The legend of Lathan:
Internet research reveals that the proper name Lathan is pronounced to rhyme with Nathan, but apparently the folks in Alabama ‘way back in the past century didn’t know that. I don’t know how he spelled his name, whether Lathan or Lethan or perhaps Leethan, but everyone knew him as Lee. Then, as now, Alabamians have their own set of rules on pronunciation of the English language, and for that matter, rules for all other languages. Click here to read about names.
Lee was my first cousin, the elder of two boys born to one of my mother’s sisters. Lee’s younger brother was indirectly responsible for their father’s death from an accident involving a farm tractor. I will cover that in a future posting, so stay tuned.
Lee’s mother, my Aunt Ellie, figured prominently in my pre-teenage years. It was to her home that I and my youngest sister, a lass just eighteen months older than I, were shipped annually for our summer vacation. I know now that it was to provide some relief for our mother and two older sisters. Our banishment to Alabama for several weeks each summer was their summer vacation, relieved of the need to look after us.
I won’t speak for my sister because she’s not around to defend herself, but I must admit that I needed around-the-clock supervision. I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying home, a trait—call it a fault—that will be the subject of a future posting—stay tuned.
Aunt Ellie lived with her husband and children some five miles south of Vernon, a small town in west central Alabama that served as the seat of Lamar County. Vernon was only thirty miles east of Columbus, Mississippi, just across the state line—the towns were connected by a two-lane graveled road, the negotiation of which was an adventure in itself.
I’ll discuss that road in a future posting—I promise! Just as a teaser, I’ll say that my uncle, one of my mother’s brothers, drove an interstate bus for a company called Missala Stages—get it? Miss for Mississippi and ala for Alabama? Missala looks and sounds like something from Hebrew history, right? Right!
That uncle’s lofty profession was at the top of my wish list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Another of my uncles was a city policeman in Columbus, Mississippi. His was the second profession on my wish list. I never realized my first dream. The closest I ever came was owning and driving a full-size customized van, a vehicle that I still own and drive around the block frequently to keep the battery charged. I did, however, fulfill my second wish—I became a federal law enforcement officer in a second career following retirement from military service.
And now back to my cousin—Lee was married five times, I believe. I may be off one or more—that’s one time less than five and one or more than five. There may well have been others of which I have no knowledge. Two of those marriages are indelibly fixed in my memories of my cousin Lathan.
His third, or perhaps his fourth bride was a 16-year old girl that his younger brother, a youth not much older than she, had managed to impregnate. The brothers were in the state of Washington at the time—many of my Alabama relatives migrated to that state each year seeking employment among the many apple orchards.
I don’t know whether Washington state law at the time prohibited coitus between minor girls and not-much-older boys, but it really made no difference in this instance. The girl’s father was not seeking legal retribution for his daughter’s deflowering—this was the proverbial shotgun-toting father demanding that the boy marry his daughter, and as might be surmised, the boy was in a state of panic. It was my understanding that the girl was willing—nay, eager—to comply with her father’s wishes.
Lee soothed the emotions of the father and his daughter, and skirted serious damage to his younger brother by saying something on the order of, “Hey, baby brother, don’t worry about it. I’ll marry her for you—I’m used to it and besides, she’s kinda cute.”
And so it came to pass—Lee and the girl were married quickly and remained married for a long while, at least as long as any of Lee’s previous marriages. I have no knowledge of the whereabouts and health of the bride, the baby or the father, but the brothers are long gone from this realm and the others probably are also—that shotgun marriage was consummated far back in the past century.
Lee had another quaint habit. He was known to cross over the hollow behind his home to visit the home of an ex-girlfriend, one then married to the man that owned the home. Lee’s visits were naturally made during the husband’s absence. And here Lee’s acuity in all things daring is demonstrated. He always told his mother where he was going—he did not feel it necessary to tell her why he was going and what he planned to do when he got there. His mother knew that he had learned that the husband was away from home and the wife was there alone, and she knew that the husband was subject to return later, perhaps while her son was still there and perhaps still involved in certain activities.
At this point one must suspend disbelief. Lee’s mother—my aunt—stood watch on the highway for the husband’s return, and if Lee had not returned by that time she would give a warning holler across the hollow to prevent Lee from being caught with his pants down, so to speak. Her holler was something that sounded like whooooeeeee, whooooeeee, a sound that could carry for a mile or more on a still night. I realize that some may consider this a Ripley’s Believe It or Not issue, but both my mother and my aunt—Lee’s mother—told me this story and I believe it.
Just one more story and I’ll close this posting. Lee was an irreverent prankster, and his ultimate prank was played on his last wife, a lovely lady that cleaved to her husband through thick and thin, and even stayed with him after he pulled this prank on her.
Lee’s last wife, the one he spent the most years with after marriage, was different from all the others. Lee said he married her because she needed to be cared for and there was no one else to do it. She was marred in the womb, perhaps, or could have been afflicted with polio or some other debilitating disease as a youngster. Her body was terribly misshapen, with gnarled arms and crooked legs and a prominently hunched back.
I met her only once, and the person I met was a beautiful woman, one that withstood and accepted the worst that illness, or perhaps nature, could throw at her, and she persevered. She had a pretty face, a brilliant smile and a personality loved by all that knew her. I can only think of one fault—she loved and married my cousin Lee and never faltered in her love.
And now for Lee’s joke—his wife had a specially built toilet seat, made to accommodate her physical features. One night after she had retired, Lee raised the seat, covered the toilet bowl with Saran-wrap and then lowered the seat.
The result was predictable. At some time later in the night his wife needed to empty her bladder, and did not notice the addition to the toilet—in Lee’s words, she flooded the whole bathroom.
He said that when she returned to the bedroom she straddled his chest and began beating on him with both fists. He was a big man and she was a tiny woman, so she couldn’t do much lasting damage. Before it was all over, both were laughing at the incident. Both are gone now, and may God be merciful with Lee when he pulls his shenanigans in heaven—if he made it to heaven, that is.
Everything I have told about my cousin and his wives is hearsay—however, I heard the story about the saran wrap from Lee himself. He was considerably older than I and we did not move in the same circles, but I believe the stories are true.
Lee also spent time in Walla Walla State Prison in the state of Washington on at least two occasions, both for passing bad checks. He was paroled from the first sentence, couldn’t find work and decided to commit suicide. He wrote a bad check for an old Cadillac sedan, another bad check for a garden hose and a roll of duct tape, parked under a highway bridge, taped the hose to the Cadillac’s exhaust, ran the other end through a window, taped the window, started the engine and lay down and went to sleep.
He awoke several hours later with a splitting headache, but was very much alive. He was told by the used car salesman that the tank was full of fuel, but it seems that the fuel gauge was inoperative and was stuck near the full mark. Having failed to take his own life, Lee returned home to Alabama and waited for the authorities to return him to Walla Walla for violation of parole—writing the bad checks.
Lee was eventually paroled again, and as far as I know he spent his declining years without further problems, all the while enjoying life with the most beautiful and sweetest of his many wives.
That’s my story—it consists mostly of hearsay, but I’m sticking to it.
May 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm
You sure did have some colorful characters in your family!