Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
February 10, 2019
Looking back can help us face what lies ahead
If you are content with the way things are now, don’t make the mistake of hoping they will stay that way. Wish for that and you’ll be miserable. The one thing you can be certain about is that everything is always changing. Life is not a bench but a roller coaster and the only way to handle it is to get on and hold on.
The certainty of change comes to mind every time I am in Montgomery. When I ride by Faulkner University on the Atlanta Highway, I remember how things looked when I was a boy. There was no university but there was a drive-in movie theater. You could sit in your car, eat popcorn and put your arm around your girlfriend while Clark Gable and Roy Rogers earned fame and fortune in “picture shows.”
On the other side of the highway there were huge cotton fields in the midst of which there was a dirt road leading to the home where my mother grew up. The area where the home stood is now called the Carol Villa subdivision. Our modest home in Elmore County was comfortable but nothing compared to the large, stately home of my grandparents, Seth and Neva Johnson. Its massive front porch with white columns provided an impressive view of the large cotton fields.
Built in 1838, and expanded in 1860, the house sat proudly amidst towering oak trees for 128 years. The splendid structure was finally torn down in 1962, giving way to the homes now known as Carol Villa subdivision.
The large Johnson plantation enabled my grandparents to raise a large family. My mother, the oldest of 13 children, had eight brothers and four sisters. They produced more than 50 grandchildren of which I am the oldest.
Papa Johnson was a cattleman and like most cattlemen he grew a lot of cotton and corn as well as the hay needed for the cattle. When I drive by Capitol Chevrolet on the Bypass, I remember walking there when that was one of Papa’s hayfields.
Papa taught me a valuable lesson on that hayfield. We called it a cow pasture back then and one day when we were walking there to check on his cows, Papa pointed to a fresh pile of cow manure. He said, “Walter Junior, don’t cut your foot.” He meant not to step in it. That became later a principle of life for me. It is important to be careful not to step in the manure that we often find on life’s journey. Some of it is not created by cows.
Papa’s pump house was one of my favorite spots. It was in the backyard near the steps leading up to the kitchen. I loved to go inside the pump house and listen to the old water pump wheezing, coughing, and sputtering as it struggled to bring cold water out of a deep well. I think it was powered by a gasoline engine.
One of my uncles taught me another good lesson during our annual summer family reunion. I was about 12 years old at the time. My uncle had showed me several bottles of whiskey he had in the trunk of his car and offered me a drink. Since my dad was a teetotaler, I had no idea how strong a drink of Four Roses would be. It took my breath away and convinced me that abstinence was the best plan. My uncle did me a favor.
My uncles enjoyed teasing and embarrassing us grandchildren. In my late teens I brought my girlfriend Dean to the family reunion. Having grown up in a small, quiet family with one sister and no brothers, Dean was shocked by my loud, boisterous family. She blushed in utter humiliation when Uncle Philip said loudly, “Walter Junior, your girlfriend is cute. Has she let you kiss her yet?” Everyone laughed while we blushed.
Grandmama more than made up for the teasing we endured. She made Dean feel welcome in her home. The two of them developed a special relationship that lasted until Grandmama died of cancer not long before we were married. Dean admired the quiet strength and strong faith of this courageous woman who faced her impending death without whimpering. She showed us how to face the harshness of life without losing faith in the love of God. I still remember how scared I was when Grandmama, knowing that I was planning to become a preacher, asked me to kneel at her bedside and pray for her only weeks before she died. I hardly knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer much less how to pray for someone who was dying.
In the midst of a world where everything is constantly changing, it is important to stop now and then and reflect on the lessons we have learned from people who have touched our lives. Looking back, we can sometimes find the courage to face what lies ahead with dignity and gratitude. + + +