“Grandpa, Grandpa why do you have that picture above your bed?” Little Joe said to Grandpa
Joe, as he stood looking at the small picture framed in rough pine sticks there above the bed. “I asked my dad and he said I would have to ask you.”
Old Joe leaned on his crutches and a smile came to his face, a smile that said Little Joe had struck a deep chord and it was a happy memory that had been broached.
“Little Joe, lets go for a walk and I will tell you about that picture and what it means to
me.” The old man made his way to the back door where he pulled on his old blue denim barn
coat and very carefully placed the weathered and worn Stetson on his head. Little Joe’s
dad, Joe, had told his son that if grandpa did not get his hat at the correct angle, then
the sun would not shine nor would the birds sing.
“Gotta potty first Grandpa,” Little Joe said as he hurried to the bathroom.
Little Joe's dad, upon hearing his father tell his son that he would tell him the story quickly got his digital recorder and stuck it in his son’s pocket. Joe had heard rumors, speculation, but never had heard his father tell the hat and rose story.
Little Joe came running back. “I am ready Grandpa, I am ready.” He put on his faded
denim barn coat and his small Stetson.
And it was that the tall lanky old man with the crutches and twisted legs, and the small boy made their way up the draw and to the top of the hill.
The hill was the center of the ranch and the house and outbuildings were located on a small bench just above the thousand-acre pasture. The two made their way to the top of the hill, crossed the open area and went into the tall pines on the other side.
The old man stopped at the small cemetery, a typical one with a cast
iron fence around it and a small double gate, and in the center was stood a tall white marble obelisk. On all four sides the name “Samson” had been carved, along with names and dates.
“Is that Grandma’s grave?” Little Joe asked, and he removed his hat like his grandpa. “Is
this where you will be buried, where my dad will be buried? Can I be buried here
The old man opened his coat and took out two long-stem red rose buds. He took one over
to a far corner, where he knelt down in front of a small white marble tombstone. He placed one
rose there and then he put his hands together, closed his eyes, and Little Joe could see
that his Grandpa was praying, or talking to himself.
Little Joe stayed back but he managed to read the lettering on the small tombstone. Lea Rose Samson, 1925 – 1943. The writing below the date was too small to make out from where he stood, but Little Joe knew this was a special person to his Grandpa.
As the old man started to stand, Little Joe quickly went over to help. “Thank you son, thank you,” the old man said. The old man moved to the other side of the obelisk and knelt in front of another small white marble marker. This one said, Phyllis Sharon Samson, 1940 – 2000 Again the old man took out the
second long-stem red rose bud and placed it in front of the marker. He said a few words then, with his grandson's help, he arose.
“Were both of them my grandmas?” Little Joe asked.
The old man lay his hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “What you say we sit down on the
bench and I will tell you the story, the whole story.”
They moved to an old white marble bench, now stained with time, and once settled, the old man took out two apples, two large red apples. He handed one to his grandson.
Presently, the old man took out his pocketknife and began to
peel his apple. The young boy started to eat his.
“Dang false teeth don’t allow me to eat
an apple the way they are supposed to be eaten,” the old man said as he cut off a
“Joe, a long time ago, when I was older than you are, I found out I could ride a horse real
well and began to rodeo. I worked on this ranch for Old man McPherson and rodeoed.”
“You rode like my dad used to ride until he got hurt?” The small boy’s chin was dripping
apple juice but his eyes were glued on his grandfather, and he was listening to every word.
“Yep. Don’t rightly know if your dad was better than me or not, but that don’t make no never mind anyhow. Anyway they called me Flying Samson. I had dropped out of
school because I could make more money toward helping the family than I could staying on the ranch working. My dad had told me to go for it.”
The old man finished his apple then carefully wiped the knife blade on his trouser leg and put it away. “Two years in a row I won the saddleback and bareback championships. We were down in Ft Worth when I was coming out of the arena and a talking to a buddy. I plum walked over this sweet young thing that was going the other way.”
Little Joe could tell his Grandpa was in the zone because he was oblivious
to the world for he was story telling. “Did you help her up Grandpa, did you hurt her?” Little Joe asked.
The old man grinned. “No son, I just bumped into her but she went a sprawling. I quickly
picked her up like she was a rag doll and said, “Excuse me Ma'am. I was a-going but not a
looking,” and she smiled at me.”
Grandpa took out his pipe and his can of Sir Walter Raleigh. He filled his pipe, put the tobacco away, then lit it and continued. “Well, this here little lady had two great big dimples right there,” he said as he put a finger on each of
Little Joe’s cheeks. “Of course I doffed my hat and handed her the rose some fan had given
me because on that last session I had just scored a 93 on White lightning.
“Why, thank you flying Samson,” she had said. Her mom, dad, brothers and sisters had been standing there a-grinning.
“I put out my hand and introduced myself. Joe. Joe Samson from up Wyoming way. Miss...er . . . ..” She shook my hand. It was a small well made strong hand and tiny in comparison with my big old paw.” He held up his outstretched hand and it was three times the size of his grandson’s. Well, then I shook with her daddy, her momma, and her daddy said, “Well this is my
daughter Lea Rose, Lea Rose O’Shea.” Then he introduced me to her momma who was a pretty
lady. Her daddy asked me over for dinner that evening since they lived only a short piece from the arena.”
“Did you kiss her Grandpa, did you kiss her?” Little Joe was enjoying the story.
“No, Little Joe, but I took her arm and walked her home. I fell in love with that little
lady and decided she would be my wife.” He sat back and puffed on his pipe. Then the old man looked down at the little boy. “You sure I ain’t a boring you?”
