Remember

Today is my mama’s birthday. Many would say she would have been 95 today, she is 95 today, but she is celebrating in heaven. I may not get to celebrate with her in body today, but I will celebrate today with her in spirit and remembrance.

I remember sitting on the edge of the tub with a skinned up knee. Mama reached into the medicine cabinet above the sink and pulled out a bottle of ST 37 and some cotton balls and soothed the scrape with her gentle touch.

I remember the smell of bacon traveling down the hall and finding its way into my room signaling that breakfast was almost ready and I need to get up and get ready for school.

I remember her tears when she was told that one of her sons had been killed in an accident.

I remember my baptism and looking out from the baptism pool and seeing her sitting in the pews beaming with pride.

I remember her driving the Vista Cruiser taking neighborhood children across town to elementary school.

I remember her smiles when family had gathered together for Christmas.

I remember her wanting one last hug on the porch as I got in my car and left for my first day of college.

I remember her loading the washing machine, unloading the dryer and folding clothes and asking what I had learned in school today and did I want a snack.

I remember her sitting poised and proud with other families as they watched their sons and daughters receive their commissions on a parade field.

I remember my last day of jump school at Fort Benning, mama saw me and said, “I looked up and wondered if that was my boy jumping out of that airplane!”

I remember her telling me that she would not be the only woman in my life anymore, but she would always be the first.

I remember the open arms always given to a son who may have stumbled a few times.

I remember having lunch one day and pulling out the chair next to me so we could sit side by side, only to have her move across the table so she could look straight into my face.

I remember her cuddling my newborn daughter. Her eyes revealed the words in her heart.

I remember the love in your eyes the last day that I saw you.

I remember saying goodbye to you for the last time. Almost a year ago now. I remember you every day, not just today on your birthday. I still talk to you, but I miss hearing your voice. You continue to live in the hearts, minds and souls of everyone you touched. I’m sure you welcomed Aunt Angie and Bonnie with big hugs in heaven.

We will always remember.

Happy Birthday Mama.

 

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A Note from Santa

This time of the year triggers many memories when I hearken back to my childhood. This year is different. This is the first Christmas in my life that I will not hear my mother’s voice wish me a “Merry Christmas Chipper!” This year, the avalanche of memories rushing through head remind me of how very fortunate I have been in this life.
Being a member of the over 50 crowd, I have gone through many Christmas days. I was a lucky young lad when Santa made his rounds. One year, my little brother and I woke up to matching sets of cowboy gear. Clad with our cowboy hats and six-guns, we struck a fine pose next to the Christmas tree that year.

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Another time, Santa brought us a fine set of G.I. olive drab fatigues, complete with a beret and a wooden M-1 rifle. We blended in well when our mother took our picture next to the tanks next door at the National Guard Armory.
G.I. Joe’s, BB guns, footballs, baseball gloves, bicycles and other exciting toys to bring Christmas joy to little boys. All the neighborhood girls and boys would be out in the yards soon on Christmas day, playing with their newfound gizmos and gadgets from Santa’s visit. One of my childhood neighbors and friends once mentioned on a Facebook post that we lived an idyllic childhood in our little hometown. His words ring true to me as well, I think of the old TV show, “Leave it to Beaver”, when I think back to my childhood.

