My father was born Aug. 26, 1904, in Leander, Texas, the first son of a farming family; of a tough Scot mother and a vigorous, entrepreneurial father. He was, I’m told, a bright, ambitious boy who loved learning and dreamed of being a writer, traveling the world, spinning stories about those adventures.

By 1918, the family owned two farms, two mule teams, two plows. One of those farms led my grandfather to board a train for Port Lavaca in late October 1918. By Nov. 8, my grandfather was dead of Spanish influenza. He was 42 when they buried him in a family plot at Oatmeal, Texas. With him was buried my father’s dream of an education and the writing life.

He was 14, had become the man of the family and a farmer.

By the late 1920s, by means unknown to me, he had enrolled at Tyler Commercial College and, despite contracting rheumatic fever, sometimes fatal in those days before antibiotics, graduated with a business diploma. He had married by then and had two sons. He got a job at a bank. It was 1929. Soon, the bank and job were gone as the world sank into the Great Depression.

He spent those early Depression years doing whatever he could; worked as a ranch hand and a traveling tombstone salesman.

“Lots of people were dying,” he told me once. “But nobody could afford a tombstone.”

Peddling grave markers in New Mexico, he contracted scarlet fever, also a killer back then. A family of strangers who ran a boarding house nursed him back to his feet, helped him to his old car and sent him back to Texas with a brown bag full of sandwiches.

When the New Deal rolled out, he got jobs through the Public Works Administration building dams, bridges, schools and hospitals across Central Texas. Life improved.

In 1936, though, he stood again in that Oatmeal cemetery as men of the family lowered coffins containing his wife and an infant daughter into the hard Hill Country dirt; they too victims of influenza.

In December that same year, he married the 18-year-old girl who decades later would bear me. Little by little, life improved.

He managed to buy a Gulf service station along U.S. 281 in Burnet, Texas; a good spot on a main road between Dallas and San Antonio. The war came and with it rationing of gas, oil, tires, parts; the whole inventory. The venture sputtered, then died.

And that old foe, disease, was still around.

He would spend six months in a San Angelo sanatorium where people with tuberculosis were quarantined. The fear and humiliation of being unable to protect and provide for his family must have been profound, for those were his real calling.

After the war, he had to stand by helpless as polio took down his own first son; left him with a withered leg.

My father was 56 when I arrived; his accidental son. He was a carpenter, much in demand for his skill and devotion to the craft. He had never left the United States, never would. He read Wanderlust magazine, devoured crossword puzzles and books.

He never wrote a story, that I know of; but he could spin them and he spun them for me.

I see now each contained a lesson for his accidental son, the son he might not be there to guide.

Some of those morals I find relevant today: Good people are everywhere, among all kinds; the converse is equally true; your family and your health alone are worth worry; all honest work is good and an end as much as a means; learn, especially to do; what you know and can do are yours forever; collect nothing except tools; avoid debt; anything you make should be square, plumb and true; help when you can, accept it when you must.

I don’t know what my father would think of the world today. I doubt he would be afraid. I know he would not bend on principle, character, values or any of the few other similar things we truly own.

I think he would get up and face each day; do what there was to do. I will try to do that too.

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

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(13) comments

Dlorah Berry

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. Your Dad was an incredible man.

Bailey Jones

What a great remembrance of your father, and a reminder that the challenges we face today are nothing new, and would be absolutely familiar to that greatest generation.

dawn wilson

What a wonderful tribute to your Father. Brings back so many memories of my Dad and how he valued and loved his family and the sacrifices he made for them. They were great men of that generation.

Terri Abraham

I enjoyed your column, too. Your dad was a strong person to bear up under so much hardship.

Charles Douglas

You did good on this Michael. Your dad epitomized what it meant to live in the greatest country In the world. He never compromised his ethics, values or his character, but got up each day and came out with both barrels blazing in order to overcome the world's stumbling blocks and obstacles of life in order to raise and provide for his family! Now, those are tendencies exhibited by a REAL family man, ...taking advantage of every opportunity which presented itself, and creating opportunities where none existed by diligence, work work, and determination! I strongly suspect that you are cut from the same fabric! Yeah,..you did real good on this piece. Thanks for sharing!

Raymond Lewis

Good one Michael. You 'spin' a pretty good story yourself!

Cliff Hall

Thank You for sharing your fathers journey and the lessons he shared with his accidental son!

michaelsmith Staff
Michael A. Smith

Thank you all for reading the column and taking the time to comment. I might have my noted father’s experience wasn’t unique or even uncommon for the time. It was just life for most people back before the war. Some had it better, some worse. Some caught luckier breaks, so took worse hits. Disease, especially, was egalitarian. It slew the high and the low, the mighty and the meek without discrimination.

I think that might have helped unify the county. I hope that will be case today, anyway.

Paula Flinn

Thank you for telling your story about your father. I had a great father, too, that was born in 1904. It was a very hard working generation. He died in 1985, and I still miss his quiet, gentle manner and ways.

Charles Douglas

Michael, what you said is true, just as those things you said would apply today as well, like sickness, or plaque not discriminating. However, the time difference of life between that Day and this one has some significance. Those men and women back during that time are representatives of doing more with less, overcoming, and making great sacrifices to live just another day,..just another week, than we will ever know today! They left us both a Heritage and a Legacy of what it takes to be successful and live free... like no other generation! They endured because they were special from head to toe and their like ...their will to survive, and not be a burden, we might never see again in out lifetime! You struck a nerve with many of us because like you, we had parents, who laid it all on the line ....just to put bread on the table and karosene in the lamp like my dad did. This is why your story was a HOME RUN!

Mike Box

Thanks Michael!

Trudy Deen Davis

Lovely tribute, Michael. I had rheumatic fever in the 1950s, too, and was around for the first dose of the polio vaccine. I also had a father who did whatever was necessary to support his family without fanfare. I am happy I inherited his work ethic. Keep up the good work! Share more stories!

Chris Tucker

Thank you for sharing. There are lessons to be learned from those who came before us. We all need to remember those heroes in our prayers.

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