Monday, July 27, 2009

Claude Marshall LaMastus - R.I.P.

One of my best friends ever was the late, great Stan Norwood of Drew, Mississippi. We met in kindergarten. Stan lived next door to a guy named Claude Marshall LaMastus, who was about 12 years older than we were.

This is the story of how, back in the early 1980's, Stan got Claude to the hospital after a uhmmm....hunting trip. But first, some background.

When we were about 14 or 15, Claude Marshall had a terrible car accident. He was coming home from Clarksdale, ran off the road, flipped his car, and was thrown through the sun roof. Claude was paralyzed from the waist down.

Claude hadn’t had much to do with Stan and me until the accident. But once Claude was confined to his wheelchair or crutches, we became his chauffeurs, running buddies, duck and dove retrievers and all-around gophers. I helped him with his physical therapy in the swimming pool a few times. In exchange, Claude let us hang out with him, let us make mix tapes from his record collection, etc etc etc. This was at the beginning of the “Outlaw Country” era, and Claude Marshall and Mike Ellis taught me to love that music. Stan and I were marching band and choir geeks; Claude was a semi-rich guy with some money. Remember, he was 12 years older. It seemed like a good deal at the time.

That’s all you need to know to appreciate this story. I’m going to tell it the way that Stan told it to me. I’m sure that I’m going to get some of the details wrong. If anyone in Drew Mississippi wants to correct or improve on this, please use the comment field.

One day in the middle of winter, Stan and Claude were going down the Sunflower River in a fishing boat, ambushing ducks. It was freezing cold. Claude was in the front of the boat with a shotgun and Stan was running the outboard motor. I don’t know the reason why, but Claude decided it was his turn to drive.

Imagine a paraplegic in full wintertime camouflage trying to get from the front of a metal fishing boat to the back. It was a doomed idea to begin with, and it was complicated by all the guns. Ever since the accident, Claude had become a little bit paranoid. Maybe he felt helpless without the full use of his legs. Most of the time he was armed with an amazing array of guns, ammo, and knives, and that was just for riding around town. I remember thinking that he looked like a cross between Franklin Roosevelt and Pancho Villa.

When Claude had scooted about halfway down the length of the fishing boat, one of his guns went off. The bullet entered one of his legs, and left a heck of an exit wound. The exit wound was nowhere near as bad as the entry wound the bullet made in the hull of the boat. Yes, Claude Marshall had shot himself AND the boat. Because of his paralysis and various pain medications, the gunshot wound didn’t bother Claude very much. Stan started freaking out because the boat was taking on water.

Once Claude got shot, they abandoned the plan to change drivers, turned the boat around, and headed toward the pickup and boat trailer which were about two miles away.

They were bailing as fast as they could but the boat was taking on more and more water. They started throwing out ballast. They threw out the ice chest. They got rid of the seat cushions. They got rid of some fishing poles and paddles and tackle boxes, and they threw out the extra gas tank. They were still taking on water.

When they were about halfway to the truck, Stan looked down at his remaining fuel tank, the one hooked to the motor. The needle was banging on empty, which was enough for Stan to imagine that the engine was starting to sputter. Various obscenities were shouted at the heavens. The motherhood of all gas tanks was questioned. Stan turned the boat around and went back to try to find the gas tank they’d just thrown overboard.

Fortunately, the tank had a half inch of air in the top and was bobbing in the current when they got back to it. Stan fished it out, swapped the tanks, and then made another effort to get back to the truck. In the meantime, they were both wet up to their thighs and were freezing.

Stan finally got them back to the truck. He backed the trailer into the water and started winching the boat (with Claude in it) onto the trailer. Once that was done, Stan had to figure out a way to get Claude into the pickup.

“Hell, don’t worry about me,” Claude said. “I can ride back here. Just get me to the hospital.”
Stan didn’t feel right about it, but he got in the truck, turned up the heat, and pulled the boat and Claude Marshall LaMastus up the riverbank. Once they got onto paved roads, Stan pulled over and suggested they stop at someone’s house, someone who might help get Claude into the cab.

Claude refused. So Stan got back in the truck and pulled Claude and the boat (in sub-freezing weather) all the way to the Ruleville hospital. Stan claimed there was ice in Claude’s beard by the time they got there. I can imagine the looks they got going down Highway 49, looking like a “Field & Stream” Christmas Parade Float.

When they got to the Emergency Room entrance, which had a loading dock, Stan removed the outboard motor from the boat, and backed the boat straight to the dock so they could unload Claude.

Stan said he hung around the Emergency Room for a little while, figuring they’d want to ask him some questions. Nobody ever did.

It was the Mississippi Delta. They’d seen it all before.

A few years after this happened, Stan Norwood was killed in an automobile accident between Drew and Memphis.
This afternoon I got word that Claude Marshall LaMastus was killed in a one car accident on the Drew/Merigold road.
Our world is now a much less interesting, much less colorful place. But if there’s a heaven, Stan and Claude are now shooting at low-flying angels from The Pearly Gates. They know they can't hurt anybody; they just want to keep things interesting.
My thoughts are with the LaMastus family tonight.

This is a song I first heard in Claude’s record archives. Here’s Waylon:


Eva Hardy Pack said...

Allen, It's Eva Hardy Pack here... your remembrances of Marshall are priceless.... My parents, MT and Mary Nell were great friends of Claude and Falba (they were "hands on" parents 24/7), and we spent many fun and wonderful times in my youth with the three of them(I am 9years older than CM). Thank you for helping us to laugh a little through such a tragic incident.

