I was at the Trion track field yesterday for the Memorial Day celebration. I saw a lot fewer of the men from my Dad’s generation there than ever before. The men and women from “the greatest generation” are very quickly and for the most part quietly leaving us. Ten years ago, I still used to see them down at Trade Day, walking around and still buying tools and things to work with. That was their signature, their iconic symbol. Work. They came back home from World War II and Korea and worked. They worked in the Cotton Mills, in the Car factories. They worked as farmers and carpenters. They built this country back up from a depression much greater and more cutting than this current one. They were men of few words, and ever fewer gripes. They didn’t piss and moan about how hard they had things, about not having the luxuries of life. They ate beans and ‘taters, and did without. They did without a lot of times so that they could give us, the “baby boomers” more than what they had…giving us things that they themselves had always wanted as children but could not have; toys, clothes….a childhood. They mostly gave us love. Many of them gave us more love because of all the death and destruction they had seen in the Wars. So, I was happy to shake the hands of some of these men yesterday. More than that….I was honored. I have been honored to know so many of them who are now gone and have been so instrumental in shaping my life, that being what it is, not perfection but at least respectful in most instances. I wish I could name them all….I hesitate to even name a few for fear I would leave some out from my bad memory who really need to be included. My Daddy of course, Gaines Bowers. Men at the First Baptist Church when I was a child, Mr. Watson and Tip McCollum and Leo Lanier, J.W. Greenwood, Mr. Bailey Gilbreath, Billy Locklear, Paul Arden, Mr. Styles, Jake Woods, (still miss his birthday phone calls) Hugh Henderson, Joe Woods, Logan Parker, Mr. King, (still see him at Trade Day..bless him) Norman McClellan, Victor Pettett, King Anthony, and so many more. The men at Riegel Textile many of who were also members of the Church but some not, Henry Rider, and Dee Wilson, Thurman Day, Julius Sprayberry, Namon Dennis, Joe Collette, Mr. Brown (Roy and Marty’s Daddy) Porter Durham, Mr. Shamblin, and again, so many more. The people of the town…Mr. Sprayberry at the Post Office, and Jules Stephen, who always cut my hair, Joe the Postman always walking his beat, Mr. Chief Starkey, Hoyt Williams, Alfred Mount, Mr. Hurley’s, (Sr. and Jr.) Mr. Horton the pharmacist, Deck Brewster, Sloppy Floyd who was our neighbor at one time, Tommy Brown, Mr. Clyde Bethune, Mr. Grubbs, and so many more. All of our teachers, Mr. Sam McCain, Mr. Miller, Mr. Strickland. So many of them, and of course ALL of their wives who had as much, if not MORE influence on us. Just look at the name of the men, and think…you will know their names. Yes, they are leaving us, and for those who are already gone let’s take a moment to remember them this weekend. For those who are still here and getting around, shake their hands, hug them, tell them you love them while you have a chance….because they ARE passing away and will all soon be gone.
Throughout my life I have been like rough sandpaper. Anyone who has ever built anything knows that sandpaper is a required item. You cannot smooth down things which you are building without sandpaper. I know I have been abrasive. I feel like at times it was necessary. When building anything, a table, a house or even a life, all tools have their place. The hammer, the nail, the wood, the sandpaper. Shape and reshape. Learn from mistakes. Start over if needed. Tear it down and build it up again.
I hope I am finally to the point where I am going to be more like a polishing cloth in the future. Brightening things. Removing tarnish and making items beautiful. Most days I have more patience than I used to..but I still struggle as evidenced by some writings where I am still angry when I let my thoughts spill out. But, I continue to try. In those instances I need to try and remember all the times other people have had patience and compassion for me during my life. There have been some nonredeemable characters who have breezed in and out of my life, but only a very,very few. I have been lucky. I have been blessed. Through all the years I sometimes have failed to realize just how much, and to be thankful for what I have been given.
I’m probably still going to rant and rave sometimes. I’m still gonna get mad sometimes, and be unreasonable. But changing from rough sandpaper to a polishing cloth is not an overnight thing, no matter when you decide to start.
Ages ago, on a cool September morning my Dad took me to Carrollton, Georgia to start school at West Georgia College.
I was excited, nervous and uncertain. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a profession. I had no grand master plan for my future. There was no manual in my suitcase with the title “What to do in Life”. I never figured it out either.
My original thought was to get a degree in History and become a teacher. I veered from that path.
Paula and I met and became friends, and then a couple. Then we fell in love. Her Mom and Dad moved off to California and we decided we’d get married…little more than kids though we were, we did it…in June of 1968. We are still best friends, and still love each other.
I went on to UGA, and took three more years of classes. I worked full time on the third shift at Westinghouse electric, making transformers for power poles. It wasn’t easy trying to do a full time job at night and school during the day. I fell asleep in C parking lot early one morning trying to study for a test that day. I woke up sitting in my car that afternoon with my notebook in my lap. I got a zero on the test.
I never finished college. After four years and over 200 quarter hours, I left in 1974 with my wife and two year old daughter to start my work in a “career”. Only I never had a career. Just a succession of jobs that I worked, in order to raise my kids and keep food on the table.
I did everything from building mattresses to selling medical supplies. I finally got an interview with the VP of manufacturing at a fairly large Textile operation in 1988 for Quality Manager. I talked my way into the job, and stayed there and was successful for 12 years…until they sold out to a larger company, who of course had their own people…so it was bye bye.
It was during this twelve year period that I tried to break into the Nashville songwriting scene. I was good enough, but not dedicated enough to move to Nashville. No career in songwriting for me….but that’s a story for another time.
I went through stints at several more places as QA manager before my heart took me out in 2010-11, after the stress of losing both parents within 6 months, and being constantly under pressure to stay at work…when I really needed to be caring for them. It was a lousy couple of years.
And yet…I have found more peace and gratification in the last five years in my career as a Papa care person then I ever did at any of my “career” jobs. I have finally figured out out that my career was my obligation to raise my children and grandchildren to the best of my ability, to love them as much as I can, and to ensure that they had and have the best beginning to the most rewarding life that I could give them. I dunno how well I have succeeded, but with my wife’s constant help, and assistance as my conscience, I guess we’ve done ok.
I’ve said all of that to get to this: success is measured in many different ways, by many different people but I could care less for any labels anybody puts on me. I finally know the true measure of myself, and while I’m far from being perfect, I at least…and at last, feel like I have accomplished something of what I meant to do on that cool September morning back in 1968.
Well Auttie is graduating tomorrow…so I’ve got five more to go…at least that’s the number right now. And I’ll keep walking and exercising, and plugging away as long as God gives me breath….