Race Relations

Uncle Seymour Washington-The Walking Blacksmith

Uncle Seymour Washington-The Walking Blacksmith

Updated December 29, 2016: Found two old pictures, one of Townes and Rex, and one of me and my baby son Jack Berry at Unk’s place. 

The other day, I was wondering just what constitutes “family” anymore? It seems that in one or two short generations, the definition of family changed from a mom, a dad, and 2.2 kids to include ex-husbands, your kids, his or her kids and your kids together. Does a relative have to be blood or marriage related? Last Thanksgiving, I had dinner with my sister’s ex-husband’s daughter from his first marriage and her children. Can’t that be family, too? And now, on June 26, 2015, I add a family of two dads or two moms to the possibilities.

This post is a very late tribute to Uncle Seymour Washington, affectionately called Unk. No, not my “real” uncle, but a treasure of a man who adopted, like family, a whole lot of folks in Austin during a time in the late 60’s-early 70’s.

A retired blacksmith, Unk had worked on many ranches in South Texas including the famous King Ranch. He was a simple but wise, peaceful, Christian man who opened his front yard and home to a menagerie of people–hippies, musicians, elderly neighbors, and more. I’m not sure how it all started. I am sure he did not understand many of us, but accepted us into his life and his heart with kindness and some of the best smoked chicken and sausage I ever ate.

Unk came by his home in the Clarksville area of Austin, just off West Lynn, by way of his ancestors. Clarksville was land originally deeded to freed plantation slaves after the Civil War. Most of the people who lived there were actually descendants of those slaves. The streets were unpaved and many did not have indoor plumbing.

townes-and-me0001-2Unk’s front yard consisted of a few wooden benches under a tree, a big wash tub for icing down the beer, a really big Bar-B-Q smoker, and an outhouse. There was frequently something cooking, guitars playing, kids chasing each other and the dogs–we were all feeling the love. Unk would hang out with us until he got tired or it just got too rowdy and then he would go in his little house and take a nap. His neighbors didn’t know what to think about all these white kids hanging around, but they finally warmed up and joined the gatherings when they saw we were helping take care of Unk.

townes-and-me0001-3

Townes Van Zandt & Rex Bell

Besides musicians like Joe Ely and Jessie “Guitar” Taylor, Townes Van Zandt always came by when he was playing in or around Austin. Heartworn Highways, a music documentary, includes the late, great Townes sitting in the Uncle Seymour’s kitchen singing “Waitin’ Around to Die” tears running down Unk‘s face.

When Unk passed, his “adopted” family, along with his one nephew, packed the Sweet Home Baptist Church for his funeral.

So, what is family? I like to think it is the human family, but, I am not sure we have all caught on to that yet. I miss Unk, I miss those days; but as humans, we keep on creating our own unique family relations. How’s yours?

If you were a friend of Unk’s, please leave a comment.

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12 Responses to Race Relations

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for this, I watched Heartworn Highways tonight. I bought the DVD several years ago but decided to re-watch it tonight. Good stuff.

  2. marylauracarter says:

    I am glad you enjoyed my little rememberance and revisited the film. I watched the clip several times as I placed it in the post. Brought it all back.

  3. Pingback: Refrigerium » Heartworn Highways – Straight to the heart

  4. Henry Wallace says:

    Hey Laura, yes we were family and Unk was our anchor, wasn’t he? The only thing about your article that I’d like to correct is that the “outhouse,” as I recall, was really an outhouse-size building, possibly originally an outhouse, that contained all his blacksmithing tools.
    I know, because one day he and I were on the porch when this big pickup pulling a horse trailer stopped in front and these two UT student sorority sister cowgirls hopped out, excited to come see Unk, whom they’d known as young children when he came to work on their horses. In fact they had brought a horse that needed shoeing. Unk was the courtly gentleman as usual; they walked the horse down the ramp and held his bridle whie Unk went to the little building and put on his leather apron, brought out his horse tools.
    Well, the rest is in my autobiography. HA!

  5. Ire B. Hornsby (GA) says:

    I wish I had the pleasure of knowing him personally. Seems, to me if there where more “Unk’s” in this world, it would be a much better Place. I too have watched Heartworn Highways, and was very moved by him. God Bless

  6. Charlie says:

    This great. I just came across it now. Thanks!

  7. Michael says:

    I watched the DVD a couple of years ago, thought it was good so I got one for a friend too, but I didn’t know who the old man was. Now I do. Sounds like good days were spent with good people around having fun, making music and getting wasted, unaware of what the future would hold.

  8. Jared Hanks says:

    Laura,

    I am interested in learning more about Uncle Seymour Washington. Is there any way I could get your contact to ask you a few questions about him?

    Thanks,

    Jared

  9. Perry Davis says:

    I used to reall enjoy laughing and talking to uncle Seymore. At the time I did not realize it because I was such a small boy but there was a lot of musical talent coming in and playing music in his front yard. Some you are big legends today in the music industry .

  10. chris says:

    Hey laura
    I used to send you random things that has stopped now as i am retired and I drink less, but still i send more than I should yes… chris

    yo more than….I love this song….

    happy new year….

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