He was born November 12, 1902, in Walker County, Alabama.
He didn't know the origin of his given name, Garfus, but only knew that all his siblings informally called him "Gar." And if his brother and sisters called him Gar, chances are his parents called him Gar too.
He was named
He never, in my presence, used his middle name --- and he signed most all his bills, receipts and checks as either "G.S. Thornton" or as "Garfus S. Thornton."
He named his first son "Sherman" and never once told him where the name came from other than from his father.
He was extremely pleased when my wife and I named our second son "Garfus" --- and "James" after my son's other grandfather. But to my father, we also named our second son "James" after the other James Thornton, my great-grandfather.
He carried Sweetie and me and new baby to
He had been told as a child that his grandfather, James Monroe Thornton, had served on General Sherman's staff --- and that he carried the rank of Colonel. Only after his death did I learn that at some point that James Monroe's rank had been vastly overstated --- he was a Private in the 1st Alabama Cavalry USA, not a Colonel --- and only after my father's death did I learn that two of James Monroe Thornton's brothers died while also serving in the same military organization.
He laughed the one time I heard my mother call him a "Damn Yankee."
He was not a demonstrative man --- rarely going out of his way to let anyone know what he was thinking or feeling.
He cried only twice in my presence --- once when he left me during my tenth year in the hospital in Memphis awaiting surgery with only my mother for company because he had work to do at Parham and livestock to feed and water --- and the other time he cried was the day my brother and I carried him from his bed upstairs at May House to the hospital. As we physically carried him down the stairs he cried and said he was crying because he knew he would never see the inside of that house again. And he didn't.
He cried, according to my mother, they both cried at and neither could eat breakfast for a week in July 1957 when my brother and I left for the army. Breakfast was usually the only meal of the day which my family took together --- and his nest emptied all at once as both his sons were "fledged" into the world beyond Parham on the same day.
He, at some point in his younger years, joined the
He closed his store in deference to the church during church hours on Sunday morning --- but if someone had an emergency and needed gasoline or whatever, he would open for individual customers.
He sold part of his property across the road from his store to the church for space for a new church building and a new parsonage. He had discussed with mother in my presence that he was going to donate the land to the church but when he found out that the church was paying another member for a narrow strip of land beside his, he changed his mind and declared that if they were going to pay a regularly attending member for property then they could pay him for his.
He was estranged from his larger family --- and rarely saw his younger sisters. Often they would come to Parham, especially for First Monday in August (Decoration Day nowadays on First Sunday) but would not get out of their cars to visit him. Their spouses and children would come inside the store --- and Garfus would walk to the car and speak to his sister. In later years they reconciled and visited most years at the annual family reunion --- but they never visited in our home nor us in theirs. I never knew the exact source of the estrangement --- but have reason to believe that it involved a conflict between his sisters and my mother. He never talked about it.
He was a medium-tall, stocky man during my childhood. During my final spurt of growing, I exceeded his height by about one inch. As he aged, he became much thinner.
He had long graceful hands and fingers, long narrow feet, and a larger than average head.
He wore his hair combed back straight making his large forehead seem even larger. I never saw his hair with a part in it.
He was a trained barber and had a diploma for successfully completing barber college in
He used a safety razor to shave with each morning for most of my time in his household although he had his straight razor, soap and cup, and a leather strop to sharpen his razor. One of my earliest memories of him is hearing him each morning sharpening his razor on the strop. I do not know when he switched over to a safety razor but believe is was about the end of World War Two.
He operated a barber shop in the back of Thornton Store until the state passed regulations prohibiting such a combination. His barber chair was eventually sold but it was a source of great fun when I was a young boy. His barber tools he kept --- and would "trade" haircuts with a friend who knew how to cut hair. They bartered their barber skills outside sitting either under the Chinaberry Tree or under the Walnut Tree with an extension cord providing current to power the clippers. I don't recall anyone cutting my hair but Garfus for the first ten to twelve years of my life.
He stated that his earliest memories were from when his family was living in
He often stated that he was too young for the First World War and too old for the Second War. He never said if he consider that fact with regret or with happiness.
