“Feed your faith
will starve to death.”
“It is very easy to think about Love.
It is very difficult to Love.
It is very easy to Love the whole world.
The real difficulty is to Love
A single human being.”
I seem to be in tears lately, as I share with you the stories of my life. Well, here I am again. I am having to dry my eyes to see the computer screen. But I have a large box of tissues and a back up box. So, perhaps, I can finish this tragedy. It may lead you to understand why LeVonna and I detest and abhor alcohol and the deceptively alluring commercials that alter the truth to paint a misleading rosie picture about this highly addictive and horribly destructive bacterial excrement.
Many years ago I fell in love. It was with a truly beautiful heart that belonged to a substitute teacher. Her name was Nona Baggett. And I am sad that I have no photograph of her.
Unbelievably, the school superintendent would not employ her full-time, I later learned, because she was not mean spirited enough. She was not “tough” enough. She did not thrash the students with her tongue or beat them with a board the way so many others did. In this High School, a harsh and demeaning manner was considered imperative and normal. Everyone just tried to survive.
It was my guess, from observing, that no one around really ever read the New Testament of Jesus Christ. But Nona Baggett did. And she lived according to its beautiful teachings. Her life became such a marvelous example for me and so many others.
The fragrance of her being, the essence her existence, was far more influential in my life, than I can convey to you in mere words. She made me want to be a good person. With her by my side, I fell in love with life. And, she shared with me that there was much about life to love.
Essentially, what I remember from being in the secondary school classes was this: kids were perpetually and constantly being disciplined. Very few were the moments that were inspiring and truly educational. The Wiktionary defines very few as – almost none. It is accurate.
The horrendous situation I found myself in reminds me of what one of our remarkably bright students told Mr. A, when asked what he thought about the school he came from (another public school). He was only five or six at the time. He looked into LeVonna’s eyes, and with a depth of sincerity very sadly said, “Oh, I like learning, but we don’t get to do much of that.” Yes, we enrolled this fine young man.
Back to my story – what I fondly remember about this remarkable substitute teacher was that she was always, and I do mean always, kind and compassionate. Her soft voice still echoes in my thoughts. Her loving manner, I feel to this day. Her example, I try to live by.
Some of the other kids, at the end class, would boast and coldly remark things like, “We ate her lunch. She did not know what hit her!” There were many unkind statements like that. But she never lost focus, never lost control of her demeanor, and left at the end of each day letting those “rascals” know that she really cared for them and loved each one of them. She was – remarkable.
But I had no idea just how remarkable she really was. It took several years to discover the depth of sorrow carved into her heart. It was so deep, that she came to treat every child, including me, as if he was one of her own. Her beautiful life, and the unconditional love she felt for all those around her, led me to a remarkable insight, a simple truth –
“The deeper sorrow is carved into your heart,
the more Love it can contain.”
And her sorrow was almost infinite. Her love lives to this day. And now I must stop for awhile. You understand.
After falling in love with her, I would ride to see her on my bicycle, a distance of about ten miles to her farm in the country. By the time I got there, this skinny little guy was worn completely out. (Thank God my kind Mother would drive out to pick up me and my bike.) But there was always a great and abiding reward at the end of this long journey, the warmest smile and the biggest hug you can imagine. I always felt like I was coming home. And so did my Mother.
Many years later, my Mother would come to tell me that I reminded Nona of her son, her only child. And now that I look back, I can see me in her very loving and very lonely eyes. I gaze into the mirror of time and see what I meant to her and now, what she means to me.
Lonely rivers flow not just to the sea,
they flow to hearts in need.
I was so infatuated with the cute little guinea hens she showed me on her farm, that I slipped a few eggs into my pocket, hoping that they would later hatch. Of course, this little city boy had no idea what was required for those eggs to hatch.
Today, I always seem to have a few of these beautiful creations in my life. We had three gorgeous white guineas that roamed around the campus for several years, protected by my precious canine friend, Kirby. You can see them in a photo I took and placed at andersonschool.net/ About Us/History page. Today, thanks to my friends Rylee, Kylee and their wonderful Mom, Kayla, and our kind next door neighbor, Bob, we have two turkeys and two guineas in our petting zoo. I love them very much. Thank you!
