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.
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.