Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ruth Jones 1919-2015

Today I had the honor to speak at the funeral service for Mrs. Ruth Jones.  I've spoken at many funerals over the years and I usually just talk from key points I want to make.  In this case, I wrote it out.  I don't post this because I think many people will read it.  It's long.  But I post it because I want to make sure it is recorded here so others in the future who were not fortunate enough to live through this period in Reynolds GA and know people like Mrs. Ruth Jones, can at least have the opportunity to get a glimpse of some of what we experienced.  BG


I think it’s important to think about the purpose of us being here today.  

First we are here to celebrate the life of someone who impacted this community and this county in an enormous way.

For most of us here, she is remembered because she taught us in school.  She  began her teaching career in Dudley & Montezuma, but mostly she taught here at Reynolds High School, Reynolds Junior High School and Taylor County High School.  She had a huge influence on a lot of folks.  

For some of you she taught, you ended up teaching with her.  You got to see and appreciate a different side of her that the rest of us probably missed.

Some of you remember the first Girl Scout uniform you ever wore - and you know Mrs. Ruth was instrumental in that and you think of the “who knows how many hours” she volunteered her time for that.

For some, you volunteered with her at the Woman’s Club.  You have special memories of all the meetings and trips to other towns for other meetings - and the selfless hours that went into all that.

For some, you  were friends of her children.  At least one man here has memories of white paint - painting her son and her son painting you - and maybe even a little painting of the headlights of her car.

The common thread here is a close friendship -  the type of a friendship that most folks in bigger places know nothing about.

For a very special group, she was your grandmother.  You have memories that are special only to you.  She loved entertaining you and loved having you all at her house or wherever she was.  You will carry memories with you the rest of your life.  And you will continue to thank God for every one.

For another special group - she was your mother in law and the grandmother of your children.  You have special behind the scenes thoughts and memories and appreciation that none of the rest of us could ever know about.

For Priscilla, Beth, Jean, Harriet and Ronnie:  Above all the other stuff - she was your mama. You only have one mama.  The one person on earth who has loved you no matter what.  The memories you all share of her and those you share with each other - today are the greatest blessing in your life.  And that blessing will only get larger and larger as time goes on.  You are a close knit family.  And you know your mom has always been the glue that held that together.  You heart is conflicted today.  You smile because she did it so well- but your heart is very sad.  

The other purpose today is to honor God.  We honor God in this very special place -this church where many of us spent  a lot of time during the most formative years of our lives.  The place where the people here helped mold our lives spiritually- the people who God used to give us roots and wings.  For some of us, and certainly for Ruth and Roy Jones and this family, this church is a very special place.  

We learned a lot of things here.

We learned here to look at life and death from God’s perspective - we learned here that there is a time to live and a time to die.  We learned here that God gives and God takes away.  We learned here that God’s timing is always perfect. We learned here the greatest truth of all - that God loves us - and He has provided a way through His son -  for His children to live forever.  And we learned here that we can face this day and have that blessed hope that only He can give - that we will all see her again.

And we learned here how to love each other.

This story for me started in the fall of 1959.  They were ten magnificent ladies... and nine of the most formative years of my life.   I was just about to turn five years old when I started in Mrs. Crawley’s kindergarten class in the little building that was across the street from here in her backyard. 

 I finished the eighth grade in the early summer of 1968.   It was about four months before my 14th birthday.

When I walked out of what we called Reynolds Junior High School for the last time in late May of 1968, I thought my relationship with these 10 ladies was over. 

 Little did I know, it was just beginning.

I knew, (especially knew because of the business I grew up in) that their lives on earth would be surely limited by time. But I had no way of knowing how the memories would be forever etched in my mind.  

 Mrs. Crawley, Mrs. Ogburn, Mrs Verna, Mrs. Hollis, Mrs. Byrd, Mrs. Susie, Mrs. Fuller, Mrs Ruth, Mrs Betty and Mrs Payne.

I’m not sure why we called some of them by their last name and some by their first.  I know we always put a Mrs. (or maybe we said “Miss”) before each of their names.

But for whatever reason and for whatever we called them, these ladies’ influence on the people of this community (and as a result – way beyond this community) cannot be measured.  Yes they were schoolteachers, but they were much more.  They were parents and grandparents of some of our classmates.  They taught us in Sunday school.  They were friends with our parents – and in most cases those friendships were generational.

