Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Legacy of Zack Austin Crumpton


Another Place, Another Time
by Robert A. Waters

“In a long and mis-spent life,” my grandfather, Zack Austin Crumpton, would often begin.  Then he would regal his listeners with tall tales and truths.  The ultimate Southern story-teller, he might tell about how he caught the flu in 1918 (the influenza epidemic that year killed 500 million people around the world) while on a ship returning home from World War I.  As he sailed into the harbor in New York City, he thought he would die.  The army placed him in a severely overcrowded hospital where he saw dozens of men shipped out for burial. Finally, he said, one day he spat up a ball of gunk as big as a baseball.  From that time on, he began to recover.  A few days later, he made it home to the peaceful confines of Fellowship, Florida.

My grandfather might recount how he got dysentery in France.  Or of how he found a “Kaiser’s helmet,” but had it confiscated by the Captain of his unit.   He would tell of his truck-driving days during that conflict, of hauling supplies to the front lines and bringing bodies back to the rear.  And of how he went blind in one eye after a sliver of metal pierced it while repairing a truck during the war to end all wars.

His father, a Confederate veteran, became a Baptist preacher.  My grandfather said he had a gift of conciliating conflict.  Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about that, and have worked to emulate my great-grandfather.  Grandfather Crumpton talked about how, as a boy, his father and mother would begin hitching a wagon to horses before daylight for the 12-mile trip to the “big city,” Ocala.  It would be noon before they reached town.  They would shop, then it might be night-fall before they got home.  (Thank God and Mr. Ford for automobiles.)

He worked as a mechanic and farmer before going blind in his good eye.  When we were young, my two brothers and I spent almost as much time with my grandparents as we did with our parents.  As a very young child, one of my fondest memories is of grandfather Crumpton putting me on his knee and bouncing me up and down while he sang in that deep Southern voice.  Some of his favorites were “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride,” “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad,” and “All Around a Water Tank.”  On Saturday nights, he would turn on the radio and we would listen to the Grand Ole Opry.  Because of this, my favorite music is still the old-time country songs.

Grandma Crumpton was a feisty soul.  While in France during World War I, my grandfather learned the French language and got a girlfriend.  After he got home, she would write to him—in French, of course.  Every time a letter would come in, my grandmother, who couldn’t read a word of it, would rant and rave about his French “paramour.”  But neither she, nor any of the rest of us, ever knew what was said in those mysterious letters.  We never saw our grandfather respond to the letters, so they were always a question mark in our minds.

Grandfather Crumpton loved to fish and hunt.  He would tell us tales of catching huge bass, and recount poignant stories about the much-loved hunting dogs he’d owned.  There were guns all over the house and no one ever got harmed by one.  One room in their little “cracker” home was filled with “the best books ever written in the English language,” collected by a great-uncle and inherited by my grandfather.  I remember in my early youth reading many of them, and wanting to become an author, like Arthur Conan Doyle or the enigmatic Edgar Allan Poe.

Near the end of his life, my grandfather owned a beast of a dog he called “Tippy.”  By then grandfather Crumpton’s second eye had developed cataracts and he was blind, or close to it.  Tippy hated everyone but my grandfather.  When my grandmother would go outside to catch a chicken for dinner, he would chase her.  It’s a wonder she didn’t shoot him.  But one day my grandfather stepped out on the back porch and walked down the steps to go into the back yard.  A huge rattlesnake had coiled beneath the steps and likely would have struck him, but Tippy intervened.  The dog attacked the snake, biting its head off and killing it.  Unfortunately, the snake bit Tippy in the mouth and the dog’s head swelled up like a football.  He was never the same.  Tippy lived an invalid's life for a couple of years after the snake bite.  He was buried underneath a pecan tree up on a hillside, “a place of honor,” my grandfather called it.

When grandmother Crumpton died, “Uncle Zack,” as many of his friends called him, was never the same.  He passed on two years later, a sad shell of the man he used to be.

It was another time, another place back then.  Everyone should have grandparents like mine.  If they did, the world might be a better place.