Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Life’s Great Lesson’s – #2 Small acts of kindness are the greatest rewards

Grandmamma Feemster - Mother's Day 2009

Grandmamma Feemster – Mother’s Day 2009

The hustle and bustle of this holiday shopping season reminded me when I was a little boy my Grandmother Feemster used to take me shopping with her. She lived about 15 miles outside of Rock Hill (SC) in what we called “the country.” On Saturday mornings, she would wake me to a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal and then it was “off to town.” Grandmother enticed me on the excursion with the promise I could pick out a toy, typically a model, I could put together later that day if I joined her.

It seemed I spent five minutes picking out my model and five hours waiting on Grandmother as she went from store to store looking at all the latest women’s fashions. After many hours of looking at garment after garment, Grandmother would take my hand and walk me into the Shoney’s where I always purchased a “Big Boy” hamburger and Grandmother had a salad with French dressing.

We still had two stops left. I was once again treated for my patience with a Vanilla milk shake at the Crown Creamery and Grandmother purchased a Black Cherry ice cream, usually one scoop in a cup. The last stop was at the fabric store just before we left town.

There she would buy patterns, fabrics, zippers, and thread for all the pretty garments she had seen earlier in the day. Granddaddy Feemster was typically off fishing with his buddies on those weekends. So, Grandmamma would serve me up a Turkey TV Dinner for supper which was always my favorite as I watched Mannix on TV.

She in turn would hover over her Singer sewing machine and began re-creating the pretty dresses she had seen earlier in the day. Some she would sell for spending money. Others she made for her daughters – my mother Sarah and Aunt Betty. But rarely, perhaps never, was one of those pretty dresses for herself.

A few night ago, someone asked what was the most memorable Christmas I had as a child? It didn’t take me long to think. When I was 7 or 8, Grandmamma went to town and bought all the grandchildren Christmas Gifts. I don’t recall now what she purchased my cousins Jim or Kim, but when I opened up my box, in it I found a stuffed monkey.

I still remember crying that I wanted what Jim had received. Not some old stuffed monkey! My mama explained that the gift I received was actually more expensive than both of their gifts put together. But she couldn’t stop my tears. Who wanted a dumb stuffed monkey?

Well, my Grandaddy Feemster didn’t tolerate such behavior and he promptly took the monkey, opened up the front door, and tossed it out in the front yard in the dark abyss beyond my sight. I can still remember my shock as I thought about my poor old monkey laying out there in the cold.

I ran outside and rescued him and from that day forward I slept with him until we put aside little boy ways. I still have my old monkey. He’s tattern and torn. One felt hand is missing and an ear’s about chewed off. He’s been ripped and sewed up more times than I can count. He and I have both been through a lot but we’re both still here and my monkey is the only toy I have from my childhood.Billy's Monkey

Granddaddy Feemster passed away in December of 1988 and we lost Grandmamma in February of 2011. My grandparents were never wealthy people and what little granddaddy had he spent on fishing and drinking – his favorite past times. It was largely grandmamma who worked from the time she rose until the time her head hit her pillow. Her nickname was Miss Tillie from Tillie the Toiler and toil she did.

As I listened to the folks share their Christmas memories the other night, I thought of Grandmamma – Miss Tillie. Everyone in her life came first. What I wouldn’t give to turn back the clock and spend one more afternoon with her. I’d love to be able to buy her one of those pretty dresses or treat her to a Back Cherry Ice Cream – just one scoop.

But I know she’s in heaven with all her brothers and sisters and the man she loved so much – my granddaddy. She’s Walking in the Garden, a song she hummed so often while she sewed, and she’s wearing a pretty dress all her own. A dress woven of love and stitched by the hand of God himself.

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January 1, 2015 Posted by | Personal | , , , | Leave a comment

The many labels we choose to wear

Mama and me showing off our swimwear in 1967 - I'm the one with the slight attitude

Labels – we wear them with pride, use them to identify who we are, and sometimes hide behind them when times get tough.  But do they really tell the story about who we are or do they separate us from one another?  When I was a child my mother went grocery shopping and came home with a surprise she said I would love.  I was a third grader at Finley Road Elementary in Rock Hill.  Mom had purchased me a new notebook with a Minnesota Vikings Football helmet on the cover.  The only problem I was a die hard Green Bay Packers fan and Minnesota was and still is their biggest rival.  Distraught was not the word for it as I tried to convey how I couldn’t possibly carry that to class.

Not long after that, the big rage in school was black high top Converse tennis shoes.  I begged and begged for a pair and one afternoon mom came home with a present.  It was a pair of tennis shoes she had purchased from Family Dollar.  They were black…and they were high tops and that’s about the end of the similarity.  They had tread like a tire, a cloth emblem on the ankle where the Converse logo would appear, and the kids on the bus referred to them as my “moon boots.”  I was crushed.

Years later, in Junior High School, all the kids at Rawlinson Road were wearing blue jean jackets.  My mother went shopping and she came home with a present – a red blue jean jacket.  I think I was the only kid in school with a denim jacket that was red.  She said that made me “special.”  Now, more than thirty years later, she was right.  Actually it was mom herself who was really special!

Bill Russell & Sarah (MOM) last fall

Looking back, I know my mama loved me (still does!) with all her heart and back in those days it was all she could do to take care of us kids on the salary that dad brought home.  Dad was never one to spend money he didn’t have and so mom never charged anything.  She bought what we could afford.  One thing was for certain – we weren’t going to buy anything just because of the label.    The package wasn’t important, it was the present inside and the thought that counted.

