By the time I was fourteen, I lost both of my grandfathers. Thankfully, God blessed me with two grandmother’s who lived long lives. Still, though, I felt jilted in the grandfather department.
On this Father’s Day, I wanted to write something about the Grandfather that I actually knew. He is the one that lived until I was fourteen.
My Granddaddy Hamrick was a sweet soul, though not an ambitious man. He was born near the Elizabeth community on what is now Gramling Road in Jefferson County, Florida, east of Monticello. He attended school in Aucilla long before it became a private school. One of his first cousins Mary Jane Hartsfield Brown Lightsey told me that Granddaddy was older than she and drove her and several younger kids from Elizabeth to Aucilla for school each day. This was around 1918 or 1919.
Sometime between his sixteenth and twenty-first birthday, the entire family picked up and moved to Quay, Florida.
Never heard of Quay? Well, they changed its name sometime in the 1930s to Winter Beach, hoping to entice people to visit, though there wasn’t a beach in sight. Never heard of Winter Beach? The little town which has all but since disappeared was located just north of Vero Beach in Indian River County on US 1 about a mile from the Indian River/Intercoastal Waterway.
From the looks of photos taken at the time, my guess is that my teenaged grandfather liked his new home, though he would move back to Jefferson County by the time he was in his forties. The last little house his parents owned in Winter Beach is still standing, and his parents were laid to rest in the city cemetery nearby.
Sadly, I didn’t know a lot of this until after he passed when I was much older. I never took the time to ask him about his early life, but I guess that’s fairly common.
What I do know and now cherish is the memory of going fishing with him once. I was excited, and I guess overly excited because he kept telling me that I was scaring away all his fish. I also hooked him with my wild casting.
Another time I can also vaguely remember a frog gigging excursion one night with at least him and Daddy and maybe even Uncle Ferrell in the boat, probably in some swamp near our home. Those were fun times.
Granddaddy worked for the Florida Department of Tourism at the Welcome Station just north of Monticello on the Georgia-Florida state line. We used to take him lunch, and sometimes I stayed with him a few hours afterwards.
I remember that one of his jobs was to count and record cars including what state from which they came as they crossed the state line coming and going. We sat on the side of the road with the car windows down, making tic marks on a form. Actually, he often napped, and I became quite good at doing the recording.
Each summer, the department gave their employees free passes to most of Florida’s attractions. There was no Disney World then, but there was Silver Springs with Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute and Sunken Gardens and Marineland and many more.
One summer Grandma and Granddaddy loaded up Pam and me; and we toured the state, stopping in to see all these sites. It was a great two-week vacation. I hope it was as great for them as it was for us.
I also remember Granddaddy being an auxiliary policeman from time to time, especially for the Friday night football games, which we never missed. I remember him letting me hold his giant metal flashlight and billy club. I can never imagine him using the latter as he was the most passive man I’ve ever known.
Granddaddy liked to collect junk, old plough blades, equipment, and all manner of implements. The woods behind his house was full of antiques as he called them, but Grandma only saw junk and he was hardly buried before she got the family members to come and drag every last piece off the property.
One of Grandaddy’s best skills was catching, cleaning, and cooking a mess of fish. I can still remember the wonderful smells of those fish fries, which were usually in their backyard using giant electric spools as tables to cook and serve upon. When not in use, we kids would stuff a little feller inside the middle of an electric spool for a roll around the yard.
Also, the only thing better than his fried fish and hush puppies was his cornbread. My Grandma was a great cook, but her cornbread didn’t begin to compare to his. I haven’t had cornbread that good since 1968.
Sadly, as all good things must eventually end, we lost Granddady one Sunday in March of ’68. He was only 64 years old, only one year older than I am now.
He and Grandma decided not to go to church that morning because he didn’t feel well. While watching the First Baptist Church of Tallahassee on TV, he told Grandmother that he couldn’t see and then he just pitched forward and fell out of his chair. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage before an ambulance arrived.
Next year I’ll be 64. If he were still alive, he would be 113. Grandma lived to be 99, and to her credit she was always explaining who I was kin to in the county. She was not from Monticello, so those were his kin.
I still miss him and can still see the sweat around his hat band. Every once in a while in my mind I can hear him call my grandmother “Sugar”. He had a kind face, and he was a good grandfather.