Granddaddy gazed across his pasture up to the barn, musing to himself, and he said, “I’ve got one more story I want to tell you about, and that’s about a football game that I played in when I was 19 years old in about 1903 or 1904.” I’m not sure if he meant that the coal miners in the Army played the iron workers, or if this was after he finished his first tour of duty with the army. Because I understood him to say he was working in a coal mine; if so, this must have been in
or Maryland. Anyway, he told it like this:
"The coal miners had a football team, and we had a big football game between the coal miners and the iron workers from
. The football team rode the train from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Baltimore, Maryland to Harrisburg and stayed at
the Commonwealth Hotel. Going up on the
train, some of the boys liked their liquor and two of them had a little too
much. The game was about two o’clock in
the afternoon and there was about 5,000 or 6,000 turned out to see the game.
All the boys were hard and had lots of muscles on account of coming from the coal mines and steel mills, and there wasn’t a flabby one in the bunch. But they really shouldn’t have played the game because of the two players who had too much to drink on the train that night from
Baltimore. Two was in no shape to go out on the ball
field, but the game had to be played because, as I said, there was a crowd of
5,000 or 6,000 watching.
Well, we played the first half of that game and we didn’t score. When the signals were given, those two were so drunk they didn’t know if they were up or down. But in the last half, we held them to the line, but they had scored thirty-five points and just run away in the first half.
One of our guards, named Polander, got hit on the head and knocked him dizzy, and he played either three or four more plays in that condition. Then he got another lick on the head, and he said his head cleared up like a bell.
Anyway, we lost the game that we should have won. After the game was over, people came up to me and told me that one of my kicks was the longest one they had ever seen. I kicked it almost to the field goal from the other end of the field."
Then I asked Granddaddy if he would sing “The Preacher and the Bear” for me, a song he used to sing as he rocked us when we visited him at
It always made us giggle, the way he sang
it. But first, he said: Arkansas
"Jerri, tell me how you spell bird? I don’t know if you have ever seen this bird, but you might of. This is one that we used to sing when I was a boy in school. We sang it to our teacher.
Down yonder in that school house,
Where the darkies used to go.
There was a ragtime pickaninny
By the name of Ragtime Joe.
When teacher called the class one day
To spell one kind of bird,
He called on everyone but Joe,
But they could not spell a word.
So when he called on Joe
To spell that word to him
He didn’t hesitate a minute,
This is the way he began:
“C – am the way it begins.
H – am the next letter in
I – that am the third
C – am to season the bird,
K – am to fill in the end
E – am nearer the end (N)
C – H – I – C – K – E - N
n That am the way to spell chick-en!”
Now, I’ll sing you the song you asked me for:
“The Preacher and the Bear.”
“A preacher went out hunting, ‘twas on one Sunday morn.
It was against his religion, but he took his gun along.
He shot himself some mighty fine quail,
And one little measly hare,
And on his way, returning home,
He met a great big grizzly bear.
The bear marched out in the middle of the road,
And walked up towards the preacher, you see.
The preacher got so excited, he climbed up a ‘simmon tree.
The preacher climbed out on a limb.
He turned his eyes to the Lord in the sky,
These words he said to him.
Good Lord, didn’t you deliver Daniel from the Lion’s den?
Also, Jonah, from the belly of the whale, and then,
The Hebrew children from the firey furnace,
The Good Book do declare.
Good Lord, if you can’t help me.
For Goodness Sakes,
Don’t you help that bear.”
In my memory, I can hear him now...just as he sang these songs, and he chuckled at the funny little songs he had remembered from his boyhood.
As we sat there musing about the past, a mockingbird began to sing in the distance and trilled his repertoire of songs. His singing reminded me that Granddaddy always called his farm, “Mockingbird Hill,” because mockingbirds were everywhere. One in particular used to follow him as he walked to and from the barn. It flew over his head as he walked, back and forth, as if he were playing a game. When winter approached, he disappeared, but for several years, he would always return every spring. Until, finally, there was a time when he came no more.
When this interview was taken, my grandfather, at age eighty-five, was slightly bent where once he had carried himself erect, a trait left over from his military days. He still had a stout frame that age had altered but not covered up. (In his prime, he was nearly 5’ 9” tall, and weighed 175 pounds). He had been married to my grandmother for almost sixty-one years. Many times he was heard to say, “If I had my life to live over, I would still choose the same little girl for my wife.”
My grandfather loved his Lord, and spent hours quietly reading from his worn Bible. He could answer almost any question we could ask, and more often than not, he could quote the exact verse or turn right to the page he needed. He also tried to live by its highest principles. He had a keen sense of humor, and he was always an optimist. When we visited and asked after his welfare, he always replied with enthusiasm, “I’m sitting on top of the world!”
When I first asked Granddaddy to recount some of his life story, he seemed a little skeptical that anyone would be interested, but when I explained that it would be his gift to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he seemed to warm up to the idea of his legacy. As his stories unfolded, he smiled and laughed in remembrance of other times.
Before ending this narrative, I am compelled to put down one last thing – the words to a favorite song of all the children and grandchildren of Jasper
Cox. My dad said his father taught him
the words to this song when he was about ten, and explained to him that the
story was about a young man who had become lost in the swamp in Louisiana, and
finally reached the summit when he came out on the railroad. We were about ten when daddy taught this song
to us. My aunts all remember it. And once, Retha told me that she sang it to
Beverly Kay when she rocked her as a baby.
I do have a tape of my dad singing, “On the Shores of Newton ,’
one Christmas as his grandchildren listened.
Lest it be lost to our memory, I set the words down here: Lake Ponchartrain
“On the Shores of Ponchartrain”
Through swamps and alligators,
I wound my weary way.
O’er railroad ties and crossings,
My weary feet did stray.
Twas then to reach the summit
And all around to gaze.
It was there I met the blue-eyed girl
On the shores of Ponchartrain.
She took me to her father’s house,
And treated me quite well.
Her hair in golden ringlets
Around her shoulders fell.
I tried to gain her beauty,
But I found it was in vain,
So handsome was this blue-eyed girl
On the shores of Ponchartrain.”
Adieu, adieu, fair maiden,
If I never see you more,
I’ll ne’r forget your kindness
In the cottage by the shore.
And when in social circles,
The sparkling bowl to drain,
I’ll drink to the health of the blue-eyed girl,
On the shores of Ponchartrain.”
There is much more to the chronicles of Jasper Newton and Eva Caroline Cox, but these few pages give the history exactly as it was told to me by my Grandfather in his own words, more than twenty-one years ago. The porch was filled with fresh air and sunshine that morning, and Granddaddy and I shared a closeness I will never forget.
~ by Janice “Jerri” Cox Brown
Oldest grandchild of Jasper
November 1, 1990
JASPER NEWTON COX
EVA CAROLINE SMITH COX