I can tell you this.  To grow up in this town in the late 50’s and early 60’s might have been my biggest blessing in life.  And I’ve had a few blessings.

For many of us, February 8, 2015 marked the end of an unforgettable era.  The last of those 10 magnificent ladies, who was so instrumental in so many lives, has passed away.

Mrs. Ruth Jones was the last one standing.  

As the other nine ladies, she taught us, invested in us, encouraged us, corrected us, punished us… and most of all, loved us. 

Mrs. Ruth was my 6th grade teacher but she also taught me in the 7th and 8th grade because we had started changing classes by then.   The fact that she and Mr. Roy were very close friends of my parents did not help.

She cut me no slack.

Maybe the only slack she cut me was the afternoon there was an autopsy being performed at our funeral home across the street.  I was 13 and daddy wanted me to see the autopsy.  Yep, he started me off early in the family business.   Daddy wrote his friend (and my teacher) a note.  It read – and it think this is verbatim, 

“Ruth, please excuse Bruce from Science class today.  He will be at the funeral home helping to perform an autopsy. He will learn plenty of science.”  Thanks, Ed

Mrs. Ruth kept a grade book on her desk.  In it one would not only find the grades for every test you had taken that six weeks,  but also if you looked at the line by your name, you would see how many demerits she had given you.   Those were the marks she would give you when you misbehaved in class.  Unbeknownst to her, I took a peek at the inside of that grade book at least a few times.

Donald Powell, who would eventually become the longtime US Postmaster in our town, would always have the most demerits.  He was way out in front. 

I would be second.   And nobody else would be even close.

A few years ago, Mrs Ruth invited me to speak to her friends and the staff at Jamestown, the Assisted Living facility she has lived in now for many years.

It was obvious to me that she was excited I was there.  She wanted me to make them laugh.  I forgot exactly all she said when she was introducing me but I remember one thing she said:

"I never thought this boy would make it in life.”

She was laughing when she said it, but I knew she was as serious as a heart attack.

I don’t know what she would have said if she was asked to introduce Donald.

But that day I’m sure she was thinking about the time I hid in the little covey hole of her desk during recess– the area where you put your feet and legs when you sit at a desk.  After the class resumed, I’m sure she was getting ready to give me one demerit for being late when I grabbed her ankles from under the desk.  I think I got at least a few demerits that day. A call to my parents from my teacher also resulted.

Or maybe she was thinking about the day it was my turn to say the blessing in class before going to lunch.  She didn’t say a word to me that day but she looked at me sternly and pulled out that grade book and made another mark – after I said the blessing.  I thought it was a good one:

“Lord bless us and bind us and put us where the devil can’t find us.”  

Everybody else laughed.  She didn’t.

Or maybe she was thinking about the time she was trying to pick up one of those heavy flip charts that was right next to my desk when the legs on it collapsed.  I wasn’t paying much attention when she yelled, “Bruce, grab the legs!”  I grabbed both of her ankles and held on tightly.  

 I have to admit, even she laughed that day.

Or maybe she was thinking about the trip back from Epworth By the Sea from our summer Methodist church camp.   I think one parent would take us down there for camp and another would come get us after the week was over.   I remember vividly she was bringing us back on one of those trips.  Maybe it was the food we had eaten that week.  Or maybe it was that God awful water they had to drink down there.  I’ll just say she made us roll all the windows down of that car just to get air from the foul odor.

We were happy campers.  She was not.

Or maybe she was thinking about the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship)  meetings and suppers she hosted at her house.  I’m sure she was able to calm us down at least for a few minutes of serious religion – but I would think she was probably saying, “I have to have them at school.  Why in the world do I put this on myself and bring them to my house!”

So I knew she was serious when she made that “I didn’t think he would make it” statement. 

But I also knew why she had invited me that day.

Our relationship did not end when I was 13 years old and I graduated from Reynolds Jr. High School.  We would be friends for the next 47 years.  

I buried her husband of 50 years – who happened to be my dad’s best friend on the earth.  I remember walking through that with her and thinking how relationships change as we get older.  I was no longer the little brat that drove her crazy – but the person to walk with her through the most difficult time of her life.

