Friday, August 25, 2017

2009 Thornton Court 

How do you say good bye to a home you have loved for 43 years? A home you nurtured, adored, explored? This house on Thornton Court embraced me from the moment I first walked into it. Over time it revealed its secrets, its history, its hidden treasures. I love this old house built in1929 and my heart breaks every time I think of leaving it. But it is time. My bones don't take to the stairs like they used to. Frances has long ago abandoned the upstairs and the beautiful view of the back yard.

The room where the two of us once dreamed of our future as we watched squirrels frisk in the early morning among the limbs of the old pecan tree became my art studio when we had to move the bed down stairs. This house graciously embraced the idea. The downstairs den, with its locally milled locust wood walls didn't exist in the original house and was a playground to Marty as he bounced on a mini-tram and tried out handstands on an antique trunk. I'm sure this house smiled at this little boy as he enjoyed pre-school through high school birthday parties. It, too, gradually revealed that it could become a kitchen when Marty moved off to college, and the old kitchen said it would be glad to become a bedroom after a hip surgery. We were surprised to discover where an original door once was, and a light switch hidden between the walls during this renovation. I smile at the thought of my sister, Becky and I actually putting a wooden floor over that new kitchen after taking out the linoleum floor and discovering the old original tiles. We laughed as we left a note sealed under one of the boards with our names. I smile as I remember painting that floor with an elaborate design. I look at this kitchen, which once was the den and the stove which replaced the sofa and remember bringing our new born son, fresh from the hospital and his marking his spot on that sofa. We loved him even more for that christening.

And then the living room and dining room insisted that they be switched for a while, as well, making the dining room closer to the new kitchen. I think of the stairs where we bounced down on our rears, Marty sitting in my lap, laughing and giggling. The same stairs that later entertained two grand boys for hours as they connected Mardi Gras beads end to end and slid the beads down those stairs like a slinky, followed by their bouncing down on their rears to repeat the process, and, yes, I did sit the two boys on my lap as we slid down, laughing and giggling. I think of the times these same stairs became a comfort spot as we sat and cried and shared our grief over deaths of loving dogs or pain caused by loved ones. It hurts to say good bye to this. But it is time.

So how do you say good bye to this? It is hard. It really is. I walk around the yard where we played, planted trees and flowers, hid Easter eggs or hit baseballs and chased dogs in the middle of the night that were cornering a possum, trying not to waken neighbors. I think of camping out back only to wake early so we could see a comet streak by. I smile at these memories.

As I look back at what this house has become over the last 43 years, I smile, but a part of me just wants to sit down and cry, and at times like this, the insecure me surfaces when I think of leaving this home and tells me that it is time for me to give up, too. “Life is over, I'm old and useless,” it whispers. “You can't even take care of yourself so how can you even think of taking care of the house,” it sneers? I feel despair as I think of the broken window from a baseball that once missed my glove and the cut that sent me to the ER for stitches and compare it to myself, broken and bleeding, feeling sorry for myself.

But as I sit on the patio in the dark listening to the tree frogs, Gumbo in my lap smelling the night air, I am reminded of the wonderful life we had here and I whisper a prayer. Prayers have a way of doing that, calming the storm raging within. Then memories or hurts begin to glide over the rough, the ugly, the sad, when you let them, and I thank God for that. Again I smile. The despair leaves. “It is time,” God murmurs. “Go. Enjoy your family and grandchildren. Start a new adventure.” That's what life is really about isn't it. Loving God and going when he calls. Frances and I are stepping out on faith and feel it is the right thing to do. I'm not really ready for it, but it is time to move on. And that's okay. God's timing is always so accurate when we are open to his whispers. It will hurt to leave this house but leaving our church and friends is a whole different story. But we must move on. Again I whisper a prayer for Emmanuel.

Sitting here reminiscing, I'm reminded that you don't say good bye to a home you have loved for 43 years? You just don't. Instead, you hold the memories fast in your heart and smile and say, “Well done.” You treasure all the memories of painting designs on tennis ball backboards and coffee tables. 

You smile when you think of the rugs that you painted on wooden floors to cover up bad spots. 

