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.

 

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.

Chip Christmas185
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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The “V”

As a boy of five years old, I attended Kindergarten at Mrs. Knight’s Kiddie College. Our classes took place in the First Baptist Church. We would have our recess behind the church where some swing sets and see saws were located. But sometimes, we would go and play in a grassy area beside the church. This area was bordered by two rows of hedges which converged into a point, thus we called it, The “V”.

Kindergarten would not be my last time in The “V”. A few years later, I would join the Royal Ambassador’s. The Royal Ambassador’s is a Bible-centered, church-based organization for boy’s in grades 1-6. We would load up in my mother’s Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon and she would drop us off between The “V” and the church. Our group would meet every week and we would stimulate our minds and spirits with teachings from the Bible. After our classroom instruction, we would exercise our bodies in The “V”. We would usually have a game of football or dodgeball. My mother would wash many a pair of blue jeans with grass stains picked up at The “V”.

Boys grow up. They get their first cars and forget about some of the things they did just a few years earlier. My ’67 Mustang would pass by The “V” hundreds of times as I drove on the “main drag” in my hometown.  Sometimes I would glance over and give it a cursory look, remembering throwing a football within its confines, but most times, I never gave it a thought. The First Baptist Church would move to a new building on a new property. The old church would still serve as a house of worship for another denomination in town. All the while, The “V” continued to stand vigil over 3rd street.

I would go on to college, then military service and then make a home in another city. Over the course of thirty years, I would come home to visit my parents and each time would find me driving down 3rd street and passing by The “V” once again. One evening, I was on the phone with my mother and she said that the city and county were going to erect a Veteran’s Memorial on a spot next to the old First Baptist Church. Upon hearing that, I knew exactly where it would be located. It had to be, The “V”. No more fitting place would be suited to stand as a memorial. The symbolism of The “V” is fitting for honoring the Veteran, but it also stands for Victory. Long before the iconic two finger “peace sign” of the late sixties, Winston Churchill first used the gesture as a symbol for Victory. To me, Churchill’s symbol holds more meaning, for without Victory, there is no peace.

During one of our evening chats, my mother mentioned that she would be sending me some forms to fill out for the Veterans memorial. The memorial committees plan was to have individual engravings of each veteran’s service information as part of the monument. She also asked me to fill in the service information for two of my deceased brothers and my father. My surviving brothers filled out their individual information and my oldest brother filled out one for his father.

Time passed and I received another call from my mother. She said, “They are going to dedicate the memorial on the Saturday after Veterans Day. I sure would like for you to come over so we can go together.” I said, “Of course” and confirmed the time I would pick her up.

It was a cold, crisp November morning and the sun shined brightly. I walked into my mother’s house and she was standing in the kitchen with an eager look in her eyes. She smiled and said, “Are you ready to go?” I answered back, “I sure am” and I gave her a hug. She was beautiful. You would not think that she was 89 years old. Her hair and make-up were perfect and she was wearing a stunning overcoat in her favorite color, red. She was also prepared. She had a thermos of coffee and the ever-present snacks in her purse.

We drove to town and found a parking place next to the church across the street. As we made our way up to the memorial, my mother greeted many friends with a beaming smile on her face. There was already a large crowd assembled as we made our way to some chairs that stood next to the memorial. We sat down and waited on the ceremony to begin. As the first person began to speak, my mother reached for my hand and smiled. This memorial meant a great deal to my mother. She, and many more citizens of Butts County, had earned it.

Jackson Memorial 3

The architecture of the monument is beautiful and brilliant. At the point of The “V” stands our Nation’s flag and the flags of the different branches of the Armed Forces. Extending out on either side are angled walls which contain engraved stone square blocks. Each square is engraved with the name and service information of the veteran. At the top of The “V” stands the main feature of the memorial. It is an impressive black granite wall. On the front of the wall facing the street is the engraving, “Jackson Veterans Memorial Park”. The reverse side of the wall facing into The “V” is engraved at the top with, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All”. Below this inscription are the names of all the service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Listed by war, the names detail the human cost of liberty that was paid by the citizens of a small rural county in middle Georgia.

Jackson Memorial 2

There were eight soldiers lost in World War I. One of those soldiers was my mother’s Uncle Jesse. She would never know him. Jesse was a soldier in Company G, 148th Infantry. He succumbed to the effects of gas in the trenches on the French frontier. He died on October 22, 1918. He was 25 years old.

