A few days ago I received a package from my grandmother. Inside was a collection of stories she had typed that my grandfather (affectionately known as Papa Joe) had dictated to her. It was filled with seven pages of anecdote after anecdote of childhood experiences. These were stories I had never heard before. It included the names of my great-great grandfather, great-great uncle, and others. It relayed the experiences of a mischievous boy sneaking into his father’s tobacco and homemade blackberry wine. It told of the time he got separated from his parents at the local county fair, went home with an uncle, and led his parents to think he had been kidnapped before returning home the next day. It reminded me remotely of the classic scene from Tom Sawyer where he appears at his own funeral.
There was another tale of a time when my grandfather tricked his friends into coming home with him. He told them he found a liquor still hidden by the creek near their home. The boys all came to his house after church so they could see this forbidden and illegal item. He walked them on a path to the creek hoping they would eventually grow tired and not want to see it anymore. No such luck. Realizing he was caught, he told them to “be very quiet and listen to how still it was.” Needless to say, they were not happy.
His stories outlined how his childhood dog saved his life from a fire and later was bit by a copperhead snake. It explained why even now — at 88 years old — anytime he gets poison ivy, it requires a doctor’s intervention to get under control. I read word after word having a fun time trying to reconcile the image of the grandfather I know with the naughty (but well-meaning) boy written about in this memoir.
I wish my other grandfather could have had his stories captured on paper for me and my children to enjoy before he died. I hope my grandmothers and parents can do this at some point, too. We are so aware that WWII veterans — members of “the greatest generation” — like my Papa Joe will not live forever. I hate to think of this. I don’t want to get my history from Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor….I want to hear the voices of those who lived it. And I don’t want to hear just war stories. I want to hear these stories from a simpler time…a real life Andy Taylor and Tom Sawyer rolled into one.
While we can’t live forever, I’m so thankful our words can. I’m so very grateful that one day my grandchildren can read the stories from their great-great grandfather and a time of long ago. Below is the front of my grandmother’s compilation. This is a picture of Papa Joe during his days in the Navy. He served in the Pacific during WWII.