I never knew either of my Grandfathers.
My Mom’s Daddy, Jim, died in a mining accident in June of 1946, when Mom was only seven years old. I always loved hearing the few stories she had about him… like how vividly she remembered him carrying her to church on his shoulders and how the sun would shine through his straw hat and make shadow patterns on her arms, or how he got saved late one night and shouted up and down the holler, waking people up.
She said when he would get his pay at the end of the week, he would simply bring it home and toss it into Mammy’s lap, knowing that she would get it where it needed to be. From the pictures I’ve seen of him, I know what a strikingly handsome man he was.
Dad’s Daddy died in a mine that he owned himself in January, 1949. Daddy had only just turned 14 years old and was already working along side him in that mine, and was actually with him when he passed away. It’s a horrific story that I might delve in to telling at some point, but I won’t go into it now.
So I never got to address anyone as Pappaw.
But there was Uncle Ross…
He was actually my great-uncle – my Daddy’s uncle. He was a World War II veteran that never married and, except for his service to his country, never left the mountains he called home his whole life. He lived at the foot of the holler and was a constant in my life as long as I could remember.
He sort of took on the role of a Pappaw and spoiled me every chance he got. Every Wednesday, as due as Wednesday would come, he would walk up the holler to our house with a six-pack of Coke and a six pack of Hershey bars, and he’d tell me if I ate only one candy bar and drank one Coke a day, they would last until he came back with more. So I was very careful.
I remember a set of toy dishes he bought me once, that resembled silver. There were plates and utensils, a tea-pot and cups. And then there was a beautiful necklace that I still have to this day, although I don’t wear it. It was a gold heart with decorative red inlay and a single stone in it.
The house he lived in, the one in this very picture, he shared with his mother until her death. She died there at home. We lived with him for a time while Daddy built our house. I was so young that I don’t have a lot of memories of it, just some faint still-picture type memories of the inside of the house.
It seemed very old, even then, like something out of an old movie, with the wall papered walls and the pull chain single light bulbs, and it seemed to just smell old. Not bad, just old, in a very comforting sort of way. I loved it there and felt like nothing in the world could ever come close enough to hurt me.
Uncle Ross was an avid gun collector. He was very proud of them, and it was a common thing for him to bring them to our house and show them to Daddy and make Mom read on them that they were “made in America”.
He use to come to the house sometimes to play cards with Daddy and a handful of others. I remember once, I was sitting on his lap and they were playing cards and talking about guns and I asked him if he had one bullet in his shirt pocket. I was obviously thinking of the Andy Griffith Show and how that’s how Barney carried his ammunition, but Uncle Ross cussed everything all to pieces and assured me that he most certainly did NOT carry a bullet in his pocket, that they were in the gun, where they belonged! We still laugh to this day about that.
Another time I remember he had just gotten a black and tan coonhound pup. He brought it up to the house and I absolutely fell in love! He told me that was going to be his new hunting dog, but I hardly paid any attention to what he said. I was playing with the pup and had already named him Copper, thanks to my attentiveness to the Fox and The Hound. Finally, after watching me and the pup for some time, he told me he would put him down on the ground and he would call the name he’d chosen for the dog (I can’t for the life of me remember what that was), and I could call the name Copper and whoever he came to could keep the dog. Well, it came to me and so began a lovely friendship. I always figured he’d actually meant to give the pup to me to start with, but I was never a hundred percent sure.
I remember when one of his brothers died and we made the trip back home for the funeral. The procession went up the holler, past Uncle Ross’s house up towards the family graveyard.
Uncle Ross walked up the mountain, in the very back, behind everyone else. He was wearing what he always wore, but his face was more solemn than I’d ever seen it and I remember how, during the service, he looked around at the surroundings more than anything else. To know what he was thinking at that time, I’d give almost anything.
Uncle Ross took his final trip up that mountain in 2004. I was unable to be with the family at that time, stuck almost 400 miles away with a car I couldn’t trust to get us there. But my heart was there. And he was in my heart, where he’s always been and where he’ll always stay.
For a man that had no children of his own, he leaves an amazing legacy in the hearts and minds of those of us that loved him so much.