Happy Birthday, Pop!
My grandfather turned 90 years old last week. He is the last of my grandparents living, but one of three that I had the pleasure of getting to know. I never met my mother's father, as he passed away before my parents were married, but I have spent hours of time with Pop, who is my dad's father.
Pop was born in Coffee County, Georga (south Georgia) in 1916. He was born in the midst of World War I, the sixth of seven children of John Lewis Palmer and Ludie Margaret Knowles Palmer. They were Lena Mae, George Lewis (died young), John Lewis, Mary Margaret, and Hugh Knowles. His younger brother, Carl Jenkins, was born a year later. He also had two older half-siblings from his father's first marriage, Leta "Estelle" and Curtis Lee.
Pop's father was from Chatham County, North Carolina, and most of the family still lived there. He co-owned a hardware store in Broxton. Pop's mother was born in Hancock County, Ga, and the family moved to Broxton when her brother George, took a job there as a railroad telegraph operator. Pop's mother died when he was almost three years old, and then his father died less than a year later. Both are said to have died as part of the flu epidemic of 1918.
After the death of their father, Pop and his brothers and sisters were all split up and sent to different members of the family: I think Estelle (Lena Mae called her "sister") and Curtis went to their mother's family - they later returned to Broxton; Lena Mae and Mary went to live with John Lewis' brother Hugh Palmer and his wife, Minnie; Walter, Hugh, and Carl went to live with Wiley and Bettie Knowles Byrd (Ludie's sister), on a farm in Jeff Davis Co., close to the town of Denton (about 9 miles from Broxton, GA). John Lewis went to live with their father's brother Charles Christian Palmer in Goldston, Chatham Co., NC.
My grandfather's stories of living with Wiley Byrd still haunt us today, although he didn't talk much about it. Byrd seemed to be a strict taskmaster, and I believe he probably beat the boys, but that is speculation, as Pop never came out and said it explicitly. Pop and his brothers were put to work on the farm. They were not allowed to eat with the family; they were forced to eat on the back porch. My grandfather's favorite part of a bird to this day is the neck, because that was what he was given to eat growing up. Pop would tell me as a girl about how he lost his big toe: He was slopping the pigs, and standing in the mud of the pig sty, when he was bitten by a water moccasin. He told Wiley and Bettie, but they didn't believe him. After a couple of days, it became apparent that he had told the truth, and by that time, the toe had to be removed. As a child, I was also interested in a mangled fingernail that he had on one hand, the result of having caught his finger in a bicycle chain. When Pop was about ten or so, a preacher came round to the house, and told them about a school for boys and girls run by a woman named Martha Berry in Rome, GA. Pop decided that he wanted to go to that school. One of Pop's favorite stories to tell is that of boarding the train to go to Rome. He had a dime in his pocket, and there was a man selling apples on the train. Pop said they were the reddest, shiniest apples he had ever seen, but he saved his dime and didn't buy the apple. Pop stayed at Berry until he graduated from high school around 1934. At that time, Berry had a work/study program and one of Pop's jobs there included working at the dairy. I will have to ask him about other jobs he did. The kids wore work uniforms. Today, the school still runs as Berry College.
I often try to imagine how difficult his life must have been as a boy, with no parents, working on a farm out in the country, and what it was like to be a teen during the Depression years (in 1929, Pop would have been 13). You can still tell that the lessons of hardship he learned during those years are still very much with him today. He saves absolutely everything. EVERYTHING.
After graduation, Pop attended North Georgia College, in Dahlonegha, for two years. He then moved to Savannah, GA, were his mother's unmarried sister, Mabel Knowles, lived at East Henry St. Mabel had become Pop's guardian after his Aunt Bettie's death. Another of his mother's sisters, Carrie Mae, also lived in Savannah. My grandmother, Evelyn Butler, lived with her family across the street from Aunt Mabel, and that is how Pop met his future wife. He says he used to whistle at her as she walked down the street. They married in 1940, at Calvary Baptist Temple in Savannah. Even today, Pop likes to take out an old black and white photo kept in his wallet of Grandma and Daddy, and tells me how beautiful her long, black hair was.
After their marriage, Pop and Grandma rented an upstairs room from Aunt Mabel. During World War II, Grandma and Pop both worked in the Savannah ship yards building Liberty ships. I asked Pop why he didn't serve in the military. He said that he and some other men went to Atlanta to enlist, but that the military wouldn't take him, on account of the heart murmur he was born with. I never asked him what he thought of Pearl Harbor, but right after September 11th, 2001, he did tell me that he hadn't seen anything like that since Pearl Harbor.
Daddy was born about this time in 1942. They lived on E. Henry Street in Savannah. Pop told me about a number of jobs he worked, including a cook (at Morrison's, I think), running a gas station, and shoveling coal on the railroad line that ran from Savannah to Jacksonville, FL. I cannot imagine how hot that must have been. At one point, Pop and his brother Carl had instruments and played on a radio show. They called themselves "Fat and Bud." Pop was Bud - He doesn't remember where the nickname came from.
When Daddy was in high school, Pop took a job with Warner Robins AFB in Warner Robins, GA. He was a civilian employee who managed packaging of supplies for the troops. Pop traveled to a lot of places, including Germany and France, Vietnam, and Siam (Thailand). There may be more, but those are the ones I remember. He seemed to enjoy taking pictures and has interesting albums from both his Berry and North Georgia College days, and his travels overseas while working for the government. He retired in the 70s.
Pop and Daddy dug out the basement for his house, and basically built the thing themselves. He had help with the electricity and the plumbing, but that is about it. He still lives in that house and now Mom and Dad live there with him. He and Grandma owned property in Savannah until just recently, and they also bought property on Lake Sinclair and cleared it and put up a house when I was a little girl. They cleared the property themselves, brought in an old house and put it up on the foundation, and my dad and Pop built all of the seawalls, the dock, and two boathouses. I am tired just thinking about it. He taked great pride in his yard at both the Warner Robins house and the Lakehouse. He must have put in a hundred azaleas at both properties, and now dad keeps all of it up, which is quite a job. One of my favorite memories as a girl was roaming around the yard helping him do gardening, and him showing me the plants and teaching me their names. I am pretty sure my love for gardening started there.
He's a member of Central Baptist in Warner Robins, and has been a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason since his days in Savannah at the Acacia Lodge. I always try to get him to tell me about it, or teach me the secret handshake, but he never has. Dad is a mason now, too, and sometimes they do some crazy secret knock and talk gibberish that evidently makes sense to the two of them.
Much of the time we have spent together consisted of him shaking his head in disbelief at the way we do things these days, of the technology at our fingertips, and the ease with which we accomplish daily tasks. I often think of all the things that my grandfather has seen and seen change in his 90 years: My grandfather probably knew people who fought in the Civil War. He was there for the advent of the car, the radio, the t.v. and the computer. Two World wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, and two Gulf wars. The flu epidemic, the Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights era, the assassinations of Kennedy and King, the moon landing, the Challenger explosion, and the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Pop is quick to laugh, and loves to tell jokes and stories. One of them is that would tell my grandmother that when he got to be an old man, he was going to write a book about his life. She would reply, "You're an old man now!" Pop has now lived long enough to see the birth of his two granddaughters, and to meet two of his great-grandchildren. We are so thankful that we have gotten to know him, and look forward to more years to spend together as a family.
I love you, Pop! Happy 90th!
p.s. Okay, not the greatest picture of the family, but the most recent one i have of four generations. That's Pop, sitting in the chair, my Dad, me, and Rollie. I think this was on Rollie's 2nd birthday.