Saturday, February 7, 2009


My first memory of life is being about 3 1/2 years old, sitting on the footrest of my baby brother's stroller...watching black-and-white Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans...while baby Kevin slept in the stroller bed.

My job was to roll the stroller back and forth if he woke up, to see if it would help him get back to sleep. Most times it didn't.

Unfortunately for my little brother, he showed up in my life right about the time I was developing quite an affinity for baby dolls. It didn't help that he looked just like one--blond-curls, chubby cheeks, big brown eyes.

So, from the beginning, our relationship has been somewhat of a pull-and-tug between me wanting to be "mommy" (or at least boss) and him declaring over-and-over again, "You NOT da boss of me, Sissy!"

When he was 3 and I was 6, our family moved from Kimberly, Alabama, to a place that, ironically, was named Green Acres. As I've said before, it was not green and there were no acres.

We did this as part of my mama's efforts to fight off my daddy's "nervous condition." It did not work.

In January of 1967, my daddy was diagnosed with what I was told was "a complete nervous breakdown." He was in the hospital for weeks and weeks.

During those weeks-and-weeks, my only memory of daddy was the weekend of his birthday. (He was a Valentine's baby, born February 14.) That particular Saturday morning, someone had taken me and my little brother from Green Acres out to our grandmother's house in Kimberly. The plan was for mama to check daddy out of the hospital for the day so we could give him a big party. (In hindsight, a big family party was probably not the best thing for someone who had just undergone a series of shock treatments. they say...only hindsight is 20/20.)

I still remember daddy walking in the front door of that house. He looked so handsome...he looked so afraid.

At first...he seemed not to know me. But, as the day wore on and as I annoyingly refused to get very far from his side, he seemed to remember who and what I was to him. I specifically remember him sitting in my Uncle Brady's chair, rubbing my back, as I sat on the chair arm next to him.

Late that afternoon...mama had to take daddy back to the hospital. I remember being angry. Angry at mama for taking him away again. Angry at him for having to go away. ("Just quit being nervous!" was what I wanted to yell at him.) Angry at myself for being angry at them.

Decades after that birthday party, as I sat in a Knoxville movie theatre watching "A Beautiful Mind," witnessing Russell Crowe "undergo" shock therapy, I leaned over and whispered to my husband, "Is that what they did to daddy?" He looked at me, nodded his head and squeezed my hand.

So many times in recent years, I've wished I could bring daddy back for just a minute to apologize for not being...aware.... I believe a huge part of my heart stayed asleep until I had children of my own...until I had to walk through some emotional valleys of my own.

That year, after daddy's birthday weekend, the three of us--mama, Kevin and me--left my Mama Kelley's house and returned to the not-so-Green Acres.

During those months when daddy was in the hospital, my mama's day consisted of waking up early enough to go see him at the hospital before she went to work at Sears Roebuck. Most days, she would go see him again during her lunch hour. Then, after work, she would go see him again before coming back home to us. And then, she would start the whole thing over the next day.

She had to rely on whoever was available to help out with me and Kevin. Often, that was her daddy, whom we called Papa.

In the spring of that year, Papa came back to the little room I shared with my brother and told me, "I can't find Kevin. You have to go find him."

So I did. I just kept walking up one sidewalk and down another, calling his name.

Several blocks later, as I walked past a light green house, I heard my 3-year-old brother laugh.

I ran up to that screen door, cupped my hands around my eyes, and pressed my nose against the screen so I could see inside.

And there he a picnic table just inside the door...grinning and laughing...eating dinner with a family of Spanish-speaking people.

I knocked on that screen door frame, pointed at him and said, "That's my little brother, and I've come to take him home."

Well, the mother was clearly relieved and delighted. She jumped up, halfway-running to the door to let me in. The whole time she was clapping her hands and speaking the first Spanish words my 6-year-old Alabama ears had ever heard--"Hola! Hola! Si! (something...something) Bambino! Si! (something...something)."

Anyway, Kevin got up from that picnic table, took my hand, and we walked out of that spicy-smelling house.

I don't remember even saying thank you to that kind mother.

Once we were on the sidewalk, I looked down at Kevin and asked, "How did you get here?" He looked up at me with those brown eyes and said...quite matter-of-factly..."I 'tended I wuz a tuwtle, and I cwawled acwoss da woad."

Over the years, that story became one of our family standards. wasn't until my own children were 3 and 6 (the same ages of me and my brother when that story happened) that God used its telling in a powerful way in my life.

It was at Christmas. Our extended family (Kelleys, Bowdles, LaBelles) were all enjoying the afterglow of a big dinner...sitting around our dining room table...and my brother began telling that story. As I sat there listening...laughing in all the usual places...the Holy Spirit spoke to me.

(Now, you need to know that I don't go around hearing voices.) But, that day, I did. When God speaks to you, you just know it. Here's what that "voice" said:

"It was not you that found him. It was not you that kept him safe. It was not you that brought him home. That was Me. And, I have been with you both every step of the way."

Well...analytical, borderline cynic that I I've pondered and poked around at the meaning and timing of that "voice" thing I've realized is that the Holy Spirit waited to speak to me about the "tuwtle" incident until my children were the same ages as me and my brother when this story happened.

I believe He wanted to show me the complete vulnerability and helplessness of a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. He wanted to show me the complete inability of a 6-year-old to bring a 3-year-old safely home under those circumstances. (I'm convinced that God even caused my little brother to laugh at just the time I was walking by that house.)

During these past months, as I've had to sit back and watch my "little" brother go through the most difficult year of his life, I've had to lean on that "voice." I've had to lean on the belief...the faith...that God is STILL here...with me...with my brother...with all His children...every step of the we try to find our way Home in this upside-down Kingdom.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I have all I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever."
(Psalm 23, NLT)

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