In honor of OSCAR LaCLEDE HILL on the one hundredth anniversary of his birth.
July 1, 1908 to July1 2008
By William Howard Clark
Oscar Hill was my grandfather. Very few people have the honor of having a grandfather like mine was. There are many stories to tell, many quotes to repeat, and many events that happened during my time with him. I imagine others in this volume of remembrances will tell most of the same ones I recall and do a much better job of it. Because of that, I am going to try to keep this short and tell of things I recall when it was just him and I alone. There will also be a few special times I shared with Sue, my aunt, as we spent a few hours together growing up.
In telling of the influence my grandfather had on me, I must include another special person in my life. That person is my father, Howard. Grandpa had great respect and admiration for my dad and I believe my dad deserved that from grandpa. In return, my dad had great respect and admiration for my grandpa that was deserved as well. Both of them grew up under similar situations and grew to learn from one another. The combination of watching these two men, together and alone gave me lessons in intangible qualities. I have tried to live up to these examples as best as I can, but have fallen far short of what these two men accomplished and taught me. These intangibles include honesty, trustworthiness, spirituality, caring for others, a work ethic second to none, a love that is held in high regard for wife and family as well as other people, and a life that would reflect all of these things and be respected by others for the lives that they led. It was both of these strong men together that gave me these lessons on how to live life. I realize I fall far short of what grandpa and daddy did, but I always had that those intangibles to try and achieve.
Looking back on times spent with grandpa, a few moments stand out rather strongly. One time we were working in the garden, doing some hoeing or some such chore when he suddenly stopped working. This was extremely odd for grandpa to just stop, but he did. He look up into the hot afternoon sun that day, and gazed across the sky, then to the trees surrounding his land and back up to the sky. He then let out a heavy sigh and looked me straight in the eye and seemed to study me, his grandson. Then he turned his eyes back to the sky and said thoughtfully and quietly, “You know Bill, even if I could I would not have picked another time in history in which to live. I have been extremely lucky. My life has gone from the horse and buggy, to jet planes, to seeing a man walk on the moon. No sir, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Been extremely lucky.” Looking back on that day, I realized that he hadn’t mentioned anything about steam engines or the changing over to diesel, or the rise of the labor unions, or even witnessing the great administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He had thought, looked at the big picture, and gave the best example of how times had changed so drastically during his lifetime. He had a gift for getting a thought or a point across in a few words instead of an entire lecture, especially when he was in the garden with a chore that needed to be done.
Grandpa firmly believed in the Democratic Party and the values for which it stood for. It wasn’t just an idle belief in those ideals. He could back up his political stances with precision and good reasoning, even though I thought he was wrong some of the time. He took time to study issues, to read about them, to watch television and listen to radio to get an understanding of issues, and always come out on the liberal side of the issue. He never held my conservative leanings against me. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seemed like a game to him to try to get me to back off of what I sincerely thought was the proper stance on an issue. I have to admit, there were more than a few times in which he was able to sway me just a bit and just a bit of a sway was a victory as far as he was concerned. In his later years, when he was more or less limited to his chair, he would cut out articles from the paper and save them in the pouch in the side of his chair. When I would come over to see them at lunch or after work, he would immediately start digging through that pile of articles, pull one out and handing it to me say, “Here, read this.” I would read the article, he would ask me what I thought about it, and proceed to lecture me on why I was wrong while grandma made herself busy in the kitchen fixing a sandwich for me to get through the duration of the lecture.
This scenario varied a little from time to time but there are two occasions when he caught me off guard. The first one was when I walked through the door, he already had the article in hand and quickly snapped, “Did you read what your buddy Pat Buchanan wrote in this mornings paper?” The second time that surprised me was after I explained what I thought of a particular article he asked me, “Are you sure?” I answered that of course I was sure, I am always sure. Then he squinted those sparkly eyes, pulled his pipe down and rested it on his leg and asked. “Are you positive?” I could feel a trap being placed but went ahead and answered in the affirmative. With this he leaned back, his eyes smiled and he let out a “huh” replacing his pipe back in his mouth and shook his head slightly. He then turned to me and while pointing that stub of a finger at me said matter of factly, “Positive people are fools.” He then proceeded to explain that philosophy to me which I later discovered he had lifted from the musical “Guys and Dolls.”
Then finally one day, after one of these “teach Bill a lesson” sessions, he gently explained to me that he wasn’t worried about me. He had seen a lot of young men go down that wrong path of conservatism but when they aged a bit and got a little wisdom under their belts, they soon enough came around to the proper way of thinking. Sorry grandpa, but I still have a ways to go to get to that “proper way of thinking.”
Barbara had given me a dog one year soon after we had married. It was my first pet ever and I named him Milhous after former President Nixon. I was very proud of that dog and knowing how grandpa liked dogs, I took Milhous in to see grandpa one day. He held that dog up and looked into his eyes and asked, “What did you say his name was?” After I told him Milhous grandpa gave a chuckle and said, “Huh, you know that when this dog finds out what you have done to him, he is going to turn on you.” Grandpa had a big smile on and was enjoying his own wit.
The biggest day of all with grandma and grandpa though was the day we took Brett over to meet them for the first time. They both fell in love with Brett and grandpa couldn’t seem to keep his hands off of him. Grandpa held Brett, talked baby talk to him, played with Brett’s shoes, and generally gave him a huge royal welcome to the family. Brett was always treated as one of the family, just like all the other grandkids and this was so special to both Barbara and I.
Grandpa had a way of letting anyone know that they were welcome in his house and that they were special. He treated everyone the same whether you be a family member, a guest of a family member or just someone who walked in off the street. Everyone was equally special in grandpa’s eyes (except for grandma of course and probably Sue who just had a leg up on being special than the rest of us).
