John Peden: A Life Well Spent - By: Keely Sharp
John Peden of Douglasville turns 100 on October 26, 2017. In 2016, Keely Sharp sat down and talked with him about his life of adventure and his memories.
While sitting at a wooden table, in a well-lit kitchen, John Peden’s memories flooded the room. These thoughts of war, love, and family brought laughter at some moments and moist eyes at others. He carefully recalled the many different times in his life that brought him joy, and that brought him pain. John, a World War II veteran and Douglasville resident, has encountered many occasions in his long life of 100 years.
Blast into the past for a moment, to October 26, 1917. On this date, John Peden made his debut into the world, in the small town of East Central, Mississippi. The years to follow were quite tough on all of America, as our country plummeted into the Great Depression. Cuts in funds were everywhere, due to the lack of money. This shortage caused John’s senior year of high school to end in February instead of May. There simply was not enough money to run it for the additional three months.
During that era, many young men enlisted in the military, and John was no exception to this trend. He joined the United States Armed Forces in 1942 and then spent 2.5 years in WWII. While deployed in France during that time, the current president, Teddy Roosevelt, died and Harry Truman took over the office. It was a time of great unknowns and John was not sure where his life would take him, but he knew that it was in God’s hands. He recalled standing in the port for the ship, waiting for deployment when America bombed Japan in 1945. Saved by the grace of God, he was not put into harm’s way any further. At this point, the war was over, and he did not go into combat.
John married his late wife, Callie, at the young age of 24, and they were married for 74 years. They raised a family of five children in Mobile, Alabama. One thing he noted as one of his most exciting memories, was the birth of his first child and only daughter, Carol Jean. John was in Memphis, Tennessee at the time and hitchhiked 50 miles before getting in touch with his brother to come pick him up.
His family has played a huge role in the life of Mr. Peden. When questioned about his biggest accomplishment, John stated, “I would say raising a family of five without any disciplinary problems.” His chest swelled with pride as he spoke because he and his wife were very proud of their children.
John and his wife moved to Douglasville in 2006 when their son, Carl, offered to help take care of them. Carl wanted to work a little longer and then retire to assist his parents for the rest of their lives. They felt this was their best option, and bought a house in Douglasville.
Once they settled in, they began attending Central Baptist Church, of which they were members for ten years. Due to the onset of Alzheimer’s, Callie was in and out of a few different nursing homes, but the couple longed to stay together. They made the decision for her to come back home so she could spend the rest of her days with the man she loved most. Callie passed away last year and is now buried in their family plot with two of their children. However, John keeps her memory alive with beautiful photos throughout his home. When asked about the secret to a happy marriage, his only words were, “You give and you take,” he chuckled softly and added, “You compromise.”
Although the years continue to creep by, John consistently keeps up a healthy lifestyle. Every other day he goes for a ride on the “Tadpole” with Carl. The “Tadpole” is a double-man bike that sits low to the ground. It has a small motor to assist with propulsion. It even comes complete with a headlight for night riding. On the days that he does not ride, he works out in his home, lifting weights and walking.
John attributes his long life to healthy habits, but mostly to his faith and God’s grace. He said, “I’ve had a very good life,” and did not have a single regret to mention. “However,” he added, “I do wish I’d gotten a higher education, though. I could have if I’d been willing to sacrifice more.”
It is no secret that the times have been changing rapidly. According to John, America has been slightly dimmed over the last century. “You see, I grew up in the Great Depression,” he said, “Everyone had hard times, but everyone was in the same boat back then. Nobody really had any money. There was one merchant in the county seat where I grew up, and he was a saint. He would carry people on his books and let them use credit,” he added melancholically, “People used to help each other.”
However, he is still quite amazed at how far we have come since his birth. “The best thing that’s been discovered is the medication they have now,” he said with an amazed edge to his voice. John also spoke about the incredible technology advancements as well. “The electronic age is a blessing and a curse. The telephone is amazing, but people are trying to text on it while they drive. You see so many people who would rather be on their phone than have a conversation. That’s common these days. And then the television…things are coming on television now that would have only been whispered in private conversations,” he continued, “but I can’t speak on this generation, I can only observe it.”
John Peden has such a kind heart, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to tell his story. The tales of love, war, and life slowly wrapped up with a gentle smile. Nostalgia has a way of doing that to a person.
His story will now live on vicariously in the memory of every reader who stumbles upon this short memoir of an American soldier, and faithful family man.