We took at least one long road trip together.  She called me one day to ask me if I traveled to Brunswick in all my travels.   She wanted to hitch a ride to go see Priscilla.  We made that trip.   Just the two of us.   About 9 hours total (going and coming).   That was about as fun as it gets.  I can tell you that we had no trouble making conversation. 

I heard her say more than once, when you are with a Goddard you don’t have to worry about conversation. They will take care of it.

And I can also tell you the trip included a lot of laughter.  

Who could ever forget her laugh?

As an adult,  I visited her in her home many times and I visited her at the assisted living facility - a few times.  I wish I had visited more.  Even when she got to where she could not hear so well, she lit up when I walked in the room – as she did when any of her former students visited her. 

Jimmy Childre, Will Crawley and I stopped by Jamestown one afternoon.  We were all in that same class that graduated from Jr High School in 1968.   We were in Fort Valley for a funeral and decided to go see her.  She couldn’t hear too well but her face absolutely lit up when the three of us walked in that room.  We could have never known that Will, our classmate and friend, would die not too long after that visit.

All of us visit our senior friends who can’t get out from time to time.  They love it and it makes us feel as good as it makes them feel.

Maybe that’s a lesson for all of us today.

Why don’t we visit them more?

Mrs. Ruth didn’t read this poem to us that day when we left – but somehow I think she may have been thinking it:

Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and shaking hand.
Blessed are they who know my ears today must strain to catch the things they say.
Blessed are they who seem to know that my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.
Blessed are they who looked away when I spilled the coffee at the table today.
Blessed are they with the cheery smile who take the time to chat for a while.
Blessed are they who know the ways to bring back memories of yesterdays.
Blessed are they who make it known I’m loved, respected and not alone.

Interestingly, the two questions I asked myself when I heard  this weekend that she was in Hospice care were– “When did I last see her?  Why didn’t I go more often?”

The times I did visit were rich.  We always talked about old times.   She would tell me stories about my dad and Mr. Roy – stories I’ve heard many times but the kind that never grow old.   We would talk about our particular class – one that she would never forget because her third child Jean was in it.  

Yes I know why she invited me that day – even though at one time she had a very good reason to think I would not amount to much.

She was proud of me.  Just as she was proud of all her students.  In her eyes, I was part of the fruit of her labor.  

And for the record,   I wanted her to be proud of me.

At this stage in my life, I really don’t spend time seeking approval from a lot of folks.  But I did want her approval.  I wanted her to know the investment she made in me made a difference in my life.  I wanted her to know the times she sent me to the office and the time she called my parents and the times those demerits showed up on my report card – paid off for me. 

And for her.

Mrs. Ruth Jones was a key player and influencer in my life.  And in a lot of other lives in this room and in this community.

This morning we are back at this church where she was a member for 67 years.  The church she spent who knows how many hours volunteering for everything under the sun.  Back to the church where she raised her 5 children.

And by the way, speaking of her five children – if you think she was proud of all those students she invested in – it pales in comparison of how proud she was of you  and your mates and your children and your children’s children.

You all are recipients of God’s grace.  You had nothing to do with the fact that Roy and Ruth Jones were your parents.  You didn’t choose them.  You really had nothing to do with it.

God did it. And He has lavished His grace on you.  

You loved her. You honored her.  You took care of her.  You made sure she had everything she needed.   You honored your mother in her life and it her death.

You did it right.

We will leave here shortly and place her earthly body next to your dad at Hillcrest Cemetery.  

Her earthly life is done. She did it with class and she did it well.

But take it from someone who has experienced what you are experiencing today - the memories and the influence are about to go to the next level.  The mental pictures she has created for you will become more and more alive.

And the tears will turn to smiles and thanksgiving.

For many of us “other folks” here, the last of these ten magnificent ladies – who were such a big part of all our lives – is gone.  All we can do and should do is give thanks to God that we were fortunate enough to be under their umbrella during the most formative years of our lives.

Make no mistake; Mrs. Ruth Jones is alive in heaven today.  But she is also alive on earth.  Because she is alive in all of us she invested her life in.

As long as we tell the stories and as long as we have breath, we’ll keep her alive.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

James Henry Mathews - He Did it Right

It seems like another lifetime ago.  I graduated from UGA and then Mortuary College and came home to join my older brother and my dad in the family business …or should I say businesses.  There were a couple of funeral homes, an ambulance service and we built a brand new grocery store - leaving the building my family had occupied for over 100 years.

