When I was a child, I had a certain fascination for older folks. Some who lived near me and went to church with me were particularly impressive.
As seems true with most children, I had a strong sense of which ones of these older people really liked me. A child can usually tell by facial expressions and personalities, and of course, sometimes special treats help reinforce the feeling.
A few months ago in our church, Daniel Shawl declared to his mother that Mr. Milton Duncan must be “magic.” When she asked why, his reply was “Because he always has candy in his pocket!” Mr. Duncan’s friendly smile and his candy made him seem magic to a child. I think that’s pretty neat.
That incident reminded me of when we lost one of the older gentlemen in our church. Mr. Cecil Taylor was the “chewing gum man.” Every Sunday he slipped pieces of gum to the children on the front porch. His smile and his gum made every kid feel special.
When Mr. Cecil passed away, his niece, Mary Downs Vickers, took her 8-year-old grandson, Brett, with her to the funeral home. Young Brett gazed over at “Uncle Cecil,” his favorite great-great-uncle, and said, “MeMaw, do you think anybody ever wrote a poem about chewing gum?”
Brett won’t remember Mr. Cecil for all the hard work he did in his life or the wise advice he may have given. The thing he will remember is that his uncle always wanted to share a piece of gum and pass some time with the little folks in his life.
In talking with Mary about Brett and his love for Uncle Cecil, she shared with me how fond he had also been of her mother, Mrs. Lessie Downs.
Brett had felt especially close to this great-grandmother, whom he and the other grandchildren called “Mama Dee.” Since she died a few years ago, the family has kept her memory alive by talking about her almost every day.
This lady was a favorite of many folks in our community. She taught school for many years – plus, she had such a keen sense of humor and quick wit that one had to be attracted to her. She always had a smile and a sharp, slightly mischievous, twinkle in her eyes.
Mrs. Lessie never thought of herself as an old person. For example, she told her daughters about the children from church coming to bring her a fruit basket at Christmas, and when they started singing to her, she thought to herself, “Why are they singing to me? They do that for old people.” Then she suddenly remembered she was the oldest lady in her church! She had to laugh at herself for not feeling her age.
It’s a joy to think back on these stories and people and sometimes bittersweet to realize how things have changed. The memories do live on and the younger generation has a way of stepping up to the task of keeping life interesting.
Daniel and Zach Shawl’s dad, Blake, is now the “candy man” at our church – the little ones know he always has something for them in his candy sack. …And Tina Bugg usually has some sort of treat in her purse for any child sitting near her that may need a little help to pass the time during a service that seems a little lengthy to them.
Our lives are filled with special people and although we often fail to let them know, their influence will live on in our hearts and lives, shaping the way we look at life in the days ahead. I’m thankful for those who the Lord placed in my young life, and I’m thankful He continues to do the same for the little folks today. He is truly faithful!
(Daily Corinthian columnist Lora Ann Huff is a Wenasoga resident and special columnist for the Daily Corinthian. Her column appears Friday. She may be reached at 1774 CR 700, Corinth, MS 38834.)