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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (M)
William Mitchell


GRANDPA - THE MOST UNFORGETABLE CHARACTER I EVER MET.
By
Ernie Evans

My GRANDPA 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.

Things were 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.

Just about 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.

Grandpa and 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 whipping.

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.

Grandpa’s 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.

Grandma 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.

Grandpa was 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.

For forty 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.

Grandpa met 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”

The 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.

GRANDPA, I’ll never forget you.


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