Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Sound of Christmas

The Sound of Christmas

Janet Yuse

December 19, 2015

            For me nothing evokes memories of Christmas-past more than hearing the refrains of familiar carols.  I am confident that if asked, “What was the first carol you learned to sing?” the answer would be, “Away in a Manager.” 

            In my mind’s eye, I am a preschooler standing with my peers at the front the Stoughton Universalist Church, dressed in holiday finery, my parents sitting proudly near the front smiling encouragement straight at me, and waiting for the cue to begin singing this simple lullaby. It doesn’t take much effort for me to transfer my own little girl and boy into a similar spot, singing the same sweet carol, and I, as the parent, watching with swelling pride.

            Christmas without music is unthinkable.  I grew up hearing the familiar tunes we sang in church and in my school classrooms, using small booklets of Christmas Carols provided by local businesses.  As a child I used them at school performances and community gatherings, and also to follow along as I listened to carols on our radio.  My schoolmates and I memorized several verses of favorites such as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “We Three Kings,” “Joy to the World,” “Oh Come All you Faithful,” “ Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” and of course my favorite, “Silent Night.”   
            As I grew older, I continued to enjoy participation in the junior choir at church and later in several different adult choirs.  I added my alto voice to organized school choruses from junior high all the way through college.  Shortly before retiring and moving to Tennessee, my daughter Kristen encouraged me to join her in the Wallingford Connecticut Community Chorus.  This shared experience remains one of the most enjoyable times in my life, especially participating in a performance of Handel’s Messiah with a full orchestra.

            An important part of this memoir, The Sound of Christmas, is the back-story, which began four generations ago and credits my children’s great-grandmother, Jennie Mulford.

            Jennie Yeager and George Mulford eloped and married in 1907 when she was just eighteen and he was six years older.  According to family oral history, they met when he was a salesperson demonstrating songs for a New York publishing company.  He came into the store where Jennie worked and where she played for customers from printed sheet music . 

            After they married, George managed a local movie theater in Montgomery, New York, where, in addition to his managing job, he performed in a vaudeville act.  Jennie, then the mother of two-year-old Ruth Vivian, played the piano accompaniment for the silent movies.

            George and Jennie Mulford returned to Brockton, Massachusetts where George managed the Globe Theater before becoming a Nabisco products salesperson.  Sometime before 1920, they gave up their careers with theater promotions to raise a family of three girls and two boys. One of these girls became my children’s grandmother, Ruth Mulford Clark,

            Jennie, however, never stopped playing the piano. She continued to stay current, listening to the latest hits on the radio. She had the remarkable ability to listen to a song once, and then sit at her piano and play the song flawlessly from start to finish without a musical score.  In addition, she was able to transpose any song into a different key.  

            I witnessed Jennie’s impromptu performances on many occasions and can attest to her abilities. I fondly recall family gatherings where we made up stories similar to the long-ago silent movie plots wherein villain wants woman to marry him; she refuses; villain takes woman and ties her to train tracks; along comes hero just in time to rescue woman!  Oh, how much fun to listen to the music as she made the stories take shape.

            Jennie died in 1969. She was a widow for eight years by then and lived alone in a small apartment near her three daughters. She was found dead, slumped over the keys of her piano, having played one last song.  Everyone felt that it was a fitting ending to her life.

            Kristen now owns the piano that belonged to her paternal great-grandmother, Jennie Yeager Mulford.  The original bench still holds sheet music passed down through the generations.   Kris’ father, John Clark, and I both took piano lessons in our youth, but he was more accomplished than I was. Still, he never reached the level of talent shown by his maternal grandmother Mulford. 

            When I married Jennie’s grandson, he and I shared the hope that our children would carry on the love of music that we knew. He, too, had sung in many choirs, and choral groups. John’s father had sung in a barbershop quartet, and his aunt had voice training at The Julliard School.

            We encouraged our children, Kristen and Jonathan, to develop their musical talents, and both seemed to have inherited the musical gene from Jennie Mulford on their father’s side of the family. From an early age, they both loved to sing and enjoyed being part of church choirs, school performances, and vocal groups.

