By Gerry Fischer
Things happen to people in war and sometimes it changes them. I knew a man who hailed from this county, a heroic paratrooper in WW II who saw lots of action, including parachuting into France on D-day. He lived next door to us, and his children, played with me and Steve. After the war, he became an alcoholic and was looked down on by the neighbors, but my mother and father helped him and his wife Mattie. Dad saw action on Okinawa and knew a little bit about what Harry had been through, and mom baby-sat for Mattie when she had to bail him out of jail or go looking for him. Though we didn’t have much money, I suspect my parents helped them financially, and I know they did with groceries. Something like this may have happened to Fred Wilcox. This is where the gentleness and caring of people from Meade and Brandenburg shined like a light through the darkness, making things brighter. One of my favorite shows is “The Andy Griffith Show.” In it, there is a cast of characters that seem to be the ones I grew up with. Mr. Beck, the Irish policeman who I waited for each day and who walked our neighborhood beat, was like Andy Taylor, Chet Cobble our barber was very much like Floyd Lawson, my grandmother Fischer was Aunt Bee, and Barney was like my neighbor Mr. Meadows, who always got things half-right or all-wrong. His mother was like Clara Edwards. There were others like Gomer and Goober, Mayor Pike and the rest, of course in my neighborhood, they went by other names. I watch those old reruns over and over again and never tire of them. I realize now, I am watching a part of my growing up. One Saturday, my friend Vernon waxed philosophically, when he said, “our lives are a rerun.” In my case, he’s certainly right. One of my favorite characters on the show, was Otis Campbell, the town drunk beloved by everyone, although looked down on for being too often in his cups. Fred Wilcox was too often in his cups, but I think he was beloved by this community and valued for his service, just like Mayberry valued and took care of Otis. Fred was a colorful part of the fabric that made up Meade County. Otis comes in to the Mayberry Jail and pays his fine and does his 24 hours, while being valued as a person. Fred drank a lot, but people cared about him. I’ve spoken with a number of men and women who fondly remember him, though some barely. Fred was without money most of the time, meaning he probably didn’t have a regular job. People would see him sleeping leaned against a building and slip money in his pockets. I spoke to one man who said one summer Mulliegrub was beaten up and apparently robbed. He took him to a doctor and had him treated. The doctor didn’t charge and together, they found a few dollars to give him. Another man told me of Mulliegrub sleeping in the backroom of a vacant building. It was winter and he built a little fire to keep himself warm. Instead, he set the building ablaze. The fire department put out the fire, and Mulliegrub hid for a long time thinking he was being sought by the law. Assured he wasn’t, later he resumed sleeping there. A very nice lady I admire and respect very much, was asked by Mulliegrub if he could borrow $5.00, and he assured her he would repay it on Friday. He never did, and when he came back, months later, neither he nor she ever brought up the matter. Looking through the old arrest notices and resolution of cases, I found over the years, Mulliegrub was arrested many, many times for drinking in public and more often given 10 days in jail or a fine he seldom seemed to pay. I believe from all I’ve been told and from the fond way people remember Fred Wilcox, that the Judge often sentenced him not as punishment, but rather to keep him safe, providing him a warm place to sleep and food to eat at least for those 10 days. He died prematurely at the age of 59, a World War Two hero, and in my view, without this community’s care, and support, he would not have lived as long. Mulliegrub, like Otis Campbell in Mayberry, was a valued citizen of Meade County and Brandenburg, and for all his human frailties he was loved.