Jimmie Meace Shelton was born 101 years ago – March 2, 1912. That seems very strange to me … 100 years … in my head, Grandaddy still looks like this:
He died in 2004, but I could have sworn it was only a couple of years ago. That’s how big his presence still is in my life.
Grandaddy was the son of farmers, born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. His father was a farmer, and his grandfather was a farmer. His grandfather, James Crewe Shelton, fought in the Civil War, although I never heard Grandaddy mention it. They were all descended from a rather prominent pre-Colonial Virginia family, who came over from England (as best I can tell) in the 1600s. Grandaddy never mentioned that, either.
By the time Jimmie and his siblings came along, the Shelton family was pretty spread out and most were just salt-of-the-earth farmers, making a living for their families. Jimmie was not even 10 when his father died, and eventually left school to help make ends meet for his family. I don’t really know that much about him as a very young man – I know the Great Depression came along and he had to leave his immediate community to get work, and that he was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps formed by FDR in 1933 to help young, unmarried men find work and send money back to their families – of the $30 per month they made, $25 was sent directly to their families. Grandaddy always thought Roosevelt was the greatest man America ever produced, and I can understand why he felt that way.
In 1934, Jimmie married Irma Frances Elliott, and they lived for a while in Prince Edward County, where my mom and her two brothers were born. The family eventually moved to Richmond; Grandaddy became a long-distance truck driver; they moved to Vinton, Virginia, and later to Farmville. They were building a house in Gum Springs, Virginia, when my grandmother died, and Grandaddy lived in that house until just before he died.
Lots of names, dates, places and history … and while all of that has a lot to do with what Grandaddy’s life was like, it doesn’t really tell you anything about who he was.
Jimmie Shelton traveled a lot because of his job, and saw a lot of this country during a turbulent time – the 1960s. But he loved this country and took it very seriously.
Jimmie Shelton was a fantastic gardener – I think that might be the thing that all of his grandchildren remember first. I remember his tomatoes — sweet, juicy, warm from the sun, and plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that one summer I ate so many I got a rash and had to give them up for a week. He would experiment, too – for some reason, I remember the year he attempted to grow Swiss chard. I think the name was funny to him, and then he discovered he loved the greens.
Jimmie Shelton had perhaps the healthiest digestive system I have ever known. I know, weird, right ? But I remember that he always took his time over every. single. bite. of every. single. meal. Savored it. Actually tasted it. I don’t recall ever seeing him gulp down something in a hurry. And I remember that with almost every meal – at least, every meal over which he had any control – he ate a small red or green hot pepper. And? The man never once had indigestion or heartburn. Go figure.
My Grandaddy loved to laugh. Loved a silly joke, loved a funny story, and loved to surprise people with goofy gifts. Christmas Eve with my extended family almost always involved a very oddly-shaped vegetable given to one of his sons or to my dad or step-father – or maybe some weird thing he picked up on his travels that he found funny.
Grandaddy loved music, and had a high tenor voice that could make you cry. He loved Johnny Cash and Hank Williams – Senior, if you please, not Junior … he didn’t have much nice to say about Hank Jr.
Jimmie Shelton loved his family, more than almost anything. He had some issues as a young man that came between him and my grandmother for a while, but by the time I came along (their first grandchild), he and Grandma seemed to be real anchors of the family to me. He was so very proud of his children, and reveled in his grandchildren. He would have given any of us anything … you know, he actually did … he gave us everything.
The one thing Jimmie Shelton loved more than his family was his Lord. He felt himself to be the recipient of such grace and kindness from God that he could not keep that to himself. It was a very personal thing to him. I’m not sure I ever heard him say the name of Jesus without saying “my” first … my Jesus. God’s word was never far from Grandaddy’s hand, and a blessing never far from his lips. I never saw that man worry – ever. Not about anything. If ever anyone in my experience was someone who trusted God, my grandfather was that person. And when the time came for Grandaddy to walk into those everlasting arms, he did. Unafraid and unburdened and sure …
Like I said … he gave us everything.
Happy birthday, Grandaddy … we miss you.