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Lola…

November 8, 2015, 10:32 AM, my cell phone rings. It’s my cousin Donald yet again.  My heart is heavy and I know the news he is probably going to report.  He tearfully recounts that his mother, Lola, my mother’s first cousin and the woman who helped raise me all those years ago has left our presence…

Lola is the cousin I spoke of recently on my personal website of her family’s great kindness in offering me the return of my little Grandmother’s cherished tiny table and chairs. I treasure their return. Lola was a care-taker of Grandmother’s beloved items and I thank her once again for the safe-keeping all these years.

Lola’s health has been in decline for some time now and she has been finally freed from her human bonds; those bonds which have tied all of my family together for so many years.

Lola was my mother’s first female cousin; their mothers were sisters and the family bond has been very close during all those years. Lola and Grady were the first to be married then Donald was born.  Mama and Daddy married early in January of 1949 and I found my way to join them late December.  From the first moment of my meeting their family, I have been bound with an unending love

Grady was a fun-loving and witty man and Lola always had such a lovely smile, a quick wit and a contagious laugh.   I always looked forward to spending time with them.

Donald and I were the terrible duo for so many years; he was one year, 3 months older and I was apparently devoted to him from our first meeting.  Those feelings have not left my soul, even though the chasm of our lives has now widened considerably. My memory takes me back to a time, far simpler than today or at least to my advanced years seems so…

Over the years of my childhood, there were many visits with Lola and each time I stayed overnight, she would cook various breakfast items to begin the mornings. We were all farm families and breakfast was a very important meal of the day. My Daddy insisted we were to start every day with grits and eggs and we looked forward to the breakfast offering each morning.   For so many years however, Lola had tried and tried to get me to enjoy and appreciate her offering of oatmeal, something which I never remembered even having in our home. I am sure in her daily routine of cooking she had developed a wonderful and tasty ‘recipe’ for oatmeal. However, no matter how hard I tried and no matter how she would sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, raisins or any other means of spicing up the dish…I just could NOT enjoy it! Memories of a certain ‘gag reflex’ come flooding back to my mind and I only hope I didn’t appear as a brat when I just couldn’t force it down my gullet!  I never would have hurt Lola’s feelings on purpose; hopefully she could see it just wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ so to speak.

I remember a certain trip Mama took us on in a 1957 Ford station wagon. That thing in my child’s eyes appeared as big as a city block.  Daddy did not go with us; just Mama, my little sisters and me. I can remember a certain baby bed in the back of that old car but can’t remember if it was Nola or Kay within.  By this time in our families, Lola and Grady had welcomed Donald, Mitchell and Sharon and possibly Anita into their clan and Grady had relocated his family to Stuart, Florida for his power company career. Lola and Mama decided it would be a welcome little vacation so off we went in that big old tank of an automobile.  (What a brave woman my Mama was all those years ago, travelling with small children into a foreign land…!)

During our visit, we were treated to an afternoon on the beach. I can still see Lola and Mama sitting on the shoreline with the little ones but Donald and I were old enough to swim out into the waves; we were both strong swimmers.  I remember the two of us being hailed by our mothers from the shoreline “come on back in… you’re too far out…”   However, we were both bold and curious and somewhat ‘firm headed’ as my daddy would say and went further and further out, totally oblivious to the dangers of the sea.  It was when we began holding hands and jumping those waves now over our heads that I realized we could be in danger. Donald, of course, was a very curious little fellow and apparently had absolutely no fear in anything he did. I can still feel the joy in jumping those waves but felt protected while he was holding my hand.  Why I put so much faith into his abilities I don’t really know but I did feel safe while in his presence.  I can also remember the relief on Lola and Mama’s faces when we decided “maybe we’d better get in a little closer…maybe we ARE too far out.”  Lola’s stern ‘talking to’ was enough that I decided maybe that was a little too bold and reckless for kids our ages.  (I’m so sorry we put our Mamas through the fear!)  We heeded our Mamas’ stern lectures and the rest of the day was thoroughly enjoyed, nonetheless closer to the shoreline at the very least. When it was time to leave the beach, I’m sure Lola was very glad to have all her passengers safely on board.

I’m sure that trip to Lola’s home with all those young’uns was a good time but I can also imagine the relief when we all left her family home as well. (As Daddy used to say when we wanted to stay longer “visitors are like fish; at about day 3 they begin to stink…!”)

I hope I have sufficiently thanked Lola for all the wonderful years she allowed my presence with her family and her willingness to look after me as her own.   I was honored when she recently commented how much she enjoyed reading my books and stories.  She told me they took her back in her own life; and that my words allowed her to revisit those places with memories.  I am very thankful and honored to hear her lovely comments and can only hope I did her proud in those places I wrote of her family. I have loved her for my entire life and looked forward to each time I could witness her laughter and see the twinkle in her eye.  Those times will stay in my heart and soul for the rest of my life.

 To Donald, Mitchell, Sharon, Anita, and all their spouses, children and grandchildren, I offer my sincerest condolences on the loss of your mother but know you all are aware the greatest reunion of all is now being experienced and her smile is once again brilliant...

