A Trip Up the Demerara

This is probably the longest memoir I’ve written. I hope you will take the time to read as it is one of my favorite memories.

In 1962 Mom & Dad were assigned as Missionaries of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) to the small country of British Guiana (Guyana), South America. A new church had been started in the Back Dam on the Demerara River. The only way to get there was by ferry. We traveled that route several times learning a lot about the country from what could be seen along the shores. Observation from the upper deck of the S.S. Carr (pictured) revealed a tiny reflection of how fortunate I was. Humility captured my thoughts each trip, constructing piece-by-piece exposures of a different kind of life. An open admission of how deprived these people were, could not be hidden. This was a life I would never live, only observe.

East Indian women squatted on the banks with their body between their legs dunking clothing in the water and beating them with a wooden mallet. Ragged clothes hung between two trees and blew in the wind to dry. Children with only a shirt ran naked-bottomed through the yard chasing chickens, or rolling a rusty bicycle wheel with a stick for fun. A small boy, too young to work with his dad in the rice patties, or Bauxite (aluminum ore) mines, cast a net catching fish for a supper meal. Another child used a spear, or bow and arrow to impale fish. Waving to the captain, he returned the gesture with a toot-toot bringing large smiles. A rough growl, a convincing bark, came from an ugly dog running up and down the shore as we passed. Dugouts filled with harvest from large family gardens made its way down-river to market in Georgetown.

This is the kind of town Linden was in the 1960’s, an underprivileged Hindu town with people eager to hear about a man named Jesus. When the church first started it was held in a bottom house (Pictured). The country of British Guiana is under sea level. Homes were built on ten foot high stilts, leaving the under house open. With the exception of a few older church buildings, the start-up churches Dad worked with were held under these.

There was one problem. The Demerara divided Linden. The pastor, Rev. Daniel Watson, needed a boat to travel not only across the river but also deeper into the Back Dam. How else would he be able to minister and invite others to this new beginning? Dad agreed and contacted Anderson Headquarters to see if they would purchase a new boat.

Once approved a second problem arose. How would we get this new boat sixty-five miles up river to Linden? “There is only one way to move it to Linden,” Daniel said. “I will drive it.” Mom & Dad reminded him of how small the motor was, and that he would have an exhausting day driving it from Georgetown. “I know,” he said. “There is no other way to move it.

Dad had a separate conversation with him that we were unaware of until we got home that night. He laid out an amazing adventure. We were going to ride the first twenty-five miles to Atkinson Air Base, the only airport in the country. The base was also home to a handful of American and British soldiers who were stationed there. Past that point there was a road made of burnt earth. There is a procedure of laying seasoned logs in place covered in clay. There are many layers of each. Once set on fire, the logs bake the clay. This process creates a hard- jagged rock that overtime returned to the dirt and the mud it was originally made from. Because the road to Linden was not maintained, ruts and holes made it passible only to those who had a four-wheel drive vehicle, several spare tires, a lot of time, and strong teeth. This trip by boat sounded like a magnificent voyage. We were excited about the trip and stayed awake most of the night before.

We woke with a great eagerness for our day. Dad arrived early so he could sign the paperwork and accept the new boat around noon. “Where is it?” Mom asked. There were dozens of similar boats coming and going. The mission boat blended with others. “There it is,” Dad said. Pointing toward an armada of small boats we saw him. Brother Watson was recognizable by his safari hat and round glasses. No one else wore a hat like his. He saw us wave, smiled, and pulled up to the docks.

I was disappointed. Shouldn’t this be a little larger boat? From above the large shipping dock the boat looked like a dugout until it docked. I believed being a mission boat it would stand out from the others. Except for the canopy, this one was no different than any number of other boats.

Upon docking we viewed a brand-new, four-by-sixteen foot wooden flatboat painted industrial marine gray. The canopy had a slight contrast but I was not complaining. We would need this covering to keep us out of the tropical sun. The three of us boys said our goodbyes and boarded the boat. Mom & Dad waved from the dock and grew smaller in the distance.

