Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Periodically I get asked to speak at small churches around the southeast. Some are in big cities and others in little hamlets. Last Sunday Tammy and I drove to Maggie Valley NC to speak at the 1st Baptist Church there. The pastor is a humble and genuine man named Ricky Mason. Its a small church with hard working members. They asked me to speak for Baptist Men's day and I always love being able to encourage the men in any group. Being a veteran myself I love meeting veterans as well, especially men who served many years ago.
I also love the stories that folks tell, stories from their lives. Stories that will never be in a movie or famous in history books but stories that give us a glimpse into the journeys that people have been on, sometimes for many years.
Sunday was one of those days. In the receiving line as small baptist churches do, I met an older gentlemen name Luther Sutton with a wide smile and booming voice. He told me of his days with "One Oh One Airborne" (101st Airborne) or as he called it "The puking buzzard". Look up the 101st Airborne and you'll know why he said that.
I could tell he was a character and when Tammy and I got outside on a unseasonably warm NC mountain day, Luther was there, cracking jokes with everyone leaving church. It was indeed very Norman Rockwell-ish.
We chatted a bit and I started asking some questions about his life in the mountains. He told me he had been a member of that church for 60 years. Dang!
When he grew up there in Maggie valley there was only one gas station and that was it. He said, "If you was bummin up through here you couldn't get no help along this road cause there wasn't nothin here."
He then told me that in his childhood at that gas station they gave away coupons that little boys would save up and if you saved enough you could get a toy. One day a friend of his wanted those coupons that he had saved and offered up a pair of steel wheeled roller skates, the kind you fasten to your shoes with a key. I had a pair of those when I was a kid back in the 70s.
He jumped on the opportunity. Only problem was, he didn't have any shoes. Like he didn't own a pair. Now I'm not a wealthy man, but I've never been in a place where my children never had a pair of shoes. It speaks to the changes that we have seen in America, the affluence the material wealth. While I don't want my kids not to have shoes, I do feel a sense of loss in that my children have never known great need. There is value in having nothing that makes one appreciate when you have a little.
He wanted to skate so badly that he took the pieces of rubber that his momma used to get the lids off mason jars and wrapped those things on his feet, then attached the skates to the pieces of rubber.
As he was telling me he pointed at mountain a mile or so away and said, "Then I took them things to the top of that mountain and strapped them skates on my feet and skated down the road" (I suspected it must have been paved)
He went on with his story, "I must have gotten up to about 50 miles an hour and them wheels on them skates was a throwin sparks out the back like a space ship. My feet got so hot I had to lift one off the ground, skate on one leg till it cooled off, then put 'er back down. I was out of control when I hit the bottom and wrecked into a an old cinder pile. Them rubber things melted and burnt my feet, I ripped all my toenails off and skint my arms and legs all up. And you know somethin, those wheels.... when I got to the bottom of the mountain were no bigger than a shirt button!"
And then he looked at me, Tammy and Pastor Ricky and said "And that story is true!"
I laughed so hard tears were in the corners of my eyes. When I could catch my breath I said "Luther, that story was worth the 2 hour drive!"
He went on and told us more stories, one about the time he rode a and old washing machine with wheels on it down the same mountain and for a few brief minutes we laughed and were transfixed on a trip back in time and picturing a little mountain boy living a life of reckless abandon. It was priceless.
Then I got in my 21st century automobile, got on a four lane highway for a 2 hour trip home. That trip in Luther's day might have taken a day or more. I had a conversation with a friend on a blue tooth device and Tammy was sending text messages from the car. My... the dichotomy of the two events separated by mere moments, remarkable!
All that to say this, listen to stories...they are important because stories are peoples lives and if you don't listen and don't remember them they are lost forever. I wanted to write this one down for Luther so it won't be forgotten, seriously....how could I?
Because the story was worth the drive.
Thanks to Ricky and and all the fine folks of 1st Baptist Church of Maggie Valley!
All for now....more to follow
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