History has never been my strong suit. I understand its value. I hold a deep appreciation for those who retain and relay it for our benefit. However, the past is not my primary field of focus. I am also not much of a worrier. I have dreams, hopes, and plans on my calendar, but the future has limited influence on my daily actions. I have always tended to squeeze the day (exprime diem…carpe diem is overused). I like to experience life, in the moment, to the fullest. My story—and the people in my story—is the history to which I give the most attention.
Almost every morning, Cletus ate breakfast at my grandparents’ home before my grandfather drove him to the sawmill for a day’s work. My grandfather refused to buy a home on the right side of the tracks, but rather chose to live in the community with his employees. My seven-year-old-self enjoyed hearing Cletus’ stories. Ray owned the record store in town. It was a somewhat renovated Jim Walter Home with black light posters and the constant smell of incense. I was forbidden to ride my bike—again, across the tracks—to the record store. He sold me my first 45 (Shambala by Three Dog Night) and many subsequent albums. Johnette Wesley was my first teacher after desegregation. She often held my hand as she walked our class to the lunchroom. Her hand felt no different than any other hand I had held. To this day, I credit her for my love of writing and academics. June taught me ‘The Bump’ on the playground—my middle school crush. I went to visit her recently. She is now retired from the military…and still brilliant. I cried at Robert’s funeral. As a seventh grader, I attended his baptism. (His church service was a lot longer than mine!) As a ninth grader, I attended his funeral. I knew I would miss him in band, the lunchroom, and the desk beside me. Nela was my date to a college homecoming dance. An international student from Ethiopia, no one else on our small, private, college campus looked or spoke like her…or danced like her! Mark and I were friends—colleagues—in graduate school. Sitting across a table in the library, he was the first to love me enough to say, “Jim, you don’t think you are racist, but…” John, eyes wet with the tears of gratitude and pain, told me the history of our churches as we ate lunch together.
I wish I was more adept at recalling all the movers and shakers of our culture—the people who have shaped our common history. It’s much easier to recall the movers and shakers of my life…the people who have shaped me.