My grandfather, William Henry Keesee, was born in the dawn of the 20th century, when Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House and the Wright Brothers were just getting off the ground. This week marks his long-ago birthday, and each year is a time for me to remember.
Among my grandfather’s earliest memories was teaching himself to play his grandfather’s old fiddle—an instrument that first made music around the campfires of the Confederate Army. He was still playing the treasured fiddle when I was growing up. My grandfather also clearly recalled coming to faith in Christ when he was ten years old at a “brush arbor” meeting near his home in southern Virginia. William Keesee grew up without a father and without property; so as a young man, he worked as a sharecropper to provide for his family. Although he had only two years of formal education, he possessed skilled hands, an inventive mind, a life-long love of reading and history, and held the equivalent of a graduate degree in hard work. He was poor, but his legacy was rich.
My love of history was one of his many gifts to me, gathered when I was a boy walking through red clay fields with him, collecting arrowheads and talking—our favorite conversations were always in the past tense! He has long since been laid to rest in the shadow of those fields. Sometimes though, late at night as I work through a family album or an aging sheath of letters, I can almost hear the distant music from his old fiddle. It’s the end of a short winter day, firewood crackles by the hearth, supper is over, and lights glow from the windows and across the years, as I listen to the fading strains of music. It’s a good song—one I must sing to my children . . . and to their children.