Sunday, January 25, 2009


Tomorrow (Jan. 26) is my cousin Lisa's birthday. I won't say which one.

This picture is of our Mama Kelley, with her ever-present hickory. (That's me way off in the back playing with a...cinder block. My daddy and aunt, whom we called Mimi, are the sitting-down grownups that you see most clearly. My cousin, Dawn, is the cute little blonde in the red jacket. And, the birthday girl herself is the baby in the swing.)

Even though Lisa's only four months younger than me, it was my little brother, Kevin, whom she always got in trouble with. In fact, I had a difficult time deciding which of their many adventures-gone-awry to turn into her "birthday blog."

First off, I should tell you that Lisa is the youngest of four daughters born to my daddy's brother, John Walter Kelley, Jr., and his wife, Barbara. Like all great southern men, my Uncle Walter had many names--Junior, Chief, Shug, FudgeMan--am I forgetting any? But, most of his nieces and nephews called him NooNoon.

After serving in WWII, NooNoon came home and eventually married his love, Barbara. He loved her until the day he died. (On second thought, I'm sure he still does.)

Like almost everyone in Kimberly, NooNoon and Barbara struggled to make ends meet. He worked at the local brickyard, and together they ran "Walter's store."

Behind their house was a HUGE field--I always thought it was as big as the Mortimer Jordan High School football field. Many summers, this field was tilled and planted into a vegetable garden. It bordered NooNoon's backyard, my Uncle Sherill's backyard, my Uncle Paul's backyard, and the Kimberly First Baptist Church parking lot.

One particular year brought a monsoon-like Alabama spring. It rained. And rained. And rained some more. And turned NooNoon's field into a football-field-sized lake.

Except for us, all the Kelleys lived next door or back door to each other. Some adult was always nearby. But, because it was safe and secure 1960s Kimberly, the grownups usually never had a clue where us kids were until time for supper. Such was the case on the finally-sunny Saturday when Lisa (6) and Kevin (4) went "wading" in NooNoon's flooded field.

All of a sudden, from my Mama Kelley's front yard, I heard children screaming bloody murder! Mama Kelley heard them too, and came out tapping her ever-present hickory against her thigh. (I used to think she did this to get it "warmed up.")

So, she and I and the hickory set off in the direction of the screams, taking a shortcut through Uncle Sherill's backyard. (FYI, for years, my Uncle Sherill kept a rooster leashed to a clothesline because he didn't like waking up to an alarm clock...but that's another story for another time.)

Well, we get to the edge of the flooded field and standing way out in the far as they could go without being on their way out the other side...are Lisa and Kevin. And they are STUCK. And they are FREAKING OUT. They keep screaming, "Quicksand! It's quicksand! We're sinking!"

By this time, several cousins have appeared, and we're standing at the edge of the field trying to figure out if those two are worth saving. Finally, somebody (can't remember who) had the good sense to run to the store and get NooNoon (aka Lisa's daddy).

Then, from somewhere, mama shows up. She heads straight into that quagmire. And...about 20 steps guessed it...she gets stuck too. When Lisa and Kevin realize that mama is stuck...well...they just LOSE IT. (Seeing my mama get stuck is also all it takes to convince the rest of us that two fewer cousins might not be such a bad thing, after all.)

But, just when it looks to my 7-year-old eyes like I'm going to be an only-child-orphan, NooNoon arrives. I can still see him trudging into that muddy water...grinning...trying to reassure Lisa and Kevin that they aren't gonna die.

He hollers to mama, "Hey, DoeDoe, you OK?" (Us Kelleys can sure come up with the nicknames.) His first stop is to get mama unstuck...which he does...except for her shoes. Well, mama gets tickled, then NooNoon gets tickled. Unfortunately, Lisa and Kevin do not get tickled. They are still FREAKING out!

Finally...hand-in-hand...laughing the whole way...NooNoon and mama make it out to the two little screamers. And, with a muddy, sucking sound, NooNoon pulls Kevin out and hands him to mama. Then, he grabs up Lisa and, together, the four of them head for dry ground.

In my mind, I can still see Lisa...the back of her little bobbed head...arms wrapped around her daddy's neck...holding on for dear life. And my little brother, desperately (but gratefully) hanging on to mama's hip. And NooNoon and mama...hand-in-hand...still laughing.

....Mama never did find those shoes.

There are times in this upside-down kingdom when I feel like yelling, "Quicksand! It's quicksand! I'm sinking!" All my futile efforts to get myself (and others) unstuck only make things worse, and only make me "freak out" more. In those times, what I desperately need is to just keep calling out to "Daddy" (my Abba Father)...and then to just be still...and wait for Him to show up...And, when He does, to just lift my tired, little arms and receive His rescuing hug.

So, "Happy Birthday, Lisa!" Your earthly father's love for you and your sisters was such a mirror of your Heavenly Father's love. I hope this story brings you the same heart-felt laughter that NooNoon and DoeDoe found that day in the field of "quicksand."

"It seemed like a dream, too good to be true....
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn't believe our good fortune....
God was wonderful to us;
we (were) one happy people.
And now, God, do it again—
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives,
so that those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
so that those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing."
(From Psalm 126 of "The Message")


  1. Another priceless story captured in writing by Karen Bowdle. My whole office read it and laughed so hard! Thanks for sharing... You are a truly gifted writer friend.

  2. Well, I'm in tears! Yes, I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I just knew that me and Kevin were going to die that day (since we were in quicksand), slowly sinking deeper and deeper! I'm not sure who talked who into going into that pit of quicksand but it's one event that has stuck in my mind all these years. It's a shame we never did find those new shoes. Thanks for the story on my've made my day! LoveU2. Lisa