My grandfather West, my mother’s father, was a tiny man reaching only 5’1”. My mother drew from the same gene pool reaching only 4’10”. Myself, I tower at 5’2”, we won’t talk about my brother who pulled from my 5’10” father’s side of the family. Chester Davis West was my favorite person in the whole world growing up and as I have found out from found relatives lately, I was his.
My earliest memories are of sleepovers at grandpa’s house, curled up on a cot in his room all tucked into a sleeping bag. “Make your bed in the morning,” my mother would warn us, and we always did. Grandpa bought us Legos, not the current version of weird shapes and colors that spin, twist and run with motors, but the original version of square blocks in 4 colors. He didn’t just buy the little set; he bought the biggest set he could find with a flat street scene to build houses on. I have that set now, tucked under the bed like it was at his house. We would run for that set when we visited, dumping the contents of the box all over the linoleum floor in his bedroom. The adults wouldn’t hear from us for hours.
Sleepovers were special, grandma would wake us up, hours after grandpa had gone to work at the crack of dawn, to get dressed and have breakfast. Grandpa would come back off the hill to get us to join him at work. He ran a pumphouse for a man, the noisy machines clanking and banging all tied together with what looked like miles of long black pipe. Bradford has always been known for its oil and these were the last of the pumps still running for small producers. There wasn’t a lot for him to do once he had the pump house running, so he would keep the hill neatly mowed and trimmed around each one of those pumps in the summer and plow the hill in the winter while he finished out his day. I remember the smell, thick and dirty, and familiar, the town would smell that way when the wind blew across the refinery just right.
On sleepover days he would get us and we would walk the hill. Up past the pump house were the remains of a narrow gauge railroad track. The track had long since been pulled up but the years of use had left a road that ran along the top of the hill. As we walked we would find the old rusted spikes of the narrow gauge lying in the dirt along the road. Grandpa would point out plants and talk about the wildlife he would see when he walked along the road alone. If we were really quiet we might be lucky enough to spot a deer, standing in the sunlight ahead of us on the road, ears twitching, staring inquisitively at us before dashing off into the underbrush.
The stories were always fascinating on those trips to the hill. He told about how he would drive a delivery wagon for a grocery store. He would take people their orders, driving through the dirty streets out of town with his horse and wagon. There were pest houses, where sick people stayed, and he was given orders to place the groceries on the porch and not go in. Stubborn as always, he trooped right in to the kitchen and left the groceries on the table.
He told me about the time during prohibition that he and friends had gone up on one of the hills in the area and had a picnic, with liquor. After enjoying their time on the hill they decided it best to bury the bottle of alcohol that they had left rather than stagger around drunk with it in hand. They dug a hole and put the bottle in for safety. For many reasons he said they never could find that bottle again. Years later I would be hanging curtains that my mother had washed in his tiny kitchen and hear loud off key singing in the driveway. His grinning, shocked, drunken face staggered up on the porch and when he came in the door he said with a chuckle, don’t tell your mother. He and a friend up the road had a little afternoon party.
After graduation grandpa told me that there was someplace that he wanted to take me. I got in his car and he drove me to the cemetery and walked me all over that hill. My young mind spun as he pointed out grave after grave telling me who we were related to. At one point he stopped, pointed and said, “We are related to them somehow.” The location and names of that stone have long been forgotten, but his urgent need to tell me stuck like glue. That was it that started the whole mess, I had to figure out who those people were and had no clue where to start.
I was married several years later and my best friend gave me a family history book. I started writing in it the names of the people that I knew. Never one to want to bother people I didn’t get all of grandpa’s information before he died. It wouldn’t be until after he died that my mother would tell me he quit school in the 6th grade by jumping out the window of the schoolhouse. Makes me wonder why he didn’t take the door.
The intranet has let me dig up information I would have never thought possible and I have learned to ask for those things not displayed on the web. I still don’t know if I have the people on the hill that he pointed at, but I have a lot that he didn’t. I know he would be thrilled with all I have.