My Aunt Lillian Walker Maddox, Daddy’s sister, could just about out-work anyone I ever saw. Efficient, too. She could shell butter beans faster than a machine. And although she lived in Atlanta, she came back to Washington County and helped with the hog killings and the syrup makings. She could sew and cook. And on and on. Also, she was smart – very smart. She had been a school teacher. Not that this, in and of itself, made her smart. But, trust me, she was plenty smart.
But, this is not about my Aunt Lillian. It does start, however, with something she used to say. It was, “little pitchers have big ears.” I didn’t then, nor do I now understand the reference to “pitchers” and “ears.” But, I do know that it referred to me and my inclination to listen to everything the adults were saying.
Now, I finally get to the beginning. At least my beginning. Aunt Lillian and Grandma, and to a lesser extent Papa, are talking about Grandma and Papa’s neighbor Hubert Hawkins. Specifically, talking about the fact that Mr. Hubert “had to go off for a while” because he got caught making non-tax paid whiskey. Moonshine.
Prison. Liquor. Their neighbor, right up the road. Believe me, this “little pitcher” was suddenly very interested in seeing this Mr. Hubert Hawkins. To my knowledge, until I heard about him, I had never seen him. It could be that because he was apparently “detained” for some period of time, that it was during this period that he wasn’t around for me to see him. But, see him, I did.
He came to Papa’s store riding a mule. He had on overalls and brogans. He squatted on his “haunches” or sat on a nail-keg or wooden Coke crate by the pot-bellied stove. He rolled Prince Albert tobacco in OCB paper and did lots of smoking. Lots of quiet talking, too. To my surprise, Papa seemed to like him. If he was a bad man – you know, liquor and prison and all – why did Papa like him? I was a little scared and fascinated.
Time goes on. Not big time, but big time to a ten or twelve year old. Maybe two or three years. I saw Mr. Hawkins on many occasions. It was usually the same. That was, the squatting and the smoking and the talking. I kinda’ liked Mr. Hawkins myself. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, him being a bad man and all, but, I couldn’t exactly help it. And, like I said, he and Papa seemed to be good friends. Even more surprising, almost shocking was that Grandma acted like she liked him. And, Grandma was a pillar in the Pinehill Methodist Church! What was I to think?
Time goes on. Time being, like I said, two or three years. And, being smart, but not as smart as Aunt Lillian, I learned that Mr. Hawkins lived right up the dirt Sparta-Davisboro Road about a mile and that he grew cotton and lived by himself in an unpainted shotgun house. Or, was it a dog-trot house? He had many yard chickens, peacocks, guineas, and many, many dogs. And Grandma and I actually drove up there, in Grandma and Papa’s 1950 Chevrolet, to see him. I was astounded – and still frightened.
This is a pretty long story. I cannot tell it all in the short space allotted. So let me end it with this. If you think Aunt Lillian was smart, you should have known her husband, Uncle Jim Maddox. He was about the smartest person I have ever known. Near genius. Perhaps he was a genius. Well, when I was about fifteen years old, he asked if I would like to go squirrel hunting with Hubert Hawkins and him! Go squirrel hunting with a man who had been in jail? I said “yes sir,” and we went. Uncle Jim, Hubert Hawkins, all those dogs and me. Must’ve killed ten or twelve squirrels. It was a great day. Hubert Hawkins acted fine. Matter of fact, he was really nice to us and his dogs. Matter of fact, it was one of the best days of my life. And, I liked Hubert Hawkins, myself. I wish I could go squirrel hunting with Uncle Jim and Hubert Hawkins and those dogs, one more time. Especially Hubert Hawkins, even if he had been forced by the law to “go off for a while.”
NOTE: I first wrote this article in May 2004, and I include it as one of my favorite all-time articles. This article, about a good man, Hubert Hawkins, contains an important life lesson, and that is that there’s lots of good in most everyone, and a little bad in most of us.