I’ve had a lot of people come and go in my life. Some few actually influenced me in some way. But none as much as the greatest man I ever knew.
If there is any good or decency in me, it is due to him. He was my hero right up until the day he passed away. I truly thought he walked on water. Actually he walked on red clay hills chopping cotton most of his life, and that chaw of twist tobacco wasn’t a saintly trait and his wings I never did see… But I reckon God might overlook the beat up old brogans and the holes in his overalls to get a good farmer to take care of the crops up yonder.
He was a good man. Quiet, I never heard him raise his voice. He was strict but fair. From the earliest I can remember I followed him everywhere, stepping in his footsteps and trying so hard to be like my Pa. He worked most all of his life from daylight ’til dark as a poor sharecropper. It was only in his later years, around the time I was born, that he was finally able to buy a few acres of his own and become a dirt farmer.
For those who don’t know, a dirt farmer is a man who farms with no hired help, no fancy equipment and no credit. Basically he is working with his hands in the dirt. As a dirt farmer you live and die by the seasons and God’s grace. No one will bail you out if you fail and there is no safety net. He did good.
My Grandparents had a total of 11 kids and raised several of us grandkids and even helped with some of the great grandkids. Five of the eleven kids are still alive today. All on a hardscrabble red dirt farm in the hills of Mississippi.
He was born Wilmer Clinton Gray on August 28th, 1913 and married my grandma when he was 20 years old and died on December 19th of 2003. Up until about two years before he passed he could outwork any two men half his age. I’m a hard worker, but Pa didn’t believe in breaks. He also believed you do your best at whatever you do and you give it all you got.
I learned so much from him, but I know he forgot more than I will ever know. He grew up a blacksmith’s son and knew hard work from the time he could work. Picking cotton, cutting timber, raising crops and such were all he knew. He wasn’t an educated man, but had more common sense than anyone else I’ve known and was the kind of man that this country was built on.
His word was his bond. He never lied, wouldn’t take charity and believed that a man’s worth was measured by the way he supported and provided for his family. He would often go out of his way to help someone in need but couldn’t abide laziness. He always said to give a man a hand up, not a hand out.
He did have a temper and I’ve seen him be mean to some of the mules and jennys we had to plow with. And I saw him very quietly tell a few men to back off over the years, but he was always good to his family.
He was my grandpa but he was also my hero, my role model and in his final years my mirror of myself. I’m told I take after him in speach, action and temperament. I have his love of farming, gardening and living simple. Ive often heard “you are the spittin’ image of your Pa”.
I can live with that.
There is no way I could ever write down all the stories about him or remember all he taught me.