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TITLE: I Have Learned
By Hazel Robinson

This story is written to show, to prove to those who read it, that life is an ever learning process.

By: H. R. Robinson

Introduction: When I first undertook to write this first story, I had been reading from the book of First Peter, where he tells us we are “kept by His power through faith unto salvation….” So, I named my story, “ Kept By His Power.”
After reading in the book of Romans, I changed the title to “Grace and Justification.” Then, as I began to grow in Christ and in knowledge of the Word of God, I changed the title again to, My Story - For His Glory,” with the parenthesis, (“I have learned,” which of course, comes from the book of Philippians).
Even though I wanted to change it again after getting deeper into the word resulting in a deeper clarification of the Scriptures and then applying them to my life and, after listening to a sermon by David Jeremiah entitled “All My Aha’s;” still I decided to keep the title as it is because they all connect. Thus, my poem “If I Had Never Met Jesus,” is the summation of it all. H.R. Robinson

I wrote this poem while sitting in my car under the carport of my home one night after Bible study. This was in July 1985. It was the first poem I ever wrote. The poem confirms my state and the fact that, “If I Had Never Met Jesus,” I would never have known many of the things “I have learned.”

By: H. R. Robinson

If I had never met Jesus,
In this, my one lifetime,
My heart could not be filled
With peace and love;
Nor would all of my hopes be sublime.
If I had never met Jesus,
Wonder where would I be today?
Alone, uncared about, still searching -
All the time accepting come what may.
If I had never met Jesus,
Would I still be caught up in a twirl -
Like the conman in the circus
Who cries - Win!
Just give it a whirl!
I could never have known
The Lord as my Shepherd;
Or understood His amazing grace?
Then there’s those moments and
Hours in prayer, I go to Him,
Knowing, He’s always there.
I’m so glad I did meet Jesus,
And the love I feel inside
Enables me to say,
It is well with my soul;
For in His love, I now abide….

Several years ago, I wrote a poem I called, “Learning.” The first lines went like this: “Life’s experiences are purposed to teach - to give lessons for our future. From life’s experiences, we gain know-how - to discern between Godly and worldly pleasures.”
In the Book of Philippians (4:12), the Apostle Paul writes, “I have learned that in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere, and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Of these profound words, I must confess it is the first three, which impact my soul and mind; it is the first three that bring it home to me - those words, “I have learned.” Paul couldn’t be content in any state until he learned how. I have learned that I can’t either.….
In this vein I find myself thinking back - remembering all the things I, personally, have gone through up to this point in my life. Moreover, in this same vein, I have asked myself, not only what I’ve learned, but just how much have I learned? One most important thing I have learned is that God’s angels have always watched over me. With this thought in mind, I’m reminded of a story told to me many years ago - confirmation that other life stories often have a positive effect. This story ministered to me personally coming forth as, “God’s Angels At Work.”
Rita Brooks was the third of five children born to Walter and May Brooks in a small city in Northeast Alabama. The family lived in a dilapidated old, what used to be called “shot-gun,” house with Rita’s great grandmother, her daughter, and her three children. The house had three bedrooms; two rooms on one side with the kitchen; then a hallway and another room on the other side of the hallway. When asked how they all were able to fit in such a small dwelling, the reply was, “I don’t know how we did it; I just I know we did!” Actually, they lived out of only two rooms because the room on the other side of the hallway was declared “off limits.” Rita had an uncle, who was in the Army, and her great grandmother was holding it for his return.” There was no inside bathroom facility; only an outhouse standing about eight feet from the house. The children were very happy and high-spirited. Though there was never much in the way of material things, Rita, when talking about her childhood, never neglects to mention, and I quote her very words,
“I never knew I was poor until somebody told me.”
It was in the summer of 1942, when Rita was almost five, that she got her first introduction to death. Her great grand mother, Mary, suddenly, became ill, and died. It happened like this….
Monday was the weekly washday for the whole community. In every yard, women could be seen building fires around large black wash pots. They would fill the pot and two or three tin tubs with water. One tub was for washing - the other two for rinsing. One of the women would begin by rubbing, white pieces first, up and down on what was called a “rub board.” The washer would then throw the washed white pieces into a pot of now boiling, soap and bleach filled, water. The same was done with non-white clothes, only these pieces would go into one or two tin tubs for rinsing. One person continuously jabbed a stick up and down into the hot, boiling, pot. Once it was determined the clothes had boiled long enough; they, too, were then thrown into the rinsing tubs. Finally, the clothes were hung, with clothes pins, on lines to dry.
In their small community washing was an all-day thing. And, in the normal course of the day, washing and cooking went together. While the women washed clothes outside; inside the house, beans, turnip greens, or some other vegetables and/or meats cooked on an iron wood/coal burning stove.
