Volume 4 , Number 8, Summer 1972
In the early 1900s I was employed by The Springfield Grocery Company, Springfield, Missouri. My territory was southwest Missouri, and part of northern Arkansas.
It was customary at that time for different suppliers of special items such as coffee, tea, spices, tobacco and many other products supplied by manufacturers and processors of different items to send out Salesmen to travel with Grocery Salesmen and introduce and inspire more interest in their products.
I was notified by my company to meet one of these men at the Metropolitan Hotel which at that time was "the" hotel at Springfield, Missouri. I am sorry I do not remember his name, but the story will explain why.
He was a roly-poly guy - very fat and short, and always in a good humor. I never heard him make a sarcastic remark. He sold Old Hillside Smoking Tobacco. My memory tells me that the company that processed this Old Hillside Smoking Tobacco was at Lexington, Kentucky.
Old Hillside Tobacco was put up in 5 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent packages. It was very strong and competitors, because it was cheaper than any other brand of tobacco, said it was made of stems from which the leaf had been stripped and these stems were steamed until they were very soft and then run through a pair of rollers and mashed out as thin as any ordinary leaf, and then dried and granulated.
The next morning after his arrival, we had a very young and attractive waitress at breakfast. As was his usual custom he was kidding her; she took it all in good humorpatted him on his bald head and said, "You are a Foxy old Grandpa - arent you?" From then on, he was known as Foxy Grandpa.
As was typical of the man, he did not resent being called Foxy Grandpa; in fact, he capitalized on it and advertised himself as such over the entire territory...all of the Merchants called him that.
He was born on a tobacco plantation near Lexington, Kentucky, and he came along several years after his youngest brother. As a consequence his only playmates of his age were colored children. He told me he never had any clothes but a slip-over dress until he was old enough to go to school and he talked exactly the way the colored children did. He never tried to change his speech; in fact, he "made medicine" with it.
When we would enter a Merchants store, if there were any children around they would just naturally gravitate to him. He would start telling stories and while I was talking to the Merchant, he would be entertaining them and any customers coming in would join them leaving the Merchant free to talk to me.
He was a wonderful softshoe dancer and would dance around with the children and then he would say, "I will give you a imitation of a spa scatchin in a esh bal." (I will give you an imitation of a sparrow scratching in the ash barrel.)
For the benefit of the later generations, every farmer at this period of time had a barrel in the back yard where they deposited hard wood ashes from the fireplace and stove during the winter. The more affluent had a hopper made of sawed lumber. This was true on practically every farm and a good many residences in the town. The barrel or hopper would have a trough underneath that would drain into a vessel of some sort. In the spring of the year they would pour water in the top of the barrel or hopper and it would leak through the ashes and come out a strong black lye that would float an egg.
Meat fryings and fat-trimmings from meat would be saved all winter and in the Spring they would combine the fat and the lye in certain proportions and boil and make a years supply of very strong and efficient soap.
Foxy Grandpa had a whole vocabulary of jokes and very seldom told the same joke twice. By the time I got through talking to the Merchant he had everybody in the area clustered around listening to him. He made it a business to pick up anything in the way of stories from every source. One was a story of a Merchant and some of his cronies sitting around a stove in the back end of the store playing checkers. The front door opened and a man came in and the Merchant said to his cronies, "Lets keep right still and maybe the old S-O-B will go out."
Another town which was called Ponce de Leon was down in Stone County across the James River east of Galena. At the edge of town was an old shack built of packing boxes and scrap lumber; and usually an old man sat
out in front. When I had anybody with me, I would always stop and ask him the road to Branson. Foxy Grandpa always got a big kick out of his answer, "Go right on down the road a fur piece to where the road forks and right slap dab in the crotch is a big red oak tree. Dont pay this no never mind - just go straight ahead." Neither one of the forks went straight ahead, but the one on the left led off at less of a tangent than the one on the right and you would have to assume that that is what he meant.
While I was still traveling and lived on the farm, there was an old log church on the northeast corner of our farm which was no longer used. The name was "Old Salem." And just across the road was Old Salem Grave Yard. As was usual in the South at this time several localities had legends of a "no-headed" man, and this was no exception. During and after the War between the States gangs of renegades terrorized the country--principally on the border line between the North and the South. As the story goes, the Northern sympathizers - a gang of guerillas killed a man cut his head off and put his body in this old Church and set fire to it, but it failed to burn. His body was buried in the Old Salem Graveyard.
The legend persisted and every night at sundown a "no-headed" man would get out and run down the roads - presumably looking for his head. Occasionally, someone would ask him where he was going and he just kept on saying nothing.
Very often on my North territory, we would come by the farm and stay all night Friday, and then go on to Springfield the next morning.
Our daughter, Louise, was about three years old at the time and when Foxy Grandpa was with me he would lift Louise up on his knee (his stomach was so big he did not have any lap--only enough room on his knee for her to sit on) and she, like all other children that he met was deeply interested in his stories and enjoyed them very much. The only trouble was that she would get so excited over them we would have a hard time getting her to sleep that night.
On one of these occasions, he was telling her about the "No-headed" man presumably down in Kentucky. She piped up and said, "We have one here." He remarked - "Well, we will talk about your "No-headed" man here then." And then he said, "It might be the same one because they travel long distances." When he got to the part about running up and down the road, kid-like, she said, "What for?" and he said, "He was looking for his head," and she said, "Why?" and Foxy Grandpa said, "Well, if he could find it he wouldnt have to keep on saying nothing any more.
610 West Polo Drive
St. Louis, Mo.
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