January 23, 2021

George Lee (Jack) Cate in his 1949 Dodge


Uncle Jack fell off the back of a farm wagon when he was about 14 and broke his kneecap.  The country doctor said there was nothing to be done—his growth would be stunted and his knee unbending.  He never was much more than five feet tall, he limped when he walked and the affected leg always remained unbent when he sat down. 

The trauma of that accident changed the course of his life.  He was the youngest of four—his older brother Clifford was 14, sister Della 10 and Harriett 6 when he was born.  His parents died when he was 16.  And his siblings’ overriding question became, “What will become of Jack?” Over the years he lived with Della, Harriett and Glenn, and later with Clifford and family.  It was difficult—he couldn’t do much work on the farm because of his leg and because he was so short, he didn’t seem like one of the adults.  Jack seemed to be a burden to everyone.

For two years at the beginning of World War II, Arley took a job managing the Cleveland Chair Company and we moved to Bradley County.  He got Jack a job in the factory—and for the first time he had some independence!  When we moved back to Athens, he stayed in Cleveland, where he lived in a boarding house, worked, and worshiped at the Church of Christ there.  

Every other Saturday, he would ride the Greyhound Bus to Athens and walk from town to our house. When we spotted him starting up the hill, Arley would get his pistol from the house and fire a couple of welcoming shots up in the air.  Jack loved that!  

He was a good gift giver, too.  There would be boxes of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates for   each family, and thoughtful selections for each person.  I still use a beautiful white bedspread with appliqued lavender and purple flowers that he gave Mother—and a china cake plate with floral designs and gold trim.

Somehow in 1949 he bought his first and only car—this 1949 two-door blue Dodge.  My parents encouraged it, and how he learned to drive and got his license I’m not sure.  He was so happy! On the back of this photo, Harriett wrote, “He loved this car but didn’t get to keep it.”  Apparently most of the family thought this was a dangerous idea—that he wouldn’t be able to drive safely.  Convinced he had made a poor decision, Uncle Jack sold his car after only a few months. From the day of his accident, people had been telling him what he wasn’t able to do.

I’m so grateful that my Uncle Jack had those few months with this little car—sitting behind the steering wheel, able to go where he wanted to without limping at all!

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