Better Not Bitter

Below is a story of how my maternal grandfather became better, instead of bitter. He was born illegitimately and unwanted. But he grew up to become a caring and responsible husband, and father. He went from being a “Crop Sharer” to owning 15 acres of farmland. And it’s how he accomplished much more than all of that.  He left a legacy that’s lasted well into four generations by now.

I live within fifty miles of where my grandparents were born and raised. And so do many of my relatives. Therefore, I’ve left names out so as not to be in unnecessary conflict with my large extended family members.

My maternal grandfather was born in a very rural part of Western North Carolina, on April 5, 1898. His mother was sixteen and not married.  

After his birth, grandpa was handed over to be raised by other family members on both sides. That may have been the best decision since his mother had few resources to count on. His birth may not have even been welcomed news on her side of the family, because she was a middle child of fourteen children.

The 1900 Census shows his mother as a seventeen-year-old living over in Georgia with relatives. No baby or toddler was mentioned as living with her. (Census is collected the year before it’s published).

His dad had rejected his son, also.  But, apparently not everyone on his father’s side shared those feelings. My grandpa is listed in the 1910 Census as living with his paternal Grandmother in the community he was born in. Grandpa always went by his father’s surname

There must’ve been strong physical similarities between father and son. I’ve seen pictures of my grandfather’s half-brother and both share similar physical features.

Since his dad owned the only store in that community no doubt my grandpa crossed paths countless times in his early childhood with him. Human nature being what it is, I’m sure grandpa being rejected by his father was a difficult emotion for a young boy to bear.

His dad must’ve been a little hard to live with. I’ve found that he was married and divorced twice during his adult life. His head stone shows that he died in his fifties. And is buried in a single grave. No wife is listed on the headstone.  

In my childhood I remembered my grandpa as being stoic in nature.  Even so, he did seem to enjoy our family gatherings at his and granny’s farm. I’m sure us kids got on his nerves, constantly running in and out of their house, but he rarely showed it. He enjoyed sitting alone on his porch swing regardless of the weather. And did so when things got to be too much for him inside the house.

During grandpa’s early teenage years he was sent to live with an uncle just over the state line in GA. He owned a large apple orchard and needed his nephew’s help.

Grandpa didn’t stay long there, though. Within the year he was sent to Berry Boys Industrial School (the forerunner of Berry College). Their records have him listed as being taught carpentry. A skill he would use later in life.  He left Berry around a year later, never having graduated. His name and attendance record were found in their archives.

From there Grandpa joined the Navy and sailed to France. The year was 1917 and America was fighting WW1 on Europe’s Western Front. He’s listed as having served as a machinist on a frigate on his discharge papers.

After the war ended in 1918, my Grandpa found his way back to his birthplace. But why go back there? Grandpa had always been rejected by his father. I know this because I was told when his dad died in 1932, he left nothing but his last name to his illegitimate son.

About 1919, grandpa moved ten miles over to Murphy, NC. By then he was twenty-one, and looking to settle down. And Murphy proved to be just the right place to do that. This is where he met and married my granny. During the twenties, they had their four children. My mother was one of the two middle children.

During the Great Depression my grandparents became crop-sharers. Once, they got established than they became very frugal about all things.  Even so, it took years of “penny pinching,” for them to buy fifteen acres of farmland that included a small house.

In time Grandpa was able to add on to it and included indoor bathroom as well. It became a comfortable spacious one level home. They lived there for the rest of their lives.  

Life was hard for my grandparents. But I never knew them to be bitter about things, though. Instead they grew better about how life had turned out for them.

They never owned a vehicle of any type because grandpa had seizures. He never drove nor had a license. He did do house painting and carpentry when a ride was provided for him, though. Granny worked in mills or babysat children. Those jobs were their only income until they could collect Social Security. Plus, they farmed, raised chickens, and “bartered” whenever they could.

They were blessed in many ways all through their lives. I have many good memories of being at my grandparents’ house. Every family gathering at their house always included cousins, aunts and uncles, and lots of good farm fresh food. In the heat of summer afternoons, all of us kids would gather under a huge Weeping Willow tree at the edge of their yard. That’s where Grandpa would cut each of us a slice of cold juicy watermelon.

Grandpa and Granny were members of a small local church that they walked to on Sundays. They were the “salt of the Earth” kind of folks. They helped their large extended families however they could. All my childhood they seemed contented with what they had accomplished and how life had turned out for them.  

