The “V”

As a boy of five years old, I attended Kindergarten at Mrs. Knight’s Kiddie College. Our classes took place in the First Baptist Church. We would have our recess behind the church where some swing sets and see saws were located. But sometimes, we would go and play in a grassy area beside the church. This area was bordered by two rows of hedges which converged into a point, thus we called it, The “V”.

Kindergarten would not be my last time in The “V”. A few years later, I would join the Royal Ambassador’s. The Royal Ambassador’s is a Bible-centered, church-based organization for boy’s in grades 1-6. We would load up in my mother’s Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon and she would drop us off between The “V” and the church. Our group would meet every week and we would stimulate our minds and spirits with teachings from the Bible. After our classroom instruction, we would exercise our bodies in The “V”. We would usually have a game of football or dodgeball. My mother would wash many a pair of blue jeans with grass stains picked up at The “V”.

Boys grow up. They get their first cars and forget about some of the things they did just a few years earlier. My ’67 Mustang would pass by The “V” hundreds of times as I drove on the “main drag” in my hometown.  Sometimes I would glance over and give it a cursory look, remembering throwing a football within its confines, but most times, I never gave it a thought. The First Baptist Church would move to a new building on a new property. The old church would still serve as a house of worship for another denomination in town. All the while, The “V” continued to stand vigil over 3rd street.

I would go on to college, then military service and then make a home in another city. Over the course of thirty years, I would come home to visit my parents and each time would find me driving down 3rd street and passing by The “V” once again. One evening, I was on the phone with my mother and she said that the city and county were going to erect a Veteran’s Memorial on a spot next to the old First Baptist Church. Upon hearing that, I knew exactly where it would be located. It had to be, The “V”. No more fitting place would be suited to stand as a memorial. The symbolism of The “V” is fitting for honoring the Veteran, but it also stands for Victory. Long before the iconic two finger “peace sign” of the late sixties, Winston Churchill first used the gesture as a symbol for Victory. To me, Churchill’s symbol holds more meaning, for without Victory, there is no peace.

During one of our evening chats, my mother mentioned that she would be sending me some forms to fill out for the Veterans memorial. The memorial committees plan was to have individual engravings of each veteran’s service information as part of the monument. She also asked me to fill in the service information for two of my deceased brothers and my father. My surviving brothers filled out their individual information and my oldest brother filled out one for his father.

Time passed and I received another call from my mother. She said, “They are going to dedicate the memorial on the Saturday after Veterans Day. I sure would like for you to come over so we can go together.” I said, “Of course” and confirmed the time I would pick her up.

It was a cold, crisp November morning and the sun shined brightly. I walked into my mother’s house and she was standing in the kitchen with an eager look in her eyes. She smiled and said, “Are you ready to go?” I answered back, “I sure am” and I gave her a hug. She was beautiful. You would not think that she was 89 years old. Her hair and make-up were perfect and she was wearing a stunning overcoat in her favorite color, red. She was also prepared. She had a thermos of coffee and the ever-present snacks in her purse.

We drove to town and found a parking place next to the church across the street. As we made our way up to the memorial, my mother greeted many friends with a beaming smile on her face. There was already a large crowd assembled as we made our way to some chairs that stood next to the memorial. We sat down and waited on the ceremony to begin. As the first person began to speak, my mother reached for my hand and smiled. This memorial meant a great deal to my mother. She, and many more citizens of Butts County, had earned it.

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The architecture of the monument is beautiful and brilliant. At the point of The “V” stands our Nation’s flag and the flags of the different branches of the Armed Forces. Extending out on either side are angled walls which contain engraved stone square blocks. Each square is engraved with the name and service information of the veteran. At the top of The “V” stands the main feature of the memorial. It is an impressive black granite wall. On the front of the wall facing the street is the engraving, “Jackson Veterans Memorial Park”. The reverse side of the wall facing into The “V” is engraved at the top with, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All”. Below this inscription are the names of all the service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Listed by war, the names detail the human cost of liberty that was paid by the citizens of a small rural county in middle Georgia.

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There were eight soldiers lost in World War I. One of those soldiers was my mother’s Uncle Jesse. She would never know him. Jesse was a soldier in Company G, 148th Infantry. He succumbed to the effects of gas in the trenches on the French frontier. He died on October 22, 1918. He was 25 years old.

There were over 40 service members lost in World War II. Two of those lost were first cousins of my mother. 2nd Lieutenant Robert C. Reynolds, U.S. Army Air Corps was killed when his bomber was shot down over Austria on May 10th, 1944. He was the only Air Corps serviceman killed in action from Butts County. He was 22 years old. Seaman 2nd Class Charles E. Carr, U.S. Coast Guard, was lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean on January 29th, 1945. His obituary stated that he was a popular young man and was a talented singer. He was 19 years old.

There were 3 service members lost in Korea. One of those was my mother’s first husband. 1st Lieutenant Carl L. Kelly, U.S. Army, was killed in Korea on February 12th, 1951 while leading an assault against the enemy. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. He was 32 years old.

While sitting at the dedication ceremony, I gazed at the names on the monument wall. I then focused on the names from World War II. Over 40 families suffered the loss of a loved one. The population of the county was less than 10,000. Sacrifice was felt by all. The price of freedom and liberty does not come cheap.

