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The Best Example of a Hero: My Grandfather, J.W. Green
The month of August always serves as a bit of an emotional time for me. All three of my grandparents passed away in the month of August, just a few days apart. They were all such loving and caring folks, each playing an important role in my life, so when this month rolls around each year, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for the memories they gave me. Since they all played a profound role in my upbringing and ultimately shaped not only the person I’ve become but also the career I sought out, I figured there was no better time to feature my grandfather, J.W. Green, or as I knew him, “Paw Paw.” Paw Pawwas a man of strength, courage, and faith. He had such an interesting life story because he actually grew up during the height of the Great Depression. I remember him talking about the first job he ever had. When Paw Pawwas a youngman, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued his NewDeal plan, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which aimed to provide youngmen withmanual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments. Throughout the CCC’s nine years of operation, 3 million young
men participated, andmy 19-year-old grandfather was one of them. He started by working on the highways and parks that now carve through much of the North Georgia mountains. Paw Paw later worked his way to a paper mill in a part of Atlanta known as Cabbagetown while simultaneously maintaining an evening shift working as a switchman for the Southern Railroad Company (now known as Norfolk Southern). He eventually worked his way to the role of train engineer. As a child, I would often visit Paw Paw during the latter years of his engineering days, and I remember himwearing the quintessential railroad engineer uniform, complete with striped overalls with a red kerchief hanging out of the back pocket, a pocket watch on a chain tucked in the front, and a striped hat tomatch. After more than 30 years, Paw Paw eventually retired from the railroad company, but he had to find a way to keep himself busy. So, he ended up getting a job as a security guard at the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital and quickly worked his way up to head of security. You can sense a bit of a pattern here. My grandfather had such strength, tenacity, and an impeccable work ethic that everywhere he was employed, he rapidly rose through the ranks. Even when he started having health issues —multiple hip replacements, open heart surgery, and minor strokes —he never stayed down for long. Before we knew it, he’d be right back tending to his garden or out at the lake fishing. However, the best example of the kind of person my grandfather was stemmed from his experience as a father to my mom and her two sisters. When my mom was very young, her biological mother (my grandfather’s first wife) felt that she was unfit to raise her three girls who were ages 2, 5, and 8, so she left. This was back in the late ‘40s when it was unheard of for a single man to raise a family on his own, but that didn’t stop my grandfather. While he had
to put my mom and her sisters in an orphanage so he could work three jobs to afford bills, every single weekend for 10 years, without exception, my grandfather would pick up his three girls and be with them. One of my favorite songs that reminds me of Paw Paw has a line that says, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then. They love them forever and forever, amen.” Nomatter what happened, despite the odds and the social pressures against him, these were his girls, and Paw Paw had the courage to raise and love them as much as he possibly could. About 10 years later, Paw Pawmet andmarried the love of his life, Dorothy, and along with Paw Paw, she helped raise my mother and her two sisters. The woman I knew as“Nanny”passed in August 1998. Paw Paw followed her four years later in August 2002. When I spoke at Paw Paw’s funeral, I said that he had not done any of those things that would typically describe a hero. Although my grandfather never fought in a war, never rescued a child from a burning building, and never hit a home run to win the World Series, he was my hero.
Tome, heroes show courage and strength, have a strong faith, and always do the right thing.
That perfectly describes my Paw Paw, and it is just as true today as it was many years ago.
www.kevintharpe.com | 1 -J. Kevin Tharpe
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