Visits with old friends bring back memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peeping through my Venetian blind at the Indian summer beyond my window, I was spellbound by the colors of the autumn leaves, lying like quilts over lawns, dancing like fairies across the roads, and piled like weary children asleep in nooks and crannies.

What a world of beauty the Lord hath made.

My mind went back to Thanksgiving Day at Covington Hall with the Colonel and Miss Cora, Miss Dora, and Miss Flora. I was one of many guests, including Mrs. Gotrocks of Greenville, Miss Birdie Purdie, Miss Priscilla Primme, and her beau, Mr. Topper Propper.

Oh, the sideboard of food we were offered – turkey and dressing with gravy and cranberry sauce, English peas, stuffed eggs, potato salad, ham, chicken and dumplings, casseroles, congealed salads, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, sweet-potato pie, cakes of all descriptions, peas, beans, greens, corn, peach pickles, even parsnips – you-name-it!

It was enough to make the Portly Gentleman waddle for a year!

After dinner Miss Dora played the piano; and we sang “We Gather Together,” “Let All Things Now Living,” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Miss Dora sang a lovely solo of “Bless This House” during our own vespers.

Seen at the Corner Market, eating lunch, were Ruck Ashworth, Michelle Gerlach, Rick Reynolds and Mary Lynn Pierce-Edgar.

Mary Lynn told me that she had run into my cousin, Margie (Cobb) McLendon, while shopping in Montgomery.

Margie was selling dance supplies in the sporting-goods store run by her husband Mike.

Janet Brantley took her husband David to dinner at David’s Catfish (appropriately) in honor of his birthday. David told me it was his 50th.

On his way to Montgomery the Portly Gentleman stopped in Greenville to eat at the Cracker Barrel, selecting the Hopalong Cassidy table for his repast.

Eating nearby were Barbara (Patterson) Eiland and her mother, Jo Sasser. The ladies were heading back to the “Dimple of Dixie” after a morning of shopping in Montgomery.

In Montgomery the Portly Gentleman drove down Bradley Drive, where his father lives, to Neighbor Brown’s house to see the gingko tree. Bob Harry, who grew up near the tree, will be glad to know that it was in its golden glory, as if Midas had touched its leaves.

After a night with his Aged Parent, the Portly One headed north to Birmingham for the Samford University homecoming. (Samford used to be Howard College.)

He checked into the Marriott Courtyard along Lakeshore Drive, which passes the Samford campus. From there, he could look up to the top of Shades Mountain and see Mount Royal Towers retirement home, recalling old friends who had passed their last days there – Grace Larson, who ran the Gables on Church Street in Andalusia; Guy Wiggins, a retired military man, known for his collection of clocks and for his love of singing; and Dr. Ray Atchison, the Portly One’s college teacher of English.

I’ll let the Portly One narrate now.

“After settling in, I drove over to the Samford campus, singing the old alma mater as I do when I return to the Lakeshore campus. I don’t guess I’ll ever accept the new alma mater.

“There were two events that Friday night, November l5, that I wanted to attend, the vespers service in A. H. Reid Chapel and the banquet in the campus dining room to recognize outstanding alumni.

“The A Cappella Choir of Samford, directed by Music Professor Philip Copeland, led in a vespers (twilight) service of scripture, anthems, sermon, thanksgiving, congregational hymns, responsive readings, and prayer, concluding with the choir’s traditional closing anthem, ‘Beautiful Savior.’

“Afterwards in the dining hall for the alumni banquet, I sat at table with Stan Davis, Clay Hubbard, Sarah Grace Buckley and A. L. and Myra Courtney, a congenial gathering.

“Stan is director of gift and estate design for Samford. He grew up in Andalusia and finished school there.

“Clay is a student ‘ambassador’ for Samford, hailing from Jackson, Mississippi.

“Sarah Grace is a Samford student from Florence, studying journalism and mass communication.

Clay and Sarah Grace were in the beautiful bloom of youth.

“A. L. and Myra are husband and wife from Pell City. He is a Baptist preacher. Myra, who grew up in Opp where her dad was a preacher named Scroggins, has for the last 25 years gone once a year with childhood friends from Opp to the beach to renew old friendships.

“The enchanting Myra said that she and her family are friends to Fletcher and Jean Jones of our town. They had heard the remarkable story of Lex Short’s survival after a fall in the woods. I told the Courtneys about Lex and his wife, Susan Jones, a daughter of Fletcher and Jean.

