Memories of My Father

Happy Father’s Day a few hours early. My wife and I, along with hundreds of other Richmond residents, have been without electricity since around 9:00 p.m. Thursday. So we have no Internet connection at home. We’re visiting a friend so we can shower for church tomorrow and are taking advantage of her electricity and Internet connection. I decided it would be better to post this now rather than take a chance on whether I would have the chance to do so tomorrow. We might go home and find the lights on…but we’re not counting on that, and Dominion Power isn’t even estimating when they’ll get to our neighborhood. Nonetheless, we’re fine and God is good.

SittingOnDishes0002   FatherPortrait    FamilyPicture   ParentsOlder

When I wrote a post about my mother around Mother’s Day, I realized I would probably want to do one about my father now. Unfortunately, it was easier to write warm things about her than about him.

Don’t get me wrong. Father was a fine Christian minister who cared deeply about the congregations he served. But that’s probably the problem–or a large part of it. Too often, pastors get so caught up in meeting others’ needs that they’re less attentive to the needs of their own families.

I recall a Christmas present he spent hours secretly putting together. He wasn’t good with his hands, and that was a real labor of love.

I also remember his taking me to the yard of my elementary school to ride my bike; we lived on a hill, and even the back yard sloped too much for easy riding. And I recollect the fun he had hiding a grandmother clock for my mother behind the studio couch in the den and making her search for it one Christmas. There’s no question he loved us.

But what I remember just as clearly–perhaps more so–was his home study door being closed. And even when it was open, he seemed inaccessible. Uninterruptible.

When I was a teen, he seemed to realize that he hadn’t spent nearly enough time with me doing daddy-type things. So he took me to Manteo, North Carolina, to see The Lost Colony, a well-known outdoor historical drama. Looking back now, I appreciate the thought, but at the time I’m not sure I considered it something I really wanted to do.

In 1972 I completed writing an hour-long rock opera called The Identity of Divinity. I invited my parents, who lived across the state from me, to come for the one performance. Since its production was my greatest accomplishment to date, I really wanted them to be there. But church came first. Although they sent a congratulatory telegram, it wasn’t the same.

As my parents aged and my father retired from the active ministry (he served as the interim minister of a number of churches until he couldn’t do it anymore), the three of us ended up living in the same city for the first time since college. So my first wife and I saw them on on a regular basis. And Kathleen and I now belong to one of the churches Father had served as interim pastor of.

Considering the number of questions I have about my early life–and about family history in general–I wish I’d been a more attentive listener. The knowledge of so many things I’m curious about died with him in 1993.

I have two particular memories from his final years. One was going with him to a special anniversary of his alma mater, William and Mary. He couldn’t have made the trip by himself, and I’m glad I could help him manage it. I can still see him sitting among other graduates wearing the doctoral robe he’d kept all those years. And I can still hear guest speaker Prince Charles laughing about his problems with Princess Diana, who was still alive at that time.

The other memory was of the day Mother called me at work. Father had fallen in the bathroom. He couldn’t get up and she couldn’t lift him. I drove over as quickly as I could, but I couldn’t get him up, either. We had to call the rescue squad.  I’ll always remember him on the bathroom floor.

No, life with my father didn’t leave me with a number of warm fuzzies, but you know what? It really doesn’t matter. He was a fine man and I’m proud of who he was. More important, he loved me, and I loved him.

Do you have anything you want to share about your father today? How about leaving a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.


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Best regards,

Memories of my Paternal Grandparents

If you read my recent blog post about my maternal grandparents, you’ll find this one to be quite different. But hopefully still interesting.

My Williford grandparents were people I enjoyed visiting and being with when I was young. I wish I could say the same about my Bruner grandparents.

I barely knew my grandfather, Weston Bruner, and I never heard him preach during his lengthy pastoral ministry.  I’m not sure how old I was when he died, but I’ll never forget the time he came to visit us, very much in his dotage. Even now I can almost picture him sitting at the breakfast room table and my shock at watching him pour orange juice on his cereal. My mother shushed me before I could express my dismay.

What an unfortunate recollection.  My only memory of him.

