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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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.

Grandma and Grandpa Daniel074

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

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

Cedar Rock, Dirt Roads and Brotherhood

One of the joys of growing up in a small southern town was the proximity of dirt roads. You didn’t have to drive very far to get to one. I’m not sure what it is about dirt roads, but they seem to beckon the hearts of young southern boys. At least it was that way in our rural county. If you had an older brother, he would usually be the first one to introduce you to the serenity of riding on the back roads of the country with the windows down.
One of those experiences stays fresh in my mind after all these years and illustrates how the bonds of brotherhood are built and what strengthens them in our memories. I don’t remember what the occasion was or if we really needed one, but my older brother Pat took me and my little brother Joey for an excursion to Cedar Rock. If my memory serves me, it was right before Easter one year. It was a beautiful spring day in Georgia. Cedar Rock was a destination out in the far reaches of the county away from town. You would get there by traveling a few paved county roads and then turn down some old dirt roads. Cedar Rock was nothing like Stone Mountain, the large outcropping of Georgia granite that has been a tourist attraction for decades, but it was a little piece of exposed granite in the rural reaches of Butts County.
Cedar Rock had become a congregation area for the youth in the county to park their cars, build campfires and bonfires, drink a few beers, tell tales and to just get away from town. On our particular visit that day, we took some Crisco, some potatoes for frying and one of my mom’s black iron skillets. We also took along a single shot .22 rifle and a box of cartridges. My little brother and I were excited to be riding in our brother’s truck with the windows down and the wind and sun hitting our faces. We set out on our journey and stopped by “Saint Cawthon’s “bait shop to pick up some cokes. Pat spoke to “Saint” as we were checking out and asked about his son Phillip. My brother and Phillip had been friends in school but they also shared another bond. Pat and Phillip had been young soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division serving in Vietnam. Pat told me that he and Phillip had found each other and shared some time together during a break from their combat action. I’m sure seeing a familiar face in a war zone thousands of miles from home gave both of them a comforting feeling in their hearts.
As we continued on our journey, we began our first turns onto the dirt roads that would get us to our destination. Driving along and weaving our way thru the trees that lined our path, we came across what can only be described as a dumping area. Some ways off the road was an area where people would illegally dump old furniture, tires, trash and other oddities. It was an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful area. Perched on a limb and a good distance from the dirt road was a turkey vulture, or what we affectionately call a “buzzard”. No doubt the buzzard was waiting to find a morsel of goodness from the trash heaps. My brother Pat stopped the truck and set his eyes on the buzzard. He reached down and took the .22 rifle and loaded a round into the chamber. He looked over to me and my little brother and said, “Watch this!” He carefully took aim at the buzzard on his perch. I said, “You ain’t gonna hit that buzzard, it’s too far!” As soon as I uttered the last syllable, the crisp shot of the .22 rang out. We thought the bird had heard the crack of the rifle and began to fly away, but Pat had found his mark and the buzzard glided down to the floor of the dump. Being good southern boys, we had to go examine our kill and see where we got him. Pat’s aim was true and upon examination, we found the buzzard with a hole in his neck. Joey and I both shouted, “Wow! Pat! That was a good shot!” He replied back, “You gotta make them count.” Pat was quiet and solemn as we walked back to the truck. This was uncharacteristic of his usual boisterous and jovial self. Years later, I would understand. I think when Pat pulled the trigger on that buzzard, he also pulled the trigger on some memories of combat.
After a few more turns, we finally made it to our destination. We arrived at Cedar Rock. This was the first time Joey and I had ever been to this place, but from Pat’s knowing glance, we knew this was not his first time here. We unloaded the truck and Pat led us straight to an area of rocks which looked like it was the perfect place to build a small fire and rest a frying pan. We all began to gather some firewood and soon we had a good fire going. We then settled the old black iron skillet in place. Digging into our Crisco can, we filled up the pan and watched as the white concoction began to melt into clear liquid oil. Our next task was to prepare our French fries. We cut them up and put them into a small cooler. As soon as the fire had heated the oil to Pat’s liking, he started to lay the potatoes in the pan. My little brother and I could immediately begin to smell the distinct aroma of potatoes being fried in oil. We enjoyed being in the beautiful outdoors and taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Our mouths began to water as we pondered the delicious taste of a fried potato. Pat soon began to plate them on some paper plates we had and he told me and Joey to salt them right away while they were hot.
As soon as we had a big pile, we opened up our bottle of ketchup and popped the tops off our cokes. We sat down around our fire at Cedar Rock and began to enjoy our campfire French fries. We laughed and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.
As soon as our bellies were full of French fries, we turned our attention to shooting the .22 rifle. Pat used some of the leftover paper plates to use as targets. He nailed them to some trees and then he began his clinic on firing a rifle and hitting the bull’s eye of the target. While honing our marksmanship skills under Pat’s watchful eye, we went through a box of cartridges.
Soon after the last trigger was pulled, we began to clean up and load up the truck. We began our trek back home leaving the dirt roads and finding the highway. As the wind came thru the windows and blew on our faces, I licked the corner of my mouth and tasted the remnants of ketchup and salt. We stopped by a filling station so Pat could fill up the truck with gas. Joey and I bartered with Pat for some change to get a candy bar. One of Pat’s old friends saw me and Joey and asked Pat, “Is that your half-brother’s Chip and Joey?” Pat responded quickly and firmly, “We are brothers, ain’t nothing half about us!” Joey and I looked up at Pat with shy grins of pride; Pat looked down and smiled back. The bonds of brotherhood are not only borne of blood, they are also forged with love and camaraderie. My brother taught me this long ago.
Over ten years later, I would be enduring the sweltering summer heat on a firing range at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Trying to qualify on my M-16 rifle, I was in a firing position when those memories of Cedar Rock and that day came rushing back in my head. With the sting of sweat burning my eyes, I gave up a brief grin thinking of that day as I tried to lay a bead on my target. I would qualify expert that day, aided no doubt by the patient instruction of my brother those many years ago.
It was one day in a lifetime, but that day at Cedar Rock has given me a lifelong memory. Every Easter weekend, I recall the brotherhood we shared that day.