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During the 1960’s, many animated Christmas shows were broadcast for the first time on TV. One of my favorites that I remember was “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. During one Christmas season, I made special mention of Rudolf when I was writing my letter to Santa Clause. I remember dutifully writing my letter and asking Santa to bring Rudolf with him on his visit this year. Living in the Deep South, many of our Christmas days were bright and sunny and there would have been no need for Rudolph to light the way. My mother took our letters and said she would mail them off to Santa Clause.
When Christmas day came, my little brother and I dashed into the living room that morning and waded in to the bounty from Santa. A G.I. Joe with an orange scuba suit with an underwater sea sled, a football, cowboy boots, boy, I was all set! My mother came in, watched the festive free-for-all, and smiled as we looked at amazement at each new gift from Santa. She briefly interrupted me and pointed up at the top of our Christmas tree. She said, “Look! You got a note from Santa Clause!” I looked up at the top of the tree and I saw a piece of notebook paper taped to one of the branches. My mother brought it down and we sat down and read it together,
Dear Chip,
I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas! I wanted to let you know that I received your letter and I brought Rudolph with me on my trip this year. Merry Christmas!
Love, Santa Clause
I looked at my mother and said “WOW! Santa Clause wrote me a letter and brought Rudolph!” The joy in a little boy’s heart was expressed on his face as he gazed up into his mother’s eyes. I took the letter and put it in a special box where I kept the “stuff’ I collected. Years later as a teenager, as I was going through my special box, I read the letter again. Penned in a beautiful cursive script, the letter brought as much joy to me then as when I first saw it. My mother had the most wonderful handwriting I have ever seen. Of course, my opinion is biased, but I think many of her friends and family would agree that her cards and letters were a fine example of cursive writing. Unfortunately, over the course of time, that particular letter has disappeared from the many mementos that I have collected over the years, but its meaning is one of the foremost memories in my heart. I was so blessed as a child to receive many toys and gifts from Santa and my family, but I think the most precious gift of all was the gift of a mother’s love. The most meaningful gift I received that Christmas was not found under the tree, but written on a piece of paper. A gift that followed me all of my life and continues to live in my heart and soul. I was blessed to share 54 wonderful Christmas seasons with my mother, but I miss her today. Her unwavering faith and love inspired me while she was here. Now that she is in heaven, her memory will follow me for my lifetime and I will always remember my note from Santa.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Smolka

This week will be the anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s history. Seventy-three years ago, United States Marines landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal. This marked the first ground action against the Japanese Empire following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Among those first Marines who stepped onto the beaches was PFC John J. Smolka. He would play a significant role in the campaign that ensued. My father met “Johnny” after the war and they became close friends. He would become my friend as well.
I could see his big grin through the open window of his beige Ford Torino as he turned into our driveway. I would interrupt my session of playing in the yard to rush over and say hello. He would get out of his car and say, “Hello Chipper!”, and I would greet him and walk with him into our home.
Throughout my childhood and into my years in high school, Johnny was a frequent dinner guest. When my father would roll in from work, he would announce, “Smolka’s coming over”, as he passed through the kitchen on his way to change his clothes. My mother silently acknowledged his statement by pulling another plate out of the cupboard and setting it on the table.
As we sat around our kitchen table, enjoying the bounty that my mother had prepared for supper, Johnny would entertain us with quips and quotes and comments on the news of the day. His voice was distinct and loud, and his diction was the envy of any college English professor. He could tell a story and capture his audience. As a young boy, I would savor those moments when Johnny would come over and visit with our family. He and my father would often enjoy a Michelob Lite after dinner. The meal and his beer would be his primer before he began the entertainment.
While I was going through my old footlocker to find any memorabilia of my friend, I could only find one photo with Johnny. On the left side of the picture is my mother and father, sharing a laugh about something. On the far right is a skinny kid with a “sheepish” grin on his face. That’s me. In the center of the picture, as he was in many things he did, was Johnny, looking forward with his effervescent smile and an eagle, globe and anchor tattoo on his arm.

