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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

SAM BANTY

by George Lester
George Lester
My grandfather on my mother's side was Samuel Butler Williams. He stood only five feet tall, and he was as feisty as a bantam rooster, thus his nickname, Sam Banty. He came from Alabama, but not with a banjo on his knee. He came with a wife, six kids, and a sharp knife. He was a butcher by trade. I never found out why he chose Vivian, Louisiana for a new home, and by the time I thought to ask, there was nobody around to tell me. I didn't realize until I heard the eulogy at his funeral that he was one of the pioneers who gave birth to the city. I heard the minister extol how he helped map out the streets and name them. At one time a large percentage of the population of Vivian was kin to either the Williamses or the Lesters.

Some of my earliest memories were of Sam's telling stories from long before the turn of the century. Later, I studied the Civil War in school, but what was recorded in our history books was mild compared to the events he revealed to me. Sam was too young to fight in the conflict, but he saw much of the aftermath of the battles. The horror of it stayed with him for the rest of his life.

When he entertained me with tales of yesteryear, he would speak with the salty language he had used all his life. I know some of the other adults in the house didn't approve of it, but he was the master in his own home, and no one told him what to do. I never grew tired of hearing of his many adventures. As he described each detail of his escapades, I could clearly picture them in my mind.

As modern society advanced, the rest of the family rejoiced when a new bathroom was installed inside the house. My grand father, however, would have no part of it. He refused to give up his old-fashioned ways and continued to use the facility out back. One day he asked my grand mother if she would cook cabbage for dinner. She said it was out of the question because it would stink up the house. He pointed to the bathroom and asked why it was all right to do that in the house but cooking cabbage was prohibited (I cleaned that up a bit).

Many were the times Sam would hitch up his horse, Dolly, to a two-wheeled buggy for a fishing trip Monterrey Lake. It was about a five-mile trip, taking us well over an hour to get there, but that didn't matter. It gave us more time together. His eyesight was rapidly deteriorating, so he couldn't tell when his bobber went under. I had to shout to him, "Granddaddy, you got a bite!" Sometimes, I would be daydreaming and forget until he felt the tug on his line, but he never scolded me for it.

During the last few years of his life, before he died at age 88, I noticed how the grownups would ignore him. When he tried to tell them how his day had gone, no one would pay any attention to him. They treated him as if he were a babbling little child. Sam Banty was no longer the master in his own house. I was only fifteen at his passing, but I thought ahead to my twilight years. I hoped that, when I talked, people would listen to me.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir
- March 14, 2006 column
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