Grandpa’s Address book
When I leave home, no matter where I am going, I usually carry my billfold. There’s very important stuff in there like my driver’s license in case I forget my name or where I live. I have pictures of my wife and daughters and those always make me smile. I have a little card tucked away under a flap with important phone numbers in case aliens abduct me then drop me off in New Mexico. I’ll have the number to call to let someone know where I am, if they want to come and pick me up, and if I can find a phone booth. Sometimes I have money in my billfold along with my credit card … just in case.
I don’t think Grandpa had a credit card or a need for one. There were no malls in Harrison, WV, and internet shopping was still years away. Grandpa had two little books he kept close at hand and sometimes carried in his pocket. He tucked items in there he wanted to keep and jotted down important notes. Aunt Irene saved the books and after she read a couple of the earlier chapters of these Grandpa stories, she thought there might be a story or two in the books so she shared them with me. I carefully browsed through, and I knew she was right. Lessons can be learned from the memories Grandpa recorded.
These books are just as Grandpa left them although they do show signs of wear and age. One book was his address book and the other was a diary or “jot it down pad” where a busy executive could make notes of the important stuff that had to be remembered. Grandpa driver’s license is still tucked in, with his signature neatly written on the back. I remember his red Chevy truck, shown here in and out of the mud. These photos are from a family outing to Groves Creek and Uncle Larry is about to work some kind of magic to fix the truck and get the show back on the road. Riding in Grandpa’s truck was a thrill, even if it was just the short bouncy trip to the hard top road to get the mail. Having the privilege to slowly and respectfully turn through the pages of Grandpa’s memory books is also a thrill and a privilege for me.
My father worked at Virginian Electric around the date stamped on the front of the diary, 1962, and I suspect he was the source of Grandpa’s book. I’m amazed at the heritage we can discover and the connections we can make between family members if we slow down and take a look at the evidence around us. My wife is an expert at this practice and our house has many items that belonged to her relatives, items that remind her of childhood days and loved ones long gone. I tease her about the family treasures and ask when we can sell them on Craig’s List, cash in, and retire, but I know those people and those memories are truly precious to her. I have a carpenter’s square that belonged to my Dad and a post hole digger that belonged to Pop and those are special to me. They’re still being well used.
I do not know all the people listed in Grandpa’s address book so I looked up our family name first to see if he had written us down. There it was, under the N’s, right where I would expect it. Mary Nichols. Grandpa added a couple of notes right below that entry, the words nuthatch and titmouse. I don’t think that was his opinion of Mom, though. Mom loves birds and no doubt she and Grandpa were on the porch discussing a feathered visitor or two. It is likely Mom had looked them up in a book and could call out their names while Grandpa could not. Mom can do the same thing with wild flowers and trees. Grandpa learned something new, and made a note of those bird names. Homer did not like to come out on the short end of a discussion and knowing and learning new things was second nature to him. The next person along would be asked, “Do you know what those birds are?” If not, Homer would share his knowledge.
As I browsed through Grandpa’s books the second and third time I found myself turning back to re-check earlier entries. I did not know Grandpa decided to give up drinking coffee. Was it for financial reasons? Did he have health issues? Or had he experienced a new religious awareness? He did not record the why but he wrote the words: “I quit drinking coffee” and he signed and dated it – November 27 1967. Later, above the same entry in his diary, in a different ink, he wrote November 14, 1969, so I guess he either renewed his vow or started it again. In his address book, Grandpa wrote “Coffee, last I drank”, June 27, 1977, 5 AM. I found one more notation about coffee – “coffee last drink” dated September 8, 1974 at 5:30 AM but it was crossed out. My wife tells me coffee is real good and I learned early in our relationship she is easier to be around before 9 AM, if you greet her with a hot cup of coffee. Grandpa was up early, moving around, and had done a full day’s work by 9 AM. Maybe coffee helped start his motor, too.
Grandpa loved to read the newspaper and stay current with the events and politics. He had a paper box down by the row of mailboxes at the paved road. It was an expectation that paper, the Charleston Gazette, would be in the box by a certain time every morning. The faithful deliveryman got the job done in rain and snow. Our driveway in Raleigh is about 40 feet long and I would come back from my 6 AM trek to get the paper empty handed some mornings and comment, “Well, the paper man must be sleeping in today!” Shawn would give me a smile and a wifely eye roll. Husbands and fathers of daughters know all about the female eye roll. The trip for Grandpa to get his paper was much longer and I am certain that paper gave him something to look forward to each morning and kept him getting up and out, even in bad weather. I found an entry he made, dated 11-18-71, “last Gazette came to my box at the hard top road”. No doubt the expense of delivering papers to a sparsely populated area was not bringing in the profits for the publishing company. Loosing that paper was a big loss to a man who loved to get his news fresh each morning.
