We are all products of our parents and grandparents physically; but I think we also carry within us some of their dreams, desires, fears, and abilities. Peeling logs gives me a lot of time to reflect on how I got to this point, so I’m taking a look back at where I came from. One of the largest influences on my life was my grandfather Charlie Hill, so I’ll start with him.
My grandparents house was huge- it had three levels and was kind of on a hill. You parked in the driveway, went up some stairs to the front yard, then up some stairs to get to the front porch. Out the back door was a covered deck I helped build when I was seven. Then more stairs to get up into the back yard. My cousin’s family moved in with my grandparents for quite a few years. My grandpa had an old trailer parked out there in the back yard, and while waiting for my piano lesson from my grandma, we would jump on the trailer and make the front bounce up and down on the ground. My grandpa was always grouchy and yelling at us to get off the trailer. Seemed like he had a perpetual frown on his face. He didn’t like being interrupted, either. We learned to tip-toe around him, and not wake him from his nap, or sit in his Lay-Z-Boy. I always thought it was my cousin making him grumpy, but looking back, it was probably just that he didn’t like kids that much. There were a few funny things he did, but mostly, we just feared him.
He gave me tools and camping supplies for my birthday every year. Sleeping bags, a flashlight, wrenches, a canteen, a knife, a mess kit, etc. It seems like I could watch what my brother got for his birthday in December, and expect the same thing for my birthday in January.
And every summer, he would take each age group of cousins out fishing- me, Aaron, and Spencer (we were sort of the same age); my brother and Matt; my sister and Tamary; etc. I think I caught something twice while fishing. It was relaxing, though.
He always had a story to tell: “You see that post over there in that field?” he said countless times on one of our long trips down Redwood road out in West Valley, “Let me tell you a story….Many years ago, there used to be a farmer that was friends with my Dad….” Stories about the Army, working for the Salt Lake Tribune, how him and Tommy Monson (now President Monson of the LDS Church) used to know each other when they were in the printing business, how he won a rifle at the county fair shooting competition, getting hurt while deer hunting, keeping pigeons as pets, and many more. “Someday,” he said, “they’re going to turn this road into the bottom of a lake,” as we drove on the old highway that is now under Jordanelle reservoir.
One story I remember from him: After the war, he drove a taxi for a while. One night, he picked up a guy at a bar. The guy was drunk. He started threatening my grandpa- that he was going to kill him, and asking where his wife (my grandma) lived. Suddenly, the threats became real- the man reached over the seat and held a knife to my grandpa’s throat, demanding that he take him to their home. My grandpa grabbed the guy’s arm, and broke it over his shoulder, and beat the guy up. Then he drove him to the police station, threw him out of his cab, and told the stunned officers what had happened. Then he drove away.
He and my grandma would drive us to see Aunt Sheila (my grandma’s sister) in Escalante. It was 60 miles East to Escalante from Cedar City. I’m not exactly sure why that town was created, but my great-great grandfather (who was also the teacher in town, and later became the superintendent of schools for the county) helped build the church, and when it was complete, he stood on his head on top of the steeple to celebrate. That town was always a magical place- nothing but slickrock and high elevation pine forests surrounded the town. Since there was no room in her turn-of-the-century brick home for me to sleep indoors, I would sleep on a cot out in the garden. I would watch the stars as long as I could before falling asleep. And, in the morning, watch the sunrise through the canyon- the slickrock turning from purple, to red, to orange, then yellow, and finally white rock as the sun came up through a crack in the canyons.
My grandpa was born in Salt Lake City, and grew up in the Depression. Lived with his Aunt and Uncle out in Magna on the west side of the valley. I heard his mother had bad arthritis and couldn’t take care of him. They grew vegetables, chickens, and whatever else they could sell during those hard times. His Uncle fell out of a tree one time, and hurt his back real bad, and I think it changed his personality to grouchy. I think my Grandpa just wanted to belong. He learned how to shoot a .22 rifle, and the city would pay him $0.05 a bag for rats from the city dump.
He joined the Army during WWII. He was stationed in England, and wanted to be a paratrooper, but had an accident during training. I think he became a medic instead. He married my grandma before he left, and my Aunt was born in 1944.
My grandma was from the East side- born into a well-to-do family (compared to his). She had seven sisters. Her mother was Mary Hale Woolsey, who wrote “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies”, and was a successful playwright and wrote a few popular books in her day. My grandma could speak French and Spanish. I’m not sure if her and my Grandpa were the perfect match, but they stuck together. During the war, she played in a dance band while my Grandpa was away.
He survived a V-2 rocket attack while in a subway, and was involved in the D-day invasion. He never told me any war stories, but he was a sharpshooter, and the way I saw him split an apple in half with his bare hands- well, I’m sure glad I’m an American. I have a blanket from him with patches from German officers sewn on it.
When my first wife and I were going to get married, he asked what our plans were. I always wanted some acreage out in the country. My ex liked the fast paced city life. I thought opposites attract, but my grandpa told my ex, “Don’t get in the way of his dreams.”
‘Ha ha!’ we laughed at the time, ‘He is so last century. He needs to get with the program.’ Looking back, I wonder if he had dreams of the country life. Maybe he thought opposites attracted as well…Maybe he wasn’t so ‘last century’. Old people weren’t always old.
