Baptized in Spring Creek

I don’t remember the guest preacher’s name or the messages he delivered, but I’ll never forget the three-night revival he led at my Uncle Walter’s church.

New Mardrid Mississippi River baptism 09-03-1967          My grandfather’s brother, the Rev. Walter White, was pastor of Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, which was down the street from my grandmother’s house. Because the church could be seen from the house and Uncle Walter always stopped by the house on his way to the church, my brothers and I rarely missed church on first and third Sundays. Uncle Walter pastored a church in Cross City on the second and fourth Sunday, so we were only required to attend at Sunday School and church service at Mt. Nebo on the first and third Sundays, Mt. Nebo’s once-a-month Sunday evening service, holiday services, and revivals.

            My brothers, cousins, and I weren’t looking forward to attending three nights of church service during the middle of the week. But, we had no choice.

            So, we moped down the street that first night.

            We sat twiddling our thumbs through the first part of the service, and we moaned and sighed when the service seemed to linger into the night.

            Then, my uncle introduced the preacher who was delivering the message for the night, and from his first word to his last, we clapped and shouted hallelujah like we’d never done.

            When we walked out the church that first night, we began counting down the hours until the next night’s service.

            Our grandmother didn’t have to tell us to get up and get dressed the next night, and by the time Uncle Walter came by to remind us, we were walking out the house heading to church.

            The second night’s service was just as spirited as the first.

            The third night, we were so moved by the preacher’s message that when asked who was ready to live for God, my brothers, cousins, and I all answered by joining the church.

            My uncle, who had been prodding us to join the church for a few years, was more than a little surprised. Our grandmother and my mother were even more surprised.

            The baptism date was set for the first Sunday of August, a little over a month later.

            During the next few weeks, my grandmother and aunts bought a bunch of white bed sheets then cut and sewed them into ten baptism robes.

            As the big day neared, the spirited joy I felt during the revival turned to fear of the unknown.

            My grandmother tried to calm my fears by giving me a new book of Bible stories and telling me, God loves you, but that did little to calm my fear of what creatures existed beneath the surface of Spring Creek at Folsom Park.

             When the first Sunday morning in August arrived, I stood in the middle of the line of about 16 children. I watched as Uncle Walter and one of the church deacons dipped each of the children in the water then said a blessing over them.

            Because none of the children in front of me came out of the water talking about the creature from the Black Lagoon, my fear disappeared when it came time for me to I step in the water. When I stepped out of the water into my mother’s arms, the spirit I felt during that three-night revival was all over me.

Every now and then, I wish I could step back inside Mt. Nebo M.B. Church, hear the message delivered from the preacher whose name I don’t remember, take a dip in the water at Folsom Park, then step into my mother’s arms and feel that feeling again.

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Addiction: The Killer Inside Our Homes

Davis Owen’s life ended way too soon. But, his story didn’t.

His story is still being told because of his mother’s story.

Her story is about a mother who lost a young son to drug addiction – a mother who turned her loss into a mission to save others.

It is a story of memories, of hindsight, and the unfathomable hurt and hopelessness of parents trying desperately to save their child.

It’s a story worth telling and retelling.

Davis Owen’s family describes him as a brilliant, beautiful, and compassionate child.

He was the oldest son of five children.

He was president of his senior class and an honor student at Kennesaw Mountain High School.

He entered Kennesaw State University upon graduation and made the Dean’s List his first semester.

Davis was the ideal son, but he was living a secret life after becoming addicted to opioid painkillers in his family’s medicine cabinet.

When Michael and Missy Owen found out ab out their son’s addiction, they did what most parents do. They tried to help him.

The Owens first realized the seriousness of the situation on Thanksgiving morning 2013.

“We were going to the family farm and Michael wanted to take the shotguns and teach the kids to shoot,” Missy Owen recalls. “My dad had left each of the grandsons a shotgun when he died and Michael was packing them up. When he opened the first case to check the gun, he found a BB gun instead and we knew immediately what had happened. Davis had pawned two of the three shotguns for money to buy drugs. He loved his “Papah” and would have never done that in a right state of mind. We eventually got the guns back, but we knew Davis had a real and severe problem. We all cried that day as he stood in the bedroom and asked us to help him.”

