Adaline Meredith and two-year-old Michael at the SW Oklahoma Nazarene Campground in Anadarko, Oklahoma (circa 1962)

I can’t remember the first time I met Adaline Meredith.  But I also can’t remember a time that I didn’t know who she was, at least by name.  In truth, it was a long time before I knew her story.

Growing up in southwest Oklahoma, my parents were the quintessential couple in ministry.  My dad was the preacher/pastor and my mom was the sweet, supportive and piano-playing wife. They were a team.  And I learned early that the people in our church were family – almost as much as those who shared our name and bloodlines. Both of my parents’ parents were that same kind of couple.

My mom’s folks, J.T. and Helen Crawford, lived over a thousand miles away in places like Yakima, Washington and Reno, Nevada.  We stayed in touch with postcards and frequent conversations on reel-to-reel tapes that we’d mail back and forth.

My dad’s parents, W.T. and Helen Johnson, never lived more that a couple hours away, so we saw them a whole lot more.

Both sets of grandparents were ministry teams and I’m grateful for that heritage.

Although our family was fairly small by comparison, my brother and I grew up with an extended sense of family through our church connections.  Grandad Johnson was the district superintendent for SW Oklahoma for 29 years (actually 28 as he had all of western Oklahoma his first year as DS).  Since we were grandsons of the DS, Jeffrey and I grew up knowing where all the churches were and usually who pastored them.

For the first 15 or 16 years of my life, there were two places in Oklahoma, aside from where we lived, in which I found great comfort and intrigue.

One was the SW Oklahoma district parsonage at 7313 S. Douglas on the south loop of what is now I-240 in Oklahoma City.  I acted out baseball games in the front yard while listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck on KMOX radio describe the action of St. Louis Cardinals games.  I learned to drive on a Sears riding mower in the big back yard.    I also admit to occasionally trying to steal an eye toward the drive-in movie screen that was just a few hundred yards past that big back yard.

The other was on Hwy. 9 just outside Anadarko, Oklahoma.  Anadarko was home to Indian City, a tourist spot that highlighted the authentic experiences of seven American Indian tribes.  It was also home to the Nazarene Campground that Grandad and Memaw, my dad and my aunt Karen, and a host of volunteer pastors and laypeople helped build.  I loved going to Anadarko.

When you’re young and naive it’s just easier to accept things as they are. Questions are asked and simple answers are accepted.  And that was certainly the case with respect to why Adaline lived in the tiny bedroom at the back of Grandad and Memaw’s house on S. Douglas.  Memaw just said “Adaline needed a place to stay and we needed some help here around the house.”

Actually, Adaline had lived with my dad’s family for several years before I came along.  She was so much a part of the family that she showed up frequently in their pictures.  The picture I remember best in that regard was from my parents’ wedding at Shields Boulevard Church of the Nazarene in March of 1959.  The reason I remember it so well is that I would tell people that I was at the wedding “sitting right back there with Adaline.” It was several years before I understood the scientific explanation for why that could not have been true.

I won’t belabor this story with too many memories, but I do remember that Adaline must’ve had some special gift in the animal kingdom because she had both a parakeet in a cage and a Siamese cat in her room. When I finally discovered Looney Tunes cartoons on a Saturday morning it was very confusing to see Sylvester the cat always pursuing Tweety Bird.  How Adaline got Thai Sam (the cat) to co-exist with the parakeet is still a mystery.

One of the things that I do remember well was Adaline’s great love for children. For many years, maybe decades, Adaline was the nursery worker at Capitol Hill Church of the Nazarene.  She was a legendary figure there by the time she moved to Houston to live with Aunt Karen.

Full disclosure would also require that Adaline was not crazy about men.  I never really knew why until later.  When I found out what really brought Adaline into our family, a lot of things about her made sense.

Although Grandad Johnson’s ministry at the Nazarene church in Florence, Alabama was fairly short, the family has some really good memories of their time there. Among the people to whom they were able to minister was a very young and hurting Adaline Meredith.

Adaline with Talmadge and Karen

Adaline in Florence with my dad, Talmadge, and my aunt, Karen, circa 1944.

Her story, as I later learned, included abuse at the hands of a man that resulted in her becoming pregnant. She was forced by her family to give the child up for adoption and, in many ways, ostracized and cast aside.

My grandparents did what they could to help there in Florence. Shortly after they moved to Duncan, Oklahoma in 1945, Memaw and Grandad sent word to Adaline that she would be welcome in their home. That relationship lasted for over 30 years.

I didn’t know it then, but my family was instilling in me a sense that every person has a story. Sometimes the story is too painful to tell.  I certainly never heard from Adaline about her painful past.  I just knew she really loved Jeffrey and me and then Karen’s kids, Kristal, Shane, and Angel.  And I knew she loved the kids at Capitol Hill.  And I knew she loved the kids in the nursery at the Camp in Anadarko.

So, what’s the point in sharing all this?  I guess it’s just that until we know someone’s story, perhaps we ought to treat them with as much care and concern as possible.  It could be that there’s a “sweet Adaline” that just needs a chance to feel loved and accepted.

I thank God that Adaline was a part of our lives and the lives of so many other children throughout her years.  And somewhere I hope that the child to whom she gave birth found love and acceptance in a family that took a chance like Memaw and Grandad did.