            Kris took piano lessons for a while, but never developed the skill of her great grandmother.  Jonathan didn’t show an interest in piano, but did express an interest in learning to play an instrument. When his opportunity was available in fourth grade, he chose the clarinet. Each week Jon received a group lesson given by the school’s teacher for instrumental music.  Space in a room off our home’s basement proved to be a good location for his assigned practice sessions, and it was far enough away from the main part of the house to ensure both privacy and sound deafening.

            Jonathan was approaching his ninth birthday at Christmas in his fourth grade year. He had been playing the clarinet for just four short months, and from a mother’s perspective, I thought he was showing wonderful progress.  My positive viewpoint was rewarded ten-fold on the morning of December 25th.

            We had been up for several hours, and presents had been unwrapped. I was about to begin the preparations for our traditional Christmas morning breakfast when Jonathan asked me to wait a minute because he had a special present he wanted to give to me.  Unaware that one of the gifts had not been opened, I agreed to wait. He left the room, and his father, sister, dog Queenie, and I waited in the living room for his return. He came back wearing a smile a mile wide, carrying his clarinet.

            Jonathan took a spot in front of the fireplace, looked at me, and said, “Mom, I know that your favorite song is ‘Silent Night,’ so I learned to play it for your Christmas gift.”  

            If the tug on my heart had been visible, you would have seen it popping out of my chest!  I sat perfectly still, rejoicing in each note he played.  As the final strains of “sleep in heavenly peace” squeaked out, so did the tears I was holding back!

            In spite of the fact that his sister rolled her eyes and groaned, and Queenie began to howl after the first measure, my clapping in genuine celebration at the conclusion of the piece kept that grin on his face.  I rose from the coach and gave him a much too-tight hug, telling him with complete sincerity how very special he and the gift were to me and that I would never forget the moment.

            And so, it is music that prompts my memories of the joys of my Christmases past.  And--after all the years of unwrapping a multitude of long-forgotten  gifts--the one gift that remains most vivid comes back to me with joy each time I hear the familiar opening notes of “Silent Night.”

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Anna Hill's Charge Conference Sermon on October 5, 2015

