Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Daddy And Mother And  One Of Their Sons
 I count myself very fortunate to have had for parents Anne Lee Lester Hibbett and Rufus Gleason Hibbett Sr. As I think of them I am struck with how little I actually know about them, I mean their deeper inner lives. Parents in their day I don't think generally communicated their inner doubts, deepest hopes and concerns to their children. I don't know if my parents confided more deeply with my older brothers or not. I  rather doubt it, mother even less than Daddy. I know Daddy and my brother Lester played golf together regularly the last decade of Daddy's life. They may have had significant confidential conversation? My parents were simply always there as the very stable center of my world. They were never out of place for me. If they were not with me I knew I could expect them at the next meal. I did not ever as a child try to imagine what they were like at deeper levels. I just sensed that my world was pretty much held together by them. I simply experienced them and my six older brothers as always  there and central to my world.

This is not a research project so I can easily have some facts wrong. I will greatly appreciate anyone helping me correct such mistakes. Neither am I writing  primarily chronologically. I am attempting to touch on the things about my parents, and the atmosphere they provided, that had strong influences on me; many of which they likely gave hardly a thought. They have both been gone for decades  now so  I will reflect on some areas that are too private to have mentioned before. One desire is that my recollections of their lives might bring some  light and  insight to our own. Some of this may only be a starter for more involved conversation by others who knew them.  I trust  my love, respect and profound gratitude  for these two beautiful people is evident  in my reflection. They named their sons: Rufus Gleason Jr, Lester Lee, George Robert, Ira Kneeland, Eugene Prosser, Barry Kenneth and James Truman. Each of these were names of close relatives except for Gene who was named for a close and supportive life-long  friend my parents met when they first moved to Florence.

Daddy and Mother, or Mama, were both from Middle Tennessee. Mother's father was a dry goods store owner in Alexandria and Daddy's father, Ira Kneeland, was an iron factory worker living in Lavergne. The only grandparent I ever knew was Daddy's mother , Martha( Mattie) Carver Hibbett or grand-mama. I only knew her from our trips for day visits with her where she lived in an upstairs apartment with Daddy's sister in Donaldson. She always had cooked green beans and corn pones for me.  Daddy's family moved to the country in Mt. Juliet when he was very young. Mother's family I think were permanently in Alexandria. George Robert Lester was a rather successful business man and his family was considered upper middle class. Thus mother was accustomed to a finer style of life than Daddy.  Toward the end of his life George Lester's  business failed but I don't think he suffered anything near poverty. They were Big Mama and Big Pop to my older brothers. Mother had three sisters and two younger brothers. One sister died as an infant and Mother, as a teen, wrote a lengthy grieving tribute to her. Her two brothers became separately very successful and quite wealthy with Tennessee produce companies named for themselves. Her brother's son Kenneth Lester Jr became one of the three founders of Cracker Barrel in Lebanon, TN. Daddy was next to the youngest of four sisters and two sons. Their family lived on a very slim budget and Daddy was the first of two children to go to College. Daddy even in his adult years was very adored by his sisters and he enjoyed the company of his one older brother. They and grand-mama all called Daddy  'Gleason.'  My mother called him 'Hibbett.' Daddy and Mother met while he was attending Cumberland Presbyterian College and mother was attending the Church of Christ related David Lipscomb College in Nashville.

The Original Coffee High School

When Daddy finished college, in 1923 they married and moved to Florence, AL after Daddy was hired as chemistry teacher. He very quickly also became a successful football  coach at Coffee High School. They lived the rest of their lives in Florence in the same house which eventually was across Cherry Street from the new Coffee High School, 1955. Here they raised seven boys whose youngest and oldest were twenty years apart. I am the youngest by seven years. There was no better way to become endeared to Florence people than to be a successful football coach. His first year Coffee High was  not beat, tied or scored on until losing the final game in the state championship. What a start at age 22 and  having arrived with his new bride in Florence only three months before. He surely must have felt he was on the right track for his life.

Daddy went on to be the principal of Coffee High, and some 20 years later went into business by going into debt to purchase Dixie Supply Co, a general sporting goods store.  In 1930  school board  encouraged Daddy to earn  his Masters Degree in School Administration at the prestigious Columbia University in New York City. He did this by going to New York four consecutive summers which was quite a hardship, especially for mother who by the end of that time had six boys to raise.  Still a mystery is why in the world they sent him to such a renowned, expensive faraway University may never be understood. You'd think that  George Peabody or certainly nearby  Vanderbilt or U of A  would have been more than enough  quality education  for the principal  of Coffee High. This still confounds me. I am now imagining that an individual(s) supporters funded this extravagant measure as a way to affirm Daddy  in a most excellent way as Coffee High's  principal and unknowingly for his eventual role as Superintendent of Florence Public schools.

