Based Grandpa: A Southern Example

All of us have family stories that have been passed down through the generations. Many of these tales contain half-truths but they are packed full of life lessons.  These stories tell us about another time, a time when being a white Southerner was worn as a badge of honor. A time when a man could be a man and could stand up for what was right. A gentleman could speak his mind without having to hide behind an anonymous sock account on Facebook to protect his family and livelihood. All of us long to live in a society like our grandparents.

I was never fortunate enough to know my grandpa Walter. As a child, my father would tell me numerous stories of that great man’s exploits. He was a Southern man through and through, with a selfless nature that cared more for the well being of others than his own individualistic pursuits. Raised on a farm in Western North Carolina, he played three sports in high school and was offered a scholarship to play football in college. Due to the age of his parents, he opted out of college, where he had always wanted to be a dentist. Instead, he stayed home and helped to keep the farm running.

When he was in his twenties a terrible flu spread through the small town. Several people died or were hospitalized as a result of the epidemic. One family in particular had a 2 year old son. Over the course of a week both parents tragically passed away, leaving the 2 year old boy all alone. No one in the town was willing to enter the home due to the contagious nature of this flu bug. Grandpa Walter, being young and healthy, volunteered and rescued the boy. The boy was eventually adopted and grew up to be a very successful lawyer.

Grandpa Walter was a hard worker who, after marrying my grandmother in his early twenties, took on odd jobs around town to make a living for his new family. In addition to farm work, he worked as a road worker, pumping gas, selling chewing tobacco, and running a hotel at night. These jobs may not have been as personally fulfilling as his childhood dream of being a dentist or athlete but he cared more about providing for his new family and being there for his aging parents.

Although the odd jobs he worked provided little excitement, there was one incident during his stint working a hotel front desk that is worth mentioning:  He was working the night shift and around 11:00 PM a stranger entered the lobby. The man requested a room for the night and as Grandpa turned to get the room key he felt a heavy blow to the back of his head. The stranger had bashed him with a crowbar, intending to rob him. Grandpa knew he couldn’t fall over or he could potentially lose his life. He somehow maintained his composure, turned around, and called the man a son of a bitch. The stranger was clearly startled that Grandpa was still conscious and took off running. Grandpa Walter grabbed a pistol and took after him. Unfortunately, he got away but Grandpa had prevented a robbery and perhaps even saved his own life. That’s toughness.

Speaking of toughness, Grandpa Walter valued honor and decency above all. As a good Southern Christian, he always showed ladies the ultimate respect and he didn’t tolerate any disrespect or rude behavior from others. During WWII, Grandpa was working in Baltimore for the armaments industry. One day, he was out for a stroll with his teenage daughter. As they walked down the street a young black man made a vulgar remark to his beautiful daughter. Before she could even turn around, the Negro was flat on his back and standing over him was Grandpa Walter with a clinched fist. There is some dispute of what was actually said but from what I gather Grandpa told him in no uncertain terms that if he ever even looked at his daughter again, he would be hanging from the nearest oak tree. The Negro wisely got up and ran in the other direction.

When Grandpa was in his early 40’s, he ran into hard times. The farm had failed and there was no other work in the town he had been born and raised in. Having a wife, 3 children, and a widowed father at home, he had to find work. It was a difficult decision but he was forced to leave his beloved North Carolina. He borrowed 50 bucks and bought a bus ticket to Flint, Michigan. He got a job at General Motors catching hot steel off of an assembly line. All those years working on the farm served him well and he excelled in what was a very dangerous job. He was eventually able to retire to Florida in his late 60’s. Instead of retiring to play golf all day, he decided to keep working. He got a job as a golf caddy, carrying clubs and cleaning carts. The man didn’t believe in “retirement.” He worked until he had a heart attack, shortly after the passing of his beloved wife. His final years were spent sitting on the deck, whacking chameleons with his smoking pipe.

In his final days, he had my father take him on a pilgrimage back to his hometown in North Carolina. He visited his childhood home, the old farm, and the graves of his wife and his parents. He lived a full life, a life that may have not been successful by the measurements our modern society has set up but it was successful in the things that truly mattered. Although he never did anything monumental, he stood for the Southern values all of us are seeking to revive and defend. He left behind a treasure trove of stories, stories that I can look back on and learn from. These stories give us something to strive for.