Anna Mason Hill
October 5, 2015
Good evening.
             Before I read the scripture for tonight’s message, I want to thank you all for giving your Monday night to be here.  It’s truly humbling to see each of your support as I go through this journey, and I am overwhelmed by the love and encouragement I’ve already received.
            So tonight I have two goals for this message:
            First, I want to share with you what God has been doing in my life. I have sat down with some of you and had intimate and personal conversation about my call to ministry, I have had light conversation with others about my desire to enter seminary and ministry, and some of you may not have heard my story at all.  But all of you have come tonight, so I feel that it is only right to share my story with you.
            Second, I want to take time to remember that my story is really God’s story. I want to share with you what God has been doing in the life of one of his children.  There are billions of people in the world, and God has called each of us to something. Whatever our calls may be, God helps us achieve them and within that, He is glorified.  So this story is just one of the billions of stories that He’s been working on this past year.
            I also want to take a moment to remind you all that tomorrow is my birthday… if you want to just unanimously vote me through then I’ll consider that a birthday present from all of you and you won’t need to feel obligated to get me anything else…really it’s okay…
             So, if you have your Bible with you, I’d like to ask you to turn to the book of Psalms.  We’re going to be looking at chapter 139 verses 1-6.
            Psalm 139: 
  1. O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
  2. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
  3. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
  4. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
  5. You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 
  6. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
            This passage has been close to my heart over the past two years.  I honestly just stumbled upon it one day, and it has sort of become my comfort blanket throughout this entire call process.  This verse has been a source of joy and peace, it has been a scripture I’ve shared with others, hoping it would offer the same joy and peace, and this passage has even seen me through heartache and confusion.
            But whatever state my heart or mind has been in, this passage has been there.  It’s hanging up on the wall of apartment, it’s highlighted in my Bible and it’s stored in my phone and my emails.  We all need something like that, right? We all need a comfort blanket full of encouraging words that we can stick in our back pockets to carry with us and pull them out when we need them the most.  These words remind us who we are, and most importantly, they remind us who God is.
            The idea of God going before, behind, and laying His hand upon me is the idea that’s been carried around in my back pocket for two years.  I read those words and I see God guarding a boxed area and placing me in the middle.  If I turn around to run He’s there to catch me, if I walk forward into uncertainty, He’s always a step ahead of me leading the way.  I look to my left and to my right and He’s just there waving and smiling with His “I’m not going anywhere” look.  And even when I stop moving and I just sit in the center of the box with my head down, it’s His hand that is on me, passing on the strength for me to stand up again.
            There is a lot that this scripture says about us, but more than being about us, this scripture tells us about God.  These three words “behind, before, and upon” remind us that God never leaves.  He loves us too much to do that.  He loves us too much to push us to face new stages of life on our own.  He loves us too much to allow us to look back at our lives and drown in regret, and He even loves us too much to leave us in the ordinary days.  The days when we’re not conquering anything, but we’re also not turning back—He loves us then too.  The days when we’re just sitting in the middle of our boxes, twittling our thumbs wondering what’s next or too afraid to move—He’s there too.  And He’s still loving us.
            Remembering that God is in the midst of our past, present, and future inspires us to look at what He’s done in our lives.
            I remember when I was in high school and I would be crying about a boy or complaining about a teacher or being hurt by a friend, my mother would always say, “Well, Anna, I’m old enough to look back on my life and say that you will survive these things.  I know it’s difficult for you to see because you’re in high school and you’re in the middle of this right now, but take it from someone who has been there.  It will all be okay and you will grow from it.”  And you know what? She was right.  Crazy concept that most of what parents say actually turns out to be right. I can’t remember the name of the professor that I disagreed with, and I can’t remember what my friends and I were fighting about, and I can’t even remember what a boy whose face is so fuzzy did to upset me. 
            However, I do remember the lessons I learned?  I remember the growth that took place and I remember the feeling I got when I outgrew whatever the problem was. My mother knew I’d look back on these situations one day and forget the details but remember the growth.  And that’s exactly what God does for each of us.
            Looking back at my life from the other side, seeing now what God has prepared me to do, I remember the moments during my childhood within this very church that contributed to the story I have now.  I look back on pictures from my baptism in 1992 when I was held by my family who stood right there at the altar, I remember standing in this sanctuary as I was confirmed in sixth grade, and I remember growing up sitting in the floor of the balcony coloring while I ignored the pastors who stood right where I am standing now.
            I remember being in the children’s ministry and being in the musical “Jonah.”  I was bad, and my only line was “Jonah was a prophet,” and although it was fun I was not very good and that was the beginning and end of my church musical theater career.
            I remember being an old soul at the age of seven and refusing to be an acolyte or come downstairs during worship for the children’s moments…and this was probably all due to the fact that I was in denial that I was actually only seven years old.
            I remember attending the Hallelujah Carnival each year and spending my night going back and forth between the fishing game and the cookie icing station. I think I enjoyed these because they both required a little bit of effort but I received a whole lot of reward.
