Monday, October 05, 2015


Grandparents Day was a few weeks ago and I spent time that day perusing Facebook to see all the pictures of grandparents. I posted my favorite pictures of ours. But I took time reflecting on the impact my grandparents had on my life. 

My grandfather on my daddy’s side was born in the fall of 1901. He raised his family during The Great Depression, and like so many of our grandparents, he was no stranger to hard times. His resume during those lean years would have been colorful. Each time I take a tool from my shed, I miss him.

In the late 1950s when my family moved back to Alabama from our short-term stint in Indiana, we lived in a camp house made from rough-cut pine.

Later we bought an unfinished Jim Walter house for $2995. My mama fretted that we’d never live to pay it off. We finished the inside work ourselves. 

When we moved out of the old camp house, my grandparents moved in. I couldn’t believe our good fortune of having them next door.

After they arrived, my grandmother Willie got a brindle Chihuahua named Chi-chi that followed every move she made, and Pap had a parakeet with aqua-colored feathers. I was amazed the first time I saw that little bird sit on the frame of Pap’s glasses and watch him eat breakfast. I’ve wished a thousand times I had taken pictures back then.

They lived in the old camp house while carpenters built their Jim Walter home. But Pap built a workshop out back, not far from the outhouse. In the late 1950s, there was still a demand for mule-drawn mining cars that resembled squatty wagons. 

Pap landed a job constructing the cars from rough lumber. He also made horseshoes for the mules that pulled those cars. He was an artist with hot steel and a hammer.

In summer, he started to work early before the sun made working with an open fire unbearable. You knew he was working long before you stepped outside. You could smell the sulfur from the burning coal feeding his fire pit and the steady ping, ping, pinging of his hammer as he shaped the steel shoes on his anvil.

Most days he wore Liberty overalls while he worked. In the front pouch, he carried a tin of Prince Albert tobacco and rolling papers. When swinging the hammer made his arm weary, he’d sit on his bench and roll a cigarette on his pants leg. 

Firing it up with his Zippo lighter, he would sit quietly thinking as if he were solving a complex problem in his mind. After each puff, the lazy smoke drifted off with the morning breeze.

He eked out a living doing odd jobs and when he died in 1970, he didn’t need a will because he didn’t own much to leave behind. But he did leave a family that adored him and a hole in our hearts that could never be filled.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on You can contact him via email at


  1. Anonymous8:58 PM

    My dad's parents lived with us while I was growing up--they were very special to me!!

  2. I very much enjoyed reading about your grandfather.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This is GOOD! I love the picture and the short story of a more complicated life. Your Grandpa was born 2 yrs before my dad. Yes, they went thru some hard times. My dad did not need a will either.
    I love the story and makes me wish I had known my Grandpas. I knew a Great Grandpa, but not the Grands. I know I missed a lot.
    The subjects were good and the story also. (YEP I need a proofer!)

  5. How I love seeing old photos and reading about family and history. It is our ancestry that makes our own families great. My mom's dad, Opa, was born in 1901 and he came to live with us in 1987 (from Graz , Austria) after my Oma passed away. He was born in Magdeburg, Germany and lived through 2 World Wars. What's amazing is my own father was born in 1913. He lived through the Great Depression. His parents, I never met. My grandmom died in childbirth in 1919 and my granddad died in 1956 at the age of 84. What I love are the smells we associate with our loved ones. I can picture your grandfather dealing with the metal.

  6. To a child Grandparents are the most precious thing they can have. Grandparents have the time and patience to teach the forgotten arts of making something from nothing. And the stories they tell from their pasts connect us to previous family.

  7. What wonderful memories you have to treasure.

  8. Your grandfather sounds like an upright, outstanding family man.

  9. I have always been close to my grandparents mostly my mums parents on dad's side we mostly saw my pop but I would not say we were close in fact I have always felt like he didn't like me much. I see my grandchildren a lot each week in fact and love that we are so close and I get to see them so much


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