Thomas Jefferson (Not That Thomas Jefferson)

In a blog that I follow there was recently a cartoon of a fish asking another fish “how’s the water”. The point was that a fish’s only perspective is water so how could it relate the experience? This brought to mind a quandary I had relative to my grandfathers. (In my previous post I wrote about my father’s step father, Charlie). The predicament I had was that other kids had a set of grandparents with whom they shared the same last name. That was strange to me. There was something going on that I did not understand, suspicious, strange, something just not right. Didn’t everyone have a Grandma Barr and a Grandma Galbreath. Because I remember being perplexed, it must have been something that I ruminated over at some length. This may have been compounded by the fact that I did not know my mother’s father, Thomas Jefferson Galbreath, who would not love to have that name? Thomas was killed in a train accident shortly after I was born.

In the previous post I wrote about a letter I found from Charlie. In the collection of memorabilia that contained the letter from Charlie, was a newspaper clipping showing the train collision that killed Thomas. The pickup truck in which Thomas was riding turned in front of a railroad locomotive on a rural road in Skagit County, Washington. Thomas was killed instantly.

I have a distant cousin, Lori, an historian who has assembled our family’s tree. Lori keeps all manor of information on Ancestry.com. I should upload the clipping, says I; not so fast bucko. I was hesitant to upload an image of the clipping as it is pretty gruesome. (There is a huge arrow pointing to Thomas pinned in the cab of the pickup). Lori thought that the clipping was “powerful”; I uploaded the picture. This exercise got me thinking about the differences in legacy between Thomas and Charlie.

Of course I have no memory of Thomas, I was not yet two when he was killed. However, there are some interesting stories that I have heard. When guests would leave, Thomas might say “come again when you can’t stay so damned long.” I can only dream of getting away with that. My favorite is his relationship with indoor plumbing. The original farm house that Thomas shared with my grandmother, Emma, and their seven kids burned to the ground. The replacement had indoor plumbing, a new high tech feature at that time, especially in rural Washington State. This new fangled convenience was likely installed at the behest of Emma. Emma was a school teacher: educated, forward thinking and tremendously strong willed. Thomas’s observation was that “it is a dirty bird that craps in it’s own nest.” Thomas’ life story is for others to tell. Teaser, he was kidnapped as a child from the family farm in Indiana in the late 1800’s, he was brought to Washington to work on a farm. I consider myself honored to share the memory of Thomas.

Other than the clipping, I do not have much else from Thomas: some 8mm film of infant Bill and beaming grandpa Thomas, some photos. And, his watch chain. Mom gave me the chain many years ago. No watch, just the chain. Originally it had, I understand, an Elk’s tooth attached. The Elk’s tooth was also missing. Years later my father gave me a pocket watch, I added the watch to the chain. That left the little bit of dangly chain where the Elk’s tooth had been. I added a gold nugget. In the 1980’s I attended a church in Pittsburgh, PA. I was an usher. The ushers at this church wore cutaway morning coats, stripped trousers and a black vests. I considered myself quite “dapper” in that outfit especially when I added the watch and chain. Although, I was completely outclassed by fellow usher, Rob. Rob could have been mistaken for “The Great Gatsby”.

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