Daddy, I Can’t Wake Mama Up

The night of December 11-12 was quiet. Lynette did not wake me up in the night. When I woke up that morning, she appeared to be sleeping peacefully. I decided to let her sleep and began my morning activities. About an hour later, Luke came downstairs and uttered the worst words ever: “Daddy, I can’t wake Mama up.”

My first response was “it’s too soon!” The nursing evaluation of the previous day certainly hadn’t indicated any imminent distress. We were getting ready for at least several weeks of at home care. Sarah was on her last day of exams at Millsaps. We were expecting her home later that afternoon. I called the hospice nurse, then began calls to Sarah, Lynette’s sisters, and my family.

The first person to arrive was the hospice home health aide. She examined Lynette and said “She’s expired.” That’s always struck me as an exceptionally odd way to put it. It implies Lynette had passed her “sell by” date. That definitely wasn’t true.

Lynette’s friend Elizabeth was on her way from Ocean Springs. Our District Superintendent Connie Shelton was on her way from Jackson. They arrived soon, as did the hospice nurse. The nurse began doing the necessary paperwork and notification of the coroner. I called Chancellor Funeral Home. Lynette’s friend Fred worked with Chancellor and he and Bill Chancellor arrived. One thing I’ll always remember is that as the folks from Chancellor were leaving with Lynette’s body, our dog Sam, who had otherwise observed the comings and goings quietly, suddenly began barking. He was going to miss his Mama too.

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Three Years On

December 11, 2017 was Lynette’s first full day at home on hospice. My bed was just feet away from Lynette’s newly installed hospital bed. Overnight, she had called me to assist with a personal hygeine issue. She was disturbed that this was now part of my care for her, but I was not at all concerned about it. Would have done it for months, if necessary.

The day dawned fine. There would be intake visits from Hospice Ministries personnel. The first was the Social Worker. She interviewed Lynette and me about the information she’d need for her assessment. At a certain point, Luke came downstairs to see what was going on. He got into the “bubble” of the social worker, but quietly so. She was startled and exclaimed. It was a moment of unrestrained laughter for Lynette and me, and, eventually, for the Social Worker. Later that morning the hospice nurse/case manager came by. She did her assessment. We discussed our concerns about the two drains Lynette had to drain fluid from her lungs. I had spent the previous month being anxious about my competence to do the drains. The nurse understood my anxiety and did the draining herself while she was there. She agreed that Lynette would need a home health aide five days a week. The home health aide came and completed a bath, gown and linen change for Lynette. The nurse also left the “emergency” pain and breathing support kit for my use.

We had several other visitors. One of the people from Rexford, the church Lynette had been serving in disability came by. She brought some vegetable beef soup and gave an extensive “blow by blow” on the previous day’s worship service. A man from Harrisville came by and brought some of his famous peanut brittle. A couple from St. Paul in Ocean Springs also came by. The clear emotional and spiritual impact of Lynette’s ministry over the years was made obvious, again.

Luke also enjoyed some time sitting by Lynette’s bed talking to her about video games and professional wrestling. My patience for such conversation is limited, but he now had his favorite audience back and he took full advantage of it.

I was a room away doing some work on the computer and listening to “favorite Christmas songs written and perfomed by Jews.” Sarah was at Millsaps trying to finish up exams and papers, though she did have time to look for some clothes. She sent pictures of some of her choices. I showed them to Lynette, and she smiled.

One thing Lynette REALLY wanted was some ice from Sonic. In the mid-afternoon, I judged things were sufficiently under control at the house that I could leave Lynette in the care of Luke and of Sam (the dog). Through all the comings and goings, Sam had observed the visitors, but no longer immediately greeted them with barking, as he had when he was younger. I stayed close to Lynette through the day.

I went to the grocery store in Florence (about 20 miles away) to get some supplies for personal hygeine. I also went to the Florence Sonic to get a cup of their ice. Lynette was VERY happy to have the ice, which would keep her lips and mouth moistened.

