Good ol' Jabo

When Christmas time comes around, my long-dead daddy, Jabo Jowers, just comes and lives inside my head, and he won't go away until after New Years. Jabo Jowers, as a full-grown man, loved and enjoyed Christmas more than any giddy child. Jabo lived much of his life just one step ahead of the law, but he turned into a model citizen for a week or two in December. He'd gather up all my toys from the previous Christmas, and make sure they got to children who probably weren't expecting a whole lot of model rockets, chemistry sets, and other fancy science toys, but got 'em anyway.

Jabo loved Christmas because he could dance and drink in his own house, and not hear any grief about it. He loved having his phone not ring for a week. But mostly, he loved buying me things-big, life-changing things like my first electric guitar and amp. He told me he was making up for his own ne'er-do-well alcoholic daddy, George Jowers, whose one present to Jabo was a pair of roller skates. That was when Jabo was nine. The skates weren't for fun, they were for work. Jabo used them to get to his job at the Colonial bakery, which supported his sorry-ass daddy.

Sometime in his twenties, Jabo started making decent money as a metal smith. Then and there, he made up his mind that he would have high-quality wheels. Jabo had an arrangement with my uncle Guy, who was a foreman at the local chalk mine. Every other year, when Guy would buy a new Oldsmobile Rocket 88, Jabo would buy his two-year-old one.

Jabo was a steady Oldsmobile-driving man up until my mother died. About then, he decided it was time to take some chances, and pursue his longtime dream of getting rich selling moonshine. He started cooking a home brew over a gas-fired soldering pot, and distilling it through a crude copper condenser. As best I can remember, he drank all the early product himself. One of his projects, a bookshelf-size polished copper still that made one drink at a time, got popular with the redneck country-club set. He sold quite a few of those. But Jabo's big break came when two of those country clubbers came to the shop and asked Jabo if he could make some house-sized liquor stills. Jabo said he could, and on that day, and that was enough to make him a real enough member of the Redneck Mob.

Next thing I knew, Jabo had me out in the metal shop soldering up condensers the size of water heaters. While I was doing that, he used a torch to cut sides and bottoms for tanks that would be as big as cars. When we got the first set of tanks and condensers done, Jabo realized that they wouldn't fit in his pickup truck. So, he went out and bought a two-ton flatbed truck.

Business was booming, and Jabo had enough time and money to start another hobby, which was restoring cars. He bought a wrecked Karman Ghia, brought it home to the metal/moonshine shop, and got busy on the body work. One of Jabo 's mob pals complimented him on his fine solder work, then asked if Jabo might be able to, say, cut some vehicle identification number (VIN) plates out of wrecked cars, and piece them into other vehicles. After a little experimentation, Jabo learned that he could do that quite nicely. That skill earned Jabo a promotion. Now, he was in the moonshine liquor business and the stolen-car business.

Well, don't you know, that was when he started buying Cadillacs and Corvettes. While he was in the mood, he bought us a pair of father-and-son Harleys. He even bought himself some nice suits. Crime was paying.

For a good while, every day was Christmas at the Jowers house. Jabo even flipped into his good-citizen mode. He quit drinking. He almost quit smoking. He started fining himself for cussing, stuffing a dollar into a paper bag every time he slipped. He gave the cussing money (which was considerable) to children's charities.

By the summer of 1971, Jabo had more vehicles than parking spaces, more clothes than closets, a shop full of still-building and car-stripping tools, and plenty of lucrative work on the horizon. He spent every dollar as soon as he got it, and saved nothing. That's exactly the way he wanted it.

On Jabo's last day on Earth, he asked me and my high-school girlfriend if we 'd wash and wax his Cadillac. "I want it so if a fly lands on it, he'll skid off the side," Jabo said. So Bobbie Ann and I detailed the car, inside and out, and sent Jabo off to the Amvets club to dance with his new wife, Montine.

There at the Amvets, in his new suit, and in mid-bugaloo, Jabo crumpled to the floor. He didn't draw another breath, didn't say another word. All in all, that's not a bad way to go: Flush with cash, dressed up and dancing, and no clue that the hammer is about to fall. The way I see it, Jabo squeezed out a bonus Christmas right there at the end-Christmas in July.