Brother Jack and I were talking about some of our ancestors. We had a few, shall we say, colorful ones. You take Great Uncle Harvey, for example. He was Grandpa Sanders’ youngest brother. He was a poet. He, for example, wrote the well-known poem about the blacksmith. You’ve heard it: “ ‘Neath the spreading white oak tree, the village blacksmith … .”
He was a songwriter, too. At an all-day singing one time, he passed around copies of a song he had just composed. After a while, Aunt Lessie snorted, “Heck, that’s so-and-so’s song, I’ve been knowing that one for years,”
He was also a builder. When Uncle Kent’s house burned down, Uncle Kent got Great Uncle Harvey to build him a new one. Kent didn’t have any blueprints or anything, but he told Harvey that he wanted something like lawyer Young’s, in town. So Harvey set out to build it, with Kent and Daddy and some others helping.
Came time to cut the rafters, and Harvey did the measuring. “Uh, um, um … . Don’t you think you got them a tad short?” Oh, that upset Harvey. “Do you know how many houses I’ve built? Don’t you think I know how to measure, etc.?”Turned out, the rafters were too short.
His expertise extended into medicine, too. He concocted a brew made from the bark of the service berry tree. He pronounced it “sarvice.” There was a place known only to him down in our bottom where he would go and collect his bark. Then he’d mix it up according to his own formula and sell it. Actually had a few drug stores selling it. He claimed it would cure nearly anything. “Humph,” Daddy said, “ain’t nothing but whiskey with a little bark in it.”
(Just a couple of years ago, on one of my early morning walks on a visit to the old home place, I discovered a service berry tree— they bloom real early in the spring— the only one I’ve ever found, so far.)
And later, when he was in his 80s, I guess, he spent a night at our house with a lady that mother assumed was his wife. Oh, was she ever mortified to discover that the lady and Uncle Harvey weren’t married.
And when Uncle Kelley was dying of Hodgkins disease, Harvey pleaded with him, right up to the day of his death, to just try his Sarvice Bark medicine and it would cure him. Kelly wouldn’t and he died. So … .
Well, that was Great-Uncle Harvey. And that was just on Daddy’s side of the family.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at