Thursday, September 4, 2014

HISTORY MYSTERY, ANYONE?


I'm not exactly sure where to begin this story.  Maybe I should start with the USHER pin we found beneath the floorboards of this dogtrot's 2nd story.


 Me with an antique USHER pin from 
St. Luke Baptist Church.


Or maybe I should start with the little country church where I spent almost every Sunday morning between the ages of two and eighteen.   I could talk about bluegrass music and sweet southern voices echoing off of historic walls once built by early settlers of Rocky Mount, Louisiana.  I could sing you a song of grace and hope and old time religion, and explain that my grandfather was the pianist after learning to play completely "by ear" with no music lessons to guide him.  Or I could tell you about the time I went to my friend DeAnna's Assembly of God Church and it scared me so badly that I finally overcame my shyness and took off down the aisle to "get saved."  But what I'd like to share the most about my childhood experience with religion is that my childhood Preacher, Brother Gene Ingram, was one of the kindest people I have ever known.  He was selfless and an amazing example of what it means to be faithful.  He took his paycheck from the church and put it back in the offering plate every month.  He worked full time at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport and told us stories of people on death's doorstep who were either filled with grace and peace or burdened with anger and frustration.  He smile bigger than anyone I have ever known, despite the fact that a childhood illness had left his face paralyzed and he couldn't blink, much less lift the corners of his lips to give you a cheesy grin.

Brother Gene taught me a lot.  But there's one thing about him that I've rarely shared with anyone else-- he just KNEW things.  Unexplainable things about himself and about others.  He had the uncanny ability to know what was going on in your life even before you told anyone about your troubles.

And now comes MY big secret.  I grew up having strange dreams.  I would confide in a few of the grown ups in my life, and they just couldn't explain the seemingly unexplainable.  I'd dream something, such as a conversation between myself and someone that I didn't know very well, and then I'd forget about the random dream within a few days.  Then after the memory of the dream had left me,  it would happen in real life and even the tiniest of details would be before my very eyes.  The dream would come flooding back and I'd have a very strong, powerful feeling that can only be described as DEJA VU.  

I don't think that Brother Gene, my preacher growing up, knew exactly how in tune he was with me.  (Or as I know now, how tune he was in with God and the unexplainable universe that surrounds us all.)  One day Brother Gene stopped a sermon mid-word, turned toward my mother and I, and said something like this: "Paula, if Jacquelyn tells you that she didn't forge your signature, you need to understand that she might be telling the truth."  What Brother Gene didn't know in that moment was that we were having issues at home.  I was in the fifth grade and my teacher had accused me of forging my mother's signature.  It has no bearing upon my life now to either "tell the truth" or "lie" about the issue.  Believe me when I say that I honestly didn't do it, because I didn't.  But despite my tears and my honesty, my teacher was CONVINCED that my mother's signature was forged.  My Momma (as many Mommas do, myself included!) sided with my teacher and decided that I was lying.  I was dying on the inside, because I didn't want my family to be disappointed with me.  And the following Sunday Brother Gene cleared the air because he went with the little voice inside of him and followed it verbatim.



Brother Gene baptizing a teenage version of me in Lake Ivan, 
located between Plain Dealing, LA and Cotton Valley, LA.


I'm an adult now, and these dreams have rarely left me.  Sometimes they're simple and pointless: a conversation with someone I barely know about something casual.  Sometimes they're terrifying: the knowledge that someone unrelated to me is GOING TO DIE before it happens.  But when these dreams and their corresponding DEJA VU moments happen in my daily life, I cannot deny that there is something big and powerful at work in this universe.  And after years and years and years of being upset with the religion and restraints upon both mankind and God, and struggling to figure out exactly what it means to have dreams of the future, I have finally been guided to a better way of thinking. 

I'm a HIPPIE.  It's pretty apparent if you know me, and usually apparent even if you don't.  I dress to the beat of my own drum, which usually sounds very Native American.  My bloodline includes many Native tribes, including Eastern Band Cherokee.  I have cousins who look full blooded Native American, but I came into this world the first pale-skinned redhead born to my family in generations.

I am a pacifist.  I believe in love, light, and flower power.  I hate shopping in cookie cutter stores where PROFITS are the most important aspect of the business.  I roll my eyes and feel like vomiting when I see the signs that corporate America is becoming the ONLY America.  I study the works of many world leaders and cling on to the passages that inspire me to be a better person.  I adore quotes by Gandhi,  Deepok Choprah,  Malcolm X,  Nome Chomsky,  Amelia Earhart, Henry David Thoreau, JFK, Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and at least a thousand others.  And my thirst for knowledge confuses the heck outta people who think that a Christian is supposed to be stuck inside of a box that contains only the teachings of other Christians.

Unfortunately for our society, many people living today believe that being a HIPPIE and being a CHRISTIAN are two incompatible thaaaangs.  These two things are one and the same, believe it or not.  If you actually read and follow the teachings of Jesus, well, your life will not be one of excess.

