By Harry Welty
Published April 1, 2004
Uncle Frank's Smudge Pots
I'm not in the mood. I know its April First but I'm just not in the mood.
Yesterday I visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas. After a couple of hours soaking up
JFK's last moments I solemnly drove back to my motel over
the same strip of pavement where Jackie tried to scramble out of her limo when a
bullet burst through her husband's skull. And if that's not enough to darken a
Texas sky I'm halfway through a book on another martyred President, Abraham
Lincoln. Nope. I'm just not in the mood for April Fools.
Instead, I'll share some glass-half-empty tidbits about Uncle Frank. My Uncle
Frank has no use for politics. When he visited us last summer he got hold of the
column where I explained that I would be campaigning for reelection to the
School Board as a "spineless bastard." He enjoyed that.
Uncle Frank is jaded about politics. His cynicism damn near cost the family the
farm a couple years ago when he got aggravated with some county commissioners
back in Kansas. I blame this disposition on Uncle Frank's life long subscription
to the New Yorker. He wasn't always this way.
Frank began life a namesake to the "inalienable rights" of the Declaration of
Independence. "Happy," for that is what his parents called him, was blissfully
unaware of any other state of mind. He was a lucky child. My Father, Frank's
older brother Daniel, once looked on as a herd of horses broke free from a
nearby slaughter house and thundered through the neighborhood. Happy was
toddling along in the middle of street on his tricycle. Their Mother was
standing on the other side of the street. Two voices called simultaneously from
opposite directions for Happy to run to them as a hundred hooves bore down on
the boy. Happy stopped dead in his tracks and looked both ways unsure which
direction to turn. A moment before impact the herd veered off leaving Happy
unscathed. Ah, but too much grace can be a burden.
Much to his Mother's dismay Uncle Frank continued to pursue his bliss. When
detained after school for some infraction he simply crawled out the window and
gamboled about on the school's roof while his acrophobic Mother looked on
helplessly several floors below. Her natural instinct was to rein in her son's
happy pursuits which she was inclined to blame on his friends rather than any
property passed along through her family's bloodline.
There was, for instance, the time she walked into her house to find a passel of
condoms strewn over the dining room table. "Stinky has done this!" she wailed,
referring to one of Frank's aptly named buddies. But Frank protested that he
was, in fact, the lucky discoverer of this treasure trove of balloons. He
proudly told her how he had blown them up, tied them to his bicycle, and driven
them all over the neighborhood. All over!
After one misadventure too many his Mother insisted that the family take Frank
on a drive to the grounds of the state reform school. Here in the shadow of the
valley of death Uncle Frank was shown where his carefree life would lead him.
Somehow Uncle Frank survived this object lesson unchastened.
My Uncle took a special delight in tormenting his mechanically incompetent older
Brother. For instance, Dad was utterly helpless when his younger brother removed
all the tires on his car during a date with my Mother. It was but a
preview of coming attractions.
My Father was particularly deferential to my Mother's Father, Mr. Robb; a war
hero turned Kansas State Auditor. First elected to the Auditor's post as a
Republican in the early Thirties, George Robb had become a fixture in state
politics facing only token opposition each election. One evening after a date
with my Mother, Dad drove to her home only to discover that Frank had littered
the Robb lawn with dozens of burning smudge pots (road construction warning
signs from an earlier era) and dozens of lawn signs from Mr. Robb's hapless
Democrat opponent. Mortified, my parents hid the garish spectacle before
Grandfather could discover it. Grandfather was quite amused when told of the
Sadly, Uncle Frank had to grow up eventually and set "Happy" aside. He went away
to war, returned home to study dentistry, then set up a dental practice in the
foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He made the acquaintance of a Colorado
legislator and loaned the villain a significant sum of money for a land deal
which the law maker had an interest in. Alas, the loan was never repaid which
taught my Uncle a valuable lesson about the disreputable nature of politics and
Unfortunately, I can think of no useful moral to conclude this series of
anecdotes with. I myself rather like politicians who have a bit of Uncle Frank
in them or at least a little bit of his earlier incarnation, "Happy." I prefer
to think that being a spineless bastard is an entirely curable condition the
remedy for which is little more than a few smoking smudge pots. I'll bet Jack
and Abe would both have agreed with me on this point.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com