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Johnny grew up in Niles, Ohio. He was born in 1911 and would come into manhood around the beginning of the Great Depression. I asked Johnny one time what was the origin of his name Smolka. He promptly gave me a brief history lesson on his Bohemian ancestry. His ancestry was Czech. His ancestors had emigrated from the Bohemian lands that were then part of the Austrian Empire.
When Johnny was a young man during the Depression years, he spent time riding the rails of America as a “Hobo”. Listening to Johnny talk about the sights he had seen captured my imagination. Through his eyes, I could experience all of those places and all of his adventures. During those years, I think Johnny also dabbled in umpiring baseball games. One of his dreams and passions was to become a professional baseball umpire.
Johnny was nearly thirty years old when he joined the Marines in 1940. He was trained as a radio operator and would later serve as recreation director at two different Marine bases at Mt. Martha Balcombe in Australia and Puvuvu (Russell Island) during World War II. Johnny was literally “the old man” around his fellow Marine recruits. It may seem that Johnny had the “dream” job as a recreational director on a Marine base, but he paid his dues at Guadalcanal.
Sitting at our kitchen table, I would write down names of people and places that Johnny was talking about between his sips of beer. I wish I had kept those precious notes that held the names of Vandergrift, Puller and then PFC Smolka, but they may yet still be in a lost notebook in my mother’s attic. I remember Johnny telling a story about speaking with Major General Vandegrift on the beaches of Guadalcanal and listening to the discussions he was having with his commanders about the battle. He also talked about a Lieutenant Colonel who led the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, by the name of Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. Former Marines need no explanation, but many of you who read this essay may not know of the names of Vandegrift and Puller, but students of history, particularly Military history, should recognize these two legendary figures in Marine Corps history.
I particularly remember a story Johnny told about being near the mouth of a river and under heavy fire from Japanese rifles, machine guns and mortars. The Marines on the beach needed some fire support from one of the Navy vessels stationed offshore. I guess being early in the war, radio communications between Marines on the beach and Navy ships was not optimal, but the Marines had a solution. That solution was accomplished by PFC John J. Smolka. In addition to being a proficient radio operator, Johnny was an expert in semaphore communication. Semaphore is the use of hand-held flags to communicate visually by holding the flags in different positions corresponding to letters of the alphabet. The Marine commander, Puller, wanted Johnny to signal a U.S. Navy Destroyer for fire support.
As I sat with eyes wide open and ears tuned in, Johnny spoke with excited tone and animation about being on the beach waving his semaphore flags and watching the sand around him being kicked up by Japanese rifle and machine gun fire. He stood up from the table and showed me how he would shift his feet and move to avoid the gunfire, all the while keeping his wits about him so he could signal accurately. Performing this action once and surviving was against the odds, Johnny did it twice.
Johnny survived that action and would continue on with the battles that followed. When I was a kid, as I listened to those stories of Guadalcanal, I would visualize Johnny squatting in the jungle brush barking into the handset of his radio. As I grew older and learned more of the history of this battle, I pondered the sheer force of will that Johnny possessed to stand out on that beach with Japanese riflemen and machine gunners drawing a bead on his position.
Lieutenant Colonel “Chesty” Puller thought so much of Johnny’s actions that day that he later recommended that he be awarded the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second highest award for valor. Johnny was ultimately awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Guadalcanal. Below is the citation as it reads in his service record.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Corporal John J. Smolka (MCSN: 297414), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with the First Battalion, Seventh Marines, FIRST Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, 26 September 1942. On two occasions while under heavy fire from hostile machine guns and rifles, Corporal Smolka stood on an exposed stretch of beach near the mouth of the Matanikau River and communicated by semaphore to a United States Navy destroyer off shore. As a result of his courageous act, an officer of the First Battalion was picked up by boat and taken aboard the destroyer so that he might direct the gunfire of the vessel against enemy-held shore positions. Corporal Smolka’s heroic conduct, maintained with complete disregard of personal safety, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Action Date: September 26, 1942

The war was over. Johnny came home. His background in communications in the Marine Corps undoubtedly propelled him into the business of radio. Not to mention that he had the perfect voice for the airwaves. Johnny found himself in Griffin, Georgia as the station manager for WKEU. From the recollections I have from my father, he was “THE” man in Griffin radio for a number of years. Many who read this will know better than I the impact that Johnny had on the airwaves in Griffin. As I was working on this essay, I did an internet search on Johnny and found a recording that someone had made of one of his last “sign-offs” from the radio station. I played it and suddenly a cascade of childhood memories surged forth in my mind. His distinct voice was great to hear again.
Johnny would later take a role at WJGA in my hometown of Jackson, Georgia. I still have an old LP record that was going to be discarded from WJGA that Johnny gave me when I was a kid. While he was in Jackson, he was also a live-in caretaker for the local golf course in the county, Deer Trail Golf Club, which is called Hickory Hills now. My younger brother’s first set of clubs was a mismatched set that Johnny had accumulated over the course.
As a member of the media, Johnny had his finger on the pulse of local happenings in the middle Georgia area. When Johnny got wind of a movie that was going to be filmed in the neighboring town of Monticello, Johnny persuaded my mother to join him as an extra in the movie. So, my mother and Johnny got to be fans in the grandstands for the movie, “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”. The movie was about a traveling Negro league baseball team from the 1930’s. My mother met Billy Dee Williams. Johnny and my mother were both featured in a picture in our local newspaper, The Jackson Progress-Argus, for their performance as movie stars.

