Ranse could really spin a yarn. We need more like him.

Posted 1/21/21

The world needs fewer liars and more tellers of tall tales. We need more men like Ransom Crump.

Ransom Crump was the unlikely name of the widower who became my grandmother’s second husband after …

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Ranse could really spin a yarn. We need more like him.

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The world needs fewer liars and more tellers of tall tales. We need more men like Ransom Crump.

Ransom Crump was the unlikely name of the widower who became my grandmother’s second husband after she herself was widowed. Both he and my grandmother were hill folk from western N.C. who tumbled down the mountains to the Piedmont in search of work in the textile mills. Ranse said he started work in the mills when he was 12 years old. Maybe those mills were where he learned to spin a yarn.

My sister and I called her “Mamaw,” but we were not allowed to call him “Pawpaw,” or to refer to him as our grandfather, because our biological grandfather lay buried in the graveyard of the Baptist church up the road where he had been a preacher. Our parents insisted we call him Ranse like everyone else did. I never understood why I could not call him “Pawpaw.” He was the right age and shape and size as other kids’ grandfathers, and since Ranse had grandchildren by children of his late first wife, I saw no reason why I could not be an adoptive grandchild. This line of reasoning dead-ended at the wall of authority called my father, who told me to call him Ranse. My prayers at bedtime always included a phrase asking God to bless “Mamaw and Ranse” along with the other members of our family. I loved the old man because when no one else was listening, Ransom Crump told me tall tales.

I recall sitting on the front porch late one Sunday afternoon in August; he in his wooden rocker, I in the metal glider that fascinated me no end. In a few short weeks I was to return to grade school, and like most boys my age, all I wanted was to go fishing. Seeking sympathy for my plight, I asked Ranse if he ever had to go to school.

“Yep,” he said, nodding to the rhythm of the rocker. “They told me I had to go to school when I was a boy about as old as you are, so I did. I went to school. I went to school for three days.”

I gaped at him in wonder, waiting for him to continue. He did not disappoint.

“The school was a couple of miles away and I had to walk the whole way. The first half was on the path from our house down to the creek. The school house was on the other side of the creek, and to get across I had to walk on a foot log made from a big tree they’d felled. The root ball was on one side and all the limbs was on the other, so I could haul myself up with them onto the trunk. I was just a boy, and they told me never to cross on the foot log if it was wet, ’cause it was so slippery. They said I would drown if I fell in ’cause I was so little. Across the creek was a good road leading on to the school house. On the first day of school no one was there but the teacher. The teacher said I was a day early. School didn’t to start until the next day. So I turned around and walked home.

“The second day I got up and started walking to school. But it had rained the night before, and the water was up over the foot log. I had been told over and over not to try and cross when the water was up over the log, so I turned around and went home.

“On the third day I went to school,” he continued, “the school had burned to the ground.”

He stared off into the distance, as if his memory was over the horizon. He waited for me to pick my jaw up off the floor before finishing.

“It weren’t nothin’ but ashes and a rock chimney,” he said.

Ranse was about 80 when he died. Towards the end, when his doctors said he was running on empty, his blood relatives took turns keeping a bedside vigil, and he woke briefly while one of his younger, less than thoughtful relatives was keeping the watch. She cooingly suggested to him that he should let go and accept his own death; after all, he had led a long and fruitful life. Ranse’s reported last words still astound me.

“But I never rode a bicycle … Uphill ... Back wards…”

Dwayne Walls Jr. has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the News + Record. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.


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