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

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How I Stopped Stuttering

On the most part I was a quiet child growing up. Even my mother would often comment that it was hard to know whether I was in the house or out in the yard because I rarely spoke. That’s probably because I stuttered as a child and didn’t like to speak. Also, I’m the youngest of my parents five children so I always had my two older sisters to figure out what I was saying.

Both my parents worked so I was left in the care of my two older sisters during summers and after school. We three did all the housework and laundry. Plus, they took on the task of interpreting for me to our parents or just went ahead and got me whatever I needed.  That’s the way it worked for me up until I entered the third grade.

My teacher that year was Mrs. Allison, who had taught well beyond her retirement time. I remember her having a complete head of white hair and my parents wondering how she was going to keep up with us kids on the sprawling playground.  I don’t think they figured in her persona in their equation on that though.

Mrs. Allison truly was grandmotherly to us kids, which we seemed to love so we naturally obeyed her.  After recess she always read or told us a story while we wound down from play time, resting our heads on our desks.

I started school in 1958, so by this time it was the early sixties. Back then, teachers could give a random hug to a young child if they thought that would cheer the youngster up some. It was a different time back then.

Long story short, it took Mrs. Allison most all that year to get me to stop stuttering. She did this by getting me to slow my speech pattern down during class reading time. Standing beside me, she usually rested one of her large hands across my shoulders, while covering my designated sentence with her other hand until I could only pronounce one word at a time.  Which, I guess I hadn’t been doing prior to that year. Still today I’m a scan reader. I just want to know the basic facts of the story, issue or the situation at hand.

I’m certain that I never stuttered after that year. I remembered giving oral book reports and answering questions in class all through the rest of my formal education. That confidence I showed didn’t happen instantaneous, of course. But, over time I overcame my shyness and strengthened my public speaking skills enough to do as well as any other child in school.

Turning Rejection Around

I hope you’ve read the story of how my grandfather had been rejected by his father. My grandfather spent his formative years growing up in the same community that his father had owned the only store there.

Most likely my grandpa had been sent to his dad’s store in his childhood to buy essentials. I can only imagine the harsh statements that came out of the mouth of the small frame, blond, blue-eyed, fair-skin store owner to the young boy that mirrored his physical features.  

In the 1910 census my grandpa was living with his paternal grandmother. She was widowed by then. I’ve been to her and her husband’s gravesite and told her, “Thank you, for taking my grandpa in as a young boy.” I don’t know how long he lived there because I was told that, when he was a child, he was “tossed” from home to home.

We’ve all been rejected and have rejected by now. Some rejection in our lives is essential. We need to “filter” our influences and weed out the negative ones. Wise people reject bad influences by seeking advice from “seasoned” wise leaders. That’s often done through reading or following those leaders in a media format.

One of my uncles rejected being an alcoholic. He had been one for a few decades of his adult life. But, early in his fifties he mastered over his desire to drink. He stayed sober for the rest of his life, which was about ten more years.

Experiencing rejection is usually a painful experience though. And it most likely is going to happen multiple times in yours and my lives. It’s just the way human nature is. I’ve come to believe that the “wounded wound.”

When I met my mother-in-law for the first time is memory that’s still seared in my mind. In other words, it wasn’t a pleasant experience any which way you turn it. Jeff and I had been married about a year by then. We were both in the Air Force and stationed in Germany. We had met through the Chapel activities for the young airmen (and airwomen).

We met and married in the same year, which was 1978. My parents had come over in May of that year to visit me and for us to tour some of Germany. During that time, they had a chance to meet Jeff. They liked him from the start and encouraged me to not let him get away from me.

Not long after they went back to Western NC, Jeff and I set a date to be married. I was able to extend my stay in Germany by the last minute. And we were married by the time I had received my extension. That was in August.

The next August we moved back to the States. We both were stationed at Hill A. F. Base in Utah. Jeff is from near Athens GA, so we were able to see both sets of parents and extended family before our long drive out to Utah.

We had arrived at the Atlanta airport and Jeff’s parents, Al and Fran picked us up and took us on the long drive to their house. All seemed well to me. We chatted the whole way to Monroe, where they had a house out in the country.

Al had built a store on the front of their property and sold carpet there. They had done quite well at it, and even had Jeff work there in his teens through his early twenties. But, Jeff had gotten tired of the work and always “butting heads” with his dad on how best to seam or cut carpet. So he joined the Air Force in 1973 and was stationed in New Mexico before going to Germany where we met. 

