An Interview With a Dorsey

Photo of Paw Paw (part of one where he’s holding me)

After a brief greeting with my grandpa and my own fumbling for my questions, we got down to our interview almost immediately.

The questions were designed to reveal insight into how a typical Dorsey in my family views his life, history, and family. I aim to discuss his work with racing, the Navy, his career at IMI, and his side job as a goat-rancher. Additionally, I gained his opinions and speculations on our family history, along with learning some things about it from each other ourselves.

1)_ Which part of your life would you say was the most influential : The navy, racing, the time you’ve spent with IMI, or something else?

A)_ “I’d say the Navy.”

“Why?”

“I guess cause I got to go all over the world and it teaches you structure, a way to live, good background, you know, being an American. I guess it’s cause it’s what you believe in and it fixes you like what you’re supposed to do in responsibility. In other words, it’s a way of living, I guess. Something to do with American — i*t’s not just fun and games; it was a job. It taught you self respect, you know boot camp and all that taught you could do, what you could become.”

2)_ What part, if any, of our heritage influences you the most?

A)_ “Where we come from, my daddy, my grandpa, and them — the way his daddy was- we just passed on things, you know? You see, we didn’t have things to record or keep or whatever — it was just being able to tell one and the next one, and — you know- about our bloodline and who we was and where we come from. Now it’s a lot easier. They can gather all this information up and social media happens in real time , but see my uncle lived in a time when he went to Vietnam and all that and he didn’t have no social media, and — I don’t know since — it’s been like evolution — see they had the cars and now the phone and everything else and we gotta learn from each other. See, Grandpa didn’t go to school, but like everybody now goes to college. It’s like the moon, you know, it never would have been possible to them and now we can land on it. ”

3)_ Do you ever miss being a racecar driver? Why (not)?

“I love it, yeah I miss it. Now, it just takes too much time. So I would get in one now and tried it. You know, I started when I was 16 the driving, and building the cars, and getting into trouble and it’s good adrenaline rush and you build it and drive it. It’s a good feeling, you know?”

4)_ What was the greatest thing to take from being a racecar driver?

“I don’t know; what I learned is everybody thinks you can just get in the car and drive it, and you have this thing about you that you don’t see the danger or don’t worry about it, so you drive it. But, then again, you gotta understand it’s a machine and how do you make it work efficiently.”

5)_ Did it heavily impact your life in the navy?

“No, not really, it was the mechanical ability. See, the mechanical ability I had — I guess- just being able to figure things out, mechanical stuff, you know, cars and stuff like that.

“You just had a really good intuition?.”

“Yeah. Somewhere along the line I said “I wanna drive a racecar.” So, I bought one and then I drove it, you know. I was 15 when I first started driving; I had a permit. I got my license when I was 16, and actually me and Ricky (brother) took the racecar to the race track and we didn’t even have license, you know? He’d get in one and I’d pull him with another one. He got in a racecar and I pulled him in a pickup truck to the race track.”

“Oh, wow, I’ve never done anything like that.”

“I mean I’d been working since I was 13 and Ricky had been right there with me the entire time, and when daddy wasn’t there we would take it there and practice and drive it and we would leave the car there. We was just doing what we thought we needed to do. I finished school in 11th grade and I went on to Athens tech and learned more for my mechanical ability, and after that, I had a higher mechanical ability and I joined the Navy. They kept offering school after school for my mechanical ability, because I was so good.”

6)_ Aside from Italy, what all nations have you visited?

“ I been to — to start it out- I been to Mexico; Virgin Islands; Jamaica — I went to Montigo Bay in Jamaica — St. Thomas for the Virgin Islands; I went down to the coast of Cuba — in fact when Castro was big, you know; I been to Spai- I been all over Spain: Madrid, Rota, several other places; I been to Italy, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Egypt; yeah I been to 13 countries.

I counted the countries he named.