I got to know my paternal grandmother, Mariah Gwathmey Bruner, much better than I did my grandfather. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was around her enough to have some specific memories. But I never saw her when I didn’t think of her as looking very old.

Grandmother Bruner–I feel certain I never called her anything but “Grandmother”–had a twin sister I vaguely recall. (My grandmother outlived her twin by a number of years.)  The two of them had been children when their mother took them to the founding meeting of the Women’s Missionary Union.

When the WMU, as it’s more commonly known, celebrated its hundredth anniversary, it commissioned a special painting, which was also issued as the postcard pictured above. It depicts attendees at the founding meeting. Yes, those twin girls at the bottom left are my grandmother and her twin, Abby.

Visiting the Bruner home on Hanover Avenue in Richmond  was seldom a fun or pleasant time. It felt like a museum in which practically everything was untouchable. Everything there looked twice as old as my grandmother.

Even Lizzie, the black cook. Of course, in those days, she was respectfully described as “colored.” She was a good cook, though, and I vaguely recall being fond of her. I don’t think I’m dreaming that she took me downtown on the bus several times, as later did one of my grandmother’s nurses.

Grandmother Bruner lived in a huge house on Hanover Avenue in Richmond in an area known as The Fan. I can almost picture the downstairs now–the entrance on the right side of the house with stairs to the second floor. An electric stair lift had been installed to allow her to go upstairs once she was no longer able to climb the stairs. A long hallway (I have no recollection of what it led to) continued past the stairs.

To the left of the entrance way was the living room , which opened into a seldom-used parlor (complete with baby grand piano). Behind the parlor was the huge dining room. At the very back of the house was the kitchen. And perhaps a pantry.

Houses in The Fan might have appeared narrow from the outside, but they tended to go back pretty far. At least that’s what I thought as a small child.

I have a less vivid memory of the upstairs, but there must have been at least four or five bedrooms. The front bedroom opened into a screened-in porch, which I vaguely remember as a pleasant place to sit during hot summer evenings.

As I’ve already mentioned, everything in that house–people affectionately referred to it as “2620,” its street number–seemed old. Yet at one time my grandmother bought a new entertainment center which contained a TV (black and white, of course) and a record player (it pre-dated the advent of stereos).

Even though I thought of her as stodgy and formal, she didn’t get upset at my bringing records to play whenever we came to visit. I played them VERY quietly, however. And can you imagine my amazement when she left that appliance to me when she died?

Grandmother Bruner was an extremely formal person. Visiting her was not a time for me to be loud or boisterous. In fact, my visits were seldom pleasant. They were simply events to be tolerated.

And no wonder. My father’s siblings were all older. Their children were already adults. So visits from other family members simply meant there were more adults around. Never anyone my age.

My word! This post is getting long, and I have more to say. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll continue my recollections on Wednesday.

Do you have–or have you had–relatives you simply failed to get close to? How about sharing with a comment?


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Best regards,

Memories of my Maternal Grandparents

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be surprised at the subject of today’s post. Especially if you recall that I don’t remember a lot of things from my childhood. My theory about forgotten memories is that the encephalitis that almost killed me at age fifteen probably did a number on the part of the brain that housed memories prior to my near-fatal illness.

But for some reason–totally unknown–I’ve been having random thoughts the past few days about my maternal grandparents. And memories I’m certain haven’t come to mind in years.

My mother was a Williford. She grew up in a tiny town in North Carolina, Aulander, the only daughter of Bob and Virgie. Miss Virgie was a home maker, the most common thing for a woman to be in those days. She also wrote poetry, however, some of which was published in the local newspaper.

Captain Bob–I’ll probably never know why people referred to him that way–worked at a brick mill for a number of years. I believe he retired because of an on-the-job injury that affected the use of one hand.

The Williford family lived in what to a small child seemed like a pretty good sized house with a wrap-around front porch and a huge magnolia tree out front that was perfect for throwing darts and pocket knives at. The living room had a space heater that–at times–seemed to take up half the room. But it was the only heat in the house.

I sometimes had to sleep in an upstairs bedroom. On a good night, I got to use the one directly over the living room, which had a vent in the floor that let heat rise from the room below–until time came to cut it off for the night.