Not long after unpacking I began to suspect that I was pregnant with our first child. It’s about two hundred miles between where his parents lived and where my parents lived. So, we were in the car a lot and I wasn’t feeling great. We held that news back though, until we got to Hill AFB, Utah.

Not long after meeting my new in-laws I realized that Jeff’s parents were two very opposite people. Al was relaxed and laid back by this time. He was forty when Jeff was born so by the time I met him he was in his senior years. He seemed pleased with all he had accomplished so far in his life.

Fran, on the other hand was temperamental and seemed to always be “set on edge.” I picked up on that right off, but I wouldn’t known to call it anxieties. But, much later I realized both she and Jeff suffered a lot with feelings of anxiety.

Fran (Francis) had been 36 when Jeff was born. There was four years between him and his next older sibling, who was a boy. Jeff’s brother, Danny had passed away in his teen years of a congenital heart defect. That left Jeff’s older sister Marilyn, as his only sibling. She was seventeen years older than Jeff, and had married when he was three years old.

By the time I met her and her family they were living on a few acres of the forty that Al had originally purchased when he and Fran established their carpet store. Marilyn and her family lived with in walking distance to Al and Fran’s house and store. Although, I noticed that no one walked the short distance. They all drove up to Al and Fran’s or back down a small slope to their house.

Well, that’s when I began to realize that Jeff was not only a “late baby” but the “replacement” baby, also. All of that made him extremely special to his possessive mother. She never wanted him to leave her sight. And told him that often during his teen years.

Jeff did have a first marriage before me. Al had let Jeff and his first wife live on the back of his parent’s property in a small basic house. Al had built it for him, Fran and teenage Jeff to live in until the store that also included two-bedroom living quarters could be built.

Jeff and that wife didn’t have any children. And their marriage was very troubled. But as Fran saw it she got her way by keeping her grown boy nearby, at least for a few years. Then it all blew up and fell apart.

By the time I met Fran, Jeff had made retiring from the Air Force his commitment. That was a huge disappointment to his overbearing mother.

I wanted him to stay in also. Well, I can’t be sure, but it seems that she saw me as taking her baby away from her. Who’s to say for sure. But, about the second full day we were there Fran had an explosive anxiety attack like I had never seen before. (My parents were not outwardly given to anxiety fits.) And most of her vitriolic anger was directed at me!

I was helping her with the dishes and was feeling exhausted. Marilyn’s adult kids with their families had all come for dinner, then got up and left. I was told that was their standard behavior. I’d been raised to help with the housework, so I naturally was in the kitchen helping.

Well, the long story short is that Fran had never accepted me. She always held a contentious attitude toward me. In other word’s she rejected me from the beginning and continued to do so all the years I knew her.

After about six years of being overseas between Germany, then Turkey we were sent to Shaw AFB, near Sumter, SC. By that time, we had all three of our girls, and we five settled down in a subdivision near the AFB. This was going to be Jeff’s last duty stationed, except for his six months in the Middle East during Desert Storm.

So, we started visiting all our relatives and were glad to be back in the USA. Life seemed great all the way around. At least it did for our family. Jeff’s dad had passed away by this time and he missed his dad funeral by just a few days.

So of course, when we visited Fran, Jeff wanted to see his dad’s grave site. Within a few days of our arrival we all got in her sedan and traveled up to Atlanta where Al had been buried, next to their son. They had chosen the plots early in the sixties, when they lived in the metro Atlanta area.

Then, on another day we went all the way to the old neighborhood, right outside of Atlanta, where Jeff had spent most of his school years. We never got out of the car, even though Fran still recognized a few people there. They had taken me there once before and all I ever saw was some shabby looking little wooden houses. I couldn’t figure out why we had to go back a second time. The neighborhood was still shabby only more so since the last time I had seen it.

Maybe that second trip was worth the effort, though because that’s the only time I ever heard Fran say she was glad that she didn’t have to live there anymore. It seems that she was finally grateful and at peace with all Al had accomplished even with his limited grade school education. Neither of them had gone beyond elementary school, but life had turned out well for them. I thought so from the first time I met them.

They did have a difficult marriage in many ways. Too many to mention. But, through their fifty-plus years of marriage they had experienced both harsh and wonderful events. All through it though, Fran did have a difficult possessive personality and was prone to high energy anxiety attacks.

