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 married his love, Barbara. He loved her 'til the day he died. (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 "NooNoon's store."
Behind their house was a HUGE field. During most 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 that field into a football-field-sized lake.
Except for the Hoyt Kelleys and the Brady Kelleys, the rest of the Kelleys lived next door or back door to each other. (Oh, except for our Mimi..who lived in the coolest apartment EVER in downtown Birmingham--but that's another story for another time.)
Some adult was always nearby. But, because it was safe-and-sound-1960s-Kimberly, the grownups usually never had a clue where us kids were unless it was 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 holding her ever-present hickory. 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 that flooded field and...standing way out in the middle...as far as they could go without being on their way to 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--in a skirt and nice shoes. Well...she heads straight out into that quagmire. And...about 20 steps in...you 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 thick mud...grinning...and hear him keep trying to reassure Lisa and Kevin that they aren't gonna die.
He hollers to mama, "Hey, DoeDoe, you OK?" (Those 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 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 to remember is to just keep calling out to "Daddy" (my Abba)...and to 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 "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")