My Maternal Grandfather, Guy Smith Webster when he was twenty four years old.
My mother gave me a treasure last night when I was at my parents’ home visiting with them. Actually, I have to give the photo back but she let me take it home to scan it. Scanning helps to spread the wealth.
My grandfather was always a snappy dresser. I don’t remember ever seeing him without a hat and his favored tweed jackets with leather elbow patches. Papaw was a smoker so when he was around there was an aroma of Old Spice and Lucky Strikes. Two aromas that are not politically correct today but still are pleasing to me.
Guy Smith Webster, my maternal grandfather would have been about twenty four when the above photo was taken. Looking closely I can see my great-grandmother (we called her “Nanny”) looking out the door at her son. Nanny was a Nolen, born in Florence, Alabama to James Green Nolen and Eliza Isbell. When she was a baby her family moved in a covered wagon to Yell County, Arkansas then settled on Short Mountain near Paris, Arkansas. Leona Tamsie Nolen married Albert Webster, son of William Leonard Webster and Nancy Ann Pearson.
The Webster family settled in Paris, Arkansas and when William and Nancy’s children grew up each was given land and a house built by their father, William Leonard Webster. My grandmother, Hazel Alabama Whitmarsh married Guy Smith Webster when they were twenty three or twenty four years old.
By that time Guy had moved to Fort Smith to make his living. He chose not to settle on the Webster land. One reason why he left Paris my grandmother told me, was that he was bothered that there was so much intermarriage of cousins in his family.
That wasn’t the life Guy Smith Webster would choose to live.
Guy started his own dry cleaning business on the main street of Fort Smith, Garrison Avenue. He called the cleaners, The Rightway Cleaners. Not long after, he met and married my grandmother and they went into business together.
He had been advised by the local pharmacist in Paris, Dr. Thompson that Fort Smith was the place to go to work. Interestingly, Dr. Thompson’s, two sons, Bob and James Thompson became doctors and after serving in World War ll settled in Fort Smith. Dr. Jim was my father-in-law, C.C.’s best friend. The two brothers were in practice together and Dr. Bob delivered our first child. Between the two brothers about ten thousand babies were delivered.
I wish I could say that much of the information that I know about my grandfather came from him, but that would not be true. He died at the age of sixty, when I was ten years old. I remember that melancholy day very well. On a Sunday morning in December when we ordinarily would be waking up to a big breakfast of pancakes we were instead whisked out of our beds and taken to our paternal grandparent’s house.
It was always fun to go to Mamaw and Papaw Fletcher’s house as Mamaw was the cheeriest person in the world. She made sure we were comfortable and I discovered that my most favorite movie was on the television, The Wizard of Oz. I remember watching the movie and finding some comfort in it because I knew something was wrong.
Meanwhile my Mother and Dad rushed over to my maternal grandparents’ home where they found an ambulance ready to transport my grandfather to the hospital. My mother rode in the ambulance along with my grandfather and he died on the way to the hospital.
A very sad day indeed.
I remember sitting in my grandparents’ house afterwards, my grandmother grieving, blaming herself because my grandfather had stumbled out of bed to help her after she had fallen down with a convulsion. My grandmother was an epileptic, an ailment she had suffered from her early twenties. My mother was an only child because the doctors advised my grandparents not to have any more children because her condition was not always controlled by medication.
That afternoon I understood the old time maxim, children should be seen and not heard. I sat and listened as all the adults spoke words of comfort to my grandmother and mother and was full of questions which went unanswered.
I remember going to bed unable to sleep that night and many nights following, thinking of my beloved grandfather and knowing I would never see him again. My pillow was wet with tears and I counted to one thousand, hoping that my mother would be asleep by the time I was at the end of the count. Our father was working the graveyard shift and I was frightened and upset.
I quietly made my way into my parent’s bedroom and slipped into bed by my mother. In the morning I discovered that my brother and sister had also done the same thing. My youngest brother was still in his baby bed or there would have been four children in my mother and dad’s double bed.
Most of the biographical information about my grandfather came from my grandmother. She talked about “Guy” a lot in the twenty four years she lived as a widow. She would look for our resemblance to him. I had his eyes Mamaw told me. But my youngest brother, who was only a year old when my grandfather died was his namesake. He became Little Guy to my grandmother.
Papaw was the man who took care of everyone, including his own widowed mother, his alcoholic brother, Mutt and Mutt’s children. My great Aunt Hetty also told me what it was like to grow up in the shadow of her treasured older brother. They were eighteen years apart and Aunt Hetty tells me that when she was born, my grandfather paid the doctor’s bill for her. Guy’s father, Albert worked in the coal mines near Paris, Arkansas and an explosion had taken away his hearing so he had also moved to Fort Smith to work as a night watchman at a local business. Aunt Hetty told me things that my grandfather had said to her when she was a young woman that actually helped me when I confronted troubled times.
I tried to remember Papaw’s voice after he died and for many years I did remember and to this day I sometimes hear a voice that will make me think of him. He had a deep, golden toned voice that always filled me with comfort.
I remember one particular day, riding in Papaw Webster’s two toned blue, 1954 Pontiac as he drove us to see his mother. Nanny was in a rest home (which is what we called it back then) and he made sure to take her things that she needed. It’s a slight memory now, I remember being in the backseat of the car, listening to my Mother talk to him in the front seat of the car. I remember it was a cold and clear day and we were crossing Garrison Avenue to an older part of town to a neighborhood where the nursing home was located. It was a very large home in what is now called the historic district of Fort Smith. I always looked to the end of Garrison Avenue to see the Catholic Church which anchored it. Immaculate Conception Church has always been beautiful but never more so than during the Christmas holidays when it lights surround the outline of the church. But when I was a kid that didn’t occur. It wouldn’t have mattered to me. It was still a breathtaking view.
It wasn’t everyday that our grandfather took us out in his car and I loved going with him.
The house had a nice breezy feel to it but had that nursing home smell. My great grandmother and I had a conversation about what it was like when she was growing up. I was always curious about what it was like when my Nanny was a young girl. I also wanted to know what we were. Was her family Irish or English? She told me that the Isbells were English but the Nolens were Irish. She said she thought there might be some French heritage somewhere. Meanwhile my grandfather was talking to the administrators of the nursing home. Apparently, he had discovered that some of the nursing staff were stealing my great grandmother’s belongings. She was a great reader and had been missing her books. My grandfather found a better nursing home for her.
Papaw loved Valentines Day. He always bought specially made petit fours and little cakes for us. He loved to give us jewelry and necklaces too. I still have all of it too. Every year he purchased new cowboy boots for all of his four grandchildren on our birthdays. The store next door to the Rightway Cleaners was called Tip Top Boots and was owned by the Miller family. They were good friends of my grandfather and always welcomed us into their store. The store smelled of leather and polish. I loved to go in there and pick out new boots and look at the saddles.
One is tempted to ask, what kind of grandfather was Guy Smith Webster? He was the best of the best. He gave us a donkey! That seemed normal back then but today I know the giving of a donkey might be outrageous in some quarters. But not in mine. We named our donkey Tarzan.
Two weeks before my grandfather’s death he had a premonition. He gave my Dad some money and asked him to be sure to buy my brother, Bobby some boots for his birthday. Papaw died on December 10th, 1961 a day before my brother’s birthday.
Today, Sunday, September 21st is his birthday.