John Braxton isn’t your average centenarian.
The Roxboro man will turn 100 on Sunday – Father’s Day – and he plans to celebrate with a party.
The loquacious story teller sat in his living room recently and recalled his youth – a youth tempered by the Great Depression.
Work was hard to find in the Georgia town where he grew up.
As a child, he learned the carpentry trade from his father and those skills paid off as he followed the trail of work, first to Florida and later to North Carolina.
It was in the Tar Heel state where Braxton’s fortunes finally started to turn.
He fell in with a company building houses in a hot real estate market in Wilmington and he started getting steady work.
He met a girl – Rachel Johnston, from Yanceyville – and struck up a romance, though he would tell you he didn’t pull his share of the work in the early part of that relationship.
“She started writing me these letters,” Braxton said of his wife, who passed away in 2014. Asked if he wrote back, he was resolute. “Naw. I didn’t write her any letters,” Braxton said.
Still, he was smitten and so was she. He borrowed his father’s car and drove from Wilmington to Yanceyville for a weekend visit and determined he was going to ask her to marry him. “She said, ‘I’m not the one you need to ask,’” Braxton remembered. As he was preparing to return home that Sunday, she asked him if he had forgotten something. He looked back at the front porch where he saw her entire family watching them. He returned to the porch, asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Shortly after they were married in 1941, Braxton was drafted into World War II. He regrets the three years he lost to war, but he made the most of it. He earned a reputation within his calvary unit for being able to work with just about any horse that came along.
After the war, he joined Nello Teer in Durham and started building more than just cabinets. He was part of construction crews that built roads up and down the east coast, from Maine to Florida.
“We never crossed the Mississippi River, but we went just about everywhere on this side,” Braxton said.
But in actuality, Braxton did cross the Mississippi with Nello Teer, but his roadbuilding work took him to Guatemala, an experience he says he wouldn’t wish on anybody else. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. And I don’t want to,” Braxton said emphatically.
He left Nello Teer to go to work with Wrenn Wilson, where he learned the art and science of installing water and sewer lines.
All that construction experience served him well. When he retired to Moore County, Braxton built his own house. Others saw it and liked and he soon embarked on a mini-career with a business partner. They worked with a real estate agent who, he said, was able to sell the houses before he could finish building them.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, to tell you the truth,” Braxton said.
Braxton remained in Moore County until the death of his daughter who lived there. That’s when he resettled in Person County, near another daughter, Sylvia Allen.
Braxton has two other living daughters, Johnnie Bender, who lives in Williamsburg, and Barbara Baker, who lives in Cary.
His three daughters will host a birthday party for him on Father’s Day and a couple hundred family and friends are expected.
They’ll have a lot to talk about. So, too, will John Braxton.