You smile at the time you opened up part of the ceiling in the new kitchen and painted the other half with leaves and tree limbs because your wife said, “Wouldn't it be nice if we could sit under the trees here?” 
 You laugh about the time the bathtub above had a burst pipe, which caused the sheet rock ceiling to fall in one of the rooms, allowing the house to reveal a hidden part of itself to you, gifting you with a beautiful, wooden ceiling. You smile thinking of the hours spent removing 5 or more layers of paint on that wooden ceiling and dream of what former owners must have been thinking to keep painting that wonderful wood. You think of life and dogs we've owned and buried in the back yard, of watching a boy become a delightful adult, of friends who have shared the journey with you and laughed and cried with you in this house and you are comforted knowing that God has been with you all the way. No, you don't give in to the insecurities that haunt you, but, instead, take a deep breath and look forward to the next adventure, to the new house that is waiting to reveal itself to you, too, knowing God will be beside you.

God reminds me, on occasions like this, that it will be fine. Life will go on. It is time for new adventures. It is time to embrace the joys that are yet to come. It will be hard to leave a house you dearly loved all your life. But it is Okay...honestly. It is time.

I thank God that Frances and I had the privilege of living in this grand old house, that was way older than us, and for the discoveries we made of its original blueprint. I marvel at the way past owners treasured the house too by making upstairs sleeping porches into full size bedrooms, and am thankful that we were chosen to care for it as well. I pray that the new owners will cherish what we have learned and will also think it a privilege to be caretakers of this marvelous home. Frances and I are writing down the discoveries of dear old 2009 for them. They need the history too. I pray that the new family will enjoy bumping on their rears down the stairs or hurry down for Christmas surprises. I pray that they will share laughter and love and joy in this house on Thornton Court. We love you 2009 Thornton Court and will never forget you. Thank you for sharing life with us for 43 years. We will miss you, but it is time and we are happy for new adventures.

Don't even get me started on how I will miss Emmanuel Baptist, a place I love even more that my house. The sermons, friends and love this church has shared are priceless. Leaving this church is going to be the hardest part of moving. But I smile, knowing it is time.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and be not dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Friday, August 18, 2017

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My church is in the final stages of another long over due renovation of its historic three story building. I took the time one Wednesday night to sneak past the barriers that separated the usable parts from the restricted areas. As I stood in the huge open space of the third floor gazing up at the attic space I was transported to my first recollection of this building. This three story building once housed the sanctuary on its second floor with a three sided balcony on the third.

I sat down and remembered what Emmanuel Baptist Church has meant to me. It has been a part of my life every Wednesday and Sunday for as far back as I can remember. I am blessed to be a member of a church that has a history of great preachers and am blessed to have known some of them, even when I was too little to know the importance of how they would nurture me. People like Dr. Herschel Hobbs, Kerney Keegan, Franklin Seigler, Glynn Bryant, Larry Taylor and now, Chris Thacker. I was taught that the church building was not the only place to encounter God. He could be reached outside of the walls of the building. He could be down the street at the Salvation Army and in the run down part of our neighborhood downtown. I was taught to love all people, that I could and should love this world and all that is in it.
Dr. Herschel Hobbs was the pastor when I was born and my parents enrolled me in the nursery right after birth. The nursery, where I spent probably the first 4 or 5 years of my life, was located in a wooden house, across from the gravel parking lot, where the chapel now stands. I have a vivid memory of this building, especially a coat rack that stood in the hall shaped like a dog with his body holding all the hooks for our clothing. I loved that big white dog with his tremendous black spots. This was probably my first artistic encounter at Emmanuel.