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Inscribed at the bottom of the memorial wall are the words, “In this hallowed place, we remember the sons and daughters of Butts County who died so that liberty might live.” These words were penned by my cousin, J.M. Brewer. The year of the dedication, he also wrote a poignant piece titled, “In This Hallowed Place” on his blog at http://www.theliteratepen.com.

After the dedication ceremony concluded, my mother and I mingled in the crowd, speaking with family and friends. One of the encounters in the crowd was significant to the moment. My mother and I encountered “Buck” Thompson and his family. “Buck” was a World War II veteran who had served with my mother’s first husband Carl. They were both members of the “Jackson Rifles”. My father had also known “Buck” for many years. The smiles and greetings they exchanged were a metaphor for the significance of the day. They were both happy to see this standing tribute.

My mother and I would have lunch and then I said my goodbyes and headed for my home. As I drove by the memorial, I recalled the laughter and smiles of young boys playing between two rows of oblique hedges. I then reflected on the plaques with the names of all the veterans and the memorial wall with the names of the fallen. I was reminded of a statement that rings so true. “They sacrificed their tomorrows for our today.”

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His name was Albert….

A few months ago, my wife gave me a subscription to the popular genealogy website, Ancestry.com. She has always been aware of my interest in the subject and this was the perfect gift.
I began using the site immediately. From known grandparents and great-grandparents, I began to build a picture of my heritage. During my first hour of working on the site, I remembered what a business acquaintance had told me after he had built his family tree from the site. He had traced some of his ancestors to Scotland and discovered that one of his distant relations had been a noble of one of the Scottish Clans. This story peaked my excitement and I wondered if I might discover some hidden jewel in my ancestry from hundreds of years ago.

I started on my mother’s side of the family tree. I already had a great deal of names and dates from records her family had kept through the years. As I honed in on one family name, the tree led me from Georgia to North Carolina to Virginia to Rhode Island and then to England. My search had revealed that one of my ancestors had been a Colonial Governor of Rhode Island back in the 17th century. I was awestruck by the information I had been able to detect from the vast records and information provided by the website.

As I began to do my father’s side of the tree, I knew that my task would be more difficult and I would probably hit a dead-end. My paternal grandfather was an orphan. From the loosely weaved stories I had heard from my father, I knew that my grandfather had been sent to a Georgia Baptist Orphan’s Home as a young child. As the story goes, my grandfather had run away from the orphanage when he was around 10 years old. My father said that he had “jumped the fence”. He made his way back to Thomaston, Georgia, possibly remembering where he had come from or maybe just finding his way there on his escape. He found an older gentleman farmer who had known his family and he stayed with him and worked on his farm to earn his keep. My father may have told me the man’s name, but I don’t recall. As a teenager, I remember most of what my Dad had told me about my grandfather, but I didn’t write any of it down. We are usually thinking of other things when we are teenagers.

My grandfather would work for this kind man until his late teenage years. He then left to go and work in one of the cotton mills that dotted the southern landscape of the early 20th century.He was about 24 years old when he found his bride. My grandmother was 16 years old at the time. He picked her up in a horse-drawn wagon and that’s how they would begin their lives. My grandfather would continue to work in the cotton mill  and my grandmother would start having babies.

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As I searched my grandfather’s name in the database, I found a 1920 census document.  As I looked at the scanned electronic image in front of me, I was compelled to touch the screen where his name was written in grade school cursive. I felt as if somehow touching the screen would transport me back to a little house in Thomaston, Georgia in 1920 and I would watch the census taker write down the information my grandparents had told him.

I continued reading the information listed on the census questions. I was taken aback when I read the answers to two questions listed on the form. The questions were simply stated Can Read? and Can Write? The answers given next to my grandfather’s name were both No. In the back of my mind, I seemed to recall that my father told me that my grandfather could not read or write, but to see it recorded officially on a census document was really a revelation to me. My fingertips once again move over the line of my grandfather’s information. Age: 27 Race: White Occupation: Weaver. But my fingers and my eyes would stay focused on the answers to those two questions Can Read? No. Can Write? No.

My thoughts took me back to that little boy, alone in the world, finding his way, finding the family friend and farmer, finding a place to live and a place to work. He didn’t go to school, but he used his brain, his back and his hands to learn to farm and learn to use tools.

As I sat and thought more about him, I began to recall the end of his life. I was 7 years old when he passed away. My father was giving him a bath and he fell lifeless. I remember peering in on my father bathing my grandfather. My curious eyes wanting to see what my daddy was doing and seeing my grandfather sitting in the tub. When my grandfather collapsed, my father brought him into the bedroom and tried to revive him but to no avail. My last vision of my grandfather was of him laying in his coffin.

As a young man, my grandfather had been a towering figure, he stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and he had large bear-paw hands. In his elder years, he was still just as imposing to a young 7-year-old boy, but his face was soft, especially when he smiled and his blue eyes lit up. We called him “Grandpa”.  I have a few memories of my grandpa that I have been able to hold on to. My little brother and I would sometimes spend the weekend with my grandparents. I can see my grandpa sitting in his chair smiling at me and my little brother, his soft blue eyes gleaming. He would stretch out his bear-paw of a hand as if he were trying to tickle us. I can hear his bellowing voice when he called out to my grandma, “Estelle! Estelle!”