One particular Monday, about halfway through the day,
Rita’s great grandmother complained of a headache and went into the house to lie down. Very late that night, all the family was awakened to screaming and crying that came with the announcement that great grandmother Mary had died.
Grandma Mary, as the children called her, had sons, daughters, and relatives, who lived in other states, so her funeral had to be delayed. In those days, custom was to bring the body home the day before the funeral, where family, friends and neighbors would gather for, what they called, “the wake.” Listening to the grownups talk, Rita overheard one of them say, “She stopped breathing about 2:00.”
The word “breathing;” caught Rita’s attention; so, making sure no one was in the room with the casket, she tiptoed into the room, got upon a chair, and stared hard down at her grandmother’s face.
“I was trying to find Grandma Mary’s breathing.”
She later, told her brother Louis. Rita continued,
“I looked everywhere at her and I just couldn’t find it anywhere.
A lady came in and asked,”
‘Honey, what are you doing in here all by yourself?’
“The lady then put her arms around me, all the while, saying over and over,” ‘It’s going to be all right honey; It’s going to be all right.’
“The lady then walked me out of the room; so I didn‘t get another chance to look for Grandma Mary‘s breathing. I heard her say,”
‘It’s so sad, that poor child was standing upon a chair just staring down at her great-grandmother’.”
After that, though there were many babies born in the community - there were also many deaths. It was in November of 1944 that death claimed Rita’s mother, Mary Brooks. Rita was seven, her brother Louis, eight; baby sister, Elizabeth, six; and the oldest, Nell, eleven. They had another brother, Charles, who died, at the age of two, before Rita was born.
Mary Brooks had been bed-ridden for a very long time. It was right after she and Rita’s father, Walter, took a trip to Buffalo, New York that Mary became ill. Mary sang in the choir at church. One Sunday, as the choir began their second song, she fainted. After that, she was sick and bedridden for a long time before she died. People in the community surmised that the weather in Buffalo had been too cold for her and that she did not have proper clothes to wear in such cold weather. So, they assumed, she had taken a cold which developed into tuberculosis.
At the funeral, while crying and weeping was going on all around them, Rita and her brother Louis sat counting the floral wreaths surrounding their mother’s casket. Rita could remember that there were twenty. In talking about her mother’s death and he funeral, Rita pointedly stated, “Some things we never forget.” The funeral was a long one, and much tribute was paid to Mary Brooks. Rita and Lewis kept sneaking looks at their daddy to see if he was crying. If he was, they didn’t see it.
Everyone assumed that the children’s father, being a young widower of thirty-six, would naturally want the children to live with their grandmother, who was also anxious to have them. But, this was not so with Walter Brooks, and he was adamant! They would live with him at his brother Clem’s. So immediately after the burial and feeding of the family at the church, Walter told them to gather their things; which of course did not take long, because there was not much to gather.
In addition to being ill with tuberculosis; it was whispered also that Mary Brooks was infected with other terrible diseases, which, as the whisperers determined, could only have come from Walter Brooks. The children heard the whispers, but, of course, they had no understanding of what was being said.
Rita thought about the conversation between her parents, which she had heard just two days before Mary Brooks died. Her dad had said,
“I am going to sleep with you! You’re my wife!”
To which Mary replied,
“Walter, you know what the doctor said? The doctor told you that you have to find somewhere else to sleep.”
Rita remembered her dad’s angry retort,
“If I can’t sleep with you, I won’t stay here!”
With that, he left the house. He was gone for two days and in that time Mary Brooks died.
Of course, there was more whispering; for the grownups tried, as best they could, to keep the children from hearing some things; but they still heard a lot. Now, Rita says, “I have lived long enough to understand a lot of the things they tried, so hard, to keep us from hearing.”
Eventually the children would come to know their dad for what he was, but the one thing, Rita says that she will never forget is how most people saw and spoke of her mother as a wonderful “Christian” woman. Whenever Mary Brooks name was mentioned, it was followed by the magnificent adjective “Christian.” There are still those today who remember Mae Brooks, as she was called, who will still talk about her in this way. What a legacy!
Sweet, gentle Mary Brooks! However, Rita admits that in her growing years, she had to confess she didn’t always see her mother in this way. She didn’t see her as the sweet, wonderful woman everyone bragged so much about. But, she now admits that she has come to understand a lot of things.
One thing, as a fourth child, now considered the middle child, Rita, though she didn’t know it, had always felt overlooked. Mary Brooks had her baby, Beth; her son, Louis; and her oldest, Nell. Even at such a young age, Rita felt as though there was really no place for her.
In fact, it seemed all the family made sure Rita knew that when a baby, her parents had given me to her father’s sister, Jean. They told her,
“You were so small that everyone thought you wouldn’t live very long. Your Aunt Jean had no children; so, she asked for you and your mother and daddy agreed. She fattened you up on goat’s milk, and immediately your mother and dad wanted you back. Your Aunt Jean had no choice but to return you to your parents.”
