I never knew my maternal grandfather. He died in the late sixties, several years before I was born. My paternal grandfather passed away even earlier than that - when my dad was still a kid. When I was younger, I never gave much thought to not having a grandfather; like most children, I accepted the ins and outs of my family dynamic without question. Other children had granddads, and of course I understood the concept. I just didn't have one of my own.
We never really talked about my dad's father - I guess he was just too young when his dad died to be able to relay much about him to us - but my mom talked about her father every so often while telling me stories of her childhood. I remember being fascinated by these tales of my mother as a girl. I listened faithfully, rapt in her memories, learning about my grandfather (whom my mother referred to as "Daddy" and my sister and I always called "Papaw"), his huge heart and wicked sense of humor. There weren't many of these anecdotes, and I can still quote them chapter and verse. But they were still only a handful of glimpses into the rich life of a man who passionately loved his town and his family.
In recent years I've grown much more interested in our family's history. I discovered some interesting facts about my heritage, such as my grandmother's membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Confederacy. I learned I was related to two governors of South Carolina (both held office in the 1700's). I also found out that my great-great grandfather, Yelvon Brown, was an officer in the Confederate Army in Virginia. What a lineage!
Yesterday while I was visiting with my family for Easter, I found a bag of my mom's "keepsake jewelry". Through the plastic I saw the distinctive shape of dog tags tucked in with assorted bracelets, watches, pins, and charms. I dug them out and was delighted to find they were my grandfather's. They list his name and Army serial number, next of kin, and religion. There was also a small weatherproofed portrait of my grandmother with the tag, and on the opposite side of her portrait was a real four-leaf clover pressed against the photo's backing paper, perfectly preserved under the clear plastic. Mom said my grandmother had it made for him, just before he was shipped out.
Mom gave me the dog tags to keep for a while. I asked for them; I felt compelled. Now I can't stop thinking of my grandfather in the war: a couple years younger than me, homesick for his town and his wife, proud to help his country end the war as however he could. He wore this chain overseas and back home again; it was around his neck as he wrote letters to my Mamaw and slogged through mud and wished on evening stars to get back safe to his home in the Appalachians. He looked at the picture of my grandmother thousands of times in the two and a half years he was at war, wishing he could step right into its black-over-white composition and take her into his arms. He pressed his thumb over that four-leaf clover for luck over and over again as he faced dangerous situations, and its magic never failed him. Wearing these tags, I have the clearest sense of him as a real person I've ever had.
Eight months ago, I started a journey. One month left. It's an uphill battle but I refuse to surrender. I'm using this totem to remind me of the bravery I come from; the determination and pride which runs in my family. In me. I'm wearing the tags around my neck right now. That four-leaf clover is getting a workout, let me tell you.
As for Music Monday... This post might not be entirely music related, but I do have a thought for you. Long ago my mother told me what my Papaw's favorite song was. I think I'll go listen to it now. So, friends, if you know "Sixteen Tons" by "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, feel free to hum along.