“This is my life as I remember it.” Thus begins a short memoir written by my mother’s father, Burwell Edgar Culbertson, in January of 1972. I received his memoir just a few days ago. To read it is to take a walk through rugged frontier days, beginning in Buffalo, New York where he was born August 4, 1898. From Buffalo, he takes us through Denver, Colorado, and on to the Edmonton, Alberta, Canada region. Unfortunately, Grandpa did not finish writing his story before he died in 1974. While I would have loved to hear his stories of how he met Grandma, or his adult years raising a family and moving from place to place following the jobs, he did leave a remarkable account of his early years on the frontier. Reading this helped me understand my grandfather, and also gave me some “aha” moments about why I do certain things the way I do.
Grandpa writes about the train trip across this county, eventually ending in Entwistle, Canada. He details what travel entailed in those times before automobiles and paved roads. In Entwistle, the Culbertsons bought supplies (the story is more detailed and interesting than this; I will share some other time) and hauled everything by wagon another 35 miles into the wilderness to homestead a 160 acre plot of land. Every story told was of adventure and trials which harrowingly tested their survival skills. I doubt that any of us today could do what they did then. One experience in particular tells how Grandpa came to love reading and value education.
A man, Mr. Randall, lived about 4 ½ miles from the Culbertson homestead. In c1913, Mr. Randall sent for his bride-to-be from England. Mrs. Randall “came from a family of highly educated people in England and she was a school teacher for several years before coming to Canada. Her husband was also of a family of well educated people and his early home was in the same district (Shropshire County, England) as Mrs. Randall lived in. Her change of mode in a new way of life in a new country where life and living was primitive in comparison to what she was accustomed to did not seem to affect her in the least. She had a very likable personality and in later years she was to be the best friend I had during the early years before I left those parts in Oct. of 1921.”
Mrs. Randall brought with her from England many boxes of books of all genres. Grandpa was not formally educated at that time, but he had a bright mind and was very interested in learning. He was most fascinated with the twelve volume set, “Ridpaths History of the World,” and the two-volume set, “Darkest Africa,” by Stanley and Livingston. Grandpa would walk the 4 ½ miles to visit with the Stanley’s on Sundays, their one day of rest, and Mrs. Stanley would loan him two books to take home to read. Grandpa would return the books after having read them, 2 or 3 weeks later, and borrow more books to read. In time Grandpa began to borrow books on math as well, algebra and geometry. Mrs. Randall would spend time with him going over his work and correcting it. By the time he returned home from his visits with the Randalls, it would be late at night. The Randall’s influence on grandpa’s life helped him to see that there was more to life than the hardships and isolation of homesteading in the wilds of northern Canada
My “aha” moment came when reading how Mrs. Randall cautioned Grandpa how to treat books. She instructed Grandpa that one must never turn down page corners to mark one’s place. Books were to be treated with respect. Many years and many miles later, I recall conversations with Grandpa about books and learning. As a child, I loved going through Grandpa’s books and his massive collection of National Geographics. Yes, I loved those magazines for the pictures, but I also loved reading the stories about people in faraway places. I would go to his wood shop in the back of his two car garage, a far cry from his wilderness days in Canada, where from time to time we would have discussions about important matters! Standing in his wood shop, Grandpa and I were once talking about his books, and how special they were to him and to me. I remember him telling me how to treat a book, to never turn down the corners of the pages, to use a proper book mark to mark my place. He spoke to me of the importance of returning a book in pristine condition if I borrowed it from someone else‘s library. He iterated the importance of taking care of my own library, and building that library up with books of import: religion, geography, history, math, philosophy. To this day I take great care with my books. No page corner is ever bent, every book is handled with such care that I can read a book through and it still look like new when I’m finished. Grandpa would be proud of the library that we have amassed in our home. Books of poetry, fiction, science, math, religion, history. My husband and I have read most books; they are not on our shelves just to collect dust. Both of my parents are avid readers, too, but in part, I thank my grandpa for teaching me how to care for books and to value the knowledge within.
This is one story of one of my grandparents. I was fortunate enough to have four grandparents into my adult years. What a blessing. I learned life lessons from all four of my grandparents, and those lessons occurred in seemingly insignificant moments and ways. Oftentimes we can hear from our grandparents what we won’t allow ourselves to hear from our parents. When parenting my children, there were times I wanted to ship them off to the grandparents because they were not listening to me! Somehow the grandparents communicated with my children as I could not. Now, as a grandparent myself, I understand that special connection…and responsibility…we have with and to our progeny. In telling our “grandparent” stories, we reinforce the values and mores that our children are working to instill in their children. It is a vital thing we do, but if we are not aware we are apt to miss golden opportunities to help our children raise the next generation. Thank you Grandpa, Grandma, Daddy Futch and Momma Futch, for doing your job so well. I love you. I miss you.