Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Buster Stories

My Grandfather
William (Buster) Cox

      A few stories about my grandfather William (Buster) Cox. Buster died in the last week of 1980, he was seventy years old, I was twenty-three. Still his presence in my life helped define me as who I am. Buster never missed a Sunday going to ring the bell at the church, he was buried wearing his one, five, ten, twenty, and thirty year attendance pins awarded him from the church. Among other things he taught Sunday school, hid Easter Eggs, and opened and closed the church buildings anytime they were used. Buster was injured in a coal mining accident and was retired in his late forties. One of the consequences of being trapped, pinned, and broken in the mine cave-in was a perpetual shake. When he was comfortable his hand, then his arm would begin to shake, getting more and more intense it would become fast long stokes along his side as if he was brushing something from his rib cage or 'quick-drawing' over and over again. This is how my young mind saw it. As he needed to reach for something or shake a man's hand he could stop and control the shake for a brief time. When I was a really young child I suspected all grandfathers earned a right to have a cool shake like that. Buster was married to a saint, my grandmother Grace, she was an infinitely patient woman, she had to be, she was Buster's better half!

Pistol Handles

When Buster found out that I had taken a job in a near by town as a city policeman he came to visit me. He smiled seeing me in my uniform and reaching out with his shaking hand he firmly patted my shoulder. He gave me a good looking over.
"Ya look alright...that a real gun?"
"Yes, Papaw, it's a .38 police special." I was 21 years old and proud of my get-up.
"Would you stop me for speeding through your town, boy?" Buster had that mischievous look in his eye, standing there slightly bobbing up and down.
"No, Papaw, I could never do that to you."
"Well, you better not or I'll have to stick that gun up your rear and kick the handles off!"
I stood there my mouth agape as he turned, gave me a hard wink, climbed back into his car and drove slowly away.

Hoop Snakes

As visiting grand kids running and playing and generally disrupting Papaw's place, he was always warning, watching, and helping us. He kept the boundaries so that none of us would get off and get hurt. One place we were not allowed to go was up on the hill behind the house. (W.Va. Mountains are very steep and overgrown). A kid could get hurt messing around up there so Papaw told us the story of the Appalachian hoop snake to keep us away.
"You can't out run a hoop snake." Said Buster as we kids, wide eyed, stood listening to him explain.
"They'd be crawlin' around the ground and when they spot you they raise up, take their tale in their mouth and roll down the hill at you and when they catch you they bite you. That'll be the last of ya, you die!"
He sternly looked at us.
"Promise me ya won't go up there, ever."
"We promise, Papaw! We all chorused, I looked at the hillside for hoop snake sign, no way I'd ever go up there!
"See that you don't."

As the years passed I grew older and (I thought) a little wiser. As a young teenager I found myself in Papaw's back yard watching him attend to his grapes. He grew concords on his homemade grape rack, Mamaw was supposed to save money canning them, I don't ever remember having any homemade grape jelly, though.
"Papaw, can I ask you somethin'?"
"Sure, boy what's on your mind?"
"About those hoop snakes, are there really any on that hill?"
Buster turned to me, set down his snips and grinned, got up and dusted his knees.
"Not anymore, son."
"There never was any hoop snakes, were there." I said knowingly.
"Oh yea, they were hoop snakes."
"Then why'd I never see one?"
"They died out."
" Cause when those snakes jumped up, grabbed their own tails in their mouths and roll down the hill if they didn't catch anything they'd just keep eating their tail, swallowing, and swallowing until ( snapping  his fingers) they just disappeared into nothin'."
I groaned and grinned.
He laughed and turned back to his pruning.


After Sunday school was over Buster would, using a whittled branch for a walking stick, walk along the railroad tracks on his way back home. In W.Va. most communities were nestled between two mountains, Whitman Creek was no different; there is the hillside, a creek, a row of coal camp houses, the road, the railroad tracks, and then the other hillside.
Buster would amble along enjoying the early afternoon sun and pick up marbles or any coins he may find along the abandoned tracks. He would speak by name and wave to any and all the folks that would be sitting out on the front porches across the road as he passed.
They'd all call back, "Whadaya say, Buster!"