I especially treasure them today, I believe, because of what happened when my Mother drove me back to Nona’s farm to return the precious treasure of absconded eggs. After all, I did take them without asking. I expected to be scolded and given a proper lecture about taking them, when they were not given to me. I just knew the yoke was about to be on me!
But to know this precious Lady, Nona, was to be given a glimpse into very heart of Heaven. She was, in my humble and grateful opinion, an Angel. She softly patted me on the back of my hand and told me to keep the eggs and then placed them, very gently, and with words so tender, one by one, back into my pockets since, as she said, they meant so much to me. And then she handed little “Skippy” even more eggs to keep. And I found out, in a kind and loving manner, what was necessary for them to hatch. Importantly, I learned that if you want to correct a behavior, let that someone know that you love them. Tell them in different ways. Their behavior will change out of love for you. And the lessons learned will be profound.
You know, God sends his Love to us through such people. I know this, because it has happened so many times, especially in times of deep need. Yes, the Love of God is real. I feel that it is the only thing that is real. I can feel this special Love reach through time, from the loving, gently heart of this truly good Lady. I feel it today. It is stronger today than when I was a child. It is much stronger. In fact, I truly feel that her precious Spirit lives deeply imbedded within my heart. For I, too, became her child. Oh, what a warm and wonderful feeling.
Love seems to be that way. It ripens like fruit in the sun. Like a flower opens in the wind, spreading it’s fragrance all around, making us remember, making us smile. It keeps regret and sorrow and pain so very, very far away. It heals our wounds.
I remember the day I first met Nona. She was substituting for a ninth grade physical science teacher, who had the good judgement to take sick leave as soon as a day became available. I became inured to the horrible conditions I found myself in while enrolled in this pathetic school, if you could call it a school. My Mother had no real choice but to keep me enrolled in the public schools of this unnamed school district, that needed a warning label and was situated in west Texas.
This community had become truly intoxicated and addicted to sports. This intoxication was coupled with one for alcohol. They won, as I recall, five state championships in a ten year period. And violence was the order of the day. It was not only tolerated, it was promoted under the guise that, “It toughens them up for the team!”
I, not so fondly, remember walking home, day after dreaded day, and passing by from three to five fist fights. From time to time, I actually fought my way home. No teacher ever stopped a fight at school. They just waited until someone hit the ground, then shouted to get back to class or hit the showers.
Oh my God! There were always so many black eyes that I got a feeling I was attending the Texas school for the half-blind.
There was one benefit. Later, when I became a public school Principal (God has a sense of humor), I utilized the knowledge gained. But, during the period from grade seven to when I decided I had enough, it was not what anyone would call an academic experience. It proved to be a tragic loss of precious time on this Earth. And for what?
Over this time I became possessed of a strong stomach and a hard head, inured to hardship, cruelty, and brutality. I found, as I came to manhood, that I unconsciously protected myself from the pain. But more importantly, I truly treasured anyone with a good heart. And God, in His Mercy, provided what I needed to survive.
And yes, I was a youngster not afraid to pray. I especially prayed for those who were so violent and in need of forgiveness. I can even remember praying for some them while I had them on the ground. I gained some of my best friends this way. The larger ones, and there were some BIG guys, seemed to be impressed and later wanted to spend time with me. Many of them came to accept my love. My concern for them brought me close to those in need. The others remained mentally, socially or morally ill. Many of them died young and very lonely. They are still in my prayers.
The story I wish to share with you, of Nona and John Baggett, remains among the most tragic I have ever encountered. Their son, Andrew Cole, had served, and heroically, three of four years in the U.S. Navy.
As cited from the local newspaper at the time:
— — — — —
Andrew was the son of J. A. and Nona Baggett – Tx EM3 US Navy –
Born in Stephens County, Texas and died in Stephens County.
He was eager to have his picture made for those he loved before he left for his fourth year in the U. S. Navy. Monday afternoon, Andrew Cole Baggett, 21, walked into the Ramsey Studio and Frank Homme completed the photographic assignment. The navy youth left and Homme yelled, “Good luck.” Baggett replied, “I’ll need it.!”
