Here it is Christmastime, and the ghost of my daddy, Jabo Jowers, has come to live inside my head. Like every year since 1972, he’ll stay until the presents are open, the tree is down and the dog has eaten the New Year’s Day pork chop bones. Then Jabo’s ghost will go back up to heaven. I hope. Truth be told, when Jabo dropped dead back in 1971, he could’ve gone either way. When his voice starts ringing in my head, he tells me that the weather and food are better in heaven, but the music and dancing are better in hell.
I have to confess: Every day Jabo’s been dead, I’ve wondered where he ended up. Some years back, I filled out a questionnaire in a psychologist’s office, and I had to answer the question, “My father was a good man. True or false?” I circled false. At the time, I mainly remembered that Jabo was a purveyor of moonshine whiskey and a stripper of stolen cars. He was a serious grudge carrier, a man who once collected an overdue debt by putting dozens of holes in another man’s car. He did it with a hatchet.
Jabo stole more things than he ever boughtcars, forklifts, tractors, tools, chemicals, bricks, dogs, chickens, a few sides of beef and at least one billy goat. He always said that he found the stuff by the side of the road. He was dead before I figured out his code. Hell, everything’s by the side of the road. If Jabo saw something stealworthy, he stole it, pure and simple.
Jabo could not resist temptation. One Christmastime, he found himself working all alone in a candy store. Don’t you know, there were lots of boxes of fancy candybig swirly-topped chocolates, pink-jacketed Brazil nuts and mystery sweets with cameo heads molded into themall within Jabo’s easy reach. He couldn’t help himself when he saw those boxes of candy near the back door, which was right by the side of the road. Jabo brought the candy home. There, he made a big presentation, pouring the candy out of the boxes and into the Jowerses’ most showy aluminum candy dish. My sister, Ann, grabbed the first piece. When she bit down, the candy fought back. That candy was hard, flavorless and one color all the way through, like Corian countertop. That’s because it was wax candy. Display candy. Cruel candy.
Jabo made the best of a bad situation and put his candy out for the Jowers Christmas gathering. The candy looked really festive in the candy dishes, and he enjoyed watching our holiday guests trying to eat it. Ironically, the candy gave us our first indication that my sister Ann wasn’t quite right. Even though she knew good and well that the candy was made out of hard wax, she kept sampling it until each and every piece had her tooth marks all over it. “Dammit, girl,” Jabo said, “now it looks ugly, and I can’t even trick people with it.” He threw the candy in the swamp.
Jabo was irresponsible, and a danger to himself and others. One Friday night, he got rip-roaring drunk, then took his friend Frank for a ride in his new Karman Ghia. The Karman Ghia was the latest of Jabo’s car-restoration projects. In his work for the redneck mob, Jabo found that he could remove the VIN plates from wrecked cars, then solder them neatly into cars he found by the side of the road. Anyhow, drunk Jabo blew through a stop sign and ended up in front of a fast-moving pickup truck. The truck totaled the Karman Ghia, and Frank. Jabo, who was too drunk to feel his injuries, recovered nicely.
For me, all this added up to Jabo being more bad than good. Lately, though, I’ve gotten on the forgiveness train where Jabo is concerned, and I’ve gotten a little ashamed of myself. I expected way too much from the son of granddaddy George Jowers, who was a mean full-time drunk. Jabo might’ve done better if he hadn’t dropped out of school in the fourth grade so that he could go to work and support his own sorry daddy.
If it weren’t for Jabo and the way he lived his short and mercurial life, I wouldn’t have ended up where I ended up, and I wouldn’t have any of the things I care about. Without Jabo’s lying, scheming, cheating and stealing, I’d still be trying to fight my way out of Horse Creek Valley, S.C. There’d be no wife Brenda, no daughter Jess, no little family business and no newspaper column. If I’d married either of my two high-school girlfriends, I’d be divorced, miserable and living in a swampside trailer. If I’d taken the best job offer I ever got back in South Carolina, I’d be driving an earth mover around a strip mine on Christmas day.
So while Jabo’s in my head and can hear me thinking, I’ve just got to tell him: I take back that bad-daddy comment. You were good to me. You got me here. Here is where I want to be. Merry Christmas, and enjoy the dancing or the weather, whichever it is.