On his birthday a few years before he died, Pap told me, “It’s a good thing, I guess. You celebrate your birthday, celebrate that you’re still here. But when you get to be my age, you don’t like to see these birthday’s come around so often.”
He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, 77 years ago today. He was the only member of his immediate family not born in Maryland; his father, Clay, had moved to Delaware recently in connection with his job on the Western Maryland Railroad. The family would move back soon enough, and Pap would grow up in and around Clear Spring, just as I would fifty years later.
That’s a clipping from the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. They misspelled my great-grandfather’s name as “Kay,” but that’s him at the top – Clay Upton Shives, head of the household. Below him is Mattie, my great-grandmother, who I would know as either Nan or Great Granny before she died in 1991. Clay would die two years before I was born, so I never knew him. Next is Gene, Pap’s older brother – Uncle Gene. Pap’s the last line: Donald L. Shives, only a few months old when the census was taken in the spring of 1930. His sister, my Aunt Janice, hadn’t been born yet.
He was born sixty days into the Great Depression, exactly two months after Black Tuesday. Three weeks earlier, on December 3, President Hoover addressed Congress with the good news that the worst of the stock market crash was over, and the economy was now in recovery. Sergio Leone, Audrey Hepburn, June Carter, Anne Frank, Yasser Arafat, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gordon Solie were all born that year, but as far as I can tell, no one of note on December 29. No one else of note, I should say. Pap gets today all to himself.