DNA proves ‘Cinderella’s slipper’ for kin of Tin Grippa
Pluff Mud Chronicles
Charles W. Waring III and his longtime friend, the late David A. Farrow, enjoyed a strong run of jointly penning these “Pluff Mud Chronicles.” I recently met my new friend Charles while doing some research and found him to be a true Charlestonian and Southern gentleman.
I am pretty sure that I never met David Ashby Farrow, aka “Gooch,” but I have to wonder how many times our paths may have crossed throughout the years. We sure had many chances. I arrived on the banks of the Ashley at The Citadel on August 25, 1975 about the time David was finishing at the C of C. During those years it was not uncommon for cadets to go to some of the places he was known to frequent like Captain Harry’s Blue Marlin Bar or Big John’s Tavern. Perhaps we bumped elbows at the Ark where some of the cadets were known to visit after slipping out the gate for a drink.
We could have sat at adjacent tables at any of the amazing places to eat around Charleston. I have to wonder if he led one of the historic Charleston tours that my parents took me on during their handful of visits. Perhaps I served him a drink or two on King Street in the summer of ’76 when I helped two recent graduates try their hand at opening a bar.
He had to drive up I-26 right past the house in which I grew up, near Inman, S.C., on the way to Christ School in Arden, N.C. Who knows, maybe we waited in line together to fill up during the gas shortage. I have resided in Greenwood, S.C. for the past 35 years, but Charleston has been my second home since the 70s. With an office in North Charleston, there has rarely been a month that has gone by that I did not find a way to the Holy City. I can only wonder how many of his articles I have read or if I ever listened to him on WTMA radio.
There is a good chance that we could have met after Hurricane Hugo. I spent the next 13 months staying at the King Charles Inn on Meeting Street (which I bet David claimed was haunted) while doing damage assessments for the city of North Charleston, The Citadel and numerous other state buildings including those hit really hard at the Fort Johnson Wildlife and Marine Research Center. Our trips to Charleston became even more frequent between ’02 and ’15 when at least one of our three sons were almost always at The Citadel. I am learning that at least one of the summer houses that son Tanner rented during those years was very near David. What are the chances that he ate at Jim-N-Nicks, 82 Queen, Barsa Tapas or Anson while my oldest son Thomas Jr. was working in those restaurants while attending culinary school?
On March 5, 2018 David posted that he just did something that he swore he would never do. He ordered a DNA kit from ancestry.com David was adopted by the Farrow family when he was five months old. He said “I am curious, to see where I came from. I suspect from the British Isles may have something to do with it. They might even be able to winnow it down to where I came from in the U.S. Who knows?”
David A. Farrow died on April 13, 2018 without ever knowing who his biological parents were.
This past Christmas, some friends gave us ancestry.com DNA kits. During New Years, I spat in the tube provided, poured in the preservative, sealed it up and dropped it off at the U.S. Post Office.
I download the results four weeks later. The results indicate that 85 percent of my ancestors came from England, Wales and Northern Europe, 11 percent from Germanic Europe, 3 percent from Ireland and Scotland (which I expected to be greater) and 1 percent from South Africa. They settled across the Southern states.
Getting my initial attention for matches, Brett and Jan popped up; ancestry.com said are both my 1st cousins. Brett is the son of my mother’s sister and Jan is the daughter of my mother’s only brother. The two of them have an average shared DNA with me of 765 centimorgans (whatever that is) from 39 segments. Even my father’s first cousin, Eloise, along with her daughter and granddaughter were also accurately listed as matches!
At the very top of the list there was a man who was predicted with “extremely high confidence” to be a close family relationship having 1,861 centimorgans from 53 segments. The name of the man was David Farrow.
His pictures revealed a much, much closer resemblance to my father, Major Jordan, than either of my two brothers, Mark and Mike, or me. I am convinced that we shared the same father and that we are half-brothers.
About the time that David was born, “The Maj,” the nickname that some of my Citadel classmates gave my daddy, was working for multiple building contractors traveling all around the Southeast as an iron worker. He might work on a specific job for just a few weeks and the next job, if it was big, might last for six months or longer. I find it strangely comical that the late John G. Thornhill gave David the moniker of “Tin Grippa,” a nickname that was given him while working on a house painting crew when he held on to a tin roof for dear life while caught in the winds of a summer afternoon thunderstorm. As a young man, The Maj was reported to be quite the physical specimen of a man to have a 48” chest and 28” waist. On occasion he would travel outside of the South and he worked from time to time in New York City.
While working with a crew above the Avenue of the Americas, more than 60 stories high, with his tools and a bag of bolts hanging from his belt he made the connection on his end. Then, on a dare, instead of walking across the top of the girder to unloose the choker cable suspended from the crane, he hand-walked the girder, hanging from below, to the center and while hanging from one hand he removed the cable with his free hand.
Some of the iron workers gave him the nickname “Spud.” A spud wrench is a multi-purpose tool that on one end has a tapered spike like steel bar that is used to line up the bolt holes in the column with the holes in the girder. The other end has an open face wrench used to tighten the bolts. He got the nickname when he scattered the group of those New York boys with his spud wrench for putting down his Southern heritage.
Major and his brother, Carter, as well as their sister, Judy, were known for holding court with the ability to spin a story. After watching a number of David’s YouTube videos, reading a number of columns and seeing the books he published, there is no doubt where he got his ability to embroider a colorful story. I’m not sure if I should take it as a compliment on not, but I think that my youngest son, Taylor, may have put it best when he made the statement that he was grateful that he “inherited the gift of embellishment!”
Before he died, it was very obvious and several of his friends have shared with me, just how much David wanted to know his family origins. I am saddened that I never got to know David and that I was not able to share information and stories with him about Major and his other biological family members.
At this point I can only find those friends who knew and loved him most and relate these stories to them while learning as much as I can about the brother I never had the fortune to know.
I know David would have been thrilled to meet his half-brother and especially pleased to know he was also most kind and gracious, an accomplished engineer, loving husband and proud father of three Citadel graduates. So much of what we all take for granted with our own families was just up the road for our David — a wonderful and loving South Carolina family with lots of thriving connections and history across the state. Since I “inherited” David as a part of the family, I always looked upon him as a kind of older brother from another mother; that makes us sideways cousins, Tommy.
Many of us think of David frequently and wish we could run him some fried chicken and Diet Coke and hear his take on President Trump’s latest tweet. While visiting, he might have wanted to play a few rock tunes on YouTube as he explained where he was when he heard the song the first time. It could be that he wanted to tell you how much he was looking forward to seeing a lady lawyer up in Maine. He was — and then was no more; the reality slaps us silly daily.
David never saw the proof of ancestry that he expected might at least be worth a newspaper column. The “Tin Grippa” was unable to learn that he most definitely did not inherit his father’s fearlessness of heights and how that would have amused my pal. He would have howled with laughter and then called Bruce, Drew, Walter, William, Howell — and on and on — to tell them. However, who is surprised that David’s father, uncle and aunt — and now his nephew — had the ability to tell a captivating tall tale? We at the salmon sheets are honored to be a part of this family reunion — obviously incomplete due to David’s demise — and welcome a growing friendship with the Jordans. After all, someone from the “Tin Grippa’s” clan might have some embellishment in ink for us; it is a family tradition.
If you have a legend for the Pluff Mud team to uncover or a historical quirky point you wish for us to address, please send same to firstname.lastname@example.org.