Monday, October 7, 2013

Birthday Memories

It all began in a little four-room house in a little mill village in Columbus, Georgia. The year was 1935. The country was just beginning to stagger out of the Depression. My parents, not able to eke out a living in farming in South Alabama—moved all their belongings into a wagon and traveled to Columbus, Georgia—a little over a hundred miles. They heard there was work in the mills in Georgia.

They found work. Lived in two rooms of a four-room house. They didn’t think they would ever have children—and they didn’t for over ten years. But one day after just about giving up—guess what—my Mother was pregnant. Nine months later I came bawling into the world in that four-room rented house on First Avenue across from the mill. We would live there all my growing-up years.

That was 78 years ago. And here I sit on the eve of this birthday—thinking, thinking. I remember every nook and cranny of that little house—the few nooks and crannies that there were. I can tell you after all these years about how the kitchen looked and what was in the pantry. I could draw a layout of all four rooms—where the beds were and where we kept our few clothes. I remember what the back yard looked like and I can still remember most of the neighbors that lived nearby.

I remember as a little boy wondering what it would be like to grow up. Where would I
be? What would I be doing? One thing I knew I did not want to stay in that house and work in that mill across the street. When I got older I did work there in summers—and I wanted something else.

Nobody had ever been to college in my family—and a few people nudged me in that direction. And so one September morning I hauled my footlocker out to the street and lifted it into a friend’s car—and we were off to where we did not rightly know.

College was like a dream in some ways. About as non-ivy-league as you could get. And yet I discovered friends and books and a much larger world than I ever envisioned. I traveled out west one summer and worked. I went to New York for the first time. I worked in a YMCA camp in New Jersey. And all the while I was feeling a pull toward the church.

And so I put that same footlocker on a train one morning and headed for Louisville, Kentucky. Seminary stretched me even further. And living in Louisville—a great big bustling city was fun. I worked for four years in a downtown YMCA for
underprivileged kids and learned something I have never forgotten about raw poverty. I met a girl one night on a blind date and three years later we married on a cold January night. It was the best thing I ever, ever did.

After graduation there were a series of churches in Kentucky and Virginia and South Carolina and Tennessee and Alabama. Six in all. I learned like Paul: "We really do have the treasure in earthen vessels.” The ones I served—at least some of them were pretty earthen. 
In my first church our redheaded daughter was born. We just celebrated her 50th birthday this week. In my second church was had a second redhead—this time a boy.

I have been blessed by people in every church I ever served. I look back and I can still see their faces and remember many of their names. If love really is what you go through together—then I have known the love of a great many people.

I have lived all the turbulent storms we have all been through. I have known assassinations and racial struggles and wars and suicides from people I love. I have stuck my neck out for the poor and the disenfranchised and gays and anybody else bullied by the world. I don’t know if any of it has any made any difference but I have tried.

After six churches I retired at 65 and the church I served threw a good-bye party and people from all six churches came to that wonderful weekend. Retirement followed. Seemed scary. But I went from church to church as Interim Pastor until I had served seven congregations after retirement.

There were days when I didn’t think I could stand it no longer. In those painful growing-up adolescent days. In those work days in the mill all night long. In college and sometimes in Seminary when I had so little money and wondered about the future. Sometimes after a terrible Business meeting at church.

The black dog of depression has stalked me all my life. Not every day. Not every month—but enough to make my life miserable at times. What helped? The love of my wife who stayed and loved and nudged me on. Two kids that I am so proud of. Two grandchildren that make me smile. One in college now and the other just turned 18. My brother and his family in Georgia are important to me. And friends—my, my I have a couple of friends that have always been there and without them I do not know what I would do.

On the edge of 78 I write a little. I pray some. I work a little in the church I once served for 13 years. My wife and I take trips occasionally. Who would have ever believed this little boy would grow up and spend time in England—Fareham and Oxford? And there was France and Belgium and Germany and Switzerland and Austria and Italy and Hungary and Prague. Every trip left me open-mouthed and joyful.

The phone rings and from out west one of our oldest friends lost his wife. Closer here I learn that she or he is battling cancer and the time may not be long. As the darkness gets closer it’s scary. So I work some, I work out some. I read a lot. I spend some time on the phone. I teach Grief groups that help me, probably as much as it helps them. I work some at the church. We go to movies and watch things on TV. I dig in the yard.

My feet hurt and I cannot run as I have done most of my adult life. After working outside I get tired in ways I did not before. I travel downtown to see the skin doctor. Sometimes my back hurts. The old black dog comes sauntering back when I least expect him. But thank God, he does not stay as long as he did.
And so here I am. Life has been rich indeed. Never would I have dreamed it would be as it has been.  And whatever time I have left—and there is not as much ahead as there was behind—I hope I can spend each day as if a little boy in a candy store with rows and rows of choices.

Sitting at that kitchen table in the house where I was born, as a young teen-ager I would put my face in my hands and feel so bad. And Nancy, our maid and good friend, would say, “Mr. Roger, look at me. You just wait! You just wait!” Looking back, over my shoulder—I now know she was right. 

  --by Roger Lovette,

1 comment:

  1. Great memoir, Roger. You have been and still are a blessing to many, many people, including Emily and me. What more could a man do with his life? Happy birthday and I hope you enjoy many more.