Monday, September 7, 2009

Charlie Baird: a Local Icon

SAN DIEGO – I planned for this column to be about a humorous 1993 trip to Tarrytown, NY, a follow-up to my reveries about Seattle.

But during a phone call while still in Seattle, my parents informed me of an event to change my plans.

Charles Howard Baird died Sunday, July 26.

His passing and his contributions to Lebanon and life have been well documented in this newspaper. His memorial service and interment in Wilson County Memorial Gardens alongside his beloved Erma concluded Saturday.

The fabric of Lebanon I often write about is a bit more frayed around the edges.

Charlie Baird rode the star of Lebanon and Wilson County in its ascendency like Pecos Bill rode the hurricane down by the Rio Grande.

Charlie was 96 when he died. He had a fruitful life. As with others in his generation, he lived in forward gear.

Major, Tennessee Native

He was born in the community of Major. An internet search will not reveal exactly where Major was. Major was swallowed by the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Charlie was a surveyor of the project to make his homeland a state park.
Charlie, like G. Frank Burns, always looked forward while remembering the past.

Charlie came to Lebanon to complete his high school education (with honors). He stayed and became a driving force in the community. He started working at the Lebanon Woolen Mills in shipping. I believe it was 1931. Fifty years later, he retired as general manager and vice-president. His Woolen Mills was not only a huge commercial success in Lebanon; it was a model for industry in the Mid-South.

I could go on about the success of Charlie Baird, but the local news media already have well chronicled that success.

Golf Stories

The last time I visited with Charlie at his home on West End Heights, we shared our golf stories as we have done since he found out I played the game. It did not bother him knowing I’ve never been a very good golfer like he was. We both loved the game and that was enough.

In our visit, Charlie talked about his father’s ability to throw a baseball. Perhaps that is where Charlie’s athletic ability came from.

The Bairds and the Jewells have been close for a long, long time. I believe it is typical of many families in Lebanon. Such relationships are often based on attending the same church.

From their church relationship, the Bairds, Jewells, Dowdys, Spains, Leftwichs, and others formed a bridge club, well described by J. B. Leftwich in his column.
Charlie Stories

On my May trip home from the Southwest corner, my father told me a bridge club story which occurred in the Smokies.

My family owned a large cabin between Sevierville and Maryville. It became a bridge club custom to spend a long autumn weekend there. My father and my uncle, Snooks Hall, would go early to take food and clean up the cabin before the others arrived.

One year, they discovered a man from just upstream had stocked the creek with fingerling trout so he could don his waders and fly fish. A contingent of the trout had settled in a pool just under the walking bridge leading up to our cabin.

During a lull, my father baited the ubiquitous porch fishing pole with white bread and caught a few trout. He threw them back.

When Charlie arrived, my father mentioned the trout to Charlie.

Charlie said, “Why Jimmy, where’s a fishing pole? I’m going to catch some trout.” He caught about six, cleaned them, and asked Erma to cook them for his supper.

When they sat down for supper, Charlie had his trout and everyone else had the planned meal. Charlie took one bite and proclaimed, “Why Jimmy, I think that is the worst thing I have ever tasted.”

I can hear his raspy laugh.

My father also tells about Charlie when a California trucker delivered materials to the Woolen Mills. Not wanting to dead head his truck back west, he asked Charlie if he knew where he could get a load to carry back.

Charlie told him to drive up to Crab Orchard and load up with sandstone. The trucker did as Charlie suggested and made good money on his return trip.

That is Charlie Baird to me. Good ideas, good stories, always looking to help someone.

We will miss him.

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