All posts by Janie Conrad

MY BROTHER, EARL

eabc0b74-1ad7-4e9b-b7ba-aad5d7e0fa3dOn September 11, 2015 at 9:11 A.M., my brother, Virgil Earl Glisson, Jr. (Earl), died at the age of 71, after a long and courageous battle with cancer.  Earl was born in Statesboro, Georgia on a cold winter day in January, 1944.  Earl was born at home and I remember Mama and Daddy always telling us that the doctor brought him to the house in his big ole black bag.  I believed that story for many years until I became old enough to know the facts of life.  It seems so silly now but I always pictured the doctorMama-and-Kids2 walking up to the house with that big ole black bag with a crying baby in it.  I also remember being told that one of us was found in a cabbage patch under a head of cabbage.  I don’t remember which one, but it seemed that there was always a story to be told when you started talking about children being born.  I think Gloria was the one found in the cabbage patch.  I think I was just quite simply, dropped from heaven.  I think these were common tales told to all children in my generation because even the adults discussed these things in whispered tones.

One  year has passed since my brother’s death and this post is in his memory.

The following is my brother’s obituary.

“Earl grew up on a farm in Statesboro, Georgia and his family moved to Jacksonville when he was 12. The farm in Georgia is where he learned the meaning of hard work and this work ethic followed him in every venture he undertook. Of his many accomplishments, Earl was a gifted mechanic, a dedicated business entrepreneur owning several businesses throughout his life, a Constable and police officer in the Jacksonville area until finding his place in the commercial refrigeration industry. Earl spent a large part of his career as a manager, executive andEarl eventually a board member for The Stellar Group. Earl was a founding member of The Stellar Group which was founded on July 1, 1985. Earl was Senior Vice President of Parts and Service. It was through his leadership of the Parts and Service Division that provided the cash flow necessary to sustain a start-up business for the first year of its evolution to the second largest Design Build firm in the State of Florida with 20 offices worldwide. In 1987, he became a Licensed Mechanical Contractor for the State of Florida. Earl retired after 25 years of service to The Stellar Group. Turns out Earl “semi” retired as he would then take an ownership and leadership role at Tri-Star Semi Truck and Trailer Services, LLC and lead it from a single truck operation to become one of North Florida’s leading service companies in the transportation and logistics fields. Earl was passionate about giving back to the community. He was a regular supporter and sponsor of the 62dfc5f0-6e35-4463-8aef-7f5cc2125504Mandarin Sports Association. He loved Corvettes and was a member of the North Florida Corvette Association. He was a proud member of the NRA as well as the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Association. A lifelong Republican, he enjoyed politics on both a local and national level. His passion for life extended even further to his love of his family. He was a loving and giving father, husband, brother and friend to all he met. His other favorite pastimes included vacationing at his river property in Nahunta, Georgia, relaxing at his home on the Julington Creek River, fishing, and spending time with family and, of course, was a Florida Gator for life. Earl never met a stranger along his journey through life. Earl was generous and compassionate with his time and knowledge. He was the family member or friend you could depend on any time, day or night. He always gave you his undivided attention as long as needed as if he had all the time in the world. The word no was not in Earl’s vocabulary and he helped others without expecting anything in return. He stood up for what he believed in. AndHe was a man of timeless grace and honor and will be missed by all.

While Earl’s accomplishments were extensive and eventful, nothing among those took precedence over the love and loyalty he felt for his family and friends. His parents, Ruby Marie Glisson and Virgil Earl Glisson, Sr. preceded him in death. He was also preceded in death by his oldest son, Allen Clinton (Clint) Hubert Johnson (Jerrie). He is survived by his loving partner, Rachel C. Glisson; his children, Donald (Donnie) Ray Glisson (Mary), Earl Glisson FamilyClayton (Clay) DeDouglas Glisson (Lindsey), Rachelle (Chelle) Glisson, and Virgil Earl Glisson, III (E3). He is also survived by grandchildren, Zachary Tyler Dinkins, Colby Bienick, Rachel Bienick, Angel Fuentes, Gabrielle Glisson, Ben Johnson, Jessica (Dustin) Williams, and great grandchildren, Whitley and Paisley Williams. He is also survived by 3 brothers, Joe Glisson (Linda), Stevie Glisson (Darlene), Tommy Glisson (Kerry) and 4 sisters, Gloria Burchfield (Carl), Janie Conrad (Jim), Judy Kirkland (Sam) and Luann Altendorf (Chuck); special friends, Bobby Cothern, Ron Foster, Sr., Danny Bazemore and Alma Fitchett, and many nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins, who all loved him dearly.”

 His funeral was preached by our Associate Pastor, Reverend Josh Reavis of North Jacksonville Baptist Church and the music was performed by Brother Tim Rigdon, Music Director at North  Jacksonville Baptist Church, accompanied by Susie Coram on the piano.  Brother Tim sang Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.   The service and music were very touching.

I wrote his eulogy and was suppose to deliver it at the funeral service.  Unfortunately, the day after my brother died, I became extremely ill and was hospitalized for 8 days, 4 of which were in ICU.  So, I was unable to attend his calling hours or attend his funeral and give his eulogy.  My loving husband, Jim, stepped in and did a fantastic job.

This is the eulogy which was so eloquently given by my husband.

“I would like to thank you all for coming today to celebrate the life of my brother, Earl Glisson.  Earl had been very ill for many months and surpassed the amount of time the doctors had given him. God blessed Earl with one of the greatest gifts he could ever bestow upon someone, and that is the gift of time. He had time to reaffirm his salvation; make amends with family; tie up any loose ends he might have and to get his earthly affairs in order. Earl and I had a number of conversations before he left us. I was able to tell Earl how much I loved him and how much it meant to me to have him for a brother. We talked about death, the life he had led and how sorry he was that his time had come because he felt that there was still so much that he could do and wanted to do. He really loved life and living and most of all his family. As he always said, he did it his way; but his way was never any way but the right way. He was a man of honor and integrity. But, he realized that his time was short and so he made peace with it, knowing that in the end he would be in a better place and that he would be reunited with his mother, father and son and many others in the family who had gone before. He wants everyone to celebrate his life, remember him with love and fondness and he wants everyone to be joyful. He meant many things to many people and I know that I speak for the entire family in saying his presence here with us shall be forever missed.

I would like to read something to you that I think sums up what Earl would say to each of you if he were still here.

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened; everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no solemn air of sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant; it is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.

Day is done, night is come, and all is well with my soul. AMEN.”

My brother’s life can be summed up in the following scripture:

2 Timothy, Chapter 4, Verse 7:

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

Earl Glisson did all of this with grace, dignity and courage. Godspeed Earl, until we meet again. I love you and will miss you greatly.”

Since watching the funeral, which was recorded digitally, I still cannot believe that he is gone and I have not come to terms with it and have not yet reached the point of acceptance.  Hopefully, I pray that day will come soon.

THE “OLD FAIRY”

I am up in the middle of the night writing. Sometimes I can’t sleep and when I can’t sleep I write. I can feel this is probably going to be long, so bear with me. I just happened by this picture and it stirred something in my soul. It made me realize how much I missed my family members who were in Heaven. I remember when we had this photograph taken. Gloria and I had to threaten everyone with excommunication from the family if they did not show up. They must have been afraid of us because everyone showed up. Jim and I had returned from Ohio in 1984 and I had been away since 1965. It was fun to be back and close to my family and able to participate and I initiated a lot of functions that the family had not been doing. Monthly birthdays, summer celebrations, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am not saying that I hosted the party or did all the work, I just came up with the idea and Gloria and Earl usually took it from there and I just told everyone, but I did help with the work. Throwing parties for a large family is a lot of work and expensive. It was a very enjoyable time for our family. Mama always called me her “good time Charlie” because I loved to have fun. It is not that way anymore and I must say, I really, really miss it. Oh I still like to have fun and one of my favorite things to do is laughing. It makes you feel good. Try it sometime. To quote one of my favorite songs from long ago, “Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end”. Seems to me you don’t even realize the passage of time and you don’t even think of the future and it feels like it will be that way forever. Then one day you look up and things have changed and you realize, oh my goodness, things are so different, and in our family the dynamics have changed so much. First, we lost Daddy, then Mama and then our brother, Earl. It also makes you think of your own mortality and you realize that one day, one by one, you and each of your siblings, will be gone but… you thought you would all live forever. Realistically, you realize that’s not possible but it makes me think that I should have paid more attention and enjoyed those moments even more than I did when they were happening. But… you get so caught up in life that you don’t realize all the changes that are occurring all around you. I guess I thought we would all be young forever. Now we are all getting older and having illnesses we never dreamed of. We can no longer do a lot of the things we used to do and it seems as if it happened suddenly and caught us unaware. Now, instead of being the hub of activity, we are sitting on the sidelines watching our children and grandchildren in their “young” phase. It’s like I went to sleep one night and I was young and I woke up the next morning and somehow I had grown older. It’s like the “Old Fairy” paid me a visit in the night. Did you know there is an “Old Fairy”? Well, there is and some night when you are not watching, he/she will creep into your room and sprinkle “Old Dust” all over your body and when you awake the next morning, it’s hard to get out of the bed, the spring in your step is gone and your bones creak. There is no way to escape the “Old Fairy” and if you are fortunate enough to still be on this earth, he will eventually make it into your room. So to fend him/her off, take good care of yourselves, eat right, exercise, stop smoking and lose weight. These are all things I have not done, except for smoking, but I am trying. So hopefully I can hold off the grim reaper for a little while longer. Here’s hoping that the “Old Fairy” does not visit you tonight, but if he/she happens your way, be the best old person you can be. It’s hard but you can do it.

CHAPTER 11 – A TIME FOR ALL SEASONS

rainbowThe Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  [1] To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: [2] A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; [3] A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; [4] A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; [5] A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; [6] A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; [7] A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; [8] A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

1) I have been reflecting on the seasons of my own life lately and I have come to some conclusions.  This is my own interpretation of these verses and they are in very simplistic terms and I in no way claim to be an expert on the Bible and hope that whoever reads this understands that.  Someone else may have a totally different interpretation.  These were verses that Mama loved and she passed that on to me.

2) A time to be born.  We have no control over when we are born.  We have no control over what gender we will be, what kind of family we are born into or where we will be born.  We are born when, what, where and who God chooses us to be.  These are all things that are in God’s hands and on his timetable.  As of this writing, I have not yet died and hope not to for many years.  I do not fear death, I only know that I love life as complicated as it might be sometimes,  and I am not ready to give us this life just yet.  I know that we don’t get to choose when it will happen, only God knows that.  I have planted many seeds some of which never came to fruition, but many have and I have reaped their many blessings; my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my entire family, my husband’s entire family and the many friends I have made over the years.  They have all been blessings in my life.  My life abounds in blessings.  My basket is full.

3)  A time to kill… I have never killed anyone or anything, unless you count the bugs I have squished beneath my feet and the chicken whose neck I partially wrung.  Mama had to finish the job because I was hysterical.  I have never forgotten that little chicken and it gave me the most awful feeling which I have never forgotten.  I have never been able to understand how one can do that.  I understand that many die in battle and killing for whatever reason started when Cain slew Abel. There have been many occasions when I have healed from some physical ailment or from some type of emotional hurt.  I have been broken down and I have been built up again to come back stronger.