Davis Owen entered a drug rehabilitation program.

That didn’t help.

With no job and no access to the prescription pain medications, Davis turned to a more readily available opioid – heroin.

Davis was living with his parents when on the evening of March 4, 2014, the doorbell rang. The Owens opened the door and a detective told them something that would change their lives forever.

Their 20-year-old son had been found dead in his car with a needle and heroin beside him.

After Davis’ death, his mother did something she had not been able to do while he was alive.

“When you’re living with a child who has an addiction, you’re so worried, always trying to chase that child that you don’t have time to research and learn how to help your child,” Missy Owen says. “What I did was write a book, “Heroin is Killing Our Children,” and put in that book 365 days of things that I learned about heroin, opioids, and drug addiction. I researched every day for a year. And I put in there everything that I thought would help somebody save their child.”

Topping the list of things she learned was “clean out your medicine cabinets” to prevent access to prescription medications that can begin the path to addiction and death.

Today, Missy Owen heads a foundation she started in honor of Davis, the Davis Direction Foundation, a community and national resource for opioid and heroin addiction and recovery.

I never met Davis, but his mother has made sure I’ll never forget his story.

 

Remembering Mr. Bean

grandfathers photoMr. Bean was my grandfather, but I called him “Daddy.”

His name was Willie White, but I hardly ever heard anyone call him by that name. Instead, my grandmother and his friends called him, “Bean.”
He was “Uncle Bean” to his nieces and nephews; He was “Mr. Bean” to unrelated younger folks.
His big brother, my Uncle Walter, who was a couple of years older, called him, Son.
And his children and grandchildren, we all called him, Daddy.
By the time I came along, my grandfather was nearing retirement. He’d worked with his brother as a logger for years, but health problems were forcing him into retirement. What         I mostly remember are the years after he retired.
When my grandfather could no longer work as a logger, he became an entrepreneur.
He grunted earthworms and sold them as fishing baits.
He raised rabbits then sold them.
He collected aluminum and scrap metal then sold it.
He even put a vending machine on our front porch and sold sodas.
My grandfather did what he had to do to take care of his family.
Becoming an entrepreneur was an easy decision for my grandfather. After he retired, he quickly realized he had everything he needed to “sit and watch” as he made money.
He had a light brown Chevy truck.
He had a big yard.
A front porch.
And, he had an able-body workforce of children and grandchildren, who were already paid in shelter, food, clothing, and a lot of love.
For his fishing bait business, we would load up on the back of his truck with our wooden stakes and iron bars then head out to the woods, where my grandfather spent the day watching us grunt baits. I always stayed near my grandfather, who loved using snakes for target practice. When we got home, we became sales clerks, counting out fishing baits to customers, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
For his rabbit business, my grandfather bought several rabbits, sat in a chair and instructed us on how to build rabbit cages, and then waited. And not that long.
For his aluminum and metal collection business, he loaded us up on the back of his truck and we road to all of his established collection sites. When we got home, we processed and bagged the metal then packed the bags on the back of his truck for shipment to the recycling center.
Selling sodas didn’t start out as a business venture. Initially, my grandfather’s plan was to stop us from spending every quarter we got our hands on buying RC and Nehi sodas from Mrs. Lillie down the street. After he put the vending machine on the front porch, he quickly realized that his household members weren’t the only ones buying drinks from the machine. All times of day and night, we would hear people walking up on the front porch to buy drinks from the machine.
My grandfather was also a wise man.
He knew that all work and no play does not make for good children. So, when it was time to clock out, he let us play. And play we did.
On July 3, 1976, Daddy closed shop.
I was 11.

The Handwritten Letter in the Mailbox

mailbox photo How long has it been since you opened the mailbox and saw a handwritten letter from a family member, friend, or someone you used to know?

It seems the art of writing letters has disappeared. And oh how I miss it!

Rushing to the mailbox and finding a letter from an out-of-town relative, one of the 4-H friends I had scattered across the country, or a local friend who had moved away, was the highlight of many of my childhood days.

