I remember well my Granddaddy Don. He was married to my sainted Grandmaw Mary. They lived in the house that is now beside my parents, as a matter of fact Granddaddy Don built both houses.
I was about 9 years old when Granddaddy Don died, and his passing signaled the end of an era for the whole family. You see, Granddaddy Don ruled the family with an iron fist, and he was a cantankerous old feller. I was always told that he was the way he was because he was the only boy among his siblings, and that his parents petted on him something fierce, so nothing was ever too good for Granddaddy Don, and he expected this to continue throughout his life.
Charley, Jennie and Don Burns (center) about 1902.
That’s not to say Granddaddy Don wasn’t a hard worker or that he felt like he was entitled to something, quite the opposite was true, Granddaddy worked extremely hard, he just wanted things to be his way.
When thinking of Granddaddy Don, I am always reminded of how he pinched pennies. In the summers, his grandkids would always like to visit for a few weeks. Granddaddy had in his head a set amount of food that each kid would eat, and if the kid ate more than Granddaddy thought he should, Granddaddy would send a bill for the remainder of the food to their parents. Granddaddy also did all of the grocery shopping, he said Grandmaw always spent too much money, and wouldn’t even shop around for better deals. Granddaddy was known to travel several miles out of his way to save a nickel! He was also honest, just as if you owed him money, he expected it paid in full, and if he owed you money, you always got paid in full as well. One time, my dad said he borrowed $10 off of Granddaddy to go out on when he was a teenager, and for the bill Granddaddy told him to just buy him two bags of grain for the milk cow. Dad bought the grain the next weekend when he got paid, and the grain bill was $10.03. Dad put the grain in the grainhouse and told Granddaddy that would make them even, and gave him the receipt. “Hell,” Granddaddy said, “I owe you 3 cents hunky, you’ll never get ahead in this life if you don’t collect what’s owed you.” It was widely known that my Dad was Granddaddy Don’s favorite grandchild, and Dad even lived with Granddaddy and Grandmaw when he was in elementary school.
The steam shovel wreck on North Mountain during the building of Route 33. Granddaddy Don was 3rd from the right in the back row ( in the toboggan). About 1930.
Later on in years when I knew him, Granddaddy was really crotchety! Like I said, he had his ways of doing things, and one time he told my uncle Wood to get him “about that much soft drink”, measuring off on his index finger how much pop he wanted. Well, Uncle Wood always was one to cut up and have a good time (people tell me I’m a lot like him) so he measured up his finger on the outside of the glass and got Granddaddy just a small amount of pop in his glass and gave it to Granddaddy. To this Granddaddy said, “Hell boy, you’re a might stingy with your soft drink ain’t you?” Then turned to my Grandmaw and said, “Mary, I believe the polio has done affected his brain.”
Grandmaw Mary and Granddaddy Don, about 1950.
I remember I’d visit with Granddaddy and Grandmaw a lot when I was a kid, you just had to give Granddaddy a wide berth because you never knew what for mood he’d be in. And for the love of God, you never wanted to speak when he was watching the evening news. He sure loved Dan Rather, and every time Dan Rather would sign off the air by saying, “Good Night, America”. Granddaddy would say, “Goodnight, Dan”. And then you were allowed to talk without fear of him scraping his knuckles across your head and telling you to shut-up. That was his favorite way of silencing a child, “peeling the bark off the old sky-pate” as he called it.
Granddaddy Don in his favorite chair.
One time while I was visiting, Granddaddy was having his favorite snack, pudding and vanilla wafers. I noticed that after every bite, he would say, “Nam, Nam”. I thought this was pretty funny, but I didn’t dare laugh. Then he took a bite and didn’t say anything and I couldn’t help myself, so I piped up and said, “You forgot to say Nam, Nam”. Wooo, that got him, and he nearly came unglued, he grabbed my pudding and cookies from me and said, “Just for that little boy, you’ll get nothing more”. I soon headed out to Grandmaw where I’d be safe, and she said, “That crazy old man”, and gave me back my pudding and cookies, and told me to just stay away from him for a while. The next day, I went back over to see them again, and Granddaddy mistook me for another grandkid, and said, “Hell boy, I believe you have some birthday money coming don’t you” and he gave me a dollar. I gladly took it, thanked him and left. My grandmaw just smiled, she knew it wasn’t my birthday but I couldn’t disagree with Granddaddy or he’d get belligerent. Later that day, my cousin whose birthday it was came by for his birthday money, and Granddaddy said, “Hell, I done give you your birthday, you’ll get nothing more out of me.” You know, I probably should have given the money to my cousin, but I never did like him that well, so instead I spent it on hot sausages!
I have lots more stories about Granddaddy Don that I will share in coming posts, but I can see this one is getting a might long. If I were to make this post longer you might say, “Hell, I believe polio affected his brain.”