Better Not Bitter

Below is a story of how my maternal grandfather became better, instead of bitter. He was born illegitimately and unwanted. But he grew up to become a caring and responsible husband, and father. He went from being a “Crop Sharer” to owning 15 acres of farmland. And it’s how he accomplished much more than all of that.  He left a legacy that’s lasted well into four generations by now.

I live within fifty miles of where my grandparents were born and raised. And so do many of my relatives. Therefore, I’ve left names out so as not to be in unnecessary conflict with my large extended family members.

My maternal grandfather was born in a very rural part of Western North Carolina, on April 5, 1898. His mother was sixteen and not married.  

After his birth, grandpa was handed over to be raised by other family members on both sides. That may have been the best decision since his mother had few resources to count on. His birth may not have even been welcomed news on her side of the family, because she was a middle child of fourteen children.

The 1900 Census shows his mother as a seventeen-year-old living over in Georgia with relatives. No baby or toddler was mentioned as living with her. (Census is collected the year before it’s published).

His dad had rejected his son, also.  But, apparently not everyone on his father’s side shared those feelings. My grandpa is listed in the 1910 Census as living with his paternal Grandmother in the community he was born in. Grandpa always went by his father’s surname

There must’ve been strong physical similarities between father and son. I’ve seen pictures of my grandfather’s half-brother and both share similar physical features.

Since his dad owned the only store in that community no doubt my grandpa crossed paths countless times in his early childhood with him. Human nature being what it is, I’m sure grandpa being rejected by his father was a difficult emotion for a young boy to bear.

His dad must’ve been a little hard to live with. I’ve found that he was married and divorced twice during his adult life. His head stone shows that he died in his fifties. And is buried in a single grave. No wife is listed on the headstone.  

In my childhood I remembered my grandpa as being stoic in nature.  Even so, he did seem to enjoy our family gatherings at his and granny’s farm. I’m sure us kids got on his nerves, constantly running in and out of their house, but he rarely showed it. He enjoyed sitting alone on his porch swing regardless of the weather. And did so when things got to be too much for him inside the house.

During grandpa’s early teenage years he was sent to live with an uncle just over the state line in GA. He owned a large apple orchard and needed his nephew’s help.

Grandpa didn’t stay long there, though. Within the year he was sent to Berry Boys Industrial School (the forerunner of Berry College). Their records have him listed as being taught carpentry. A skill he would use later in life.  He left Berry around a year later, never having graduated. His name and attendance record were found in their archives.

From there Grandpa joined the Navy and sailed to France. The year was 1917 and America was fighting WW1 on Europe’s Western Front. He’s listed as having served as a machinist on a frigate on his discharge papers.

After the war ended in 1918, my Grandpa found his way back to his birthplace. But why go back there? Grandpa had always been rejected by his father. I know this because I was told when his dad died in 1932, he left nothing but his last name to his illegitimate son.

About 1919, grandpa moved ten miles over to Murphy, NC. By then he was twenty-one, and looking to settle down. And Murphy proved to be just the right place to do that. This is where he met and married my granny. During the twenties, they had their four children. My mother was one of the two middle children.

During the Great Depression my grandparents became crop-sharers. Once, they got established than they became very frugal about all things.  Even so, it took years of “penny pinching,” for them to buy fifteen acres of farmland that included a small house.

In time Grandpa was able to add on to it and included indoor bathroom as well. It became a comfortable spacious one level home. They lived there for the rest of their lives.  

Life was hard for my grandparents. But I never knew them to be bitter about things, though. Instead they grew better about how life had turned out for them.

They never owned a vehicle of any type because grandpa had seizures. He never drove nor had a license. He did do house painting and carpentry when a ride was provided for him, though. Granny worked in mills or babysat children. Those jobs were their only income until they could collect Social Security. Plus, they farmed, raised chickens, and “bartered” whenever they could.

They were blessed in many ways all through their lives. I have many good memories of being at my grandparents’ house. Every family gathering at their house always included cousins, aunts and uncles, and lots of good farm fresh food. In the heat of summer afternoons, all of us kids would gather under a huge Weeping Willow tree at the edge of their yard. That’s where Grandpa would cut each of us a slice of cold juicy watermelon.

Grandpa and Granny were members of a small local church that they walked to on Sundays. They were the “salt of the Earth” kind of folks. They helped their large extended families however they could. All my childhood they seemed contented with what they had accomplished and how life had turned out for them.  

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

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