Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Boyds

My grandmother was a Boyd. I didn’t realize the importance of the Boyd family until I went to one of their family reunions. There were 900 people there. Actually I don’t think everyone there was a Boyd. The family had invited anyone who wanted to come. I think most of Dewey County was there.   

My grandmother’s father, Grant Alexander Boyd, came to Indian Territory from St. Joseph, Mo., with his parents, three brothers and a sister. Some of the family made the run of 1893 into the Cherokee Strip. Others came later and settled in the same area, along the banks of the South Canadian River. My great grandparents, Grant Alexander and Laura Cavey Boyd, came in the early 1890’s and bought a homestead from a man whose crops had failed the year before. All he wanted for his land was $35, the price of a train ticket home.  

The Boyd brothers were all tall, one almost seven feet from what I was told. I don’t know my great grandfather’s height, but you can get some idea from a picture of him standing next to his house with my great grandmother, Laura Cavey Boyd. You can see in the picture that the house was made of bricks. Grant and one of his neighbors, Cadie Jones, fired the bricks using sand from the nearby Canadian River. The old house was still standing in the early 1990’s, 100 years later.   

                                        Grant and Laura Boyd

Grant and Laura Boyd's farm was successful, and they also built and operated a hotel in the nearby town of Fay, Oklahoma. I don’t know much about my grandmother’s childhood, except that she attended school with some Indian children who camped across the river from her parents’ farm. She apparently had a low opinion of these Indians, which of course didn’t go over well with my mother, but one of her classmates, a Cheyenne Indian named David Oakeater, turned out pretty well. He got an education, was converted to Christianity and became an Episcopal minister, a bishop, and was later canonized by the Episcopal Church for his work among his people.  

Grant and Laura Boyd had five girls: Ruth, Jesse – my grandmother, Eva, Alta, Imogene, and two boys: Gene and Chester. Chester, known as Check, was just a little older than my dad, and they were childhood companions.  

                  Check (upper left), Don (center), Gene Boyd (right)

My great grandfather, Grant Boyd, must have been quite a guy. My dad told me a couple of stories about him. Dewey County, where the little town of Fay is located, is right in the heart of “tornado alley,” the portions of Kansas and Oklahoma where tornadoes are common. Don said that one day the sky clouded up, and the air got that typical warm moist feel to it that means a tornado is coming. Laura started rounding up the children to take them down into the storm shelter, but when beckoned for her husband to come inside, he told her he had decided to stay outside and watch.  

Laura listened to the noise of the wind and debris outside as the tornado passed over, ready to open the door if her husband called for help, but the tornado came and left without her hearing his call. When Laura and the children emerged from the shelter, Grant was sitting in his rocker on the porch, seemingly unperturbed, even though only a hundred feet away the  windmill had been turned into a pretzel. The tornado had been heading straight for the house, but  at the last moment it turned aside, sparing the house and Grandpa Boyd.  

The other story I know about Grandpa Boyd is his first experience with a motor car. It was about 1910 when his oldest son Gene bought the town’s first automobile. It was a Model T Ford, and it created quite a stir around Fay. When Gene brought it home Grandpa wanted to drive it himself, so Gene instructed him on how to steer and how to put it into gear. Then he got out and cranked the engine. When Grandpa heard the engine start, he put the car into gear and away he went.

Gene didn’t have a chance to get back into the car before Grandpa took off, and then it was too late. Grandpa didn’t know how to stop, so the car sped around the yard at 10 or 15 miles per hour once, then twice. Gene tried to yell instructions to Grandpa about how to stop, but Grandpa was a little hard of hearing. Finally as the car made a third pass by the house Gene made a flying leap onto the running board, then reached over and pulled back the
throttle to stop the car.    
                                          Model T Ford, 1910





I haven’t written much about my father’s family. He died before I retired, and I didn't get to spend as much time with him as I did my mother. But even if he had lived I don’t think we would have spent our time talking about his life or his family like my mother and I did. We would probably have worked in the garden or watched a football game. My dad used to tell me stories abut his life, but it wasn't to preserve his legacy. He just did it to entertain me.

In order to avoid confusion, I need to tell you that I always called my parents by their first names, Don and Jim. It wasn’t from any lack of respect. I just called them what they called each other, and they never corrected me. My mother’s first name was James so everyone called her Jim - my dad actually called her Jimmy. It was only after I had grown up and left home that she started going by her more feminine middle name of Wenonah.  

