One of my earliest memories is of a voice drifting (early in the morning) across the field which lay between his home and ours. It was my grandfather at the morning prayer. This was his first act of the day upon arriving. Later, after the pigs, chickens, and cattle had been fed but before breakfast, he gathered the family about him and read from the Bible and had prayer again. These were the family devotions. He was the most devout man I have ever known and devoted much of his time to a study of the Bible and prayer. He came of a poor family. There was little time to be spent in getting an education and all the children had to go to work as soon as they were large enough. He used to say that he went to work in the field for twenty-five cents a day as soon as he was big enough to “tote” a hoe. Despite the lack of formal education he possessed a broad general knowledge for he was a voracious reader and had a phenomenal memory.
He shouldered a gun and went to fight with Lee in ’61. Fortunately he came out with nothing more than a minor injury. He was with Lee at Appomattox. Glad that the war was over he walked home with nothing to eat but some fat meat and some corn picked along the way. He always insisted that the South had a perfect right to secede from the union. He was equally sure that slavery was wrong and that despite the rightness of the position taken by the Confederate States it was best that the war went as it did. There was no feeling of ill-will toward any person or any section. As a matter of fact years before he died he supported the Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States because he thought he was the best man running for the office.
There was no end of fun with him around. Possessed of a dry wit he kept things lively for the rest of us. I remember that I was walking with him one day. It was in the summer and in the midst of severe drought. Corn was dying in the fields, vegetables had wilted and died in the gardens. He spoke about how dry it was, and I said, “I suppose it isn’t going to rain anymore.” Instantly he stopped and looked up at the sky and a smile played across his face as he said, “I reckon it will. It always has. God will give us rain when He’s ready.” That was all there was to it for him. This drought just as everything else was the will of God so who was he to question or to doubt?
He was devoted to his church (Bethel Methodist Church in Laban, Virginia) and never missed a service if it was possible to attend. He couldn’t bear for people to be in doubt about their faith. He was sure of what he believed and could never understand why other people weren’t equally so. Once the church was pretty badly split by some preaching of a minister of a then little known sect. One of the leaders in the church followed the teachings of this new group and one morning in leading a church reunion expounded at great length upon his new beliefs. My grandfather wriggled and squirmed. Finally he could stand it no longer whereupon he rose to his feet and said, “You’ve been a teacher in this Church for a long time. I’ve heard you say many a time that your sins had been forgiven and that you knew you were on your way to heaven. Now you tell us that you were mistaken that you were not saved until you took hold of this new teaching. I’d like to know if I can’t believe you on one hand, how I’m going to believe you on the other.” The stillness could almost have been cut with a knife, but that was the end of the service.
A plain countryman, nothing felt so good to him after the spring sun had warmed the earth as to get his bare feet on the ground. He went barefoot so much that his feet particularly the soles were unbelievably tough. I recall that once a cousin and I went fishing with him. We stopped along the way and caught some crabs for bait. When we got to the boat my grandfather dumped all the crabs in the boat. We boys had to tuck our feet under us for we were barefoot too. He walked among them with complete unconcern and if one nipped his foot he calmly shook it off saying only “By zounds leave my foot alone.”
He seldom worried. He accepted each day and began it with a prayer that God would help him to live that day the way He wanted him to live it. He asked God for nothing save guidance and the awareness of His presence. When a neighbor woman lost her son and said to him, “If you had been there (the hospital) to pray for him my boy would not have died.”