But labels don’t just stop with products that we buy.  We label ourselves.  I’m a Republican.  Not just a Republican but a Conservative Republican.  Heck, I’m a Reagan Republican.  I am proud to admit to being a Christian, a protestant at that – Presbyterian.  Is that Presbyterian Church of America or USA ?  Mine is USA.

Perhaps the labels I struggle with the most are church labels.  I have a really difficult time believing  if we all make it to Heaven, St. Peter is going to form a line for Baptist, one for Methodist, and another for Catholics.  I cannot imagine Peter’s going to say, “Hey you Catholics, park it here, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, I’m not real sure what we’re going to do with you, and Latter Days Saints, you guys wait outside.  Oh, and is there an Ernest Angley here?  Gabriel down the hall is looking for you buddy!”

I love watching reruns of Billy Graham’s Crusades and went to one myself when he was here in Charlotte.  I can still remember Billy talking about how you can enter the gates of Heaven through Christ.  But does that mean someone who lives a wonderful life, who gives of themselves to those less fortunate, and who believes in a creator who makes all things possible – but does not subscribe to a Christian faith or in the God we all consider as our Holy Father – is their soul doomed?

As a Christian I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.  But I wonder if we took all the wealth of the church – all the paintings, statues, trappings, and acted on the words of Jesus himself when he said, “to give up our worldly belongings and follow me.”  If the Catholic Church sold all of that and still placed it in public hands so all the world could still enjoy its beauty and took that money and spent it on the poor and downtrodden, those who suffer from disease or malnourishment, would that not be a better use of those resources?

Bethesda Presbyterian Church - McConnells, SC

Sometimes I think the Good Lord is looking down wondering how we could take something so simple and make it so difficult.  I suppose I’m the very last person who has an answer when it comes to theology.  But after half a century on this earth I figure at the end of the day we’re going to be judged on whether we lived a good life, left this old world better than we found it, and believed in a force greater than ourselves.  I believe that force to be God, who sent his son to die for my sins.

And that’s a label I’m proud to wear.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons I Learned from Mama

Mom & I - 1993

What is it about mothers that they like to recant tales of how bad you were as a little boy in front of company?  Since my early teenage years, my mama always reveled in sharing with my “dates,” stories of me as a precocious little tike.   Now, fifty years later, I cringe when my mama comments on “Face Book” just how much trouble I used to get into.  It’s one of many reasons I don’t allow people to post on my “Face Book wall.”  However, that doesn’t stop my mama from commenting on a picture or two.

She loves to tell folks about the time when I was five that she left me in the backyard playing and in an instant I was gone.  She drove up and down the streets of the neighborhood finally locating me at the home of Hope and Lori Richardson, whose parents had recently purchased the girls a new swing set.

My mom states that my dad, grandfather, and close family friend, Mr. Teague, spent a Saturday afternoon putting up a new fence in the backyard.  After working all day on the fence, they were sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a cold drink when Mom looked out the window and saw me scale the five foot fence and go over the top like my boyhood hero G.I. Joe.  “There he goes,” she said as the men stood looking in disbelief.  I cannot tell you how many stories my mama has told that all end with her favorite catch phrase, “That boy just wouldn’t listen!”

This past January, the Chamber hosted two state senators in a roundtable meeting with local Chamber members.  Near the end of the meeting, a Chamber Member asked one of the Senators,  “In light of the shortfall in state revenues and the fact that Charter Schools are at least competitive with, if not less expensive than, public schools, would the state legislature be willing to discuss removing the cap?”

 The simple answer could have been, “Yes, we would consider discussing it.”  Instead, the Senator spent the next five minutes explaining how it was difficult to make the comparisons in operational costs between the two systems.   While the North Carolina legislature digs in their heels on their reluctance to not only lift the ban, but to even to discuss the measure, a North Carolina survey taken last year found 65 percent of voters want the state to allow more charter schools and a national poll shows that 74% of voters believe states should lift the limits restricting their growth. Clearly, our state and national leadership may not be listening.

This past month, Chambers of Commerce and other business groups protested a move by Gov. Beverly Perdue that we see as a step toward unions for public employees.  She signed an executive order that pushed state employees a tad closer to collective bargaining rights.  Currently, North Carolina and Virginia are the only states with specific laws prohibiting collective bargaining by public-sector workers, although most states ban strikes by government employees.  Unions want the law changed. So over the last decade, the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union have been pouring money into North Carolina political campaigns.   Again, this is counter to the wishes of North Carolina voters.  In a poll conducted last April by Public Policy Polling, 51% of North Carolinians had an unfavorable opinion of labor unions compared with 31% who had a favorable one.     

My mother Sarah - 2010

My mama would tell you she finally broke me of my habit of not listening by taking something I valued away – “play privileges, my bike, or the TV and with it my favorite shows like The Wild Wild West and Batman!    In a state as diverse as ours, we cannot expect every elected official will be in total agreement with their constituents.  In a democracy, we value healthy debate, where every voice can be heard and the will of the majority prevail.

 However, it is disappointing when an elected official just does not seem receptive to listening. They instead claim to know what’s best for their constituents in spite of polls, letters, and phone calls to the contrary.  Mama would be the first to tell you that there is something you can do when you believe politicians, like precocious little boys will not listen, come election time – you can take something away.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment