Uncle Elmer's Story
“Tell me about Uncle Elmer.”

The man’s blue eyes suddenly looked young again.  “Elmer?  Now there’s a story.  It weren’t like it looked and we knew that even then.”

Ruby interrupted, voice surprisingly strong even from across the room.  “Elmer was a good-lookin’ man.  He used to come up to De-troit when I was married to Mr. McKenzie and sell us syrup at the store.” 

She twisted her hands in her lap and veins ran like snakes down her paper-thin skin. “He used to sell a right smart to the colored.  I wondered why it was they bought so great an amount until Mr. McKenzie told me.”

Her voice lowered to a stage whisper.  “It weren’t syrup in those big jugs he sold ‘em,  ’t was liquor.  I’d have figured it out eventually, even if Mr. McKenzie hadn’t told me.”

Will shot a look at his wife, annoyed at being interrupted in the middle of his favorite story.  “Elmer wasn’t a bad man.  ’Did run shine, though it never seemed much of a problem to him.  Being a deputy sheriff, he didn’t worry none about gettin’ caught.”

“His wife and kids,” she interrupted again, “now they was always the best dressed of any of us.  Came to church in the latest fashions, big pretty hats, clean too, their clothes was always just so.”

Wrinkles formed on his brow and he shot her another unnoticed look.  “Elmer was a good man.  Yes, he ran the liquor and that put him in with a bad crowd.  There were a few of  ’em, and we knew who they were, used to gamble up ’t the crossroads.  One night in ’41—no ’42, Elmer’d won big and John Calhoun took exception with it.  Accused him of cheatin’ or the like.  Elmer whupped him good and when John got up and could talk again, he told him, ‘Elmer, you got me this time but you’d better watch your back.’”

“Wasn’t two weeks –,” she tried, but the old man was too fast.

“We all knew what had happened but Bill Calhoun came up here years later, after all the old ones had died.  He sat right out there on my front porch with me, sippin’ tea and told me what happened.”

“Weren’t a train.” She shifted in her chair, pleased that she’d gotten out the most important line of the tale.

He sighed, eyes darkening a shade.  “Took a lot of gumption to come up here and tell the truth but I think he reckoned I was an old man, even then, and couldn’t do much to hurt him.  Elmer was coming along the road one night--my guess is he’d just made a run--and they came up on him, a group of them.  They took him in old man Calhoun’s house and beat him with a bat.  They beat him and beat him. Then, they wrapped him up in an old rag rug and drug him through the field like so much wood.  They laid him on the tracks for the train to cover their meanness and the next day they plowed that field ‘cause his body’d bled into the dirt and broken a path.  And they replaced the carpet in that house.  ‘Thought no one ever knew but we did.  We had always known it weren’t the train that killed him, no matter what the report said.”  

“It weren’t the train that killed him.  ’t was that syrup.”  She nodded, pleased with herself for getting in the final word.


                                                            Copyright 2002--Molly Thomas-Hicks
Click here for information on Elmer Rudolphus Norton's descendants.
(As told to me by Will Norton, my grandfather)