On Saturday morning after breakfast, I can remember my grandpa always putting on his hat, a fedora, and we would walk outside and look at his garden. We would then go out into the barn where he used to keep his Beagles. He raised Beagles sometimes. He also liked to enjoy an occasional pipe.

One memory of my grandparents is a telling reminder of the words I read on the census document. I remember on some of those weekend nights, my grandma would read aloud from her Bible. I thought that she was doing this for the benefit of me and my little brother, but hindsight tells me that she had done this many times before for the benefit of her husband. I remember him sitting and listening intently to our Bible lesson.

Turning away from the census document on my computer screen, I began to think about my grandpa as a young man and what he had accomplished in his life. After working in the mill in Thomaston for a few years, my grandpa and grandma and their small children moved to Griffin, Georgia. My grandpa had saved some money to buy some land. On this land, he would build his home and he would farm. He built his home with his own hands and he would build three more there on Wright street in Griffin. He also continued to work in one of the cotton mills in Griffin.

But from all of the recollections from my father, my grandpa’s proudest vocation was farming. My father’s memories recalled a gifted farmer. His furrows were straight and his dirt free from weeds. He would spend countless hours tending to his crops, ensuring a bountiful harvest.

I’m not sure if my grandpa had any political leanings, but he did not like President Roosevelt. The root of that discord comes from a story my father told me about one of my grandpa’s cotton crops. One year in the 1930’s, my grandpa had one of his most productive cotton crops, but government officials from the department of agriculture told him to plow under his crop. He couldn’t sell it because of the “New Deal” policies of the time. He was furious and lamented the losses he incurred because of Mr. Roosevelt’s policies.

My grandpa had another cotton crop during those years that he was able to sell, but took a loss because of my father. My grandpa and my father were taking the crop to market in a horse-drawn wagon. When they got to the gin, my father, clad in overalls and no shoes, jumped off the wagon and impaled his foot on a nail. The profits from the sale of my grandpa’s crop would go toward my father’s doctor bills.

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My grandpa and grandma would raise four children, two boys and two girls. My grandpa farmed and worked in the cotton mill. My grandma would raise the children, keep house and she also worked for a time in the cotton mill. They would be commonly referred to as “Cotton Miller’s”. These were working class people who would sometimes be referred to in a derogatory manner because of the work they did and their social status.

My grandpa was not rich and would never be rich, but he made a rich life for himself, his wife and his children. He was an accomplished tradesman in a cotton mill, he was a great farmer and he was a good father and husband and he was a man of God. He had started this life as an illiterate orphan, but through some hard work, perseverance and some rugged individualism, he made a good life for himself and his family.

His progeny includes a professor of biology at a large southeastern university, multiple school teachers, nurses, dental professionals, business men and women, a preacher and a former Army officer who is now a Logistician and a part-time writer. His youngest great-grandson is an executive with General Electric and his youngest great-grand daughter is an Honor student. Not a bad legacy for a man who could not read or write his own name.

I am reminded of my business friend who, through our genealogy conversations stated, “I am the great-great-great-grandson of Sir Henry McTavish, who was a Duke or Earl for one of the clans in Scotland”. Through my own ancestry research, I could say that I am a great grandson of a Colonial Governor in 17th century America. But, when I see my friend again, I think I will tell him something else. I think I will be most proud of a different legacy. I will tell him, “I am the proud grandson of an illiterate orphan, who became a farmer and a “Cotton Miller” in Griffin, Georgia. He not only made a living, but from the most meager of beginnings, he made a life. His name was Albert Daniel.”

The homes that my grandpa built with his own hands still stand on Wright street in Griffin, Georgia some 80 plus years later. When I worked in Griffin, I used to drive by that street every so often to see where I used to play as a young boy in the late 1960’s. Those homes will probably disappear with the passage of time, but the legacy of the man who built them will remain etched in the memories of his descendants.

I will continue my genealogy research of my family, who knows, I might discover some new information about my grandpa. Maybe some of my siblings and cousins who read this may be able to add some history.

Whatever the case, my proudest legacy was found only two generations away, gleaned from two questions on a census document. A revelation that revealed to me the measure of a man. The hidden jewel I found on Ancestry.com was my “Grandpa”.

Dedicated to and In Memory of my Grandpa,

Albert Daniel Sr.

1889-1970

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91 Looks Good On You

Sometimes we are remiss to be thankful for the blessings we have in our life. Not today. I counted my blessings this morning when I heard my mother’s voice on the phone. I called to wish her a Happy 91st Birthday. Not many sons have that opportunity in their lifetime. We actually celebrated her birthday yesterday with fanfare, food, presents, flowers and birthday cake.

It was a blessing once again to look down at her smiling face as she greeted me when I walked through the door. Her face has changed over the years, but it somehow never changes in the eyes of a son. For my first ten years or so, it was me who was looking up into her face, looking to her for the comfort only a mother can give. As I grew, I would never have to look up at my mother again, but I would see her smiling face look up at me.

She would look up and smile when she saw me in my cap and gown for high school graduation. She would look up and smile as she helped my Dad pin on my Lieutenants bars and she looked up and smiled into my teary eyes as I showed her her newest grand-daughter.

