By Myra Vanderpool Gormley
Papa was a giant in my eyes — in more ways than one. Not only was he a large man in size (6-4; 245 pounds), but he remains a giant in my childhood memory.
Papa — Charles William Fricks (1873-1958) — was my maternal grandfather and I never called him grandpa or grandfather. He was always just “Papa” — that’s what his seven children called him and that’s what we grandkids called him. He is also one of my earliest memories. Perhaps because he was such a large man or perhaps it was because he doted on me and called me his “Papoose” that I still recall how his soft brown eyes lit up when I ran to greet him, yelling, “Papa! Papa!”
He always wore overalls with his “folding money” stashed in top front compartment with a large safety pin holding it securely. In another pocket he kept his “chawing tobacco.”
I spent my early childhood on a farm with my grandparents during World War II. For breakfast Papa had oatmeal with fresh milk, real butter, sugar and whatever fruit and bread leftovers were available. His oatmeal bowl was huge and he filled it to the brim. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the kitchen table with Papa, eating our oatmeal, watching the sun come up and listening to the birds chirp as they hunted for worms in the backyard.
When I was big enough he let me go to the barn and “help” him milk Old Horns (the cow). Then we’d go back to the house and Papa would set up the cream separator and put some water on the stove to heat because the separator had to be dismantled and washed after each use. My job was to dry the parts. I felt so important.
Next it would be time to go to the chicken house and collect eggs — not one of my favorite chores because of the snakes. They loved the chicken house and often curled up in the nests and ate eggs. In early spring we’d go to town and buy baby chicks at the feed store to raise for eating and some for eggs. The chicks were put in the brooding house, which was fenced off from the rest of the yard, and feeding and watering the chicks was my job and I loved it. I often named the chicks and had a few banties (bantam chickens) that were just pets.
Papa and I often went fishing with our cane poles and a can of worms or some grasshoppers. There was a small creek not far from Papa’s farm and we’d sit on the cool bank and hope the fish would bite. When they did, we’d catch them and carry them home to clean. Mama would roll them in cornmeal and fry them for supper. With a fresh salad from the garden, hot cornbread and cold buttermilk, it didn’t get any better as far as I was concerned.
Papa’s best friend was Bill Carter — an old crippled-up farmer, with some missing fingers, who lived about a mile away. We’d go to visit him, walking down the hot dusty road with Papa telling me tales about his childhood in northwest Georgia and coming to Indian Territory as a young man with his parents and siblings. I loved to go to Mr. Carter’s as he had a goat that I played with. The goat also rode in the back of the old panel van with us when Mr. Carter, Papa, and me would go riding around in the river bottom lands to look at the crops growing. Sometimes we went to the stockyards to check out cattle and to visit with the other farmers in the area.
It was a magic kingdom and time for me and my memories of Papa are filtered through golden warm sunlight of an Oklahoma childhood on the farm.