I remember him in that chair, some long cracked naugahyde number. His cream-colored, gold knobbed radio on the book shelf above him, tuned to WPCH or the swing station that grew progressively louder as the years moved along. He watched the ball games in that chair, nursed a before dinner Rum Dum (rum and Fresca) in that chair, and just a few months before they rolled him out and my grandmother’s new carpet in; he held my son, whom he always called Jesse, “Double Breasted Jesse,” in that chair. That chair is where I remember him, but its imagery is counter to everything that he was. He was a wanderer, a wayfarer, a maneuverer, and a mover if not a Shaker. He had read up on them: Shakers, they and their pentecostal cousins made him nearly as nervous as did those Mormons – he maintained that the latter were pure crooks and murderers.
Leaving was always his idea; he crossed the river and the region in search of adventure and opportunity. His climb was always upward and away. He left the life of the juke joints, the mill town folks and the military men. He left the red light district for the pink polo shirts of the country club set. A phenomenal athlete, he was wooed across the river to play every sport in their high school and on the weekends he entertained his moneyed new friends at the club, instantly excelling in golf and tennis as well. I have a picture of him, it’s 1920 something and he is driving a cut down Ford to Texas to play semi-pro baseball. He looks absolutely himself. I remember him on the periphery of my life. He’d come down to the lake on his property where all the grandkids were fishing or building dams in the creek, but I never remember him joining in. He’d just drive by on his tractor or in his truck and wave. My grandmother signed his name on my cards and even my birthday checks were from her meager household account.
But when I graduated from college, something he asked of all of us; he never had the money to go himself, (though I know that he paid all his younger siblings way) the check was large and signed by him.
He was a bit of a ghost. Always taking off, going somewhere, anywhere. I don’t really know him that well. I read his books to try to know some of his mind, lots of southern histories and westerns – something I care little for. I have some of his stuff in my house. He saved all matter of junk and that too shows me a little of what he valued. I do remember once when I was about ten, it was July 4th. We shot fireworks in his driveway. He had bought them or swapped someone for them. He even shot some. He loved it, the sparkle and flash. He seemed more delighted than us kids.
Once we cooked out on this huge brick and mortar grill he had built on his spacious patio. It’s the only time I ever remember using it.
There are many fabulous and hilarious stories I could tell you about him. He was a character and charmer who achieved remarkable things. He was somebody, in so many circles. But he only walked the circumference of ours.