Recently I was honored to share the pulpit for a home going celebration of one of my late mother’s friends. Van McFall was among the close-knit group of moms within the circle of my childhood that I remember well. The mothers were Pearl, Van, Mary Burgess and Nettie Fisher. They got into all kinds of adventures from taking jobs as police officers, and bus drivers. They engaged in the midst of every type of civic service from political campaigns, parent teacher associations, boy scouts, girl scouts and everything you could imagine. Their activities threw all of their children and their husbands into the mix together. While we were not related, we spent endless hours entertaining each other while our mothers spent time together. We shared family births, deaths, holidays, school milestones, first jobs – many of which were at the local Dairy Queen, and the passing of endless hours of our youth.
In my neighborhood, we had a great group of children and we all found our place in that larger group.
Getting to share a few childhood stories with her children after not seeing most of them in decades brought back some heartwarming memories. I was reminded of folks I had not thought of for years.
I remember fondly remember hours of play after completing my chores around the house. Of course, as I got older, I took on odd jobs like mowing neighbors’ yards to earn a little money.
We all would gather to play and race our bikes down suicide hill. Van’s son Joe recalled one of his attempts at doing an Evel Knievel type Snake River Canyon jump using his father Joe’s new picnic table as a ramp. With the aid of some other neighborhood boys setting the lighter fluid the table was soaked in a blaze, he rode full speed for takeoff. He jokingly said it did not end well as many of the neighborhood moms realized what was happening, they ran to overt it, but not in time to stop him. Now I was not among that group who had a hand in that adventure but needless to say I found myself in some others.
I’ve had two bikes in my life; my first bike was small and green and well suited me. When I got big enough to earn my own money, I did odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a 3-speed red English racer. I saved all year and it was a Christmas present for myself. Buying that bike meant a lot to me.
I shared in our recollections,
on one of our trips down suicide hill, the new racer decided it wanted to go one way and me another. The accident sent me flying through the handlebars and sliding down the pavement for 20 feet or more. That still hurts just thinking about it. I had sores all over me from that adventure.
My friends and I would get in our share of disagreements with each other. Those would lead usually to some hurt feelings and some rolling around on the ground till someone would say “Uncle.” We always seemed to come through it. There really were no children who caused trouble in my age bracket. A few older ones sometimes got into mischief, but we always managed to keep out of trouble.
Do not get me wrong, there were bullies. We were just blessed not to have them on our street, at least for very long. I remember when I was about seven there were two brothers who took great pleasure in picking fights with me. At least, it seemed that way at the time.
A boy my age named Chris Sands moved in. His parents had just divorced, and at that time it was not as usual as it is now. I’ll never forget one meeting with those brothers that had me at the bottom of a wrestling match that I just could not win. Chris was the new guy in the neighborhood, and saw that I was being unfairly targeted for this fight and stepped in to pull the other boys off me. From that moment on, he was my friend — that is until he later moved away, and I lost track of him.
While time has erased many of the memories of the time we spent together hanging out as kids, that one action by the new boy on the block sticks in my mind. He saw something that was not right, and he did something about it. Not knowing the social lay of the land and the dynamics of the neighborhood hierarchy, he stuck his neck out for me. That is bravery.
Now I’m not advocating fighting as a way to resolve issues for children or adults. I was taught that it takes much more courage to walk away than to actually fight. However, when they jump on you, there are just a few hurdles you have to get over before you can walk away.
It is hard to walk away when you are at the bottom of the pile
I learned a valuable lesson from Chris that day.
Folks often do not like to stick their neck out to help other people, but when someone does, it makes our community a better place.
While that was a childhood lesson which placed something within me. As I reflected back upon the relationship that those four ladies shared, I am reminded that they stuck their necks out for one another and each other’s family again and again. Doing everything in their powers to make life better for each other and subsequently all of us, even though it wasn’t as apparent to us children. There was always something more to do when there was a need.