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After graduating from high school, I didn’t see Johnny for a long time. I went to college and my visits home were few and far between so I would miss the occasional visit from Johnny. My parents told me later that Johnny had moved to live with his nephew. To my knowledge, Johnny never married and did not have a big family. In the fall of 1983, I would receive a remembrance from Johnny. Earlier that summer, I was a cadet attending ROTC Advanced camp for students seeking an Officer’s commission. Our newspaper printed a press release that was generated from my college about the Advanced camp. Johnny cut out the clipping from his newspaper and pasted it to a sheet of typing paper and wrote me a note. I would carry those words with me in my heart.

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I have taken it as a personal mission to celebrate our veterans from World War II. In my humble eyes, it remains the greatest generation. Johnny was one of a kind. He had been a “hobo”, an umpire, a disc jockey, a Radio station manager, a golf club caretaker and a United States Marine. Johnny’s actions on that beach in Guadalcanal are referenced in two books. The first is “Guadalcanal” by Eric Hammel and the second one is “Chesty: The story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller”, by Lieutenant Colonel Jon T. Hoffman. With his boisterous character, some would either love him or hate him. Count me as one who loved him.
Thank you Johnny for the laughter, the education and for giving a young boy confidence to pursue his dreams.
Semper Fi!!

Dedicated to the memory of John J. “Johnny” Smolka and to those valiant Marines who answered the call at Guadalcanal

His name was Albert….

A few months ago, my wife gave me a subscription to the popular genealogy website, Ancestry.com. She has always been aware of my interest in the subject and this was the perfect gift.
I began using the site immediately. From known grandparents and great-grandparents, I began to build a picture of my heritage. During my first hour of working on the site, I remembered what a business acquaintance had told me after he had built his family tree from the site. He had traced some of his ancestors to Scotland and discovered that one of his distant relations had been a noble of one of the Scottish Clans. This story peaked my excitement and I wondered if I might discover some hidden jewel in my ancestry from hundreds of years ago.

I started on my mother’s side of the family tree. I already had a great deal of names and dates from records her family had kept through the years. As I honed in on one family name, the tree led me from Georgia to North Carolina to Virginia to Rhode Island and then to England. My search had revealed that one of my ancestors had been a Colonial Governor of Rhode Island back in the 17th century. I was awestruck by the information I had been able to detect from the vast records and information provided by the website.

As I began to do my father’s side of the tree, I knew that my task would be more difficult and I would probably hit a dead-end. My paternal grandfather was an orphan. From the loosely weaved stories I had heard from my father, I knew that my grandfather had been sent to a Georgia Baptist Orphan’s Home as a young child. As the story goes, my grandfather had run away from the orphanage when he was around 10 years old. My father said that he had “jumped the fence”. He made his way back to Thomaston, Georgia, possibly remembering where he had come from or maybe just finding his way there on his escape. He found an older gentleman farmer who had known his family and he stayed with him and worked on his farm to earn his keep. My father may have told me the man’s name, but I don’t recall. As a teenager, I remember most of what my Dad had told me about my grandfather, but I didn’t write any of it down. We are usually thinking of other things when we are teenagers.

My grandfather would work for this kind man until his late teenage years. He then left to go and work in one of the cotton mills that dotted the southern landscape of the early 20th century.He was about 24 years old when he found his bride. My grandmother was 16 years old at the time. He picked her up in a horse-drawn wagon and that’s how they would begin their lives. My grandfather would continue to work in the cotton mill  and my grandmother would start having babies.

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As I searched my grandfather’s name in the database, I found a 1920 census document.  As I looked at the scanned electronic image in front of me, I was compelled to touch the screen where his name was written in grade school cursive. I felt as if somehow touching the screen would transport me back to a little house in Thomaston, Georgia in 1920 and I would watch the census taker write down the information my grandparents had told him.

I continued reading the information listed on the census questions. I was taken aback when I read the answers to two questions listed on the form. The questions were simply stated Can Read? and Can Write? The answers given next to my grandfather’s name were both No. In the back of my mind, I seemed to recall that my father told me that my grandfather could not read or write, but to see it recorded officially on a census document was really a revelation to me. My fingertips once again move over the line of my grandfather’s information. Age: 27 Race: White Occupation: Weaver. But my fingers and my eyes would stay focused on the answers to those two questions Can Read? No. Can Write? No.

