That I’ve been sort of dazzled by nice watches and cool sunglasses might not come as a surprise to many who have known me over the years.
But I’ve learned the hard way that the more I spend on such the more likely I am to lose or break them. Along the way I discovered that I can acquire a watch that looks a lot like timepieces that are much more expensive. The same can be said for sunglasses. I mean who hasn’t received an email, Twitter or Facebook link to cheap Ray Bans or Oakleys?
For most of the last 38 years, my life has been intertwined with the university (Trevecca Nazarene University) for which I work. In 1967, Trevecca’s alumni association president, Howard Wall, Jr., helped design a new college seal and incorporated the Latin phrase: Esse Quam Videri – To Be Rather Than To Seem.
I’ve used the phrase hundreds of times. I’ve invoked it from time to time in talks to youth groups at retreats and summer camps. I’ve even usurped its noble purpose to claim the high moral ground when comparing our university to others or why I think my church is doing things better than another.
To be rather than to seem. It’s a brilliant and humble turn of a phrase. Being is much more important that seeming. And this truth is speaking loudly into my life again.
So am I simply perpetuating a facade by wearing good looking watches that cost less than $20 or sunglasses that, if they were the real thing, would cost $150 or more rather than $24.99 plus shipping from somewhere in China? Maybe so. Maybe not.
For me, things like watches and sunglasses are matters of taste and function. I don’t hide from the fact that I’ve found a less expensive way to attain them. But when it comes to valuing others and certain institutions in which I am deeply invested, being real is a non-negotiable.
The work that I do at Trevecca with its students, alumni and church constituents, must be valued on a different level than watches and sunglasses. My time with people and the lenses through which I view them must be real!
And I think you have the same need in your life regardless of where you live and work.
I’m not big on making New Years resolutions. I am big on making commitments, on a daily basis, to treat people rightly and to confess that “God is God and I am not.”
However, in the spirit of a new calendar year, I will put myself on record as saying I’ve never had a greater desire to be real in my relationships with others and in my relationship with God. To that end, I’m committing myself to more consistent prayer, Bible and devotional reading, and reflection on whether I’m being rather than seeming.
Social media and other blog-oriented news sources have been populated in recent days with the potential for family dust-ups at Thanksgiving gatherings regarding political issues. It’s been interesting to me that writers on the subject are pre-supposing squabbles at best and all-out brawls at worst.
Not that anyone cares, but I’m suggesting that the family dinner table at Thanksgiving is the last place to talk about anything controversial.
The political landscape has been built around demonizing the other side, whichever the other side happens to be in your mind. It’s been that way for decades, maybe centuries. It’s important to be informed on issues and to speak up when one sees injustices and need for reform, but it’s folly to think that the Thanksgiving table is the place where such matters can be settled.
So, I’m calling for a moratorium on arguing about anything this week. There may be serious situations that you and your loved ones need to address, but could it wait for a different day?
In 1979 the Pittsburg Pirates won the World Series. They were an eclectic group of athletes who found a way to lay aside their individual preferences and pursuits to achieve a magical run through the season and then the playoffs. Along the way they adopted a disco hit by Sister Sledge as their theme song. “We Are Family” reverberated through the clubhouse at Pittsburg’s Three Rivers Stadium and even in the visiting team locker rooms at road games.
The Pirates wore some of the ugliest uniform combinations in MLB history but they played a beautiful brand of baseball. And together, this “family” found their way to an epic experience of joy.
I’m praying that our family Thanksgiving gatherings can focus on the more positive aspects of our relationships. Your family member may, in your mind, be absolutely wrong in how they see the world. You may be absolutely right about the issue in question. But will it really be worth it to win the argument while continuing to deepen the divide between you and your loved ones?
Another pop hit, “The Living Years,” has impacted me since it debuted in December of 1988. It addresses the generational passages between a man, his father, and his son. The following lines offer a hopeful challenge.
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay!
May the grace of God be present as you gather around the family table in these days. And may your words bring blessing on those whom you love and who love you.