            I remember leaving the Old Sanctuary and moving to the New Sanctuary and a few years later celebrating senior night in the gym where I proudly recited all 49 prepositions into the microphone for everyone’s entertainment.
            I have all these memories because the Lord has placed me in an amazing church with incredible people.  This congregation and this room are full of mentors and those who have loved on me and watched me grow in age and in faith.  This church, without even knowing what you all were doing at the time, led me to answer a call to ministry today. When I turn around and look behind me in my box, I see each of your faces.  And I remain thankful for that.
            After I left this church for college I moved to Birmingham, Alabama where I attended Samford University.  Samford was a great school and through being a private Christian university I learned a lot about the Lord and grew in my spiritual life, but also with it being a private Christian school, it began to feel like a bubble and I transferred to the University of Tennessee, which in case you were wondering is definitely not a bubble.
            At UT, it was difficult to find friends to go to church and Bible studies with me.  And while I was in the midst of this I kept thinking, “God why did you bring me here? This is not helping me grow in my faith.”  However, now I am able to look back and see what God was doing.  He brought me to Samford to grow my faith and then he brought me to UT to help me see the world I would be ministering to.  It’s not that UT or Knoxville is a bad place, but it’s also definitely not a bubble.
            I first heard my call to ministry during my first semester at UT in the fall of 2013. I spent the next year working through this call.  Thankfully the Lord sent Drew and Sommer to help me discern this call, and it was a year later in November of 2014 that I finally accepted the call to ministry.  I was with Sommer and we were in the parking lot of the Italian Grille and I told her that I think I was going to enter into this call.  I told her I felt strange…I wanted to sit down and stand up at the same time, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, I felt nauseous and calm at the same time and I felt like I was going crazy.  Thankfully Sommer told me I was not going crazy, but that that feeling was the Holy Spirit.  And she was absolutely right.
            No matter our stories, once we’re able to see how the Lord has provided in our past, it is easier to fully trust Him with our futures. 
            So with these experiences and Psalm 139:1-6 in my back pocket, I’m venturing on to what is next.  I am passionate about my call to ministry, and while I have no idea where it will take me I do know God’s hand is upon me.  As I stand in the middle of my box, grateful for the past and hopeful for the future, God is right there with His hand on my head telling me He is giving me a story to share. 
            The thing with planning is that we like to think it is all on us. But the truth is, and deep down we all know this, is that every good and perfect thing comes from God. And while He’s before, behind, and upon us, He does use others to help in executing His plans.  And that is where the church comes in.
            Each of us is called to something.  God doesn’t assign plans to some individuals and reject others.  He wants us all to be a part of His larger plan.  Yes, some people are called directly to ministry, but others are called to being teachers, doctors, accountants, restaurant servers, veterinarians, mechanics, and many other things.  And sometimes our calls are not even directly related to our careers.  We may be called to volunteer for something or open our hearts to forgive someone. Whether the calls for our lives are major life career choices or if they’re day-to-day calls like a change in our hearts, God has given us the church to help us identify our calls.
            One question I have continuously been asked throughout this candidacy process is “How has your call to ministry been confirmed in your church?”  Although those who ask this question probably want a lengthy complex answer, the answer itself is actually simple: my church has helped me understand my call, and that is confirmation enough.
            God is always with us.  He goes before us, He is behind us, and He always has His hand upon us.  But God knows the importance of community.  See, God didn’t just call me into ministry.  He also called each of you to help me understand my call. And every day He calls us as the church to help each other understand our calls.  A call is not just for one person.  It is for the entire community of faith to work through and wrestle with together.
            This is so important and it weighs heavy on my heart.  It is okay to sit in the middle of our boxes.  Sometimes we just need to stop and rest and let God comfort us.  Sometimes we need to stop and discern what God is calling us to do next before we trudge through a circumstance that God may be asking us to bypass.  But we cannot sit in the middle of our box without knowing that at some point—with the help of each other--we will stand up, trust God to offer grace and cover what we’ve left behind, and take a few slow steps forward as we trust God to carve a path for those steps to take us through.
            As a church we need to continue being proactive in helping each other understand what God is asking us to do.  Just because a member of your congregation has decided to go into the ministry and pursue certified candidacy for ordination does not mean that this is the only time we should all gather in this sanctuary to support someone in their mission to follow God.  We need to be asking questions to everyone in our congregation to discover what God is laying on each of our hearts.  We cannot be the body of Christ if we do not recognize what each of its parts are doing.  Everyone in this room has a behind and a before.  Everyone in this congregation has a behind and before.  God’s hand is upon each of us. And it is an honor that He allows us, His children, to be a part of His plans.
            So thank you for being here for me.  Thank you for helping me grow in my faith as I grew up in this church.  Thank you for your prayers as I went off to college.  Thank you for welcoming me home when I returned to Crossville after school.  Thank you for being patient when you asked what my plans were and I had no idea what to say.  And thank you for supporting me when I finally realized what plans God was asking me to do.
            Thank you for coming tonight.  Someday this will be my behind, and I will add tonight to the memories I’ve had in this church.  Thank you for helping me see and understand my call.  I am humbled and I am grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Two Poems about Life