4) I have cried many tears both in absolute sorrow and happiness. I have mourned the death of my first born child, Debbie, but I danced joyfully at my son’s wedding.

5) A time to cast stones and a time to gather stones could probably be interpreted in many ways.  To me, it sort of reminds me of the root patch from my childhood.  The ground would be plowed and we would remove the roots and stones and when they were all cleared and the ground was cultivated, my Daddy would sow the seeds and then we would harvest the crop.  I have embraced life and a certain way of living and all that it has offered me and I have refrained from embracing things or people who try to influence my life in the wrong way.

6) I have gotten many things, some that I really wanted and needed and others which I thought I wanted or needed but really found that I had no use for.  I have also lost many things, some valued, some not. There have been many times when I felt I had lost my way but I found my way back to where I needed to be.  It could also be about letting go of something that is holding you back or pulling you down.

7) I have been torn by emotions and I have been mended and restored. There are times when I held my tongue because I knew if I spoke it would do irreparable damage.  But there were also times when I spoke and it was well received.

8) I have loved much and I have hated little.  Hate is a powerful, destructive emotion.  I have watched it destroy people, families and friendships.  I can’t really say I have never really hated anyone.  It is an easy word to say but can be powerful when it hits your heart.  I do remember telling my mother that I hated her when I was a teen, but I didn’t mean it.  I also remember my daughter telling me she hated me when she was in her teens, but she told me she didn’t mean it.  It is an easy word to roll from the tongue when you are angry and frustrated. There are many people and things I dislike but do not hate.

As for war, it seems it has been around in some shape or form since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.  Through the years the faces, countries, uniforms and weapons have changed, but the objective is the same.  There is so much destruction of property, loss of many lives and the total ruination of countries, and at times it is hard to understand and see what purpose it serves.  It seems that when war is over, things are no different than before in some instances and that it was all for nothing.  Our losses seem much greater than any gains we had imagined. This Country had always defended Freedom.  We have always stepped in when our allies were in trouble and we have sent our young men and women into battle and many have given the supreme sacrifice…  their lives… or in some cases their limbs, and their minds.  They come back home having witnessed and heard things that we only see in movies.  To us it is make believe and we can’t comprehend the enormity of it all.  The human brain is just not programmed for the violence and atrocities of war.  That is why it is so difficult for me to comprehend the newest threat against our freedoms,,, and that is ISIS.  they seem to have no regard for human life.  But, how can we expect that they will when they have no regard for their own lives, the lives of their children and women.  It is a badge of honor for them to give their lives for their cause.

And the final, PEACE.  Will we ever be able to achieve it?  I certainly hope that will happen, but we have many obstacles to overcome before we do.  There have been times of peace during my peacelifetime, but they do not seem to last.   All we can do is keep living a good life,  helping our fellow man, teaching our children the difference between right and wrong and leading them by example.  If everyone did this, perhaps someday we could have peace. I don’t imagine this will happen, but I pray that it does and will hope and pray that my small contribution will help to facilitate that.  All I ask is that God bestow his blessings on everyone and that each of us strive to be the best that we can be.

CHAPTER 10 – DEBORAH MARIE CONRAD

imageI met Jim Conrad in September, 1960 at Skateland Skating Rink in Jacksonville, Florida.  Skating was my passion and my friends and I spent most of our time at the rink, mostly weekends.  I had graduated from high school and was working as a medical secretary at Prudential Insurance.  One night this guy skated up to me and said he wanted me to introduce him to my friend, Peggy.  I skated over to Peggy and told her this guy wanted to meet her and she said she wasn’t interested.  So I skated back over and told him and he skated off.  A little later during the Florida Reel, the whistle blew and there he was again.  We skated for a minute and he noticed my engagement ring and we talked until the whistle blew and he moved on.

The next week we met again and we sat and talked for a while.  He told me he was from Salem, Ohio, in the Navy and was stationed at Cecil Field and had just gotten back from a med cruise.  We kept seeing each other at the skating rink and after about 3 weeks, one night he asked if he could take me home and I said yes.  I had decided that I was attracted to him in a way I could not explain.  It was the first time I had doubted my engagement. On the way home, we went the long way home and we stopped at a red light and he kissed me.  I had never been kissed like that and it was like all the bells went off.  We must have kissed a thousand times that night trying to catch every red light we could.  It was then that I determined that I was not in love with my fiancé and that I would have to break the engagement.  In the meantime, Jim got transferred to Key West, Florida and we began a long distance romance.  We decided to get married and we met with some resistance from my family, but in the end, everything worked out.  Jim’ s parents came down from Ohio for the wedding and I remember how scary it was to meet them. In November, 1960, Jim and I were married and we began a lifelong adventure, starting in Key West, Florida.

We left on the honeymoon to Key West right after the wedding and this was also where we would be living.  We have a good chuckle about it now because it took us 3 days to get there because every time the sun would get in our eyes, we would get a motel room.   When we first arrived in Key West, we got a little apartment in town. We had an upstairs apartment with a pullout bed in the living room and a bathroom so small it was hard to sit down and close the door. The biggest room was the kitchen/dining area with jalousied windows on all sides.  It was a very pleasant room.  The thing we liked most about the apartment was the balcony.  For entertainment we would sit on the balcony and guess what kind of car would come around the corner next.  There was a little store across the street and we would get ice cream at night when we were sitting on the balcony.  We sat there sometimes for hours just talking.

We applied for Navy housing and after about 3 months it came through.  We moved into a 2 bedroom duplex, which was an old Quonset hut divided into 2 apartments.  The Quonset huts were old and roach infested.  It was a daily battle between us and the roaches, but in the end we won.  We made a lot of friends on base and had a lot of fun.  About that same time, I became sick with a UTI and the doctor told me that I was pregnant.  We was surprised to say the least, as this was not anything we had talked about.  The next six months were miserable for me.  I was nauseated all the time and the mere smell of food would set it off.  I often wondered why they called it morning sickness because I was sick it seemed 24 hours a day.  Time passed and I grew bigger each day, the morning sickness went away at about 8 months, but the heat was still oppressive.  Finally one day my water broke and Jim rushed me to the hospital.  He was so afraid the baby would come in the car and we would not make it to the hospital in time.  28 hours later, our first child was born.  It was a case of hurry up and wait.

imageDeborah Marie Conrad was born on July 30, 1961 in Key West, Florida at the U.S. Naval Hospital to 2 people who were barely through being babies themselves. Jim and I were barely 18 when we fell madly in love and got married. What is so ironic about this is that my plans had never included having children. Having grown up with 4 brothers and 3 sisters almost all of whom were younger than me, I had my fill of taking care of, diapering and feeding children and had no intentions of ever having any of my own. Unfortunately, caring for ones siblings does not prepare you for caring for your own child that you will be responsible for 24/7, 7 days a week. I loved all of my siblings but I did not hold total responsibility for them, and sometimes I resented having been thrust into the caretaker responsibility. There is a lot more to raising children than changing a diaper or feeding them.

We made some wonderful friends in Key West, people from all over the country.  They were all Navy people and all had their own stories. The one thing we all had in common was… poverty.  We were all in the same boat.  At the end of the month everyone would be out of food and money and we would all take what was in our cupboards and make what we could and then put it on the community table and have a feast.  We also would cram as many people into a car that would fit and go to the drive in movie because it was a dollar a carload.  I hate to admit it, but sometimes people even got in the trunk.  Not a good idea.  We also played a lot of cards, canasta , pinochle, 500 and euchre.  We usually had 2 tables of 4 and we would start playing around 8 in the evening, we would put all the children to bed, and we would play all night.  When you are young, nothing is impossible.

We remained in Key West until 1962, at which time Jim’s tour in the Navy was to be complete.  Unfortunately his tour was extended because of the Cuban crisis in 1962.  Debbie and I returned to Jacksonville, Florida and I got an apartment and then Jim was discharged after a few months and we settled into civilian life.  Jim got a job at General Foods in Jacksonville, and I got a job as a secretary. We bought a cute little house and settled into life.  Mama kept Debbie while we worked and she loved being with Grandma and Grandpa, but she was always happy to see us when we picked her up.  Grandma would take her shopping and she would take her hand and say “Hurry up Grandma, I have to show you something.”  She became very close to Grandma and Grandpa Glisson.

When Debbie was about 4, Jim decided he wanted to return to Ohio where he was raised and he went to Ohio ahead of Debbie and me to get a job.  His brother lived in Columbus so he stayed with his brother.  We stayed behind to sell the house and tie up loose ends.  The house was sold and we stayed with my parents while Jim arranged for an apartment in Columbus.  Debbie and I left Jacksonville in 1965 and took the train to Ohio.  I was terrified to be on my own with this precious little child who was depending on me to take care of her.  I had never traveled any further north than my hometown in Statesboro, Georgia.  Thank goodness she was too young to know how scared and afraid I was, she just trusted me to take care of her. Unbeknownst to me, I was pregnant with our second child at the time.  Needless to say, I barfed all the way to Ohio.  Had it not been for the kindness of a young sailor in our car, I don’t know how I would have managed.  He took care of Debbie and watched her for me and she had no idea what was going on.  She loved the train ride, me… not so much.  I always said if I had to return to Florida, I would walk before taking the train.  That’s how bad it was.

The trip lasted an eternity and it seemed that the train stopped at every little podunk town between Florida, and Ohio.  It took several days and we pulled into Columbus, Ohio late in the evening and I did not know where to go or what to do.  I looked out into the mass of people and finally saw Jim’s face and it was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.  Debbie was happy to see Daddy and so was I.  We got our bags and made our way to the car and started to our new home, pulling over several times so I could barf.

The next few weeks were a blur to me as I continued to be ill.  I was finally able to see a doctor and he advised that I was pregnant.  It seemed to me that pregnancy always occurred at the most inopportune times when you were the least prepared and were financially unsound.  Of course it has often been said that if you waited until you could afford children, you would never have them.

After being in Columbus for 2 months, Jim decided he wanted to return to Salem, Ohio, where he had grown up.  We stayed with a childhood friend for a couple of weeks and then rented a house across from the park.   Jim found a job at Electric Furnace as an overhead crane operator.  Meanwhile, I continued to be sick with the baby due in March, 1966.  I was so homesick for my family that I thought I would never be happy in this place.  The first winter I thought I would freeze to death.  This southern blood was so thin and so were my clothes.  We were not up to this kind of cold.  Through Jim’s work, we made friends and also reconnected with some of Jim’s friends from childhood.   Debbie and I began learning our way around town and learned the best places to shop.  We were shopping one day in November and we looked out the window and it was snowing. Neither of us had ever seen snow and it was so exciting for both of us. We were holding hands and dancing around and the other shoppers thought we were nuts.  After you live up north for a while, you learn to dislike the snow and cold.  It took a while for me but after falling on my backside so many times out in the snow, I began to have a dislike for it.  And, don’t get me started about driving in it.  I could write a book about my driving experiences and mishaps in the snow.  But, not Debbie, she loved it.  Snow is beautiful until the world wakes up and starts moving around in it and it becomes gray slush.

