21 March 2012
Happy Birthday, Grandpa.
Today is the first day of Spring! Hope it is going to be a lovely day in your area--it's misty here, today.
Today would have been my grandpa's 104th birthday. In case my posts haven't made it obvious over the years, I don't come from the kind of family that you'd find in a Norman Rockwell painting. My gramma and mom tried hard to end us up in better circumstances than the family started out in, but, to be honest, I come from what my Appalachian Studies teacher used to call "hillybillies". Most people would consider that a great detriment, but my grandpa was the closest thing I knew to a cowboy, and that was pretty cool.
Horses are probably the way we connected most. He had a great eye for horses, but he preferred to see them fat and working. That's the Pennsylvania Dutch in him. We took him to Kentucky to visit the horse farms down there. He appreciated the beauty of the Thoroughbreds, but he much preferred the big draft horses at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Bureau of Land Management had a wild mustang adoption center set up on the grounds of the Horse Park, Grandpa loved watching the horses. He was trying to figure out how he might adopt one of those horses and take it back to Pennsylvania--his favorite was a ratty-looking mare, but he saw something in her that he liked, and it hurt to tell him we couldn't take her, but she'd get a good home. 88 years old and he's trying to figure out how to bring a wild mustang home. But that was him. He'd been messing with horses since was 10 years old, and what he didn't know, pretty much wasn't worth knowing. He always had a big team of work horses, Percherons (or, as my grandpa called them, Perch-ins). Even in his later years, he had four: a team of blacks, Bill and Midnight, a bay mare, Byrd, and his beautiful dapple grey mare, Penny. He was still using Penny to plow the garden when I was in middle school. But his heart belonged to his little horses, a hardy little group of Tennessee Walker-based, pony-sized, hard-working little horses. My brother still has Tom Boy, the horse Grampa gave him, probably the best horse he ever bred. He's almost 30 years old, retired out to a life in the pasture, not as much spit and fire as he had, but he's still with us. I am hoping Kaydence gets to ride him, hopefully Uncle Luke will take her for a ride around the ring, so she touches something her great-grandpa loved.
I know he was a hard worker. He worked the farm in the summer, the coal mines in the winter. My gramma kept his lunch bucket shined up, just in case something happened to him in those mines--she didn't want that on her conscience. Both my mom's parents worked hard, even when they were moonshining. This is probably where I get my "go-go-go" attitude as Left-brain calls it, LOL. We just don't know how to be comfortably idle.
He taught a hundred little ways, the old ways. He'd sing cowboy songs to us as we rode along, tuneless versions of "Red River Valley" and one about Little Bess. As a result, his horses LOVED to be sung to, but only cowboy songs. My brother still sings them. He loved to fish, but never had a fancy pole because he said fish weren't stupid. They'd think a stick was a tree, and they'd mess with the worm, but they could tell the difference in a fancy pole. Needless to say, he caught a lot of fish that way. He was a wonder with baling twine--he could patch up a piece of harness with it, he made my brother and I wroking bridles out of the stuff for Christmas one year. He taught us not to treat the Amish any different than us, after all they were just another religion, but, Lord, how he hated driving a horse they'd trained--he said they taught the horse to "dance", showy, flashy steps, which are fine if you're on a leisurely drive, not so good if you have to go any length of distance. He liked most everyone, you had to really be a jerk for him to hate you. He was a simple man, content with a little, grateful for what he did have. I sometimes wonder if he really did know the secret to life.
He died when I was 23. The last visit with him was hard. He'd been in the hospital. The nurses stressed the point of making sure he knew who I was. I asked him, and he didn't know. And it killed me to see him struggling, I finally told him, "I know you know who I am, and I know who I am, so it's OK." And I talked to him about my cats, which were a gift from him. His face lit up, he loved animals, and I know he was glad I took such joy in them. He died a week later. I sang at his funeral, not a hymn, but a cowboy song. Mom didn't like it at first, and the preacher was annoyed, but it was more "him" than other songs.
I miss him tremendously. He would have liked Left-brain, Left-brain would have liked him, I know that. I know he was proud of me, he told Mom he always knew I'd get somewhere, because I was smart. It's taken me a long time to figure out where that "somewhere" is, it's not financial success, it's being the kind of person he was.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa.