16 02 2020

All my life I’ve enjoyed being in the outdoors, hiking the Smokey’s, BluTom Laxtoneridge and Appalachian Mountains. I’m not a hunter, but I love wildlife and getting as close as possible to them, I’ve even named a few animals that stop by for me to feed them like Rusty and Emmet.

The gentleman you see in the picture with one of his furry friends in none other than John Thomas Laxton, father to Carl, Clyde and Catherine Laxton, who was my mom, and thus my grandfather. Tom, as people called him was an interesting and a bit eccentric fellow. When he wasn’t working, he’d be back in the woods near his home tending to all the wildlife he had befriended and became somewhat of a 2nd family to him. On weekends he’d head up into the hills around his home on Wyoming County West Virginia and live off the land, something I assume he learned from his mother who was Cherokee. While still a boy, his parents divorced, and he and his brother went to live with an uncle. In the 1940s, his beloved wife Cosby died of cancer leaving Tom to care for three children on his own. Carl the oldest, joined the Marines and fought at Iwo Jima during WW2. His other two were burdened with disabilities, my mother had a severe hearing loss and Clyde the youngest had polio. Knowing he couldn’t give them the care they needed and as was the custom back then with hill people; the two children went to live with sisters of his late wife. Clyde settled into life in a town near his home until he became an adult and moved to Baltimore and Ma (as I called her) became the ward of my Great Aunt Pearl and her husband. Those three lived somewhat of a gypsy life, traveling from place to place, state to state in search of steady work and a place to call home. In 1954, yours truly came on the scene, which was an unexpected surprise; so now there were four of us who finally made a home in Ohio. Tom remarried a woman from his area and settled down to life in the same area. Other than a few more details, that’s all I can tell you about dear old Gramps. For reasons not worth going into, my mom had a falling out with him and the family in West Virginia and did not go back for nearly 30 years. If I traveled back to West Virginia, it would be with Pearl and we would only see that side of the family. It was through them that I learned the little I knew of the old man; I wasn’t even sure he was still alive. It wasn’t until I was about ten years old that my Uncle Clyde, who now had a family, along with my Uncle Carl both came into WV the same time we did and invited me to go with them to see Tom. I didn’t know what to say or do I was so excited. I was going to meet my Granddad for the first time. Awesome!

I remember we rolled up in front of the house and my cousins were out of the car like a shot running up onto the porch to get hugs from Tom and his wife before disappearing into the house for some fresh baked cookies. I stayed back with the adults and approached the house probably a little cautiously. Clyde, unlike mom and Carl who lived in another country at the time, visited often so he and his family knew them. He introduced me as the son of Myrtle (which is actually Ma’s first name but she hated it and went by Catherine) and their grandson. Something strange happened. I was used to the other side of the family greeting with big hugs and smiles; these two never looked or spoke to me. I found a place to sit on the far end of the porch and stayed there until we left. I wasn’t sure what to think. Was something wrong that they didn’t want anything to do with me? Clyde’s wife, Aunt Samantha sat down with me later that evening and explained mom and them had a bad fallout, and probably wasn’t sure what she had told me, which frankly was nothing. She said they would make up to me as I visited more. But I never went back. Being quite insecure, I felt I couldn’t risk a chance of being rejected so I turned down all invitations to go again. After all, I got along without him all these years so why take the chance of something going wrong.

Flashing forward I was now 18 and I would jump in the car every chance I could and drive the nine hours to the place and people I adored. I loved taking friends down to meet my family and experience the love I came to know. On one of those trips alone, I was told Tom was not doing well and was in a nursing facility in a town just north of there that I had to pass each time I made my trek. I was sorry he wasn’t doing well, but we didn’t know each other; no reason to stop. Right? Heading for home I kept thinking of old Tom and how the only time we were together it wasn’t memorable. Why bother the old coot now? But for some reason as I reached Beckley, West Virginia, I took the exit ramp and located where he was staying. There was a stillness as I entered the room to see this big man, wore down from the years of a hard life, laying in a hospital bed and staring at the ceiling. “Grandpa, I’m Johnny, Myrtle’s boy and your grandson.” He turned to look at me, and then back at the ceiling. I sat in a chair next to his bed for a good time before either of us spoke again. Then he asked how my mom was doing, what I was doing, and how did I find out about him being there since no one had been coming to see him. We spent about an hour making small talk before I got up to leave. “Tom, would it be okay if I came to see you again the next time I’m down this way?” That would be nice, but it’s up to you.” There would be three more visits, and each time I would introduce myself as his grandson. On the 4th and final time I called on him, I took the little gal with me who would be my Lady all these years. “Grandpa, I’m Johnny, Myrtle’s boy and —” He cut me off right there. “I know who you are dang it! Known it from the first time I saw you; look just like your mother!” That was the most life I had seen out of old Tom and it startled me. But I liked it, and we had our best talk that day. When I left, I think a lot of apprehension that we both felt was now gone. Even found out from some of the staff that he told them about his grandson coming all the way from northern Ohio to see him. Well of course I would. My great love for being outdoors and having more than one critter taking food from my hand is just like Gramps. I’m a living legacy of John Thomas Laxton!

I found this quote that I think sums up what happened years back. “A single moment of misunderstanding is so poisonous, that it makes us forget the hundred lovable moments spent together within a minute.” Ma loved her dad, but after the death of their mother, Tom had made the toughest decision of his life; to give up his children so they would have a better life than what he could give them. I feel it wasn’t a matter of rejection of his children, but a hard decision of love for them. Too often people misunderstand the love of God because it seems He’s so far away and maybe doesn’t care for them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us so much that he allows a free will and will not interfere with it. But He wants all His children to know they can come to Him, through Christ, and know just how much He truly, truly, loves us. There’s a translation of 1 John 3:1 that I really like. “Simply because you are my child, I am your Father.”

It was a several weeks later I received word Tom had gone to be with the Lord. But! Not before Ma had gone to see him and the two reconciled. Awesome!

If there’s anything I learned from this “Traveler of the Rock Road” I refer to simply as Tom, it’s that sometimes you must make decisions that break your heart, but it must me done. Because of love. Just like our heavenly Father. John 3:16

See ya next time.







One response

18 02 2020
Beverly Crane

What a heartfelt story. Certainly a lesson to be learned by many. Thank you John for sharing such a beautiful part of your life.

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