“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
My maternal grandmother, Julia Pollock (1895-1976), was a true prayer warrior in the service of Jesus Christ and I would like to tell you a little about her.
She was born May 10, 1895, on Sick Island (they called it that because all of the animals mysteriously died one year) near Lake Wales, Florida, only 30 years after the end of the American Civil War.
It was the same year that J. Edgar Hoover, Babe Ruth, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bud Abbott were born. That year the first motion picture was shown on screen to a public audience, the first comic strip appeared in a newspaper, the first X-ray was taken, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered in Russia, the Nobel prizes were established, John Sousa composed the El Capitan march, and Sears Roebuck published its first catalog. Within months of Julia’s birth Tootsie Rolls and Tiddledy Winks first appeared. The vast majority of houses in America had no electricity, indoor plumbing, or telephones. The Ferris Wheel was only two years old. The Wild West had barely been tamed and was still only scantly settled. It had only been 26 years since the transcontinental railroad was completed; 19 years since Custer was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Wild Bill Hickok was murdered while playing cards; 14 years since the gunfight in the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona; 13 years since the outlaw Jesse James was shot to death by a member of his own gang; 10 years since the last Texas cattle drive to Dodge City; nine years since Apache renegade Geronimo surrendered to the army; and only three years since the Dalton Gang was shot to pieces while attempting to rob a bank in Coffeyville, Kansas.
Buffalo Bill was still putting on his Wild West shows, and Pancho Villa was a teenager. Capital crimes were punished by hanging. Much of the land west of the Mississippi was still divided into territories rather than states. The Brooklyn Bridge was only 12 years old and the last cavalry charge was still in the future. Harry Houdini was launching his career as an escape artist. The Kodak box camera was just beginning to bring photography to the common man. Edison’s incandescent light bulb was only 15 years old. Americans were still riding in the horse and buggy and paved roads were almost non-existent. American Telegraph and Telephone (AT&T) was ten years old and General Electric was three. Bottled Coca-Cola was only a year old. The great age of exploration was still going strong. Neither the north nor the south poles had yet been explored nor the world’s highest mountains climbed. When Julia was born, there were no airplanes, Ford automobiles, wireless telegraph, radio, television, home refrigerator, electric fans, air conditioning, escalator, subway, tape recorder, plastic, penicillin, Philips head screws, paint rollers, chain saws, Novocain, insulin, aerosol spray, Teddy Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Boy Scouts, World Series, Rose Bowl, scotch tape, IQ tests, Kellogg’s corn flakes, Crayola Crayons, teabags, instant coffee, neon lights, oil companies, vacuum cleaners, crossword puzzles, band-aids, insecticides, rock & roll, jazz, or blues. There was no Miss America pageant and no time zones, no Statue of Liberty, Boulder Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, or Empire State Building. The typewriter was just beginning to become popular and the zipper was only two years old. There was no Big Bang theory or federal income tax or Federal Reserve System. Most women in America could not vote. Powerful things were happening in the spiritual realm. The Third Great Awakening was still going on. Billy Sunday and Mordecai Ham were starting their evangelistic careers and D.L. Moody was ending his. Fanny Crosby was at the height of her hymn writing vocation. Charles Spurgeon had been dead for only three years. The Postmillennial and Holiness Movements were at their apexes and within five years Pentecostalism would be born. The New Age movement was just beginning its nefarious career. The “mother of the New Age,” Helena Blavatsky, had been dead only four years, and her Theosophical Society was going strong, merging Christianity with eastern paganism and claiming that man is divine and that Christ is not a person named Jesus but an office that any man can attain.
Julia saw the horse and buggy age become the Space Shuttle age, and in her lifetime America grew from 38 to 50 States.
Her parents died young, her mother at age 52; her father at 59.
She married her first husband in 1912 when she was 17 years old. She and her cousin Betsy had a double wedding. Betsy married a Dutchman and Julia married an Irishman from Dublin, who had run away from home. She had three children, and the oldest, Buster, died before he was two years old. They say he was unusually smart and very sweet and could talk well. Before he died, he patted his mother’s hand and said, “Don’t cry, Julia, don’t cry.”
