Thursday, January 17, 2008

Grandpa George

I wish you all had known my Grandfather Atkins. Actually, I wish I had known my Grandfather Atkins. He died when my father was still a young boy in 1938. I was named after my grandfather, George Clyde Atkins. George, I can handle, but the middle name of Clyde never did give me a “warm fuzzy.” I always thought of myself as a camel, from a popular song back in the sixties. I guess I resented being the kid that had to carry on the name for family’s sake. However, as I grew older, my opinion started to change.

The family, uncles & aunts, would visit and tell stories about my grandfather that would interest me. Such as examples of his honesty, or perhaps his work ethic which was certainly worthy of admiration. The stories that would interest me most were about the way he provided entertainment for the small community in which he lived and worked. He worked as a foreman on a modest but successful farm in rural Virginia. In the evenings families visited their neighbors more frequently than they do now. There were no TVs, or Stereos. Most families in the area were too poor to afford movies or dinning out. Even if they could afford it, such places weren’t available around Porter’s Crossroads, VA.

When families would visit my grandparents they would always ask my Grandfather George to tell them about the latest novel he was reading. From what I understand he had an appetite for reading the frontier novels of Zane Grey that was never satisfied. So he would tell the story. “Riders of the Purple Sage,” “The Last Trail,” and many others were always told with an intensity that kept listeners on the edge of their seats, even if they had heard his telling of the story before. Folks would listen for hours I’m told. One night he provided a special treat, according to my Uncle Jack,as he had just finished the novel “Tarzan.”

I came across some information about my Grandfather from an unexpected source one day. I’m sure it is the most precious bit of knowledge I will remember. I was seventeen years old at the time and very much into myself. The year was 1968. Integration in the Public Schools in Virginia was still something new that both Black and White kids were trying to get used to. I do think the kids were doing better at it than their parents, but that still remains to be seen even today. Anyway.

I was hitchhiking to football practice one day in the summer prior to the school year starting, when an elderly African-American couple stopped to give me a ride. I got into the back seat beside a young lad my same age who just happened to be member of the school basketball team, as well as a friend of mine. It turns out that the couple was his grandparents, so introductions were made.

The elderly gentlemen then asked me, “You must be the grandson of Mister George Atkins, correct?” I told him that I was, but that I never knew my Grandfather. He said, “I knew your grandpa, you should have known him, he was a good man.” He told me how his father and family would buy livestock in Wytheville. It was about a sixteen mile trip over a mountain trail. They would herd their horses and mules and drive them over the trail. He said, “We would always make sure to see that Mister George could go with us. Mister George would tell us all the stories that he could remember and we all laughed and had lots of fun. The trip always seemed too short. But the real reason that my daddy wanted Mister George with us was because he knew them White Traders weren’t going to try and cheat us with Mister George there.”

Nowadays I sit around and read Louis L’Amour or, perhaps, study my drama script. I think of how nice it would have been to have known and shared my Grandfather with my own family. But then sometimes I wonder; maybe my name isn’t all that I got from my Grandfather. I no longer despise my middle name, I’m thankful for it. I pray that God will let me live up to it.

Written by George Atkins 1-17-2008