Tuesday, February 5, 2013
John Strother, “Papa,” was born in 1876, and Lillie Strother, “Grandma,” was born in 1880. They were married in 1898 and had four children who lived into adulthood: three girls and one boy. My paternal grandparents had more children, but they all died at childbirth.
When I was in the second grade, my grandparents built a white two-room house with a tin roof and located it about 150 feet to the right of our house, in what had been our garden. We still had a large enough garden remaining to share with my grandparents. After they moved next door, I saw them daily. I would go to their house every day to eat because Grandma was a great cook and always prepared enough food for both families. My mother was not a very good cook. I believe this was because we always lived close to my grandparents, so my mother never had to cook.
But she made one thing better than anyone else, and that was her yeast rolls and bread. They were the best!
I consider myself very fortunate to have had my grandparents living near by while I was growing up. My grandfather was a great storyteller. We all had favorite stories that we liked to hear him tell. It did not take much persuasion to get him started on a story. He used to tell us that he was one of the first people in the town to purchase a Model T Ford. Sometimes, when he was drinking liquor, he would try to drive his Model T home and would forget that he was driving a car. In his drunken state, he would think he was in a horse-driven wagon, and would yell out, “Whoa” to get the car to stop. Most of the time, the car ran off the road or into something. Luckily, Papa was never hurt.
Papa had what he described as horrible nightmares. My very favorite story was about what caused his nightmares. When Papa was a young man, he killed a man and went on the run for seven years before he was captured. The dead man would come for Papa nightly. He must have relived that shooting hundreds of times in his dreams. Grandma would have to awaken him to stop his screaming.
Papa went to prison for two years and seven months, and he served most of that time as a prisoner who was put in charge of guarding fellow prisoners. Papa would not only tell this story, he would stand up and show everyone exactly how it happened.
This is what I remember about the story. Papa was inside his house when this man came to the front gate and called him to come outside. Papa must have been expecting trouble because he went to his front porch with a Colt .45 in his hand, and he asked the man to leave and not to come onto his property. But the man wouldn’t leave. In fact, he told Papa that he was going to come inside the yard and kick his ass. Papa warned him that if he opened that gate, he would shoot him. The man ignored Papa and opened the gate, and Papa proceeded to empty his gun into him.
Papa would then stand up and pretend he had a gun in his hand to show how he shot the man. That’s when my grandma would say.
“John, why are you telling that child about that man you killed?”
My grandmother had lost her hearing, so she didn’t know what papa was talking about until he stood up and pretended he had a gun in his hand. Papa never told us who the man was or why he was threatening our family.
Papa was not convicted of murder, but he went to prison for leaving the scene. That’s why his prison stay was so short. After he served his time, he was offered a permanent job as a prison guard, but he returned home to his family.
Papa stopped believing in banks after losing twenty-five hundred dollars during the Great Depression of the 1930s. When Papa went to withdraw his money from the bank, it was closed and out of business. After that, he started to keep his money in Prince Albert tobacco cans, which he would bury around his house. Sometimes, he would forget where he buried the cans and would spend the whole day digging up the yard, looking for his money. There are probably some cans filled with gold coins and bills still buried around his house. What do you think?