He and my grandma served two missions for the LDS Church- they were temple workers in Taiwan and genealogical gravestone photographers in Vermont. They eventually were temple workers at the Salt Lake City Temple. One time, they were walking one of the underground hallways that go between the parking lot and the temple. Around a corner, Thomas Monson was walking the other way. He stopped, looked at my grandpa, and said with a big smile, “Charlie Hill! How are you doing?”
My mom became so annoying during our engagement, that I moved in with my grandparents for a few months before moving into my own apartment near the University. I felt really embarrassed to be moving out of my mom’s house. While lifting my dresser out of his truck, I tried to explain why I had to move out to my Grandpa. He smiled, and waved his hand to dismiss my explanation and said, “It’s ok, son, you don’t have to explain.” This wasn’t the grouchy old man from my childhood. They really didn’t have any rules for me while living there: let them know when I would be home.
I started to get to know him, man to man. We went shooting at the range a few times. As I said, he was a sharpshooter in the Army- I guess the precursor to a Sniper. He out-shot his own captain on a bet. He won shooting contests at the State Fair. One time, in Idaho, he proved that the rifle at a booth was purposely bent, and won a rifle to keep him quiet. But I didn’t get to know him enough, I guess. Part of it was his fault for being so grouchy when I was a kid. Memories are hard to erase. Part of it was me getting too busy with life. The last summer he wanted to go fishing, I had two full-time jobs, trying to save for my wedding and get ahead in school. He lived another few years, came to my graduation, but got to the point where he was dizzy every time he stood up. Fishing was out of the question, and he was never able to teach me to fly-fish.
Then came the point where I knew time was running out. My ex understood. She said, “Spend as much time as you can with him, he’s got about a year left.” So I did. At the time, I was working in the finishing department at a cabinet shop. I sanded all the door frames for the LDS Timpanogas temple. He was really proud of me for that- used to mention it to people when we were out. The retaining wall was falling down in his backyard. He sat on a chair and directed me as I cemented cinder blocks and tied rebar to the structure. I put in a stair rail going into his basement. He mentioned that he’d been trying to get my dad to do it for years. I rebuilt the wooden stairs going up to his back yard, and leveled the pathway. Each time, he was sitting in a chair, telling me stories about the Depression, my aunts, life as a printer pressman, hunting stories, the settlement of the Valley, falling asleep on the Bamburger railroad as a kid, and waking up miles from home. We went out to breakfast. Usually at Denny’s on Redwood Road. He started giving me tools- I still have his speed level, a couple of hammers, some wrenches, a pocket knife. I never got the 410 over-under he promised me.
June 2001, my ex and I planned a trip to see the dedication of the Nauvoo LDS temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. Mormons bought the swampy land on a big bend in the Mississippi back in the 1830’s after being kicked out of Missouri. It soon became the largest city in Illinois for a time, complete with a University, lots of industry, farming, commerce, its own military, and of course, the temple. My ancestors were converted in Dresden, Tennessee, and moved to Nauvoo about three months before the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. Other ancestors of mine owned the Webb blacksmith shop- next door to John Browning’s shop. They eventually moved west, and settled towns such as Orderville, Hurricane, St. George, Leeds (NV), Escalante, and many more.
The day before we left for Nauvoo, my grandpa was getting out of the car for some physical therapy for his dizziness, and fell down in the parking lot. He had a heart attack, but they were right at the door, so help was very quick. I went to the hospital to see him right away. There was a breathing tube in his mouth, but the staff assured us he could understand us. I told him I wanted to cancel my trip, but he shook his head, and insisted we go. They said he should be fine. He squeezed my hand with encouragement.
The temple in Nauvoo has an angel on top that faces west, instead of east. Brigham Young built the Salt Lake Temple with the angel pointing East. When the Nauvoo temple was re-built, President Hinckley said they would stick with the original position, so the two temples would face each other across the Great Plains.
“Today, facing west, on the high bluff overlooking the city of Nauvoo, thence across the Mississippi, and over the plains of Iowa, there stands Joseph’s temple, a magnificent house of God. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, facing east to that beautiful temple in Nauvoo, stands Brigham’s temple, the Salt Lake Temple. They look toward one another as bookends between which there are volumes that speak of the suffering, the sorrow, the sacrifice, even the deaths of thousands who made the long journey from the Mississippi River to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.” —Gordon B. Hinckley
We arrived in St. Louis, and I checked my voicemail. There was a message from my grandma that he had died that morning. I pulled over and called her. I checked the airline to see if we could get a flight back early. She said, “no, no, go on with your trip- he would have wanted you to be there for the dedication.” We took several tours, saw the jail, the red brick store, even went to Adam-Ondi-Ahman.
I heard the funeral was awful. My dad and his sisters vying for who could say they did the most good for my grandpa. My dad tried to take credit for the handrail I installed. He was never there on any Saturday when I was there. I felt like my grandpa was okay with me missing his funeral. I felt like spending time with him during his last year was better than just showing up for the funeral.
I wonder how much he wanted to get out of the city and live the simple life. He picked Peoa, Utah as the place he wanted to be buried. He never said why. But his eyes lit up when I told him I bought my first cabin in Idaho with 20 acres. I’m not really sure what he would think of me building a log home, but I’m guessing he would be very proud of me.