The river’s deep brown color is primarily the result of the massive quantities of silt carried from up-river by the currents. So powerful are these currents, that the ocean retains the Demerara’s brown color for a considerable distance out to sea creating a shoreline of muddy beaches. Georgetown sits at the mouth where the river empties into the North Atlantic Ocean. The rivers width and depth allows oceangoing vessels up to 5,000 tons to navigate up to Linden. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demerara_River)

For a long time we traveled south of that gateway about thirty feet from the shore. Watching the water ripple along side the boat, I was enticed to drag my hand in the water. I didn’t dare. I was reminded of the many tropical dangers that could not be seen from above. I was not about to have my hand eaten off by piranha, or shocked by the electricity from a knifefish, or eel. This short distance from the ocean troubled me. There was no telling what might like to eat me for lunch. There were many legends about different river monsters in this, and the other rivers in British Guiana. Thoughts of danger continued to rear their ugly faces. What would happen if a large ship swamped our boat from its wake and we sank like others in the past? This was a shipping lane after all. I shook that thought off in a hurry.

I could not deny, however, that after an hour this adventure was not very much fun. I sat in a small, wooden, and insignificant craft half way to our destination with a native pastor I didn’t know very well. Conversation was minimal. My two brothers were bored. I could not get out and neither could they. We were speeding down the river highway at 13 knots, or 15 MPH. The view grew monotonous, as all I saw was weeds. Once in a while we passed another small boat going to or coming from market. We waved and said hello. Passing a native shack, we watched and waved at people we would never see again. Bamboo-covered banks overtook higher weeds. A fish splashed nearby. I wished I had a fishing pole, or something to occupy my mind and pass the time.

At the rate we were traveling our trip would take approximately two hours. I wasn’t sure if I could take this quest much longer, but I had no choice. Mom had packed a lunch and a few things to eat for the journey. A thermos with cold water had grown warm from the humid sun. Taking a snack, my brothers grabbed theirs and handed one to Brother Watson. I wanted more but knew it was too soon. My brothers learned long ago that if I ate mine early I would sneak, and without them knowing, eat theirs later. We did not need a fight while cooped up on this boat? Besides, What would I do later with all the goodies gone?

 The engine popped and sputtered generating a white smoke to rise from the back of the boat. What was wrong? I watched Brother Watson fiddle with a few levers on the motor. The motor straightened out and kept going for a while. Later the same thing happened. The pastor said a few unintelligible words; the motor sounded like a grinding chain but continued working. I grew worried that we would be stranded in the bamboo where anaconda and poisonous dart frogs lived.

The motor snorted and came to a complete stop. This time it would not cooperate with the pastor. He pulled the starter cord until he was exhausted. He sat down to catch his breath. I asked what was wrong. The answer I feared most was spoken. “I don’t know,” he said. That’s when I discovered we didn’t have any paddles to help us stay close to the shore.

The boat began to drift, not the eastern shore closest to us, but the western shore, on the other side of the Demerara. We were powerless. The shipping lane was in front of us.

Large ships passed on a regular basis. All we could do is pray one would see us in time to correct their course and not hit us. We continued drifting. With regenerated strength Brother Watson began cranking a cantankerous new motor, to no avail. The motor would not start. The tropical wind continued to blow us across the river at its widest point.

A bauxite ship passed at a distance and blew his horn. Was he saying hello, or telling us to get out of the way? We waved. He tooted again. By the time his wake hit the front of our boat it had faded to an inconsequential swell. Thankful hearts were grateful another ship could not be seen in either direction. The mission boat floated like a piece of driftwood captivated by wherever the wind wanted us to go. Drawing closer to an unfamiliar bank we visualized where our boat would hit the shore. We realized it was not a hospitable site. Humans did not populate this part of the Demerara’s west bank. The population here was mostly unseen, sometimes heard, others not. The land was a dense and dark jungle. Any creature you can summon in your mind probably lived there.

Easing into the underbrush and tree limbs hanging over the river we knew for certain this was not going to be an enjoyable situation. Native folklore spoke of an old hag who had a pet snake with a fishhook tail. The snake looked for vulnerable little boys. When found, he cast his hook out to catch the child. Paralyzing venom anesthetized its victim until he could drag him back to the old hag where she ate him for dinner. I knew this story was not true, but at twelve years old, in an unfamiliar country, and stuck in the abysmal undergrowth of a powerful river the tale did cross my mind. I just made sure I was sitting between my two brothers so one of them would go first.

There was nothing to do, but sit, pray, and hope for deliverance. Brother Watson tried the motor. It would not start. Small boats like ours did not travel this side of the river. Commerce was on the other side. What did this mean? No one was coming. The three of us sat in fear of our lives. A two-hour trip had turned into four. Evening was approaching and we were on the remote side of the Demerara with a dead motor, a large river, and shipping lane between home and us. We sat awhile. Brother Watson pulled the starter cord awhile. We sat awhile. Brother Watson pulled the starter awhile. Even us three boys tried pulling the cord a few times.

