Monday, January 19, 2009

The Story of Rooster

Granddaddy and Grandma Pickens’ house, wasn’t anything to brag about, but we grandkids sure enjoyed hanging out there for the summer! The old white wood-frame house could sure get to rattling and rolling, with six grandkids romping throughout it!
Once the dinner bell was sounded, it was quit a chore sitting everyone-Granddaddy at the head, grandma at the foot, and mom and dad and we kids lined up and down each side of the table. You could not help but feel welcome and loved in Nellie’s kitchen. We all felt at home, and welcome, in granddaddy & grandma’s house, there at 1670 Ashport Road, Jackson, TN. However, something struck me as kind of strange, and caught my attention. Why did Rooster, another guest, have to eat on the back porch steps, and not get to join the rest of us at the dinner table? Grandma would fix him a plate, and hand it to him, to which he’d respond with a “Thank ya, Mrs. Pickens!”, then go about to sittin’ down on the back steps, and just consume that good ole soul food grandma was accustom to fixin!
Rooster, a young "colored" boy(common reference in the 60's), must have been around the age of fourteen, at the time. He was hired, by granddaddy, to help-out on the land. Granddaddy needed help around the farm with tasks such as, planting and hoeing home-grown tomatoes, turning the watermelon vines, and harvesting all the watermelons. Loading watermelons in the pickup truck was no easy task!
I being possibly 12 back then, was doing good to stand at shoulder’s height to Rooster. Even though he was much stouter than me, Rooster never took advantage of it, and seemed pretty nice. I suppose being strong was why granddaddy hired him to work around the farm. It wasn’t kosher to play with a hired worker, though, since he was hired to do chores, and not play with us grandkids. My grandparents payed him, which helped his poor family.
I never knew how Rooster ever took on the name “Rooster”. Maybe his mother nicknamed him that when he was born, but surely not! Possibly his fellow schoolmates tagged him with it because of his hair, who knows? I never thought, or got the nerve, to ask him though. He once told me his real name, which sounded like “Zephaniah”, or some Bible name, which at the time was difficult to pronounce.
Once, granddaddy and I drove over to Rooster’s house, somewhere near Oakfield Road, and Old Medina Road, just north east of Jackson, TN. Once we arrived at Rooster’s house, I couldn’t help but notice the swinging, tattered and ragged clothes were hanging from homemade clotheslines. The old wood-frame house looked to be built around the turn of the century, and was surrounded by a yard spattered with grass patches and dirt. I could not help but notice an old bicycle rim hanging from what was suppose to be a basketball backboard and pole.

The earth beneath could probably tell of some exciting games played there. I suppose Rooster’s family was just as happy as any of us white folks, for this was all they new in their little family circle.
Although Rooster was the only colored person working for granddaddy at that time, granddaddy had hired and worked colored folk for thirty years or so. He would tell us grand kids, “Colored folks always refer to me as “Mr. Herman”, or they won’t work at all!” He was a contractor and foreman all of his life, and we grand kids must have heard the same old story a dozen times, or so it seemed.
It sure was enjoyable at granddaddy and grandma Pickens’ house, why with all the good food, home-made hand-cranked ice cream, out on the front porch, and the fellowshipping around the table.
I guess I’ll never know what was going through Rooster’s mind, as he ate all alone on the back porch steps, maybe what was going through his mind was, “I sure wish Mr. Herman would let me eat and fellowship with everyone else.” I suppose I’ll never know…..

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Welcome Detour

A Welcome Detour

We are often taken places in our lives, where we never planned on going. God has a way of doing that to us, and with us, so we need to be flexible and go with the flow, at times. It’s been said by someone, “Life is a journey”, and “surprises come when you least expect them”. Be on the look-out for “Detours” in your life, for they are sure to come.

For myself, I never planned to make a personal detour, and visit the "Floyd E. Tut Fann State Veterans Home", in Huntsville, Alabama. I had never heard of the place, and I for certain didn’t have any business there. I would later discover that it would become a welcome detour in my life.

It was a cold windy day January 1, 2008, and I had been making my way back home to where I mostly grew up. It had been some 30 years since I had lived in Huntsville, Alabama. Way back in August of 1977, the USN had stationed me in Corpus Christi, TX, where I would find my soul-mate, Connie Crisp, get married, began making a living, and began raising four wonderful kids!
In the fall of 2007, my company agreed to relocate me to Huntsville. In a sweet song to my ears, Connie welcomed the change in our lives: of course it did help sweeten the pie, by having our oldest son & daughter, precede us to Huntsville, by a couple of years.

