Roots: Grandpa DeHass
Posted by Ted Hall
Today is Father’s Day, another day to celebrate the roots of all that we cherish. Today we honor my grandfather, Frank E. DeHass.
Anybody who has been on a tour of the ranch has heard me start the narrative with: "My mother was an organic gardening pioneer in the 1940s. . . . (as I reported on Mother’s Day). . . And, my grandfather (her father) had a grocery store and large garden where our family raised fresh produce for the store.”
Grandpa DeHass died 50 years ago in July, 1959, when I was 10 (almost 11) years old. He always called me “Butch,” the only one to ever use that nickname for me. Today I find myself reflecting on his legacy.
I have very distinct memories of sitting next to his rocking chair as he told stories. And, stories he had. Grandpa DeHass was in the U.S. Army in the Cavalry. He served in France during World War I and later in the Philippines.
But, by far his most exotic experience was his service with General John J. Pershing when the U.S. Army pursued Pancho Villa into Mexico in 1916-17. The Punitive Expedition was the last U.S. Cavalry expedition in U.S. military history. During that expedition Grandpa DeHass was General Pershing’s bugler. Just imagine.
His souvenirs always fascinated me, too, including the bugle, his horse’s (mount's) bit, and a rolled up snake skin from the jungles of the Philippines.
Grandpa DeHass and his wife, Rose, (my grandmother) operated a small grocery store in Beaver, Pennsylvania, which is the county seat of Beaver County.
They had a great site on the corner of Third Street and Sassafras Alley which was conveniently at the end of the electric trolley line that carried passengers to Midland, the next town. The corner marked the city limits of Beaver and today the corner still features a large welcome sign.
It was a neighborhood store with a confectionery and sandwich shop. Grandma DeHass cooked the meals, including soups from the fresh vegetables and homemade fruit pies. (Her parents had been in the restaurant business in nearby Woodlawn,which later became Aliquippa.) Known officially as “DeHass Grocery,” everyone called it "the little store," according to my mother.
The entire family worked hard to provide fresh produce for the store from the gardens just a block away. As children, my mother and her two brothers and sister worked in that garden.
There was always a compost pile and my grandfather mixed a variety of potions, including soapy water and tobacco juice, for pest control. Grandpa DeHass's methods pre-date the writings of fellow Pennsylvanian J.I. Rodale, the inventor of the phrase “organic gardening,” which would later capture my mother’s imagination.
Sadly, my grandfather lost the store to bankruptcy in 1936 when he could no longer pay his own bills after providing credit to so many of his customers. But, the traditions and skills of growing for the market were already in place. My mother and father continued the tradition on our own small family farm in nearby Potter Township and my Uncle Jim planted an extraordinary garden for another 50 years.
I recently visited my grandparents’ grave in the Beaver town cemetery. The grave features a wonderful bronze marker memorializing Grandpa's service in the U.S. Cavalry. With peculiar irony, I also realized that my grandparents are buried across the street almost within sight of the store's original location.
My grandfather would be pleased to see (maybe he does) that the site still has high commercial value - now occupied by a brand new Rite Aid store. The biggest change is that Sassafras “Alley” is now called Sassafras "Lane!"
Just down the alley (er, "lane") is the site of the gardens. Amazingly, the site is still mostly open space. It includes a parking lot for the local electrician's union hall, but otherwise it is still an open field nearly 80 years later. Standing there I could sense the hard work and satisfaction that had occurred there so many years ago.
I always admired my Grandfather’s quiet resolve, his careful attention to every detail (whether building fine cabinets or sharpening lawn mower blades), and his readiness to lend a hand.
Now, as Laddie, Chris, and I continue our family adventure with the new Farmstead project which has eery similarities to my grandparents' business (a retail store and restaurant on the edge of town featuring homegrown organic produce), I am increasingly drawn to this connection with my grandfather - the garden, his compost piles, the store, the restaurant, the bugle, the horses ("mounts"), and more. . .
So, I guess the acorn does not fall far from the tree. I hope he would be pleased.
That's very interesting. I am an ABQ , NM resident for about 61 years and my grandfather was the "troop doctor " down there with General Pershing during that experience. His name was Dr. Richard Blair. My mother once told me her dad , my grandfather , said Pershing had stolen his boots ! Richard , in ABQ