7- A couple of foggy years: From what I can remember

To this point, I’ve tried to recall as much as I can about my life from the time of my birth to six years old. In this piece, I’m going to attempt to share some memories about the period of six years old through seven. As I’ve gone through this exercise, I’ve used not only my mental capacity to remember, but also smells, and even emotions. You might wonder why depend on things other than mental imagery. Speaking for myself, and you might experience the same, whenever I think of times gone by, my memory is often triggered by feelings. For example, the year I turned sixteen, held a certain amount of excitement that went hand in hand with things like learning how to drive and getting my driver’s license. The year I turned sixteen was more than just a matter of chronology, it was a year of several milestones, defining moments, that transitioned me to memorable points in my life.

I started elementary school at Childress Elementary in Wynne, Arkansas in the Fall of 1956. Wynne was, at that time, a small town of about 4,000. Situated between two geological features, the Arkansas Delta and Crowley’s Ridge. In 1956, the town had only one traffic signal at the junction of Highway One and I believe what’s now Hamilton Avenue. (Anyone who reads this and remembers differently, I will not be offended by a correction.) In the 1950’s, Wynne was distinctly segregated. I believe there were four wards or sections that divided the town. Two railroad tracks, one running East and West and the other North and South, formed the outlines of the wards. The ward consisting of the Northwest quadrant of town was all Black. Black folks referred to it as across the tracks. At six years old, I had little consciousness of the segregated environment in which I lived. There were colored and white degrees of separation everywhere: public water fountains, medical clinics, interstate passenger buses. Black folks customarily went to the back doors of white folks houses if they had business to conduct. There were social lines of demarcation that created a Black and white world, and the two hues never overlapped.

Downtown Wynne Circa 1950s

To reiterate what I mentioned earlier about my memory being assisted by senses of emotion, I distinctly remember being nervous on my first day of school. I don’t remember how my mom and I got there, but I do remember feeling like I had been dropped off somewhere that definitely wasn’t home, with a bunch of kids and adults I didn’t know or trust. Of course, that predicament corrected itself over time. Many of those kids are still around as adults, some still reside in Wynne and others are living their lives on some portion of God’s green earth miles away from that tiny hamlet called the city with a smile.

Looking back on my experiences in the first grade, I remember reading about Dick and Jane and other prime-reader characters, who didn’t look like me, and had no relevance to the life experience of a poor Black kid living in Cross County, 1950’s Arkansas. I do, for some reason, remember the little white characters we read about seemingly jumping off the pages, coming alive and bringing joy to the little Black boy living in a piece of world carved out for him by nonsensical laws.

I slightly remember the excitement I and the other kids in my class had about being promoted to the second grade. I also remember how my advancement through the second grade was hamper at some point midway through the year. I was sick with one illness after the other, which caused me to miss a large portion of the second grade. It came as quite a shock to me when school officials told my mom that I had to remain in the second grade for another year. Seeing others with whom I started my elementary-school journey leaving me behind was emotionally troubling to say the least. For some reason, it still tweaks my emotions sixty-four years later. Isn’t it funny how long-term memories can influence you as if they just happened? They still produce sounds, smells, and images.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Real Freedom

I’ve heard many times the difference explained between joy and happiness. You probably have too. Happiness is based on circumstances surrounding us. Because circumstances are subject to change with the drop of a hat, our happiness is tentative. On the other hand, joy is fed from a state of mind deep within, anchored in faith in God, who remains constant. When you remain faithful to God, it doesn’t matter the never-ending shifts in circumstances, you’ll remain joyful. You place stock in the promises of God. You see them as something in which you can always rely.

I often hear people of faith, at least people who profess faith, tout their faith in God with vocal vigor. Yet, I see some of these same folks wallowing in melancholy at depths of depression experienced by individuals who have little to no knowledge of God. Do these folks enjoy the freedom they boldly profess, or are they simply extolling some party line to portray the image they’re expected to?

We all have an internal voice that taps us on the shoulder to gain our attention, to provide commentary on situations we encounter. Some of us have healthy voices, fed by good information, provided by family, teachers, the church and others concerned for our development of sound principles by which to live. Unfortunately, some of us have unhealthy voices, fed by images of victimization, helplessness, insecurity and so on, which tells us that it makes no difference what we do, the world is against us. The former instills a sense of freedom; a sense that challenges the world places before us are opportunities for growth and victory.

