Growing Up American
“Rob” and his wife, Pamela, enjoy life on their farm in Fairfield County, South Carolina. Rob is a retired county judge, having made law a second career, after a first serving as an officer in the USAF. Pamela retired from the public schools in South Carolina.
Editor’s Note: Rob is a long-time subscriber to The St. Croix Review. He embodies another example of living the American dream. The board of directors for The St. Croix Review encourages the submission of essays from our readership.
One of the defining influences in my up-bringing was my maternal grandfather — “Grandaddy” to me. I am the eldest of his grandchildren and had the very good fortune of being able to spend a lot of time with him throughout my boyhood.
My Grandaddy came from a huge family of Scots-Irish extraction in central South Carolina. One of 13, he was in the elder half of the siblings — not the eldest, but a long way from the youngest. His father had been a sharecropper who believed that more children equaled more hands to do more chores and tend to more land. Grandaddy attended school only so far as the fourth grade, but was one of the smartest men I have ever known. He had a natural mechanical aptitude: Give him just a little time with any machine and he would understand its workings, how to maintain it, and could even make the tools needed to fix it.
As a young boy, I was taken fishing and wading in the creeks and streams around his home. And I was introduced to farm chores. I had grown up pushing a lawnmower and tending to dogs, cats, and rabbits. But with Grandaddy, hoeing, weeding, watering, picking, were added to the repertoire. As I grew larger and could handle the animals, slopping the hogs, gathering eggs, and feeding the mules were also added. By the time I was 10 years old, I was about the size of many of the men in the area, so I was expected to pick up a man’s load of chores and responsibilities. I learned to plow with a team of mules; I could harness the mules and hitch them to a wagon to haul whatever I was told to haul.
As I grew larger and stronger, I was included in the rituals that came with the first freeze of the year: castrating the young pigs and helping with the butchering of those hogs that would provide meat for the family for the coming year. This was a process that would be repeated by each of the several brothers who all lived within a few miles of each other. Sometimes there would be a steer to be slaughtered and butchered and I had two good hands to add to the work!
These were intensely self-reliant and independent men. They lived for family, eschewed debt, wanted nothing from anyone outside the family, and loved to laugh and joke with one another.
One of the lessons I learned early at my Grandaddy’s knee — a lesson that would be repeated many times as I grew up — was this: there are three things a man should always have in his pocket — a handkerchief, a knife, and enough money to buy a dog. I understood the handkerchief, it was for wiping one’s face and might be useful if a nick or cut occurred. It should be clean at the start of the day, and changed for a fresh one the next morning. A knife was also of obvious purpose, and to my Grandaddy, it must be kept razor sharp. All edged tools were kept sharp — and handing him a dull hatchet, ax, hoe, or knife was a sure-fire way to earn a little love-tap to firmly seat the lesson! But the money was a puzzle. I did not grow up with affluence and my granddaddy was never a wealthy man, so it was confusing to me to be told I needed to have the cost of a dog in my pocket. So, I asked, “Grandaddy, how much does a dog cost?”
He told me it all depended on what kind of dog I wanted to buy and what use I intended for the dog. Any cur could be a pet, but a good gun dog for hunting birds or rabbits might be a costly proposition. The lesson he intended was that when I was ready to buy a dog — or anything for that matter, I needed to be able to reach into my pocket and hand over the price of that dog. No man ever should go into debt over something he wants — not needs, but wants. Good lesson. One that life has reinforced many, many times. *