Pop Holden – A father in his day, a legend in his time

By Pat Kovsky-Dotson

Who was this man who became a legend? Was it “Cliff” or just “Pop”?

Actually, it should have read Pop, for Cliff was just the name given him at birth, shortened from Clifford. This legend begins with the full name of Marion Clifford Holden (1901-1982). He was my father, and my sister and I called him Daddy. His parents called him Clifford. His siblings and wife called him Cliff. His grandchildren called him Pop. Generations of family eventually made him Pop, the legend to everyone.

He was the first born to A. Lewis and Nancy Malinda Akins Holden. He had five sisters and brothers. He was born in Bartow County, near Cartersville, Georgia. His father was a farmer and saw miller by trade, having moved the family from place to place.

You will have to admit that he was a determined man, for some of his high school years had to be postponed as he had to quit school and help his father on the farm while his father was recovering from a dreaded illness.
When he could get back in high school, he graduated as salutatorian of his class. He was able to attend college through good grades and help from some of the family. He graduated from Mercer University in 1924, and began his journey through life with a degree in Business Administration.

Pop Holden

The upcoming legend moves on to seek employment at the First National Bank in Copperhill, Tennessee, where some of his extended family had made their home. On his way up the street to the bank, he met an official of the Tennessee Copper Company whom he knew because of his summer employment. He was immediately hired by this company, and the rest of the story is history, as we often say.

It was in the next little town that he meet his future wife, Edith Smith, and they were married in 1930. She was one of the first telephone operators in both little towns of Copperhill and McCaysville, Georgia.

You would think that all was set and rosey, but the Great Depression came along and Cliff and hundreds of others were laid off from the Company and he had to move back home to his parents for a period of time.
Around 1934, the Company began to call back some of its former employees.

One was Cliff Holden, who began another journey in the Service Employment Department, where he worked for 41 years, eventually retiring in 1968.

Now, what about the legend? You have to know all these foundational things that set him on his way in life to actually become a legend. Well, he is to his family and anyone who is still around today who knew him. Someone just recently said to me that with his position at the company he was one of the most powerful men in the area at that time. What a legend.

Needless to say, he had two daughters, of which I am the oldest. Along came grandchildren and only one great-grandchild before his death. He always called us “kids” even after we were grown. Well, I guess we acted like kids for we were always going to him in most situations, and certainly knew to do whatever he suggested.

I truly believe he learned to take care of everybody because his family and extended family had lived and instilled this lesson in him. From the youngest to the oldest he was concerned about every area of their lives. He thought he was the guardian and keeper of us all.

He laughed and cried with us all, and certainly if you were doing something wrong, you would hear from him loud and clear. He was the proudest of any family member with accomplishments and helped those who were struggling. This went on from his birth family on to the youngest newborn.

Books could never tell all the things that truly made him a legend, but when his first grandchild was born and began calling him “Pop,” somehow he became a true legend in his time. Everyone seemed to begin calling him “Pop” from his entire family to everyone he knew.

Cliff was a business and professional man and was known throughout the community and church. At the Tennessee Copper Company, he had hired most all of their then-thousands of employees, knowing their skills, kinfolks, good qualities and bad. He visited through the plant often on business and was thoroughly familiar with its operation.

Most every man knew him as a friend and on a first name basis, but if they were serious, they would call him, “Mr. Holden.” Often when someone wanted a job they would even come to our house and “gouge” as we called it, wanting to be hired. Really, at times they tormented him, even following him to the garden or farm. He was so concerned for their welfare, that if he could not hire them, he would take food to the families if they had children.

He gave his life and his all to this copper mining industry, which in turn gave life to the Copper Basin. Although the Company has long been shut down, there still remains a few mementos of life there. And if there is still one alive who knew him, they would be overflowing with stories of his relations with them in the past. An example I have often heard, “He took a chance on me and gave me my first job.” “I remember standing with a group outside his office and wondering if I would hear, “Nothing today, boys!”

Clubs and schools were his interest also. When I was in the lower grades at Epworth, families were still struggling after the Depression and some had very little work. I remember that he and some others took clothes and food and other needs to the families with school children. He supported the schools and all the events. I remember that he always bought tickets and everything from his children and grandchildren.

When we were growing up he always took us to our events, and sometimes he just made up an event. Money and events were short in those days, so we went on some long trips to visit relatives, went swimming in the creek, a picnic in the woods, wading in a branch, riding around the countryside, and just sitting around spinning yarns on the front porch to name a few.

