Monday, January 30, 2012

My Pawpaw Slade

Relatives is the NaBloPoMo theme for next month, but in light of the passing of my Uncle Jack, I thought I would start a little early.

My Pawpaw was James Roy Slade, and he was a farmer. That really says much less about him than was admirable. He could build a gate so sturdy that the fence would be gone and the gate still swing plumb. He was a deliberate man, as I knew him. I would guesstimate he was well into his forties at the time of my first memories of him. 

They farmed on the side of the mountain just outside of Bluefield, VA. The community was known as Bluestone, and not a few of the people were related to his family. His father, Grat, whom my nephew Grat is named after, was a blacksmith, sawyer and farmer. There were [I think-] four boys {Lewis, Dan, Roy and Henry} and three girls {Mildred, Nancy and Francis} in the family. At least those are the ones I can remember. Pawpaw worked as a driver for Bluefield Produce circa 1935, though I am unsure when he left that job. In later years, he worked as a custodian at Graham High School and as a school bus driver.

He was a devoted family man, as well as a dedicated member of the Ebenezer United Methodist Church, the Masonic Lodge, and the Eastern Star. He worked hard, selling eggs, milk and butter to a sizable customer base in Bluefield as late as the 60s. 

In addition to the dairy cows and white leghorn chickens, he raised hogs and sheep. He owned mules, which were the muscle in front of the hay-rake, the mower and the plow. There was an apple orchard on the farm, as well as a grape arbor, berry thickets and at least one plum tree. He grew wheat and oats and field corn. There were hay fields. At various times there were ducks and rabbits as well. The vegetable garden was overflowing with tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, onions, cucumbers, green bell peppers, lettuce, cabbage, green beans, English peas, salad peas, beets, October beans, lima beans, and I am sure I am forgetting something.

He arose early in the morning, built up the fire in the cast-iron cook stove, and headed to the barn to milk. He milked by hand, assisted by his sons in the early years, and two of my half-brothers in the latter years. He came in from milking and feeding the stock for breakfast, then headed back out to do farm work the rest of the day, somehow managing to fit in work at a public job as well. 

I can remember well him smoking a pipe, or hand-rolled cigarettes when I was young, later switching to Viceroy cigarettes then chewing tobacco in his later years. He loved coffee, and would drink cold black coffee straight from the coffee pot in the afternoon. 

Winter evenings would often be occupied with secretive meetings between him and other men who came to learn the secret works of the Masons from him. 

He always had to have a sweet with buttered biscuits or cornbread with his evening meal. The sweet may be molasses (he made his own), honey (he harvested his own) or Mawmaw's ground cherry preserves. The butter was butter Mawmaw made by hand, from their own dairy cows. 

I have been told that in his younger days he would drink a bit of moonshine now and then, and that he was known to join in informal bluegrass performances. He wore false teeth, and would entertain us by taking them out from time to time.
My grandmother was the love of his life, he always called her Darlin'. He passed away very soon after her in the winter of 1986. I think he just withered without her, they married when he was about 17 and he was past 70 when he died.

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