My thoughts took me back to that little boy, alone in the world, finding his way, finding the family friend and farmer, finding a place to live and a place to work. He didn’t go to school, but he used his brain, his back and his hands to learn to farm and learn to use tools.

As I sat and thought more about him, I began to recall the end of his life. I was 7 years old when he passed away. My father was giving him a bath and he fell lifeless. I remember peering in on my father bathing my grandfather. My curious eyes wanting to see what my daddy was doing and seeing my grandfather sitting in the tub. When my grandfather collapsed, my father brought him into the bedroom and tried to revive him but to no avail. My last vision of my grandfather was of him laying in his coffin.

As a young man, my grandfather had been a towering figure, he stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and he had large bear-paw hands. In his elder years, he was still just as imposing to a young 7-year-old boy, but his face was soft, especially when he smiled and his blue eyes lit up. We called him “Grandpa”.  I have a few memories of my grandpa that I have been able to hold on to. My little brother and I would sometimes spend the weekend with my grandparents. I can see my grandpa sitting in his chair smiling at me and my little brother, his soft blue eyes gleaming. He would stretch out his bear-paw of a hand as if he were trying to tickle us. I can hear his bellowing voice when he called out to my grandma, “Estelle! Estelle!”

On Saturday morning after breakfast, I can remember my grandpa always putting on his hat, a fedora, and we would walk outside and look at his garden. We would then go out into the barn where he used to keep his Beagles. He raised Beagles sometimes. He also liked to enjoy an occasional pipe.

One memory of my grandparents is a telling reminder of the words I read on the census document. I remember on some of those weekend nights, my grandma would read aloud from her Bible. I thought that she was doing this for the benefit of me and my little brother, but hindsight tells me that she had done this many times before for the benefit of her husband. I remember him sitting and listening intently to our Bible lesson.

Turning away from the census document on my computer screen, I began to think about my grandpa as a young man and what he had accomplished in his life. After working in the mill in Thomaston for a few years, my grandpa and grandma and their small children moved to Griffin, Georgia. My grandpa had saved some money to buy some land. On this land, he would build his home and he would farm. He built his home with his own hands and he would build three more there on Wright street in Griffin. He also continued to work in one of the cotton mills in Griffin.

But from all of the recollections from my father, my grandpa’s proudest vocation was farming. My father’s memories recalled a gifted farmer. His furrows were straight and his dirt free from weeds. He would spend countless hours tending to his crops, ensuring a bountiful harvest.

I’m not sure if my grandpa had any political leanings, but he did not like President Roosevelt. The root of that discord comes from a story my father told me about one of my grandpa’s cotton crops. One year in the 1930’s, my grandpa had one of his most productive cotton crops, but government officials from the department of agriculture told him to plow under his crop. He couldn’t sell it because of the “New Deal” policies of the time. He was furious and lamented the losses he incurred because of Mr. Roosevelt’s policies.

My grandpa had another cotton crop during those years that he was able to sell, but took a loss because of my father. My grandpa and my father were taking the crop to market in a horse-drawn wagon. When they got to the gin, my father, clad in overalls and no shoes, jumped off the wagon and impaled his foot on a nail. The profits from the sale of my grandpa’s crop would go toward my father’s doctor bills.

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My grandpa and grandma would raise four children, two boys and two girls. My grandpa farmed and worked in the cotton mill. My grandma would raise the children, keep house and she also worked for a time in the cotton mill. They would be commonly referred to as “Cotton Miller’s”. These were working class people who would sometimes be referred to in a derogatory manner because of the work they did and their social status.

My grandpa was not rich and would never be rich, but he made a rich life for himself, his wife and his children. He was an accomplished tradesman in a cotton mill, he was a great farmer and he was a good father and husband and he was a man of God. He had started this life as an illiterate orphan, but through some hard work, perseverance and some rugged individualism, he made a good life for himself and his family.

His progeny includes a professor of biology at a large southeastern university, multiple school teachers, nurses, dental professionals, business men and women, a preacher and a former Army officer who is now a Logistician and a part-time writer. His youngest great-grandson is an executive with General Electric and his youngest great-grand daughter is an Honor student. Not a bad legacy for a man who could not read or write his own name.