“France, and — let’s see- I’ve been to Malaysia, and I’m missing some. I’ve been to 13 of them though. Let’s see… I probably have to look at the map; it’s all in the mediterranean — Greece, and there’s one more. I can’t think of what it is.

”Was it Isreal,-”

“Yeah. We was on the coast there; I’ll have to go back and look if we went on land. There was 13 of them and… 77,78,79 were the years I went to them. I visited them in those three years.”

7)_ Did you ever forget about home in these countries or just not want to return?

“No, I didn’t wanna stay there. Jamaica and the Virgin Islands I really enjoyed, and it was fun, you know, but I didn’t wanna stay there.”

8)_ What part of the navy stuck with you the most?

“Probably the Aircraft carriers. Yeah, when I was on it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I went in there for 3 years 1 month and 1 day. I knew that when I went in there. Now, it’s not so big, but then it was big. It had 5000 men and 90 jets, you know. It was huge- probably the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. We had everything on there — we could teach you anything.”

9)_ Do you ever miss being on a boat at sea?

“Not the boat and not the sea; I don’t care nothing about either one of them, but the military: yeah.”

10)_ What would you say you were most glad to see upon returning home?

“Not anything particular, you know — it was just being back. It was a different world, you know. We didn’t have Walmart, it was just mom and pop stores, so it made you appreciate what you had.”

11)_ Would you say you understand automobiles or bigger machines best?

“It don’t matter. I worked the big ones this weekend, and before I left, I told them what they needed to do. And they’s some people that do this stuff just for a job, and they’s people that know how to come in there and do what they do and they’re just good at it like guessing its weight or how to move it. It’s funny when you work with someone “smart,” because they don’t see all the logic. The engineers come in and they can’t do anything hands on. They do it by theory, you know.”

12)_ What made you go into IMI?

“I’ve always done something to do with mechanical ability; it’s just a drive, it’s like an addiction, you know? I like the mechanical ability, and the pressure, and how to do things.”

13)_ What inspired you to get goats for a pasture?

“I guess cause I had land and it wasn’t being used, and the wild hogs were coming up here and everything else. I know that if goats are smart and if you buy the right stuff you can make money with it and it’ll do something for you. Actually I sold some goats this past. I sold the goats at a price that people don’t even believe, and they’re good breeds. I started out buying them to clear the hogs out and clear the land, but now it’s got to be where they’re pets and I got four bloodlines and two kinds so I can breed back and forth to make a better goat. They aren’t too good to eat, so people either buy them for pets or livestock. It gives me something to do to stay busy; it’s a hobby I guess, but it’s something you wanna do that you think about. It just ain’t a cat or a dog. It’s livestock that you’re raising and not just to eat.”

14)_ Why haven’t you retired yet?

“I don’t know. I can’t figure it out yet. That’s what we (at IMI) were trying to figure out in the last two or three weeks and you know — I told them a year ago I was gonna retire and I didn’t, and I still wanna do this. I’m in good shape, I exercise, and I don’t have blood pressure and it feels good.”

15)_ Would you ever change any part of our family’s history? To what and why?

“Nah. Not really. The Dorsey’s are a pretty rough bunch. And my grandpa, he was mean. He wasn’t mean to me, what I’m saying is he was mean; my daddy was mea- we all were mean. I guess we got a mean side, but we got a good side. But, we just don’t take shit. And when grandpa said something, that was it. Same way with Daddy. Daddy I could get away with a lot more, but Grandpa and Daddy were different, but the same. Grandpa was grandpa: we went hunting, we went fishing, and we done things like that, and when he said something, it was words, you know. It wasn’t nothing else. But see, Daddy could get away a little more with grandpa and it was the same way with Ricky and Angel (sister) and all them.”

20)_ Would you ever want to see or witness a part of our history?

“Yeah, I’d love to see that revenuer get shot; that’d been cool as shit. But, that’s just allegedly he got shot. We don’t need to stipulate nothing.”