Until we meet once more, Lola, I will say once again “I love you” and thank you for all the years of joy, comfort and protection you have given me. Your journey has been difficult at times but my heart tells me you have now received the peace and comfort we all seek.  Your earthly countenance might be gone from our presence but your spirit will live in our hearts forever.  Rest in Peace Lola…

Dell Anne Hines Afzal

James Hughlon Nygaard – 1967 Classmate and Friend, Gone but not Forgotten

Today, March 29, 2015, we gather together to honor a treasured member of our class of 1967,

 JAMES HUGHLON NYGAARD

 Jim’s membership in our class and his presence at past reunions of the group over the years bring fond memories for me and I’m sure many of you as well.  As I document my memories, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Bryan Nygaard, Jim’s son, for allowing us to take this final journey with his father, our friend Jim.  I deem it my personal honor to have this opportunity to share a story of our friend and classmate.

I first remember Jim as a child as well as each of you as my classmates.  We progressed into our respective teenaged years and together we all inched our ways into adulthood.  There were missteps by each of us but also achievements along the way—most commonly referred to as life.

Jim accomplished much in his lifetime, he travelled with musicians as sound man and was heavily involved in music his entire life.  He served his country and was blessed with a son Bryan who I’m sure can relate many stories and memories of their lives together.  I pray those good times will remain a guiding light as Bryan progresses through his life.

Jim possessed an amazing quality of voice memorable even in our youth.  The timbre of his voice was as a beautiful deep-toned and rich instrument and he expertly performed that booming cadence of music each time he opened his mouth.  I often wondered if he knew how the strength and tone of his voice affected others.  (I never personally knew if he could actually sing or if he merely carried a tune in a bucket!)  If he indeed had a musical voice I can only imagine the rich and deep notes would have carried for miles…

His physical stature was as a stalwart oak tree, tall and strong and when he entered the room, his presence was immediately felt.  His laughter usually preceded his entrance as he joyously greeted family, friends and even strangers— the latter of which he very seldom met.  He was instantly liked by many and could tell wonderful stories and jokes with the best of them. The jokes over the years will most assuredly stay in your memories and mine as well.  He shared himself with all he met and my last visit with him was a joyous and pleasant occasion even though I knew he was suffering from the treatments demanded by his illness.

In the early years of Y2K (we all know when that year arrived…) My friend and co-worker Chris Smith of the Eighth Circuit supported computer and sound equipment for courtrooms, jails and various locations within this Judicial Circuit.  In the realm of his position, Chris was required to travel to locations and meet with various vendors.  He relates his very first meeting with our friend, Jim Nygaard as follows:

“I had spoken with Jim over the phone on a few occasions but had never met him in person and found he was very knowledgeable and willing to help with any questions we had regarding sound equipment.  Baker County had a hundred year old historical courtroom; one of the largest in the area.  As such, it was graced with beautiful eighteen foot ceilings but was unfortunately an acoustically “hot” room and we needed to install new sound equipment.  During the very necessary renovation of that large room, we were required to make changes and Jim was the vendor representative to meet with me to discuss our requirements.

As I approached the large and historical courtroom, I looked through the gap between the courtroom doors and noticed there was a rather large man lying prone on the floor…perfectly motionless with hands outstretched to either side of his body, almost as in the shape of a cross.  The huge hiking boots pointed in my direction revealed very large, long and hairy legs extending from a pair of khaki walking shorts.  There was no one else present in that darkened room but this very large man and me.  He had a very ‘healthy’ frame and completing his ‘ensemble’ was a very colorful Hawaiian styled shirt.  He possessed a tremendously full head of hair and a very full goatee.  (My initial reaction was oh my Lord, there’s a dead man in the courtroom!)  My heart jumped into my throat; I feared somehow this man had found his way into our courtroom and suffered a heart attack. I wondered how in the world he had gotten into our locked building but hurried to his aid nonetheless.  I prayed I wasn’t already too late! 

In my fear that this man may have been beyond any human help, I thought I heard the voice of God. (Now, I AM a praying man and know miracles do happen but in this instance chills began to run up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end!)  My heart raced as I rushed in to help.  To my absolute amazement however, in the next instant I witnessed this very large man who I previously feared was deceased lift up his hands and strongly clap once!  The next thing I heard was a beautiful deep and rich baritone voice chanting ‘one, two, three.’  The music of his chant rose up from the courtroom floor to the extremely high rafters of that beautiful hundred year old courtroom Time stood still for me as twice more the clap came then the baritone of ‘one, two, three’ reverberated within that darkened room.  As soon as I could get my feet to move I hurried toward him to help when he spontaneously sprang up from his supine position on the floor and offered his hand in greeting!  (I was amazed since normally people of his size were slow to get up—not so with THIS man; he was as nimble as any athlete!) 

He didn’t actually ignore me during his chanting; he just never missed a beat in what I learned to understand was his method of testing the acoustics of the room.  He had been the first to arrive at the building and immediately began his duties even before I arrived!   “Hey, I’m Jim” he said. “You must be Chris; I recognize your voice from our talks over the phone!”  As my blood pressure began to lower once again I realized the large man who was formerly completely supine on the floor was now standing in front of me offering his hand in greeting! 

I gladly shook this huge man’s hand and was amazed that he immediately lurched into action giving recommendations on how best we could give this beautiful old courtroom the proper sound equipment.  He offered no apology for my finding him in the obviously unusual position on the floor but his professionalism was very evident.  It was clearly obvious to me that he absolutely knew his craft.  I immediately trusted his opinions and recommendations and that trust and friendship continued to the last day I saw Jim just a few weeks before he left our presence. 

