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{June 9, 2013}   Paw Paw

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Paw Paw

Paw Paw was a born-again Methodist. At least that’s true for as long as I knew him. But he told anybody who would listen tales about what he did before he was born-again. Paw Paw wore a crewcut combed straight up like Bermuda grass that he slicked with Butch Wax. He wore black framed glasses and had a belly that popped out like Jackie Gleason’s. He liked to sit in his La-Z-Boy and spit tobacco into a jar while he watched  Lawrence Welk. When Patsy Cline debuted with her hit, Walking After Midnight Paw Paw said he knew she was destined for greatness. He’d lean back in his brown leather recliner wearing a baseball cap and talk sports or the Bible. I gave him a Yankees cap I picked up on a trip to New York, and that was his favorite out of all the caps that hung on hooks in the garage.  He was Irish and said that his family sang traditional tunes around the piano when he was growing up. His father was Scoogie Jenkins and his mother, Addie. Scoogie was a bricklayer–one of the best in Atlanta. According to family lore, Scoogie helped to lay brick for the Fox Theater and the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Paw Paw had lots of brothers and sisters and he said there were so many mouths to feed that if one went missing, it was okay with the rest of them. He hoboed around before the Depression hit and labor unions formed the middle class. Before unions, he said, everybody was poor. Nobody owned their own house. He said most people went to work after only finishing the sixth grade. The company paid you in money that you could only spend at the company store, and the store took nearly everything you made. You could never save for a house or furniture or a car. You had to take out credit you paid on a weekly basis to buy anything big.  At age 14, he hopped empty train cars and rode them anywhere they were going. He went hungry so often, he didn’t care if the authorities in small towns threw him in jail for the night for loitering because they’d give him a meal and a bed. When he wasn’t hoboing, he was dancing and drinking at honky tonks. But that was before he met Maw Maw when he was 17. They had both finished sixth grade, and went no further with their education because they had to work.

Paw Paw played baseball at the old Georgia Cracker’s field across from Sears on Ponce de Leon. He was a “ham and egger player” meaning he didn’t play baseball for money, but for ham and egg sandwiches. Because he was such a good player, a boy’s school once offered him a scholarship to help him complete his education. He turned it down because he liked girls too much to attend an all-boy school. He said he regretted that decision later.

Paw Paw said since he was Irish, he got in a lot of fights. If anybody gave him a hard time, he’d cold cock them and run. Nobody could catch him, he was so fast, probably from playing baseball. He liked to drink like an Irishman too, before he was born-again. But after he was saved at a revival one night, he changed. He was a tee-totaler after that, though he’d still punch anybody in the nose if they gave him a hard time.

After Paw Paw was saved, he and Maw Maw hit the road to sing gospel on the radio with some friends.  Paw Paw loved gospel singing. He sang tenor and Maw Maw sang alto. After the radio singing days were over, they talked some friends into going in with them to buy an old schoolhouse to turn if into a church. With help from friends, Maw Maw and Paw Paw launched Faith Evangelical Methodist church on Bankhead Highway. Paw Paw was a lay preacher, but what he really liked was choir directing. Maw Maw taught Sunday School and when Paw Paw wasn’t preaching, he lead the singing from gospel hymn books with shape notes. The Old Rugged Cross was almost always sung on Wednesday nights and Just As I Am would finish the sermon on Sundays. On Sunday, church was supposed to end at noon but it often went past one o’clock. The congregation would sing until someone came to the alter to be saved. The former-sinners would weep and ask for forgiveness and they would receive it by the blood of the lamb. On special Sundays, communion was served. Dixie cups with grape juice and pieces of soda crackers were passed down the pews. Then, the preacher would ask the newly saved to come to the alter to be sprinkled with water while Amazing Grace played on the piano. In the summer, a circulating table fan kept the congregation cool. In the pews, there were paper fans with wooden handles advertising a funeral home in the pocket where the hymnals and Bibles were tucked. During one Vacation Bible School, a little girl disobeyed instructions not to touch the circulating fan and cut her finger off. But that was the only time that ever happened.

Other than preaching and choir directing, Paw Paw never liked to work much. His brother-in-law got him a job in a mattress factory, but he didn’t like the work or the boss. One day he said he had enough, so he quit and went fishing. But, Paw Paw had a lot of kids to feed so he couldn’t have that attitude for long. He finally found a job he didn’t mind doing–as a foreman for the Southern Railroad. He worked at the railroad until he had been there 25 years. On the day of his 25h anniversary, his boss called him into the office. “Brother Roscoe,” his boss said, “You’ve finished 25 years today. Now, you can retire today or you can keep working and make a little more pension every month. It’s your choice.” “You mean, I can retire? Today?” Paw Paw asked. “Yes, brother Roscoe. You can…but you’ll make more if you keep working. “See ya!” Paw Paw said, and he cleaned out his locker and went fishing.

Every morning at 5 am, Paw Paw got up, put his baseball cap on and read the Bible. He told me he read the Bible over twenty five times in his lifetime before his vision went bad. He underlined and made notes in the margins of all of his Bibles. He even developed his own concordances. He’d read other books, too, especially books about John Wesley, but the one he liked best was the King James version of the Bible. Since the house was quiet that early, he could read and write for a few hours before he started bacon and eggs for breakfast. Maw Maw said he was her “short order cook”.

After he retired, Paw Paw took up golf. He got pretty good at it because he retired so early. He would play once or twice a week if Maw Maw would give him the money. He walked the course instead of riding in a cart to get exercise and save money. Since Maw Maw paid the bills, she’d give him a weekly allowance of $5. He said all he needed was a little scratch in his pocket. When he wasn’t playing golf, he’d go to the barber shop and hang around to talk. Then, he’d go to the bakery and hang around to talk. Then, he’d go to all the car repair shop on Bankhead Highway and hang around to talk. Paw Paw liked to talk. That’s what he was known for in the town of Mableton.

Maw Maw worked at downtown Rich’s for over twenty years, but she didn’t get a pension. Right before she was eligible to retire, she got into a car accident and broke her leg. Because she couldn’t stand on her feet for 8 hours to work, Rich’s fired her. She was only months away from getting her retirement. Since Rich’s was a department store, it wasn’t unionized. Luckily, the railroad had a good retirement pension, thanks to unions. Paw Paw was able to put Maw Maw onto his pension and medical so they could both live well in their old age. He used to joke that because he lived so long in retirement, the railroad might send somebody to knock him off. He remained a strong supporter of unions because he knew what life was like without them.

When Maw Maw had to go into a nursing home after she got Alzheimer’s, Paw Paw got real lonely. He said he missed seeing her sit in front of the air conditioner eating a glass of ice cream, complaining about being cold. She would sit for hours and listen to him talk, or at least she’d pretend to listen. When she went away, Paw Paw lost his audience. So, I told him I’d call him every day to check in with him. That’s when I really got to know him. He loved jokes so I’d have one ready before I’d call. I thought I was helping him by calling him every day, but it turned out he was helping me. I got to discover his sense of humor and hear stories about how life was like in the old days.

When he died at 93, I was sad but I knew I’d spent time getting to know him, and I was richer for it. When his casket was carried into Faith Evangelical Methodist Church for the last time, I was surprised to see that, sitting on top of the funeral flowers, was his Yankee’s baseball cap.

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