My dad grew up in a big family, eight kids. He was the youngest of the four boys, and he had four sisters. My grandpa was a farmer of six acres. But, he used that small acreage to the fullest advantage he could. He raised chickens and sold the eggs for a cash crop. He also raised a few pigs and a cow. Grandpa always had a horse on their little farm. There was usually a steer to fatten up for meat to get them through the next winter.
They raised rabbits for meat and to sell to their neighbors. Plus they raised all their vegetables. Grandpa leased the neighbor’s field and raised tobacco.
My grandpa was a strong, quiet, gentle man. He was born and raised on a farm near Bellefountaine, Ohio. After he went to college, the first in his family to do, he went out to North Dakota and taught school and worked on a ranch.
Grandpa was only 5’2”. A little short man, but people treated him as if he were John Wayne. Somehow, he demanded respect. His quiet work-ethic, the way he treated others, I believe is how he got their respect. Everyone liked him. I said he was quiet, well, he was. But, if pushed too far, he’d let you know.
When I was old enough, I followed Grandpa everywhere. I was only 9 years old when he died in 1970. But, I was the oldest grandchild who lived nearby, so I got to spend a lot of time with him.
Every morning, at sunrise Grandpa would go out to the outhouse. He never used the inside toilet that my dad and uncle had put in the house for them. I would sit on the back step and wait for him to come out of the outhouse. Then we’d walk to the barn and milk Lilly, the old red and white cow. After we’d taken the milk to Grandma, Grandpa and I would head to the chicken house.
The chicken house was a large one-story barn that held all the chickens. Big, white Leghorn chickens. Grandpa would put his hand under the chicken and pull out the eggs. Once, he had me do it, and I got pecked. I cried and cried and he laughed. The old coot.
Grandpa worked in the garden every day. Every day he had the same breakfast, Wheaties cereal, two pieces of toast, two pieces of bacon, and eggs. Grandpa made his own wine. He would let me get in the big metal tub and stomp the grapes. He’d sit near me and laugh as I was having a ball jumping up and down on those grapes. I remember getting out of the tub and my feet and halfway up my little legs would be purple.
Grandpa would tell me stories about when my dad and aunts and uncles were kids. I loved to hear these stories. Grandpa would sit on the picnic table and I’d get as close as I possibly could to him. He’d put his arm around me and tell me some story.
My Uncle Kenny, the oldest, was a teenager and of course wanted money to run around on. So, he devised a plan to make money when there wasn’t any money around. They lived in Scioto County, Ohio. Kenny would go out in the woods and catch a rattlesnake! Yes, you read right, a rattlesnake. He would put it in a barrel and drive to Hillsboro. Hillsboro was a bigger town and he’d park the old pickup on the town square and charge people money to look at a live snake. He always got money doing this.
Grandpa said that the boys would have to sleep out in the cornfield at night in the summer to keep the raccoons out of their corn. The boys took turns being on guard. They were like cowboys on a cattle drive. Once in a while during the summer, the boys would bring home a ‘coon’ that Grandma would cook up for supper.
One of my favorite stories that Grandpa and Grandma would tell me goes like this:
One day, Birdie, the youngest, and her nephew Rocky, were playing out in the field. They ran out of things to do so they headed to the milk house to see what they could get into.
In the milk house, Carol and Ray were cleaning out the barn. It was terribly hot that day and they were miserable. Rocky and Birdie looked in the window and saw the two of them. Birdie grabbed the garden hose that was lying nearby. Rocky locked the barn door and Birdie started spraying them through the open window. By the time that Ray and Carol got out of the barn, they were soaked, and furious. Birdie and Rocky got a good spanking for that one.
One memory that I have is so clear and vivid in my mind, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it.
Grandma had gone to visit my Aunt Kate so, it was just me and Grandpa at the house. We were out in the brooder house. The brooder house was a little building hooked onto the chicken house. Grandpa kept the egg boxes there, and there was a little counter that ran along one wall.
At this counter, Grandpa would sit and check the eggs. He used a round thing that was hung from the shelf above the counter. It had a light in it and a hole. He called it a candler. He’d put the egg up to this hole and would be able to see the inside of the egg through this light. This helped him to make sure the egg was good. He wouldn’t sell any egg that wasn’t a good one.
He’s sitting at the counter checking his eggs and I’m playing over in the corner with my doll, Timmy. All of a sudden, Grandpa slumps over the counter and grabs onto his chest.
I ran over to him, his face was so pale. He was breathing real heavy and he told me in barely a whisper,
“Gail, run to the house and get my pills.”
