Gran’pa Billy, my dad’s dad, was born in 1889 and died just short of his 97th birthday. He was 65 years old when I was born, so I never knew him as a younger man. But he was quite the character. Standing all about 4’10”, chewing Happy Jim tobacco and smoking Camel no-filters, Gran’pa saw a lot during his life—horse and buggy to automobile to airplanes to landing on the moon. Electrification, indoor plumbing, telegraph, radio, television, Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam—a lot of history. He held several jobs from farmer, trolly car operator, bus driver, and even in his late 80s, he was training trotters and pacers for the horse races. He was short, but people gave him a wide berth.
Part of the reason for the wide berth was that Gran’pa was very independent. He would not give up his driving. Neither his chaws of Happy Jim. The two together made an interesting combination. I never knew Gran’pa to have a new car. He bought used. One of the first things he would do when he got his car home from the lot was sit in the front seat and spit to the floor. Wherever the tobacco juice would land, he would cut a hole in the floorboard so he could spit his Happy Jim whilst driving down the road. I remember riding with him as a youngster in the cold of the winter, salt and cinder ashes and slush splattering up from the road when he was spitting, then he would move the floor mat over with his foot until the next spit.
In his 90s, Gran’pa stubbornly continued to drive. As you can imagine, if you start out at 4’10” when you are in your 20s, by the time you get to your 90s, you may be a bit shorter. So Gran’pa’s driving became even more of an issue. While the floorboard hole to spit in seemed to be closer, he had trouble rising above the dashboard to really see where he was going. He would peek between the top of the dashboard and the steering wheel to guide him along the country backroads. Everybody knew his car—in fact, most who lived in the area were related to us—so they would look out for him. But it got to the place where he might be driving down the road clipping off mailboxes as he went. Dad would get calls to replace them.
Then one night Dad was woke out of his sleep by a call from one of our neighbors, a distant cousin who had a farm on both sides of the road with a deep creek running across it. Gran’pa had missed the bridge and flipped his Vega into the creek. My good-humored Gran’pa was standing on the bank dripping wet when we arrived, laughing about how these new-fangled cars couldn’t drive through water. Dad didn’t find his humor so funny that night. And after Bob Williams, local mechanic, pulled the Vega out of the drink and a heated discussion the next day, Gran’pa surrendered his keys under protest. Ephesians 6:2 exhorts us to “Honor your father and mother.” But sometimes you just have to take away the keys to keep the community safe and the Gran’pa safer.