He was a 50-year member of the First Baptist Church and worked mostly in offices in Sunday School. He helped with the cleaning off of wooded property which now is our Crestlawn Cemetery. He drew a map of houses in the entire community for a church census. He always took us to Sunday School and church.

One of the retirement events he participated in was the AARP organization in our area. Among his activities were doing individual income taxes for people, teaching driving classes, and attending their conventions as an officer.

Speaking of taxes, he was bookkeeper including tax preparation for all of our businesses until his death. He made an “occasion” out of paying taxes! Stories from this could fill a book!

Pop would not be a legend if farming was not mentioned as his top enjoyment. Naturally, since he worked, a little gardening was done at home at first and then his parents moved to a larger farm nearby. Every day after work he was there helping by plowing, planting, gathering for all his families, or just looking the situation over. All his children and grandchildren knew what time of day it was to head to the farm for fun.

It was not long until he decided that camping was his thing to do. He bought a pick-up truck which carried camping supplies but especially his grandchildren to places unknown to them. Many events happened that not only made him a legend, but will last forever in the hearts of the campers.

Who could forget the campfire meals, or the leaves falling into the gravy?

Locally, he knew every mountain, lake and stream, every highway, side road and trail, for he had traveled them all. What’s more, he could always tell you who lived in any given house. He liked his mountain region as well as his mountain background, and his family liked living near him.

Speaking of mountain background, he has written stories of our ancestors of several generations back, including how they lived, learned, spoke, and made a mountain living. This legend’s story is now in the Georgia Archives. A most interesting writing of his was the dictionary of words and phrases used by the mountain people of long ago.

Pop was a man of the past, present and future. He could see and predict and prepare for things that were to come. He had no special ability for this other than the road of hard knocks. He was a very modern man who kept up with events of the world. Since he did not seem old and “sot in his ways,” he was always interested in new inventions, while holding on to some of the old.

Now, a legend is not a perfect man, and on and on could be the listing of his characteristics and accomplishments. But Pop had some unusual characteristics that one might not believe made him a legend. Actually, to his family, these are the things that made him Pop and our legend.

To begin, it will be remembered that this legend was not the best dressed man for his position in life. It was not that he could not afford it, but probably because he did not want to fool with it.

It mattered not to him if his tie had spots on it, or if his pants were drooping, just as long as he was not wearing his farm clothes to church. Yet, it never bothered him to make a quick trip to the garden in his Sunday clothes!
He loved to cook and eat, with some of his meals being eaten standing up at the cabinet or stove. He certainly would saucer his coffee, and sometimes pace through the house between bites. Big hoe-cake biscuits and gravy were his Saturday morning specialty!

For years he smoked himself to death, rolling his own from a red Prince Albert can, then later switching to bought smokes, then later to Levi or Red Man chewing tobacco. Because of all this, he had an earth-shaking, body-shaking cough, which we all thought would kill him, but didn’t.

Pacing the floor was not unusual for Pop. He just could not talk to you without pacing and swinging his arms and hand. He did this at home and probably learned it from his job, going thousands of miles no doubt.

How many newspapers do you suppose Mama has picked up scattered around his chair? Each section (and he read them all) was “neatly” thrown aside by his chair, indicating that he had finished reading.

You always knew Pop’s car by the spit cups and the amount of junk you could find therein. He used his car for a truck to haul everything from farm equipment parts to farm produce. He laughingly said that he never cleaned his windshield because the car knew where he was going. He never traded cars in his latter years. He drove them till they quit, then junked them.

Now, what is it that actually makes this man a legend? Actually, a legend is a story or a gift of a life that makes a good story.

To me, a legend is someone who came up the hard way, and makes it easier for the next; a great leader that people will follow; an outstanding family man that other generations continue to follow; a special servant to others with others serving in return; a hard worker making others thinking they should be, too; a notable personality making the haves and have-nots love him; a big giver with others learning from him, a special fun-guy, making others laugh and enjoy.

Though Pop is absent from us in body, he is constantly still living in our hearts – our memory – or in inherited characteristics and actions. This legend will continue to live on this earth through his family until we are united with him in Heaven. A legend is usually just a story, but this legend was real for he was “Cliff,” but to most people he was just our “Pop.”