Friday, February 15, 2013

Family History Friday #3 - Guy Dudley Tunnell

   Last week Sarah wrote about my grandparents, Guy Dudley Tunnell and Linnia Sylvia Lee.  I thought maybe I should add some of my own memories.  We only lived near them for a few years, when I was about eleven years old.  We lived in Centerville, Iowa, for several years while my dad "boomed out" to work as an ironworker back east and then briefly tried to make a living as a painter (house not portrait) in Iowa. The down side of our stay in Iowa was that my dad was gone a lot. The up side was that I got to spend a lot of time with my grandparents, who lived on an 80 acre farm just west of Mystic, Iowa. I'm not sure just how much time we spent at home, but I have relatively few memories of Centerville compared to the memories of my grandparents and their farm.

     My Grandpa Tunnell may have looked a little scary but he was generally a very kind grandpa.  There was however, the "checkers" exception to his kindness. The main thing I remember about playing checkers with him is Grandpa frequently repeating "A jump's a jump" every time I stumbled into another of his snares on the checkerboard. This was usually followed by him jumping three of my checkers in return for me having taken one of his. I'm sure he didn't have unkind intentions and was probably trying to go easy on me. He just happened to be a very good checker player. He actually had won the Iowa State Checkers Tournament one year. Iowa happens to be a place where they take their checkers pretty seriously. I did learn to be a more cautious checker player from that experience.

    There were two reasons my Grandpa Tunnell may have looked a little scary. First of all, he had lost an eye as a consequence of working in the local coal mines. I asked my mom if she recalled whether he ever had a glass eye as I don't ever remember him wearing one. She told me that they had sewn his eyelids shut when they had removed the eye so there was definitely never a glass eye.  He never covered it with a patch either so there was just the sunken socket. Apparently he wasn't going for the pirate look.  Secondly, he had false teeth that fit so badly that he never wore them.  He was a wonderful old man with a great sense of humor and I really enjoyed the time we spent there.  I remember playing cards with him.  Two card games he liked to play were Auction Bridge and Pitch. Both were bidding games where you played with a partner. He also liked to play cribbage. My mother played cribbage with him,  but I never learned to play that game until I was an adult. Grandpa also enjoyed listening to baseball games on the radio.  I don't recall a television set at their house.

   At the time we lived in Iowa, Grandpa Tunnell was in his early seventies but was still actively working his farm.  He mainly grew corn and soy beans. His fields were surrounded by hedge rows of Osage Orange. That is a native tree that grows so thickly and has so many thorns that it makes a very effective hedge row. It also produces a lot of hard sticky hedge apples which were great fun for kids to throw. I remember Grandpa's corn and bean fields but I don't remember seeing him plow, plant or harvest them. He did have an old tractor. I think most of the serious farm labor must have happened while we were in school. They had lots of chickens and sold the eggs. They also had a milk cow that provided milk for their family,  They had a old barn that leaned to one side and a few other out buildings. I remember Grandpa had what seemed to be a good sized corn crib, but I don't remember anything about where he stored the soy beans when they were harvested.

    The farm house was very old. It had no indoor plumbing, just an out house in the back yard and a well in the front. The well water had a very metallic taste. Mom tells me that the water had a great deal of iron in it. They actually had to bring water from Grandma Stoner's house in nearby Mystic in order to cook beans. Their well water was so hard that the beans just wouldn't cook very well. There was also no central heating, just a potbellied stove in the middle of the living room and a cook stove in the kitchen. They burned coal in the potbellied stove for heat. I don't remember a large woodpile so they may have cooked with coal too. My Dad replaced the windows on the farm house while we lived in Iowa. The house was so old that the nails he removed were all square.  Dad also build a new outhouse for his parents.

   Grandpa's farm had a small pond south of the house where I used to catch crawdads with a piece of meat tied to a string. There was also a section of woodland just to the north of the house and fields. I'm not sure if the woods belonged to Grandpa or to his neighbor, but they were my favorite part of the farm. There were lots of oaks and black walnut trees and there was a stream that meandered through the middle of the woods. It was a fun place for a kid to play. There was a gravel road that ran north and south to the east side of the farm. There was also another section of woods across that gravel road to the east.  I don't remember exactly how big the woodlands were but they seemed pretty substantial to an eleven year old boy. I do remember the whole family collecting morel mushrooms from the woods across the road.

   Mom tells me that we went out to the farm every day during the summer.  She would serve as Grandpa's chauffeur as he didn't see well and didn't like to drive if he could avoid it.  She would drive Grandpa Tunnell to the auctions and other places while we stayed at the farm and played. Grandma Tunnell was always happy to have us there. I remember spending the night at the farm on occasion and sleeping in one of the two upstairs bedrooms.  The stairs were very steep. Grandpa and Grandma slept in the downstairs bedroom.  The house had an "old house" smell that was distinct but not unpleasant.

    Grandma Tunnell was a very sweet and kindly woman. I only ever heard her speak ill of anybody just one time.  The subject of my grandpa's first wife came up. Grandma just couldn't understand how a woman could ever abandon her children. That was all she would say on the subject so it was a very short conversation.  When my Grandpa finally went blind in his remaining eye, she took very good care of him. When we lived in Nebraska when I was serving in the Air Force we were able to visit her a few times. When she talked about caring for Grandpa Tunnell she talked like it was a privilege for her and how easy it was to care for him.  It seems to me that the best thing Grandpa's first wife ever did for him was to leave him so he could end up married to my Grandma.


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