Waylon Jennings first recorded “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” in 1976 and then Willie Nelson made it even more popular in 1980. I always liked the song, but I’m not sure I could call myself a cowboy.
Come to think of it, I’ve had maybe two pairs of boots in my lifetime and I did ride horses in my younger days, but that’s about as close as I’ve come to being a cowboy much less a hero. I do know, however, that I’ve had more than a few heroes of my own.
This morning I followed one of my heroes to their place of work. I’ve dropped in on her work many times over the last three decades. This hero is a teacher. This hero is my wife.
In some respects I guess Sarah was destined to be a teacher. Following in the footsteps of her educator father and possessing an innate ability to make learning fun, I’ve been amazed at Sarah’s day-after-day, year-after-year commitment to help a child blossom.
Teaching is hard work. It’s lesson plans and grading papers. It’s managing a room full of children who come from various backgrounds that are not left behind when they get to school. It’s managing a room full of children, each of whom needs care and love and attention.
But teaching is also a calling that can be immensely rewarding. Although I don’t think they’ll ever be paid on a scale commensurate with the investment they are making in the future of our world, teachers are almost always working for something more than the paycheck.
I saw that again today as Sarah welcomed her new fourth graders at DuPont Elementary. Nervous students were brought to the door by a parent or a grandparent where they were greeted by a real, live hero.
As I began to make my way toward the door, Sarah said, “This is Mr. Johnson. He’ll be out here to see us every now and then.”
Not all the students had yet arrived, but when I said I wanted to take a couple of photos, Sarah told the children to line up and “pose.” She was already gathering her new classroom family together and it was a beautiful thing.
I do plan to be out there to see her class every now and then. Fortunately, for Sarah’s students, she’ll be there every day.
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.
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.
Baseball has been a big deal to me since I was eight years old. We didn’t have a TV when I was a kid but on a trip to a state park in Oklahoma with my family I saw most of two games of the 1968 World Series. That’s when I became a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, probably because I liked the “birds on the bat” uniforms better than the nondescript ones Detroit wore.
It didn’t take long to begin learning about many of the greats of baseball like Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, the Dean Brothers, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays.
I checked out all the books from our library at Western Oaks Elementary that had anything to do with baseball. When the Bookmobile came and parked behind the school, I’d go look to see if I could afford to buy a book. And I think the Weekly Reader franchise had ways to order books that would be shipped to the school a few weeks later. I was crazy about the game – and still am!
Most fans with any sense of history know that the New York Yankees are the historic gold standard for Major League Baseball. My beloved Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles, which is amazing. The Yankees have won 27. They haven’t been great lately but, still, the opportunity to drop in on a Yankees spring training game last week was too good to pass up.
Friday, March 11, was a nearly perfect day for baseball in Tampa. The sky was a deep blue and the occasional cloud that passed overhead did little to abate the brilliance of the sun. With my ever balding head and ears that attract the rays of sun like a moth to a flame, I quickly headed to the souvenir shop and bought a bucket hat with the famous NY on it.
I went back to my seat and took in the sights and sounds of the game I love the most. Spring training games aren’t like real games in that managers don’t treat it like they’re trying to win the pennant. Mostly, they’re trying to get their best guys in shape without getting them hurt. And they’re trying to see if an older veteran can catch lightning in a bottle one more time or if a kid has a chance to reach the potential for which he was signed in the first place.
So, the game is rocking along. There’s a group of guys in their 20s about four rows in front of me. I noticed them because the kid in the Yankees replica jersey had been drinking beer and yelling a lot at Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles second baseman and former Vanderbilt star. It was mostly just a guy having fun, but he was getting on my nerves.
I think it was in the seventh inning, and as you can see from the picture, I was sitting just a few rows up from the field down the right field line. I think also that a lot of people go to spring training games because the stadiums are smaller and, if you pay attention, it’s a good possibility that you might have a shot at catching a foul ball.
Honestly, I can’t even remember who was at bat. The sun was beating down and the Yankees were winning in blowout fashion. All of sudden, the crack of the bat and the response of people all around me let me know a ball was heading our way.
