I think quite a few of my ancestors could be described as Quite the Character. It's really hard to pick one, but I'm going with my maternal grandfather, Ernest Lane who most people called "Big E." Ernest was the eldest child in his family and took that responsibility seriously as they all looked up to him. After marriage, he moved the area of Bee Spring, Kentucky, where his wife was born and raised. Although trained as a teacher, he soon abandoned that vocation to open a general store similar to the one his father-in-law owned, but down the road near the mining town of Kyrock. After WWII, he would move his general store down the road again to a small blip on the map called Sweeden, Kentucky (which is still spelled in that way.) He became the Postmaster for the US Post Office established in Sweeden, which he ran from a partitioned area in the back of the store. The store expanded in size and variety over the years, eventually selling everything from salt to clothing, televisions, washing machines, and furniture. Whatever you wanted, Ernest would have it shipped to his store for you to pickup there. Later the store even offered many services such as plumbing and electrical work.
Ernest was charismatic and gregarious, making friends of nearly everyone he met. He made long-lasting friendships with all people, of both high and low status. He befriended a young Frank Clement who a few years later would twice become governor of Tennessee.
Ernest was a great story teller and never seemed to lack for one to tell. The Kentucky Historical Society even captured him on audio tape as he related some of them. As a boy and a young man, I would listen intently to his stories, wondering if any of them were as real as he claimed. This attribute went hand-in-hand with his interest in family history. He told me many family stories, many of which I am now certain were embellished to varying degrees. Ernest even had his grandfather write down some of the oral history that he knew (or thought he did.) But he did other things that really made him Quite a Character.
As a young man he had learned how to survey land, work as a carpenter, and many other miscellaneous skills. Although a successful farmer, he spent most of the time on his farm training a towering, liver chestnut Tennessee Walking horse, whom he named Traveler after the horse Traveler owned by Robert E. Lee. (This despite the fact that all his ancestors had fought for the Union!) I remember him describing surgeries that he performed on his horse and would be happy to perform on me if only I would allow him! Once he asked my sister (a pharmacist) for IPECAC syrup. He wanted it to kill moles who made holes which might cause his horse to stumble. He knew rodents could not regurgitate and had decided IPECAC to be the perfect non-toxic solution.
He was an insatiable reader, devouring any book put before him in short order. He knew Latin and Greek well, which enabled him to solve the Sunday Crossword puzzle in mere minutes. He bought a new World Almanac every year, which he would consume cover to cover. As such he was knowledgeable about almost every country in the world and kept up with both national and international current events.
He collected knives and guns, although I never knew him to shoot anything but a shotgun on a rare day of bird hunting. He carried an old, worn pocket knife which kept meticulously honed and oiled. Best be careful if you borrowed his knife to cut something!
Sweeden was unincorporated and had no governing body, but that didn't prevent him from calling himself Mayor of Sweeden. He had the self-appointed title framed in his office and painted on his big red truck, which was also emblazoned with the name Lane's Store, in large lettering. The sign on his truck read:
Mayor of Sweeden
As a young teen, I made the mistake of showing Big E. a catalog from Edmund Scientific. He fell in love with many items in the catalog, ordering everything from a drinking bird toy and a solar wind spinner, to one-way mirrors. As a joke, he installed a one-way mirror in the door of a small bathroom in the back of the general store. No one could see into the bathroom, but once seated inside, many a patron was disquieted by the fact that they could clearly see everyone and everything on the outside, through the one-way mirror.
Once I showed him a dribble glass, which had tiny hidden holes in the side whereby water or other liquid could slowly drip. Not to be outdone, Big E. took selected glasses from his kitchen and used a tiny diamond-point drill to manufacture his own dribble glasses. He drilled holes on only one side, so if you knew about the glass you could position the holes away from you and not get wet. One had to be aware when selecting a glass from his kitchen cabinet!
He was also obsessed with the American Chestnut tree having seen so many of those stately giants succumb to blight from South East Asia. He was sure that one tree or another would eventually produce a blight-resistant mutation which could be used to populate the country with tall chestnut trees once again. Whenever a basal root would spring up from an old chestnut stump, he would nurture it with care until it finally died from the blight.
Every now and then, on rare occasion, Ernest would hear an old song, such as a reel or a fiddle tune. At such times, when in an excellent mood, the old man would lift the front of his trouser legs with his hands and begin to dance with a clogging action and a broad smile. Yep, quite the character.