A poem in memory of my father Alex Marion Mays, the best father a gal could ever have
Born in Bluefield in 1915,
his mother Callie’s pride and joy,
she named him Alex Marion for his two grandfathers,
William Robert Alexander Mays and Francis Marion George.
His daddy, Dallas, a skilled stone mason,
took great care and pride in his work, we hear.
A grand piece of his work still graces Concord College’s entrance,
welcoming its students, now, for over a hundred years.
Shortly after the sun set for the day
Callie magically transported her children to lands, far and old
as she read Beautiful Stories from the Bible, stories about Peter Rabbit,
Miss Minerva and William Greenhill, and Black Beauty, now gold.
The young lad Marion was perceptive and very receptive
to the goings-on about him in Athens, his town.
He recalled how, before anyone there owned a car,
all would gather ‘round fresh car tracks and just stare down.
Growing up in Athens,
young Marion had a mighty fine time.
He’d mosey to town, roam the green pasture land,
and ‘round Tater Hill he and his dog Uncle Fudd did climb.
Marion once saved his faithful friend Fudd
from apparent death, from poison;
Pounding on Fudd’s chest for thirty minutes or more,
he revived his loyal groundhog huntin’ companion.
Down to Lick Creek the boy Marion would travel
to visit his quaint, dear Uncle Blair;
Blair’d given him Fudd, taught him to swim, shoot a 22 Remington,
and had once taken him to the Hinton Fair.
The bachelor Blair’s décor fascinated the boy:
newspapered walls of ads for buggies, Lady Pinkham’s, and Swamp Root.
On a Saturday night were the sweet sounds of the mandolin,
guitar, and fiddle at Austins, leading the dancing afoot.
School days in Athens were full and were fun;
Marion won two writing contests for best short story, he did.
The young man Marion treasured stories about Old West glory
and read Zane Grey’s books and Walter Noble Burns’ The Saga of Billy Kid.
Hearing his school was in need of a mascot, Marion
thought that the sound of Athens Trojans had a certain ring,
so he joined with other students in submitting his idea;
the student body voted Marion’s most befitting.
Sometimes he’d skip school, and hitchhike to Princeton.
There he’d spend his hard-earned cash from selling Collier’s magazines,
Garden Spot seeds, or Cloverline salve to catch the ten cent matinee
at The Royal; Cowboy-actor Tom Mix was quite the thing.
In 1933, his time at Athens High School did end.
The Mayses celebrated his graduation, impressed.
But Marion recalled his greatest disappointment of all
was losing the school’s Best Shot Rifle Contest.
One of the four who had tied for the honor,
Marion, before the tiebreaker, momentarily, turned his eyes
before the reprise, while a trickster raised the site on his
gun, causing him to shoot high and lose the prize.
It was off to college, for two years, but in ’35,
the US Navy called, and Marion wanted to see the world,
so to Norfolk NOB he did report for boot camp.
Into a fast-paced sailor’s world, he was hurled.
In ’36 through ’39, aboard the battleship USS Arkansas,
he sailed. The Arctic Circle he did cross.
He saw icebergs twenty feet high in July,
the ocean tamed into a gentle pond, and no loss.
His days now became regulated by bugle calls and commands;
he answered to “General quarters,” reveille at first light;
he prepared for Friday’s white-glove
inspections and was serenaded by “Taps” every night.
Transferred for special duty with Coast Guard Cutter Cayuga in ’36,
he and his crew accomplished a delicate mission during the Spanish Civil War:
they picked up sixty-one officials and refugees in San Sebastian,
amidst torpedo shots while Nationalist troops were ashore.
Back on the old Arkie, then the oldest US battleship on sea,
the sailor Marion–with smoother sailing offshore–
transported midshipmen to the European ports of Cherbourg,
Portsmouth, Liverpool, Copenhagen, Lisbon, and more.
In ’38, he had his first date with his soon-to-be wife Barbara of fifty years.
He fell for her hard and fast, and they married in ’39,
so back to Concord it was until ’41, pursuing a degree in teaching
and managing the recreation room at the Old Red Barn for a time.
It was then that his first offspring, Linda Gayle, came along.
Money had to be considered: he needed to make more.
To the Charleston, South Carolina Navy Yard he did report,
the soft lapping of gentle waves calling him to South Carolina’s shore.
From Charleston to the Terminal Island California Navy Yard
from Third to First-Class Ordinance Mechanic he did move;
When In ’45 he graduated with a Second Mate’s License from the
U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School, his future did improve.
In the Merchant Marines now, with a gold stripe on his cap and
two gold bars on his sleeve, to the Liberty ships, he did report with care:
It was anchors away on the John Gorrie, General Howze, and on the Victory ship Laredo!
In ’47, just in time, he arrived in Virginia for the birth of his son, David Blair.
A fateful trip in 1948 to Australia started out like any other.
On the Juliette Low, Marion and his good friend Nick did sail.
While the two talked of the prospect of renting a Liberty upon their
return, to start a business, the cool breeze began to turn ‘to a moderate gale.
The ship pulled into a port in North Africa,
the moderate gale turning to dread.
An hour later Nick, on the dock, had fallen,
from receiving a hard blow to his head.
Nick was rushed to a hospital in North Africa;
the Juliet Lowe, on a schedule she must keep,
pulled back out to sea and headed toward Australia.
Into the dim twilight she did sweep.
Marion and the Chief Mate took over Nick’s duties.
The crew remained all worked up about the event.
About how one of their own, an American sailor,
could have taken a beer bottle to use as a weapon, they did vent.
Looking back at his naval deeds, Marion recalled it was a good life:
the best thing was visiting different countries and various ports,
not scraping the barnacles off of the ship’s hull in dry dock,
or eating eggs dated 1912.
As a daughter I couldn’t have asked for any better;
he won me, heart and soul.
His charismatic personality captivated;
Santa could have taken lessons from him for running the North Pole:
To him, the giver of popcorn under your pillow,
empty dental floss containers,
Giver of walks on top of his shoes and carburetors,
college educations, summer camp vacations,
Sunday rides in Model-Ts, book fees, and car keys,
I salute, and say, “Job well done. I miss you, Daddy.
You’re my rock,
you’re my gem,
you’re my home.”
Diane Mays Landy ©2009