I’ve been visiting my grandparents more recently as they are not only getting older (86 & 85), but they are starting to have health issues. My grandmother was recently diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and my grandfather is heading that way too. He was also diagnosed as borderline diabetic and told to go on a diabetic diet. He politely informed the doctor that he is 86 years old and that he would cut out the sweets (of which he doesn’t eat a whole lot anyway), but that he would NOT be altering his diet any further.
Realizing that they probably don’t have a whole lot of years left, I’ve decided to record as many of my grandfather’s stories as I can get down. I didn’t do this with my father and I regret it, so I won’t make that mistake with my grandfather. He is full of stories, many of them he tells over and over in true elderly person fashion. Many of them are entertaining, some are sad, most give you a glimpse in to a world long gone.
This will be just the first in a series.
My great great grandparents:
My grandfather tells a couple of stories about his grandparents, and his great grandfather. His great grandfather came home from the Civil War on the back of a mule, was helped in to bed by his family and never again left that bed. He died there some days or weeks later. Before he died he told his son (William, my grandfather’s grandfather, and the man my grandfather was named after), who was maybe a teenager, that he was now the man of the house and would have to take care of the farm and the family. William worked the farm and took care of his mom and his siblings until some unspecified time in which he had a family of his own in Texas. From what my grandfather says, he worked his hands to the bone for his mom and siblings and later for his wife and kids.
My great grandfather could remember that one night, when he was a young child, his father William was pacing back and forth in the little house carrying his infant daughter, who was sick. William’s wife Hattie was sitting in a rocking chair either sewing or knitting. William was trying to soothe the baby to sleep, and walking back and forth for some time. My great grandfather remembered that William stopped and checked his daughter because she had stopped fussing in his arms and when he checked her, this exchange took place:
William: “The baby is dead.”
And that was about the extent of it. The baby was buried in the yard the next morning.
My great grandfather and his brothers:
My great grandfather’s name was Beverly Carradine Heath, back then Beverly was a unisex name. My grandfather used to never talk about his dad much, but he has been more in recent years. He describes his father as a “rawboned” man, about 6’1”, strong, stern, hard worker, never smiling, never laughing, rarely talking, instead preferring to let his actions speak for him, with the fastest reflexes he has ever witnessed in a human being.
My grandfather said that when he was a young child prohibition had just ended, so this would be about 1933 or 1934. He was in a Ford (Judging by the year it was either a Model T or a Model A) with his father putting down the road, when they drove by a bar. Outside the bar was a small gathering of drunk men, and one thought it would be fun to run up to the car, jump on the running board, and punch my great grandfather in the face. My grandpa said that his father saw the punch coming and moved his head, so that the man’s fist only knocked the pipe out of my great grandfather’s mouth. My grandfather said that just as quick as anything, my great grandfather snapped his hand over, grabbed the thumb of the drunk, and bent it back. My grandfather said that the man screamed like a woman. My great grandfather, without even looking at the man told him something along the lines of “Now you behave, or I will tear it right off.” My great grandfather then putted down a few streets to the back of a police station where the drunk was arrested.
He said these same reflexes about knocked him out when he was seven years old. He was in the back of a car when they were moving from Cleveland to California. My grandfather doesn’t remember what he did, only that he misbehaved in the back of the car. Without saying anything my great grandfather whipped around, back handed my grandfather, and then went back to driving. My grandfather said that he saw stars and it almost knocked him out.
My grandfather describes his dad as an Artillery Captain to the day he died. My great grandfather was a Captain in the Army during World War One and stationed at Fort Patrick Henry (he thinks). It was during this time that an Artillery Battery could not pass the tests that they needed to pass in order to be sent to Europe and fight. The Command was under the gun from Washington to get this Battery to perform. My great grandfather was put in charge to get them to shape up. He figured out that it was about six or so men that were purposefully instigating the Battery to fail so that they would not have to be sent to Europe. My great grandfather weeded these men out and then began to train the Battery like they had never been trained before. He had them going over trajectory tables, learning how to factor in wind, humidity and everything else that affects ballistics. He had them studying math and memorizing these tables seven days a week in the beginning, until someone complained to the Inspector General. The IG informed my great grandfather that he had to legally give them Sunday off.