Upon arriving Huntsville, New Years Day 2008, I made my way down University Drive, stopping at the Jordan Lane intersection. My first thoughts were memories of the many times dad would take me to his first cousin’s house, Bill Baker. My daddy, Herman Leon, always referred to Bill as Billy, so I did as well. Billy is my daddy’s first cousin. They grew up together in Jackson, TN, to which dad has shared several good memories of their times together, chumming around the North Jackson countryside!

So, as I sat at the Jordan Lane intersection, I glanced up the hill and spotted the big white water tower. That tower was very close to the Bill & June Baker homestead. Pleasant memories flooded my mind of visiting their family over the years. I had recently heard that Billy’s wife, June, had passed away, and pondered where Billy might be living now.

As I passed through the intersection, driving further into town, I headed my Dodge truck over Chapman Mountain, and settled-in at my son Phillip and daughter-n-law Rebecca’s home, located in the Huntsville NE area.

Over the course of the evening, and into the following day, my thoughts were, “I need to go check-on Billy Baker”. I really don’t know why I was contemplating it. I wasn’t aware of the purpose of God leading me in Billy’s direction.

I decided to call my sister, Jeanne, to inquire about Billy’s whereabouts. I pretty much knew that Bill & June Baker’s kids, David & Diane, no longer lived in Huntsville, but I had no idea where they were now living.
The reason for calling my sister was I reasoned that girls were better at keeping-up with kinfolks than guys were. I felt dad would probably know, but I didn’t want to bother him about it.

As God would direct my path that January day, my sister, Jeanne, told me that she had heard Billy was living at the "Floyd E. Tut Fann State Veterans Home", located on Meridian Street. She offered to meet me there, so shortly thereafter met out front of the facility. This was our first time to see one another, so we gave each other a big hug, right out front of the facility! Jeanne didn’t have the time to go inside with me that day, for she had something going on at the time. Upon her driving away, I grabbed my harmonica, slipped it into my pocket, and proceeded inside to the front desk.

The receptionist had me sign the visitor’s log, and pointed me toward the “F” wing. Heading in the right direction, along what seemed like well lighted long hallways, I finally reached my destination. Upon arrival, I asked the nurse’s station that I was there to visit my cousin, Billy Baker. The nurse informed me the “F” wing was mainly for Alzheimer’s patients, and that indeed she had a Billy Baker in her wing. She also educated me a little on visiting AZ’s patients, and that Billy would have to be found. I followed her around looking for Billy. The nurse informed me that AZ’s patients often leave their rooms, and can’t recall where they came from. She said they often end-up climbing back in bed, but it won’t be there own bed, but someone else’s.
This wasn’t the case for Billy that day. I returned to the nurse’s station to wait. My thoughts were, “I hope Billy is in good walking health, so I can have a good visit with him.”
A few minutes passed as I waited. Looking down each hall for the nurse, I spotted the nurse walking toward me, with holding Billy’s hand. I heard her say, “Now, Billy, you have a guest who has come to see you, so you behave yourself, ya hear?” I could tell the nurse was just being fun with Billy, so I smiled as she placed Billy’s hand in mine. I recall his hand was warm, and I was just hoping my own hand wasn’t cold, as it often is….ha-ha.
This visit was new territory for me, having never dealt with Alzheimer’s patients before, or at least not that I ever new. I’ve visited nursing homes before, Christmas caroling with my church, and playing harmonica with other friends over the years.

With his hand in mine, I felt as if I had a child in my hand. The nurse pointed me down the hall to large open room, where she pointed to a row of empty chairs along the wall. This was the visitor’s room, where families could interact with their loved one. Around the room, were other men, with various stages of AZ’s, but I noticed no one was there visiting them. I believe one of the men actually spoke to me, albeit in broken sentences, and I kindly acknowledged him.

I sat Billy down on one of the soft vinyl chairs, and began to talk to him. Billy was wearing just a pair of socks, to which he seemed to be looking down toward. I quickly realized that this would be very much a one-way conversation, and that God would have to give me the words to say. Me acting and feeling sorry for his condition is not what Billy needed. I had to be strong and upbeat, and stay focused on being a blessing to him.

What I’m about to relay to you, may not be verbatim, but to the best of my recollection, here is how the visit went:
“Billy, I don’t know if you recall who I am, but I’m Herman Leon’s son, Barry Pickens. I used to come visit you with my dad. I recall how smart you were about building & constructing your own water skis, and how you knew electronics real well, and seemed to be able to fix anything. I just wanted to come by and visit with you, and maybe play you a couple of songs on the harmonica. Would you like that?”

