Wednesday, May 24, 2006


John James (the rider on the right--circa 1906), my paternal grandfather, was born outside of Lampasas, Texas 121 years ago today. He died over thirty years ago here in Dallas.

During his lifetime, "Gramps" experienced a lot of life!

He and my grandmother were cotton farmers in West Texas (north of Abilene in Stonewall County) for decades, somehow squeezing a livelihood out of some of the driest, dustiest, barren land anywhere on the planet! In additon to cotton, they raised cattle, vegetables, feed crops and two children. One was my father.

For a brief time (1918-1919) he and my grandmother worked on a ranch beside the Powder River outside Sheridan, Wyoming. I have a photo hanging in my office at home of the old, stone ranch house on the place owned and operated by a former Wyoming Senator.

As I say, he was born in the central part of Texas just before the height of the Populist Movement that spread among American farmers. I remember hearing him talk about his family and memories of the stories of farmers trying to gain more control over their lives and the economic forces that shaped them.

I also remember stories his father and grandfather shared with him about the days of slavery in Texas.

A particularly violent story involved his grandfather in the execution style murder of an African American slave on the square in Lampasas. An all white jury found my great, great grandfather innocent, even though many witnessed the killing. Even though my grandfather was fully tainted by the racist society that we all inherited, I remember this story making him sad and, it seemed to me, somewhat ashamed even though he was yet unborn when this terrible event occurred.

Gramps' last job was in downtown Dallas where he worked as a "night watchman" in one of the highrise office buildings under construction at the time. This would have been in the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s. My grandparents lived in Oak Cliff. I can recall visiting with them several nights each week. On many nights, as we drove back to Richardson on the north side of the city, we would drop Gramps off at his job downtown. I was always impressed that he worked in such a large, dark building!

My grandfather loved children and nature and people.

He was relatively uneducated.

He believed professional wrestling was authentic!

He had an amazing sense of humor and he kept me laughing most of the time when I was lucky enough to be with him.

He took me for my first haircut--a big surprise to my mother!

He had amazing patience and great humility.

He was honest and gentle and fair and kind. I don't recall him ever uttering a harsh word.

I expect it sounds corny, but I remember pulling into his driveway on many occasions and observing him sitting at the dining room table reading what usually turned out to be the Bible.

I realize today, on the anniversary of his birth, that he shaped my life in countless ways. I think of him often and I always smile without effort when I do.

The health of communities depends upon "ordinary" men like my grandfather (on the left in this photo of him and his good friend Roy Ledbetter taken when he was about 21 years old).

His memory continues to teach me that there are no ordinary men or women, but that everyone matters, everyone is essential to the health and strength of what we have together in a city like this one.

Now that I am a grandfather, I am more grateful than ever for him. I just pray I can be half the man to my grandchildren that he was to me.

Happy Birthday, Gramps.

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