Where the Dirt Road Leads

A Lesson Learned From My Dad

Laura LoweDuring the summer of 1962 I learned a valuable lesson from my dad, though I did not know it at the time.

Daddy was a truck farmer. He grew vegetables, harvested them, and took them to Greenville, Alabama, to sell. He grew collards, butter beans, corn, okra, squash, field peas, tomatoes, and snap beans. That year he even planted a garden spot of butter beans for me to sell. I would pick my beans and he would load the hamper on the truck. He would give me all of the profit. 

I have such vivid memories of that summer. I went with daddy to town. He would bath and put on nice, clean, starched and ironed shirt and pants. When we arrived in town he would painstakingly visit every house in the neighborhood. I would wait in the truck while he would go around to the back door. Most of his customers were white housewives, and in those days my dad did what was expected of him. He was also very respectful. He would say "Good morning Ma'am, do you need any vegetables today?" They almost always did, and my dad and the lady would come to the truck. Most of the time she would have a big dish pan. We always sold out.

Sometime he would allow me to drive to the next house. He had taught me to drive the 1949 blue pickup truck with the three gears in floor, but I didn't have a driver's license so I didn't do much driving. It was a very hot summer and often I would get a headache and have to take an aspirin and lie down when we got home, but I would not have missed spending this time with my dad. 

The lesson I learned would come back to me years later when I became a real estate agent in the city of Columbus, Georgia. In the early years, I walked apartment complexes in the city and knocked on doors looking for leads to buyers. I also became an expert at cold-calling and developed many clients from those calls. It was almost like my dad walked with me or whispered to me to make another call when I became weary and disheartened. Oh how I thank God for my daddy.

tomatoes in basket
Photo by Adobe Stock/eqroy

Ties That Bind: Honoring a Mentor

Laura LoweThe photo below was taken on a recent visit to South Central Alabama. Shown left to right is Nadine Bell's niece Donna Perdue, Laura Lowe, Nadine Bell, and my cousin Viola Sellers.

 

ties

A mentor is someone who wants you to do well and will help in some way. Mentoring might consist of encouragement or some sort of tutelage. Mentors believe in you. It is amazing just how motivating that is. Mrs. John Bell — Nadine Bell — was this such person in my youth.

My mom was the Bell's cook for 30 years. My mom was beloved by them. She also loved them. It was not hard for my mom to love people. She seemed to love everyone no matter what race or socio-economic level. How she did this, I don’t know. The times in which they lived in the deep South were often dangerous, and racial segregation was the law. The critically acclaimed movie The Help, released in 2011, has a very familiar theme, but I believe my mother’s relationship with her employers was on a different level than those portrayed in the movie in that Mother seemed to always enjoy a respected position with the family as a confidant and friend.

My brother and I spent time with the Bells. The little field work I did was for Mr. John. One summer, my brother and I picked butter beans for him. He would take us with him at lunch time to buy lunch for the other workers. Mr. John’s life was interesting; he had gone to war and was seriously injured in action on August 28, 1944 in France. General Patton personally presented him with the highest honor a soldier can receive: the Purple Heart. According to a history of his life, John Bell was in the 3rd Armored Tank Division and served as a gunner on a medium tank. He lost five tanks before being blown up by a German 88. I remember him fondly. He treated my mother with respect, and even after she retired the Bells remained very close to my mom. When he died in 2002 at the age of 85, I journeyed from Columbus, Georgia to the Fort Deposit, Alabama area to attend the the services at the church and the repast at the home in which my mom had worked fall those years. Time and time again, family members came to me to tell me how much they loved my mom and remembered fondly some dish she prepared.

Nadine Bell impressed me because she seemed to be an independent woman. Yes, she was married, but she still seemed independent to me. She walked and talked proud and confidently. She drove a car — like a man, I thought.When riding with her, I would watch the way she shifted gears and I was so impressed. One of the things I wanted to do when I grew up was to own and drive a car. That was freedom, I thought. Daddy taught me to drive his pickup truck, but it would be years before I owned a car.

Mrs. Bell took an interest in my brother and me. She encouraged us to finish school. She always had uplifting things to say to us. When I think of the things she did for my family, I am grateful. She made sure my mom could one day draw a social security check, which made my mom’s later years more comfortable. She and her husband often visited my mom. They even drove over to Columbus, Georgia to visit my mom just before she died, as she had come to live with me six months hence. At my mom’s funeral, Nadine and her sisters were part of the ceremony. They later served the family at my cousin’s home in Honoraville where the repast was held. We have kept in contact since Mama’s death 21 years ago. I try to visit her sometimes when I am in the area.

To Mrs. Nadine Bell, I want to say thank you. Somehow it seems inadequate, but I hope you accept my belated appreciation and love. I am my mother’s daughter, and I am sure she would approve.

momma
My mom - Lorenzia Rope

A Winter Storm and A Father's Love

Laura Loweicicles

When do children first become fully aware of the love of their parents?