Imagine sitting down with Grandpa and showing him how to browse web sites and locate information all around the world with a few key strokes. Picture his face watching a live web cam from a Charleston TV station showing the current weather outside the studio. Think of the joy he would have taken in knowing the news before any of his neighbors. I am certain Homer Miller would be swapping emails if he were given that opportunity. He would have taken on the challenge of learning something new. But none of these were options for him. Another entry provided his solution to the loss of the newspaper – “Started getting the Daily Mail” – February 13. 1973. Ouch! That’s the other Charleston newspaper, the one written by and for the other political party. Now that hurts!
Grandpa’s books are filled with notations about the weather – first frosts, snow accumulations, cold temperatures, and heavy rains. Much of his work was done outside so knowing what to expect from the weather each day offered a big advantage. We can look the weather up on the Internet and can get live streaming video showing the weather radar for the area. There is no excuse for not having that umbrella, or with the storms we see in North Carolina, a rope so you can strap yourself to something solid till it blows over. I can find the weather for the Mountain State anytime by simply calling home. I think Mom is an undercover agent for the National Weather Service and she can provide up to the minute weather information for the cost of phone call. And she did not get that from a stranger, judging by Grandpa’s weather related jottings. My favorite out of all Grandpa’s weather notes is this one – “Jan 13, 1972 – 70 degrees at 1 PM. Been sunshine, now becoming cloudy. Chance of rain and snow. So they say. Ate dinner on the porch.” Don’t you love that?
Grandpa made a habit of colleting facts, trivia, dates, names, and even riddles. Here are some examples:
- Did you know the safety pin was invented by Walter Hunt in 1840? The clipping, likely from one of the Charleston Sunday papers, stuck in Grandpa’s diary proves the fact.
- Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president to take office (age 42) while John Kennedy was the youngest president elected to office (age 43). I checked the record and Theodore Roosevelt became president after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.
- On July 20, 1969, men landed on the moon for an important mission. Grandpa recorded the time down to the second: 4:17:40 PM. A few hours later Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and Grandpa again recorded the exact time: 10:56:20 PM. Wonder what Homer Miller was thinking at that moment? I recall I was glad we got to stay up late to watch and was thankful our TV was working at the time. We had many TV-less neighbors sitting in the living room with us that night.
- There is a spot in the southwestern United States where a person can stand in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all at the same time. Wonder if Homer wanted to go there, stand, and have his picture taken?
- Grandpa loved to catch people with a riddle they could not answer. I found some of his good ones.
A. What goes up and down at the same time?
B. What country do we keep in the kitchen cupboard?
C. What has nothing outside and nothing inside, yet has a cover?
D. What has hands but cannot wash them?
E. What has a tongue and does a lot of walking, but cannot eat, drink, or talk?
F. What has ears but cannot hear a thing?Answers to the riddles: A. A stairway. B. China. C. A bubble. D. A clock. E. A shoe. F. A cornstalk.
- I can imagine the twinkle in Grandpa’s eyes as he clipped this joke and stuck it in his diary. Wonder which of his children or grandchildren came to mind?
Scattered through Grandpa’s books are notations about people who died. Most of the clippings he saved were obituaries from the newspaper telling about the loss of family, friends, and co-workers. He especially noted the passing of past US presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower – Ike in Grandpa’s note – (March 28, 1969), Harry Truman (December 26, 1972), and Lyndon Johnson (January 22, 1973). Those who have been around a while seem to know there’s a limit to the number of our heartbeats. Grandpa lived life knowing it is precious and short and we have to make the most of every minute. Dwelling in the past or carrying a crushing load of bitterness will only keep us from enjoying those minutes. He carried memories, not to dwell in the past, but to remind himself to live today and look forward to the future. Someday there will be a Miller reunion like no other!
I had to stop and wipe some tears as I carefully unfolded one piece of paper, nearly pristine, hidden in Grandpa’s diary. It was a receipt from Carl Wilson Funeral Home, in Clay, West Virginia. The paper was dated February 10, 1983. Grandpa had buried his bride, Lettie, the love of his life. He kept this powerful reminder of their life together. I carefully folded it and put it back in the book. Sometimes we just know we’re stepping on hallowed ground.