Salem, Ohio is a very nice little town that I grew to love so much and made so many dear friends. James Frederic Conrad, Jr., was born March 19, 1966, and Debbie was completely taken with him.  She loved being his big sister and helped me out so much.  Pretty soon, Debbie started kindergarten and she was a really smart child.  She did well and continued to prosper and grow.  The years pass quickly and on September 5, 1968, Michael Andrew Conrad, was born.  He was welcomed by his sister and brother and life continued for our little family.  I got a job in a law firm in Salem and continued working there until we were transferred in 1978.  The children grew and soon Debbie was a teenager, with all the little troubles that come with that. She went to her first dance with her boyfriend, Jim, and looked so beautiful in her dress.  She had her heart broken several times and she broke several hearts herself and managed to survive it all.

She was not a perfect child and I remember there were times when we did not get along.  One such memory I have was standing in the kitchen with her having an argument about something I would not let her do, and she looked me straight in the eye and said “I hate your guts.” In a flash my hand was out and as I heard the crack of my hand meet her face, I was suddenly in my Mama’s kitchen and we were having the same argument.  I looked Mama straight in the eye and I said, “I hate your guts” and in a flash, Mama’s hand was out and as her hand met my face, I saw the hurt in her eyes.  I stormed into my room and cried and waited for Mama to come in and tell me she was sorry for slapping me and so I could tell her I did not hate her.  Mama never came into my room and I never told her I didn’t hate her and I cried myself to sleep.  We never ever talked about it and the next day and ever day until I reached adulthood, we acted as if nothing had happened.  I was able to express to Mama later how much I loved and respected her.

Debbie stormed into her room and slammed the door and I could hear her crying.  I waited for a while and composed myself and decided I could not just leave it the way Mama and I had left it.  So I knocked on her door and went in.  She was laying on her bed sobbing and I knelt down beside her and stroked her hair and told her how sorry I was that I had slapped her face.  She put her arms around me and said she didn’t really hate me that she had just been angry.  We talked for a while and then hugged and kissed and then said goodnight. Unlike the night I cried myself to sleep, this night I was able to sleep really well.

James-ConradFamilyIn 1976, we bought a nice house in the country and the children loved it.  Jim had changed jobs and had entered the retail business with Fisher Big Wheel. It meant changing schools and communities but everyone did fine.  The kids were involved in so many activities, the boys in baseball and football and Debbie in gymnastics, piano and dance.  Debbie also volunteered as a candy stripper at the Salem Hospital.  She decided she wanted to go into radiology when she graduated so she attended the Vocational School to become an X-ray technician. She really loved it and made many friends.  Her best friend was Jeannine Render and they were so close and spent a lot of time together, sleepovers, movies and other activities.  Debbie was a junior in high school and went to the junior senior prom with her boyfriend, Donnie.  She was so beautiful and really nervous but after Donnie came to pick her up, she was more relaxed and they had a wonderful time.  I told her about the first prom I went to and how I was so nervous I had to leave the dance floor and rush to the ladies room and barf.  That seemed to make her more at ease.  She thought it was funny.

Debbie loved animals and she had a German shepherd who she named Sugar.  Sugar got her name because she ate a whole pan of brownies when we left her at home by herself.  I thought chocolate was bad for dogs, but other than a lot of pooping, she seemed to have no ill effects from it.  Sugar loved being outside and she would come home with rabbits and one day, much to our dismay, she had an encounter with a skunk.  That was one battle she did not win and we didn’t discover it until she came into the house. It took a lot of tomato juice to eliminate the smell and we had to keep her tied outside for a few days.  That was when we decided she would have to be put on a leash chain so she could not leave the yard.  She always slept in Debbie’s room and Debbie really missed her.  Soon the smell dissipated and she was allowed back in the house.

imageOn Monday, May 27, 1978, it was the Memorial Day holiday and we attended a picnic with friends and we all had a wonderful time. Swimming, playing ball and eating lots of good food and visiting with good friends.  We came home so tired and got everything ready for school and work the next day.  Tuesday, May 28, 1978, the actual Memorial Day, was just like any other day.  The boys got ready for school and caught the bus.  Debbie got ready for school and she looked so cute.  She was wearing a pink tee shirt and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and pink tennis shoes.  She caught her bus and Jim and I went our respective ways to our jobs.  I had lunch with a couple of friends, Bonnie Clark and Dorothy Hendricks, at a local restaurant. We were sitting there eating and all of a sudden the most horrible feeling came over me and I thought I was going to cry.  They asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t explain the feelings I was overcome with.

We finished lunch and I went back to the office and everyone was still out.  After a few minutes, the phone rang and it was someone asking for Mrs. Conrad.  I answered this is she.  The woman said you need to go to the hospital, your daughter has been in an accident.  I asked if Debbie was okay and they replied that they didn’t have any details I just needed to go to the hospital.  I couldn’t understand how she could be in an accident because she was suppose to be in school.  I jumped into my car all the while praying that everything would be ok and that maybe she had a broken arm or leg.  Meanwhile, Jim had also been called but it took him longer to get there because he was in another town.   I got to the hospital and went into the ER and told the nurse who I was and everyone in the ER froze and looked at me.  I could tell by the way they looked at me that everything was not okay.  She put her arm around me and said come with me and led me into a room and asked me to have a seat.

In a few minutes the door opened and a man who I knew to be the county coroner stepped in and sat down.  He started talking to me about my daughter and that she had red hair.  My heart soared because I knew they had made mistake because my daughter had dark brown hair.  I said that’s not my daughter.  My daughter does not have red hair.  As quickly as my heart soared, it plummeted to earth when he said your daughter has dark brown hair and was wearing a pink tee shirt and jeans.  I thought my heart was going to explode and then he said I am very sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter died in an automobile accident this morning.  At that moment, time stood still and the sound that came out of my mouth was a sound that came from the depths of my soul and in that moment, I wanted to die.  I have never felt such devastation as I did that day and I pray to God I never feel that way again.  They kept trying to sedate me and I kept refusing.  I wanted to be able to know what I was doing and what was going on.  Jim arrived at that time and he knew as soon as he saw me that Debbie was gone.  He was devastated but he kept his composure somewhat because I had definitely lost mine.  I managed to call my office and spoke to my friend, Karen Elsner, and told her and within minutes, she was by my side.  Meanwhile, other friends and family arrived and identification was made and then there was nothing left to do but go home and the funeral director would come out to our house so we could make the arrangements.  We got into our car and drove home in silence and we looked at each other and said what are we suppose to do now?

imageWe also learned that Debbie’s best friend, Jeannine, had died in the crash.  We had totally forgotten that Debbie’s class was having a hands-on day at the hospital.  They were suppose to go on a bus but some of them went in cars.  Jeannine has just gotten her drivers license a couple of weeks before and her parents let her drive to school that day and unbeknownst to us,  Debbie was allowed to ride with her.  We had signed a permission slip but not for riding in a car.  They were coming into town on a narrow, paved 2 lanned country road with low shoulders.  Due to her inexperience, Jeannine kept going off the side of the road and according to the people in the car behind them, did this several times.  The last time she over corrected and lost control of the car and went into the on-coming lane and hit a semi-truck head on.  Needless to say, we were told that both girls died on impact.  I later learned from the accident report that Debbie took her last breath in the arms of an Ohio State Trooper.  I was actually relieved to read this because I knew then that she had not been alone when she died and I thank that person for holding her in his arms her last minutes on this earth.

The news spread throughout the community and a kind neighbor went to the school to pick the boys up to make sure they didn’t hear about the accident from someone else.  The neighbor brought them home and we sat them down and told them what had happened.  They really did not grasp the situation and I don’t think they knew what to do either.  Jimmy was 10 and Mike was 8.  They were bewildered.  The next few days were a blur and the task of calling our families and telling them was very difficult.  My mother was told and she collapsed.  She had taken care of Debbie in the early years and every summer after she was 8, Debbie flew to Florida to spend the Summers with Aunt Gloria and Uncle Carl and Grandma and Grandpa Glisson.  They were very close and corresponded regularly.

Now it’s time to make funeral arrangements.  It is very ironic that the week before, Jim had gone to St. Petersburg with his mother and father to his grandfather’s funeral.  He came home and said that Grampy had been cremated and they had a memorial service and how touching it was.  Debbie piped up and said  ” when I die, I want to be cremated too.”  We certainly had never expected to be the ones to fulfill her wishes.  She was suppose to bury us.  She was suppose to grow up, graduate, go to college, marry, have children and live a happy productive life.

Family arrived and friends stopped by and my sister, Gloria and my sister-in-law, Sandy took over.  Jim and I were both on auto-pilot and the days were just a blur.  They did so much to help us get through everything. On a previous visit we had been reminiscing and I had told them that when I was a child and did not feel well, Mama would always give me an orange crush soft drink and how it always made me feel better.  They went into town one day to shop and when they can back they had brought me  a six pack of orange crush to help me feel better.  I was quite touched by that one act of love and kindness.

Debbie’s memorial service was held in the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Salem and it was a very touching ceremony.  All of her school friends were there and they were quite affected by both deaths.  Debbie’s favorite Christian song was sung, What a Friend We have In Jesus, and when I hear that song now, it brings tears to my eyes.  After the service we go back home and family and friends stop by and we have so much food we could feed an army.  Then slowly everyone starts leaving and my family from Florida had come up and stayed in our motor home and it was time for them to leave and it was hard to say goodbye.  Jim’s family also started leaving and pretty soon, the only ones there besides me, Jim and the boys, was my sister, Gloria.   Her flight didn’t leave until the next day and it was very comforting to have her stay for another day.  We make plans to dispose of the extra food and clean up and the next day, my sister departed.  Her presence had been the one stabilizing force for me during this ordeal.  The boys went back to school and Jim and I found we were alone for the first time since the accident.  We both wandered aimlessly about, not really knowing what to do.  We just went through the motions and the days passed and finally, we both decided it was best for both of us to return to our jobs.  It had been 3 weeks.  It was hard at first because every time someone would come into my office, they would be so kind and I would end up crying and having to leave the room.  Luckily for me, my boss, Mr. Kendall, was a very kind man and he was very supportive during this time.   As the days and months passed, I was able to control my emotions better and life just continued.  People stopped dropping by and everything appeared to return to normal. I had to do a lot of pretending just so I wouldn’t make others uncomfortable.

I had often heard that there are stages of grief you go through and I can attest to that fact.  Disbelief was the first one I experienced, I just couldn’t believe this had happened to us.  When asked “why me”, the minister asked “why not you, are you someone special?”  Well, yes, I thought  I was.  Things like this didn’t happen to us, only other people. Then came denial.  I use to lay in bed at night and pretend that Debbie was on a date and I was waiting to hear her come in the door, and, of course, she never did.  But, the time would pass and I would fall asleep and then morning would come and reality would sink in.  Then I became angry, angry at her and angry at God for taking my child and angry because I knew deep in my heart she was not coming back. After that…. acceptance… that moment when you realize that it is what it is, you can’t change it and no matter how much you cry or lament your loss, she is now in the hands of God.