For those of us who have been exposed to the Christian tradition by way of family or evangelism at some point in our life, we have access to tenants of faith that gives us reason to face all challenges with hope for better. We live our best for the moment and have hope that things will always get better. But even if they don’t, we are thankful that we are yet here to live through every challenge that lies before us. This is the essence of freedom and joy, or is it joy and freedom. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg proposition. You can’t have one without the other, but you’re glad to have access to both. I’m a Christian, and I’m not that familiar with other faiths, but I suspect there’s some element of that in all.

Most of us who have deity-centered faith, are confident that our minds, our bodies, our spirits are free to exist and thrive in any set of circumstances the physical world presents us. We believe with strong conviction that we aren’t alone, and that support from our Creator is always there even when we can’t see it. After all, how could we still be here if God wasn’t providing every element for our existence. Isn’t God, the Creator providing the energy, the mechanism for all components of the universe to continually function in balance with each other?

Doesn’t real freedom come from believing that no matter what happens, the Creator of all that we see and can’t see is in control, but not controlling? In other words, God’s providence is ultimate, yet God grants us free will.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Six- a few things not so clear: From what I can remember

This exercise is proving to be good for me in many ways. One is that it’s forcing me to think about my past. I don’t think I’ve given enough thought to how important my past is. (That might be true for you, too.) I realize that a healthy mental attitude is to live in the present. After all, the present is all we can see, smell, touch, hear. It’s strongly connected to our senses. It’s all around us, giving us every opportunity to capture and create, using our limited capabilities. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m certainly not talking about living in the past; however, a survey of it just might explain a lot about ourselves, how we evolved into who we are, the lenses through which we view the world, our strengths, and our short comings.

I mentioned previously that my life before the age of six has been difficult for me to remember in any form akin to HD. Mental images flicker in shades of gray, or my olfactory senses power up to smell  cinnamon whenever I think about my fraternal grandmother. There are other things I earnestly wish I could remember more clearly, not having to depend on others to fill in the gaps of my story. There’s only one person left to assist me anyway, Aunt Mary, my mother’s sister. Aunt Mary is one of a pair. She had a twin siter, Aunt Lou Della, who died from cancer in the late 1980s.

One thing that’s troubled me all my adult life is the lack of memory I have about my father. He died when I was eight years old. I’ll tell more about that later. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about Hosea Long. I carry the same name, except I have a middle name, which spares me the burden of being referred to as junior. Dad, or daddy is what my children call me. I take it as a term of endearment; an intimate reference to the one who’s been with them through every twist and turn of their development. I can’t say that, dad or daddy, about my father. (I’m not sure sometimes what to call him?) Father seems most appropriate, since an intimate connection isn’t at the ready for me to call on in my memory. I don’t think he was a dead-beat dad from what aunts, uncles and others in the family older than I have to say about him. I can only surmise that he probably left the bulk of the parenting responsibility to my mother, and that it all worked out well in the end.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to generate memories of my pre-six-year-old experiences with my uncles, and aunts. They’ve told me stories about how hefty I was as a baby; how I refused to walk until I was almost two years old. I think that was a strategic decision on my part. Why walk when others are more than willing to tote you wherever you need to go? I’ve seen the one picture of me as a baby. I was indeed a large one. I think everyone dotted on me, since I was the first grandchild of grandpa and Sweet. I draw that conclusion from the stories everyone used to tell me later. These were heartwarming stories, not over-romanticized, but interestingly absent of the struggles I later come to understand my family went through during that time.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

From what I can remember: 5- some thoughts about grandpa’s farm

When I decided to write this series, I realized that chronological order wouldn’t be the most important consideration, although I’ve maintained it fairly well to this point. When I begin to talk about grandpa and Sweet, my mind is flooded with countless images, colors, smells, sights, sounds. My senses are titillated, and a variety of adventures are splattered on the walls of my memory like a collage of magazine clippings from early 1950s rural Arkansas. The colors have no sense of chronology. For some reason, memories of my fraternal grandparents (Ulysses and Katherine) become less crystal at this point in my life. I do know that they died in the early 1950s. I’m not sure which order they transitioned. That’s certainly something I could research, but keep in mind, I’m writing this series based on my ability to siphon memories from my challenged memory engrams. My life experiences with my family, as I remember them is the important exercise here. Others, outside of my family, who might have tangentially influenced the journey will be mentioned only when necessary.