My first sanctuary was on the second floor of our education building, the pulpit being on the east side facing west, in the location of the Young Adults Sunday School. Our church had two sets of steps on the outside (located near the current angel sculpture and breezeway areas) that led you to the second floor sanctuary. Many Vacation Bible School pictures were taken on those steps. You could also access the first floor through doors under those stairs and enter the fellowship hall (which is where the baptistery was) or climb wooden stairs to the sanctuary as well. I'm glad these wooden steps, leading to second and third floor, are being retained in this renovation. I'm also glad that we are installing an elevator that is way overdue. I loved sliding down the wide concrete rail outside every chance I got. I sometimes climbed and hid in the rain tree next to it offering me sanctuary from adults or, once, skipping Sunday school. I remember years later when that tree had lived its life and was removed. My father took a seedling that had sprouted from this glorious tree and transplanted it into a new area next to the breezeway arches. This is the area where our current roses are growing, planted by Dr. Tom Davis.

I remember the folding doors that sectioned off areas of that sanctuary for Sunday school classes and the three sided balcony on third floor. Another artistic encounter was the sky light at the top, There were small windows on all four sides in the clerestory, covered in textured yellow glass that caused a glorious glow making the room seem magical and worshipful and safe. I remember singing the song, A Sunbeam, A Sunbeam while siting in that sanctuary and looking at those yellow windows. The area seemed so huge to a little child of five or six sitting on a massive pew on the second floor. The one person elevator, put in for Mrs. Mary Caulderwood Bolton, going to the third floor balcony mesmerized me. Little did I know I would encounter it later in life.

When I was seven years old Emmanuel built our present sanctuary and renovated that three story building for more Sunday school classes. The elevator was removed. I had the good fortune of having my Sunday school classroom where the elevator had been located. They had installed a window to replace the elevator door, leaving the shaft, I suppose, in case they wanted to re-install another elevator later. The window was screwed down, of course, since 12 year old boys met there. There was a ladder on the other side of that window that went to the bottom of the empty shaft. Our twelve year old minds created all sorts of adventures about that elevator and we yearned to explore. Our teacher would take the class roll at the beginning of class and then take the records to the department secretary to record our attendance. One Sunday, someone brought a screw driver and when Mr. Belk left the room we began working on removing a screw. This went on each Sunday until all the screws were removed. Our day finally arrived. The day we would seek our freedom. The day of our adventure. Mr. Belk took our roll to the department secretary as usual. While he was gone, each and every one of us, opened the window, climbed through it and down that ladder. The last boy in quietly shut the window as we crouched in the bottom of that shaft as quietly as we could. Mr. Belk could not find us and, thankfully, did not look down the shaft.

Of course, we were trapped now and had to wait until the bell rang at the end of class and every one left. Being late for church, we sneaked in the front door and quietly went to the balcony thinking we were home free. We did not know that Mr. Belk had already found several of our parents and informed them of our disappearance from Sunday school. Yes, I was punished at home and couldn't go outside and ride my horse for a whole week. The next Sunday we learned that our room had been given to the girls and we had a room with no window.

Our present Sanctuary was built in 1950. The experiences of revivals and preachers, stories and chalk talks by visiting artists shaped and molded me here. The room was larger than life and so beautiful. This church nurtured my creativity. A favorite memory is seeing God in those stained glass windows. I often tried to draw them with my crayons during services - my favorite was the one where Jesus gathered the little children - that is if Mama wasn't making me get off the floor under the pews in the winter time because of the heated floor or watching the street light on Beauregard and 4th street blink through the opened windows (there was no air conditioning) and yes, you could open a part of the windows then. Later when I joined the church staff, I would still go into that room, early in the morning, when no one was around, lights off, and visit with God. The early sun shining through the east side windows, and the Rose window, is a worship experience that rivals the most beautiful retreat. Even today, after twenty five plus years of opening the sanctuary for church, I look forward to my early morning visits before turning on the lights. I do believe this is the highlight of my week.

I was baptized by Dr. Franklin Seigler when I was nine, in the new baptistery, two years after we moved to our current sanctuary. Dr. Seigler had only known me by my nickname and Mama kept reminding him to please baptize me by my given name, even writing it down for him. Well, when it came time to be baptized, Dr. Seigler said, “This is, uh,” then looking around trying to find my family or his notes, to no avail, said, “this is, uh, well, this is Susie and Cecil's son Nippy. You all know Nippy. I baptize you Nippy Blair....” If he had leaned over and asked me my name, I probably would have told him Nippy as well since that was what I had been called since I was cutting my teeth.

