This past weekend, our family on my mother’s side had its reunion, something we do on alternate Memorial Day weekends. The first one–1994–will always loom in my mind as the best. It was perfect in every way on Saturday, with over 100 relatives from many states arriving and enjoying each other all day, the nighttime bonfire with the family stories many had never heard, the worship service the next morning in our family church followed by a catered lunch my siblings brought in, and finally a massage by the family chiropractor, and an hour of rummy, all of it climaxed by the phone call. Margaret was calling from New Orleans to say that daughter-in-law Julie had been taken to the hospital to give birth to their first child. I was out the door for a 6 or 7 hour drive home. Grant Waller McKeever was born around mid-day, Memorial Day, May 30, 1994.
Here is how that event was described in my daily journal (which I kept for every day during the decade of the 1990s)….
“Sunday, May 29 Nauvoo. Mom and Dad rode to church with me. Sign in front congratulated Carl and Lois McKeever on their 60th anniversary. Service started 30 minutes early, at 10:30. Bill Chadwick sang, as did Mike Kilgore, and Debbie McKeever played a solo on the piano. Ronnie and I both gave 5 minute talks about the family and what this church means to us. Their pastor Mickey Crane (whom Ronnie teasingly calls Ricky Wayne) preached. Then all had lunch downstairs. Our treat. (Each of the six kids paid $100 for expenses of the weekend.) I drew several kids. Home about 2 pm. Sitting around in living room at Pop’s (Deedee, Mom, Ruby, Bill Chadwick, etc) Bill, chiropractor at Clanton, AL, said, “Who wants an adjustment?” 30 minutes later, I was lying on the floor, a completely relaxed blob. Then, he did Mom. They left about 3 or 3:30. Some of us went into the sun room and played rummy. Russell and I vs. Charlie and Pop. At 4:15, Margaret called and said, “Get here! They’ve gone to the hospital.” The call I’d been expecting. This morning, I called Neil and Julie (in Metairie). I asked Julie, “Any word from Grant or Abigail?” (Note: These were the baby names, depending on boy or girl, which was unknown to them at the time.) She: “No. They’ve been very quiet.” In 10 minutes, I’d loaded up and Mom had made me two sandwiches and I was on my way. Arrived at Lakeside Hospital in Metairie at 11 pm. Julie having a hard, slow time of it. Nurses say she’d not give birth before daylight. Margaret had already gone home. Ray and Betty Gatwood and Becky Poole (Julie’s parents and only sister) and husband Lance were there, along with Julie’s co-worker Paula something. Betty and Paula stayed all night. I left at 3:30 am. Had tried sleeping in waiting room, using a phone book as a pillow. After arriving at home, woke up Margaret and she decided to go to the hospital, since Neil had asked me to bring him a windbreaker (the hospital was frigid) and some antacids. I slept til 6, showered, and arrived back at 7 am. Later, Ray returned. At 11 am, we all went to Piccadilly cafeteria in the next block for lunch. My treat. $28. At 2 pm or so, Neil came in, said, “They say Julie is worn out. So they’re going to try the forceps. If that doesn’t work, will do a ‘C’ section.” Nurse Kay Magner from our church was with us. Said, “They’ll just try the forceps once.’ 15 or 20 minutes later, I was standing at the nursery window looking at babies. Margaret stepped out of the waiting room and said, ‘Come walk with me. Help me walk off this anxiety.’ So we walked. She wondered why we’d not heard from them. Shouldn’t take so long to try the forceps. At that moment, I glanced into the nursery window. Neil stood there in his green hospital garb, waving and pointing to a baby–his!–in the bed. A thrill. I ran to the waiting room and called to everyone, ‘Come see our baby!’ Grant was perfect. 8 lbs 14 oz. I’d feared more, which would have prevented a natural birth. 21 inches long. We all enjoyed talking and hugging. Matt Gabrielse (he and Ken had come) and I went to the gift shop and bought Neil a hat saying, ‘Proud New Father.’ And we made phone calls. I got Marty and Misha’s answering machine (in Charlotte NC). It said, “Hey, what’s the news? We’re anxious to know! Give us a call so we’ll know how to get in touch!” Margaret and I came home later. It must have been 7 or 7:30 when I got to bed. Dead tired.”
Today, May 30, 2006, Grant turned 12. Last Thursday, I took him to lunch, his choice of restaurants. Deanie’s in Bucktown for fried shrimp. Then shopping for several shirts of his choosing. I told him about the journal I’d kept in the 90s and suggested that one day, he would enjoy digging out the volume on 1994 and reading all about his birth. Now he won’t have to; I did it for him. No, rather for me. It’s a day I love to relive. Hard on Julie, bless her heart. She had a tough time of it. How does that line go, that if women did not have short memories, everyone would be an only child. Two years and six months later, she gave birth to our twins, Abby and Erin (she got her Abigail after all), and that is another wonderful story. As are the accounts of the births of the other wonderful grandchildren, who will be reading this blog from Grandpa. It’s just that Grant’s birth was the first one I was present for, and it came about in such an incredible, surprising, blessed time and manner.
Grant is a wonderful young man in a hundred ways. I am proud to be his grandpa.
You probably know the feeling.
Saturday night around the bonfire, we tried telling again the old stories. Maybe we were tired, because they lacked the old spunk. With Ronnie, retired preacher from Birmingham, and me, not retired preacher from New Orleans, up and down, talking and outtalking one another, cousin Mike Kilgore did the right thing. Mike calmly stood in front of the fire and said to the family, “We love these reunions. But I want to tell you about another reunion. One of these days, we’ll gather with the Heavenly Father in His house. I hope you will be there. I plan to be there myself.” For the next few minutes, he preached to his cousins, nephews, nieces, and assorted kinsfolk. Ron and I followed it up with a few appropriate words, then had prayer.
Around 10 pm, someone said, “I’ve got a long way to drive tonight,” so we decided to ‘shut ‘er down.’ No electricity there, so everyone is taking down tables, loading up folding chairs, packing away leftover food in almost total darkness except for the light from various car headlights. It’s a wonder all the children ended up in the right cars, if they did.
Sunday morning, I preached in Zion United Methodist Church in Jasper, where my little sister Carolyn Lampman belongs. Pastor Ken Bishop was performing his grandson’s wedding in Maui, so he asked Carolyn to introduce me. A scary thought, but she was excellent. She ended her words about me with, “Best of all, he loves the Lord, too.”
I preached about our office computer in New Orleans. Told them how our associational offices have power and phones, but no internet. I turn on the computer and do word processing type stuff only. Write letters, sermon notes, that’s all. But we cannot get outside the office, cannot make connections with the worldwide web. That, I told them, is a picture of the person whose religion is for himself alone. Such people enjoy their religion. They read, meditate, and the like, but make no connections with God or other people. And that kind of a religion is a total failure.
The Word of God, the Church, the Holy Spirit–all are about making connections with God and with one another.
I’m sure there’s a better sermon there than the one I preached, but it’s going to take some more thought.
When the Catholic priest buried Debbie Wild’s wonderful mother, he said to the crowd, “At the end of life, only three things matter: family, faith, friends.” I cannot tell you how many times those words have come back to me.