Overheard, out and about, Mrs. Grundy sees, tells all

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 26, 2011

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I saw in the blooms of February signs of approaching spring – Kiss-Me-at-the-Gate, purple patches of henbit, daffodils, saucer magnolias, pansies, violas, star magnolias, camellias, dandelions, and flowering quince.

Friday morning a week ago, February l8, at First Baptist Church here in Andalusia, I attended the funeral services for a long-time friend, Jacob Eugene “Jake” Merrill, who had died Valentine’s Day at 85.

Among the floral tributes, flanking the open casket, were a display of family pictures and a floral “domino,” given by Merrill’s domino buddies.

Martha Givhan, church organist, began and ended the service with “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Jeanice Kirkland, former church organist, played the piano. Dwight Crigger, minister of music, led the congregation in “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”

Jake’s pastor at First Baptist, Dr. Fred Karthaus, prayed and remarked on Jake’s life, comparing Jake, who was a car dealer, to “a sports model.”

Said Karthaus, “Jake could sell you a car even if you didn’t need it!”

Don Lingle, former minister of music at FBC for 28 years, and Mrs. Kirkland, accompanied by Mrs. Givhan, sang a duet of “It Is Well with My Soul.”

Dr. Harrell Cushing, twice the former pastor of FBC, called Jake “a great man in many, many ways” and spoke of “the joyful journey with Jake.” Cushing’s wife, Ann, and two of his three daughters, Charlotte, a missionary to Africa, and Jama, drove down from Montgomery with Cushing.

Crigger led all in “How Great Thou Art.”

John N. Foster, former pastor for almost twenty years at FBC, second only to Dr. Cook in tenure, told light-hearted stories about “Jake,” calling him a “people person” with his own style and grace. Foster held up six golden dollar coins, saying that each was given him by Jake. In fact, Jake had the habit of giving away “gold coins” to others. Foster announced that at the end of the service Jake’s granddaughters would be giving a “gold coin” to each as he left, as a keepsake, in Jake’s memory.

During this light-hearted part of the service, there was some delightful banter between Jake’s wife, Mary Clyde Merrill, in the pews and Foster at the lectern.

Don Lingle then sang his signature song, “The King Is Coming,” a solo for which he has long been known, accompanied by Mrs. Givhan.

Dr. Karthaus worded the benediction.

At the burial site at Andalusia Memorial Dr. Karthaus offered a few words, prayer, and the “Twenty-third Psalm.”

Coroner Norman Hobson and his son, Hunter, folded the American flag that had lain over Jake’s casket and presented it to Mrs. Merrill.

A leaflet distributed at the funeral preserved the following information:

“Jacob E. Merrill was born in Troy, Alabama, in l925 (November l0), where he spent his childhood years before moving to Andalusia at age seven.

“Immediately following graduation from Andalusia High School at age seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force where he served a three-year term during World War II. He then entered Auburn University on the G.I. Bill of Rights where he majored in mechanical engineering.

“After his college years he entered into the ownership and operation of Merrill Motors with his father, Jesse, and his brother, Warren. This association was a thriving enterprise for over fifty years, positively impacting many lives in Covington County.

“As one of Andalusia’s most eligible bachelors (and one of the most accomplished dancers in town) he met and married Mary C. Mims (‘M.C.’), a school teacher hailing from Clanton, Alabama. Their union was blessed with three amazing children: Susan, Fran, and Johnny, and eight grandchildren.

“Jacob was a Mason, a Toastmaster, a long-time member of First Baptist Church, and held various leadership positions throughout the community. His ‘claim to fame’ was his winning of the doubles runner-up trophy in the World Domino Tournament in l979.

“Jake was an avid supporter of Auburn football, never met a stranger, and was always quick with one-liners! He was a loyal friend whose absence will be keenly felt.”

To continue the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the War Between the States, Colonel Covington reports that during last week in l86l Lincoln finally arrived in Washington and was visited by members of the ill-fated Peace Convention. (What if they had been successful?) Meanwhile President Davis had been empowered to contract for the manufacture and purchase of war goods.

In connection with the Sesquicentennial I motored to Montgomery last Friday afternoon to attend the Saturday reenactment of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as first president of the Confederate States of America. His inauguration was actually Friday, the l8th; but Saturday, the l9th, was more convenient for travel and attendance.

Saturday was a lovely day, sunny and warm. Goat Hill, where the old Confederate Capitol stands, was beautiful with flowers, trees, and walks.