The Cuckoo Clock, A Christmas Story

It was late December; the aura of Christmas time was in full repose. My mother, father, little brother and myself had just returned from a visit to my Grandmother’s home in Griffin. It had been a long day and the revelry of the holiday had us all a bit tired. We stumbled into the house with all of our trappings and collectively collapsed into each of our own little worlds.
Our family living room was replete with modest Christmas décor and an artificial silver tinsel tree. Our living room was small and cozy. My mother loved to display pictures of family and there were a number of them on the walls. Included with these on the back wall above the television was a Cuckoo clock. The clock had been a gift to my mother from my brother Timmy who had served in the Air Force. He had purchased the clock while he was traveling through Germany.
The clock had not worked for quite some time, but my mother kept it on the wall to display. I think that year she felt an attachment to the broken clock because it was a gift from my brother Timmy, who had been killed in a traffic accident earlier in the year. It had been over eight months since my brother’s accident, but the memory was still vivid in the minds of our family. It was especially vivid in the mind of my mother. The loss of a child is unfathomable to most, but my mother knew all too well.
My brother Timmy was only 23 when he was killed. He was stationed in California, reveling in the freedom and the sunny west coast. For not long ago, he had been in the thick of the war in Vietnam. He was stationed in Thailand, but he had gone into harm’s way on over 20 combat missions as an air crew member of the 606th Special Operations Squadron. He had survived his tour of duty and was happy to be back in the U.S.A.
Of the myriad of childhood memories that come and go, one I will always remember was when my mother and father received the news of Timmy’s death. Having had the sense of relief that he had survived a tour in Vietnam and was safely back at home, we all had to deal with the cruel realization that he was now gone. I had felt no greater sadness for my mother and our family.
It was getting much later that Christmas Eve night and mother and father were ready to put our gifts out so they could get to sleep. They had told me and my little brother to get off to bed, but we were rested a bit from our trip and we lay awake poised to hear the rattle of “Santa” putting out our gifts.
It was approaching midnight and you could hear a pin drop in the house. I was barely awake, eyes half closed. Mother and father must have taken a brief break. They would later tell me that they had been sitting at the dining room table. Then it happened.
At midnight, the calm silence was broken by the loud bellow of the Cuckoo clock on the wall. Unmistakable in its sound, although we had not heard it in months, the familiar rhythmic cadence echoed throughout the house exactly twelve times then fell silent once again. I had crawled closer to my bedroom door, fully awakened by its call.
There was a pause and mother and father had sat staring at each other, puzzled by the event that just took place. Then my mother’s face transformed from bewilderment to enlightenment. In a steady voice that I could hear from my bedroom, mama said, “Timmy just wished us a Merry Christmas”.
The awe of what happened and what I just heard, transformed my thoughts of ‘Santa” and gifts to thoughts of something much deeper. I eventually drifted off to sleep. The next morning, my little brother and I began to open the gifts that “Santa” had brought that night. We also listened to mama as she related the story of the Cuckoo clock to us. It was a wonderful Christmas Day. Our hearts and souls were happy and at peace.
“Santa Claus” had come that night, but the greatest gift that Christmas was an Angel from God, an Angel who heralded his presence through the sound of a Cuckoo clock.
Cuckoo Clock

