April 4, 1895-Grand Rivers, Kentucky on land that is now part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a little boy was born to one Winfrey and Lena Nickell Collie. James Guthrie Collie…Guthrie to his friends and family, “Dad” to his wife, “Daddy” to his kids and “Pop” to his grandchildren and others….my grandfather.
Pop was born to a saintly mother and a father who was every bit devilish as she was holy. His father was an alcoholic and was known to be abusive to his wife and his 8 children, physically, mentally and emotionally. His father’s method’s of potty training were so abusive, that if he were around today, he would be in prison. By the time Pop was 12, the family had moved to Nashville (on a riverboat) and following yet another abusive episode, he decided he had had enough. He left the family home on Holly St. and spent his first night away from home in the Western Union office in the Stahlman Building. He took various odd jobs here and there, some taking him to Ashland City, some to Kentucky and Alabama to work for relatives. During one of his stints back in Grand Rivers, he was spotted by the local Methodist preacher’s daughter, while he was eating a head of raw cabbage. I guess my Grandma liked the fact that not only was my grandfather a good looking son of a gun but had a stomach made of steel.
Pop joined the US Army, married the preacher’s daughter and was sent off to France during WWI. He returned to the states and they began their family and lived a little like nomads, going wherever there was work. Each of their 5 kids was born in a different state. My dad was born in Little Rock, AR and when he was just a newborn, the family piled in their old car and drove towards San Antonio, where my grandmother’s parents had relocated, to visit before going up to Chicago to take a job. One of Grandma’s brothers mentioned that there was some work at a garment factory there in San Antonio for sewing machine repair. The nomad days for the Collie’s were over and San Antonio became home. He later had his own sewing machine repair business with my uncle, that serviced a lot of factories.
Pop was not a wealthy man by monetary standards. He was a man of high moral integrity and adored by his children and grandchildren. He was not without his flaws, however, in a day and time where people use the fact they had bad childhoods to be screwups, Pop never did such a thing and would’ve never stood for that. He was a highly intelligent man, self taught and very well read. I can’t imagine what he could’ve accomplished had he had the opportunity to go to college.
I love to listen to audiotapes of him telling about his life. I love to watch home movies of he and his brother throwing punches at each other. He had this great voice. He could write poetry and loved history. He had a beautifully twisted sense of humor. He was very stern when it came to disciplining his children but at the same time, he hugged and kissed his children everyday and told them he loved them, unlike his own father had done him.
I don’t have the deep collection of memories my cousins have of Pop. I’m always so envious when I hear my various cousins recollecting this memory or that one. By the time I had come along, Pop had started to fade. He had heart trouble and most of what I remember is the old man sitting at the table, smoking his Salem cigarettes, his hearing aid box and the saccharin he used to sweeten his coffee and cereal. I was a rather shy and somewhat timid kid and I was scared of him because he had this deep, booming voice and some rather unconventional ways of showing affection to his grandkids. (He bit them. Don’t ask)
He and I had this game. I never would kiss him. In this picture, we were playing that. I always thought it was a game until about a year or so ago, I found a cassette tape (one of the best parts of having a father who was a radio man, lots of audio cassettes with my grandparents voices) and on one tape, Dad telling his aunt how much it tore Pop up that I wouldn’t hug or kiss him. I felt horrible. I was just a small child though. I hope he understood. I never did kiss him until the last time I saw him, lying in a nursing home bed the year before he died. I remember my dad thanking me for doing that. I was 9 years old. He knew that that was not easy for me to do.
I’ve gotten to know Pop since I’ve been an adult. Through those precious tapes and photographs, through forming close relationships with some of his extended family, I’ve been to his birthplace in Kentucky, walked the grounds where he no doubt, played as a child, been to the burial places of his parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other ancestors. I’ve looked out over Lake Barkley where he first developed his love of fishing and the outdoors. I’ve read some of his letters. I have a photo album of his. I get him. I understand him. I admire the hell out of him. I DO know him!