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Grandpa Sheffield


Photograph of Sheffield Peabody, 1894. Homesteading in Edmonds, OK and missing his Springwater family, Sheffield had this photograph taken of him by the Charles A. Dake studio. He would have been 64 years old at the time, already a grandfather.

On January 31, 1904 Otis Beals, Mary Emma Beals’ husband, died after undergoing surgery. This left young Harlo Beals fatherless at the age of six and Maurine at the tender age of three. The event triggered Sheffield’s instinct as a patriarch to care for Harlo. As the oldest grandchild, Harlo began spending Sundays with Sheffield--“ I took Harlo Beals to Wayland” (28 April 1907)--and most winter breaks as well: “I came to Canadice. Harlo Beals came with me” (25 Dec 1906). Sheffield seems to have developed a close relationship with his grandson, who had a new male figure to idolize. By 1911 Harlo was a young teen, 14 years old, and still spending time at his grandfather's: “Harlo P. Beals is with us. School vacation” (11 April 1911). Sheffield’s time was no doubt limited, but Harlo clearly was a priority.

Sheffield’s recurring mention of his grandchildren’s ages in his diaries shows his progressively more personal and familial approach, as when he notes that “Ray Peabody is seven years old” (5 January 1908). Sheffield likewise showed a genuine interest in his own family’s genealogy. During several years on his birthday, March 2, he slips into his diaries that he has aged another year well into his 70s. This brings to light just one dimension of Sheffield's awareness of his own vulnerability and mortality. Between the years 1901 and 1914 he records 21 of the funerals of his friends and family he attends.

Sheffield already knew that he was not immortal. During December 14-29 of 1904--just before the death of Otis Beals-- he was laid low by the "grippe" (what we now call the flu). The recovery time for him to get back to work became longer with every sickness. But like a stubborn old grandfather, Sheffield continued to bounce back several times over his last decade of life. In January of 1906, he mentions repairing an old sleigh--similar to a grandfather of today working on a beloved car. His later years still were active as a knowledgeable “handy-man” grandfather, who at age 80 years old (well past his life expectancy) continued to “chore” around the farm until his death in 1914.

Over the four volumes of Sheffield’s dairies there is an increase in the quantity and description of the term “Thanksgiving." Between 1849-1860 there are only three mentions; between 1861-1869 there are four. Between 1885-1888 and 1894-1899 there are seven mentions, and the final set of diaries contains five mentions--each of which is quite extensive. Sadly, there is a difference between the family's Thanksgiving of 1910 and of Sheffield's last years. “Had a Thanksgiving dinner at G.L. Peabody’s," he writes. "Mary Emma Beals and children, Helen and two children, and mother were here. Starr and Marion and little Sarah” (24 November, 1910). After "Mother"--Peabody’s wife--passed away in the summer of 1913, he does not talk about Thanksgiving anymore. But his increased interest in his grandchildren and in the family's genealogy suggest he was preparing for a world after he had departed.