I learned a lot.  When I think I was only 23 years old at the time amazes me.  I actually learned a whole lot.  The hard way.

I learned about making payroll.  I learned about borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. I learned about responsibility.  I learned about stress.  I learned about people and leadership.  It was the worst of times.

But was the best of times.

There is no doubt all I learned by jumping into the fire  at a young age in the business world helped me later in life and in what I do today.

These memories came rushing back to me this morning when I read on Facebook that James Henry Mathews had passed away.

I’m not sure the year we hired him at Goddard Red & White Grocery Store, but I would guess it would be 1978.   His dad (Son Buddy Mathews) brought him in the store and asked us if we would consider hiring him.  My brother and I gave him a shot.

James Mathews seized the opportunity.

I don’t think I ever knew anyone who tried harder than James did.  He was never late to work.  And he never stopped until he punched the clock when he was leaving.  He made a few mistakes along the way but we didn’t care.  He made up for it with his determination.

Determination to do well.  Determination to keep the first real job he ever had.  

It wasn’t long before he knew every customer who came in the store.  He would speak to them and call them by name and thank them for shopping with us.  The entire community loved him.

And we loved him.

We sold the store after about four years of operating it.  James stayed with the new owners for a year or so.  But others in the business community had also noticed him.  He was soon offered a job at Flint Electric Membership Corp and ended up working there until he retired.

My brother and I had nothing to do with James having a great career and life.  I am very glad we gave him an opportunity. .  He earned his career by his own determination to do well that came from a strong faith in God that was instilled in him by his parents.   All I can do is tip my hat to him.

Tonight I also thank God I had the privilege to know him and at one time be a part of his life.

RIP buddy.  You did it right.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chris Borders - It Just Doesn't Get Much Better

As you all know by now, I  have always been amazed at the launching pad called Reynolds, GA.  There is a relatively long list of folks who came out of our little town that made a major impact in their world.  Maybe growing up in Reynolds had nothing to do with it.

Or maybe it did.

Either way, Chris Borders is a name that should be on the launching pad list.

Although Chris was born in Perry, he  grew up and spent his formative years in Reynolds where his dad was another executive that Flint EMC brought to Reynolds.  Chris was a few years older than me but I remember him spending many hours on our little 9 Hole Golf Course.

Actually there was a period of time when he was a young teenager that he was pretty much running it.  He was a notch above most of the other golfers in Reynolds and would not hesitate to give us younger kids a lesson or two when he saw an opportunity to help us improve our game.

If there was a nicer guy than Chris Borders hanging out at the Reynolds Golf Course, I am not sure who that would be.

Chris went on to receive a golf scholarship at Mercer University.  He later served as an officer in the US Army in Vietnam.  Along with putting his life on the line for his country, he also had the opportunity to oversee several golf courses in Hawaii and even constructed and operated a driving range in Vietnam.

L-R Bonnie Brannin, John (Butch)Thornton, Chris, Rusty Lane, Grady Trussell
After serving his time in the Army,  Chris served a couple of years as GM at Houston Lake Country Club before heading to Florida State University to further his education.  After graduation, Chris served in various capacities at the Atlanta  Athletic Club where he helped host the 1976 US Open, 1981 PGA Championship, 1982 Junior World Cup and the 1984 US Mid-Amateur Championship.  He later became General Manager at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell.  After a couple of years there, he came back to Atlanta Athletic Club and was involved in the 1990 US Women's Open, the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur and the 2001 and 2011 PGA Championships.

When he retired as General Manager of Atlanta Athletic Club in March 2013, he had served 35 years at the club.  One of the highlights of his career was in 1992, when he was named Club Manager of the Year for his professional development and mentoring with the Club Managers Association of America.

In January 2014, Chris was the first club manager ever to be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.  

He was also the only member of the Reynolds Golf Club to be inducted. 

Imagine that.

Despite all his accomplishments in golf and in life, Chris never forgot his roots.  In fact, about a third  of his graduation class from Reynolds High School showed up to celebrate with him at the induction ceremony.   Interestingly, part of that group included his teammates from the  Reynolds High School Golf Team (pictured above).

