My Grandfather, a Small Tribute to Mark the Anniversary of his Death

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Henry A. Richardson

January 3, 1897-December 21, 1968

My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a kind, gentle soul. He was a soldier in WWI and worked after the war helping build the Wilson Dam in Florence, Alabama as well as other projects that needed manual labor during that time period. He also did work for the WPA (Works progress Administration) during the depression. He was also a tenant farmer who worked the cotton fields. He was eventually the father of ten children. My mother was number 8. All the children worked those fields to help support the family. It was a rough life, but they were full of joy. The children all remained close as adults. We had a slew of cousins to play with for sure. The house was always filled with laughter. Loud, fun, crazy family members.

By the time I knew my grandfather, he was in his sixties. He was a quiet man who didn’t say much. They lived in an old house with no indoor plumbing. There was a well for water and four buckets sat at the back door at the kitchen. Three were for cooking and the fourth had a beat up old ladle we all drank from. It was the iciest, coldest, water ever. My grandmother had a red pump to pump water into the sink. She also had one of those clothes washers that basically ran around the room. It was fun to watch that thing. She hung all clothes to dry and sheets as well.

We didn’t spend the night with them often—we usually stayed with my dad’s parents who had a bigger house in town—but when we did, we either had to use a chamber pot or run to the outhouse past the chicken coop which was a fair distance. I think that may be where I got part of my active imagination as I ran through the night in my jammies past those chickens. I imagined all kinds of demons on my tail. And man, if you’ve never smelled the inside of an outhouse, count yourself lucky. You’ll never forget it. It is a visceral memory to me to this day.

Anyway, back to my grandfather. The year I was going to turn 8, we lived in Virginia. We traveled down for Christmas—a14 hour drive—and arrived at my dad’s parent’s house around 7 pm on the 21st of December.  My sister and I went to our room to put our suitcases down. My mother started screaming and crying so loudly, we were terrified.

We raced out to the den and found my mother hysterical.  My grandfather had to break the news to her that her father died in his sleep and her mother found him when she tried to wake him for breakfast.  He died 13 days before his 72nd birthday.

It was a terrible Christmas that year. I still remember my mother unwrapping the shirt we’d bought for him so she could take it back to the store. She helped my grandmother take back a lot of things that year. It was heartbreaking even for a little kid to see. I can’t listen to that song where the grandmother gets run over by a reindeer. Having lived a Christmas like I did that year, I can’t deal with that song.

There is a picture of me (wish I could find it as I write this) on my birthday that year sitting on the couch holding my new doll. It is a pitiful picture as I look so sad and alone.

He never said much—unless you thought you could turn the television channel because he was asleep.   He’d mumble, “I was watching that.” He didn’t get mad, but we never changed it when he said that. He always had a spittoon by his side and always wore a fedora. He also cooled his coffee by pouring it into his saucer once he’d added his cream and sugar. It made me laugh.

I could say a lot more about him and his life, but I’ll save some stories for another day. Suffice it to say, I miss him even after all this time, and for some reason, I’ve felt him close to me this year. I sense him, watching out for me, as I make my way through this tough year.

2 responses »

  1. Your grandfather sounds like a wonderful man. I’m glad you got to know him, at least a little. My maternal grandfather, who I’m told had a wonderful, practical joker sense of humor, died when I was six months old. My sister remembers him, though, and smiles when she talks about him.
    Life back then wasn’t easy. Well, it’s not necessarily easy now, but it’s not as back-breaking as back then. I’m glad you have those memories. I have lots of cousins memories from Thanksgivings at my paternal grandparents, who had eleven kids. 🙂 Family is everything.

    • Family is definitely everything. I was lucky enough to know my grandparents on each side as well as some of the greats. My great-grandmother (dad’s side) died in her 90s – I was 26 and her husband, Carver, died at 86 when I was 15 (17 days before I turned 16)- he was only 13 days from being 87. It’s kind of wild that both my granddad and great-granddad died 13 days before their birthdays. My mom’s grandmother also lived into her 90s.

      Life definitely was harder then. My goodness, we’re so soft now that I know I couldn’t do all the things they did. My mom’s mom killed and cooked her own chickens. My great grandmother was raking with one hand and using her cane with the other in the weeks before she died. Strong women, for sure.

      I’m glad your sister has memories of your grandfather. And I love that you had tons of cousins, too.

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