Having played as much ball as I have over the years, I knew the flight of the ball was carrying a little past us. I also knew that my only chance to catch the ball would be if the ball bounced off of somebody’s hands or the railings or the concrete between the seats. Sure enough, the ball bounced around and flew several feet above me but right overhead. I tossed my phone to the side and reached up with both hands and cradled the official MLB approved baseball to my chest.
People were cheering and I was thinking how cool it was that I had caught the ball and that I could soon give it to my oldest grandson because he would be able to understand how awesome it was that Papa J had brought him a baseball from a Yankees game.
Next thing I know, the drunk guy and his friends in front of me and people behind and beside me were yelling “Give it to the kid!”
I was thinking “What kid?”
In a split second, I saw the family down on the front row. It was a couple who looked be about 30 years old or so. They had a little boy who looked about four and their daughter was maybe two.
And even though I really wanted to save that ball and give it to my grandson, I caught the dad’s eye and tossed the ball down to the kid and people started cheering again.
The boy’s mom didn’t know for sure who had thrown the ball to them. Several people pointed back at me and in a matter of seconds, Mom brings her terrific little boy up to my row, sends him across the five people between the aisle and me, and suddenly this sweet kid is standing next to me. He’s looking up at me like he wasn’t sure what to do, looks back at his mom and she’s mouthing the words “tell the man thank you for the ball.”
This little boy whom I hadn’t even noticed until a few minutes before looks up at me and says “Thank you.”
My eyes were watering big-time and I tried to do a little fist-bump but just instinctively game him a hug and said “You’re welcome.” And people cheered again.
I got up to walk around the rest of the stadium shortly thereafter. As I was making my way toward the aisle, people were saying things like “that was a really nice thing you did” and “you made that kid’s day.”
I was thinking how that mom and her little boy made my day. Partly because the boy reminded me so much of my grandsons and partly because that mom was teaching her son, like I bet she and husband often do, one of the most valuable lessons we humans can learn: Gratitude!
Our country is in a state of political shambles. I think part of problem is our lack of gratitude. Unfortunately, in a land of so much plenty, we never seem to think we have enough. And it makes it hard to be appropriately grateful for what we do have.
So, yeah I caught a foul ball at a Yankees game, but I also caught a glimpse of what we could be as people if we learned to share what we had and learned to say thank you more often.
By the way, I really like that Yankees bucket hat. I wore it the next day while I was watching the Cardinals in Jupiter.
Our family has had a deep tie to Camp Garner Creek in Dickson County (TN) since 1980. My dad was district superintendent for Tennessee Nazarenes and the campground was very much a part of our lives.
The cabin my folks had use of there was destroyed by a flood a few years ago but many wonderful memories were created, particularly in our sons’ younger years. It was a place full of emotions that remain to this day. In fact, my mom’s favorite pet, Chico, is was buried there the same day as our youngest son, Austin, was born.
Yesterday, though, I headed back down to the camp with Tom Adams (Sarah’s cousin) to deal with my in-laws’ (Homer and Bea Adams) house trailer that is soon to be removed.
It was a fairly old trailer when the Adamses bought it 20 or so years ago. It was never plush or up-to-date in terms of décor. It had a hard time being cool in summer and staying warm in winter and the TV reception was snowy at best.
But what that trailer did have was a capacity for deep sleep, country quiet, and acres full of memories.
Our sons are now grown and gone, but when I sent them a few photos of the trailer yesterday, all three responded almost immediately. They remembered!
Our memories are fickle friends. Sometimes our memories conjure up things we’d rather forget. They can be stealers of joy or reminders of what we wish we had done differently or people who hurt us deeply. Like Forrest Gump said to Jenny out in front of the house where her childhood was scarred by abuse, “I guess sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”
But our memories can really good, too!!
It’s been over 25 years since Sarah and I were privileged to share in a mission trip to Nassau, The Bahamas, with Nazarene Youth International. One day we had a little free time and went to the beach. The Atlantic Ocean is calm and warm in The Bahamas. We sat in the sun in shallow water and enjoyed a gentle “wave after wave” afternoon.
