Monday, May 18, 2015

They Laughed Out Loud

The women in my mother’s family were clearly cut from the same piece of cloth. There were eight sisters born to Tyler and Maggie O'Quinn. Three are still living: Mary Lou O'Quinn Turner, Betty O'Quinn Johns, and Mildred O'Quinn Daniels. Admittedly, I might be biased, but each was/is an attractive woman who has consistently conveyed a sense of humility with dignity.  All eight of the sisters have been known as Godly prayer warriors who could touch the throne of God. They have been faithful as servants of God, wives, mothers, church members, and neighbors. They have known and kept the faith of their mother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn.

The eight sisters also shared their father’s knack for spinning a story but with a heightened gift for building it to a climatic outburst of laughter. They laughed out loud. When they got together there was always a flood of stories about childhood pranks and missteps. I remember stories such as the one about the hen that roosted in the rafters of the kitchen properly positioned to make a deposit on the chocolate cake Grandma had made for the preacher.  The sisters had been instructed the evening before to get the hen out of the house. Rather than admit their disobedience, when they found the poop on the cake the next morning they just blended it into the icing for a little extra flavoring. In another episode two sisters felt sorry for Grandpa’s work-horse and fed it double rations of molasses and oats; the horse died.

It was the way they told the stories that made them truly special. The stories were actual events from their lives and they had learned to laugh in difficult times. They were remembering and reliving the past through the lens of humor. I suspect it was their faith that had helped them find the positive in those situations and their sense of humor that helped them reinterpret those events as modes of private entertainment. At any rate, they laughed with wild abandonment as they told the stories of their lives and I often laughed with them until my sides hurt.

The funniest of them all was my Aunt Dot, Dorothy O’Quinn Daniels. She was the one who could tell stories with a straight face even while everyone else was bursting at the seams. She also had a phenomenal gift for creating humorous events and enjoying the telling of them afterwards. My Uncle Coleman was often the target of her pranks. At various times in his life he was given to drink. During one of those seasons she would plead with him to not stay out drinking late at night lest something bad happen to her and the children. One Friday night he came home late to find her and the children spread out around the living room, each covered in “blood.” Actually, it was ketchup she had carefully applied. They each played their role as victims of violence, at least long enough to hear him sobbing out his regrets as a husband and father.

Someone should have recorded all those stories as they were told by the women who lived them. They are a legacy that is slipping away. One measurement of the character of a people is their humor, specifically what it is that they find funny and at/with whom they choose to laugh. Whenever I was with my aunts telling their stories I always came away feeling happier and cleaner. There was nothing in their humor that defiled or demeaned anyone. They each knew how to laugh at themselves and with each other just the way families should.

Friday, May 15, 2015

King David Harris -- And He Danced

David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. (2Sa 6:14 NRS)

I am a direct descendant of King David, King David Harris that is. He was my mother’s maternal grandfather. I don’t know a lot about him. When I was a child there was an old one-room shack in the lower field on my Grandparent’s farm, down by a spring and closer to the river. The shack was called “the old kitchen.” There were a couple of pear trees at the shack that seemed to be loaded every year. I absolutely loved the jam my mother would make.  In time I learned the old kitchen had once been adjacent to a beautiful two-story house King David had built for my great-grandmother, “the finest in the county.” But after he died it fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

As I heard it, somewhere in his life he developed a weakness for alcohol and when he was drunk he was abusive of my great-grandmother. He died apparently inebriated after a night of heavy drinking. He was by himself when he stopped at a spring for a drink of water on his way home and apparently choked to death.

Like his namesake, my great grandfather was known to shake a leg. My Dad said that he had heard that whenever King David got some spirits in him he was the best buck dancer in the region. My Dad also said that people who knew both him and my grandmother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn, said that when the Holy Spirit came on her she would dance just like her father. He died in 1921, long before I was born. But I was blessed to witness my grandmother dance under the influence of the Spirit. Well into her seventies, she could move like the lead dancer in a River Dance performance, when she felt the Power.  Someday, I shall dance with wild abandonment.

George Washington Johns - A Survivor

A Line of Survivors

George Washington Johns (1841-1913) was my Great-grandfather. He was born and died in Bachlott, Georgia. His only sojourn of which I am aware was as a soldier in the Confederate Army.  Family lore has it that he was wounded and left behind by his compatriots. They leaned him against a large tree next to a split-rail fence with expectations he would soon die.

As the story was passed down, he would state that he shot at a lot of Yankees during the war but he only knew that he hit and killed two of them. Both were killed as he leaned against that tree awaiting his own death. They were apparently scouts on a mission. When they came to the fence a short distance from where George rested. One jumped on top and over the fence and one squeezed through the space beneath the top rail. He shot the jumper first and the one caught in the fence second.

This must have happened near the end of the war when Confederate soldiers were reduced to wearing tattered uniforms because George confiscated some clothing from his dead counterparts. Later, when he reunited with his Southern troops, one of them commented, “Johns, we left you behind for dead and here you show up with a new pair of breeches and a new pair of boots.” He responded, "I’d be wearing a new coat and a new hat too, but I figured you fellas would have shot me.”

There are many ways to interpret this story. It is not the portrait of a hero, but rather one of a survivor. The Johns on my branch of the tree are known for their stubbornness; I prefer to call it steadfastness. We are not quitters; we will stay the course and finish the hard tasks of life. Others may take us for granted or abandon us for their own pleasures, but we will remain true to our commitments. We will keep on fighting when others have given up on us, or as I use to say in my youth “I am going to keep on keeping on until I can’t and then I’m going to die and go to heaven.”