Grandad Latham who was a tall, skinny man was my mother’s father I have memories of Grandad that stay with me always and I want to share them with you here. Grandad was a rancher and later a construction foreman and spent most of his working life outside. I remember when I was around my Grandad I was always so amazed that his skin was so dark. I thought my Grandad was a black man and it was several years after Grandad died that I found out he was not a black man…but only dark because he was out in the sun all the time and it was only a great tan!
Grandad and Granny Latham had a lot of children (eight that lived past childhood) and grandchildren (twenty-seven). It must have been hard for Grandad keeping up with who we all were and which children of his we belonged to. Especially by the time my sisters and brother and I came along. My mother was Granny and Grandads’ next to youngest child so when we were born Grandad had over twenty grandchildren already!
But…when my little brother Matthew was born, Grandad noticeably changed. He was crazy about Matthew, from my perspective anyway! I remember once when we were visiting Granny and Grandad in Monahans, Texas one summer. My brother was not even 2 years old yet and was still in diapers. Grandad had Matthew on his knee be-bopping him up and down and Matthew had this big smile on his face, making this funny noise as Grandad let him ride on his knee like a pony. Grandad had a big smile on his face, just like Matthew, and I remember his teeth seemed really white to me because of his dark skin. At the time I must have been jealous because Grandad had never done that to me, but I remember thinking it was a great thing to see because Grandad rarely smiled. The only affection I ever remember seeing Grandad give was to my little brother Matthew! I’m sure he gave affection to others but in my mind, Matthew just made his day every time he saw him.
Another quirky thing I remember about Grandad was the way he dank his beloved coffee! He always drank coffee with a cup that had a saucer under it and he would pour his coffee in the saucer first, I guess to cool it down. I remember thinking that it was funny seeing Grandad drink coffee that way. I still think of Grandad Latham when I see someone drinking coffee with a cup and saucer.
I saw my Grandad Latham a year later. It was 1963. What I saw when I walked into my grandparents house in Monahans was a shocking thing for a five-year-old to see. It wasn’t my brother Matthew in diapers, it was Grandad. He was laying in bed in the back room behind the kitchen in Granny and Grandad’s house. Grandad was like a baby…I thought…but just a very big baby. It upset me a great deal and really frightened me. Seeing Grandad that way left a searing image in my brain that I have even till this day. My Granny had to take care of him now, my mother told me, as he was very sick. I really didn’t understand what had happened to him and I thought that if I didn’t look at him, it wouldn’t be real. I don’t think I ever went in that back room during that trip. Grandad didn’t recognize us anyway. He died only a few short months later.
I cannot end with that though. I must end with a short story from my Aunt Ruth, who also has since passed away, but she wrote this short piece about her Dad (my Grandad) and breaking wild horses.
“Our father broke wild horses on week-ends. He would go to a large ranch 15 to 20 miles away and pick up 2 wild ponies at a time and bring them back trailing behind his wagon. It would take him from a month to six weeks to break them. He could only break them on weekends because he had to work our farm land during the week. It was a real treat for us kids on the weekend to watch a real rodeo, right in our own corral! Even the neighbors used to come over to watch the excitement. One afternoon one of the ponies was spooked or something while Dad was riding him and he rammed himself right into the corral fence at such an angle as to break his neck. Our father was heartbroken at this misfortune, but put the animal out of it’s misery. I was overwhelmed by my father’s grief, and cried with him – as did all who were there.”
I love this story about Grandad. I read it only a few years ago for the first time when I was going through some old letters and memories my Aunts had written. The best thing about this story is that it tied the dangling strings I had in my heart about Grandad Latham and secured the love I will always have for him. I realized what a good and generous man he was to his family but now knew he also had heart…and that’s the best memory ever.