Volume 6, Number 8, Summer 1978
The most unforgettable character I ever knew, without a doubt, was my Fathers Father, Issac Brooks, a minister in the Christian Church more than a half of century ago. He lived at Patterson or at Bruno, Mo. I do not recall the first time I became aware of his charismatic personality, or his dynamic preaching, but Grandpa was patient with my wiggling, giggling, prone "to want to sit outside the church" personality. No telling the times he was hurt deeply when it came church time to hear me say, "Oh, do I have to go?" I regret, now, all the sermons I missed of Grandpas and all the opportunities I let pass of sitting at his feet and learning more about the Bible.
Grandfather had a booming bass-like singing voice. Sometimes I actually felt the rafters quiver and the goose bumps spread over my entire body, but when he opened his worn Bible to preach, his voice was soft and persuasive. He was a very learned Bible scholar and my skin would crawl again under the sound of his sermon.
This story is in no way an argument in favor of todays long hair, beards and mustaches, even though, Granddad had all three. My father says he never saw him shaven but once in his life. While Dad was away at school in Springfield Normal School Grandpa shaved and Dad didnt even recognize him when he came home. I guess Grandpa thought if his own son did not know him hed better grow the fuzz again. That he did and he would put any young fuzz to shame today. His hair was long and curly and so was his beard. His mustache was almost handlebarish. I was always anxious for him to get through with the blessing at mealtimes so that I could watch him drink from his mustache cup. It always fascinated me.
Also, to this day, Ive wondered if Grandmother liked his kisses. When he kissed and nuzzled me as he often did, the whiskers tickled, but I never dared tell him so. I can remember sitting on one knee for hours, it seemed, while he talked with the other adults, my feet never touching the floor and my legs aching more every minute. How I longed to get down to run and play in the beloved spring branch or blacksmith shop, yet never daring to say "Put me down!" My sister usually come to my rescue with "Im hungry!" loudly whispered in my mothers ear which brought Grandmother or Aunt Ruth out of their deep rockers to go to the kitchen for jelly sandwiches. Grandma always had left over food from dinner piled high on the long dining room table with a white cloth over everything. Of all the good eats under that cloth and my sister always chose jelly bread. She always said, "Nelle would like some, too," so I knew better than to press my luck even though Grandma would have given us a chicken leg even if I had asked. Im sure she always wondered how we could get so hungry so soon after dinner. She probably never did notice how I spent most of my dinner hour watching Grandpa maneuver eating through his brush.
He always had scads of watermelons from somewhere during the summer and all the aunts and uncles and cousins would be there. Grandpa had one enormously long table in the front yard along the spring branch under huge shade trees. Watermelon being my favorite dish, I always forgot to watch Grandpa eat it. To this day Ive wondered if his whole beard got soaked like the whole front of me.
Sometimes I just liked to go in the parlor alone and look over all the pictures, curios and such. Most of all I loved the beautiful organ and played it as long as I liked which was until my legs gave out. Then Id have leg ache in the worst way for a week afterwards, but I learned to play "by ear" on that beloved instrument. I dreamed of the day when Id have one just like it in my very own parlor exactly like Grandmas.
Then, there was the attic! So many wonderful old catalogs and discarded things were there along with dust and cobwebs. My sister always thought she heard ghosts, so I usually explored that exciting domain alone.
Most of my visits to Granddads were on Sundays. Then we could play in the blacksmith
shop on shavings and all kinds of wild things. He had a planer in part of the shop where he dressed lumber to make wagons. The shavings curled up in corkscrews. We could find some lovely ones and had great fun sticking them in our hair. We must have looked like something from outer space with those white corkscrew shavings sticking all over our heads. I liked the smell of them and the whole shop. Sometimes the odor of horses still lingered there and how I loved horses in those days, especially Grandpas first horse that I remember, "Old Bald."
Granddad would come back from preaching on Sunday, maybe in the afternoon, depending on how far away his appointment was. He preached in a different church every Sunday in each month. In those days churches could not afford but one service a month.
