Chester Martin Remembers His Father, Woodfin B. Martin

Friday, May 20, 2016
Woodfin B. Martin
Woodfin B. Martin

There was  never a more conservative man who walked the earth than my dad - and he would be proud of that fact, if not boastful. When I was seven, and at a family gathering of some sort, my cousin, Bill Leath, would ask his father for a dime (for ice cream), and get a quarter. I, on the other hand, would ask my dad for a dime and get a nickel! Also, my dad would boast of how he had worn the same pair of shoes for 10 years and, because he knew how to walk correctly, they had never needed any repair. Dad was saving of any re-usable material - a trait he had learned as a boy on the farm.

Dad was born in the mid-1880's, second son of George Leander Martin and Emma Alice Harper,  in a really remote area of northwest Georgia, about 10 miles south of LaFayette.

Trips to any town such as LaFayette or Summerville were infrequent, yet he had cousins who had made the move to these towns - even to Chattanooga - and he became aware of opportunities which existed in those places.

Although quite rural, dad's upbringing had included music and many school and church  friends. He and his siblings all played musical instruments, forming a band, and getting invitations to play gigs at various social gatherings, mainly in Chattooga County. Although definitely not a poverty case, my dad was sent to the new Berry School at Rome, Ga., where he remembered all the students being marched into town on Sunday morning for church services, and also cheering for "Miss Berry" during ball games. At the time of his death  he was the oldest living alumnus of Berry School.

Dad told how - after his father died in 1906 - he had to leave school to become head of the family, as an older brother was leaving farm life to go into business as a merchant. A few years passed and dad was actually beginning to make farming "pay", by contracting to work neighboring fields - but this was lonely work except for harvest time when all family hands were needed to "lay in" the crops.

About 1912, dad met up with an acquaintance who had gotten steady employment with the post office, and told dad what he needed to do to get a similar job. Civil Service exams were administered in Chattanooga - the nearest place they were available. He packed his valise and hopped aboard the new TAG Railroad, winding up at the Ross Hotel in Chattanooga (on the north side of present Patten Parkway) in time for the next scheduled exam. This he passed, and he was called to work during the Christmas rush of 1912. They assigned him to the Money Order room and was pleasantly surprised when a fellow temp and he compared notes: they would be making the grand sum of 30 cents per hour! He had hired himself out back home on the farm for only 10 cents! He had really hit the big-time!

1912 was the year of the Titanic disaster. That is the point of reference I use to keep his history straight in my mind. He had come to work at Christmas in Chattanooga that year at age 29, and then was called to permanent work the following August, still 29, but in the year 1913.

His earliest assignment was as a postman in East Lake, working out of the East Lake post office. He got on friendly terms with everyone along his route. Later he was assigned to "subbing" where he substituted for other carriers when they were sick or on vacation. This paid more, so he did it willingly - saving every penny he could at a whopping one percent interest!

Even for all his frugality, dad managed to buy a car so he could return to the farm on weekends without having to rely on train schedules. Learning to drive a car served him well, as he later became the first motorized letter-carrier for the Chattanooga  post office.

Although he lived for a time in the Ross Hotel (he liked to point "his" window out, sometimes, when we passed it), he preferred to live in one of the many boarding houses of the town. When he got tired of the food served at one he would move to another. Pressure had been on him by his mother, to "marry", as all his other siblings had long-since done so - including his youngest brother, Linton, 22 years his junior! Dad was a much sought-after bachelor, and was counted among the "youth" of the various churches he attended until age 40! Dad finally set his heart on a young lady, and they planned to marry - until that young lady introduced him to my future mom!

Then followed a rare event: his ex-fiancee amicably consented; my dad married my future mother and all three were happy. My parents and the "ex" remained best of friends for life! My dad and mother's wedding took place in the office of St. Elmo Methodist Church - and I was born a few years later, three days after my dad's 50th birthday!

Both my parents had strong family - and church - ties which they never gave up. My mom's family had been reduced to only a few, and a number of them lived well outside the region. Dad's family, however, was still sizable, and most lived within 25 miles of LaFayette. Their church affiliations were with both the Trinity Methodist Church in Walker County, and  Macedonia Methodist in Chattooga County - both on Broomtown Road. I loved that entire area and could never get my fill of the place. It was like there were so many important things which all came together there - and when I became a professional artist I painted many subjects that related to my dad's upbringing near that Broomtown Road, Georgia Highway 337.

My dad's main identity, of course, came through his Post Office work in Chattanooga. He was very pleased to be a postman and/or letter carrier, where he could work outside all year. It was almost like being back on the farm. When offered the job of "clerk", inside the office, he refused on many occasions, always preferring the out-of-doors. When my dad died in 1977 I insisted that his obit should include his "Post Office" portrait, above, as more people would recognize him in uniform.

Dad was a downtown icon for 41 years,until age 70! He had friends at every stop he made. Doctors and lawyers always had a kind word for him, or shared a laugh - Ira Trivers, Abe Zarzour, the Willinghams of the lumber company, the owners of Pennebaker and Turley Jewelers, the Rice Brothers of the auto dealership were all his acquaintances. Even U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver always called him by name.

Dad had smoked cigars when I was little, but changed to cigarettes before quitting  altogether. This because he did not want me to start, and I never did. I never heard my father use any kind of profanity or use any kind of alcoholic beverage. These traits seem to have been shared by all his siblings - and his home community in general. When he got into his 80's a doctor prescribed a small glass of red wine daily "for his heart". This he drank every morning as a breakfast juice! Although growing up among many people who had lived through the rigors of the Civil War, my dad refused any connection with the KKK, and had been taught admiration for Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves. He liked to attend old soldiers' conventions and listen to their stories when he first came to Chattanooga.

Dad probably never knew much about "Elvis", as he was never into any sort of modern music - except Blues. But the fact is that my dad and Elvis shared one thing in common - they both died on the same day: August 16th, 1977. Elvis was 42, and my dad 92. Elvis died earlier in the day, and my dad  - unexpectedly - died that night, surviving him by only a few hours.

A little long, I know, folks, but if you got to this point, then THANK YOU FOR READING!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

“Retirement” picture of Woodfin B. Martin, at left, made in 1954 at age 70 at the East Lake Post Office
“Retirement” picture of Woodfin B. Martin, at left, made in 1954 at age 70 at the East Lake Post Office


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