“Ah this is a yacht ! She’ll not give you gold nor glory, but only the song of taut rigging, the tang of salt spray, and the freedom and adventure of the sea“
My dad, Joseph Allen Paul, celebrated seventy-two grand years on this Earth this past February.
Seventy-Two years. 😲
How could this be? Where have the years gone?
Are we truly getting this OLD? 👵🏻 Surely not.
It is true.
Seven decades have passed him by. And I am blessed to have shared four of those cherished seven.
Time is so odd. Things that feel like just yesterday are now days long ago— the good old days as some would say.
I wish we could go back and relive some of those beautiful memories. Especially from the earliest years of my life…
Someone call The Doctor! I need a Tardis.
Ah, but time travel is fiction, and those days are behind us now. We’ve evolved into the here and now which isn’t a bad place to be.
Dad’s been retired now for twenty years.
For thirty loyal years, he worked for the state of North Carolina— beginning as a high school math teacher, and later building a career in the juvenile justice field as a Court Counselor and retired as a Chief Court Counselor with the judicial system.
Of course, retirement did not slow him down one bit. He’s the hardest working retired man I know.
I cannot even fathom to understand what it must feel like to have accomplished so much, and to have lived seventy-two years to tell about it.
My son who is seven will only know my dad as his ever faithful grandfather whom he affectionately calls “Poppy.”
The man whom I’m convinced loves my son more than all of us combined. The man who would do just about anything in the world to be with his grandson any day or any time… at the drop of a hat. The man who adores him, and hangs on my son’s every word.
The man who calls him on the phone just to say, “Hey, Mak!” To which my son replies, “What, Poppy?” My dad will pause to increase suspense— even though we all know exactly what he’s going to say because we’ve heard it what seems to be a million times— and he will finally reply with mischief and enthusiasm, “You’re Awesome!”
A true and real bond those two share. I hope my son knows deep down in his heart one day how lucky he is to have a Poppy in his life.
But I want my son to know my dad has a story too. He was once a little boy with parents and grandparents.
I want to make sure he knows at least some of his maternal grandfather’s story and hope he takes a little pride in knowing whom and from where he came.
So here are some things I’d like him to know:
My dad was born February 25, 1947, a post World War II baby boomer. The son of a United States Navy Sailor, the late Joseph Bell Paul, who married his sweetheart and moved back home to Beaufort County, North Carolina to start a family following a wild journey with the Navy on a minesweeper up and down the United States East Coast; across the Pacific Ocean by way of Australia and New Guinea— onto Japan to witness the signing of the Peace Treaty in Tokyo Bay.
My grandmother, the late Georgia Cutler Paul, a loving, kind, smart and faithful Christian woman grew up in Gilead Shores, a ten minute boat ride up the river from Core Point. My grandmother attended East Carolina Teachers College in the early 1940s, but left college to pursue work in Washington, DC with the Department of Labor to support the war effort and later became engaged to and married my grandfather.
When my father’s parents settled back home in North Carolina, they moved into a small, white cottage on the beautiful and beseeching shores of the historic Pamlico River at Core Point—directly across from historic Bath, the oldest town in NC best known for housing the infamous pirate Blackbeard back in the 1700s.
My grandfather was raised in Core Point and told Tom Sawyerish tales of his Depression era youth spent on the banks of the river.
The little cottage was my father’s first home where he lived his first years of life and fell in love with the Pamlico River’s estuarine tide and boating. And the place he played “cowboys and Indians” among the dirt byway of Old Schoolhouse Road and tobacco fields with childhood friends.
When my dad was a bit older, my grandfather built a new home about a half mile inland on Core Point Road and opened a small country store on adjacent land directly in front of their home.
On one side of the storefront was a typical small market where they sold goods of all types to include food (fresh eggs, milk, sugar), toiletries (to include Rose Oil and Pomade by the loads), and any other household items a person might have required back in the 1950s.
The other side of the cinderblock building was a small mechanics workshop where my grandfather worked on cars and repaired television 📺 sets.
My daddy spent a great deal of his youth helping his parents out in the store and eavesdropping on all the gossip told by the local folks who gathered about like a town hall meeting to enjoy a Pepsi Cola and a pack of Nabs— and fellowship.
There were juicier stories from the store he shared with me. One of which had to do with some suspected moonshiners who placed large orders of sugar for purchase from my grandfather, but that’s a story for another time and place. 🌝 Nothing to see or hear here folks. Move along. 😲
On my dad’s ninth birthday, he received a very special gift— a baby brother by the name of Michael Alvin Paul. Who would have thought two brothers born on the same day nine years apart? But this seems to run in the family as I shared the same birthday with my late great-grandmother Sadie (on Dad’s side) and my son and husband share a birthday as well. Go figure?