“As we talked, up came more friends, Dr. David and Bonnie Chapman. David has been dean of the Howard College of Arts and Sciences for the past 13 years. Sue (Bass) Wilson and I were once in a group the Chapmans took to England; that’s how she and I know David and Bonnie.

“Other friends came over to speak – Mary Wimberly, the lovely and gracious Mary Louise Hodges, my cousin through her grandmother, a Mrs. Wingard, and Bob Taylor, brother to the late Luther Taylor and brother-in-law to our Mary Frances (Ward) Taylor.

“Mary Louise’s late husband, Gerow Hodges, gave his name to the new chapel on Samford’s campus, perhaps the most beautiful building in Alabama.

“The next day thousands gathered to enjoy homecoming activities on the Samford ‘Quad,’ that large, outdoor space around which the main campus buildings cluster.

“Although it was a grey, damp, breezy, cool day, my ‘insulation’ kept me comfortable.

“Early on I ran into my ol’ college speech professor, Dr. Harold Hunt, ever youthful, ever alert, ever interesting, in whose company I spent several happy hours.

“Dr. Hunt and I first attended a program in the library, spoken by Dr. Julie Williams, a Samford professor of journalism. Dressed in 1912 clothing, she related the true story of her great-uncle and his family, Albert and Sylvia Caldwell and their baby boy, who survived the sinking of the Titanic.

“Her story was fascinating even though I had heard her present it last year in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., at the Chautauqua.

“Among the listeners was a retired, Samford religion professor, the beloved Dr. Sigurd Bryan, whose daughter, Catherine Lawrence, accompanied him.

“I thought again at this time of my old English professor, Ray Atchison, and how much I miss him.

“After the lecture, downstairs at a refreshment table, I ran into Jack Brymer, Samford 1967, managing editor of the Alabama Baptist, 1967 – 1983, and editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, 1983 – 1995.

“Jack and I sat and talked a long time, making connections.

“Jack told me of working for Hudson Baggett, once editor of the Alabama Baptist, as well as stories about Hudson’s son, Mark, now a teacher at Samford in the English and law fields. Jack said that Mark was the ‘spitting image’ of his dad.

“We talked, too, of Mark’s sainted mother.

“Mark is a friend of mine and of Sue Wilson. We got to know him by traveling with his groups to England.

“Jack and I spoke of Hudson Baggett’s predecessor, Leon Macon; and I recalled meeting Mr. Macon when he was editor of the Alabama Baptist and I was in college. Mr. Macon’s son, Rodney, a friend of mine, and I were at Samford at the same time.

“Jack attends the Baptist Church of the Covenant with Kristen (Lingle). Their pastor is the daughter of Lamar Jackson, whose last marriage was to an Andalusia lady.

I found out later that Wayne and Lenora Johnson once attended this same church.

“I learned that Shades Valley High School, where I did my student teaching, had been destroyed; but it has been rebuilt under the same name in a different location. It had a wonderful dining room and served the best salad dressing that ever I ate.

“We talked of another acquaintance of mine, John Hollis, son of a missionary, who also attends the Baptist Church of the Covenant. I knew John when he was an underclassman and was known for making origami.

“Dr. Hunt invited me to attend the Wall of Fame ceremony where Jack Hutto, Class of 1909, was inducted into the Samford equivalent of the local journalism hall of fame.

“Dr. Julie Williams, whom I had heard earlier this day in the library, presented a brilliant Power Point story of Hutto’s life and contributions to Howard (Samford). He founded Samford’s Department of Journalism, Samford’s newspaper (the Crimson), and Samford’s yearbook (the Entre Nous) and, as well, taught there. Because of Hutto, Samford has the oldest journalism program in Alabama.

“I felt much interest in Hutto because I had worked for the school newspaper and had served as editor of the yearbook my senior year. My work with the college newspaper had led, in turn, to my career and my life in Andalusia and all those I have met and whatever I have done there.

“While at the ceremony, Dr. Hunt and I ran into Bill and Carol Nunnelley. Bill is editor of the Samford magazine, the Seasons.

“Back on the ‘Quad’ we ran again into Dr. Sigurd Bryan; this time, with his wife, Sara, who grew up in Evergreen and used to babysit our John Croft when he was but a baby.

“Dr. Hunt introduced me to countless people.

