Thursday, March 17, 2011

He Was

He was born June 2, 1906, in the tiny community of Erect, in Randolph County, North Carolina. His father was killed in a sawmill accident when he was around 3. His mother moved the family to Alamance County when he was 11 or 12, and he became a 5th grade dropout and one of hundreds of child textile mill workers. His family went through hard times. Many of us have “I remember what I was doing when…” stories, but he remembered being up in a tree pushing out a possum for the family supper when the mill whistle started blowing continuously to signal that WWI was over.

He was always good with money. By the time he was in his late teens he was an entrepreneur, in other words, a loan shark. Not the knee breaking kind, but what my uncle calls a "hip pocket banker". He kept working in the mill, and when he was 21 he married and began providing for a family.

 He was too young for WWI, and too old for WWII, but in between he started to raise 3 boys (with a 4th son born in the 50's). He started the first co-op grocery in his area in the 30’s, and started a general variety store in the little town of Ramseur, in the county of his birth. He dabbled in the restaurant business and in the hosiery business too before opening a 2nd store with his brother in 1949 in the Midway section of Burlington.

 He was probably a rich man for the times, but you would have never known it. He lost everything he had in the bank when the depression hit, and he decided from that point forward his money was safer in property and business. He worked hard and every dime he earned that didn’t go to support his family was used to buy property or fed back into the business. He raised his sons to be hard workers, but he had fun with them too. He was the father that took the neighborhood boys fishing or camping. He was the father that could always show a kid how to turn a scrap of wood into something fun. My father still tells stories about the various adventures they had as kids.

 He was a man who loved dogs, especially boxers. He had several in his lifetime, and it seemed like to me they were all named “Duke”. He believed dogs were just like humans and should eat like humans too. If the dog looked hungry then give him the apple pie in there in the kitchen.

He was 62 years old when I was born. To my young eyes he was already old, but it seemed like he was immortal. He was the one that taught me to fish. He taught me to work in the store, first sweeping, then pricing and eventually running the cash register. He taught me not to be squeamish about picking worms out of manure or putting them on the hook. He taught me to like potted meat and Vienna sausages. He was the one that always put me to work, but paid me for my labor, even if it was just enough to buy a piece of gum. He taught me that nothing in life is free, but you can have everything if you work hard enough.

He was the ultimate bargain shopper and never paid full price for anything if he could help it. He would haggle with anyone and didn’t get bent out of shape if people did it to him in his own store. I think he would be proud that I’ve taught my kids the joy of finding a bargain. The original store in Ramseur closed, but he opened another one in Ramseur in the 60's which had to close a few years back when the highway that ran in front of it was widened. But the store in Burlington is still open today. The store has never advertised, and even though the area around it continues to change drastically, the customers are loyal because they remember his willingness to help them when they needed it, and his ability to get things no one else could. It’s a neighborhood of people on fixed incomes and to this day there’s a file box of index cards behind the counter that contains the details of the “credit” accounts.

 He was a living atlas of all the back roads and little towns in North Carolina. He traveled them all before the days of highways and interstates. I learned as I grew that he knew something about and someone in every community within 100 miles. Every time I moved to another town he would come up with someone he knew there & ask me if I knew them.

He was good with his hands and could make anything. Even after he “retired” from the store and the business when he was in his 80’s he got up every day at the crack of dawn and went out to his “shop” where he built the most amazing bird feeders out of scraps. When he didn’t feel like working he’d sit in his shop around the wood stove and entertain his friends. He was always excited to see anyone and always willing to chat.

He was a fisherman, but he wouldn’t eat fish. He fed many hungry families fish dinners through the years. He never gave charity, but he would give anyone a chance.

He was an ice cream lover (a gene that got passed on to my father and me as well). I can’t remember a single time I entered his house without him telling me within the first 5 minutes that there was ice cream in the freezer if I wanted some. And there were always at least 3 flavors.  He would sit down with the grocery store ads each week and determine who had the best special that week on ice cream and that's where he would go to stock up for the week. 

 He was raised in a different time, but he was always willing to learn to change with the new ones, so long as it didn’t require him to give up his dignity or to treat someone with disrespect. He believed in friendship and family until the end.

 He was the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He taught me more than I could ever say. He made me feel special, even though there were 10 others just like me; he made us all feel special. To me, he was the man that would never die. No matter how old I got he was still there, still going, and still making us laugh. I thank God I got to know him for 35 years. 

But on March 17, 2003 my Daddy called to tell me he was gone. He was 96 years old. He was my grandfather. He was my PaPaw.

 “I am standing at the seashore. A ship spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean. I stand watching her until she fades on the horizon, and someone at my sides says, “she is gone”.

Gone where? The loss of sight is in me, not in her. Just at the moment when someone says. “She is gone,” there are others who are watching her coming. Other voices have taken up the loud shout. “Here she comes” And that is dying.*

 As my father said…Fishing gear in hand, PaPaw set his sails to the morning breeze, while on the other shore they took up the glad shout, “Here he comes, fishing pole and all.”

In Memory of Manley Calvin Hayes

*Source of original unclear, but what is posted here is not intended to be complete or accurate to the original.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Would You Be Unbroken?

I enjoy reading non-fiction books from time to time, and when I do, they are usually either World War II or Civil War related. Often I find myself wondering what I would have done had I lived during one of those times.

Recently, I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The book is the story of an Olympic runner who became a Japanese POW during WWII. I enjoyed the book, and I encourage you to read it. The general story is one that thousands of men lived through, but following one man's specific experience somehow makes it seem more real. But what it did more than anything is make me wonder how young men and women, and even myself, would have dealt with a similar situation today.

I don't know. I like to think that I'm a strong person, at least mentally, but it seems to me that not only was that a different place and time, but the people had different mentalities as well. They did what they had to do and there was less whining and griping about it. There wasn't the pervasive sense of entitlement that seems to exist today, especially in the younger generation. I know that I'm stereotyping, and there are definitely exceptions, but so many people seem to act like life always has to be fair and it's just not.

There are many brave young men and women in our military today. My son is one of them. He's currently stationed in TX, but he will probably be deployed sometime in the next year. Recently, his unit went on a training exercise where they had to camp out for a few days. There was an unexpected snow storm and it was much colder than it usually gets in TX. The way the wives (including my son's) freaked out about their husbands out in the cold you would have thought the Army had taken them to Siberia in January in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. No, they probably had not taken all the appropriate gear for the weather with them, but they were still on base, it wasn't like they couldn't get it. But even if they couldn't, they were only out there for a few days. Training is supposed to try to prepare them for the real thing, and sometimes you can't predict what's going to happen in the real thing. The Army certainly wasn't going to intentionally put them in harms way for a training exercise, but the training shouldn't be called off or ended early because the weather didn't cooperate. In war, shit happens, and these young men and women are going to war.

I guess my point is, somehow, I can't see the wives and mothers of the soldiers that were in Bastogne whining and complaining on the Army's Facebook page that their husbands and sons were freezing poor babies. I'm sure they were worried, and I'm sure they were praying hard, that they would survive and return home, but they weren't writing letters telling the Army they should just send the men home because it was too cold for them to be fighting a war.

As for the men whose stories are told in Unbroken, I certainly would never fault them if they complained about the conditions in which they were kept, but somehow I imagine them more focused on how to deal with those conditions and survive rather than sitting around whining about it.