Psychologists tell us that the most prominent memories are those associated with smells, and with trauma. You read about people going through terrible accidents, where they say that everything happened in slow motion, being aware of many details as they unfolded. As for my childhood, the slow-motion lasted for nearly 17 years, and I remember a lot of details. I can see it all as if it were happening before me right now.
This is not so say that my Dad and Mom were bad people, they just didn’t know any better; and you know what? I didn’t either. I never talked about any of this with the other kids at school, and I never spoke of it with my siblings; because it was all that I knew, and I just thought it was normal behavior. Sad…
This is not to say that there were never any good times, with laughter, as there were also those times where both parents were playful with each other and with the kids. But there were so many of the other that they left some deep ‘marks’ on my soul.
My parents never attended church during my childhood, but once, and that was when they stepped foot inside a Lutheran Church for the wedding of my Sister. Dad actually wore a suit!
I was the third of four children. I have a sister who is eight years older than myself, with whom I was never close and really never knew much about her personally, other than that she is very self-righteous and still demonstrates the mean, critical demeanor of her teenage years. My other sister, who was five years older than me, died at the age of 37 from stomach cancer. I have a brother who is 3 1/2 years younger than me. The last time I saw him was at my Mom’s funeral, in 1999. My brother and I used to be close, but it was never the same after I came home from overseas. People change, even family, and we move on in different directions. You have to remember that I was always the ‘rebel’ of the family, always a little deeper in thought and deed than the others.
Dad never knew his real dad, so Dad kept the name of his mother. Grandma B. did marry another man, so Dad only knew a step-dad as a father figure. We all know that step-parents are never the same as the real ones. This step-dad died when my dad was in the eighth grade, so Dad dropped out of school to run the dirt farm in Meigs County and to work in a coal mine. He would later own his own mine, and then even later, he would take drafting courses by mail, and become a union carpenter, which he worked at for 32 years.
Grandma B. then married another man and he would die two years before I was born. So I never knew a grandpa on my Dad’s side of the family. Grandma B. was German through and through, with the body build and the demeanor. She talked loud and looked rough, and I was half afraid of her as a young child. She always lived on a dirt farm with a couple of milk cows, a few pigs, and chickens. The dirt farm got its name from what they raised well, and that was dirt. The soil was not much good for growing crops, just enough not to starve and to feed the livestock. The farmhouse and barn always needed a coat of paint.
Dad had three sisters and no brothers. His sisters where by his mom, but with another Dad. Only Aunt E. was warm with me, and would always offer me milk and a biscuit. The milk was straight from the cow!
I do not ever remember any of Dad’s family speaking about church or God or the Bible. I did hear a lot of cussing.
My Mom’s parents were warmer and even laughed, and they lived only 25 miles from the farm where I grew up, so I got to see them a lot more than Grandma B.
Grandpa and Grandma F. and Grandma B. all moved to Ohio from West Virginia. Somehow, even though they didn’t know each other in W. Va., they packed up and crossed the Ohio River and settled in Meigs County. My Dad and Mom met each other in Meigs County at school. (Mom dropped out of the sixth grade)
Grandpa and Grandma F. later moved to Columbus and eventually we would settle on a farm in Fairfield County.
Grandpa F. was full blooded Irish and looked a little like Popeye the Sailor Man. He was short, and they called him Grandpa Shorty at his job at Buckeye Steel. Grandma F. was full blooded Cherokee, and had the facial features to prove it.
My mom was born into a family of 13 children. I, at one time, had a lot of uncles and aunts and cousins. There were some worldly, wild uncles and cousins on Mom’s side of the family. More about those later.
Out of these 13, there were at least three or four who found their way into the church and spoke about God and the Bible from time to time. These were my first impressions about church. Some good, some bad, just like today. Lol
I don’t remember my oldest sister visiting any church. She and her husband were married in Meigs County in the front yard of a rented house. I do remember sister S. visiting church with her school friend. She took my brother and I with her one service at a Brethren Church. Mom sent my brother and I to a Methodist Church near the farmhouse, twice, and once in Meigs County to a Baptist Church. This was my church exposure.
The most I heard about any spirit world was through my mom and my aunts discussing their experiences with ghosts in various houses where they had lived when they were children. There were a lot of ghost stories, some of them fairly frightening!
My first recollection of anything at home about God was during a visit from Aunt V. at the farm house. Mom always kept a big family Bible on the coffee table in the ‘Good Room’. It was called the Good Room as we only used it when we had visitors. Mom had new furniture and always kept it covered, until someone came to visit, and then she would uncover and clean the room top to bottom.
My Aunt V. referred to something in the Bible, and opened it to Genesis Chapter One, and said, “Here, Jimmy”, why don’t you read it for us?” So, I did, and that experience ‘hooked’ me. My aunt said to my mom, “I think he is going to be a preacher!” I found myself sneaking into the ‘Good Room’ and opening the Bible and looking through it, and reading a few verses when no one was looking.
Later on, I would find Mom listening to Billy Graham on the television set, and I would find that I was drawn to his preaching, as I sat there with Mom watching his services. Rev. Billy Graham has always been my paradigm of what a Christian should be like, and I have tried to read all of his books, as well as watch him anytime I see a re-run of his meetings on TV.
I would find myself slipping away from the house and my brother, taking a walk down the path to the woods, and finding a place where the sun played with its light and shadows in the trees and ground. I would just sit there and listen to the sounds of the woods, watching a chipmunk or a squirrel or a bird as they scurried about from tree to tree or branch to branch, stopping to listen for sounds of danger, looking with intent at me sitting so still, trying to figure out if I was really there at all; and when I didn’t move, they would continue their playful romp to another area without distraction.
I loved the way the rays of the sun bathed everything in different hues of light and shadow; and the way it felt so good on my face. I could ‘feel’ the quiet beauty in my being. (I didn’t know the word ‘soul’ then). I knew I had Cherokee in me and I tried to become one, as an Indian would, with the elements of nature around me. In the process, I believe I was opening up what I now know as my soul to the ‘Spirit of Life’ that silently coursed through the plants and animals all around me.
There were times I would just stretch out on the lawn and watch the stars in the sky at night, watching them twinkle and sparkle, and every now and then get to see a ‘falling star’ for my efforts. I would do the same during the day hours and make shapes of animals out of the puffy white clouds against the clear blue sky.
I found early on that this was my ‘personal space’, where I was alone with my self and the mystery of the creation around me. I was not bothered by the movements and noise of my younger brother, nor by the strife of my parents, nor by the harshness of my dad’s voice. I found early on that these quiet times were times of peace and contentment and reflection. I still thrive on ‘silence’ to this day.
I believe that this is where my ‘spiritual self’ began its journey. Through the combination of my aunt’s words, the services of Billy Graham, the few visits to Sunday School, the ghost stories, the Cherokee blood in my veins, and the ‘quiet times’, my ‘soul’ became hungry for more of the peace and contentment that can only come from being quiet before Him.
David said, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is in Him.” NSAB
Isaiah 40:31 “Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. NSAB
I must have forgotten about the words of my aunt about being a preacher, because by the time I was a junior in High School my thoughts were on joining the Marines, or going to school to be a Semi-Truck driver, or a heavy equipment operator, or a carpenter like Dad. Nothing in my mind about the ministry; but all that began to change in my senior year of school.
To be continued…