In recent years the family had not been able to find His Master's Degree certificate from Columbia U. Some  mistakenly began to wonder if he actually received his M.A. as we were always told. Early in 2013 I contacted the records department and Columbia U. They sent me a certified copy of his transcript. And an official notice that he had received two certificates in November of  1934, one was his MA degree and the other a certificate for work  beyond the Master's degree requirements. Inserted  is Daddy's  academic transcript from Columbia University.(My nephew Ken Hibbett contacted me in February of 2014 saying he had found Daddy's original framed MA certificate from Columbia University in 1934. I was pleased and he has offered to give it to me the next time I am in Florence.) Daddy was away from his young and growing family for four summers successfully completing the continued education project. I think this became a strong story of  healthy family pride, not a shabby accomplishment for a poor country Tennessee boy and it likely caused us all to highly value formal education.

While still the proprietor  Hibbett and Sons Sporting Goods Daddy was elected and served a successful term as Florence's Street Commissioner. He left the business to three of his sons in the late fifties to become Superintendent of Florence City Schools from which he retired in the late sixties. The town declared a day in honor of Rufus Hibbett in 1974 while he was still a very healthy man. He thoroughly enjoyed mingling with so many of his friends in that setting, most of them calling him coach or simply Mr. Hibbett.
Daddy As I Most Remember Him

It is easy to mistakenly think of Daddy as somewhat wealthy. Several of his sons became wealthy by anyone's measure but Daddy lived his life pretty much on the thin all along. He likely was more financially comfortable in his retirement than ever before. I get the impression he was not a shrewd or sophisticated business man and he did not draw more than a common salary from the store. We had a closet fire in the fifties and Daddy considered the  $500  insurance payment as quite a  wonderful and needed windfall. My brothers grew  up having little that could be considered luxury.  Things were much better for me than my brothers but still clearly middle class. For one thing I benefited indirectly from the successes of my older brothers. They gave me gifts all along, took me on family trips and assisted with my college expenses. I've heard stories of extremely hard family times during the depression. Daddy was well supported by more wealthy persons who somewhat took him under their wing in such times. I know that Mr. Griffin, a church friend, let him purchase groceries on credit with very liberal terms. Eugene Prosser, owner of Florence Lumber Co and church friend, helped Daddy be able to build the modest home on Cherry Street.

During all of Daddy's public and professional life my mother was always his strongest supporter but never a public person herself. I do not recall her preparing social dinners for Daddy's professional friends at our home. Emotionally supporting Daddy and taking care of seven boys was how she spent her days. We were a three meals a day family and I would think that and keeping clothes washed was a full time job. Mother was undoubtedly  living  with less materially than she had been accustomed to. We did, like so many  southern even  lower-middle class families, have 'help.' (1) Most of Mother's life and later we had an African American woman who helped with cooking, washing and ironing and child care. Mary Springer filled this role for some  thirty years. In Mary's last decade as our 'help' she had such severe arthritis that the only work she did was ironing. So mother was doing the rest of the house work in those years. Mary was emotionally accepted as part of the household but I'm sure her pay was minimal and she lived as most blacks then, in poverty. I  recall mother doing sewing at home for the store. She would sew the letters and numbers onto the athletic uniforms the store sold to area schools. Her sewing machine was set up in their bedroom at the front of the house. She let me clip the loose threads after her sewing.
Coach Rufus Hibbett And  His First Football Team
My images of Mother and Daddy's relationship are quite remarkable, especially seen by one who worked for fifteen years as a family counselor. I can honestly say I never heard a mean, angry or sarcastic  word from either of them, toward each other or anyone else in the home. I truly viewed them as  near perfect humans. My primary experience as the youngest son  was a profound sense of safety and freedom. I do not remember them as regularly engaging me in personal conversation but I never had any worry about them  not being  present and supportive of my young life. They no doubt had mellowed as parents and were very secure in that role by the time I came along. I know they must  have  wished  strongly for a girl but I never even had that thought until I was grown. I asked Daddy after I was married if I were a mistake. He laughed and said, “No, you were not a mistake but you were surely a big surprise.” Not only was there no fear of physical harm at home, there I was also so very safe emotionally. It always seemed to me that these two people thoroughly enjoyed being together in their daily routines. They routinely kissed each other coming and going, sat near each other and I was aware that they often  gently touched as they passed. They gave similar touch to their sons. Daddy always intentionally kissed his boys on the lips when they were leaving home for long periods and did the same when we returned. This was a ritual of his. I confess I did not particularly look forward to it but it left a deep impression on me that he wanted us to know just how deeply he loved us. (2)
Mother With Oldest And Youngest Sons

Daddy had the habit most of his adult life of 'chewing' cigars. This was not pleasant for the rest of us but we did not question it. It was the most obvious vise he had that I was aware of. He only lit his cigar when we were taking automobile trips, which usually meant a three hour drive to  Nashville to visit extended family. I can recall having my head out the back window and suddenly have some cigar spit hitting me in the face. I did not hesitate to complain about that but it had little effect. Also I liked to get the carbon paper from the waste baskets at the store and occasionally would realize my hand was in some disgusting tobacco juice. I early on learned to wash my hands well. He gave up his cigar, for reasons unknown to me, the last fifteen years of his life.

