Friday, June 13, 2008 - Burlington TheTimesNews - "Farmer, soldier, merchant, father"

June 13, 2008 - 2:58PM
By Jay Ashley/Times-News

Farmer, soldier, merchant, father

I was a father, but I have been many other things.Jay Ashley.jpg (7729 bytes)

I was a farm boy, a soldier, a merchant. I worked in the summer swelter and bitter of winter. I planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. I saw welcome rain, parching drought, stunted crops and bounty.

I stooped and reached, hefted and lifted. I worked in fields and grubbed new ground. I felled trees and harrowed fields.

I hunted for food and set gums for rabbits.

I walked miles in hand-me-down shoes and clothes to a schoolhouse heated by wood in a fire I built. We talked to the tune of a hickory stick and we walked home again.

I had my fun as a teenager. I once drove a car into a ditch and later had to explain to my father how red-mud footprints got on the top of the car.

I fought for freedom during World War II, building pontoon bridges as engineers for other soldiers to cross on the fight across Europe. I had pretty dark-haired French girlfriends who wrote me letters and sent me pictures of themselves and called me "Jimmy".

My father's store in a crossroads community in Southern Alamance County became my own. I opened the store before the sun could begin stretching and yawning and scratching away its sleep, and got home long after night blew out its candle and jumped under the covers. I stocked shelves and stacked feed sacks and milled corn for customers. I listened to stories around a hot stove, played checkers and Setback, and pumped gas and changed oil.

I got married and had three children, a boy and two girls. I taught them the value of hard work and to appreciate the simplicity of life. I built a new store across the road from the old one. The hours were still long, but I not only had a store, but I had a little grill inside, a fertilizer house, a car wash and the help of my children. My wife ran her beauty shop in the same building. I gave credit to people who needed it, and lost those loans when the customers didn't pay. In the end, that didn't extend my life any longer or cut it any shorter.

I raised hay and tobacco on my farm. I milked a cow every morning, made sure the pigs and calves and horses were fed and cared for, the fields were mowed and the crops tended.

I raised and showed Tennessee Walking Horses. I went two or three times to the National Walking Horse celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., to see what the champions looked like.

I played baseball as a boy and teenager, but I never aspired to be a professional. I followed the exploits of local boys who made good and I enjoyed the game in my retirement when I subscribed to a Major League Baseball TV package. Some of the best money I ever spent.

I always loved building things, from houses and stores, to barns and out buildings. I was a bit of a practical inventor and enjoyed figuring out what made gadgets work.

I went to my Army reunions. I wasn't the last of my crowd to die, but the rest weren't far behind.

I enjoyed communing with my comrades at the American Legion, eating suppers with Stout's Fish House Gang, and visiting with friends and neighbors of my life. I enjoyed chewing tobacco and talking politics. I sold my store property and spent my last years on acreage with two ponds and enough equipment to keep a garden and muscadine arbor. 

The fruits of my labor sent my children through higher education, as a writer, a nurse and a hairdresser. They had children and their children had children. There wasn't a bad apple in the barrel.

I no longer tread the earth in my mortal coil. I am buried with my first wife in the Pleasant Hill Church Cemetery.

I know my son wishes I had spent more time talking with him about my life, my service in the war, and recollecting the old times. I just wasn't that kind of guy.

I'm glad I did tell him, before I died, that I was proud of what he had accomplished as a man and father. I was proud of his writing, even when he wrote those columns I couldn't understand. He told me other people told him the same thing, so I guess I was in good company.

Jay Ashley is managing editor of the

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