If my grandfather, John James, had survived, today would have been his 124th birthday. [Are we allowed to have "favorites" when it come to grandparents? Whatever, he was certainly mine.]
Born in Lampasas, Texas on May 24, 1885, "Gramps" spent most of his life working farms that he didn't own. His life as a tenant farmer and a sharecropper taught him the harsh realities of labor and justice in the business of agriculture and ranching.
Hanging in my office at home, I have a photo of the ranch house located on the JX Ranch where my grandparents worked in 1918-1919. Owned by Wyoming Senator John Benjamin Kendrick, the ranch is located on the Powder River northeast of Sheridan, Wyoming. The photo reminds me that low-income working people often turn into migrants in search of work, opportunity and a fair wage.
But, Gramps was Texan through and through. Born and raised in a part of Texas that was positive about the Grange, the birthplace of the Populist Party and at least one branch of the Farmers Alliance movement; my grandfather always remained aware of the plight of working people who stood face-to-face with market forces, usually without a voice in the economic matters that controlled everything about their livelihood.
He ended his working "career" as a night watchman in a Downtown Dallas office tower. I can remember as a little boy riding with him in the backseat of our car on our way home from my grandparents' house in Oak Cliff. We timed our visits so that we could drop Gramps off at this night shift job. He rode the bus home after work every morning.
As I remember this special man and how important he was in my life, I think I better understand my own values and my motivations today. I hope I can live up to what I saw in him.
He died at age 94.
I was 29.
I am very grateful to have known him for so long.
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