This angered my great grandfather. To make up for the Sunday loss, he had the Battery train night and day the other six days a week and the men were confined to the base until the Battery was able to pass the proficiency test. Evidently my great grandfather received a lot of anonymous death threats during this period so he as well never left the base, spending all his off time in the Officers Club, until the Battery and the six men he had weeded out were all either sent overseas or to another base.
My grandfather said that he never actually held a conversation with his dad until he was about 22, so some of the things he had to learn about from one of his uncles. Uncle Lally.
My grandfather speaks of a few uncles, but the only one he ever really talks about is an uncle “Lally” his full name was Lallance Lloyd Heath. Lally was a short and stocky man that had trained as a boxer and was the contender of either the light-heavy weight championship of Texas or the middle weight. My grandfather can’t remember which one. Evidently Lally, like his brother, had a temper. However, Lally tried to hide it behind laughter and jokes. Some of these were basically abusive jokes, like making my grandfather eat grass, which Lally thought was hilarious.
My grandfather told a story in which his dad, his brother in law (my grandfather had two or three sisters and another brother), and Lally went in to a bar in Los Angeles. He never said the year, but this was probably in the 1940’s. The three men were at the bar drinking beer, when three very large Mexican men came in. The men were some sort of construction workers as evidenced by the cement dust all over their boots and bottom of their pants. They wanted to sit at the bar but there were only two bar stools left, so one of them men grabbed my grandfather’s brother in law and told him very forcefully to give up the stool. Lally put down his beer, stood up off the stool and walked over to my grandfather’s brother in law, put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down on the stool. He then punched the large Mexican man in the face knocking him to the floor unconscious. He stepped over that man and punched the next man in the face also knocking him out. It was at this time the third man was running out the door. Lally, Beverly, and the brother in law quickly finished their beers and left.
During the ride home Lally made the men promise to not say anything to Lally’s wife, as he had promised her years before that he would no longer fight. My grandfather mentioned the story to Lally’s wife upon Lally’s death. Lally’s wife smiled at him and said the she had known all about it.
There were other aunts and uncles but he never really talks about them. Except for one which he described as a “Mountain Man.” He said that twice a year this uncle would kill a bear for the meet and fat. The meat was used in everything you would expect him to use the meat for. The fat was used for cooking, baking, etc. He said that the uncle would use it to bake pies the way people would normally use Crisco. Now, the real special part of this story is in how the uncle would kill the bear. He would shoot the bear at the base of the skull, somewhere just behind the ear, with a .22 Long Rifle! Now, if
you don’t know anything about guns or bears you probably don’t realize how dangerous and amazing this is. The man must have been one hell of a shot.
Speaking of bears, my great grandfather once punched and kicked a bear in the butt during a camping trip to Yosemite back in the late 1930’s. As my grandfather tells it, the family was all in a large umbrella tent for the night when a bear came in to the camp looking for food. At some point the bear backed in to the tent wall where my great grandfather was sleeping, annoying my great grandfather, so he punched the bear in the butt. The bear grunted and moved a couple steps, then again backed in to the tent. This time my great grandfather, without saying a word, began to repeatedly kick the bear in its butt. The bear ran away.
Now, before you judge these men too harshly for some of these stories you have to realize the time of the world it was and where they came from. These were men that grew up in the pan handle of Texas in the late 1800’s, conditions were rough and life was cheap. My great grandfather had to hide behind the front door with a loaded gun when the Apache Indian braves would ride up demanding food from his mother, under threats of violence. She always gave them food and they always behaved.
It was out of this life that my great grandfather became an Army Artillery Captain with an amazing aptitude for math, a Mechanical Engineer, a Chemical Engineer, a Lawyer that was nominated to the Ohio Supreme Court and a self-taught machinist. As I said before; hard working.
Next time: Childhood stories.