By Gary Lloyd
In a dimly lit living room in an old house on Pinson’s Main Street, past icons surround James Price.
Benjamin Franklin, the first weatherman in America John Campanius Holm and Edward H. Stoll peer over a recliner from a back wall. Thomas Jefferson sits in plain view from the front of the room. Helmut E. Landsberg, a noted climatologist, sits low in the dining room, the newest addition to the den filled with old barometers, a thermograph and other weather-related gadgets.
The men watch Price, through picture frame glass, as he checks the low temperature before the sun comes up, as he tediously scribbles about rainfall, as he learns about what the sky has brought to other areas of the United States on the Weather Channel.
Price, a cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service, has kept weather records in Pinson since Jan. 1, 1950. The men on the walls are awards, presented to Price for his dedication over the last 63 years.
He keeps 21 numerical entries per day in his weather books, rising before sunset to record the low temperature, staying up until past midnight to record the day’s high and total rainfall. Living his life by the weather means he catches some sleep during the afternoons.
“I tell people, I say, ‘You can call me too early in the morning but you can’t call me too late at night,” Price says.
Price was born next door to the house in which he currently lives on Nov. 12, 1925. He was fascinated by the weather not long after his birth. He nearly died of pneumonia as a toddler and when it snowed in 1926-27, Price’s father carried him outside and let him touch the snow with his fingers. To this day, Price will watch snowflakes flutter in the sky on every rare occurrence the state of Alabama provides.
Price says weather has been his only real “claim to fame,” despite being a registered pharmacist for 50 years. He earned a degree in pharmacy from Samford University in 1960. He ran Price’s Drugs, on the corner of Main Street and Bradford Road in Pinson, from the 1940s until he closed the store in 1985. His grandfather started the business in 1898.
Price, 87, has a sharp-as-a-tack memory. He can tell you about his wife, the former Eugenia Clements, now deceased, sitting next to him in economics class at Jefferson County High School in Tarrant in the early 1940s. He recalls that her dad, J.R. Clements, was the school’s football coach and taught physics, chemistry and general record keeping. He remembers her address during high school and that after being discharged from the Army as World War II was ending, he hitchhiked from Montgomery back to his hometown, and married Eugenia on Jan. 5, 1946. They had a son, James Stephen Price, who has a son, Luke.
Price vividly remembers that his drugstore was robbed at gunpoint five times while he was at the front desk, memories that draw small, soft tears from his eyes, like a light drizzle from the sky. After one of those robberies, in which the gun-wielding man demanded the narcotic Demerol, Price and another business owner chased the culprit 52 miles to Cullman, before the police nabbed the suspect.
“I lived my whole life there in the store,” says Price, who walked home and picked pecans in his backyard the day he closed the store in 1985.
In Price’s backyard is his instrument shelter, which was his “in” with the National Weather Service to become an observer. He calls in his observations each day to the weather service, and when he tabulates a full month of weather data, he mails a copy to the national office in Asheville, N.C., mails another to the Alabama office and keeps one for himself.
He jokingly admits he keeps too many records, but they’re necessary for the weather service, and Price is dedicated to what he does. He also uses them for trivia, preparing for comments from locals about how cold it was a certain morning, how stifling hot it was one afternoon, by keeping that month’s daily high and low records from the last 63 years written tiny and neat on the backs of business cards he keeps in his shirt pocket.
“I’ll remind them that in 1952 it was 104 on the 27th of July,” Price says. “Then they’re surprised.”
He can tell you that this June was the ninth-wettest June in Pinson in the last 63 years, that March 2002 was the 21st-coldest March in the last 63 years.
A collector of thermometers, coins, hats, newspaper front pages and more, Price also keeps a card with a list of each month’s full moon names. He’s tried to be as accurate and official as possible since he first began keeping weather records.
Last September, Price’s long-running collection of Pinson’s weather data nearly came to an end, when meeting a group of friends called the “Liars Club” at Jack’s in Pinson, he was hit by a car, breaking his hip, resulting in replacement surgery.
“My lucky day,” Price jokes.
Price has had a valve replaced in his heart, too, at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. He’s had six back surgeries and 19 epidural blocks, he says. A hip replacement and other surgeries won’t keep him from continuing his 63 years of keeping Pinson’s weather data.
“I’ll stop when the good Lord stops me,” he says.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.