A recent winter ice storm reminded me of when I first came to the realization of just how much my father loved me; I was not yet a teenager when I experienced my father’s devotion and care in a special way. Sure, these parents who were married for 17 years before they had children adored us, but my brother and I never thought about it. We were too busy having a happy childhood.

The Sunday afternoon that I became ill was a typical Sunday at our farm. The cold day was brightened by the huge wood fires in the fireplaces and the hearty food Momma prepared for dinner. Our relatives from Montgomery had come for a visit. I remember them talking about the end of the bus boycott and how Uncle Frank had gotten all dressed up in his Sunday suit and ridden the bus downtown. He drove a long-distance truck and was out of town when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the others took the first ride in the front of the bus.

My cousins, my brother, and I were playing in my room. We did not have a television set, so we amused ourselves in other ways — we played games, and my cousin Edward made a sophisticated projection set, drew pictures, and projected them onto a sheet hung on my bedroom wall. Then I began to have chills that made me shiver uncontrollably. When the chills stopped, I was burning up. I stretched out on my bed, wrapped up in a quilt. I didn’t want Momma to know I was sick for fear of what she would give me for medicine. By the time the day was over, though, I didn’t care if she knew. I was really sick.

The next three days passed in a blur of agony. The headaches were severe. The high temperature was a particular worry for Momma, but I am not sure why they didn’t take me to the doctor. We didn’t have a car, and the dirt roads were probably impassable. They might just have been low on funds. I don’t remember much about those three days. Momma tried to feed me broth, but it was no use. I moaned and prayed aloud to the God that Momma said loved little children. What I do remember is my father’s treks to the store. The country store was over seven miles from where we lived by the road. Momma made Daddy go to the store every day, and one day he had to go twice — I believe he knew a shortcut through the woods that cut the miles down some. She needed medicine for me. As she hovered over me with the worry showing in her face, she would think of something else she could try to bring my fever down or ease my pain. I was aware that Daddy never complained when Momma called him and told him to go to the store.

During the time of my illness and Daddy’s trips to the store, we were having a terrible ice storm. Our power had been out for days, but we had the fireplaces lit and the cook stove was wood-burning. For light, Momma brought out the old kerosene lamps she had used before rural electrification came through the area. When I was finally able to sit up in bed and look out the window, I saw the icy world outside. I simply gazed at the iced branches of the trees and marveled at the way my dad had set off every day to get medicine for me. I realized at that moment how much my father loved me, and how that love was all wrapped in a word called sacrifice.

I am sure that parenthood is still alive and well in America, but it also seems that far too often we hear about parents who harm the precious little ones entrusted to their care. All too often, Child Welfare Services cannot intervene in time, and another tragedy occurs. A prophet of old spoke of the “hearts of the father’s being turned back to the children” (Malachi 4:6). Let us hurry the day.

The Electric Train and the Red Bicycle

Laura LoweT’was the night before Christmas, and there were no mice to be a-stirring. Our huge, yellow, tabby cat, Jessie, took care of that. Daddy had a roaring fire going in the fireplace. My brother and I were happy beyond description at the excitement of it all. The whole house smelled of evergreen. Daddy had cut bright green boughs and a large Christmas tree earlier that day. He was busy hanging the holly wreaths over the mantle and around the wall. Smells also wafted in from the kitchen where Momma was roasting the turkey and cornbread dressing for Christmas dinner. The dinning room table held a coconut cake, a pound cake, and several apple pies — the results of a day of baking. Momma’s fruit cakes had been baked several weeks before. They were covered in whiskey, wrapped tightly, and packed in a tin box.

My brother, Yancy Jr., had turned nine on the 11th of the month. I was ten. It was 1955 in South Central Alabama. In Montgomery, Alabama, just to the north of the farming community where we lived, the Bus Boycott was going on. Momma worried about her brother and his family, who were involved in it. My parents were concerned, but did not want it to spoil their children’s Christmas. They had dressed in their best clothes and gone to Fort Deposit to see “Santa,” they said. Yancy Jr. and I did not have a clue what Santa was going to bring us. Momma and Daddy said Santa would not come to bring the toys until we had gone to sleep.

After supper, the family decorated the Christmas tree. This was the first year the tree had electric lights on it. I put my dolls under the tree so Santa would see that I had taken care of what I had gotten the year before. Yancy danced around Daddy as he put the star on the tree.

“Daddy, is Santa going to bring me an electric train?” he asked.

I was very interested in how Santa was going to get down the chimney with that huge fire in the fireplace. “He will come in the front door this year,” Momma told me.