He pulled a gun on someone only once in my presence. A distant and older cousin, once when drunk, verbally accosted me in public while I was on a job, a situation which I ignored because one, he was drunk, two, because he was related, and three, because the company I worked for had advised me to walk away from any sort of confrontation while on the job. At the time I was about 20 or 21 years old and the cousin was in his late-30s. But, because the verbal assault was in public and portions of it were aimed at my father, I reported it to him. A few weeks later the individual, sober, stopped at Thornton Store and my father demanded he apologize to me. When the individual refused, Garfus pulled out his "store" pistol and said that "you will either apologize or I'll shoot you" at which point an apology was forthcoming. I never saw that individual again.
He told me after the man left that, yes, if he had to, he would have shot "the son-of-a-bitch."
He loved lemon ice cream. It was a seasonal treat and available only from his ice cream supplier during the summer --- and I always knew summer had arrived when I saw Garfus eating hand-dipped ice cream. It was his favorite.
He grew melons almost every year of my childhood --- watermelons and cantaloupes. He stated that he grew them primarily to sell in his store --- but I knew how much he loved to eat melon. His favorite way to eat watermelon he taught me --- in the patch, cut or break open a ripe watermelon and eat the heart of the melon in great huge chunks using your fingers.
He showed me how to cut out the heart of a melon using only my hand.
He had a passion for cantaloupes --- and his favorite method of eating a cantaloupe was to take a knife and cut it into half, scoop out the seeds, and to fill the bowl of the melon with ice cream (vanilla would do but his joy was to fill it with lemon ice cream) and then to consume the half-a-cantaloupe and cream with a spoon discarding only the outer rind.
He consumed milk in huge quantities --- drinking at least a gallon a day for those years when I lived in his household. He had one or two large glasses of milk at each meal --- and often his evening meal consisted only of left-over cornbread over which he poured some of his milk. I have his favorite glass from which he used to drink milk and eat cornbread --- a large, heavy "thumbprint" goblet on a short stem.
He milked the cow he kept in the pasture at our house at Parham. Each morning and each evening he would meet the cow in the front left-stall of the barn and would bring a large pail of milk twice a day to my mother. We drank the milk, strained, straight from the cow. Leftover milk was refrigerated --- but if any of us wanted milk from the leftovers, it was warmed back up to cow-temperature in a pan on the store. When Reece's Dairy began a delivery to Thornton Store, it took some time to get accustomed to pasteurized cold milk rather than warm whole milk. But pasturized or whole, he loved milk to the point that I would say from the vast amounts he consumed that milk must have been his favorite food.
He always helped my mother do the family washing --- which was done once a week. That effort was enormous --- and took the better part of a day even with his help and the help of two additional ladies he hired. Washing was done outside by hand during my early years. At some point in the late 1940s, a detached garage of concrete and cinder-block construction was built and a wash-room was included within that building. An electric washing machine was installed --- the rinsing and wringing of clothes was done by hand --- the water came from the hot water heater rather than from a huge iron pot with burning wood beneath it. Although the drawing of water into the washpot and the building of the fire and getting the water to boiling was his primary contribution to their more primitive method of clothes washing, Garfus continued to assist with the laundry for the remainder of his life.
He was tickled when pants stretchers were invented and became available after the war. He bought several pairs made of aluminum --- and from that day, his pants were not ironed but stretched. When wearing clothes were washed, the wet clean clothes were dipped in a starch solution and wrung out again. As the starch dried with the cloth, it provided sizing, stiffness, and a protective coating on the cloth. Such dried clothes were then ironed in those days before permanent-pressed cloth. To put pants on pants stretchers meant they dried smooth and with a crease --- and if the starch was thick enough, those stretched pants could stand alone and could be worn for several days until they became too soiled to continue using.
He ran the automatic washing machine and dryer when they finally acquired such devices --- and as my mother sank into Alzheimer's and forgot what the machines were called and forgot how they functioned, he did all of the family laundry during his final years.
