Thursday, October 8, 2009

One Hundred Years Ago

On this day one hundred years ago, my father was born. He passed away in 1996, but, like all the others of his generation, he witnessed the transformation of this country. The automobile, the airplane, space flight, atomic energy, home computers, the Internet; they all came of age during his lifetime. He could vividly describe seeing his first automobile, eating his first hamburger, riding a train for the first time and his first airplane flight. These were great events to him.

He grew up in an era of transition. During his young years he walked or rode a horse or a mule for transportation. He cut and hauled cross ties and "acid" wood in a wagon to the rail head, some 25 or 30 miles away. Did I mention that he surreptitiously hauled a bit of corn liquor at the same time? One of the odd jobs that he performed as a youngster was assisting various still operators with transporting the raw materials to the job site. The operation of stills was only condemned by a few. It was considered an acceptable means of making a living in these isolated mountains of Georgia.

My father's father was killed in a coal mine in W. VA in 1920 at the age of 60, when my father had just turned eleven years old. His death left my grandmother with six mouths to feed. The oldest was 20, so he was about to go out on his own. My father was the next oldest son. In a short time, he would become more responsible for the family. It was a family like so many today. The girls in the family would shortly experience what so many teenage girls today experience far too early in life. Children were born out of wedlock, only one of which lived beyond a few days. My father would be the only real father she would know for many years.

He lived through two world wars, Korea, Vietnam. His grandfather was a Civil War veteran and he heard first hand the stories of that war. He knew the local boys, who chose to avoid the draft in WWI. When WW II came along he was 32 years old and newly married with a newborn, a wife, and mother-in-law to support. He was not required to serve because of his family responsibilities, but he did his part, working at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta, GA, constructing B-29's.

When electricity came to the area shortly after WW II, my father sought employment with the company constructing the power lines that would provide power to the local households. Prior to the war he had worked on the TVA projects that constructed two flood control and hydroelectric dams in the area. Now he would be helping to distribute the power that they generated.

My father was not a farmer. He had tried. During the 1920's and 30's, he had traveled to south Georgia to work on the vegetable farms. When he married my mother in 1938, he went to live with her and her mother on their family farm. He planted a few crops, but the money wasn't there and subsistence was not his idea of living, I suppose. Instead he chose to follow the power line construction company as a crew foreman. He continued until his retirement in 1972, running power to households around the southeast as power was first distributed. Later they would concentrate on building the large transmission lines across the eastern part of the U.S.

When he retired, he returned to his home permanently. For the next 26 years he spent much of his time as a hospital "pink lady," volunteering at the local hospital and nursing home. I'm sure he brought much joy to those sick and infirm people. He loved humor and he loved music. Shaped note gospel singing was a joy to him. As a young man he led the singing at his church. Later he would often attend singing conventions. He often sang and led singing at the nursing home and at local singings around the area.

It all came to an end in April of 1996 at a nursing home in Clayton, GA, an hour's drive from home. Unfortunately, we were not able to get him into the local nursing home, a place where he would have received special love and care from those with whom he had worked for so long. It might have extended his life, but then in his condition at the time, he would have been very unhappy. Fortunately, he was only in the nursing home for a short time.

It a good life and an adventurous one. He saw much and experienced so much. He devoured it heartily, savoring every moment and remembering them all so very vividly. Always one to enjoy telling a good story, he did not fail to pass his experiences and memories on to others.

Today's world is better because of people like my father, but it misses them as well. They knew hardship and trouble and they were better for it. If they are looking down now, I am quite sure they are very disappointed at what we have become in the short time that they have been away. It is so sad that we cannot seem to carry on what they worked so hard to build.


Lori A. Weaver said...

My grandmother lived to be 93 and her stories as a sharecropper are as fresh in my memory as today's news. My father's stories of not being able to go to school on days due to cotton pickin' got me through college. He showed me how to plant a seed and nuture it to grow.

It seems that the stories that they told provide us with a clear appreciation of happiness and the tireless journey it commands. It seems speaking was more of an artform and not the background music it has become today. I too wonder what my grandmother would think of the world today? No matter what I know that she would say it right. Its her spirit that inspires me each day to tell the stories of this journey. That art is the heart of the Historian--not the method.

That Baptist Ain't Right said...

You dad was a good man & you are as well. Good job!

Diane J Standiford said...

My great aunt Vi (a 2nd mother to me) is 102. She is well, but can't see or hear much. What would she think of today's world? I think she would do much of what she did before, travel, play cards, try new inventions, speak her mind, probably start her own business. Her life would have been much better. Her own mom would have lived longer, not died from TB, her oldest brother could have gone to AA, my uncle who died at 11 from a broken arm (too much ether) would have lived. She would have gotten a better education. I guess my point is that every generation makes its own way. The civil war, slavery, hidden homosexuality, women who couldn't vote, the good old days had their evils too, we all do what we can according to our character to make the world a better place for the next generation.

foxofbama said...

Great family story and very well written.
Tom Lolley who is memorialized at the Truett Camp just up the road from you in Hayesville, NC loved to tell the story about the fellow up around Mars Hill who upon seeing his first plane flying over the mtns in 1914 or so Ran in the House and Said:

Mary, it's Jesus and he's coming in on Two Planks.

Lolley said the old mountaineer went under the bed an unbeliever but came out on the other side Trusting in the Glorious Return.

Georgia Mountain Man said...

Great story, Fox. I had not heard it, and I can't wait to pass it on.

Vagabonde said...

I enjoyed reading your post. It is a nice tribute to your dad.