It took me a long time to get to acceptance but I realized I had when one night I had a dream.  I dreamed it was snowing and Debbie and I were walking down the street arm-in-arm and the snowflakes were big and fluffy and the only sound was the crunching of snow beneath our feet.  We were talking and we stopped and I turned and said to her, “Debbie, when are you coming home?” And she gently took my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, I am never coming home.  I am in my new home and I am very happy where I am.”  With that said, we continued walking arm-in-arm not talking, the only sound being the snow crunching beneath our feet.  Then, I woke up and for the first time in a long time, I was at peace.  I have so wanted to have that dream again, but never have, but I believe that is when I came to terms with the tragedy of her death.

It has been 37 years since Debbie died and there has not been a single day that she hasn’t crossed my mind in some way or another, a song, a smell, a name, all of these things are reminders of a part of my life that was such a long time ago.  There is a song that Kenny Chesney sings that sums it all up for me, Who You’d Be Today, and I often wonder that very thing.  In my mind’s eye, she will remain forever young.  The pain has dulled somewhat, but her memory still burns bright and will stay with me always till we meet again.

CHAPTER 9 – DADDY

imageMy Daddy, Virgil Earl Glisson, was born in Statesboro, Georgia on July 29, 1916 to Joseph Paul Glisson and Carrie Bell Futch.  He had a very hard childhood which haunted him throughout his life. His mother died in childbirth when he was 3 years old and he would forever long for the tender touch of his mother.  After his mother died, Grandpa Glisson remarried and I am told that on their wedding night things were not quite what they appeared and the marriage did not work out.  Soon after, Grandpa made the wife leave and life was hard on all the children.  It was rumored that the new wife put ground glass in the children’s food in an attempt to get rid of them.  Daddy has 7 siblings, Rufus, Bertha, Beatrice, Janie Ernestine, Lawton, Willy, who died as a child, and Alvareen, who was pregnant at the time, and who was pummeled to death by an abusive husband.  Unclear to me is why he suffered no consequence for his actions, but I assume it was the fact that it was a rural, backward area and women were possessions and in most instances of no value.  They were to produce heirs and farm workers and cook, clean and generally take care of the home and husband, whatever that required doing.

In that day and place, education was not important and Daddy was taken out of school when he was in 3rd grade to work on the farm.  Grandpa was a ruthless father and made life difficult for his children. Daddy survived his childhood and grew to be a man, continuing to work on the farm with his father and siblings.  He met my mother when he went into town one day to see Mama’s cousin.  He took a liking to Mama and she returned the affection, and on February 19, 1939, they were married.  Daddy and Mama lived in town and settled into a nice little house where in 1940, Mama gave birth to their first child, Gloria Jean.  She was their pride and joy and kept them busy.  In 1942, their 2nd child, Clara Janie, was born and Earl, Jr. was born in 1944, shortly after which Daddy was drafted into the Army.  He was not gone long however as somehow Mama got him a hardship discharge.  I remember when he came home and this man in a uniform knocked at the door and Mama was crying and so happy.  We all got dressed up and I remember we walked downtown and strolled about.

Daddy did not like living in the city, so after a while he returned to the farm to do the only thing he knew how to do, farming.  Mama had never envisioned being a farmer’s wife, but she soon took to it and did everything she had to do.  As children, we learned at an early age the value of hard work and what it took to achieve goals.  Daddy was an excellent farmer and did well.  We learned how to pick cotton, plant, pick, string and hand tobacco, and everything else that needed done on the farm.  We learned a lot in childhood that would follow us throughout our lives.

The only downfall Daddy had was alcohol.  Mama always said he was a ladies man and really knew how to cut a rug (dance).  He also love to call square dances.  One night he went into town with Mama’s sister’s husband and never came home.  The next morning my aunt came out and told Mama that Daddy and my uncle were in jail.  Mama had to go into town and get him out.  Seems that they both had too much to drink, had gotten into a fight with some other fellas and a brawl ensued and they all got thrown in the pokey.  Well, she got him out of jail and he walked a fine line after that.

Mama hid the drinking from us until we were older and we kinda figured things out.  She didn’t want us to think badly of Daddy, but it answered a lot of questions I had.  I remember Daddy went into town with a neighbor on a business matter and he returned a few hours later and the neighbor dropped him off at the end of the pecan-lined lane leading up to the house.  We were all out in the yard with Mama raking leaves and Mama looked up the lane and saw Daddy weaving back and forth.  She threw down the rake and ran into the house crying.  When Daddy saw that happen, he started running and went into the house after her just a laughing and telling her he was just funning around with her.  He never did that again.  I don’t mean he didn’t drink again, but that he never pretended he was drunk again.

 After buying the farm and the passage of a few years, somehow my father and mother lost the farm and we were back to share cropping.  My mother told me once what happened and it broke her heart, but I will leave that part out.  She loved that house and I remember it as being beautiful.  We moved several times during those years. As the years passed, our family continued to grow with the birth of Charles Grady, who only lived for a few days.  I wrote about Charles Grady in another chapter.   Then Judy and Joey were born and it was suspected that my father possibly had some sort of lung disease or TB.   The doctor told him he needed to leave the farm and do something other farming.  Mama was happy sInce all of Mama’s family had already migrated to Florida.  Mama, and Daddy very reluctantly, moved to Florida to begin a life with which Daddy was very unfamiliar.  After the move to Florida, our family continued to grow.  Luann, Stevie and Tommy were born.  

This was a new experience for all of us because we had always lived in the country and that was all we knew.  Daddy was a very insecure man with a huge inferiority complex.  He was a little paranoid and would not eat in public because he thought people were watching him eat.  He was also a very jealous man as far as Mama was concerned.  Mama walked a fine line all of her married life because of that jealousy.  She was afraid to speak to a man for fear of a scene from Daddy.

Daddy had a really hard time finding a job after we got to Jacksonville.  I remember a salesman knocked on the door one day and my sister, Gloria, answered the door.  He was selling cemetery plots and wanted to know if we were interested.  My sister matter-of-factly told him that, no not right now but to check back in a couple of months because if Daddy didn’t find a job soon, we were all going to starve to death.  We knew even as children that in order to survive you had to work.

2boat_0003Daddy finally found a job working at a bakery.  He worked there many years and became supervisor of his department before he retired.  I loved it when he was in the cinnamon roll department.  He used to bring them home and we all loved them.  He never ate them and he said he didn’t care if he ever saw another cinnamon roll for the rest of his life.  He retired on disability when one day his hand got caught in the machinery and he lost part of his hand and 3 fingers.  They were able to save his thumb and index finger but he was unable to perform his job.  After he retired, time became Daddy’s worst enemy.  He had time to increase his drinking habit, time to sit around and feel sorry for himself and time to worry about Mama’s fidelity.   He worked around the house and kept things in good repair under Mama’s watchful eye.  One day he climbed on the roof to make repairs and fell off breaking his arm.  Mama thought he’d had a nip or two before climbing up on the roof.  He said not, but she begged to differ.

In 1982, Daddy suffered a massive heart attack.  We were living in Ohio at the time so we made the trip to Jacksonville by car with the 3 children because he wasn’t expected to live. He had open-heart surgery and they punctured a lung and his entire body swelled up like a balloon.  He managed to overcome all his difficulties and went home after several weeks in the hospital.  It was a long road back for him, but Mama took good care of him.  He didn’t like the food he had to eat.  He was a meat and potatoes man and loved salt.  This was at about the time chlolesterol became a big deal and Mama was determined to save him.  She made him walk with her every day.  One day as they were getting ready to walk, Daddy said Ruby, I don’t feel like walking today.  She was already out the door and turned to him and said, Virgil, you don’t walk, you don’t eat.  Since food was a big deal to Daddy,  he meekly followed her out the door and walked.  He never tried that again.

In 1984, we relocated our family to Florida to be closer to my family and for a change of climate.  Daddy and Mama had settled into a routine and Mama continued keeping children to earn extra money, most of them being grandchildren.  This went on for a time and Daddy reverted back to his old ways and had another heart attack.  It took a lot of rehab and Mama controlling his diet for Daddy to make a comeback, but he did.  He became more agreeable about taking care of himself and did what Mama told him to do.  He stopped drinking and started going to church with Mama on Sunday.  Nothing pleased her more than that one thing.

One night he was sitting in the living room and Mama was in the kitchen and she heard him call her name.  She went into the living room and he was laying on the floor.  She called 911 and they took him to Shands.  The doctor said he had suffered sudden death syndrome and that he would not make it.  He was in ER for 2 days.  We were all there constantly talking to him, and sometimes just sitting there silently holding his hand and praying.  On the third day he regained consciousness and was moved to CCU.  He was in the hospital for 3 weeks and recovered and went home.  He had been given another chance.

He started failing in other ways and seemed to have the beginnings of dementia and the jealously he had always had about Mama returned and he became paranoid that every man was after her, no matter his age.  This became very distressing for Mama and she had to be so careful.  On December 3, 1994, Mama and I took Daddy to the ER because he had been so sick for a week and just wasn’t getting any better.  The doctor immediately decided to admit him because he had congestive heart failure and pneumonia and they needed to drain some of the fluid from his lungs.  They started his treatment immediately and on Sunday he seemed to be better.

On Monday, December 5, 1994,  I did not make my usual visit to the hospital on my way to work as I had gotten a bad cold and did not want to expose him to more germs.  On my way home, I called him to see how he was doing.  He answered the phone and said he couldn’t talk because the nurse was in his room doing something.  I went home and about an hour later, I got a call from my brother, Earl.  He said they had called and said Daddy was not doing well and that they had to have permission from Mama to administer a particular drug.  It would either work or he would die.  Mama gave permission and they administered the drug.  A little later the hospital called and said we all needed to come to the hospital because Daddy was dying.

Most of us made it to the hospital in time to say goodbye.  When my turn came, I kissed Daddy on the cheek and I whispered into his ear how much I loved him and what a wonderful father he had been.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  Saying goodbye to a loved one is heart-wrenching  and touches the depths of one’s soul, but, having the opportunity to say goodbye… priceless.

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CHAPTER 4 – LIFE ON THE RIVER

bOATMy husband and I were very fortunate to have had the privilege of living in an apartment on the river for about 15 years. I intended to live there until I was 92 and went out with a toe tag. We had the ideal apartment.. right on the main dock with the canal at our back door. We could just jump in our boat and take off and go fishing whenever we were in the mood. We were very fortunate to have some wonderful neighbors and we made so many wonderful and interesting friends. Pete and Jane were our best friends and we would spend our evenings gathered on the dock talking, laughing and fishing. Weekends we would gather for a low country boil or we would hop in the boat and go look for gators or just cruise down the river gazing at the stars. Sometimes we would just cut the engine and drift with the tide and talk and laugh like crazy. Many times we would go to the Landing by boat and have dinner or go watch the fireworks on the holidays.

Even when the weather was cold, the dock was a favorite gathering spot. Someone would bring out a TV and we would set it up and watch the Jags play. We tailgated right there on the dock. I sure do miss those times and they are wonderful memories. We spent many weekends fishing with our nephews, Clayboy and E-III. Catching “reds” was our favorite thing. Sometimes we would fish all day, catch our limit for the boat, run out of food and drinks and we would head back home to reload and do it again. Unfortunately, most times the trip back out resulted in nothing. But there was a lot of camaraderie and we really had a lot of  good times. Sometimes it would be so hot that we would get in the water and tie a rope around ourselves so we wouldn’t get washed away because the St. Johns tide was so strong at times.

redWe had a special place we would fish on the St. Johns. We would come out of the Ortega River and head straight across the river to a spot that we could always identify because it had a red roof on the boat house and housed a boat called the “Capaloa”. We caught so many reds in that area and that was most always the first place we headed. That summer was referred to as the “Summer of our Dreams”. In the following years, we were never quite able to recapture it, but the memories linger and they are certainly happy ones.