I do remember spending time with grandpa and Sweet. I remember sleeping on a bed they had in the living room. My mother would let me stay with them sometimes. With only three rooms in the house, they had to make good use of all the space that was available. It’s funny how some folks are making such a big deal out of the tiny house movement these days. It seems more a matter of lifestyle choice now rather than necessity. At this point, it was just the two of them living in the house. All their children are now grown and struggling to make a living on their own.

This would be a good time to tell you more about the little farming operation my grandpa managed. Lest you conjure up some notion that he must have been doing well, since he had a farm, I’ll say this from the start: This wasn’t an income producing venture that allowed grandpa and Sweet to have healthy bank accounts. Grandpa was farming eighty acres with two mules, while all around him farming had, and was, becoming more technology based. A white fellow, by the name of C.T. Gibbs, ran a huge farming operation that just about surrounded grandpa’s. Three of grandpa’s sons worked for Gibbs. Understandably so, the little eighty acres and two mules were barely enough for sustaining the lives of grandpa and Sweet.

Each year, when planting season arrived, grandpa would use all the meager profits realized during the previous year’s harvest season to by seeds. He also made it a habit of saving seeds from the previous year to plant truck patches (larger than back-yard gardens, but not large as a field of corn). These truck patches usually contained peas, sweet potatoes, beans, greens, and other staples.

Grandpa also had hogs, a couple of cows, ducks, and chickens. The fowl roamed freely around their little compound. These animals, along with canning fruits and vegetables, and storing smoked meats in the smoke house were the elements that provided a self-sustaining environment. In later years, I began to realize that their lifestyle had been influenced by a long history marked by the need for self-sustainability. These were people who had gone through the great depression, as well as the rationing of food stuffs that occurred during World War II. Grandpa couldn’t read or write. He made an X for his signature. Later, when I learned how to read and write, I would joke to myself that grandpa must have marked a unique X. How else would he recognize it as his later?

I do remember enjoying being on this little piece of land, which had been handed down from Sweet’s family. Life for these beloved grandparents was hard work, but I never heard complaints. Of course, I was too busy playing, enjoying one adventure after another. I had no idea that we were poor.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

From what I can remember: 4-just before six-year-old

To this point, I haven’t mentioned too much about my mother’s parents. I’ve already stated that they were much younger than my father’s. My maternal grandfather was born in 1902. I’m not sure when my maternal grandmother was born. If memory serves me well, she wasn’t that much younger than grandpa. I use the term grandpa here for a lot of reasons. One is that this man, Andrew Jeffrey, was a beacon of strength and wisdom in my life. I’ll talk more about that later. My maternal grandmother, Emma, was called Sweet by everyone. I never understood why though. I assume that was a term of endearment given to her by grandpa. She was a strong, tough disciplinarian, which made it difficult for any of us grandchildren to reconcile what sounded like a term of endearment, Sweet, with her iron will. Through all her tough exterior, the love for her family was evident in all that she did.

To get to grandpa and Sweet’s place, you had to go up to Highway 64, turn left in the direction of town, Wynne, drive a few miles before turning left and continuing down a rough gravel road a mile or so. At this point, you would arrive at the eighty-acre farm, on the left, they owned. There was also another route where you would go in the opposite direction taken to drive to Highway 64 from our house. This route was shorter; however, the gravel road soon turned into dirt after leaving our house. The entire route was very undeveloped, even in comparison to a county gravel road. This was the route you would take if you wanted to go by foot.