On the initial day when I first met Jim Nygaard, we became fast friends and over the years of his career and mine, he was always available for help with sound requirements but was always cognizant of the county and state budgets.   It was a while in fact, before I realized he did not own the company but he made sure his customers were treated fairly and justly, a true testament to his great customer service skills.

I miss my friend Jim but that day when I thought I heard the voice of God I now realize …”Nope…it was just good old Jim…”

                Chris Smith – Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County, FL

When Chris first told me of this story, I felt I needed to document it since it spoke volumes not only of Chris’ caring for his friend Jim but also of Jim’s absolute presence, humor and spirit which is sorely missed.

When I first learned of Jim’s illness I began an email correspondence with him and attempted to keep up with his treatments and progress.  During one of those times of treatment, I visited him at his treatment residence in Gainesville and together we reminisced about the old days, sharing our respective stories of family.  He shared with me how extremely proud he was of his son Bryan.  Jim mentioned that he was at peace with his illness but would do his best to fulfill his “bucket list” before leaving our presence; that positive outlook and sunshine still shining through.  I hope he was able to carry out all or at least most of what he set out to do.   He did speak positively of his treatment and never once did I hear a complaint from his lips of what or how he was suffering.  He possessed such a positive outlook on a terrible disease.

Unfortunately that disease did take our friend from within our midst but the hole left within our numbers will remain a treasured part of each of our walks through this life and I am so glad and blessed that I had the treasure of James Hughlon Nygaard as a friend.

Today we say goodbye to our friend and classmate Jim and thank him for the wonderful memories.  My prayers go to Bryan and family and hope your memories are sweet and lasting.

One only imagines that great customer service skill and friendly nature we all knew with our friend Jim is now being witnessed in a new and better realm…

As my dear friend and co-worker Marsha kindly commented after reading my story, “I can only think the Lord said “It’s time Jim . . . I must have that voice in MY choir…”

Rest in Peace Jim, dear classmate and friend…

Freddie of Many Coats…

Friday, February 13, 2015 the congregation of First Baptist Church lost a treasured member of the staff and congregation of this beautiful church.  The loss of his joyful presence will be sorely felt by his family and everyone within this congregation.

Freddie Turner, Jr. came to the First Baptist Church well over twenty-six years ago as an employee under the leadership of Pastor Robert Davis.  Freddie’s many coats and duties consisted of custodial staff, facilities manager including the operation of ancient heat and air conditioning, errand runner and storeroom management.  He served as keeper of the keys to these beautiful church buildings, security personnel, liaison with many treasurers, pastors, secretaries, ministers of music, church musicians, and church members during his tenure.   His joyful presence was pleasantly experienced by many whether in church services during the week, at many social and meal events held within the Fellowship Hall, or his pleasant goodbyes as the last to leave the hallowed halls after all events.  Each one of his respective duties required a special coat which Freddie wore with joy, honor and much appreciation of his life and employment.

Over the years he functioned as a treasured friend and security guard with the members of this church.  In later years at the passing of many of the older men in this church he began a wonderful self-appointed duty of calling widows of our church requesting if he could be of service to them.  Some would need items purchased and delivered to their homes; Freddie cheerfully wore his coat of friendship and volunteered to share his kindness with all. His exuberance to help and his laughter were contagious.

My own father, Charles valued his friendship with Freddie and together they accomplished much with the physical plant of the church buildings, keeping all in good repair.  The two men loved to tease and joke and shared much laughter and respect each for the other.

In January of 2009, our father found his new home and Freddie was present in the Fellowship Hall to share a meal after the funeral.  Charles’ nephew from Franklin, Tennessee had arrived in a beautiful custom coach to usher his mother, Charles’ youngest sister home in comfort.  Her health at that time did not allow her comfortable travel by car or plane for an extended amount of time; the coach was the perfect transport complete with professional driver.  As the family gathered for a return trip to the Cemetery after a shared meal, we asked Freddie to ride with us.  He was at first hesitant but we coaxed him into the beautiful vehicle and together we travelled to the Cemetery to say our goodbyes.

He seemed very honored and pleased to ride in that very special ‘chariot’ and we were blessed and honored to have him with us.  As all the members of our family gathered around my father’s final resting place, Freddie stayed behind to quietly watch the proceedings; I’m sure he felt a little out-of-place.  I personally wanted to share this time with him because our Daddy respected their relationship highly.  We were honored to have him share that special time with us.

From that moment on, there was a special bond with Freddie; he loved to kid and joke with my sister who plans and prepares many of the meals served at the church and he fell on her every word.  He accomplished whatever she asked of him with what I can only describe as joy.  She was, after all an extension of our father, Charles.  When I visited the church, I always desired to seek his hand in friendship and greeting.

When I was honored to have published my two books of my family, I desired Freddie to receive his own copies to learn of my parents’ and grandmother’s lives and where they came from.  He made me feel he was honored to receive them and I hope he enjoyed my words.

He made it his job to assure my Mama’s safety to her car; often walking with her or at least watching her progress.  After Daddy passed, she once drove his car to church but could not get the headlights to work properly.  She was not as familiar with his car as her own.  Freddie was highly concerned for her to drive back home in the dark but to his relief she found the proper lights and arrived home with no further issues.

