Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Grandparent #1: Weaver Harris Smith

Weaver Harris Smith was born 18 December 1895 in Catoosa, Indian Territory.  He was the youngest son of Stephen A. and Fannie Smith and the only child born in Indian Territory.  His mother died when he was almost 10.  While his sister Lou was kind to him, his older brothers did things like filling his Christmas stocking with coal and switches.  One of them recommended he try "toilet water," but didn't explain exactly what that was, leading to an incident that was comical, but probably not to Weaver.  He spent his younger years in Oologah, using the town pump as home base for games of Go Sheepie Go.  We once took him back to Oologah to see his old home, and he remarked that he remembered it as much bigger.  

Smith home in Oologah, Oklahoma

My son at the Oologah water pump, about 1980
He was living in Collinsville in 1917 when he registered for World War I.  He met my grandmother there, courted her for several years, and married her on 30 June 1918.  On their honeymoon the newlyweds visited Waterloo, Alabama, the Smiths’ old home. 

Fannie and Weaver, 1919
Weaver and Fannie at the Beckham home in Waterloo, AL
They rented a house on the corner of W. 41st St. and S. 26th W. Ave. in Red Fork and started “housekeeping.”  Grandpa joined the union as a pipefitter and worked at the Sun (DX) Refinery in West Tulsa.  He helped build the gasworks on the Arkansas River.  They had really hard times because he was often on strike, but maybe they did a little better than the other families because Fannie was working as a teacher.  The other men would give him a hard time about it, and he would say, “Well, at least my wife is smart enough to get a job!”  By 1934 Weaver and Fannie had bought a house at 2717 W. 42nd St., just a few blocks from their old rent house.

My grandparents, me and my brother on porch
at 2717 W. 42nd St., Christmas 1960 

Grandpa began to have health problems when he was in his 40's.  He survived a cerebral hemorrhage because the doctor in Red Fork performed an experimental operation, drilling holes in his head to relieve the pressure.  He had several heart attacks and had a leg amputated at about age 70 because of circulation problems.  

Grandpa was a nice-looking man now that I look back on it.  He was wiry and strong and had a shock of heavy hair that I think was just beginning to go gray in his 70’s (although he always wore a hat.)  I think it must be telling that I remember him as tough and strong, because he had health problems from the time I can remember him.  I never thought of him as weak.  In his late 60’s he could still do a trick that he had done all his life.  Holding a matchstick between the fingers of his right hand, he would hold his left hand behind his back, doing a one-handed pushup and grabbing the matchstick with his teeth! My recollection of his toughness might have something to do with the fact that he cussed like a sailor, and though he often seemed to be in a bad mood, I always knew he loved me.  He and my grandmother seemed like the mismatch of the century, but they were completely devoted to each other.

He was helpful around the house in a day when most men weren't.  Before my grandmother retired, he stayed home with my brother and me after our mother died.  He was the family dishwasher.  He used to complain that all he did was "wa' dish, wa' dish."  He and my grandmother hardly ever fussed, but I remember them getting into an argument once in the kitchen when he was washing dishes.  He threw a wet rag at my grandmother and knocked her wig askew, and they ended up laughing, the argument forgotten.

My grandparents washing dishes at the house
on 42nd St.

Grandpa had a lot of colorful expressions.  On 42nd St., he had his own bedroom at the back of the house that he called the “north 40.”   My favorite was “shoe mouth deep,” indicating the depth of water you were stepping in.  He also talked about being so “poor that you couldn’t buy a mosquito a wrassling jacket,” although I can’t imagine what that means.  Grandpa loved “wrassling”--professional wrestling. He would get so excited watching it on TV that we were afraid he’d have another heart attack.  Although he certainly couldn’t help it, I think that the fragility of his health made a big impression on me as a kid.  Between that and the Smith motto “If anything can go wrong, it will,” I grew up pretty fearful, but also pretty appreciative of all the small things that you can lose at any time. 

Christmas at the house on 38th St., 1965 
It was always hard for me to go away from home to spend the night with somebody, because I was afraid that something would happen to him while I was gone (although what I thought I could do about it, I don’t know.) And then something did.  My dad and brother and I had gone out to eat on a Saturday afternoon.  When we came home, my grandmother had had to call an ambulance to come and get Grandpa.  He had had another heart attack, and this time he didn’t recover.  He died on May 17, 1970. 

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