The refrigerator was on the screened in back porch. I couldn’t tell you what else was there, but it was a lengthy porch that was parallel to the kitchen on one side and the bathroom on the other. But, like the rest of the house, it seemed pretty old.

The kitchen had a wood stove. We ate in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. I have vague memories of fried chicken that was wonderful, corn bread I wasn’t especially fond of, and chocolate cake I could never get enough of. Strangely enough, one of my dining room memories is of a cloth being laid over the table after the mid-day meal to keep the flies off the food rather than the leftovers being refrigerated.

Captain Bob also did some farming. In the backyard was a smokehouse, although I don’t recall seeing any meat hanging there. The backyard also had a small fenced in area. For dogs or children? I never knew. There were a number of stray cats around, but I never saw any dogs.

A long dirt lane ran beside the house from the main road all the way past whatever crops Captain Bob was growing. How many times did I walk that often muddy lane to the very end to watch him slop the hogs? Perhaps not an appealing thought to me as an adult, but it was fascinating as a child.

My mother had brothers. I can’t recall now how many. At last count, all but one of them had died. Captain Bob was a smoker, and I believe all of the boys did, too. All except for one. My mother never smoked. But the second-hand smoke she was exposed to during her growing up years led to emphysema and other heart-related illnesses.

And how could I ever forget Miss Minnie? She lived in a little shack on the Williford property and helped with the cooking and cleaning. She was undoubtedly considered a maid in the old fashioned sense of the word. A wonderful black lady the whole family loved and depended on.

By the time Miss Virgie and Captain Bob died, I was no longer very close to them. In fact, I was not taken to North Carolina for their funerals. Sometimes I regret that. Not so much missing the funerals, but the fact of not so much missing them.

That’s about all I remember, but I’m thankful that those things have come to mind. Sometimes my lack of memories about the past, the kind of things everyone else remembers in detail, almost makes me feel that I have no past. Too often my past begins with my encephalitis.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing these things to mind. And for reminding me that my present and my future are–like my past–in Your hands.

Do you have anything to say about memories in general, about your past, or about specific things you recall better than you do others? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,

What “Good Old Days”?

Old people–sometimes mid-lifers, too–are known for their tendency to talk endlessly about “the good old days.” I don’t do that.

Yes, of course I remember a few good things from my childhood and youth and occasionally mention them to someone. But not as many things or as often as some people I know. Too much of my young life was darkened by an unwanted move when I was eight years old.

I’d never expected to be uprooted and have to leave friends and familiar things–my whole life, seemingly–and relocate to a new city in another state and start life all over again from scratch. I was hurt and angry. So I wasn’t inclined to try to adjust. Consequently, I spent a number of years growing fatter and more miserable.

Not exactly what I’d call “good old days.”

Moving away from there was a pleasure–I wouldn’t have cared where we went–and I hoped things would be better with the new city. I was a pre-teen then, however, and growing into adolescence is tough–no matter what.

But when I came down with acute viral encephalitis during the eighth grade and almost died, what hope I might’ve had for a better life seemed to die, even though I lived. Recovery was long and stressful, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt nearly as strong and “normal” as I had before.

I can’t say whether my very small store of memories from childhood and my early teen years is a result of the encephalitis, but the memories I have are sketchy and sporadic. I don’t remember that much about high school or college, either. Even a lot of my adult life seems to be blurred or at last hiding in some inaccessible spot in my brain.

All of that to say I am not an old person who thinks back to the good old days. I remember too many days that aren’t worth talking about and too few to bother talking about.

If I  sound miserable talking about my past, I apologize. The fact is I’m not overly concerned about a past that seems, well, to be so very far in the past. I’m more interested in the present, anyhow. And in the future.

Being able to wake up every day and function just as well as I did the day before is more wonderful than you can imagine. Productive projects that keep me productively busy are definitely something to be thankful for. And the assurance of Heaven someday is far beyond wonderful.

I’m not in a rush to get there, you understand. But I’m thankful I have eternal life in God’s presence to look forward to. It will be perfect in every way this earthly life has so often proven imperfect.

What about you? Are you focused on the past, the present, or the future? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,