Around 0100 today, 27 Aug 2012 my Mother’s Father, my Grandaddy, passed from this earth. I’ll forgive anyone who doesn’t feel like reading past here, you never knew him most likely, but he, in large part, made me who I am today and, since I won’t make it back for the funeral, this is my public eulogy for the greatest heart I have ever known.
James “Ted” Calhoun was an incredible man. Born in the Depression in Etowah County, Alabama. One of several children, they were fairly well off for the time. They owned several hundred acres, including some bottom land, and leased a bit of it off to share-croppers. His mother was the teacher for the one-room schoolhouse they all attended between farm chores. Directly descended from John C. Calhoun the Vice-President, he could recall the first washing machine, radio, TV and car that ever came down Rainbow Drive.
He went when he was called. He served as a radioman on a sub-chaser in the Pacific. His ship is the one that gave the message to the waves of Marine landing craft to hit the beach at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. He said he would come over the radio and say “Green, hit dog beach” and they would come back with “Hit the damn beach yourself!” He recalls at one island a Japanese officer came out on the beach and was able to hit their ship with his pistol. His ship was beached during a typhoon and resources couldn’t be spared to get them off the beach, so they lived marooned on the beach for several months. He says he had the ships compass, a M1 and a .45 in his bag when they got home, but the shore police confiscated them.
He came home and married his high school sweetheart. They had my mother and her brother and built a house in Rainbow City. He got in with the Health Department and retired 30 something years later. On the side he built and wired houses, did home inspections and septic perk tests. He was a deacon for over 50 years and before I was born had received every award the Lions Club has.
By the time I came along he was near retirement. Most every summer me and my brother would spend weeks at a time staying with him and Meme. He took us out to “help” him wire houses and do handyman jobs by the time I was 10. He paid us $50 a week to be his helpers and we earned it! Raking leaves, pulling wires through the rafters at a new house, making up switch and plug boxes, ripping out old flooring, digging perk test pits you name it and he taught us how to do it. Then, when the long, hot summer day of work was done and we had eaten our Vienna sausage and sardine and pickled pig’s feet and drunk our Cokes with peanuts we would drive down to the Coosa river and swim. I remember being in the river with him and asking him what each bird was as it flew over. He taught me to identify robins and starlings and purple martins by the way they flew.
When we weren’t working, we were playing. he took us up to Collinsville, to Mr. Bobo’s catfish lakes. Mr. Bobo had been putting in 1-10 acre ponds all over his mountain property for 30 years, about 1 a year, and stocking them with catfish and bream. He charged $1 per pound for the fish and $.50 per pound to clean them. I’m surprised Grandaddy didn’t have a heart attack the first time we went up there, I think we came away with $100 in catfish! That is where he taught me to find catalpa worms and use them for bait. He taught us to clean fish too. He took us hunting on the old farm property. It had been sold off while he was away to WWII, but he knew the folks who owned it (he knew EVERYONE in Etowah County) and got us permission to hunt the same fields and woods he hunted as a boy. He told us stories about the fox cabin some men had built with his dad’s permission up on the ridge and listening to them run dogs all night. He told us about hunting silver fox with an old hammer side by side twelve gauge and taught us to make good shots, because you were expected to bring home game for every bullet you spent.
Oh, the stories he told of his boyhood! He and a neighbor boy were sitting in the back of a cotton wagon playing with matches. They burnt up the wagon and 2 bales of cotton. At $40 a bale back when a good field hand made $.25 a day and glad to get it they both couldn’t sit for a week! Or the time, when he was about 15, he was hired to use their 6 mule team to plow a neighbors field. He decided that morning to start chewing tobacco. He hadn’t been plowing 15 minutes and he swallowed the plug! he said “Well, the man paid me, so I took a few steps, puked, and took a few more”. But, he plowed that field. They just don’t make’em like that anymore.
He was the most genuinely good man I ever met. His heart, his longsuffering, his steadfast friendship marked him as a most unusual man. He lived by an older Code. I remember when I was real little, they had a maid who came in a couple times a week to help with the laundry and cleaning and to bake the most delicious dinner yeast roles you ever ate in your life! Eddy (Edith) was an older black woman and she let me and my little brother follow her around. She would spray the wood furniture with lemon Pledge and gave us a soft rag to wipe the furniture with. Man, were we proud! When she got too old to do it anymore Grandaddy would take us around to their home from time to time to help out. We emptied their gutters, fixed the screen door, that kind of thing. It was the Christian thing to do. I remember, even after I was in college, so he would have been in his early 80’s, he grabbed me one day and said “come on, son”. We went around and cleaned the gutters for the old widow women as he called them, most of whom were younger than him!
I remember sitting under their carport on many a summer evening shelling ears of corn and picking purple hull peas. I remember sitting in the living room watching Alabama football and picking cracked pecans. We always put down his old wool army blanket to keep the hull pieces out of the red shag carpet. He came in every single night before me and my brother went to bed and read to us from the old family Bible.
I’m gonna miss you Grandaddy. I’m glad you have gone home, this last year was not kind. But, for my sake and the sake of my family, we are gonna miss you something fierce! I am the man I am because you were the man you were. I pray, with all my soul, I can run my race half as well as you did. I love you, Grandaddy, I always will.