Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Returning to the simple life

Like most old men, like most brothers, they feel around in the past for a memory. They both find it, but only one of them is right.

“Do you ever miss that 7UP plant?” Gerald Faught, 74, asks.

“Not a day, yet,” Bobby Faught answers slyly, as though he really did remember.

“How long did you work there? It was a while,” Gerald says.

“I didn’t work there very long,” Faught says. But he worked at the Jasper-7UP plant for about 53 years.

James Robert Faught and Samaria Elizabeth Nunnelly Faught welcomed their first son and fourth child, Bobby Neil Faught, on May 28, 1925. He was delivered at home in Jasper as easily as asking a neighbor for a cup of sugar. Life was simple. There were no locks on doors, or if there were, no one knew where the key was kept. Life was simple. Most roads were a combination of red mud, dirt and rocks that always seemed to find their way into shoes. Life was simple. The yard served as a constant buffet of plump strawberries and cocoon-like English peas, and the barn animals provided the main course. The only things not found in the yard — salt, sugar and flour — could easily be traded for with a neighbor.

Life was simple.

His parents were homemakers: They made hats, worked in a hardware store, dry-cleaned clothes, operated a chicken house and somehow found the time to raise nine children. Faught grew up learning that hard work fed mouths, so he started his work early. While he was still in high school, he drove back and forth to Birmingham to pick up newspapers and deliver them to different locations. He tried to enlist in the Army to work for his country twice, but he was turned down because of a heart problem.

He washed his car every day. He wore white dress shirts, slacks and loafers every day. Faught was particular every day. He needed some way to separate himself from the other eight children, and he didn’t see the point in making a mess.

He would be the one to share these stories, but he doesn’t remember. Instead, his family tells him about his life while he nods and listens. Faught has Alzheimer’s disease.

He graduated from high school and decided it was time to get to work. He married a beautiful, petite woman named Jackie when he was in his mid-20s. They adopted a baby girl, Laura, when she was three months old. The family loved traveling, especially to Florida, where they always ate at Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant and Waterfront Market, a high-class dining experience — not that price was an issue.

He and Jackie witnessed one of modern history’s biggest events while in Florida: They stood at the Kennedy Space Center while the rest of America sat glued to their television on Jan. 28, 1986. Faught felt the engines start up as the crowd counted down. He watched for 73 seconds as the Challenger went towards space, and he saw the puffs of smoke and debris float from the sky after an explosion cost seven people their lives — some gasped, while others cried.

Faught lived most of his life within a few-block radius in Jasper. He was content where he was, so he kept life simple. But when he fell and hit his head on his concrete porch and Jackie died shortly after, an assisted-living home seemed like the next logical move.

Families enter through a white-picket fence to park their cars — a touch of class, something Faught would appreciate. Wooden rocking chairs creak back and forth on the porch while icicle-Christmas lights dangle from the gutter — it’s January. Faught doesn’t notice, or even really care.

The smell of meatloaf and carpet cleaner fight for attention just inside the double doors. The Terrace at Jasper seems like its own world — one where clanking walkers and electric wheelchairs serve as the only forms of transportation. Everyone knows each other, or at least they seem to think they should know each other.

Faught’s family must go past the smell, past the people talking about their grandchildren and type in a code to see him. After he left the assisted-living home and walked down busy Highway 78, Faught had to move to a more secure area. “They don’t like you walking off,” he says. Faught, with a new bruise from falling again, now spends his days in his room, still wearing his wedding band, white, button-up shirt, black slacks and loafers, watching a basketball game. This image will be the same in the fall — except the game will be Alabama football, and hopefully the bruise will have faded.

His room has a mismatched feel — a chair from his den there, bed from a guest room here — but it still has the feel of home. Constant reminders of people he cannot remember sit on the bookshelf next to his bed: a picture of Jackie from high school; his entire family at his 80th-birthday party; 5-year-old Laura sitting on a curb in Florida trying her best to catch a fish. Maybe they’re only reminders to those who can remember.

Nurses come in and out to give him medicine, serve him food and check on him. Tammy Nelson, who has been a nurse at The Terrace for over four years, enjoys visiting Mr. Bob, as she calls him: “He’s really a gentleman.” She works with Alzheimer’s patients every day, and she sees the toll it takes on their family members.

“You have to have the heart of patience,” she explains. “They don’t remember things. You have to overlook it.”

His condition changes daily. Some days he can’t form thoughts, or even words. He still looks for Jackie and wonders where she went, but his family and friends remain by his side.

They laugh and tell him stories about vacations he took to Florida, ask him about his old jobs, like working at the 7UP plant. He was part owner for over half his life, and yet he didn’t remember a day of bottling RC Cola and Grapico, working long hours to load one more truck or fixing a machine with Gerald when the 7UP bottles got stuck. They argue over if he met Jackie at First National Bank or in high school. They tell the one person who should know these stories best, but he doesn’t remember yesterday — let alone 50 years ago.

Faught sits under another reminder of his past — a six-pound bass, which looks like it’s about to jump off the plaque and start flopping around. He loved to go to Smith Lake, camp in his RV, clean his boat and fish, but “It just doesn’t mean much to him anymore,” Gerald says.

The clock strikes noon — time for food to come and family to go.

“Don’t wait too long to come back,” says 84-year-old Faught. “I’m already 50, now.”

He lost 34 years: During those years, life has moved on for everyone else. Jackie died with Alzheimer’s after a hip surgery. Gerald retired from 7UP and has several granddaughters to keep him busy. Laura grew into a woman getting close to her own retirement. The U.S. has seen six presidents, the world experienced a new millennium and the Bobby Neil Faught everyone knew slowly faded away.

He left a home consumed with the smell of Mother’s fried sweet potatoes waiting in the warming closet for a rigidly scheduled meal served in a cafeteria-styled room. He left a home where times were tough, but simple, for a place where, “This is your home now,” bounces off the “Welcome Home” mat and sign. He left a home, but the people from home never left him, even when his memory did.

It’s the journey between the simple beginning of life and the present reality of lost memories that’s worth sharing, no matter who tells the story.

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