Many times on hearing the story, Rita would say to herself,
“I wish they would have let me stay with Aunt Jean!”
Later, in her adult life, she wondered why she even needed to know that story.
Someone in the family even went so far as to diagnose her with having anemia. Rita did not do well in the sun; so, whenever she stayed in the sun too long she’d get a little dizzy and invariably it would be said,
“You know, she’s sickly anyway, poor thing!
Well, after her mother’s death, everybody that lived in the house had to be checked to see if any might have contacted TB. Everyone’s test returned negative but Rita’s. She had two positives. Naturally, it was assumed that she had contacted the dreaded disease; and, of course, they began to speak doom and gloom. However, the third test returned negative! Rita did not have TB! Still, the family determined she would not live very long.
Many times, in thinking on this, Rita concluded, something was wrong here! These were church-going people, who called themselves Christians! Did they miss something along the way? Was not God’s grace and mercy explained to them; or, had they not read about it in the Holy Bible? Evidently they either did not know or did not understand the true meaning of grace and mercy. If they had, they would not have spoken so negatively. Rita had really answered her own question - they were “church-going” people.
Think about it! All the children slept in the same bedroom with their disease infected mother, not to mention her personal contact with others in the house - yet, none contacted tuberculosis! Through His grace, God allowed His angles to hold back the dreaded illness from the rest of the household. Telling her story brings to my mind Scriptures from the Biblical Book of Revelations ……..“After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea or the trees…….’ (Revelations 7:1-2).
And, in my mind’s eye, from all that Rita had told me, I could also see other examples of God at work: The roof in the old house, where they lived, always leaked. Buckets would be lined up all around the walls to catch the rain as it ran down through the ceiling. In the winter the house was always cold, but God took care of took care of them – they survived!
The long walk to their Uncle Clem’s house was done in silence. The children were all very quiet. They wanted to live with their, “Big Mama.” Walter Brooks had adamantly said “No,” and they were not allowed to ask any questions. No why’s here!
Walter’s brother, Clem and his wife Landa were waiting for them. He opened the door and led them into the living room of the small, wood-framed, house where, in the center of the room, a pot-bellied wood-burning heater dominated most of the space. After a while, he showed them to the room they all would share. The five of them would not only share the same room, but they would, also, all sleep in the same bed. Walter, Nell, and Beth slept at the head with Louis and Rita at the foot.
The next day, while their dad was at work, Uncle Clem said to the children,
“Come with me, I want to introduce you to my two friends, who also live here.”
They followed him into his bedroom. Uncle Clem pushed the door closed to show two ropes hanging on a nail. He said to them,
“These are my friends; they live here too!”
Then, pointing to a colorful beautifully braided one, he told them,
“This one is my pride and joy! Don’t mess with it.”
Holding the other, not so impressive one, he said,
This rope is for you; when you misbehave, I’ll use it to hang you.”
They heard what he said, but they didn’t really grasp what he was saying, and as long as their daddy was there with them, they never thought about it; but this would all change. Within a few weeks, after they had moved and settled in with Uncle Clem, their father said to them,
“As soon as I get a good job and a place to stay, I’ll send for you.”
However, before he could leave, something terrible, or maybe it was not so terrible, happened. Beth, the youngest, contacted polio and Walter Brooks had to delay his trip. Within a very short time she died. Beth was seven years old. The year was 1945.
Relatives from Buffalo, and other states, came for Beth’s funeral, and Walter Brooks hitched a ride with one of his brothers. It would be three years and a lot of harsh and cruel treatment before Rita and her brother and sister would see their father again.
The word that best describes these years the Brooks children lived with their uncle is, “horrible!” He was a sadist! The words “corporal-punishment” can’t compare with the methods he used when chastising them.
Almost anything they did could turn out to be a reason for a whipping. In the case of Rita and Nell, because, they were girls, he would only make them strip down to their slips, but Louis, the boy, had to get completely naked. Then, with arms folded across their chests, they had to kneel before him, as he sat in a chair with, legs crossed, and a lit cigarette between his lips. Bringing the belt sharply down, upon their backs, he constantly reminded them, “If I have to get up, I’ll kill you.”
Often he would tell them how his own father had dealt with him when he misbehaved. He told them how his father used to whip him, without any clothes on, and how he had once tied him to a tree and left him there for hours. So, we get the picture that the children’s uncle Clem was giving to them what had been given to him.
If anyone of them were to hit the other, thereby causing a fight, he’d make them both strip in the same manner, only instead of him doing the whipping, he would give each fighter a leather belt and make them whip each other; and, always he sat in his favorite chair, watching with his legs crossed, and a lit cigarette in his mouth.