My grandmother was a letter writer, so there was always stationery, pens, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps at our house. Because my grandmother loved writing letters, she loved nice stationery. Even if the stationery didn’t have a pretty design or pretty color, if it was plain, then it had to be on fancy paper.

The most anticipated letters, the ones we waited for our grandmother to receive and then read to us, were the ones from her mother.

My brothers, cousins, and I were entranced by our great-grandmother for a number of reasons.

She wasn’t a medical doctor, but her title was Dr. Berthenia Horne, which was clearly stated on the pre-printed return address label.

She was part of the National Baptist Convention, so she traveled the world through her Christian ministry and mailed us pictures from nearly everywhere she went. One of my all-time favorite pictures is a picture of her kneeling at the monumental site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. I still have that picture and I pull it out for display every Christmas season.

As soon as I was old enough to write, my grandmother started including letters I wrote in the letters she wrote to her mother. As I grew older, I began writing and mailing my own letters, which started a letter-writing correspondence that lasted until my great-grandmother’s death in 1998.

I have this same type of long-time correspondence via handwritten letters with a few others.

My brother, Tony, and I have written back and forth since I first left home for college in August 1982. Our correspondence via letters continues to this day.

My brother, Ken, wasn’t too big on writing letters, so I still have the one letter that I can remember him writing me.

I also have a letter my uncle, Archie Thomas, wrote me when he was doing a tour of Iraq during Desert Storm in 1991. I was living in Detroit at the time, and my grandmother had requested that everyone in the family write my uncle. So, I did. I was overjoyed when I received his handwritten response.

The number of handwritten letters I get in the mail has the decreased over the years. This year, I’ve only received two, and both were from my brother, Tony.

Email, social media, and cell phones have all contributed to the decline in writing letters. Now, instead of grabbing a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope, and a stamp, people just log onto their electronic device, press a few keys, and the message is sent and received in a matter of seconds.
I don’t have a problem with technology. I use it every day, nearly all day because it’s faster and more convenient.
But ten years from now, when reminiscing about family members and old friends, nothing compares to being able to hold a letter that they took the time to write, place in an envelope, and mail to you. It may have taken a few days to receive it, but the memory of having received it, will last forever.     

What’s Wrong With My Children Calling Me Alexis?

Differences-Ma-Mum-Mom-Mam

I don’t know who to blame.

I could blame my oldest first cousin, Gloria, since she was the first one to call our grandparents “Momma” and “Daddy” and her parents Ann and Charles.

I could blame my grandparents for not relinquishing the titles “Momma” and “Daddy” when their grown children became parents.

And I could blame my mother and my uncles Charles and Archie for not insisting that we call them by their proper titles.

I could lay the blame on all of these folks, but until the family was all gathered outside under a tent watching boxing one Saturday night, I never knew there was anything to blame them for.

We were watching the Floyd Mayweather boxing match when my cousin Tonja’s daughter turned and asked, “Antmar, do you think there’s something wrong with my children calling me Alexis?”

Before I could answer, Alexis’ sister, Natasia, chimed in. “You couldn’t pay one of my children to call me by my name.”

TaSonia, their cousin, nodded in agreement.

“Well, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Alexis countered. “Even if they call me Alexis, they know I’m their mother.” Then she turned and tried to get Tonja’s attention by calling out, “Ma.”

Until that moment, I’d never noticed that all of my cousins’ children call them Momma or Daddy. None of them refer to their parents by name.

My cousin Sonja, Tasonia’s mother, eyed me as I pondered Alexis’ question. As usual, she was ready to pounce on my response if it wasn’t what she thought I should say. So I knew I had to choose my words carefully. Before I could figure out how to answer this question in a way that would please everyone, Alexis inquired, “Didn’t all of y’all call Grandma Doris ‘Momma’ and your mommas Ann and Lois?”

She had a point.

My brothers and I called our grandmother “Momma” and our mother “Lois.” My Uncle Charles’ children called our grandmother “Momma” and called their mother “Ann.” My Uncle Archie’s children did the same. They called our grandmother “Momma” and their mother “Boot.” And, to all us, “Daddy” was our grandfather.

