Uncle Robert Franklin Maxwell
We all have an eccentric family member or two; the tipsy aunt, the carousing cousin, the bizarre brother-in-law. The Maxwell clan has Uncle. Born Uncle Robert Franklin Maxwell in Ensley, Alabama in 1923, Uncle was, rather, still is, an enigma. He learned to smoke by the time he was 7. He drove a car at 9. And, finally, he met Mr. Jack (of Daniels fame) at the ripe old age of 10.
At twelve, Uncle stood 6’1″ and weighed 208 pounds. He ate my great grandparents out of house and home. Besides outgrowing his clothes, his shoes, and his bed, Uncle outgrew the house, which he promptly left on his thirteenth birthday. He set out to see the “globe” as he called it. That globe turned out to be my great aunt Nell’s house in Liberty, Kentucky. Exactly how Uncle arrived in Liberty, no one knows. Nell opened the front door one morning and there he was sleeping like a baby on the porch.
Nell lived alone in Liberty. Well, almost alone. Counting the dogs, an assortment of cats, the rabbits (whose population she couldn’t control), 2 horses, ducks (which came and went), a cow, and a goat, there were 23 residents of Nell’s hotel. And now she had Uncle. Uncle proved to be Nell’s saving grace. He went to school and finished the eight grade. Nell was proud. He milked the cow and goat, took care of the chickens, and skinned and cooked the rabbits. Uncle chopped wood for the fire and did all of the maintenance around the house. Nell was happy having Uncle around. Uncle was happy too, that is, until he met Marie.
Marie was a 18-year-old siren with long black hair and lips tinted red by a combination of peels from the apples growing around Liberty and a 20 proof medicinal cough syrup. Liberty was one small patch of Casey County, Kentucky. It was dry back then and is still dry today. Marie, however, had ways unknown to Uncle of securing his beverage of choice. When her purveyors found out that she was buying for Uncle, they went to have a word with the young man, only to find Nell sitting in a rocking chair on the porch with a shotgun aimed precariously at their approaching vehicles. Little did they know that by now she was deaf and half blind, and didn’t have the strength to aim the weapon with any kind of precision. That little fact, however, didn’t stop Nell from standing to spray a wide sweep of Remington 00 buck load in their general direction. Of course, the recoil knocked her off her feet and fractured her shoulder. Uncle picked up the shotgun and continued firing until the weapon was emptied. From then on, a monthly supply of whiskey made from the sour mash process showed up on Nell’s porch without fail.
Uncle’s family grew and prospered as he worked the boys to death. In addition to schoolwork, they worked the small piece of land Nell left and did all of the chores just as Uncle had done when he had first come to Liberty. But Uncle was getting old and fussy. He no longer held a full time job at the correctional complex or hunted with his sons. Instead, he took up a new pastime; watching television. Liberty was dying and so was Uncle. Whereas he had once been something of a hell-raiser and ladies man (before meeting Marie), he now had eyes only for Big Red.
Red was the queen of the daytime soaps.