(Update: May 8, 2012 - I asked my mother to be my editor for this post. She made a few corrections and added a few details I did not know about. Her additions are in blue.)
My grandfather is turning 87 this month. Our family calls him "papaw" and "daddy." He is my last living grandparent. He is an amazing man. That's not opinion. That is fact.
He has led an amazing life spurred on by curiosity, ingenuity and discipline. During WWII he worked on airplanes. While in the military, he attended school hoping to become a professional photographer but abandoned the dream because of the war and a shortage of film. He never lost his love of photography and snapped many award-quality shots that still excite him as he relates the moment. After the war, he moved back to Water Valley, Mississippi and married my grandmother ("memaw"). The two of them started a large family having five children; one each year for five years of which my mother is the youngest.
Among the many stories papaw takes pride in telling is how he was the first person in Water Valley to have a role of color film developed, and their family was the first in Water Valley to own a color television set. In addition to his full time work as a sewing machine mechanic at a local pants factory and later a door-to-door insurance salesman, he operated Cox Sewing service. He loved selling sewing machines and had a passion for repairing them. He has an inventor's heart and made many tools whenever he couldn't find one that served his purposes. Today, he has about 100 screw drivers of varying sizes that he hand-made. He loves to create and work with his hands. Most recently, he built his own bed frame using a tree that his brother planted in his back yard nearly a half century ago. The head board has a space for books.
He doesn't build much in his shop anymore. It's difficult for him to remember the tasks he starts. He gets confused easily. He has a lot of great stories to share but has a hard time telling them, struggling to find and speak the words. He starts one story and half way through will change to a totally different story. It's hard to watch him deteriorate like this. It's hard because he has always been a strong man in my perspective. He is still strong-willed, but not physically strong like he used to be.
Last summer, I made a visit to Water Valley to visit papaw and the Cox family. I took my Yashica 635 and two rolls of film (one color, one black & white). Here are a few shots from that trip.
He designed and built a recycling bin for tin cans and placed it in his yard to help raise money for local churches doing missionary work in Nicaragua and South Africa. He started the ministry in memory of his wife after she died in 1998. Town folk still stop by his house to drop off cans in his bin. About two years ago, he had to sell his truck dirt cheap to a new owner with the promise that they would continue the tradition of taking the cans to be recycled and donations would be made to missionary work. He designed the bin with a prop on the front that makes it easier to reach over the bin.