He never liked having his picture made and would avoid most attempts to take his picture. No studio picture of him exists --- the only "bought" picture I have of him is one made by a traveling photographer who took a picture of the entire family when he was about twelve or thirteen years of age. His image was cropped from that photograph by a professional photographic shop in the 1960s.
He woke me early one Sunday morning to get up and talk to him. I was about 13 or 14 years old. The evening before, I was helping him with the store and just before closing time, the store had several customers including several women who were there buying supplies for the Sunday dinners they were planning, looking at some of the cloth and talking with mother who was also at the store. A pickup slowly drove up to the gasoline pumps and Garfus went outside to pump the gas. The customer, a man my father knew, was very drunk and still about ten miles from home. As it was his habit to drive drunk, my father consented to sell him gasoline. He wanted three dollars worth and paid for it with a five dollar bill. While my father came inside to make the change, the man walked up to the front plate glass window and proceeded to undo his pants and to start urinating facing the store. Within saying a word to my father, I grabbed him and simply pointed to what was happening. Garfus ran outside and I watched him start to strike the man with his fist --- but Garfus stopped the blow and instead hustled the man into the cab of his vehicle and told him to go home. The man made it home; went to bed; and sometime during the early morning hours, died in his sleep. As soon as my father heard about the man's death, he wanted to talk to me about the incident and to wonder aloud to me about what stopped him from beating the man to a bloody pulp --- he said that some inner voice told him to use restraint. Garfus told me that he would forever be grateful that he didn't follow through with the beating he wished to give that drunk. He was troubled by the event for some time.
He loved to drive large heavy cars. The only car I knew him to buy new was a 1950 Packard. It had an automatic electric clutch feature that could be engaged or turned off --- he insisted that it be kept turn off preferring instead to clutch and shift (or double clutch and down shift) as the need arose.
He drove fast and preferred modern highways at speeds of seventy or eighty. His favorite time to drive was after midnight --- straddling the center line, fast, with an ever wary eye on his rear-view mirror. My brother is chasing a theory that our father got his love of big heavy cars and midnight driving from a stint of running whiskey during the years before he married. I have no information from those years of my father's life --- except that his sisters told me that he loved to drive up to his parents old place leaning on the horn to announce his arrival.
He disabled my mother's car when she became too confused to continue driving. He removed the distributor wires --- and never told her why her car refused to start.
He drove us to the
He did not approve of credit for himself or for any of his family --- although he had many customers who had credit accounts with him. He didn't believe in credit cards and was amazed that while I was still in undergraduate school I had both clothing credit accounts as well as a Sears charge card and two gasoline credit cards in my name. He didn't approve that prior to my getting married I had an account with a local restaurant where I took the majority of my meals paying once a month. He believed that easy credit would be the undoing of everyone.
He never had a credit card, not even one for gasoline. He believed in the use of cash --- and in saving your money until you had enough to pay for what you wanted.
He loved to fish --- and when
He loved to deep-sea fish best of all fishing, however. Annually he would go to
He, next to fishing, loved to eat fish. He wanted his fish fried, served with hushpuppies, and French fries and with plenty of iced tea. I have observed him eating fish with such abandon that I feared for his very survival based upon the amount he would consume.
He thought the fish which Sweetie fried were the best he ever ate --- and we always tried to have one meal of fried flounder when he would visit.
He read the local papers, The Aberdeen Examiner and The Amory Advertiser, and he subscribed to the
He got to read the paper first, then my mother had her turn with it, and then and only then were Sherman or I supposed to touch the paper.
He said columnist Lydell Sims wasted too many eggs each summer writing columns about "it is hot enough in
He did not read the sports section of the paper.
He never, in my presence, read a book other than to just look at something someone called to his attention. I don't know if he ever read fiction for pleasure or if he ever read a novel.