The day came when the three of them got their first real introduction to the hanging rope. After his first introduction, he constantly reminded them about the rope, but up to this point, had never used it. Today they had done something that terribly displeased him. They didn’t wipe their feet off before coming into the house and had tracked mud in. His words,
“Whipping doesn’t seem to do any good; I guess it’s time for ole Charlie.”
With that, he took the rope down from behind the door and pushed them on out the front door. He then looped the rope around each of their necks, and marched them off towards the woods, often called the swamp, which stood directly across the street from the house. All the while the children cried and begged repeatedly,
“Uncle Clem, please don’t hang us. We’ll be good.”
The cries and pleas were wasted. He paid them no attention. He was like a man on a mission! He was determined that he’d hang them in one of the trees and leave them in the woods all night. At least that was the way it appeared. But, just before he could lead them the few extra steps into the woods, something happened! Later in life Rita came to know - God had sent His angel! .
Because of the way the rope was looped around the children’s necks, they had to walk one behind the other as their uncle led them, like cattle, into the woods; but, just as he would go further into the woods, a man appeared. (I write this, visualizing as it was told to me.)
“Hey Clem,” the man said, “Where are you taking the children? “Oh, I’m trying to teach them a lesson, so I’m taking them into the woods to punish them. I figure if I leave them hanging in the woods all night, they’ll learn how to behave.”
“It’s that bad huh?”
The man asked. To which Clem replied,
“So bad I just don’t know what else to do with them. Whipping doesn’t seem to help.”
Scared, and shaking all over, the three children dared not make a sound. Rita said the man looked at them with, seemingly, no expression. Then he said,
“Well Clem, I think you got their attention - why not give them another chance? They’ll do better. I know they will. Give them another chance.” The man repeated.
All the time the man was talking, Clem just stood there shaking his head and, for what seemed like forever, he said nothing. Then, taking the ropes off from around their necks, he said,
“Well, if you think they’ve learned something, I’ll give them another chance.”
Walking away, the man looked at Clem and said,
“See you.”
Turning around, in the direction of the house, Clem said,
“Ole Gordon saved you today. See that you behave yourselves; or the next time nobody will be able to save you.”
Every Sunday was church day for the whole house. Clem Brooks saw himself as a faithful Christian man. In fact, if the truth were told, he saw himself as more of a Christian than most men. He always prayed long prayers; even his grace at meals was long and drawn out. I guess he wanted to make sure God heard and understood what he was saying. Most of the people at the church labeled him as being “very religious”. This is something that can’t be disputed - he was certainly religious in his meanness and in his cruelty to his brother’s children!
Before each meal Clem would say a long prayer. Rita quoted the words her uncle would say.
“I thank you heavenly Father for this meal that is prepared before us. And, Oh Lord, there’s nothing in the world greater than your blessing this food, and I pray thy blessings upon it. Bless even the hands that prepared it; bless even the hands that went out through the busy toils of the ships and sins of life in order to try to obtain and get it. Now holy righteous Father, I pray in your name, these and other blessings upon it. Amen!”
One Sunday, after church, a storm came. Clem had all the children to sit on the couch with him and his wife, Landa. He stretched out his arms to include them all and said,
“If we go, we’re all going together.”
The children were scared to death! Rita understood that he was talking about dying. She said to Louis,
“I’m not ready to die; I want to grow up! I want to be like Nell!”
Louis just looked at her, squeezed her hand and smiled. The storm finally passed without affecting them. Clem remarked,
“God spared us this time.”
Rita had her own mental picture of God. In one breath their uncle would tell them that God could do anything! He could blow the house down! In another, he would say that a tiger was the strongest animal in the world. Rita just couldn’t seem to separate the powerful God from the strong tiger - so, in her child’s mind, she assumed a tiger was either stronger than God, or God was a tiger. The children had never been taught that God was their Father, as He was of all mankind, even though Clem made sure that they knew the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, which of course, begins with the words, “Our Father….”
Another year passed. Clem continued to dose out his cruel and harsh punishment. At every opportunity, the children would tell their grandmother about him - that is, whenever he let them see her. She, in turn, wrote several letters to their dad, but he never bothered to answer any of them. Finally, the day came when Louis got everyone’s attention. He said to Rita,
“I’m tired of Uncle Clem being so mean.”
Here is what happened:
Rita and Louis, and their two friends from next door were having a typical child discussion about where babies come from. Louis said,
“I know where babies come from. They come from the doctor’s little black bag. He brings them with him.”
Rita hurriedly replied,
“No such thing! They come from the woman’s stomach.” Jimmy, from next door said,
“No, the stork brings them.”
Rita then interrupted again to explain what she had said about the baby coming from the woman’s stomach.
“Aunt Norma’s stomach got big and stayed big for a long time, and after she had her baby, her stomach wasn’t big anymore.”