There were over 40 service members lost in World War II. Two of those lost were first cousins of my mother. 2nd Lieutenant Robert C. Reynolds, U.S. Army Air Corps was killed when his bomber was shot down over Austria on May 10th, 1944. He was the only Air Corps serviceman killed in action from Butts County. He was 22 years old. Seaman 2nd Class Charles E. Carr, U.S. Coast Guard, was lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean on January 29th, 1945. His obituary stated that he was a popular young man and was a talented singer. He was 19 years old.

There were 3 service members lost in Korea. One of those was my mother’s first husband. 1st Lieutenant Carl L. Kelly, U.S. Army, was killed in Korea on February 12th, 1951 while leading an assault against the enemy. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. He was 32 years old.

While sitting at the dedication ceremony, I gazed at the names on the monument wall. I then focused on the names from World War II. Over 40 families suffered the loss of a loved one. The population of the county was less than 10,000. Sacrifice was felt by all. The price of freedom and liberty does not come cheap.

Jackson Memorial 4

Inscribed at the bottom of the memorial wall are the words, “In this hallowed place, we remember the sons and daughters of Butts County who died so that liberty might live.” These words were penned by my cousin, J.M. Brewer. The year of the dedication, he also wrote a poignant piece titled, “In This Hallowed Place” on his blog at http://www.theliteratepen.com.

After the dedication ceremony concluded, my mother and I mingled in the crowd, speaking with family and friends. One of the encounters in the crowd was significant to the moment. My mother and I encountered “Buck” Thompson and his family. “Buck” was a World War II veteran who had served with my mother’s first husband Carl. They were both members of the “Jackson Rifles”. My father had also known “Buck” for many years. The smiles and greetings they exchanged were a metaphor for the significance of the day. They were both happy to see this standing tribute.

My mother and I would have lunch and then I said my goodbyes and headed for my home. As I drove by the memorial, I recalled the laughter and smiles of young boys playing between two rows of oblique hedges. I then reflected on the plaques with the names of all the veterans and the memorial wall with the names of the fallen. I was reminded of a statement that rings so true. “They sacrificed their tomorrows for our today.”

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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

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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

Red Clay at 30,000 Feet

While on a recent flight home from a week of business travel, my usual routine was broken by an observation made on the flight ramp. My heart was called upon to visit the memories of my youth and of my home in Jackson, Georgia. I began to daydream of the hot summers. The summer was a time for play and adventure for the little boys of our neighborhood. My younger brother and I would start the day well fed from a home cooked breakfast our mother had prepared. Fully fueled and ready to go, we would dash out the door and greet the hot and muggy morning and feel the first rays of sunshine on our faces. Our standard attire for the days of summer was simple. We were both clad in blue jean cut-off shorts, usually cut from our oldest pair of blue jeans we had worn the knees out of the previous school year. That was all, no more, no less. That’s all we needed. Our days were filled with outdoor activities, baseball, bike riding, and swimming at a neighbor’s pool, jumping on a trampoline at another neighbor’s house and playing on the track field and in the woods.

Red Clay Track
We were small town kids. From where we lived, we were walking distance to the county high school. Across the street from the high school were the football field and baseball field. Behind the football field was the county school bus shop and the high school gymnasium. The gymnasium was a classic. It was a wooden structure painted white and the floors would make a sweet sound when a basketball was bounced on them. Behind and to the left of the baseball field was the track field.
Most track fields you see today are paved with some sort of asphalt or some high tech rubberized composite surface, but our track field back then was dirt. It was hard packed good old Georgia red clay. We would go there and run and play on the track and the grass infield. Particularly fun in those days would be racing around the track on our bicycles. Some days, after a good summer thundershower, we would go to the track field and engage in the finest of mud sports. After some of those rains, there would be beautiful rust colored mud puddles around certain areas of the track field. Little boys can have loads of fun with a little mud and bicycles. We would also race around the track on our bikes and see who could make the highest “rooster tail” of mud from our back tires. The boys who didn’t have a rear fender guard would usually win that prize. They would also be the ones who got the most mud splattered on their backs. But it didn’t matter, by the end of our playing session; we would all be covered from head to toe in red mud.
After we were all played out, we would come home and go into the back yard and turn on the “hose pipe”, our affectionate name for the garden hose. We would start by cleaning off our bikes. The spray of the hose would begin to peel away the red mud and deposit it on the lush green St. Augustine grass of our back yard. After we finished our bikes, we started on ourselves. We did pretty good getting ourselves clean, besides the cool water from the hose felt good on our sun tanned frames. We would get pretty clean, but there was always a tinge of the rust colored clay around our fingers and toes. Our Aunt Carolyn would always say that I and my little brother looked like a couple of little blonde haired Indians. The summer sun would lighten our hair and give us a tan that was sometimes accented by the faint hint of red clay.