“We stopped to eat barbecue at a tented station manned by Randy Todd, chairman of the Classics Department.

“There were tents for departments, clubs, sororities, fraternities, activities, all over the Quad, plus play stations for children, and athletic competition.

“Dr. Hunt and I were speaking of old professors, now gone, Dr. Dobbins, Dr. Chapman (not David), Dr. Percy Pratt Burns, and travels when up came Judith Anne Dansby and her former professor, Dr. Rod Davis. Judith Anne, daughter of our Neal and Jennifer (Smith) Dansby, is a Samford graduate, now working in Birmingham.

“I had the joy of teaching both Judith Anne and her mother.

“As we ate, I struck up a conversation with Jake and Peggy Vaughn. Jake said that he used to ride the bus that Dawson Memorial Baptist Church used to send on Sundays to pick up students who wanted to attend church, morning and evening. Dawson still did that when I came along. I had no car and depended on the Dawson bus to get me back and forth to church. Like Jake, I was also drawn to Dawson on Sunday evenings because the campus cafeteria was closed and Dawson provided a supper of sandwiches for us college students. Jake said that one time he and his roommate were low on cash; so, while at Dawson, they stuffed sandwiches down their pockets for later.

“Others to whom Dr. Hunt introduced me were Shannon Flynt, wife of Sean Flynt, the son of Wayne Flynt, the famous Alabama historian, and Caroline Williams, the great-granddaughter of Major Harwell Goodwin Davis, one-time president of Samford (Howard in his day).

“Dr. Hunt and I parted so that I could be interviewed at a tent set up to gather stories from alumni.

“Oh, how I miss the old, familiar faces!

“In the Student Union I admired again the statue of the third president of Howard, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, educator and Baptist minister. This statue once stood in the Capitol of Washington, but was swapped out for a statue of Helen Keller. Such is fame.

“I accidentally came upon the grave of Curry in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va., when I paid my respects at the grave of Jefferson Davis. Curry is buried just across the walkway from the former president of the Confederate States.

“The Samford Bulldogs, by the way, coached by Pat Sullivan, defeated Chattanooga in football that afternoon.

“Before returning to my motel room, I drove to the heart of Homewood and bought some petit fours at Savage’s Bakery.”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman, for your homecoming account.

The celebration of the War of 1812 (1812–1815) continues.

Again, I ask that citizens of Andalusia join the Covington Historical Society and pay its annual dues of $25 to help preserve the history of our county, whether you attend meetings or not. Mail to CHS, P.O. Box 1582, Andalusia, Al 36420. Include your e-mail address if you wish to be reminded of upcoming meetings.

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, let us return to this week 150 years ago.

The Battle of Chattanooga was won by the North. Federal General Grant, headquartered on Orchard Knob, ordered General Sherman over the Tennessee River and up Missionary Ridge as well as General Hooker up Lookout Mountain, where Hooker fought the “Battle Above the Clouds.”

Southern Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee were overrun by the Federals on Missionary Ridge and retreated to Georgia, pursued by Generals Thomas and Sherman. Bragg resigned his post.

Southern General Longstreet attempted to free Knoxville from Union occupation, but failed.

Things were looking bad for the South.

For those who collect stamps, consider those associated with the War of 1812 and the Sesquicentennial of “the War.”

For the l4th week the mysterian is still a mystery. The answer is part of a riddle, “Where can one park at Straughn and yet not be at Straughn?”

(Hint: it’s in plain sight along East Three-Notch.)

Birthdays this week are those of John Harvard, for whom Harvard University, our oldest college, is named; William Blake, an English poet and artist; Louisa May Alcott, an American novelist; John Bunyan, an English preacher and writer; Mark Twain (or Samuel Langhorne Clemens), American novelist; and Winston Churchill, English prime minister four times.

Miss Alcott’s best-known novel is Little Women. It has been made into a play or a musical more than once. To raise money for local Bicentennial activities here in Andalusia Dan Shehan and Joe Wingard made the book into a musical. Mr. Shehan wrote the music; and Mr. Wingard, the lyrics.

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory about Christianity. It was one of the three books taken by pioneers to the West. The others were the Bible and the plays of Shakespeare.

Every boy should read Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Some say that Churchill was the greatest man of the 20th century and that his bulldog determination saved England in World War II.

It’s time to think about Christmas cards and presents.

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

Fare thee well.