The next morning, my brother and I were up when the Rooster crowed. We made a beeline for the Christmas tree. Yes, brother got his electric train, and standing at the back of the tree was a shiny, new, red bicycle for me. It was a complete surprise. I know now that Daddy had worked most of the night assembling it. He never ever realized it was a boy’s bike. I didn’t care. That bike and I traveled all over those dirt, country back roads having all sorts of adventures. They are all gone now, but the memories often resurface like the morning mist, and I never forgot that wonderful holiday encapsulated on a frosty, cold day in South Central Alabama.

Lit fireplace and Christmas tree
Photo by Fotolia/luckybusiness

Life as a Military Wife Leads to Hawaii

Laura LoweIt was late summer, 1966, and we were living at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, when my husband Sgt. Clancy Pinkston informed me that we would be deploying to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii by early fall. It was exciting news. I rushed to read as much as I could about our 50th state. Hawaii became a state in 1959. It had been a territory of the US before then. Schofield Barracks was established in 1908 and named after General John McAllister Schofield, who had been sent to Hawaii in 1872 as Secretary of War for President Andrew Johnson.

The history was interesting, but I wondered how I would spend my days with two small children while my husband was soldiering. Memories of the loneliness of living in France were still fresh in my mind. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about keeping busy.

It was not love at first sight. We arrived during a rainy season; it seemed to rain for weeks after we came. We were met at the airport by a sponsor from Pinkston’s company, and the drive to Schofield Barracks took us past Pearl Harbor. I caught a glimpse of the USS Arizona Memorial, where 1,177 crew members lost their lives on that fateful December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed the base and brought the US into WWII.

After a few days in the guest house, we were given quarters. Our apartment was a corner one with a townhouse design — with stairs. Now I had to worry about how my children, Tony and Pamela, were going to get up and down the stairs without falling. Actually, they did well. They would sit and scoot up and down until they were old enough to navigate them standing and holding onto the railing. Being a mom was challenging. Tony had been born with Down’s Syndrome, so he was behind in almost all of his development. Fortunately, he was inspired by his sister, and he rapidly caught up as she developed normally in the areas of walking, feeding herself, and toilet training.

Daily life continued on for me as a young house wife. My days were filled with childcare, keeping the apartment clean, preparing two meals a day, and gardening. I began to collect cookbooks and learned how to prepare gourmet dinners in addition to dozens of regular menu dishes. It was on-the-job training. I considered being a wife and a mother as a career. I also made friends and learned how to entertain with dinner parties and house parties, which were when someone would host a party by preparing food, others would bring beverages, and we always had such fun dancing. One of the records we danced to was Jo Jo Benson and Peggy Scott’s “Lover’s Holiday.” Little did we know that we would be moving to Fort Benning and Columbus, Georgia, the home of the singers.

Gardening was also a pleasure. The Hawaiian Archipelago was created by volcanoes, so the soil was rich enough that additional fertilizer was not needed. We had a banana tree in our yard. I harvested bananas from it and made one of our favorite deserts — old-fashioned banana pudding. We had a garden plot near our apartment where we grew vegetables. I remember the collards never did taste like collards grown in Alabama soil, though.

Though life as a wife and mom was fulfilling, I still regretted not finishing my degree. After graduating high school in 1963, I had completed a semester at Alabama A&M in Huntsville. Then I dropped out to get married and move to France. Now I decided to pursue my degree at the University of Hawaii. The school had a satellite facility on base, although prospective students had to go through the regular registration process. My grades transferred from A&M, and I registered for American History classes. I attended class two nights a week while my husband watched the kids. To get my studying done, in the mornings I would rise an hour before the rest of the household. In all, I completed several credit hours while in Hawaii.

The Vietnam war was raging in southeast Asia. Many soldiers were deploying from Schofield, but Pinkston did not have to go there at that time. During the three years of our sojourn, many tumultuous events occurred on the mainland: Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots erupted in major cities, and later a man walked on the moon. Looking back on that time, I can see that it was a time of major personal growth that has helped shape the person I am today.

When our time was up in Hawaii, we received orders to move to Fort Benning, Georgia. By this time, I had been thoroughly captivated by this island and living a few minutes away from the beach. There were many more sunny day than rainy ones. It was a tearful departure for me. I will always love Hawaii with special affection.

Hawaiian coast
Photo by Fotolia/MNStudio

Alabama Country Girl Moves to France

Laura LoweIn a letter to my parents dated March 26, 1965, I wrote: “We are over here in France and de Gaulle doesn’t want the Army or any other part of the U.S. in France.” The U.S. Military had a presence in France after WWII, but by the time I moved over there in August of 1964, it was apparent that — like the relative who overstays their welcome — the military would have to depart French soil. Of course, had it not been for the U.S. Military’s intervention in the conflagration in Europe and the South Pacific, history would have a completely different configuration, and one shudders to think of what that would be. Nevertheless, the U.S. Military departed France in 1966.

