The Original “Gandy”
Allow me to share the story about "Gandy", my grandfather.
He is Robert Henry Roberts, my Mother’s father, who was born in a different century, in the year 1898. Imagine the drastic changes he experienced during his lifetime: from lamp oil to electricity, from horse, mule, and oxen to automobiles. My momma has an old photograph of him on his horse all dressed up like a stud…he was once a handsome cuss and I highly suspect had his wild days like most all of us boys had before we had to become men.
He came from a hard time in the Deep South, the very poor still recovering from a war that destroyed our institutions and where thousands died of starvation and many lived in utter poverty. Think about this: if my grandfather was born in 1898 (he was one of 13 children, one of which died within a year of his birth, a true family tragedy, the grief of which could easily have destroyed his family, but instead it thrived) then his father, being about 35 at the time of my grandfather’s birth, was born right around the end of the War Between the States in 1865. What his early life was like (my great grandfather), we have no written description, but according to Gandy, he was a school teacher and an upstanding member of the small Vienna, Louisiana, community (5 miles north of Ruston where I hope to be laid to rest one day).
His father, my great, great grandfather, was a doctor trained in Philadelphia and became the first physician in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana. I tell you this because people today do not value their family heritage as they should – the old ways, taught me as a child to respect and honor all my elders. It was the strong Scotch-Irish Christian value system of the community that held our war-torn descendants together as families.
By the time of my Gandy’s 20th birthday every Southerner became a patriot of the United States of America in the cause of WWI. Of course there are still some so-called southerners today who discredit the cause they claim to defend, but they are the 1% haters of a south that never existed before the war. Those people were unacceptable to my grandfather’s community, they are not true Southerners. A warm gentle, generous, and hospitable people laid the groundwork of our heritage, not what they teach about us in the history books of today.
Probably because I was young, I completely adored my Gandy. He was a hunched-up little old man to the world around him, but to me he was my hero of heroes.
He used to greet me exclaiming "there's my grandbaby, I am so proud of you" and would then proceed to tell the whole room "Old Gandy loves all his grandbabies" He had us four, plus my two Roberts cousins and he loved us all very much. But somehow, as a child will do, I just knew he loved me more than all his other grandchildren - he just had to - there was NOTHING more that I loved to do than just spend time with him and most often, follow him around his little farm on Farmerville highway. I loved to work all day with him in his gardens (and hoeing a big garden in 100 temperatures is hard work for a child). He had two of the most beautiful gardens in that part of the country. When we spent the night with him and Mammie, I loved to get up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings to feed his chickens and do the chores. When he was gone (he passed on to eternity when I was 18), I just couldn’t see the point of getting up that early and have never been an early riser since.
One day, he and I were out and about in old downtown Ruston where everybody walked and shopped. I followed him into the old Ruston Hardware (a wonderful old general store where you could buy everything a man could want or need – I can smell the place even now) and as we were walking down the aisle a large framed black man walked up to my Gandy and they hugged each other’s neck and shared a warm embrace. I was maybe 6 or 8 years old and remember how it shocked me, not in a bad way, but I was surprised given the racial animosities of the day (this occurred right in the dead middle of the civil rights movement and there was a great tension between the races). My Gandy stood right there in that aisle and made a point to tell me that this man was his best friend as a child and they had been dear friends ever since. I am convinced that incident was not a coincidence - it was intentional lesson on my Gandy’s part to demonstrate to me that All Men Are Created Equal and God loves all His creatures, regardless of the color of their skin; they are all precious in His sight.
Since that day I have tried to live up to that standard, and though there have been times in my life when I allowed my anger toward worldly injustices to stray that path, I seek with my whole heart to show favor to no man, regardless of his race or standing in society. That old man, my Gandy, taught me that in so many ways and I will forever be grateful.
The point of this essay is to tell you why allowing myself to be called “Gandy” was so difficult and personal for me. But after spending even just a little time with my first grandbaby, I have “set my hat” to do everything in my very limited ability to be a true “Gandy” to her – in honor of my Gandy, who taught me so much about life through laughter, gentleness, kindness, honor, and integrity. He did so much for me in only 18 years. I pray I am half the man.
In Honor of
Robert Henry Roberts
1898 - 1976