One of the earliest photographs of myself shows me in my daddy’s arms…riding with him on his motorcycle! Even from the very beginning of ‘me’, I have been shown that life is to be LIVED! Of course, I don’t remember those days, but seeing pictures reminds me that these values were instilled in me from the start.
When I was 4 years old, it was discovered that I had a serious heart condition that required open heart surgery to repair. That would have been 1957…none of the fancy heart machines and techniques that are available now. I have a scar that literally cuts me in half. It starts in the middle of my chest and ends in the middle of my back. The doctors knew it was risky and my parents knew it was risky…but my daddy made the decision saying,”I want her to live life to the fullest.” And they operated…and it was successful. I LIVED!
We were very involved in church, as long as I can remember. My sister and I would sit on either side of my Daddy. We could not be trusted to sit beside each other because Joy would always cause trouble and I would get blamed cause I was the oldest and it was just not fair! Now, he had his ideas about how children are to behave in church…and believe me…that is how we behaved. You sat when you were supposed to sit…you stood when you were supposed to stand…you listened when you were supposed to listen…and he better hear you singing when it was time to sing. You went to the bathroom before the service…never during. And since pencils make noise when you write with them on paper…there was no writing or drawing. And there was no snack time…and this included gum and candy. And be sure of this, the preacher was there to preach not to lull me into nap time! You better be walking instead of running in the sanctuary…and you better be talking in a quiet voice.
Now I could not tell you a thing that was said by any pastor we may have had during my childhood, but I can tell you this. Church is a place for worshipping God. You are to be reverent and on your best behavior. You wear your nicest clothes to God’s house. You always show respect for the His house and when the pastor has a message to deliver to the congregation…you best be listening. And if I decided that these were not good rules to follow…or I tried to make my own rules…my leg right above my knee would have a nice bruise for a few days…and if I got pinched…you better believe I suffered in silence! I’m sure I didn’t get many of those since I was such an easy, obedient child! The only time speaking was allowed was when the choir would enter. Joy and I would look at each other and cringe because we knew what was coming, “Look, there. there she is! The prettiest woman in the choir! Watch her…she’s gonna smile…watch!” And sure enough, she would look over at her little family and smile and wink at us. Then came the end of the speech…”she’s mine!” My daddy could not whisper…still cannot whisper…didn’t even try to whisper! Cause, he did not care who heard him…he was proud of his wife and his girls.

We attended church if church doors were opened. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday nights, several revivals throughout the year…and any other time that should come about. But, there was 1 night during the year…1 night we were able to skip church…1 night we could stay home and watch TV. Can you think of what it was for? If you are about my age, you will remember that The Wizard of Oz came on the Wonderful World of Disney once a year. And that was a special enough treat that Joy and Daddy and I would stay home and gather together in front of the TV and watch Dorothy and her friends waltz through Oz. Joy always cried at the flying monkeys…she was such a baby! We had snacks and munchkins and Daddy and his girls.
LIFE was pretty OK!
My mom was involved in her Circle Meetings, a ladies group for missions and fellowship. They would meet at each other’s homes once a month. One of the fondest memories I have is sitting at our kitchen table with Daddy and Joy and watching the cars as they drove down the street. We were watching to see when our Mama would get home. And the 3 of us would get so excited when her headlights turned into the driveway and she would be home again.
From early on, I can remember that my Pop and I shared a love of books. I would delight in lying beside him in bed….he would read his book and I would read mine. I learned from him to love the written word. He taught me that all that was known in our world was written down somewhere. I could find out anything I wanted to know by reading. And, as I got older, we would talk of various topics. I need not be afraid to ask him about some way out theory such as visitors from other planets or other such nonsense. Together we would get a book and read and find the answer…and I could draw my own conclusions. With so much in life foreign to our little South Alabama town, books taught me about the fascinating ways that people LIVED in other places.
Once when I was around 10 or 11, Mom and Pop decided I should go and visit my grandparents in Atlanta. And I…little ole me…right by myself…with no grown-ups…all alone…was going by AIRPLANE! Me?!…BY MYSELF! I was so scared…and so excited. No one…no one…that I knew had ever flown on a plane before. It was scary as could be and as exciting as could be. Could I really get in that big airplane…BY MYSELF…and fly all the way to the far off land of Atlanta, Georgia?
Would I live to tell about it? Would I land on the ground? Would my Uncle Paul be there when I got there? Could I fall out of the windows in the side of the plane?
We arrived at the airport…nervous was crawling all over me…maybe this was not going to be fun after all. My Daddy looked me in the eye and said, “If it was not safe, I would never let you get on there. Now go, and have fun…you can do it.” And I did, I walked up the steps and got seated, and looked out the window and waved with all my might at my parents and sister…cause this was probably the last time I would ever see them since I was on this flying deathtrap! But, GOOD NEWS! I LIVED! I actually got into that airplane and it took off and I was in the air and I wasn’t falling and the lady brought me peanuts and a coke and I had my own little table in front of me…and life was good! I even got a set of wings like the pilot’s. I felt much older than 10….and I liked it! My Uncle was there to meet me, I had a good visit and was very disappointed when my parents came to pick me up instead of getting to fly back to Dothan. I was the envy of all my friends…I did something they had not done. “Scared? Who? ME?” “No, there wasn’t anything scary about it at all! It was fun!” It was LIVING!
I could go on and fill the Internet with stories, and perhaps I will tell some more later, but for now…

Thanks, Pop, for teaching AND showing me that life is to be LIVED TO THE FULLEST!
Anything less would be ungracious to the Giver of Life.

I love you, Tonja
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body. But rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, cold drink in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming,”WOO! HOO! WHAT A RIDE!”
That would be my Pop! But, it would be some Carolina bar-b-que and a glass of sweet tea….and that skid would be on a dirt bike…