We were a strong church of Christ family(Some prefer the un-capitalized 'church.' It carries doctrinal meaning.)  The Florence Hibbetts'  lives revolved around dressing up and attending church as a weekly ritual. On Sunday morning we attended Sunday School classes at 10 AM and the church service at 11 AM. After a Sunday dinner and  no formal  working we then dressed  up again for Sunday night services at 6 PM. And every  Wednesday night we wore our regular daily clothes to church for Bible classes  which we called 'prayer meeting.'  Church attendance was never open for discussion. It is what the whole Hibbett family did and that routine followed me into my own new family. It continued with me as a church of Christ preacher until I was forty years old. That style of structured church life changed for me and my young family rather suddenly beginning in 1984. (3) I was aware that mother attended Ladies' Bible Class every Tuesday morning at the church. And she occasionally had some of her church women friends to lunch at our home. I think  Mama's  family had been  long time Church of Christ members. Daddy's father Ira K. had been strongly converted to  church of Christ teaching after he was married to Mattie Carver who was previously a Methodist. A Baptist first cousin of mine assured me from direct conversation that our Grand Mama was not as certain about the Church of Christ being the only true church as her husband was.

Church was also a safe and comforting place for me. A most comforting image that I still return to is my head on Mother's lap during the  service at Poplar Street Church of Christ.  I could not have been more secure. I recall looking at the high ceiling of the church while in this position and knowing that was not the view that one usually had of the church. It seemed like a special privilege. And what made times of having my head on Mother's lap  most soothing was the sound  of  the four part harmony  a'capella music that is uniquely a church of Christ worship experience.

 My comfort at church only changed when I became aware as a teen that there were serious tensions in the congregation with various families and preachers holding strongly different views on how the church could use the money collections it received every Sunday. Some felt it was right for the church to send some of this to help support church related orphans homes. Others believed this was breaking with the church of Christ tradition of having a specific Bible proof for every detail of how the church was organized and functioned. I was aware this was a heavy worry on my parents as they suffered the breaking down of long time friendships and as they saw such differences negatively affecting the lives of their then married children. These stresses built until there was a physical split in the congregation with each side going its sad but confident way, trusting they were doing as the Bible taught. I can recall  Mother crying about such differences and hurt feelings and  Daddy  reading his Bible and church publications late into the night, trying to find some perspective that would put off the harsh feelings and threatened friendships that were stirred up. And it is just as true that some with the different point of view were just as sincerely agonized and perplexed.

Daddy was very involved in the church. He served as an elder, a place of much respect in the church of Christ, for many years and an adult Sunday School  teacher. He was  generally the song leader on Sunday morning. Daddy was a very socially  interested person. He was a community person. He loved to interact and visit with people. I remember  frequently waiting while Daddy completed a  conversation at church or the local market. Daddy was generally popular with the people who knew him both at church and in the community. At church I was aware that some women seemed to adore him and I think Daddy appreciated that. I'm confident that any such appreciation was totally innocent and healthy. I can never recall Daddy being out of place or out of line socially. I think his enjoyment of admirers was much the same as he had experienced from his  sisters. I never sensed that mother was jealous of any attention Daddy received from others.

I have been told by brothers that Daddy and Mother had a very rich intimate life together. That Daddy routinely came home for lunch from his school duties for that was time they could be together alone. Lester reported that when he was in medical school Daddy asked for an appointment with a urologist. His concern was that he and mother were being sexually intimate only twice a week whereas until then it had been significantly more frequent. He wanted to know if that was normal. He was past fifty then. It may be such reports, and my sensing them as fully enjoying each others company,  in part led me eventually to my strong intellectual interest in the importance of Eros energy in human life. And of its potential for richer  human happiness than men and women have generally found in our American culture (4)

Daddy seemed very confident of Mother being fully pleased with him. Once she learned that an old boy friend owned a large fabric salvage store in downtown Nashville. He was far more wealthy than Daddy would ever be.  She asked Daddy to take her there to shop for curtain fabric. I was along and found it most boring. The owner  gave them his complete attention while mother shopped and  finally found a pretty gold fabric for her living and dining room curtains. When Daddy asked the price the old friend looked at Mother and said, 'Anne I would never charge you for anything in this store.'  I think Daddy and Mama each  won in several ways that day.

