Monroe County Observer, (Monroe Co. TN) June 30, 1976, Page 23:
“Shaving Uncle Jeff--- I am a Tennessee hillbilly, raised on a farm near Tellico Plains. Tellico Plains was an old time lumber town. It was known far and wide as a tough place. I remember going up town on a Sunday morning to see how many men had been killed on Saturday night. Kids were not allowed on the streets up town on Saturday evening.
I lived out in the country where we had a lot of fun and things to do and see on Saturday evenings anyway. The kids were not bad in the same manner as they are today. We pulled harmless jokes and tricks on our neighbors, just for the fun of it. I guess these stories would fill a volume or two.
Old Uncle Jeff Moss was a neighbor and my good friend. He lived alone in a log cabin just outside our 30 acre new ground. Uncle Jeff claimed to be 90 years old and I never heard anybody doubt it. I spent many happy hours with my old friend from the time I was six or eight years old. He thrilled me with tales of the war between the North and the South. He had fought with the 6th Tennessee Volunteers. He was also a great hunter. He must have killed a hundred or more of the Smokey Mountain bears and many of the Russian wild boars that roamed the hills.
One thing that interested me most was the collection of Indian artifacts he had picked up on the plains near the Tellico River. I understand the University of Tennessee was given possession of this collection after the old man passed on to glory. Today that collection would be worth a fortune.
So as all things come and go, Uncle Jeff died one day. At the time I was out in the hills helping a friend make one of his “runs.” When I came home Mama told me Uncle Jeff had died. She said they wanted me to shave him for his burial. I had shaved him and trimmed his hair for several years. Never before had I shaved a dead man, and thinking about it gave me the “shakes.”
Realizing that this was the last thing I could ever do for my old friend, I washed up and headed for Uncle Jeff’s cabin. It was about 8 p.m. when I arrived. Several neighbors whom I knew stood about talking and smoking. Uncle Jeff’s body lay on the old homemade bed in one corner of the room. An old oil lamp with the aid of the open fireplace cast a dim light with flickering shadows about the room.
Going into the little side room kitchen I found Uncle Jeff’s old Wade & Butcher straight razor. I hit the leather strap a few strokes with the razor. An old iron tea kettle with hot water was sitting on a pile of coals on the hearth. I poured some of the hot water into the shaving mug, and taking the old, worn brush, I worked up a heavy, rich lather.
Tight off I saw I couldn’t shave the old man where he lay on the bed. After some thought I decided I could do the job by laying the body on a pallet in the middle of the floor. Somebody threw an old, worn, Army blanket on the floor and a couple of the neighbors moved Uncle Jeff’s body from the bed to the position on the floor.
After a few tries I just couldn’t get into any position to shave the old man. After much thought I decided the only way I could shave my old friend was to get him a straddle of my left leg.
I sat down on an old nail keg and asked two of the neighbors to place the dead man on my left leg. This was done without mishap, even though rigor mortis had long since set up.
A neighbor woman held the oil lamp close while I applied the hot lather and prepared to give Uncle Jeff his last shave. I finished the left side of his face and turned the head so as to shave the right side. Just at this moment the woman holding the lamp gave a loud cough and the room was in sudden darkness.
Several neighbor men who had been standing around watching me shave the dead man made a mad rush for the door and rushed outside like stampeding cattle. For what seemed to me like an eternity, everything was very quiet. The glowing coals on the hearth looked like fox fire on a dark night.
As soon as I could get my breath I yelled, ‘Light the lamp! Light the lamp Mrs. Jones!’ Mrs. Jones answered in a nervous voice, ‘I..I..I…don’t have a match.’
I fumbled in my coat pocket and after a time came up with a match and raked it on the side of the nail keg on which I was seated. The match lit up the room. Mrs. Jones removed the globe from the lamp and touched the wick to the flame after much effort. I was shaking so badly I had difficulty holding the match still.
I resumed the shaving of Uncle Jeff as one by one the neighbors came sneaking back into the room with silly grins on their faces.
I finally finished shaving Uncle Jeff, but I was so nervous I cut off part of his right ear and made several nicks in his chin.
I will tell the world it was no fun sitting there alone in the darkness with a dead man straddling my leg.”
James Harry Hawkins
1616 Everett Avenue
Maryville, TN 37801
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