My Grandpa William Mack Little is a cipher. He listed his mother as Marion Rourke in the family bible, but try as I may I have never been able to find any sign of her on Ancestry.com. or anywhere else. The same goes for his father James Mack. It is as though my grandfather just popped up in a cabbage patch one day. Nonetheless he had a story of family that included being raised by his grandmother after his mother died shortly after he was born. I can’t find a thing on her either. For that matter I don’t find any proof of Grandpa’s existence until he is well over forty years old.
Grandpa told me all about his grandmother and wove stories of living with her in the backwoods of Virginia near a coal mine that his she ran. He was quite the teller of tales about his childhood and his early teen years. He even had a wonderful story about the time his father and stepmother had smallpox and he was fetched to take care of them. When his grandmother died he was only thirteen and had to help a judge choose a guardian for him. He didn’t think his father would be a good choice since he had never supported him before that time. Grandpa suspected that his old man would just squander the small inheritance from his grandmother, so he chose a man named John Little, This was supposedly his uncle, although I can’t find a connection to Mr. Little’s family and my grandfather anywhere. John Little was actually Captain John Little, a graduate of the United States Military Academy. Sadly Captain Little died from typhus after being sent to help with hurricane relief in Cuba in 1900. By that time my grandfather was twenty one years old so he had already set off on his own doing mostly construction work but he missed having the guidance from his uncle.
Grandpa traveled all over the United States finding jobs wherever they were to be had and staying in rented rooms. Perhaps his vagabond lifestyle is the reason that he was never registered in a federal census until he was a middle aged man. He never really settled down, not even when he met and married my grandmother. He took the family here and there looking for work just as when when he was single. Most of his jobs ended up being in Oklahoma and Texas so that’s how he ended up in Houston with my father in tow.
Most of Grandpa’s adult life took place before the introduction of Social Security and because he had been without work during the Great Depression he never managed to save a great deal of money. Nor did he have a very large pension from his union. My grandmother’s cancer and the hospitalizations it required wiped him out financially. He ended up living in a rented room from the time he was eighty eight until he died at the age of one hundred eight.
Grandpa had lots of grandchildren and great grandchildren so I was shocked when I learned that nobody was willing to join together to pay his funeral expenses. I was just shy of being forty years old at the time and my brothers were still in their thirties. We weren’t swimming in cash but we were able to put enough together to have our grandfather buried next to my grandmother. We remarked that we would install a grave marker later because we had already stretched our budget on caskets, flowers, cars, police escorts and all the rituals associated with laying a great man to rest.
We would visit the cemetery often and I rarely mentioned how much it bothered me that my grandmother had a headstone, but Grandpa did not. On one of my birthdays my husband suggested that we visit the cemetery, since my grandfather and I shared a birth month. It seemed like a wonderful way of remembering him and not just focusing on myself.
When we got there I was surprised to see that my grandfather had a marker of his own that was styled the same ways that Grandma’s was. I was overjoyed when I saw it because if ever there was someone who deserved to be remembered for all time, it was William Mack Little. It seems that my sweet husband had purchased the stone as one of my birthday gifts.
While I have received many wonderful gifts over the years I have to admit that nothing has quite topped that incredible surprise. My grandfather had been like a second father to me and I had gained so much wisdom from him. He was the person that I always wanted to see whenever I was feeling anxious. Just sitting with him and listening to his never ending stories always set me at ease and reminded me how lucky I was. I don’t think I ever adequately conveyed to him how much I loved him or how much he had meant to me. My thoughtful husband had understood my feelings and honored both me and my grandfather with his gift.
It’s funny how we humans like to give things to each other. Sometimes our gifts are expansive and sometimes they are tokens. Presents are an indication that somebody cares about us. When they say the old phrase that “it is the thought that counts” it rings true with me because on that wonderful birthday I received a gift that topped them all.