Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

My Grandfather, Otis.


I never knew my grandfather, Otis Campbell. He passed away the year I was born. But my grandmother and father told me many stories about him that just piqued my interest in him. I always enjoyed the character by his name in the Andy Griffith show, but unlike the Mayberry Otis Campbell, my grandfather was stone sober.

Most people remembered him for his dry wit. The only tangible evidence I had of that was the story my dad relayed about the day my grandpa almost ran over Elvis. It was written in pencil on the granary wall and mostly faded from sight by the time I was a kid. Turns out Elvis was the family dog, but it made a great story.

Harold Avery was a friend of Otis, and they were members of the Concord Church. When a new preacher was hired, Harold volunteered to take his livestock truck out to the western part of the state to move the new minister back, and Otis rode along to help. As the two filled the box of the truck with the new parson’s household belongings, they constantly harped on each other over how to load each item. Once loaded the new pastor climbed in the truck cab between the two bickering furniture movers and had to endure the constant insults they plied each other with. His concern was that they may stop the truck and come to blows from the endless feuding. He was starting to reconsider the wisdom of coming to a church where two of the good members seemed to dislike each other so much. He later learned that they each loved to rib each other mercilessly and were in fact best friends.

The church had an old coal furnace in the basement and one cold winter day it broke down. A couple of the men took turns laying on their backs inside the firebox and hammering with a cold chisel to remove the broken part. Dean Loquai told me years ago about the day in question, how the minister came over to see how they were coming along. Dean told him to head back to the parsonage as they were some words coming out of the furnace he might not want to hear.

My grandfather’s hired man was Perry Bartholomew and one evening Otis stopped by their house on the farm to visit. Perry’s wife loved the suspense theater on the radio and was sitting on a kitchen chair listening to the radio show with rapt attention. At the precise time, Otis reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. Her reaction was more than he expected as she jumped, sending the chair backwards, where the rear leg caught in a knot hole in the wood floor and she nearly fell onto the floor. She was not as amused as the two men were.

One evening Otis and a younger hired man had walked down to the country schoolhouse for a community meeting. As they walked back along the dark and deserted gravel road in the dark, a sound came from the cornfield to their right. It was the sound of cornstalks being broken and knocked down by a large and rapidly approaching object. The hired man in his terror took off running for the farm, leaving his older boss in his dust. Otis simply stopped and waited as a large buck deer burst out of the corn rows and raced across the road in front of him. My grandfather thought the whole event was too funny to be mad at the poor kid.