Mom and Dad had nine children. I am the middle child. Often I joke with people sharing that I am the psychologically damaged one. I had four kicking me in the teeth and four kicking me in the rear!
When the time came for the ninth child to be born Dad took mom, leaving us to think they may have been going to Sears and Roebuck to get a baby. Things were different in those times. Women did not talk about pregnancy. The word was not spoken in our home. We never put our hands on mom’s tummy to feel the baby kick. We did not go to the hospital to visit. Dad just brought mom and the baby home.
It was not as if we were ignorant. We had lived on a farm. Children growing up on a farm see lots of things. However, in days past good folks practiced extreme modesty in dress and conversation. Bedroom happenings with a husband and wife in pre-TV days were private.
In total Mom and Dad celebrated 68 years of love for each other and God. They served nine churches. Mom was fiercely loyal to her man. Dad was determined to care for his woman and left her with sufficient to see 95 years without being a dependent. We nine children never doubted their love for each other and their joint love for God and people.
I grew up. I had decided not to be a pastor. My determination was to find a woman who loved the Lord more than she loved me.
In my first year of college I saw Laila. Her modesty and self-composed look stole my heart. I chased. She ran. I was determined, and she was determined not to be caught. We were of different denominations. She had promised herself not to fall in love with anyone of my denomination. To all her protests I kept sending roses and speaking hopeful words.
One day she looked at me and said: “I am an only child, loved by my parents, and plan to finish my education and start my own business. Exactly what do you think you can do for me that I cannot do myself?”
She was a hard sell. It took me quite a while. I did crazy things to get her attention.
One day I went to my knees on the front lawn of Lee College (now Lee University – LU). I held Laila’s hand, looked into her eyes and asked: “Will you marry me?”
“Get up from there before someone sees you,” she said.
I refused until she said: “Yes.”
The battle was not over. We broke up. She transferred to a college in Richmond, Virginia. I stayed at LU another semester. Once I asked another young lady out on a Fridayevening. We began the evening with her saying: “Let’s have an understanding. I know you are still in love with Laila. So we will go out and enjoy the evening as friends. Is that clear?”
I came to my senses. I transferred to a college in Salisbury, NC – within striking distance of Petersburg, VA. I started going up on weekends. Our relationship renewed. Then it came to another bump in the road. I do not remember even what the bump was, but we decided to break up. Laila asked me not to tell her parents. They had come to like me. She wanted to tell them about our breaking up after I was gone.
I had hitchhiked 240 miles one way to see Laila. She was going to drive me across town to a place where I could begin my hitchhiking journey back to college. I drove. She sat beside me. Her mother was beside her. I eased out of the car. Laila slid under the steering wheel and rolled the window down. We looked at each other. About two and a half years of dating. Now forever “Goodbye”. How do you say that word? We still loved each other – just thought we had differences that could not be repaired, though I cannot for the life of me remember what those differences were.
Her mother sat quietly looking out the window on the other side of the car. She was being respectful to two lovers… having no idea of our struggle. Finally, Laila’s mother said: “Laila, for goodness sake kiss him goodbye so we can go!”
Those were magical words. I did not hesitate, but went thru that open window and kissed her. That kiss has sealed 50 years of happiness. As I write she sits beside me. She has been faithful in love to her Lord and to me and her family.
‘Tis true I loved her parents. Laila’s dad died suddenly at age 60. I cared for her mother with love as if she were my own. I had a debt I could not repay.
We began marriage with virtually no worldly goods except my car (photo below). I was a restless soul. We moved about ten times in seven years. I had promised Laila I would not be a pastor. In desperation she suggested we go visit the Bishop. He offered us a church. We moved into a parsonage to assume responsibility for a 24 x 36 SF cinderblock building, no classrooms, no restrooms and a congregation of 17 people!
Thus began our journey of serving as a pastor’s family. God blessed us with four children. One is in heaven, which is like a magnet drawing us to a future meeting. Soon we will mark the calendar with 41 years of serving two congregations. The first was five years and four months in Wytheville, VA, where I say that God helped me to grow up. The balance of almost 36 years we have been privileged to be at Covenant.