The first persons I ran into were Joe and Gayle Dawson of Savannah. Joe is past commander of Bartow Camp 93 there; Gayle is past president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, #2, the second oldest UDC group in the nation. I asked them if they knew Dan Shehan, formerly of Andalusia, now living in Savannah and a member of one of the camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans there. Joe said that, indeed, he did. Joe told me of a book he has written, yet to be published, called Convicting Lincoln.

I made my way up the great flight of marble steps, leading to the portico of the Capitol, gazing at the statue of Davis, overlooking Dexter Avenue. The portico is supported by six, white, fluted, Corinthian columns. On the porch floor is a six-pointed, bronze star, marking the spot where Davis supposedly stood as he took his oath of office. It was placed by the Sophie Bibb Chapter of the UDC. Of course I had to stand on the spot and gaze down Dexter, once called Market Street.

Coming up the steps was a former student of mine, Mike Williams, now retired from retail and managing the web site for the Alabama SCV. Mike told me that he had left Andalusia around l979 and later introduced me to his lovely wife.

There were hundreds about me, most in costume. Fifty years ago the Portly Gentleman, who was present also, had been a mere boy, participating in the Centennial of the War. He then had a period costume and wore a cane. That souvenir cane is all that remains of his outfit. The wide-spread excitement, pride, and participation in the Centennial are greatly reduced from fifty years ago.

The Portly One told me that he has long outgrown his old costume, but not his love for the Old South and Dixie. He added that he was born within sight of the Capitol, in old St. Margaret’s Hospital, in the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” as Montgomery has long been called.

At the foot of the marble steps sat a band of 2l, the Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment Band from Tuscaloosa, all in uniforms. They played wonderfully well, beginning with the “Bonnie Blue Flag,” as a parade of a thousand marched up Dexter from Court Square and its fountain. Oh, but it was glorious! Men in uniforms and ladies in antebellum gowns! A flood of flags! Singing! Rebel yells! The sounds of a bagpipe! The band, playing “Old Folks at Home”! Spirited shouts for South Carolina! Representatives from states in the Old Confederacy! “Rally ‘Round the Flag”! “The Rose of Alabama”!

It reminded me that people have the right to think for themselves, to fight for what they believe, to live free of tyrants, to sling a stone against Goliath!

Then here came President Davis (portrayed by D. Tyrone Crawley of Prattville) in a horse-drawn carriage with three others, Philip Davis of Montgomery (as Cobb of Georgia, who administered the oath to Davis), Paul Bergeron of Louisiana (who played the vice-president of the CSA, Alexander Stephens of Georgia), and Lee Millar (as Colonel Jones, in charge of Davis’s security).

As the dignitaries made their way to the portico, the band struck up the French National Anthem.

Mark Evans, SCV chaplain-in-chief, worded the invocation, followed by loud “Amens.”

Chuck Rand, adjutant-in-chief, welcomed all and acted as master of ceremonies.

Robert C. Reames, commander of the Alabama Division of the SCV, greeted visitors to Alabama. Reames emphasized that all had gathered to “celebrate.” This word had been avoided in favor of commemorate, but there had been such ugly comments by some opposed to this event and the whole idea of the Sesquicentennial that, I suspect, Reames was making a point.

Other speeches followed.

Danny Honnoll of Arkansas said he was glad to be “here in the heart of Dixie.” He shouted, “Long live Dixie!”

Gene Hogan of South Carolina stated, “The South indeed was right.”

Tom V. Strain, Jr., of Alabama, exclaimed, “God bless the South!”

A. J. Widowski, president general of the Children of the Confederacy, brought greetings from the younger generations.

Kelley Barrow of Georgia, Lt. Commander-in-Chief, advised that the Sesquicentennial won’t be the same as the Centennial and added, “Truth is on our side and has always been on our side.”

Chuck McMichael, past commander-in-chief, gave the commemorative address, defending secession, claiming the War was more about money than slavery, and calling the North hypocrites.

Christopher Sullivan, another past commander-in-chief, delivered a brief history about the election of Davis.

Davis arrived in Montgomery February l6 by rail from his plantation in Mississippi and was inaugurated two days later. He was welcomed to Montgomery with a speech from a balcony at the Exchange Hotel at Court Square by William Lowndes Yancey, an orator and champion of secession, who said in his speech that “the man and the hour have met.”

Crowley, as Davis, then delivered Davis’s inaugural address at the bronze star, interrupted by cheers and followed by three collective cheers, “Hip! Hip! Hooray!”

Cannon were fired, rumbling like a thousand thunders, all about the Capitol and down Dexter Avenue! They echoed enough to shake the Yankee out of any that might have been nearby. I hope that writer for the Advertiser, Josh Moon, and that other poverty-stricken fellow got an earful.