Over the years Mama has become somewhat known for her contribution of Nettles’ Sausage to the many covered dish meals served in the Fellowship Hall.  At each gathering, there was one special little Zip-Lock bag of a few of those treasured sausages separate from her Longaberger serving basket just for Freddie.  It has arrived here today as well.  He was always very pleased she thought of him and over the years looked for the presence of those little bags…she couldn’t have ended the tradition if she tried!

A very special coat our friend Freddie wore was when he joined the church membership of First Baptist Church of Lake City, Florida.  I marvel at the fact that for over twenty-six years he spent daily hours at his job in our church and many times must have worked overtime to carry out his duties during services and afterwards.  I only hope his family was neither distressed nor unhappy at his sharing of his time with our church membership over the years.  We sincerely thank his family for sharing him with us.

When he wore that new coat at becoming a member, he could always be found in the congregation worshipping but his presence was also ultimately required to safely secure the buildings afterwards.

As I document these memories I am struck by the wonder of the last coat Freddie has now earned; that of a member of the greatest congregation of them all.  His last days were difficult as his health declined but I believe his “eyes were on the prize” for which all Christians long and pray to receive.

My heart assures me that he has now joined that heavenly congregation along with friends, family and acquaintances which he shared his life and love with and who have passed before him.

To our friend Freddie, I thank you for your service and your friendship; you wore all those many coats so graciously, thankfully and well over the years; however this last one fits you best of all. 

God Speed your journey friend; you are sorely missed…

Happy Birthday to Lana — my very first roomate!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LANA!!!!!

The day is Christmas 1949. Lois Marion still’ wet behind the ears’, shy and demure, and Charles Henry, even though younger than his bride, considerably more mature as head of their young household were about to welcome their firstborn child. They had been together since the tender ages of fourteen and thirteen and married at nineteen and eighteen respectively.   The young couple was excited at the prospect of welcoming a new member into their household but both were extremely nervous at the prospect as well. After all, a child is a very big responsibility.

In the same little town, another young family, John and Lana Cole were also expecting and anxiously awaited the event as well.

Both women began their respective labors on Christmas Day while family and young husbands anxiously awaited the knowledge of the gender of their children.   Division Hospital, a small local hospital which also contained the requisite Emergency Room and hospital wards for the local community became the venue for the deliveries.

Lois Marion had attended her Grandmother Eva and Grandfather Sid’s yearly Christmas event with their exceptionally large extended family of twelve children. Lois Marion’s mother Lois Annie, eldest of the large brood, had borne a son by her second husband however had lost both husbands to tragedy, thus forcing her to raise her two children alone. Most of her younger siblings had married and were themselves parents of young children making most family gatherings lively, loud and active with many children.

This year during all the celebration, laughter and fun, Lois Marion began her labor but was not about to leave her beloved Grandmother’s home until the time was right. Eva, having fifteen children with twelve surviving to adulthood, knew the general routine of birth and was open to sharing her knowledge and experience with her eldest Granddaughter until time to travel to the hospital. She was exceptionally close with Lois Marion and prayed for the easiest of safe childbirth.

The family enjoyed the day even though the young wife was in labor but the time finally arrived when she would need to enter the hospital for the birth of their child.

The Cole couple, awaiting the arrival of their child and the Hines couple had known each other from the community and each anxiously awaited the births of their children.

Both women were admitted into the Labor and Delivery Rooms of the local hospital. The women were young and about to witness the most beautiful yet most frightening and certainly painful event a woman can experience. Through their acquaintance they would be bound in the birth experience for a lifetime. Their children, whatever gender they might be, would be tied as well.

Their labors were difficult at best, both women experiencing the most painful yet wondrous functions their bodies would ever endure yet the knowledge there would be a new individual produced with their spouses caused much wonder and joy as well.

The first lady to enter the Delivery Room was Lana who delivered daughter Lana, on Christmas Day and was lovingly welcomed into the new Cole family.

Lois Marion continued with her labor until her time to enter the hallowed halls of the Delivery Room.  Their family Doctor informed Charles Henry that his wife was not progressing quickly enough and was “holding back.” He informed the young father, “I need to give her a shot to stop the pain and allow her to finally deliver.” Lois Marion’s reply “BRING IT ON…” welcomed the cessation of the pain and allowed the birth to progress.  At 5:01 AM on December 26, their daughter, Dell Anne was welcomed into the Hines family.

Two little girls, Lana and Dell Anne began their lives in the same birth nursery, cared for by the same nurses and thus became each other’s very first “roommates” so many years ago!

As the children and mothers prepared to begin their respective lives anew, they separated one from the other and each began making their own histories as time passed.

In 1955, both little girls were eligible to attend the first grade and both were promptly enrolled into the local Elementary Schools. Their future paths would cross over the years many times over.

During high school the girls became friends and graduated together in 1967 along with many friends and acquaintances in their small town.

Lana moved to Gainesville after high school when she landed a job with the Telephone Company. Dell Anne likewise moved to the larger City to the South from their hometown and went to work for the University of Florida. During one fortunate day, the girls ran into each other and Dell Anne visited with Lana and her roommate in their new apartment.  The day was exciting and pleasant and life continued on for both.

From there, each girl lost track with the other and before they knew it, forty six…yes, I said FORTY SIX years passed before either girl saw the other.

A mutual friend and classmate friend, Paula Jean, invited a small gathering of ladies to her home for a lovely luncheon in December of 2014. Lana and her husband who had left the area years before were in town leaving Lana available for a meet and greet, as well as Peggy, Margie, Jeanette, Melanie and Dell Anne.