So I agreed with Alexis.

I also agreed that even though we called our grandparents “Momma” and “Daddy,” we all knew who our parents were. Our parents gave up the title in My brothers and I lived with my mother and grandparents, but my cousins lived with their parents.

When we were growing up, a lot of my friends used to ask why I called my mother Lois. I knew what they meant, but I usually responded, “That’s her name.” I’m guessing the real reason we called our parents by their names and our grandparents “Momma” and “Daddy” was because we were copying our uncles who were still teens and our parents.

I thought this would answer Alexis’ question, but it didn’t.

“But is something wrong with children calling their parents by their name if the parent doesn’t mind?” she asked again.

I want to agree with Alexis because I’ve called my mother “Lois” and my father “Tyrone” my entire life, and I think I turned out okay. But judging by the response of my cousins, who also did this, I think I may have missed out on something by not being a parent like them.

So I’m turning this one over to you.

What do you think?

Santa, I’ve Been Good

black_santa_ap_mediumI have. I really have.

All I want for Christmas is to be put back on Santa’s list.
            Even though I haven’t lived with the threat of being scratched off of Santa’s list in a rather long, long time, I’ve still tried my best to be nice. I’ve brushed my teeth, washed my face, and combed my hair every morning like I was taught to do. I’ve respected my elders and stayed out of the way of our young (to avoid the fate of that grandmother who got ran over by a reindeer). And I’ve dreamed of a white Christmas, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and waited for the Christmas when Santa would deem me fit to be put back on his list.
            Christmas is and has always been my favorite time of the year. As a child, it was even more special because, although Christmas Day came only once a year, Santa always came twice.
            Santa’s “big” visit was on Christmas Day.
            My brothers and I would wake up before dawn to a living room that looked like the toy sections of TG&Y, Western Auto, and Southern Auto combined. Even though my grandmother and mother had threatened to have our names scratched off of Santa’s list, it seemed the jolly old elf had dumped his entire sleigh at our house. A few years, when my cousins also lived at our grandparents’ house, Santa needed three sleighs to haul the toy list for the twelve of us. We were so excited about the toys Santa had left on display that it was usually noon before we got around to unwrapping the presents under the tree.  Santa’s other visit, a sort of prequel to Christmas, usually occurred the week before Christmas.
            My brothers and I never knew how we got on Santa’s other list – the one he put the local Rotary Club in charge of, but we were glad to be on it. The Rotarians didn’t keep as watchful eye on us as Santa, so we didn’t have to worry about being scratched off of their prequel-to-Christmas-Day list. And, because our grandmother and mother appreciated the club’s acts of kindness, we didn’t have to worry about them threatening to have us taken off the Rotarians’ list.
             The invitation to the Rotary Club Christmas Luncheon arrived a few days before the event, which was held at various locations around town. The days leading up to the luncheon were just like the days leading up to Christmas. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t sit still. And we couldn’t stop talking about the gifts we hoped Santa would leave for us at the luncheon.
“Just be thankful for whatever ‘he’ leaves you,” my grandmother would remind us. And we were thankful.
              The luncheon that stands out the most in my mind was held at the Boys and Girls Club facility on Washington Street. It looked like the Rotarians’ Santa had unloaded two sleighs of gift-wrapped toys for all the “good” children on their list. My brothers and I needed a dufflebag to carry all the gifts we received.
              Several years later, I was disappointed to find out my brothers’ names made the Rotary Club’s Santa List but mine didn’t. Apparently, I had reached the age limit for their list.
              A few years ago, when my name stopped appearing on the gifts under the tree, I surmised that I had reached the age limit for Santa’s list too.
             But, I haven’t given up trying to get back on it.
             This year, I’ve tried not to cry. I’ve tried not to pout. And I’ve tried to be good and it wasn’t just for goodness sakes.
             So, if I wake up Christmas morning and find that my name didn’t make it back on Santa’s list, there’s only one thing left for me to do – spend the next twelve months searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth.