Carl Dixon was in the seed, fertilizer, chemical, and propane business in Alapaha, Georgia, for almost 25 years until he died three weeks before I was born [1909–1983]. Last Wednesday I serendipitously ran into his eldest son Joe Dixon on the way to see my mom at Bank of Alapaha. I was contemplating taking the plunge and getting an overdue haircut at Becky’s Beauty Salon just a stone’s throw away.
As we talked I peppered Mr. Joe with questions about his father, since Mr. Joe has been sharing weekly chapters of a prospective manuscript on Facebook. According to the former Alapaha mayor, “Daddy came to the bank with me one time. He had co-signed a note, and I paid what I could. After seeing Mr. J.P. Culpepper we went back and got in the truck. Daddy said, ‘Son, you can’t borrow yourself out of debt.’ That’s all he told me, but I knew what he meant — you’ve gotta quit borrowing money and start earning. I never asked him to sign another note with me.
“Another time I needed to go to Dick Tucker’s Service Station and have some tires put on my car. Daddy said, ‘Son, you don’t need no tires.’ ‘Uh, yes sir I do.’ He held his hand out and said, ‘Bring me the keys.’ So I went and got the keys, put him in his hand, and he put them in his pocket and never said another word. For the next month I’d catch a ride with somebody else. I didn’t dare mention that car to my daddy. Finally one day he walked up to me and gave me the keys back and said, ‘Now go to Dick Tucker’s and get you some tires. Remember, it costs money to drive that car.’ We didn’t have a big fuss but Daddy didn’t mess around. When he said something you did it. He came up the hard way and never forgot.
“He cared about young people trying to start out. If they couldn’t get a loan at the bank, they would walk in his office. He’d ask them a bunch of questions. ‘Son, what are you gonna grow?’ ‘Corn, tobacco, cotton…’ ‘How do you plan to do that? Are you in school? Have you got a wife and kids?’ Finally he’d say, ‘Alright, I’m gonna run you some credit. When you sell your corn, come here first and pay me.’ He was that way because he started out with nothing and was 11 years old when he rode a train to Alapaha all by himself nearly 100 years ago in 1920. Both his mama and daddy had died, and Carl didn’t wanna go live with his aunt. A man named Mr. Hughes and his wife gave Carl the opportunity to work in his store.
“By 14 Carl knew he wanted to be a farmer. He had a knack for getting along with farmers. He knew what they were dealing with — dry weather, wet weather, prices — you name it. He could finance farmers and they would try to pay him. I don’t know why. A lot of businesses struggle when they try to get paid back. Farmers don’t mean to, but they get in a tight and don’t pay people what they owe. I heard a story about Daddy giving Rossie McMillan a price on fertilizer. Rossie teased him, ‘Carl, can’t you do a little better?’ ‘Yeah, son. I could just give it to you.’ ‘No, I don’t want you to give it to me!’ Russell told me he never asked Daddy about another price. Whatever the price was, he just paid it. Daddy was already cheaper than anybody else, but Rossie was gonna try and get him down a little bit.
One of Carl’s customers was my grandpa Paul Luke [1917–1995]. He was a deacon at this church, preached at Rowetown, hauled wood shavings to chicken houses, and grew sweet corn, watermelons, and other vegetables after successful treatment of a malignant melanoma behind the ear prompted his retirement in 1983, coincidentally the same year of my birth and Carl’s death. I called my Uncle Terrell Luke and asked him about Grandpa. Uncle Terrell had a cold and was kinda gruff — he’s actually gruff all the time which he probably learned from being a terminal manager in Miami for Ryder — responsible for the yellow carrier trucks that once hauled as many as six cars on the top and bottom spotted along Highway 82. Uncle Terrell traveled to almost every state in the USA, dealing with constant aggravation, pressure, firing lazy employees, that sorta thing.
In between him coughing and clearing his throat, Uncle Terrell said, “When I was a boy your grandpa worked hard from six in the morning to six at night running Toby’s Truck Stop in Alapaha. When he got off from work, your grandma Thelma would drop us off way up the river. We’d be floating along and he’d sit in the front of the boat using a paddle to guide it. He was one of the best fly rod fishermen I ever saw. He threw that fly rod line right where he wanted it to land, even if it was next to a stump or log where a fish bed might be. The only place where he stuck a hook was in a fish. He never missed.
“I only heard one cross word between your grandparents in all my years growing up. He didn’t guide me in one direction as far as what I was gonna do in life. Of course I had no idea what I was gonna do and was headstrong like a lot of teenagers — that quality still runs in our family. Your grandpa taught me to treat people as good as they’ll let you treat them and to offer help if you see they’re in need. He was more religious than probably any of my friends’ dads.”
The primary guiding influence in my early thirties was Elritha Adams [1933–2018], who recollected that there were complications during her daughter Brenda’s first pregnancy. Unsure of where to turn, Ms. Elritha placed a phone call to my grandpa, who advised that they pray and abstain from eating breakfast for seven days. The bundle of joy eventually arrived safe and sound and is now a committed physician’s assistant with a spunky daughter of her own. My grandpa was not perfect by any means and had his fair share of problems, but in that instance prayer, dedication, humility, and faith in the Lord transformed the insurmountable. Lightly edited for clarity, now you have devoured my 2019 Father’s Day speech given at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
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© Jeremy Roberts, 2019. All rights reserved. To touch base, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.