We watched the winter finale episode of The Good Doctor, about a surgical resident with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We both sometimes wondered if the writers had been following us around during the years we were raising Luke and writing down the things he said.

I kissed her goodnight and told her I loved her. She said she loved me too.

In this year of Covid-19, I’m aware of how different this whole experience could have been. Would I have been allowed to accompany Lynette on her doctor visits and chemmotherapy appointments? Would she have had to navigate the various parts of MD Anderson by herself? Would my set of ears not been there as she tried to process her options? Would the “Army of Ladies” who sat with Lynette at St. Dominic’s been allowed to do so? Would I have even BEEN in the room when they asked about putting her on a ventilator? Where would I and my children have been when I told them we were discontinuing efforts at cure? On that day at home, how would visits from hospice personnel have been arranged? Could those friends and church folks been able to visit. I think we know the answers. As horrible as that week to ten days was, it would have been immeasurably harder with necessary Covid-19 restrictions. There surely are families with cancer patients trying to navigate the same terrain now.

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The anonymous town that was the model for school desegregation

Source: The anonymous town that was the model for school desegregation

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Two Years of Storms, Part 2

These events are now four years in the past. I’m going to attempt to reconstruct them, since the Facebook postings are difficult to find.

jaltman81

When last I posted, Lynette’s surgeon had just confirmed to me that she had Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  In one of those statements I wish medical professionals would avoid, he said, “This sure did ruin my day.”  I hope I don’t have to explain why that’s not really the thing to say to a patient’s husband.

I found my way back to Lynette’s room, where an explosion of “ugly crying,” interspersed with wailing ensued.  I’m going to guess that I was far from the first husband of a patient on that floor to receive such devastating news, because the nurses gave me the space to wail, lament, and even scream.  As a hospital chaplain, I had often been on the other side of such displays.  I knew that trying to interrupt or stop them was 1. Futile and 2. Not healthy for the person grieving.  It’s an odd feeling to both…

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Two Years of Storms

I began telling this story in July 2018. I was having difficulty getting WordPress installed on my old computer, so I finished the story in a series of Facebook posts. Those are very difficult to recover. Today is the fourth anniversary of the beginning of this journey. I will reblog the first two entries and try to reconstruct the rest, though it probably will feel different from four years on.

jaltman81

One thing that strikes me about the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4: 35-41 is the degree of panic expressed by the Disciples. It’s already been established that at least Peter, Andrew, James, and John are experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. As such they have known the Sea of Galilee to have sudden storms. They know how to keep themselves and their crafts safe in such instances, in dark or daylight. Something about THIS storm, however, so frightens the Disciples that they wake up Jesus and scream at him “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”

Over the last two years, storms I was used to gave way to a storm that had me crying out to Jesus about the danger of it all.

In the summer of 2016, Lynette and I were in our 34th year of marriage and our 30th year as…

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My “Witness, Part 11, Closing Thoughts

A lot of other “stuff” has happened over the last 40 years. I may address some of that in more detail in a later set of posts, but the basic trajectory of my values and commitments were formed in those first 20 or so years of my life.

By May of 1980, Lynette Little had figured out I was someone she wanted to have a relationship with. I was disappointed/crushed by the results of the 1980 Presidential election (and the ones in 1984 and 1988). Lynette and I married in August of 1982 and went together to Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. My experience at G-ETS was far less “formational/transformational” than my time at Millsaps. Lynette and I were among the first wave of “clergy couples” to serve in the Mississippi Conference of the UMC. Joe Reiff is working on a book about the “Miriam Generation” of United Methodist clergywomen in the Mississippi Conference. Lynette gave him an interview in the summer of 2017 about her experiences. It’s good that got down on tape and in writing before she died in December 2017. That’s HER story. My story is the pain of watching someone you love be mistreated.

I’m aware that Bullies are very much “triggers” for me. If one has been bullied and abused, that’s going to happen. I’m also “triggered” by aggressive, intentional ignorance. Add those together and how I respond to the Current Occupant of the White House is no mystery.