She no sooner got the word “more” out of her mouth than their Aunt Landa said from the doorway,
“What are you children talking about? You wait until your uncle gets home; we’ll see what he has to say about these things.”
To the children from next door she said,
“You two, go home.”
Playtime was now replaced with fear. Their Uncle barely got inside the door before the aunt began to tell him about the conversation. He immediately called,
“Louis, Rita, get in here!”
The two of them slowly walked from the porch into the living room. Their uncle asked,
“What are you children doing talking about things only grownups are supposed to talk about?”
“We’re sorry, Uncle Clem,” We won’t do it again.”
They chorused.
“I know you won’t,” he said. “Bring that rope in here, boy,” He said, to Louis.
Eyes filled with tears, Louis climbed upon a chair and got the rope. Nell wasn’t in it this time - only Rita and Louis.
Without another word, their uncle took the rope, tied it around the two children’s necks and headed for the woods. But, a few steps into the woods and guess what? There was Mr. Gordon, God’s angel, who seemed to be just waiting to plead their case again; and, as with other times, a few words, and the would-be hangman turned around and led his niece and nephew back to the house.
How did this man, Gordon, always know when Clem was going to take the children off into the woods, and why did he always listen to the man and turn around? He had to. He had no choice. He was God’s angel! God got in the way! God had sent His special angel! Mr. Gordon was God’s messenger - the children’s guardian angel! The non-forgiving Clem couldn’t help himself - he had to turn around!
Usually, after an encounter with Mr. Gordon, Clem would leave the children alone; but that night he gave them their standard beating - on their knees, etc. That night, also, from somewhere, Louis got courage. It is very possible, that God, through His Action Agent, the Holy Spirit, gave Louis boldness - for after the beating, all teary-eyed, he said to Rita,
“I’m gonna run away.”
People were always giving the children comic books, and they loved to read about the runaway who would get himself a long stick, fill a cloth with his belongings, tie the cloth up, then tie the cloth to the stick, and put the stick on his shoulder. For Easter, the grandmother, whom they lovingly called, ‘Big Mama,’ had bought Louis a white shirt with a blue tie and blue short pants. Louis loved them. He didn’t have a stick or a cloth to tie the clothes in, but he stole into the room where the three pieces were hanging, pulled them down and tied them together, hung them over his shoulder, and before Rita could say,
“Louis! Wait!”
He was out the door running - on his way to his grandmother’s house. Rita knew she had to tell, lest she get herself in trouble and wind up getting a beating; so, she watched him as far as she could see; then she went and told.
Rita expected her uncle to explode, but he didn’t. Calmly he tightened his belt, put on his shoes and went out the door. She and Nell knew where Louis was going. Clem did too! He also knew that, by now, Louis would either be already at his grandmother’s, or he would be almost there. He was right. Louis had just made it when the uncle, walking as fast as he could, knocked on the door.
To his surprise, this time, their grandmother was unyielding,
“I know why you’re here, Clem, but you’re not getting him - and, tomorrow I’m going to the police. By this time tomorrow night, Nell and Rita will be here too!”
With that, she closed the door in his face. Clem didn’t wait for the next morning. As soon as he got back home, he said to Rita and Nell, “Gather your things - you’re going to live with your grandmother.” Goodbye Uncle Clem!
Rita didn’t have much to say about her uncle’s wife Landa; only that when it came to anything, she had no voice, but at every opportunity, she would tell him things about the three children - things to get them in trouble. Other than that, Rita said, she had to remain silent, and, she went on, mostly, she always had a sad look on her face. She also pointed out that her aunt was a very large woman, who wasn’t very good looking. The bad part, though, was that her Uncle Clem was always yelling at her and calling her ugly! So, normally, Rita said, the aunt was very quiet.
Lorna Smith, the children’s grandmother, had another daughter, Anne, who was several years younger than their mother, Mary Brooks. Anne had never been married and lived at home with her mother. She was twenty-four years old, and angry. It would be her responsibility to see after the children. Aunt Anne knew nothing about day-to-day care of children. One could only hope and pray that she would do her best as far as she knew, and ask for help with the things she didn’t know. As many have said, “She did the best she could;” however in writing this story, these words just won’t seem to come.
While Lorna worked every day as a housemaid, it was up to their Aunt Anne to see after her nieces and nephew. This entailed cooking all the meals and making sure clothes were clean and ready for school and church. Yes, living with their grandmother included going to church! But, they found this church to be different from the one they went to with their Uncle. They loved going, and on top of that - it was the same church where their mother used to take them. It was also the church where her funeral had been held.
The church was directly across the street from where they lived. There were two women, who took all the children of the church under their wing and made them their ministry. Rita never forgot them - even today she often speaks of them. One thing she, especially, would always say,
“I will forever be grateful to the women at that church for having taught me; and especially for having cleared up my confusion about God - that God was not a tiger - that He made me and the tiger too!!”
