One Less Happy Old Man 

Christmas isn't the same without Jabo Jowers around

Christmas isn't the same without Jabo Jowers around

I’m prone to getting a little sad at Christmastime. It’s not because I’ve had sad Christmases. I’ve had a long string of fine ones, and I couldn’t wish for any better. I get sad because my daddy, Jabo Jowers, has missed the last 30 Christmases in a row. That, by itself, is a singular crying shame.

You see, Christmas was Jabo Jowers’ big time. To appreciate how big a time it was, you have to understand how Jabo started out. He was raised by George Jowers, an utterly useless full-time gutter drunk, and Sally Jowers, who was drained of all hope and joy the day she moved in with George.

Jabo had to take over the Jowers house when he was 9 years old. He dropped out of school and got a job at the Colonial Bakery in Augusta, Ga., about two miles from his house. He traveled to work on roller skates, which I assume he stole. According to Jabo, George Jowers never gave him anything—not a penny, not a puppy, not a pair of shoes. Jabo told me that the happiest day of his life was when he watched the family goat butt George Jowers in the ass, knocking him off the front porch of the house.

When Jabo was about 18, he married my mother, Susie Cleckley. Soon after, Jabo built a house two doors down from Susie’s mother and sister. Jabo was a handsome fellow, with sparkly ice-blue eyes. He was known for his full-out jitterbugging and outrageous storytelling. He worked as the foreman at Modern Roofing and Metal Works. Jabo and Susie had two children: my half-brother, Geames, from Susie’s brief previous marriage, and my sister Ann. Geames was a hardcore juvenile delinquent. Ann, bless her, never was quite right in the head. Susie blamed it on the measles.

Fifteen years after Geames and 10 years after Ann, I came along. All his adult life, Jabo had wanted nothing more than his very own boy child, and there I was. To hear family tell it, Jabo was the proudest daddy ever. By the time I was old enough to know I was alive, Geames and Ann had both married and had moved out of the house. It was just me and Jabo and Susie.

When I was about 9, I figured out that Jabo wasn’t quite right himself. He still had a fair bit of George in him. First I learned that Jabo was a rip-roaring honky-tonking drunk, but only on Fridays. He’d stay out until dawn, then come in through the front door walking sideways and talking like a Shakespearean actor. The drunker Jabo got, the fancier he talked. Jabo’s Friday binges caused a lot of damage. He crashed a few cars. One crash killed Jabo’s friend Frank Baker and nearly killed Jabo. Another Friday, Jabo got into a knife fight, got his neck slashed, and almost bled to death. On his weirdest Friday of all, Jabo took a shotgun over to Geames’ house and shot out the windows while Geames was inside. That got him some jail time.

Susie died in 1966. Except for brief stays by two stepmothers, which I hardly noticed, it was just me and Jabo after that. Jabo started his own business. He put me in charge of correspondence, bookkeeping, and, as he put it, “bringing up the ignorant end” when it came to actual work.

A lot of Jabo’s work was perfectly legitimate. For instance, he made smokestacks and chainguards for the local cookie factory, giant metal letters for signs, and custom horse trailers. But while he was doing that, he ran a pretty good side business making house-size liquor stills. Jabo’s moonshiner clients also had some branch operations, primarily in stolen cars and boats. Jabo was in on that too. He cut ID numbers out of wrecked cars and boats and carefully placed them on stolen ones. Although Jabo and I were questioned by the FBI, Jabo remained unindicted and unjailed until his untimely death in 1971, when he dropped dead while he was trying to bugaloo at the Amvet’s club in Augusta, Ga. Oddly enough, Jabo had completely given up drinking by then. Maybe that’s what got him.

Now, you might be wondering: “What’s all this got to do with Christmas?” Well, I’m going to tell you. Every December, something just came over Jabo Jowers. Call it the Christmas spirit, call it hope for a brighter day. Whatever it was, it lifted him up, tightened up all the rattles in his head, and filled him with joy and possibilities. Every day was a goat-butted-George day. At Christmastime, Jabo had a mission: Find me, his boy child, something that might spark a dream, something that would help me get my wheels off the ground. He struck gold the last Christmas Susie was alive, when he gave me a red Gibson ES-330 electric guitar. The guitar let me make a living for almost 20 years and led me to wife Brenda, who gave me daughter Jess.

I know Jabo would’ve enjoyed seeing some of that happen. I know he would enjoy Christmas now, more than ever. And everybody from here to heaven knows we’d all enjoy one more happy old man at Christmastime.

Visit Walter Jowers’ Web site at http://www.housesenseinc.com, or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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