John Otis Lawrence was my great, great grandfather. He was still living when I was born so my parents gave me his last name as my first, Lawrence. But, he was not related to me by blood. Sometimes the people who mean the most to you are not blood relatives but those God puts in your life through other means. Such was the case with J.O. Lawrence.
My maternal grandmother, Evelyn Louise Hammock Gideon was born in Macon, Georgia on January 27, 1914. Her parents were Oscar Lewis Hammock and Bessie Lee Weaver. They divorced around 1922 when my grandmother was very young. For reasons she never shared or did not know, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Ocilla, Georgia after the divorce. All she told me was that she remembered being put on the train by herself in Macon at 7 or 8 years old to be sent to Ocilla. Her grandmother was Ellen Cherry Hammock. She’d been married to William Henry Hammock, my great, great grandfather by blood, until he died of pneumonia in 1901 at only 40 years old. Four years later, she married John Otis Lawrence. This was his first marriage.
It was to John and Ellen’s house that my grandmother came to live in 1922. She loved “grandpoppa” more than anything and even though she was not his by blood, he raised her as if she were. They stayed close until he died in 1967.
J.O. Lawrence owned a grocery store in Ocilla. Originally it was on the main street downtown:
He was also a life-long Mason, serving as Grand Master of the Ocilla Lodge at one point and receiving an award for 50 years as a Mason not long before he died.
Ellen Cherry Lawrence died in 1933. She was severely diabetic and was blind at the end of her life as a result. One of the stories my grandmother told was that her grandmother taught her to cook after becoming blind and that she (Ellen) could clean a chicken perfectly even after losing her sight. Some time later J.O. married a woman named Betty Paulk. The family called her “Miss Betty.” She died in 1952.
Grandpoppa died at the Oceoloa Nursing Home in Ocilla on December 4, 1967 when I was six years old. When my grandmother came to collect his effects, she found a cheap Ingersoll pocket watch among them. These were watches you could buy in the drug store or at Woolworth’s very inexpensively. However, being in the jewelry business, my grandmother was very familiar with grandpoppa’s high quality Elgin “Father Time” railroad watch. She went (probably marched is a better verb knowing my grandmother) to the office of the nursing home director and said simply “I’ve come for my grandfather’s watch.” She said the man opened his desk drawer, took out grandpoppa’s watch and handed it to her without comment.
When my grandmother died the watch was passed to me as his namesake. It still has a picture of “Miss Betty” in the back. J.O. and Ellen had only one son of their own, Homer Joe Lawrence, who died when he was nine years old so I was the only one left to carry on his name. My oldest son Will has grandpoppa’s name as his middle name so he will likely one day receive the watch.