That’s kind of what yesterday turned into for me. I wasn’t on a tropical beach but that creek bank in the late afternoon sun warmed my heart and so did the memories I recalled.
Our sons fished, shot a bow and arrow, threw baseballs and footballs and frisbees, and rode bikes down there.
Sarah and I would occasionally slip away for a quick Friday night getaway that usually featured a big breakfast on Saturday morning. A couple of times we took dear friends along with us and we talked and laughed and cried and prayed there.
For my in-laws, it was their place to stay during campmeeting and senior adult retreats. And it was, in general, a place that reminded them of a lot of what their life had been about in terms of their place in the Church of the Nazarene and in the family of God.
Tom and I brought back a van full of items that the family wanted to retain: a few pieces of furniture, some paintings by my father’s mom, lots of books, a Scrabble game and official Scrabble Players Dictionary, a lamp, a bow (no arrows) and a fishing rod and tackle box.
We also left a lot of very usable items in the trailer such as linens, some kitchen utensils and small appliances. The camp will make use of the refrigerator and stove, but most of the rest of the items will be given to a local ministry group that helps folks in need.
Within the next few weeks the trailer itself will head out to some scrap metal place and will become part of some other project perhaps. But wherever it ends ups or whatever it becomes, there’ll be enough photos around to help keep our memories of the good times alive for years to come.
Things do change. Sometimes the passage of time conspires with the aging process and we have to find a way to move on. But this reality should never diminish the glory of the good times.
I think that’s one way God helps us win the battle of our minds.
We’re told that God forgives our sins and remembers them against us no more. But we’re human and often we remember hurt and pain way easier than all the good things we experience.
My main hope in writing this little bit of family history is this: I hope all the memories you’re clinging to are happy ones!
I pray your life is blessed in knowing that you have friends and family who love you. I pray that you also know that you are deeply loved by God!
And do something today that will be a good memory sometime in the future 🙂
It was so good to talk with you on FaceTime today. Just like every other time we get to talk to you or be with you, it really brightened up my day!
I’m writing this to you today in hopes that when your mom and dad decide to share this letter with you, you’ll be able to understand a little better what I mean in these few lines.
Be a joy spreader
I hope you never lose your bright-eyed joy that is so evident when you see people you love or things like the beach or a new Hot Wheels car or when you pedal real fast on your bicycle and skid your back tire when you slam on the brakes. This world can be mean at times and so can the people living in it, but I think God will use people like you to spread an infectious kind of joy that makes the world a better place.
You have such a keen mind. You always seem to be thinking and trying to figure things out. It’s good to know a lot about a lot of different things because the world you’re growing up in is complex in a lot of ways. But always remember, life will always be about more than just knowledge. Find ways to use what you’ll learn to help people.
Sometimes it seems like a lot of bad things are happening, and sometimes they really are, but living afraid makes it really hard to live at all. Live life like you swim – you know that you can’t stay underwater for very long, but you also know how much fun it is to just run and jump in the pool and swim towards your dad. You conquered your fear of the water, in part, because you knew your dad or mom would be there to catch you. God created you to enjoy being his child in the awesomeness of his creation. Dive in and swim hard in God’s direction.
You do this so well at a young age that I can’t imagine it will be a problem for you as you get older. However, some people end up thinking that the world owes them something. Every new day is a gift. Each time you sit down to eat a good meal is a gift. Your mom and dad and sisters and all the rest of your family are a gift. The house you live in is a gift. The schools and teachers you have are a gift. The church you attend is a gift. Life itself is a gift. When your life is filled with gratitude you tend to take fewer things for granted and that attitude will be a gift to the world in which you live and work and grow.
