Monday, June 13, 2011

Hard Years. Hard People.

My Grandpa Wilkerson was, by all accounts, a hard man. Had to be. An oilfield man in Kansas during the 20's, 30's, 40's and beyond had little other choice. The genes were passed down.

Grandpa Wilkerson passed away some twenty-five years ago. Grandma Wilkerson, a stout woman of Austrian and Russian descent, would tack on around 15 years more before she left us at 92 years of age. While I was just getting to know my grandpa when he passed, the following years would put me closer to my grandma.

My favorite story of hers involved life in the dust bowl era. Grandpa worked for Standard Oil and from time to time he did some roustabout work. Grandma told me how they had to wrap wet towels and rags around their faces to keep from smothering in dirt, then drive from around the Hays area to the Zurich area- some 35-45 miles depending on your route. When they arrived at the well in Zurich, the dirt would be a foot high on the running boards of their vehicle.

Hard times

I hadn't thought about that story in years until I saw the above picture of Zurich, back in the dirty thirties, while buzzing the web one day. Grandma Wilkerson's words came flooding back to me. And with those words came something much harder to deal with: I miss my Grandparents- on both sides. I just miss them so damn much. The things I want to ask them now as a man...I just didn't know to ask them then as a child situated far below the learning curve of life.

The photo proceeded to punch holes through a membrane enclosing my brain's diminished filing cabinet, where other fragments of information are pieced together and stored away.

About his father, Grandpa Wilkerson would only say he was an Englishman, preacher and a horse trader (horse trader, I've recently discovered, was a loose term when employed by the Wilkerson clan, if you catch my drift). About her father, Grandma Wilkerson would tell me stories of her father hitching up the team, bells on the horses and rigging shined to a high luster, then proceeding to march the rig through the burgeoning town of Hays, my grandma in tow. He was a hard working man proud of his accomplishments. Grandma was simply embarrassed.

The above is partial recall of what I have left of them. Pictures, of course, exist. But for a family who's done very little in written preservation of live's lived, those oral histories are all I've left. And I hang on to them. Desperately.


  1. What a wonderful post, Mike. Your grandparents sound a lot like mine. Honorable, kind, and strong folks who forged the way for us today.

    I have a journal that I jot the old family stories in and will pass to my daughter one day.

  2. Thanks, David. And the journal is a phenomenal idea which I need to employ myself.

    I'm going to try and convince my dad to write down some of his experiences growing up. This could be a chore, though. Jim Wilkerson ain't much for writing or reading. Still, I've heard some of his trials and tribulations and they've always held my attention.

  3. Love your "reminiscing" posts. It's great learning about the old days from another country. Do as David suggests and write a journal. I always jot stuff down every now and again.

    All my grandparents died when I was young and to this day I always feel a knot of sadness in my gut that I never got to take my mums dad for a pint! We shouldn't have favorites but I was his and he was mine. He died when I was about 8 and then my nan died almost 12 months (to the day) after. My mum still says she died of a broken heart and that she had a smile on her face because she was with her husband again. A great little story!

    Thanks for stirring some great memories, buddy!

  4. Mike,

    Very touching this and refreshing to hear. You obviously come from good 'stock', as they say.

    I was the last one to see my Nana alive. As a school kid, I recall the dagger through my heart when I heard she'd gone. Found in her favourite chair, slippers neatly placed on the floor and her last cup of tea on the arm of the chair... very dignified.

    Never did meet my Granddad. He died in my dad's arms in 1949, as a result of an old shrapnel wound from the war. In 1993, the chain continued, as my dad died in my arms (heart-attack). I've told my son to get ready to catch me when the time comes! :-)

    Wish the kids of today had half the respect of our grand parents (I know some have, though not enough)... but don't get me started on that!

    Love the idea of a journal to pass on to my kids.

    Great post, bud.


  5. David, that's a great story about your nan which is both terrible and beautiful. But if I lost the one I love, I wouldn't want to hang around too long afterward.

    Col, what you've experienced is unimagineable (your father with his father as well). I can't even begin to think what it would be like having an experience like this. Your nana sounds like a woman who was...well, just like I imagine a proper English lady should be. I hope I go with a slivering of as much dignity.

    Cheers to all you guys.

  6. Makes me wish my grandpa was still around. The only grandparent I had that I wish I'd really known--the one that seemed WORTH knowing--died when I was about four or so. He was an old Korean War vet and loved baseball, boxing, and drinking. He seemed to be one of the few relatives of mine who had their feet on the ground. He died from diabetes and cancer and I really only remember him sick and bed-bound which kind of sucks. I wasn't taken to the funeral either which I kind of regret to this day. What's something though is that even though I never really knew him I just always had this feeling that if he were around today things would have turned out for the better. Kinda leaves you knotted up inside for what could have been. Damn.

  7. JD, I'd say we got quite a few things in common on the parenting front. Granparent-wise, the Wilkerson side of the bunch were a lot rougher crowd than my mom's side. Her dad was a West Virginia coal miner and they grew up dirt poor, but my grandma and grandpa Pendry were the nicest people I ever met. I hardly knew them.

  8. Really great post and comments. My family (Nebraska farmers) were not talkative or storytellers. I had grandparents until I was in my 30s, but there wasn't much you could get out of them. My dad was the same way about anything personal. In the year before he died, I managed to get him talking about the family. Mostly family tree stuff, but his own story went to the grave with him. I think a thing you can do for your own kids is write down your story for them, with answers to the questions they won't think to ask until after you're gone.

  9. Hi Ron- really good having you stop by. And like your parents and grandparents, my relatives talk little about their personal lives.

    I started researching my family history about a year ago, because everything I'd been hearing was fairly murky. Such as a great, great aunt on my mom's side, who was full blooded Indian-everyone swears to it-but there is absolutely no evidence to back it up.

    On a positive note, as I work through the branches of our family tree, I've gotten in touch with distant family members I'd never even heard of. They know more about the Wilkerson's than the Wilkerson's do.

    Thanks again, Ron.

  10. Hi Mike, just a quick addition to accompany your last comment. We have relatives in Boise, Idaho from my dads side. They've been over here twice in as many years as Rick is a "Clansman" and has a lot to do with a Clan up north from us. I've learned quite a bit about our "lost" relatives and found out more about our Scottish roots from them than any close relative. My dad had told us we had Scottish ancestry but he didn't really know much more than that as most of our British relatives have passed away.

    We're being pestered to go over to Boise. I want to but have a feeling I won't want to come back to the UK. :-)

    Take care, dude.

  11. Hey man. Boy, when you said Clansman, something completely different popped into my head (asswipes in white sheets and pointed hoods). Then I remembered that's how the Scots talk about family. Glad my brain cleared that one up.

    Boise...that's pretty interesting. How long ago did they migrate to the new world?

    Don't know much about Idaho except it's beautiful. Then again, from the pictures on your blog, you guys aren't doing too bad in the scenic department on your side of the pond.