My grandfather, Petillo Emmett Leatherwood, loved history because he lived it. Growing up quite literally at his knee, I lived history vicariously and learned to love it, too.

He was born in 1873 on a tenant farm in Bastrop County, TX. Orphaned by the death of his father at the age of six months and his mother when he was eight, he was raised by his maternal grandmother and her two unmarried sons in the small town of Lampasas, Texas.

Two of the many stories he told me left indelible pictures in my mind. The first was how, as a small child, he'd visit his father's parents and sit around at night listening to his uncles refight the Civil War. His great-grandmother, Delilah, would say to him, "Emmety, go get grandma a coal for her pipe." Obediently, he would creep to the fireplace and fetch a small ember with which she would light her corncob pipe.

The second story is from his schooldays in Lampasas. There were no public schools, so a couple associated with the Disciples of Christ Church, the Atens, opened a 'subscription' school. A huge bell in the tower called the students to school. In 1881, then President James A. Garfield (a member of the Disciples' Church and personal friend of Mr. and Mrs. Aten) died less than a year after his inauguration, assassinated by a disgruntled office seeker. Grandpa spoke of how the school bell tolled all day after word came of the President's death.

He told other stories, too--how in 1891 his uncles managed to scrape together enough money to send him to Thorp Springs to Add-Ran College, the precursor of Texas Christian University. Addison and Randolph Clark, the founders, were a compelling presence at the school. I asked Grandpa why he didn't stay more than one year when his marks were so outstanding. He hesitated, then said without any hint of bitterness, "Well, I had to go home and help my family."

He spoke of the legendary Higgins-Horrell Feud which led to gunfire in the streets of Lampasas when Grandpa was only four years old. Years later he went to school with one of the Horrell children to whom people would direct the questions "What are you going to be when you grow up?" just to hear him reply, "I'm gonna kill Pink Higgins." (He didn't.) Just think what would happen to a youngster in today's society if he uttered those words!

Grandpa planned to make the century mark but died just before his 96th birthday. He remains a vital presence in my life, and sometimes I almost think he's looking over my shoulder as I copy a record, search a cemetery, or troll the internet in search of elusive ancestors.