I Believe

“We know truth, not only by reason, but also by heart.” Blaise Pascal

Some of my earliest memories are waking up at my grandparent’s house in Griffin, Georgia and looking over and seeing my grandmother reading her bible. I would then wipe the sleep away from my eyes and punch my little brother to wake him up. My grandmother would then close her bible and intervene and say, “You boys get up now and grandma will make you some breakfast.” Our grandfather would nod with a wry grin as he tended to his pipe and watched us climb out of the sofa bed and gather ourselves for breakfast. The holidays were always special at my grandparent’s houses, both sets. Thanksgiving would always start the season off and I remember my Grandma Daniel saying grace right before we ate, giving thanks to God for the blessings of life. Years later, when I was around 12 years old, I would re-live those memories of waking up and seeing my grandmother reading her bible, except this time it would be in our home in Jackson. After my grandfather had passed away, my grandmother’s health had begun to fail and she came to live with us at our home. Walking into the living room and seeing her morning devotional was a daily experience until she too went to be with God.
It was around this time of my life that I also affirmed my faith publicly. I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors of my church. The Royal Ambassadors, or RA’s, as we called ourselves, is a mission’s discipleship organization for boys in 1st thru 6th grade. I think it was the summer of my eleventh year that I attended RA camp down around Brunswick, Georgia. A busload of young boys from our church spent a week in a wilderness camp, living in huts with bunk beds and communing with nature and learning about our faith. We also would have great fun playing games, taking hikes in the woods and enjoying some watersports. We would also worship in the wilderness church located on the grounds of the camp. After one of these services, I was drawn to talk to one of the pastors who were working with the camp, and we talked about God and our faith and he asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior. So, on a beautiful summer day under the shade of a towering Live Oak tree, sitting down with a preacher, I asked God to come into my heart. I don’t remember the preachers name, I wish I did, but I still see his face and the bible he held in his hands. I still feel the soothing breeze under the shade of the oak trees and the warmth that filled my heart and soul at that moment. I would later be baptized at my church and I remember coming up out of the water and peering over the pews and finding the smile on my grandmother’s face. I enjoyed a period of grace and peacefulness that remains cemented in my memory.
Young boys eventually begin to turn into young men. With those eventual changes, the influences of life and the expansion of experiences, the young man’s spiritual self can change from its original form into something else if it is not tended and fostered regularly. This would be my course. I began a slow walk away from God. I never left him completely and I prayed infrequently, but I did not have that endearing spirit that I had as a child. As I began a career in a job of my childhood dreams, I found both personal and professional success. My life was blessed in many ways, but I kept walking away from God. There were many times where the subtle hand of the Divine would try to intervene on my course, but I was not to be moved. I would reach a point in my life where I felt a complete spiritual emptiness. Even at this point, there was something inside that said, “It’s there, and you have to find it again.”
It was during the holidays around Thanksgiving one year, I was driving in my truck and I was listening to a CD of Christmas music by Elvis Presley. I had always been a fan of Elvis since my youth, but I couldn’t ever remember him singing the song, “I Believe.” The song began to play and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As Elvis continued to bellow out the tune, I not only heard the words, but I began to feel the words. I bring it out during Christmas time every year and play it along with the other Christmas carols we listen to during the season. The words go like this;

I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows
I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way
I believe, I believe
I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard
I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky
Then I know why, I believe.

“I Believe” is a song that was written in 1953. It was commissioned and introduced by Jane Froman, who had a popular television show in the 50’s. It was the first song ever introduced on television. Miss Froman was troubled by the onset of the Korean War and asked some writers to compose a song that would offer hope and faith to the populace. Frankie Laine, of “Rawhide” fame recorded the big hit version of the song and it is also my favorite version of the song. It has become both a popular and religious standard.
I don’t know why this particular song struck a chord with me that day. They say the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Personally, I think we are all hard-wired to believe there is something out there greater than we are. I have an acquaintance who is an atheist, yet, every year during the Christmas season, he revels in the festive spirit of the holiday. I think too, that it is the hand of the Almighty which stirs him this time of year.
Today, in our society, in some circles, it is in vogue to spurn and ridicule the belief in a higher power. I have lamented seeing some of the disparaging commentary in our media on this topic. However, I am reminded as I write this story, that faith in the Almighty, has stood the test of time. Faith has survived for millennia and it shall survive for many more. That is my faith. The founding of our nation was born out of the pursuit of religious freedom. From that first day the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, has been a cornerstone of our nation.
During this time of year, we, as adults often recall our childhood memories of parents and grandparents and those in our family who are no longer with us. This day I am reminded of having my grandmother Bon Bon’s Christmas soup at her mill house in Pepperton. I am also reminded of my grandmother Daniel reading her Bible. If I could speak to them again, I would tell them I love them and I Believe.