Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

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Every Photo Has a Story:Grandpa Plays Checkers

1899 checkersNot every story from long ago has a photo

but every photo has a story.

1898 was a difficult year for my grandpa. In January, his 38 year old wife died after a long battle with TB. He was left to care for their two girls, ages five and three. A month later he buried his mother.

It was a dry year and there was no grain for the family, no hay for the livestock. Grandpa  and his brother-in-law decided to combine their stock and drive the herd to the valley of the San Joaquin River, a long and difficult trek to find salt grass pasture where the animals could forage. When the following year brought good rainfall they resumed their grain farming.

This photo, taken in Grandpa’s handsome two-story home during that year of hardship and sorrow, shows him cheering the neighborhood children. It reveals the interior, clothes, and hair styles of the Victorian era. Grandpa’s sister stands by while his oldest girl clings to him. His littlest kneels close to the checkerboard. What is special to me about this scene is Grandpa’s expression. Every eye is on the game. All except Grandpa’s. Is he challenging his opponent to consider her next move? Is he about to move his piece to end the game? What do you think?

During his wife’s illness, her sister took care of her and the children. She was like a mother to the two little girls, so it was no surprise when the aunt they loved became Mother, Grandpa’s second wife. They had two children, one of which was my dad. And that is another story!

Grandpa’s Diaries

harvester with old RaveGrandpa was a farmer. In the 1800’s he grew wheat where sheep grazed and it was not long before others started to plant grain. He bought land on the other side of the river and planted almond trees. In a few years, the hills came alive with pink blossoms in spring and the town became the “almond capital of the world.”

Grandpa came from northern California to the central coast when he was 25 years old. By the time my dad was born Grandpa had moved the family from the farm into a two story Victorian in town. He ventured into business selling farm implements, and when Ford started to mass produce cars he opened one of the first dealerships.

I only knew Grandpa as an old man with a full head of dark hair who sat me on his knee to tease and give me pony rides and who made sure I was quiet in church. I don’t remember any of it because Grandpa was buried when he was 91 and I was only three. Photographs and stories my Dad told were my only connection to Grandpa. Until I found his diaries.

I can’t sit on Grandpa’s knee and listen to his deep voice or hear his hearty laugh. But he speaks through his faded penciled words.IMG_2866_web1

The first entry is dated Oct 25, 1886 and the last July 4, 1906.
Random entries:
Trim trees. Kill little pig.
Plow in pasture 1 team sold heifer to Dick N.
Sunday at church.
Mr. Smallman, wife and baby came out, staid all night
Rain at night
Plow 2, 10 horse teams

He wrote of deaths including this poignant one:
Went to ranch after milk in afternoon… Had supper, put Lizzie (his wife) to bed at about eight o’clock …Went to bed about nine thirty. Lizzie awakened me at fifteen minutes past eleven with a hemorage which “drowned” her in about five minutes.
A month later he wrote Ma unconscious all day. Died at six o’clock.

Sometimes I’ve learned about him by what he did not include in the diaries. In 1905 he wrote:
Oct 18 Joe tore old paper out of two rooms
Oct 19 John is burning trees on summer fallow.
Oct 20 Joe is papering. Baby boy was born half past four.

Grandpa recorded the time of birth but not the name of his only son, my dad. There don’t seem to be any more entries about him. Farming was what Grandpa did. He left the babies to Grandma.

For now Grandpa’s diaries sit on my bookshelf. Someday I will learn more about farm life in the 1800’s and more about Grandpa.