October is one of my favorite months. It brings with it a change in the weather from the humid days of summer to the coolness of the autumn mornings and nights. It also brings with it a bittersweet sadness each year because it marks the birthday of two very special people in my life who have passed away. In one of those strange coincidences of life, both of my grandpas were born on the same day (October 26th) ten years apart. They were as different in personality as two people can be, but both made me feel very special when I was a little girl.
My paternal grandfather was Jim Steedley. A lot of people called him Uncle Jim. I called him Grandaddy. As one of the sons of “Bear” John Steedley, he was one of the last true pioneer settlers of the Okefenokee Swamp. He was born in 1902 and used to tell me about living on Billy’s Island in the Swamp when he was a little boy with his paternal grandmother who was part Native American. He learned to hunt, fish, and live off the land at a very young age.
Granddaddy always wore denim overalls with a tan or green khaki shirt and an old broad-brimmed felt hat. I can never remember seeing him wear anything else and, fittingly, it is what he was buried in.
Granny and Grandaddy in the 50s.
Granddaddy was a quiet man. He didn’t talk unless he had something to say. He also had a reputation for being slow in every thing he did. In fact he was so slow that once, while driving home from a fishing trip, he didn’t quite make the curve on a dirt road. He was only going about 15 miles an hour at the time.
I learned a lot of things from Granddaddy. One of my favorites, at the age of three, was how to “sup” coffee much to my mother’s dismay. I remember sitting on his lap at the dining table while he prepared the coffee so that it was “fit to drink”, as he put it. First, he stirred in a generous portion of Carnation evaporated milk. Next came several heaping spoonfuls of sugar. Once the coffee had turned a creamy tan, it was ready. He’d then pour some from the cup to the saucer and gently blow on it until it cooled. Finally, I was allowed to “sup” my coffee. It always seemed to taste best when accompanied by a lot of slurping and lip-smacking.
A photo of Granddaddy and his brother-in-law taken in the mid 50s with a couple of their dogs after a hunting trip. They got a deer, a wild hog, and a black bear.
Granddaddy loved to hunt and fish. My little dog Sam and I became two of his best fishing buddies. He’d drive out to Council to pick us up and we’d head for the nearest fishing hole. Sometimes we’d have to stop and catch crawfish along the way. I’ve spent many summer afternoons with him fishing from the banks of the creeks and streams in the woods. We didn’t do a lot of talking, but the companionship we shared was priceless and are some of my fondest memories.
My other grandpa was Milton Oscar Sweat. To all his grandchildren, he was PaPa. PaPa was a preacher, the kind of preacher Dolly Parton sings about in her song, “Daddy was an Old-Time Preacher Man.” If I didn’t know better I‘d think she wrote that song about him. As a matter of fact, that’s how a lot of people addressed him: Preacher Sweat.
A photo of PaPa and MaMa from the 40s.
A photo of PaPa and MaMa taken at his birthday dinner in 1988.
PaPa’s devotion to his religion was foremost in his life. He preached the gospel with great zeal. He praised God, shouted, and sang with all the enthusiasm that is expected of a Holiness preacher. Believe me; if you went to one of his sermons, you came out with a blessing. When he was behind the pulpit, he held his audience’s complete attention. His sermons were both energetic and entertaining. There was no falling asleep during a sermon by Preacher Sweat!
The state leaders of his church respected his charismatic personality and his unique ability to motivate members. Several times they asked him to take over a church that was in need of both a spiritual renewal and physical restoration. In nearly forty years of ministry, he was a pastor at several churches throughout the state of Georgia. Under his leadership these churches blossomed. They grew in membership and built new sanctuaries. But, he wasn’t just a leader, he was a doer. He was as comfortable in work clothes with a hammer in his hand as he was wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a Bible.
PaPa was definitely a “people” person. He literally never met a stranger. He had a knack of making anyone feel welcome whether it was at his church or in his home.
There are so many wonderful things to remember when I think of him: his infamous practical jokes, the wonderful cooking skills he learned while a cook in the CCC camps, his inability to go past a yard sale without stopping, his fascination with tools and gadgets that always made playing in his garage an unending source of discovery, and his constant menagerie of animals: hogs, cows, dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens, just to name a few.
He had such a great sense of humor . He was always playing a joke on some of us grandkids and loved to laugh and enjoy life. The photo below captures his mischievous spirit perfectly:
All in all, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been loved by two such wonderful men. I treasure the relationship I had with both of my grandpas for I know it’s a large part of what made me who I am today.
Rose S. Williams