Not Eudora   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 prank.

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 politicians.

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