Last Friday I celebrated all the June birthdays and anniversaries in my family (June is quite a celebration for us) and one of those birthdays was my father’s, Elmer Julius Jackson.
Today would have been Daddy’s 100th birthday. Well, his and his brother’s, Eldred Francis Jackson. They were born June 19, 1919, twins under the sign of Gemini. Pretty cool, right?
And another sort of cool thing was they were almost never called by their real names. Apparently just after their birth, my grandmother’s brother, Uncle Tom, who had the reputation for hanging nicknames on almost all of my grandmother’s children, re-christened them. The story goes that he looked at Daddy’s brother lying in the crib and said, “Popeye!” Then looked at Daddy and said, “Ditto!”
They became “Dit” and “Pop” forevermore.
Daddy was one of 11 children born to his parents, Bessie Moody Jackson and Charles Saunders Jackson, and lived his entire life in Petersburg, Virginia.
A great man for common sense, he was also a man who worked well with his hands. He could fix all kinds of machinery, especially boat motors. He and his father and brothers built the house I grew up in (as well as my grandfather’s and uncle’s houses that flanked ours on Columbia Road).
He loved to hunt squirrel and rabbits, although later in life he gave IT up because his job changed to a rural setting and he began feeding the rabbits and squirrels that were near his place of work. Once he started doing that, he said he lost all interest in hunting them.
He did, however, love to fish, and did so all his life while he was able. He and I and my mother would get up at 0-dark-thirty and drive two hours to put in our little boat near Deltaville, VA and fish for 4-5 hours, usually for croakers and spot. Later in life, we’d get up at the crack of dawn, drive to Yorktown, VA and take what he called a “head boat” out into the Chesapeake Bay and fish for half a day.
His love for animals extended to family pets, especially cats. We always had multiple cats when I was growing up, which is likely why I am such a cat person to this day.
Another thing he was passionate about was his garden. I can’t remember a time when there was not a huge garden down in the lot behind our house. Butter beans, squash, collard greens, onions, potatoes, snaps (green beans), and tomatoes. He was famous for his collards (I still make his recipe for Thanksgiving with the family) and his tomatoes, which he gave bags of to all his family and friends.
He served his country during WWII as an MP in the Army Air Corps, transporting prisoners all over the United States. He used to tell me stories of this, about taking soldiers (usually arrested for desertion) from one base to another on the train–Daddy loved riding trains. And when he could work the schedules right, he’d arrange to stop by Petersburg to see his parents whenever he could. He told me he was very homesick when he was in the Army, and once he was discharged, he never left home again.
My father was a great family man, who looked after his parents while they were alive (they lived beside us), and after me and my mother and all his siblings, while they lived, until he died on March 14, 2005, just shy of his 85th birthday.
Even though it’s been 14 years, I still miss him very much. I cannot help but be proud of him and his life, his integrity, compassion, and set of values that have made me the person I am in so many ways.
So Happy 100th Birthday, Daddy! I love you very, very much!