Julia’s first husband died in 1918 of kidney failure, and she was left with two young children. Along that same time, Julia’s oldest brother, his wife, and their oldest daughter all died in one night of the flu epidemic.
Julia’s father was not a Christian; in fact, he was a heavy drinker, but her mother was a member of a Hardshell or Primitive Baptist church of the absolute predestinarian persuasion (not all Primitive Baptist churches hold this doctrine). They don’t believe in evangelism or missions, holding to an extreme form of sovereign election and predestinationism. I have not been able to find out exactly when Julia put her faith in Jesus Christ. It could have been when she was a teenager or even in between her marriages. She was definitely a Christian by the time she met her second husband, Monroe.
Julia once told me that she had been a member of the Hardshell Baptist church, but after studying the Bible she came to the conviction that evangelism and missionary work are scriptural and she joined a Southern Baptist congregation. That would probably have been Dixie Land Baptist Church in Lakeland.
After her first husband died, Julia met Monroe Pollock. He was born in Georgia and had fought in the Army in France in World War I. He met Julia when he visited his sister in Lakeland. She was Julia’s next door neighbor. When he asked her out on a date, though, she refused because she knew that he was a heavy drinker like his father. Some time before he met her, he and a couple of his drinking buddies had wrecked a T-model Ford across from the Lakeland General Hospital, and Monroe’s clothes had been ripped off in the crash.
His infatuation with Julia was stronger than his love for drink, though, and he quit drinking and starting going to church with her at Dixie Land Baptist on the south side of the town. He was converted and joined the church before they were married and was a faithful church member all their married lives and served as a deacon in two Baptist churches, Dixie Land Baptist and Kathleen Baptist.
He was also a witness for Christ. His son Jim said, “He talked to everybody about the Lord. You don’t know the reprobates around here that he won to Christ. Jack McCarty was a drunken Catholic and Dad got him going to church and he became a very influential preacher. Then there was the mechanic, Frank Ferris, who was as rough as they came. Dad would take his Model-T there for repairs and prevailed on Frank to come to church and he became an ordained minister and eventually became the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was a powerful preacher. Before Frank was converted, though, I had heard the preacher warning about the scribes and the Pharisees and how bad they were, and I thought he was talking about the scribes and the Ferrises!” Monroe usually had his car packed with people he had invited to church and he taught a boys’ Sunday School class for many years.
Julia and Monroe were married in 1920 and had four children, Jim, Estelle, Esther, and Tom. Monroe was a carpenter and built a house in the Kathleen woods north of Lakeland on a little dirt road and that is where they raised their growing family. Julia and Monroe made their move in 1925 and by 1928 there were several families, mostly friends of theirs who also migrated from Lakeland because it was getting paved streets and “had gotten too citified.”
One of the early settlers to that part of Kathleen, Mr. McCartney, named the dirt road in front of the Pollock’s house. He said, “All of the women on this road call their cooking potlikker, so let’s name it Potlikker Alley,” and it struck. (Potlikker is the southern spelling for pot liquor, the liquid in which vegetables and meat have been cooked.) They didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity until the late 1940s. The telephone was a “party line” and neighbors would listen in when you had a conversation.
Monroe’s dad, Thomas Monroe (“Son”) Pollock, was a sheriff in Georgia and a rough character. He killed seven men, one on the steps of the county court house. Esther said that one time when Grandpa Pollock was recounting the story of how he shot a man, she looked over at Grandma Pollock wondering what she was thinking, when she spat out her wad of snuff and said, “That’s one I’m glad you got, Son.” They made their own moonshine and he was a heavy drinker and got mean when he was drunk. He would go into the kitchen and throw flour and food and syrup into the floor and would break things. The children would hide when he was on his drinking binges. Monroe was allowed to drink from the time he was eight or nine years old, but he was the “designated buggy driver” for his father and was required to stay sober when he drove him to town for his infamous drunken escapades.