My dad was the proud big brother of a tiny little fella who he said they all loved dearly. The same little brother who grew up to be an attorney then elected judge and now a retired, former North Carolina Superior Court Judge.
The brothers still meet for weekly lunches at the local Pizza Hut in Washington, NC or at my uncle’s farm where he recently added two donkeys and some chickens, a red barn to be used as an art studio for my talented Aunt Penny and a Dalmatian named Beau Henry.
When my grandparents were still living, every year our families (to include my mom, Julia Beth, brother Austin, my Uncle Mike, Aunt Penny and cousins Mike and Katie), met at my grandparents rural, country home to celebrate the Paul boy’s birthday with a Sunday lunch.
I can still smell the collards and hear the pressure cooker whistling and taste the handmade biscuits with a wedge of butter and sweet tea.
Look at my cousins Katie and Little Mike. So cute. They are all grown up now. Little Mike is the proud dad to two super cute boys, Rylan and Liam.
Pictures of the prodigal sons and accolades hung from the dark, wood paneled walls of my grandparent’s home. Their pride in their sons’ achievements was ten fold.
My parents met when my mom— a cute and spunky, blue-eyed, blonde haired farmer’s daughter — was a fourteen-year-old Freshmen at Aurora High School.
My dad was an upperclassman Junior, who Mom recalls was slim, handsome and well-dressed. She recounted he always wore slacks, a nicely pressed collared shirt and a shiny pair of Weejuns. My dad said he bought my mom a honey bun at snack time at AHS for their first date and then every day after.
Here they are dressed up for Christmas at my mom’s parents, the late Marvin and Julia Mae Austin’s, home in the late 1960s.
My dad didn’t just love a good looking blonde, he’s also always had a thing for a cool car.
My grandfather always made sure dad had a sharp ride when he was coming up. His first car was a classic 1953 Studebaker Champion pictured below with his proud baby brother, Michael, posing by his big brother’s fancy red ride.
For his Senior year graduation 🎓 his parents gave him a Chevy Malibu to drive while he attended college in Wilson, NC at what was known then as Atlantic Christian College.
He joined a fraternity—Sigma Phi Epsilon— and majored in Mathematics and minored in Physics. Unfortunately, I did not inherit his math and engineering genes.
It was there at ACC, he studied diligently but made room for some fun too. He and my mother would attend parties and Shag to the harmonious and soulful sounds of Carolina Beach Music band favorites such as The Embers (whose frontman Craig Woolard is my father’s cousin), and classic Motown and R&B bands like The Tams and The Drifters.
They saw Little Stevie Wonder live in concert in Wilson during those college years and will never forget watching the young man play his harmonica with tenacity, confidence and a soulful flow.
In the summers when he came home from school, my father worked at the new and industrious phosphate mine then known as Texasgulf nearby his home community in Aurora, NC. His father had since closed the country store some years prior to become a welder at the mine plant where he later retired as a foreman overseeing the plants welding operations.
It was during one of those first college summers home Dad found a prehistoric fossilized tree stump, and a Megalodon Sharks Tooth while working inside the mine pit. He also built his very first wooden sailboat which would be the first of many boats he would build in his life.
Dad is a master carpenter, a skill passed on to him and his brother from their dad— and a skill passed on to my brother. Dad put those skills to good use and built several homes over the years from the ground up and restored many others all in his spare time.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he owned and operated a small sailboat building business in Aurora, NC. He did this during the evenings when he’d return home from Washington, NC after working his state job during the day. He poured fiberglass hulls and pieced the boats together and sold hundreds of boats to sailing enthusiasts from California way up the North East United States Coast.
If someone were to ask me the scent of my father, I would say my dad smells of juniper and sawdust. My earliest memories of him are flooded with the sound of a table saw and tiny bits of wood fluttering about him like golden powder. It is a sound and smell that takes me back to the safest and simplest of times.
Sea spray and the rocking motion of a center-consul, flat-bottom boat also conjure up the essence of my father.
He is an old salt.
The sea runs through his veins as it does mine. My mother jokes I was most likely conceived on a sailboat in the river’s tide.
My parents married soon after my father’s graduation from college in June of 1969 and moved back home to Aurora. I will mention that in a couple of weeks, they will celebrate their 50th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY! They deserve an award 🥇 for this amazing event!
They eventually found themselves living happy as larks in a tiny river cottage off Main Street at the dead end of the road by South Creek.
A small canal came up by the cottage where they conveniently parked their sailboat (built by my dad). After they settled into their simple life on the creek, their family expanded to three.
The little cottage on the creek was my very first home.
A year after I was born, my dad and his father built my parent’s dream home on Grace Drive in Aurora, a small subdivision that cornered on fertile farm land.
Our neighbors next door to us were former Aurora mayor, Frank Bonner and his beautiful wife, Mrs. Grace. Across the street was the Peed family whose daughter, Kimberly became my first best friend. And my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Layla and her family lived just up the street not to mention many other family friends.
