Editor’s note: It was 54 years ago this summer that a fresh-faced kid from south Alabama was sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman. Those were far different times in college football. The game had not turned into the huge commercial ventures they are today. Coaches did not get paid millions of dollars a year. Players did not spend 365 days a year thinking of only football. Tickets cost less than $10 a game. There were no sports channels on TV. But us Auburn fans still screamed “War Eagle” after touchdowns and the thrill of winning was no less than it is today. That fresh-faced kid is now waiting on his 77th birthday and on occasions such as this, can not help but revert to what he did in simpler times.
In a storybook ending, the Auburn Tigers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and beat the University of Oregon 27-21 to open their 2019 football season in Arlington, TX. Improbably, their victory was led by a quarterback who was wearing an Auburn uniform for the first time in his life.
Well, officially at least. Truth is, quarterback Bo Nix has worn orange and blue his entire life. This is understandable given that his dad, Pat Nix, also played quarterback for Auburn and his grandfather, Conrad Nix, went to Auburn as well. And football is the Nix family business. Now retired, Conrad was a celebrated high school coach in both Alabama and Georgia, winning 260 games in 27 seasons he coached in Georgia, including two state championships.
Pat won a state championship in 2017 coaching Pinson Valley to an undefeated season. Bo was his quarterback–and one of the most-coveted high school quarterbacks in all the land.. Some even said THE most coveted. And while college recruiters from far and wide made visits to Pinson Valley, there was never really any doubt that Bo would suit up in orange and blue.
After all, his daddy became an Auburn legend in the 1993 Iron Bowl when he came off the bench to replace injured QB Stan White and immediately threw a dramatic TD pass to Frank Sanders to lead Auburn to a 22-14 win over Bama on the way to an undefeated season. That was the day “Nix to Sanders” became part of Auburn folklore.
No doubt Bo played out that same moment in a 1,000 backyard football moments growing up. It’s just what boys do.
However, not even the most rabid Auburn fan could imagine Bo replicating such an iconic moment in his very first game in orange and blue. But to prove that fairy tales really do come true, with the game clock ticking toward zero last Saturday night and his team trailing by two points, Bo Nix, the son of Pat and the grandson of Conrad, threw a pass to Seth Williams who caught it at the two-yard line and tumbled backwards into the end zone.
The stadium, just outside of Dallas and a monument to the opulence that shrouds the games I once watched while a student at Auburn, erupted.
Somehow their team, which looked totally outclassed early in the game, had amazingly willed itself to a win. A defense, expected to be among the nation’s best according to all the pundits, woke up and played like it was coached to do the second half. The offense was never overwhelming, but they continued to do what had to be done.
And at the end of the day, a little boy’s dreams came true and Nix to Sanders was replaced by Nix to Williams.
1,546 miles. Six states. Five nights. And tired.
Plus, south Alabama is still hot and humid, just like it was when I left on Aug. 16.
Was great to visit family. Daughter Kim and son-in-law Tod came from Maryland to my sister’s in Black Mountain, NC. Brother Stephen flew in from Medellin, Columbia, which he says is a mile high and temperature is basically the same year-round. In the low 80’s in the day and 60’s at night. He has no air-conditioning. When I asked what seasons they have, he simply told me “wet” and “dry.” Which basically means every day is like yesterday.
I will stick to spring, summer, fall and winter. I mean, how do you know when it’s football season?
Black Mountain is about 25 miles east of Ashville. Was in the 60’s early every morning. When that happens down here, we say, “fall is in the air.”
A side trip to Coalwood, WV. The boyhood home of Homer Hickam, who wrote the book, Rocket Boys, more than 20 years ago. (This will be a post for another day.)
But as I knew it would be, Alabama and our public education trials and tribulations were never far from mind. So lots of phone calls from the road to check on things.
My brother-in-law is Anthony. My only niece, his daughter, has a boy who just turned two. He is a cheery child, always laughing and smiling. He too is Anthony. So throughout my stay, there were constant questions of “where is little Anthony”?
With that in mind, I leave you with this.
My family is very small. Only me, my sister and my brother. Sister has one daughter and one grandchild. I have a son and daughter and no grandchildren. My brother has never married. So we don’t need much space to have a “family reunion.”
Neither do we have many chances to see one another. Especially since my brother lives in Medellin, the capital of Antioquia Province in Columbia and, until a couple of months ago. my daughter and her husband lived in Germany.
But we will have a chance to gather for a couple of days nest week at my sister’s in Black Mountain, NC. (Son Kevin, in Mobile, will not be able to come.) And here’s hoping that the weather will be just a tad cooler than south Alabama in August. (My computer says right now at 4:30 CDT on Thursday, August 15, it is 82 degrees in Black Mountain as compared to 99 degrees in Montgomery.).
No wonder my sister and brother-in-law like it there.
