By John Hassell Yeatts © 1984
Issue: April, 1984
An errant chromosome too minute to even cast a shadow under an electric microscope had somehow become detached or rearranged on the string of nucleic acid particles of embryonic life and ordained that Walter Young would be an exceptional human being.
His three brothers were of average height and looks and possessed with some mechanical and managerial ability. One held a responsible position with the Norfolk and Western Railroad; another could design, build and operate saw mills. A third brother achieved some notoriety in the Laurel Fork – Bankstown - Pike City triangle by somehow attaching a belt-driven airplane propeller to the front of his Model T Ford. It gave him the speed he sought alright, but it also created enough lift to render the steering mechanism of his Ford useless, thus hurling the quivering vehicle and its passengers into a rail fence and briar patch. He soon went back to his research and thereafter designed more practical improvements for the Model T.
But Walter's neck and legs were too short for his body and his left eye was out of proper focus and had a bad squint. This gave him a slightly menacing appearance to those who did not know him well. However he had several talents that earned him the respect and some admiration of several of the natives in the tri-county area of the Blue Ridge. He could rive and refine some of the smoothest and whitest water-oak splits to ever come out of Carroll County. Then he could weave those splits into artistic baskets and into chair bottoms that would accommodate the most discriminating human bottoms in the area. He could, at times, also tenderly and lovingly brew and distill some of the most palatable apple brandy to ever grace a human gullet.
He often walked the narrow road connecting Mayberry and Pike City, kicking up little clouds of dust with his oversized feet, and sometimes frightening the little children he would meet along the way. The children hadn't yet learned that he was quite harmless, and lonely and might even want to be friendly and entertaining if they hadn't silently crowded to the opposite side of the road, never speaking. So sometimes, perhaps out of resentment or just for fun, he would make groaning-growling noises and gestures as if about to jump at them. Sometimes they would hide in the brush when they saw him coming, and Walter, noticing this, did not elevate his appreciation for "small fry." There were also times when he would amble lazily and dreamingly along with his pork-pie hat pulled low over his eyes, never looking their way. It was then that some of the children learned to look for the tip of a red corn cob protruding from his left overall hip pocket and the outline of a short pint bottle snugly resting there. It was also then that they surmised that he was probably concentrating upon a world which had no children to torment him. There were still other days when they would meet him charging determinedly and forcefully down the winding road with a large bundle of splits tucked neatly under his arm and he would be chomping furiously upon a large cud of home-twisted tobacco juice. He had been known to drown a fly at fifteen feet at Mayberry Store.
Once Uncle Len Renolds teased him saying, "Walter how come you always call the chair seat the bottom? You know danged well the legs are the bottom and the seat is the middle." Walter carefully aimed a volley of spit into the middle of the road and replied, "Well, I reckon it's fer the same reason that you sometimes call your own seat your bottom instead of calling your feet that." Then studying Uncle Len who was resting upon a bench with his feet elevated against a tree, added, "But I reckon in your case your seat really is your bottom since you keep it closer to the ground than your feet most of the time." Uncle Len would laugh heartily each time he would tell his friends about Walter's retort.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Walter, the purported child hater, would sooner or later encounter Mayberry's cutest and unique developing young personality, Allen Spangler. There came the day when Allen's Grandmother, Cousin Mollie Cockram needed some chairs repaired. Cousin Mollie had dubbed her grandson, "Hugie" and she loved him more than life itself. Well it seems that Hugie had fashioned a hard-stinging weapon from a wooden spool, a rubber band and a plunger. He wasn't about to let the opportunity pass to settle up with Walter for disliking children. He would slip as closely as safety would allow and send a bean or pebble into Walter's backside as he stooped to do his work. Cousin Mollie, watching from the front porch called sternly upon Hugie to cease and desist. But Hugie Allen was committed to his devilment. Walter had lunged to catch him a time or two, but Hugie was too fleet. Finally Walter pretended to not notice as the lad's bravery increased and his range grew shorter. Then Walter jumped. Hugie scrambled up one of his grandmother's young shade trees. Walter snatched one of "Daddy Cockram's" axes from the chopping block and with a slash or two, downed the small tree into the yard where he plucked Hugie, like an opossum from the branches. Then he generously tested the adaptability of one of his best splits to Hugie's own bottom.
When Cousin Mollie related the story to my father, he asked, 'Well when you saw him grab the ax, weren't you a little worried?" "Naw." she replied, "I knew there won't any harm in Walter, and I knew Hugie needed a lesson. And you know, Dump, I knew Hugie wasn't about to let me be the teacher." My father told the story often with some glee. For he loved Hugie more, perhaps, than any kids in the neighborhood outside his own.
Anyway after that the Mayberry children knew that Walter was harmless only up to a certain point.... He was, indeed a colorful part of the passing parade that makes the Heart of the Blue Ridge such a memorable place…