My mom taught play school for neighboring children in the mornings out of an upstairs loft in our new home while my dad made the commute to Washington, NC each day for work.
A year later, my baby brother Austin was born. Our family of four was complete. There are some sweet memories from those years in our home in the small, rural farming community.
We knew just about everyone and everything going on. It was safe enough for me to ride my bike at the age of eight to the convenience store to buy milk for my mom.
Small town life was surely special.
My dad served on the Aurora Town Council and my mom served terms as Vice-President and President of the Aurora Junior Women’s Club.
We loved our church family and attended services weekly at Aurora Methodist Church.
We were always in the community parades, and one year my family dressed as clowns and rode in a classic Ford Model A my dad restored.
It was a wonderful life.
When we weren’t on the river, we spent our summers at my family’s sound-side beach cottage (built by my dad, grandfather and uncle) in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Avon not far from Cape Hatteras.
The cottage— a simple, three bedroom on piling with a perfect deck overlooking the wide, circular canal that led out to the vast Pamlico Sound.
My dad would drive our family up and down the sound’s shores in the boat. The thrill of a treasure hunt was instilled in us as stingrays and sea turtles swam along with us on our Pamlico Sound journeys.
We found antique bottles and arrowheads along the shore and even found a forgotten graveyard being washed out to sea. Relics of days past and haunted shores were magical for my brother and me.
There was no better feeling than sunburnt exhaustion from a day of driving the old Chevy Blazer— rod and reel holders mounted to the front bumper— out onto the beach sand, setting up camp for a day of surf fishing, ocean swimming and rolling down sand dunes the size of small mountains.
I’m quite certain these experiences inspired my brother’s longing for and appreciation of nature and the outdoors as he is a career North Carolina State Park Ranger.
The summer before I began my Fourth Grade year, my family left our home in Aurora and moved 45 minutes West to the “big city” of Little Washington, NC in an effort to shorten my dad’s commute and the advantages of a larger town’s resources and school system.
We moved into our new home— built by my dad and grandfather— off River Road in Sweetbriar where we embraced the challenges and excitement of a new life.
We spent many years afterward in the Washington area where my brother and I graduated from Washington High School. My brother graduated from Appalachian State University to begin his trek as a Park Ranger and mountain man. I returned for a few years to Washington after graduation from East Carolina University and worked as a general assignment newspaper reporter for Washington Daily News and went on to work as a social worker for the county’s department of social services.
Around this time my dad retired and spent his newfound freedom building his and my mom’s retirement home on the banks of the Pamlico River at Core Point where he was raised.
Several years later, Mom retired from the school system after 20 years of dedication working in the county elementary schools as a Teacher’s Aide, Librarian Assistant, Front Office Assistant, and as the school system’s Maintenance Department as a lead Administrative Assistant.
Since their retirement, they haven’t looked back.
Their days have been filled with Pamlico River sunset cruises and coffee on the screened porch overlooking golden sunrises. Watching the dolphin 🐬 swim in packs by the pier, and the heron and bald eagles hunt their breakfast and dinner.
My mother has documented most of their days with her gorgeous photographs of river life. She’s quite talented and has an eye for capturing its beauty.
They know every inch of the watershed and joyfully cruise up and down the river waters and it’s nooks and crannies knowing they have come back home full-circle.
I am so proud of all they have accomplished and the life they’ve designed for our family to grow and share together.
It makes me gush to watch them teach my boy of the beautiful river life that is such a deep set part of us all.
Although he could not do it without my mom’s help, support and patience of a saint (JuJu, you know you are the bomb and Poppy would be lost without you!) we have my dad to thank for bringing it all to life.
It was his vision.
His preparation, planning and hard work that brought this home on the river to be.
I should note Poppy is also a bit of a philosopher and intellectual. He loves to tell a good story and enjoys an audience.
He’s read every Lee Child novel.
He can recite parts of The Canterbury Tales on command.
He does an excellent Popeye and Wimpy impression.
He loves to sing, and belts out “The House of the Rising Sun” or fervently renders the ballad “Here’s to the Land of the Longleaf Pine” at any given chance.
He also loves a classic car. Here he is below with his British Racing Green MG and a photo of the TR-3 he restored.
James Bond is his hero.
And although he can have a loud bark at times, he is a big softie with heart who loves his family most of all.
Dad is our biggest fan and the one who loses sleep worrying about us.
He is our captain on land and at sea.
Dad, although our politics differs at times there is one thing we can definitely agree on… that our life has been blessed, good and rich in experiences, and unconditional love.
Thank you for always loving us with all of you, for worrying over us, supporting us and making it the best life we could possibly have.
They don’t make many men like you.
There is one last thing I want to say.
Your loving daughter,
-Alison Paul Klakowicz, BA, MS
Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck
Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.