The Devil’s Box

Garden Tomb

Asa and Gabrilla McCoy wedding photo (1901)

Asa and Gabrilla McCoy wedding photo (1901)

Great-grandpa Asa McCoy was an intimidating figure. He was an ordained Baptist minister, and I liked him and feared him both at the same time. A tall and lanky man, he seemed to tower over everyone else. When I was a little girl, sometimes I would work up enough courage to sit on his lap and listen to him tell stories. One thing that puzzled me, though, was an object in the corner of his living room with a quilt draped over it—at least whenever he was home.

So, what was the quilt-covered thing sitting in the corner?

Let’s go back to my childhood in the 1950s when my family would visit my great-grandparents in Florida. Great-grandma Brillie told me she had to keep the item covered with a quilt whenever Great-grandpa was home and could only uncover it when he was away. This item, affectionately dubbed “The Devil’s Box” by Great-grandpa, was the new phenomenon in American homes known as the television set.

L to R: my grandpa, Wray McCoy; Great-grandpa Asa McCoy

L to R: my grandpa, Wray McCoy; Great-grandpa Asa McCoy

Great-grandma Brillie didn’t agree with him, and he allowed her to have the television with that one condition that she only turn it on when he wasn’t home. Well, one afternoon I was bored and missing my programs, and he wasn’t home, so she uncovered the evil thing for me. For the next couple of hours, I enjoyed watching shows like “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Tom and Jerry”. But, whoa … as soon as she heard his car pull in the driveway, we had to hurry and get the quilt back over that devil’s box!

Things like that are just plum hard to forget. I was one confused little girl. So while I was watching a cute little mouse doing cute little things and talented kids singing and dancing, here’s what I actually imagined:

The Devil's Box

The Devil’s Box

But all these years later, I’m convinced Great-grandpa Asa was on to something. Yes, I still keep watching the box. In my opinion, there are a few good things that come out of having a TV—like news, sports and occasional movies. After all, I can be selective about what I watch, right?

Then there are those pesky commercials that pop up out of nowhere and you can’t get to the remote fast enough. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I think I hear Great-grandpa Asa’s voice calling from the grave: “I told you! I told you it’s the devil’s box!”

On another note—a bit of irony …

Devil Anse Hatfield

Devil Anse Hatfield

One of the stories Great-grandpa Asa liked to tell was from his boyhood years in Pike County, Kentucky. Born in 1881, he spent his early years witnessing some of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy Feud. His mother had warned him about the leader of the Hatfield clan, and being a typical curious boy of around ten years old, he had a hankering to see this man whom everyone called Devil Anse. Devil Anse Hatfield was said to be “six foot of the devil and 180 pounds of hell.” What little boy wouldn’t want to lay his eyes on a spectacle like that?

But my great-grandfather’s ma had once told him if Devil Anse ever rode into town, he was to hightail it home and not waste a moment. When the opportunity finally arose, young Asa was with a couple of his buddies, and Ma’s caution, of course, got thrown to the wind. He said he hid behind some bushes with his friends so they could get their eyes full. And that they did! Young Asa felt a chill go up and down his spine at the menacing figure’s presence, convinced he’d seen the devil himself.


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