Having attained the present status of well into middle-aged, I contemplate the question, “What are the sum of the accomplishments in my life worth?” My heart is still eighteen. I would like to summit Mount Everest, explore the deep reaches of some cave, and travel to exotic places. Reality is that I climb ladders, dig ditches, and go grocery shopping in Pelzer.
What is a great accomplishment? What defines a truly great man? I am growing in love with the concept that true greatness often involves getting up daily and faithfully dealing with hard circumstances. I have future blog plans to chronicle the lives of some of the great men in my life. Often people would overlook their life as insignificant in the rabble of humanity. Greatness is sometimes, as simple as being faithful to a promise made at an altar, or working a thankless job to provide Captain Crunch and milk for your kids at breakfast. Some people’s existence is so miserable that greatness is that they just get up and deal with it one more day.
My maternal grandfather, Herman Gladdish Sr. was a truly great man. He first saw the light of day in 1902 to family struggling with a hardscrabble existence in Christian County, Kentucky. He had a sixth grade education in a small school in Castleberry, Kentucky. I always wondered if family hardship caused him to have to stop with an elementary school education. When I asked my aunt about this she said, that he went as far as the school went in that area would go, and then he started life. As a teenager he went to work in the only major industry available in that area of Kentucky, coal mining.
Diamond Rio published a song in 1994 that describes the life well.
His eyes are greener than the meadows
His hair is greyer than a ghost
His lungs are blacker than the shadows
That dance in circles down below
You see them every Monday morning
Electric halos light their way
Five days of widows mourning
But Friday rolls the stone away
Kentucky mine, doing time
Never see the light of day
Kentucky mine, stand in line
Just to dig your own grave
From coal dust they make a living
To coal dust they will return
The earth is good but unforgiving
And someone’s got to keep the fire burnin’
Daddy says, ¡°Listen to me,
Do not follow where my footsteps lead¡±
And everything he said was true
but what’s a Kentucky boy like me to do?
Diamond Rio, Love a Little Stronger, Kentucky Mine.
It was a thankless existence. It played havoc with his health. In spite of everything he managed to make it to 72. He spent the last years of his life with his health broken down with the toughness of surviving, and yet he was a truly great man.
My mom had several great stories of Grandpa Gladdish. In 1934, five years into the Great Depression, my grandmother lay on the delivery table for her third pregnancy. My mother was born, and Grandma didn’t feel the immediate relief that getting the baby in this world brings. The doctor checked around, and announced that this was actually a set of twins. We were never allowed to tease Grandma about this, but her famous quote was that she looked at Grandpa and said, “Now what are we going to do?” Grandpa’s greatness was revealed in the fact that he faithfully dealt with the problem of four kids in the Great Depression in rural Kentucky. He was good to his kids. He saw his oldest son go off to Korea, and survive to father three boys who have good memories of Poyo. He watched his three daughters go through High School on to Colleges, and some on to Graduate School, and live the dream of education that his country existence never provided him.
Grandpa Gladdish had a cute and quiet sense of humor. My Grandma had a morbid fear of us drowning in the bathtub. One day she was giving my brother and I a bath in an inch of water. We were crying for her to add some water to the tub and making a terrible racket. My grandpa walked in the room and assessed the situation and said, “Well Mammy, what you are trying to do, dry clean them babies?”
One of the best stories that my Grandma used to tell is that my Grandpa had a neighbor that used to send his kids into his garden to steal his vegetables. Grandpa’s farm land was away from his house so they would have to drive out to do the work in the garden. They would pull up, and Brother McKinley’s family would be running off his land with absconded vegetables. Brother McKinley was great at putting on airs in the local Baptist church, and the local preacher of the day usually had a higher opinion of this “Dear Saint” than his neighbors. Brother McKinley went out to meet his maker, being eulogized by a preacher who didn’t know him said, “Often you worry about the destiny of someone who has gone on, but you don’t have to worry about Brother McKinley anymore.” Grandpa never cracked a smile, but he reached over and pinched my Grandmother so hard that she remembered if for years.
Grandpa died when I was thirteen. I remember a few things about him that were special to me. He had a little riding lawnmower with a homemade trailer. When we would come up to visit him he would let us drive the thing around the yard. If we went out to eat he always wanted each child to have their own plate. We lived in Arizona until I was seven. Each year he and Grandma would ride a Greyhound bus for three solid days to come out and see us. Grandpa faithfully went to his local church all his life.
He and Grandma had kind of a tough marriage. They were educationally mismatched by ten academic years. I never saw my mother fight or argue with my dad. She used to always say that I grew up with my parents arguing so much that I determined that I would never do that in my marriage. In spite of that they dwelt together for 40+ years. On the day of my Grandfather’s funeral, I saw my Grandmother wail with her grief. Despite the rocky times he truly loved her.