In his old age Son and his wife moved to Florida and lived much of the time with Julia and Monroe. They wouldn’t let him have any liquor in the house, but he would get away whenever he could and get drunk. One time he came home drunk and Monroe warned him never to do that again. Julia had to warn him not to tell stories about his reprobate life to the children. Happily, the old sheriff got right with the Lord not long before his death and repented of his wickedness.
Julia’s kids grew up in a setting that was fairly typical of rural America at that time. Prior to World War II, the economic depression was still going full bore in many parts of the country and jobs were few and far between. They had plenty to eat, though, and they had loads of home-made fun. They had slingshots and small-bore bird guns; they made tree houses and rope swings and you name it. Estelle told us how that she would read half the night by the light of a kerosene lantern, and when the kerosene would run out she was too afraid to go out to the back porch to fill it up, so she would awaken her sister and, with great difficulty, talk her into going with her.
Estelle and Jim were close in age and they had many adventures. The house was mostly surrounded by woods, and about a half mile to the south was Martin Lake surrounded by a large swamp where there were bobcats, coyotes, poisonous snakes such as coral and rattlers and cotton mouth moccasins, and huge alligators. The kids were forbidden to go to the lake without permission, but they would slip off when Julia was napping and take a little leaky boat out into the lake and catch fish. Invariably they would get so preoccupied with fishing that they let the time slip away and Julia would awaken, find them missing, and go down to the lake to fetch them home in a memorable manner. Estelle said that one time they saw a 14 or 15 foot gator lying in the water and paddled their boat over to it but it didn’t pay any attention to them. She said it was the biggest gator she ever saw. At times the gators have caught full-grown cows and drug them into the lake. One day they were swinging in a home-made rope swing when it broke and they landed on the dirt road right in front of a T-model Ford and the driver just barely had time to stop. One time Estelle almost shot Jim. He had his shotgun and was guarding Mr. Martin’s field against the birds, and Julia sent Estelle down with his lunch. When Jim began eating, Estelle picked up the gun and aimed it at him and said, “What if I pulled the trigger on this gun?” He said, “Well, it just wouldn’t go off, because I always keep my gun on safety except when I’m shooting.” Estelle said, “You’re sure that if I pull this trigger it won’t shoot you?” Jim said, “Yes, I’m sure,” and kept eating his lunch. Estelle said that it was doubtless the Lord that caused her to aim the gun up at the ceiling of the packing shed before she pulled the trigger. It went off and blasted a hole in the roof and pieces of the shed fell down around them. Even though he had almost been shot and possibly killed, Jim calmly said, “You know, that’s funny. Something’s wrong with that gun.” Another time they started a conflagration that burned the woods down when they were cooking hotdogs or something in their play house and the fire got away from them.
Jim was quite a con artist when he was a boy, and he frequently got other parties, not to speak of himself, in trouble with his schemes. One time the kids were sitting in the Model-T Ford at their house and he looked over at the next door neighbors and said, “Well, look, Mrs. Williamson forgot to spread sand on her front porch. She always spreads sand on the porch so that she can know if she has had visitors, but she must have been in a hurry.” The other kids said, “We will spread it for her,” and Jim replied, “That would be so nice.” Jim said he stayed in the car while his friends spread sand all over the porch in a beautiful uniform manner. Mrs. Williamson didn’t appreciate the little joke, to say the least, and some of them were spanked for the scheme, but Jim claims that he escaped any punishment. Another time Jim talked Estelle into letting him take apart her beautiful little rocking chair that her father had made for her. He said, “Don’t worry; we can put it right back together,” but it was never the same, to say the least. Another time he talked Estelle into letting him take apart her beautiful handmade dolls. Another time he gave Estelle his gun and told her to shoot a lovely birdhouse that their father had made. She said, “I can’t do that; it will ruin the birdhouse,” but Jim replied, “I put a special powder load in it and it won’t shoot that far; go ahead and aim at the birdhouse, but don’t worry.” When she pulled the trigger, she was knocked to the ground by the blast and the birdhouse was shot full of holes. He had a special powder load, alright. It was specially powerful!