Billy continued to sit there quietly, with his hands on his lap. I gave him a few seconds to respond to my own introductory words, while looking into his face for expressions to my words. I was encouraged to hear a few recognizable words. The best I could determine, he was attempting to explain the building and testing of some type of electronics. His words were mixed-up, although I did recognize some of the electronic terms. That was kind of cool that I could at least see that he had a mind that was still able to say those. His sentences were short, and incomplete. That was ok to me, for I understood the circumstances. He moved his hands and fingers together, seemingly constructing something, or possibly explaining something to me. Who knows, but maybe he was reliving an experience with a group of fellow engineers, whom he may have worked with at NASA.
In honor of his service to others, and out of respect for his intelligence, I replied to him with, “Yeah, that’s right, good, I see, uh huh!” I decided I may as well become one of his engineer friends, and play the part for a second. Maybe that would help him to explain what he was telling me.

After a few minutes of this time, I took Billy’s hand in mine, and asked him, “Billy, would you like to hear me play a hymn for you on my harmonica?” to which he didn’t reply, but just looked at me quietly. I figured that meant, “Of course I’d like to hear a hymn!” Up to this point, I was sitting in a chair angled toward his chair. I leaned over toward Billy, so as not to be too loud for the other patients in the room. I’m sure I played one of my favorites, like “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, or “Amazing Grace”! I didn’t want to be too lengthy, not knowing how long he could endure the sitting still like that. I watched intently for any signs of response to the harmonica music, but he seemed to like listening, the best I could tell.
Once I stopped playing the hymns, I figured it best that I begin wrapping-up my visit, so I got down on my knees, and looked into his face, much like a mother would do, and I began to speak these words to him:
“Billy, I want you to know that God has not forgotten you! You are special to him, and you have served Him for many years. God would want me to tell you that you are not forgotten, and I love you! Don’t you worry; June says hello to you, and so do David and Diane. They all love you very much!
Billy, I now want to pray with you, if that will be ok.” I then continued to hold his hand in mine, and prayed a little prayer with him. I didn’t know how much he understood, but somehow, I felt he did.
I ended by telling him, “Now you take care of yourself, and be good, and I’ll come visit you later on!”
I then led him back to the nurse’s station, and headed home that day.

I was reminded of the bible verse, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:34-40

I don’t know what Billy got out of my visit, but I know what I got out of it. My detour that day led me down a path of ministering to Jesus, face to face, and I shall forever be grateful. For, on that day, January 2, 2008, God led down what I would indeed call “A Welcome Detour”.

I do know that Billy and June are both enjoying the splendor of Heaven. Maybe, they live in that little log cabin, along the crystal river, where Billy is water skiing on home-made wooden skiis. Who knows?

Does God answer little prayers? On time? Everytime?

Does God answer little prayers? Well, all I know is that after whispering a simple little prayer for help, I ended-up finding my recently lost electric airplane, which I lost while flying it in Demopolis, AL!

Back on Sept. 18, 2008, and right at dusk, I was having a blast flying my 26” electric airplane. I had it at a super high altitude (fun flying, safer for mistakes), almost directly above my head. I was doing circles up that high trying to see how well it stayed aloft, catching the upper-wind currents. All of a sudden, the plane was not doing what I was telling it to do. The upper-level winds forced me to drive it down-wind. This made westward direction, on highway 80, drifting further away from me, making it harder for me to see. Being so high up, with the upper-level winds keeping it aloft, I made the atempt to shut the motor off, and gradually fall, hopefully losing altitude. Since it only a 2-channel functionality, rudder & electric motor speed, I couldn't point it into a hammer-head dive. The only way to get it down was to float down-wind of me, and hopfully lose altitude. The altitude, and the wind keeping it aloft, was working against me, taking the plane toward the main highway, almost out-of-sight, a common problem with R-C (remote control) oweners, they can't determine if the craft is coming toward them, or going away!
For a split second, my imagination ran wild, for I quickly imagined a couple of crash scenarios! I was worried it may have crashed into some little ole lady driving down the highway: "Demopolis Times headlines, “Lady has head-on crash with plane! Pilot no where to be found!”, or possibly some kid spotting my plane from his parent's automobile. He screams, "Stop mommy, I just saw a airplane crash in that field. He jumps out of the car, all the while yelling back, "Hey mom, look what I found!"
In either scenario, my $90 plane, which was my Father’s Day gift from my kids, would be lost forever!

