My Grandfather's Horror

Once in a while I reflect on earlier times, as I suppose everyone does. During some of these reflections, it’s not hard to see, in my mind’s eye, a picture of my Grandfather, dressed in bib overhauls and wearing a weathered 1930s era hat, standing on Lexington’s main street, carrying on a conversation with another man across the street. I have no recollection of the specific topics of these shouted conversations, but I do remember the 1950s Ford and Chevrolet sedans whizzing past, as the two men raised their voices, to overcome the sound of whining gears and motor noise. Lexington was the heart beat of Rockbridge County, Virginia then and my Grandfather was one of the most respected men in the County.

On a farm located several miles from this Historic Virginia town, I spent every summer of my youth, working in hay fields during the day, milking cows in the evenings and sleeping under a tin roof that made one of the best sounds in the world when it rained. After spending a hot summer’s day in the sun, my Grandfather, my Grandmother and I would sit on the front porch and look out across the valley, to catch the glint of the setting sun, shining off a car, travelling along the Skyline Drive. These days seemed to me, at the time, to be the most normal way that a life should be lived, and they were the most peaceful and secure times of my youth. I guess I thought that this way of life would go on forever. My Granddad loved his farm more than anything and I loved him more than any man on earth. I had no comprehension what-so-ever of the impending horror, which was slowly creeping into my grandfather’s idyllic life. Nor did I have the slightest clue of the magnitude of the destruction to follow. With this horror, his hard work would be erased, as if it never existed, leaving only faint memories buried in the diming recollections of the younger family members like me.

Horror is a very subjective term, I suppose, depending on the sensibilities of those who use the word. What would be considered horror, for some folks, probably would mean nothing to others. I am not talking about the popular notion considered to be horror. The kind of horror I am trying to describe here is one which can follow suddenly, after years of struggling and then arriving at a relatively pleasant plateau in life. It is the horror preceded by a mindset of self sufficiency. It is ushered in by an ever increasing feeling, which suggests tomorrow will be just as good as today, or even better. There is an unsanctified portion of many human brains which acts as welcoming center for this type of horror, by telling us, that we have made it through the tough times and now we have more than enough to see us through to the finish.

The type of horror my grandfather experienced was just such a horror. It was built on the foundation I have just described and then ushered in by a stroke. Within a very short time after the stroke, what he had sacrificed and worked so hard for, in the depression years of the 1930's, as well as all his life, had vanished. The farm was sold at a desperation price and the great hardwoods, including the majestic walnut trees, which he cherished, were assassinated. Their carcasses were immediately stripped from the land by greedy souls. Apartment buildings for college students were built next to the farm house, desecrating the old home place. Progressively, the land’s cancer spread. Other lots were sold. Forlorn, even cursed dwellings sprang up in time, to be almost immediately neglected, until the passing of a few years presented an over grown and yet visible reflection of the broken dreams, which once shined in a loving and kind hearted man. That man was my grandfather, Water Lee Clark.

While I was with him, he taught me many of the subtleties of becoming a man, but the greatest lesson he taught me was the one he never learned, himself, and that lesson is, “Build your nest on high and fashion it after the design, given by the one, whose creations are everlasting. Never, ever build your nest on the ground”.

Time will tell, for me, whether this lesson is learned or not. If not, then I am destined to simply repeat my Grandfather’s horror.


Wayne Wade