Mother had always been healthy and active. She began to lose some weight and was proud that she could wear a size seven dress. Daddy took her to Nashville one Sunday afternoon to leave  her there a few days for radiation treatments for a diagnosed thyroid condition. I remember her kissing me good bye as I went off to play. I was left under the care of older brothers for a two day stint. Following her treatments, which may not be related,  Mother had a major heart attack. She died early the next Sunday morning. I have a letter she wrote to Daddy  from the hospital  advising him  about clothes for school and meals for me while she was gone. I also have a post card from her assuring all was well and she would be home in a few days.This may have been just hours before her heart attack.
A Post Card  To Me From Mama Five days before she died.

Daddy said the most amazing thing the night that mother died at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. (The only time I ever saw him sob were the weeks following her death.) He said, “ I never said anything to Anne that I regret.” I'm sure others would join me in  wondering how such a statement can be said in truth by any human regarding their long time partner and spouse  but I never saw or heard anything to contradict it. As we drove from Nashville to Florence behind the hearse which carried mother's body, I sat on his lap and he chatted  reflectively the whole trip. What I heard was , “ Jimmy, life will never be the same but eventually it will be good again. I will be mother and daddy to you for as long as you need it.” From then on my nightly prayer was that Daddy would live till I was at least eighteen years old for I had been told you become a man then. Daddy moved my single bunk bed into his room when we got home and that is where I slept for about two years. He gave me ear plugs when I complained about his snoring. A strong image in my mind is of Daddy, already in his dress clothes for the day, wearing a full apron while he prepared a hot breakfast, usually oatmeal, for me every morning. He was quite a good mother and daddy for several years. I was 35 years old when he died and I openly grieved my great loss and only then did I also finally and clearly grieve the death of my mother. Daddy's death was a real emotional turning point in my life. I think I  grew up a lot. I was fortunate to be in a community pastoral support group at the time.

Another quality of Daddy I took for granted was his very lively curiosity. He was an eager listener and full of questions when he was hearing of a subject new to him. Television came to our house shortly after mother died and proved to be an important part of Daddy's ongoing learning and general entertainment. Many's the time I heard and watched him chuckle at his favorite T.V. programs. When Daddy and Mama Gene visited me in Illinois Daddy discovered purple martin birds for the first time. We went to the small town of Griggsville that boasts being the 'purple martin capital of the world.' Daddy bought a martin house and took it back to Florence. He was the first in Florence, as far as he knew, to set up martin houses. For many summers he enjoyed a back yard full of martins. He did not like to talk about what he did to get rid of the sparrows that would run the martins off.

Daddy enjoyed church folks but he also had strong friendships outside of his church circle. I never saw that much with mother. Our church denomination had a strong element of exclusiveness to it. It was generally taught we were the only true Christians and that others did not correctly follow the Bible's teaching. There is no doubt that Daddy was sincere in such beliefs, as was I until nearly age 40, but he had strong respect and mutual friendships with non church members that transcended any air of superiority. I can't help but think that his years of Presbyterian College had left him with an impression that others were as likely children of God as we were. He would thus have motivation and reason to be  more open minded in religious matters than his sons  due to our very limited exposure, and negative conditioning, to other kinds of churches.

Daddy called me long distance one day when he was well into his seventies. He said , “ Jim, my best friend died yesterday.” I did not know who he meant. It was a man across the alley from Daddy's home- Alec Wade. I assume with Alec he had shared deeper parts of his heart all through the years. Alec was  an active  Church of Christ member and  I  recall him primarily  as our neighbor across the alley. I don't  think he was a part of Daddy's professional life. So I suspect it was a friendship where the two could fully enjoy  confidential conversation. I think it is accurate to say he was  set apart in Daddy's life as a  'best friend' for many years. I am glad to know Daddy had such a personal and important friendship. Many are the people who have numerous acquaintances but how many truly close friends can a person manage?

Birthdays were not strong rituals for us as I later found out were in most families. I honestly think that sometimes they were barely mentioned. Maybe there was just too many of them? I don't think we typically sang Happy Birthday at the table. No doubt there was sometimes a cake baked. I only recall my birthday getting a lot of attention when I turned ten which was only three days after mother unexpectedly died. I know extended family members were giving me dollar bills to put into a new small billfold daddy had given me. I also recall we had a meal recognizing my birthday and I received a Hop Along Cassidy wrist watch. For my eleventh birthday a wonderful neighbor and church woman hosted a surprise party for me at her house and invited my entire school class to attend. I was totally caught off guard and had a ton of gifts. Beyond that I do no recall the details of the party. But in general birthdays were not a central ritual for us. I don't know why. I cannot to this day tell you anyone in my family's birthday except that my brother Ike's is February 9, one day before mine. Of course I know my three children's birthdays for Beverly brought birthday celebrations back into our family.
Mother And Brother Lester

We celebrated Thanksgiving day with the traditional turkey and dressing meal. The other big event for Thanksgiving was it was always the day of last football game of the season for Coffee High. It was always with its strong competitor across the Tennessee River- Sheffield High. This family tradition began when Daddy was Coach Hibbett and continued throughout my days living at home.

