Short In Stature – Long On Character
“Character is a diamond that scratches every other stone.” Cyrus A. Bartol Edgar “Shorty” Lorain Grapes has scratched a lot of human stones in his 93 years on earth. Wherever he scratched, he left treasures of wisdom if others were of a mind to notice. Born 11/7/1913 to Virgil Benton and Lorena Grapes, he was only the third of what would eventually be 12 children. “I was the only one of the twelve not born in Hampshire County,” he says. Although Shorty’s parents owned land at Mount Zion, near Augusta with a home and barn, work took his father to Grant County where Shorty was born. “Since Dad never turned down work, he packed Mom and my two brothers up and moved us to Strieby, Grant County West Virginia where I eventually arrived. The house I was born in is still standing – just like me.” Carolyn Grapes, Shorty’s daughter, says “Dad remembers everything.” She no sooner had those words out of her mouth when he said, “I remember that old house having a porch on it. One day when my brother Tom was just a baby, Mom put him out on the porch to get a little sun. One of the hogs got out of the pen and came up close to look at the baby. Our old dog, Whitey, was having none of that. He bit the ear clean off that pig. You should have heard that hog scream.” Charlie, Sally, Jim and Rose are not his siblings. They were actually the names of the mules that Shorty’s Dad used to haul lumber to support his brood. Shorty laughs as he shares, “They were great mules. I remember once when Dad left early to haul some lumber in Winchester. It was really late and he fell asleep on the way back home. Suddenly he was awakened by the mules stopping abruptly. It was really dark and he couldn’t get the mules to move. He got down from the wagon only to discover that the mules had brought him right to our barn door. Charlie, Sally, Jim and Rose were part of the family.” “Dad would hook all four of them mules to his wagon and haul lumber, bark, hay or anything anyone needed to have moved anywhere. He would leave home before morning light and get home after dark. I remember that he had different wagon beds he would use for different jobs.” “In 1928 we were living in Slanesville. Unfortunately, the bus for high school didn’t get to Slanesville back then so I wasn’t going to attend high school. But Mr. Paul Williams, who had just built a new dairy barn, was advertising in the Review for two boys who could come live with him and help run the dairy. In return, the two boys would get to go to Romney High School. Mom and Dad saw the ad and I was chosen along with another boy, Truman Eisenhower. I attended high school from 1929 to 1930.” I wonder how many boys today would be willing to work that hard just so they could attend high school. Shorty and Truman had to be up and in the barn milking 23 head of cattle by 4:30 every morning. They would fill bottles with the milk and then deliver them in the dark to a list of Romney homes – all before breakfast. After breakfast they would go to school. “I still remember my home room teacher, Miss McClure. Sometimes I would fall asleep in study hall, but she knew my schedule and would never say anything. My first report card had 3 C’s and 1 A. By the next report I had that turned around to 3 A’s and 1 C. I only got to go one year though. Dad needed me back at the farm to help, but it was fun while it lasted.” Clearly, Shorty was never afraid of hard work – and he certainly wasn’t short on creativity when it came to making a little extra change. “When we were just kids, my brother Tom and I would track rabbits and shoot them. The mail carrier would give us a quarter for every rabbit we would bring him.” Shorty and Eulala “Lalie” celebrated 72 years of marriage on June 19. When he introduced Lalie to me during the interview, he introduced her as his first wife. Carolyn says he has been doing that for as long as she can remember. Shorty and Lalie went to school together from the time they were very young children. He had his eye on that little girl from the very beginning. He laughs and says, “I used to make her mad when we were kids. We’d be leaving school and I’d holler to her – ‘Do you still love me?’ and she’d snap back, ‘No’.” She just smiled as he told the story. Although Lalie doesn’t look her age at 92 either, she isn’t feeling very well these days. The arthritis keeps her down quite a bit. Shorty is a walking, talking wonder of the world. This man doesn’t look a day over 65 and outside