Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Eulogy for My Granddaddy Clatie Lewis

A heart for Jesus, industrious, generous, resourceful, intelligent, forgiving, and an unwavering faith in God describes my granddaddy.

Clatie Floyd Lewis was the first son and second baby born to John Terry and Martha Ann Shaffer on March 5, 1925 out in the country in Webster County, Mississippi. His parents and grandparents for generations back were mostly farmers living off the land. From research we’ve done they seemed to have been mostly of the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths.

Regarding how his parents decided on his name Granddaddy said, “I was named after a fellow in the community who went to fight in WWI, his name was Clatie. He was a fine young man but was killed in the war. To honor him they named me Clatie.”

When Granddaddy was just 4 years old the Great Depression hit and significantly affected his life. The house and farm his dad had bought were foreclosed on when they couldn’t make the payments as a result of declining crop prices and losing his school bus route. By the time Granddaddy was 7 years old he was pulling a plow with a mule named Lou in rented fields helping to grow crops—cotton, corn and hay. Because his dad needed him to help with the farm, he attended school sporadically.

Finally, during the winter of 1940 The Farm and Home Administration had a resettlement program. They loaned my great-granddaddy, John Terry $550 to buy a 60-acre farm in the Edgeworth Community near Eupora, Mississippi. Granddaddy and his brothers were able to cut timber off the land and build a modest 3-bedroom house for the family of 10. It had wood-burning fireplaces for heat and a wood burning stove to cook on. When Granddaddy was in the U.S. Army, he sent money back home so that his dad was able to pay his 40-year loan off in just five years.

Soon afterward in December of 1943 at the age of 18, Granddaddy was drafted into the army during World War II. Because of his past experience cutting hair, when they were in Italy he got to cut people’s hair at 10 cents a head instead of having to do drills with everyone else.

One night while spending time close to the German lines in southern France, Granddaddy said he was lying there in his tent listening as the German shells went off not far away. “I had my Bible. It was dark and I said, “Lord, if you will get me out of here then I’ll serve You all the rest of my life”.

Days later Granddaddy recalls they were waiting around in the camp with the Germans getting closer. “It was cold outside. I had a cup of coffee I’d just made. Even though I’d just made it, something told me to go over and warm up my coffee. As I picked up my right foot— ‘bling’—right where my foot would have been, a piece of shrapnel landed. If my foot had been there, it would have torn my foot off. I knew then, God told me to warm my coffee.”

Eventually, Granddaddy’s unit was hiding out in the basement of an abandoned house. During the night the Germans shelled the building and blew the huge five-inch-thick doors wide open. The force from the shell blew them all down. Granddaddy was diagnosed with a concussion and shell-shock. After 9 months in the hospital, he was honorably discharged on June 2, 1945 with a bronze star medal.

Grandaddy didn’t originally graduate from high school but when he got out of the army, he showed the school administrator his army general classification test and based on his excellent scores they gave him a certificate.

Grandmamma and Granddaddy met while attending Clarke College. Originally, grandmamma was dating his friend Ray. Ray told him that Maxine might like Clatie and that he should take her on a date so he did and that night granddaddy thought God told him that she would be his wife. His sister Florence said I know you and I know Ray and one of you is going to get hurt. Granddaddy said “well it’s not going to be me.” And that worked out well for all of us.

Granddaddy and Grandmamma were married in December 1946 and raised four children together. Grandmamma said: “Clatie caught my attention because he applied himself to his lessons, he worked in a barber shop to make extra money and attended church regularly.” She wanted a husband who was a good Christian, who wasn’t lazy and would make a good living for his family. She said, “God helped me find Clatie and I haven’t been disappointed.”

After school, Granddaddy became a CPA and an auditor for several government agencies and moved his family whenever he could get a good job with a raise. He finished his professional career with the Federal Highway Administration in Atlanta overseeing seven southeastern states. He often traveled for work and because of his frugality rather than spending his travel per diem and 7 cents per mile, he used to save the money up and buy a new car for the family with it.

Granddaddy delighted in doing things for others and was always very generous with his time. He did many tax returns for friends and acquaintances but never charged them. After retirement, he took classes and learned to refurbish old computers at the charity, FODAC where they were sold at affordable prices to those in need. He would cut the grass in his yard on a riding lawn mower and sometimes even drove across busy Chamblee-Dunwoody Road to cut the neighbor’s grass.

He loved visiting people for the church. If Granddaddy was in town, he took a partner and went visiting most Tuesday nights. On many Sundays he went to nursing homes to sing with the residents, give a devotional and visit with them. When Miss Millie, his little dog came into his life, he took her with him.

Besides being generous with his time, Granddaddy was also generous with his money. His family had very little growing up. He pinched pennies all of his life but was willing to share with others. After they got married, he and Grandmamma bought his parents a refrigerator so Granddaddy’s family could keep their food cold. They were faithful tithers to their church and paid for each of their children to get college or technical training after high school so they didn’t accumulate debt. He said ‘I can’t take it with me’ and whatever someone needed whether family or others, he was willing to help them. I also remember him being generous with his Bubblicious bubble gum when I was a kid.