Christmas was the grand celebration and tradition at our house. We believed in Santa Clause. Some of my most exciting times as a child was the build up to Christmas. My older brothers had believed that Santa had a workshop in our basement. This is where Daddy would build some crude toys for Christmas presents and where he would restore and paint used bicycles to pass on to the younger brothers. My brothers told of how they would yell to Santa through the floor registers and he would reply assuring them he was preparing gifts and advising they keep being good little boys. Christmas eve meant going to bed early so as to not interfere with Santa coming and bringing gifts. There was no doubt in my mind each year that he had eaten the cookies and milk we set out for him. Before going to sleep some older brothers would come in to assure me all was going well. While still dark but no earlier than five am I was told I could go to the dark living room and bring my stuffed stocking back to bed. There I would excitedly pour out the contents of fruit, nuts, candy, rolls of caps, nearly always a small flashlight and sparklers and a roman candle sticking out the top. Christmas morning I was never disappointed when while just at daybreak I made my way to the decorated living room. The room's floor was covered with presents and the Santa gifts were there unwrapped. I can recall a football uniform with helmet, an electric football game, new winter clothes, a small pool table, a cap pistol and holster, a tiny portable radio, a brand new red 24 inch bike. On my 16th birthday was a card on the tree saying that at the family store I would find a 12 foot feather-craft boat with a new 35 horsepower Evinrude motor. That wonderful gift was to become what was no less than an introduction to the world of 'the lake' that was to be my teen salvation. (5) Later Christmas morning my older brothers , now with children of their own , would arrive bringing more gifts and food for a Christmas dinner. Daddy, often dressed as Santa would hand out the wrapped gifts from beneath the tree and they would be opened as they were passed out. As the youngest son with now much older brothers I had a larger pile of gifts than anyone. I was very happy and full of wonder on Christmas.

Another excitement of the  Christmas season involved the reality that most North, AL towns  did not allow the sale of serious fireworks. So most teens and young adults  made their way sometime before Christmas to the TN-AL state line, about 15 miles, to buy firecrackers, cherry bombs , silver torpedoes and other rather dangerous fireworks to be  part of the our Christmas celebrations. Once a Roman Candle backfired on our front porch and I received second degree burns on my feet which were  bare  on a Southern  Christmas night.

Of interest our church of Christ did not believe that Christmas should be celebrated in a religious way. There was nothing at church to remind one of the Christmas story. There was no observance of the Days of Advent leading up to Christmas Day. The only sign of the holiday was that the children received a clear plastic bag  generously filled with fruit and candy the Sunday before Christmas. That was a gift  I very much prized, sort of an early Christmas stocking. I figured they must be from Santa.  I have mused  that as wonderful as Christmas was and as exciting, we were among the first to make 'Christ'mas, except for 'Saint' Nick,  a totally secular experience. That is rather amazing to consider for a strong Christian family.

Our family rituals would not be complete without mentioning our summer trips to the Smokey Mountains where we camped out in tents for a week. We camped at Smoke Mont National Camp Ground. This must have been a very inexpensive vacation for my parents. The women, with help from the men, still cooked all the meals and likely with less expensive food. The main extra expense was gasoline for the 600 miles round-trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. While there we did not seek out any expensive entertainment but mainly just enjoyed the cool sweet smelling mountain air, the sounds and feel of the cold clear mountain streams and stories and singing around the campfire at night. And the excitement of wondering each night if a bear would prowl outside our tent.   Even after mother's death I recall a trip to the mountains when Daddy dawned his high top tennis shoes to hike with me up the cold water creek, where I had first learned to swim.
Daddy(hands on me)And Four Brothers, Nephew. Soon After Mother Died

