DR. J. PAUL HUGHES had a head start on life by being born to parents who lived in Esto, an idyllic little town on the Alabama-Florida line. They lived on the south side of the railroad tracks, near the Wellses and some of the Kirklands. Motor and Humpy Pitts also lived nearby, a little farther back into the woods.
Paul’s grandparents, Ethel and Cullen Hughes, lived a couple of blocks away, if we’d had blocks back then in Esto. So did his father’s sister, known in the family as Doll, who was my mother. Paul and I were close in age — I’m two years older — and we were playmates as far back as I can remember.
What I recall most fondly about Paul’s early years is when Uncle Leonard and Aunt Sarah bought him a swimming pool — just a little above-ground tin-sided round pool that held about two feet of water, but it seemed rich in a time and place where swimming was done in Ten Mile Creek. Paul and I spent hours in that pool, which sat out in their yard beside a big stinky gardenia bush. Our favorite game was to hold our noses and dive underwater, looking to be the first to find the bottle cap one of us had thrown backwards over our shoulder.
As we got a little older, our hobbies grew more sophisticated. We began collecting and identifying rocks we found on nearby dirt roads. We used our crayons to draw flags from countries around the world. Eventually we took up stamp collecting. We claimed a corner of Mama and Papa’s junk house and set up the H&R Hobby Shop. Why his name came first I can’t imagine, although it’s true he always was a little smarter.
Wells Grocery Store sat just beside Mama’s house. One day Mr. Wells decided to put in a coin laundry. The washers and dryers came in huge cardboard boxes, and we had weeks of fun playing in those big boxes.
Perhaps inevitably, Esto became too small for Paul. He and his parents moved across the state line to Hartford, Alabama, about 10 miles north. We thought they were puttin’ on airs by moving to town, but off they went, and into a new brick house, no less. Our play days were over.
But we remained friends. Years later, after he’d finished college and medical school, he came to live with me in Chicago for a few months while he interned at Cook County Hospital. By then our hobbies and interests were considerably more refined. I especially remember dollar pitchers of beer at Streeter’s Tavern on Thursday nights.
He became a brilliant physician, an astute investor and a talented musician who played many instruments and recorded quite a few albums. But he never lost his taste for beer. It did him in, at only 61, three days before Christmas. He will be buried this morning back near home in the Hartford cemetery.
OBITUARY | Dr. J. Paul Hughes (1957-2018)