Each week, I’m going to publish some reflections and stories about an ancestor of mine. Stories are important to me, as are ancestors, so I want to highlight people who have gone before me and helped cement the legacy and opportunities I have inherited.
Imagine a bar in a small mid-Michigan town, some evening many years ago. It is a dive by today’s bar standards and it’s probably in the 1950s. The regulars are there, everyone is enjoying some generic American beer (it’s mid-Michigan in the 1950s, mind you) and suddenly the voices at the bar get loud and one of the men jumps on the bar and says “Alright you S.O.B.s, I’ll take you all at once or one at a time, what’ll it be?!?”
By all accounts, this happened more than once or twice. My great-grandfather, R.D., was what his daughter-in-law would describe as “bull-headed” or often “mad as a wet hornet.” It sounds like he got into his fair share of bar fights and altercations around town, at least in his younger days.
But he also had a strong sense of morality and justice. He desperately wanted to fight in World War II but was deemed “too old,” so instead he was the older brother who watched his other brothers go off to war. His son, my grandfather, is left-handed and as a child, struggled with academics. One male teacher, as was common in those days, made a point to hit my grandfather for being left-handed, so my great-grandfather confronted the teacher after school one day. While my great-grandfather was not exactly proud of how he handled the issue, the teacher most definitely did not bother my grandfather for his left-handedness again.
Outside of his mean streak and bar stories, R.D. was a consistent, committed man. They were dedicated members of the Weidman United Methodist Church and he worked for the county road commission for his entire career. They lived in the same home for the last 50 years of his life and the home was just steps from the church.
Anytime you write about recent ancestors, there is a level of exaggeration and embellishment that comes into play. That is to be expected.
In this case, it’s hard not to exaggerate just a little bit. R.D. was alive when I was born but died before I turned two, so I have no real memory of him. On the other hand, most all of my relatives remember him clearly and he holds a fond, loving place in their hearts. For my mom, he was the grandpa who lived just a few blocks away. His name carries on with my little brother, so that ought to tell you something about his place in my mom’s life.
When my grandparents got married in 1960, my grandfather had to admit that he did not know his own father’s name. “Well,” he told me, “everybody in town just called him Doc. I don’t know why, they just did. As far as I knew, that was his name.”
Well no, not exactly. But really, what does it matter? It’s all about how we remember our ancestors anyway. To some, he’s Doc. To others, Roy or R.D.
I imagine I would’ve called him “grandpa” although I can’t say for sure. But I can surely say that it it weren’t for Roy. D. Sprague, I wouldn’t exist. And that makes him worth remembering.