Happy Birthday, Granddaddy

Published 8:14 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Today is a special day for me. For my entire life, I have celebrated the birthday of my grandfather, Joseph McCageor Beall Sr. He would have been 100 years old today and has been gone for just over 10 years, but he is still a big part of my life, just the same.

He was born in Malone, Fla., in a house that still stands. The year was 1910. William Howard Taft was president. George V was about to become king of England. The Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls were both founded that year, along with the Rockefeller Foundation.

Mark Twain passed away two months after my grandfather’s birth. One month later, Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. Two months after that, my beloved grandmother, Catharine, was born.

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He was 44 years old when I was born. When he was my age, he had a grandson in high school, one in middle school, and two in elementary school. The next two were girls, which he treated like royalty. The last was yet another boy. He loved us all.

We lived just a few blocks apart in a small town. I kissed him every time I left his house until I turned 12. One day I bent down to kiss him good-bye; he stuck out his hand and shook mine like a man. I never kissed him again.

He gave me my first job, picking up pecans on halves from his yard. He let me know that anyone would be glad to have this job. He took me down to the pecan buyer and we watched together as they measured out the pecans and poured them into burlap bags. I got 6 cents per pound.

After I received my money, I turned around and gave him half of the proceeds. He resisted the impulse all grandfathers probably have at that moment and kept his half. “Nothing in life is free” he would say as I took in one of the first lessons of business I learned from him.

It wasn’t much later that I took out the first of many loans in my lifetime. I borrowed $6 from him to get a season pass to the swimming pool. He made me put up my bicycle as collateral. I paid it off early and breathed easier not having my bicycle owned by someone else, even if he was my grandfather.

Today, I have that early note framed and hanging on my wall. It was the second great lesson of business that he taught me, that if you are going to borrow money you have to be willing to put up collateral.

My great-grandfather paid farmers at the turn of past century to plant a strange new crop, peanuts. My grandfather later moved to Cottonwood, Ala., to buy a peanut plant that became the foundation of his company, Beall Peanut Company.

After shelling peanuts and operating an oil mill during World War II, he developed a business relationship and friendship with the owners of Sessions Company that survived for three generations.

Following the disastrous peanut harvest season of 1954, he built the first commercial drying plant in Alabama. As the drying plant grew, so did his peanut buying point, becoming the largest in Alabama during most years.

It was during this time I would sit at the counter at the scales with my father and grandfather as farmers poured in to dry and sell the peanuts. Every conceivable type of vehicle was used to bring the peanuts to market. Some wagons contained peanuts that had been picked by hand from the dirt by sharecroppers after the field had been harvested. The wagon would be half peanuts and half dirt. My grandfather treated them as if they were his largest customer.

“They can always go somewhere else,” he told me in the third business lesson he taught me.

Some days with my dad, and some days with my grandfather, I sat at that counter and learned about being a man. I was always welcomed and never in their way. I shook the hands of customers much older than me the same way my grandfather shook my hand at the age of 12.

Finally, he decided to retire; selling out completely to my father.

“If you get to the point that you are afraid to borrow money to invest in your future, it is time to retire,” he told me. I haven’t reached that point yet, but of all the things he taught me, this is the one I am most conscious of at this point in my life.

From that point, he and my grandmother traveled the world, often taking me with them. He took up golf at the age of 78 and lived to shoot his age. He took up woodworking and built much of the furniture Mary Lou and I had after we got married.

He was the best pool player I ever met. He could eat oysters as fast as I could shuck them. He didn’t have a drink until he discovered a “Tom Collins” at my wedding. Without hesitation, he always said the great invention of his lifetime was the mini-skirt.

At the lowest point of my life, many years ago, he hugged me and told me not to worry, that he had seen worse things during the Depression, and that everything would turn out all right. I believed him and indeed, he was right.

He and my grandmother spent the last of their 66 years together at Bay Point in Panama City. A man’s man, he took care of my grandmother as her health failed. The tenderness he showed for the woman he loved through cancer, three broken hips and numerous strokes was yet another lesson he taught all those around him.

At her funeral, he called me over and asked me if I really believed there was a heaven. I told him yes. He nodded his head. I still believe what I said and believe that my grandparents share that reward together.

Even after her death, he held onto life. He went out with women for companionship. He actively sought a heart bypass at the age of 88.

He loved my wife as if she were his own granddaughter. Together, we had the blessing of sharing our children, their great-grandchildren, with them.

Today I will place flowers on his grave, not so much to remember his life, but to thank him for the many ways that he lives on in my life and the lives of all that knew him.

Happy Birthday, Granddaddy!