It just doesn't get much better than that.

Disclaimers:  Much of information for this post came from a post at by Stan Awtrey.  Picture posted of RHS Golf Team came from FB page of Sara Fountain

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Have It Your Way, Burger King.

I evidently need the Christmas spirit.  

My excuse is I had a very busy and hectic week.  It included several airplane rides and visits to  four different states.  I probably should also say those visits included standing in front of relatively large groups of people talking about such things as  engaging people, investing in people and overall being a good person.  Anyway, I found myself driving late at night from the Atlanta airport to home.  I was tired and hungry.

Against my better judgement, I stopped at a run of the mill "Have it Your Way" Burger King.  

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no line in the drive-thru lane.  That would be the last of my pleasant thoughts.  I heard a  voice come through the speaker asking for my order.   I plainly said that I would like a Whopper with only Ketchup and Cheese, fries and a diet coke.  Not too difficult.  When she came back on the speaker incorrectly confirming my order,  I repeated again I only wanted Ketchup and cheese on the burger, fries and a diet coke.  As I stated my order again, she ordered me to drive around to the window.

Although I followed her orders, I was wondering where they find these people to interact with other people who are willingly spending money with them.  Surely there are congenial  folks out there who would like a job.  Anyway, she opened the window and told me what I owed.  I paid her and she handed me the bag and the drink.   Before I pulled away, I opened the bag to get the burger out so I could eat it as I drove the rest of the way home.  

The first thing I noticed was the burger was somewhere on the scale of  less than warm.  I opened the bun and noticed the tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, pickles and whatever else you could possibly include on a burger.  I looked back at the window and the "lady" was nowhere to be seen.   I could see a guy working in the kitchen so I honked the horn.  Just for the record, I saw him glance at me but he was obviously pretending he did not see me. I honked the horn again.  

No response.

Getting angrier by the second, I knocked on the sliding window.  In fact I knocked a few times.  The "lady" who gave me my order had disappeared.

I had two choices at that point.  I could pull up to a parking spot, get out of my car and walk in the restaurant so they could get my order right.  Or I could just take the lukewarm burger with all the stuff I didn't want on it and deal with it.

Unfortunately, I chose neither of those two options.

I opened the burger up and methodically threw the tomatoes, lettuce & pickles (mixed with mayonnaise) at and on the sliding window. I did a fairly good job too.  Most of it stuck.  If I could have figured out how to stuff it all "where the sun don't shine," I would have done that.

I will admit I was looking in my rearview mirror for a blue light  the rest of the way home on I-75.   I'm sure they have video surveillance equipment and my tirade was captured for someone's viewing enjoyment - or maybe for evidence.  But as I thought further, that would really would be impossible because there was no one employed there who would have enough gumption to watch the video.

The good news is by the time I got home, I was laughing about it.  I told the entire story to my wife and she laughed hysterically - while I ate pimento cheese and crackers.

But you can have it your way, Burger King.  As a former POTUS once somewhat said, you won't have me to screw up my orders anymore.   I'm done.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Greatest of All Games

Vin Scully once said that his thermometer for his baseball fever is a goose bump.  If that is true, my youngest son and I had a really high fever this past weekend in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

When I was growing up in the early sixties in Reynolds GA,  baseball was the only game I knew.  Basketball would come later and I would spend much more time playing that game later – but at the beginning – it was baseball.

It was truly the only game in town.  We were fortunate that a group of parents thought enough about the kids in the community to organize a league.  There was no such thing as a recreation department.  The parents organized it.  The local business owners and farmers financed it.  And off we went playing baseball.

We learned the game of baseball.  We learned about catching fly balls and ground balls.  We learned how to bunt and when to hit and run.  We learned to pitch and when to take a pitch when the pitcher was behind in the count. 

In the process, we learned a lot about life. We learned the importance of investing in kids.  We learned how to listen and how to be coachable.  We learned what it was like to be overwhelmed.  We learned about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. 

Real lessons.  Important lessons.  Life lessons.

On Saturday afternoon, it was the Game of the Week on television with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese.   The Yankees were on  TV every Saturday I think.  Our heroes were guys by the name of Mantle, Maris, Berra, Kaline, Koufax,  Banks, Mays, Aaron, Ford … and the list goes on.

