These are tales of our celebrations – large, small

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 8, 2014

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I thought of St. Valentine’s Day next Friday and of the times in elementary school when we folded red construction paper and cut out paper hearts and pasted them on paper doilies, of exchanging valentines in class, drawing from a box covered in white paper and red hearts, of candy hearts with their little messages such as “Be mine,” of leaving valentines at neighbors’ doors, knocking on the door, and running away.

It’s time I sent a few valentines and shared some “heart-felt” news.

Seen at the Corner Market for the lunch buffet were William and Dianne Blocker, Dr. Wayne and Lenora Johnson, Joe and Sandra Davis, Robert and Sheila Williams, her sister, Sandra James from Tuscaloosa, Sheila and Sandra’s mother, Ora Thompkins, Douglas Castleberry,

Roy Barnes, Cecil Ammons, and Glen (or Lynn?) Ralls.

Mr. Blocker told me that his wife, Dianne, came from the affluent side of the tracks so her family could afford to spell her name with an extra n.

The Portly Gentleman almost got into trouble Sunday. He was singing in the choir during “big church” (that’s Sunday-morning worship) when his legs began to be a-weary, carrying all the weight that they do. It is fashionable nowadays in some religious circles  to stand for almost every hymn and to sing three or four times the number of hymns the Portly One sang in his youth. The Portly One, if you will pardon the pun, had “stood” for as much as he could. Hoping for the end of the thirteenth verse of the thirteenth hymn, he found himself singing the words on the big screen, “Forever I’ll stand,” at which he could not help but burst out laughing, to his undying shame.

Miss Dora Covington hosted an evening of music at Covington Hall last week. The highlight to me was her playing “The Lost Chord” by Sir Arthur Sullivan. “The Lost Chord” lifts my heart up to the portals of Heaven. For an encore Miss Dora played Sullivan’s “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

Richard Pass, 92, following a period of illness, was back at the lectern last Sunday in the Baraca Sunday-School class, teaching in his golden way.

R. K. Price, a Baraca member, beautifully sang “Give Me Jesus,” a cappella.

Thank you to Judy Buck for locating photographs of two mayors of Andalusia, James Morgan Prestwood and T. E. Henderson, missing from the display in City Hall. Mayor Earl Johnson sends his thanks, too.

Gentle reader, please put on your calendar March l-3 to attend the Andalusia City Schools production of The Music Man in the Andalusia High School auditorium.

Seen last Saturday for lunch at Gary’s Café in Wages Market, River Falls, were Sidney and Polly (Wilder) Waits, Tommy Thompson, Rick Thompson, Grayson Gantt, and his fraternity brother, Alex Pattie, here for weekend hunting.

Mr. Waits, 90, is a local historian, the author of a number of books.

James Andrews was surprised on the 80th anniversary of his birth with a party, Sat., Jan. 25, at Tabby D’s.

Hosted by his wife, Era (Hall), and his siblings, Wilodean Ralls and Ashley Andrews, the party drew more than 150 family and friends, including James’s son Kendall and his wife “Stormie,” James’s granddaughter by his son Jeff, Kristen Birdsong from Daphne, and her husband Brian and their three children, Bates, who at seven, prayed the invocation; Brooklyn, two years old; and Brady, a little angel of three months.

Other siblings and relatives of James, helping to make the party a success, were Shirley Camp, Charlotte Askew and her husband, George, Mary Polk, Grady Lynn Ralls, Beverly Lowery and her husband, Paul, Felix Andrews and his wife, Helen, and Mary Godwin.

The program featured speeches by Kendall and Stormie, Kristen, James’s sisters, and Bob Brooks. (James has a pet dog from Bob, named Brooks.)

A pictorial display highlighted James’s life.

The guests, in a room of balloons and floral bouquets, enjoyed a buffet of chicken tenders, ham and sandwich “fixings,” pimiento cheese on rolls, vegetables and dip, spinach dip and chips, and cheese balls and crackers.

Everyone was amazed at how young James looked, more like forty.

James received over a hundred birthday cards on top of everything else.

The annual Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, an hour’s drive south of “the Dimple of Dixie,” was attended this year Jan. 23-26. I drove down for the weekend and stayed in Best Western because of the included breakfast buffet.

Chautauqua is an Indian name and lake in Western New York State where, after the War Between the States, summer classes were offered to help Methodists learn how to teach Sunday school. The popular workshops grew to include general education, such as classes in literature, music, art, and guest speakers.

It got so big that Chautauqua classes spread across the nation with a winter Chautauqua headquartered in DeFuniak because of the milder weather. Most of the Chautauquas died out. The original Chautauqua is still alive, though, and flourishes in the summer at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y. For sentimental reasons the old winter Chautauqua has been revived in DeFuniak Springs, but only for one weekend out of the year.

After registering Thursday afternoon in the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood, a grand old building of white columns and dome, dating back to the good old days, I looked at the displays therein, based on this year’s theme, “A Journey into the World of Motion Pictures.”

The Hall of Brotherhood, which once housed an auditorium and classrooms for the winter Chautauqua, overlooks Lake DeFuniak, one of the few, perfectly rounded lakes in the world. A park called the Lake Yard surrounds the lake, and beyond the park a circle of grand, old houses.

