Tag Archives: childhood

When I Was Six…


The world looked different…


When I was six

Richard Nixon was President

and all the grownups on the news

were talking about a place called

Viet Nam

If I wanted to mail a letter

a stamp cost 6 cents

but I was only just learning to read and write


When I was six

Courtesy and Sense both seemed

more common

We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you”,

“Ma’am” and “Sir”


When I was six

I sang all the time

just because it gave me joy

All the kinfolks I loved

were still alive

Talking to Jesus was

the easiest thing in the world

and my little-girl prayers were simple


When I was six

Summer vacation meant Myrtle Beach

and I always threw up

going over Saluda Mountain

Mamaw’s house at night seemed like

the quietest place in the world

and if Mama took us to Aunt Ruby’s

for a glass of tea

that meant there’d be time to play


When I was six

The world outside was not innocent

Then, as now,

people were doing

unspeakable things

to other people

But it seemed like those things happened

less often

When I was six


(My first grade picture from Giffin Elementary School, in one of many dresses Aunt Ruby made for me.)



The First Friends


And the blessings of a large extended family…

Mama was the youngest of 9 children, and Dad was the youngest of 6.  With that many aunts and uncles, most of whom had some kids, I’ve got cousins in abundance, some on Dad’s side whom I’ve never even met.  And many of my cousins are clustered fairly close together in age, which means most of us are in or approaching our 50s.  It hardly seems possible that we’re adults, let alone eligible for senior discounts!

A bit of wisdom shows up on social media from time to time which states, “Cousins are the first friends we have”.  My history seems to agree with this statement.  Before going to school or to Sunday school, my cousins were part of my life.  And even though our lives have taken us far afield from one another, we are family.  We share history, DNA and many of the same memories.

Our lives are busy, though, and it’s difficult for us to get together.  Even the bunch of us who live in the same city don’t manage to see each other very often.  And frankly, I’m just in closer touch with some of them than with others.  Social media has been a real blessing,  enabling us to have at least a little glimpse into each other’s daily lives and activities.  I enjoy seeing what my cousins are doing, and what their children (my 2nd and 3rd cousins!) are up to.

About this time last year, I had the chance to spend a day with my Aunt Helen and my cousin Lisa, as well as sharing a meal with Lisa’s brother Mike and his daughter Haley.  During the course of our visit, Lisa shared an old photograph with me.  I think it is the only one in existence with this configuration of the cousins all together, and it’s a treasure I am thrilled to have.  The picture was made at Lisa’s 8th birthday party, and I can only imagine the effort it took to get all of us kids to be still long enough to snap it!

Today another member of our group celebrates a milestone birthday, entering the world of senior discounts and AARP mailers.  I don’t think of us that way though, at least, not most of the time.  I think of those long summer nights playing Fox & Hounds, birthday parties with homemade ice cream, Barbies and army men and that old Fisher-Price barn that moo’ed when you opened the door.

I think of how young we were.  How young we always will be, if only in memory.



Glass, Brick And Mortar


How Santa’s helper packed up my memories…

A Knoxville landmark is being demolished brick by brick as the old Baptist Hospital comes down.  It has sat for decades on a little parcel of land just south of the Tennessee River and, after generations of patients were born, cared for and died there, the facility was sold and plans for a lucrative complex of residences and retail spaces were made and revealed to the public.  Progress, I guess.

It breaks my heart.

This little area of town desperately needs a full-service hospital and emergency department.  The extra minutes required to travel to UT Medical Center or Fort Sanders (both of which are fine facilities, just not as close-in as Baptist) can cost lives.  My main heartbreak, though, is personal.  I was born and raised in South Knoxville, and Baptist was the hospital I and my kinfolks always used when we needed a hospital. Reed and I were born there. Both of our Uncle Johns (Flanigan and Bryant) died there, just about 6 months apart.  Mom and Pop Cutshaw were patients there.  I was a patient there more than once, and a caregiver more times than I was a patient.  I spent the last days of Mama’s life with her there, and that’s where she left here for Heaven.  That building, and the land on which it sits…those places are hallowed ground for me.

A number of months ago, I called Reed up and told him I wanted to pull a caper, and hoped he would be a co-conspirator.  I wanted a piece of the hospital from the demolition site, a brick or piece of a tile or fixture…just some little piece of the place that has meant so much to me for so long.  Soon it will be nothing but a memory, and an unsightly but profitable modern complex will stand in its place.  I told him that, yes, it’s strange, but it’s important to me.  He was gracious and non-judgmental about my idea, saying that he has probably done things that could be viewed at least as strange as this.  Sweet Pea thought it was a fool’s errand and said he didn’t want to have to bail me out of jail or the loony bin if I got caught after hours on a demolition site stealing a piece of rubble.  Anyway, we talked about it, but talking was as far as we got.