Sometimes on a hot day or when it rained, Old Bald would shine like my Sunday black patent leather shoes, when Grandpa reigned in the barn lot. I liked the name Old Leather best. Granddad had a funny black rubber "slicker" with funnier rain hat that he wore on rainy days. Those times, it was hard to tell where Grandpa ended and Old Bald began, their wet blackness was so much the same. On lovely days, he always dismounted and lifted me to the saddle to ride to the barn. Oh, those were the greatest thrills! The ground was never so far away as when I rode Old Leather, but Grandpa held to my hand even though there was no danger. There was never a more gentle horse in all the land. A gentle horse for a gentle man.
Sometimes in summer Granddad didnt come home. Hed be holding a protracted meeting somewhere and then would be gone for weeks at a time. The whole little town seemed lonely without Grandpa. It was hard for him to be away from the blacksmith shop for very long, but it wasnt hard to get help during those times.
Occasionally, for some reason, we would have to go to Grandpas during the week. I must have been a terrible pest. Grandpa would be working at his desk figuring or writing letters and Id stand watching with my hands behind my back wishing he would notice me. He knew I was there, it just took awhile for him to reach in his pocket and pull out a nickel. Dear Grandfather, I never did tell him that he was the only one in the whole wide world who dished out nickels. Everyone else gave pennies in those days and oh, the candy a nickel would buy! Grandpa always hugged me and swung me high in the air saying, "Now dont let it burn a hole in your pocket." I dont think Ive heard that expression since. So, I didnt always take off for the only store in town, but sometimes waited till I got home and went to my favorite grocer where Id get a much greater "nickels worth." I never did know if Grandfather gave me the nickels to get me out of his hair or if he loved me that much. Probably both.
If he was busy shoeing a horse, I stayed in the wagon shop partly because he told me to for safety sake and mostly because I just could not stand to see nails driven in horses hooves. I hurt for them and often hid my eyes and cried, but no one ever explained to me that they didnt hurt. I didnt know until I was grown that there was no pain to it, but I still think there was and is yet. If he was making a wagon I stayed in the front part of the shop. His desk was there. I knew better than to bother anything on his desk, so I scavenged the waste basket. He got letters postmarked from every state in the union, it seemed. Some of the towns and states I had never heard of in my limited knowledge of Geography. I began saving stamps and postmarks, which became quite a hobby.
Grandfather had been a "circuit rider" preacher forty-years when he died and now that has been almost forty years ago but Grandpa still sticks in my memory as though he lived yesterday. The Village Smithy was a mighty man, at the forge, or in the pulpit and was missed so much by all of us. I wrote a poem about him which tells more in rhyme than I can tell in sentences.
GRANDPA WAS A PREACHER
My grandpa was a preacher fine;
Who on his horse Old Leather,
Rode miles and miles to preach the Word, In any kind of weather.
So many times I heard him speak;
Though I would always wiggle
And seem so inattentive then,
Or maybe even giggle.
But little ears heard so much more Than Grandpa ever guessed.
The truths I heard him speak so much Helped me and all the rest.
For there were Brooks grandkids galore,
Who kept each celebration;
And made my grandpas big old house
Like bustling Union Station.
We also loved our grandma dear-
The mate my grandpa chose.
She kept him "in the saddle" with
True love, good food, warm clothes.
He also was a Smithy strong,
As tentmaker was Paul,
Or Carey as a shoe cobbler-
He preached to one and all.
My grandpa said he shod the mules
That was his avocation,
But winning others to the Lord
He called his true vocation.
Whateer he did he did it well
As patiently he waited
For time to saddle up his steed
And travel unabated;
To work with all his heart and soul
To rid the world of sin,
Before he left it all behind,
The Lord had need of him.
And then he heard a Higher call.
His preaching days were done:
But, in every one who knew him
His works live on and on.
If he were alive today, hed be called mod, a square, and the greatest, but there really are no words to describe my Grandfather. He was my Grandpa Preacher Man, the greatest man who ever lived.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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