Remembering Granddaddy

This is a few months late, but after Thanksgiving and heading into the Holidays, it is as good a time as any. Coincidentally, he died on the previous Friday the 13th. My Granddaddy, James George Turner, died three months ago today, and it is hard to express the impact he had on my life. As I mentioned when writing about my Grandmother, I lived next to my grandparents from about eight years old until I left for college, and when school was out of the summer, my brother and I spent our days with them. They lived on a little more than 30 acres and Mrs. MMT actually lived with them for a few months before we was married (she has a unique name and with his accent, he never quite pronounced her name correctly). He had a huge vegetable garden in which he grew corn, butter beans, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, peppers, okra, etc. Actually, the last day I saw him, on Labor Day, he was telling me about the first time he grew watermelons. He didn’t expect them to grow so easily and he had a truck full, so many he couldn’t even give them away.

He was born on land that would become the airport (there is actually a grave site surrounded by the runways, where his [maybe great] granddad is buried). He served in the Navy during WW2 in the South Pacific. When he returned, he married my Grandmother, to whom he was married almost 73 years before she died. He got a job as a firefighter and eventually worked his way up to Deputy Chief, before retiring in the early 70’s. He also helped build and then manage an apartment building, and in his other spare time worked as a contractor and painted grocery stores; going as far away as ‘May-retta’ (this is only a 30 minute drive now, with interstates). With the sale of the apartments and his pension, he was able to retire around the age of 50. He was actually the oldest living pensioner at the time he died (he drew his pension for 45 years).

When he moved ‘out’ to their house, it was on a dirt road with a little Baptist church down the street that had just hired a new young pastor. They became friends and my granddad devoted most of the rest of his life to this church (then one in which I would eventually be baptized). The pastor is still alive and was able to do the funeral, which was the best one I’ve ever attended. Not only he spoke, but so did the pastor who replaced him. They could not say enough. He had chaired four building committees (to the older pastor, this was the biggest accomplishment), he taught Sunday School for 40 something years, and served one and off as a deacon. Apparently, people used to drive out to Granddaddy’s house just to talk with him and gain insight and wisdom. I was surprised as the pastor spoke, saying that my granddad had impacted 10’s of thousands and 100’s of thousands. My first thought was, well, that is probably a bit exaggerated, but he continued and said it could have even been millions. It was wild to find out that he was an even greater man than I already thought.

He either had a 9th or 10th grade education, I don’t remember which, but that was all there was then, and he self described as a ‘C’ student who bared finished. Despite that, he loved to read, and bought multiple commentaries on various books of the Bible (some of which were the same that I would buy 40-50 years later, we also had some of the same devotionals) and many well worn study Bibles. He took studying the Word seriously, and in one of the commentaries, I found a correspondence course he was taking on the Old Testament.

He loved to read, and along with his study, he read all the John Grisham books he could. I also remember staying with them over the summers and watching Matlock together. He wold often encourage me to go to school to be a lawyer (which was my plan, until it wasn’t). He also loved to fish, something else he and I had in common and a few years ago, when he realized he wouldn’t fish again, he game me some of his on stuff, including an original (1947) Mitchell 300 (the first ever open face spin-reel).

This is a story I only heard about recently, but he was so intent on leading his family and my Grandmother as a man of God, that back in the 70’s, I guess when they used to take more family vacations with my dad and sister, he bought a percolator that could be plugged into a cigarette lighter. In the mornings, he and my Grandmother would go out to the car, have some coffee and he would lead her in a devotional. I own this percolator now and was showing my men’s group this Sunday, as a challenge to them (and me) on how we should be leading out families/wives.

The stories I could write are innumerable, but I suppose I’ll wrap up here. Almost everything I learned about being a man (especially a Christian man), I learned form him. I was also named after him (though I go by another name), which seems to have given me at least some other level of connect (I also named one of my sons after him, with whom he is playing in the last photo we have of Granddaddy alive).

There is something so comforting having no doubt where he is, and knowing that he is with my Grandmother again. It is also challenging, as his example is something I aspire to (I have one building under my belt). Both he and her’s impact on their church is something we hope we will be known/remembered for many years down the road. As I wrote above, he impact on my life can’t be measured, not the impact on my kids, as I will always remember him as an example of how to act in life, as a man, as a father and husband, and as follower of Christ. I think he was aware of his role as the patriarch of the family and wanted to instill that sense of hard work and devotion on us. It is hard to be too sad when someone leads as long (he was 94) and active and fulfilling life as he did, but he will be missed.

Edit: One of the things I wanted to remember was how he had that supposedly bygone manliness of a past era, while (maybe ahead of this time, in that view) he still had a focus on relationships and gave them great value. Examples would include him pulling a stump out of the ground just a few weeks after having a stroke in his late 70’s, or re-shingling his roof, himself, in his early 80’s. All the while, he thought you should yell at your children or discipline them while angry and tried to impress upon me the importance of  putting work into your marriage, to listen and care for your wife.

Final Edit: The pastor, who had known him so many decades, said he exemplified Psalm 1, and I think that is a great summary of his life and really a goal of anyone who takes the Christian life seriously.

James Turner
May 11, 1925 – September 13, 2019

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