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.

 

Fruitcakes and Silver Icicles

silver-iciclesSilver icicles.

            The first time I broke away from my grandmother’s Christmas traditions was the year I got rid of the silver icicles on our Christmas tree.
            My grandmother believed that traditions help make holidays special. This was most apparent when it came to her Christmas traditions.
            She had to have a Christmas fruitcake that had to be made before the first of December so it could age properly.
            Even though the same items could be found in local stores, she had to order at least one thing from the Sears Christmas catalog.
            And she had to have a Christmas tree covered in silver icicles.
            As long as these three traditions weren’t broken, we had a merry Christmas.
            When I was old enough to stand in a chair, I watched her make her fruitcake, wrap it and place it in a holiday-themed cake tin, then open the tin every few days and sprinkle the cake with brandy.
            By the time I was ten, she had taught me how to fill out catalog forms and call customer service numbers to place her Christmas orders.
            And as far back as I can remember, I decorated our Christmas tree as she sat in a chair directing.
            When my grandmother moved into a new house in 1988, she started a new tradition. Instead of directing me how to put up the Christmas tree, she told me the task was all mine. I was excited for about fifteen seconds.
            “You can decorate the tree by yourself this year,” she informed me.
            “Really?” I asked, trying not to let my excitement show.
            “It’s all yours,” she replied. “But, you’re going to have to get a new tree, new lights, bulbs, a star, and icicles.”
            I knew what that meant. The task was all mine, but she still wanted her tree done her way.
            I was moseying through a store gathering the items for my grandmother’s Christmas tree when I suddenly felt the urge to rebel, to break with tradition. I asked myself what she would do if I changed things up a little. Throw the tree out on the trash pile? And me with it?
           “She might,” my good sense answered.
            But I didn’t listen.
            That evening, my grandmother sat in her chair and watched as I put up the tree. She nodded pleasingly as I draped the lights around the tree. She said how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. When I took the red bows out of the bag, she asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
            “Hang them on the tree,” I answered.
            “I don’t think those will look good with icicles,” she said.
            “I didn’t think so either,” I responded. “That’s why I didn’t get any icicles.”
            My grandmother tried to hide her frown, but it was hard to hide a frown that covered her entire body.
            When I was done placing the bows over the tree and placing the star on top, my grandmother’s frown turned upside into a smile.
            And we all had a merry Christmas.
            Last year, I broke the Christmas tree tradition again.
            Out went yesteryears glistening ornaments and colorful ribbons and bows. In came fall foliage and white doves.
            As I put up the tree, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to see if my grandmother was sitting in the chair watching.
            If she had been, I’m sure she looked over the rims of her glasses and wondered when they started making pre-lit tree. I thought I heard her say how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. And when I reached in the box and took out the brown, yellow, orange, red, silver, and gold leaves and then the white doves, I know she frowned and asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
           When I was done placing the foliage and doves over the tree and placing the star on top, her  frown couldn’t help turning upside into a smile.
            And it turned out to be a merry Christmas.

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?

Mom Wasn’t An Old Lady Living In A Shoe

My mother was not an old lady living in a shoe.

old lady shoe tiny house kids fort playhouse

Unlike that old lady, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do, my mother only had three. And she knew just what to do with them – put them to work.

For the longest time, I thought my mother had me and my brothers for two reasons: she wanted children and she needed a workforce.

The day I began walking my mother, the taskmaster, told me to, “Put that bottle down and get to work.”

For the next few years, I thought the English language only consisted of the three-word sentences that my mother used. Go do that. Come do this. Hand me that. Pick that up. Put that down.

The tasks were never ending.

By the time my two brothers, Ken and Tony, came along a year and then two years later, I was ready to put in for my Social Security. Unfortunately, in those days, three-year-olds did not qualify for retirement.

I warned my brothers about the potential consequences of learning to walk, but they chose to ignore my warnings and walked their way into my mother’s workforce.

Two labor principles guided my mother’s workforce. The first principle was, if we could do it, she didn’t have to. The second principle was, do it right.

If we could cook, that meant she didn’t have to. So, although my grandmother constantly argued at my mother for not paying attention when she was trying to teach her to cook, my mother made sure my brothers and I knew how to cook.