The day was lovely, lively and full of laughter with many stories from old times in class, bringing one another up to speed on their respective lives and families and wallowing in the joy of new-found old acquaintances and relationships, this time as ‘somewhat advanced in age.’

Lana is the mother of two daughters and has become a talented artist; her creativity and talent with the paint brush were clear in pictures shared with the group.

Dell Anne, mother to a son and a daughter, in her elder years has taken up the pen and begun writing to share past life, events and history, evident in the stories contained within this website.

In past years, Paula Jean has become somewhat of a class spokeswoman for the class of 1967 and as such has shared news of events, classmates passing and illnesses and in 2013 at Christmas time Lana sweetly sent a birthday message to Dell Anne via email. (Unfortunately, the years had dulled the memory somewhat and Dell Anne sent a return birthday to Lana for December 31. WRONG date, Dell…)

During the luncheon date the little group of classmates learned lots of life stories from each other and Lana reminded Dell of the circumstances of their respective births. Dell Anne unfortunately (and she hates to admit it) had totally forgotten the instances of their respective entrances into the world!

In reality, Lana was actually Dell Anne’s very first roommate!

It is within this story she would like to set the record straight and send THE CORRECT DATE FOR BIRTHDAY WISHES to her roomie, Lana!

To Lana, our entrances into this world and into the small community of Lake City, I offer my humble apologies at my forgetting such a wondrous experience and hope you will accept my sincere birthday congratulations on 65 years of wonder. I’m praying for your continued success, happiness and health and I hope your life has been as good as mine has been girlfriend!

 I’ll follow in your footsteps tomorrow! Medicare…Here We Come!!!

 12/25/2014

An Encounter With Darth…

Years ago in a land closer than I care to think of, the genius of George Lucas became a household name in millions of families; unfortunately my own was included in those numbers. Initially, my fear of the unknown (outer space) caused my own psyche to dread the next movie which I knew my children would demand to see. They lived, ate and breathed the characters of that series. I was the baby-boomer who grew up witnessing the old TV series The Outer Limits and was traumatized by dreams of alien creatures for years.  Over the years, my husband and I suffered through the constant begging, tears and outright tantrums by our children to see the NEXT Star Wars movie.   The absolute deluge of the Sears Roebuck catalogs wherein those Star War toys appeared were dog-eared, circled and slobbered over for months before the Christmas holidays arrived.

“Mama…Look at this one!” My daughter exclaimed. “I just HAVE to have that one too…and THAT one … and THAT one…and THAT one! “My daughter however was not so much a fan of Princess Leia as much as Han Solo. At Christmas time while our children were small, Christmas morning would bring Star Wars themed underwear and pajamas under the family tree, usually with many of those Star Wars toys as well. However, one year our daughter was totally traumatized and highly agitated when she received Princess Leia and what she REALLY wanted was Han Solo! Needless to say, a trip back to Walmart brought her Han Solo underwear instead of the Princess. (Yeah…, THE Princess…!) In order to appease her and get what SHE wanted, I had to purchase the boys underwear which she wore proudly. However, later she related… “Mama, I like my underwear with Han Solo on them but I’ll tell you something…boys’ underwear is NOT as comfortable as girls’!” My husband was NOT pleased…

There were MANY uses for the Sears & Roebuck catalog, some from some back woods old wives’ tales were somewhat unmentionable, but the most prevalent use was as every child’s “Wish Book.” In this case with my own family and children, it truly lived up to its name. Our son yearned for the treasured Light Sabre, Millennium Falcon and Imperial Cruiser and my husband and I worked extra jobs at times to pay for those treasured trips to the movie theatre as well as some of the toys they requested.   We tried very hard to give them those toys they so highly desired…within limits of course.

The theme song played in our family cars on the trusty and treasured 8-track tape and we were forced to hear those booming trumpets each time the engine turned over.  Oh, what we parents sometimes are forced to endure for the love of our offspring! That theme song would show up in many different ways years later in my own personal telephone when my playful and loving daughter placed that big and booming tune as my ring tone. (What a shock that was! Grrrrrrrr!)

We survived all those years of Star Wars episode after episode and after a while I even grew to enjoy them.   My children are now adults and sweet memories of that theme song and all those movies remain a treasured part of my family life.

I have now been employed in the Computer Operations Department of the Clerk of Court for the last fifteen years and was pleased to have met Stewart Collins when he arrived to share my office in CJC. As such I found him to be extremely pleasant and knowledgeable in his field of work and enjoyed my time with him in room A415 of the Criminal Court House.

I learned in talks with him over the course of our work relationship that he was an avid Star Wars fan as well. He shared many funny stories with me over the course of his employment here but it wasn’t until Halloween of his first year that I realized just how heavily entrenched into that culture he really was.

His joy became crystal clear when he related his trips to Dragoncon each year. Some individuals dream of the Christmas holidays; Stewart dreamed of the next convention. Dragoncon, founded in 1987 takes place in Atlanta, Georgia and offers the opportunity for attendees to dress in their favorite characters to play act in a joyous return to memories of childhood. Like-minded people who shared Stewart’s love of character attend in huge numbers for an entire weekend in “Hotlanta”. Apparently it is so well attended each year, even though the city boasts a multitude of hotel rooms, one might have difficulties in reserving a choice hotel room. Stewart fretted he couldn’t reserve a choice hotel if he didn’t ‘get his name in the pot’ immediately upon leaving the last convention! His reasoning was extremely valid since the main venue was in a specific location and they would have to walk from one place to another to receive the entire experience. The entire weekend could be quite exhausting!