Red Mud Puddle
As a business traveler and frequent flyer, I usually have an aisle seat on the airplane. I ask for an aisle seat to have a little more elbow room for my larger frame and I can extend one of my legs into the aisle. But on this trip, the late scheduling of the flight forced me to take a window seat. As I settled into my seat, I was hoping that the person who sat next to me would be of small frame to give me a little more elbow room. Luckily for me, my wish came true and a lady sat down next to me. I then began to get my gear ready and settle into my flying routine which consists of listening to music on my MP3 player and doing crossword puzzles or reading a magazine or a book. The lady next to me pulled out her Kindle and had it standing by. I don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, I kind of still prefer to read a real book and feel the paper as I turn the next page. I looked forward to going home. I had had enough of the cold and snow in the windy city of Chicago.
As a frequent flyer, I was one of the first people to board the aircraft. My seat was 18E. On an MD-90 jet, seat 18E has a perfect vantage point of the conveyor system that is used to load one of the cargo areas of the plane. I looked out at the conveyor and saw the luggage and other cargo that were slowly inching their way up to the cargo hold and disappearing below my feet. I would be taken aback by the next item loaded on the conveyor. It was a rectangular box of wood and cardboard. I pondered only a moment on what was in the box, when I saw the orange label that indicated human remains. My heart fell as I realized that the earthly remains of one of God’s children were going home. The box sat on the conveyor for some time as the ramp workers were diligently preparing to receive it into the cargo hold. As I continued to look down, only a few feet away, I could read the name of the deceased. For propriety and anonymity, I will call her Jane Doe. Jane was travelling from a city in Wisconsin to a small town in Alabama. I was compelled to write her name down on a page from my crossword puzzle book. I kept looking out the window down at Jane until she disappeared below my feet into the cargo hold. I then closed my eyes and said a silent prayer for her and her family. From that moment on, my trip had gone from routine to reverent. I was having a communion with God and I experienced a solemn peace.  I would not look at a book, I would not do a crossword puzzle and my MP3 player would remain silent for the entire flight. My trip would be filled with thoughts of Jane Doe and her family and her life and I would ponder my own as I peered out the window at the landscape of the earth.

IMG-Airplane Wing
As we left the cold snow covered cities of the upper mid-west, my thoughts drew me to the hot summer days and visions of my home in Jackson. I was thinking of home, perhaps because Ms. Jane Doe was on her final trip home. It was a pretty clear day; I could see the landscape below throughout my flight. Sometimes the cloud cover prevents you from seeing the earth below. As we flew farther south, the snow cover began to disappear. The fields and farms of the lower mid-west were colored with hues of light brown and flat greens, as if waiting for spring planting and rebirth. As I continued to daydream looking out the window, I could see the vistas on the horizon change before my eyes. The flat areas of the mid-west gave way to the low rolling hills covered with green and brown forests. Rivers of blue and brown snaked across the landscape offering a beautiful view of our waterways. But the most beautiful sight was yet to come. As a veteran of so many flights now, my internal radar could feel what the next view would be. From 30,000 feet, I could see the red clay and southern pines of the Piedmont region of Georgia. I was almost home. And soon, Ms. Jane Doe would also be home. As we made our approach into Atlanta, the red hues of dirt roads, baseball fields and exposed tracts of earth stood out as beacons calling me home. They also called the memories of my youth. On our final approach, we were coming in for a landing from east to west. Looking out behind me, I could see the majesty of Stone Mountain. To my right, I could see the skyline of Atlanta and looking out to the northwest, I could see Kennesaw Mountain.

Stone Mountain
When we finally touched down, I said one last prayer for Jane Doe and her family. When I got home from my trip, I hugged my wife and daughter a little closer this night. I was glad to be home.
A few days later, I would Google Jane Doe and her little town in Alabama. I would learn that she was 72 years old and had succumbed to cancer. She was surrounded by her family at her bedside when she died. She had loved going to flea markets and spending time with her grandchildren. I felt like I knew her. Her body is resting now beneath the earth in her childhood home, but for a brief time, I felt her spirit with me as I soared through the sky at 30,000 feet and gazed down at the red clay of home.

Red Clay Road