By: Jerry Barksdale
Back in the1950s “Ol’ Miz Doctor Powers” (called Pie-eers by locals) was one of Athens’ most colorful characters. Her name was Mabel Claire Gray, born in Elkmont, and the wife of Dr. A. D. Powers, one of Limestone County’s most prominent physicians. They lived in a rambling white house at the corner of 1st Avenue and North Jefferson Street one block north of Powers Hospital, now known as Powers Apartments. It was the first hospital built in Limestone County.
Ol’ Miz Powers was creme de la creme of the Athens social set, but that never interfered with expressing herself in the clearest terms. According to the authors of Gray, Powers, and their interelated [sic] families, Descendants of Col. Thomas Holden Wade, Miz Powers was attending a Presbyterian revival where the sermon topic was sin and going to hell. “You’re going to hell if you play cards and you’re going to hell if you smoke,” said the preacher. Miz Powers had heard enough. She stood and said, “I like to play bridge, and I’ve been smoking since before it was decent for a lady to smoke. And I’m not going to hell!” Then she huffed out.
She often went to the Limestone Bank and cashed checks. Instead of making a deposit, she rolled up the bills and stuffed them down her bra. “I’m depositing them in the Breast National Bank,” she would say.
Ol’ Miz Powers drove a Fleetwood Cadillac, a 2½ ton, 8-cylinder land yacht, which she parked wherever it was convenient, which was usually in the middle of the street.
It was said that she could out cuss a sailor. Mama was sitting in the hospital waiting room when Dr. Powers returned from a medical conference to find that Miz Powers had redecorated the waiting rooms with new curtains. Dr. Powers didn’t approve and snatched them down. Miz Powers took offense and an F-5 cuss fight ensued.
Athens installed parking meters that had to be fed coins. They hired young McElyea to ride around on a red, three-wheel motorcycle and ticket violators for illegal parking. Locals called him Red Ryder. The sound of Red Ryder’s motorcycle sent shoppers scurrying to feed the meter. He was ticketing Ol’ Miz Powers Caddy when she walked up.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m writing you a ticket, Miz Powers.”
That’s when she introduced a new phrase in the English lexicon of cuss words. “You are nothing but a revolving son of a bitch,” she said.
Red Ryder was puzzled. “What’s that, Miz Powers?”
“You are a son of a bitch anyway you turn!” she said, ripped up the ticket and threw it on the ground.
The introduction of parking meters sowed confusion among some members of the Athens “brain trust.” For example, which meter did you have to feed? On Saturday mornings, country folks sat on their haunches in front of State National Bank, rolling their own, spitting on the sidewalk, and discussing boll weevils and cotton picking. An elderly gentlemen parked his pickup, got out, walked up the street a few yards, and fed a meter. Red Ryder wrote the old fellow a ticket.
“Now that ain’t right,” said one of the loafers. “I seen him put money in it.”
One of the more intellectual loafers weighed in. “Well, maybe he was supposed to feed the meter where he parked.”
They all agreed that the old gentlemen had been wrongly treated. Anyway, who ever heard of having to pay to park your vehicle?
In addition to inventing new cuss words, Ol’ Miz Powers was handy with a pistol. According to her great granddaughter (steemipatina.com), it was a hot summer night and Miz Powers was home, doors open, trying to catch a breeze when she saw someone lurking in the yard. Dr. Powers was at the hospital a block down the street.
“Get outta here!” she yelled. That was the only warning she gave before opening fire at the lurking figure behind a tree. Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow! The trespasser went down groaning in pain.
“Don’t shoot, Miz Powers! It’s the police.”
Doc Powers heard five shots ring out and figured it was Miz Powers’ .32 Smith & Wesson speaking. “That’s Mable’s gun,” he remarked. “I guess I better go see about it.” He found the wounded policeman, carried him to his hospital, and removed the bullet…no charge.
When I was a kid living in Booger Town, I walked past the Powers’ home on Saturday mornings headed to the Ritz Theater. During the fall, a small, wiry, black man was usually raking leaves and piling them between the sidewalk and curb. Miz Powers would be standing on her front porch, fists on hips, directing the little fellow and making sure no leaf was missed. I was afraid of her and always hurried down the sidewalk.
The Sutton boys and their Booger Town gang also walked to the Ritz on Saturday mornings. The first to see the leaf pile would yell, “Last one there is a rotten egg!” The boys would take off running and jump into the leaves, scattering them over the lawn and sidewalk. They would run off laughing and hollering before Miz Powers made the scene. Oh boy! What fun. It was a Saturday morning ritual.
There was a fire plug located between the sidewalk and curb by the Powers’ home. One Saturday, the Sutton boys, seeing the leaves neatly piled, took off running and laughing and jumped in. Bam! Bong! “Aahgg!” The leaves had been swept over the fire plug. That ended the Sutton boys’ leaf jumping careers.
Several years ago, I told a friend about having seen Miz Powers on her front porch, fists on hips, directing the small black man sweeping leaves.
“Do you know the rest of the story?” he asked me. “When he became ill, Dr. and Miz Powers sent him to the Mayo Clinic where he received the best medical care in the world. They took care of him until he died.”
Dr. Powers died in 1963 at age 80, and Miz Doctor Powers died 8 years later at age 80. They are buried side by side in the Athens City Cemetery.
By: Jerry Barksdale