I was a very free child. I received a new bicycle for Christmas when I was in the second grade. Daddy took me to the Coffee high football field and taught me to ride it , no doubt as he had done with six sons before me. From then on I was free to ride that bike after school and during the summer to any place in our town of 25,000. One of my favorite and regular trips was to the family store Dixie Supply later named Hibbett and Sons Sporting Goods. It was about three miles to the downtown store. Growing up that was one of  my main hangouts. My Daddy and several brothers were usually there and I was completely comfortable with them all. As I aged I also worked at the store as cleanup and sweep up person, clerk, seamstress, package deliverer, trophy engraver, football face mask installer and many other tasks. My parents were all well with this. I was quite alone much of the time in my bike travels, except for my loyal and always present cocker spaniel Blackie. But I always knew where to go for help or with any questions. Both parents were fully available. I never recall feeling any pressure about life's future. I had no experiences of competition with my older brothers. They were more like caring father figures to me growing up. Daddy or mother neither ever predicted or stated any dream they had for my life. I think that was much because I was by far the youngest and they had already been well pleased by the accomplishments of their sons . So they had no unhealthy need to 'get' me to be anything other that what I would choose as life unfolded. I think that was unusual for a child and I think it was good for me in the long run. My work interests and experiences have been a continual surprise to me over my life time.

My parents seemed to have had no compulsive preaching to do at me as parents often do. I recall no stern warning lectures etc.  I however did  manage to be subtly and strongly  impressed  regarding matters of our church's superiority and to some strict moral mandates, such as no dancing, cussing, card playing, drinking or marrying outside our church.  I did not question the ethical and mental health  dangers of  the thoughtless acceptance of such arbitrary absolutes  until well into my adult years. I think my parents let the church have its full way with me and failed to encourage me to think for myself about such religious and ethical matters. I was very easily impressed by my adult church teachers.  I was taught to respectfully reserve the title of  'Brother' and Sister' for  the adults of our Church of Christ, implying  that other adults were not my  full spiritual  brothers and sisters.   I cannot compliment my parents in this one area of parenting responsibility. Yet I'm confident even this, at some irrational level, is as it had to be in our time and situation. I surely do not carry any resentment regarding such things. At best parents can only teach what they feel is best and true knowing a child  will grow from the soil with which they nurture him/her. What really helps is if  the parent lets the child know that  it is OK to eventually find a path(s) that is better and truer  for themselves in some ways than what they were given at the start. I think  parents should not presume in any specifics what the unfolding life of a child in their care will eventually look like or where he/she will go. This I think pays the highest honor to what  human life is.

If  I stopped here I think I would be selling my Daddy short.  From time to time he said things that indicated he was not always  thinking in such moral absolutes. He even sort of confused me a time or two. My senior class got in trouble for drinking  on our  senior trip. The principal had laid down the absolute law that 'anyone taking a drink will be expelled for the year.' Our class was brought before the school board and my Dad as Superintendent. We were asked to stand if we had taken a drink on the trip. All but five, of 250, of my class mates stood up. I was one of the five. When Daddy saw me not standing he announced  to the assembly that this issue involving so many should become the problem of the school board not just the principal. This let the principal off the dogmatic hook he had made for himself and a more appropriate consequence was meted out to the students. Daddy thanked me the next day for behaving myself so well on the trip and said if I had had drunk he would not have been able to do what he did, for it would appear he was working primarily on his son's behalf. And then he said, " Jimmy as much as I am proud and thankful that you did not drink, I can fully understand how an 18 year old their first time in New York might take a drink. What is most important is you and no one else was hurt."  He left it at that. Another incident: I showed him a paper I had written as a college freshman where I was attempting to discredit any truth or value to the Theory of Evolution. Instead of praising me after he read it he said, " I can see the importance of what you are writing about here. I can only say as a past science teacher  I've sometimes thought there may be something important  to learn from such a widely used and  hard-won concept as evolution."

I cannot help but see these as examples of  Daddy  gently  hinting that I had the right and responsibility to think beyond  the dogmatic statements of our religion. I think of it as similar to Jesus telling the apostles that it was OK to break the religious tradition of eating with unwashed hands and that it was proper for David of old to share the Alter bread with his hungry friends...that there are in reality few if any absolute ethical  rules. What is required  of us morally is thoughtful and  personally responsible  discernment which can more likely yield the highest truth to life's issues.  He was not telling me to pay no attention to church and its Biblical interpretations, quite the opposite, but he was suggesting to not use these as an excuse for dismissing other possible interpretations and needed  responses to life. This I suspect is likely  how a person  moves closer to practicing, 'Judge not that ye be not judged.'  This was a deeper, maybe unintentional, part of my parents'  influence that later assured me  the freedom and responsibility  they had granted me in so many ways needed to eventually  be humbly claimed in all areas of life.  Maybe Daddy  didn't go to Columbia University and spend four summers in New York City away from familiar surroundings  for nothing?  Those experiences likely had a very mind opening effect on him. He no doubt  rubbed shoulders and shared stories with many different kinds of people. He was blessed such ways that most men in his home  surroundings were not. And that in turn must have made him feel a higher and broader  responsibility. No doubt it helped  him  learn the value of thinking 'outside the box' of  the absolutes of  the conventional  wisdom of his specific environment. From wherever it came and however I perceived it that way,  I'm very grateful to have sensed that subtle perspective in him.

