My mother's family are all crazy Scotch-Irish hill people, and the family tree's full of wandering preachers, half-crazy inventors, eccentric travelling salesmen, the lot (my dad's family are equally odd Brooklyn Jews, but that's a story for another time). Of all the weird characters that my folks tell stories about when they get together, none are weirder than my three-times-great-uncle, Josephus Clark. To hear them recount, he was the black sheep of the family, which must have been saying a lot.

Josephus got either got kicked out of the house or ran away from home when he was young, and spent most of his formative years kicking around Appalachia, drifting from place to place and job to job. As the story goes, at one point, Josephus fell in with a band of gypsies. He managed to win his way into their good graces by saving the life of an old fortune-teller. He travelled with them for a while, and out of gratitude, the old woman taught him her gypsy secrets. After that, Josephus got a bit... odd. Always staring off at things nobody else could see, carrying on about things nobody could understand.

Time passed, and after he'd sowed his wild oats, Josephus finally settled down some. Got himself a pretty wife and a cabin of his own out in the hills, everything a man could want. One day in the dead of winter, though, while Josephus was three miles off chopping wood, his wife went into labor. A pack of hungry wolves smelled the blood, and started circling round the cabin, moving in for the kill. All of the sudden, Josephus was there, shot down each of the wolves, one bullet to each wolf, and then, just as quick, he was gone again. A few hours later, he came walking back to the cabin, like nothing had ever happenned. There was only the one set of tracks in the snow. He refused to talk about it till his dying day.

Now, it's a fascinating story, but it's got all the ring of fairy tale or legend (urban legend is right out - rural legend?). I've done some research of my own; there really was a Josephus Clark who was my great-great-great-uncle. He really did marry and have children. The time when he was young would have been right about the time that groups of Romany were immigrating to America and travelling around the country. It could have happened. There's probably some seed of truth buried in there somewhere, however much it's grown in the retelling. After I found that much out, I stopped looking into it. It's a good enough story that I'd rather not know.

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