You see, there are issues in this country that we aren't really dealing with very well.  I have come to believe that churches are the most segregated entities in America today.  I can't step foot into what I refer to as a Mega-Church without feeling upset.  There are people starving all over the WORLD, y'all.  People are being murdered for their beliefs.  People are afraid and alone and need our help.  God never said to pass the offering plate so that a church could have stadium seating and high-end surround sound and a coffee shop in the lobby.  Got Gossip?  You don't got God.  Got fear?  That's not from Him, either.  Got hatred for people who don't look, live, or think the way you do?  You've gotta get a grip.  Got a McMansion, an eighty thousand dollar SUV, and a middle-class income that you can barely stretch to pay for the high-end clothes you need to wear to church?  You've gotten DUPED, my friend.  Shake off this messed-up culture and get real with yourself and your maker.  

Get rid of the excess and start giving more than you keep.  Get your hands and knees in the dirt and plant seeds.  Watch them grow and you'll grow, too.  Get busy doing things for others--remove the constraints you have placed on your relationships with both your maker and with people and allow yourself to be vulnerable.  Love more and live for yourself less.  Sing like you're an opera star.  Dance like you're the Belle of the Ball, even if you are the most uncoordinated person you've ever met.  And of all things, even more important than singing and dancing and getting dressed up on Sunday mornings, LISTEN to the quiet, peaceful voice that speaks to you when you need it most.  That voice, my friends, is very important.  It is the link that binds you to God and the beautiful, unexplainable universe of souls that surrounds you.

I have come to realize that we are all a part of a spider web.  Your life intersects with mine, and mine intersects with others.  Our whispy-stranded lives link with others, and together we form the web of humanity.  What you do has a tremendous effect on not only those who you see physically, but also on the lives of the people that they are connected to in this web of life.  Be kind.  Be patient.  Be wise.  Be humble.  And be willing to do your part to make the web stronger.

Allow me to reintroduce you to someone.  The photo below is Pot Sumlin, and his wife Jo Ella was once the proud owner of the USHER pin that I began to describe in the beginning of this post.  When I found the pin, I already knew that the Robinsons wanted Pot and Jo Ella to move into THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK after their house burned.  If I'm not mistaken, they were the last official full-time residents of this home.

Many people in the Robinson family, the former owners of this house, say this when describing Pot: "He was my best friend."  

Pot and Jo Ella were LOVED very much.  And I'm so happy to share this story of true friendship in the deep south, where our reputation for hatred and bigotry precedes us. 


     

Pot Sumlin beside THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK in the mid 1940's.



The friendship between the Sumlin family and the Robinson family is no secret.  And neither is the little cemetery in the woods behind this house, where two different races were buried beside one another a hundred plus years ago.  This property was once the melting pot of one of the first interracial bands in our region, and if rumor serves correct I shall have my hands on an old video of them playing on the front porch of this dogtrot.  Every Juneteenth for years and years, the community gathered in the field beside this house for a freedom-themed baseball game and an old-fashioned potluck.  The members of St. Luke gathered here, in this dogtrot hall, for a potluck after their yearly cemetery cleaning day.  And these beautiful moments of our community's history, my friends, are exactly why love this dogtrot so much.

Last year, just after Shaun and I separated, I felt the urge to take the USHER pin to St. Luke Baptist Church on a Sunday morning.  What happened next shocked me.  I felt free there, sitting on a pew in a humble church that truly focused on the things that matter the most in life.  I was given the biggest hugs and smiles I had ever been given.  And I knew, on that day, that I wanted to go back for more than historic purposes.  

I felt like I belonged there.  And I still do.

Three weeks ago, I joined the choir.  Now I'll be honest--this lil' white lady cannot dance and clap at the same time.  And I grew up on BLUEGRASS music, which is the polar opposite of southern soul.  But a little voice told me that I was meant to be there, singing in the choir, and that wonderful things are about to happen.  So I joined.  And that was just the beginning....  I've experiences so many moments of DEJA VU that I know, without question, that I'm on the right track.  I've somehow discovered that my history, my mysterious dreams, this houses' history, my culture's history, southern faith, the beautiful web we call humanity, and God are all joining forces to do something big in Sugar Creek, Louisiana.  I don't know where the story will go from here, but I do know that I've never been happier.  And I've never felt so blessed in all of my life.

I hope that this story, even though it is unfinished, serves as a blessing to you, too.


Happy day, y'all!  Be strong, be brave, and be fearless.


With love from Sugar Creek, Louisiana,

Jacquelyn

4 comments:

  1. This was wonderful and inspiring. And very well written. For a while there, it was sounding like the beginning of a wonderful novel. I'm eager to see where this goes. Also eager to come over from Shreveport and stay in that dogtrot when you turn it into a B&B!

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  2. Thank you so much, Debbie! You are welcome here any time, so don't feel like you must wait until we open. :) Many hugs, my friend!!!

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  3. I like you. I found this blog looking for "dogtrot" style house plans (thank you Google) I found the little church I am in when friends invited us for a Christmas Program - some 22 years ago. I belong there. Being from Georgia, I understand the entire southern culture thing, but something happened the Christmas after my Dad was killed in an accident that changed my thinking....I haven't thought about it in years. You are wonderfully inspiring and I am tickled that you popped back up with the new posts in my feed. My blog is MaggieGraceCreates, but my real name is Teresa. have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Thank you so much, Teresa!!!! It's so nice to "meet" you! I'd love to know what happened before you Dad was killed in an accident... I'm intrigued! You can email me at jacs(dot)lewis(at) yahoo(dot) com or look me up on FB under Jacquelyn Tripp. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

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