637 N. Cherry St. Florence, AL
Of  significance,  I was not seriously punished during my childhood, physically or otherwise. Daddy  never spanked me.(6) I have no image of him ever looking at me with anger, grumpiness, irritation or a threatening eye. Again keep in mind I am number seven and  seven years younger than the next. I do not recall being doted over or being  the center of attention either. Mother and Daddy did not build their lives around me. I fit in with their lives and they allowed me much leeway. But my needs were never ignored or made light of. I was very free,within limits of safety, in so many amazing ways but it was not quite 'anything goes.'  Mother sent me to get a switch on one occasion. I had, while playing outside in what we called 'the ditch', purposely dropped a large hard dirt clod  on my brother's head for no reason that I could give. It was just something I was able to do. She had me pull down my pants and I  danced with the unforgettable sting of  that switch. I was fully convicted that what I had done was truly and seriously wrong and harmful. That is the only spanking I recall getting. I think I always considered myself fortunate  to have these parents and that assessment has grown throughout my life. I do not think it can be credibly  charged that  I was spoiled in any character destructive or parentally irresponsible  way.

Three years after mother's death life had settled into a new groove in our home, though one that had not become normal or fully comfortable for me. But I had no way to know that I had not found a way to appropriately grieve my mother's death. I was aware that I had worries about Daddy's lonely nights sitting in his living room chair by his book shelf and about him dying before I was prepared. I think I felt somewhat responsible for him and purposely did not stay gone as much as I would have, especially at night. I was thirteen. Then totally out of the blue Daddy announced that he had fallen in love and was planning to marry Imogene Longshore Hovater. Gene had been one of Daddy's first students at Coffee High and was roughly ten years younger. She was the head of the cosmetic department at Rogers Department Store, Florence's most elegant store. Her husband had died two decades earlier and she had a son who was a Lt. Commander in the navy. I was taken  much by surprise and was hardly able to be in touch with my ambivalent feelings. Daddy assured me that he would always be fully available to me and that Gene was not there to replace my mother. He also told me her family had a place on the lake and that we would likely spend much time there.
Mama Gene and Sheri
That part  for sure sounded good to me. It was somewhat awkward at first having an unexpected woman in my life. I was glad I still had two older brothers living at home.  Their presence was a great comfort to me. But I knew they would soon be leaving. I agreed to call her Mama Gene and my older brothers called her that also. She was an attractive and  kind person, great cook, wonderful house keeper, more cultured than we were, and often brought me home clothes  from Rogers. I sadly was not very good at welcoming her into my life. Daddy even talked to me gently once saying she was not feeling very welcome. I felt relief that my coldness was noticed and assured him I could probably do better and I did. It was truly a 'not you , its me' thing. I was just not ready for a new mother and likely never would be. Mama Gene had  a complicated role placed on her in coming into the home where our mother had been so adored. She and I  never established an emotional mother-son connection but I did come to greatly appreciate her and I was glad that Daddy was not alone. Daddy attended many funerals from all his community involvement. He once said he liked to go to a funeral for it was ' a time to have a good cry.' My parents like all parents I am sure had their share of heartache, loneliness and sadness.

Mother With Brothers Gene and Barry
It seems my effort to pay tribute to my parents has more focused on my father. I knew Daddy for 37 years and mother for only the first ten. And only five of those involve my conscious memory. Like most women of her time  and social circumstance she was a homemaker. Her life's center was caring daily for her husband and seven sons. My reflection unintentionally shows the common situation then, a married woman had relatively  few opportunities for public influence  and community  interests outside the home. In addition to the prevailing cultural discrimination of women the  church of Christ, taking New Testament  organizational statements of the apostle Paul as forever applicable, did not afford women to be in  positions of  church leadership. The emphasis was always for women  to be' in submission'  and regarding church issues  to 'ask their husbands at home.'

I think, and hope, she was quite happy in very important ways. She whistled often and it was to me a sound of contentment but how can I know? I know she was rather sensitive and she sometimes had her feelings hurt, usually from interactions outside the home. I can recall hearing her privately cry at times. I so like to believe that their intimacy, which Daddy must have confided to some brothers, was  as joyful to her as it apparently was to him. My belief is that such joy can only be full when experienced by both partners, not just one. And yet I know they lived in a very sexist environment, as everyone did. Man and Woman relationships, including institutional marriages, were not mutual in many heartbreaking  respects, especially in retrospect. And I'm quite confident that Eros must have mutuality to fully bloom and bring its highest joys. This couple  surely must have had as full a share of  intimate and balanced love as was possible in their day and circumstance. I think that  is what we mean, even if not fully aware of it, when we say  of  a couple, " I hope they are happy."  It is my hopeful belief that the human race has yet to fulfill this Eros potential of  spiritual/earthbound  life.  I think of  Anne and Rufus as a good example of  the developing process of a more complete love experiences in  humanity's  future.  I am indebted to them  for providing an early atmosphere that has been supportive to me in my efforts to follow a dream of love throughout my life. (7)
Anne And Rufus With Their Seven Sons

