June 2010
4-H Extension Corner

A Man With a Simple Life

 

Paul Lowry was a craftsman, an artist with wood.

"When I was little, I thought Paw-Paw was so good because he was a carpenter just like Jesus," one of my then-young kids giggled as we unloaded yet another load of groceries from my truck.

But throughout the remainder of that day — and the more than 30 years since then — that statement resonates in my memories and in my heart.

Yes, my Daddy, Paul Lowry, was a carpenter. But not like so many hurry-up-and-go ones you see today.

My very first memory of my Daddy is of him in striped overalls, a hammer hanging by a loop on the side, and a building-supply apron bulging with nails and sawdust it had trapped around his hips.

Daddy was a carpenter all right. But he was so much more than that simple word can describe. He was a craftsman, an artist with wood. And his talents were sometimes uncanny.

While my husband Roy would be figuring a complex calculation to determine the angle needed for the rafters on an addition to our home, Daddy took his flat yellow carpenter’s pencil and metal "square," made a few marks and had already cut a perfect-fitting rafter by the time Roy finished his equation!

Daddy could take a stubby pencil and a wrinkled yellow-lined notebook, and quickly tell you how many shingles, or bricks, or boards, or pieces of paneling, or whatever you needed to complete a small project — or build a mansion!

For special projects like my then-office bookcases, he chose pieces of lumber one-by-one, going through hundreds of boards in the long line of sheds at the building supply house.

Each rough spot was smoother, each joint perfectly matched, every piece of paneling accurately aligned — or it was torn out and redone.

In Daddy’s later long career, he owned his own construction company and his craftsmanship and integrity preceded even the printing of his business cards. He never had to advertise. He didn’t even have a business listing in the telephone directory!

But there was always another house to build, or two, or three, or even seven, in varying degrees of completion.

And Daddy picked his potential homeowners as carefully and meticulously as he did everything else in his life.

I can remember many Sunday afternoons sitting around the kitchen table when couples came with their rolled blue-ink-smelling plans to almost ask for my dad’s "blessing" on their houses.

   

Paul Lowry (left) and Roy Geno work on a room addition in the early 1980s.

 
   

About 30 years ago, a couple came with an extravagant house plan for those times: the total cost would be more than half a million dollars! My Daddy’s profit would have been huge for the early 1980s, at least in our little family.

But the couple began to argue as they discussed the plans. The couple ended up shouting obscenities at each other. My Daddy said nothing but continued to look over the plans and puff on his ever-present pipe.

The couple soon left, taking their arguments and plans with them.

As was his custom, Daddy let them know in a couple of days about their home. He was sorry but he just couldn’t seem to fit it into his schedule.

While his margin of profit would have been huge by those days’ standards, he told my Mama, and she agreed, working for such a bickering couple would just not be "worth it." It was that simple.

As I was growing up I didn’t understand the true sacrifices that very simple man made for his family.

He worked many days strapped into a metal and leather back-brace in excruciating pain. He had to keep working then to provide for his family. And when he finally went under the surgeon’s knife in the early 1960s for somewhat experimental surgery at the old Carraway Methodist Hospital in Birmingham, he wasn’t as afraid of coming out from under the anesthetic and finding his legs paralyzed as he was afraid of simply no longer being able to provide for us.

 

Paul Lowry at age 18.

A man of immense faith, he walked from that hospital freed of his back problems.

He continued building. He was so respected by his fellow builders he was the very first President of the Blount County Home Builder’s Association in the 1970s. And later served as their President for a second time.

A month doesn’t go by we don’t run into someone who brags about living in a house my Daddy built, and how pleased they are with the craftsmanship!

Daddy retired after Roy and I married, feeling he finally had someone else "to take care of" me. But he didn’t stop his busy schedule.

If he wasn’t in his workshop making crafts like trash cans, potato bins, bread boxes and other beautiful pieces of furniture, like a roll-top desk for me, he was in his garden.

He loved the smell of this earth, where his daddy and his grand-daddy before him had grown not only vegetables but cotton to support their families.

He was in the first group of farmers who sold at the Blount County Farmer’s Market at the then new Blount-Oneonta Agri-Business Center in the early 1980s, and he became widely-known for his special-tasting peanuts.

When my little family’s home burned on Feb. 28, 1983, Daddy came out of retirement temporarily, along with some of his workers, to rebuild us a simple but special home.

Roy saw the trucks pulling up and what we then thought were elderly men getting out, he silently thought "what in the world can these older men do."

Inez and Paul Lowry

 

Those "older" men, including my dad, worked circles around all of us younger folks.

"I could barely keep up," Roy now laughingly remembers.

Daddy had a few more years of gardening, woodworking and speaking for his much-loved Gideon group.

On June 26, 1987, he spoke at a local church about the Gideon’s outreach of providing Bibles for students, prisoners, nurses and more, and in hotel rooms, for which they are most widely-known. His testimony moved many to tears.

That night, he and I sat together on the back bench of Union Hill Baptist Church, where he’d served in so many capacities like chairman of the deacons, the building committee and so much more. We had such good fellowship as we watched my two youngest kids in the Vacation Bible School Commencement.

The next morning, Mama knew something was wrong when she called him in to lunch and he didn’t respond. She found him laying in the garden, a pan of just-picked green beans on one side and his pipe on the other. The coroner said his heart had failed him; he died before his body hit the ground.

Daddy would have been 69 on July 29, 1987.

Roy and I bought the family farm after my now-late mama built a smaller house here.

When I am around the outbuildings and barns tending my animals, there are days I could almost swear that I smell sawdust and Prince Albert tobacco.

My memories are of those smells. The smells of sawdust, newly-cut lumber, dust, freshly-tilled soil and even perspiration which were the aroma of hard work — of jobs well done — of accomplishments made.

The Bible says practically nothing about Jesus’ growth into young manhood.

But I can picture Jesus helping Joseph in his shop. They may have been crafting a cabinet for their neighbor’s kitchen area instead of a computer table like Daddy built for me, but so many other things were probably the same even though they were 2,000 years and a world apart.

The satisfaction of a job well done— even the smell of sawdust — the pride in simple jobs and the satisfaction of simple lives.

Suzy Lowry Geno lives on the family farm in Blount County and can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.