Faye Bridges Brandon has a rich history as a lifelong resident of Crossville.  She is a member of First Baptist  Church who joined the FUMC Memoir Writing Group.  Faye is known as a talented musician who has served as music director, music teacher, and vocal artist for her church and community.  Faye is appreciated as a memoirist for her characterizations of people and places that she renders with humor and spirituality.  She writes poetry and stories that reveal and inspire.

When Caring for Fred and Mama
Faye Bridges Brandon
Beauty!  So much beauty everywhere.
The world is filled with beauty.
Ugliness!  So much ugliness everywhere.
The world is filled with ugliness.
Happiness! So much happiness and joy.
Sadness!  So much sadness and grief.
Like paint on the palate, they bleed into each other;
Sadness into joy, joy into sadness.
I laugh when I’m sad and cry when I’m happy,
And tears stream down my cheeks as I laugh.
It’s both joy and grief, and they are mixed,
Intertwined and can’t be separated.
For this is life, and it’s never easy,
But sometimes, oh! so sweet!
The Worth of a Smile
Faye Bridges Brandon
Today, tho’ dreary all the while,
I saw a girl with a lovely smile.
She laughed and smiled in such a way
It brightened-up the live-long day.
It stayed with me, that lovely smile,
And so all day, mile after mile
I dwelt on happy things I’ve known
And kindnesses by others shown.
This smile so generously given
And yet—it was a token of heaven.
I’ve passed it on and on and on,
And I still smile, no longer moan.
There’s a lesson here, a precious treasure,
A simple smile can bring great pleasure,
So as you’re going on your way,
Don’t fail to give a smile away.

Pa Harris

Pa Harris

Reverend Ron Pulley

            When I think of family members who influenced my life in a very positive way, I must place my grandfather, Nathan Harris, near the top of the list. He was my mother’s father and I knew him as Pa Harris. He was born near Sparta, Tennessee in 1893, the son of Alvie Harris and the youngest of nine children. Pa’s son, my Uncle Charlie, told me that when Nathan was about nine years old, he drove a wagon with the family’s belongings from White County to Wilson County. Charlie said the revenuers were closing in on Alvie Harris’ moonshine still.

            After his marriage, Nathan Harris moved into a log house on a piece of property adjoining that of his father-in–law, O. D. Wynne. The land was very poor, but he raised his six children there. He worked at the Lebanon Woolen Mill to support the family but depended on the farm for most of the necessities of life, meaning cows, chickens, hogs, garden, orchard, and tobacco crops.

            Some of these facts I have mentioned in other stories, but I have not written about the person—Pa--whom I always knew as a calm, gentle, and peaceful person. He took life as it came to him and dealt with it while demonstrating creativity, grace, and determination.

            A favorite illustration is an event when, at age 16, I spent the summer on the farm with Pa. We cut hay in a small field on the top of a hill, and a neighbor bailed it. Using the two mules, Tom and Jack, to pull the old wagon, we were to bring the hay down to the barn.  A rutted lane wound down the side of the hill through several trees.  At the top of the hill, we tied each of the wagon wheels to keep them from rolling and pushing the mules down the hill. Using this method, we intended for the wagon to slide. The hay was stacked about four bales high, and half way down the hill, we hit a large rut. The jolt rocked the wagon, and off, down the side of the hill, went the load of hay with me seated on the very top. I managed to stay there, on top of that load, and had a wild ride for some distance, sliding between trees.

            Without becoming angry, Pa said, “Guess that didn’t work, did it?”

            We spent time then retrieving the hay, reloading it, and storing it in the barn. Rather than experiencing the wagon’s tumble as a near disaster (which it was!), I had a wonderful adventure that Pa and I talked about for the rest of the day.

            Another time, when we had to make a slide for removing large rocks from a new field, he showed me how to select the logs, which would make the runners, and how to braid a rope from bailing twine that we would tie to pull the load. He was a great teacher for how and why jobs had a certain way.

            Pa showed me how to plow in a new field that was riddled with tree roots and how not to get hurt when the plow handles raised up at each new root. I learned how to talk to and treat the mules with respect as I asked them to do their work. I learned to talk to the eight cows we milked twice-a-day and warned each one to keep a foot out of the milk bucket.