He attended school for a few years at
He embarrassed me dreadfully only on one occasion --- and that embarrassment still makes me hang my head in shame for being associated with the event. Once on a late autumn afternoon as he was driving us home from a visit to some of my mother's people at Vardaman, he approached a slow moving line of cars. As we got behind the last car, the row of vehicles topped over one of the low hills and down we went into the flat prairie-land of western
He carried me to Ole Miss on the day I moved there in to start to summer school in 1959. He planned a fishing trip to
He, as a young man and accompanied by his favorite nephew (they were the same age), made his way across the
He and the same nephew later applied for and took jobs at a coal mine near
He smoke cigars, King Edward brand. And when he wasn't smoking one, he was chewing on one. He may have smoked cigarettes some in my childhood but that might have been roll-em-yourself cigarettes during the war when cigarettes and tobacco were rationed. I never saw him use chewing tobacco or snuff --- but cigars were more or less a permanent fixture during his waking hours.
He wouldn't eat certain foods complaining that they "hurt him." Onions was one of his major "do not eat" foods --- but I personally observed him eating creamed onion soup and asking for seconds when he didn't know what he was eating.
He loved to bird hunt --- and to train bird dogs. For several years he bred and trained Red Irish Setters --- and my pride and joy of a dog was the pick of the litter he let me have. Late in life he learned to enjoy deer hunting and was fortunate to kill several deer before he got too frail and sick to hunt.
He, at the time of his death in 1976, owned no property, owed no debts, and had no outstanding obligations to anyone. He sold his business and house; he gave the farm to my brother and me; and all of his assets were transferred to others prior to his death.
He left no will; he had no insurance other than Medicare coverage. He never, during my lifetime, bought insurance policies of any sort --- not fire, not storm, not health, not liability nor any sort of automobile insurance. He excuse was that he served on too many juries when policy owners had to sue to get the company to honor their claims --- so he dropped every insurance policy he owned and never bought any more.
He bought U.S. Savings Bonds --- and held several of them years beyond their maturity date. He had, at one time, checking accounts at two different banks.
He was a Mason and attended lodge at Splunge.
He was often the voting precinct chairman of the Parham voting box.
He served a term or two as a member of the Board of Trustees for
He owned only one piece of jewelry, a Masonic ring which he rarely wore.
He did not wear a wristwatch; the only pocketwatch he owned of which I am aware was the one Sweetie and the boys and I gave him around the time of his 70th birthday.
He never wore suspenders.
He could not whistle a tune although he could whistle. Apparently he was tone deaf and could not distinguish a high note from a low note or tonal qualities in between. His attempts to whistle a tune produced a set of sounds totally unlike any melody ever heard.
He never sang aloud in my presence.
He never danced that I observed.
He seemed a good listener and with his few close friends, was an animated talker. But to most, he was somewhat aloof and distant.
He and I rarely talked except for his giving directions/commands and my asking permission to take certain liberties.
He sat directly across the length of the table for all of the informal meals we ate in the kitchen at the house in Parham. As I grew up, I had more eye contact with him because of this seating arrangement that I did with my mother or with my brother.
He wore a full set of dentures.
He loved to make and to drink sweet wine, the sweeter the better. His home-made wild cherry wine was the best cordial I ever tasted. He always shared his wine and offered me tastes of it even when I was very small.
He drank beer on rare occasions and again, would share a taste of it with me when I was little.
He drank, in his old age, a strange vile-tasting drink of locally brewed whiskey in which a ginseng root dug from Weaver's Creek Bottom had been soaked. It was a strong stout drink of which he consumed only small portions at a time. Yes, he continued to offer me samples of it.
He was never drunk as far as I know.
He would never tell me the name of the local whiskey maker he knew and from whom he bought his brew.
He never once discussed the "facts of life" with me.
He always kept secrets and if I told him something in confidence, I knew he would never ever discuss what I told him with anyone.
He enjoyed, back in the days prior to television, listening to the radio especially on Sunday evenings. He loved comedy shows --- Amos and Andy was one of his regular radio programs. He also listened to drama programs on the radio but he disliked music programs.
He bought one of the first television sets ever installed in
He was the one who told me that the distortion on a television screen was called "snow." We all watched a lot of snow back in the early 1950s before local television stations were operational.