A short piece of wood floated past our boat. One of us harvested it from the water. I believe God sent this lumber our way. He even painted it white. This was a perfect piece of wood to use for a paddle.

“While you paddle, I’m going to let the motor rest awhile,” Brother Watson said.

Taking turns each of us used what strength we had to move the boat away from shore and toward the east. The boat seemed to be lethargic, as no movement was felt. The only motion was that of the water swirled by the makeshift paddle. The currents took us back toward Georgetown. The headwind was the same that had pushed us across the Demerara. Gauging our progress by watching the shoreline grow in distance, our determination built as we moved one grunt at a time. Needless to say, I was glad I had saved my lunch. While one paddled the others ate.

Another hour had passed. A ship headed toward us. Understanding the need to get out of her way before she reached us, we paddled that board with steadfast courage. She came closer. Our concern grew. Fear of not making it out of her path shook us to the marrow of our bones. She grew larger and wider the closer she came. Standing up, Brother Watson pulled the cord one single time. A chattering started. A wake grew behind us. The forward movement jolted us to our seats. A cool breeze refreshed our senses. The started motor helped us avoid a re-embodiment of driftwood. We were free of uncertainty for the first time since we left the docks that morning. God started that motor just as he had sent the board to move us from the underbrush.

By making it out of the shipping lane in time we were safe. A toot from the ships captain blew in the wind. Waving a final farewell our boat moved toward the eastern shoreline. There was still another hour before we would make it to Atkinson Field. The sun had set and twilight became our guide. There were several inlets covered in bamboo passageways. Finding one that exposed the highway, the mission boat maneuvered through shallow waters until it drug bottom. Tying off the boat to a bamboo. I hopped out and ran for help. The terrain was muddy and slippery but I managed to keep my balance and pulled myself forward one cane at a time. I no longer cared creature might lay in wait for me. I was ready to be free of the confines of that boat.

I climbed up to the road. My brothers were right behind me. A few cars passed along side, followed by a bus carrying more natives than it should. A few more minutes passed when a car pulled over. I was never so happy to see Mom & Dad. They got out of the car and ran to hug each of us. We hugged them just as hard.

Mom & Dad had spent the afternoon, while we were stranded, driving up and down the road in a panic looking for us. They had stopped and asked if there had been any boats capsize or sink during the day. They asked if anyone had seen three white boys and an Indian walking around the area. Each was anxious and worried that we had been hurt, or worse. A two hour exploit had become and all day calamity.

In the end, this day had been an adventure. Though not planned the way it turned out I should at least say it was daring, and a memory I will never forget.

Rev. & Mrs. Ralph Coolidge (took Mom & Dad’s Place in Guyana. Mom, my two brothers and me. Rev. Watson at the motor.

*****

One year later Dad found out that Reverend Watson was using the mission boat to make personal money ferrying people across the river in Linden rather than for mission use. Dad took the boat from him and gave it to an associate pastor who continued the ministry and grew the church. Since that time other churches have started in bottom houses of other small villages throughout the area.

Note: the country of Guyana is now 40% Christian, PTL!

 

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Cathead Biscuits and Cave Spiders

worldform.com

Photo from: worldform.com

Pushing and grunting did no good. Kicking did no good. Three twenty something year old men could not push a snag down a mountain in northern Tennessee. Though dead, the tree was still standing and we struggled to move it. “Come on, we can do this,” Ash said. The resolve to our purpose of knocking this deadwood off the cliff would certainly be rewarded with a manly feeling of achievement. Commitment to the task culminated in the tree rocking back and forth. Woody debris fell from its sides. With each push and moan the base of the tree became weaker. Anticipation grew. We knew it was going down.

A desperate chittering and clicking at the top of the tree forced us to stop and look up. A frightened squirrel flittered back and forth at the top investigating the demolition. She leaped into the air and displayed a graceful glide down the mountain. What a site! This flying squirrel was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. The parade was not over. One by one, her pups climbed into view, hurled themselves into the air, and coasted down the mountain to their mom. Not one, not two, but four of these babies put on a show of magnificent beauty.

We stood in awe and humility, astonished that while we loved nature, we had no respect for her. We had nearly destroyed their home. Together we agreed to move on and let the tree stand.

