PaAndMeHe might have been a character from Grapes of Wrath. All angles in a pair of dirty bib overalls worn pale and thin from Gran’ma’s scrubbing them in a tub on a rubboard out by the well. Face weather-worn darker than his field work shoes, seamed and cracked, not a smile left in it.

I never hear my Gran’pa laugh. Never. But I still hear his voice coming from the “Lower Forty” as he drives Ol’ Jude the brown mule up and down endless rows of corn, this survivor of hard times and the Great Depression, as weathered as Drake’s Prairie near Sallisaw in eastern Oklahoma where John Steinbeck began his classic novel.

“G** D*** you, Jude! When I says ‘haw’ I means ‘haw!’”

Gran’ma—we call her “Ma; Gran’pa is “Pa”—Ma sends me to the field with a quart canning jar of cool water from the well. It’ll be warm by the time Pa drinks it. He never complains.

I’m six years old. Pa has never put his arms around me, but everybody says I’m the only living creature other than Jude and Buster the dog that Pa has ever loved. None of Pa’s numerous grown offspring or any of the other grandkids dare go near the beehives to rob them of honey. I can take all the honey from them I want. Pa just looks the other way.

I know he likes me ’cause one time he brought me a present—a fly swat to assassinate house flies that swarm in from the barnyard whenever someone opens the house door.

By the end of that year when I am six, I learn to plow ol’ Jude while Pa works Jack or Bess. There we go in the hot sun, up and down the rows, Pa occasionally shouting curses back at ol’ Jude. He never cusses any of the other livestock. Just Jude because Jude has floppy ears and passes gas, looks like a rusty barrel on stilts, and has a personality every bit as nasty as Pa’s.

When the sun starts going down, Pa lifts me to ol’ Jude’s back to ride home. I am nodding off by the time we reach the barn.

Did I tell you that Pa is a drunk? Home brew corn when he can get it, beer when he has a few nickels left over.

Old Man Marble’s country store and bar is about four miles away down by the highway. We walk there together, Pa and me. Ma often sends me with him to make sure he gets home.

One day there is an altercation in the bar. Old Man Marble whips out a slap jack and whacks the head of a farmer named Stu because Stu accuses Marble of messing around with his wife.

I bolt out the back door and am burning the road home when Pa, now in his 70s, flies right past me, kicking up dust like a whirlwind.

Another time, Ma dispatches Pa to get a sack of flour. He’s gone about all day. Ma sends me to get him. We meet on the road where he’s staggering home. He has snagged the 25-pound sack of flour on something. Dusted with flour, he looks like a ghost. He still clutches a handful of flour left in the sack. I burst out laughing.

“Boy!” He always calls me ‘Boy.’” “Boy, what’s so G** D*** funny?”

I love that old drunk. I never hug him either, but I love him. I see him cry once, a single tear down his thorny cheek when I enlist in the military and leave home. Ma has died by then after they sell the farm and move to Sallisaw.

Pa is now in his 90s. I am still away when his 36-year-old girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend murders him, beats him to death in his own house. My Mom orders me not to come home for the funeral because she is afraid I will hunt down Pa’s killer.

Charles W. Sasser is the author of over 60 books and novels available in bookstores,, and