If we could sweep and mop, then she didn’t have to. So she made sure we knew how to do both. Every Saturday morning, after cartoons went off, she sat and watched as we swept and mopped the living room, hallway, bathroom, kitchen, our bedroom, hers, and the front porch.

If we could wash our own clothes and then hang them outside on the clothesline, she didn’t have to. So, after we were done sweeping and mopping, we began sorting, washing, and then hanging up clothes. When the clothes were dry, we took them in, folded them, and then put them away.

My mother didn’t like ironing, so she taught us how to stand in a chair and iron.

She didn’t like doing the dishes, so we pulled that same chair up to the kitchen sink and washed dishes.

And she didn’t like looking at messy children’s bedrooms, so we made sure she didn’t see any messy children’s bedrooms.

Our mother wasn’t a perfect taskmaster. Her Achilles heel as a taskmaster was she didn’t like having to go behind us to straighten out a task we didn’t do right. So, because I was the oldest child and therefore labor supervisor, I always went behind my brothers to make sure our mother didn’t have to go behind us.

I was 11 when I discovered that there was no room for advancement in my mother’s workforce and that my mother had an Achilles heel. That’s when I stopped checking behind my brothers and I stopped trying to be her best unpaid employee. “We’re not doing all this work for free,” I informed my mother when she learned of the mutiny I was orchestrating.

“You don’t work for free,” she said. “You work because you live here. And you work because I buy you food and clothes.”

That ended the mutiny.

Like I said, my mother was not the old lady who lived in a shoe.

The Dad She Will Remember

memories photosMemories are scripted by the person remembering.

Was he really that nice?

Was she really that mean?

Were times really that good?

I am asked these types of questions all the time.

People read my newspaper columns and wonder did the memories I write about really happen the way I remember them. Then, when they see me, their questions begin. Most of their questions are about people we both knew and, sometimes, have slightly different recollections of.

“I remember her,” one person may recall. “She was pushy and had to have everything her way.”

And my response might be, “Well, I thought she was a bit wishy-washy.”

“Really?” the person is likely to respond with a dumbfounded stare. “We have to be talking about two different people or you have amnesia.”

I don’t have a problem when I encounter someone whose memories differ from mine. That’s because, like beauty is in the eyes of the person looking, memories are scripted in the minds of the person remembering.

During the past eight years, I’ve had the sometimes arduous task of scripting memories for my niece, Kennadie, because she doesn’t have her own memories of her dad, who passed July 16, 2008 when she was a year and eight months old.

My brother Ken’s two sons were older – 10 and 21, when he passed, so they remember him. Sometimes, I have to fill in the blanks for them, but their memories of him are mostly their own.

When I’m with Kennadie, she often makes “if my dad was here” comments, but she doesn’t ask me a whole lot of questions about him. I think it’s because, even though she’s a little girl, she’s wise enough to know that her uncle has not fully found that happy place when it comes to remembering her dad.

However, this past weekend during our family reunion weekend in Jacksonville, she couldn’t resist bombarding me with questions about him. I think hearing family members, young and old, talking about Ken, made her want to know more.

I answered most of her questions truthfully.

“Did my daddy come to the family reunions?” she asked. “And did he have fun?”

“Yes and yes,” I answered.

“Did my daddy talk a lot?” she asked.

My uncle Moon didn’t give me time to answer. “Yes, and that’s where you get all that mouth from,” he responded.

My responses to a few questions were sugarcoated.

“Did you and my daddy argue a lot?” she asked.

“No,” I told a little white lie.

We argued all of the time. It wasn’t because we didn’t get along. It was because I was the big brother who thought it was my job to always tell my two younger brothers what to do.

Kennadie’s questions didn’t cease.

By the time we made it back home, she had relived some of the 42 years I spent with her dad. She knew how fun loving he was and how nitpicky he could be. She knew his favorite color and his favorite sayings. She knew how much he loved his family and how much we loved him. And she knew he wasn’t perfect.

Memories are scripted by the person remembering them, so the brother I remember is the dad she will remember.

And, in his absence, that’s what he would have wanted.