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Echoes from our grandfathers

Jun 13, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

Through the years I've painted various word pictures of the dads I know.

Today, I'm challenging memory to try to bring a few grandfathers into view.

Many of our generation did not have the privilege of knowing our grandparents very well. Once our parents moved away from theirs, a dearth of finances and/or travel facilities often made visits either distant or non-existent.

My paternal grandfather came and lived near us for several years when I was small. My grandmother had died when I was a few months old, so I never knew her. And yes, I felt deprived.

I did know Grandpa Starks, somewhat. A carpenter by trade, Grandpa built a log cabin across the yard from our home in South Dakota. He helped my dad with farming, carried water to the house for Mother, and helped my sisters and me hand-pump water to fill the huge stock tank out behind his cabin.

When he went to town, he brought Cracker Jacks for my sisters and me, with chewing gum for Mother that she never chewed.

Later, when mice came to visit his log cabin in too large numbers, Grandpa built a small frame house beyond the garden where we children skipped along a worn path to "call Grandpa to supper."

In spring our mother helped us make May baskets filled with homemade candy to hang on Grandpa's door. Then we'd knock and run like mad -- as if he might suspect we were anyone but his own grandchildren on that wide-open prairie.

My maternal Grandfather Flint, as I've mentioned before, earned a living as a newspaper publisher, as did his son, my uncle. My mother referred to her father with love and great respect as "Papa." At age 16 she hand-set type for his newspaper. I treasure her typesetting tools today and consider them a part of my genetic makeup.

My sisters and I knew Grandpa Flint when we were small and lived nearby.

I remember Grandpa as a tall German man, smiling through a mustache from which a pipe seemed to grow.

He was playful with us children, bought us a yo-yo, and did things for us like tying my shoes.

I once spent the entire afternoon with hurting feet because Grandpa tied my shoelaces too tightly. I couldn't tell him he didn't do it right, I thought. It might hurt his feelings.

On beginning school, we moved "across the river" (Missouri) as my cousin put it, and grew into our teens not knowing Grandpa except through his newspaper that arrived regularly in our country mailbox, and from the boxes of colored paper he sent -- the trim from sale bills, etc. -- to challenge our creative senses.

Then, when we were in our early teens and hadn't seen them for years, he and Grandma died, just two weeks apart. It seemed we'd hardly known them. Sadly, our brothers never did.

My mate knows less about his grandfathers than I do about mine.

When his Grandma Case died young, several of the children, including Ned's future father, were sent to live with foster parents. When the foster parents spoke of changing his name, he left. He couldn't lose that last vestige of his sense of self.

He didn't see his own father again, his three brothers for more than 40 years.

But he named his only daughter Mary Jane -- after his mother.

Clearly, we needed a Grandpa Case in our lives. And he needed us. Most of the family called him "Grandpa." When I heard the story of his childhood, I thought he deserved a title of honor. I called him "Grandpa" too -- except in our little game of pretend when he morphed into delightful "Mr. Finnegan," and I became "Mrs. Murphy."

Ned's maternal grandfather lived in Casper. When we traveled by school bus for "senior sneak day" in Casper, Ned asked to be let off at his grandfather's home. The bus driver doubted his intent, but let Ned off to spend an hour or so with his grandfather, then dying of cancer.

The school bus went home without Ned, and he had to hitch a ride with a trucker.

But he did get to spend a while with his legendary Irish Grandpa Patchen, who, we're told, enjoyed life to the fullest, including playing his fiddle for dances.

My mom-in-law told me that when she was in her teens she loved dancing as much as her father loved making music for it. But if she appeared to be having too much fun, Grandpa's fiddle bow might skip a note or two to reach out and whack her behind as she flitted by on the dance floor. That swat, she said, was always recognized as a stern message to "cool it."

This, then, is my tribute to male parents on this Father's Day turned Grandpa's Day. You're probably one or the other if you are an adult male. If not, please find someone who needs a dad or grandpa this Sunday and act like one.

You might hear echoes of your own grandpa.

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