Thursday, October 13, 2005

I was reading a post over at Hillbilly, Please (Smells and Memories) that made me wonder how many people can remember their great-grandfathers. I can remember two of mine, one not as well as the other because he died when I was very young. I have pictures of Grandpa Ellis; he looks to be a tall man with a big mustache. There are many family stories about him, of course, but my own memories of him are dim.

Grandpa Greenberry, who I remember a little better, was a quiet man. My great-grandmother, Katie Bell, is much clearer in my memory, since she lived to be much older and was also a vivid character. They lived in a small house on a farm on a high hill in West Virginia. We visited often; my father's mother also lived in the area, along with his sister and nieces and nephews. It seems like there were always lots of people in the house so Grandpa Green seemed to be just quietly there. I didn't know him as a young man, of course, but in his later years he seemed to be very retiring. I remember my dad once hauling him out of the kitchen, where he was washing dishes, to get him on film. He stands in the doorway, a little smile on his face, a dish rag in one hand.

I also remember a different house, a white one on a river, where I think the family spent time in the summer for Grandpa Green to go fishing. I remember him better there, talking of catfish and adventures on the river. I don't know what his profession was; in later years they had a garden on the little farm and he worked in the mines, I think, since Katie Bell cooked and ran a boarding house in a mining town. But his passion in his later years was fishing.

As a child I never thought much about the feeling and emotions of the older people around me. Looking back I don't know if Grandpa Green was happy, discontented or just reconciled to life the way it was. No one knows anything about his family background; he was born in Kentucky but nothing was ever said about who his people were and I don't know if he visited them when he was younger. Kentucky was a long way from West Virginia in those days. I know now that things are complicated in families, and that his quiet demeanor may have been concealing much more than I could realize in my childhood.

I think I'm lucky to have known my great-grandfathers. In spite of the fact that my memories are dim they are a connection to the past, to part of what made me who I am. I often think of the women in the family, wondering about their lives and also realizing more about how their lives have affected me. But I appreciate the reminder to think of the great-grandfathers.

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