I had a great time reminiscing with Grandma this past week. (If you remember, Grandma lost her second husband, Wilbur, last month.) She spoke quite a bit about my late grandfather, Clifton F. Healy.
I am, as far as we know, the fifth Clifton in an unbroken line on the Healy side of the family. We know that the tradition of naming the first male Clifton began with Clifton Dwight Healy. His son was Clifton Arthur, whose son, my grandfather, was Clifton Fitzroy. And my father is Clifton Howard. Should God bless Anna and me with a son, he will be Clifton Delane.
My grandparents met at a barn dance. Grandma was, if I recall correctly, nineteen. Grandpa would have been twenty-six. (Which age difference is a whole phenomenon in itself. It seems that Grandpa’s brothers also married wives with a seven-year age difference. And my own parents were seven years apart.) The hay loft was cleared of hay–having been given to the livestock for food–and the music would play, and the young unmarrieds would dance. After a year and a half of dating, Grandma and Grandpa wed, and within the year their first child, my aunt Lavaun, was born.
I’d asked Grandma when visiting with her this weekend if the Healy’s had always been Southern Baptists, since that’s the church I’d always known them to have attended, and dad and my aunt and uncle were Southern Baptists. Grandma mentioned that she and her sisters actually were raised outside a regular church home. Her dad had been a Sunday School superintendent prior to marrying her mom, but for some reason by the time they had gotten married, the Christie patriarch had stopped attending church altogether. The family often sang church hymns, and Scripture was a mainstay in the home. The Christie girls could go to church whenever they wanted, and frequently went with friends to different severices, but the family never attended anywhere. So Grandma took in several different churches, including a Quaker service, which made enough of an impression on her that it was the one thing she remember to tell me about decades later.
Grandpa, it seems, had belonged to what was then–as I understand it–the Northern Baptist church (later the American Baptist denomination). He’d been saved at thirteen, but later, when he met my Grandmother, expressed some doubt as to whether he’d really been saved or not. This was something I could readily identify with. I was baptized at seven, but spent much of my teens and early twenties questioning my own salvation–even to the point of a conditional baptism at twenty-three.
At the time my grandparents met and married, my grandfather was working for Skelly Refinery in Eldorado, Kansas. He hadn’t finished high school, since, living so far from the school house–and this was the Depression era thirties–he was frequently late. He got tired of that, so he dropped out and went to work. But, and here’s the interesting side to Grandpa I’d never known before, he wanted to make sure his two younger siblings didn’t suffer the same fate as he did. So, with his salary, he rented an apartment in town where the three of them could live, and where the two younger Healy’s could make it to school. When Grandpa and Grandma wed, it was the two of them and Grandpa’s siblings all in the one apartment.
My grandfather could be both pragmatic and quite stubborn. There came a point when Grandpa’s dad, my great-grandfather, had gotten to where he couldn’t keep up the farm. So the Healy children, my grandfather’s siblings, all decided that the Healy parents should sell the farm and move to a house in town. But the elder Healy’s had no other means of income. Grandpa stood alone against his siblings and insisted that their parents keep the farm. He, himself, would come out around his own work responsibilities and help them keep it going. He also insisted that his parents sign up for the then-new social security benefits the government had begun. After some time, his parents were able to sell the farm, retire to town–and had a small income to live on.
Shortly after the birth of their first child, Grandpa left the refinery and began farming. For the next couple of decades, he rented various stretches of farmland, and raised a family of five (one of which was my own father). But all his life Grandpa had wanted tp own his own farm. As he neared his fifties, there just wasn’t any available farmland in Butler county or nearby. But there did come available a farm south of Hamilton, Kansas (about twenty minutes east of Eureka), and in 1972, in his fifties, Grandpa finally realized his dream. He bought the farm, and farmed it himself for the next decade and a little more. He left the farm in the mid-eighties, and died on 10 February 1991.
My grandfather was, by these lights, a very pragmatic, forward-thinking man. He was also very disciplined, and willing to sacrifice of himself. He made it possible for his siblings to finish high school, for his parents to keep their farm and retire on an income. He spent many long years renting land, until finally he could own his own. Grandpa wasn’t a perfect man. He stubbornness could be very frustrating. But given he’d lost his right arm in a farming accident when my dad was about eight or nine, and spent the next few decades farming one-handed, stubbornness was often a virtue. And sometimes stubbornness is just another name for faithfulness.
Grandpa left a legacy. One worth pondering.