This story is an excerpt from my autobiography, From Walco To Tokyo
They told me that Faye Powell died yesterday. I lived across the street from the Powells in a yellow, asbestos-sided house, on the corner of Oak Street – 400 Oak St., Sylacauga, Alabama. Faye’s house was white – same asbestos. Asbestos was cool in the 50’s and 60’s.
She was married to Doug. She had three kids. Gary Anne and Lynn were her two oldest – both girls. Her youngest – Douglas Lamar Powell Jr. (we called him Chipper) – was the best friend I had until I was about 12 years old. I cannot remember anything in life before Faye Powell. When times were happy, Faye was there. Faye and Doug were the first neighbors to get to our house when my baby brother was born when I was 6 years old. They were also the first to get to my house when my granddaddy died, which was my first experience with death, and they were the last to leave.
Even when my heart was burdened with sadness when my grandmother Annie died (it’s one of the two times I saw my daddy cry), Faye and Doug could breathe life into a wake. They would make you remember the life of the dead relative and keep you from dwelling on death itself.
They were both loud. Doug had hearing problems and he wore one of those big, flesh-colored hearing aids that curved around behind the ear. Doug was tall and when he would tell his stories, he easily became the center of attention in any room. When Dough would get started, he would often brag a lot. Nobody really got upset when Doug bragged because he would brag about things that were really trivial, especially compared to the things we now have. Doug would brag about the mount he made for the trolling motor on his old bass boat, or his new campsite on Lake Martin. It was funny because Doug would brag about his campsite on the lake to someone who owned a brick lake house on the same lake. When ole Doug built a wooden platform and pitched a tent on it, he became king of the lake. That was part of Doug’s charm. He had a way of making you glad for what you had as he bragged about lesser things.
Everyone liked Doug and listened to his bragging because everybody knew he would give them the keys to his fishing boat and the shirt off his back if they just asked for it.
Faye was a large woman. She was bigger than large. She was extremely large. But nobody thought of Faye as fat. Her personality was a gift from God that transcended the size of her waist line. She had charisma that was 10 times larger than her 350-plus-pound body that fit around her 5-foot-2 frame.
She had a voice that boomed like a baritone in a church choir. But it was the peculiar way of expressing herself that made Faye special. She cursed like a sailor – damn this, god damn that and ahh shit – were a few of her favorites. She never dropped an F-bomb because we didn’t talk about sexual things openly back in those halcyon days. Nobody could make the word shit drag out into several syllables like Faye and when she cursed, it didn’t even bother the preacher.
“Sheeeeee-it preacher,” she told one of our pastors, Furman P. Richey, I believe. “You can’t believe a damn word that Doug Powell says,” she bellowed in the church fellowship hall to clarify one of her husband’s fishing stories. Then she offered Brother Richey a plate of church pot-luck dinner and finished with. “Now sit your ass down here and eat some damn food.”
Nobody blushed. Nobody even noticed. The preacher sat down and ate like it was his last supper.
When Chipper and I were running mates from 1957 until about 1969, I was in and out of Faye’s house several times a day. All the houses in the mill village looked just alike except for the outside paint. One would be green, another yellow and many white, but all were built so you could stand in the front door and see all the way out the back door. And it was almost like a racetrack when Chipper and I would blast through. Every time I ran through her house, she would try to stop me and try to feed me (I guess I looked skinny).
“Damn Johnny,” she would invariably start. “Have some of these god-damned beans.”
“I already ate Mrs. Powell,” was my standard reply.
“Shit Johnny, you as skinny as a rail. I got some fresh collard greens here too.”
“No ma’am Mrs. Powell,” I would try to get out of it politely, because that’s the way we were taught. “I need to go play some more right now. Maybe later?”
“Ahh sheeeee-it Johnny. I know you’re not coming back in here.”
And we would shoot out the back door as soon as we went in the front.
I remember once Doug went fishing one afternoon and caught more than 250 crappie (pronounced Krap’-ee) and after he cleaned all the fish by himself, he went around the neighborhood giving all the fish away.
As we grew older into our high-school years, Chipper became really good friends with a guy named Ricky Blanchard. They both played football on our famous B. B. Comer Tiger high school team. Ricky had a rough time as a youngster and when his parents basically abandoned him and moved out of town, Doug and Faye took Ricky in like he was their own child. They fed and clothed him and provided him with a car. Ricky was able to finish school and continue to play football.
When I heard that Faye had died, it made me feel old and vulnerable. I am 50 days short of living on this planet for fifty years. I have had heart trouble for the last five years. When you start getting older in life, you ask yourself a lot of questions: things like how long will I live; have I done all the things I need to do; and the worst thought of all, what will my family do without me?
I just hope when I die, there will be someone around like Faye and Doug Powell to turn my wake into a celebration.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.