County Lines by Bob
Uncle Leo's been chasing off census takers again. Every ten years
it's the same thing.
Uncle Leo isn't really my uncle. He's my mother's first cousin.
But all the younger members of our family call him uncle, whether
he is or not.
My grandfather's brother, Uncle Leo's father, moved from Virginia
to Tennessee in the thirties to work for the TVA. Four of his brothers
including my grandfather followed.
When the depression ended, my grandfather and one brother returned
to Virginia. Uncle Leo's father and his other two brothers remained
Even though I have cousins all over this state, people often seem
surprised when they learn I have relatives in Tennessee.
We have a family reunion every year in Bristol, Tennessee or Virginia,
depending on what side of the state line we're on, which is a frequently
"We're in Tennessee."
"No, we're in Virginia."
To settle this dispute during one reunion, I asked a park ranger
what side we were on. "Some of the park is on one side,"
he said. "Some is on the other. You're somewhere in between."
"Thanks for clearing that up," I replied.
Uncle Leo always argues for the Tennessee side even though he was
born in Virginia before his father moved to Tennessee.
I wasn't born in either place. I was born in Waycross, Georgia
while my parents were visiting Uncle Bill, a real uncle. "My
early surprise" Mom called me.
When I was old enough to wonder about such things, I asked Mom
why Uncle Bill was living in Waycross when I was born.
She said Uncle Bill was on his way from Tennessee to the Army base
in Brunswick when he stopped at a truck stop in Waycross where he
met a waitress named Aileen. After his discharge from the Army,
he moved to Waycross and married Aileen.
They lived happily ever after for several years. After the divorce,
Uncle Bill moved to California to become a movie star. He never
achieved that goal. But he did become a television actor.
Uncle Bill appeared in several Twilight Zones. He played an astronaut
who goes back in time. He played a cowboy who goes forward in time.
I kept hoping the cowboy and the astronaut would meet in another
story, duel roles for Uncle Bill, but Rod Serling never got around
to writing that one.
Uncle Bill played Detective Danner in Peter Gunn. The music at
the beginning of each show was my first taste of jazz, tamed, but
Uncle Bill was the bumbling father Alexander Rose in Coming Up
Roses, a series that wasn't renewed after one year.
Uncle Bill had a recurring role on Bonanza as a bartender in Virginia
City. He became good friends with Hoss, Dan Blocker, in real life.
Once, while Dan and Uncle Bill were on vacation with their wives,
they stopped by our house to visit. Hoss looked big on television.
He was larger in person. His head almost touched the top of the
doorway. His hands were as big as a cast iron skillet.
Being a little kid, I asked Hoss where his gun was. "Left
it back at the Ponderosa," he said. I'll never forget that.
"Left it back at the Ponderosa."
Uncle Bill lives in Los Angeles, the land of mixed nuts. Uncle
Leo lives in Tennessee, no other place I'd rather be.
I came to this part of Tennessee in the sixties to stay with my
cousins during the summer. I was having a few problems back home,
chasing women, boozing it up, gambling, nothing a normal 12-year-old
doesn't get involved in.
My favorite part of that summer vacation was visiting Uncle Leo.
He lived a long way out. No neighbors within a half mile, chickens
and cows to chase, a creek to fish and swim in.
I knew Uncle Leo was okay when he let me shoot his 12 gauge. "Blam!
Blam!Ó Uncle Leo loaded in two more shells. "Shoot it again,
boy," he said. "Blam! Blam!" My shoulder hurt for
I didn't want to go when it was time to leave. Knowing Uncle Leo
would be alone when we were gone made me feel sad.
I didn't understand until I was much older that Uncle Leo liked
being alone, that Uncle Leo knew how to be alone even when others
I talked my parents into letting me spend the next summer with
Uncle Leo. He met me at the bus station in Cookeville, wearing overalls,
driving his 30-year-old Chevy pickup with a dog in the back.
One morning while hunting in the woods behind his house, I said,
"You know I haven't got a hunting license, don't you?"
"Don't worry, boy," Uncle Leo said. "Ain't no game
warden crazy enough to trespass on my land."
I liked Uncle Leo's attitude. Give some men a badge and they think
they're tough. Uncle Leo wasn't afraid of men with badges. He was
tough, still is.
After receiving a call recently about Uncle Leo's reaction to census
takers, I drove to his place to talk with him.
"I hear you've been chasing off census takers," I said.
"Yep," Uncle Leo said, "I ain't gonna be counted
like a herd of cattle. You didn't come all the way out here to talk
me outa scarin' away them buzzards, did cha?"
"No," I replied, "I came to watch how you do it."
And I did.
Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570