My maternal grandfather was born 2 years after the Civil War on land where the area’s longest and bloodiest battle was fought and is now known as the Chicamauga Military Battlefield in northwest Georgia.
The location and time of his birth made him the man he became: a transplanted southern gentleman whose life was ripped apart by the Reconstruction Act following the brutal battles of a nation torn apart by ideology.
As a youngster during those post-war years his father took the children and migrated to Missouri, hoping to find land and a way to make a living to support the family.
Granddad’s mother stayed behind holding onto the land they owned before the war. But after a year of struggling to farm in their new location, the family bundled up their meager goods and trekked back to Georgia.
More hard times followed, and once again the family uprooted and headed west to Arkansas, this time in a permanent move.
As a young man, Granddad became the first English teacher in the Oklahoma territory, just across the Arkansas state border, and began his adult years in a new town, an uncivilized territory, while teaching unschooled American Indian children.
He was an old man when I came along. At 76, he possessed a thick head of white hair, an easy manner, a bent toward healthy habits, and had made and lost a fortune, leaving his young second family struggling for survival in the late 1920s.
He had helped form his community as a charter member of the local Presbyterian Church, a charter member of the Lions Club, one of the organizers of the town’s first bank, and as owner of a real estate business. His livelihood crashed when one of the local coal mines exploded a second time killing 91 miners and devastating the community’s economic base after the mines quickly closed.
During the summers when my sister and I would visit our grandparents, I walked with him early mornings to his office Monday through Saturday, and he taught me Southern ways he learned as a child.
For instance, men walked on the outside edge of the sidewalk, shielding their women folk from getting splashed with mud and dust from the wagons being pulled by horses down the dirt streets. Women were to take two steps to a man’s one, rather than keeping stride with their male counter parts, and a man always removed his jacket to cover a mudpuddle so a woman could cross the street without damaging her clothes.
Times have changed, and I wonder how my Granddad would act in today’s world and what advice he would offer.
Would he still insist on walking next to the curb and always opening the door for a woman?
Would he still be a dedicated Democrat because Lincoln’s Republican party freed slaves and brought on Reconstruction?
Would he advise the nation to look carefully at what devastation a divided country creates?
And would he see the futility of war when brother is fighting brother, and families can’t sit together and agree to disagree?
I think he would know inequality is deadly, fortunes don’t last forever, and a walk to town keeps your mind clear.
At least, that’s what I would want him to know.