It's a ritual now. When Christmastime comes around, I get pulled back into a time and place that gets hazier and more distant every year, like an old Twilight Zone episode. And don't you know, I find myself thinking about my long-dead daddy, Jabo Jowers. Just so y'all will know: Jabo spoke his name in a way that rhymed with "Bab-O," the cleansing product. So don't think his name was "Jay-bo."
Jabo was the only son of George Jowers, an uneducated, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, wobbly-legged reprobate who spent most of his time wallowing on the ground or trying to get up off the floor.
The way Jabo told it to me, George Jowers did only three things for his son. First, he gave Jabo a pet goat, which Jabo trained to butt George's ass. The goat was highly reliable, and would ass-whack George off the porch every time he bent over.
Soon after, George stole a pair of roller skates, and told young Jabo that he'd have to use them to skate over to the Colonial Bakery every day and bring some money back home.
For George's third strike, he got Jabo into elementary school, where Jabo fought his way up to the fourth grade. Jabo dropped out soon after he dropped in.
That's how Jabo became my Christmastime touchstone. After he told me a few stories about life with George Jowers, I could tell that Jabo had dedicated his adult life to keeping me out of trouble, misery, poverty, meanness and ignorance.
Some time in the early '60s, back at the Jowers house in Burnettown, S.C., Jabo made up his mind that I'd never have to sic a goat on him, I'd never have to roller-skate across Augusta and I'd never have to go to a worthless school.
Jabo was not educated, but he was bright. He was plenty bright enough to plan a heist now and then, bright enough to lie convincingly to the federal agents who raided our backyard sheet-metal-and-hard-liquor shop, and bright enough to direct the agents to me, because Jabo knew that at age 16 I could tell a tale better than he could.
"No sir, agent," I said. "I have not seen any large glass containers." (Because I've already thrown them into the swamp.) "Big bags of sugar? No sir, haven't seen any such. I guess I might've gotten them mixed up with the dog food bags. That big cylinder over there, that's a water heater." (Which I had just finished welding into a 40-gallon condenser.) Jabo might've had a fourth-grade education, but he had the mind and hands of a sculptor. He could neatly remove VIN plates from wrecked cars, then fit them into cars he "found by the side of the road."
Note for those with sheltered lives and the general population of uninformed folk: Just about everything is by the side of the road. It's the same situation as three-fourths of the Earth being covered by water. So, when you hear some wise-guy schemer talking about something he "found by the side of the road," that means there's at least a 75 percent chance that he stole it outright.
Back in the summer of 1971, in the days before portable resuscitators, clot-busting drugs and stents, Jabo dropped dead on the floor of the Augusta, Ga., AMVETS club while doing the boogaloo.
Jabo's then-wife, the evil and snake-faced Montine, couldn't wait to dig through drawers and chests looking for dollar bills, spare change, ugly jewelry and anything else she could stuff into her pockets, so she hurried back to the Jowers house and told me that Jabo was dead.
Ever since, Jabo has always come to see me at Christmas. He's dead, of course, but he knows how to get my attention. It's simple: He knocks on my head, I let him in and he haunts me until he's ready to go back to wherever it is he goes. I like to think that he's put his trials and tribulations behind him during the 40 years he's been gone. There's nothing he can do about any of it now. But there is this: When Jabo was alive — but maybe not so well — he put forth a lot of effort to keep me on the right track. Jabo knew what I shouldn't do, and he knew how to tell me. I can't hear his voice anymore; I miss it. But I know what he'd say: "Boy, don't you disappoint the old man."
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