Our first day ended and we hiked our way down the mountain to Mike Ashburn’s Grannie’s house. Grannie’s home was typical in rural Tennessee. Built in the 1940’s it was an old clapboard siding home with a tin roof and neighborly front porch. Her life was set in the old ways, unfamiliar to me. Echoes of hardship grooved a patterned face acquainted with rural life. Her home was small but open and welcoming. I shall never forget the pencil portrait hanging on her living room wall—two old mules, husband and wife. Someone had given it to her to remind her of her husband who had passed many years before. I could tell by the way she talked, she loved that drawing, but not as much as she missed him

Though it was late spring there was coolness in the mountains that would bite you in the butt if you didn’t cover up. We slept on old feather beds covered in handmade quilts. At the end of the bed was a thunder mug to keep us from trekking the darkness to the outhouse. Most enchanting was the fireplace sitting on the floor against the wall. It was not a wood fireplace. I was so tired from hiking the mountain that first day, sleep overcame this unacquainted odor of sulfur from coal. Morning brought a refreshing air about it. While snuggling under the quilts I could hear Grannie wrestling pots and pans in the kitchen.

 Cathead Biscuits - dmataflour.com

Cathead Biscuits – dmataflour.com

Yes, there is a God. Hearing Ash hug his Grannie, I walked into a favorable aroma of fresh bacon in the kitchen. I was ready for an amazing breakfast. With the aforementioned came farm fresh eggs, and cathead biscuits. I don’t remember what kind of jelly she pulled from her pantry but it was homemade and delicious. In case you don’t know why they are called cathead biscuits, it is because they are about the size of small cathead and very fluffy (recipe: http://www.mtnlaurel.com/recipes/766-old-fashioned-cat-head-biscuits.html)

Our purpose for being in Tennessee was to go caving. I had never experienced this sport but was eager to try. Grannie warned us to be careful. “There have been people lost in those caves and never found,” she said. Her caution made us a bit nervous. Still, we were young and stupid and moved on in our manly pursuit.

Photo from: Penterest

Photo from: Penterest

The first cave greeted us with a huge, amphitheater entrance. We entered walking tall and daylight showed our way. The path began to narrow to a point where we had to crawl on our knees. Not too far in, the ceiling started moving. Huge cave spiders crawled upside down. I knew they would not hurt me but it was still creepy wondering if one would fall on my back and into my clothes.

We arrived at a point where the stark reminder Grannie had given earlier made us aware of possible danger. We were able to stand again and walk through eight to ten foot tall cavern trails. Awareness that water had, over time, carved these rugged walking channels brought caution. Yes, we had marked our journey so we would know how to get back to the mouth of the cave, but what should we do if water arrives? This thought initiated our climb to the top of these walls scooting forward with only spread out arms and legs holding us above the floor.

A small opening, illuminated by our flashlight, suggested we climb in to see where it would go. On our bellies we crawled a few feet before I said, “Stop!”

“What’s wrong?” my little brother, Dick, asked.

www.richard-seaman.com

Photo:                    richardseaman.com

“Back up, I am face to face with a bat.” My light shined on a bat, just inches away. I am glad I saw it before I climbed through and knocked it awake. I shudder to think my reaction to that proposition. The response would not have been a calm one, I assure you.

Ash told Dick and me this cave was very long. No one knew where it came out. Dye was placed in the channels many years before and it turned one of the rivers red. There was still no sign where the cave ended. The suggestion was that the cave traveled under the river and seeped up into the riverbed through an underground spring. We enjoyed the cave for several hours, memories of this one time event were gradually embedded in my mind. We had one more cave to explore but desired a much-needed rest for our throbbing muscles. We went back to Grannie’s for lunch and enjoyed her company while she listened to our adventure.

When Ash told her we were going to the cave by another grandmothers home, this upset her. She raised a second red flag. “That cave is too dangerous. Some have even drowned and washed into the mountain and never been found. There are underground springs that gush through the rock this time of year without warning.” She didn’t beg us not to go, but her voice pleaded.