No context was given, but it has been said before that the revenuer was warned not to cross the river from Georgia to South Carolina, or he would be shot. Well, he got shot. Allegedly.

“My grandpa and all them — I knew him real well — the Dorsey side of the family was a lot different than Mama’s side of the family. I know all my daddy, and his brothers, and cousins and all them: we’re Dorsey’s. We’re one big family.”

18)_ I don’t know for fact which Dorsey came to America and bore our family, but it was in the 1600’s; why do you think we’ve stayed here for so long?

“We stayed in America because this is where we wanted to be. I would say our roots are right there in Oconee county, or Seneca, or Walhalla, whatever. My grandpa said that’s where we were from, all of us. When I was in the Navy, I met another Dorsey.

This is weird: I was in Orlando, FL, and I met another Dorsey. I was in the chow hall and there’s thousands and thousands of men in there. Now I seen on his shirt it said ‘Dorsey,’ and I said ’Dorsey?’

He said ‘Yeah.’

I said ‘Where you from?’

‘Ohio.’

‘But you originally from Westminster or Walhalla in South Carolina.’

He said ‘No, I’m not: my daddy was.’ He said his mama married another man and they moved to Ohio. So he was a distant cousin, but probably not that far apart. But see we all just kinda migrated out of that area.”

“I’ve never met a Dorsey outside of our family.”

“I’ve met a few and they all say they come from Georgia or somewhere around here. There’s a bunch of David Dorsey’s, too. My hand therapist’s ex boyfriend was a David Dorsey. She had a look on her face when they called for me and I came around the corner to her. That’s when I found out there’s a David Dorsey up there in Gainesville”

19)_ Have you ever met a Dorsey from Ireland?

“No, but we had a press and everything. I know we from there. We used to get this family tree thing — we used to get it back in the 80’s. They’d send us a invite to the Dorsey castle over there. There’s a castle that all the Dorsey’s live in. We migrated from there and they used to send that out. That was years ago, but it seems now back then family was family and it was different, but now you got so many different cultures in us now. We got indian (Cherokee) in us.”

20)_ Do you think we were alcoholics before we were making moonshine?

“Yeah. We come from Ireland. Then, we got with Cherokee indians and they don’t do good with alcohol. Yeah, well alcoholism and drug addiction is in our family pretty heavy; it’s in your DNA and a lot of people don’t believe it is, but it is, cause I swore I’d never do it and I did. Cause, I didn’t drink but one beer and that was it. I was going into DT’s and shakes and it was like that, like a light switch. Well I drank a lot and smoked and shit when I was in the military and got out and didn’t drink or nothing but maybe 6 beers a year or something like that. Then one day I had headache and I felt bad and wouldn’t been working. There was this man at this shop out there — he ended up dying, he was an alcoholic — he said ‘Drink one of these Budweiser’s,’ and I said ‘Shit, I don’t want no Budweiser.’ But I drank it, and after that I wanted another one and that was it. I remember that day; I had to drink every day after that. It’s like a light switch, it’s not something you practice.”

21)_ Did any of our ancestors race or bootleg?

“Race? Like a racecar? Daddy ‘n them did. That’s not why I done it, it just seems to be a part of our DNA. As for the bootlegging, who knows? It might have been in the bloodline from the moonshiners and the bootleggers.”

22)_ Did you ever bootleg or make ‘shine?

“No, no. I never did."

After all is said and done, I believe my grandfather is an accomplished man who has managed a full, successful life. He has managed to spin tires in the name of glory, protect America in the name of freedom, repair machines the size of buildings in the name of boredom, and even pasteurize acres of land with a few goats in the name of utility. While my grandfather has not made moonshine, he is still the same Dorsey deep down from a time when liquor, love, and lust were all we knew. I am proud to see him turn our family line in a different direction, and I try to do so even more. I can’t say my life would be the same without him, nor would many other lives.

My grand father’s grandfather Thaddius with his wife, my great-great grandmother
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