I fear what our grandchildren will say about us. Will they have stories like this? Will they hear of bravery, courage, strength, selflessness, sacrifice, hard work, and honor? Or will they simply look back on us as the ones who played video games all day and watched internet porn? We were the fat, old loser who died sitting in a cubicle while we cashed in our 401K. We should not only honor our ancestors, we should seek out the best examples and strive to be what they were.  We must build a society where men like my grandfather are the norm and leave our grandchildren with an example they can be proud of and aspire to.

~ T.J. Dabney

5 comments

  1. Unfortunately, many folks had to leave the South for the Auto industry work in Michigan during the 1920s and 30s. Many never returned to the South. My grand aunt used to tell me stories about all the people from Henry County Tenn who went to Detroit for work. She said it was like being back home in some respects. Her daddy was Henry Ford’s personal assistant and driver. He always said Mr Ford liked to hire Southerners for their work ethic. When, as a little girl, she fell and broke her wrist, Henry Ford made it a point to visit her in the clinic. She used to love talking about that, lol!

  2. Loved this story.Truly a great man.Christ is proud of those who live decent lives unconcerned with materialism.I am sure he is in Heaven.Sad that we have so few examples like him nowdays but this is by the Devils design.I delighted that he smashed the Black and felt sadness as he visited the graves of kinfolk in his last years,he would be proud you told his story so well.We all gain strength when we hear stories of Southerners from the past and the happiness and sorrow they experienced and how they carried on.Well done and God Bless you.

  3. Reminds me of my grandfather, also a great man. He barely got through 10th grade, choosing instead to work his family farm & leaving school to do so. He married my grandmother at age 16, she was 15 & they were married on the side of the road by the Justice of the Peace who came by once a week for just such a thing. They had 8 children, 3 girls and 5 boys, one who was lost at a young age, the day after his 9th birthday because a drunk driver, none other than the schools “star quarterback” was out drinking, driving too fast and hit Jack who was riding his bike he got the day before. My mom saw the whole thing happen.

    The first heart attack my grandfather had was when they told him Jack had succumbed to his injuries. The trial after was worse my mom said. The driver, his parents were wealthy, connected and liberal, they paid off a judge and the jury. My grandfather received a pittance while the murderer walked free. Made my moms senior year hell because people talk & they said my gran was just after the money. That wasn’t true. And for years my mother said she heard her father crying in the middle of the night over Jack. The driver, led a sad, sorry life. His wife left him for another man. His kids hated him. He became an alcoholic, lost every job he had except as coach up at the school he used to be a star of. He died alone, at his desk from a heart attack. A tiny bit of justice.

    My grandparents had a TON of land, a farm, a pecan orchard that people traveled miles to come pick pecans. He had cows, horses, goats…summers, holidays there were amazing. Then he started getting slower in his late 60’s, forgetful and overdrew his bank accounts. Sold a parcel of land for 90,000 and that didn’t even cover his overdraft. At that point, my aunt took over & that was the end. Poor money management by her, up to and beyond his death, then up to and beyond my grandmothers. So, the house had to go. The house he helped build. I remember being 4 years old and seeing just the front porch steps and brick masons working on the walls. Now, it’s someone else’s house. Of course, all the land, as far as you could see around his home, no one else for MILES & MILES, more of it had to get sold to take care of things. Gradually houses popped up closer and closer where there were none before.

    10 years ago my grandmother died & with her, every tradition my family had. I spent every single Christmas Day in their home & now, it was going to be someone else’s. The last time I was there the house was empty. All her furniture, gone & they were selling other various items. I got what I wanted, my grandads glass ashtray where he say his pipe (my grandmother never moves either even though he died 12 years before her) and his valet chair where he sat to put on his shoes every morning. Oh, and one of his fedoras, The man knew how to dress.

    He truly was a dying breed & I still miss him to this day. His passing just about flattened me at the time. I’m sad he’s gone but glad he never had to live to see exactly what our world has turned into.

    We need more men like both of them.