I don’t know how big you’ll get in terms of your physical body. Your genetic codes suggest that maybe you’ll be close to six feet tall and probably end up somewhere around 200 pounds or more before you’re done. But strength is about more than physical prowess. Strength of character is evident in one who chooses to do the right thing even when no one is watching. Strength shows up when you help a person that seems like they can’t help themself. Strength that lasts will come from knowing you need God’s help to live this kind of life.
The world you’re growing up in has gotten really loud and mean. People who disagree with each other can say some really rotten things. There will never be a day when you don’t run into someone who’s having a tough time. So, as much and as often as you can, be kind to the people you encounter. Sit with the lonely kid at the school cafeteria. Tip well at the restaurant. Smile at the grocery clerk. Let somebody in front of you in traffic, even when they don’t deserve it. It’s possible that some of them may not say thank you. But you won’t be kind for what you can get out of it. You’ll be kind because it’s the right thing to do.
There may be a lot of people that will be similar to you in terms of the way you look, the kind of clothes you wear, the kind of house you live and the kind of car you drive, but there’s only one YOU! You have been given a unique set of gifts and abilities. It’s not a bad thing to follow the good example you’ll see in your mom and dad, because they’re awesome. But, at some point, you’ll have to make decisions for yourself. There will be friends who will tell you what they think you ought to do. You’ll see things on TV and in movies that will try to convince you that what they’re “selling” is better than anything you’ve ever experienced, but be true yourself and God who gave you life.
We love you so much! Happy birthday, buddy!!
I’ve never really understood why we would refer to someone who “fell from grace.” I think I know what is implied – a person made a big mistake and it cost them a lot – but the grace of God never runs out. Sadly, in human terms, grace for the “fallen” tends to be in short supply more often than we’d like to admit.
Such was not the case in the recent passing of two great men in our church.
First, Charles Powers, who succumbed to the effects of a massive stroke but only after hanging on for several days longer that doctors had predicted.
Then, last Friday evening, Tom Blankenship, who had a sudden, massive heart attack and died almost instantly.
These were great men for lots of reasons.
Charles and his family were known to me virtually all my life. My dad and Charles met at Estes Park, CO at the first International Institute (now known as [NYC] Nazarene Youth Conference) in 1958. They were later colleagues in ministry as Charles pastored the Norman Grace Church of the Nazarene while my dad was at Western Oaks in Oklahoma City. Daddy was one of the speakers at Charles’s funeral and I was moved not only by how well he spoke, but also by the depth of a longstanding, almost 60 year friendship.
Charles was a WWII veteran who became a pastor. His sons were my friends as well. Charles is generally referred to by almost everyone as “one of the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever known.” He was just four months away from his 89th birthday.
Tom Blankenship was practically joined at the hip to his wife of 60 years, Edna. Tom and Edna had a house full of trophies for their prowess on the golf course and in the bowling lanes. But they also have trophies in the lives of their family.
We know their family well, primarily because their daughter, Karan, went to college with us and married another of our best friends, Dwight Gunter. Their two sons, Tab (Thomas A. Blankenship, Jr.) and Dan are dear to us as well.
The Blankenships lived all over the US and, I think, three foreign countries while Tom was in the military. They eventually settled back in Nashville in 1972, where they’d first met, right across the street from Hunters Lane High School. They also made themselves at home mostly at Grace Church of the Nazarene and then at Trevecca Community Church shortly after Dwight became the pastor there in 2002.
Most every Sunday for the last decade or so, TCC folks could count on Charles Powers to take his place each week near the front of the sanctuary to help serve communion. Tom was always stationed just inside the rear middle door to the right, assisting folks with a place to sit and tending to the several members who used wheelchairs.
Neither man spoke very loudly with their voices, but their lives screamed consistency, kindness, and commitment. Both also seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of grace for the fallen.
Last night at the visitation with the family and friends of Tom Blankenship, my wife and I watched as Ann Powers shared a poignant moment with Edna Blankenship. Their husbands were both gone within days of each other and with no real advance warning.
They’ll need each other and they’ll need their families and they’ll need their friends. And they’ll need the grace of God to sustain them.