I am reminded of my business friend who, through our genealogy conversations stated, “I am the great-great-great-grandson of Sir Henry McTavish, who was a Duke or Earl for one of the clans in Scotland”. Through my own ancestry research, I could say that I am a great grandson of a Colonial Governor in 17th century America. But, when I see my friend again, I think I will tell him something else. I think I will be most proud of a different legacy. I will tell him, “I am the proud grandson of an illiterate orphan, who became a farmer and a “Cotton Miller” in Griffin, Georgia. He not only made a living, but from the most meager of beginnings, he made a life. His name was Albert Daniel.”

The homes that my grandpa built with his own hands still stand on Wright street in Griffin, Georgia some 80 plus years later. When I worked in Griffin, I used to drive by that street every so often to see where I used to play as a young boy in the late 1960’s. Those homes will probably disappear with the passage of time, but the legacy of the man who built them will remain etched in the memories of his descendants.

I will continue my genealogy research of my family, who knows, I might discover some new information about my grandpa. Maybe some of my siblings and cousins who read this may be able to add some history.

Whatever the case, my proudest legacy was found only two generations away, gleaned from two questions on a census document. A revelation that revealed to me the measure of a man. The hidden jewel I found on Ancestry.com was my “Grandpa”.

Dedicated to and In Memory of my Grandpa,

Albert Daniel Sr.

1889-1970

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91 Looks Good On You

Sometimes we are remiss to be thankful for the blessings we have in our life. Not today. I counted my blessings this morning when I heard my mother’s voice on the phone. I called to wish her a Happy 91st Birthday. Not many sons have that opportunity in their lifetime. We actually celebrated her birthday yesterday with fanfare, food, presents, flowers and birthday cake.

It was a blessing once again to look down at her smiling face as she greeted me when I walked through the door. Her face has changed over the years, but it somehow never changes in the eyes of a son. For my first ten years or so, it was me who was looking up into her face, looking to her for the comfort only a mother can give. As I grew, I would never have to look up at my mother again, but I would see her smiling face look up at me.

She would look up and smile when she saw me in my cap and gown for high school graduation. She would look up and smile as she helped my Dad pin on my Lieutenants bars and she looked up and smiled into my teary eyes as I showed her her newest grand-daughter.

I told her, ” Mama, 91 sure does look good on you!”. She replied back with laughter, “Thank you! Thank you! It feels pretty good too!”.

Here is my tribute I wrote for my Mother a few years ago. I like to share it every year for her birthday on my blog. One day, it will be me once again who looks up to see her smiling face.

Happy Birthday Mama, 91 looks good on you!

Me and Mama

 

 

My Mother’s birthday is coming up on September 28th and I would like to honor her in a special way this year. I want to share her life story and what she has meant to me.

She has been called by many names. She has been called Mary, Edna, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Daniel, “Miss Edna” and “Teetnin”. It has been my good fortune to call her Mama.

She grew up in “Pepperton”, a small mill village east of Jackson during the Depression. Their bank accounts were not large, but their hearts and souls were full of love. She saw the advent of the indoor bathroom and can remember drinking a “3 cent’er” soft drink. She used to enjoy going to her Grandmother’s home and playing in the country and savoring the offerings from the fruit trees. She enjoyed playing with dolls as a little girl and swimming at the pool at Indian Springs. When she was a young teenager, she and three of her friends pooled their money and bought an old convertible “ Model A” or “Model T”, I cannot remember exactly which one. Mama had the distinct privilege of being the driver because she was the only one who knew how at the time.

Very soon, she would catch the eye of a handsome young man, Carl Kelly. In the course of their courtship, they fell in love and married. They began a new life together. He, as a soldier and she, an Army wife.

Life on army posts in those days could be challenging. I can remember mama telling me of having to go out in the snow and chopping wood for their stove and drawing water from a well pump.

Mama would soon be stricken with rheumatic fever. She would be restricted to bed rest. It was at that time that she came home to Jackson so my grandmother “Bon Bon” could help care for her. Their young sons would stay at Ft. Lewis with their father where he was helped out with the boys by some army wives. Then fate would strike again. The Korean War started up and Carl was to be called overseas.

He brought the boys back to Jackson. He then bid a tearful farewell to mama and boarded a train back to Ft. Lewis. This would be the last time that she would ever see him. Carl was killed in Korea and regaled as a war hero, as was so eloquently detailed in an article in this paper some time ago. Highway 16 running east out of Jackson was named in his honor.

