By Robert G. Back © 1986
Issue: April, 1986
Editor's Note... "The Night The Radio Died" is one of 20 stories Robert Back has written and is being published into a book in May . There will be a limited number of them printed and anyone desiring a copy should submit their orders as soon as possible to Robert G. Back, Box 123, R.R. # 1, Medaryville, IN, 47947. The name of the book is "Hear My Laughter, See My Tears" and the price will be $7.50 plus $1.00 for postage and handling.
Except for God, family and ice-cold buttermilk with cornbread, Uncle Cobb Holcome loved listening to the boxing matches on radio more than anything else in the world. For an hour or so every Friday night, he was able to forget the Number 4 coal mine and the poor-mouthed conditions he was forced to endure just to earn a day's pay. He'd pull his cane-bottomed rocking chair beside the battery powered radio and block out everything except the high-pitched, slightly nasal voice of Don Dunphy, the blow commentator.
That Friday night in 1947 when Joe Louis fought Jersey Joe Walcott for the heavyweight championship, Uncle Joe Cobb sat with his ear glued to the radio trying to remember who Joe Walcott was. He hoped he wasn't another "Bum of the Month" for "The Brown Bomber" to knock out early. Over the past several months, Joe'd been taking a lot of the fun out of listening to him fight by knocking out his opponents before the radio had time to warm up.
According to Don Dunphy, Walcott gave as good as he took in the early rounds. He even managed to shake-up the slick champ with a couple good right hands to the head. Uncle Cobb figured the fight just might go seven or eight rounds, after all. Walcott. seemed tough enough to make ole Joe work a little longer before he landed the knock-out punch. Joe'd get him, though. It was just a matter of time. Joe always got his man.
Suddenly Dunphy's voice rose to an extremely high pitch. Walcott had just connected with a tremendous right cross and the mighty champ was on the seat of his pants in the middle of the ring.
"Louis is down!" Dunphy yelled.
"Did he say Joe was down?" Uncle Cobb asked, looking over his shoulder at his wife, Sara Belle. She looked up from her sewing and shook her head up and down slowly.
"Well, I'll be dogged!" Uncle Cobb said in disbelief.
"Three..four..five..the champion is trying to get to his feet," Dunphy said. "Six..seven..SQUAWK.. SQUAWK!"
The radio sounded like a terrified chicken, it's squawking completely drowning out Dunphy's counting.
"What in tarnation!" Uncle Cobb roared and belted the top of the radio with the palm of his hand. The squawks became louder. He smacked it, shook it, and finally got to his feet and kicked it twice with all his might. The squawks were replaced by sounds resembling a cawing crow. "Doncha dare quit on me now dadburn ya!" Uncle Cobb snarled and belted the top of the radio again. It answered with and earsplitting whistle before fading into complete silence.
"The danged thang is dead," he told his wife, looking as though he'd just had his face slapped.
"Course it's dead. Ya kilt it. Ain't nuthin' coulda lived after a beatin' like that," she answered, a tiny smile tugging at her lower lip.
"Well, I gotta find out if ole Joe made it to his feet or not, and that's all there is to it. I'm gain' up the holler to Grady Stafford's house to find out. Far as I know, he's the only feller in these parts who listens to the fights like I do. I'll be back as quick as I can," Uncle Cobb said, and went thundering out of the house.
Grady Stafford lived a good two miles up a rugged, narrow holler north of the coal camp. A winding dirt road leading in the direction of his place petered out after a half-mile and the rest of the way had to be negotiated over a dried-up, rocky creek bed. That didn't deter Uncle Cobb, though. He was determined to find out if Joe had gotten back to his feet....even if it meant crawling up the creek bed on his hands and knees.
Grady's house was stuck back against the side of a mountain with the front porch resting upon long, stilt-like poles. There wasn't a light on in the place when Uncle Cobb got there. The fight must be over and Grady's already in the shucks, thought Uncle Cobb. Made no difference, though, he was gonna haul it out of that bed and tell him who won.
Uncle Cobb got within a hundred feet of the house before everything broke loose at once. Six huge dogs came flying around the corner of the house, barking their fool heads off and growling like a cage full of bears. All six headed straight for him, and before he had a chance to say anything or look for safer ground a big, yellow mutt latched onto the calf of his leg. He hollered and tried to shake the dog loose but it held on for dear life. Finally, he took careful aim and punched the dog right on the top of its head. The dog yelped and backed off a few feet to figure out another less painful battle plan. In the meantime, the other dogs milled around with the hair raised on their necks, all barking in unison and waiting for a cue from their sore-headed leader.
"Somebody git out hyar and do somethin' with these dogs!" Uncle Cobb yelled to the top of his lungs.
Somebody did come out. It wasn't to do something with the dogs, however. Grady's wife, a woman of huge proportions, threw back the front screen door and began blazing away with a .12 gauge shotgun! Uncle Cobb hit the ground like a dropped brick and listened to shotgun pellets clip away at a small bush just to the right of where he lay.
"Clorie, stop that shootin' 'fore ya kill one of ya dogs! It's me...Cobb!" Uncle Cobb screamed over the roaring gun.
"Git up hyar close so'se I can see ya," Clorie ordered.
Uncle Cobb got to his feet and limped up to the porch steps. Clorie looked down at him and asked, "Cobb, what on earth are ya doin' out prowlin' round inns middle of the nigh?
"I come to see Grady 'bout the fight," Uncle Cobb said. "I shore didn't know I'se gonna have to fist-fight a dog and git shot at though."
"Well, Grady ain't hyar. What fight ya talkin 'bout, anyway?"
"Louis and Walcott."
Has Harmon Lewis's boy been fightin' again? I swan, that boy ain't never been nuthin' but trouble. His folks are such good, Godfearin' people, too."
"No, Clorie. I'm talkie' 'bout the fight on the radio tonight," Uncle Cobb enlightened her.
"Oh..well, I don't know nuthin' 'bout that. Grady generally listens to that foolishness, but he hadda go to Jackson. "Sides that, our radio needs a new battery."
"In that case, I'm sorry for botherin' ya Clorie. I guess I'll git on back home now," Uncle Cobb said, extremely disappointed.
"Ya coulda been a heap sight sorrier. Sneakin' round in the dark like that coulda gotcha kilt Clorie said and slammed the door.
When Uncle Cobb got back home Sara Belle was sitting in her rocking chair and sewing up a hole in one of his socks. The mournful voice of Hank Williams was emanating from the radio.
"What's that?" he asked, point at the radio as though it was a two-headed monster.
"Less I miss my guess, that's a radio," Sara Belle answered without looking at him.
"How long has it been playin' like that?" he asked.
"Since shortly after ya left."
"Well..who won the fight?"
"Willya buy me a new pair of shoes if I tell ya?" she teased.
"I'll buy ya a coffin if ya don't. Now I've been through too much tonight tryin' to find out who won that danged fight, and I ain't in no mood to play games.
Confound it, who won!"
"Louis by decision. Whatever that means," she shrugged.
"How 'bout that. Ole Joe did git back on his feet." he said, sitting down in his rocker beside her. Now he felt satisfied. Joe was still on top and the radio hadn't died after all.
Uncle Cobb then pulled out his pipe and filled it with Prince Albert. After taking two or three puffs, he suddenly remembered something gnawing at him. Slowly, he turned to his wife and asked, "By the way, Sara Belle, have ya got anything 'round hyar to put on a dog bit?"