Carl Roosevelt Garland: A Common Life, Uncommon Fortitude

Carl Roosevelt Garland was born June 24, 1926, in Lawrence County, Tennessee, and died February 24, 2013, six weeks after a debilitating stroke. His official education was limited to eight years of schooling. A few years later, in July of 1950, he decided he needed to go where the jobs were, Detroit, finding work with the Hudson Motor Car Company at $1.53 per hour. Within months of moving, however, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After receiving his basic training at Camp Polk, Louisiana, he was assigned to the Army’s Heavy Tank Division, with training at Fort Hood, Texas. The truce in the Korean Conflict came just weeks before his scheduled departure to the battlefront. The corporal was soon released from service and returned home to Tennessee, in 1952, to elope with his love interest, Ruby Lurline Self, a girl he’d known since childhood and with whom he had been corresponding since his move to the Motor City.

Carl Garland by Red Cross truck copy

Carl Roosevelt Garland @ 1952

Exactly nine months after marrying, he and his new wife welcomed to the world their first son, Larry Ray Garland. Initially renting shelter in whatever structures became available in the community, the family moved among several dwellings across the north end of the county, sometimes sharing quarters and costs with one of his many siblings and their families. In 1956 he signed with a local bank to purchase a small farm—“107 acres, more or less,” as the deed read, contracting to make five annual installments of $500.00 each. Had any of those years included serious sickness, a flood, drought, blight, locust infestation, or other natural disaster, he would have lost his cash crop of cotton, and the farm would have been lost as well.

Soon after paying off the farm, he saw an opportunity. The Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company—a bicycle and pedal toys production business—relocated to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, the county seat, and he went to work there on the assembly line. It was during this period that he and his wife lost their only daughter, when the expectant mother slipped and fell on a wet “steppin’ stone”—a rock used at that time at the front door of simple country homes as a doorstep. Within a year thereafter, they celebrated the arrival of their second son, Allen Lee Garland.

One evening, near the end of a cold winter, while sitting around the wood stove for warmth in the dwelling to which they had moved without the luxury of plumbing or electricity, he took out a pad and pencil and drew up a basic house plan. That spring, he began digging the trenches and laying the cinder blocks for the foundation.

Work on the new house started and stopped throughout that year. This was necessary because he had to log trees from the woods of his farm and get them hauled to the sawmill for processing into lumber for the house. That was paid for “on the halves,” with the sawmill keeping half of the lumber as payment and the other half coming back to be used in the construction. Other delays came from waiting for money to be earned at the factory to purchase nails and other necessary building supplies.

Each morning, he’d arise before daylight, build a fire if needed, and head “to town” to work in the factory. That evening, he’d return to the farm and resume his construction project, hammering and sawing as long as the light held out. Once darkness fell, he’d climb atop his Farmall tractor and plow long rows of cotton stalks until almost midnight, arising the next day to do it all over again.

He stayed on that farm and within the house and home he’d built until well past his retirement from the factory job. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, by his older son who works for a global financial firm in New York while residing with his partner in New Rochelle, and by his younger son who is married and still lives in Lawrence County, Tennessee.

Carl Garland was interred at Macedonia Cemetery in Lawrence County, Tennessee, on February 27, 2013, following a Veteran’s sendoff with 15 shots fired into a cold sky on a wet and windy day. The empty shells and folded American flag were presented to his widow at graveside.

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