Stories about family sometimes come up in unlikely places, as Earline and I learned a couple of years ago. We were at Ms. Pencie Wester’s viewing in Marianna. Ms. Pencie, who passed at the age of 102, knew almost everybody in Jackson County, Earline and her eldest brother, Red, included.
We were talking with Ms. Pencie’s daughter, Billie, expressing our condolences, when Billie asked my mother, “Red was your brother, wasn’t he?” When Earline nodded yes, Billie chuckled and went on to tell this tale.
Shortly after a family tragedy in the late 1930s, Ms. Pencie decided, as a protective measure, to learn how to shoot a gun. She’d practice every day, out by the house, aiming across the empty fields.
Red, who took on various kinds of jobs, was plowing a field for Ms. Pencie. One day, after plowing for quite a while, he stopped to roll a cigarette. Carefully placing tobacco in the paper, rolling it up and securing the end, Red was just putting the cigarette in his mouth, when a bullet came whizzing by his ear, barely missing his head. The startled Red jumped, dropping his cigarette, and turned around to see Ms. Pencie standing out by the house, rifle by her side. She’d been practicing, unaware that Red was working that day.
Imagine big Red, standing in the field, mouth open staring at Ms. Pencie with her gun, and Ms. Pencie, probably equally surprised, staring right back. After considering the situation for a minute or two, Red strolled over to her. In a voice tinged with surprise, he said, “That’s the first time anybody’s shot at me for rolling a smoke.”
And then on a trip to New Orleans with first wife, Margaret, right, and his sister-in-law . . .