News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 2, 2013

RONN MOTT: Grandfathers

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — I watched a TV commercial the other day where a man took his son and grandson fishing. (There are actually many commercials like this one on TV.) In this one, the fish is caught and released. I was reminded I never once went fishing with my grandfather.

He was rather silent when it came to me. And I suppose a lot of that was the great difference in our ages. The year I was born John E. Mott would only have 12 years left on this earth. Considering the fact I did not live with him and was not terribly communicative the first five years of my life, it wasn’t too surprising to learn I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and jaw with Grandpa Mott.

He was born in Kansas at the end of the 19th century and his family was driven off their homestead by either bad weather or a locust plague. I never learned the actual reason. But, at the age of 9, he and his older sister drove what remained of their livestock all the way from Kansas to Indiana. The rest of the family traveled in a wagon to get to their destination. It’s not surprising Grandpa grew up to be a very good horseman and handler of livestock. He settled in western Indiana.

When I came into the picture, the family was living in Newport and they would move to a larger farm of their own about three years after I was born. I did not know at the time but the first house I had memory of was the house they left before going to a farm just north of Hillsdale.  

It was here I occasionally got some spoken words out of Grandpa. There was an old, rusting John Deere with its front wheels against the side of the horse barn, the one nearest the house, and that site was quite visible to the house. I would learn later Grandpa was driving the tractor and had run it into the side of the barn all the time yelling, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” And the tractor set there and spun its wheels until the motor died.

So, one Sunday years later looking at the tractor I asked Grandpa, a man who farmed with horses and mules, why he didn’t farm with the tractor. He was whittling and spit, (I don’t believe Grandma allowed him to chew in the house) paused and said to me, “Well, Ronnie, you see, you can’t whip a tractor.” Even though I was barely in school, I understood that logic completely.

Grandpa pulled the old trick on me when I was a preschooler by informing me if I put salt on a bird’s tail it would stand there and let me catch it. I spent one entire afternoon after Sunday dinner trying desperately to put salt on the tails of the many birds in the yard. I was not successful. I think it’s the hardest I ever saw Grandpa laugh … me chasing around the yard with a salt shaker in my hand.

Later on, he would tell me about a tornado he tried to out-run when he was on horseback. He informed me he and the horse got swept into the vortex of the tornado and Grandpa would get dropped into a tree where he was banged up, bruised, and with some cuts and scratches. The horse was never found. I didn’t believe him, but since television has brought us graphic pictures of tornadoes and their power, the story certainly could be true.

I never got to go fishing with John Elmer Mott, but he left me with lasting memories. That quiet old man who chewed (chawed) tobacco and farmed with horses and mules would not only disappear from my life, but that type of man would disappear totally from American life.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.