This is the story I intended to tell at the 2018 West Virginia Liars Contest but didn’t qualify because I’m no longer a resident. Since I drove 800 miles to get there and had a large contingent of supporters in the audience, the judges graciously allowed me to warm up the crowd as a prelude to the competition.
My name is Greg Justice. So to answer your question if you’re wondering if I’m related to Jim Justice, our illustrious governor, I guess I could be, but I really don’t have a clue.
That fact is really not pertinent here anyway, considering this story is about the complicated relationship between me, my mother, and my grandmother and events that ensued thereof.
A lot of people thought my mother was the prettiest girl in Logan County. She was raised way up a holler and grandpa was abusive with everyone but her. She fought back, never gave in regardless of what he did to her. He left her alone, and I think, eventually became a little afraid of her.
After mom and dad were married they began to struggle relationally. She adopted the same attitude with dad as she’d had with grandpa. Dad would try to reason with her but all she wanted to do is fight… with her fists, a hammer, a hatchet, butcher knife – whatever was handy. And she was so dog gone pretty, she got away with it, not only with dad, but also when she whipped other women in town.
I swore I’d never marry a pretty girl. Just to show you what I mean, Mary, stand up. This is my wife Mary Justice. [Mary is exceptionally beautiful.] Boom, I probably won the Liar’s Contest right there.
I was my Grandma Justice’s first born Grandson and it was clear to everyone I was her favorite. Mom and grandma never got along. Mom said grandma thought she wasn’t good enough for dad and occasionally complained that I loved grandma more than I loved her.
After attending Marshall and WV Tech, I moved back to my home town of Man, WV and went to work in the coal industry. I was ambitious and developed a pattern of working to exhaustion and then would take a hunting or fishing trip to rejuvenate. In the meantime, I had become my boss’s right hand man and he depended on me for a multitude of things, many of which didn’t fall under my job description. He knew he could count on me, though, regardless of the circumstance.
I asked Jim if it was okay to take a couple of days off. “Go for it,” he said, “Get lost for a few days in the woods or on the water. You deserve it.” It felt good taking guilt free time off when everybody else was working.
I was 2 days into a 4 day trip on RD Bailey lake on the Guyandotte, when Jim came across an issue he thought only I could help him with. He called my mother and told her I needed to get in touch with him right away.
If something struck him wrong, Jim was known to fire a person on a whim. A union man might get on his wrong side and survive, but if you were a company employee, forget it, and I was.
Mom was well aware of this. Jim had much the same attitude my grandfather had when she was growing up. This really got her in a tizzy. Jim’s lucky when he hung up the phone abruptly, she didn’t drive up Buffalo Creek and kick his butt.
How, my mother wondered, was she going to get me off that lake? I wouldn’t come off even if she died, she thought. The more she thought about it, the madder she got. But I was a grandma’s boy and she had always been jealous of that relationship. So the next morning she sent my best friend to the boat ramp before daylight to tell fishermen launching their boats to be on the lookout for me, that my grandmother had died and the family needed me home. I got the news from fishermen in a bass boat in the glare of their spotlight while I was still in my sleeping bag. I lay there for quite some time, quietly sobbing.
It was a beautiful morning with bass busting minnows on top as I motored back toward the ramp. It was no secret that I was Audie Mae’s favorite. I thought about how everyone would break down and begin the grieving process anew as I entered the room where they had gathered. I did not relish the thought. There was nothing I could do for grandma now. It looked like the fish were biting. I might as well stay and fish. And I did, Lord, forgive me.
I had one of the best days fishing ever. Largemouth, smallmouth, specks, even caught a couple tiger muskies.
This is grandma, I thought, up there with Jesus and they’ve decided to bless me. Still, I felt just a little guilty fishing all day after grandma had died until it seemed like a torpedo hit my top water plug. I fought that fish expertly for over 30 minutes. I knew my 8 pound test monofilament had reached its limit when I finally began to regain line. Had I hooked a record Muskie or perhaps foul hooked a giant carp? No, it was a bass, a record bass. It was a smallmouth no less, for sure a state record, maybe even a world record.
I hadn’t kept a fish all day, and I was perplexed with what to do with this one. It was a gift from above, I could feel grandma’s spirit right there with me in the boat. Out of respect for her I decided to turn it loose. I hadn’t lifted her out of the water and it seemed like that fish stayed there sucking my thumb for a full 2 minutes after I loosened my grip.
She swam about 15 feet away and turned around and looked at me. Now I didn’t hear an out loud voice, I’m not crazy. It was more like a thought that congealed in my mind.
“Make a wish,” was the message. I know I was emotionally distraught and perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me. But deep down, I believed right then I could have anything I ever wanted.
You might think I would have asked for a million dollars or even to become governor of the great state of West Virginia. Yes, it could be a different Justice in the State House right now.
What do you think I asked for? Of course, I asked to have my grandma back.
I stopped at grandma’s and Aunt Ginny’s on the way home but the house was dark and it appeared loved ones were gathering somewhere else. At mom and dads, of course, I thought, and I hightailed it there.
When I arrived I found mom in curlers vacuuming. “Where is everyone,” I asked?
“You little S.O.B.,” she said. When she was upset with me she would call me Gregory Michael. When she was really mad she’d call me a little S.O.B. “I knew you wouldn’t come home for me, but I thought you’d at least come home for your grandmother.”
People usually think I must have been terribly upset with my mother when they hear this story.
On the contrary, far from it. I had my grandma back and was able to enjoy her company for another 12 years. I wouldn’t trade that for a million dollars or even to become governor of the great state of West Virginia.