Another event on the Capitol steps was the reenactment of the raising of the First National Flag, the first flag flown by the CSA. The First National has three bars, a white bar in the middle and red bars on top and bottom of the white bar. In the left corner is a blue canton with one star for each of the Confederate states. It is nicknamed “the Stars and Bars.” An extreme silence fell as the flag was raised. Three cheers followed with gun salutes and more cannon.

After announcements by Rand, Chaplain Mark Evans led in the benediction and Mark Simpson, S.C. commander, led in “Dixie,” accompanied by yells, still more cannon fire, and the band.

Milling about, listening to the band continue to play tunes such as “Camptown Race Track,” I ran into Vaughn Bowers of Sanford, a member of the Covington Rifles of SCV, who told me he had seen Sir Francis and Ann McGowin and others from Covington County, including Jimmy and Madge Cobb, Morris and Rita Mullen, and Tony Wells.

I caught a glimpse of the Alabama SCV chaplain, Dr. Charles Baker, who deals in books about the Confederacy.

Someone remarked to me that the Montgomery newspaper would likely report the number attending as in the hundreds when it was in excess of three thousand. It did.

The Portly Gentleman told me that he had seen a familiar face he had met at the William Gilmore Simms Conference – Bill Cawthon of Eufaula. Bill’s relatives were leading citizens in Andalusia in the old days. I was pleased to learn in our conversation that Bill had been born in St. Margaret’s, too.

Then I ran into Joe and Donna Clark of Elba. Joe is SCV Southeast Brigade Commander and belongs to the Coffee County Camp #9ll.

We walked together to the White House of the Confederacy, just across a side street from the Capitol. The Davis family lived about a week in the Exchange Hotel before moving into the “White House,” which is not in its original location but stands today next to the state archives. The Davises lived in the White House about six months before moving to Richmond, Virginia.

At the White House I met another “Jefferson Davis” and wife, dressed as in l86l. They told me that they are from California and are fans of the Confederacy. In fact, I learned, there are many in California who are pro-Confederacy.

Cake was served in the White House to us visitors, bless the staff!

I lingered on the beautiful grounds of the Capitol before heading home.

The Portly Gentleman tells me that he took his aged father, 92, and two of his brothers out for a belated birthday supper at the Fantail Restaurant at Millbrook, famous for its seafood buffet, sometimes serving a thousand on Saturday nights. While there they ran into Jody and Judy Dillard and their son Tim of Andalusia, Ed and Jean (Smith) Byrom and their son Billy of Selma, and Gary Miller, formerly pastor of Southside Baptist in Andalusia.

Byrom, who is retired with 32 years with Social Security, has pastored for 25 years Marion Junction Baptist Church.

Gary Miller has been preacher three years now at Santuck Baptist. He asked the Portly One to say “hi” to everyone in Covington County.

One birthday of importance since last week is that of George Washington, “the Father of Our Country.” His favorite general, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee said of Washington at the General’s death that he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen!” Lee, by the way, was the father of another general, Robert E. Lee. The Covingtons invited me to their annual Washington Dinner with cherry pie.

Other birthdays last week were those of James Russell Lowell, American poet; Frederic Chopin, Polish pianist and composer; George Frederick Handel, German composer; Samuel Pepys, writer of the most famous diary in English; Enrico Caruso, Italian tenor, known by some as the greatest male singer of opera; and Victor Hugo, French novelist.

Two plays, written especially for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to commemorate the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the War Between the States, are now playing in Montgomery, The Flagmaker of Market Street and Blood Divided.

Seen at the Corner Market Deli were Bill Blocker, Richard Merrill, James Bristow, and Mark Murphy.

This month an additional section of iron-wrought fence, matching that already in use across the front grounds of Springdale along East Three-Notch, has been added. It looks rather handsome and adds “coverage” to the section of park-like land next to Springdale, tying all together. This is a project of the City.

Those who are upset about the damage to the oaks at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn can understand why I am still upset with the destruction of the Council Oak at Church Street School, planted by the Andalusia High School Class of l930 in commemoration of the first Student Government. It stood 80 years.

What have you done so far this year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible?

I shall have to delay the continued adventures of the Portly Gentleman, promised for this week. I wanted to share his Sunday in Lexington and his afternoon in Charleston.

No one had identified the mystery person. So, for the third week, here is the “cluegraph”: “athletic, especially fond of tennis, retired, mustached, a traveller with his lovely wife, a military man.”

Now, gentle reader, let me encourage each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing. Fare thee well.