 One afternoon during all this walking and greeting, right in mid sentence, Buster stopped, dropped his walking stick and quickly unbuckled and dropped his trousers right there on the railroad track across from  little old ladies having coffee, men whittling their sticks, and kids running and playing.
They all stopped in mid sip, whittle, and run to watch Buster remove his pants and begin to shake them out right there in front of God and everybody. There was a collective gasp.
Taking life as it was dealt to him, Papaw, as he finished shaking out his trousers called out only one word of explanation.
Everyone gave out a knowing reply and returned to whatever. Buster put his trousers back on, buckled his belt, retrieved his walking stick and continued on up the tracks toward home.
Whenever this tale was told the response was normally, "Well, that's Buster for ya'!”


Buster was in his Lazy Boy chair dosing there beside the fireplace and I was on the couch coloring in a coloring book when Mamaw and about a half a dozen other women from her church group came in the house, the wind was cold and the snow was blowing. They began gathering in the dining room talking, laughing and commenting about how nice and warm it was in the house compared to all that blowing snow outside.
Papaw opened on eye and grunted at the noise, he was now fully awake and just slightly irritated.
The talking and bantering continued.
Finally Buster kicked the foot rest back, got up, went to the mantle took his harmonica from its resting place and loudly began blowing the snappiest version of 'John Henry' that I'd ever heard. The house went totally attentive as he wailed out the classic tune, patting his foot along with the rhythm of the upbeat song.
When he stopped everyone was silent.
Turning to me he said, "Play it like that boy, and you can call yourself a harmonica player."
With that he sat back down, kicked up his foot rest, and closed his eyes.
Mamaw put a finger to her lips and led her group into the kitchen.
Papaw, mumbled under his breath, "Cluck,cluck,cluck."
I took it all in stride and returned to coloring.

Playing Dog
Years ago we grandchildren-at least a dozen of us-were all at Papaw & Mamaw's house in Whitman. We ran, laughed and played; we cousins loved to be around each other on holidays. We were romping in the front yard destroying Mamaw's pretty, delicate lawn just by being on it-but she loved us and tolerated any collateral damage- when Papaw Buster stepped onto the porch, we turned to his attention and he asked, "Whatch'all doing?"
We all chorused, "Playin'!"
Papaw grinned his devious grin and said, “I got a game for ya ,you all ever play dog?"
Oh, we kids just loved the idea of pleasing Papaw, and again we all answered him," Dog? ...play dog? ...howya play!?  Ok!  I wanna play! ...me too!"
In his gravely voice, tending his constant shake he directed us to all line up in a circle; we did so.
"Now get on your hands and knees like yer a dog," again we did so vying for our positions of choice. When we were lined up in a circle, happily awaiting what was next.
Papaw then instructed, “Now sniff the butt in front of ya!"
Groaning and giggling we realized as we got to our feet that ole' Papaw - standing there with a silent laugh on his face - done collectively got us all again! We shoulda known...!

On Politics

Whenever asked if he loved one of us Papaw always replied that he loved all his grandchildren, this is the only time that he told me specifically he loved me.
My father was a Democrat, as was his father; my Papaw Buster. Papaw's father was a Democrat and so was his father before him. On the day that Buster heard that I had registered Republican so I could vote for Ronald Reagan, he showed up at the Car dealership where I worked. Buster walked up to the parts counter I was manning and said, "Boy, you are a Cox not a Republican no matter how fancy you think it is to be different."
Papaw wasn't mad as I just knew he would be, instead, he acted like the joke was on me and he was going to let me in on it.
He gave me a very long stare and began," You'll see one of these days..."
Buster stopped there.
"Doesn't matter either way." he said as he turned to leave," Republican or not I still love you."
"I love you,too Papaw."
He stopped, looked back to me," You got a funny way of showing it, boy."

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