Tennessee Mountain Stories

Grandpa Smith – Part 2 from Callie Melton’s ‘Pon My Honor

Following is an excerpt from ‘Pon my Honor by Callie Melton:



Since I’m dedicating this book to Grandpa Smith, I think I should tell you a little more about him other than his name and dates… names and dates don’t tell much about a person really, but they are important just the same.  Grandpa was known far and wide as Uncle Alex… and I don’t guess he ever saw a stranger in his whole life… he probably met a lot of people that he’d never seen before, but to him they were simply friends he’s just met.

Grandpa was a typical Tennessee Mountaineer… kind, gently, easy-going, free-hearted, not too work brickle, and with a marvelous sense of humor.  No matter what the situation, he could find something funning in it… like the story he’d tell of the old woman whose husband was being buried that day.  Everything was ready to go from the house to the graveyard for the funeral, but the neighbor man who was going to haul the old man to the graveyard was late getting there.  Since idleness was a cardinal sin in the pioneer existence, the old woman set for a few minutes after she’d put on her bonnet.  Then she got up and got her work, turned to the rest of the women and said, “They’s no use to waste time.  We kin jest knit while we air a-waitin’ fer the wagin.”

Grandpa couldn’t read or write, but that didn’t mean he was ignorant.  He knew more about the things around him than anyone I have ever known.  The weeds, the herbs, the trees, the birds… you just name it and Grandpa could tell you something interesting about it.  We had few books when we were growing up, so if we wanted to know about something we had to ask Grandpa.  He would tell us about the weather… the dominecker clouds, the mare’s tail clouds, the sunsets, the sunrises, the cricket’s chirrup, the train at Algood climbing the Brotherton Mountain… and what each thing told him about what kind of weather was in store for us.

He was a born fisherman, and when he’d take us fishing he’d always tell us the do’s and don’ts to obvserve if we wanted to catch any fish.  He’d tell us of the big mud turkles [sic] that lurked in the dep pools, and how they’d hang on till it thundered if they got their teeth in one of our toes.  He’d tell us about the seven different kinds of meat in a turkle’s body, and how good turkle meat was if you cooked it right.

He’d tell us about the time of the Big Snow and Freeze that had happened long before any of us young’uns were born, and how it got so cold that the chickens froze to death and fell off the roost… and down on Martin’s Creek even some people froze to death, too.  Then there’b be the story of the time of the total eclipse of the sun, when it got so dark at mid-day that the cows come up to the gap to be milked and the chickens flew up to roost, and how many people thought it was the end of Time and were just about scared to death…things like that were going to happen for there was nothing, not even an almanac, in the way of weather forecasting.

We would be afraid to go to sleep after he’d told us about Big and Little Harp, and the awful things they’d done… slitting babies’ throats and knocking little boys’ brains out, as well as killing about any grown person they run into.  He’d tell us about Tinker Dave Beaty, the notorious Yankee bushwhacker, and the people he’d killed and the man things he’d done… and how he was even meaner than the Harps for he’d had a good raising and maybe they hadn’t.

Grandpas’ speech was as full of tang and color as the leaves on Clark Mountain in the fall, or a glass of hard cider fresh from the springhouse.  He never lacked for a word or an expression to give us his exact meaning… but he talked just like everybody else did who lived in his time and place.  He never cared for material things… just enough food to keep him from being hungry, enough clothing to keep him warm in cold weather, and a place to shelter him from the elements.  He wasn’t a leading light in the Church, but I never heard him swear or use a dirty word in my life… nor did I ever know him to do a mean or under-handed thing… I don’t believe he had a mean bone in his whole body.

Grandpa lived a long and a full life… from pioneer days through the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, and into the horrors of World War II.  He loved everything and everybody… but he loved us young’uns better than anything else.  He died praying to live only until his grandsons got home from Across the Waters so he could see them once more.

Grandpa enriched our lives greatly.  He was the hub around which our world turned while we were growing up.  He did not leave us anything in a material way, but he left us something infinitely more valuable than gold or silver.  We miss him still, but we do not think of him with sorrow.  And that is the way he would have it be… that we remember with joy the days he lived among us.  He would have us be the kind of young’uns that would do him proud… good, kind, generous, and above all, full of the joy of living no matter what our lot.