Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 23, 2003




My siblings have enriched my life in beautiful ways


            My younger brother Seth and I are two very fortunate men. Neva, Margie, and Laurida, our three sisters, have blessed our lives in many beautiful ways. We grew up on the farm together, in the house our parents built in the early days of the Great Depression.

            Our parents put down deep roots in that rich bottom land near the Tallapoosa River, in Elmore County. They had been married almost 68 years when daddy died at age 93. Mama lived to be 95. The house they built was their home for 70 years.

            My siblings were all younger than I was. Neva came along three years after me. Margie and Laurida were not far behind. Seth was born when I was eleven years old.

            The five of us rode the bus to attend public school in Wetumpka. In the early years, the trip was so long that our bus ride usually lasted about an hour. We boarded the bus about 6:45 each school morning.

            Our family was not wealthy but it never occurred to us that we were poor. Hard work made food plentiful on the farm. If we were deprived, we did not know it. We were a family and we enjoyed life.

            When I got old enough to drive the family car, my parents insisted that I take my sisters along on my dates. Mostly we went to the picture show to see a movie. Afterward they sat in the car while I took my date inside her home.

            My sisters still laugh about how they would blow the car horn to convince me I had stayed long enough. Sometimes they would slip up on the front porch to peep in the windows to see if they could catch us kissing.

            I had trouble convincing them that, being the good boy that I was, all I was doing was helping Dean with her math. Dean, my steady sweetheart in those days, finally consented to become my bride when we were 20. I must have helped her a lot; she has always been very good with math.

            The youngest of the girls, Laurida, became known for her boisterous laughter. She and her husband, Dick Berkstresser, had seven children. With that many children, we figured she had to learn to laugh to survive. And laugh she could. It was always fun to see and hear Laurida laugh.

            Laurida loved being a mother and homemaker. She was a terrific cook. Everybody loved her cinnamon rolls.  In what is a lost art to some parents, she did a great job raising her children to love God and become responsible men and women.

            Cancer robbed us of Laurida in 1994. She was 56. We miss her laughter so much. When I think of her, I remember that she loved me. She and Dick allowed me the honor of uniting them in marriage when I was but a greenhorn preacher.  The ceremony took place in our parents’ home.

            In her final weeks, Laurida suffered a lot, but refused to complain. She never asked, “Why me?” Her faith in the love of God was solid as a rock. She assured us that she knew that she was going home to the Father’s house. She taught us all what difference genuine faith can make when you are dying.

            Not long before Laurida died, she asked me to accept a special assignment. Her daughter Margie and her fiancé, J.R. Johnson, wanted me to marry them. The wedding took place in the presence of God, not in a church, but at the foot of Laurida’s sick bed.

The whole family crowded into the bedroom to witness not only the marriage but also the joy on Laurida’s face.

            My sister Margie, for whom Laurida named the daughter just mentioned, has been an inspiration to our family. When she discovered that her firstborn, Caroline, was mentally challenged, Margie went back to Auburn, earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education, and taught “special” children in public schools.

            She recently retired after teaching special education for some 30 years. Many parents are surely indebted to Margie for using her special skills to help their children to learn and grow.

            Margie lost her husband, John Flomer, almost 13 years ago. We have all admired the way she has handled her sorrow. She taught her children many things, but nothing as important as what she taught them about how to face death and loneliness with courage and fortitude.

            Neva has endured more sorrow than any of us has had to face. Her example is nothing if not extraordinary. She and her husband, B. Gene Williams, a United Methodist preacher, raised three children, two boys and a girl.

            Both of the boys died in tragic accidents when they were still young men. John Mark and Dee were splendid young men. Both of them loved God, and both of them left us too soon.

            Then a little less than five years ago, cancer claimed Gene. So Neva has buried both her sons and her husband. Still, her faith has not wavered, and in her life, we have witnessed strength that can come only from the living God. To say that we admire her courage, and her unswerving devotion to God, would be an understatement.

            In all the years I have known them, I have never received anything but support and encouragement from my sisters and my brother. Neither has ever caused me grief. As we have grown older, our relationship has deepened, to the point that we are closer now than we have ever been.  

            I realize today that, despite my many flaws, I am a blessed man whose siblings have enriched my life in many beautiful ways. I must remember to thank them. + + +