I’m a devout believer in friends, although I have friends who doubt my faith.
As a rule over the years, the burden of staying in contact has fallen to my friends. Part of that is the natural inclination of a pastor to not keep meddling with members of the previous congregation after moving to another church. However, if they want to meddle with me, well, that’s another story.
Shawn Parker called last week. The last weekend of October will be the 100th anniversary of the sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, where I served from 1974 to 1986. Would I come back and be their speaker for that observance? I would indeed.
I said to Shawn, “What’s the matter–couldn’t you get General Lee?” Stephen D. Lee of Civil War fame was chair of the building committee that erected that sanctuary in 1908, if you can believe it. That was 43 years after the conclusion of the War Between the States. General Lee was the founding president of nearby Mississippi State University and had married into a prominent Columbus family. He made his home in the next block from the sanctuary.
Lee, incidentally, was involved in the Fort Sumter incident that served as the spark setting off the conflagration which was the Civil War. He is buried in Columbus’ wonderful Friendship Cemetery.
So, I’ll be filling in for General Lee, I reckon.
Some of our Columbus friends Larry and Mary Nell did something unusual this weekend, which some of our readers will find fascinating. Ever since he finished at MSU, Larry has worked at (and managed) Columbus Brickyards and Mary Nell (who used to work at FBC there) runs their coffee shop called “Beans and Cream.”
Larry has turned 65 this year, a circumstance I endured some three years ago and lived to tell about it. Mary Nell decided to honor her husband of 42 years with the most unusual birthday stuff I’ve ever heard of.
One weekend each month this year, she has planned an event for Larry. Once, she took him back to the Hattiesburg area and they attended the church where his parents worshiped, and visited with relatives. Another month, Mary Nell invited back all the softball team members Larry had coached over perhaps 30 years; sixty showed up. They made trips to Las Vegas (their three children met them there; they attended concerts and ate and visited), to other concerts, etc., and then this weekend, they invited several couples from their old neighborhood.
In the Northaven neighborhood of Columbus, some 30 years ago, Larry and Mary Nell counted as their close friends Carey and Jane, John and Patsy, Randy and Charlene, and Margaret and me. Now, they had other friends, too, but these formed the core group of a once-a-month rook party we held back then. We were all in the same church and our kids were similar in age, so it was like an evening with your brothers and sisters.
Friday, we gathered at suppertime at a horse barn out in the country that has been converted into a home/retreat center. Surrounded by farmlands and woodlands, we saw wild turkeys in the fields and went to sleep that night to the musical staccato of heavy rainfull on the tin roof.
We visited, we laughed, we ate, we reminisced, we kidded each other, showed pictures of our children and grands, and yes, we played rook.
We quickly found that none of us have played a hand of rook in the last two decades, so Randy re-read the rules and caught us up on what we were doing. When he won that first game Friday night, it was 12:30 am, and we called it a night. (We teased him about the group letting him win since we could not have lived with him had he lost.)
Now, what will we be doing on Saturday, that was the question. Mary Nell always planned a mystery event for Saturday, something Larry found out about only at the last minute. The huge motor home in the farmhouse yard was the clue.
After we went into town and ate breakfast at Beans and Cream, we boarded the RV and drove three hours–to Starkville, to Ackerman, and down the Natchez Trace–to Jackson. We ate lunch at the Cock of the Walk restaurant on the Ross Barnett Reservoir and then, they drove home.
Mary Nell said, “Joe had to leave at noon today, so we decided to get him halfway there.” Charlene drove my car all the way to Jackson, behind the RV.
And we played rook on the bus (motor home).
Now, a word of explanation here is necessary for three or four readers. Rook is not the point. Fellowship is the point. We laughed and hollered, we hugged and teased, we acted like the young adults we were 30 years ago. It was medicine for the soul, believe me. No therapy can hold a candle to three hours spent with old friends.
“Real world adults” will wonder why we would drive for hours on a Friday afternoon and another several hours on Saturday for no other purpose than to catch up on old times with friends of long ago.
The answer to that is: if you don’t know, there’s no way to tell you.
Larry and Mary Nell will be tiring soon and moving to Maryville, Tennessee, near Knoxville. “You have to come see us,” they said. I promised to do so.
I reminded them of other friends (of all of us) Jim and Darlene Graham who have moved to the Atlanta area, and whom I keep promising to visit after I retire next Spring. “So, I’ll just drive on up to your place,” I threaten.
Sunday morning early, I drove to Long Beach, Mississippi, to begin a three-day/four-service meeting at the First Baptist Church. Two ladies came up. “I’m Jimmy Graham’s cousin. He told us you were coming.” So, we talked about this dear friend whom we treasure.
LaRue Stephens in the pastor. I told the church he had invited me to come some 5 years ago, and then a little storm named Katrina intervened. (It wiped this church’s plant off the map; they dedicated their all-new facilities one month ago.)
Old friends are great, but I’m going to share a little secret of “high living”….
New friends are wonderful, too.
They’re all around, just waiting to be greeted and welcomed into your inner circle.
While we were eating at the Jackson restaurant Saturday, I could see a large family having a birthday party in the next room. Children were everywhere, so I excused myself and picked up the place mat–which was blank on the back side–and decided I would draw the child who was the honoree.
“Who’s having a birthday?” I said to the young woman nearest the door. “My grandmother,” she said.
I said, “Oh. I’m a cartoonist and I like to draw people, and I thought maybe a child was having a party. I’m not sure your grandmother would like to be drawn.”
“Oh, but she would!” she said. “Come on over.”
Uh oh, I thought. I don’t draw grandmothers as well as children, and sent up a quick “help” to the Father.
It turned out well, the kids loved it, and I returned to our table to a chorus of “thank you’s” from the extended family. Later, they brought over a plateful of slices of birthday cake for our gang.
When I sign a drawing, I write, “Joe McKeever.com” just in case someone wants to follow up and visit the website. On the right side, there’s a place that tells “how to know Jesus Christ and live forever.”
We might end up making a forever kind of friend. You never know.