GRAY -- Fall brings festivals, fairs, football and the first frost. It is the majestic bridge between the sweat of summer and chill of winter.
It was always Bill Newby Sr.s favorite season.
On an autumn day a few years ago, he called his grandson, Aubrey Newby, at work.
Have you been outside today? he asked.
Yes, Papa, Aubrey said. Ive been a few times.
Well, I was out riding today, and this is the prettiest fall I can ever remember, Bill said. I just wanted to tell you so you could enjoy it on the way home.
This is the first time in nine decades that the leaves are starting to change colors and Bill isnt around to admire natures kaleidoscope.
He died on May 27, Memorial Day. He would have been 92 next Tuesday.
When he passed away, the population of the tiny community of James took a hit. He spent more than half his life in the hamlet 5 miles southeast of Gray in Jones County.
He loved children. When Aubrey moved next door with his wife, Jennifer, and three of the great-grandkids, Bill said he was glad he lived long enough to see tricycles in the driveway again.
He was born in Wrens and grew up one of seven children in a bunkhouse near Harlem. His father was a farmer and Pentecostal preacher. Bill was a child of the Depression, served his country in the Army in Europe during World War II, then came home and married Grace Simpson of Milledgeville.
He worked on a shrimp boat in Florida and ran Newby Brothers Garage in Hialeah, near Miami. He returned to Middle Georgia in the early 1960s, settled in James and worked construction for Etheridge Brothers and Warren Associates.
His real boss, though, was a Jewish carpenter. He was a deacon at Elam Baptist, where he was active in the life of his church. The historic church was spared by Gen. William T. Sherman on his famous march to the sea during the Civil War but destroyed by arsonists in 1994. Bill helped rebuild the church after it burned, and Grace crocheted a drop ornament for every member that first year and a bell when they moved into the new sanctuary.
After he retired in the mid-1980s, Bill and Grace went off to see the country in a camper. As a child, Aubrey often traveled with them. At night, under the stars, his grandfather would tell him stories.
Like others from the Greatest Generation, Bill was proud and resourceful. He could find uses for almost anything. Whenever his 1950 Ford pickup got dirty, he would back it out of the shed and let the rain give it a bath.
It was a family tradition to have every Thanksgiving at the old bunkhouse in Columbia County. It was Papas favorite holiday, Aubrey said. Nobody had to worry about buying gifts. It was a time for the family to just be together and be thankful.
Grace died on Bills 88th birthday in 2009 after a long struggle with Alzheimers. He told people she folded on a pair of eights. It broke his heart.
Last year, Bill was hospitalized and unable to attend Thanksgiving. The only other time he had not been with family on Thanksgiving was during World War II.
Aubrey is now 34 years old and director of Demaste Real Estate in Macon. He is past chair of Historic Macon. He also serves as church pianist at Gray United Methodist, which is holding its first-ever Pumpkin Patch this year. More than 500 pumpkins will be for sale at the church through Halloween on Oct. 31.
This past weekend, Aubrey helped decorate the church property for the patch with hay bales from Gray Feed, Seed and Fertilizer. He built the frames for the seven scarecrows out of PVC pipe.
He wasnt sure how to dress them, so he looked in his closet. Jennifer was not pleased with his selection. Youre not going to put those on a scarecrow! she told him.
Aubrey remembered his Papa had tons of old clothes at the house. There were plaid shirts, work britches and Sears tags. He still had the clothes he got married in, Aubrey said.
So now there are scarecrows keeping his spirit alive with straw hats and burlap faces.
When Aubrey mentioned his grandfathers old clothes to another church member, an emotional trigger was pulled.
In that moment, I missed him more than I have in the last five months, he said. I smiled because he would delight in knowing there will be children running by those scarecrows and maybe even taking photographs with them. I was there working for my church, and all those things would have made him proud.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.