2boat_0002Well, as it has been said, all dreams have to come to an end and our life as we knew it on the river, finally ended. The complex went condo and unfortunately we could not buy our unit. By that time, we had sold our last boat and it was time to move on. It was very sad as we watched our friends leave, one by one. It was very quiet and lonely.. no more laughter filling the night air… I think we were the last to leave of our group and for me it was a very sad day. So now we are in another apartment complex on the water, which is where we love to be … and life goes on. So now we fish at the Nassau Sound and Huguenot Park and we really enjoy it. Our grandson, Hunter, who is now 13, loves to fish and really enjoys going fishing with us.  We have spent many happy hours fishing in the sunshine and loving life and hope to continue to do so for many years to come.

CHAPTER 8 – LIFE AS WE KNEW IT

imageWell, the past several weeks we have been concentrating on moving into our new apartment.  It has really been quite an experience.  It is the first move of my life where I had no responsibility and Jim did all of the work.  Bless his little heart.  He took care of all of the arrangements and the movers (I did do a little packing, but not much) and he did a most wonderful job.  I did help unpack and place the furniture but it wasn’t nearly as hard as our usual moves.  It was stress-free for me but not so much for him.  Since he has retired and has taken over all of the “wifely” duties, he has become acutely aware of the stress and responsiblities that women have borne over the years.  He often asks me “How did you do this all those years without any help.”  I always answered “Because it was what I was suppose to do.”

When we were young, our generation was taught that women had certain responsibilities as far as keeping house, raising the children, and just generally taking care of the family.  When Dad came home, his day ended.  My mother’s generation (for the most part) were stay-at-home moms.  But as we evolved it became necessary in order to financially survive, for both parents to work.  Not only did I take care of my family but I held a full-time job as well.  It was always the same every day.  Get up, get 3 children ready for school or day care, drop off at school or day care, work until 5, pick up chidren from day care or extended care, go home, start supper, help with homework, cook a full meal (back then we all sat down at the table together and no one left the table until everyone was done).  Fast food was unheard of in those days.  Dad would retire to the family room to watch TV and I would clean the kitchen.  We did not have a dishwasher then (just me).  Actually, I kinda liked washing the dishes.  I would sing my heart out.  I had the delusion that I sounded a lot like Dolly Parton.  LOL  It was kinda therapeutic and I would solve a lot of problems or sort things out as I was washing the dishes, plus the hot water always felt so soothing on my hands.  There was something satisfying about the squeaky cleanness of the dishes.

After dishes, it was up the stairs to help the children finish up their homework, get their baths, a bedtime story and then off to bed.  Up and down the stairs several times because someone had the “after dark crud” and could not sleep.    Pretty soon, I gave up on going upstairs and instead resort to yelling “Don’t make me come up there.   If I send your father up there you are going to be sorry.”  It’s funny how a man who was always laying on the couch could be such a forceful disciplinary tool when the children were not doing what I had told them to do a hundred times.  All it took was one time and then everything would quiet down and peace would descend. Now it is time to make lunches and make sure everyone has something clean to wear for the next day.  By the time I finish and take my shower, it is quite late and the hubby is already in bed.

It is after midnight and I am exhausted and then it seems I had just closed my eyes and it is 5:30 and I have to get up and start over again, make breakfast for the children, dress the children, find lost shoes, socks, school books, home work, you name it, it got lost.  My children always did their homework, I know that for a fact because I labored over it with them, but inevitably one of them would lose it between our house and the school.  And, of course, I would not find this out until I attended a parent/teacher conference and the teacher informed me that my child had failed to turn in his homework and that we needed to work on this. So after the day was over, we would all come home and do it all over again.  After the children got older, our nightly routine changed somewhat and included taking three children to either piano, dance, gymnastics, baseball, football, etc.  Sometimes we would have to split up and one would go to Jimmy’s game and the other to Mike’s game.  Debbie’s favorites were piano and gymnastics and that was usually my domain. And of course, with this change came the change of dinner time… fast food evolved, eating on the run and no one having the same schedule.  Now wasn’t that exciting… maybe not… but certainly exhausting.

Our daughter, Debbie, died in a tragic automobile accident when she was 16 and we miss her so much every day of our lives, but that is another story.  Our boys are adults now and our son, Jim Jr., is the father of 2 children and is married to Christina, who has a son, Kenny.   Mike is not married but enjoys his life very much and is very much involved in all family activities.  Our granddaughter, Autumn, is an adult now, having graduated from high school and out on her own now.  Our grandson, Kenny is 18 and will graduate June, 2015.  Our grandson, Hunter, is 13 years old now and he is a hoot.  We have had him around us since the day he was born and have a wonderful relationship with him.  I enjoy being around him so much and he cracks me up with his witicisms.  I will try to enjoy this phase,  because I am sure as he gets older this relationship will change also.

Our house is pretty quiet now and I get to bed at a reasonable time (some would say too reasonable).  I miss the hustle and bustle of raising a family and the advice I would give to anyone would be to enjoy it while it is happening.  Live in the moment, because it is fleeting, and it is gone before you know it.  I do know one thing, I certainly miss the moment.

CHAPTER 7 – UH OH

UH OH..

imageThis is a word I never like to hear because it usually means there is trouble. My husband and I had just purchased a 45 foot house boat and had no experience with boats at all. We loved being on the water and having a boat just seemed like the perfect thing for us. We would often be fishing from shore and we would see a houseboat go by and we would longing say “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to buy a houseboat and live on it?” Little did we know what was ahead or what our boating experience would be.  When my husband and my nephew picked it up, the previous owner rode the boat with them and escorted them to the main river and the only thing he told them to remember was “red right return” which means keep the red buoy on your right returning to port. He put the boat close to the boat ramp and them jumped off and said “Good Luck”.

They were so excited and proceeded to the marina where we had arranged for a slip. Upon arriving at the slip, my husband put the boat into the slip slicker than a whistle only to discover a few minutes later that he was in the wrong slip. This is when things started turning interesting and when the “UH OH” word surfaced. When he started to pull into the correct slip, he went in too fast and proceeded to take the rails off the front of the boat. He bounced off the dock and the boat finally settled in and he got it under control. That cost a pretty penny to fix and was just the first of many “uh ohs” to come.

We had an apartment which for a while we continued to live in and we would spend the weekend on the boat. The first time we took it out on an excursion we were so excited. We started out on the first leg of our trip and my husband took the wrong tributary and within seconds we are aground. Luckily he backed off and we were ok. Our son and his wife and two of our nephews went with us and we spent the day in the St. Johns mostly anchored and fishing. Later in the day we noticed everyone heading back inland. The sky was darkening and it was apparent it was going to be stormy. We pulled anchor and started back to the marina. We had double gas tanks and my husband assured me that we had plenty of gas and that when one tank got low you just switched to the second tank… I think you can probably see where I am going with this. So we are cruising along in the middle of the channel of the St. Johns and my husband says “uh oh”. I asked what the problem was and he said we are out of gas. I said how can that be, we have two tanks. He said I think we need to flip a switch. I said… You think. So… they go to the back or should I say stern and check out the engine compartment and both tanks are empty.

There we are dead in the water right in the middle of the shipping channel. So we are trying to decide what to do and about that time we hear WHOOOOOOOO WHOOOOOOO and we look down river and headed straight for us is a super tanker. Well, I can tell you our hearts were beating. So… we started getting our life jackets on because we know that we are probably going to have to jump off this boat. I don’t know what I was thinking but I took my life jacket and was waving my arms in a crisscross manner at a passing boat… not knowing that this is the way you get help on the water. It was a small boat but it came right over and I yelled and they looked back and understood. They threw a rope and we attached it to the front cleat and the little boat started pulling. We looked back at the tanker and the crew was lined up on deck and I thought they were preparing to help us but was informed later that they were just there to watch the tanker hit the boat because the tanker always has the right of way.

The “little boat that could” got us back to the marina dropped us at the end of the T dock, threw back the line and took off. He didn’t even give us a chance to get his name, but I think he saved our lives that day. Well, you remember I mentioned that there was a storm brewing. Well, it was approaching quickly and we had to move our boat into the slip. They got gas and my husband proceeded to try to pull the boat around into the slip before the storm hit. Not having much experience, he kept trying to drive the boat like a car and it is very much different. He turned the corner and didn’t take a wide enough turn so he started to turn away and retry and the back of our boat hit the back of a $250,000 sail boat and I am standing on the dock watching this and I am speechless. Now my heart is going wild and I thought I was going to die. I kept waiting for the sailboat to go glub, glub, glub. My husband finally got the boat under control. and started into the slip and I could see that he was going to hit the sailboat again. The problem was that the steering has broken during the initial turn and now my husband had no control over the boat. He bounced off the back of the sailboat again and it popped our boat right into the slip. Meanwhile, all of the neighbors had come off their boats, we thought to help, but I am sure it was to protect their property.

Well, remember that storm I told you about earlier…. It arrived. My husband said we’ll just wait it out in the boat. So we all boarded the boat again and waited. In about a minute the rain started pelting down, the wind was blowing and the boat was bouncing around. It was really violent. I don’t know why, but we all put our life jackets on and packed into the head and waited. I don’t know why but we had all been taught that in a tornado, the bathroom is usually the safest place. It was roaring outside and it felt like the boat was lifted out of the water. We were all absolutely terrified. It seemed like an eternity but after about 10 minutes, it was over. We decided it was safe to leave the boat and we got off and looked around and there were boats upside down, the sailboat across from us had lost its mast and it landed on a catamaran. Another boat had been heaved up on a piling and had a hole in its keel. Other boats that were moored in the river were upside down. Needless to say, we were thinking how fortunate we were that none of us had been injured.

We managed to maneuver our way down the dock and the owner of the marina was at the end of the dock and said “I bet I know where you could buy a real cheap house boat right about now.” I couldn’t have agreed more at that time. Shortly after that, my husband and I took the Coast Guard course for boaters and the only thing we did right that day was waving the hands in a crisscross manner. The Coast Guard instructor got a big kick out of our story and used it to demonstrate what not to do, except for the criss-cross waving part.

2boat_0002We finally gave up our apartment and moved onto the houseboat full time. We also acquired an 18′ bow rider which we kept tied to the back of the houseboat which was nice for just going for a ride or even fishing. It was a lot of trouble to take the mother ship out. We learned a lot about boats and boating and we also learned a lot about ourselves. My husband went from a novice to quite an expert in boat repairs and parts. In self defense you have to know how to repair some of these things or it will eat you alive financially. We learned that nothing for a boat costs less then $100. The joke was that every day when I would come home from work, my husband would say, Honey, write Larry a check for $100. I finally told him that he needed to do some of these things himself if he wanted to be able to stay on this boat. We had a lot of really good times and a lot of scary times.

