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George Clifford Meakins

May 9, 2021
I snapped this when we had just one child and we visited Della and Lawrence in Hall, Montana.


My daughter Clara asked me to write about her maternal grandfather, George Clifford Meakins, whom she never met.

George was a cowboy with little formal education.  He was born in Mobridge, South Dakota, April 3, 1899, to John and Cora Jane Meakins.  George had a bunch of siblings:  Ethel, Pearl, Harley, Vern, Elmer, Dorothy, and Merle.

Mobridge is situated on the Little Missouri River.  George’s dad either died when a mule kicked him in the head or from tuberculosis.  Hard to tell fact from story with George.

Impressions of George come flooding in, not in any sequence, just impressions.  He was a weather-beaten, old-timer.  Penny was always proud to say she was George’s daughter, and often identified herself as such.

Once, in 1972, before Bob was born, when Todd, Penny and I were traveling across Montana, we checked at Garrison Junction Cafe to locate George.  I walked up to a long cafe counter and asked the line of weathered cowboy-looking types if they knew where I could find George Meakins.

“He’s generally at the Corner Bar in Deer Lodge,” answered one gruffly.

I thanked him and we drove the 30 or 40 miles to Deer Lodge to the above bar.  

The woman tending bar directed me back to the area with the pool tables.  The room was dark with several tables under hanging lights.  There, seated in a kitchen chair back in a corner in the dark was a wizened old man.  “George?” I asked.  ‘I seem to remember seeing a dime on the rail of a nearby table.

“Hello,” he answered.  

I asked him if wanted to go with us to visit his daughter Della and her family in Hall, Montana.  He responded by standing and walking with me to the car.  It was almost like he was waiting for us to invite him.

George didn’t drink;  he smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes.  He played pool with unsuspecting, probably half-drunk cowboys.  Perhaps the gruff guy at Garrison Junction lost to old George.

He often didn’t say much.

I remember the first time I met George in the Spring of 1970.

Penny and I met up with him briefly in Deer Lodge at George’s sister Pearl’s house.  This was before Penny and I even considered marriage.  We had broken off our relationship when I joined the military service. After basic I got a 30-day leave of absence so I drove from my mother’s in Dillon to Missoula to visit old friends.

I was soon to be headed to Marine Corps training, Penny was headed to her mother’s in Lewistown.  

I figured she and I might never see each other again, so I felt kind of melancholy.  I had driven my mother’s car to Missoula, picked up Penny, and we drove to Deer Lodge together.

We sat at a dining room table:  George, Penny, Pearl, and me.  Pearl’s husband stood nearby, as if waiting on us.  After some small talk, Penny asked her dad if he would give her a ride to Lewistown.

“I had to sell my car,” answered George, looking sad.

Then he brightened up, “I still have a saddle horse, but just one saddle.”

We chuckled a bit, changed the subject.  I felt distinctly bad for the old man.

Quite a while later Penny noticed her dad’s pink Ford parked in front of Pearl’s house.  She turned pink when she realized she’d been taken in.  He did give her a ride to Lewistown.

I ended up marrying Penny in 1971.

George—I have a photo of him—was a traditional cowboy who bought good clothes:  wool shirts, blue jeans.  He often had a wool hat with earflaps, the kind with a decorative ball on top.  I don’t know if those are still a thing.  He had huge, square hands that had been burned by the sun.  His nose and ears were nibbled away from skin cancers.  Penny said he wore long underwear every day of his life, so he had pale arms and legs, and the top of his head was also white.  He generally had a short haircut.  Penny said she enjoyed playing with his hair when she was a girl.

George died in early 1975 in Missoula.  When we saw him at Saint Patrick Hospital, a radio in his room was playing, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”  George asked us how the roads were.  Penny told him she loved him, that he was a good dad.  Penny offered to sing him a song, but he declined.  He died in a matter of hours.

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  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    This is a very good story of a real character who was always ready to share a joke of his own I expect.
    A heartwarming tale about Penny’s dad.
    Thanks, Dan.

  2. Clara Roberts permalink

    Dad, thank you for writing this. I love that people in Garrison Junction knew where to find grandpa George. Of course I want to hear more. More! I love you.

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