Friday, December 15, 2023

Grandpa Prater's Wrestling Moves

My Grandpa Prater, my mother's father, was a big man, towering over my father and uncles, and rugged even in his mid-60s, with thick arms and shoulders and huge hands.  He wore overalls, sometimes with a white t-shirt underneath, sometimes without, so you could see his hard round pecs dusted with white hair.

He was a man's man, always doing something with his sons and sons-in law and various friends: hunting, fishing, playing horseshoes, working on cars.

He had a thick Kentucky accent that was virtually incomprehensible, but he didn't say much anyway.  When the family gathered in the living room to play cards and exchange gossip, he kept silent unless someone asked him a question.  The indoors was uncomfortably stuffy; he'd rather be out with his friends and some dogs on a midnight hunt.

The only time he perked up was when someone asked him to play his banjo.  Then he'd play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" or "Cotton Eyed Joe," as good, and as fast, as the Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs at the Grand Ole Opry.

There was a sadness about him that I didn't pick up on when I was a kid.  Something deep and dark, that the little joys of everyday life couldn't penetrate.  It wasn't just that he had lost his wife, three older brothers, and four of his eleven children.  It was a dream deferred, a hope from his childhood that he abandoned.

More about that later.

I have two good stories with Grandpa Prater.  The first is about judo.

The summer after fifth grade.  We're all at the farmhouse, but my brother and Cousin Buster are off somewhere, so I'm the only kid.  Dad and my uncles are up by the Old House, playing horseshoes.  I'm not allowed because I'm too little.  I don't necessarily like horseshoes, but I like hanging out with the men, especially when my only other option is sitting in the farmhouse with my Mom and aunts, gossipping about who did what with whom thirty years ago.

I'm wandering aimlessly through the side yard and the rhubarb patch when Grandpa Prater appears, wraps his huge paw around my shoulder, and says "I hear you're taking wrestling."

(I'm not going to try to transliterate his incomprehensible Kentucky accent.  Use your imagination.)

"Wrestling?  No, I'm studying judo.  It's a Japanese sport.  We wear white robes and throw each other."

"Judo?"  He repeats the unfamiliar word.  "Did you know I was a wrestler in high school?"

He takes my hand and leads me up the hill toward the Old House.  It's difficult to understand him, but by interrupting with many questions, I get the gist of his story:

In the Kentucky hills in the 1920s, it was unusual to go past the eighth grade, but the adolescent Tony (who I assume looked like this) was smart as a whip, so his parents allowed him to go on through twelfth grade at Salyersville High School. His best subject was music -- he sang and played the banjo, like on the Grand Ole Opry. That got the bullies riled, so to prove that he was a he-man, he went out for wrestling and basketball, too.

I have that problem!  At Denkmann, raising your hand too often or getting high grades on too many tests draws the ire of Mean Boys.

By now we are on top of the hill, in the men-only zone behind the Old House.  Dad asks, "Wanna join us, Tony?"

He doesn't ask me.

"Well, sure, but right now Boomer's going to show you all his wrestling moves.  Judo, I mean."

I'm what?   Try to throw someone who is twice as tall as me, and a solid mass of muscle?  And my grandpa?  I don't think so!

But Dad and my uncles are gathered around to watch the show.

"C'mon, you can't hurt me.  I'm strong as an ox.  I was wrestling guys before your Daddy was born."

Sighing, I grab Grandpa by the shoulder and hip and try the easiest throw, basically tripping your opponent.  To my surprise, he goes down easily and pulls me on top of him.

"Dagnabit, you did it!" he exclaims.  "That there judo is powerful stuff.  Now pin me.  Come on, pin me to the ground!"

I scamper on top of him, feeling his hard firm chest, smelling his Aqua Velva cologne and hint of whiskey, and press his arms over his head.

He pushes his arms down and slides me down his trunk, as easily as one might push off a pair of pants.  I feel his hard belly and the mass of his crotch.

"Well, your pinning needs some work, but other than that, you're a natural.  Hear that, Frank?  You sign this boy up for wrestling!"

Dad grins at me as if I've achieved a major goal.  And maybe I have.  "C'mon, Boomer," he says, "Play horseshoes with us.  You're old enough now."

I did go out for wrestling a year later, when I started junior high.

The next story about my grandpa involves sneaking into his bedroom to "borrow" his banjo.

See also: Grandpa Prater and his Banjo


  1. Ok, I fixed the tenses in the story, and my Grandpa played the banjo, not the guitar.

  2. It really wasn't a very erotic story, in spite of the nude photos of my grandfather as a teenager and an adult, so I changed the title to "My Kentucky Grandfather's Wrestling Moves" or something like that.

    1. "Erotic story about my grandfather" implies (outright states) things I would rather not.

      But yeah, wrestling is probably the universal male bonding activity.

    2. I didn't mean to imply that he did anything improper, just that he was rather attractive, a big, muscular bear.

  3. Your story suggests that your grandfather had plans for his life that he wasn't able to act upon. A career in music? Or do you think that, if he had had the freedom, he might have preferred men?

    1. Grandpa Prater told us that he wanted to go to college and become a science teacher, but he got married right out of high school instead. And he kept asking me if I liked science/wanted to become a scientist, so I'm going to go with that as his "dream deferred."

    2. I don't think he had any significant same-sex interests. There were a lot of heterosexual artifacts in the house, like a cheesecake calendar and glasses featuring semi-clad girls.

  4. Thanks for the additional info, Boomer. I do feel bad for your grandfather -Not being able to pursue his dreams. At least you have had more freedom to do that! :)



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