I continue to be wary of the “Doctrine Police/Heresy Hunters,” some of whom have found their way to positions of influence, if not controlling power, in the United Methodist Church. I continue to navigate the space between those who may not have the same sense of racial and economic justice that I do, while trying to be a loving pastor to them. I’ve decided to hold up the ideal that Love of God and Neighbor is the mark of a follower of Jesus and model that as best I can.

I had thought if the only people who got value out of these remembrances were my son Luke and my daughter Sarah, then it was worth the time I spent. I’ve been gratified that a few others have found them valuable too.

One of the maintenance staff at G-ETS once drew a contrast between herself and her son. “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” I get frustrated and angry sometimes, especially over the last three and a half years, but my basic stance is toward being a lover, rather than a fighter. I am, in that way, very much Barbara Ann Hamilton Altman Edwards’ son.

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My “Witness,” Part 10, Millsaps, Part 2

This next part of the story will be heavy on the “religious” part of my journey before I get to the convergence with race.

Early in my time at Millsaps, I was invited to go to “Berean Fellowship.” This was an officially “non-denominational” Christian group that was overseen by a staff person from Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. There were, in fact, people attending from United Methodist backgrounds, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, at least one Baptist (me), and even a few Roman Catholics. The name of the group was drawn from the “noble minded” Bereans of Acts 17: 10-15 who “searched the Scriptures” to examine the teachings of Paul. The purported agenda was that we would “search the Scriptures” together. The music was sort of the “soft rock Jesusy” music characteristic of the mid-1970s. Bach, Beethoven, Charles Wesley, and even Fanny Crosby had no competition to worry about.

A lot of the focus of the group, in keeping with the fact that it was directed by Inter-Varsity, was finding intellectual support for Christian belief in the modern University. Though Millsaps was a United Methodist institution, the implication was that we were in a vaguely “liberal” institution skeptical of, if not hostile to Christian belief. To be sure, the biology faculty taught evolution, as did the anthropology professor who gave an early lecture in Heritage. That was vaguely discomfiting to this “Good Baptist Boy,” but I had not really been taught that belief in the Bible as “infallible and inerrant” was necessary to salvation. We were encouraged to read in the “apologetic” literature of the era, including C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and John Stott’s Basic Christianity. I absorbed them both. I eventually became the book coordinator for Berean Fellowship.

I also had come to respect T.W. Lewis, the Religion Professor who was lecturing in Heritage. Some would call him a “liberal,” but he seemed grounded and comfortable to me and not at all inclined to return suspicion for suspicion to those he taught and encountered. I also was working in the College Library for Gerry Reiff, the wife of the other Religion Professor. She too was kind and caring for all the students who came under her care.

When my brother and I were bickering (something that happened only if we were awake and were in the same room), my mother would say “Be Ye KIND one to another, TENDERHEARTED, FORGIVING one another.” By both precept and example, she had communicated that how you treat other people is a more significant Christian expression than what you believed.

I also was attending First Baptist Church in Jackson. I joined the “Revelation” choir, consisting of High School and College students. Almost all the other College students were from Mississippi College. I lived with being the “odd duck” Baptist on the Millsaps campus and the “odd duck” Millsaps student in a group of Mississippi College students. For me, that just was what it was. I had a very good relationship with the staff person assigned to ministry with college students. He was, I realize now, one of the “semi-closeted liberals” recently produced by the Southern Baptist seminaries in the 1960s and 70s. Stamping out that sort of thing would be the goal of a political movement in the SBC that emerged in 1979 and I will talk about later. The senior pastor at First Baptist was Frank Pollard. He was one of the most compelling preachers I’ve ever heard. He couldn’t have been called “liberal” by any sense of the word that makes sense, but he was not, in any way, “rigid” in his expression and certainly was not “at war” with anyone theologically or otherwise. The music director, Larry Black, was likewise a kind man who cared about the spiritual and personal development of the people under his care, while also pulling excellence from the musicians he led.