Leaving the Hall, I drove Circle Drive, a serene passage of time I eagerly anticipate each year, enjoying the old, familiar sights – the historic houses, Methodist church, St. Agatha’s Episcopal Church, the oldest (still in operation) library in Florida, depot-museum, the home of “Pansy” (pen name for a writer of children’s books; our David Walters has a collection of eleven of these rare books), the Lakeside Building (once, a hospital; now the new headquarters for the local Chautauqua), Visitors’ Center, Wallace Bruce cottage (he was one of the early forces in the winter Chautauqua), the old magnolia, and amphitheater. It’s worth a trip to DeFuniak just to drive Circle Drive. At Christmas time the area is strung with electric lights, also worth another trip.

By the end of my drive, the day was turning dark and was already cold – part of that cold weekend that preceded the ice storm that hit Andalusia the following Tuesday. Once I got to my motel, reluctant to venture out again into the dark and cold, I settled into my cozy room and ate in the motel restaurant, which featured nice table appointments, a fine salad bar, soup, and tasty food. The dining room of the motel is spacious and well lighted with large windows and a pretty rural view.

The next morning, Friday, after a hot breakfast, I joined the student body of Walton High School, fellow Chautauquans, and locals to hear the keynote speaker in the new, modern auditorium of WHS.

The speaker, Demond Wilson, an actor and co-star with Redd Foxx in the 1970s TV “hit,” Sanford and Son, addressed a packed house for an hour or so.

Dressed like a banker, mild-mannered, and soft-spoken, Wilson recounted his life.

Reared in Harlem, New York, Wilson, 67, has been married 40 years and has six grown children and three grandchildren.

In the Army 1966–1968, Wilson was wounded in Vietnam.

He co-starred in NBC’s Sanford and Son for five and a half years. The show appears in 48 foreign countries to this day.

Wilson has appeared on Broadway and TV and has authored 11 children’s books, other books, screenplays, and a sitcom.

He founded Restoration House of America in 1995 to rehabilitate former prison inmates.

He enjoys golf.

When Wilson gave some good advice to the students, he did so so kindly, so sympathetically, so compassionately, that my eyes filled with tears. He pointed out that students can make something of themselves as he did. He can name only five of his old classmates, but everyone of his classmates knows him today.

When Wilson almost died at 12, he promised God that he would serve Him. Today he is a minister and has preached the gospel around the world.
“Jesus didn’t give up on us,” he told the youth.

Jesus was a man of compassion, he continued. “Let them see Jesus in you.”

Wilson said that he believes in the youth of today.

Said he, “I’m not happy with the way the morals in this country have disappeared.”

He said he didn’t deal with grey areas – “I’m not a politician.” This drew thunderous applause.

Wilson encouraged the students to use teachers as role models, not athletes, adding that teachers deserve three times the salaries they are now receiving. He also named parents, policemen, and firemen as role models.

Wilson said, “I was never part of Hollywood per se.”

He spoke of Hollywood as a “big factory,” a stressful place of hard work.

He remembered the foul mouth of his co-star, Redd Foxx and Flip Wilson’s cap with “HNIC.” He took issue with Bill Cosby’s philosophy.

Said he, “Martin Luther King was not my hero.”

He refused to make excuses for bad decisions by Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. He failed to flatter Jesse Jackson.

One story he related was about youth who wear their caps backwards. It seems that’s the direction they’re headed.

Wilson took questions afterwards. There was particular interest in the Sanford and Son TV character, Aunt Esther. Wilson shared that she had diabetes and lost both a leg and an arm before her death.

Wilson was given a standing ovation.

I’ll stop at this point and continue the report on the Chautauqua later, Lord willing.

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.

Northern General Sherman decided to destroy the two main railroads in central Mississippi, moving toward Meridian, Miss. The First Confederate Congress banned imports of luxuries and the circulation of U.S. currency. It also ruled that half of various food and tobacco shipments be given to the government before ships might leave port. Southern General Polk retreated before Sherman. The Union took Jacksonville, Florida, with little resistance. A noose was being tightened about the South.

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

The mysterian is a bald-headed man who was struck over the head with a walking stick (his own, I think) in our public square by a man who was angry at the victim. The wound became infected, and the man died. Who was he?

Birthdays this week are those of Sidney Lanier, Georgia poet whose masterpiece is “The Marshes of Glynn”; Felix Mendelssohn, German composer and pianist; Abram Joseph Ryan, Catholic priest and poet of the Old South, who wrote “The Sword of Robert E. Lee”; the

Confederate States of America, born February 4, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama; Christopher Marlowe, English playwright; Charles Dickens, English novelist; and Sir Thomas More, Englishman who died at the hands of King Henry VIII of England rather than approve the King’s actions, which went against Thomas’s conscience.

Lanier High School in Montgomery was named for Sidney Lanier, who once worked in Montgomery at the old Exchange Hotel (now demolished) and taught school at Prattville. Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia. His birth house still stands as a museum.

“Glynn” is a county in Georgia where Lanier was inspired to write “The Marshes of Glynn.”

Marlowe was thought by some to have written the plays of Shakespeare. Marlowe’s masterpiece is Doctor Faustus in which a man sells his soul to the Devil. One promise the Devil makes to Faustus is for him to see the most beautiful woman who ever lived, Helen of Troy.

When Faustus sees her, he exclaims, “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium (Troy)? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss!” One of my students misquoted, “Make me immoral with a kiss.”

Dickens is thought by many to be the best novelist in our language. He wrote A Christmas Carol, one of the best books ever written, and David Copperfield, which Dickens considered his favorite.

There is hardly a man I admire more than Thomas More, and there are few more qualified for Hell than Henry VIII. The evil Henry did boils my blood to this day, yet Christ died for him, too.

Now, gentle reader, allow me to join Buffalo Bob Smith in encouraging each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing.

Fare thee well.