There are so many things that can go wrong.. storm in the middle of the night, cleat breaks loose, gotta get soaking wet and cold to fix it, but it has to be done, can’t wait til morning, west wind comes, water goes, no water under boat, can’t board boat. But on the other hand, visiting friends and family, beautiful summer nights, fishing off the stern, and sitting on the upstairs deck and watching the moon and stars.  Going to sleep at night with the gentle rock of the boat putting you to sleep and hearing the gentle waves lap against the boat.

We also met a lot of nice, interesting people. Boating people are very friendly and helpful people. We rescued many boaters during our adventures on the water and we were rescued several other times as well, but nothing as exciting and frightening as the first time. You never pass a stranded boater without offering help.

Well, after a while, I tired of not having a place to hang my “stuff”. You know, those things you have collected for years from different places and my husband and I had made a deal that when I felt I didn’t want to do it any more, we would move back into an apartment, which after 1-1/2 years we did. We kept the houseboat for a while but finally decided it was time for it to go. We finally sold the houseboat and kept the bow rider. You know they say there are two happy times in a boater’s life… when he buys the boat and… when he gets rid of it. I’m afraid I probably agree.

IHouseboatOur boat was suppose to be our retirement home, but we learned early on that boating is not for old people which within a few years we would be. It’s hard enough to keep your balance when you are young, but add the bouncing of the water and you are in trouble. It took me several months to get my sea legs and when I did I would go to work on the 21st floor of the building in which I worked and all day long my desk would sway.

bOATMy husband’s brother and his wife visited for a week and we were told that on the way home they stopped at a hotel and that even when they were seated on the john, everything was swaying back and forth. It takes some getting used to. Later we traded for a 18′ bass tracker pontoon boat which was really a lot of fun because we loved fishing. Then came the 24′ party barge which was a blast. We would gather up all our neighbors and go out at night and cruise looking for gators. You would be so surprised if you knew how many gators were on the shore of places where people ski and swim.

One thing you need to know about a pontoon boat, if you are in a hurry and need to get somewhere fast, this is not the boat for you. If you need to outrun a storm, this is not the boat for you, but that is another story for another day. On the weekends we would go to the landing with our friends and go to special events. Although that wasn’t my favorite part of boating because I hated going to the landing by boat at night. I was so afraid of having an accident.

I remember one night (when we were still living on the houseboat) we went to the landing for fireworks on the 19′ boat and we started back and there were so many boats that the river was like the tub of a washing machine. We plowed all the way back to the marina and that is a very uncomfortable position as it tends to put the nose of the boat up in the air and visibility is not very good, plus it was the darkest night I think I had ever seen. I promised God that if he got us back to the marina safely, I would never do that again, He got us back to the marina, but I did not keep my promise and we did do it again, again and again,  but each time it became less terrifying. There were many more “uh ohs” during our ownership of boats, but we also made some wonderful memories and when we look back on them, they make really good campfire stories.  Jim would still love to have a boat and we do still like to fish, but we are finding with advancing age and some of the limitations that come with it,  that probably is not a good idea.  So we sit on the shore at our apartment fishing and watch the boats go by and we say “Wouldn’t it be nice to buy a houseboat and live on it.”  Then we look at each other and laugh loud and long.

The moral of this story is “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.”

And so the sun sets on another beautiful day on the water.

sunset

CHAPTER 3 – CHILDHOOD RELIGION AND SPIRTUALITY

imageMy religious and spiritual upbringing began on my Mama’s lap at  Elmer Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia when I was 1 week old.  When I was born, my sister,  Gloria, was around 2 years old and she had  been sitting on Mama’s  lap  since  she was 1 week old.  So, when I was born, Gloria had to sit on the pew next to Mama and each and every week thereafter until I was around two years old, that is where you would find me,  on  Mama’s lap, at Elmer Baptist Church, or so I have been told.   When I was about 2, my brother Earl was born and I was then moved to the pew sitting next to my sister Gloria.  Then Judy usurped Earl and Joey usurped Judy.  My other 3 siblings, Luann, Stevie and Tommy,  were not born until we moved to Florida so they did not not get to experience our little country church or country living.  They really missed out on some great times and experiences.

As a child, I remember that church service was boring and more often than not, Gloria, Earl and I would fall asleep and end up laying down in the pew.  I remember waking up after the service and would discover on the way out that I had left my shoes under the pew. When we got a little older, we were told that was not acceptable behavior and was rude and disrespectful, so we had to stay awake and listen to what the pastor was saying.  Sometimes we would play a little game and we would each take a hymnal and we would pick an author and see how many songs he/she wrote.   As we grew older, we started doing more listening and praying and learning. We also started sitting with our friends and that was okay with Mama as long as we behaved and we were always under her watchful eye.

My sister, Gloria,  and I loved to sing and we sang often as we washed and dried the dishes at home. The pastor heard us singing in Training Union one  evening and asked if we would sing at Sunday Service and we agreed to do so.   I remember it so well and so does my sister Gloria. The song we sang was Blessed Redeemer.  We had a bad start and had to start over again and the preacher told everyone that he guessed he needed to put a pan of water and some dirty dishes in front of us to make us more comfortable.  I was so nervous that I thought I was going to be sick.   We learned Bible verses at a very early age.  I think the first one we learned was John 3:16,  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have ever lasting life”.

RubyIt is strange the things you remember as a child.  I remember when I was about 4, my brother, Charles Grady, was born and then died 3 days later.  I have never been able to determine the cause of his death but over the years heard many stories, none of which was ever verified.  Mama always blamed herself because she said she had asked Daddy to move a washtub and he never did, so like many of us impatient, independent women, she moved it herself.  She says when she moved it, she felt a muscle pull and she was convinced that somehow she had harmed the baby.  My parents had 9 children and he was the only one they had ever planned.  He was named after my Uncle Charles Peavey.  He and Aunt Lulu Mae, my Mama’s sister, had never been able to have children and they had bought all the things for him and for the nursery.  My Mama was not able to attend the funeral because she was still in the hospital.  I remember  the day of his funeral sitting in my Uncle Floyd’s Model T because I was not  allowed to go into the church.  I was scared because I didn’t know what was happening.  I saw them carry out a little coffin and go into the cemetery adjacent to the church and after a while my Daddy and aunt and uncle came back to the car.  I don’t know where Gloria and Earl were but we all ended back together at home.  We never got to see Charles Grady, but when we go back to Statesboro, I always visit his little grave.

Pretty soon, Mama came home from the hospital and life resumed. Mama was sad for a long time after that and she didn’t laugh or smile much.  Now, having lost a child of my own, I can understand her sorrow.  It takes you to a deep dark place you never want to go ever again and it takes a lot to climb out of that deep dark place and stay out.  Sometimes it feels like you are just hanging on by your fingertips and all you want to do is just give in to it and let the sorrow and despair take you.  But then your strength returns and believe me when I tell you that it takes real strength to bring yourself out of that dark pit of despair.  But with God’s help and the help of family and friends, it is possible.  Mama persevered and went on to have 5 more children who were all healthy and are still with us today.  Mama’s faith in God never wavered during all her ordeals.

I remember that my Daddy very seldom went to church.  He was a farmer and that was the only life he knew.  He was a very good father, a great farmer, hard worker and a wonderful man and took care of his family.   Although, he was a very self-conscience man, very unsure of himself and very insecure with a severe inferiority complex, which I am sure stemmed from his unfortunate childhood.  His mother died in childbirth when he was 2 years old and he had no relationship with his step-mother. All through his life, he longed for his mother until the day he died. He ultimately developed a drinking problem that plagued him for many years, much to the chagrin of my Mama.   Mama hated alcohol and when Daddy took a drink it was very upsetting to her and caused many a conflict between the two of them.  My Uncle Floyd use to make me so mad because he and Aunt Teeny would come to visit and Uncle Floyd would call Daddy “ole licker head”.  I really did not know at the time what it meant, I only knew that it was something that hurt Daddy very much.  It infuriated me and I was embarrassed for Daddy because when he would see my aunt and uncle coming up the lane, he disappeared and did not appear again until he was sure they had gone home.  He did not want to face the taunting and ridicule.  He was not a falling down drunk and never missed working and taking care of the farm.  It’s just that when he would take a drink on the weekend, he did not know when to stop.  Mama knew how to make him stop… feed him.  For some reason, when he ate, he no longer wanted to drink. I did not find out about the alcohol problem until my adulthood and it certainly explained a lot of mysteries from my childhood.image

I think one of the reasons Daddy did not like to go to church was because the pastor had embarrassed him in front of the entire congregation the first time he finally went to church, and I felt so bad and hurt for him.  Pastor had visited and asked Daddy to please come to church and, of course, Mama was always wanting him to go.  So he went this Sunday to church and at the beginning of the service the pastor called on Daddy to open the service in prayer.  I know my Daddy just about fainted from fright at the thought and he asked to be  excused and the pastor called on someone else.  I always thought the pastor did it on purpose to embarrass my Daddy and I never forgave him for that.  Even though I was still a child, I could see the look that came over my Daddy’s face and his embarrassment was plain to see.  I thought he should have been satisfied that he had gotten my Daddy to come to church.  Had he not asked my Daddy to pray, my Daddy might have come to church more but by embarrassing him, he just slammed the door on that and I don’t think Daddy ever went back to Elmer Baptist Church until later in life for funerals.   Praying is difficult sometimes even for devout Christians, so imagine what it was like for my Daddy to be thrust into the spotlight on his first visit to church. The outcome could have been so different if the pastor had just not expected so much of Daddy in that one visit to church.  Later in life, after we moved to Florida and the children had all grown up, Daddy regularly attended church with Mama until he passed away in 1994.  He was a very good man and I loved him very much.  Daddy was saved and had been baptized as a child so I know that he is in heaven and I pray that he has found the peace he sought all of his life and that he is reunited with his mother whose love and care he missed so much.

Going to church was the center of our lives.  Everything we did as children centered on the church.  Even when we were working in the fields, church was influential.  We worked long and hard and we were no different than other children.  Sometimes, we goofed off and did a lot of playing. We would be in the cotton field picking cotton and it was so hot you couldn’t spit.  So, we would have a prayer meeting in the field and Earl would get up on a crate and he would preach.  “The Lord is Good, the devil is bad”.  He was quite the preacher.  We also prayed as hard as we could for rain.  If it rained, that meant we did not have to work in the fields.  We would see dark clouds gathering in the distance and we would start praying “God let it rain, bring those rain clouds over here and pour down the rain”.  We would hear the thunder in the distance and we started laughing and one of us would say, “Well, the angels are rolling watermelons over the bridge.”  That’s what Mama and Daddy had always told us, so we believed them and it does make a pretty picture in your mind. I envisioned angels dressed in white with big fluffy wings dropping the watermelons and rolling them over an old wooden bridge, the kind of bridge that you would find in rural Georgia in the 1940s.  So we would look and listen and sometimes our prayers would be answered, sometimes not.  God works in his own time and way.  I know that the best sentence I ever heard as a child was when Daddy said, “I believe the rain has set in”.  Which we knew to mean it is going to rain for a while (hopefully several days).  When the rain had set in, we would languish in bed until 6 and then up and do our chores because the cows still needed to be milked, pigs slopped, and chickens fed.  The rest of the day we would play in the barn until Mama called us. When the morning came and the sun came out, we would grudgingly return to the fields to see what adventure was ahead of us for that day.