As I try to recall details about grandpa and Sweet before I turned six, I’m only able to paint foggy pictures. What does come to mind are pictures of grandpa working his eighty acres with two mules and farming equipment being pulled by them. They lived in a three-room house (living room, bedroom, and kitchen). You might say the house was a part of a compound. It sat amongst a barn, a smoke house, a chicken coop, a hog pin behind the barn and an outhouse far behind it all. The eighty acres, the roughly constructed building, all were an example of self-sufficiency in early 1950s Arkansas. It all seemed so large back then. I remember when I left home to go to college, the place didn’t seem so large. Grandpa had no formal education, but he had a basic understanding of math and carpentry, which sufficiently equipped him to build his house and surrounding buildings.

My mother’s family was small in comparison to the thirteen children my father’s parents had. There were six kids. That seemed small back then to what country folks normally had. I used to hear it said that country people had large families because they needed ample hands to work the land. I’m not sure how true that was.

As I look back now, I do realize that most of my time, during the first six years of my life, was spent in a cocoon of comfort provided by my family. These weren’t the best of times for Black folks, but as a child the poverty and all the unequal treatment reserved for us was not a part of my life, yet.

For some reason, I do remember Weeping Willow trees. There was a big one in grandpa and Sweet’s front yard. This was the place to be during those hot days of summer, when the heat and humidity were brutal. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the moisture from the trees gracing my skin.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

My heart is heavy. How about yours?

I penned the following one and a half days ago. Circumstances have changed somewhat since then; however, I was moved to write what I was experincing emotionally at the time. I feel no need to rewrite.

There’s so much going on in our world today, and too much of it isn’t good. I’m watching or should I say mostly listening to the NBC Today Show. The anchors are discussing the decision by National Basketball Association players to boycott the playoff games. Their decision follows the situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in his back. As usual these days, there was video of the incident, taken by bystanders. The players feel deeply that this incident is another example of what must stop happening in America, Black men being killed unnecessarily by police. Their decision has spread to other sports franchises: The Women’s National Basketball Association, the Major and Minor League Baseball players. There will probably be some individuals with access to a public speaking platform, who will criticize these players for their action. I never understood why some folks think athletes should play and shut up. That’s the lot that people want to assign to gladiators in any era. You’re paid to play, to make money, to provide entertainment, not to exercise a social conscience.

When I saw the video footage of Blake being shot by the police officer, I first thought maybe there was some justification for this. After all Blake was entering his vehicle, not complying with the police order to stop. Who knows, he could have had a weapon in the vehicle. However, the action of shooting Blake seven times was over the top by the standards of any rational human being. Whenever I see video footage of these types of incident, and there have certainly been a lot of them lately, I can’t help but think about the mindset of the officer pulling the trigger. How can one, who is put in a position to protect life act so cavalierly to end one? I can certainly see the justification for firing at someone if they have a weapon drawn or are in some threatening stance where defense of self is necessary, but this case with Jacob Blake wasn’t that clear.

Jacob Blake’s kids were in the car. They saw their dad being shot seven times in the back. His kids were in the car. They saw him being shot. The shock of seeing this will probably be with them for an exceedingly long time, possibly the rest of their lives. What will they think when someone tells them that police officers are there to protect you? That’s an argument that flies squarely in the face of the reality they witnessed.

And then comes protests, and God forbid mayhem in the streets. What follows? Police response is what follows. More injuries and a good chance loss of life. In this case, there was indeed loss of life from the action of an individual who lived from out of state. Kyle Rittenhouse, with no ties to the Kenosha, Wisconsin community decided his assistance was needed to manage the situation occurring in the streets of Kenosha. He’s a seventeen-year-old young man, and probably without very much wisdom, as many his age lack. With assault rifle in hand, and I would venture to say little, if any respect for human life, Rittenhouse decided to fire into the protesting crowd. His action resulted in the careless killing of two human beings.

How does any of this happen? We all can venture a reply; however, until we figure out how to stop it from happening again, my heart will forever be heavy.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The world according to the coronavirus

Remember when first word of the Coronavirus pandemic was in the news? There was an immediate deterioration of common sense. People started buying up toilet paper and paper towels. I recall seeing a video online where a woman had pulled a pickup truck up to a store and she had loaded the thing up to the brim with paper products. Someone, trying to appeal to her sense of concern for others, was asking her why she was doing such. She replied with a few choice expletives, letting the inquirer know that this was none of her business. For several weeks after the virus landed on U.S. shores, paper products were scarce. Supply has finally caught up with demand. I’m able to purchase my normal brand of paper products now at the grocery store. There are other shortages though.

