I left for PA on Saturday, and in the spirit of my trip, kind of like you're along for the ride, I've posted some of the stories I've collected from being up here. For my dad, a trip up here always means he's close in his thoughts to his grandfather, a man he idolized. The stories don't actually reveal a hero, per se. In fact, my great grandfather was a man of rough nature, raised in a rough place, but he was particularly charismatic. It's probably what kept my great grandmother from killing him. We call it the "smart-ass gene" nowadays, and its a gene that is alive and well in several branches (what up my cuzzin?). So with no further ado, I present to you:
Born 1882 in Venango Co. PA, he was the son of William Toy and Rachel Klotz.. He died in February of 1970. He was married October 12, 1904 in Oil City, PA to Minnie Belle Gahring (1888-1962), the daughter of Ross Gahring (b. 1861 – d. 1914) and Martha Ross (b. March 29, 1857 – d. March 1932). The Gahring family is listed as the next door neighbors to Jacob Toy Sr. in the census records of 1900. At the age of 54, Jake's father, William fell from an oil derrick he was repairing and died later that day.
Min was a school teacher in Kaneville as a young woman, and Jake, her future husband, was once one of her students. She is remembered by her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, as a sour and sometimes unhappy woman, who nonetheless, was somehow also the first to pack a picnic and take the family for an outing. She loved to drive, and did all the driving in the family, taking Jake to and from work. She is also described as a “wonderful grandmother”, who wanted her family, and extended family as close to her as possible. She could be verbally intimidating and was known to hold a grudge. She died in 1962 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) in her sleep. I never knew her, but my sister adored her, and I believe, hung the moon for my great grandmother as well. It's her house that is the Grandma's House of my memories, and maybe she was still there, somehow, imparting her love to us all. Maybe that was part of why it's so hard to let go of that house. Whenever I hear trains in the night, coming through town, it takes me back to that place.
Jake was listed as a driller in the Oil City directory of 1925. He also shot wells on more than one occasion, once in particular, when he took his grandson, my dad, with him to “shoot a well”. It's a process involving slowly lowering nitroglycerin down into an oil well shaft, dropping a “torpedo”, of metal down the shaft, and then, in the interest of living, “running like hell”. Whenever he brought a well in, he would drink a shot of the raw crude. It was believed then that crude was a tonic.
My father and his sister recall going to the movies with their grandfather and watching him physically move along with the action of the film, usually westerns. He once split his lip on the seat in front of him, shadow boxing.
He is remembered as a generally genial, sometimes liquored up and feisty man, whose energy and sense of humor seemed boundless. On one occasion, he bought a new outfit for hunting, but instead of going hunting, he spent the day at the bar. Returning home that evening, he was considerably impaired, but quite jovial, leaning against the large tree in the front yard, and amusing everyone present with his antics and jokes concerning his pissed condition. When Min appeared she began to rail at him for drinking. Jake became enraged and had to be held down by his son, Bruce and his son-in-law, “Pat”, although I don’t doubt that Min could have held her own. He liked to tell a story and act all bad ass, but she was a tougher cookie than him. Because of Jake’s penchant to drink away his paycheck, Min made a deal with the bartender to allow Jake to have one drink and then to keep the rest of his paycheck until she could come and get it.
Into middle age, when repairing the roof with his son-in-law, “Pat”, on one occasion, Jake was cautioned to be careful while standing up, or else he might fall, whereupon he stood up and danced a jig upon the rooftop.
Even as an old man Jake was known to be rowdy. Once, he and a much larger man got into a fight, no doubt, after tossing back a few drinks. The larger man threw Jake down repeatedly, but Jake refused to be beat, and kept getting back up. When the larger man finally tired out, Jake, who had never seemed to get tired, finished the fight, or in my father's words, "beat the shit out of him." Once, he made a crack in a bar at a lady and my father had to intercede to keep the husband from punching him. He was 70 at the time.
He died at the age of 88, in a nursing home, which haunts my father to this day. We don't go see his headstone much, when we're there. I think that's too real, too hard for my dad. He prefers to walk the streets of his childhood home and carry his grandfather with him. The giant old rig up at Drake's Well evokes such vivid memories for him, that sometimes we have to leave him there for a time, alone, but not really.