The next day, the war veteran’s loved ones called Homme to make pictures again. Homme made them as Andrew Cole Baggett lay in the casket at the Satterwhite Funeral home, less than 24 hours after that first studio appointment. He died after his body was thrown clear of the car he was driving on the Cisco highway, a few miles south of Breckenridge.
— — — — —
Now, I need to add something. Andrew turned his vehicle over, several times, trying to negotiate the turn onto the driveway of his home. He died at the entrance to the house where his parents lived. What a horrendous discovery to make as you exit your home. And yes, he was intoxicated.
Many years ago, long after this tragedy, I had a dear friend and a man, who in many ways, took the place of the Father I never saw. His name was Finis Williams, and there was absolutely nothing he would not do for my Mother or for me or anyone else in need. I found him frequently repairing our plumbing or doing electrical work, or whatever was needed. And he would never accept pay.
Finis told me, privately and in tears, that Andrew was drinking at some event on the day he died and that he, Finis, tried, very hard, to let him drive Andrew home, since he was obviously drunk. But Andrew refused. And now, Finis is tearfully devastated by the loss of such a wonderful young man. Finis said, with the saddest look I have seen, “I should have taken his keys away. Just look at what has happened to his parents”.
It was then that I recalled that every time I visited Nona’s home, her husband sat quietly, absolutely quiet, in a chair and never spoke a word. He never greeted me or said anything. Later, Nona explained that he never recovered from the loss of their son. And I found out that, until his death, he was in a near comatose state. The death of his only child, his treasured son, was the death of his desire to live.
Perhaps, in sharing this story, you can take steps to spare someone’s precious child, and a beloved family, from such a tragedy. If so, Andrew’s untimely death may not have been in vain.
Finis took me fishing, and boating and camping dozens of times over the years. He taught me how to water ski, camp out, cook, skin a fish, brag about the catch, tell tall tales (hey, it’s west Texas), and, how to be compassionate. Many times he would take out the catch, gut and clean the fish and then drive to someone’s home who was struggling to earn a living, usually a black family. There he would give that family all the fish we caught that day. And they were truly grateful.
Finis was our “Milk Man”. He delivered the milk in one quart glass jugs to the doorsteps of many people. And one day, he brought milk to our doorstep. My Mother invited him in, and while visiting, he noticed that I returned from a “fishing trip” to the Gonzales creek. I was about eight years of age, at the time.
Finish asked me about my catch. And I explained that I did not catch anything. He then, and with tender words and actions, asked me to examine my fishing “gear”. He noted that I was fishing with a sewing needle and explained that I really needed a fishing “hook” with barbs on it, to hold onto the fish once it took the bate. He asked me about my bate and I confessed that I tried using grasshoppers, but they slipped off the needle. I needed a lot of help. Hey, I still do.
Finis smiled broadly, chuckled, and looked at my Mother and exclaimed, “Well, I finally met a REAL fisherman, someone who loves fishing so much that he would risk his life to fish from the slippery and dangerous banks of the Gonzales creek, without fishing pole (I had a long stick), thread for line, just some old grasshoppers for bait and no fishing hooks, just a needle (he carefully examined my gear). Yes, young man! You are just the fishing partner I have been looking for. Would you like to join me one day?
Well, I was quite excited. You can just imagine. And the next weekend Finis shows up with gifts: a new tackle box FULL of fishing lures, a bucket of live bait and a brand new fishing pole, yes, a real fishing pole. And off we go, with a real boat in tow to a real lake. And we caught twenty three perch, and yes, we cleaned them and took them to a family in need. The families we helped in this manner were always truly grateful. I recall many tearful moments.
A couple of years later, I learned that Finis was fired from his job as the local milk man. I remembered, while on the playground of South Elementary School, that Finis would frequently drive his milk truck to the playground, located in the back of school, and hand out small cartons of milk to the kids, those left over that did not sell. Well, he was fired for giving the milk away, rather than putting it all in a dumpster. The owner of the company ordered the product thrown away rather than give anyone anything. The highway to Hades may also be paved with, uh, milk.
