As we travel down the road of life, we often meet extraordinary people, who enrich our path beyond measurable standards. This is an amazing story about a rare, yet simple man named Kayo, who in my estimation is a legend. One day his skills, trade and livelihood will be extinct like so many other rural treasures, when he passes on. I have wanted to commit this story to paper for quite some time but needed to ensure the timing was right and did not want overlook any of these rich details of this story steeped in the traditions of the Deep South. This allegory is truly a message of living out the gospel as a Christian, touching so many. The contents here should be a book, but I will try to compress this into a short story mega-blog.
years ago, Charles A. (Kayo) Sipper was born in a one room farmhouse (now
Kayo’s Cabinet Shop), located in central Crenshaw County. His father nicknamed
him Kayo inspired by the newspaper cartoon. Today on Sipper Ridge stands a
cluster of homes, barns, sheds and sawmill where three Sipper brothers
currently live. Four of Kayo’s five siblings were also born in this one
room home, in addition, his father and his nine siblings who were born here as
well. The Sipper family has occupied these seventy acres of promise land in
Crenshaw County since 1860, when his great-great grandfather came to these
parts to homestead.
County is fertile concentrated ground for Churches of Christ. Kayo’s
childhood dream was to preach the gospel and have a family. That he did.
He attended and graduated from Alabama Christian College in Montgomery where he
met his bride Olivia in 1967; they married in 1969 (50 years), have two sons,
Josh, Sam and five grandchildren. Kayo has been preaching the Gospel for
over 50 years and was at one church alone for 30 years.
I first met
Kayo when we bought our farm in 2004; we were looking for someone with a large
wood planer to dress out wood we accumulated after Hurricane Ivan. I am
not sure why, but even today he calls me John Giles. My friends call me
John, but in this region of the south, I am generally referred to as Mr. G, Mr.
John or Mr. Giles, but Kayo has always called me John Giles, to me it’s
comical! Being a complete stranger to the area and seeking common ground,
I mentioned I was friends with John Harrison, who I met in 1989. For
years he was a local banker and mayor. That is all it took, from that
point forward, I was immediately adopted into the family. He barely knew
me when he delivered a wagon load of rough saw timber, we bought to wrap the
outside of our home. He first showed me some tips on how to shiplap this
pine and then he asked me if I had a compound miter saw, at that time I did not
own one. After only knowing me for a just a few minutes, he voluntarily
wanted to loan me his saw, I was speechless at his trust and for being such a
giver to a stranger. He has over the years loaned me his personal tools
that I did not have in my arsenal. In addition, he would always
undercharge me for his materials, products and services; he is a role model
experience this to appreciate it, but Kayo will take a log, cut it on his one-man
sawmill, stack it to dry, dress it out on his planer and make finished cabinets
and furniture to perfection. From the woods, to the kitchen, amazing!
Kayo recently helped me make some beautiful benches from a downed poplar tree;
we sawed up the logs, dried it, planed and built beautiful Pinterest style
benches for Deborah. These one of a kind benches will be heirlooms for my
children and grandchildren. As a side note, Kayo always said it was a one-man
sawmill that would work three men to death, he is right. While
woodworking, he would tell me lets measure twice and cut once; and he purposely
put me on what he called the idiot end of the measuring tape. Officially,
Kayo is 72 and retired, but he works every day doing something.
As a newly
adopted member of his family, Kayo called me to come over on a Saturday night
to the one room house, which is now his cabinet shop, he said “John Giles we
are going to be making music.” I knew about playing music, but he called
it making music. It was old fashion fun, much like the old Saturday night
barn dances, but in this case, locals would come together, play instruments and
sing music. As a hobby, Kayo and his brother would build from scratch
handmade guitars, to date they have made 30, one of a kind guitars.
hospitality, they often wanted us to come play Mexican Train Dominos during a weeknight
and then join them for music making on Saturday night. Before his mother
passed, she would make her three sons a huge country breakfast every Saturday
morning at 7 am sharp. I was invited to one of those historic Saturday
morning breakfasts; I still remember Mrs. Addie Mae Sipper’s homemade biscuits
and gravy. One Saturday morning I was over there making some gift trays
with Kayo, and in walks his brother with homemade biscuits stuffed with fried
salmon. His brother does this every Saturday morning and carries a batch
down to the local hardware store for fellowship and some good eating. The
Sipper family was consumed in being given to hospitality.
One day, I
called looking for Kayo and Olivia didn’t know where he was, mind you it was
pouring down rain. About ten minutes later he called me, and I asked him
where he was. He said, “I was sitting out on the porch John Giles, watching the
rain and thinking about nothing,” is that classic or what? Every Monday
morning you could always count on Kayo coming by the bank sharing an antique
tool or object that was certainly dated but had a very distinct purpose and a
great associated story.
As if life was
not full enough, Kayo’s other hobby was restoring old Rockolas. He has a collection
of about (4,000) 45 RPM records. You can imagine what the background
ambience was during our Mexican Domino games. We had all of our bank
staff dress in 50’s – 60’s clothing one Friday, Kayo brought his Rockola to the
bank lobby for a day of entertainment for our customers and employees.
Today, we see
new epidemics and disorders emerging from couch potatoes watching too much
mindless TV or playing additive video games on the computer, tablets or smart
phones, not Kayo. If Kayo is watching TV, it is probably Andy Griffith or
Gun Smoke. Kayo in his simple living also has a simple menu, he will eat
most any kind of meat and vegetables raised on the farm, but don’t even think
about taking him for Mexican, Chinese or Shushi, no dice.
In life, we
should all strive to live out the Ten Commandments, embracing the purest of
biblical principles, and qualities in order to spill over to others. It
is commonly known in these parts that Kayo for years has demonstrated his
devotion to God, wonderful provider and protector of his family, character,
integrity, work ethic, honesty, given to hospitality, giving and serving
others, prudence, good stewardship, kindness and daily living out the Golden
Rule, just to name a few.
Olivia fostered a rich environment for their sons to obtain a fine education
and to be launched into magnificent careers to provide for their family, which
understandably does not include Kayo’s Cabinet Shop & Sawmill. Sadly,
though on a more sobering note, when God does call on Kayo to exchange the
temporal for the eternal, his unique vocational composition as a one-man sawmill
We sometimes wait too late to bestow
earned accolades to those whose life has enriched us. George William
Childs stated, “I would rather have a plain coffin without a flower, a funeral
without a eulogy than a life without the sweetness of love and sympathy.
Let us learn to anoint our friends beforehand, for their burial, post-mortem
kindness does not cheer the burdened spirit, flowers on a coffin cast no
fragrance backward over the weary way.
Only when the
Lambs Book of Life is opened will we know who all we have touched in
life. For Kayo, the calculations will be staggering when you factor in 50
years of ministry, weddings, funerals, baptisms, customers and friends.
So, Kayo, in keeping
with George William Childs, please allow me to anoint you beforehand, I am honored
to be one of so many you have meaningfully touched… you have me for life.