This is a transcription, almost word-for-word, of my dad (Frederick Clifford Thomas III) talking about his grandfather (Frederick Clifford Thomas Sr.). My dad is a great story-teller, so enjoy!
My grandfather did a lot of traveling around. He worked for a restaurant supply outfit called “Swift and Company”. He’d go to restaurants and fraternity houses and hotels and places like that and just take their orders for food, which would be delivered to them. Nothing in the way of alcohol, but the stuff that comes in those big Number 10 cans and an awful lot of fresh meat. I think that’s how we got into the business because he had worked as a butcher. One of the things he was proud of and late in life after he was retired, one of his neighbors shot a deer, brought it home whole, and he butchered the entire deer with his jackknife. He thought that was quite an accomplishment. It proved that he hadn’t lost his touch!
Well, anyway, once in a while he’d come through town, stop in at the [Thomas Texaco] gas station to see my Dad either at lunch time or at dinnertime, and if the timing was right Dad would bring him home and he’d have a meal with us. One night he got to the station about 5:00 at night, so Dad had invited him to come to the house for supper. On the way they took a detour and they bought a pint of whiskey up at the state liquor store. So they get home and my grandfather is one of these people who never had a drop of alcoholic beverage in his house ever, but if he went to somebody’s house and they offered him a drink he would never turn it down. He loved a free drink. So they open up this bottle of whiskey and my Dad gets out a couple of glasses — probably old fruit juice jars or something I don’t know — out of the cupboard. And he says to my grandfather, “How do you want your whiskey?” Grandpa says, “I want it in a glass, no ice, with just a little bit of water.” So Dad throws some whiskey in there and he goes over to the sink and he starts to put in some water. About two drops come in and Grandpa yells, “Jesus Christ, don’t drown it!”
One time he stopped into the gas station and I was home sick. When I was in elementary school I would frequently get so tense that I would get sick to my stomach and would have to stay home from school. There was one particular morning I had a real bad stomachache and he learned about it down at the gas station, and he says, “I’ve got just the cure.” So he comes up to the house, he goes to the kitchen and he gets a saucepan, pours some milk in it, heats it up on the stove so that it’s almost boiling and then he puts a whole bunch of pepper in it and stirs it up. He puts it in a cup for me and says, “Here drink this and you’ll feel better.” And I thought this is probably going to kill me. God, it worked. An old home remedy that he had.
When he moved into his new house, he only had two houses in Essex Junction. He built this new place on the edge of Town and he was constantly in a feud with one of his neighbors over where the property line was between their land. And he got on the phone and he’s yelling at this neighbor and finally he says to him, “Why don’t you come over here and I’ll kick you in the balls? That will give you a couple of acres!”.
And there was his owl story which I’ll never forget. He tells a story of this old owl sitting up in a branch of a dead tree up on Mount Mansfield night after night all his life. He’s staring down at lights in the village of Stowe. He’s always curious about what the hell is going on down there. He had never been there in his life and finally one time he decides, “I’m going down there and see what this is all about.” So he goes down there and he’s flying around in the dark and he manages to hit a utility wire in his flight which knocks him unconscious and he falls down to the sidewalk. In the meantime the local veterinarian is out for an evening stroll and he comes upon this owl laying on the sidewalk like this and thinks the owl is dead. He picks it up and he’s going, “the owl’s not dead he’s just unconscious”. So he says “I wonder what the hell is wrong with him anyway?”. So he takes it back home to his shop, takes him and puts him up on the operating table, starts to examine him and he can’t find anything wrong with this owl but he notices that he’s got tonsillitis. He says, “Well, I’ll take his tonsils out”. He examines him some more and he discovers that the old bird has got hemorrhoids. So he says, “Well, we ought to take these out too”. In the meantime he gets a phone call and he answered the phone call and the owl wakes up. He has no idea where he is but there’s an open window and he goes out the window and back to his dead tree branch up on Mt. Mansfield. He’s up there night after night staring down at the lights in the village and one night his little grandson owl sitting next to him and he’s peering down at the lights he says, “Grandpa, I’ve always wondered about those lights down in the village. I always wondered what’s going on down there. I think one of these nights I’m going to go down there and see for myself.” And the old owl says, “Oh son,” he says, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He says, “A while ago I went down there to see what was going on and since then I can’t hoot worth a shit and I can’t shit worth a hoot!”
That was my Grandpa’s joke.
One of the things that bothered him a lot, he must have been in his 40’s, almost 50 then but he was losing his hair and that bothered him greatly. It was an obsession with him and he was always trying some new remedy to cure baldness. And one of them was you rub your scalp with bear grease and this was an old Indian remedy. He says, “You never saw a bald Indian did you?”. Well that didn’t work so then he decides the most recent cure is you rub your scalp with lanolin. He said, “You never seen a bald sheep have you?”
After he retired he worked part time as a security guard. He was actually a night watchman at the Shelburne Museum. Christ, he was in his 70’s when he was doing that. He wouldn’t be much of a threat to anyone trespassing.