There were other times that were special that I’ll just make a quick mention of here. There was the time he talked one of his friends at the Frisco to let Sue and I drive one of the yard engines about a quarter of a mile out and back. One time he shot a rabbit in the back yard with his rifle which scared me to death but he was proud of it. He put Sue and I on a train to Springfield to visit great grandma Hill, gave the porter five dollars and told him to take care of us, then met us at the station in south Missouri. One time we were at the dinner table and discussing the music of the day compared to the music of his day. His music was better of course and to prove it, he jumped into a rousing chorus of “Hound Dog” only to be told by grandma, “Oscar, please. We are at the table now.” Sue and I laughed for days about that. There was the time I visited them after work. By this time Grandma could not hear and grandpa could not get up out of his chair. I knocked on the door and heard grandpa yell at grandma there was someone at the door. Grandma denied it, after all she hadn’t heard a thing. I would knock again and hear grandpa say “See? There is someone at the door.” Once again grandma would deny it. I finally went over and tapped on the window next to grandpa’s chair and he twisted around and saw me in the window. He looked at grandma and point out the window said “It’s Bill. I told you someone was a the door.” They were such a cute couple together all the way to the end.
There are so many little things that I remember. I remember watching him listen to an album that was nothing but steam engine whistles. At the time, I found that a little odd. Now I find myself listening to that same album at times and thinking how strange it was the first time I saw him listening to it. He loved to watch college football. The first New Years Day that he had a color television set, I walked into his house during the Sugar Bowl and he said proudly, “Look! I got green grass!”
The best sound I remember from the days of being a kid and spending the night at that old house was lying in the back bedroom with the window open, a breeze flowing over me and the mixed sound of grandpa snoring from down the hall and a train whistle piercing the summer night from the Union Pacific tracks.
Grandpa never claimed to be perfect even though that was how I always saw him. We spent one summer talking about stories of his life. On the second occasion of sharing stories the first thing he said was, “I want you to understand something. You will never know everything about me because I won’t tell you. There are things in my life that I am ashamed of and wouldn’t want to tell anyone. A lot of things I did that I shouldn’t have. No sir, I won’t be sharing those with you.” A proud man admitting faults. Another lesson learned from my grandfather.
The last time I saw grandpa was over at the house on 54th Terrace. He was still up to his great sense of humor. Only one spot was left to sit in the living room when we arrived and, being the gentleman that I am, I quickly took it leaving Barb to stand next to the piano. Grandpa began to talk about this great coat Dan had bought and I should go see it. He was pretty sure it was in the dining room. Well, I got up and went to find this “fantastic” coat of Dan’s and when I did, grandpa patted the couch telling Barb, “Come on Barb, you can sit here now.” Yes, another lessoned learned from grandpa.
When Barb and I got out to the car that night to go home I told her, “That will be the last time we see the old man.” I was right.
The last memory I have of my grandfather is a casket, sitting under a green tent, over a hole in the ground. Everyone was leaving to go back to Parkway Church for lunch. I sat in my car with my wife next to me, my son and sister behind me. Grandpa looked so lonely out there. My mind started to think. He had lived his life unselfishly, for others and here he was, being left all alone at the end. I wanted to get out of the car and go stand by that casket until he was finally, totally at rest. I wanted to be there at that moment so he wouldn’t be by himself.
I didn’t though. I started the car and began the drive to lunch with everyone else.
PART 2 – GRANDPA IN HIS OWN WORDS
"We'll be close enough to spit in ol' Danny Thomas' eye."
(singing) "She loves you yeah, yeah yeah." (talking) "that's music?"
(singing) "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog." (talking) "hehe, and
they say it's music"
"Go get a hoe and meet me in the garden."
"Feel that forearm. Solid, eh?"
"Twas the night before Christmas....."
"Mom, don't forget your place in this house now."
"This must be the juciest watermelon I have ever tasted" (every year)
"I got something for you. Here, read this"
"... and this horse, he got spooked by this elephant ..."
"Look it here, I got green grass on my TV. What you think?"
"ah mom, that isn't the way it happened you know."
"We eloped. Her father was shooting at us all the way down the
"I pointed it at her once to often, and she bit it off. She's a mean
"Larry Bird is better than that Johnson kid... lot's better."
"We looked at that first diesel pull in and we all laughed. 'That is
gonna take the place of the steam?' well, it did."
"Make sure you cut over here.... and here..... and over here..."
"I saw President Roosevelt once. yes sir, I saw him. He was quite a
"Only one vote that I regret. I voted Nixon in '60. Ashamed of myself
for that one. It was because Kennedy was Catholic. That was wrong."
"Yes sir, your grandma is a pretty lady"
"Mom, you got some salt for these tomatoes?"
"You need to get to Monterey. Me and Mom went and cannery row was just
like Steinbeck described it."
"John L. Lewis was a great great man. yes sir, a great man. You
should read some of his speeches."
"The railroad had their own preacher. He always wore a black suit and a black hat. held the hat in his hand. I remember the day he walked up to our house. Mother knew why he was there."
"There ya go.... now you're railroading"
"Been watching that spider for a week now. Been keeping the flies off
"Paint your wagon is a great movie (laughs) ol' Lee Marvin is quite a
character in that movie."
"The scenery in "Sound of Music" is so beautiful..."
"Fiddler on the roof is probably the best movie ever.... ever."
"This is only a phase you are going through. You'll be a Democrat
before you are through. They all come back. I've seen it lot's of times."
"You leaving? Well, take care of yourself Bill. Bye Barb. See you
Goodbye Grandpa. I miss you and still love you. Thank you for sharing
your wisdom with me over the years.