Over the period of time I worked with Stewart I witnessed his frantic attempts at times to assure the proper hotel so he could once again entertain his beloved hobby. When the weekend for the event was to be held, his evident excitement would have him loading up the van with all his goodies and off for a ‘fan’tastic weekend he, his wife and their friends went!

The day employees were allowed to dress in costume I arrived in my office to a very large suitcase, various paraphernalia and a very intimidating round black box placed on my work table in the printing room.

I knew he really enjoyed the various characters but was certainly unprepared for items he began removing from those various boxes and bags.

The day before Stewart had requested my help in getting into character in case he would not be able to dress himself. Apparently between himself and his wife Chris, it sometimes took two people to dress in his chosen character. Initially I felt a little strange in such a request; it was certainly NOT improper or frightening to my own sensibilities. It was just that I felt a little strange at the possibility at helping a young man dress… and he wasn’t my own son or grandson! (My old fashioned sensibilities were a little on edge!)

As my day progressed and I realized time was drawing near when he would begin his transformation into his favored character, I left our office for a call to help a user.

Upon my return I was met at the printer room door by a character dressed from head to toe in black. He stood well above six feet four or five and was quite an impressive figure! I knew it was Stewart behind the suit but he was just SOOO imposing!

My initial reaction was surprise but a little on edge as well at the image in front of me. He asked me for help in getting into the remaining part of his costume and it appeared his attention to detail to make this character as real as possible was extremely well planned and thought out. His absolute glee in showing me his helmet, the black cape and the button on his chest which forced the familiar breath was magnificent! Once he placed the helmet on his head, he BECAME Darth Vader.

He stalked the hallways of CJC and FCJC and initially all the employees of the Clerk’s office had no knowledge of who actually lurked beneath the black garb. His manner was imposing and even at times a little threatening; memories of those long ago feared alien creatures lurked in the back of my mind…

He stood perfectly still at times and secretly pressed the treasured button which would produce a breathy, almost menacing sound from the mask…truly Darth Vader in the flesh! (I almost expected to find the Imperial Cruiser parked in the parking lot!)

When he had toured all our Clerk’s buildings and returned to our office, his face was flushed, he was sweating profusely and his excitement was written all over his being! He truly reveled in this event and I could tell the memory of the day would remain with him for a very long, long time.

He related stories of surprise, apprehension and much laughter as he toured all of our offices and shared his wonderful joy in Halloween. We laughed so hard that day and I truly shared his enthusiasm of what was once a dreaded time in my life…when I would have to endure once more memories of that circled, slobbered upon and treasured Sears & Roebuck Wish Book of Star Wars toys my children asked Santa Clause for!

Oh what fun that day was! His youthful exuberance and joy in once again dressing and acting “in character” brought such wonderful memories of my own children’s youth. It brought such a pleasant lump in my throat, in my heart I had to thank Stewart for taking me back a little ways to witness the joys of youth…my own children’s youth and Stewart’s as well!

My thanks go to Stewart for taking me back in time a little ways and I sure was pleased and proud to have met ya Mr. Vader…!

Father’s Day 2014

Ole Henry

During the years our family spent on the big farm on Pinemount Road, there came a time when Daddy decided he needed a critter. The watch dog he decided upon was a white pit bull with a brown spot around his eye, a large dot of brown on his body and a stubby little nub of a white tail. We affectionately named him Ole Henry as a new puppy. Daddy raised this pup with an eye to having the dog patrol his large farming operation and alert us if visitors came up the hill. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want anyone coming to our homestead; it was intended more as a warning someone was approaching as opposed to our being surprised at the ring of the doorbell… The fact the dog was a pit bull was in itself a deterrent to many as the breed has a somewhat fierce reputation. Daddy always believed however, that no matter what breed a dog is, if it is treated right it CAN be trained to be protective but to also be a great companion as well. There were no security cameras available in those days and no 911 availability so he took whatever measures available for his family’s protection.

Our farm was 300 acres bordered by dirt roads on two sides of the property. The land was noted as one of the highest points in the county and when one stood within the confines of the lovely old pecan grove where the new home had been built, you could see for miles from the front of the land. The back portion, however, was hilly with random blind areas of the surrounding pastures.

We had always had dogs and cats on our property but this critter needed to be more of a watch dog than merely a family pet. (However, as time passed it became clear that Daddy himself made the dog more of a pet than any of us children ever could have!)

Daddy had a very thick length of hemp rope and he loved to play with Ole Henry in the yard upon his arrival home from his day job at the Power Company. He would drop the end of the rope on the ground and tell the dog “hang on boy…let’s go for a ride!” Ole Henry would grab that rope in his strong jaws and hang on for dear life while Daddy would swing him in a wide circle. The dog loved the ride and absolutely would not let go until Daddy told him to. If Daddy took the end of rope and placed it over his shoulder away from the dog, Ole Henry would stare at it intently, nub wagging exuberantly until Daddy dropped the rope lower to the ground then the ride would begin all over again.

I’m not sure who had more fun as I remember those days; Daddy or Ole Henry. The family pictorial treasures contain old movies of Daddy exiting his company truck in the yard, laying his hard hat on the seat and grabbing his trusty rope to play a few rounds with Ole Henry.

