Growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks, I early on found out I had a love for history; the history of my people. It was passed down to me in short snippets, in stories told between the older generations that revolved around love, tragedy, learning experiences, or sometimes just comedic encounters or sayings. My Grandfather would often quote an older man around the house who would refer to vehicles as ‘PontiacFords’ and grin. But these snippets were often from people I never knew; who were gone far before my time. They will live eternal in story, of course, but their race was run before my birth so I never knew them in a physical sense. All these names and stories were so oft told that I began to know these people in a way, and I instinctively knew they were my people. Our family, our neighbors, our community; they left impressions (whether good or bad) on everyone in one way or another. However, when you get to grow up around people and get to know them, it’s different. You see, the Ozarks of an older time and place was gone, much like these lost souls before me; but I got to experience some of it, second hand, and through the stories of my ancestors, passed down. You see, giants walked through my childhood.
My Great Grandfather was born May 4th, 1919 on a small farm in Vendor, Arkansas. His given name was Linnis Wayne Holt, but he went by Wayne as he had a dislike for his first name. He grew up and came of age in the depression years, helping feed his family by learning to trap and hunt. He also helped his father dig graves and make caskets, along with doing carpenter work to make a living. This upbringing kept him close to the land, just as his ancestors had done since they settled in the 1850s. As he aged, he married and raised five children, losing one in an automobile accident in 1968. He was a strong, hardworking, and God-fearing man, who taught his children the value of hard work, saving and being prepared for hard times, which to him never seemed to be more than a few days away. I was born in late 1987, and as I grew, I came to realize that my Great Grandfather was different than the rest of the folks in my family. Not that they weren’t good folks, mind you, but he seemed almost frozen in time; a man who had a code and lived by it uncompromisingly. A man who eschewed sitting inside, preferring to sit in the sunlight outside and listen to the dogs, birds, and other wildlife; a man who was quiet, having long ago learned that the man who listens will learn more than the man who speaks. He would tell his grandkids stories about hunting, fishing, trapping, and how he made a living doing these things. He saw the world change, but refused to follow it. A lesson men need today more than ever; tradition is more important than progress.
He would often sit me down and tell stories that I can only vaguely remember in the fuzziness of my early childhood, but I remember well the silence. I would be running around the yard or out getting into ‘meanness’ that unescapable hobby that all young boys are so good at, and would nearly forget he was there, only to look up and see him sitting there like a sentinel, staring down the road or off into the distance. He was a man from a different time, but the lessons he learned served him well, and he was more than happy to pass them to his children and grandchildren.
He taught fishing, hunting, ginseng digging, trapping, and about every other art of the woodsman. He was more than proficient in all these. He had unlimited patience when it came to waiting for the kill or a good bite; and he had unlimited strength and stamina when it came to scaling bluffs and walking hollers, digging ‘seng and golden root for a little money.
He would always have a kind word and some gentle advice for his grandchildren, who so adored him that at his funeral, they prepared a written eulogy of several pages of stories and advice he had so lovingly passed to them. I reminisce about him today as I sit here in the land of my birth; the Ozark mountains he so often hunted and trapped; crossing and re-crossing them throughout his life, to make a living. Carrying a worn H&R 922 pistol and checking his traps. Cutting timer for .50 cents a day, and having to walk to and from the job site with a lit railroad lantern just to see. He lived a life of hardship most would not imagine; but not once did I hear him complain or see self-pity in his eyes. His burdens were his alone; and he would not bemoan his position, nor try and shirk his load in life. He carried well, as a man should. He lived the same way.
When he got to the point he was too infirm to go climbing the hills, you would find him there; sitting statue like in his chair on the porch. Awaiting someone to come by and visit, or, failing that, to chew Red Man and enjoy the sunshine or rain. He was a man who took what life gave him without complaint and was thankful for all he had been blessed with.
I share this short description of a man with you for one reason; that reason is tradition. My Grandfather was a man of tradition and he was blessed with all the knowledge of his ancestors. He taught us the ways of living off the land and how a man can be happy with what little he has. These are things that are no longer observed nor taught. We must change this in order to turn ourselves around and get back to the way we need to live; tradition is the way of the future, despite what your television or favorite internet site will tell you. A man who is grounded in tradition will not turn aside into decadence or depravity. He will smile and work hard and raise a family that will shine on as long as they keep sticking to tradition.
Well, dear reader, tradition is our way of life. Will you teach your family the same?
My Grandfather died on June 19th, 1998. This hole in our lives will never be filled; but he will live eternal in the stories and memories of those whose life he touched.
God bless you and God Bless Dixie. May tradition reign eternal.