Pap’s Birthday

pap's photo and guitar

Pap would have been 83 years old to day.

I’ve had him on my mind a lot lately. Mostly wishing I could talk to him again.

A few years back Paul wrote a song about Pap’s life called “It’s a Wonder.” I shared it with you here on the Blind Pig so maybe you remember it.

The song came to Paul in a dream, which somehow makes it even more special to me.

Each verse tells part of Pap’s life story and the overall theme of the song is one of thankfulness.

Thankfulness that Pap lived for 78 years.

In honor of Pap’s birthday I thought I’d share the story behind the verses.

When I think about the Hiwassee I see waters closing in on me

Its a wonder that I lived passed the age of 3

Though it may not be such a great big river was a whole lot bigger than me

When I think about the Hiwassee its a wonder that I lived passed 3

Pap was born along the Hiwassee River here in Cherokee County on the Harshaw Farm. His parents were sharecroppers. With few roads in those days the family needed to cross the river before they could walk into Murphy. The tale goes that they were paddling across the river when Pap suddenly jumped in, quickly going out of sight in the murky depths. His mother instantly took off after him leaving Papaw Wade to follow behind her in a flash because he knew she couldn’t swim either. I’m sure the incident was more than stressful for the little family, but over the years the tale took on an almost legendary status as they laughed about the boy who jumped in the river.

By the time they left the banks of the Hiwassee for other locals Pap could swim like the fish he and his mother often caught from the banks.

Caracas, Venezuela, Beirut times when the cold war got hot

I think about Malaria and jungle rot

We had to leave our brothers behind and come home across the sea

When I think about all the countries its a wonder I lived passed 19

When the draft card came calling Pap was working in Ohio. He came home to Brasstown and packed up his stuff to enlist.

Arriving with all the other draftees Pap didn’t hardly know what to expect. At least he had spent some time away from home so maybe that was a leg up so to speak on some of the other young men.

They were all in a large hall when a sharp dressed man entered and spoke to the soldier in charge. He said he needed three men for the Marines. A little back and forth between the two resulted in the decision to take the first in alphabetical order, the last, and one in between. With Pap’s name being Wilson he was the one chosen from the end. That’s how he became a Marine.

Pap suffered from Malaria while in service and it randomly came back on him for the rest of his life. He never complained about it, he just dealt with the episodes knowing they wouldn’t last long and that none of them would ever be as bad as the first sickness when he woke up on a Naval ship at sea.

During Pap’s last days he talked often of those brothers they left behind. He never forgot them.

When I think about all the fuel I hauled over the mountains so steep

Its a wonder that I lived passed 33

Enough to burn this county down leave nary a bush nor tree

When I think about all the fuel Lord its a wonder I lived passed 33

Pap spent many years as trucker hauling all sorts of things, but most of his time was spent hauling fuel on long hauls. Over the years he shared some of his experiences with us many of which made me cringe. Like the time he came off Blood Mountain with so much snow on the road that he drove with the door open so he could jump out if he lost control of the rig.

When I think about that time they split me apart reached inside working round my heart

Its a wonder that I lived passed 41

They always said that my heart was strong now I know its not the only one

Its a wonder that I lived passed 41

In the late 70s and early 80s Pap started suffering from an aliment that pretty much stopped him in his tracks. He was young, healthy, and strong with no obvious signs of disease. Pap and Granny visited doctors all over the place trying to find out what was going on. The general consensus was he had ulcers. Finally Pap was sent to a doctor in Gainesville GA who said he thought it was a heart blockage. He said he had an easy way to know for sure. He gave Pap a handful of nitroglycerin pills and told him to take one the next time he felt the pain and sickness and if the pill stopped it that was a clear sign he had heart disease.

The pill instantly stopped the pain. A short time later Pap was admitted to Crawford & Long in Atlanta GA for a triple by-pass. I was in 5th grade. At that time Pap was one of a handful of people in our general area that had undergone bypass surgery. He was sort of like a guinea pig and a hero all at the same time for surviving.

I remember Papaw Wade stayed with us a few days to help once he got home from the hospital. I’m not sure he needed to though, in 6 weeks Pap was back at work feeling like a new man. The by-passes cured him for a good 25 years.

When I think of how hard I pushed my heart worked from heights so easy to fall

Its a wonder that I lived passed 65

So many buildings they still stand though their builder has gone to another land

Its a wonder that I lived passed 65

By the time Pap was 65 he had retired from truck driving. He was beginning to show signs of heart trouble again, but not enough to keep him from working.