We traded baseball cards.  Actually we were serious about trading baseball cards.  Some players were “hard to get” and others were seemingly in every package.  Because we read the back of the cards, we knew about almost every player in the league.  We knew their batting averages, homerun totals, RBI totals and, if a pitcher – his earned run average and number of wins and losses.

The image of each player was permanently inscribed in our heads …. and in our hearts. And we can still see those images that were on those cards today.

I have always had respect and love for the game of baseball.  Maybe it’s because it connects me to a wonderful childhood.

This past weekend, Luke and I did a lot of talking about baseball.  Almost every display we saw and every old timer we met brought back a flood of memories that I had not thought about in years.  I constantly shared my memories with my son.  We met Maury Wills and I explained he was the first player to steal 100 bases in a season.  I hadn’t thought about Denny McClain in years but was able to quickly remember he was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season.  And I explained to Luke that I saw Pete Rose play at Luther Williams Field in Macon, GA with my grandfather when I was about 8 years old.  And the stories went on and on all weekend.

And so did my connection to my past.  And to my son.   The game of baseball has a way of taking you back and connecting dots... and daddys and sons.

Luke said an interesting thing to me when we were on the plane returning to Atlanta.  He said thoughtfully, “I went to Cooperstown a Braves fan.  I’m leaving a baseball fan.”

Hopefully one day Luke will be able to take his son to Cooperstown.  Luke will be able to relay some of the baseball stories to Hines that he heard this weekend.  And maybe he will even be able to create some mental pictures for Hines of an unforgettable trip he and his dad took in the summer of 2014.

Baseball is the greatest of all games.

Roger Hornsby said it best:  People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball.  I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. 

Check out this 12 minute video of our unforgettable weekend.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Legend of the Hippo Brothers

If you look up the word “legend” in a dictionary you will read these words: “A nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.”

In simple terms it means that a legend may be true or may not be true but everyone happily accepts it as truth anyway. 

But we all feel better because we do.

L-R Jimmy Childre,Jr, Big Will, Ruth Jones (our 6th grade teacher)
and me. Picture taken in 2012
My lifelong friend, Will Crawley, died this morning.  There will be a noticeable increase in tall tales told in the next days and weeks about Big Will and his twin brother Mike, many of them nonhistorical and unverifiable. They are stories in which the legends were made but stories that we who loved them desperately need to hear. And stories that will somehow make us all feel better.

I was born less than a month before Big Will in the fall of 1954.  We grew up on Macon Street in Reynolds, Ga.   In the fall of 1959, I attended Kindergarten at Mrs. Crawley’s Kindergarten.  Thad and Mary Louise Crawley built a small Kindergarten building on their property, across the street from the Methodist Church.  It was at that very young age and in that little Kindergarten building that my first memories were made of the Crawley twins who always stood out from the other kids. After all, they looked exactly alike and always dressed exactly alike. 

And they were bigger than everybody else.

The next year we started the first grade together just a block over at Reynolds Elementary School.  There were two first grade teachers that year - Mrs. Ogburn and Mrs. Verna.  We had Mrs. Verna. For the next eight years we had every class together, attended Sunday school together, attended church together and eventually MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). We even sang (if you call that singing) in the children and youth choirs together. And there were more than a few birthday parties in the backyards of friend’s parents along the way. 

I remember standing behind the gymnasium at school one day after we had begun to learn about the birds and the bees.  I vividly remember Big Will being really bothered by what we were saying.  His comment I never forgot was, “There is no way my mama and daddy do that!”

After those eight years, we went to high school together. In May 1972, we graduated from high school together.

 After high school, we went our separate ways to different colleges to further our education but we always stayed in touch. 

It was during those years that the legend began to grow. The Hippo brothers they were called – although for some reason I never called them that.   Big Hip (Mike) and Little Hip (Will) became known throughout the state for their many and wild escapades. Friendships increased exponentially. Some knew them in person.  Some knew only by reputation.  For several years they hosted an annual Hippo birthday bash in October.  People came from all around to be entertained by the Hippo brothers. The stories that came from those parties are now accepted as historical but some are thankfully unverifiable.