CHAPTER 2 – MAMA – A LIFE THAT MATTERED

RubyThe most wonderful thing that can be said of a person after they have passed away, is that they lived a life that mattered and that they made a difference in the lives of others. My mother, Ruby Glisson, lived such a life and made such a difference in so many others lives. She did not find a cure for any disease, she didn’t write a best selling novel and she did not invent anything… she just mattered. She mattered to many people, both family and friends. She had an affinity for life and for children as was evidenced by her own nine children. She lost one child shortly after he was born but even in her sorrow, she continued her journey and her dedication to her family and to God. She was a Christian… a very proud Christian and was never afraid to profess her faith in God to anyone at any time. As she always said, I know where I came from, I know where I’ve been and I know where I’m going. She believed that she would be spending eternity in heaven. She was not afraid to die, but she loved living so much that she did not want to let go and she fought a very brave fight until she could no longer go on.

During the years, she told me two stories about having her own special guardian Angel. The first time the Angel appeared to her she was a child about 7 or 8. She said she woke up in the night and there was a glowing light at the foot of her bed and the Angel spoke to her and said “Don’t be afraid, you are a very special person and you will do good things.” Then the Angel disappeared. The next time the Angel appeared she was much older and she was having eye surgery. She said the Angel told her not to worry, everything would be okay. She said there was an aura of light around the doctor when he came in to talk to her and he told her she would be fine and she told him she already knew that. She felt the Angel was with her always. I truly believe the Angel was in Mama’s bedroom when she passed away and was there to take her to meet her Heavenly Father.

imageThe thing that mattered the most to Mama was her family. She loved her home and her garden and flowers. She taught Sunday school for many years and worked in the nursery at church. She loved working with children. She was proud of her family and her family was proud of her.

When Mama was a young girl, education was not stressed for women so she had never completed high school. She had always had a dream of getting her high school diploma and so at the age of 55 she returned to school and obtained it. She loved music and when she was 80 she started taking piano lessons and took the lessons for several years before her arthritis preventing her from continuing. She became pretty good at it too. Since I drove her to her lessons I started taking lessons too. She did much better than I did and I was so proud of her.

She also loved to sing and had a beautiful voice. She was always very happy natured and firm in her resolve. Besides raising her own eight children, she kept many other children who were disabled and they flourished under her care. She loved her children, their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren very much and baby sat and helped in raising many of her grandchildren. She took pride in every accomplishment of her children and grandchildren. They mattered to her and she mattered to them.  She had 11 siblings and she loved all of them very much (even though at times they agreed to disagree) and she was always there with a helping hand if needed. She also had many nieces and nephews who she loved dearly and who loved her back.

She had a wonderful sense of humor and even as she lay in the hospital she was often joking. After she came home from the hospital, my son, Jimmy, came to visit her and he walked into her room and said “Hey Grandma, how are you?” and she laughed and answered, “Well, you see where I am don’t you.” She could laugh at her misfortune and make you feel better just by being there.

On the last day of her life, most all of us were there and we knew that it was just a matter of time.  Hospice had been with us since we brought her home and I must say if it had not been for them, we would have been lost and we were so grateful. Also, her granddaughter, Julie, who was studying to become a nurse was there and that was of great comfort to Mama.  The last conversation I had with her, she opened her eyes and smiled and said in a very concerned voice, “Janie, what happened to me?”  I explained that she had been very ill and that she had been ill for several weeks and in the hospital and then rehab and then back to the hospital and she was home, and she said, “Well, am I going to be able to overcome it?”  And I told her, “Well, we are certainly going to try.”   Shortly thereafter, Mama passed away.  She often said she did not want to die in a cold hospital or nursing home so she did have comfort in knowing that she was at home in her bedroom when she died which is what she always wanted.  My sister, Gloria, and I were convinced that if we could get her home, we could nurse her back to health but, it soon became apparent to us, that was not going to happen.

She was loving, faithful, true and courageous.  She was the foundation of our family and she was always there for you no matter what.  I know there were times when I did not like to hear what she had to say, but that was mainly because it was the truth and as they say, “the truth hurts.”

Mama was very much loved. I think of her often and I miss her love and her presence every single day.  “Her tombstone reads, “Well Done My Good and Faithful Servant” and I think that is truly befitting.  Rest in peace Mama.  Love and kisses.  Janie

CHAPTER 6 – THE ROOT PATCH

Today for some reason, I have been thinking a great deal about my childhood and one thing in particular. I just happened to drive by an area that was being developed and noticed the tree stumps and roots jutting from the earth and it brought back a powerful memory from my childhood… a place… A place that I had actually tried to erase from my memory because to me it was such an arduous time and certainly not a place that I was particularly fond of. But alas, the memory remained. This particular place was what we as children referred to as the “root patch”. Of couse, this is not what it actually was but that’s what we kids called it. In actuality it was referred to by our parents and other adults as “new ground”. This is an area filled with trees and brush and was to be cleared to make new fields to plant new crops. After it was bulldozed the debris had to be manually removed and, unfortunately, that was a job that fell to the children. Of course most of the time Mama and Daddy would be by our side helping but my sister, Gloria, and I have often theorized that the reason farmers had children was to raise their own farm hands so that they did not have to pay the help. Maybe true… maybe not… but I had always hoped deep down inside that love had something to do with it too. Any way… as hard as we worked, I always felt loved.

We spent our days during this period picking up the roots and piling them up into a pile and then they were burned. It seemed that as fast as we removed the roots, ten more replaced them. It was like the land was producing roots and the more roots you removed, the more that came back, and I guess that is why we called it the root patch. It was not a chore we looked forward to and more often than not, we would become distracted, especially if Mama and Daddy weren’t with us. We’d wander off into the woods and find a grape vine or plum tree and crawl up into the branches and eat grapes or plums until our teeth were as sharp as razors. When we were tired of eating we would swing through the branches on the vines and pretend we were Tarzan, Jane or Sheba of the Jungle. It was lots of fun until Mama and Daddy discovered that we weren’t getting much done. Eventually, the root patch got cleared… I don’t really know how… but it did and when it did, I can remember being so happy that I did not have to return to that place again. Little did I know that I would return to that place again and again to pick cotton, harvest peanuts and pick tobacco as these were the crops that replaced the roots. Certainly more profitable crops than roots, but hard work nevertheless.

And, of course, thinking about the root patch evokes other memories. Once such memory involved a bull. Getting back to the root patch you had to go through many other fields and gates and over fences. I remember this one day my older sister, Gloria, and my younger brother, Earl, and I were headed to the root patch. There was a bull in one of the pastures we had to go through and we were feeling mischeivious and decided that we needed some excitement and we would have us a bull fight. We had seen pictures and had read about how the toreadors did the bull fights and how if you waved something red in front of a bull, he would charge. So.. and my memory is a little fuzzy on this part… I think it was Earl, had on a red shirt so he took it off and was prancing around pretending he was a bull fighter and he started running around taunting this bull. He ran around a little and then he piffed the bull off. Now the word piffed is a word I made up. It means you’re a little bit pissed and a little bit miffed, but the word piffed doesn’t sound as bad as pissed. Well, anyway, he piffed the bull off and the bull kinda snorted and came at him and we all started running and the last thing I saw was Earl diving over the fence just in time to escape the horns of the bull. Thank God, the top of the fence did not have barbed wire or he would have been missing half his belly skin. It kinda taught us a lesson. If you don’t know how to bull fight, don’t mess with the bull. After that, we gave the bull some latitude and avoided his domain as we made our way back to the root patch to begin another fruitless (or that’s the way we saw it) day of hard labor.

When the work day was over and the sun would start to go down, we would begin the long trek home… avoiding the bull by the way… through the fields, over the fences and down the dirt roads, stopping along the way to pick up an unusual rock or pick some blackberries from the bush on the fence. We walked everywhere and as we were walking, the sun slowly going down, we would see and hear the most awesome sights and sounds… I can still hear and see them now… the whippoorwill singing, the lightning bugs glowing and the frogs croaking for rain and the sun turning red as it was setting on the horizon. These were the sights and sounds of a long hot southern summer day finally coming to an end for a child.

CHAPTER 1 – LIFE ON THE FARM

AAA-JanieI guess as you get older, you think about your childhood more and it seems to me that those memories are more vivid now than ever. I can just imagine what was going through my mother’s mind as she entered her 91st year of life and passed away shortly thereafter. She couldn’t seem to remember that I visited over the weekend or that I called her the previous night, but she remembered things from her younger days as if they happened yesterday. She remembered things that I did or said and I, quite frankly, didn’t remember them at all. If I don’t remember them, did they really happen? According to Mama, yes, they most certainly did. She remembered all the little things I did as a child such as bringing her a bouquet of yellow flowers and singing to her. That is why it saddened my heart when she failed to call me on my birthday in 2011 because this was the first time in my adult life I did not receive a telephone call from Mama singing Happy Birthday to me in her happy melodious voice. I guess she forgot and I did not have the heart to tell her she had forgotten. I guess this is what happens in your 91st year… you remember memories from your own childhood, but sometimes not your children. Most of the time she remembered but sometimes needed a little nudge to get the memory to flicker. My childhood was a pretty happy childhood as I look back on it. It certainly was not easy, but I guess it wasn’t suppose to be or so I was told. It made me the character I am today (and some would say that I am a real character).

Me-Daddy-StoopWe grew up on a farm in Statesboro, Georgia and that was all my parents knew was farming. At one time we owned a farm but most of the time we share cropped. We were part of a large family. Mama and Daddy had 8 children living and we were taught at a very early age about hard work. During the 40’s and 50’s living in rural Georgia was like living in a time warp. Not that it was bad, it was just different. When I tell my friends about it, they always say that sounds like you grew up with my great-grandmother and it makes me chuckle. We worked hard all week and every Saturday, we went into town and went to the movie. At that time there were 2 theatres in town. You could see a double feature, a serial and cartoon for $.10 cents The feature movies were most always, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Tim Holt, The Durango Kid and Tom Mix. We even saw Tim Holt and his blazing six guns in person at the State Theater. We were all so excited. He was up on the stage and drew his guns from his holster and fired them (blanks), but it sounded so real to me. I remember how my heart raced. He was my hero for a long time. My favorite serials were Captain Video and Flash Gordon. The serials always ended with someone going off a cliff in a car or falling out of an airplane without a parachute, or something like that and we had to wait until the next week to find out if the hero died and, of course, he was always saved at the last minute. We lived for Saturdays. Some Saturdays, we would make the trip by horse and wagon to Wallace Brown’s store. We would have a dime each and would be able to get an ice cream cone, and all sorts of candy for a dime. Now, a dime won’t even cover part of the tax. It was such a treat because Mama would buy store bought bread (light bread as we called it) and hot dogs. These were things we very seldom had to eat and we considered them as special treats. Sometimes, if we were really fortunate, we would get a soda pop, which was the ultimate treat for all of us.

