Native Land and Forebears

As a young child, I reveled in the tales of the West, my family’s native land, told after supper as we sat in my grandparents’ house. My grandfather, Frank Frost, would tell stories of his life as a young man in Colorado and California, leading the way for an evening of yarn-spinning. These evenings provided an essential, shaping influence upon my conception of my native land and my forebears, for in order to understand how I, a citizen of South Carolina for each of my twenty-one years, happen to be in the South at all, those interested in my life must trace the history of my paternal grandfather, whose perpetual, lifelong adventures led in a most coincidental manner to his retirement in Spartanburg.

As a child in a family of many children, Frank lived in Colorado, in a ramshackle boxcar with the other children behind the family homestead on a turkey ranch. During the Depression, the family lived well on a diet of turkey sandwiches; however, a fatal turkey virus killed the entire flock in a single week, and, in an optimistic venture, the family soon sold the farm and moved to California in search of gold. My grandfather, a child of merely twelve, accidentally burnt down the shed one day playing with matches, and his father chased him away from home with an axe. He rode the railways across the United States and eventually received a position in an arms yard at the onset of World War II.

Upon hearing of the death of his father, who was run over by a steamroller while working on a railway in Shanghai, my grandfather returned home to his mother (who, I hear, always remarked that the day she heard of her first husband’s death was the happiest day of her life). She had remarried to an ex-circus strongman, and their combined family, numbering in the double digits, was living on an American Indian reservation. They needed work, so they followed my grandfather back to the arms yard, where they worked throughout the war, while Frank forged paperwork to join the Army and fight in World War II at the age of sixteen.

Following the War, in which he received many honors but of which he never spoke, my grandfather toured Europe via bicycle before returning to the States to accept a position at Pratt University in New York City as a ROTC instructor. When Joan Crowley, a student of fashion at the school, first saw “Red” Frost in his cowboy boots at Coney Island, she told her girlfriends that, this time, they had better keep their distance. Soon after, they were married.

Over the next years, Joan, Frank, and their four sons traveled the globe in military fashion, following the demands of Frank’s career as an Army helicopter pilot. They lived in international locales such as Taiwan, Germany, and Iran, and with four boys, a fun-loving wife, and Pal the cosmopolitan beagle, my grandfather led a plethora of family adventures. In later years, the stories we laughed over after our many family dinners included tales of running the border, floods in Taiwan where rats could swim in through windows, and desert drag races, among many others.

Importantly, however, to my own arrival in South Carolina, was my grandmother’s residence with her brother in Spartanburg during my grandfather’s deployment in Vietnam. When Frank left on a second tour or duty, the family bought a home in the area that was kept as a rental property during their subsequent traveling years. Upon my grandparents’ return to the United States from Iran during the Iranian Revolution, they resettled in Spartanburg, fixing up the rental house and transforming into a permanent home.

Later, when my own father, the youngest of the boys, returned from his deployment in Korea, South Carolina was his state of residence because of that house, so he and my mother settled in Clemson while he went to school. Years later, I was born in Greenville, and we always stayed there to be close to my grandparents. I will always value the stories told on our many evenings together, and I cherish the wonderful opportunity of understanding and enjoying the full complexities of the path that led my family to South Carolina. Although my grandfather is gone now, I spend many warm evenings visiting that Spartanburg address where my grandmother continues to reside, loving the South and the bonds of family that have kept us all here.

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