The college minister at First Baptist Jackson remarked that there were three “real preachers” in Jackson at that time. One was Frank Pollard, another was Keith Tonkel of Wells Memorial United Methodist Church, and the third was John Claypool of Northminster Baptist Church. Keith frequently spoke at Millsaps Chapel services. Claypool also spoke at a couple of Chapel services and one Sunday evening gathering. What all three had in common was that their theology was filtered through an awareness of hard personal experience. Pollard was an adult child of an alcoholic who had grown up poor and “rough” in Texas oil fields. Keith Tonkel was a cancer survivor. Claypool had lost a ten year old daughter to leukemia. All were grounded in a “This was tough, but God brought me through” approach to ministry and preaching. Of course pain recognizes pain, so I resonated with all of them.

Claypool also used a term I hadn’t heard applied to the Bible before. He spoke of the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 as “The Genesis Poem.” He found profound meaning in them without getting caught up in trying to justify their scientific accuracy. That was definitely an opening of a door.

In early September 1978, the “Berean Fellowship” gathered for a retreat at Roosevelt State Park. There a brown haired, brown eyed freshman named Lynette Little caught my eye. I was not at all socially adept or aggressive (i.e. I “had no game.”) She also caught the eye of my roommate Bill Singer, who had more “game” than I. It would take two school years and two relationships for her before Lynette came to realize that I would be the love of her life. I knew from that time forward that she would be the love of mine.

Heritage had not satisfied any Social Sciences core requirements, so I signed up for Political Science 101. There I encountered another of the great teachers of my life. Howard Bavender taught political science as a moral discipline. I had been an avid newspaper reader for years, but he and John Quincy Adams helped me put a theoretical framework around the news. Mr. Bavender had a passion for social justice and a passion for calling forth moral and ethical commitments from his students. I loved it.

Since I was a history major, I also needed to take U.S. History. That was taught by another of my great teachers, Bob McElvaine. Dr. McElvaine likewise taught history as a moral and ethical discipline. He did not hesitate to introduce us to the “darker side” of U.S. History, including the genocide of Native Americans, the pervasiveness of slavery in the building of the country, and of the struggle for economic justice of the Labor movement. We read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, along with the textbook. Dr. McElvaine invited us to enter the minds and hearts of the slaves, industrial workers, Native Americans, and others from the “underside” of U.S. History. He also invited Allard Lowenstein to speak to the class. Lowenstein had been part of the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s. He told stories from my own home area of the Delta. Evidently, Greenville and Tougaloo College had been two of the few “safe spaces” for people working for Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, in my Old Testament class, I was learning that the Biblical Prophets were advocates for economic and social justice. This was not covered in my Baptist Sunday School classes. Though I certainly was also supportive of integration, I had not realized that this was grounded in Biblical faith. The Inter-Varsity “Berean” group also introduced me to writers like Ron Sider (Rich Christians in a Hungry World) and John Perkins(Let Justice Roll Down). Both grounded work for social justice in a robust expression of Biblical Christianity. John Perkins even came to speak to the Berean Fellowship group one night, as did other persons from “Voice of Calvary” Ministries. This was an intentional Christian community focused on racial reconcilation, economic empowerment and health services. Howard Bavender was invited the John Perkins’ presentation. He said “You have created a perfect fusion of Christianity and Marxism.” That was a compliment.

At other points my relationship with Berean Fellowship was less positive. Millsaps had hired a new Women’s Basketball Coach. He was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, an institution of The Presbyterian Church in America. Reformed, and the PCA, found their identity in commitment to the Bible as “inerrant and infallible,” along with more general hostility to “humanism,” which they believed was equivalent to racism. The coach was also a speaker and frequent attender of Berean Fellowship meetings. I found the atmosphere ever more rigid and unwelcoming. This was my first experience of what I’ve come to call the “Doctrine Police” or “Heresy Hunters.” This was religion grounded in fear (of offending God by believing the “wrong” thing) and anger (toward those who believed or taught the “wrong” thing). I increasingly became uncomfortable in that group and left it by the end of my sophomore year.

