Grandpa Hoots was one of my first memories. I called him Dad Dad. This was probably due to someone referencing him as my Dad’s dad. He was tall with dark brown hair highlighted with silver, and his skin was olive and tanned. He had brown eyes and the large hands of someone who did manual work. He was kind and gentle with me. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice to me, and he certainly never spanked me. When I did not listen to him there were consequences, but he carefully explained what was expected of me.
When I heard my father or one of my three uncles describe the father who had raised them during the depression by not sparing the rod, it was hard to believe he was the same man. They described him as deadly serious. I knew him as fun-loving. He could stand on his head in his sixties and taught me how to do this. Although he never had a driver’s license, he had an old car we used on the farm. He taught me to drive it at a snail’s pace before I was six years old. He made bow and arrows which he taught me to shoot. When I was six he taught me to shoot a small Crackshot rifle. My older cousin had a bike that he taught me to ride. When I was two years old, he would set me on the back of a colt he was training.
Dad Dad treated me like a child, but he talked to me like an adult. While doing farm chores, he explained what he was doing and why. I tagged after him and my dad every day. Dad was a busy man, and he had less patience with me than my grandpa. When I disobeyed, as I often did, he would sometimes take a switch to my legs. Grandpa discouraged this. Dad would remind him that he never hesitated to use corporal punishment on him and his brothers.
“Boys are built to take that. You can’t do that to little girls. They are just glued together!” he would tell Dad.
My dad was responsible for the heavy field work. Grandpa put out and tended the gardens, orchard, truck patches, and grape vines. He used his horses or mules and a hand plow to do the work. I never saw him on a tractor. He tended bees, fed and cared for the pigs, and chickens. He had a brood mare named Sonja, so he raised and trained a colt each year.
Dad Dad would rive splits from which he made fish baskets, and we would set the baskets in the river to catch fish. He set rabbit gums which he built himself. He helped maintain much of the machinery and kept the tools corralled. I loved watching him work with his hands. It was almost an art form. I loved staying at his heels as he worked. The touch of his strong calloused hands created a prejudice for this touch. As an adult, I preferred shaking a hand that reflected manual labor.
My grandparents had four sons and four grandkids. Any and all of us were welcome to come for a meal or to stay anytime we wanted. They had frequent visits from family members and neighbors. They taught us to care for and nurture the farm animals. I got the runt pig from each litter to hand feed and pet. We were also taught to repair items rather than discard them. I don’t remember them ever hugging each other or us, even when we were children. A hug was not something I missed, as they demonstrated their love in many ways every day. I learned to handle life, death and to know myself. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents reflected the same farm family values.
They attended my wedding and had welcomed two of my cousin’s children and one of mine before my grandpa died. The last time he was home from the hospital before he died, he could get to the bathroom, but that was about all he could do. I did not realize until after his death that he had somehow managed to repair an old spinning wheel that had belonged to my grandmother’s mother. When I was a child, he showed me how to spin. I never mastered the skill but was fascinated watching him. Grandma gave me the spinning wheel after his death and told me Dad Dad wanted me to have it. When I picked it up, it was in working order. He had plaited cornshucks and replaced the missing ones. This was his last labor of love for me. The spinning wheel sits in my living room along with a large framed picture of Grandpa’s mother. A walnut dresser that belonged to her is in my bedroom. He, his memories, and values are a part of my life every day from the moment I open my eyes.
Dad Dad was born shortly after the light bulb was invented. Just before his death, he told me that he had seen America go from the invention of the light bulb to putting a man on the moon. “I can’t imagine what you may live to see if there is that much change in your lifetime!”
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