Carr celebrates 91st birthday
by Paige Rentz
Rufus Carr entered his ninth decade just two blocks from where he entered the world, surrounded by family and friends at the dining room table of his Vann Street home, reminiscing about the good old days.

“We was old beach buddies,” he said Thursday, nodding toward Homer Barnwell, 87. “Me and Homer, we hit Normandy Beach together in World War II.”

Tall and thin with a boyish smile, Carr’s spirit appears much younger than his 91 years and weighty experiences would suggest.

An Eastwood School student before he was drafted in 1942, Carr landed at Omaha Beach during the invasion and then moved with his ‘outfit’ to Marseilles. “It took about a week to get down there,” he said. “Everything was tore up—the railroad tracks was blowed up, no train stations.”

“I was right up there at the Bulge,” Carr continued casually, referencing the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point for the Allied forces during the war. Carr said he traveled all over Europe but spent the majority of the 2-and-a-half years in northern France.

“We moved back into staging camp, getting ready to go to Japan,” he said, “but then they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.”

Carr stayed in Europe for six months after the war was over, then returned stateside to get his discharge at Fort McPherson outside of Atlanta.

Settled at the table in the glow of the dining room lamps between Barnwell and Martha Veasley, the senior-most member of the group at 93, Carr got some help in piecing together his wartime and family history. He passed around a weathered sepia photograph of himself in Army uniform taken during his early 20s and flipped through a family album, proudly pointing out the beauty of his wife, Jewell, who has since passed away.

The trio talked about their childhoods, remarking the changes in the area since then.

“Me and Homer, we was here in this neighborhood when there wasn’t even a street down here,” he said, adding that Veasley grew up one street over on Coffee Street. Three houses, including his, were the only homes on the block.

“All this down on that side was nothing but a big field,” he said, waving his hand south. “Over where the nursing home is at now, there was a big spring, right where the office is at, and we used to go over there in the pasture over and run rabbits and squirrels all the way to [Eighty Oaks Drive].”

Carr described a large house under a big pecan tree that stood in that area where Jacksonville Health and Rehabilitation exists today.

“I lived in it, my mother did, when I came out of the army,” said Barnwell.

Carr also returned to Jacksonville for a short time after we was discharged from the Army but headed to Detroit to find work. But his move didn’t help his employment chances, and he returned to Jacksonville to work construction in the post-war boom.

He married Jewell Thomas in 1952, and “the children sprang up like wildfire.” Carr and his wife had seven children, who gave them about 20 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

The home Carr made for his family was on property initially purchased by his aunt Emma Moore in 1917, just two blocks from where Carr was born in 1921, at the site where the Jacksonville Home Center stands today.

The cozy living and dining areas are filled with photographs and antiques, like the briefcase phonograph opened at the end of the table and the wood-burning stove that still heats the home.

Pete Brooks, 80, who lives on the other side of the former field in which the young Carr once played, said he and Carr will challenge anyone in Jacksonville in cutting and splitting firewood.

“He can run circles around me with a wedge and a sledgehammer to split that wood,” said Brooks.

“No,” Carr interjected, “but I can lay in there with him with a power saw.”

“After the first frost, Jewell made a fire in there and kept it going until spring,” he said. “She kept me in the woods cutting wood all the time.”

Carr continued to work construction for many years after starting his family with Jewell, and in 1970, he went to work in maintenance in the Anniston City Schools, from which he retired in 1984.

For a few years before his move to Anniston, Carr worked at JSU, where he suffered a life- threatening injury. “I like to got killed up there,” Carr said, describing an accident where the glass from an old bathroom window came loose from the frame, slicing a major blood vessel leading into his hand.

“I went through all Normandy and France and everywhere and didn’t get a scratch on me,” he said. “I come back to Jacksonville and like to got my arm cut off.”

Once Carr retired, he worked for about a dozen years as a volunteers for Meals on Wheels to keep himself busy.

Now, Carr has the company of his granddaughter, Jamila Duncan, who moved in with her grandfather from Texas to attend college in the area. Duncan, 18, is studying psychology at Gadsden State Community College, and helped plan the party to usher Carr into his ninth decade.

Duncan sat at the table, listening to the stories and chipping in about family here and there. “I like being around him and spending time with him,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed coming and visiting him, so this is even better.”
© 2012