As thousands of innocent and naïve young people recently trooped off to college for the first time, I was reminded that sixty years ago I entered Freed-HardemanCollege (now University) in Henderson, Tennessee as a freshman. It was September 1955, and I was seventeen years old. (As a matter of trivia, it also was the month and year that “Gunsmoke” debuted on television). I sometimes wonder where the years have gone. As I recently said while visiting with my old college friend, Jay Lockhart, there has been a lot of water over the dam since we were students at Freed-Hardeman.
On September 17, 1956, I returned to Freed-Hardeman for my second year. I still remember the spot where I was standing and the spot where she was standing. I was in line in the college quadrangle, waiting for the cafeteria doors to open. Up ahead of me in line was the prettiest girl I thought I had ever seen. I kept my eye on her and took note of where she sat in the cafeteria. As luck would have it, when I got my tray of food there was an empty place at the table where she was sitting and I made my way to it. I asked if I might join the table and introduced myself to those sitting there. They each told me their names, but the only one I remember was Janet Young.
Jan and I became friends and began dating. Three hundred and fifty-five days later, on September 7, 1957, we were united in marriage. Yesterday we celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary. Jan is still a beautiful womanbeautiful of face and form, as the late great preacher Jim Bill McInteer once said of herwith a beautiful spirit and a beautiful mind. Today, our son is flying into Nashville from Florida on a business trip and will spend the night with us. We are looking forward to his coming. We will have dinner together, and enjoy one of Brett’s favorite desserts that Jan has prepared (and which I will continue to enjoy over the next few days). More importantly, the three of us will have a wonderful visit.
Life has been good to us. Like most marriages, ours has faced its “ups” and “downs.” We lost our older son when he was thirty-four years old, but the Lord and His people saw us through those sad, dark days. We have made hundreds of friends across these fifty-eight years. Some of them go back to our days at Freed-Hardeman College and before. We have enjoyed good health. In my entire life, I have spent only one night in a hospital. I was not even born in a hospital, but in my grandfather Fulford’s farmhouse in rural Geneva County, Alabama. Other than to give birth to our two sons, Jan has never spent but one night in a hospital and that was nearly fifty years ago! As a result of a fall on her treadmill a few years ago, she had to have rotator cuff surgery, but it did not require an overnight hospital stay. We both know how blessed we have been health-wise and otherwise, but most of all with the spiritual blessings that are found in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). And, yes, we both know that health conditions can change suddenly, but we are thankful that things are as well with us as they are.
I have preached the gospel for over sixty years, beginning when I was just a high school boy. Jan taught school (primarily in private schools) for thirty-one years. We both have been retired from full-time work for fifteen years, but we continue to lead an active life. I still preach every Sunday, conduct gospel meetings, speak on lectureships, fill special speaking engagements, and carry on an extensive writing ministry. Jan never lacks for something to do. This summer we have renovated our kitchen and master bathroom, repainted the interior of our house, and put in new carpeting. I have said to her, “This is it no more renovations.” The recent “updating” ought to last until Brett has to take us either to the nursing home or the funeral home. We, of course, shall see.
I often think of the “boys” with whom I was in school at Freed-Hardeman. Many of them went on to become some of the best preachers in the church. Others became elders and Bible teachers.
At the risk of being thought of as a “name dropper,” I will mention such men as Alan Highers, Wayne Emmons, David Pharr, Jay Lockhart, Clarence DeLoach, Ken Samuel, Kent Hall, Clyde Woods, James Segars, Jerry Jenkins, Dan Jenkins, Ancil Jenkins, Ben Flatt, David Sain, Lynn Anderson, Landon Saunders, John Allen Chalk, Leonard and Lee Smith (twin great-grandsons of the great evangelist, T. B. Larimore), August Ruff, Gerald Romine, Jerry Smelser (who rose to a high position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Malcolm Hill, Albert Hill, Ronald Hill, Darrell Beard, Walter Fennel, Bob Langston, Joe Galloway, Dewayne Shappley, Kyo Rhoon Jhin (from Korea), Yoshio Inomata (from Japan), Pat Phillips, Don Flatt, Albert Lemmons, Gene West, Richard Kruse, Kenneth Hoover, John Hoover, and many, many others.
My path has crossed with many of these over the years in gospel meetings, lectureships, and other speaking engagements. A number of them are dear friends. Some of them have passed from this life. The mention of all their names is not intended as an endorsement of where some of them are today spiritually. Sadly, some of them no longer walk in “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16). But in those halcyon days of the mid-1950s we were all friends, we were idealistic, and we were committed to giving the Lord and the church our best.
Sweet memories, indeed, from sixty years! And what a wonderful life Jan and I have shared for fifty-eight years. May the Lord bless us with several more years, as I so often pray.
September 8, 2015
September 13: LaGuardo Church of Christ, Mt. Juliet, TN (p.m. only)