I told her, ” Mama, 91 sure does look good on you!”. She replied back with laughter, “Thank you! Thank you! It feels pretty good too!”.

Here is my tribute I wrote for my Mother a few years ago. I like to share it every year for her birthday on my blog. One day, it will be me once again who looks up to see her smiling face.

Happy Birthday Mama, 91 looks good on you!

Me and Mama

 

 

My Mother’s birthday is coming up on September 28th and I would like to honor her in a special way this year. I want to share her life story and what she has meant to me.

She has been called by many names. She has been called Mary, Edna, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Daniel, “Miss Edna” and “Teetnin”. It has been my good fortune to call her Mama.

She grew up in “Pepperton”, a small mill village east of Jackson during the Depression. Their bank accounts were not large, but their hearts and souls were full of love. She saw the advent of the indoor bathroom and can remember drinking a “3 cent’er” soft drink. She used to enjoy going to her Grandmother’s home and playing in the country and savoring the offerings from the fruit trees. She enjoyed playing with dolls as a little girl and swimming at the pool at Indian Springs. When she was a young teenager, she and three of her friends pooled their money and bought an old convertible “ Model A” or “Model T”, I cannot remember exactly which one. Mama had the distinct privilege of being the driver because she was the only one who knew how at the time.

Very soon, she would catch the eye of a handsome young man, Carl Kelly. In the course of their courtship, they fell in love and married. They began a new life together. He, as a soldier and she, an Army wife.

Life on army posts in those days could be challenging. I can remember mama telling me of having to go out in the snow and chopping wood for their stove and drawing water from a well pump.

Mama would soon be stricken with rheumatic fever. She would be restricted to bed rest. It was at that time that she came home to Jackson so my grandmother “Bon Bon” could help care for her. Their young sons would stay at Ft. Lewis with their father where he was helped out with the boys by some army wives. Then fate would strike again. The Korean War started up and Carl was to be called overseas.

He brought the boys back to Jackson. He then bid a tearful farewell to mama and boarded a train back to Ft. Lewis. This would be the last time that she would ever see him. Carl was killed in Korea and regaled as a war hero, as was so eloquently detailed in an article in this paper some time ago. Highway 16 running east out of Jackson was named in his honor.

A new phase of life would begin for mama and her three boys. Thru the pain and the grieving, she found an inner strength and courage to forge on with life. She had come full circle, having left Jackson as a young teenage girl, living the life of a soldier’s wife at different points on the compass, and now returning to Jackson as a young woman, a mother and a widow.

She and her boys took up residence in the Deraney apartments. She also worked for her Uncle Ralph, who had a store there in town. She also forged some lifelong friendships while living in the apartments, friendships still strong to this day. This was a period of transition. Mama would begin dating again and would meet a man from Griffin, Ed Daniel, my father. They would be married in the National Guard armory in Jackson. Right across the street would be their new home, etched out of a field where an old farm once stood. Mama had bore three sons and would soon give life to another two, me and my little brother Joe.

 

Mama is one of the wisest people I have known.  As a young child, she taught me about manners and courtesy. I still have memorized the little phrase she repeated over and over, “Yes m’am, No m’am, Thank you m’am, Please.” It is these little memories that make mama, that make all of our mothers, so special.

 I was in the second grade when tragedy would once again visit my mother. My older brother Timmy was killed in a traffic accident in California. This was my first real life lesson about grief and loss. Many years later, my brother Pat was also killed in a traffic accident. Yet, my mother displayed profound courage in working thru her grief and anguish. By watching her example, I came to understand that one could rebound and engage life again with a positive attitude and a strong relationship with God.  As I continued to grow, I would learn other lessons on life from mama’s example about dignity, character, compassion, courage, courtesy, respect and a reverence of God and love.

 

One of the most enjoyable benefits of living under Miss Edna’s roof was her cooking. Whether having a wholesome breakfast of eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast before school, or having mama’s oven BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes on a cool fall evening, it was all good. But it was also comforting, both physiologically and emotionally. A good meal shared by family imparts a sense of home and belonging. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting down to the dinner table enjoying one of mama’s meals.

When I’m feeling low or down about something, I look to my mother’s example to boost my morale and pick myself up. She is my hero and she will be forever. My soul is enriched every time I speak to her and hear her voice. Many times I wish I lived in Jackson once again so I could see her every day.

Those of us of faith no doubt wonder what it will be like when we are finally called to heaven. For me, in my own dreams, I do not see pearly gates and lands of milk and honey. My vision of heaven is that of a little boy of about 10, clad in blue jeans and T-shirt running across a field of grass in the bright sunshine. I’m running towards my house. Standing on the back porch is my mama. I reach my mama and fall into her arms with an embrace. When I realize that dream, I will know that I have made it to heaven.

 I thank God daily for blessing me and my brothers with our mother.

Thank You and Happy Birthday Mama.

I Love You,

Chip

A Memorial Day Tribute – The Picture on the Dresser

When I was a young lad of elementary school age, I would sometimes find my way into my parent’s bedroom and ramble in their closet. I would find my father’s Class A uniform coat and put it on and stare at myself in the mirror. I remember it was Khaki, a Class A uniform color in use back in the 50’s and 60’s. The right shoulder sleeve was adorned with the bright blue, white and red patch of the 11th Airborne Division. My father had been a soldier in World War II and also was in the Georgia National Guard in the 50’s. I would stand up straight and salute myself in the mirror, struggling to keep the oversized coat from swallowing my little arms.

As I practiced my close order drill, my eyes would drift around the bedroom and I would find a picture kept on my parent’s dresser. It was a picture of a man. It was not a picture of my father. The man in the picture looked a lot like my older brother Pat. Next to the picture in another frame was an award. My inquisitive eyes would try to read the big words……”The Silver Star awarded posthumously to”………. I would try to finish reading it and then I would eventually finish my drill then go and play.

As I grew older, I would eventually ask my mother who the man was in the picture. In her most loving way, she sat me down and told me that the man was my older brother’s father. She told me that he was a soldier and that he had been killed in a war. I had wondered why my brothers were so much older than me and they had a different last name.  I began to understand now why the picture was there and what it meant to my family and what it meant to me.

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This reality would further touch me on a Memorial Day long ago. We got in our car and drove to the National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. As we drove through the cemetery, I looked out over the hundreds of headstones that stood over the rolling hills. Our car finally came to rest and we all got out. My mother had an arrangement of flowers that she had purchased from one of the flower shops in town. We walked up the hill and came to find the headstone of her late husband. We placed the flowers and said a prayer. We made our way back home that afternoon and we shared hot dogs and hamburgers at a family barbeque.

Years later, I would reflect on my family, a family with brothers who have different last names. I would think about the thousands of other families who had brothers and sisters with different last names, all with the common thread of ultimate sacrifice, the final devotion of service to a country and a way of life.

The victims of war are not only the soldier, the sailor, the airman or the marine; they are also the widows, the sons, the daughters, the mother’s and the father’s. They are the families that must pick up the pieces and move forward with their lives after the loss of a loved one from war. My mother was not yet 30 years old when she faced this reality, along with three young sons whose father would not be coming home.

I am led to believe that the people who originated the Memorial Day remembrances right after the Civil War, did so not only to remember the fallen, but also to aid their own grieving and healing process. A war where hundreds of thousands lost their lives seems unfathomable to us today, but was all too real for our ancestors.

We must dutifully remind ourselves that this is not just another three day weekend to open up the summer, but a solemn remembrance of those who have given their lives in war. I will always be reminded by a memory, a memory of a picture on my parent’s dresser.

In Memory of 1st Lieutenant Carl L. Kelly, Infantry, Killed in Action in Korea, 1951.

Awarded the Silver Star

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The Last Kiss

One of the first Mother’s Days I remember is one where we were having a family get together. My grandmother was wearing a Sunday dress which was adorned with a beautiful rose corsage. It’s funny the things you remember when you are 7 years old.
The excitement in her voice and the smile on her face revealed the pride and joy of the celebration of being a mother and a grandmother. At the time, the meaning of the day didn’t make much difference to me. I was just glad to be visiting my grandmother and grandfather and playing in their yard and barn. It was a fun day for a little boy. I got to see my cousins and play with them too. We all ate great southern food prepared by our moms and aunts and grandmother. I think I managed to keep my Sunday clothes intact, but I’m sure the knees of my britches were faintly stained from sliding on my grandparents St. Augustine grass. My little brother and I were tired little troopers riding back home on Highway 16. It had been a great day for my mother, my aunts and my grandmother. It had been a great day for everybody.
That would be one of the last big gatherings at my grandparent’s home in Griffin. My grandfather passed away soon after and my grandmother’s health began to fail and she would come to live with us. Those few years she lived with us were a blessing for our family. My grandmother Daniel was a deeply religious woman. I remember her sitting in a high back chair in the living room and reading her Bible. She would also teach me a great deal about the Bible and its teachings. She would patiently read from her Bible and then she would try to translate the meaning to the little ears of her grandson. I would sit and kneel next to her chair and wait for the next passage to pass through her lips. Sometimes, my other grandmother, “Bon-Bon”, would drive over from her home in “Pep” and sit and visit. I would watch both of my grandmothers chatting together and remembering old times when they were younger ladies.
My mother would be cooking supper and she would occasionally chime in on the conversation. My father would walk in the door soon from his days work and we would all sit down to supper. From my best memories, I don’t recall seeing my father very emotional with my grandmother. He would speak to her in a matter of fact manner and I don’t remember him hugging her or sharing any physical affection. It was just the way he was I thought.
I remember the last time I saw my grandmother Daniel alive. She was on a gurney leaving our home and being placed in an ambulance. She passed away soon after.
On the day of her funeral, my father was solemn and cordial with all of the family and friends who came for my grandmother’s service. As the family gathered around right before they closed the casket, my father walked up and bent over and kissed my grandmother on the cheek. He remained bent over and he was speaking to her. I couldn’t hear what he said. He stepped away and they closed the casket. I remember looking up and seeing the tears in his eyes. Until then, I guess I didn’t understand fully the love he had for his mother. The love that starts from the moment your mother cradles you in her arms.
As the years went by and I grew older, my father would talk more about his mother and the memories he had of her. As he began to mellow as he grew older, the love he had for her would flow tenderly over his lips.
I don’t know how many more Mother’s Day’s that I will be able to share with my mother. I count each one special and I am reminded of the love that my father had for his mother. A love that was revealed to me as I watched the last kiss from a son to a mother.

Red Rose Corsage

Cedar Rock, Dirt Roads and Brotherhood

One of the joys of growing up in a small southern town was the proximity of dirt roads. You didn’t have to drive very far to get to one. I’m not sure what it is about dirt roads, but they seem to beckon the hearts of young southern boys. At least it was that way in our rural county. If you had an older brother, he would usually be the first one to introduce you to the serenity of riding on the back roads of the country with the windows down.
One of those experiences stays fresh in my mind after all these years and illustrates how the bonds of brotherhood are built and what strengthens them in our memories. I don’t remember what the occasion was or if we really needed one, but my older brother Pat took me and my little brother Joey for an excursion to Cedar Rock. If my memory serves me, it was right before Easter one year. It was a beautiful spring day in Georgia. Cedar Rock was a destination out in the far reaches of the county away from town. You would get there by traveling a few paved county roads and then turn down some old dirt roads. Cedar Rock was nothing like Stone Mountain, the large outcropping of Georgia granite that has been a tourist attraction for decades, but it was a little piece of exposed granite in the rural reaches of Butts County.
Cedar Rock had become a congregation area for the youth in the county to park their cars, build campfires and bonfires, drink a few beers, tell tales and to just get away from town. On our particular visit that day, we took some Crisco, some potatoes for frying and one of my mom’s black iron skillets. We also took along a single shot .22 rifle and a box of cartridges. My little brother and I were excited to be riding in our brother’s truck with the windows down and the wind and sun hitting our faces. We set out on our journey and stopped by “Saint Cawthon’s “bait shop to pick up some cokes. Pat spoke to “Saint” as we were checking out and asked about his son Phillip. My brother and Phillip had been friends in school but they also shared another bond. Pat and Phillip had been young soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division serving in Vietnam. Pat told me that he and Phillip had found each other and shared some time together during a break from their combat action. I’m sure seeing a familiar face in a war zone thousands of miles from home gave both of them a comforting feeling in their hearts.
As we continued on our journey, we began our first turns onto the dirt roads that would get us to our destination. Driving along and weaving our way thru the trees that lined our path, we came across what can only be described as a dumping area. Some ways off the road was an area where people would illegally dump old furniture, tires, trash and other oddities. It was an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful area. Perched on a limb and a good distance from the dirt road was a turkey vulture, or what we affectionately call a “buzzard”. No doubt the buzzard was waiting to find a morsel of goodness from the trash heaps. My brother Pat stopped the truck and set his eyes on the buzzard. He reached down and took the .22 rifle and loaded a round into the chamber. He looked over to me and my little brother and said, “Watch this!” He carefully took aim at the buzzard on his perch. I said, “You ain’t gonna hit that buzzard, it’s too far!” As soon as I uttered the last syllable, the crisp shot of the .22 rang out. We thought the bird had heard the crack of the rifle and began to fly away, but Pat had found his mark and the buzzard glided down to the floor of the dump. Being good southern boys, we had to go examine our kill and see where we got him. Pat’s aim was true and upon examination, we found the buzzard with a hole in his neck. Joey and I both shouted, “Wow! Pat! That was a good shot!” He replied back, “You gotta make them count.” Pat was quiet and solemn as we walked back to the truck. This was uncharacteristic of his usual boisterous and jovial self. Years later, I would understand. I think when Pat pulled the trigger on that buzzard, he also pulled the trigger on some memories of combat.
After a few more turns, we finally made it to our destination. We arrived at Cedar Rock. This was the first time Joey and I had ever been to this place, but from Pat’s knowing glance, we knew this was not his first time here. We unloaded the truck and Pat led us straight to an area of rocks which looked like it was the perfect place to build a small fire and rest a frying pan. We all began to gather some firewood and soon we had a good fire going. We then settled the old black iron skillet in place. Digging into our Crisco can, we filled up the pan and watched as the white concoction began to melt into clear liquid oil. Our next task was to prepare our French fries. We cut them up and put them into a small cooler. As soon as the fire had heated the oil to Pat’s liking, he started to lay the potatoes in the pan. My little brother and I could immediately begin to smell the distinct aroma of potatoes being fried in oil. We enjoyed being in the beautiful outdoors and taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Our mouths began to water as we pondered the delicious taste of a fried potato. Pat soon began to plate them on some paper plates we had and he told me and Joey to salt them right away while they were hot.
As soon as we had a big pile, we opened up our bottle of ketchup and popped the tops off our cokes. We sat down around our fire at Cedar Rock and began to enjoy our campfire French fries. We laughed and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.
As soon as our bellies were full of French fries, we turned our attention to shooting the .22 rifle. Pat used some of the leftover paper plates to use as targets. He nailed them to some trees and then he began his clinic on firing a rifle and hitting the bull’s eye of the target. While honing our marksmanship skills under Pat’s watchful eye, we went through a box of cartridges.
Soon after the last trigger was pulled, we began to clean up and load up the truck. We began our trek back home leaving the dirt roads and finding the highway. As the wind came thru the windows and blew on our faces, I licked the corner of my mouth and tasted the remnants of ketchup and salt. We stopped by a filling station so Pat could fill up the truck with gas. Joey and I bartered with Pat for some change to get a candy bar. One of Pat’s old friends saw me and Joey and asked Pat, “Is that your half-brother’s Chip and Joey?” Pat responded quickly and firmly, “We are brothers, ain’t nothing half about us!” Joey and I looked up at Pat with shy grins of pride; Pat looked down and smiled back. The bonds of brotherhood are not only borne of blood, they are also forged with love and camaraderie. My brother taught me this long ago.
Over ten years later, I would be enduring the sweltering summer heat on a firing range at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Trying to qualify on my M-16 rifle, I was in a firing position when those memories of Cedar Rock and that day came rushing back in my head. With the sting of sweat burning my eyes, I gave up a brief grin thinking of that day as I tried to lay a bead on my target. I would qualify expert that day, aided no doubt by the patient instruction of my brother those many years ago.
It was one day in a lifetime, but that day at Cedar Rock has given me a lifelong memory. Every Easter weekend, I recall the brotherhood we shared that day.