Flash forward to last month sitting around the Thanksgiving table.  We didn’t talk about the hospital caper, at least not that I remember.  But we did get started talking about other things from our childhood.  One of the most vivid memories I have is drinking out of jelly jars.  When we weren’t eating homemade jelly, we ate Bama brand jellies and preserves, and whenever we used up a jar, Mama saved it.  Those Bama jars were the perfect size and shape for a glass of tea!  Over the years, they all got broken or discarded, and I remarked that I would love to have an old Bama jelly jar glass like we used when we were growing up, and that I had looked online but didn’t find the exact thing.

Reed and I got together and had lunch on Christmas Eve.  We didn’t know what the Massengill-Hickman branch of the family tree was doing or not doing that day (long story) but we got together on our own.  And even though we had not drawn each other’s names for gift giving, we had a little gift exchange.  I gave him a little Baptist Pound Cake and a goofball present, and he gave me a Bama jelly jar glass he had found!  I was tickled to death.  He also gave me a bag with presents for the Christmas night gathering with the bonus family because he wasn’t going to make it there.  And he casually mentioned that there was another little something in there that I could open on Christmas night because it would be entertaining.

The box was from Santa.  And it was heavy.  The card was both cryptic and sweet.


Inside I found another jelly jar glass…and the heavy part.



If I had opened it when it was just the two of us, I probably would have cried, which is probably why he had me open it later on.  I texted him and asked how he had pulled it off, and he said he knew a guy who had access to the site and some favors were exchanged, resulting in my Christmas brick.

I did cry privately, tears of happy gratitude for the thoughtfulness of a big brother who understands why something so crazy means so much to me.  The Spirit of Christmas shows up in the strangest ways sometimes.  Santa’s helper rescued my Christmas, packing up memories from my childhood.



Treasures In Heaven


Visiting the place where I began to store them up

Yesterday I visited my childhood church home for services.  I have wanted to go back and visit for a long time, but Aunt Ruby’s recent death spurred me to get there, finally.  It was with her, Uncle John and our cousins that Reed and I first started going to church in this beautiful old building.  My memories of the times spent there, the visual beauty of the place and the familiarity of the order of service came flooding back, washing over me like a warm wave of comfort.  The Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed and Doxology with which I was raised issued forth just as they have for generations.Image

I parked my car in a visitor space and made my way to the nearest entrance, and when I stepped inside I was overcome with the fragrance of the building, warmth and home.  Immediately I was transported back to my childhood and youth group days by the mix of scents: antique wood and tile, varnish and candle smoke, old lady perfume and the “golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…”Image

Some of the physical aspects of the place have been updated and changed over the years.  Padding on the pews and carpeting on the stairs make it a little safer and more comfortable.  But many more things remain unaltered since my days there.  The colorful windows are still intact, thank God!  Images of faith in glowing stained glass shaped my earliest memories of church and worship, and helped me to learn what being a Christian was all about.Image


We spent a great deal of time there as children, and many times we went exploring the less public parts of the building, places we were convinced no one else knew about.  There are many back stairways and narrow passages in that place.  Once I remember making our way up into the pipes of the majestic organ, (NOT during services, we would have gone deaf!) an instrument that was funded, installed and dedicated during my childhood there.  Image

The organ and choir sounded just as wonderful yesterday as I remembered them.  A few members from my childhood days are still there, and still singing in that choir.  Some things never change.  I find that very comforting.

There has always been an intricate wood carving of the Da Vinci painting of The Last Supper in front of the choir loft, and it too is still there.  Yesterday was actually a communion Sunday, and I was privileged to partake once more in the elements of body and blood, in the place where I first learned what communion was and what it meant.  This service of communion was both solemn and joyful for me, and very poignant as I remembered all the times I have prayed, communed, cried and laughed in that place, with that branch of God’s family tree.Image


My cousin Alan’s favorite window was the anchor in what used to be called the Little Sanctuary.  That space has since been closed off and renamed the Flossie Cox Prayer Chapel.  Mrs. Cox was Mama and Aunt Ruby’s Sunday school teacher for years, a wise and gentle lady who loved the Lord and loved His people.  I always loved the window that shows an offering being placed in a treasure chest, reminding me both of the story of the widow who gave more than all the others because she, in her poverty, offered her last mite, and of Jesus’s admonition to store up treasures in Heaven.Image


I saw many childhood friends yesterday, hugged and smiled and got a little teary-eyed a couple of times.  This church, this place, was where I was confirmed and baptized, where I learned how much I loved to sing, songs like “This Is My Father’s World” and “For The Beauty Of The Earth”.  Image

It is where my faith journey began.  That journey has taken me into many other churches, a few different denominations and allowed me to meet and love many of my brethren along the way.  But there is something special about the places where one grew up.  And even though I no longer attend church there, I will no doubt find my way back from time to time, because it was…Is…Home.