As I have gotten older, my mind seems to frequently take me back to LaGrange, the place of my birth.
I remember my father, whom most people called “Nip.” His real name was E.F. Dowell.
The initials did not mean a thing. From what I was told he is alleged to have discarded the name he was actually given because the person he was named after committed suicide. My father renamed himself E.F. Dowell.
He did this when he was around 15 years of age. My father worked in one of the local cotton mills as a warehouse worker and later supervisor for more than 50 years.
You know what? I never heard my father complain about being too tired or sick to go to his job, which barely paid for a family of five children.
He supplemented his income, however, by working cooperatively in the moonshine business with some of the most dangerous men who lived in a multi-county area of LaGrange. These were black and white men who put aside race to become temporary partners in their liquor enterprise. It is alleged that these men were able to function with impunity because of powerful collaborators in the law enforcement business.
My father maintained these strange relationships until I entered high school. Overall, my father was a very popular fellow in the city. Although he did not have a high school education, he is very much a part of the LaGrange archives.
You see, my father was a very good baseball pitcher. He played for a team called the LaGrange City Cats. I attended many baseball games watching my father, famously known for his style of pitching, defeat many teams.
In our home though, the man who stood on the mound as a major athlete, was simply called “Daddy.” As a child, this was boring.
In 1947, however, my father’s name was forever etched in LaGrange history. It was the year that the best teams in the Negro Leagues from Alabama and Georgia met at historic Washington High, located in Atlanta, to determine which team would stand along as the very best. In the end, my father pitching for the LaGrange City Cats won the East/West baseball series.
My mother was a full-time mom. She was always available for the family. She was a very serious person who did not lightly suffer fools. In our small community, in fact, she was known as a tough no-nonsense person but was willing to help anyone who was hungry or on occasion needed a small loan to tide them over until things got a little better.
I am a little like my mother. I have a very serious personality which I conceal by teasing and joking.
My mother enjoyed cooking and leading up to her fifties, she suffered from being overweight. While growing up, most of my friends’ mothers were, in fact, considered overweight.
An interesting fact is that while living for three years in Ghana, West Africa, I discovered that a husband with a healthy wife (overweight) was a sign of prosperity. This appears to be the same tradition in a number of other African countries.
In retrospect, I often wonder whether this African tradition was actually carried over into the African-American community.
What was so interesting about living in LaGrange is that people had the strangest names. My mother and father’s friends had names like Flew Doo, Quick Draw, Hambone, May Lou and even Lou Po Hill.
Back then we could play with cap guns and Red Ryder BB guns without giving any thought to using real guns to kill others. I loved playing cowboys and Indians, not realizing that by today’s standards I could be considered by some as being culturally insensitive.
Things were not as complicated as they are now. I watch, almost on a monthly basis, adult men and women who were the stalwarts of my community in LaGrange becoming frail with illnesses; some even dying.
As a child, I viewed these people as being invincible who would probably live forever. I was a child then, I have since watched my own parents become weak and die because of the vicissitudes of life.
Their deaths forced me to contend with my own mortality. I put things in proper perspective now. My credo is to live life to the fullest and to lend a helping hand to others as I traverse the various paths which will ultimately lead to my final rite of passage.
I have finally learned that no matter what I do, life is very short and we will be dead a lot longer than we would have lived, leaving precious memories to those whom we leave behind.
Begin today, to enjoy your life.
Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at [email protected]