A new phase of life would begin for mama and her three boys. Thru the pain and the grieving, she found an inner strength and courage to forge on with life. She had come full circle, having left Jackson as a young teenage girl, living the life of a soldier’s wife at different points on the compass, and now returning to Jackson as a young woman, a mother and a widow.

She and her boys took up residence in the Deraney apartments. She also worked for her Uncle Ralph, who had a store there in town. She also forged some lifelong friendships while living in the apartments, friendships still strong to this day. This was a period of transition. Mama would begin dating again and would meet a man from Griffin, Ed Daniel, my father. They would be married in the National Guard armory in Jackson. Right across the street would be their new home, etched out of a field where an old farm once stood. Mama had bore three sons and would soon give life to another two, me and my little brother Joe.

 

Mama is one of the wisest people I have known.  As a young child, she taught me about manners and courtesy. I still have memorized the little phrase she repeated over and over, “Yes m’am, No m’am, Thank you m’am, Please.” It is these little memories that make mama, that make all of our mothers, so special.

 I was in the second grade when tragedy would once again visit my mother. My older brother Timmy was killed in a traffic accident in California. This was my first real life lesson about grief and loss. Many years later, my brother Pat was also killed in a traffic accident. Yet, my mother displayed profound courage in working thru her grief and anguish. By watching her example, I came to understand that one could rebound and engage life again with a positive attitude and a strong relationship with God.  As I continued to grow, I would learn other lessons on life from mama’s example about dignity, character, compassion, courage, courtesy, respect and a reverence of God and love.

 

One of the most enjoyable benefits of living under Miss Edna’s roof was her cooking. Whether having a wholesome breakfast of eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast before school, or having mama’s oven BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes on a cool fall evening, it was all good. But it was also comforting, both physiologically and emotionally. A good meal shared by family imparts a sense of home and belonging. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting down to the dinner table enjoying one of mama’s meals.

When I’m feeling low or down about something, I look to my mother’s example to boost my morale and pick myself up. She is my hero and she will be forever. My soul is enriched every time I speak to her and hear her voice. Many times I wish I lived in Jackson once again so I could see her every day.

Those of us of faith no doubt wonder what it will be like when we are finally called to heaven. For me, in my own dreams, I do not see pearly gates and lands of milk and honey. My vision of heaven is that of a little boy of about 10, clad in blue jeans and T-shirt running across a field of grass in the bright sunshine. I’m running towards my house. Standing on the back porch is my mama. I reach my mama and fall into her arms with an embrace. When I realize that dream, I will know that I have made it to heaven.

 I thank God daily for blessing me and my brothers with our mother.

Thank You and Happy Birthday Mama.

I Love You,

Chip

A Memorial Day Tribute – The Picture on the Dresser

When I was a young lad of elementary school age, I would sometimes find my way into my parent’s bedroom and ramble in their closet. I would find my father’s Class A uniform coat and put it on and stare at myself in the mirror. I remember it was Khaki, a Class A uniform color in use back in the 50’s and 60’s. The right shoulder sleeve was adorned with the bright blue, white and red patch of the 11th Airborne Division. My father had been a soldier in World War II and also was in the Georgia National Guard in the 50’s. I would stand up straight and salute myself in the mirror, struggling to keep the oversized coat from swallowing my little arms.

As I practiced my close order drill, my eyes would drift around the bedroom and I would find a picture kept on my parent’s dresser. It was a picture of a man. It was not a picture of my father. The man in the picture looked a lot like my older brother Pat. Next to the picture in another frame was an award. My inquisitive eyes would try to read the big words……”The Silver Star awarded posthumously to”………. I would try to finish reading it and then I would eventually finish my drill then go and play.

As I grew older, I would eventually ask my mother who the man was in the picture. In her most loving way, she sat me down and told me that the man was my older brother’s father. She told me that he was a soldier and that he had been killed in a war. I had wondered why my brothers were so much older than me and they had a different last name.  I began to understand now why the picture was there and what it meant to my family and what it meant to me.

