One of the toughest, hardest-working men I know left us yesterday. My grandfather, Martin Houston, lived a wonderful life. For 92 years, he toiled on this Earth, grew many a good “baccer” crop, and a wonderful family too. He worked hard and he loved hard.
Early memories of my granddaddy consist of rolling in the floor, piggyback rides, rocking with him in his chair, giggles and laughter, lots of playtime and Donald Duck impressions, and sneaking swigs of a cold Pepsi while the window unit blew cool air across the living room.
When I got a little older, I was blessed to work a few summers with him in the baccer field. To this day, I’m still impressed by how hard that man could work, and how dedicated he was to taking care of his family. There wasn’t another person out there who could do more or work longer than Granddaddy.
Many lessons were taught in that hot, sticky baccer field. And not just to me. Granddaddy’s hired hands consisted of cousins and other young folk from in and around Potters Hill. He taught us how to work, how to finish something we started, how to adapt and overcome, how to persevere through tough times, how to help each other, and how to love our neighbors, among other things.
We’d wake up before the sun, check the barn, fuel the tractor and eat a biscuit before hitting the field. It was hard, hot work. Granddaddy put me on the tractor. At 10 years old, there wasn’t much more I could handle other than keeping it in the middle. I can still hear him now. “Whoa Son! Keep it in the middle!”
At the end of the row, he would hop off the harvester and jump up next to me on the tractor to help me make the turn for the next row. Every few rows was break time unless we were behind. “Come over here in the shade son, let’s get a cold Pepsi.”
After we finished cropping, we would head over to Granny’s house. See, Granddaddy didn’t just tend the farm, he tended to his family too. Food, medications, fetching Granny’s snuff, adjusting the oscillating fan and air conditioner, and making sure she was comfortable. Granddaddy cared for her until the day she died. Every night. Every day.
Sometimes we would jump in the truck and ride down to the store at Potter’s Hill to grab a Moonpie and a cola. Granddaddy had a chew and a spit can, and the rides were often painfully slow. Took me a while to figure out he was looking at the crops and checking on his neighbors. Sometimes he would sing an old country tune, usually acapella. He always had a joke to tell and got a kick out of introducing me as his girl to the fellas at the store. That man never met a stranger and everyone knew Martin. “Gotta head on back now son and check the barn.”
The barn. Man, it smelled amazing. Ain’t nothing else on this earth, I’m convinced, that smells as good as flue cured tobacco. Granddaddy was like a scientist in that barn. Years and years of experience gave him the ability to smell and touch that leaf and know exactly what needed to be adjusted, if anything, to get the proper cure. “Come here son, smell this, see how dry this leaf is? Look at this good color. That’ll fetch a pretty penny at market.”
The market. I had never seen anything like that. Rows and rows of cured tobacco wrapped in sheets. Men in farm and feed hats going by each pile, looking, touching, smelling, raising their hands. The auctioneer calling the lot. The clerk scribbling on a ticket and dropping it on the pile before quickly moving to the next. Granddaddy absolutely loved it. We would follow them around, row by row, and Granddaddy would have a grin on his face. “You smell that son? Smells like money!”
Later on, Granddaddy would let me come over and cook hogs with him for Granny’s birthday parties. For several years, I would stay up all night (except for that 5 minutes of sleep I got sittin’ straight up in that folding aluminum frame, webbed chair under the barn), lighting coals or watching Granddaddy tune the regulator, turning the pig, mixing up a batch or two of his secret sauce, and hunting those elusive snipes with my cousin Michael. Yep, snipes. One time we nearabout caught a mountain lion right there in Potters Hill at what must have been 2 in the morning across from Granddaddy’s house. Too bad we both ran like hell across the highway in the pitch black dark to get back to the barn only to find Granddaddy was missing. 🤣 It was all worth it the next day though when he let us pull the ribs and douse them with his homemade sauce.
Some years back, when beavers had stopped up the creek down the road, Granddaddy and I, along with some other fellas, took to moving fish from the creek to Uncle Elton’s pond. I don’t know how many buckets of fish we moved from that creek, but I’m confident we provided years of good fishin’ to whoever visited Uncle Elton’s place. “Go wash up son, Grandma made biscuits and collards.”
In my early 20s, I became interested in my family history and my ancestors. Granddaddy jumped all over that and it gave us another way to connect. Granddaddy had an amazing memory. He could recall all sorts of memories from his younger days and he enjoyed sharing them. He rode me all around Potters Hill and Pink Hill, showing me where the old family homes and cemeteries were, and telling me about my uncles and cousins and all sorts of things they were into. I wish I had recorded every bit of that. “Let’s get on back now son, it’s nearabout dinner time.”
These are just a few of the precious memories I will always hold dear about my Granddaddy. He was tough, even stubborn at times, and full of life. He knew no strangers, and if he did meet one, they weren’t a stranger for long. He cared about his family, he cared about his land and his crop, and he cared about his neighbors. He was a good, strong man. He loved Grandma. He helped raise two of the finest women anywhere on this planet, and he set a wonderful example for his family to follow.
He enjoyed putting in an honest day’s work, working the land, dancing a jig, listening to good music, eating Grandma’s biscuits and pot liquor, telling a good joke, making silly faces, funny hats, laughing with children, tellin’ stories, talking about the old times and the good old days, a cold Pepsi, celebrating holidays, and “cuttin’ up.”
We love you Granddaddy, and we will never forget the impact you made in our lives. Rest now and reap your harvest.
Martin Luther Houston
May 22, 1930 – August 4, 2022