of a hearing problem; he’ll tell you, he’s doing just fine. When I arrived at the Grapes home, there was a man on the front porch in a straw hat going through his mail. I wasn’t sure who he was, but I knew it couldn’t be Shorty Grapes just by looking at him. Boy was I wrong. When he introduced himself I’m sure he wondered about the crazy look on my face. I still can’t believe that man is 93 years old. When I asked him what he attributes his long life to – thinking it was diet or exercise or something unusual – he simply smiled that beautiful smile of his and said, “I guess God’s not done with me yet.” Shorty grew up working hard on his Dad’s farm. “We would be up at 4 in the morning and in the barn feeding the horses before we got breakfast. At daylight we would work in the fields either planting or harvesting corn, wheat or oats.” He laughs, “I probably would have gotten bigger if I hadn’t worked so hard when I was younger.” As a young man he only grew to be 5’ 5” and that’s how he got the nickname “Shorty”. Most people around Hampshire County don’t know who you are talking about if you say Mr. Grapes. They know him only as Shorty. In spite of their childhood spats, Shorty did finally convince Lalie that she was the girl for him. “We borrowed my Dad’s old Buick and drove to Cumberland, MD. I had $15 in my pocket and the preacher got $3 of it. We drove back to Romney and spent the night in a little motel that no longer exists. Eventually I rented 2 rooms in the long log home in North River Mills. I only had to pay $3 for rent, so we were doing pretty good back then. I even drove the Slanesville school bus for a while.” A turning point financially for Shorty and Lalie came when Mr. Jennings from New Jersey moved a sawmill near Slanesville. Shorty and one of his brothers worked for him. “He really liked the way we West Virginia boys worked so he took us back to New Jersey with him. My son Vernon was born there.” “I stayed in New Jersey for twelve years. Clarence Wolford, hearing that I wanted to move back to West Virginia, wrote and told me that Foster Miller was selling his grocery store in Romney. I came back home, bought it, but then couldn’t take it over until I went back to New Jersey and sold my home there. When I told my boss in New Jersey about my plans, he was upset. I remember he said, ‘That’s the trouble with you West Virginia guys. You get the wrinkles out of your belly and then you move on.’ “ “It took me from Thanksgiving to New Years to sell my house and move back. I bought the house in New Jersey for $1100 and sold it for $6500. The store cost me $7500 so I had to borrow $1000 to pay Mr. Foster and another $1000 to operate the store. “ Shortly after Shorty bought the store, he had two burglaries. He decided to move his family into the store so he could keep an eye on things. He began building an apartment above the store, one room at a time. By the time he sold the grocery store several years later, he had a home built on top of the store that stretched from one end of the building to the other. “I accidentally ended up in the tire business. One of my customers asked me to sell him a set of tires. I sold them to him for what I paid. I guess the word got out about what a great deal he got from me and before I knew it I was in the tire business. It didn’t mesh well with running a grocery store, so I sold the store, bought the building across the road and opened a tire store.” Carolyn says, “Daddy won’t tell you this, but he served on the Board of Education for 12 years.” Shorty smiled and said, “I told them when they asked me to run for the Board of Education that I only had one year of high school. It didn’t seem to bother them, so I said okay. Four other individuals ran against me, but I ended up with more votes than all four of them combined. I didn’t even ask anyone to vote for me. I’ve just always done my best to conduct business in an honest and fair way and I find that people like that. I never cheated anyone, but I sure have had a few people not return the favor,” he laughs. “One time I had a guy who owed me some money for a long time. I kept invoicing him, but he wouldn’t respond. So finally I took the invoice to his home, handed it to him and told him I wasn’t going to bill him any longer. He never did pay me what he owed me.” When I asked if there was one memorable event that stood out in his life, he thought for a minute and then said, “I have so many. I don’t think I can list just one.” After a minute