The history that is ours, and ours alone, is made up of names that will never be in headlines or in the pages of a history book. Rather, our personal history will contain the names that helped to mold and shape us, to inspire us, names that are the very threads in the fabric of our lives and the life of the community.
Today we honor one such person, Claud Barnes, age 101, or 102.
Except for the time he served in the United States Army, from August 1943 until the war’s end, his address was never anywhere but Woodstock, Georgia.
He was known by all the townspeople, and most of them called him Phoney. But he was no phoney. He was for real.
He was born on the Barnes family farm, a few short miles out Arnold Mill Road from town, on June 15, 1911, or 1912. Some records show 1912. His Army enlistment record shows 1911. While he never talked much about his war experience, which included the Normandy Beach landing, he would, with little prompting, talk endlessly about his early life.
He had two brothers, Miller and James Newton. Their father died in 1920. Claud’s memories of his father’s illness and death were vivid and sad, and each time he told of his lonesome walk into town to fetch a doctor, the listener could sense his fear, surfacing again in memory, a flashback that never faded.
His mother, Emma Rusk Barnes, known to neighbors and kin alike as Miss Emma or Mama Emma, moved her boys to town after the death of their father. The remainder of their growing-up years would be spent in the home that most of us recall as Brenda’s House of Flowers on the southwest corner of Barnesdale Terrace and Main Street.
Claud married Ruth Merritt, a Woodstock girl. Their baby boy, James Claud Barnes, was born July 29, 1943. Just days later, Claud enlisted in the U.S Army. He returned in November for the funeral of the baby boy, their only child. Claud “shipped out” for overseas duty soon afterwards.
Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Thoreau didn’t know Claud. Claud never seemed to despair. He was not lazy. He never held public office, and, as far as I know, he never served on a single board of directors, and never belonged to a civic organization.
He was a devoted Methodist. He didn’t imbibe, and he didn’t smoke. His generosity matched his social graces. He loved a good conversation in good company. For too many years to count, he was the “keeper of the keys” at Dean’s Store where he often showed up at 7 a.m. to open the door and await the arrival of friends who could “assist” him in recalling old times and assessing current ones.
He had opinions (like all of us) and with his cohorts, he made predictions, mostly dire predictions that never came to pass.
As I remember, when Interstate 575 was under construction the guys at Dean’s Store predicted that the town would die as a result of the traffic moving over to the interstate. (The exact opposite happened. The traffic in town got worse.)
Claud died a week ago today. He was not sick. The MOTH visited with him less than a week before his death. He was the same as always, cheerful, talkative, wanting to hear the news in town. I always think about what he told a reporter a few years ago. He said as a young boy he didn’t go in Dean’s Store much. There was always just a bunch of old men in there. “But now I am one.”
Claud loved an audience, and he was never at a loss for words when given an opportunity to talk about Woodstock’s early days. He realized the importance of the preservation of our history. During the activities connected to the centennial of the depot in 2012, Claud came to talk with me about the train and how vital it was to the city’s life in those decades when railroads were the life blood of the nation.
He said, over and over, “Tell them that Everything in Woodstock depended on the train!” We’ll tell them that, Claud, along with more of your wisdom.
How blessed we have been to have you with us for over a century.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.