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This reality would further touch me on a Memorial Day long ago. We got in our car and drove to the National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. As we drove through the cemetery, I looked out over the hundreds of headstones that stood over the rolling hills. Our car finally came to rest and we all got out. My mother had an arrangement of flowers that she had purchased from one of the flower shops in town. We walked up the hill and came to find the headstone of her late husband. We placed the flowers and said a prayer. We made our way back home that afternoon and we shared hot dogs and hamburgers at a family barbeque.

Years later, I would reflect on my family, a family with brothers who have different last names. I would think about the thousands of other families who had brothers and sisters with different last names, all with the common thread of ultimate sacrifice, the final devotion of service to a country and a way of life.

The victims of war are not only the soldier, the sailor, the airman or the marine; they are also the widows, the sons, the daughters, the mother’s and the father’s. They are the families that must pick up the pieces and move forward with their lives after the loss of a loved one from war. My mother was not yet 30 years old when she faced this reality, along with three young sons whose father would not be coming home.

I am led to believe that the people who originated the Memorial Day remembrances right after the Civil War, did so not only to remember the fallen, but also to aid their own grieving and healing process. A war where hundreds of thousands lost their lives seems unfathomable to us today, but was all too real for our ancestors.

We must dutifully remind ourselves that this is not just another three day weekend to open up the summer, but a solemn remembrance of those who have given their lives in war. I will always be reminded by a memory, a memory of a picture on my parent’s dresser.

In Memory of 1st Lieutenant Carl L. Kelly, Infantry, Killed in Action in Korea, 1951.

Awarded the Silver Star

Arlington1

The Last Kiss

One of the first Mother’s Days I remember is one where we were having a family get together. My grandmother was wearing a Sunday dress which was adorned with a beautiful rose corsage. It’s funny the things you remember when you are 7 years old.
The excitement in her voice and the smile on her face revealed the pride and joy of the celebration of being a mother and a grandmother. At the time, the meaning of the day didn’t make much difference to me. I was just glad to be visiting my grandmother and grandfather and playing in their yard and barn. It was a fun day for a little boy. I got to see my cousins and play with them too. We all ate great southern food prepared by our moms and aunts and grandmother. I think I managed to keep my Sunday clothes intact, but I’m sure the knees of my britches were faintly stained from sliding on my grandparents St. Augustine grass. My little brother and I were tired little troopers riding back home on Highway 16. It had been a great day for my mother, my aunts and my grandmother. It had been a great day for everybody.
That would be one of the last big gatherings at my grandparent’s home in Griffin. My grandfather passed away soon after and my grandmother’s health began to fail and she would come to live with us. Those few years she lived with us were a blessing for our family. My grandmother Daniel was a deeply religious woman. I remember her sitting in a high back chair in the living room and reading her Bible. She would also teach me a great deal about the Bible and its teachings. She would patiently read from her Bible and then she would try to translate the meaning to the little ears of her grandson. I would sit and kneel next to her chair and wait for the next passage to pass through her lips. Sometimes, my other grandmother, “Bon-Bon”, would drive over from her home in “Pep” and sit and visit. I would watch both of my grandmothers chatting together and remembering old times when they were younger ladies.
My mother would be cooking supper and she would occasionally chime in on the conversation. My father would walk in the door soon from his days work and we would all sit down to supper. From my best memories, I don’t recall seeing my father very emotional with my grandmother. He would speak to her in a matter of fact manner and I don’t remember him hugging her or sharing any physical affection. It was just the way he was I thought.
I remember the last time I saw my grandmother Daniel alive. She was on a gurney leaving our home and being placed in an ambulance. She passed away soon after.
On the day of her funeral, my father was solemn and cordial with all of the family and friends who came for my grandmother’s service. As the family gathered around right before they closed the casket, my father walked up and bent over and kissed my grandmother on the cheek. He remained bent over and he was speaking to her. I couldn’t hear what he said. He stepped away and they closed the casket. I remember looking up and seeing the tears in his eyes. Until then, I guess I didn’t understand fully the love he had for his mother. The love that starts from the moment your mother cradles you in her arms.
As the years went by and I grew older, my father would talk more about his mother and the memories he had of her. As he began to mellow as he grew older, the love he had for her would flow tenderly over his lips.
I don’t know how many more Mother’s Day’s that I will be able to share with my mother. I count each one special and I am reminded of the love that my father had for his mother. A love that was revealed to me as I watched the last kiss from a son to a mother.

Red Rose Corsage