Glenda said...

Allen, I'm Glenda Grittman, Julius Grittman's daughter.I lived my first thirty years in Drew. Claude Marshall was a cousin of mine, the same as the other LaMastuses and Eilands. I forwarded your recollection to some people who will certainly appreciate your totally appropriate irreverance at this time. I hope someone will be as kind to remind my mourners to laugh when I die:
"Some of you may have already received this from others, but I think it is a great story of perserverance and bravery--yes, and absolute insanity inherent in some Delta people. Claude Marshall LaMastus, Ed and Steve LaMastus, Robert Eiland and his sisters, and all the children of Will, Julius, Ed, and Howard Grittman--we are all kin and feel sorrow at Claude Marshall's death, but just as others who have passed before him from this large clan of descendants, we recognize a common philosophy: life is not for the faint of heart, so enjoy yourself while you can. I talked with Claude Marshall the day he died; we had not spoken in almost fifty years, but that day we spoke familiarly, with our heritage as the common ground. We made promises to keep in touch and exchange what we knew about our ancestors. Why I was allowed this communication with him on the day he was to die...I do not understand, but I am glad.
Glenda Grittman Salley-Natriello

Dr Ralph said...

WS - there are times your prose approaches the Faulknerian. This is one of those times.

All is forgiven.

Kitty Cook said...

This story absolutely captures all that we loved about both Marshall and Stan. It brought great warmth to his family and friends at the funeral. Marshall and my Daddy and friends created quite a few legends. I can remember tearing up the Delta a time or two with Stan, myself. They both are missed.

The madness of the Delta and its children is its genius.

Hope you all are well.
Kitty Cook Ramsey

Sandra Manning said...

Alan, I thoroughly enjoyed your story about Claude Marshal and Stan. I believe you are as clever as your Dad...I always enjoyed his writings...please give your parents my love. Sandra Manning

Sandra Manning said...

I need a second try...I thought Alan LaMastus wrote the story about Claude Marshall...Alan Patterson is just as clever...Alan, please give your Mother our love...we miss all of you...Sandra

Tamar Burrell said...

I just reread this story again and laughed and smiled just as much as the first time! You were right on every point. They were both characters that had quite an impact on all who knew them...

Libba Lamastus Stanford said...

Allen, Thank you so much for writing this. I made me laugh for hours and the story helped me get through the service. I have not been able to describe my father to those who didn't know him, but this story has done it quite well for me. It really captured his attitude about life.

Thank you,
Libba LaMastus Stanford

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Ms Pack,
Glad you liked what I typed. Are you any relation to the Mrs. Hardy who taught first or second grade at AW James in the late 1960's?

Mrs. Grittman,
Good to hear from you, and thanks for forwarding. One of the greatest things I've ever seen was with my father and Ed LaMastus, watching a flock of geese land in Grittman's Brake. Glad you got to talk to Claude Marshall when you did.

It wouldn't be the same without you. I don't know if you can tell or not, but I'm now officially irritated by the Cash For Clunkers program.

GREAT to hear from you after about 30 years. Hope you're doing well. Amy and Jill have followed me to Texas. I'm going to tell them you said Hello, so be prepared.

Mrs. Manning,
People get me and Alan LaMastus confused all the time. All is forgiven. I'll tell Mama you said Hi. And if I ever need to be put to sleep, I'm calling Michael.

Hope you're doing well. Thump Jay in the head for me. Really hard. Lillian Freeman got back in touch with me as a result of this story, too. Didn't we all get together at your house before a Jr/Sr dance or a NSA graduation one time? Am trying to remember.

It was the least I could do. I used to know about a dozen Claude Marshall/Stan epics, but most of the details have escaped me.
I can't believe you're out of diapers, much less old enough to type.
Time gets away from us.

Thanks for responding. The statcounter on my blog only gives me details on the most recent 500 hits, but I'm pretty sure this story has been passed around to more than 3,000 people and it hasn't stopped yet. I'm not worthy.

Anonymous said...

Allen, I'm Billy Joe Waldrup's first cousin--from Maryville, Tenn. I keep up with all your family through them. Your Mother and Lenagene came to visit me several years ago; we had more fun than we should have.... Please tell her that I send my best. And, no, I didn't teach school in Drew, but have taught here in Tenn. for more years than I can count. I agree that your writing is just superb!!!! Keep it up.
Eva Hardy Pack

Tracey Peacock said...

This comment is to the author of this article.My name is Tracey Peacock,I am 41 years old,I have a brother that os going to be 43 on december 17th born in clarksdale,ms in 1967.My mother was dating this Mr.Marshall LaMastus back then,She became pregnant and kept it a secret,she then married another man in which gave my brother his name although he was not the fatherMy mothers name is Floy Laster.She hung out with Marshall and his buddy then Bill Harlow in clarksdale.They used to play in a band together.I know its the same Marshall LaMastus because my mother told me that later on she found out he had a car wreck leaving clarksdale and bacame paralyzed.When i initally started the search for my brothers father i never could have imagined their would be a story about the guy on the internet and i would find this guy so easily,right?Well,now i would like for the author of this article to consider calling me to further investigate to see if it was really my brothers father.If you could would you please contact me @901-644-0915,662-470-5199 or via e mail thankyou and sincerely,Tracey Peacock searching for answers