They had some adventures pertaining to the outhouse, as well. Ellen would joke, “Some people have seven rooms and a bath, but we have seven rooms and a path.” One time a coach whip snake, which runs on its tail with its head sticking up a couple of feet, got between Ellen and the outhouse and when she tried to run back to the house, it would run ahead of her and seemed to be chasing her all over the back yard. It was like it was playing with her, but she was scared to death. She let out a scream and the next door neighbor came over and chased the snake away.
Julia believed in Book of Proverbs style corporal punishment. She would usually use a switch from a tree, and would often have the offender cut his or her own switch and bring it to her. Estelle told me that she and Jim got a switching “about every day” when they were little. When Julia caught them down at the lake she would switch them all the way back home. If Jim tried to run, she would warn him that he would regret it if he did, and she would whip him some more. Estelle said that Monroe spanked the boys some, but he never spanked the girls. Julia did, though!
Julia had two sons serving in the military during World War II. Both saw a lot of action but survived the war.
Bud was in the 28th Field Artillery of the 8th Army in Europe. They were assigned to the 3rd Army during some of the fiercest fighting in France and Germany, so Bud served under the famous General “Blood and Guts” Patton.
Jim was a gunner’s mate in the Navy, and his Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Colhoun (DD-801), was sunk on April 6, 1945, by Japanese kamikaze planes. This occurred in the invasion for Iwo Jima during the battle of Okinawa. The Colhoun and the USS Bush (DD-529), which were serving on the radar picket line and giving fire support, were sunk on the same day during the first heavy kamikaze attack of the battle. The official report says that the Colhoun shot down seven suicide planes and was hit by four, and the Bush shot down three and was hit by three. Thirty-four sailors were killed on the Colhoun and 87 on the Bush. Nine other destroyers were sunk and 14 damaged by kamikazes during the battle of Okinawa.
Esther told me that there was someone at the church every day praying for the soldiers, and all of the church’s many military men survived the war. They had a bronze plaque made that listed all of their names.
I stayed a lot with Julia and Monroe when I was a boy. Monroe would take me down to the store in Kathleen (there was only one store) and buy me an RC Cola and a Moon Pie or a cold bottle of Coke and some salted peanuts to pour into it. Some of my earliest memories are of Grandma rocking me on their porch and singing songs to me. Two songs I remember, other than hymns, were ‘Shoe Fly Pie” and “Black and Dirty.” In those days (the early 1950s) Potlikker Alley was still dirt and there was very little traffic. There was nothing but woods across the road for almost the entire one-mile length, and in the evening you could hear insects buzzing and whippoorwills singing and the bull bats making a whump sound as they came out of their steep dives after insects. The porch was unscreened in those days.
I loved Grandma Pollock’s cooking. She made the best chicken and dumplings ever. The ones you get a Cracker Barrel are like hers and are good but they’re not as good as hers. She would cut up sweet watermelon into cubes and put them into quart jars and chill them, and I have never tasted anything more delicious. She made delightful biscuits from scratch and when they were hot out of the oven she would poke her finger in them and pour in melted butter and serve them with corn syrup. Not to mention her sweet cornbread, cakes, breaded pork chops, yellow squash smothered in butter and cheese, and a host of other mouth-watering goodies.
Julia told me stories of how the Lord took care of them during the depression when it was so difficult for Monroe to get jobs. They had six kids to feed, plus Monroe’s parents lived with them for years.
Estelle told my sister Cathy and me one of these stories: “I remember one time when I was little and we didn’t have any food in the house. We said, ‘What are we going to eat, mom?’ She gathered us around and read Psalm 37:25, ‘I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide for us.’ Soon after that a big turtle came across the road and she cooked it and fed us!” I’ve eaten turtle soup a couple of times myself and it’s not bad.
Esther told us that one time there was no food in the house and after Julia prayed, a neighbor brought them two chickens and some vegetables and they had a feast.