Any reader of this blog can draw their own conclusion of how much I have idealized or psychologized  my two human parents. I do not deny there is some of that  going on here. But I have shared as objectively and honestly as I can the kinds of influence these two special  persons had on me as one who happened to be the youngest of  their seven sons. (8) I'm confident that  Mama and Daddy  left their earthly lives knowing, as much as it is  possible for one human  to know of another, just how much each of their sons adored and respected them for their labor of love in being our faithful  parents..

Jim Hibbett
Notes And Related Blog Posts:
  1. Two important books regarding post-slavery days in the Deep South: The Help by Kathryn Stocketts 2009  and The Store- 1933 by Thomas S. Stribling, a graduate of Florence State College, now U of N AL
  2. http://jhibbett.blogspot.com/2011/09/memory-throwing-things-september-19.html
    7.   http://jhibbett.blogspot.com/2012/07/looking-back-individual-life-is.html  
    8.   http://jhibbett.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-brothers-saved-my-life-october-13.html


Ervin said...

jim, i thoroughly enjoyed your reflections on your parents. I, too, was awed by your father and really enjoyed his "southern drawl".

Gail Johnson said...

Hi Jim,
I found your tribute to your parents very interesting, and many memories came to mind as I read it. I grew up attending Poplar Street Church, and I have memories of your father leading singing, and of you, as a boy(a little older than me...I graduated from Coffee in 1967) My dad was Verbon Jones, and he was married to Jean Wade, my mom, who was Alec Wade's daughter. So, to correct one impression from your article, Alec Wade (who was your dad's close friend) was a long-time member of Poplar Street, and, in fact, served as a deacon there. He was a quiet, gentle man who was a wonderful grandfather!

I found it interesting that you mentioned going to the lake...I remember attending "Sunday School Picnics" at the lake place, and we still occasionally pass the place as we have a camp on Shoals Creek and take frequent boat rides. I married Jimmy Johnson, whose family lived in the house right across Poplar Street from the church building. They attended Pine Street Church. You may have known Jimmy's brothers, Bill and Leslie.

So many of your observations struck chords of remembrance for me; one other thing I will mention is your family's love of the mountains, and camping at Smokemont. We were quite close to Lester and Elaine for many years...they built a home next door to my family home in north Florence while I was growing up, and Lester was a friend to my husband as he became a teacher, coach, and later, administrator at Bradshaw High School and Lester was on the School Board. So,in our early years of marriage, we often camped at Smokemont when the Hibbetts and the Threets were there. We were raising our family of 5 children and have precious memories of those happy times! We also were close to Barry and Ann...Jimmy served as a pallbearer at Barry's funeral.

I didn't mean to ramble, but I wanted to let you know that I found your article very interesting....I won't get into theology with you, but will say that I consider myself a serious Bible student, and I am constantly searching for understanding...I am a work in progress at 63 years old!
Sincerely, Gail Jones Johnson

Jim Hibbett said...

Hi Gail. I certainly do remember you at Poplar St. and your brother, also Verbo I think, and parents. Thank you for that correction. I will go back and edit that part. I apologize for not having that straight. I really should have known better. As much as I was aware of your mom I don't think I ever knew she was Alec Wade's daughter. I for some reason thought of Alec and your grandmother primarily as our across the alley neighbors. All of the family connections and activities you mention are close to my heart. As a child growing up in such a rich and varied environment I did little reflection on it all but I always felt I was very well cared for and safe. If only every child could feel that way in today's world. I appreciate your reference to theology and Bible and also that you see yourself still much in progress. So do I. Though I do find that no matter the changes in perceptions that I have come to, as I near 70 that I am what I consider quite conservative and I hope quite down to earth and practical. I may see some things different than my parents, brothers and Poplar St. Church of Christ but I surely know I never outgrow them and the essential role they always have on my life. I was greatly blessed in my youth. Again, thanks for reading and taking time to comment. I miss Florence. Please notify me if you find other slip ups on my blog. I consider it pretty much a completed project at this point. Or should you have other comments I welcome them. My best to you, Jimmy and your entire family. Jim

scout said...

I'd always heard that Lester was in medical school at Vanderbilt when your mother died there. Is that true?

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Jim said...

Yes it is. Lester was very much present with her .

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