I had been a freshman in college, anticipating going into the field of medicine. My teachers at the high school from which I had graduated the year before (1963) as Valedictorian had high hopes of success for me in my chosen path. But instead, I jettisoned my college studies, got married, and moved to a foreign country. From the vantage point of history, I can see now that there is a strong possibility I would never have had children if I had hesitated in starting a family. Children — Anthony, Pamela, Ophelia, and grandsons Marquis and Robert — are the supreme joys of my life, so no regrets in that area.

What was it like living in a foreign country so far from my parents? It was an adventure, and yes, it was at times extremely lonely. France is a lovely country, steeped full of the history Mr. James Lewis had taught us in school. My husband and I spent some time in Paris before we journeyed to his duty station in Chinon, which is 200 miles south. Chinon is located on the banks of the Vienne River. In 1429, it is where Joan of Arc visited the uncrowned king Charles VII to urge him to declare himself king of France, and to ask his permission for her to lead an army to liberate France from English rule.

My high school French was not adequate to thoroughly converse with landlords, merchants, and neighbors, but I made a friend who served as an interpreter for us. Her name was Nellie. By the time my son Anthony was born, Nellie had become a valued friend. She adored my baby. We called him Tony. There is something about the French and babies that is interesting. Before Tony was born, I would walk down the streets in the town and no one approached me or spoke to me. That changed when I walked those same streets with Tony in his little carrier. People would come up to me and coo over the baby, exclaiming in French that the petite baby was so precious. It was some time later that I would learn my precious little baby had been born with Down’s syndrome.

My husband, Specialist 4th Class Clancy Pinkston, was stationed with the 83rd Engineer Battalion and was gone a lot. To pass the time, I resorted to what had gotten me through many a lonely day growing up on our isolated farm in south central Alabama. Reading was always my solution to periods of solitude. Tony and I spent most of our days at the library on base. He was such a good baby. He napped while I devoured reading materials from the shelves and checked out books to read at home.

It is with fond memories that I note that early time of innocence in my life and the pride I felt that my husband was part of the United States Army, a military that was the envy of the free world. The adage that “Freedom is not free” is appropriate. Probably we all pay the price, and none more than military families.

American flag
Photo by Fotolia/ednorog13

The Front Porch

Laura LoweMy dad and I had a special relationship. He and my mom had been married for 17 years before she was able to carry a baby to full term. Today their ages – 37 for mom and 44 for dad – when their first child was born would not seem odd, but in the 1940s it was. Momma told the story of her deep yearning to have children. She probably felt a personal kinship with the women of the Bible who had barren wombs.  She identified with Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and Elkannah’s wife, Hannah. Hannah prayed for God to bless her with a child. She later gave birth to Samuel. Sarah gave birth at the age of 90 to Isaiah. Momma also prayed for children.

I knew my brother and I were much beloved. Sometime Daddy and I would sit on the front porch after supper in the summer. He would talk to me about the huge family he sprung from. His father had been born in slavery in 1850 to a white father and black mother. His father was named Isaiah. He married a woman by the name of Emma. Together they raised 14 children on farm acreage given to him by his father. Daddy was the baby and was probably spoiled. In my adult life when I'm stressed and faced with challenges, my mind harkens back to that simpler time and a devoted father’s love. I wrote the poem below during one of those times …

Front Porch 

The Front Porch, ©2003
by Laura Lowe

Upon a place and upon a time,
I slip into a front porch swing.
With each gentle ride back and forth
Urban superficiality fades away.
In a world just out of reach,
Familiar melodic sounds fill a breach
between modern stress –
and much needed time to rest.
In the gloaming birds are singing
As they find a place to roost.
Tucked in snugly, they await a new day’s birth.
Oh, how peaceful – their sounds of mirth.
By some unseen cosmic signal
the cool dark curtain of night softly, silently descends.
Soon a mid summer’s night scene unfolds
in non-orchestrated splendor.
Heat lightning flashes in the northern sky;
while hundreds of fireflies flash in grassy
hillocks and leafy knolls.
Heaven will not be out done by the show on earth.
In the unlimited blackness of space millions of twinkling, sparkling stars
appear like heavenly fireflies in galaxies far, far away.
The amazing visual delight is augmented by such a cacophonous noise.
My soul, my spirit is calmed by creatures unseen –
no matter how I peer into the darkening green.
Dozens of frogs residing in the nearby creek
utter throaty croaking sounds, slightly off key.
Joined with the hind leg rubbings of cicadas and crickets,
it is a delightful symphony whose unseen maestro
has always been here.
Immersed in such a place, one is so near the beginning of time.
It is frightening.
A slight rebellion in our rational brain
nags us to return to the present time.
Alas! We must relinquish the mood.
For we cannot stay in a Unitive Experience forever.
Not in this life.
You see it is just a glimpse of heaven’s reward.
Once upon a place and a time far, far away.