“My Grandfather” by Joanie Whitebird

Joanie Whitebird

Joanie Whitebird

July 1 was Joanie Whitebird’s birthday — were she alive today, she would be turning 66. I can almost hear her laughing out loud at the thought.

Posting this poem of hers seems an appropriate remembrance.

my grandfather
worked as a gager
for humble oil
for thirty five years,
he walked the long fields from derrick to derrick
adjusting pressure valves
and counting
the big gummy
barrelsful that came
belching out of the earth

he taught his children
how to “change the wells”
and went out bird hunting
for weeks at a time,
my mother tells the story
about the night young bobby
changed the wells
and she and terrell and russell
went tearing down to fix it
before pumps and black gum
went spewing into the air

the day the new foreman
from Dallas
tried to fire him,
grandpa had been working
in the fields twenty years,
he had never
madea mistake in his books,
for twenty years his rolling script
(which also wrote love letters
on the side
for the amorous, but illiterate
young men of Little Rock)
sent in perfect ledgers
not once
had he
(or his children)
lost a barrel
or miscounted
or adjusted the wrong valve

but the new foreman
didn’t like it
that grandpa had such a perfect record
and so much leisure time too
so he said
the other men
don’t like it
that you get paid
for eight hours a day
and spend every afternoon
in the pool hall
with the company car parked outside.”
so grandpa told him
any damn fool
could do the job in four
and to prove it,
took him out to the fields
and walked his legs off
and did it in three
and the foreman said
don’t leave the company car
in front of the pool hall,
go home and get your own.”
but grandpa didn’t do that either
said it was wasted gas
(grandpa was 50 years ahead of the energy crisis)

the foreman fired him
grandpa laughed
and went on to work,
when he didn’t get his paycheck
in two weeks
he got in his car
and drove to Houston
where the district manager
read over the careful report
the foreman had written
calling grandpa “obstreperous”

the district manager
looked at grandpa’s records,
he looked at the foremans report
he looked back at grandpa
who was shouting
“the damn fool fired me!”
and then he transferred the foreman
back to Dallas
and told him
“you just can’t fire a man like that.’

the foremans wife was mad,
the foreman was confused
but grandpa thought he had seen
Justice Administered
and went down to the pool hall
in the company car
to celebrate,
and the kids changed the wells

from Travois: An Anthology of Texas Poetry, 1976

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in creativity, poetry, storytelling and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “My Grandfather” by Joanie Whitebird

  1. thefensk says:

    Awesome remembrance.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I know this post is very old but I’m looking for any personal information about my Aunt, Joannie Whitebird. No agenda. Just like to know a little more about her. Thanks to anyone who might care to reply. Much appreciated. Kimberly

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