News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists
SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2005


Charles drove tractor a long way

Aunt Mable married Charles Brown when she was 19 and he was 17, which caused my grandparents a great deal of grief.

He came out of the hills of Tennessee as poor as the down and out folks my grandfather took in by choice during the Great Depression.

After a while he took Aunt Mable to Tennessee, which my grandparents liked even less. Eventually, they gave the young couple a 40-acre farm to lure them back to Blount County.

With that stake, Charles made it.

Like many farm couples, they had a houseful of children — all girls — to help in the fields. He sort of adopted me because Dad was away from home much of the time working for the railroad.

I loved the guy. He was a raw, kind, religious, energetic money-making machine who proved that a hard-working vegetable farmer could coax gold from a plot of good ground.

He was a tall, dark-skinned man with black hair and a hearty laugh. Dad and some of my uncles said he bragged too much. They were jealous, even of his claim to be somewhere between a half and fourth Cherokee Indian.

The last time I saw Charles was nearly 10 years ago in a Birmingham hospital. "I'm dying," he said.

"You don't look like you are," I replied.

"I am," he said. "It's OK." And he died that night.

I caught a glimpse of Charles recently when his 37-year-old grandson came looking for me here at the newspaper.

He's tall, dark, has the easy conversation of his grandfather and black hair. And he's doing well in private investment management in Atlanta.

He left me with the delightful image of Charles, wearing an old felt hat to fend off the sun as he rode his Ford tractor to financial independence and a seat on his local bank board.

And, like his grandfather, he married a woman two years his senior.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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