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Memories of My Father

Delbert Cowell
1910 – 1999

The first 15 years of my dad’s life was very difficult. His parents were share-croppers near Camden, Tennessee. They had 7 children living in a small home with very limited resources. When Dad was 8, his mother died. A step-mother soon joined the family, but she only increased the difficulties for Dad.

Dad was taken out of school to work on the farm. Life became so unbearable for Dad that at age 12 he left home to live with various relatives. He moved to Bemis, Tennessee and at age 18 he went to work in the Bemis Cotton Mill. He continued working there for 37 years and also built houses, farmed and worked hard to provide the things he never had for his family.

My favorite story symbolizing the way Dad lived his life took place on a cold winter Saturday morning. There was three to four inches of snow on the ground which was very rare. I was 12 years old and Dad woke me up early. He said he wanted me to get dressed and go into town with him. We got into our Chevrolet Suburban and Dad drove on the right side of the road the 3 miles to Highway 45S. Then he turned around a started back home on the other side of the road.

“What are we doing?” I asked. Dad explained his actions: “People are not used to driving in snow. We needed to use the Suburban to make tracks on the edge of the road going in and coming back so folks won’t just drive in the middle and wreck when they meet another car.” We drove home, parked and went in to eat breakfast. To Dad that kind of service to others came natural to him.

In 1964 Dad loaned our church in Knoxville several thousand dollars to complete our first building. When the church could not repay him, he quickly said to consider the money as a gift. When he retired at age 65 from the University of Tennessee, the church surprised him by buying him a new Chevrolet truck. He shyly and humbly took the keys and said, “This is too much, you shouldn’t have done this. If any of you need to borrow the truck, you are welcome to it.”

Dad died in February, 1999. He grew more affectionate and expressive as he got older. He was a gentle man—a good father—a good husband—and I miss him very much. Happy Father’s Day!