I cannot tell you how proud I was of my fishing buddy and friend, Finis Williams. I cannot wrap a sentence around the word “Love” with enough emotion to share my feelings and my deep, abiding regard for such a loving man. Here was someone who knew what life was all about and knew how to live it.
Later, the notorious junior high school I attended would employ Finis as one of the custodians. And I was so joyful knowing that my dear friend and fishing buddy was always nearby. We planned many a fishing trip from behind the trash cans and shared many slightly exaggerated stories of fish that grew in length by the minute. Truth, to someone in love with fishing, can become a highly subjective thing.
Hey, if you don’t think God loves you, just look around. He is disguised in many faces and gazes through many eyes. He is right around the next corner. He is always standing near you. He is always in your face.
I need another box of tissue.
People ask me, “Why do you spend so much time writing a weblog?” Well, it is therapeutic. But, if I can help just one other precious soul with this information, I am truly happy. And I hope I help you.
Please know that there is a horrendous and unfathomable price to pay when you consume the bacterial excrement, alcohol. But, importantly, there is ALWAYS a far greater cost than your suffering and death, O self-centered one. It is the collateral damage done to those who love you. The parents of Andrew Cole Baggett literally stopped living when their only son died. Their reason for living was gone. The hope, the love, the passion for life – all extinguished by liquid from a can.
I remember visiting their home on many occasions. And I was always deeply impressed when looking into a small classroom on the property. It was constructed to provide for the only child of this couple and a few others, much like this school. I thought it strange that it was never touched, only cleaned. Nothing was ever moved from the place it was found on the last day Andrew attended school. It was, in retrospect, a memorial for the dearly loved, and only son, of John and Nona Baggett.
Instead of being able to honor this fine young man, the courageous hero that Andrew became in the United States Navy, his body was buried along with the hearts of his parents, in a deep hole in the Gunsight Cemetery. The flowers that grow there are watered by tears. And in all that time, over so very many years, I still cry for this precious family.
The next time you lift a glass or a can filled with so much regret, so much unbearable pain, so much loss of life and precious love, say a prayer for the now nameless millions who have gone before you and left behind a landscape that resembles nothing but misery and death. Please remember that as you wander further and further down into this valley of the shadow of death, you are taking your loved ones with you. Alcoholism is not singular disease. It is always accompanied by other victims. It is a social disorder on a magnitude and scale that defies definition. It envelopes and destroys entire families, your other loved ones and friends, and frequently, many others that were simply going down the highway at the same time. Each year the number is in the millions. But the numbers do not matter as much as you do. They are insignificant to those who love you, if you drown in the sea of apathy and alcohol.
The consumption of alcohol frequently leads to a portrait drawn of the loneliest place on earth, a graveyard. And the flowers, yes, those flowers, are not what they seem. They are watered by the tears of the deeply loved and lost. They never blossom in the warm sunlight of tomorrow. They died. Their lives were stolen, along with all the precious dreams.
For our trip on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015
We will meet at 8:30 a.m. at school to work on our Shakespeare production with Director, George Rodriguez.
Following lunch we will caravan to the Food Court in the Ridgmar Mall for lunch and then enjoy the new movie Unbroken, based upon the N.Y. Times best seller book.
The younger children will view Paddington, Rated PG at 11:45 a.m. running 1 hour and 35 minutes.
- Start time for Unbroken:
- 12:30 p.m.
- Runtime for Unbroken:
- 137 min
- MPAA Rating for Unbroken:
- PG-13 for Brief Language, War Violence, Intense Sequences of Brutality.
- Synopsis of Unbroken:
- During World War II, Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) survives for 47 days at sea in a raft, only to be captured by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
- Synopsis of Unbroken:
- Genre for Unbroken:
- Biography, War, Historical drama
- IMPORTANT DATES:
Jan. 19 (Monday) Dr. Martin L. King Holiday
Jan. 23 Fort Worth Stock Show
Feb. 16 (Monday) President’s Day Holiday
Mar. 9-13 Spring Break Holidays
April 3 & 6 (Fri. & Mon.) Easter Holidays
April 28 Scarborough Renaissance Festival
(Drama Competition is “Twelfth Night”)
May 4 & 5 (Mon. & Tuesday) Dress Rehearsal and Performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Stage West Theater