In the summer of 1979, between my sophomore and junior years at Millsaps, a faction within the Southern Baptist Convention likewise committed to a view of Scripture as “infallible and inerrant” and likewise hostile to “liberals” and “humanists” elected a new President of the Convention. I was still pointing toward ministry as my vocation, but I began to sense that was not going to be able to happen within a Southern Baptist Convention controlled by the “Doctrine Police/Heresy Hunters.” During my summers at that time, I was living with my father in the western suburbs of Chicago. He was a part time music director at a United Methodist church in Woodridge. My stepmother was the organist. The wife of the pastor of that church was Rosemary Skinner Keller, who was on the faculty of a United Methodist Seminary in Evanston, IL, Garrett-Evangelical. I didn’t know women COULD be professors at a seminary. Moreover, a woman student at G-ETS was serving a field education placement at Woodridge UMC. Her duties included occasional preaching! What a surprise to me, but not an unpleasant one.

I spent the fall semester of my junior year wrestling with what I needed to do. I certainly still found the worshipping and music community at First Baptist Church congenial, but I knew that was not the whole story of the SBC. I found out MUCH later that Frank Pollard was not at all in favor of what is now called the “Fundamentalist Takeover” of the SBC. He did not address denominational politics from the pulpit. He remained loyal to the SBC his whole life, but he was in the distinct minority for the last twenty years of his active ministry.

In January of 1980, I went on a retreat with the First Baptist Revelation choir on the Gulf Coast. The choir from a Baptist church in Mobile, AL joined us. The speaker for the preaching services was a staff person from that church. His sermons were angry, fear-filled, and hostile to all dissenters. I was apalled. As has frequently happened in my life, a “switch” in my brain and emotions was flipped. I sought out Don Fortenberry, the College Chaplain, to find out what would be involved in moving into the ministry of The United Methodist Church. I had no desire to deal with the sort of angry, fear-filled “heresy hunting” I was perceiving was coming to the fore in the SBC. Developments in the SBC over the last 40 years have constantly validated that decision. In fact, there is a new “conservative resurgence” that claims those now in power in the SBC aren’t conservative ENOUGH, even as they have purged the seminaries, Mission Boards, and other institutions of the denomination of anyone “lberal” or “moderate.”

I joined Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson in late January 1980. Don Fortenberry, T.W. Lewis and Lee Reiff were models, for me, of what a United Methodist clergyperson was like. That’s turned out not to be universally true, but I continue to find folks who are “my people” in the ranks of United Methodist Clergy.

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My “Witness,” Part 9 Millsaps, Part 1

The first time I set foot on the Millsaps College campus was the day I moved into the Freshman Dorm (“Ezelle Hotel”). I must have spoken to an admissions counselor at Greenville High School, but I remember only a late spring phone call with John Christmas, Dean of Admissions. He “goosed” the Financial Aid office and I got a Financial Aid offer that worked. There are, no doubt, many reasons why that SHOULDN’T have worked out well, but it was one of the most spectacularly good decisions I’ve ever made.

I was, at that time, still very much the “Good Baptist Boy” my mother had raised. I wasn’t at all interested in the fraternity scene and did not sing up for “rush.” I did go to a worship service in the college chapel on that first night. There I met Bill Singer, who would become my best friend throughout my Millsaps years. I also met, or at least SAW, Don Fortenberry, the College Chaplain.