Life at their grandmother’s was good. Another year passed. Their mother had now been dead two years. Rita was nine years old and in the fourth grade; Louis ten and in the fifth; Nell thirteen and in the eighth.
Lorna Smith didn’t make a lot of money, which might lead many to wonder how she was able to maintain a household on $2 - $5 a day. Only God has the answer to this - because only God could make it possible. The Word tells us, “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:19). Here we get a good example. Let us not interpret this to mean He’ll give us all the riches, as some see it. God enabled this poor family to always have plenty to eat, a roof over their heads, clean clothes, etc. - in other words, the basics of life. It could be a fact that how we handle the basics determine how much more we’ll have.
Walter Brooks hardly helped at all. Occasionally he would send some money, but not very often and not very much. Of course there was no television or any of the other “toys” parents today make sure they give their children. If given the opportunity, children can be creative. The girls would take rope used to wrap around ice or packages, push it down the mouth of a bottle (any bottle) with sticks to tighten it and keep it in place; then, they would comb the rope - like combing doll’s hair. They would search for old strings around anything and use them as ribbons. Sometimes they would spend the whole day working on their dolls - trying to find ways to dress them up and make them look pretty.
When it rained, the children in the neighborhood played under high porches. The girls would spend their time making mud cakes, while the boys would make fortresses or caves, and whatever else came to mind. No one in the neighborhood had much in the way of material things, but they had imagination; with imagination comes creativity, and with creativity comes fun! Thus, these children really enjoyed themselves.
One summer Lorna Smith’s sister, called Aunt Bea, came from Ohio to visit. She took a strong liking to Louis and begged to take him back with her. Lorna got permission from Walter Brooks for Louis to go. While Rita was happy for Louis, she didn’t expect that he’d be gone so long - either did daddy. After Louis had been gone a month, Walter Brooks called on the neighbor’s phone and demanded Bea’s address. Reluctantly Big Mama gave it to him. Within a week’s time, Louis was no longer with his Aunt Bea in Ohio; he was in Buffalo with his dad, and his new wife.
Louis stayed in Buffalo with his dad about three months. Walter sent him back just before school started. Louis told Rita and Nell all about the things he did in Buffalo. He also told them about their new stepmother, and her son and daughter.
The oldest, Nell, was now fourteen and her prime interest was boys, so she could care less about Louis’ adventures. The children never saw their Uncle Clem again - at least not while they still lived in Alabama.
Whenever anyone asked Clem about them, his reply would be,
“I did the best I could, but those children were some bad ones.”
It seemed as if sickness and death were always to be a part of the family. The children’s ‘Big Mama’ took sick and stayed bed-ridden for over a year. To make the load easier, Lorna’s sister, Bea, came again from Ohio again and took Louis back with her. Daddy let him stay this time. In the meantime, Lorna’s condition worsened; so did Anne‘s.
Nell had developed a crush on one of the boys in the church. Everybody’s opinion was that he was a “fine young man.” He was a good singer and very active in the church. In fact, the majority of the older church members predicted,
“That boy’s going to be a preacher.”
Their prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth. The young man’s name was Ronny. He was eighteen, Nell was almost fifteen. She and Ronny would go for long walks. They would sit in church together and were with each other at every opportunity. Anne gave permission for him to “court” her, which meant he could come and visit her at home.
At first no one paid any attention to the “special” attention Anne gave Ronny - after all, he was such a “fine” boy. Nell noticed, though, and was uncomfortable about it. She made the statement, “I think Aunt Anne wants Ronny for herself.” Nell was right. Gradually, Anne was able to turn Ronny’s attention to herself - she, being twenty-seven, to his eighteen years. Their relationship became the talk of the town, but Anne arrogantly showed them she didn’t care what they said about her.
Rita liked Ronny. He always teased her and called her his little friend, but suddenly he started acting different. He began to drink whiskey with their aunt, staying out late at night, even sometimes all night. At other times, when they came in, their arguing could be heard all over the house, until finally, Ronny would leave.
Nell was hurt, but she soon got over it and started seeing another boy. Gradually everyone came to accept Ronny as Anne’s boyfriend. Some nights he would stay over. Often Rita would wake up to find him in the bed with her and Nell. He slept next to Rita, and though he was drunk, he never touched her. In writing this last sentence the words, “guardian angel,” pop into my mind. I close my eyes and memories of the evil uncle surfaces. I can actually see him taking those precious children off into the woods to hang them - then the man called Gordon would show up. Was Mr. Gordon really their “guardian angel?” Oh, thank you heavenly Father for being there for them…
One night, when Ronny got in the bed, Rita was wide-awake. She could feel him tossing and turning - so much so that she was unable to go to sleep. Of course, she didn’t let him know she was awake. Finally, He shook her and said,
“Let me sleep next to Nell.”