I was watching a news feed from CBS on one of my local television news programs recently and it talked about shortages of lumber, puppies and crossword puzzles that have developed due to the Coronavirus. Other shortages that have become evident include lap top computers, freezers, bicycles, and web cams. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’m sure you can see why these things would be short in supply now. Take web cams for instance. We have two laptops and a desktop in our house. The laptops have built-in web cams. The desktop hasn’t. Because the Coronavirus has brought about an era where online meetings have become more common than at any time before, I decided to go to Best Buy to purchase one for the desktop. I’ve always been able to purchase whatever electronic gadget I need at Best Buy. To my surprise, Best Buy didn’t have any web cams in the store. This was about three months ago. A sales associate called the other two stores in the metro to see if they might have one, no luck. Since the middle of March, people have been spending more time at home, resulting in the need to have more connectivity to the world. Web cams are big-selling items now. I found a web cam at one of many Walmart stores located in our area.

The Coronavirus has taken control of, what seems to be, an unquantifiable part of our lives. Furthermore, the longer it remains, the more we’ll adapt to doing things differently. Who would have thought that five months ago dedicated church goers would be satisfied with attending Sunday morning services from the comfort of their living room couch? Worshipping God in your most comfortable lounge wear is something with which we probably shouldn’t get too comfortable. When we do get back into the church building, our Sunday best might not be what it used to be.  Speaking of church and the spiritual realm, I read an article the other day about pastors who are experiencing difficulties during this pandemic. Some are being fired because their congregations don’t think they’re doing a good job, leading during the pandemic. Others are trying to lead congregations that no longer have money to make contributions sufficient to meet the financial obligations of their church. There has been an increase in cases of stress leading to poor mental health of many pastors.

The world according to the coronavirus, or is it the world according to our inability to manage effectively during this global challenge?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

From what I can remember: 3-spotty memory before age six

I’ve been trying intensely to recall events that happened in my life before I turned six-years-old. Unlike some people I know, my memory doesn’t work well for that time in my life. I see bits and pieces of things; however, live and in living color reproductions just aren’t available. In the absence of my ability to generate my own clearly defined stories, I’ll present a mixture of what I can remember and what my mother told me later.

I do recall these things: Me going to work with my mother. She worked as a domestic for the white lady, who lived on Highway 64, not too far from our house. My mother only had an eight-grade education. She worked as a domestic worker for many years. As I look back on those years, I can’t help but wonder why these white women needed someone to clean their houses, cook their meals and watch after their children. None of the women my mother worked for were employed outside of the home. They were just Southern ladies with husbands who had large farm operations, or they owned some business in town. Having a Black domestic worker to be a homemaker, while you did what seemed to have been nothing, must have been a status symbol. This was the South in the 1950s, less than one hundred years after the end of the civil war. I think this was a remnant of a time gone by.

I’m sure the women for whom my mother worked didn’t pay her very much. I do recall my mother’s salary being supplemented with things like hand-me-down clothing, left-over food and the occasional household appliance that was out of style. At the time, we were poor, but I didn’t know that. In retrospect, I assume that any items given to us, no matter whether they were discards from my mother’s employers, went far to improve our style of living. My mother dutifully performed in these ladies’ homes from the moment she entered the back door each day. She humbly used the prefix yes ma’am/no ma’am in conversations with these privileged women. Many of these women we’re my mother’s age, but her relationship with them was defined by more than simply employer/employee. It was less than that for these women and far more than that for my mother. Remember, this was the late 1950’s in Cross County, Arkansas.

At some point, before I turned six, my father’s parents died. I don’t remember when exactly. I could research this, but that would defeat the purpose of why I’m writing this. Even though I can’t remember how they looked, I can still recall the scent of cinnamon in Grandma Katherine’s kitchen. That still gives me a warm and comfortable feeling some sixty years later. I don’t think that’s too bad. Do you?

