It's heritage month at my (John) son Stephen's school. This means that he needs to talk to one of his relatives about where our family comes from. And since my grandfather (or "Gramps") is still alive, that means that we all took a trip out to see him. The school gave him a list of questions to ask. I've included the transcript below.
Stephen: Where did you grow up? What can you tell me about it?
Gramps: I grew up on a little farm just East of the Genesee River in New York.
S: Where's that?
G: Oh, it's about a day's drive now. It used to be a lot further. Back then highways were much smaller, and cars didn't go as fast. Actually, a lot of people didn't have cars.
S: So how did they get around if they didn't have cars?
G: Well, if you had money, then you might have a car, and some people had horses. Sometimes people would drive on a tractor if they had to. There were a lot of farms near us, so quite a few people could do that, but most people walked. Ours was a John Deere. It could rightly drive through anything.
S: So you could take a tractor all the way across the state?
G: No… well, I mean I guess you could, but it would take a long time. Most of the time I just walked.
S: Did you have to walk to school?
G: Yep. It was somewhere about 5 miles. It would take me a couple hours to get there in the morning. It took me longer to get home at night. When it was nice out, I spent a lot of time playing with friends or walking through the woods.
S: What about when it wasn't so nice?
Me: That's when he would walk barefoot through the snow with no shoes on.
G: John, show your elder some respect. When the weather was too bad, we'd generally stay in.
S: What if it started to snow when you were at school?
G: Well, then we would try to get home as best we could. I remember a few times pop came to pick me up on the John Deere. The snow didn't seem to bother it at all.
S: Were you ever stuck in the snow?
G: A couple of times I got stuck. I remember one time I was at my friend Jarod's house when it started to snow. He didn't have a phone, so my parents didn't know where I was to come get me!
S: So what happened?
G: Well, normally I'd have had snow shoes but in this case the snow was so bad I couldn't see two feet in front of me. I had to stay at my friend's until the snow stopped.
S: So you got to have a sleep over?
G: Yep. I did.
S: That must have been fun.
G: I suppose it was. That type of thing was looked at differently in those days. People were more likely to share what they had or, when I was growing up, share what they didn't have.
S: What does that mean?
G: Well, a lot of people didn't have a lot of money. Actually staying at Jarod's house was a bit of a treat. They always had really good food. I always left the table full there.
S: Did you not get enough at home?
G: We did, but not as much as Jarod had. We might have meat maybe two, three times per week. And when we did have it, the meat was dried, more of jerky variety most of the year. Jarod always got a full serving of freshly cut meat.
S: Was his family rich?
G: Rich? No, but I will say that they were clever.
S: What do you mean?
G: Nobody really thought much about it at the time, but they were always picking up spare farm hands. Hobos and migrant workers would come through, looking for a chance to earn a meal or maybe even get regular work. That happened a lot in those days. Well, Jarod's family would be really generous. They were always looking for some new help. We thought that was because most of them quit.
S: They didn't quit?
G: That's something I didn't realize until I was a bit older. None of them quit, and that explained how it was that Jarod's family always had so much to eat.
S: I don't understand.
Me: Gramps you don't mean to say…
G: The reason that Jarod was so lucky to have so much to eat was that his family were really good at using farm hands. In fact they had this way of getting the best cuts from…
Me: Gramps I think that we should really get back to…
G: Now stop interrupting. As I was saying, they'd take the farm hands and they would cut their thr…
Me: That's enough! We need to move on.
G: Now John, you need to show me some respect. I remember you used to love it when we'd serve you a fillet growing up.
Me: You mean I?
G: Of course you did! I got the recipe and your gram and I used to make it for the holidays. We even gave the recipe to your parents and I hear that your mom eventually gave the recipe to your wife.
Me: So all of this time I…
G: You… yes. All of this time, and you love her brisket. Though I'll bet it's harder to find choice workers in your fancy suburbs.
S: Dad, what're you two talking about?
G: Stephen, do you have a lot of different people working around the house?
Me: Gramps, no!
S: Well, we have a lot of different lawn mower people.
G: See, John? I'm just surprised that your wife hasn't asked for help in the butchering.
Me: Stephen, I think it's time to go.
G: Go? But we only got started.
Me: You know what? I think we'll get Stephen's mom's family to answer our questions instead.