Grandpa’s Path to Simplicity

My grandfather valued sustainability before it even had a name. He was adventurous, whimsical and an inspiring example of the joy found in simple living.

| August/September 2011

My Grandpa

My interest in sustainability started with my fun-loving grandpa.


My grandfather’s name was Wad Blake. “Wad” was a nickname, of course, but no one ever called him anything else. He signed his checks John W. Blake, but his birth certificate read “Wylie Rose Blake.” Later on, his parents must have thought better of the “Rose” part. The nickname made it a moot point.

Raised in Oklahoma by Okies and Texans, he was a storyteller. As was the tradition in that part of the country, his stories were loud, entertaining and occasionally factual. His father was a slight, blue-eyed cowboy who never weighed more than 130 pounds. His mother was dark-skinned and big, topping 300 pounds. Physically, Wad took more after his mother. Among his towheaded siblings, he claimed he “looked like a rat turd in a bowl of rice.”

He greeted everyone with a booming “Well, howdy!” or “Que hubo?,” depending on their native language, and an enthusiastic abrazo. He spoke Spanish and taught me the rudiments. He also taught me how to say “Kiss my ass” in Choctaw. I thought he was brilliantly fluent and articulate. I can still hear his confident Mexican slang delivered in an Okie drawl. It makes me smile.

Most of the stories he told were about the animals, people and scenes of his youth. They took place on or around the small subsistence farms of the Ozark Mountains, where simple living was the way of life. He chased stray mules through the brush and camped out with his family’s cattle on “borrowed” land in the mountains.

His horse, Twenty Grand, was the fastest and meanest horse in the country. Twenty Grand once bucked so high that Wad and the horse landed in the bed of a wagon. Wad’s Uncle Will was so strong he could lift a 500-pound cotton bale on his back. His dad, while riding the trail drives between Texas and Kansas, was once thrown into a tree by a herd of stampeding cattle.

I could go on and on. I gradually stopped believing in the accuracy of his stories, but I never stopped believing in their integrity.

j.t. the rev.
10/29/2011 3:57:59 PM

Thank you for sharing, most of us grew up seeing and hearing about the simple life of our parents and grandparents, watched our parents go without just so we could have it a little better than they did, but I think some where along the road to a better life, we lost track of what a better life REALLY is, and became a horde of greedy consumers always trying to one up family, friends, and neighbors. It's time to get back to looking out for each other, and helping each other. Remember, united we stand, divided we fall, well it's not just a cleaver saying, it's a fact that has been proven time and time again throughout history so lets try to break the cycle, get back to our roots, and create a world where OUR grandchildren will tell these kind of stories about us.

sharon bruno
10/27/2011 4:51:43 AM

I love your true blue Grandpa! He reminds me of my Grandpa who was a small, wiry, Mule Skinner. He drove the mule teams that were used to haul the huge electrical towers from Sacramento, Calif, to Lake Tahoe, bringing electricy to the area! I was raised by my Grandpa and I never quite stopping using a few cuss words here and there. Cusswords that Mule team drivers were quite fluent in. I miss him so much!

lou nathaniel
10/26/2011 10:39:55 PM

OH My.. what a wonderful thing to have between your ears. I admire your life as a child even if mine was not that different. I grew older if not up on the Salt not the desert but My Dad built most of what we had, scrounged the rest, and we loved it all. Peace.

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