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Home on the Range

In to the Wind

December 4, 2013
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

If I close my eyes, and think real hard, I can almost hear grandpa singing one of his cowboy songs. I imagine it to be "Home on the Range." Grandpa was a wonderful singer, and could regale you with the harmonica, or "mouth harp" for the lead in, and then break into wonderful song.

Grandpa was also a great mechanic, a Ford mechanic I should add. Overcoming great obstacles, and the encumbrance of only having a sixth grade education, spent the last few years of his life teaching auto mechanics at a high school. He was determined and smart. Many of his generation were not able to finish school, because their labors were needed to help support the family. His family was quite large, 10 kids. So was Grandma's, also 10 kids. Times were tough. Children were a sort of wealth, and pitched in to help the family survive.

On my mother's side of our clan, both of my grandparent's families were in the lumber business. Great grandpa Stanley owned a mill. They moved it from time-to-time around the area. All of the kids, when old enough, were expected to carry their own load. Great grandpa Kelley worked for Stanley, and lived either in the camp, or close by, with all the kids.

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Rural life can be harsh, and isolated. Roads then were seldom paved, at least in their neck of the woods. A trip to Marshalltown or Toledo was a treat, and didn't happen very often. They made the best of the situation, and became a very close knit community, or family, so-to-speak.

My grandpa Stanley, two of his brothers, and two of his sisters each married Kelley siblings. Another of grandpa's brothers married a Kelley cousin.

I remember huge family reunions when I was a kid. All of the aunts and uncles, with all the cousins, got together for a big party at least once a year. It was really fun. I don't think it is unusual, or very different from many such families from that era in rural Iowa. Most of my great uncles and aunts were "double" great uncles and aunts, from both sides of the family. Many of the cousins, from my mother's generation also have large families. My parents have seven. You can imagine the number of "double" second cousins, once removed, all of us kids have. It was fun trying to figure it all out, but much harder trying to explain all of this to you.

There are a pair of old boxcars, still standing, on D Avenue in west Tama County, where the Kelley patriarch spent some of his last years, while working for a local farmer. My mother took me there. She remembers going to visit her grandma at that place, when she was a girl. My uncle Jim, her brother, had similar recollections when I quizzed him. Their memories have the boxcars a little farther east and north of where they now sit. Mom remembers a dam great grandpa built on a stream there in order to make a small pond. She remembers them having to dynamite the dam in order to restore the stream when an environmental agency intervened. She also says the alignment of the road was a little different then, and there was an old store at one of the crossroads where the grandchildren used to walk in order to retrieve the mail and spend a penny on a treat.

I sometimes imagine that once, many years ago, one of the patriarchs, or one of the sons trod this 43 acres of timber we call Gilly Hollow. I believe there is some history here, just maybe not associated with my family. Maybe someone, quite like me, in the distant future, will wonder back to these times and recollect their heritage, and ponder how rough rural life was back at the turn of the twenty-first century, how slow early winter thaws turned the gravel roads and lanes into sodden, muddy messes.

I began this trip down memory lane by telling you about grandpa. He was indeed a remarkable man. I remember him dragging us kids outside to see Echo, the first US venture into space. Once he took us to a ham radio friend of his to listen to Sputnik, the first satellite, a Russian project. I remember distinctly the beeps and white noise emanating from that old ham's radio. Grandpa knew the schedule for all the satellites that were visible. Maybe he gleaned them from the "Grit" magazine omnipresent on his living room table. I don't remember for sure, but do credit him with my lifelong love of space science and radio communication.

Grandpa was not alive when Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. I'm sure he would have been as enthralled as me, eyes glued to the television set, soaking in the space history in the making. I thought about grandpa while I watched.

Grandpa never had to even think about replacing the battery in his iPhone, or how the manufacturer cleverly made it impossible for mere mortals to even replace. A trip back to the mother ship is in order or a foray into uncharted waters for the bold and fearless.

Grandpa never had to even think about that electronic module in his Jeep ignition system leaving him stranded along the side of the road. Heck, grandpa could even gap the points on his ignition system with a matchbook cover as a feeler gauge. And to be honest, grandpa wouldn't have driven a Jeep anyway; he was a Ford man, tried-and-true.

Sometimes I feel sorry for contemporary kids. They have so much and so many things to keep them amused, that their attention span is about as long as an action sequence in a video game.

I'm sure grandpa never worried much about the price of gasoline. You know, when gasoline was cheap, I mean really cheap, the fraction of the family budget it demanded wasn't even a care, and much less a worry like it is now. I now find myself strategizing on how to squeeze the most value out of that expensive tank of gas.

Grandpa never had a weather alert radio. I'm sure he would have liked it though. When they issue storm warnings, and that thing alarms in the middle of the night, it scares the bejabbers out of me.

Yep, I miss you grandpa.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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