POST #5, APRIL 20, 2016: THE BALLAD OF BIG FRANK AND SHORTY EATON
After work tonight, I had occasion to go to eat at the deli at our local Ingle’s Supermarket. I ran into our General Sessions Court Judge, Ken Bailey, who saw me in his court all day today, and will see me come before him tomorrow morning.
I also had an opportunity to “say hey” to my friend and colleague, Ron Woods, who is a partner at another local firm, Milligan and Coleman. Ron said he’d seen the new site and that he liked it. I told Ron that his having said that reminded me that I hadn’t written my post for the evening, yet, and I told him a little bit about tonight’s post, “The Ballad of Big Frank and Shorty Eaton.”
In the history section of this website, you met my late father, Francis X. Santore, Sr., and also saw his picture, taken just about 3-4 years before his passing, while in his late 60s. I told you that my father had actually stared down a gunman in his own office. Every bit of that story is true: I’ll tell it to you now, and at the end of the post, I’ll tell you how I know it’s true.
A year or so after my father and grandfather had ended their partnership, and my father had started this firm, Dad’s first office was on College Street in Greeneville, behind our local courthouse, and in the building now occupied completely by our local misdemeanor probation service. Dad had two rooms at the end of the hall on the second floor of this two-floor building.
One afternoon, Shorty Eaton walked into the office. Shorty was a truck driver against whom Dad had just filed suit for divorce. Dad’s secretary at the time was either out to lunch or out running an errand, so Shorty barged through the secretary’s office, walked into my Dad’s office, pointed a loaded pistol at my Dad, who was sitting behind his desk, and said, “I’ll kill the first sonofabitch who stands between me and my wife.”
Now, in that situation, I would have been scared witless, or, at the very least, would have been trying to calm the gunman down, by saying such soothing words to him as, “Now, now, we don’t have to do this, let’s talk this over,” etc. Not my brash, in-your-face father, though.
The first words out of my Dad’s mouth were, “You crazy sonofabitch, put that f******g gun down!” The next words out of his mouth were, “You stay right here, you crazy b*******d; I’m gonna call the law.”
Defying all convention, Dad walked down the hall to the office of one of his fellow attorneys, Ben Wexler. Ben had gone through law school with my father, was later appointed Circuit Judge and had a distinguished career on the bench, and had flown over 30 successful missions as a waist-gunner on a B-17 over Germany in World War II. Ben was not in that day, but his wife, Mary Lou, the sister of another fellow attorney, Tom Hull, who later went on to become Circuit Judge, legal counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander, and Federal District Judge for this District, was there, as she was Ben’s secretary.
My dad said, “Mary Lou, call Willie (Wilson, then Sheriff of Greene County): there’s a crazy b******d in my office with a gun who says he’s going to shoot me.” Mrs. Wexler got Sheriff Wilson on the line, and Dad told the same thing to Sheriff Wilson, who said he would be down in minutes.
If you think what I have written before is crazy, read the rest of this story. Instead of staying in Ben’s office, Dad walked back down to his office, saw that Shorty was there, AND SAT DOWN BEHIND HIS DESK, SAYING TO SHORTY, “NOW YOU JUST WAIT HERE UNTIL THE SHERIFF COMES, YOU CRAZY $^#^%$#%$#^%#.” Sheriff Wilson came a few minutes later and took Mr. Eaton away without incident.
Fast forward to my first year in practice with Dad. We were in the last few months of our old lease on the top floor of the Capital Bank building, prior to our moving to our present location. An older guy walked in with a much younger wife and said that he wanted to see him and ask for his advice. They greeted each other like long-lost friends. Dad said, “Frank, remember me telling you about Shorty Eaton? This is him.”
I was flabbergasted, and I had to ask Shorty if the story were true, so I said, “Mr. Eaton, my father tells me that you pulled a loaded gun on him years ago….” Before I could finish my sentence, he laughed and said, “Yes, son, that’s true.”
I certainly hope that Mr. Eaton is happy, and, since I met him only that one time, if he’s driving that big rig in the sky (he was a trucker by profession), I hope he’s letting Dad hitch a ride from time to time!