(This is an experiment to which I’ll be returning from time to time and editing, adding to, trying to turn into something. Readers may ignore it or visit it to see how it has changed. I don’t see it as a journal so much as trying to make sense of the most critical 3 months of my young life.)
I was never very good at introspection, trying to figure out why I said something or did something or how I got to be the person that I am. Most men are said to have the same limitation.
However, looking back over a life that has lasted nearly three-fourths of a century, it’s hard not to notice a few life-intersections that felt minor at the time but turned out to be major game-changers.
The summer of my eleventh year was just such a time.
In mid-1951, my world changed. Our family moved from a West Virginia mining camp into the home of our maternal grandmother on the remote Alabama farm where my mom had been raised. To my mind, we had moved from civilization to Mars.
We went from living in a mountaintop community with swarms of children to a farmhouse 13 miles from town and nearly that far to the nearest friend my age. It felt as if I had been sentenced to solitary confinement.
From a life preoccupied with playing and enjoying myself, I moved to one focused on the life of a working farmhand. Ball games and fun times with buddies were replaced by long afternoons in the field alongside my brothers and sisters.
In leaving West Virginia, I traded an exciting new school with terrific teachers and great classmates for an old, barren, two-room Alabama school 10 miles from the county seat, presided over by a small-time dictator-principal and his wife. Mrs. Johnson taught the first 3 grades; Mr. Johnson had the other three. I wondered if the county school board even knew they were in the system.
For the four years we’d lived in West Virginia, our Alabama cousins seemed to find my Yankee brogue fascinating and on summer visits south, would gather around just to listen. When we moved back to Alabama and it became apparent that I was going to be a classmate at Poplar Springs, my strange speech pattern quickly went from exotic to an embarrassment;
That summer, in the annual revival at New Oak Free Will Baptist Church, the small church where our family had worshiped for generations, Jesus Christ came into my wife and saved me. .
Finally, toward the end of that summer, Mrs. Boshell, our elderly neighbor one mile up the highway, was murdered. Before the sheriff arrived, some of us children stood on her front porch and stared down at her mutilated body.
It was years before I gave thought to the effect such a sequence of major events arriving in wave upon wave could have upon an 11-year-old boy.