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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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.

The Braves were “Absolute Viewing”

braves-goalball

                Atlanta Braves infielder Gordon Beckham plays goalball with blinders on. 

            Back in the days when local televisions only showed thirteen channels.
            When most houses only had one television and it wasn’t a flat screen that covered an entire wall.
            When fights over who was going to watch what on television ended with my grandmother turning off the television so no one got to watch anything.
             Back  in those days, it seems the only time we weren’t fighting over the television was when one of the handful of television shows considered “absolute viewing” was on.
            Saturday morning cartoons, William Conrad’s television series “Cannon,” any John Wayne movie, Saturday afternoon wrestling, and the Atlanta Braves’ baseball games were the only shows considered “absolute viewing” in our house. There were reasons the television was always on whenever these shows came on.
            The television belonged to the kids in the house on Saturday morning.
            My grandfather was a huge fan of the detective show “Cannon” and John Wayne movies.
            Everyone in the house liked Saturday afternoon wrestling.
            And, my Uncle Walter, who didn’t live with us but visited each and every day, was the Braves number one fan.
           Before the Atlanta Braves became America’s baseball team, they were my Uncle Walter’s team. And it seems like his favorite place to watch the Braves play was at the home of his younger brother – my grandfather.
           It didn’t matter what was on television, the channel was changed when Uncle Walter drove up and announced with a question, “Y’all got the TV on the Braves games, don’t you?”
           Even if my grandfather was watching “Cannon” or a John Wayne movie, he would readily change the channel to the Braves game. My grandfather loved the Braves, but he wasn’t as big of a fan as his big brother.
            Because the television only belonged unquestionably to us on Saturday mornings, we pouted and turned the channel from whatever we were watching when we saw Uncle Walter drive up.
            “I’m tired of watching the Braves,” we mumbled under our breaths as we prepared to watch the game.
            Watching the Braves wasn’t always a bad thing. There were some bright moments, like watching the game when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record.
            My grandfather passed July 3, 1976, but the Braves continued to be absolute viewing because Uncle Walter continued to visit each and every day. And, during baseball season, his visits lasted until the Braves’ games ended.
            In hindsight, perhaps the best part of being forced to watch the Braves play was the sense of family I felt watching the games with my grandfather, Uncle Walter, and the rest of the family.  
            Last month, I had the privilege of spending the day with some members of the Atlanta Braves as they celebrated Community Heroes Week and honored Hal Simpson, founder of the Georgia Blind Sports Association, and Hal’s son, Matt, who is part of the U.S. Paralympics goalball team that won a Silver Medal in Rio this month.
          The Simpson’s presented a short lesson on how to play goalball and then the Braves’ players put on blinders and took to the court. Goalball is played on an indoor court. During the game, two teams face each other and try to prevent the other team from getting a ball pass them into their goal. All players must wear black-out goggles to even the playing field between those who are blind and visually impaired.
          I didn’t play, but as I watched Matt and Braves players scramble around on the floor, I couldn’t help thinking about my Uncle Walter. The Atlanta Braves playing goalball would be “absolute viewing” for him.

 

 

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.