He had but few dress suits but owned a closet full of sturdy washable twill clothes of cotton. In his later years, he was fond of corduroy and flannel in the winter --- and he also adopted some really strange color combinations. He once appeared in a set of permanent-press slacks that could only be described as dark orange.
He loved to wear the neckties which Sweetie made for him and he wore out several of them.
He had difficulty with knotting/tying his tie each time he wore it --- so he would, through trial and error, get it tied properly. Then he would slip it over his head without undoing the knot and hang it up for use again. Sometimes my mother would tie his necktie for him.
He never wore a bowtie that I saw.
He believed in vigilante activity if conditions warranted such.
He rarely wore a hat except when outside in the elements. For cold weather head-wear he preferred a cap with ear flaps.
He appeared, much to my surprise, at my wedding although he maintained up until just a few hours before the church ceremony that he didn't wish to attend. But attend he did spiffed out in a new suit he bought just for the occasion. He even seemed to have enjoyed himself at the wedding reception.
He adored my wife and often surprised her with small acts of kindness never before displayed to others. He would bring her pumpkins because he like to eat pumpkin pie; he would grind her fresh whole-wheat flour because he enjoyed eating hot yeast rolls made from whole-wheat. He taught her how to prepare quince preserves from trees he nurtured at his parent's old home place at Weaver's Creek. He gave her a bundt baking dish because he wanted her to have a special pan in which to bake pound cake which he loved to eat.
He avoided medical attention and almost never went to the doctor. He enjoyed good health and during my years of living at home only saw a doctor on one occasion and that in the late 1930s or early 1940s. For some reason he was at the bridge at Weaver's Creek on the
He, along with my mother, had a healthy fear of lightning. When they first started living at the house at Parham, he stretched a metal clothesline across the backyard and attached one end of it to the house. The other end was attached to the smokehouse all the way across the yard. Lightning struck the line and a ball of energy traveled the line toward the house, knocking a hole through the wall. When it was lightning nearby he made us disconnect all electrical appliances and to stay away from the outer walls of the building we were in.
He had some cypress timber cut and dried. When it was seasoned properly, he carried it to a carpenter and had a large rowboat built of cypress. That heavy boat was so ungainly that it was rarely used --- I remember it was once in
He went swimming with us once on the Fourth of July. The only time I ever saw him swimming he had cut off a pair of his pants and used them as trunks. During that swim I nearly drowned --- and he watched me go under the third time yelling for help each time I surfaced. My brother pulled me out --- and when I asked Garfus why he didn't reach for me, his reply was "Well, you said you could swim. I thought you were just playing."
He, on another Fourth of July, came immediately to the scene of the accident where I had been injured in a collision with a fire truck while riding in a neighbor's vehicle. He scooped me up and rushed me off to the doctor and comforted me with his presence.
He refused my enrollment into a preparatory course that would have lead to admission into one of the larger schools of music in the
He always voted and was a firm believer in that only landholders/property owners should enjoy the franchise to vote. He never objected to the poll tax.
He insisted that I have a pistol for self protection and that of my family after we moved to
He sold the store and house in Parham and he and mother moved to a house Sweetie and I owned in Amory, the May House. He loved living in town and found many friends and acquaintances in and around Amory
He didn't like to talk on the telephone and would go to great lengths to avoid such conversations. He telephoned me only once although I talked to him on a few occasions when he could be cajoled into coming to the phone. When the telephone rang in my office at Troy State University in Alabama and his call was announced, I almost had a heart attack as it was a first --- my dad, and on the telephone! Something dreadful must have happened. But he was telephoning me to advise me that he had found the "perfect" spot for me and Sweetie to buy and to operate --- the water gristmill near
He was disappointed that his dream didn't become my dream. But although he rarely articulated his dreams and wishes and wants and desires and feelings and only rarely expressed his disappointments and anger, the one telephone call from him proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that his mind was always plotting and he was always planning for the future.
He never wrote me a letter.
He was my dad.
Garfus Sherman Thornton died February 18, 1976. Three ministers, one from the