i decided to publish this a couple of hours early. That way i can celebrate all day tomorrow.
Today is my father’s 101st birthday.
I wrote very little on his century mark last September. I had lost him just over a year before and lost our mother nine months later. I was still in the stage of realizing what i really had lost. Now it’s time to reflect.
Included here is an article i wrote for The Lebanon Democrat in 2000 as a salute to him on his 86th birthday. In 2004, they moved from their home of 62 years a whopping four blocks away to a “condo” in Deer Park where they lived until fragility, infirmities, and old age required them to stay at Elmcroft, an assisted living facility on what used to be the southwest end of Castle Heights Military Academy.
In 2009, i honored his 95th birthday with a poem, the only one thus far published in my Democrat column “Notes from the Southwest Corner.” i still think it is one of the best poems i have ever written. He was surprised i knew so much about him.
He and my mother were born, raised, lived, and died in Lebanon, Tennessee, a place that seems to have kept most of the folks who were born there, a tribute to a small town.
In what i think is an irony, my father and Allyson Odom Collingsworth share the same birthday, just a grunch of years apart. I fell in love with Allyson’s mother, the late Sharry Baird Hager, in our fourth grade class taught by Mrs. Major at McClain Elementary School. I never quite got over her.
That is appropriate because Lebanon seems to me to be a city of love. Oh yes, it has its problems. After all, politicians are a necessity, and politicians mean there are problems. There are criminals, some pretty rough criminals. The place keeps growing and that is not always a good thing, at least in my mind. It may sound a little squirrelly for an old salt to write of a city of love, and there probably is a more appropriate description, but all of my friends there seem to exude that quality.
My father was proud of Lebanon. He loved driving people, including me, around the town to show off the latest business, the latest industry that had settled there. Although he complained about the lack of common sense in new road planning, he was proud of those new roads.
He was part and parcel of Lebanon. I miss him and his Lebanon. I will think of both quite a lot today. i am a very lucky man to have had him with me for so long.
The Democrat column:
An Incredible Man
There is an incredible man in Lebanon. He was born September 28, 1914.
The first record of his family in America dates to 1677. His great, great, great grandfather came over the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and apparently was Daniel’s brother-in-law. His great, great grandfather moved to Statesville in southeastern Wilson County in the early 1800’s.
He had three brothers and three sisters. He is the only one left.
He has lived through two world wars, fighting as a Seabee in the southern Philippines in the last one. He has lived through the depression, the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.
He had to quit his senior year at Lebanon High School to go to work when his father contracted tuberculosis. He started as a mechanic, shared a business with his brother-in-law in the 1950’s, and then became a partner in an automobile dealership and a gas and oil distributorship. He retired in 1972.
He and his wife have been married for 62 years. They remain infatuated with each other. The first home they owned was a one-room house, adjacent to his wife’s family farm on Hunter’s Point Pike. They bought their next home on Castle Heights Avenue in 1941 with the help of a $500.00 loan from a friend. They have lived there ever since.
He and his wife put three children through college. They have five grandchildren. They have visited every state in the Union, except Alaska, where they were headed in 1984 when his wife’s illness forced them to turn around in British Columbia. Nearly all of their travel has been by RV’s, most in a twenty-eight foot fifth-wheel. When he was 84 and his wife was 80, they made their last cross-country trip to San Diego where they spent winters since 1985 with their eldest son and his family. They have made several trips up and down the east coast since then, and the fifth-wheel is still ready to go in their backyard.
They live comfortably in their retirement. Most people guess his age as early 70’s. Last month, he painted their master bedroom and sanded and painted the roof of his two-car carport. When he can’t find anyone to go fishing with him, he hooks up the boat trailer and goes by himself. Now he usually throws his catch back in. When he used to bring the catch home, he would clean the fish and give them away. He doesn’t like to eat fish, just catch them.
For years, he had the reputation as the best mechanic in Wilson County. He can still fix anything except computers and new cars because he has shunned learning the electronic advances.
All of this isn’t why this man is incredible.
He is incredible because he is such a good man.
He is a willow. He bends with the winds of change and the changes of “progress.” Yet he never breaks. His principles remain as solid as a rock. He is extremely intelligent but humble.
He seems to always be around when someone needs help. Everyone considers him a friend and he reciprocates.
He is not rich, financially. But he is one of the richest men around.
My generation’s fathers were family men. They lived through hard times and hard work without a whimper. They believed in giving a day’s work for a day’s pay. They kept their sense of humor. Their sons wish they could emulate them.
Jimmy Jewell, or James Rye Jewell, Sr., this remarkable man, remains my best friend. I am his oldest son. I have worshipped him since the first recallable thoughts came into my head fifty-three or so years ago. I still find myself wishing I could have his strength, his kindness, his work ethic, his love, his faith.
My father and I have had enough talks for him to know how I feel. But I’ve seen too many people wait until someone was gone before singing their praises publicly. I figure he’s got a good chance to outlive us all, but I wanted to acknowledge how much he means to me and how great a man I think he is.
Happy 86th birthday, Dad.
When most folks meet him
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.
His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight,
His hands are firm and thick and solid,
a handshake of destruction if he so desired
he has used those hands to repair the cars and our hearts;
His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour he made in a month
when he started in ’35 before computers and units).
His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.
His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.
Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands
the tales of grease and oil and grime
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;
they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.
His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man i know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man i know
with hands that tell the story
I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than in this manner. He was an incredible man, and those hands…oh those hands.