“What pills?” I asked him. Knowing that the medicine cabinet is full of all kinds of pill bottles.
“The brown bottle with the little white pills,” he said.
I took off at a run for the house. The whole time I was running, I was praying, “God, help me find the right bottle.”
Remember now that I’m only 9 years old when he died and this was quite a while before that. So, I’m not sure how old I was.
I got to the kitchen and had to grab a chair and drag it over to the sink. I climbed up and opened the little door to the medicine cabinet. All three shelves were full of bottles.
“God, please help me to get the right one,” I prayed.
I grabbed a brown bottle and ran back to Grandpa. He opened the cap and put a little pill under his tongue. He sat there, still slumped over, for a few minutes breathing real hard.
Finally, his breathing got easier and his color came back to his face. When he was able to get up, we walked back to the house.
“Gail, honey, you did a great job, thanks,” he hugged me to him. “But, you must never, ever tell anybody about this,” he warned.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because, they’ll think I’m not able to take care of you. They won’t let us be alone together anymore,” he said.
I never did tell. I sure didn’t want to not be allowed to be with my grandfather. Years later, I did tell my dad about it. He said that Grandpa knew they wouldn’t let him be alone with me but, also they’d probably take him to the hospital again. And he did not want that to happen. Grandpa would sit in his recliner in the evenings playing his harmonica.
I loved to hear him play that thing. He would play Swanee River, Red River Valley, Oh Suzanna, and The Old Apple Tree. I can’t hear a harmonica without thinking of him.
Now, I’ve painted a picture of him and his life. They were very poor, but they were proud. They believed in hard work. I think that’s what’s wrong with this country today. Too many people believe they should get all they want, right now. That’s why so many are in hock up to their eyeballs. And the kids don’t know anything about working for something. The kids of today get it handed to them, they don’t have to wait.
When I was growing up, if you wanted something you had to work extra hard and save for that something special. Now, it isn’t special because all they have to do is ask and they get it. Then, after they get the prize they were wanting it isn’t special to them and they throw it aside and want something else, and usually get it.
I said all that to tell you a little about the man who was my grandfather. He worked hard, raised a family, and loved them dearly. He knew the value of hard work. If he didn’t work hard, his family would go hungry. He had ten people depending on him.
One winter was especially hard for them. Grandpa had started for home one evening from selling his eggs when a blizzard came up. He said that he could only drive the truck a few feet and then he’d have to get out and shovel the road in front of him. Drive a few more feet, get out, and do it again. It took him a long time to get home that night.
That night, the family was settled into their beds, when a knock woke them up. Grandpa went to the door to see who it could be this late and in such bad weather.
“Pop, could you use some beef?” Tom asked. Tom was their neighbor, he was an insurance agent.
“Sure could,” Grandpa told him. “But, you know I can’t afford to be buying any meat right now,” he finished.
“You don’t understand,” Tom went on. “Some fool just ran his car over one of my cows.”
“What?” Grandpa asked.
“The storm blew the fence down and the cows got out. I guess they were disoriented in the snow. They were on the road and he hit Bessie, my best cow,” he told Grandpa.
“Is she dead?” Grandpa asked.
“Not yet. But I can’t get the vet out in this weather. And I don’t need the meat. So, if you and the boys want to dress her, you can have her,” Tom said.
Grandpa thanked Tom and woke up the whole house. The boys went out with Grandpa to kill the cow and get her butchered. Grandma got dressed and woke up the girls. Grandma got the wood cookstove heated up. She and the girls washed canning jars, and got the canner out and ready.
Grandpa and the boys were out in the barn. The big cow was hanging from a rafter. Grandpa cut up the meat and then one of the boys would take it inside to Grandma in a big metal wash pan. Then, the boy would take the pan back out to get more meat in it.
Grandma and the girls canned all the meat. They had to can it because it would spoil and they would lose it if they didn’t get it processed quickly. They worked all night on getting that beef put up. Grandma filled jars with all that beef. It would go along way in feeding a large family that was hungry.
Grandpa told me that they had been very close to the bottom of their food barrel when this happened. The blizzard was a bad time, but God in His infinite wisdom had sent them some food to help a large, poor family through a hard time.
Grandpa is gone now, been gone for 37 years. I think about him a lot, and remember all the great memories I have of him. He never had anything of value to leave to his grandchildren. But, I think I got a better inheritance than a million dollars could have given me. By his example of loving, and caring, and working for your family. He taught me more than he ever knew he could. But then again, maybe he did know what he was leaving me. Thank you Grandpa from the bottom of my heart. You taught me a lot about living and loving in the country.