A Lesson From My Grandpa

“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.

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12 thoughts on “A Lesson From My Grandpa

  1. Love the way you connect your love and respect for books with your grandfather. I knew three grandparents. Grandma Gertie seemed so cold and inaccessible. Now I know that she had to work hard her whole life and that my grandfather, who died when my dad was a teenager, was abusive.

    I’m trying to be a loving, generous grandmother. One of my grandsons is convinced he’s my favorite. I want all of them to think that!

  2. I love how your grandson thinks he is your favorite…I want each of my grandchildren to think that about me, too.

    I remember the conversation with my granddad re: books like it was yesterday. But it wasn’t until I came into possession of his memoir last week that I learned where his love of books and learning originated. A truly wonderful “aha” that I just had to write about!

  3. At this point in my life I wish I had listened more when my dad wanted to share his life story with me. I was too busy living my own life and raising my own family.
    How I wish I could turn back time for a while and tell my parents of how proud I was of them and what they endured to raise a family. I was so fortunate to have them.
    Now it is time to share part of my life with our own children while we can. I love your blogs. It brings back so many memories.

    1. Well, Mom, there are times when I wish I had listened more to my parents, too. Thanks for sending me Grandpa’s memoir. Thanks for reading this blog and taking the time to comment. Thanks for being a great mom! I love you.

      1. Cecelia, I have just finished reading your Grandpa’s memoir. I was so excited because I believe we are related. My father, Henry Wallenstrom, from Denver, Colorado had an uncle Burr who he loved very much and Daddy traveled to see him several times by hitching rides on trains. One time one of Uncle Burr’s sons came to visit us when I was about 11 and I believe his name was David but I’m not sure. I’ve been working on my family tree for so long and have not been very successful finding information on my Dad’s side of the family so I am very happy. Margie Wallenstrom Hausburg. My e-mail address is mhausburg6@gmail.com.

  4. You were so blessed to have all of your grandparents in your life. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, one grandmother when I was 5 and the other lived far away and I only saw her briefly once a year. I’m glad for you and all your memories.

  5. Thanks for writing and posting this! He was my Grandfather as well. I never met him, bit have been told we are alike.I just read it to my Dad, Norman Culbertson.

    1. Nice to meet you Zach! And glad you like the post. I loved grandpa and have wonderful memories of visiting him at his and grandma’s tobacco farm in KY. Maybe some day we will have the opportunity to meet in person. BTW, I don’t know if Uncle Norman told you, but we (my mom is Uncle Norman’s sister) lived with him and Aunt Helga (and Kenny, Debbie, and Marc) for a few months when we moved to Valley Station to start our new lives. Those were memorable days for us all. After Uncle Norman and Aunt Helga divorced, I sorta lost track of everyone. So, nice of you to stop by and introduce yourself. Feel free to come back anytime.

  6. Hey! This is Zach again from San Francisco. Get in touch when you have the chance. Would like to learn more about my Grandfather. I’m in San Francisco.

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