THE MOST UNFORGETABLE CHARACTER I EVER MET.
WILLIAM MITCHELL was born in EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND in 1875. He went to
school there, and became very good in penmanship among other things while
in grade school. Upon completion of his schooling, he went into the
foundry, to learn the trade of mold-making. While there, his writing
skills were discovered, and, lest his talent be wasted, he was assigned to
do the lettering in the molds. This was usually reserved for the more
experienced mold makers. Grandpa was really good at it and eventually all
the important work was assigned to him.
not all that good in Great Britain during this time, so that Grandpa
decided to try his luck in America. He traveled to Nova Scotia and for a
time, worked in the timber trades, until he was able to get a visa to come
to the States. When he did get to the U.S., he settled in upstate NY in
the town of Schenectady. He started work, at the foundry there, resuming
his trade of mold-maker.
this time, he met my grandma, Alice, and sometime later they were married.
They had no children of their own, but did adopt two orphans, aged six and
eight years old. Their names were Ernest and Thomas Evans, my dad and my
uncle. My Uncle Tom took grandpa’s name of Mitchell, while Dad kept his
real surname, so as to perpetuate both names. Grandpa then was not really
my grandpa, but to a youngster just learning, about as real a grandpa as
anyone could ever hope to be.
grandma moved to New Jersey, and bought a home, located on the highest
hill in town, with a view of New York ten miles away. There is where I
first met grandpa. To a three year old, he was an imposing figure being
almost six feet tall, much taller than my dad at five-seven. I liked to
listen to him talk. Until about the age of six when I started school, I
spoke with a Scottish brogue that to this day, I can still roll into it as
easy as falling off a log.
Grandpa loved gardening, having grown up in an
area where almost all the gardens were works of art. Grandpa turned to it
as his life’s work. He was lucky, having worked for the affluent of
Montclair, NJ The front yards there were big enough to have a good game of
softball, or touch football. I remember taking to the back of his bicycle,
to ride up and see where he was working. Some of his clients were bankers
and such from Wall Street. One an inventor invented the motorboat
speedometer, and the retractable key chain that people wear on their belt.
The bicycle was grandpa’s mode of
transportation, and therein lies a story of how that came about. In the
late 19th century, the bicycle was really a mainstay of
transportation in Great Britain, and as such grandpa became real
proficient in its use. Upon arriving in America grandpa learned to drive a
car and in the early years in N.J., had owned a Ford Model T. My dad
learned to drive very early by watching grandpa at the wheel. Grandpa had
forbid my dad from driving since he was only twelve years old. My dad did
take the car out once, but grandpa found out and gave my dad a good
My dad got
very mad about the whipping, and figuring that if he could not drive the
car, then nobody would. Dad took the engine out of the car, and then he
took it apart, to the last nut and bolt. Dad got another whipping. Grandpa
told him to put the engine back together again and back in the car. My dad
did and it ran perfectly. This was the start of my dad’s fifty year career
as a master mechanic, and the last time grandpa drove, as shortly
thereafter he sold the car.
writing talent did not end with his switch to the outdoors, as a member of
the Masons; he was active with them, until the time of his death. Like at
the foundry in his youth, his talent was soon discovered, and he was
eventually elected National Secretary of the Masons. He wrote documents in
fine Old English script. His writing was so perfect, that you could lay
one letter over another of the same character, and would not see any
difference at all. Some of his work may still be in the files of the
Masons. One of the proudest moments ever of mine in school was when, upon
learning of grandpa’s writing skills, my teacher asked for a little note
from him, to show to her penmanship class. The teacher, I remember, also
had very good handwriting. She took one look at the note, and with a tear
in her eye, and a catch in her breath said, “Class here in my hand, is a
sample, of the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen”. She then took
the note around for all of the class to see, holding on to it, so that it
did not get dropped or, damaged in any way. She asked if she could keep
it, for future classes to see, but when I said yes, I suspected that it
was mostly a momento for herself.
passed away in 1947, I sure did miss her, as she always let me lick the
bowl or sample the jelly or whatever she was making at the time. I then
saw a real change in grandpa. He was more somber then and not as jolly as
he had once been although he still had his sense of humor.
a super baseball fan, as he always listened to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the
big radio in the living room. He always went to work early in the morning
when they were playing, so that he could hear the game, in the afternoon.
On Sundays during the summer, the mornings were for church and in the
afternoon the Dodgers.
years, he had ridden his bicycle to and from Montclair all year round.
During the bleak winter months, grandpa had tended the fires of the big
houses on the hill. Grandpa would ride his bicycle in all kinds of foul
weather. He made sure that even the empty homes, were kept warm and cozy
and that the pipes did not freeze. When it snowed, grandpa took rope and
made a sort of all-weather tire, using the rope as a chain.
a lot of people on his way to and from work. They chatted all along the
route he took every day. One September morning, in 1951, grandpa was found
sitting on the curb, his bicycle beside him. He had stopped to rest and
had passed away there. He was found by some policemen he had befriended
over the years. The afternoon paper’s headline read:
“OLD SCOTTIE IS GONE BUT
WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN”
accompanying story gave a resume of his life, and a few words from some
that knew him, over the years, from police chiefs and policemen to mailmen
and others that met him on a daily basis. At his funeral, several hundred
strangers came to pay their last respects to the man they had seen with
his bicycle for forty years.
I’ll never forget you.