Jim told us that one morning Monroe went out to search for a job, and Julia went into her room and prayed earnestly and was impressed by the Lord that Monroe would soon be back. She went ahead and fixed him a lunch box, and sure enough, he soon came through the door and said, “Fix me a mouthful to eat, Julia, they want me on the job right now,” and she replied, “Monroe, I already have it packed” and handed him the lunch she had prepared by faith. Jim observed: “That’s faith. She knew just as well as she knew her name that he was going to find work.”
Julia believed in and practiced prayer with fasting. She was the first person I ever remember telling me about spiritual fasting. She showed me the Lord’s words in Mark 9:29: “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting,” and His promise in Matthew 6:17-18, “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” She told me that she had proven this promise several times in her life.
On one occasion Monroe got a job working on a roof with one of his old drinking buddies on a hot summer day, and he eventually allowed himself to be talked into having “just one drink to cool you down.” The one drink turned into many and they got so rip roaring drunk that they began singing loudly and throwing tools off the roof. The police were called in and they were hauled off to jail. Julia had to get Deacon Pollock out of the slammer! That was the first time he had taken a drink since before their marriage. He was deeply remorseful and promised her that he would never do it again, and he stood before the church and confessed and apologized profusely and was forgiven by the congregation. She was deeply shocked by this event, though, and was afraid that he might fall again, remembering that both her father and Monroe’s father were drunkards. So she determined to fast and pray until she was assured of his complete victory over this evil. I don’t think she told me how long she fasted but it was many days. She would cook her delicious meals and when it was time for breakfast, lunch, or supper Monroe would say to her, “Come on, Julia, let’s eat a mouthful,” and she would reply, “Don’t worry about me, Monroe.” Finally she had peace in her heart that God was going to give him the victory and she ended her fast, and he never touched a drop of liquor again in his life. None of her boys ever drank, either.
Julia had the habit of writing down her prayers; at least she did in her old age. When I would visit her after my conversion in the summer of 1973, she would always show me prayers that she had written. She even showed me prayers that she had written about me when I was wandering in the world far from the Lord, and I have no doubt that her prayers played a large part in my conversion and of that of my sisters and that they continue to bear fruit today in Julia’s large family.
I believe that her prayers resulted in all of her children having long stable marriages and no divorces, which is a true miracle in this day and age in America. When one of Julia’s sons died, his sweet wife of 49 years fell across him and cried in tears, “My hero! You are the only man I ever knew.”
After my conversion I showed Julia some of the tracts and booklets I was writing and printing, and she said, “That’s wonderful, Dave. You can write these things from the Bible and someone will preach them someday.” I replied, “I will preach them myself, Granny!” And she raised her hand, as she was accustomed to do when she was happy in the Lord, and enthusiastically said, “Glory!”
Julia lived a little over 10 years after Monroe passed away at the Carpenter’s Home Retirement Center in 1965. During those years she suffered much from heart trouble, and I often heard her moaning in pain in her bedroom. She liked to sit in the recliner chair that her children had bought for her, and usually when I would visit she would be reading her big tear-stained Bible. Many people visited her in those days and were cheered up and encouraged in the Lord by her faith. She always had something to share from Scripture.
She loved to give to the missionary offering that her church collected each year, and she would knit and crochet things to sell so that she could give to missions. She had very little income but she gave much to the Lord’s work.
She always wore long feminine dresses. One of my favorite pictures is of her hoeing in the garden behind the house on Potlikker Alley. She was wearing a long dress and a bonnet to ward off the Florida sun. When some of the women started wearing pants to church in the 1970s (just to the evening service at first), she didn’t agree with it.
When Julia died in 1976, I grieved much for her and realized that I had been very dependent upon her love and prayers. One day, though, the Lord encouraged me by showing me that He cared for me more than my grandmother had and that I would not lack for prayer because He Himself intercedes for me continually.
I thank the Lord for this godly heritage which continues to bear fruit in my own life and doubtless in that of my children and grandchildren and the rest of the family.
No one can exercise faith for another person, not even for his most beloved family members. Each person must make his own choice about what to do with Jesus Christ and how dedicated he will be even after he is saved. Biblically speaking, God has no grandchildren. Jesus said that individual must be born again or he will not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
But there is no doubt that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
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