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Paw Summers--A Life in Pictures

While going through a bunch of old photos the other day, I got sidetracked from the original object of my search and went down the rabbit hole of memories. I had happened upon several photos of my maternal grandfather, Fred Summers. Paw we Peterson kids called him. (Other grandkids called him Pappaw, but we Petersons settled on the simpler Paw to distinguish him from our other, paternal, grandfather, whom we called Pappaw.)

I was always intrigued by the earliest known (to me, anyway) photo of Paw. It shows him as a teenage (?) boy with his parents and some other family members whose names I don't recall. Paw is wearing knickers, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and sitting casually on the porch rail. Interestingly, his father is holding a rifle at the ready. Makes me wonder if that is how he managed to get the whole crew to stand (or sit) still long enough to have a photo taken.

But that's not how I remember Paw. I remember him as the other photos reveal him. One shows him as a school crossing guard for the Knox County Sheriff's Department, one of the last jobs he had before permanently retiring. He was stationed at the Norfolk Southern railroad crossing on Emory Road near the Powell High School. The local paper (the Powell Times) reported his retirement from that job, which had allowed him to wave and smile at motorists as they passed to drop off their kids at the school. And if a train interrupted the flow of traffic, I'm sure that he walked along the line of cars to talk with the various drivers--whether he knew them or not. That's just the kid of man he was.

The local paper (the Halls Shopper) also featured an article--not just the normal obituary--when Paw died. He wasn't just a resident of the community; he was a fixture in it. He knew and was known there. And he was missed, even by those who didn't know him. Their sentiments, however, were only a fraction of how much the family missed him.

But Paw's memory and legacy live on through the various family members, each of whom have their own impressions and recollections of him. I, too, have my own memories, many of them the same as other family members, but many of them are uniquely mine. I've written and broadcasted about some of those memories (see and ).

But of all the photos I have of Paw Summers, my favorite is the one I call "Paw, the Thinker." In it, he's sitting under a large tree in our front yard, staring at the grass in front of him. He's lost in thought about who knows what. But whatever it is, he clearly is serious about it. In the background one can see vaguely the buildings of my paternal grandfather's dairy farm: the barn, the milkhouse, the other outbuildings, the rolling hills of the pasture.


Although Paw was a fourth-grade dropout, he was an intelligent and wise man. Probably because he was a thinker. Many family members remember his dry sense of humor. I do, too. But I also think of him as The Thinker. I remember seeing him sitting in his easy chair behind the front door, a variety of reading material--his large Bible, the Knoxville Journal, Cas Walker's Watchdog--sitting on the endtable beside his chair. I imagine that he was thinking even when he, before eating a Yellow Delicious apple from the fruit bowl on the nearby coffee table, would peel it with his pocketknife and hold up the single strand of peel, bouncing it up and down like a Slinky for all to see.


That's the Paw I remember best.

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