Saturday, May 03, 2008

Uncle Phil Takes A Spill And Gets His Fill ...

If even a few of the stories were true that my uncle Phil Harris told when I was a young boy, they would be proclaimed as confirmed miracles. On the other hand, Uncle Phil was such a character that I never doubted for one second the accounts he shared. But I should start at the beginning.

Grandpa and Grandma Hamby lived in the country just outside of Jackson, Mississippi, near the Pearl River.

Every summer my family visited the older Hambys. My dad drove us in our 1938 Plymouth sedan. We lived on Pipkin Street in Beaumont and it took ten hours one way to drive that old car to Jackson. We never made the trip without having at least one flat tire. Dad had a kit of inner tube patches and a hand tire pump. He could pump up a flat tire in no time. All of our inner tubes had several patches indicating how many flats each tire had experienced.

Anyway, every time we visited my grandparents, Uncle Phil dropped by to see how we were doing. Uncle Phil was married to one of Dad’s sisters. Her name was Willie. She was an accountant and had a good job that paid their bills. And that was a good thing because Uncle Phil was more of the adventuresome type. He enjoyed camping out in the Pearl River swamplands and hunting alligators. He trapped them and sold their hides. He made pretty good money doing this but evidently did not lead much of a home life.

Uncle Phil had a small boat that he used to navigate around the swamp lakes. One night he was out hunting alligators and had for his only light a small carbide lamp strapped to his forehead. He told me he could spot alligators at night because their eyes reflected like little red lights when he aimed his lamp in their direction.
First he would go to the inlet of the swamp lake and string a net. This method called for stringing the net so that a dead alligator would drift toward the river and snag in the net. Then the following morning Uncle Phil could go gather in his catch.

On this particular night, Uncle Phil was drifting around in the swamp and he spotted a huge alligator. He knew the gator was big because the eyes were so far apart. He aimed his rifle between the two little red lights and squeezed the trigger.

There commenced (Uncle Phil loved to use the word, “commenced”) a thrashing and crashing of wounded alligator. The next thing Uncle Phil knew was that he was in the water. The gator had flipped that huge tail once too often and capsized the boat. Uncle Phil knew he was in trouble because it was midnight and his carbide lamp had been extinguished when he hit the water.

So there was Uncle Phil waist deep in swamp water. Also there was this huge thrashing wounded alligator in the same swamp water. Uncle Phil felt around and found a tree stump that rose up above the water level by two feet. He climbed onto that stump and squatted. He was afraid to dangle his feet in the water. Uncle Phil squatted on that stump all night.
When dawn began to break and Uncle Phil could see just a little bit, he saw his boat a few feet away. He righted the boat and paddled to the inlet to check his net. Sure enough there was his gator … all twelve feet of him.

I believe Uncle Phil was telling the truth. He wouldn’t fib to his own nephew. Or would he?

Winston Hamby


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