Remembering Papaw

This is a few months late, but after Thanksgiving and heading into the Holidays, it is as good a time as any. For those outside the South (or Appalachian Mid-West apparently), Papaw (or some variant) is a name for a granddad. My Papaw was Jeffie Cleveland (J.C.) Hunt, Jr. He died back in July, a few months after turning 94.

My last memory of him comes from the Saturday before he died. I loaded up my month old twin boys, one of which has the initials J.C., after him, and Sprout to head down to my parents for everyone to meet them (and give Mrs. MMT some rest). Papaw was mostly in a wheelchair at this point, and with them being so small and he being old, he was scared to hold them. He had thick white hair (my mom tells me it all turned white in his 40’s, a trait I fear I may have inherited) and these intensely bright blue eyes; it sets up quite a contrast. I bring the boys over so he can seem them closely, he reaches up and grabs their feet with a smile and a little bit of a tear in those bright eyes. He died less than a week later.

Born in rural south Alabama, he was number seven of 13 children. His dad, J.C., Sr., was a Church of Christ pastor and a farmer. I inherited dozens of his books, some more than 100 years old, including a Bible he bought in 1920 for $20, which according to the US Inflation Calculator is $257.35 in 2019 dollars. Papaw joined the Navy when he was 17 and left of the Pacific Theater of WW2, where he learned to be a machinist. When he cam back, a family friend and lawyer thought that he’d be a good lawyer and was able to get him into Auburn, but formal school was not for him and shortly after someone offered him a job at a machine shop and he took it so that he could get married.

He was a quite man with a uniquely bright mind, he liked working with his hands. He completely built an entire house, the one in which my mom grew up, in the 50’s, and then built the cabin to which they retired in the 80’s. He turn an old VW into a dunbuggy when my mom was in high school. When the moved from the rural cabin to be closer to my mom in the 90’s, he turned the garage of that house in to a beauty shop (my memaw cut hair) then built a new garage (with a ramp to help the cats get over the fence), then built a workshop/barn out back where he experimented with different varietals of peas and beans (a decent one I remember was a black-eyed pea crossed with a lima bean). He had an interest in learning/keeping his mind going and taught himself guitar/dulcimer, attempted to teach himself Spanish (despite never having Mexican food until he was in his 80’s a referring to tortilla chips as Mexican Crackers), and he was my only grandparent who learned how to use a computer, internet, and even Facebook.

Another thing I’ll also remember about him was how much he liked ice cream. I can easily picture him younger, from the days we’d spend over there, wearing coveralls with no shoes hold that big tub of Neapolitan ice cream. I don’t think he ever had any until joining the Navy, and he told me while others spent their money on booze and women, he spent what he had on ice cream. When he was 85 he had a heart attach and had to be lifeflighted (the first/last time he ever flew) to a hospital in Atlanta. When I went to visit him he was eating ice cream. He told me it took him 85 years to go through the first heart, so he didn’t have to worry about wearing this one out (he didn’t have a transplant, just a quadruple bye-pass, but he liked to say he had a new heart, eyes (cataract surgery), and knees (reconstruction).

There are other stories, and we shared those with each other at the funeral, especially the wild stories about growing up in the South in the 20′ and 30’s, but this is already longer than he’d ever want written about him. He loved his ever-growing family (my boys make 18-20 great grandchildren, depending on how you count some) and especially liked Sprout (whom he said was a spitfire and a pistol) and some of the toddlers because they were so loud. He was near deaf for probably the last five years, but he could hear those screaming/giggling little girls. At holidays and lunches, he’d just sit and watch them run around, with a little tear in those bright blue eyes.

Edit: One more story, when he knew I was bringing the boys down, he had my mom get two 50 dollar bills, couldn’t be a single $100 to split, one for each of them for their college fund.

J.C. Hunt, Jr.
May 18, 1925 – July 12, 2019

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