Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Once Upon A Time Your Daddy Lived in West Virginia (a triumphant return of the blog)

Not one post in all of April. How terrible is that? Well, after getting an earful from the The Great One and Uncle Fred, we'll see if we can't do a little better here and make a post more than once a month.

In any event, last week was a killer. We went from the Blessing of the Bikes, straight to New Church Start Boot Camp (Fayetteville, Arkansas), back home for less than 24 hours, and then off to Des Moines, Iowa for a jurisdictional conference on the future of work teams in Haiti. Then back very early on Sunday morning. Lots and lots of miles in the old Excursion.

Even two days later I'm still experiencing plenty of "truck lag".

So yesterday I'm killing time, trying to stay focused, when on a whim I put a name into the search engine for Facebook I hadn't thought of in many, many years: Beth Powelson. I've known Beth since I was two. When we moved to Charleston, my mother who stayed home with me started watching Beth, who was a year older, while her mother worked at an office in the city. A couple of years later we ended moving down the street from the Powelsons on Crede Drive. At one time in my life not a day would go by that I wouldn't see Beth or her parents.

That day was more than 30 years ago.

We moved from Charleston when I was 10 years old. Looking back on it now my memory of that time has mellowed, but all those years ago this was the most traumatic event I'd ever experienced. I was so small when we moved to West Virginia that I really didn't know any other home. My entire world was pretty much tied up in those mountains. But as I said, that was a long time ago. You make new friends. You sink new roots. You move on.

But I never forgot, that's why I took a chance and searched Beth's name. Imagine my surprise when I found her, married with children in suburban Columbus.

When you find someone on Facebook, often they'll give you leads to find other people who might remember. As I searched Beth's friends I started turning up other names and places I hadn't thought of in a long, long time. Marty Lewis lives in Nashville. Chris Stone sells Porsches in Virginia. Lori Sargent is married and living in Fort Wayne. Robert Stigall is apparently a huge Marshall fan (prepare to get thumped this fall by the mighty Buckeyes my friend). Sara Estep never left the Elk River Valley. Her mother still lives down the street from where we lived. Kristi Waldeck is Vice-President of her family's clothing store (Kelley's Men Shop, former employer of famous Charlestonian Jennifer Garner) I found a fan page for Shoals Elementary School (where I went through the fourth grade) and Elkland Pool.

Soon, the memories began running pretty thick.

Thinking about my own childhood throws a lot of light on the world my children are growing up in, and how differently they are raised. We worry about our kids riding their bikes down to the woods at the end of our street. I mean, we can see those woods from our front yard. You can walk to them in five minutes, and yet we still worry.

When I was Xavier's age I used to ride my bike a couple of miles down the old abandoned railroad tracks to Olins Market to buy baseball cards (which are still at my parents.... I think) or snow cones. In the summer I'd leave my house in the morning, stop back in for a quick lunch, and then come back when I heard my parents call me for dinner. All day we'd be traipsing through the creek down at Ron Miller's house, picking apples at The Arnold's house (if the dog wasn't outside), or playing hide and seek in any or all the backyards up and down our street.

Good, good days!

I remember pushing our bikes up the hill to 119 and then riding down as fast as we could without using breaks. I remember sledding down the hill behind Powelson's house on a snow day and Lee Anne making us all hot chocolate. I remember Mr. Kelley making peach ice cream for the neighborhood kids and helping Mr. Greenlee pick strawberries (some even made it into the bucket). I remember fishing in the Elk River, looking for snakes down by the riverbank, Joe Burdette letting me take turns riding his little 50cc Honda (which he named "La Baron"), and the day Kirk Waldeck's family got an air hockey table.

I remember playing in the mud. (smiling)

We worshiped at a little church, Trinity UMC, that became part of the social fabric of our family. Pretty much any love I have in ministry can be traced back to that little church. I cared about children's ministry long before I had kids thanks to the prizes we could win memorizing scripture at "Junior Church". My love of youth ministry was ignited on those Sunday nights my parents helped lead the Youth Fellowship at the church (I'd either sneak downstairs to play pool, or go play out on the rocks behind the church). My first time speaking to a congregation occurred at Trinity in a Christmas play ("There's no room here at the inn.") The kind faces I remember - Joe and Weesy, Arthur and Louise, the Hersheys, the Kryzaks (especially Danny, who was a huge Reds fan), Pam and Harry.... the list goes on and on - are the faces that helped me fall in love with the church.

I am 41 now, a husband, a parent of four boys, a son, brother, uncle, friend, pastor, community leader, and denominational mover and shaker. My days are long and life full. It's a life where it's not out of the ordinary to work forty hours in a weekend, travel to the deep south Sunday night, and then a plains state on Thursday. A life where a book is about to be published and a dissertation finally wrapped up. It's a busy, busy pressure filled life.

But if there's one thing I'd like my sons to know when they go back someday and read this blog, it's that when I was a boy I lived an ideal boy's life. A life literally filled with digging in the dirt, climbing trees, crabapple wars, catching frogs, kickball games, and long days swimming at the pool begging mom for money for the snack bar.

Thanks Beth, Sara, Robert, Kristi, Lori and everyone else who's responded with an "add" to my friend request. You helped me remember lots of great memories (playing basketball in front of Governor Rockefeller at First Pres... sneaking around Temple Beth Israel with the rabbi's son during my parent's volleyball game... endless hours playing Gin Rummy with Jason... watching all those Houston Astros who made that team in 1979 so great come up through Charleston back when the Charlies played in Watt Powell Park...) these past couple of days. Thanks for being part of the foundation of what has been a great life.

May I pass on to my sons what was given to me: A childhood to fondly remember where they remember playing in the woods, catching frogs, chucking crabapples at one another, and faces at church that help them fall in love with Jesus too. No better gift could be given.