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.