On Sunday, we always went to church in the morning and then the rest of the day we did nothing. It was the Lord’s day and it was made for resting. Then at the end of the day we went back to church for training union. We went to church on Monday night for RAs and GAs and on Wednesday night for prayer meeting. Our lives revolved around the church and its activities. Elmer Baptist Church will always have special meaning to me. That is where I found the Lord and I was baptized in Uncle Floyd’s pond. I think I was 8 or 9 at the time. I have been back to Elmer on several occassions, mostly for funerals. My little brother, Charles Grady, is buried in the graveyard beside the church and so is my little cousin, Carolyn, my Aunt Sula and Uncle Lawton, and my Aunt Teeny and Uncle Floyd, just to name a few.

Living conditions on the farm were stark as we had no running water, just a well in the backyard. There was no electricity and light was supplied by kerosene lanterns. We milked our own cows and made our own butter. We had a garden and canned and preserved all our fruits and vegetables. Mama cooked on a wood stove and I have to say she made some of the best food I have ever tasted… everything from scratch. She and my Aunt Sula were the best cooks in Georgia. Biscuits that would melt in your mouth and fried chicken nobody could rival.

I still recall with great clarity the day Mama made me go out and pick out a chicken for Sunday dinner and kill it and bring it back into the house for her to prepare. I had never done this before, but I had seen Mama do it a thousand times. I went to the yard and caught a chicken and, of course, the usual way they were killed is to wring their necks. It was not as easy as it had appeared when Mama did it. I started throwing the chicken up and down and round and round and the chicken was squawking but wasn’t dead. I think I snapped the neck part way (if there is such a thing) and I started crying because I had never inflicted harm on anyone or anything before and it was not a good feeling. I started screaming and threw the chicken to the ground. The chicken proceeded to zig zag around the yard like it was drunk. I guess that is where the expression “running around like a chicken with its head chopped off” came from. Mama heard me crying and screaming and came out and put the poor chicken out of his misery. I couldn’t even eat that chicken at dinner, (no McDonalds back then) all I could think about was its little chicken face looking up at me and how much pain I had inflicted on it. That feeling however finally went away and soon I was back to eating chicken.

There was no central air or heat, just the natural elements and a fireplace. I can remember waking up on a cold Georgia morning and we would discuss who was going to get up and build the fire in the fireplace in our bedroom. At that time, Gloria and I shared a bedroom. You know, come to think of it, I have never had a bedroom of my own. I went from sharing with Gloria for most of my childhood, then with Judy for a short period of time and then I got married and I have shared a bedroom with Jim for a little over 54  years now. But, I digress. I can still remember the coldness of the winter and gathering around the stove to keep warm and then warming up the feather bed before jumping into it at night. Oh how wonderful it was… to snuggle down into the down and fall asleep.

Morning always came too quickly and once the fires were built everyone was up and about getting ready to catch the bus for school. In the Winter, we didn’t miss school very often but the Spring and Fall were very different. We were kept home a lot to bring in the crops. Picking cotton, hoeing, picking and stringing tobacco and harvesting peanuts and other crops. Last week, I found one of my report cards from elementary school and one of the entries said “Janie is an excellent student, but she needs to attend school more regularly.” I can remember standing out in the field on a school day watching the school bus go by and waving to my friends.

Fall and early Winter were also times to stock up on meats for the winter months. The weather had to be a certain temperature in order to butcher. I will never forget the gruesome sight of “butcher day”. All of the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather and it was a social event. From what I can remember, the men would shoot the pigs in the head, then dip the bodies one by one into a vat of scalding water (to remove the hair, I guess) and then they hang them up on a hook with a pulley and would cut them from beginning to end and then start cutting the poor creatures up into parts.

The first time I saw the way sausage was made, I almost barfed. Now this next part is from a child’s memory so it may or may not be totally true, but its how I remember it. In the old days, for those of you who do not know, they took the intestines out and cleaned them up and used them for casings and then they would grind the byproducts up with a meat grinder while attaching the intestines to the mouth of the grinder and filling up the intestines with the ground substance. After filling up a certain amount, you give the intestines a twist and.. viola.. you have a sausage link and you just keep going and you have a long string of continuous links. I guess that may be why I don’t particularly care for sausage.

Most of the meat would be hung in the smoke house to cure and then be used during the lean winter months. We also make cracklins, chitlins, etc. Bet you thought these things didn’t really exist. But they do. The South is famous for its ability to take what most would consider non-useable portions of the animal and turn them into regional delicacies. Pig’s feet, hog jowls, ham hocks, cracklin’s, and chitlin’s are all part of Southern tradition . I personally will not eat these things, especially chitlins. Chitlins are basically boiled pig guts, at least that is what I remember and they stink. Cracklins are fat with a little bit of pig skin attached and when you are cooking them they produce a lot of excess fat. The cracklins were cooked in lard in Mama’s big black cast iron wash pot which sat in the middle of the back yard. It was about 15 or 20 gallons in size. Mama washed clothes in that pot, made soap in that pot and made cane syrup in that pot plus a whole bunch of other things. Come hog-killing time, they cooked cracklins in it. Now the thing I remember about cracklins is that they never did them in the house because, it didn’t smell very good, it made the house hotter than blazes and I remember Daddy saying if you weren’t careful you could burn the house down. I remember eating cracklins but I don’t remember particularly liking them. Cracklins are similar to what most of you know as “pork rinds”. Since I became an adult, I have not chosen to eat a cracklin.

Which leads me to another southern dish… turnips. I hate turnips. We always had turnips when I was growing up. Mama cooked them all the time and was always trying to give me them to me as an adult to eat or take them home to my family. I tell her Mama, I do not like turnips and she says well, you ate them all the time when you were growing up. And I tell her, that is because you made me eat them.. and that was what was to eat (again no McDonalds). In my childhood, you ate what was cooked and if you didn’t like it you either ate it or went without. Picky eaters did not exist in our family … it was not allowed.

I never will forget that weekend Jim and I went up to visit our relatives in Statesboro and stayed with Aunt Teeny and Uncle Floyd. Aunt Teeny fixed a breakfast fit for a king.. scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, biscuits, gravy, grits… Jim ate and ate. He told Aunt Teeny that those were the best scrambled eggs he had ever had. Whereupon she told him that the secret ingredient was pig brains. I thought Jim was going to upchuck right then and there. Somehow he managed to keep it together but he made sure he never ate them again. Even though they tasted good, I guess he could not get passed the mental image of what pig brains might look like.

One thing that made life on the farm tolerable was family. Especially our cousins. Even though we all worked very hard, we had a lot of fun times too. We spent many times running through the corn fields playing tag, spent time playing tin can alley, hide n seek in the barn and just so many happy memories there. Getting together on a warm summer night and eating boiled peanuts and drinking sweet tea under the mulberry tree in the back yard with the lightening bugs floating in the night air. We spent a lot of time chasing lightening bugs and putting them in jars with holes in the lids and putting them next to our beds at night, only to wake in the morning to find they had died. We decided not to capture them anymore. This is one of my most favorite memories.  Sure wish I could do that right now. My fondest dream would be to be a child again and to just let the burdens of the world be carried by someone else, preferably an adult with a sense of humor, intelligence and a good general knowledge of how to navigate this big old ball, we call the World.

CHAPTER 5 – GLORJEAN

imageI am the second born of nine children.  I have an older sister, Gloria Jean.  She was named after a movie star, Gloria Jean Schoonover.  In her youth she was called GlorJean because in the south everyone always had a double name… you know like Jimbob and Billybob… and when someone said it they just kinda ran the name together.  Everyone always called me Clarjane (Clara Janie).  Now, I call her Glo Glo and she is my best friend.  It wasn’t always this way, as I was convinced as we were growing up that she was always trying to kill me, or so my child mind thought at the time.  My sister was always a very inquisitive and bright child and, unfortunately, I was always the one she used to prove (or disprove) her theories.

One night my father and my sister were sitting at the fireplace and my father had the poker in the fire stirring the wood around and he explained to her that if you left the poker in the fire long enough that it would turn white and that it would be a cold heat.  A few nights later we were both sitting on the hearth watching the flames flicker at the fireplace, and, of course, I had not been privy to the conversation she had with my father several nights before, then she calmly placed the poker in the fire and let it remain there until the poker turned white.  Whereupon, she then proceeded to remove the poker from the fire and place it on my leg and calmly turned to me and said “Is that hot?” I let out a scream that brought Mama running to see what harm had befallen her precious second child.  As soon as it was determined that I would live, Mama took me into the kitchen and put some kind of ointment on my leg and pretty soon, it blistered up.  It was quite painful and took several weeks to heal.  To this day, I still have the white scar on my leg where Glo Glo placed the poker and I delight in showing it to her sometimes.

The second such incident took place in the garden.  I think I was about 7 at the time and we were harvesting the vegetables and getting things ready for Mama to cook and we were in the pepper rows at the time.  Glo Glo comes to the row of hot peppers and she had read somewhere that the juice in a pepper was very hot.  So she is going along the row picking the peppers and she asked me to come over to where she was so she could show me something and I trotted over to her like a little puppy to see what she had.  What she had folks, was a red hot pepper.  She said “bend down and look at this”.  I should have known what was coming… but you know that little voice that develops inside of your head that tells you not to do something… well, apparently the little voice had not yet developed in my head and so I bent over to look and as I did she proceeded to break it in half and the juice from the pepper shot into my eyes… blinding me and she says “Is that hot?.  Again, the screams ensued and Mama came running to find out what harm had come to her precious stupid second child.  Mama took me inside and rinsed my eyes with clear water from the well and continued to do that for a while.  Pretty soon, Mama was convinced that I was not blinded for life and that everything would be ok.  The pepper incident did get me out of work for a while but after it was determined that I was not maimed for life, I was sent back to the garden.

The third such incident occurred out in the yard one summer day when I was about 8 years old.  Glo Glo had decided to build something.  For the life of me I can’t remember what, but the end result was that she asked me to hold onto this stake while she used a brick to hammer it into the ground.  And again… still no little voice.  I knelt on the ground and held the stake while she proceeded to hammer the stake into the ground, or at least that is what was suppose to happen.  Ooops… instead of hitting the stake, she hit me in the head with the brick.  Again, the screams ensued and Mama came running to find out what harm had come to her precious really, really, stupid second child.  She soon determined that I was not seriously injured and I just had a big bump on my noggin.  It hurt and ached for a couple of days but soon I was as good as new and ready for the next incident.

We now laugh about these incidents and the amazing thing to me is that no matter how we were as children or teenagers, today there is nothing my sister would not do for me, nor I for her.  A perfect example of this was when I wore her cashmere sweater to school one day and she saw me in the hall and she grabbed me and told me that if she ever caught me wearing her clothes again, she would rip them off my back right there in the hall in front of everyone.  I believe she would have done it too.  However, today, she would take the clothes off her own back and give them to me… and has done so… just not in public.

I will always love and be grateful to my sister for all of her love and support.  She has taught me many things and I admire her for her generous, caring nature and her ability to make me feel better even in the depths of my sorrow.  Aside from my husband, Jim, she is the best friend I have ever had or could ever hope to have.  God blessed me with wonderful parents and 4 brothers and 3 sisters all of whom I love dearly and am proud to call my friends.  Yes, I am truly blessed and give thanks every day of my life for the gift of my family.