My grandfather was by far my favorite ancestor. Born in 1905, my grandfather was the oldest of his siblings. He met my grandmother when he went to her house to pick her sister up for a date. Granny opened the door and my grandfather fell in love with her. He took the sister on a date, but it was Granny that he took home to meet his mother. They were married in 1926.
My grandfather worked as a milk man and still had a route when my father was in high school. Dad told me he hated delivering milk as a teenage boy, because it just wasn’t cool. However, being a delivery man was in my grandfather’s blood. He had family who worked for the Se Ling Hosiery company. In 1931, my grandfather had his first job as a delivery driver. He began his route as a delivery driver for the Green Vale Milk Company sometime around 1941. By the time I was born, he no longer worked as a milk man, since few people still have milk delivered to their homes. He had a candy route and a hosiery route. He would deliver hose and candy to rural grocery stores all over Rutherford and Davidson County, Tennessee. Since he was older, my mother and aunts often helped him with his routes and it wasn’t usual for my mother and grandmother to take 6-8 kids with them as we delivered candy to the stores in his 1960s VW Minibus.
If you were a child during the late 1960s and early 1970s in Davidson, Bedford or Rutherford County, TN, and your parents bought you a store bought Easter basket, it was most likely made by my family. My grandfather was a delivery man for Curtis Candy Company and every Christmas as soon as dinner was over, we’d clean off my grandmother’s large dining table and we’d begin making Easter baskets. If you could walk, you had a job making the baskets. Mine was to separate the grass so that it would go further. It came in a little ball on tangled plastic and you could stretch it out and make the little ball cover the bottom of several baskets. The bottom of the basket was covered in a ball of newspaper, then on top of that went the Easter grass. Then a toy, usually a paddle with a ball, and a bunny and then some Easter eggs and some gum. Always penny gum. My favorite.
My grandfather always gave us penny gum when we went anywhere with him. Always 5 pieces. To this day, I can’t chew any other kind of gum. The smell of Double Bubble bubble gum will make my mouth water. I prefer gum over chocolate. Yes, ladies I just said that. Penny gum over chocolate. In the 80s when gum became designer, I couldn’t change to Hubba Bubba, I stayed with the penny Double Bubble of my child hood. Now you may be like my mom, why 5 pieces? Well, Pa explained it like this. One piece, and a child can still talk. Two pieces, and he may not be able to talk, but he can blow bubbles, which my grandfather hated more than talking. Three pieces, and the kid can still blow bubbles, but he can’t control the gum, so he gets in on his face and hands. Four pieces and the kid can still smack the gum. But with five pieces, the kids mouth is so full, he can’t talk, he can’t blow bubbles, he can’t get it on his face, and his jaw gets sore and he doesn’t smack the gum when he chews. Five was the perfect number. These days I can’t chew 5 pieces at once, but I can still blow a bubble with three and I still get it on my face.
My favorite thing to do was to go on the route with Pa. It was long known in the family that if you went on the route with Pa, you made sure you got out of the van with him, and you got back in the van before him. Otherwise, he’d forget he had you and you’d be left there until he ran the whole route and got back home. At home, your mom would make him retrace his steps until he found where he left you. Once when I was about six, Pa and I had gone out on the route. I was following him step for step all day, but we got to this one old country store out in the boonies of rural Tennessee and in the back room were two men playing checkers on a overturned pickle barrel. My dad was a champion checker player. My whole life I was never able to beat him at checkers. But at eight, I still believed someday I would get good enough to learn how, so I began to watch these two old men, fascinated by their tobacco chewing and the concentration they put into a simple game of checkers. I must have watched them for about 20 minutes when I realized Pa was gone.
And I began to scream! The old man who owned the store, and the two checker players had no idea what to do with this small, female, siren, who could not be appeased by anything or anyone but her Pa. And they knew my grandpa well enough to know he wasn’t coming back for many hours. Finally the storekeeper bribed me with a peanut butter sandwich and a hot Double Cola and turned me a pickle barrel up where I could eat my lunch and watch the game. Night time fell and I was beginning to think I was never going home again, when my grandfather came back to the store. He simply said, “I think I left something here this morning.”
But it didn’t stop me from going places with Pa. Probably because at home my grandmother, mother and aunts were constantly fussing at one kid or another, and with Pa, he just let you be. And he let me do all sorts of things my mother would have never let me do. One of my grandfather’s favorite things to do was go to auctions. I realize now that most of the homes we went to were probably distant relatives of my grandfathers and that is why he wanted to go to the estate sales. But at the time, I just thought it was cool that everyone in the world know my Pa, “the candy man” and no matter where he and I went, he was treated with respect. Once when I was about twelve, he told me I could have some money and I could bid on anything I wanted that day. So at the auction, I set my sights on this old milk carton with a chicken nest on top. In the nest were three eggs. I decided I wanted that nest with a passion like I have never wanted anything since. When the carton came up for bid, I bid $10 on it. Now we have to remember this is the mid 1970s. Inflation is at 28%. Ten dollars would fill up a car and you’d get change. Mom could feed us for several days on $10 and I’d just bought a chicken nest and three rotted eggs. My grandfather took my purchase and put it in the van and took me home, proud as punch that I’d made my first purchase at an auction. My mother was not as impressed. She berated him for letting me waste $10 on a chicken nest and three rotted eggs. She was a woman dealing with a twelve year old who was already mentally redecorating her room to fit the new purchase. He was a grandfather that had had the most awesome day with his grand child. I got to keep the nest. In my tree house.
My grandfather wasn’t a political man, but he loved politics. Every election, I’d have to pick who I was going to vote for, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote until years after he died. On election night, he and I would watch the election returns together. He would never tell me who he voted for, because he didn’t want to influence my opinions. Once when I was 6, Beverly Briley was running for reelection for Mayor of Nashville. He had a campaign truck that came to our small hometown and over loud speakers played his team song:
There’s a lot of politicking in this town….
There’s not a better man around more dedicated to this town
so vote for Briley when you pull the lever down.
Mayor Briley, Briley is the man,
He’s a good man, so let’s keep the man we’ve got
My grandfather let me get one of the records the campaign people were passing out. I am not sure what my mother’s opinion of Briley was while he was in office, but I know after three weeks of me singing that song non-stop, she hated him. He was reelected in 1971. In 1975, when Richard Fulton became Mayor, mom was his biggest supporter.
My grandmother died when I was twelve and Pa forever changed. I just don’t think he ever recovered. He married his sister-in-law and divorced her. He remarried. He did lots of things that drove my dad and his siblings crazy. But he was still my Pa and I still adored him.
He became sick when I was 15. He’d been in the hospital and the doctors had let my parents know they didn’t think he would live through the Christmas holidays. We celebrated Christmas early that year, because Mom and Dad knew Pa was so close to dying. He died on December 23. I felt like I had lost my best friend. To this day, when I eat a Baby Ruth candy bar, I can’t help but think about my Pa “the candy man”. His favorite candy….
#52Ancestors, part 5