Monday, September 13, 2010

The Sharpshooter With Twinkling Eyes!

We visited often while I was growing up but I didn’t realize what a rare treasure it was to have a living Great Grandfather until I was able to visit with him as an adult while finishing up a college degree not far from his home in Lehi, Utah.getimage

He went by Ralph M. Smith, but he was born in 1879 in Cedar Fort, Utah as Ralph Messersmith, the youngest son of Thomas and Louisa. Ralph’s father had settled there after a stint in the Union Cavalry during the Civil War, guarding the central overland mail route.

I’m sure my Great Grandfather had heard stories of his father’s gold mining partnership in Nevada with the author by then famous as Mark Twain, when in his 20s and 30s Ralph rode as a sharpshooter atop trains like the one shown above, bound for Salt Lake City carrying gold mined in nearby Mercur.

I had visited Mercur in 1971, where my maternal Grandmother had been born in 1910 but by then the bustling town of 12,000 was long a ghost town. Even for a boy from the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, it was pretty romantic stuff.

Having already turned 90 by my later visits, my Great Grandfather moved into a nursing facility, accompanied by his best friend Will They had been companions since boyhood I believe. Will didn’t need the facility but wanted to be there with Ralph.

Sometimes, during my visits, my Great Grandfather wouldn’t recognize me at first, so Will would call out, “damn-it Ralph, that’s Dawn’s boy.” Then invariably they would recall about how I always turned red as a teenager when the two would kid me unmercifully about taking the vintage sedan downtown (Lehi was a population of 10,000 at the time) to park nose first, slant into the curb and “watch the girls go by.”

I also learneed that apparently my Great Grandfather passed on his skills with a rifle when as a school bus driver, he would often stop along country roads at the request of parents and teach the kids how to shoot.

My Great Great Grandfather always had an unmistakable twinkle in his eye, right to the end. As a life-long Democrat who worshiped FDR, he was delighted that he lived long enough to see me, as he termed it, “come to my senses” by my early 20’s.

I’ve always considered it one of my great privileges to have known and visited frequently with a living great grandfather.

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