The New York Times bestseller Hard Work: A Life On And Off The Court by Roy Williams is now available in paperback wherever books are sold, including:
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CHAPTER 2 - Angels And Demons
I probably shouldn’t share this because it’s not really something to be proud of, but one part of my family tree goes back to the McCoys who feuded with the Hatfields all those years. On the other side of the tree, my mother’s side, they changed their name from Dalton to Deyton because they didn’t want to be associated with the Dalton Gang, some nasty folks who were killed trying to rob a bank in a small town in Kansas. There are no heroes in my family history, just a bunch of outlaws and fighters.
My dad had 12 brothers and sisters, and my mom had nine, and everybody lived within a few miles of each other in the mountains of Western North Carolina near Asheville, where I was born and raised in the early 1950s. It was a very hardworking family on both sides. My mother quit school in the 10th grade and my father quit school in the sixth grade, both of them to go to work. My mother started working in the cotton mill and my father, as a 13-year-old, started picking cotton before it went to the mill. I was brought up in a very uneducated family.
My grandfather on my mother’s side owned a pool hall in Caroleen, North Carolina. Friday night would be the only night he’d drink, but he would drink a lot. He’d drink so much that when somebody brought him home, he couldn’t undress himself. He’d come home with the money he’d earned for the whole week and he’d tell my grandmother, “I’ll give you $5 if you’ll take my shoes and socks off. I’ll give you $10 if you take my coat and shirt off.” That became Granddaddy’s way of giving Granny the grocery money.
My grandmother on my father’s side we all called Big Mom because she looked after the whole family. Her husband, Pop, ran his own little sawmill — a shed and a saw is all it really was — and when I was four or five years old, all the cousins and I would bundle kindling for him. Pop would cut logs to make furniture. The leftovers were kindling, so on Friday afternoons Pop and I would go into the African-American section of town and sell kindling to people that still heated and cooked with a woodstove.
My mother’s name was Lallage. I thought she was an angel. She was intelligent. She was sweet. She was shy. She appreciated the most simple things in life. She lived by the Golden Rule: treat folks like you’d like to be treated. She enjoyed people and she was polite, but she had a fence around her and she wouldn’t let anybody in until you passed her test. Very few people got inside that fence.
Family was all that mattered to my mother. Family was her first priority and second, third, fourth, and fifth. Nothing ever got in the way of that. She always put the rest of the family ahead of herself. All she cared about was providing, having a roof over our head, clothes for us to wear, and food for us to eat. Everywhere we’d go, she packed up my older sister, Frances, and me; it was like the mother duck and
her little ducklings.
My mom was stronger than my dad.
My dad was so funny. His name was Mack Clayton Williams, but everybody called him Babe. His mama gave him that nickname because he was her favorite. She treated him like her baby, even though he was somewhere in the middle of all of her kids. Babe would pick on everybody in a jovial way, and they could pick on him. He had this laugh that made his whole body shake. For all of my cousins, he was their favorite uncle. He liked to play tricks, and if a rubber snake showed up somewhere, you knew who was behind it. Everybody loved Babe.
My dad could tell a story a hundred times and he’d laugh just as hard at the end of the hundredth telling as he did at the first. I remember
one time a bunch of the Williams family went to a Baptist revival with my uncle Glenn, who was a deacon in his church. When we got back home, my daddy started teasing Glenn by saying, “Glenn is so cheap that when the collection plate came around, he put a fivedollar bill in there and then he reached in and took back four ones. Isn’t he supposed to be setting a good example for the rest of us?” He was giggling about it and Glenn swore that he didn’t do it, but Daddy was never one to let the true facts get in the way of a good story. He was always kidding people. In fact, that was his life. He wanted to have fun, and sometimes having fun got in the way of some of his responsibilities as a husband and a father.
My dad was an alcoholic. He smoked. He cursed like a sailor. Every vice you could have, he had. He didn’t play any sports; he just worked and worked and worked. I remember somebody once asked him about running. “The only time I’m running,” he said, “is if I’m real afraid of the guy that’s chasing me.”
My dad was a good man, but alcohol changed him. When I was a kid, I enjoyed being around him if he was not drinking and I hated being around him if he was. Drinking put him on edge. It could make him mean. It made me not even want to talk to him. My first childhood memories are of having a lot of fun with my cousins playing cowboys and Indians. My favorite picture is of me holding a six-gun poised to shoot, because I remember how happy that made me feel to be a cowboy living in a time when you were either a good guy or a bad guy.
But at around age seven, it wasn’t fun anymore. My dad started going to the beat of a different drum. A lot of nights he came home drunk at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. One night he came home with two black eyes, because he’d been in a bar and gotten into a brawl. But that was just him.
Lots of people in my family were drinkers and fighters. Every gathering, every reunion, and every family picnic on the Williams side ended up with two of the boys going at it. I remember at five or six years old asking one of my cousins, “Who’s going to end up fighting tonight?” There would always be a fistfight over something that somebody said that somebody else didn’t like, just because there was so much drinking going on.
There was one little area in Asheville where my grandparents and three of their grown sons lived, all within 100 yards of each other, in little houses along a dirt road. Maybe that’s where the Hatfields and McCoys figure in, because there were several times when the boys from over the hill came by and they wanted to play with us, but at the end somebody always drew a line in the sand. That’s just what we did. It was the Williams boys against everybody else. I’d bloody a guy’s nose and he’d bloody mine, and then two days later I’d be playing and fighting with those same guys. I wasn’t a great fighter, but I was never afraid of a scuffle.
One of my uncles, who we called “Hillbilly,” once told me the story of a night at a beer joint called the Silver Slipper. A guy came out of the bar and said that my dad and my uncle Gordon were about to get in a fight with some other guys and the other brothers might want to go in there and help them because there were three of theirs and only two of ours. Uncle Hillbilly said, “Naw, they ought to be able to handle that. Let’s just see if they’re tough enough.”
So Hillbilly and the others stood there and watched through the window while my dad and Gordon fought the other three guys. The Williams boys came out and they’d won, but they looked like they lost. That was the only kind of competition I knew. Were you tough enough? And when somebody drew a line in the sand, would you step across?