Papa Martin

February 10, 2011

My paternal grandfather, John L. Martin, died several years before I was born. My grandmother always asked that I call him Papa Martin. So I do.

The fact that he was dead never really kept me from knowing him. Stories about his way with animals–especially mule teams–his dancing and singing ability, his generous spirit, and general all-around charisma were a part of my daily life.

I’d be dancing in the living room and my grandmother would tell me about how Papa Martin used to call square dances and how he was one of the best callers around. I’d be singing a song, and she tell me about how he used to lead singing at the Chickelah Church of Christ after he converted and found religion later in life. The whole family was convinced I inherited my ear for music at least partially from him  because neither she nor my mother or father could really “carry a tune in a bucket,” as mom used to say. I’m not quite sure about their dancing ability.

When I began working with dogs in my twenties my father said I must have gotten that gift from my grandfather, a man known far and wide for his ability to train a mule.  I named my dog, Elsie, after his mother. But nothing could beat his way for naming animals. He had mules with names like Ornery, Troubles, and Jerd. Now that’s some good naming right there.

He was also a gardener, and he raised their vegetables every year in a plot by their house in the Sulpher Springs/Harkey’s Valley area.

I’ve always been fascinated by this man I never met. I feel a deep connection with him, and I wonder if my boys may feel the same way for the grandmother they’ll never meet.

I’m incredibly thankful for my family for making sure his stories didn’t die with his physical body.

What about you? Who are the people you’ve never met who play a large role in your life and identity? How did you come to feel this way about them? I’d love to hear about them.

Here are a few photos of my grandfather with his animals and even one with my father.

Papa Martin with my father and a coon dog.


Working in the truck patch.

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