Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Grandfathers

Yesterday, I went to the barbershop to "have my ears lowered," as we used to say. The owner of The Hair Shoppe, Bill Kuykendall, usually mentions a song that my grandfather wrote about a neighbor and his hog. This set me to thinking about my grandfathers. I never knew either of my them, so I missed out on whatever it is that grandfathers do with their grandchildren. So, too, has my son. My father died at age 86, when my son was 10. My father-in-law died two years before my son was born.

My paternal grandfather, the songwriter, was killed at the age of 60 in the Pochohantas Coal Mine in Pochohantas, Va. in December of 1920, thirty years before I was born. He was hard of hearing, dropped his glasses, and didn't hear a tram approaching. He was struck and killed instantly. He would walk and hitch rides from northern Georgia to West Virginia or Virginia each year to earn extra money in the mines. He was more a miner than a farmer, so the mines called. My father was 11 years old when this tragedy took place.

My maternal grandfather died in 1966 in Bartow Co., Georgia. I did not know that he existed until my mother's cousin came to our house to tell her of his death. My grandmother and he were divorced in 1914, when my mother was two years old. The divorce was granted on the basis of abandonment, according to court documents. I suppose that, since I had no paternal grandfather, I never questioned the existence of the other. I wouldn't have been told anything anyway. This family secret is sealed, never to be opened. A cousin of my mother's still lives and says it was never discussed, so she doesn't know what happened either. A tidbit heard here and there points to my great grandfather's overbearing nature as a possibility. My father referred to him once as a "mean old b_ _ _ _ _ _ d." He was a Justice of the Peace, and court documents reveal him to be pretty severe in his decisions.

Both of my grandmothers were single parents. My paternal grandmother was left with five children of her own and one from my grandfather's previous marriage and a mountain farm to manage. Fortunately, she had three sons, one of which was 20 years old. My maternal grandmother had only my mother to raise. Fortunately, for her my great grandfather still lived, but many years later, he would pass on leaving the two of them to subsist alone on a mountain farm. My father's arrival on the scene saved them from complete devastation. That same farm sold several years ago for seven figures. No, we didn't own it. The descendants of the people who purchased it from my grandmother in the mid-50's were the fortunate ones.

Several years before my mother passed away she wrote her father's second wife and asked for a picture for me. The picture is quite old, so he was probably approaching middle age, when it was taken. My son bears a resemblance to him. It would be interesting to know why he left. I suppose I understand my mother's aversion toward him. He apparently never made an effort to contact her. A story I heard recently from a relative relates that my father saw him at a singing convention in the Union County Courthouse once, and tried to get my mother to talk to him, but she refused. Who knows what her mother and grandfather told her about him. The truth? Maybe. Maybe not. There are two sides to every story.

My paternal grandfather, who had been born in October of 1860, left his widowed mother and his brothers and sisters in North Carolina sometime prior to the mid 1890's and came to Georgia. Family history tells us that he and his mother quarreled, and the result was his departure. He married soon after, and his wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a daughter to raise. As was often the custom in those days, she went to live with a friend's family. That family turned out to be the family of my grandmother. After they married, they set up housekeeping in Fannin County, Georgia, while he worked in the copper mines in Copperhill, Tennessee. Later they moved back to Owltown in Union County, Georgia. Eventually, they settled in the Trackrock section of Union County and it was there that they lived, when my grandfather was killed. My grandmother remained on that property until she sold it and moved with her two unmarried daughters to Young Harris, Georgia in the mid 1950's.

They are gone now. All of them. The grandmothers and their children. The hardships that these two single mothers must have endured had to have been immense. My paternal grandmother was not a warm, loving type of grandmother. She was the family matriarch, who had endured and raised her children, and she expected them to cater to her. She seemed to simply only tolerate her grandchildren. I do not remember ever sitting in her lap. My maternal grandmother lived with us until her death in 1963. She was a very sweet, kind, and loving grandmother and is responsible for much of what I am today, although I guess I shouldn't place the "blame" on her.

How different would life have been for my parents, had those grandfathers been there for them as they grew up? How would they have shaped the lives of their grandchildren? Those questions will never be answered, of course. I do know that as I grow older, I wonder more and more about those men, what they were like, and what led them to make the decisions that ultimately resulted in their departure from our lives.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Big Break

The Golf Channel has a "reality" show called The Big Break. On this show aspiring professional golfers compete for a chance to play on a professional tour and other prizes. In the beginning the shows held my interest. The golfers have to depend upon their skills to compete, and a participant is eliminated at the end of each show. There are usually two programs each year, one involving men and one women. In one case there was a program involving both sexes.

It seems that with each succeeding show the competition has descended farther into the dungeon of poor sportsmanship. The current show, The Big Break, Kaanapali is where I draw the line. This week's episode involved one golfer intimidating another, of whom she is very jealous, to the point that the young woman was almost eliminated. This incident is an example of the type of behavior the golfing community prides itself in avoiding.

If you watch a golf tournament, you are inundated with videos explaining how golf teaches youth honesty and good sportsmanship. The Golf Channel is supposed to be golf's face to the world, yet it exploits and probably encourages bad behavior and poor sportsmanship in one of its premier shows. As a golfer myself, I am appalled at the way this show has become a good girl/bad girl competition. The same is true for the men, but, so far, I haven't seen it as openly demonstrated on the men's shows. However, I expect the next series will be just as bad. It's a shame to see golf demeaned for the purpose of TV ratings.