I was 7 years old when the only grandparent that I ever knew died.   I remember going to bed on Saturday night, Oct. 10, 1953, and the lights coming in our bedroom in the tiny four-room house on the farm north of Polk City, Iowa.   The commotion turned into news that in the big house 100 yards away, Grampa Griffiths had died. I had never experienced the death of a close relative and I can remember not feeling much emotion at all. Death of someone I knew was mostly something to wonder about.

Welsh-born Robert Richard Griffiths, 79,  had died while watching “the Saturday night fights,” the boxing matches on TV, in the living room of Uncle Don and Aunt Lillian Griffiths’ farmhouse.  As was his way, he ate popcorn while watching the boxers. They said it was a heart attack.  My father was  41.  The funeral was on Tuesday in a funeral home in nearby Des Moines where his nearest relatives lived   It was where the Griffiths clan mainly settled after emigrating from Wales in 1884.  They were a coal-mining family that was involved in some coal-mining in mines in southern Iowa.  I always took pride that Grampa Griffiths was born 10 days before Herbert Hoover, the only Iowan to make it to the White House.

Grampa would marry Minnie Fisher and they’d have three sons — my father, Paul, the youngest, born in 1912. She lived only to age 51, dying when my father was just 18.  With his sons, Grampa Griffiths developed the Maple Leaf Dairy Company of Des Moines and from their large herd of Holsteins, they delivered milk to homes and grocery stores around the southside of the city through the brutal Great Depression, often never able to collect from their struggling customers.

My first home on S.E. 14th Street was on that dairy farm where a Wal-Mart stands today.  They moved the dairy operations to Polk City in1947 to my uncle’s farm.  In time, the other two sons, including my father, had two farms of their own.   The death of my grandfather prompted  my father to sever his farming partnerships with his brothers and to  move to his own farms near Parkersburg, Iowa, in 1954 which would be home to me for 10 years before I left for college. One of the farms, homesteaded by my mother’s grandfather in 1855, remains in our family 155 years later.

I behold my four grandchildren today.  They have full complements of grandparents, although some of them are geographically farflung.  I often wished my parents had lived long enough to see their great-grandchildren.  My granddaughter Ella, 4, would have been a special delight for my mother especially.  I had a Great Aunt Ella Younker Caul, who like I, was a twin. She and Elmer were born in 1871. Another set of twins, Dora and Cora, were born in 1873 in the same family.  Dora would be my maternal grandmother, but she died in 1918 in the Great Influenza Pandemic that killed 50 million people world wide and was said to have sickened one out of every three people.

Great Aunt Ella lived to be 100.  I recall her visits to our house when we were young. She was a no-nonsense and stern woman. We children were on pins and needles as she fussed and pontificated.  It was her husband, the Rev. Archie Caul, a Baptist pastor, who married my parents on the Baptist meeting grounds on the bend of the Iowa River in Iowa Falls, Iowa, on April 5, 1941.   When we moved to Arizona in 1984, we would drive occasionally to Sun City to see their daughter Phyllis Caul Cram, who was in her 80s.

My mother was so dutiful to maintaining connections with family, writing letters and keeping her place in the Younker family chain letter, which circulated for nearly 100 years.  My parents lived to have five grandchildren and watched them grow up.  How I wished they could have experienced my grandchildren, especially Ella, a reminder of the larger-than-life matriarch Aunt Ella.

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