He spent a lot of time training that dog and had him so well bonded that when the tail-gate of his trusty farm truck was left in the down position, Ole Henry knew that was Daddy’s invitation to hop on up and go for a ride. Daddy’s old truck would be seen traversing the dirt lane down our property to the hard road with an exuberant white pit bull in the back, tongue lolling and slobber flying!   Even with the tail-gate down, however, the dog knew to stay immediately behind his master, remaining firmly planted on either side of the cab of the truck, wherever he felt so inclined to ride.

If the tail-gate was up, however, Ole Henry knew he wouldn’t be able to take this trip with his beloved master and remained at the house. He may stay home from that particular trip but he also watched every inch that farm truck travelled away from him! I don’t remember seeing him even try to get into Daddy’s work truck or his personal car; the dog was indeed well trained!

It is with this memory in my mind today as I document this story that I can also see four little girls begging “Daddy, can we go too? We promise we won’t get in the way!”

If the trip was one that could include little girls he would grin, those beautiful green eyes shining, and say “hop in young’uns, just don’t stand up. Hold on tight though and y’all watch out over each other, ya hear?” Four little girls would dive into the truck bed and prepare for wherever Daddy would drive us! I was six years older than my first sister Charlene but ten years old by the time the youngest, Nola Jane came along. Kay Sue was the middle and between all three, Mama dressed the little ones many times in matching outfits. Many little colorful shoulder-tied rompers remain in my memory for long, hot summer days. I’m sure her feeling was that if she needed play clothes for all the little ones, just buy three and be done with it! Kay and Nola were so alike in their youth they were many time mistaken for twins. They remain close to this day although both have now grown into their own appearances far removed from those days of old.

One day Daddy and Ole Henry needed to check on the cows so he lowered the tail-gate and the dog immediately jumped in, tail nub wagging furiously! Yes…I can imagine the dog thinking…we’re goin’ for a ride! Oh Boy!

Daddy was always attentive to the safety of his pet when he drove but this day noticed the dog was in the front of the truck bed looking very intently at something down on the floor. He normally witnessed the dog eagerly hanging with his front paws on the truck bed immediately behind his master in the cab, tongue hanging out, thoroughly enjoying the wind in his face. Today was a little different though. Daddy didn’t think much of it at the moment and continued on his way. As he was gaining speed though, he looked back at the dog to assure his safety and noticed Ole Henry now had moved to the opposite end of the truck and again was eyeing something in the truck bed very intently.

He slowed his speed to see if he could witness what was keeping the dog’s attention so fiercely and noticed that as he slowed, the dog moved to the front of the truck. What in the world? He thought to himself. What the devil has that dog found now?

As he pulled over to the side of the road, he emerged from the truck and went back to see if he could see what was bothering the dog. Of course, Ole Henry, at any opportunity would come to him, tail wagging furiously and offer his great big ole head up for an ear scratching…Daddy always complied with a pat on the head and good scratch around both ears. That dog always LOVED it when his master gave him such loving attention!

 Seeing nothing of any magnitude in the truck bed, he once again got back into the truck and hit the accelerator. AGAIN, the dog moved from one end to the other in the truck bed!

 As Daddy slowed his speed, he began to notice a distinct pattern in the dog’s movements, front of the bed, take a little jump then move to the back of the bed.   From there he would intently watch whatever was in the truck bed, take another little jump then move to the opposite area of the truck bed. This went on for three or four times before Daddy finally realized what was happening…

 The speed in stopping or accelerating the truck was causing that something to roll from front to back then back to front again over and over again and the poor dog was merely attempting to stay out of its path!   Poor Ole Henry had not even been introduced to the new critter riding in Daddy’s truck but by gosh, he was going to keep a watchful and wary eye on it…wherever it went!

 Upon their return back to the house, we saw the dog eagerly jump out of the truck bed, obviously excited at the prospect of Daddy grabbing his favorite old rope and together they went for a GREAT ride round and round that day!

 “Arrufff, arrufff, fuff”, my daddy loudly cackled, “Ya’ll come on out here and let me tell what poor Ole Henry got into just now!” We all came a-runnin’ to learn what joke Daddy had to share; we loved to hear his laugh, see his twinkling eyes and hear what outrageous funny tale he was going to tell next!

Daddy laughed heartily and long as he shared the circumstances of his beloved pet moving frantically from side to side of that truck in his attempt to evade whatever was attacking him. “That was the funniest thing watching that old dog runnin’ from that critter each time I hit the brake or accelerator. Pa decided to keep on driving for a while so I changed my destination and kep’ him jumpin’ as long as I could!”

The laughter shared that day was enormous and allowed much attention to the family pet which he certainly would NOT reject!

The only one worse for wear that day was the poor plump and delicious watermelon which was the source of the dog’s hilarious actions and which ultimately was sacrificed to treat a delighted and happy family!

This story comes to mind this day June 13, 2014 in honor of our beloved Daddy, Charles Henry and to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. He may be absent from our earthly presence but will remain forever in my heart.

‘Baby Girl’ Mischief Maker

I’m sooo bored, is there anything I can find interesting to do? She thought to herself.  There’s no one to play with and I just don’t want to play with my toys right now.  What can I do to make some fun around here?   She had played outdoors as much as she could; her usual activities involving running, jumping, riding her bicycle and anything totally physical. Her engine usually ran on all eight cylinders at any given time.