People make mistakes or commit grievous sins and we say they’ve fallen from grace. What that actually means is that we’ve either given up on them or that we don’t think they deserve another chance at redemption.
The graceful exits from this life that I’ve observed in my friends Charles and Tom cause me to want to follow their example of extending grace to all, whether I think they deserve it or not.
When my family moved to Mississippi in 1975 a lot of things changed. Little did I know how much they were changing for the better.
We arrived in the heat of summer just prior to my sophomore year and my first contact with Jim Hill High School was when coach Dennis Awtrey knocked on our door. He was the head football and baseball coach and was quite a character.
Coach Awtrey was looking for a quarterback and, based on my transcript, he thought I should come out for the team. They already had almost two weeks of preseason practice under their belts. The 90 degree temperature was matched equally on the humidity scale and I lasted one day on the Tiger football team.
When baseball rolled around in the spring, I figured I would have a better shot. Coach Awtrey tried to make a shortstop out of me and he gave me a few innings here and there. But he also had an assistant coach by the name of Jerry Gibson.
Coach Gibson let coach Awtrey do most of the talking with the team, in part because coach Awtrey did most of the talking in whatever conversation he found himself. But coach Gibson had a way with his few words. They always seemed to hit home.
Jim Hill had a reasonably diverse student body if only because of the federally mandated desegregation laws. I drove to school each day into a neighborhood where the school had been placed. It was not a neighborhood to which I would have naturally driven, but I learned to love it.
I learned to love and appreciate my experience at Jim Hill, but not before trying out a “private Christian” school to the south of Jackson. I lasted two days. It was clear to me that students there were attending for reasons beyond a quality education. They didn’t want to be at a place like Jim Hill. I decided quickly that I did.
The first person I called after I told my folks I wanted to go back to Jim Hill was Jerry Gibson. Coach Gibson had been given the head coaching job for baseball and seemed glad to know I would be returning.
Coach Gibson got married right before the start of school in 1977 to Fredna Hudgens, the good looking art teacher, had an impressive wardrobe, including a dandy brown leather jacket, and drove a Porsche 911. I was in awe.
When it came to baseball, Coach was all business. He was really good with certain drills and would make us practice them over and over. It ended up really helping me in the field and I had a couple of scholarship offers for college after my senior year.
I ended up starting for most of my junior and senior years and we had a modicum of success. We played some great games against our archrival, Wingfield, but never could get past them for post-season play. Within just a couple of years after my graduation in 1978, Jim Hill and coach Gibson won a state championship. I was in awe again.
He had a couple of pet phrases that I remember well: 1) If we asked him what time it was during practice, he’d answer “Why? Are you taking medicine?” 2) If he ever heard anyone say “I can’t,” he’d always shoot back “Can’t never could!”
On Saturday, April 18, 2015, Terry High School will officially re-name their baseball field in honor of Coach Jerry Gibson. Judging by the number of responses from former players and their family members along with a host of students who never even played baseball, this will be a great celebration.
I really wish I could be there. I’d like to honor the “time” coach Gibson invested in me, and so many others, across the years. He coached high school boys from 1976-2014. He won championships along the way but he also won hearts.
Coach Gibson also demonstrated a “can-do” attitude that flew in the face of “can’t never could.”
He took things that didn’t previously exist and created success. He took high school age boys, full of angst and potential, and made men out of them. And he and Fredna took personal tragedy, as in the loss of their older son, Brad, and said, in essence, “I don’t know how, but we’re gonna make it.”
Lastly, another frequent saying for Coach was “Respect the Game.” He wanted the game of baseball to be a metaphor for life. He thought you ought to play the game by the rules, honor tradition, and respect your opponent.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I ended up coaching baseball, softball and golf at a couple of the colleges at which I’ve been employed. Many of those moments with coach Gibson came back to life as I worked with my student-athletes. His impact was both personal and professional.
Our society could use a lot more folks like Jerry Gibson. Terry High School recognized this reality and I’m grateful their field will carry coach Gibson’s name from here on out. For those of us who know him, that name will mean a lot more than just the location for a baseball game.