer of 1965, a man came by Thiddo's junkyard, called Mid-City Auto Parts, on Highway 53 north of Shannon. The shop was located on Calhoun Road where it merges with Highway 53 (the cement block building still stands and is a plant nursery). The man was looking for a General Motors four-barrel carburetor and Thiddo had one on the shelf in a small wooden building across the driveway from the block building. He sold it to the man for $5 exchange. Thiddo examined the carburetor that he got in exchange, determined it had some minor problem, fixed it, and put it on the shelf. A day or so later another man came looking for a GM four-barrel carburetor and Thiddo sold that one to him for $5 exchange. He examined the one he received in exchange and determined that it needed rebuilding, so he rebuilt it with a "carburetor kit" that cost a dollar or so and put in on the shelf. A few days later, another man came by looking for a GM four-barrel carburetor and Thiddo sold him that one, for $5!

Thiddo was, in many ways, a mechanical genius. I saw him single-handedly remove an engine from a car, replace it with another, get it running, and remove a engine from another car, all in a single day. And I saw him replace the right rear quarter panel on a 1947 Pontiac four-door, and when it was finished, it looked like it was original. A quarter panel, for the uninitiated, consists of the entire rear fender from the back of the back door to partway around the trunk.

And one time he rebuilt an engine for a man and the man came back a few days later and said it was smoking, which it was. Thiddo said, "Let me drive it." He pulled out of the shop and turned north toward Calhoun. As soon as he got out of sight, he floored the accelerator and drove the car to Calhoun and back at a high rate of speed. When he pulled back into the shop, the engine was not smoking. The car was smoking because the piston rings had not "seated," and in driving it hard for a few miles, Thiddo seated them, sealing the gap between the pistons and the cylinder walls.

Henry and the watermelons

Henry Smith, one Jim Smith's sons and Thiddo Smith's brother, had a garden on the Wax Road south of Rome. He grew several crops, including watermelons, and one day discovered that someone had stolen one of his watermelons. So, he said he put up a sign that said, "One of these watermelons is poisoned." He said that he thought that would deter a thief. But the next morning, someone had marked through the "One" and written "Two" above it.

Uncle Joe's short brown corn

The above story about Henry Smith might just be a joke, somewhat like the one Joe Bunch told one of his nephews. Joe, who married Rosa Lee Buttrum, Bob Hall's wife Pearl's sister. One year, Joe said, there was a drought and his corn didn't grow very tall before it turned brown. One of his friends came by and said, "You're corn is looking a little short and brown, ain't it, Joe?

"It's what I'm raising," Joe said, "Short brown corn."

That's actually an old vaudeville joke, so I don't know if Joe was just telling a tale or not. But I was with three of Bob's sons one day when they went to Joe's to retrieve a cow that belonged to one of them. Joe was pretty old and his pasture was in pretty rough shape. A huge stand of poke salad blocked the entrance to the barn, where the cow was to be loaded. As one of Bob's sons backed up a pickup truck to the entrance, he had to back through the tall red-purple stalks of poke salad. The stalks held a lot of water, so when they were crushed beneath the wheels of the truck, the tires began to spin.

"Don't be ruining my poke salad crop," Joe yelled. For the uninitiated, the green parts of poke salad are edible but the red-purple parts are poisonous. And even then, the greens are boiled "in three waters" to get all the alkaloids out.

And finally, in his old age Joe attended a Hall family reunion in Kingston and at one point called everybody together. "I want to tell you something important," he said.

When everyone had gathered around, Joe said (I'm paraphrasing), "It's not true what they say about men always thinking about women. You don't hear a bunch of men saying "She, she, she." But when you get a bunch of women together, all you hear is "He, he, he." Rosa Lee, known for her loud laugh, exploded.

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