I had figured out my class schedule on my own, by reading the college catalogue. I sent in my schedule directly to the Dean’s office, much to the irritation of my assigned Faculty Advisor, Austin Wilson.:). I saw that there was a program called “Heritage” that would allow me to fulfill many of my core curriculum requirements. That sounded good, so I signed up for Heritage. This was another of my “low information” decisions that COULD have gone wrong, but went spectacularly well. Heritage was a seven semester hour (14 over two semesters) multi-disciplinary course that covered the History, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Music “Heritage” of the West. Again, I encountered teachers who knew their subjects, but were really teaching “themselves,” letting me see what they were passionate about. T.W. Lewis approached the teaching of Religion in a way we hadn’t covered at First Baptist Church. Michael Mitias BECAME the philosophers he was teaching. Jonathan Sweat made the composers and music he was teaching come alive. Catherine Freis wore her passion for Homer on her sleeve. Richard Freis quietly directed and coordinated the whole system. I was most grateful for Nell Thomas’ instruction, because we wrote all essay exams. At some point when T.W. Lewis was illuminating something about the letters of Paul, I felt a “nudge” toward a life in ministry. How this Baptist boy was going to make that work with enrollment in a United Methodist college was unclear, but I felt no “nudge” at all to transfer.

During one of Frank Laney’s lectures on European history, I felt another “nudge.” I had, of course, greatly admired Nell Thomas and my general thought at the beginning of my college work was that I would become an English teacher. Now, the “nudge” I was feeling was toward becoming a History major. As you may have noticed, I seem to listen to “nudges.” Most of the time, that has worked out. My final three years at Millsaps would be the playing out of those “nudges.”

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My “Witness,” Part 8, Greenville, Part 5

I had been following politics since the 1968 Presidential election. My father was a Republican and a Nixon supporter, so was I. In 1972 a Republican, Gil Carmichael, challenged Jim Eastland for Senator from Mississippi. Those interested in racial justice would have voted for Carmichael. Carmichael was also the Republican nominee for Governor in 1975. Pam Moore, my most politically aware Black classmate, supported Carmichael. I had been a regular and thorough reader of The Delta Democrat-Times since we moved to Greenville and had added The Commercial Appeal from my tenth grade year onward. I had been disappointed when it turned out that Richard Nixon was guilty of the Watergate crimes of which he had been accused and I accepted the necessity of his resignation.

All of the above is to say that I was paying attention to the 1976 Presidential election. During that summer I read Jimmy Carter’s campaign biography Why Not the Best? One particular story stood out to me. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter had been advocates of rescinding a policy denying worship seating at First Baptist Church in Plains, GA. That resonated with me, since we had had the same bitter argument at First Baptist Greenville, with the same unsatisfactory result. I became a Carter supporter for that reason, primarily. That support made me an outlier among my White classmates. Not a lone outlier, but an outlier still. i couldn’t (and can’t) attribute the support of Gerald Ford to racism, since the Ford supporters had been Carmichael supporters the previous year.

So I began my senior year. By far the most influential person of my academic life and one of the most influential, period was central to that year. Nell Thomas was named the Best English Teacher in America during the 1960s. By 1976, she was sometimes teaching the children of people she had taught at Greenville High School. The subjects she taught that year were World Literature and AP English. I took both. Like all great teachers, though, she taught herself. She demanded precision in written and oral expression. She broke down HOW to structure an essay or essay question. She was famous for her “half points off” red marks on your “perfect” papers and exams. What she was teaching, really, was character and integrity. If we were getting a little rowdy, all she had to say was “Seniahs” (“Seniors” in Delta). I had been named a National Merit Semi-Finalist, but I was still thinking of attending Mississippi College. It was she who encouraged me to set my sights higher. I was admitted to Vanderbilt, but the financial aid package offered was inadequate for me to afford it. I was also admitted to Millsaps College, and the financial aid package was adequate. That was my first “adult” decision and it turned out to be one of my best. I’ll address Millsaps in my next post, but I need to “shout out” to one other teacher first.