Pap and The Deer Hunter worked together building houses. Pap had the knowledge from building his and Granny’s house, several other houses in the community and even the church.

In those days The Deer Hunter would tell me “Your Daddy can work circles around me and he’s 65 years old.”

Pap would get on the roof and The Deer Hunter would throw sheets of plywood up for him to pound into place.

On one house Pap was working on the trusses when he slipped. He grabbed a hold of a truss to catch himself and it broke. He fell all the way to the bottom floor miraculously landing on his feet with the broke truss still in his hand. The Deer Hunter said he about fainted from fright.

When I think about that time I had no help so I had to help myself

Its a wonder that I lived passed 75

There I was all alone down on the floor with broken bone

Its a wonder that I lived passed 75

By the time Pap was 75 he was retired from all work. His angina pain pretty much kept him confined to doing easy tasks. He donated his time to cleaning the fellowship hall at church.

One day he was just finishing up with mopping and as he turned around he slipped on the wet floor and fell. He broke his hip and there was no one there to help him. He didn’t have a cell phone so that wasn’t an option either. Somehow he used his leg as a crutch and drug himself to his car. He manage to drive about halfway home to where Miss Cindy lives. He was afraid he was going to pass out from the pain so he pulled into a lot near her house.

As he sat there he prayed “Lord you’re either going to have to take me out of this world or send somebody to help. I can’t take this suffering any longer.”

Kenny Phillips, a long time friend of Pap’s, pulled into the lot. Once he realized it was Pap in the car he came over to talk. Pap made him go get Miss Cindy and somehow she got him home and somehow her and Granny got him inside the house. I’ll never know how they did it.

A few hours later at the hospital we discovered along with the broken hip Pap had suffered a heart attack.

Pap lived and went on to totally recover from the broken hip without surgery. The doctor who released him a few weeks later said “I’ve never seen anything like this. You are totally healed. Old people like me and you aren’t supposed to mend like this.”

The Lord of Love was with me through all I said and did do

Friend let me ask is he with you?

Never blame God for the wrong we all do nor the trouble it brings

Don’t blame him for the fool or the feeble song he sings

If God isn’t real when you close your eyes you have nothing to win

But if he’s real your eyes will open again, again

Look to creation study his word and the truth you will see

What a wonder I’ll live eternally

The greatest wonder I’ll live eternally

Click on the player above to hear the song “It’s a Wonder.”

Pap was a man of great faith. He never pushed his faith on anyone, but lead his life as an example of it.

At his funeral a long time friend of the family told me “Your Daddy was an encourager. He always had an encouraging word for anyone he came in contact with.”

I miss Pap, but I’m beyond thankful he lived on this earth for 78 years to be an influence in my life, my children’s lives, and an influence on many many other lives.


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  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    April 19, 2022 at 7:28 am

    Wow, what a legacy you and your family have of such a Hero and I don’t use that term lightly. What memories to know and share. These are pass-on-memories for your children and their children one day. You are so Blessed.

  • Reply
    Glenda C. Beall
    July 16, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    What a great post, Tipper and Paul’s song is great. You know I write memoir and teach memoir writing. I want my students to read this post. Thanks.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    What a lovely tribute. from both Paul and you. How lucky you all have been to have such a good influence to look up to as an example.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    July 16, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Beautiful tribute to your daddy. Tipper. It’s coming on the 30th anniversary of my daddy suddenly passing at age 62. It’s hard for me to get through this time – especially since I’m now older than my daddy was when he was called home. We were both blessed by having wonderful, God-loving men for fathers.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 16, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    And Paul, Steve, and all the Grandchildren,

    Happy Birthday, Pap! Miss Cindy had it right when she said Nice Things about Pap. He didn’t know me as well as others, but I Loved him also. Like my dad and Mama, all were from the Greatest Generation.

    My daddy died when he was only 72 in 82, working in the garden, and Mama followed him just 4 years later. She was 72 also. I still Miss Them and all 5 of my brothers. And that’s the way it should be. …Ken

  • Reply
    Darrell K Cook
    July 16, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing about your daddy. I miss my Daddy also. I use a photo of him as a background on my computer. My daddy was born in 1932 and lived to 83. We also farmed on the Harshaw Farm. We rented the 220 acres. The fields were so long and over two miles in distance along the river. We grew corn and soybeans and 70 acres of truck crops. I enjoyed fishing in the river. Usually I caught catfish or “water dogs.” I look forward to reading you each day. Thank-you.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2020 at 11:38 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I really enjoyed the song with its uplifting beat. My Dad’s birthday was yesterday and he would have been 101. Sadly, cancer took him at age 54 when I was 19 and my brother was 15. He’s been gone almost 47 years, but I still miss him. So many things I wished I’d asked him about.