I remember introducing them to my fraternity brothers at the University of Georgia.  It was homecoming and since I was a freshman and a pledge, I was part of the group that had to build our homecoming float that was displayed at the fraternity house on the front lawn.  It would also be our job to tear the huge display down after the homecoming festivities were over.  Late that Saturday night, the Crawley twins appeared at my fraternity house and quickly made friends with everyone there.  Next thing I know, they tackled the Homecoming display and took it completely down to the astonishment and loud applause of my pledge class and other brothers looking on.  Admittedly, a little alcohol was involved that night.

The story of them getting banned for life from a certain “all you can eat” catfish restaurant has been told many times.  One sat at the table while the other went to the restroom.  After a few plates of fish, they would swap out.  After more than a few visits, the manager finally caught up with them.

As they grew in years, they begin to settle down as most of us do.  Big Mike became well known and respected as a paramedic and Registered Nurse.  Big Will owned a landscaping business. 

Then trouble came.

Big Will's liver began to fail.   Many of us watched and were inspired as the brother Mike looked after the brother Will.  Through Big Mike’s connections in the medical world, he was instrumental in getting Will on the transplant list and eventually getting him a new liver and a new life. 

During that very difficult time and illness and thinking his time was at hand, a very sick Will begin to look deep inside himself and made peace with the God of his youth.  Mike saw Will’s renewed faith and the same transformation took place in him.  Everything changed for both of them after that.  They now looked at life through different lenses.

Incredibly, Will’s life was saved when he was literally given a new life after the transplant.  Ironically, Big Mike, the new man with the new faith became sick and died of liver cancer.

Mike saved Will’s life in getting Will a new liver.   But in doing so, Will just might have saved Mike’s life for all eternity. 

For the past seven years, Will has existed on earth without his best friend and twin brother. Since Mike’s death, Big Will admirably went back to school and received a couple of degrees, including a Masters in Public Health. But the truth is, when Big Mike died half of Will died with him.

Their older brother, Charlie, has been looking after Will since his stroke in December and making sure all his needs were met.  Big Will gave Charlie very little guidance in preparation for his death.

He told him only two things:  He wanted to be cremated. And he wanted to be buried next to his twin brother.

For those of us who knew Big Will so well, we are certainly saddened at the news of his death.   But at the same time we are smiling because the Hippo brothers are together again. 

On earth as it is in heaven.

But make no mistake; the legend of the Hippo brothers has only just begun.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Simply a Gift

Randy and Paula Jacoby moved to Reynolds, GA in 1993 when Randy became Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Reynolds.  The next year they became the proud parents of two beautiful little twin girls – Ahnna and Abigail.  Although the family left Reynolds in 1999 when Randy accepted the call at First Baptist Church of Folkston, GA – I have stayed in touch through the years.   I just have a thing for remarkable families – and this family is definitely one of the remarkable ones.

A few years ago, the Jacoby’s adopted a little girl from China.   Addie is now a huge part of this family and because of the magic of Facebook, I have watched her grow with this family.    I have also thought many times as to where Addie would be if not for Randy, Paula, Ahnna and Abigail.   They gave this little girl a wonderful life.  They forever changed her present and her future.

Today the entire family  (including Addie) is back in China.  For certain, they are not taking Addie back. But they traveled during the holidays to bring back another little girl with them.   I have been following them the last few days from Jacksonville to Detroit to China and watched as they did a little sightseeing.  This morning I saw pictures for the first time of little Mia, who is the latest addition to this amazing family.

In looking at the pictures, maybe Mia looks just a little scared.  This little girl has no idea what is in store for her.   The truth is, just as it was for Addie, her present and future has been forever changed.  She will be loved unconditionally and all her needs will be forever met - beyond what she can even imagine.   She doesn’t know all that yet but from our perspective, it is very easy to see.

Her life will not be perfect.  She will laugh much but she will also cry along the journey.  Like the rest of us, she will experience disappointments and bumps in the road along the way.  She will experience illness from time to time and even separation from people she loves as time goes on.  But there is no way she could ever compare her new life to what her old life might have been.  And she did nothing to earn her new life.  It is simply a gift.

And that, my friends, is not only the story of Mia Jacoby but it is the message of the Bible.

Thanks to the Jacoby family for reminding me of that as we begin a brand new year.  Our present and our future have been forever changed.  We didn't earn it or deserve it.  It is simply a gift.