Old Bricks

On my visits back home, I spend precious time with my mother at my childhood home. The times I get to spend with her are special. It often seems like no time before we are back on the road going back to my home in Newnan. Sometimes, I am able to get out and drive around the town and county and pass by old places that I remember from my childhood.
On a recent trip, I was able to take the time to drive down by my grandmother’s old house in what is now called East Jackson. It may show as East Jackson on some maps, but it will always live in my memory as Pepperton or to the familiar, just “Pep”.JB and Bon Bon 4175
Pepperton had begun as a mill village centered on the textile mill by the same name. The mill was built around the end of the 19th century. As was common in that era, houses for the workers were built around the mill. The houses were mostly all the same and there were stores, shops and businesses built within the mill village. The mill provided jobs for hundreds in the community. The little village would take on its own personality and become a true community. Mill life and the mill village would be an important staple in the community for nearly 100 years. It would be an economic engine for the community along with other mills in the county. This common model would be a standard for so many towns and counties and would define a way of life.JB and Bon Bon 5176
My maternal grandparents were a part of this lifestyle. They lived and worked in Pepperton. They earned a living and made a life for their family in that mill village. After their shift in the mill ended, they would earn a few extra dollars by cutting hair in a barber shop next to the mill. These few dollars made would be put away for my grandfather’s dream of buying some land out of town someday where he could farm and hunt and fish.JB and Bon Bon 3174
The people of Pepperton were a close knit community and were proud to be a part of the mill village. The village would also have a baseball team made up from workers in the mill and residents of the village. My grandfather, his brother and a number of friends were part of the team and they played other mill teams in a league. They had a reputation as one of the best teams around, those young men of Pepperton.JB Baseball I hear my grandfather was a pretty good baseball player. I have asked my mom what position he played and the best she could remember was “behind the pitcher”. I think he was a short-stop or 2nd baseman. I think my Uncle Donnie received the athletic genes from my grandfather; he would later become a star half-back for the Jackson Red Devil’s in the 1950’s. I was never much of an athlete in school, but I am sure those athletic genes from my grandfather helped me to master the obstacle courses and physical demands of Infantry training at Fort Benning as a young officer. My grandfather had also served his country. He was just shy of being old enough for World War I, but he would be a soldier with the Jackson Rifles, a National Guard unit in Butts County. He also served as the company bugler. The Caston family would not go untouched by the war. My grandfather’s older brother, Jesse Caston, would be killed in action in the trenches of the battlefields in France. His name now etched on the Jackson Veteran’s Memorial for all eternity.
My grandparents would raise a family there in the village. My mother Edna was the oldest, and she would be joined by two younger brothers, Billy and Donnie and a sister, Angelyn. They would all grow up in the mill village during the Depression years, during years of World War II and during the 50’s. My Uncle Donnie was the last to leave the mill village in the late 50’s.
Located close to the mill was a pond where people of the village would catch fish. There was also a community hog pen where members of the community could keep their personal livestock. I remember one of my older brothers talking about going to play at the “Pep Hog Pen”. By the time I came along as a child, I would not get to play in the “Pep Hog Pen”, but I would catch my first fish in “Pep Pond”. I would spend a lot of time in “Pep” as a child. I would get on my bicycle and ride down the street until I came to the service road that ran in front of the mill. I would hear the activity in the mill from some open windows as I bicycled past the cars of the people who were working inside. By this time, my grandmother no longer worked at the mill. I would turn my bike onto Mill Street and pedal to my grandmother’s front porch. I would walk in and say, “Hey Bon Bon!” We all called her Bon Bon, but her name was Bonnie. One of my older cousins started calling her that name when he was a toddler and the name stuck. She would then ask me if I wanted a “Cocola”. I would always answer yes. She would always keep the small Coca-Cola bottles in her refrigerator. They were always a special treat. They were ice cold and I always enjoyed “popping” the top off with the bottle opener she had mounted on her kitchen wall. She had been a widow now for over 20 years. I never met my grandfather. He died in 1947. He passed away from a heart attack just shy of his 45th birthday. He had realized his dream of buying some farm land and that is what he was doing when he fell ill. He was working in his field, tilling the soil. My mother told me he had always been industrious and was always on the go. Whether working in the mill, the barber shop or farming or hunting, he had a zest for life. He loved to bird hunt and many a quail would be fried up by my grandmother and served on their kitchen table. My grandfather’s younger brother, Wilson “Toots” Caston, was then the only surviving Caston son. He would go on to build the best pulled pork barbeque stand in the state of Georgia, “Fresh Air BBQ”. He would be a respected businessman and community leader for the remainder of his life.JB and Bon Bon 7178