Our youth department was two or three old barracks brought in and placed where the current nursery is located. There was no sidewalk to it, only some boards placed on the ground. When it was rainy, we had to slosh through mud in some areas. As a teenager the fellowship hall was our activities building with shuffle board painted on the wooden floor, a TV in one corner and a pool table in the corner closest to the office. This is the same old pool table that is now in our activities building. Many hours were spent there even after school ball games on Friday nights, playing games under the ceiling fans. Or watching horror movies with all the lights off. The glass doors that opened to Weems Fellowship Hall are original and led from the parking lot outside of the building. Once, a friend driving into our parking lot one Sunday afternoon missed his brakes and went through the doors into the building barely missing the pool table. The doors he messed up are the same French doors that were next to the office. Later as more renovations occurred we met at Central Grammar School, where the school board media center is located while the three story building received a third floor and more classrooms and the new nursery area and choir room were built behind the sanctuary. I hated that they put a ceiling up to cover the clerestory and those beautiful yellow windows.
Many sainted people helped raise me. Shirley Wells kept me in the nursery. Polly Colvin was my first memory of a Sunday School teacher. Blanche and Leo Marler, and Mildred Pierce were my RA leaders. Mary D. Bowman, was my Training Union leader. Gerry Gravel (Mama Rock to us) brought me to choir on Sunday evenings.

I became involved with drama as a young teen thanks to our minister of music, Joe Santo, and enjoyed performing in our sanctuary and on choir trips as well as in community theater since Joe frequently was the music director for City Park Players. He helped us become an ecumenical church. People of all faiths came to to our drama presentations. We had Jewish friends like Jacque Caplan direct some of our church dramas and a priest friend of Bro. Joe's even prayed in our sanctuary before one of the performances. This was in the 50's and 60's. Priests just didn't visit Baptist churches then. Choir practice was on the front pews or in the choir loft (we had no choir room then). The sanctuary was our only performing area so we built a platform to extend the stage for more room. We performed I Saw Him and Christ in the Concrete City . We practiced melodramas for fun performances.

We had two worship services under Glen Bryant and we were regulars on Life At It's Best on KALB. Our youth choir sang for the early morning worship. Later I helped direct the dancers for Amahl and the Night Visitors under Jerome Malek and even danced the Shepherd's dance in our sanctuary with my sister Jane. Yes, I danced on the pulpit stage, barefoot even. I directed and did the choreography for the musical Beginnings, where the choir sang in the balcony and we performed a liturgical dance. Later I helped direct and choreograph the New Life Singers, under Bob Bolding, where we traveled over several states performing, even getting a standing ovation at Music Week at Glorieta one summer. Heather Mackey and I directed two act plays and created stage sets when my son was one of the youth. One play took place in a garage and we transformed the chapel stage to look like a garage even with a car that some men (thanks to Butch Mackey, and James Girlinghouse) graciously placed there for us. Frances and I hosted the neighborhood children after school in our activities building. Sometimes we would have close to one hundred children who wanted to play basketball. This lead to devotions for them and after school tutoring. Frances and I wrote the pageant for Emmanuel's 100th anniversary and I directed. We were able to involve almost everyone in the church, even the janitor, Warren. The script is in the church history records. I am extremely grateful to my church that allowed this artistic misfit find a place to belong and to use his artistic talents.
Emmanuel has always embraced creativity. Too often those who march to different drummers feel out of place at churches. This is not so at Emmanuel for we have always been pioneers. We have always been a church that was accepting of “difference”. We have always been a church that nurtured the Arts. We have always been open minded. This is the environment I thankfully grew up in. Thank you Emmanuel for the church you are. There is none other like thee.

Currently we are in the final stages of another renovation to the three story building that I loved growing up and it will be glorious. It has been wonderful to follow the progress. I'm glad they will open up to the clerestory again and the windows that once shined with glorious yellow light will do so once more although not all of those windows will have the yellow stained glass, but enough to create the ethereal glow it originally had.
 I'm excited that a new generation of youth will be making memories like the ones I have.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.