Virginia Alexander was the Assistant Librarian at Greenville High School. The library sponsored the Literary Bowl inside the school and Mrs. Alexander coached our County team. She had noted my ability in writing and in rapid recall. She also was the Coach of the Debate Team. She implored me to join the Debate Team. I did so for my Senior year, if somewhat unwillingly. I mostly learned how to do it by doing it. I did fair, I guess. My partner was Pam Moore, certainly the most articulate and politically and socially aware Black woman in my class. She probably “carried” me on debate, but that is another relationship where I functioned as an “equal” to someone who likely had things to overcome that I had no experience of and could not easily imagine.

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My “Witness,” Part 7, Greenville, Part 4

I’m still learning WordPress. I was unable to discern if it’s possible to edit an already published post. Here I’m going to insert an elaboration on Part 2. I recall that we moved to Jackson, MS in October 1969. I know I attended a game between Ole Miss and LSU at Veterans Memorial Stadium during Archie Manning’s Junior year. For that reason, I’m pretty sure that we were already in Jackson when Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education was decided on October 29, 1969. In those days I read the newspaper only for the comics, so this momentous event escaped my notice. This was the decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Mississippi’s progress toward school desegregation had had all the “deliberate speed” it needed and that integration had to happen NOW. Only nine weeks later, the most momentous cultural and educational event of the 20th century took place. That absolutely HAD to happen, but I and tens of thousands of other Mississippi School children and school employees were “drafted” into a social experiment not of our choosing.

Back to Greenville: One of the ways Mississippi had tried to evade desegregation in the period between Brown v Board of Education and Alexander v Holmes County was to repeal the compulsory school attendance law. One result of that was a lazzies faire approach to school transportation. Since the state “officially” didn’t care if we went to school or not, there was also no provision made for getting us there. Our house was about two miles from Coleman, more than five miles from Weston High School (where all Greenville Public Schools tenth graders attended) and a mile and a half from Greenville High School (eleventh and twelfth grades). My mother had an 8:00-5:00 job and the responsibility of getting my four years’ younger sister to HER schools. I was “on my own” for getting FROM school almost all six years and for getting TO school for all three years of high school. I couldn’t take the bus, because there was no bus. “Forced busing” was a flash point of controversy in the early to mid-1970s in the United States as a whole, but there was not even any “voluntary” busing in Greenville. I pieced together ways to get to and from school, often using a bicycle or my feet.

My tenth grade was all right. My abusive stepfather was spending more and more time away from the house, which was all right with me. I had the best math teacher (in the sense that he was able to teach in a way that I was able to learn) for geometry. One think I discovered during that year was that I was exceptionally good at rapid recall and recitation of literary trivia. I participated in an in-school “Literary Bowl” and did quite well.

By the summer of 1975, at the end of my tenth grade year, my mother’s second marriage came to an end. That was certainly a great relief to my brother, sister and me. I’m sure my mother and sister Jill had more “mixed” feelings about it, but it was a positive life development for all of us. Also that summer, my older brother moved to the Atlanta suburbs to live with our father. He was set on becoming an Electrical Engineer and wanted to establish Georgia residency, so that he could attend Georgia Tech at the in-state tuition rate. I suppose that all brothers have ambiguous relationships, but this was also a positive development for me. I would not be directly compared to him and he would not be leading any “teasing/bullying” directed at me during my last two years of high school.

I flourished at Greenville High School. Barbara McCormick in English, Tommy Pullen in World History, and Caroline Acree in Latin were some of the best teachers I ever had. I took the PSAT and made a score high enough to qualify as a National Merit Scholar. The Counselor, Robert Montesi took an interest in me and became a mentor. I also led the boys in the school-winning “Literary Bowl” competition. I was a team member also of our school’s “Challenge” team. This was an academic competition hosted by Mississippi College also focused on trivia recall. I was the only junior on the State Champion team

The public and private schools in Washington County did not compete in athletics, but there WAS academic competition at the Literary Bowl hosted by the County library. I was a member of the County Champion Literary Bowl team both my junior and senior years. Since part of the “narrative” was that the private schools were academically superior to the public schools, it was especially satisfying to win a head-to-head academic competition.

My senior year, and how I came to enroll at Millsaps College is the story for the next entry.

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