“No sir, tell me about her Grandpa, tell me, please.”
“Well, I had a good season and when it was over my daddy bought this place and leased a whole passel of government land. But I went back and asked Mr. And Mrs. O’Shea for my darling’s hand. We got married that day and took the train back home. Me, I was the proudest man in the world.”
“But she wasn’t my Grandma," was she Little Joe said.
“No son, my daddy got killed in an accident and my momma married a preacher man from Georgia. They moved to California and the ranch and the mortgage became mine. All my brothers and sisters were out on their own. Some had moved away and a few had stayed around, but none of them were a-ranching. We decided not to have any children until we paid off the place and could support them. Lea Rose was a school teacher, a good one, so I worked the ranch and rodeoed and worked on the side and she taught school. We raised a good garden and canned. We were happy, happy until the war came and I enlisted. I joined the Marines and was soon shipped overseas.”
Tears ran down the old man’s cheeks and you could see he still
loved the woman. “Lea Rose was up here on this ridge a-rounding up cows and calves just
before a big storm and she was hit by lightning. She was killed and my brothers buried her
here in this little plot, over in that corner.”
“I didn’t know you were in the war Grandpa, did you get lots of medals?”
The old man pulled out his red bandanna, wiped his eyes, blew his nose then put it away. “In more battles than I wanted to be in, but as General Sherman said, War is Hell.” He laid his hand on his grandson’s hand. "Anyway, I got sent back to the states and then sent home on leave to recover and heal. It was just too hard and I surely did miss my Lea Rose. I worked hard and volunteered to go back because over there in the war you don’t have much time to think. A man is too busy trying to stay alive and a keeping his men alive.”
“Is that how you got your leg messed up Grandpa,” Little Joe asked.
“Yes son, Okinawa,” he said. “So the war was winding down and they shipped me back home. I
went to Washington DC and met the President of the United States and he pinned some medals
on me.” The old man smiled, “The President of the United States asked me, “Sgt Samson if
you had two wishes what would you like?” I looked at him and said, go back to the ranch and
be a company commander so I could take better care of my men, Sir. Well the President shook
my hand again and by the time I got back to camp, I had been promoted to Captain, yes siree
Little Joe, me your Grandpa was promoted to Captain in the United States Marine Corps. My
leg could not be fixed but they then promoted me to Major and retired me. Retired me on
full medical retirement from the United States Marine Corps, they did. I came back home and
began drinking and hobbling about. One night I got drunk and got into an accident. I
missed my Lea Rose so much; I did all sorts of stupid things. Any way they put me in a
Veterans hospital in Denver and this nurse who cared for me and I, fell in love. She had
lost her husband and I don’t know if it was love or what but we just seemed to get along, me
a hobbling along and us a talking and a laughing. She made me forget my hurts and I guess I
did the same for her. She understood about my Lea Rose and I understood about her Cliff, so
we were friends and then fell in love, but neither of us loved the other like we loved the
one we lost. That little Joe was your Grandma, the woman who saved my life.” The old man
refilled his pipe and relit it as his small grandson could see that Grandpa was in a world
of his own.
“But Grandpa you did not tell me about the picture, about that picture of the hat and the
rose?” Little Joe stood and faced his Grandpa, “You said you would, please Grandpa.”
The old man smiled, “Oh son, it is just a bit of fiddle-faddle. You don’t want to hear about that.” The old man reached into his pocket and took out two peppermint candy
canes. He handed one to Little Joe and he took the paper off the other one.
“Yes Grandpa, yes I do,” he said.
“Well, I always wore a big black Stetson, wore it flat brimmed, not all rolled up like most
folks wear them and I never went anywhere without wearing my hat. I told you about giving
Lea Rose that red rose bud when I bumped into her and we first met.” He was smiling again
as he sucked on the peppermint. “When I was off rodeoing or had been gone, I would buy one
rose Bud and take it to her. If she were working I would have a student take it in and they
would most often say, “Ma'am, the tall cowboy in the black hat sent this to you,” for they
did not know me.
“Didn’t all of those roses cost a lot of money Grandpa? Wasn’t that expensive?”
Old Joe laughed. “Not when you are young and in love,” he said. He continued. “And so it
was when I went to town to buy something or whatever, I would always buy her just one red
long-stemmed rose bud. Jim Axleman ran the florist place and we had been good buddies so he
always had one for me.” He stopped, took off his old worn and dirty black hat, looked at
it, and then put it back on his head. “Well every time I got hurt or got busted up, she
would buy me a new hat and say, “Honey, since that last hat gave you bad luck, here is a new
good luck one. But what she did before she gave me that hat was to paint a small red rose
bud inside on the white liner, that way I knew she was always with me.
“But what about the picture Grandpa, what about the picture you have over your bed?”
“When I joined up and went away, she ran the ranch, taught school, and then opened two other
stores in town. She began to paint, that woman had so much talent, so she painted that
picture. Well, when I went to war she took my hat, the one I was wearing at that time and
the last rose bud I brought her, a rose bud that sort of just stayed like it was and on the
little table in the front hall she took a piece of bright blue cloth and swirled it around
on that table, then she brushed my black hat and put it down with that red rose bud. That
was our symbol of love, old Grandpa Joe and my Lea Rose. So when I got home and she was
gone, passed on, I put that picture over our bed and it has been there every since. It
reminds me of my Lea Rose and I have other remembrances of your grand mother.”
With that, the two arose and slowly walked back to the house. All the while the recorder had been recording the conversation between the old man and his grandson. The recording was
transcribed along with a bunch of others recordings made between him and Little Joe as they
walked and talked. And now, as Paul Harvey says, you have the rest of the story.