And, in her innocence, Rita woke Nell up and said,
“Ronny wants to sleep next to you.”
Very loudly, and angrily, Nell said, “No!”
Rita didn’t understand - wasn’t he their friend? This went on for several nights, and Nell’s answer was always the same. As usual, after Nell’s adamant “No!” Ronny would roll over and go to sleep. The angels were at work again!
It was on a Friday night, May 11, 1948, that the Brooks children’s loving, wonderful “Big Mama,” passed from this life, as we know it, unto death. Rita was ten years old. The children knew that their grandmother loved them, and they were overwhelmed at the mere thought that they’d never see her again. They heard their aunt scream.
“Sis!” (That’s what she called her mother) “Don’t go! Don’t leave me” She cried.
Rita pulled the covers over her head and tried, to no avail, to make force to sleep.
Many of the neighbors were already there. That’s the way it was in those days. People would come and sit with the very ill - some all night. One of the women came into the room where the children slept. Gently shaking them, she said,
“Wake up children, your grandmother is dead.”
They all began to cry, and Rita, breaking into sobs, spoke out,
“Not my grandmother!”
The woman tried to comfort them as best as she could. Finally, she left the room closing the door behind her, and eventually they soon fell asleep.
Rita recalled an incident that happened before her grandmother became totally bed-ridden. She loved being with her, and very often the two of them would be alone. Well, this day they were sitting on the porch. It was in the fall of the year, but not very cold. The sun was shining brightly, and from as far as Rita could see, all the other porches were deserted. Suddenly, from nowhere came the sound of a man’s voice crying, “Josie! Josie!”
Lorna Smith said to her granddaughter,
“That’s ole Henry coming up the street - must be drunk.”
It was on a Friday - Mr. Henry always got drunk on Fridays, and he always came from up or down the street, calling out his wife’s name, as if to announce his arrival.
Something, though, was different this time. Mr. Henry kept falling down. However, always he would somehow manage to get up. The last time he fell, he wasn’t able to get up. Lorna remarked,
“Henry must be really full of it today.”
His wife, Josie, came out on her porch and saw him lying face down on the ground. Hurriedly she ran to him. Miss Josie screamed, “Henry, Henry, wake up! Henry did not move.
Then Miss Josie really began to scream and cry. Her Big Mama said, “Run over there gal, and see what’s wrong.”
Blood gushed from his back turning into what looked like crumbs as fast as it came out. Someone had stabbed Mr. Henry in the back. Rita saw the coagulated blood on his back as it encrusted the deep wound. By this time, a crowd had gathered and encircled Miss Josie and her bleeding husband. Someone said,
“Don’t touch him, I’ve called the ambulance.”
The ambulance came and took Mr. Henry and Miss Josie to the hospital. Needless to say, Mr. Henry didn’t survive the stabbing.
Suddenly, there were people from everywhere, and while they stood discussing the ghastly scene, a man ran up to the crowd and told them what had happened. Rita looked at her grandmother and saw the tears rolling down her cheeks, and, shaking her head as she walked back into the house to lie down, Rita heard her pray,
“God, please take care of my grandchildren.”
Many years later Louis told Rita that the night before their mother died, he’d heard her praying,
“Lord please - take care of my children.”
The Lord heard their prayers. Nell passed away in 1987; Rita and Louis are both still alive and full of energy.
Lorna Smith’s funeral was very sad. Her daughter, Anne, was the saddest. It seemed to everyone that she was going to either pull her mother out of the casket, or get in there with her. Later, when Rita told her father about the funeral, he said,
“They should have put her in the casket and buried her too!” Rita didn’t understand why he would say such a thing - but she dared not ask.
Lorna’s sister Bea and Louis came for the funeral along with relatives from many other states. A few days, after the funeral, all the out-of-towners left, including Aunt Bea and Louis. Louis had taught Rita some songs he’d learned; one of which, she especially loved. Some mornings while everyone else was still sleeping, Rita would go out in the warm sunshine, walk around the yard and sing it.
In the area, where they lived, morning glories grew in abundance, and wherever she saw buds ready to pop open, she’d walk among them, popping them, letting their fragrance cover her, as she sang over and over,
“There’s a garden where Jesus is waiting; there’s a place that is wondrously fair; and I go in the light of His presence, to the beautiful garden of prayer. Oh, the beautiful garden, the garden of prayer; oh, the beautiful garden of prayer where my Savior awaits, and He opens the gates - to the beautiful garden of prayer…”
Other times Rita would just sit and look out the window and stare at the sky. They told her that her mother and Big Mama were in heaven and heaven was in the sky. Perhaps she was looking for them. In first grade Rita had learned a poem that stuck with her. Sometimes she would say it aloud as she just stood looking up at the sky.
