This week, Mama Kat (a fantastic website) asked people to write about a surprising thing about their grandparents…
I grew up in a small New England town where most people knew each other. There was no question, however, that everybody knew my grandfather. A dairy farmer, a carpenter, a gardener, and a collector of junk treasures such as broken toilets, he was a man about town. At 6’5, he cut an imposing figure, which was softened by his worn-out overalls.
You could set your watch by his truck traveling down High St., back home for lunch at noon. My grandmother would have his lunch set on the table, pickles in a dish, sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and a cold glass of milk already poured.
He believed in hard work, none of this golf stuff. No time for leisure pursuits. When he wasn’t up on a roof or out in a field, he served on the board of the town improvement society and the church men’s league. He was an Odd Fellow, a membership he held with pride, wearing his kelly green blazer to meetings.
When he wasn’t busy working, he was busy making sure everybody else was working. He held his children and his grandchildren to high standards, never hesitating to ask us what we had accomplished that day. He considered himself the building inspector of our town, even though he held no such position. “Just checking to see what you’re up to.”
My cousins and I had heard stories about his younger years– the time he spent in the Old Skunk Hollow Gang with his friends, the time he and his brother almost drowned off the jetty. We knew he’d had adventures.
But imagine our surprise when, at a family cookout a year after my grandfather died, my dad said, “Good thing Gramp doesn’t know where you got this corn. He’d roll over in his grave.”
We’d bought the corn from a family farm down the street. (I’ll call them the “Shmoodman” Farm.)
“What’d you mean?”
“After they took his heifer, he was fit to be tied.”
“What?” What language were we speaking? “The Shmoodmans had stolen his heifer?”
“Yeah, and that’s not all. They’d cut up the fence to do it. We found the fence way down on Low St. Let me tell you, though, Ms. Shmoodman was not happy to see Gramp and Uncle George with their guns. Gramp and Uncle George were not happy to get struck by the Shmoodmans holding tree limbs.”
“Well, they still claim they were pheasant hunting. But at night? In the Shmoodmans’ yard? Right after they found they had their fence? He was trying to scare them. Let them know they couldn’t go stealing heifers anymore.”
I’m not sure why we were just hearing this story now. It was like something out of a Tall Tale or a t/v show. But then, I guess, they didn’t want the impressionable youth knowing their grandfather was a revenge-seeking, gun-toting crazy man, even if it was over a stolen heifer and a cut fence.
“Oh, yeah, this was a long-standing feud. Hatfield-McCoy style,” my dad said.
Only it hadn’t been the 1800’s in rural West Virginia. It’d been the 1900’s in Massachusetts. But apparently, this feud was big. It was real.
In five minutes, my cousin and I had just become descendants of hillbillies. After all these years of Gramp telling us to behave, we’d found out that he’d been running around shooting at people?
Now we know the story, and we’ve seen the newspaper article to prove it “Grand Jury Absolves Coopers, Shmoodmans, in No. End Dispute.” An argument over a lost heifer was the cause of the court action.
As the years go by, we’ve heard more bits and pieces of the feud.
And now, in a weird twist of fate, we just bought a house right down the street from the Shmoodmans. I’ve already told my husband that there will be no feuds over lost baseballs or Frisbees. He’s in full agreement. But I’ve got my eye on him.