Okay, so now we have fought off cave spiders and a bat—worried about getting lost in a huge cave that has no end, and now we have to be fretful about an underground torrential river burying us in the mountain for eternity? These are the thoughts I kept to myself on the drive to this cave. I was unsure I wanted to continue this exploration. But, being the man I was, I sucked it up and persevered with the other two manly men.

https-_farm9-staticflickr-com

Photo: https-_farm9-staticflickr-com

The entrance to this cave was smaller and extremely wet. We were still able to walk in. Once inside, the area was small. There was an opening in the wall just large enough to crawl inside. Filled with thoughts of this being my last day on earth, I went last. There was a choice. Go right, or, go left. The right tunnel would take us uphill, the left tunnel would take us downhill. Uphill was chosen. We slow crawled on our bellies through a narrow passage with shoulders rubbing both walls. The floor held about an inch of, “colder than a frog’s butt,” standing water soaking our clothes. The chill prompted me to remember Grannie’s warning. There had already been water rush through here, and not too long ago, I thought out loud. “I’m backing out and getting out of here,” I said. Crawling backwards was slow. I didn’t think I would ever reach the entrance. When I did, I climbed through to live another day. My words must have been what the other two wanted to hear; they were right behind me.

We met Ash’s other grandmother, a beautiful Appalachian woman. We stood outside her home to visit. Our clothes were too nasty to go inside even though she asked. Wet and cold we left for Grannies. We spent one more cold night snuggled down in feathers and covered in quilts. We left for Anderson (IN) early Sunday morning.

This was an adventure I will never forget. Considering the unpleasant thoughts of death at any moment, I never want to go caving again. Once was enough.

 

Photography Award

Although Christian Grandfather is an award free blog, I am pleased to announce that I have been ranked in the top 50 of most popular photographers in 2016 among my “View Bug” (photography site) peers. I feel honored in every way. When I tried to copy the award it was so small on this blog you couldn’t read it so I posted on top of one of my floral photos. the original is posted at the bottom of this post.

award_3967_edited-3If you would like to see more of my photos you can find them at andyoldhamphotography.wordpress.com

Here is the little bugger that won me this honor.

Click to enlarge detail

possum__0990

This is the copy of the original award that could not be read here on WP.

view-bug-2016_6167

View Bug is a wonderful place to post your photos. You will receive instruction, encouragement, information on contests, and awards for your photography. Please visit at viewbug.com

Made to Love

This is a continuation of our discussion on Bridges.

Please join in the conversation.

Reblogged from susanirenefox.com

January 6, 2017 · by Susan Irene Fox · in Bridges, Christianity ·

glassofwaterJesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Think about this: rather than love our neighbor with the same amount of love as we love ourselves, what if Jesus meant for us to love our neighbor from the same Spirit who allows us to love ourselves? The same Spirit who allows us to forgive, offer grace and receive spiritual wisdom?

After all, aren’t we capable of loving in this way because God loved us first?

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.2

Sometimes we get so full of our own offenses we end up wearing blinders to the pain and injustice raining down around us. We can no longer stand by the sidelines with impunity, for this is the opposite of love. We can no longer hasten to react in anger or call someone out of their name when Jesus clearly told us these things were unacceptable. We can no longer extend fingers of accusation instead of extending offers of invitation to know someone’s heart.

In order to love as God loves, we must first understand we are not the center of the universe. If we hinder our vision due to fear or hate, we hinder our experience of God. Only with hearts, minds and eyes wide open can we hope to embrace the fullness of God’s love and grace continually poured to overflowing into us and through us via His Spirit.

God is love, and we who live in love live in God, and God lives in us. And as we live in God, our love grows more mature in us. So we are free from fear on the Day of Judgment. We can face Him with confidence because we base our identification with the love of Jesus in this world. Such love has no fear, because mature, compassionate love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully embraced and experienced God’s perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (1 John 4:16-19)

As we experience the fullness of God, we begin to mature in our relationship with Him. We start to comprehend the complexity of humanity, the sacredness of our unique and ineffable creation, the dignity and value of who we are as children of The Potter who designed us. We are no longer unworthy, for through Christ, the Father has adopted us into His family. We are beloved in His embrace. All of us.

Therefore, as He has declared us His heirs, we are to live up to His expectation of loving each other through His unconditional love. We are to offer each other forgiveness and grace through the grace He has given us before we deserved it. We are to mirror God’s image, not our own.

And God, through Jesus, always stood up for the broken-hearted, the outcasts, and those singled out by injustice.

