Bob Mitchell: The chauffeur, the oil man, the overseer

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Events in Ferguson and Baltimore have reminded me of the three black men with whom I've been associated with over the years. And, I might add, the association has been a beneficial one that has taught me one thing or another, some of which will be recalled in this column.

In each case, their lives meant something to me and their tales and expressions have been with me all these years. Each of the three were much older than me and at various times revealed life experiences that made my much younger eyes pop with amazement.

The chauffeur

This man happened to be my Uncle Mean's chauffeur when he was mayor of Jefferson City. The whole family used to wait anxiously for the infrequent visits when the chauffeur would drive Uncle Mean's Packard automobile in front of the Ray House at Ninth and Townsend in Cassville and with my help unload the presents, many of their memorabilia from the state capitol, which was always at the least one for each member of the family. At that particular time, there was a good number of us.

He was as sharp as a tack and filled with humor. Almost every morning, we were living at the house at the time, we would set in the porch swing and he would tell me some of the places he had been.

One of his favorite trips doing his driving chore was going to Lake of the Ozarks, where Uncle Means had a houseboat that had been named Sleepy Eye. He was quite sure a lot of political decisions for the State of Missouri had been made under the roof of that floating home.

He was here during the canning season one summer when a jar of something exploded in the kitchen spilling the contents partly on me as I walked past. He told the folks to chip some ice out of the icebox and put it on the burns to keep them from scarring.

The oil man

Back in the days of the Cassville and Exeter Railroad and when many roads in the area were being paved, contractors would bring tanks of oil equipped with heater for use in converting gravel roads to paved roads. One outfit had what they called an oil man, who lived in a small trailer next to the depot, whose duty it was each morning to fire the heaters and get the oil ready to transport to the job site.

One morning, I went to work and he asked me if I lived in the big house. Telling him yes, he remarked about the fine piano playing he had heard coming from there the night before. Then he asked if he might come to the porch some evening and listen. I told him I would ask my folks if he might do that.

The folks said it would certainly be all right, so that evening, he appeared wearing a white shirt and took his place in that porch swing. During the playing by Aunt Missie Pearl, the folks took him some homemade ice cream, which he downed quickly before returning to his C&E location.

He was accommodated by Robbie Bower at her restaurant for all his meals at his own table in her kitchen, and he probably received more service than the regular customers.

The overseer

We were living in Springfield and he was the janitor and overseer of the apartments where we lived in 1946 when my father's last heart attack took him. He was probably the most accommodating of the three black men with whom I've been associated.

One Saturday, a group of us had been quail hunting and had been quite successful. I took my hunting jacket to the basement to use the coal room to clean the birds. As I walked past his door, he was sitting on his bed and had money scattered in piles on top of his quilt. As I said hello, at the same time the question came out, "Where did you get all that money?" With a chuckle, he said he had been to the Saturday game and won it. Then he laughed, telling me, "And when it was over, they wanted me to give some of it back!"

He noticed my hunting jacket in hand and asked what I had been doing. I told him I had a mess of quail, and immediately he jumped up, closed his door and told me he was going to "clean them birds for me," and he did just that.

Different men

These three were entirely different men from those who were hurting others and destroying property in the two locations in weeks past. I'll never forget those three and their lives and what they made of themselves.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.