While working to put additional information on the fact frames associated with my ancestors, I turned the music to random play. A male baritone voice cycled into play as I added information to my grandfathers record. I was immediately reminded of the stories I’d heard of his life long enjoyment of singing.
The stitching of the word quilt that covered his life in my genealogical records didn’t contain one of the most important design elements. This very private man had one sustainable public facet during his life. Grandpa liked to sing.
My mother often described her two bedroom childhood home that housed ten or more family members. They were crowded into every space, especially at night. Even the screened back porch had cots where grandpa and some of the boys slept year round. Privacy was just a word.
Grandma cooked from sun up to well after sun down, day after day, year after year, regardless of the temperature in the kitchen. The old coal stove probably didn’t cool off completely for thirty years. When it wasn’t heating or baking food, it was warming water for baths and with that many family members, even semi-daily baths taxed its ability to heat enough water.
The large family required a lot of food and the family raised and grew almost everything they consumed. Grandpa augmented the meager earnings from their “cash crops” with his skilled blacksmith hands.
I only remember really talking to him a few times, even though he lived until after I was married. He was a shy kind of a fellow unless you were working with him or in his presence regularly.
Mom said that he would arise at 4:30 a.m. every morning and start the fire in the kitchen stove while the rest of the family slept. The daily ritual always included numerous selections in his strong baritone voice.
While the stove warmed, he would prepare a pot of coffee, gather enough wood to feed the stove until his boys got up to do their chores before school and then he’d stare out of the window above the sink trying to read the sky for the weather of the day. And he would sing.
In the winter months, he stayed in the kitchen to drink his morning cup of Joe, but when the temperature was twenty degrees or warmer, he sat on one of the two steps on the front porch and serenaded the neighborhood.
I’ve been told by several of those who were kids in the area during the years, that they loved waking to his songs. He sang old-timey songs, love songs, songs of the season and songs that he made up.
He didn’t take requests. In fact, if anyone approached him or even glanced at him with too much interest while walking down the street, he’d immediately stop singing and go inside. He was a shy kinda guy.
When I was five, he took me out to his blacksmith shop one afternoon while he worked to repair the rakes on a hay rake. Even though I was a small town kid, I wasn’t a farm kid and was basically useless pumping the bellows. At least, I was until he taught me the rhythm of the pump. Singing a song with emphasis on the final word in each stanza, he showed me how to keep the heat in the hearth just right so he could work the metal with his hammer on the anvil for a few minutes before returning it for more heat.
It was an unusual day in my experience with him, because while my reedy five-year-old voice called out the bellows-pumping ditty, he sang harmony and circled my tune with layers and layers of beautiful music. In fact, it was so beautiful that he had to remind me to start pumping again several times when I stood in silent amazement at music coming out of this quiet man.
He sang to his dog, to his sheep and to a cow that day too. They liked it. I could tell. Their heads all popped up and they all moved to the point of their pens and pastures closest to him when he turned to face them over the bellows. It wasn’t a new experience for them, but like me, they all stood still in rapt attention to the generator of such beautiful sounds.
Grandpa sang at funerals in town with three other fellows during most of his life. I suppose he knew that the attendees weren’t going to ask him to sing a song just for them at those times and as one of four, most of the limelight spread away from him even though his voice was the pillar that supported the less dynamic notes sang by the others.
Some say that if he ever had a little liquor, his shyness retreated a little but even then it was contained among his circle of friends who each had a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon in their paws.
I wish I’d heard his morning concerts, but never did. I asked him to sing a few songs once when I was sixteen, but he declined.
Grandpa was a shy kind of a man.