During the second year that we were back in America, I decided I didn’t need to be the recipient of her verbal abuse anymore. It seemed to upset Jeff that I spoke out against his mother. So, to keep the peace and my sanity, our girls and I stayed at home and stopped visiting her.

I made sure Jeff visited his mother, though. But, I never saw my mother-in-law alive again that I can recall. When she passed away Jeff wanted me to go to her funeral. I wasn’t planning on it, but ended up going anyway. I stayed as briefly as possible though.

One way to turn around rejection is to recognize that’s what’s going on in a relationship. Reconcile if possible. If not, then, break the relationship off completely.  You’ll be better for it. Take positive action that benefits your mental-emotional wellness.

Don’t Burn The Bridge You’re Standing On!

But, Rehoboam refused the old men’s counsel and called in the young men with whom he had grown up.” 1 Kings 12:8 (TLB)

Don’t burn the bridge you’re standing on is, of course, a metaphor. It means don’t sabotage your support system. Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done.

You might be struggling with an enormous problem or having difficulty over the day-to-day problems we all encounter. We all stumble many times throughout our lives with the routine problems. Don’t let making a bad decision “weigh you down” with guilt or a sense of hopelessness.

Seek to develop a good support system that you can rely on to give you advice in the areas that you’re having trouble with. Problems are best solved in the beginning, but that’s often when we ourselves don’t understand the full problem. That’s why we need someone(s) in our lives that can think outside our problem and see into solutions that will work for us.

Choose wisely the people that you can trust to confide in. Developing a strong support system of mentors, counselors, a supportive family, and good friends is essential to keeping yourself mentally strong. I would add having a personal relationship with Jesus is equally important. Even many self-help groups include having a relationship with a “higher power” as part of their plan.   

By now you know one or two people that you could confide in. But, don’t be like young King Rehoboam who only listened to his youthful pals. None had any good answers to help him in his newly acquired role of ruler of a large kingdom. If you only listen to people, your own age and/or near your own circumstance that you’re only going to get agreement of your type of thinking.

King Rehoboam had wealth and power, but because of bad advice lost most of it soon after he became king. Here is a brief look as to how this young ruler “burned the bridge” he was standing on.

King Solomon’s son Rehoboam had become King of Israel when he was yet an “untested” young man. When he became king he only wanted “yes men” to give him advice on how to rule his kingdom. So, he chose his pals from his youth. None of which gave him good advice.

 Rehoboam ignored the wise counsel the older men who had given his father good advice. The result was that the young king lost most of his kingdom in an uprising, he was not expecting nor had prepared for. He ended up ruling about a quarter of the kingdom that his grandfather King David had established. The larger story of Rehoboam is found in 1 Kings 12: 1-24.

 Seek someone you trust that will take time to listen with intentness of your problem(s). Then, be accountable to that person that you’re at least thinking things through and considering their advice.

Others on our support team can often be our family members. But sometimes it’s family that inadvertently help in creating the negative situation that you or I have found ourselves in.

  The next layer of support team members could be close friends. But they can become co-participates engaging in the same negative behavior that we’re trying to break free of.

If you’re married, or cohabiting, let your partner know that something in the routine of things is not working out for your good. You might want to go for coffee out somewhere to do this. I would suggest a marriage counselor office, though.

If you have children in your home, then let your loved ones know you’re in a mental health struggle of depression, anxiety, etc. and something has got to change. Call for a family meeting. And be as frank as is appropriate for your child(ren) in discussing what needs to change in their attitudes, their chores and/or their friends.

 If you’re a student, then seek a school counselor or school social worker. At work let your supervisor know that you’re struggling with a private matter, but you’re working on it.

A young mother and wife I knew through church took her own life a year or so back. Of course, we were all shocked and saddened by her wrongful decision. No one in her inner circle realized how deep she had sunk into her problems.

To meet and chat with her, you wouldn’t have thought there was any significant problem in her life. She was feeling good about some weight she had lost. We were both Facebook friends. I taught her children in Children’s Church. We crossed path’s often. I never had one thought that she was struggling with an inner demon of some type. Had I known I would’ve encouraged her to seek therapy.

I don’t know exactly what she was struggling with. But I do know from first-hand experience that when all you can think about is the problem then the problem eclipses the solution in your own thinking. Please go get help when you are thinking of your problems in a negative state of mind.  Seek advice, and/or counseling. Above all spend time in prayer.

“So, encourage each other to build each other up, just as you are already doing.Always keep on praying.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 17 (TLB)