Cousins

Cousins are strange relatives, some stranger than others. I had no telling how many I had, counting my Dad's something like 208 of them. They didn't really count after twice removed or whatever they call second cousins. My grandfather on my dad's side was one of eleven kids and my grandmother was the first of twenty-one kids. It took two wives for John McQuarty Archer to sire that many kids with the last one born when he was 71. Then there was a bunch more on my mother's side. I had perhaps a dozen first cousins, most of which I never knew. But I want to tell about one of my Dad's stranger cousins.

His name was Walt Sanders and he ran a tiny service station in Spearman, Texas. He and the station had been a fixture in Spearman ever since the town was founded. It occupied the prime business location in town, the corner of Main Street and the highway that ran parallel to the railroad tracks. Several people tried to buy the location but he would never sell.

Walt was a renaissance sort of man when it came to clothes in that he had his summer clothes and his winter ones. Each fall he would go down to the mercantile store where he would buy a suit of bib overalls, a shirt and a suit of long johns, the kind with a flap in the back. When it got really cold, he'd add an old canvas coat. Come spring, he'd go to his summer dress which was the same thing only without the long johns. Each time he'd buy new duds, he'd leave the old ones laying on the floor of the store. Then he'd stop by the barber shop for a shave and a haircut. That was about his only efforts at personal grooming and good for the next six months.

He lived in the back of the service station and cooked on the workbench where he repaired tires, tubes and carburetors. He had a single gas burner, cooked everything in an old black cast iron skillet and usually ate out of it. When not in use, the skillet sat behind the electric motor with a wire wheel which he used to buff inner tubes for patching. The storm of rubber dust it sent flying usually landed the grease in the skillet. For some reason my dad never suggested that we eat with him.

When Walt finally got to the point where he could no longer care for himself, his relatives checked him into a local nursing home but he kept running away, usually to find the local bootlegger. The county was dry when it came to the sale of alcohol. One time after one of his escapes, they found him unconscious in a ditch and took him to the local hospital where they gave him a bath, after which he went into shock which the doctors figured was more a result of the bath than exposure.

He finally died at the age of 94. That's when they found he had close to a million dollars in the bank.


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Copyright 2008 by Jim Foreman