Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 29, 2004


Boyhood days seem now so long ago and far away


          After I became a man, my mother enjoyed telling me stories about my childhood. She etched those stories in my mind. Now, I am not sure whether I remember those incidents from personal experience or simply recall them from the stories mother planted in my mind.

          Daddy was not the storyteller mother was. My siblings and I had to pull stories out of his mind. He was the strong, silent type. You had to catch him in a very good mood to wrench a story from his childhood. However, Mama was full of stories. She read us stories of Peter Cottontail, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There was no television in those days, but we did not feel deprived because nobody else had one either.

          Mama had lots of tricks up her sleeve for raising children.  The oldest of 13 children, she had become a childcare expert by the time she married. Her devotion to her siblings created a family bond that remained strong during all of her 95 years. In the family Mama was called “Sister,” a term of endearment that expressed the love and respect they all had for her. Her love for each of them never wavered as long as she lived. We who were her children learned from her example how we should care for each other.

          Mama believed in books. As early as I can remember, books were not a luxury but a necessity to her. She taught me to read as a child by reading me stories. Birthday and Christmas gifts always included books. For the last 25 yeas of her life, every Christmas Mama gave me the latest edition of Guideposts, a book of daily meditations. Reflecting on that, I believe it was her way of underlining one of the most important lessons she ever taught me: the importance of reading.   

          Her lesson was not wasted on me. I fell in love with books. As soon as I learned to read, the school library became a Wonder Land to me. I was fascinated with how much there was to learn, and loved to wander from shelf to shelf examining the books. As a young boy, I could lose myself reading about the adventures of Tarzan of the jungle or the Rover Boys. Then, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, there were books about Ted Dawson that I enjoyed.

          The strangest experience of my second year occurred one night after supper. Daddy left the house to go weigh the sacks of cotton brought in from the fields by the pickers. Somehow, I managed to slip away unnoticed, and walked about half a mile, in the dark, to the place Daddy was weighing cotton. He was shocked to see me, but not nearly as shocked as Mama was when Daddy brought me back home. Do I remember that night, or do I simply remember Mama telling me about my escapade? I really do not know the answer.

          As strange as it may seem to modern parents, life was not boring without television. Farm life was never monotonous, despite our repetitive chores. By the time I was seven or eight, I had the daily task of milking two cows. Believe me that was never humdrum. You never knew when the cow would kick over the milk bucket, step on your foot, or sling manure into the milk with her nasty tail.

          My sister Neva, three years behind me, began cooking breakfast when she was very young, perhaps too young. One morning her robe caught on fire, resulting in severe burns. It might have been tragic had we not smothered out the flames as quickly as we did. This vivid recollection, one of many experiences of grace in our storehouse of family memories, has been carefully passed down to younger members of our family. It is our way of telling others how we have been blessed by the kindness of God.

          Vividly I recall another near tragedy that occurred in our basement. The basement was one of Daddy’s worst ideas. When he added three rooms on to our house, he first dug out a large hole for a basement. I remember watching the men use mules to dig the hole. I forget the name of the thing the mules pulled to remove the dirt. Was it a “slip plow”? Perhaps some old-timer can refresh my memory.

          The basement was a bad idea only because Daddy could never devise a way to keep water out of the basement. After almost every rain, we were in the basement with mops, vainly trying to remove the water. (It was an endless chore until, years later, Daddy gave up and sealed the basement off.)

          One day, while Neva, my sister Margie, and I were mopping up the water in the basement, Margie reached up to turn on a light. She was standing in water at the time. When she grabbed the metal pull chain, she was shocked by the electric current but could not let go. Hearing her cry out, I shoved her with my wooden mop handle, breaking her loose from the chain. This was a second close brush with death, another memory of grace that is easy to recall.

          As I recall these memories of my childhood, some precious and others not so precious, I am not sure sometimes if I am recalling these incidents or simply remembering the stories told me of these episodes. If this seems so at age 72, I wonder what it will be like when I am 85. One of my senior friends needs to tell me what to expect. + + + +