Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.
The house was within earshot of the railroad, and whenever we heard a train my grandfather would pull out his pocket watch and note whether it was on time. An old habit after working for the Illinois Central for 50 years.
Virgil Allan McClure went by “Mac” and I never heard anyone use his first name. He spent most of his career as railroad’s telegraph operator in Corinth, Mississippi. My grandfather had lied about his age when he went to work for the Illinois Central and never corrected the employee record. He was pleased with himself when he retired at age 64 instead of 65. Put one over on them.
His job as a telegraph operator was a step into the middle class for a farm kid from Kentucky. Mac taught Sunday school at the Baptist church and was a big wheel in the Masons. He served on the draft board and the housing authority.
My grandmother, Ethel Holderman McClure, was always known to me as Mamoo. She was tiny, gentle and always smiling. She, too, was active in church and Masonic activities. On a visit to Corinth many years later, a woman at the local history museum remembered her: “She inducted me into Eastern Star. Little bitty thing.”
Mac was taciturn and Mamoo was quiet, especially in her later years when she was hard of hearing but too vain to wear a hearing aid.
My grandfather was notoriously frugal, a trait my father inherited. He once decided to make some extra money raising and selling chickens, and bought at least 100 day-old baby chicks. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea and the chicken market collapsed. Since selling the chickens would be a losing proposition, my grandfather decided the family would eat them. Mamoo tried every known chicken recipe for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months, and my father disliked chicken until his dying day.
Mac and Mamoo visited us in Chicago occasionally because they rode the Illinois Central for free. On one visit my folks took us to Chinatown and introduced my grandparents to Chinese food. My grandfather loved the food and, best of all, it was cheap! On every visit thereafter, Mac took us all to Chinatown for dinner.
Mac was a creature of habit and went to bed every night on the stroke of 9 p.m. Guests who overstayed their welcome got the hint when he would stand up, announce that he was going to bed and leave the room.
In all the years I knew him my grandfather had only two cars, a 1940’s-vintage Ford and a 1953 Chevrolet. Whoever bought the Chevy after he passed away in 1973 probably got a good deal: Since Mac only drove to church and around town, the car was in mint condition with less than 20,000 miles. On one visit, my teenaged brother borrowed the car and quickly came back to report that the Chevy had no brakes. My grandfather had never noticed because he drove at a sedate 15 mph and coasted to a stop.
I credit my grandfather with some of the robust genes that allow me to stay active. After my grandmother died in 1968, Mac lived on his own until he passed away at the age of 89. In his later years he used a cane but occasionally walked off without it. We once found the cane hanging from a tree in the backyard.