a man to remember
by sharla cerra
Roe Bennett did not live in Table Rock, but his influence reaches out through those he touched. He was the grandfather of Bob Sitzman of Table Rock. I doubt that any photos exist other than the few I have of him. Here he is with my sister Sandy and I at Christmastime 1956. He died a year later. I had not yet turned four, but I remember him. And here below is my tribute to him.
Technically, he was a step great grandpa. He married my grandma's mother, a divorcee whose first husband had abandoned her and his four little children. Her name was Anna and she was the daughter of a railroad family who came from Germany.
Grandpa Roe lived with my dad's family on their farm on the old gumbo river road out of Peru. He moved in with them after great grandma died of cancer; dad was 10 when those events happened.
I don't know how he met Great Grandma. I wish I did. She was a "salty" character so I assume he was her straight man.
She smoked a pipe. Dad said it was the cheap tobacco in a bag. Smoking a pipe was not unheard of behavior for country women in those days. However, unlike some other grandmas, dad said that she cussed and she swore and she sang dirty ditties -- and to the great pleasure of her little grandsons, she did those things freely. When dad's mom -- always pretty prissy -- told her to back off, she kept it up on the sly.
When my dad and brothers asked their grandma how she met Roe, she would just say, "I found him in a toilet hole. I pulled him out and kep' him ever' since."
It was a great joke to her, but they never were quite sure whether it was or was not true. She was so animated and confident in the way she said it. For some reason, they didn't think to ask Roe about how he met great grandma once she had passed away and was no longer there to punch him in the shoulder or give him the eye. Perhaps he wouldn't have told them anyway. He was very loyal to great grandma, may not have wanted to spoil her game.
When my dad was about 80 we stopped to see great grandma's grave in St. Joe. It is in one of those big city cemeteries where all the graves are below grass level, but Dad stood there next to that stone and remembered her and spontaneously burst into a bawdy -- no, outright raunchy - song about a baboon scratching a monkey's ass and going downhill from there.
He sang through multiple stanzas.
Then he stopped and looked at me, seeming a bit embarrassed. "My grandma taught me that," he said, finally, and shrugged in the way that he did when he was a bit embarrassed but really did think it was funny and hoped you would think so, too.
Singing that song of his childhood was not a deliberate act. I think it had just got pulled right out of him standing there and remembering her! She must have sung it with him with a lot of gusto for it to have lasted in his brain for over 70 years!
I don't have a picture of my great grandma Bennett, so these few I have of the jewel of a man she supposedly found in an outhouse will have to do. I don't have a single picture of Great Grandma.
Dad was very attached to Grandpa Roe and vice versa. All of Roe's personal belongings fit into a very small box. After he died, of the few things that were in there, one was a little man of tin foil and sticks that my dad had made for him when he was little.
My grandma told me that he had no children of his own but other than that, I don't know a thing about Grandpa Roe's family -- where he grew up, whether he had siblings, nothing.
But he was an essential part of my earliest life -- and his departure from the early sphere my earliest lesson in loss that I can remember. The first visit after he was gone I remember dashing into the house to look for him but he wasn't in his chair and he wasn't in his bed It was so disorienting and disquieting. It felt like, "This house is all wrong. This is not the right house." It is my first memory of discovering the loss of a loved one. He was a pretty important man for a toddler to grieve over him.
I hope other people have had a Grandpa Roe in their lives, and maybe even a salty great grandma with a pipe and a good story.