“Good morning sky; good morning sun; good morning little winds that run. How did you know that it was day? Who told you night had gone away? I am wide awake; I am up now too; I’ll be right out to play with you.”
“Someday,” Rita told herself, “things will be better.”
She was very sad that the one person, left in the world, who loved her was now gone.”
After the death of her Big Mama, Rita felt she would never know love again - not as it was supposed to be - not parental love or family love. Today she says, “I have learned….”
Rita and Nell lived with their Aunt Anne from May to September first of that same year. Again, Anne knew absolutely nothing about raising children. However, other relatives would help as much as they could; but, they couldn’t stop her from drinking. It became a daily practice with her and Ronny. Oh yes, he was still in the picture, and he’d become so involved with Anne, he’d stopped pestering Nell. Both Nell and Rita were glad of that!
One might be ready to believe that, in her heart, Anne wanted to do the right thing by the two girls. There is one thing people wanted to give her credit for; that is, that she tried very hard to keep them healthy. Someone told her to give them vitamins. She had no money for vitamins; so, someone suggested she use cod-liver oil as a substitute everyday - that it would serve the same purpose.
Anne misunderstood and thought they said castor oil. Therefore, everyday Rita and Nell had to swallow a tablespoon each of castor oil. One doesn’t have to wonder at the outcome of that! The girls had many embarrassing moments.” Someone finally got to Anne and the daily doses of castor oil, and the embarrassing moments suddenly stopped.
Life, as we know, is a process. It’s all about learning. Throughout the Bible, we see similarities; sometimes called similitudes. Take “guardian angels,” for instance - we relate them to biblical characters only in speaking about “seeing an angel. “ For instance, the angel Gabriel who came to Mary, the mother of Jesus; we certainly would not think that he had any association with us. Rita’s Uncle Clem had taught that angels had no association with them, but I have
Does not the Bible plainly state in the Book of Hebrews regarding angels, and I quote,
“Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14).
Of course, the Brooks Children might say, individually:
“Me! A guardian angel watching over me! Never! They wouldn’t, for even a moment, dare to think that! Their uncle Clem had taught them that angels were for those holy people in the Bible. He used to say to them,
“Don’t ever compare yourself with the people in the Bible; they are God’s holy people.”
Again, it’s all about learning. From the Book of Matthew (18:10) we read, “Take heed that you don’t despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father Who is in heaven.” (Jesus is speaking.) This, of course, means me - you too, dear reader. This confirms to us where the songwriter took his words, when he wrote, “All day, all night, angels keep watch over me.” He got them from the Bible! As children, we use to sing this song; at that time, it had no special meaning for me; but again, as the Apostle wrote, “I have learned.”
As I write this story, something else in my learning process comes to mind. Everyone knows tuberculosis is contagious. All the family slept in the same room with the mother - none contacted the dreadful illness.
The youngest sister, Beth died from polio - none of the others caught it. And, how did Mr. Gordon always happen to be at the right place at the right time? Did he know what the uncle was planning to do? Was this a made-up thing? There was no telephone.
Whenever the children did things that their uncle thought bad enough to take them off into the woods to hang them, Mr. Gordon was nowhere around, but he always managed to show up “just in time.” (One could get chills thinking about it!) How about the day the children sat discussing, “where babies come from,” and only their aunt was there; their Uncle came home from work and she promptly told him about it. He didn’t leave the house again to possibly run into Mr. Gordon and say,
“I need your help; I think I’m going to have to hang them bad children again.”
Only God - I am convinced - because I have learned that the believer’s greatest asset is “prayer.” Through prayer the believer can “Come boldly to the throne,” as written in the Book of Hebrews. I have learned that, if we pray believing, God hears and will answer our prayers. Before death, the mother prayed. Rita heard her grandmother pray. Both had the same petition, “Lord, take care of my….” God heard. God answered. How can we not believe in guardian angels? How can we not believe in prayer - for, to believe in God is to believe in prayer?
What about Ronny? Rita slept in the bed right next to him - flesh touching flesh. Does a drunken man know a woman from a child when he’s touching flesh? Rita was but ten years old. What happened? Nothing! God again! Not only did He answer the prayers of her mother and grandmother, but also He allowed grace and mercy to sleep between Ronny and Rita.
What about the beatings? Those children could have been scarred for life! Perhaps, in ways, they were; but, not so that they lived their lives wanting revenge for the wrongs done to them; not so they became full of hate; not so that they wound up in a mental institution; not so that they went for the rest of my life singing, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen…” Yes, Paul wrote, “I have learned….” and so will all who will accept that the greatest, the most important thing they could ever learn is, “My God can, and His grace is bigger than anything we can ever imagine! This, I have Learned!
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