Thursday, February 08, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

17. I want you to know this about my grandfather.
I never met my Grandfather Roland Charles Hunt; he died before I was born. I know he had red hair. My Grandpa Herndon (Percy Fox Herndon, to be exact) told me once that he (Herndon) went into the barbecue that the Hunts owned once when he was returning home from fishing. The place was pretty quiet, it being the middle of the afternoon, and my grandfathers, who met just that once and had no idea that they would have me in common, had a pleasant chat. Grandpa said that my other grandfather was a handsome man, pleasant, enjoyable to be around for the short time they talked. They both liked fishing and a cold beer on a hot day and were concerned about things, it being the Depression and all. At the time Grandpa told me this, we were no longer in touch with the Hunts and Grandpa was the only relative I was in touch with who had met my Grandfather Hunt.

It speaks volumes about my Grandpa that he knew that I would have no other source of information about my father's father, and he made sure I knew something about the kind of a man he would appear to someone who just met him.

Grandpa was a very tall man, and mostly bald by the time my mother was born, although he had lovely red hair as a young man, I am told. He and his sister, my great-aunt, as well. He had twinkling brown eyes; I can never remember seeing him without that twinkle. And a deep voice. Richard, who remembers him from before we moved to Alaska when R was six, remembers a "big man with a big voice". Grandpa fought in World War I, in Siberia. It wasn't something he talked about to me. When I asked, he made some joke and moved the conversation on to other things.

Grandpa worked for the Turlock Irrigation District when I was growing up. In the summer he "changed the water" -- opening and closing locks to allow the water to flow to the fields that needed it. In the winter, he worked eight hour days and five days a week, repairing all of the canals in the District, but in the summer he was on call 24/7. All summer long -- go out and change the water when it's time, and then nothing to do until the next time it's due. So, although he couldn't leave town, he could easily go fishing or on a picnic or hunting if the timing on the water was right. He grew a wonderful vegetable garden and melon patch and grape arbors and nut trees. He had a small mixed orchard of every kind of fruit tree that they grew in California in those days. He didn't believe that a tree that didn't give fruit people could eat belonged in a yard. They were good for forests and parks, but for homes you grew food.

When I was little I would go out with him. The phone would ring, just about when he was expecting it to, and it would be the farmer telling him that his fields were done. Grandpa would call the next farmer down the canal and arrange to meet him at the lock, call out, "Hey, Peanut! Want to go change the water with me?" and off we would go. Driving down back country roads, singing country western songs along with the radio, and chewing on Sen-Sen. Grandpa would point out all of the crops along the way and tell me about how they were grown and where they came from. It is a golden memory. The sun shines a lot in California, and those memories seem filled with it.

Grandpa Herndon was invariably kind and funny. He and Grandma were married when she was 21 and they made a good life together. He built the house they lived in on land his father had given him. By the time my mother and her sisters were teens, my grandparents had given them the two bedrooms and built a sleeping porch on the house for themselves. At least Grandpa was as warm-blooded as me, since the sleeping porch had half walls and then screens to the ceiling. There were curtains for when it rained, but no windows. And, even in winter, Grandpa would still be wiping his head with his handkerchief to deal with the sweat.

After Grandpa died, Grandma didn't really know what to do with herself. She hadn't slept alone for over 50 years, and it took a long time for her to learn to do it. Life without Percy was not the same, for her or for any of us. Sometimes I see a crop in the field and I wonder what it is, and Grandpa isn't there to tell me any longer.

1 comment:

kenju said...

I love reading your stories.