            While I learned practical skills for how to exist on a small hill-farm, I learned that the greatest lesson was how to live a life with grace and dignity. The most important example of this came in the fall after I graduated from high school.

            Pa had a blockage in his intestines and underwent surgery at the local hospital in Lebanon, TN.  The surgery was a success, but the doctor left sponges inside when he closed the incision. Infection began, and a second operation had to correct the first.  Pa was unable to survive the trauma to his body, and he died a few days later.

            I stayed with him in the hospital and was holding his hand and rubbing his arm shortly before he died. In death he showed the same grace and dignity I had witnessed in his life. He was not angry with the doctor and forgave him the mistake. His children also accepted the doctor’s error and did not seek a lawyer, which many people would have done.

            As Pa said, “We all make mistakes.”

            In the days and weeks following Pa’s death, I wrestled with decisions about my future. I reached the conclusion to enter the ordained ministry and to share the love and grace I had found in Pa and in the church. I knew I was unprepared, but I reasoned that new and challenging things were not to be avoided.  Pa Harris had taught and shown me that.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Autumn: Can you See It?

Pat Rose joined the Memoir Writing Group in August 2015. Pat has a wealth of stories to tell and she likes to write them for keeping. She volunteers her talents in services to Crossville FUMC and contributes joyfully to the tasks she renders.

Autumn: Can You See It?

By Pat Rose

            Looking out the sunroom windows across the yard to the haze-covered lake, I am being entertained by the falling white oak leaves—

            bronze leaves pirouetting down to the ground;

                        wind-blown leaves dancing like whirling dervishes;

                                    clown leaves doing cartwheels across to the lake.

             Autumn has been my favorite season since my 1940s childhood in northeast Indiana.  Our home was surrounded by huge maple trees, which, after giving us yards with shade in summer, spilled their spent leaves in late October.

            All the neighborhood kids brought rakes to make a gigantic leaf pile, which gave us the big thrill of jumping into it amidst giggles and gales of laughter.  We emerged looking like leafy porcupines. 

            When we had jumped, whooped, and hollered, we raked the leaves into a huge pile and ran to get Dad to light the fire.  Mom brought sticks and marshmallows for our motley bunch to toast over the leaf fire. 

            It was such fun to watch the flying embers drifting skyward like sparkling diamonds.

            Autumn in Indiana.  Can you see it?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Secrets in an Old Envelop

 Anne Looney Cook
            The worn, brown, accordion style folder, tied with a string, was the size made to keep #10 envelops still holding their worthy contents.  While no label was affixed, its placement was among similar folders and other bindings that filled one drawer in a metal file cabinet and represented items stored for their personal value and historic relevance. 

            “What’s here that I’ve been keeping?” I mused.  “I’m trying to trash-off, down-size, and de-clutter my life.  With all else that I need to file, can I now remove this folder and its contents?”

            I untied the string and found several greeting cards dating back more than 25 years.  Their sweet messages reminded me of dear family members as well as special friends and times.  The only #10 envelop there was the last one to open.  Its bold address leapt forward but also signaled a pause to me about it contents.

            The unmistakable handwriting, scrawled across the full width of that envelop, addressed the letter to Dr. Anne Evans Looney Cook—my absolute whole name with title!—and directed it to my work place rather than to my home.  Without looking at the return address, I knew the letter was written by my father, C. Evans Looney.  The faded postmark showed 3 Feb 1990. 

            Dad was left-handed with a crippled left elbow, both making his handwriting almost illegible.  He wrote daily memos in his work journal, and, across the years, wrote letters to his nine siblings and to his elected representatives when he thought they needed his advice.  After I left home, he seldom wrote to me except for phrases added to birthday cards, but I could read his peculiar script. Otherwise, he relied on Mama’s frequent letters as well as listening in on her phone calls for keeping track.

            In the times I lived growing up, I was cared for and given opportunities for personal development that focused on 4-H Club activities, piano lessons, high school chorus, church fellowships, and every day chores on a working farm in Crossville, TN.  My mother worked full time as a teacher and librarian in an era when few married women with children had professional careers.  She and I developed a division of labor about household duties in order to achieve our goals. 

