Posted by Suzanne Ferrell May 28 2012, 10:24 am
It’s Memorial Day in the United States. It used to be called Decoration Day and we honor all our war veterans, living and deceased. It used to always be celebrated on May 30th. Why? Uhm, because at the time, that was a day with no know battles on it and it was meant to honor those soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War I it became a way to honor veterans of all wars.
But I always think of my”Granpa Sherm” on Memorial Day.
William Sherman Lewis was born in March, 1888, in western North Carolina. His family eventually crossed over the mountains into Tennessee and to a place called Spivey Mountian near a small town called Erwin. He married my grandmother when he was 31. They had 10 children, all but one growing to adulthood, and were married 66 years. He had 15 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren by the time he died in December 1987. Yep, he lived 99 years and 9 months. A short obituary that tells a lot about a man. He was patient, loyal, passionate and hard working.
But there is so much more that I love about him. He was in his 70’s when I came along. When my mother put me in his arms, he looked up at her and said, “Mary, that’s the most beautiful baby in the world.” (Awww…see why I love him?)
In his long life he saw so many changes in the world. Think about it. When he was born Queen Victoria was still on the throne, the United States numbered only 38 and the telephone was only 12 years old. When he was a child and young man, most people still traveled by horse or horse drawn vehicles. The model T was first manufactured in 1908. There weren’t many the mountains of Tennessee. So I doubt this made much of an impact on Granpa Sherm.
Something more devastating did. World War I. You know that movie Sgt. York with Gary Cooper? It’s a true life story about a young man from the Appalachia mountains who went reluctantly to war and because of his skill as a hunter, became a hero. No, Granpa Sherm wasn’t Sgt. York. (There really was a Sgt. York.) But he had the same skills and was just as reluctant to go to war.
Imagine a young man from such an isolated world going to NY City, then to Paris and eventually into the horrible reality of the trenches. He saw his first airplane, crossed the ocean on an ocean liner, watched men die.
It was after WWI that he came home and met my grandmother. “Prettiest girl on all of Spivey Mountain,” he said to me once. There was still a twinkle in his eyes.
He worked on the local train line, but he and his children also worked the farm. They grew all their own food and they also grew tobacco, which at the time was a fine way to make extra money. Ten children, you needed extra money.
My mother was the middle girl and smack in the middle of the brood. She told me they didn’t have electricity in their house until she was a teenager—just in time to listen to soap operas, The Shadow, Amos & Andy and learn to dance the jitterbug to Big Band music. She told me how happy Granpa Sherm was to bring electricity and a radio into his family’s lives.
Then one day one of the older brothers bought a Model T, used, of course. He drove it up to the house. Grandp Sherm was impressed and decided if his son could drive the thing, so could he. So, Granpa Sherm climbed in, put the thing in gear, drove it down the mountain path and promptly ran into a tree. He climbed out, shook his head and said, “Ain’t never gonna do that again.” (He was willing to try new things, but was a man who understood his own limits.)
He sent 3 sons off to fight in WWII. I imagine he talked with each one about war, doing their duty and how to stay safe. All 3 came home safe and sound. Two met and married their wives and moved to Columbus, Ohio. Another served in the Army during the Korean conflict and two more early in the Vietnam era.
By the time I was old enough to walk and talk, he was my favorite person to talk with. He fascinated me. He taught me to play and cheat at checkers. He taught me how to deal cards and play fairly. I never quite got the gist of his favorite game Pinochle. (The bidding was so weird!) He taught me how to fish, how to bait my hook and how to reel in a trout. My sister was always better at this than I.
Poppy, (as my mom and her siblings called him), hated Yankees. It took me a while to figure this out. At first I thought it was the baseball team. Then as I learned about the Civil War, I thought it was all Northerners. Nope, just New Yorkers. (To this day, I have no idea why.) I figured this out one day when we were watching JEOPARDY! One of the contestants was from upstate NY. Didn’t matter. You were from NY, you were not loved by my Granpa. It always made me giggle, when he’s say, “Damn Yankees.” Then he’d grin and wink at me. (So, maybe he didn’t hate them that much.)
By his 90’s he was very frail. (You can see by the pictures.) He had adult onset diabetes and had three heart attacks. He was nearly blind and a little deaf. But if you took the time to sit beside him and tell him who you were, he could still have long conversations with you. He loved my mama, admired the life she’d made and the family she had. (I sometimes believe she was his favorite, but he never told her.)
So, on Memorial Day, he always comes to my mind and I miss him.
Who comes to your mind on Memorial Day? Does your country have a day to remember not only veterans, but those we love and miss
Posted in Memorial Day, remembering loved ones. Veterans., Suzanne Ferrell