Yes, at times we feel tired and hopeless; at times we feel frustrated or disappointed. But our task here and now is to draw others to the heart of Jesus, and to reconcile all people to our Father. As we surrender to the Spirit in us, He helps our hearts to stay open; He prays for us; He strengthens us; He connects our heart to the heart of the One who wraps us in His everlasting love.

corporal-montrell-jackson“I’m tired physically and emotionally. Disappointed in some family, friends and officers for some reckless comments. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you.” Corporal Montrell Jackson, Aurora PD, Baton Rouge, LA, written on his Facebook page July 8, 2016, three days before he was shot to death in the line of duty.

 

A Question For Mom and Dad

EPSON MFP image

Meriam Gladys Boze and Edward Lincoln Oldham were married March 26th 1947. This photograph was taken in the living room of Miriam’s home at 1741 Glenmore Avenue, Baton Rogue, LA. The snapshot shows the two of them dancing at their wedding. Conceivably it shows Meriam dancing and Edward just standing there. It is interesting that my parents brought up their three children of the 1950’s and 1960’s to believe, as Christian’s, it was wrong, perhaps even a sin, to dance. Yet, here I see the two of them doing what we could not.

This click of the camera reminds me of a time in 1962 when the two of them took us three boys with them to the mission field in British Guiana (Guyana). While we were waiting on the mission home to be completed we stayed in the second story of an apartment building. Chubby Checker had released his new song, The Twist, the year before on Parkway Records. The radio stations in Georgetown were playing it several times a day. One evening we were listening to the radio (there was no TV in the country, unless you were extremely wealthy) and our entire family started moving to the music. Most of the others were dancing much like Dad in this photo, but at eleven years old, I began dancing The Twist the way I had seen it on American Band Stand back in the United States. I was quickly called out and shamed to tears.

barb-andy-dancing_bw_cropped_5015_edited-4I have only danced twice since that time. Once was right after Barbara and I were married in 1982. I love her to death, but she made so much fun of the way I danced, I quit and never danced again until October 8, 2016 at my son Raife and Caitlin’s wedding in Fredericksburg, VA. I didn’t enjoy one minute of it, and, as you can see from the photo, I dance just like my Dad.

I would love to have questioned my parents about this dance, if only I had known this photograph existed prior to their deaths in 1995 and 2005.

 

 

 

SPONTANEOUS VACATION

Our Oldham family was by no means well off in the early 1950’s. Of course my two brothers and me never knew that. We thought we were just right. The only thing I can remember that would indicate otherwise was when Dad said something I have never forgotten. “These rich folks that live in $20, 0000 homes have it made.” Why I remember that, I don’t know. I guess it was the first indication that I was born into a poor family in south Louisiana.

Even still, I did not understand the implications of these words, at the time, and continued playing with my friends. I loved the era and the upbringing in which I grew up. Living a life of understanding black-eyed peas, fried SPAM, and cornbread was good for me, I still find them delicious. However, it was these years of innocence that I now look back upon as an adult and appreciate the very few real vacations that we took as a family.

Dad worked full time for the NATB (National Automobile Theft Bureau) as a Louisiana State Trooper. He took a second job pastoring the small Church of God in Tickfaw, Louisiana. Mom worked as a bookkeeper. With these three incomes we were able to enjoy vacation moments that were short and adventurous. Sometimes we went fishing at Old River or False River on the western side of the Mississippi River. These used to be a part of Old Man River until he changed course and cut them off, making nice fishing lakes. Otherwise, if we weren’t fishing in someone’s pond, or the creek bottom, we were swimming in one of them—if we could shoo the snakes away.

Andy, Bill, and Meriam Oldham June 1955

Andy, Bill, and Meriam Oldham
                                    June 1955

Yet the spontaneous outings Dad created were the ones I am most fond of. The one captured in this photo is just one of many such impromptu adventures. We were driving through the country roads of south Louisiana when Dad saw a Forestry Fire Tower and pulled in the driveway. As usual Mom said, “What are you doing Edward?” My older brother Bill and I stood to attention when we heard the answer.

“I’ll be right back.”

In a few minutes Dad waved goodbye to the Forest Ranger and returned to the car.

“Come on boy’s, we’re climbing to the top.”

Bill and I hopped out of the car and raced to the bottom of the stairs. The walk was exciting at first, but it did not take long for a four and six year old to tire out. Dad snapped this photo while we were resting. After catching our breath we climbed to the top and looked in every direction, over thousands of acres of trees.

Even though I was a month from turning five, I have never forgotten this small memory. A smile calms my grin each time I see a fire tower.

Merry Christmas

From Dixie Y’all!!!

christmas-2016-2

And from my two youngest grandchildren who are more than excited about Christmas

  John – 3 Years Old

John 3 Years Old

 

Mackenzie – 2 Years Old

 Mackenzie 2 Years Old

        

 

Glory To God In The Highest . . . Rebuilding The Bridge With Susan And Lilka

 

rebuild-this-bridgeFor the past several years I have worked toward writing my memoirs. I have shared many of them here. Today I would like to share another such memory. When I am done I will invite you to a much-needed conversation.

I was writing of the summer in 1958. My family arrived from Baton Rouge at our annual Church of God Camp Meeting in Anderson, Indiana. My two brothers and me were playing in an open field across the street from all the church activities. Mom sat on a bench and read while we played. A short time had passed when we noticed a black boy and his little sister were watching. They eased a little closer. We needed a fourth player so one of us asked if he would like to play. The boy, we’ll call him Ben, hopped up off the ground and joined in. We had a great time. His sister sat by herself until Mom invited her to sit with her on the bench.

A short time later we began to notice a black woman hiding and watching from between some cars. When Ben noticed her, he stopped playing and ran to her. Yes, it was his mother. He took her hand, walked her to my Mom and introduced her. The two mothers talked, while we continued to play. Ben’s mother was uncomfortable sitting on the bench with a white woman so she and Mom stood to talk.

Having a lot of fun, time flew, and lunchtime arrived. My parents were forever packing a picnic lunch, usually fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches (I miss those). Mom invited Ben’s entire family to stay and eat lunch with us. His mother was reluctant at first but, after my mom assured her we had plenty, she gave in and joined us. We enjoyed our picnic but could only wonder why Ben’s mother was constantly looking around while we ate. She seemed nervous and to be watching for someone.

After lunch, Ben and his family left and we never saw them again. We looked for them so we could play during the week, but never found them. We assumed they went home. Whenever I go to Anderson University, my Alma mater, I think of this moment.

I tell you this story because, at the age of eight, I believe this was my first encounter with how different we are. I did not understand what black families went through back in the 1950’s. The racial divide kept me away from black Children. The animosity of whites towards black could even be felt at a camp meeting where our whole purpose was to worship a loving God. I am sure the family left and went home simply because of the overwhelming impression of being unwelcome. I look back at how unusual it was for this playful event to have happened in this era. How uneasy the mother of these two children must have felt. How easy it was for my mom to invite them, because her white world was protected, is compared with the protection Ben’s mother wanted to give, and yet gave in to an invitation. She knew it was the right thing to do as a Christian. But the responsibility of protecting herself and her children was foremost in her mind. No wonder she was looking around. Society had taught her to fear the repercussions of white people. She worried about the wrong person seeing them playing, talking and even eating with a white family. Worried about danger stirring among those who may have despised her simply because of who she was, who her children were. When I see this anger and frustration vented today, I remember this meeting so long ago. I see a young Ben playing with us. I see his mother watching and yet alert in protecting and still allowing things to happen between us.

When I consider this occasion I am struck by what I see today. No wonder Black people are angry. No wonder there is a growing hatred. No wonder we see a widening of divisiveness that is hurting our society. No wonder satan is excited. Two people with different pigmentation cannot get along because the hatred they have been taught separates them. You and I are different from the rest of the world. We have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can sit and talk, and respect each other, because of the One we love and follow provides the grace for us to do so. But, we have to want to. The world around us doesn’t know Him. Their lives cannot change because there is no one who will help them recognize that this hostility between our races will destroy us. Satan has destroyed the bridge of unity and separated us from each other. We need to rebuild it.

As believers in the One True God we cannot sit idly by and do nothing. I did not understand what black families went through in 1958. I can’t pretend that I know In 2017. I realize that most children are colorblind. But I ask you, where and when did this stop? How can we get back to being colorblind of race and live for the purpose of unity in Christ body and the sharing of His message of salvation? Isn’t that why we celebrate his birth this time of year? We look at this memoir and say, “Well, this was an encounter of children. They don’t understand.” I ask, understand what? That we can’t get along the way children seem to? You are right, children have not developed a racially charged worldview at this point, and therefore are willing to play together because they have the same purpose.

Why would Jesus tell his disciples who were trying to push children away from him, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God?” (Luke 18:16) Jesus saw division coming. “He took the irresistible opportunity of lowering their (the disciples) pride of reason by informing them that, in order to enter the Kingdom, . . . instead of the children first becoming like them, they must themselves become like the children” [Richter in Stier]. This does not mean we are to be childish. This simply means we need to consider our pride and our humility in accepting others for who they are. Christ said, Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Do you not realize we are God’s gift too each other? “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 12:24-25)

I wonder if our world today can heal? Are we capable, as children, of sharing the same purpose? In Christ, I believe it can happen. Like this young Black family of the 1950’s they were willing to join my family for an unforgettable day. I have often wondered if the impression left on me, after all these years, lingers with Ben, now a grown man. We both learned that we are capable of living together in unity, sharing a glorious life in Christ.

Invitation

I would like to extend an invitation you. So many have talked about starting conversation that will begin healing. Susan Irene Fox, Lilka Raphael and myself have started a new category dedicated to understanding and healing between races. This new category will be called Bridges.

I would like to invite you to the Bridge. Let’s rebuild what satan has destroyed. Ben met me at the bridge in 1958. We met there as children, with open minds and hearts, wanting to share. We reached out to each other and found unity, if only for the day. Can we do that today? Can we become as children and overcome color? We are called by God to love one another. I believe through Bridges we can find this same child-like unity today. God is telling us unity in the Body of Christ will not only make our world better, but our lives.

Lilka met me at the Bridge in 2016. Beginning in January, will you come help us build?

I wish each of you,and your family a wonderful Christmas. Put Christ first and He will continue to bless you.

Andy

Links:

Susan Irene Fox: https://susanirenefox.com/2016/12/02/bridges-stepping-forward-with-lilka-and-andy/

Lilka Raphael: https://bisforblessed.com/2016/12/09/goodwill-to-men-crossing-the-bridge-with-susan-and-andy/

Duck Hunting With Murray

header-mallard_edited-2He said it would be fun. He said we would get in the marsh before daylight and leave early because we would have our limit. I told Julius Murray he would have his limit because I had quit hunting a long time ago. Since I had never been duck hunting I seized the opportunity to get in the swamp with my camera. I would be shooting a different way.

On a cold December morning in 1987 we tromped through the high grasses of the northern Ross Barnett Reservoir. Most of these stalks of weed were taller than me by two feet. Some were tough to push over and in some cases so thick we had to machete them down to get through. The ground became wet bog in some areas but we continued through the mire. Arriving at a small opening I saw an area that was like a small pond. Shining my flashlight revealed fallen trees. Upon our presence, I could hear, but not see, turtles scampering into the water. Clunk, clunk, clunk drew apprehensive nerves toward their departure. Was it really turtles, or something else? Little did they know I would capture them later when they thought we were gone.

The sun was not up. There was faint light from a toenail moon setting in the west. We waited in the dark of morning with a flashlight, a cup of coffee and whispered conversation. Our hands tightened around our thermos bringing a hint of warmth. Quiet broke in shards of stress when movement here-or-there tuned our heart to any strange noise around us. The thought of gators was constant, but I trusted Julius’s skills to keep us safe.

Google Photo

Twilight revealed a light fog encompassed our blind. The long sacred wail of a Loon said a good morning to his mate asking. “Where are you?” Moments later a higher pitched wail lets him know, “I am over here.” Evocative sounds, never be forgotten, will forever establish the tranquility of the swamp and deminish fear.

As the fog lifted we hunkered behind tall reeds and watched hundreds of duck and geese fly above and around us. Julius raised his gun and followed each bird in his gun site. When he didn’t shoot I questioned him. “We cannot fire until 6:00 o’clock, it’s the law,” he said. Hearing others fire their guns reminded me I was proud to be his friend, and of his integrity to remain silent until time. I continued to snap photos of the wonders around us, including the turtles.

a_mixed_flock_of_ducks_and_geese_fly_from_a_wetland_area_edited-1Did these birds have a Timex, or what? The big hand struck twelve and they vanished. There were one or two honks from Canadian Geese in the distance, but in a gun site looked like tiny fragments of dirt blowing through the air. Being the patient man that he was, Julius waited another hour only to be disappointed. There were no birds close enough to bring home for dinner.

Julius was right. I did have fun, but he did not get his limit. I got better shots with my camera. We went home with no duck and the promise of beautiful morning photos waiting to be developed.

If  you’d like to hear the sound of a loon check this out:

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=tightropetb&p=sounds+of+loons#id=3&vid=36e32f289d44a870ad2eb79965d35c6b&action=view