Middle daughter Kathy had a penchant for finding ways to get herself into mischief, most times totally innocent; sometimes not.

One such occasion found her squeezing her tiny little frame behind the furniture in her home.  She was bored, she was mad and she just wanted to disappear into the woodwork.  She didn’t feel much appreciated at that moment; she didn’t think to run away from home, she just wanted to disappear for a little while. If I hide myself, I wonder how long it might take Mama and Pops to find me she mused.

She found a little niche in the living room behind the furniture and realized she could fold her tiny little frame perfectly within that tiny space, totally concealed from anyone passing by. She decided to see just how long it might be before her family missed her and thus settled herself into a comfortable position to wait …

She cuddled into that secret niche for some time, just thinking, enjoying the solitude and listening for any alarms being raised by her mother or father.  She settled down and began to breathe very silently and slowly, hoping her presence would not be noticed.

Presently she heard voices from the dining room. “Has anybody seen Baby Girl?” Papa called to Mama and sister.  His favorite name for his second daughter was “Baby Girl” and the two had formed a closeness treasured by the middle child.

She listened silently to see who would answer his question.

“Nope, she’s not with me, Papa”, older sister Elizabeth yelled out.

Mama comes to her husband and says “Well, I thought she was playing but I don’t see her outside.  Do you suppose she went down to the lake?”

Her angst was rising and she just wanted to be able to count noses of her daughters to make sure all were safe and accounted for.

“Somebody watch out for the baby for a few minutes while I drive down to the lake and make sure she’s not there” she called as she hurried out the door with car keys in hand.

Papa began searching room by room and even walked past mischievous Kathy still silently basking in the glory of pulling yet one more joke on her family. Silently reveling in the glory, she thought to herself, Gee, I sure am pulling off a great joke THIS time!

She watched her father; the sound of his footsteps through the house increasing until it almost sounded as if he was running from room to room, his voice, now becoming louder calling her name …

“Baby Girl, where are you?” she heard him calling.

She kept silent but began feeling a little niggling fear that she might just have gone a little too far on this joke. Did she dare reveal her hiding place yet? With great resolve she thought I’ll just let them stew a few more minutes then I’ll jump out and surprise them all!

She continued sitting still in her hidey hole until she heard the family car arrive in the driveway, her mother slamming the door as she ran inside.

“Is she here yet?” Mama cried with fear, now bordering on tears.

Elizabeth, Papa and Mama were huddled in the kitchen, fearful of what horrible plight had befallen little Kathy… dear little Baby Girl.  What has happened to her and where on earth did she go?

She could finally take the excitement no longer and decided she had better reveal herself right away, things were beginning to get out of hand and even she was a little worried at the moment.

Jumping out from her hidey hole she cried “Surprise…I’m here…I fooled all of you, didn’t I? I’ve been hiding in my secret hiding place all the time and nobody could even find me…“

She caught a glance of her father’s eyes and with REAL fear realized that not only was he looking at her, knowing that she in actuality was not hurt at all but his face began taking on a really angry, frightening look.  It seemed his eyes simply burned through all the way down into her little soul.

Mama now stood as frozen as a statue, silent tears streaming down her face, obvious relief visually flooding over her entire being.

With an extremely loud and authoritative voice, Papa turned to Baby Girl Kathy and demanded she march herself right into her bedroom.  “GET IN YOUR ROOM … NOW!” he bellowed.

Kathy who by this time was quaking in her boots, fearful she might even lose her water, ran as fast as her little legs could carry her to her bedroom.  Jumping straight up onto the bed she fretted about how mad her father appeared to be.  Her anxiety began to escalate as she waited in her bedroom alone for the next few minutes; those minutes that seemed unending.

Papa, on the other hand, had to let her stew for a little while before he calmed down and would be able to speak with his daughter about her mischief. When finally he entered Kathy’s bedroom, his eyes still had that intense angry stare and she knew she was greatly in a world of hurt on this one.

Through clenched,  angry teeth, Papa began “Baby Girl, do you GET just how frightened you had your mother and me?  Do you have any idea just how bad we were feeling when we couldn’t hear you or see you?  We had all ideas someone had taken you or you were laying hurt or dead somewhere.  Just WHAT do you have to say for yourself young lady?” he bellowed.

“I’m so sorry Papa, I didn’t think my game would hurt anybody, I really didn’t mean to scare anybody.  I just wanted to have some fun and thought this would be a great hide and seek game” she cried.

“Nobody knew you were playing hide and seek; we only knew we could not see your face or hear your voice and it scared us to death” he continued.

“For your punishment, let’s just see how much FUN you’re going to have when I lay my hands on your backside” he quietly threatened.

Quickly grabbing her little arm, he laid her over his knee and whacked her back-side twice, each time telling her “you better NEVER do that again…do you hear what I’m telling you?”

When the punishment finally ceased, both father and daughter had to hold each other, neither speaking but each feeling the rush of pain and fear the other had experienced.

The little mischief maker, Kathy, declared that particular hide and seek game from her family to be off limits from that time forward. She could not witness her father’s anger and fear for that mistake again.

The incident remains vivid in “Baby Girl’s” memory and the tenderness and obvious relief shown by her father after he had been forced to discipline his daughter feels as real today as it did all those years ago.

The incident however, also warned little Kathy that sometimes Mischief sometimes just doesn’t pay…