            Dad, meanwhile, held to notions that girls do women’s work and boys do men’s work, unless the men’s work needed extra hands handling livestock, shucking corn, or anything less physical than plowing.  He set high bars for achievement, but immediately moved them higher whenever my brothers and I reached his pre-set mark.  Since perfection was a constantly moving target, accolades or words of affection from Dad were too seldom to remember.  Spontaneous gestures such as pats and squeezes or phrases such as “good job,” “thanks for your effort,” and “love” were not his nature to give.  Nevertheless, I knew by certain other means that my father loved me despite his lack of affirmations.

            Suddenly, on June 4, 2015, scenes from my history with Dad re-appeared when I found his 1990 letter and held it in my hands.  I couldn’t wait to re-read it, especially since it had been addressed to my work place.  “Was he telling me something about Mama? or giving me another directive about what I needed to do?  Why have I kept this and don’t remember it?”

            The letter began, “My Dear Anne:” He reported on Mama’s health after a sick-spell since Christmas, and then wrote, “I have written several letters this year, and said very little as I will with [this] one.”

            After thanking me for Christmas presents, he continued by reporting that he’d bought a new blue suit because he needed a suit for special occasions and reasoned that it would also serve to bury him, although he didn’t want to think about dying.  Across four more pages in broad cursive, Dad, always a farmer, discoursed about the family farm, the pastures and my brothers’ cattle interests, the value of farm acreage nationwide, and his comfort in having enough to live on, which he thought would last as long as he and Mama needed it. 

Once more Dad said, “I guess the reason I wrote all this is I had little to write about.”

Then, the last paragraph contained the unsuspected heart of his message.

            “You are our Pride and Joy.  If I was going to name a person in the world that is tops—TOPS—it would be you.  I know that I love you next to your momma.”  (signed) Daddy.

            In tears, I murmured joy in finding the forgotten message from my father.  I began to reconstruct the time and circumstances before and after he wrote.

            In February 1990, I was 51 years old and at a new height in my professional career. My husband was productive in a parallel manner, and we lived in Martin, TN, more than 250 miles away.  Our two sons were married and well launched.  My parents, still living in Crossville, had reasonable health for their 80’s, and they stayed engaged in church and community doings.

            As the next months unfolded, my husband lived only until December 1990 when a heart attack struck him down at age 57.  Except for family gatherings that December, which related to his death and to Christmas, I had no spare time to be with my parents.  Six weeks after my husband’s death, one son, a Captain in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Desert Storm I. Then, one year and two months after I received my father’s letter, he died.  In April 1991 Dad was a few weeks short of 85 years. 

            In real time, 25 years had passed since I received my father’s letter containing his words of love and appreciation for my being his daughter.  Its affirmation was his last written message to me.  Finding it was like finding a wonderful secret in an old envelop.  With his letter, I have the permanency of his words, and I know it is the blessing that I once sought, received and stored away, and now have again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Definitely Synchronicity

Sue Patton, an original member of the Memoir Writing Group, claims Crossville by birth and lineage, reaching back four generations.  Born Edna Sue Harrison, she writes stories about the history of Crossville, about her progenitors who shaped developments from then to now, about her downtown childhood, and about extraordinary relationships. 

 Definitely Synchronicity

Sue Patton

Synchronicity---I love the word.  It is deliciously mysterious and difficult to define or fully understand.  It was coined by Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist.  He defined it as the acausal (without cause) connecting principal.  Jung said this underlying connectedness manifests itself through meaningful coincidences.  For some it can be simply a meaningful event.  Others see that event as a sign of God’s presence.  Some people, I believe, can develop an awareness of a flow of such events, making them feel in sync with what God has preordained.  I have not yet achieved that continuous awareness, but I have experienced some events that seemed synchronistic.  One incident in particular seemed a special gift, a privileged encounter with a most unusual angel.

