When you move to a town where you don’t know a body or a soul, there’s no quick way to distinguish the natives from the newcomers. So when we settled in to life in Woodstock in 1965, we just assumed that everybody else had been here from Day One, whenever that was.
We quickly (and in some cases, not quickly enough) learned about family relationships, who were kin and who were “kissin’ cousins.”
We also learned that it really didn’t matter. The occasional newcomer seemed to fit right in like a final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
There was a Dodson family on Noonday Street (one of a very few side streets in town at the time) who seemed to be your typical small-town-America family. There was Joe, who worked for General Motors, and Lois, and their kids Raymond, Brenda and Tony.
We saw them the same places we saw everybody else — school, church, South Cherokee Recreation Association Park, the grocery store, the post office. We all lived the abundant Woodstock life.
So it was years later when I learned more about their background. Joe was not born in Cherokee County, but, like many of us, he got here as quickly as he could. His mother died when he was small, and he grew up in the home of an aunt and uncle in Cabbagetown in Atlanta.
When World War II finally entangled the United States, Joe went the way of thousands to the shipyards for better-paying jobs. He was in California when the draft came calling, and when he turned 20 in 1943 he had already been in Uncle Sam’s Army for four months.
He would spend 29 months in the Pacific before returning stateside on Christmas Eve 1945.
He came home to Atlanta and found work at Fisher Body, a company that was later absorbed by General Motors. He also worked evenings as a short-order cook in a little place on Boulevard called Ron and Ruth’s.
One of his regular customers was Lois Cowart, a Pickens County native who was living in a boarding house just a block away and who worked at the Sears building on Ponce. They married, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What a catch for Lois … a man who could cook.
They settled in Woodstock where their children would grow up. Joe retired from General Motors in 1980, but stayed active in church and community. He served as chief of Woodstock’s Volunteer Fire Department from 1974 until 1986. He was a deacon at First Baptist and found a variety of ways to serve in the church.
Lifelong friendships developed, especially in the Noonday Street neighborhood. But geography is not the final word, and when that area was re-developed in the past few years, the Dodsons and other families found themselves relocating.
Our family reaped the benefits as the Dodsons moved into our neighborhood. And somewhere along the way, Joe decided he was finally old enough to join the morning talk-fest at Dean’s Store.
He’s been a regular now for three or four years. Often, especially at this time of year, the conversations at the store are centered on the Braves.
Joe is the expert. He follows those guys like some folks follow the Kardashians.
He’s probably having flashbacks from his days with the local men’s baseball teams. He was the pitcher.
His longtime hobby of glass cutting has produced some surprises. My favorite among his many creations is a small Coke bottle. He developed a way to cut out a section of a bottle, then glue the two remaining pieces back together, making a Coke bottle about 3 inches high.
The first time I saw one of these I thought, “It’s about time Coke made a size just big enough to wash down a pack of peanuts or a candy bar.”
Well, Coke didn’t do it, but Joe did. Of course his bottles are empty, but he did paint the inside of one black, making it look full of that tasty treat.
On Monday, Aug. 26, Joe will be 90. Since he’s at Dean’s Store every morning around 8, we’ll be doing the usual birthday bash for special birthdays.
There will be a cake and Cokes, perhaps even some coffee. The event will be open to the ladies as well.
Joe has promised to be there. (I was afraid to make plans without that promise. Joe and Lois have a vacation spot in Cherokee, N.C. We never know when they might leave town.)
Come join us for this party. We promise you’ll have fun.
Read more: Cherokee Tribune - Good neighbor s birthday time for celebration