Jun 16 2011

My Little Town 20110615: Granddad Part the First

(9 PM – promoted by TheMomCat)

Those of you who read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I rarely write about living people except with their express permission, but may make an exception or two here because it might be important to talk about some of her decedents who still breathe.  None of those references will be derogatory.

I actually know less about Granddad than I do about Ma, because he died in 1969 at the age of 91.  I was only 12 years old then.  Ma lived until she saw me as an adult and married and their mother having her great, great grandchildren.  Here is what I know about his history.

Granddad, on my paternal side (the one on my maternal side died years before I was born) was born in Birkenhead, England around 1877, give or take a year or two.  My paternal grandmother was apparently born around the same time.  I have conflicting information about when they immigrated to the United States, but best as I can tell it was after they were married, likely around 1896, once again give or take a year or two.  If any of you are connected with a genealogy site, perhaps you can help me to piece more details about them together.

His name was Richard Smith, and my grandmother’s name was Elizabeth (Elisabeth?).  They settled, as far as I can tell, near Hackett, Arkansas before 1900.  As far as I can tell, they were legal immigrants, but there is little information available.  What I do know for sure is that my Uncle Richard was born in 1900, likely at home, near Hackett.  I remember him quite well.

Next was Aunt Hazel, born in 1915, whom I also remember well.  She was nothing but nice to me.

Dad came next born 19190404.  His name was Roy Willard Smith.  Aunt Hazel wanted to name him Strath Conner, for reasons obscure to me.

The next one was an uncle for whom I can not remember his name.  He suffered from Type I diabetes, and died early.  Even with our modern medicine and science, it is still a horribly difficult condition.

Finally, there was Uncle Troy, the baby.  He served in World War II, and died fairly young from a blood disorder.  I suspect that it was multiple myeloma, but that is just an educated guess decades after he died and long before I ever met him, since I was just one of many ova in my mother’s ovaries at the time, around 1955.

Anyway, this is just some background about my paternal side of the family.  The rest of this post is involved with recollections that I personally had with Granddad.  Once again, if anyone has leads, please tell me.

When my nuclear family left Hackett (in 1961 or 1960, because the company for which my father worked wanted him in Little Rock, AR, not Fort Smith, AR), I was just little.  Born in the early months of 1957, I was only two or three years old, but I remembered the house perfectly then, and do now.  My parents bought a very small house in North Little Rock, AR, and I even remember the street address: 2012 Poplar Street.  How can I remember this from when I was just a toddler?  But I DO!  I also remember that we were “catty cornered” from the Fischer Honey plant just down the street.

My parent bought the house from one of the Fischer scions, and were were happy enough there.  But all of their conversations were about moving back to Hackett.  Granddad got quite ill during that time and came to live with us for a while.  He and my mum were not what you would call the best of buddies, so that did not work out very well.  He later went to live with Aunt Hazel (who moved to California shortly thereafter, presumably to get away from him), but by then he had recovered and was able to move back to the farm.  He would have been around 85 at the time.  I barely remember him staying with us in North Little Rock, but by the time that we moved back to Hackett in 1964 my memories of him are clear.

He had rented out his rock house (that he had built himself) to the Boggs family who sort of look after him while he lived in a school but that he had converted into a “home”.  I remember it very well, and will describe it in another installment about him.  He lived almost at the Oklahoma border, about a mile and a half from town.  Before he had fallen ill, he would walk to town and back once or twice a day, but after his illness he just did not have the stamina to do that any more, especially in the brutal summers in west central Arkansas.  He knew that at his age he could not get a driver’s license (although he could drive), so he bought a tractor.  In Arkansas the law reads that “implements of agriculture or husbandry” neither have to have a license plate nor does the driver have to have a driver’s license, mostly because fairly young kids have to help on the farms there.

So, around 1963 he bought a green Oliver tractor (which my Uncle David still has and uses) and used it for his car.  He was mobile again!  I remember him on that tractor coming and going all of the time.  He used it until he got really ill again around 1967, when he again came to live with us (Aunt Hazel was still in California, and Uncle Richard was in Illinois).  It worked out for time very well.

The reason that he lived in the bus has to do with the reason that he finally went to the nursing home in late 1967.  Granddad smoked (he actually taught me to smoke hand rolled Prince Albert cigarettes back around 1965, and I am smoking one as I write this), and did not do a very good job in rolling.  Besides, at the time when you bought Prince Albert in the pocket sized tins, a pack of ungummed rolling papers came with the tin.  He had a bad habit of rolling them loose, and that, along with no gum on the paper and his habit of dozing off on the couch whilst one was still alit, caused him to burn down three houses!  All three times he essentially escaped with only the clothes on his back.  He finally decided on the bus, since it was essentially all metal, making it difficult do burn.  Another time I shall go into great detail about his place on the farm, including the last wooden house and the bus.

The forth time he pulled the cigarette and stuffed chair trick was when he was staying with us in 1967.  My parents had hired a very nice local lady, Viola Moses, to look after him (and me, when I was not at Ma’s) during the day while my mum was at work in Fort Smith.  Viola came in the living room from the kitchen to discover Granddad, asleep in the smoldering stuffed rocking chair!  The cigarette had burnt a fairly large hole in the foam rubber (now days polyurethane foam, pretty much self extinguishing, is used in place of foam rubber) seat, and the cotton stuffing in the chair itself had started to smolder.  I was playing outside at the time, so did not see the almost fire.  Viola doused the burning area with a pitcher of water and shouted for me to come and help her drag it to the front porch, which was concrete.  The hole was pretty big.

In under a week, Granddad was a resident at the Pink Bud Home for the Golden Years in Greenwood, about nine miles east.  He did not really want to go, but both of my parents agreed that the risk of burning down the house was just too great to keep him there.  At that time, you could smoke in nursing homes and in hospitals.  He lived there until about a week before he died in 1969 of a massive stroke, when they took him to hospital.  He never regained consciousness after the stroke, and had been pretty vigorous, so he went out the right way.  He even liked the nursing home after a couple of months, because he had people with whom to talk and swap stories.  The Boggs had children, and children, except for me for some reason, annoyed him.

I have lots more stories about Granddad, most of which are very funny (some almost unbelievable), and a few very sad, like the one when he killed his wife, my Grandmother whom I never knew since it was before I was born.  As for the chair in question, I still have it.  I did not realize that this was the chair in question until I decided to recover it, since the old upholstery was getting ratty.  After I stripped off the old cover, I noticed that the seat was polyurethane, and did not really think anything of that, but when I got down to the stuffing I saw some water marks.  Everyone who reads my regular Sunday evening series, Pique the Geek, knows that I am the curious sort, so I looked further.

When I moved the stuffing aside, sure enough, there was the partially charred wooden support member!  This was the very chair that got him put in the home!  I recovered the chair, and I still have it.  From where I sit to write, if I just look to my left I can see it.  It is a nice rocking chair, overstuffed and padded everywhere.  Incidentally, my parents bought that chair new when I was a baby, and my mum and Ma used to rock me to sleep in it.  Until the upholstery job I had not made the connexion.

That is all for this evening.  Next week we shall discuss some other denizens of Hackett, but I have not decided who it will be just yet.  For topics like this, I tend to write at the last minute since I do not have to do any research, but rather just remember.  I would be interested any any recollections that you have about your early childhood in the comments.

Warmest regards,


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