In 2006, I visited my daughter, Patrice, in Midland, Texas, and was on my way back home.  The plane taking me to Nashville, Tennessee stopped in Austin to take on passengers.  I was engrossed in a book I planned to finish on the trip, but, for some reason, I happened to look up to see the flight attendant leading a man into the cabin.  He was an elderly, light-skinned African-American, and, from the way she assisted him, I realized he was blind.  He had on a spotless white suit, a flat-brimmed hat, and a starched light blue shirt.  Was I imagining things or was he actually radiating some kind of light?  No, it isn’t Ray Charles, I told myself, but he looks like he might be famous!

I looked up and locked eyes with the flight attendant and was not at all surprised when she brought him right toward me and asked if he could have the window seat beside me.  I rose eagerly to let him get settled.

      As I usually do, when someone sits beside me on a plane, I introduced myself.  He told me he was Lonnie Graves from Satin, Texas and that he was going to visit his nephew in Nashville.  He also volunteered that his nephew would be taking him to bookstores in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama where he would be signing copies of the novel he had written.  From that moment on my attention was riveted to Lonnie Graves.  Our animated conversation continued all the way to Nashville.

He said he would like to give me a copy of his book, but he had only one with him.  The title, “Aunt Millipus and Her Will,” and the picture on the cover showing a wise-looking, middle-aged black woman sparked my interest.  I knew I had to somehow get Lonnie’s book and read it.

We talked about his book and our families.  I rarely exchanged addresses and phone numbers with a fellow passenger, but we both felt the need to do so.  Lonnie told me he had another book to write, and I wondered if he would get the chance because he had confessed to being 89 years old.

The flight ended too quickly.  I told the flight attendant I would guide Lonnie to meet his nephew.  I reverently held his hand as I walked him toward the escalator that would take us to the baggage claim to retrieve our luggage.  Lonnie’s nephew was waiting at the bottom of the escalator beside my brother, who had come to fetch me.  Introductions were made, and we all went about the business of getting to our final destinations.  However, I felt sure it was not the end of Lonnie Graves and me.

Soon after I got home, I found Lonnie’s book on, and ordered it.  The story was about a woman with a triumphant spirit who survived great hardships in post-slavery days.  I called Lonnie to give him my words of praise.  After that we occasionally called each other to catch up, and I always asked about the other book he intended to write. Finally he told me that he had it all on tape, but the woman who had transcribed the first book for him was no longer available.  She had moved east and taken a demanding job. 

“I’d like to try to do it,” I burst out without giving a thought to all it would involve.  Lonnie was hesitant.  He just said he would think about it. 

After a month or two he called back.  I was involved in another project, one that was time consuming, but, when he asked me if I was still interested in working on the book, I immediately said “Yes.” 

He sent me the first three tapes close to Christmas-time in 2006, but I didn’t get much work done until after 2007 began.  Listening to the first tape, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  Lonnie’s speech was difficult to understand.  He spoke what I called “Texas Black.”  Many times I backed up a tape, listened over and over, and then called him to get it straight.  He wasn’t easy to understand on the phone either, but we always got past the difficulty.  By spring I had sent him the first three chapters.

I did not finish typing the book until February of 2008.  Lonnie and I had many conversations about points that I thought he should change, so we struggled back and forth before we came to agreements.  One thing in the story he was definite about---a mystery that he did not want revealed until the very end.  I was not sure we could keep the secret all the way through, but in the end we managed it.  The plot was full of surprises.  Once I was plunged into grief and another time totally shocked.  The work was called fiction, but Lonnie declared that the facts were all true.  The events of the main character’s life happened either to Lonnie or to someone he knew.

My brother helped me email the entire text to Lonnie’s publisher in Waco, Texas.  I could hardly believe that the whole three hundred pages could get there instantly, but they did.  After the book went to the publisher, we both expressed feelings of emptiness at no longer having the task to complete it.  There were publishing delays, but “9 Days ’til Sunday” by Lonnie Graves was published in September 2008.

Lonnie was then widely known across Texas because, for many years, he had attended the Baptist Church annual conventions.  He did not write the book to make money, but in Texas he had many admirers who wanted to read his book.

In subsequent times, at age 94, Lonnie claimed he was finished with his writing career.  He and I agreed that “9 Days ’til Sunday” was no small miracle.  Indeed, it was birthed through synchronicity.