or so, he said “Perhaps the one event that set the stage for how I would conduct the rest of my life took place at age 9. I was in Church at a revival meeting one evening when the preacher asked if anyone wanted to come forward and give their life to Christ. I wanted to move, but couldn’t seem to make my legs work. I looked across the room at my grandmother and she was motioning me to go forward. The Lord’s ways have been the way I’ve tried to conduct my life ever since. I guess everything else falls in line after that for me.” “The Lord has protected and provided for me so many times. For example, I’ve been writing poetry for many years. One of my poems got chosen to be read at some event in Reno, Nevada a few years ago. I didn’t want to go alone, so my baby sister Enid said she would go with me. As the time got closer, I decided I didn’t really want to go. My sister decided she wouldn’t go either. The flight that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 was our flight. The poem I wrote that was read at that event by someone else was entitled ‘Our Loving God’. “ Shorty has a book of his poems. It’s called The Grapevine, Poems by E. L. Grapes. The National Library of Poetry awarded Shorty the Editor’s Choice Award for outstanding achievement in Poetry in 1996. In 1997 he was also chosen to have his poems listed in The Best Poems of 1997 by The National Library of Poetry. He was also sent an Award of Recognition which honors him as a famous Poet for 1996. The poem that got him this recognition was “Our Loving God.” Shorty gave me a copy of his book of poetry and gave me permission to print one of his poems. I love the poem he wrote in 1992 for his wife. It’s called “My Lalie” A sweet little woman This Lalie of mine Who has stood by my side A mighty long time. She is small, she is pretty, She’s as neat as can be. Surely God made her Only for me. Many are familiar with the saying WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? Shorty’s Granddaughter, Elizabeth, wrote a poem to her Grandfather in 2006 entitled, WWGD, What Would Granddaddy Do? There is nothing more a stranger like me can say that would communicate better the sterling character of this charming, Christian 93 year old gentleman. But his granddaughter can and did in the following poem. WWGD? “Got any tars, Shorty”, asked the man leaving his car. “My wife is ill, my tire has a leak, We MUST get to Winchester, I’ll pay you next week.” What Would Granddaddy Do? The tire got fixed, the couple sent on their way, Granddaddy knowing they’d probably not pay. He got out his ledger and wrote down “charge”, Thankful the amount wasn’t too large. In a month or two, a grandchild was summoned to go “skunk hunting” in town, Each porch was approached by a smiling Shorty Grapes Arrangements made with nary a frown. Black men don’t work with white men Was the known but unspoken rule, But Frank needed a way to support his kids And that rule just wasn’t cool. One worker….spoke up to complain He wasn’t working with a man of that hue. Let the good worker leave or let Frank begin… What would Granddaddy do? Granddaddy didn’t hesitate as he made up his mind, He said, “You’re a good worker and I’d hate to lose you” The man packed up and walked out the door. Folks traveling through town without money or gas When Granddaddy owned the store, “I’ll send you the money as soon as I’m home, Traveling has left us quite poor.” What Would Granddaddy Do? Granddaddy knew the chances were slim That the money would arrive in the mail. He filled up their tank, gave the children a treat Then “wrote off” this supposed “sale”. Granddaddy’s first wife was “made just for him” And has been there through the old and the new, Now she’s sickly and often in pain What Will Granddaddy Do? He’ll love her and kiss her and hold her hand, Hoping that soon she will mend. In 1935, he promised “Till death do us part”, He’ll be there right up to the end. Jesus was perfect, He always lived life With compassion, wisdom, and love. Granddaddy has lived three times as long As a model of the Man above. Every life that’s been touched by this remarkable man Has been blessed and privileged too. When faced with a problem, one need only ask, What Would Granddaddy Do? Need I say more? Shorty Grapes, I want to thank you for the privilege of allowing us a peek into your sweet heart. Thank you for introducing us to your first wife, still your one and only sweetheart after 72 years. You scratched another stone – me. Thank you!