Granddaddy was very resourceful and skilled at fixing things and if you needed some work done just let him know and he would work it into his schedule. He came to all of his children’s houses many times to change out commode parts, install a ceiling fan, hang wall paper, paint, or put in a hardwood floor. He was also his own mechanic. One time as our family was preparing for a trip to Nashville the water pump went out on our Oldsmobile Cutlass. We left it at Granddaddy’s house and when we returned, he had replaced the water pump. I also remember him helping me change the oil in my car when I was in high school.

Finding his way around came easily for Granddaddy before the days of GPS. He had a keen sense of direction and was good at reading a map. He also did many ‘dry runs’ with Grandmamma helping her find a place she needed to drive to.

When Grandmamma and Granddaddy lived in Clarksdale, Mississippi; Granddaddy drew up the plans for the house he wanted to build. Uncle Buford came from southern Mississippi and helped him build it. He and Grandmamma did a lot of the work themselves. Aunt Patricia and Mamma visited Clarksdale a few years ago and saw that the house was there and still in a good neighborhood. The carport had been enclosed and a room was added to the back of the house.

After living in Decatur, Alabama for several years, Granddaddy drew up plans for another house. Sunday afternoons were spent driving around town looking at new houses and getting ideas. This house was close to a nature reserve so the family’s little beagle could roam at night.

Atlanta, Georgia was the last city the Lewis family moved to and called home. A friend at church was selling lots in the Gainsborough subdivision so Granddaddy bought a lot on the corner of Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd. and Chancery Lane. He was the architect and general contractor for this home too and lived in it for 59 years.

Granddaddy had a big garden in the backyard growing mostly tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and butter peas. When my mom was young sometimes he would cut a sucker off a tomato plant and give it to her to put in the ground and grow her own tomato plant. He always grew many more tomatoes than he needed so he could share with family, friends and neighbors. Grandmamma would cook these vegetables for Sunday lunch each week and freeze extra for the winter. Granddaddy was an appreciative eater and would often say that’s the best tea, meal, or dessert I’ve ever had.

The summer between my mom's Freshman and Sophomore years in college Granddaddy got her a job with the North American Acceptance Corporation as an operator taking down credit information. It was located in the same office building that he worked at so he let her ride with him to work every day.

Granddaddy liked to play with words and we called these ‘Clatieisms’. If you said you don’t want him to catch your cold, he’d say I won’t take it. When telling him goodbye, you say bye and he’d say sell. If you asked him if he wanted a roll at dinner, he’d say I’d rather walk. If you tried to call Granddaddy on the phone and couldn’t reach him, you’d call back later and say, “I tried to call you”, he’d say “you didn’t holler loud enough.” If you said I finally got you on the phone. He’d say, “what are you going to do with me now?”

It’s not easy to excuse people who have wronged you and Granddaddy had a sensitive spirit but with God’s help, he had an incredible capacity to let go of things that hurt him. He was very forgiving. If someone had treated him poorly in the past, he was able to forgive and let bygones be bygones. He didn’t hold grudges.

Granddaddy had an unwavering faith in God. My mom remembers him many times working to fix something and when things weren’t going well, he would thank God for helping him and continue to work. He eventually got it fixed and would praise God for the results. This encouraged all of us to trust God and expect Him to help us.

Granddaddy had a faithful prayer life and a heart for others and wanted everybody to go to heaven. He learned some techniques through Campus Crusade and shared Jesus with everyone he met; whether at the gas station, the drug store, at the mall, or on the bus. He enjoyed sharing about how Jesus had worked in his life and did some preaching and singing at the Atlanta Union Mission downtown as well as at his church.

In his later years, Granddaddy continued to trust God for what he needed. He had some health issues where he couldn’t remember things like he used to but he actually knew Joshua’s name and would ask about him. It was so fun to see the two of them interact. He kept a good attitude, stayed positive, and walked a mile or more everyday in the neighborhood up until about a year ago. He said the doctor told him if he kept walking that he wouldn’t ever stop. When I would walk with him he’d say “keep on walking and walk right into paradise.” 

He also had an incredibly strong grip even at the age of 98 and liked to let people know it when shaking their hand or with a vigorous back rub. On Sundays, I’d give him a back rub and he’d say I’ll give you 30 minutes to stop that and often he’d get up and return the favor. When I’d encourage him to have a good day while saying goodbye; he’d say, “I’ve decided to.” I loved this attitude and how he continued to live life to the fullest even in his later years.

My mom once entered and won a contest where she shared the best advice your dad ever gave you. This is what she summarized from his life. “When running life’s obstacle course, stop along the way to help those who can’t get over the hurdles. The winner is the one who brings the most people to the finish line.”

Granddaddy was faithful to his promise to God when he was in the tent in southern France. He was a devoted servant and follower of Jesus Christ all the days of his life. In 2 Timothy 4:8, it says there is a crown of righteousness in heaven in store and I’m sure he heard well done good and faithful servant when he arrived.

We praise God for my Granddaddy’s life!

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