One thing I do remember during this time is how loving my mother was. She was always there. I never went without her love and comfort. She told me later that I had a brother, Johnny Lee, born after me. He died early from health complications. No one could ever explain to me exactly what the complications were. There was another brother, Larry, born in 1955. He’s still alive and growing old like me. Larry was the first of my siblings to be born in a hospital. I wonder why no midwife like Johnny Lee and me?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

From what I can remember: 2-back from Mississippi

If you read my first blog with the same primary title as this one, you know that I’m attempting to offer a biographical survey of parts of my life. This is an interesting exercise for me. I don’t sit down at my keyboard with very much detail in mind about what I plan to write. There was at least one detail in my maiden attempt that came to mind as I was writing. Trust me, I’ll not be making this stuff up. I will be consulting with my first cousins, many of them with much better memories than mine; a brief family tree one of my cousins did some work on a few years ago; and a file of birth and death certificates I have on hand. If I find myself stuck on trying to remember some salient point, I’ll consult with Aunt Mary. She is the surviving matriarch on my mother’s side of the family.  I’m trying to pull as much from my hard drive as I can, using my own recapturing software.

My father was ten years older than my mother. She was eighteen when they got married. I’m sure you can figure the rest of the math from that. My father’s family was a lot older than my mother’s. His parents were born in the early 1880s, and they had a total of thirteen children. My father, born in 1925, was the youngest of them. His oldest sibling, Aunt Eula, was about the same age as my maternal grandfather.

My father evidently was quite skilled as a farm laborer. According to my mother, we had moved back to Arkansas from Mississippi when we lived just across the field from Grandpa Ulysses and Grandma Katherine. Dad worked for a white farmer, who had a large operation with acreage in both Arkansas and Mississippi. I remember my mother telling me on more than one occasion that dad was given the opportunity to move the family to Mississippi, where he would perform duties as Forman on his boss’ farm. For the life of me I wish I could remember the town in Mississippi to which we moved. (I told you I’m trying to recall as much detail as I can.)

Back in the early 1950s, Mississippi had a reputation as one of the most racist states in the South. There used to be a joke people would tell about Black people mounting tires on an automobile in Mississippi. One should never put white-wall tires on the front of a car with black-walls on the back. This metaphorically represented a Black person chasing a white one. This could end up being a fatal mistake. I can remember people laughing at this, but somehow, I find little humor in it today. Knowing what I know about the history of race relations in Mississippi, Black people were mistreated and sometimes lynched for far less than that. I remember seeing the picture of Emmett Till in Jet magazine when I was about seven or eight years old. His mangled face, battered to an unrecognizable state, ended up that way from a tortuous beating he received from rabid racists, who thought whistling at a white woman was just too much. I won’t go into too much detail about what happened to Emmett Till, except to say that he was a young boy from Chicago visiting relatives in a Jim-Crow state, who most likely wasn’t counseled about proper protocol for staying alive.

My mother told me years later, after we moved back to Arkansas that we had to move. Evidently, my father serving as a Foreman of his boss’ farming operation in Mississippi wasn’t apropos. I can still remember the fear in her voice whenever she would tell me this story.  We ended up back in Arkansas, still in the Jim Crow South, but with slightly less Jim Crow in the mix than Mississippi.

In the early 1950s, a white farmer hired a black man to be Forman on his farm in Mississippi. I would say that was a light during a very dark time. Wouldn’t you?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

How Is It That You Have No Faith?

Here’s a blog that is most timely. I hope you’ll agree.

Unshakable Hope

I don’t understand why, but many of us enjoy seeing others become frightened. Some of the funniest videos I’ve seen are of grown men getting scared and screaming like little girls.

It may be fun to see others get scared, but living in fear is nothing to laugh about.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been an Online Missionary for Global Media Outreach for ten years. Last week, I received the following message from a woman overseas:
Comment/Question: “Please pray for me. I’m going through anxiety, fear of the unknown.”

Research shows that fear is triggered by a loss of control or feeling powerless. With the pandemic, social unrest, and the economic meltdown, the world is seemingly spinning out of control. There are many living in fear because they feel a loss of control and a sense of powerlessness. Since the start of the pandemic, sales of anti-anxiety drugs…

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