Now, let's fast-forward two weeks, where once again, sent me to town on-business.
On my mind this time was definitely the incident of losing my plane that one evening, two weeks prior.
Who knows, maybe I could retrace my steps? I had nothing to lose? Hey, I could make one last ditch effort to search for my electric plane. At the close of the work day, and heading back to town at around 6 p.m., I stopped along the highway in front of the large hay field, across from Wal-Mart. This was where I thought I saw the plane go down, when I was flying it from the field behind Fairhaven Baptist. It seemed to be the most logical place crash site for my airplane. I had previously scanned the roofs of all the local places of business, excluding the Wal-Mart, of course. On the day of losing the plane, the winds were not blowing it toward Wal-Mart anyhow. My hopes & desires were that it had ended-up in the hay field, across the highway from Wal-Mart, and other businesses.I pulled my car into the property owner’s open field, while busy car drivers whisked up/down busy highway 80. My eyes were drawn toward the large open hay field out in front of me, with round bales of hay grouped together in an unorganized fashion, and scattered throughout the field. I couldn’t see very far due to newly grown hay nearly at chest height. It's a little scary walking around in tall grass, and not being able to see snakes, armadillos, rats, wild game, etc.
My imagination wasn't over just yet. this could have been how it worked-out:
You’re a local citizen, driving down the highway, in your sleepy little town, where everyone knows everybody else's business. You spot a stranger, off to your side in a field. Curious at what’s-up, you observe this stranger walking around in your field. You then see him climbing on top of each bale of hay, raising his hand to his eyebrow, and then see the crazy guy jump from bale-to-bale. He then hops down from the end bale, only to scurry over to the next group of bales, and does the same strange action! You think to yourself, “Someone’s not playing with a full deck, or a full bale!”
Anyway, that’s what it looked like that evening!The goal was to climb-up something taller, in order to get a better view across the field. Even with that, I still couldn’t spot my airplane. Feeling a little disheartened, after about 30 minutes of searching, I headed back across the field toward my car, . I felt that this was the last straw, my last chance to possibly find my electric plane. As I came within about 500 feet of my car, I stopped to pray, to see if maybe God knew where it was. Would He have the time to listen to a silly prayer like that? We all know God fixes more important things, like making people well, helping marriages & relationship problems, helping wayward teens. He does miracles, much more important than some silly lost airplane, down in little Demopolis, Alabama.I quickly reasoned, “Of course God knew where I lost it two weeks
ago, but my immediate problem was, I didn't know what God knew!” That fact was certain! Right then, in the middle of that field, I quietly bowed my head and whispered a simple prayer to God, "Lord, you know exactly where my airplane is, and the exact spot that is rest at this very moment. Please help me to find it, if it’s your will. I ask this, in Jesus name, Amen." I was pretty much ready to give it up at this point, feeling that maybe I wasn’t suppose to get it back after all. I was ok with that, if that was the way it was supposed to be.

You're not going to believe what happened next? As I raised my bowed head, and looked around again, I still couldn't see it anywhere near me. At that moment, I began my walk back to my car. My walk was perpendicular to the main highway, and where my car was parked, at the edge of the field. I decided to not avoid the thick tall grass, but commenced to traverse straight through it, all the time hoping not to awake some critter! As I walked back, still no airplane was to be found. Coming near my car, I walked past the car a few feet, looking in the nearby group of trees, still no sign of it. At that point, I decided to walk back toward the open field, some 50 feet from my car. While gazing once again toward the field, I saw what appeared to be some trash. I thought, “Maybe that’s it!” My airplane is white, so it was worth a shot! Drawing closer to the white bag, I discovered it to be a white Wal-Mart shopping bag. Guess why God led me to the white bag? It was because sitting next to the Wal-Mart bag, was my very own white airplane!
The plane was undamaged by the crash. All that suffered damage were the rubber-bands, which hold the main top wing in-place, were sun-baked & cracked. The top wing was barely hanging on, being held in-place by one lonely rubber band. I was ecstatic, and so pleased to find my plane. I felt like the Good Shepherd, who had a sheep which got lost, then after searching for it, finally found it. It was mine the first time, now it is twice mine. God heard my simple childlike prayer! It could have been practically anywhere, but it was lying right there all the time. No one but God saw it everyday I was away. I believe He was just waiting for me to ask, in childlike faith. I was taking it home now!
What a simple lesson to learn about a childlike prayer!

Does God answer little prayers?
Yes indeed, and right on time!