  • Reply
    Linda Collins
    July 16, 2020 at 10:09 am

    I loved and enjoyed the story and song about your father. It’s wonderful you have this beautiful song featuring his life.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2020 at 9:50 am

    If you told someone the story of Pap’s life it wouldn’t have the same meaning as seeing it on paper and hearing it in a song. My dad would have been a few years older than Pap if he hadn’t been killed in a car wreck along with my mom 27 years ago. The anniversary of their death was last week and I spent the day thinking about their life story. There is just something about that generation of folks that made them stronger than anyone since. When I was young, Dad was commuting from his job in Harlan County and lost control of his truck and rolled off Pine Mountain and landed at the bottom. Two ladies walking to church on Sunday morning saw his truck and got help for him. He didn’t have a scratch or broken bone.
    “If God isn’t real when you close your eyes you have nothing to win” was proven by Dad and most likely Pap as well.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    July 16, 2020 at 9:31 am

    The Bible says we are all made in the image of God, but I’m afraid some of us don’t reflect it as well as your Pap did. May the Master be praised.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 16, 2020 at 9:21 am

    How blessed to have a wonderful father!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    July 16, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Paul is a really talented writer and musician. He sings well too! I enjoyed the tribute to your Pap in song. He had to have been a great American!

  • Reply
    July 16, 2020 at 8:26 am

    What a beautiful song Paul wrote. Not just a testimony of Pap’s life but inspiration and a Godly heritage for all his children and grandchildren. How I miss my husband, parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles. I don’t think we ever get over missing them, even though we know we will see them again we still want to talk to them. It is a real heart ache. Tipper, you and Paul are walking in Pap’s footsteps honoring his life and following the Lord. God Bless!

  • Reply
    July 16, 2020 at 8:19 am

    That great generation had so many great men. I had not realized how closely Pap’s life followed along to the life of my own Dad. Dad even told of a time in service when he was drowning, and somebody pulled him to the surface. This month is memorial to me also, because it is the month I lost both parents and my youngest sister…an odd coincidence. Regardless, I was taught all my life that you will go when the good Lord is ready for you and not one minute before. I do not know if that was the Baptist belief or my Dad just handing down what he was taught. It was a comfort for me to feel this was all part of a greater plan.

    Many of us followed along with you through the years, Tipper. I am so pleased you had such a wonderful inspiring Father to guide you. We are all just passing through, and won’t it be a glorious day to get to see them again one day!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    July 16, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Tipper, I enjoyed your post on parts of your Daddy’s life. The Lord brought him home when his work on earth was through. He couldn’t have died any sooner. I feel the same way about my Dad’s life. His work was done.
    There is an old saying I haven’t thought of in years ” death comes in threes.” I don’t give credence to the old superstitions that my Mom and Mamaw believed in such as ”a bird in your house means death in the family.” As far as death comes in threes goes, this has made an impression on my brain. My Mother age 93 past died in late June followed by a first cousin I grew up with, followed by a dear young friend I watched grow up.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 16, 2020 at 8:09 am

    What a fine tribute to your Dad from all three of you. He lives on in each of you and in more people to I’m sure. I love it that you characterize him in the one word “encourager”. They are a rare breed. Most if us all too preoccupied with our own things to see what others need and supply it. I get very vexed with that trait in myself. I can just about be certain he never thought of himself as in any way unusual. And that is one of the crowning touches of a good life.

    Thanks for sharing Pap’s story and the song. They show me a mirror of how I hope I will be remembered when I’m gone.

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    July 16, 2020 at 8:02 am

    They just don.t make them like that anymore. What a wonderful life he lived and encouraged so many others. It is a testament to any man that can leave a legacy like his. I know your family is so proud. I am glad I had the opportunity
    to meet and talk to him.

  • Reply
    James Brasington
    July 16, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Great story! I know many mountain men of that generation they were all Heroes.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 16, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Tipper, you brought a tear to my eye first thing this morning. I think Pap was the finest man I ever knew. He was wise and gentle beyond knowing. I miss him too!

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes Moreno
    July 16, 2020 at 6:48 am

    Tipper, that is a testimony to a life well lived. It is clear the Lord blessed your Daddy and that he knew it. That is something to be proud of. Prayers for you today. I lost my Daddy in 1990 and I still see so many things I would love to discuss with him. I know I will see him again some day but I would sure like to visit with him.

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