Jim was a talker; she was outgoing; she was emotional and opinionated, but Don was just the opposite. He was always calm and reasonable. I never saw him angry, and I never heard him say anything that he would have wanted to take back later. Not many people can say that. Jim never apologized for anything she said either, although she probably should have. 
I drove my mother nuts because I wouldn’t confide in her. When I was a teenager she used to say, “When you were little you used to tell me everything, and now you won’t tell me anything.” Of course the reason that I didn’t confide in her was because I didn’t dare. If I told her what I was thinking, she would start to imagine the trouble my thoughts might get me into, and pretty soon she would talk herself into a frenzy. It didn’t take many frenzies to cure me of confiding in my mother. Jim considered it her duty to mold my character, and my normal teenage questioning of conventional wisdom scared her to death. 

On the other hand, I could tell Don anything, and I did. I used to tell him my problems, my hopes, my feelings. He once even warned me that maybe I shouldn’t tell him so much, because he wasn’t going to lie to my mother if she asked him what I said. That was a big disappointment to me because I liked talking to my dad. He wasn’t critical, even if he disagreed with me. He’d listen to what I had to say, and sometimes he’d tell me what he thought. I don’t ever remember him arguing with me though. He was willing to let me work things out for myself.  

I think Jim said it best. After Don died she said, “he was always on my side,” and that’s exactly the way I felt. He always made me feel like he was on my side too.  

Don came from a nice family. By that I mean that they were nice to each other. They didn’t fight like my mother’s family. I used to stay for a week or two with my dad’s parents in the summers. They were quiet and practical and easy going. My grandmother showed me how to make dill pickles, how to grow strawberries, and she showed me how to mend an electrical cord after I accidentally cut hers in two with the lawn mower.  

                                              Jesse Boyd Gunning 

Don told me a story once about his mother. He said she was riding with someone in a car – they didn’t have a car of their own at the time – and the car broke down. The men got out, looked under the hood, and decided that they could fix it, but they couldn’t find a pair of pliers. They looked under the seat and they looked in the trunk, but no pliers. Then my grandmother asked them what was the matter. When they told her they they were looking for some pliers she said: “ Well, why didn’t you say so before,” and she reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of pliers.  

I think what impressed me most about Grandmother was seeing her kill a chicken. One day she told me she was going to fix chicken for supper. I followed her as she went out to the chicken coop and grabbed a chicken. I watcherd her as she pinned the chicken to the ground by laying a board across its neck, and then, while she stood on both ends of the board, she grabbed the chicken’s feet and yanked it’s head off. That’s when I learned the meaning of the old saying, to “run around like a chicken with its head cut off.” The chicken’s body really did run around in circles, and its beak kept opening and closing like it was trying to crow. Then Grandmother boiled some water, scalded the chicken and pulled out its feathers. My uncle Jay told me that she used make extra money by killing and plucking chickens for the grocery store.   

My grandparents had a car when I visited them, and Grandmother did drive, but it made her nervous. Before we went anywhere she would tell me not to talk to her while she was driving, so she could concentrate. I was a jabberbox. 

                                          Robert Benjamin Gunning 

Grandfather was a barber, and he had a shop down town, just off the square. Enid, where my grandparents lived, had a town square, and on it was a little band stand. My grandfather played the trumpet in the Masonic band, and they performed there from time to time, but I never got to hear him. Some days I’d go down town and spend the day with my grandfather. I’d sit in his shop and read funny books. If the barbers weren’t busy they’d talk to me. I can remember them trying to explain to me how their razor strops worked. Grandfather’s partner made me a rocking chair out of a tin can. I still have it. It’s amazing.  

                                                Tin Can Rocker

Grandfather had fought in WWI, and he still had his helmet, you know the kind that looked kind of like an upside down cereal bowl, and he also had brought home an artillery shell. It was about a foot long and I’m sure it was live. I guess back in his day they weren’t particular about what soldiers brought home with them. Grandfather had been shot in the leg and you could still feel the buckshot under his skin. He was shot in a hunting accident, not in the War, but it was still impressive to me.  

My grandparents took me fishing once when I was little, and Grandmother told me to go to sleep early the night before because we would have to get up real early the next morning. I was so excited that I woke up before daylight. I went into my grandparents’ bedroom, woke up Grandmother and asked her if it was time to go yet. She told me not to worry, that we had time to sleep another couple of hours.

To be continued:

 PS: Sorry there are no pictures in this post, but Blogger won't allow me to upload pictures from my computer at this time. I'll fill in the pictures when they fix the problem.