After my grandfather died, my grandmother was faced with making a living on her own. She still had two children at home to support. The land that my grandfather had purchased through his many years of hard work at the mill and cutting hair would now have to be sold so my grandmother could continue to survive on her own. She was able to remain in her home in Pepperton, but the land and farm had to be sold. She continued working in the mill for a while; she would also cut hair for people in the village. She also cut my hair, along with my brother’s, for quite some time. I can still feel the itch of freshly cut hair on the back of my neck and the smell of her talcum powder that she would sprinkle on her brush before she stroked it across my brow.
After the last of her children had left her home in the mill village, she continued to cut hair on the side, but she also worked at the local Tastee-Freez restaurant in town across the railroad tracks in Jackson. She would also later work as a waitress for Tomlin’s Restaurant across the bridge over the Ocmulgee River. They served some fine fried catfish. Some weekend nights, she would let me and my little brother count her tips. We would spend the night with her some weekend nights watching TV, playing games and sipping “Cocola” from those little ice cold bottles. In her later years, as she put on her housecoat and got comfortable for the evening, she would indulge in a portion of “Brutton” or “Tube Rose” snuffs.
Many times when I visited my grandmother, I would reach out for the memory of my grandfather I never knew by reading the books he liked to read. My grandmother had kept many of the books that my grandfather enjoyed in her spare bedroom, where she also had a chair with a stand-up hair dryer attached to the top. A chair she used in her beautician duties. I would sit in the beauticians chair and read the works of James Whitcomb Riley or the volumes of “R.E. Lee and his Generals”. I inherited his love of reading and I am thankful for that. My brothers and all of my cousins would also make memories in that little mill house. Visiting “Bon Bon” and forming those precious bonds, between a grandmother and grandchild, would echo in our hearts for a lifetime.
My grandmother would continue to live in that little mill house until her death in 1989. I remember getting the call from my mother. Fortunately, I was stationed nearby at Fort Benning, Georgia. After hanging up with my mother, memories rushed into my mind of ice-cold Coca-Colas in a bottle and my red bicycle leaning up against her front porch. I wept. I was honored to be a pall-bearer at such a great woman’s funeral.JB and Bon Bon 6177
My mother and aunts and uncles would sell the little mill house that had been my grandmother’s home for over 60 years. Sometimes when I go home, I will drive by that little house and relive many memories and think of a time when I was a little boy. I recently drove by and saw two little girls playing in the yard where I once played. They were making new memories as the little mill house stood witness.
Sometime later, my mother told me over the phone one day that they were going to tear down the old mill. The mill had stood as a landmark in the community for nearly 100 years. On my next trip home, I was compelled to drive down to see what was left of the old mill. As I turned down the service road where my bicycle tires had logged over a hundred miles, I could see where the mill was no more. The absence of her brick walls left a void on the landscape. My progress was impeded by the presence of a makeshift construction fence. I stopped my car and got out and surveyed what lay before me.
Piles of rubble and stacks of bricks were all that was left of a way of life. There are still many mill houses across the railroad tracks that separated the mill from her community, but the heart of the village was now nothing more than piled up bricks and mortar. I stood there and continued to survey the site before me. I daydreamed of a sunny summer day riding my bike along the service road with my fishing pole in hand saying “Hello” to someone coming out of the mill. I would soon turn left and go across the railroad tracks and disappear down the street headed to my grandmother’s.
I walked up to the fence to get as close as I could to reclaim my memories. Right inside the fence were neatly stacked sets of bricks from the mill. I guessed that some of the bricks would be collected and re-purposed for other construction activities elsewhere. At that moment, without hesitation, I reached across the fence and I took two bricks from one of the stacks. Reaching for a memory, I took one for my grandfather and one for my grandmother. I took them back to my car and placed them in the floor board. I hoped that two small bricks missing from the stack would not be missed or even given a second thought by the workers who would come back on Monday, because at that moment, those two bricks meant the world to me.
I stood at the door of my car and peered over the mill site one last time. The next time I see the site, it will probably look like a barren landscape. As of this writing, I don’t know what may be built there again.
When I got back to my mother’s house, I took the bricks and put them on the picnic table outside. I went inside to retrieve a couple of old plastic grocery bags from my mother’s pantry. I walked outside to place the bricks in the bags so I could carry them home. My daughter followed me back outside and asked, “Daddy, what are you doing with those old bricks?” I paused, and then I turned around looking back at her with a big grin on my face. Borrowing in part a line from the last scene from the movie, The Maltese Falcon, I said, “They are not just old bricks, they are the stuff that dreams and memories are made of.”
Memories of my grandparents, of Pepperton and the mill will continue to live in me for as long as I live. Two “old bricks” sitting on my bookcase will never let me forget.
In memory of my grandparents J.B. and Bonnie Caston
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