So I will let someone else be concerned about Alabama politicians who know more about schools than teachers who work in them and former members of our charter commission who swallowed Soner Tarim’s bait about Woodland Prep hook, line and sinker for a few days. I’m heading for higher and cooler ground.
Click this link to join the more than 850 others who have given their input into our latest survey about having an appointed state board of educating vs. an elected one.
Then enjoy family and friends on this very special holiday. My memories of the 4th of July are primarily that for one day in the summer, work on the farm came to a halt and somewhere along the way was homemade ice cream and watermelon. That was back in the day when the cream was churned by hand and the melons were homegrown.
And more than likely lunch (or dinner as we say in the South) was fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans. As we cranked the freezer, Daddy told about his own memories of the 4th were not much different than mine now are. About daylight, someone would hitch a mule to the wagon and head for the ice house in Red Level where they would get a block of ice, cover it with sawdust and head for home.
Grandpa had a sweet tooth for sure. Which he passed along to me. And the homemade ice cream that came with each 4th of July was a welcome treat.
So here is wishing you a safe and happy 4th. The day we pause to remember that we are celebrating the greatest political statement ever made. One that has survived challenge after challenge and still remains a symbol of what should be right and good about the best of what mankind has to offer.
From time to time I have mentioned my friend, Charlie Johnson of Fort Worth, TX and the group he started a few years ago, Pastors for Texas Children. This effort encourages churches to partner with local schools, as well as advocate for them. They now have more than 1,000 churches in their network.
Learn more by visiting their website here.
Charlie is a Baptist minister who grew up in Monroe County, AL. He has a brother who is a retired teacher and lives in Mobile. What began in Texas has now spread to a number of other states. Tennessee and Florida come quickly to mind. Charlie and I have had a number of talks about the need for such an organization in Alabama. I think it is an excellent idea.
PTC is having a luncheon in Dallas June 18 and I’m going to get a closer look at how they function and to see first-hand their support. I look forward to being there.
Consequently, I will be away from my computer for a few days next week. In the meantime, I share comments Charlie made to a group a few months ago:.
Progressive Christians should acknowledge every child’s right to quality education as a justice issue, and conservative Christians should recognize neighborhood public schools as the third pillar—alongside the church and the home—for building responsible citizens with moral vision, Charles Foster Johnson told a Dallas audience.
“Public schools are the place where we create a public consciousness,” Johnson, founding executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told workshop participants at the Red Letter Revival, a movement of Christians who say they want to apply the teachings of Jesus in society. “We need quality, fully funded public schools where every child is accepted.”
Public education for all is a moral duty, and public schoolteachers work in a “holy sanctuary” of learning, said Johnson, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio and Second Baptist Church in Lubbock.
“They work long hours at low pay, often serving the poorest children,” he said.
Serious followers of Christ need to recognize public school advocacy as a vital part of their public witness, he asserted. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” Likewise, public schools invite all children to receive an education and attain their God-given potential, Johnson insisted, adding, “All means all.”
In contrast, privatized approaches to education serve only those who can afford it, he said. At the same time they serve a select constituency, proponents of vouchers for private schools divert tax dollars—funds intended for the common good—away from underfunded public schools, he asserted.
Charter schools are “a little trickier,” he acknowledged, particularly when they offer educational alternatives to underserved neighborhoods. However, even the best non-profit charter schools typically are governed by self-perpetuating boards in distant locations, and the people they serve have no voice in decision-making, he said.
For-profit schools simply are out to make money for wealthy investors, he emphasized.
“They are making commodities out of our children and markets out of our classrooms,” Johnson said.
In an increasingly polarized society, public schools offer a unique place that can bring together children of varied races and religions—children of privilege and children in need—to learn together and create life-changing relationships, he asserted.
Johnson urged concerned Christians to develop friendships with school superintendents to learn about local needs and nurture relationships with elected representatives, particularly in the Texas House of Representatives, to advocate for public education.
A renewed commitment to public education “can solve a lot of other issues in society,” he insisted.
Churches can make a difference by adopting public schools—providing school supplies, praying for educators, sponsoring teacher appreciation events and inviting members to become mentors and tutors for students, he said.
“If you want to change the world, read to a kid—particularly a child in the third grade or younger—for two hours a week,” Johnson said. “It’s the most Jesus-led, Spirit-filled act you can do.”
The sky was brilliant blue. Not the sorta kinda blue that you see in a big city, but the blue of open spaces. Not a cloud in the sky. Not even the feathery trail of a jet five miles high hurrying people across the country.
I was in a place I’ve been many times. Off to the right were evaluated concrete slabs for “dinner on the ground” on fourth Sundays when people come to the Primitive Baptist church sitting 25 yards away. No doubt mama’s sister, Aunt Lela Mae, had plopped down a huge bowl of her chicken and dumplings on one of those slabs. After all, she was the best maker of chicken and dumplings in the whole universe.
And both of my grandmothers, the one we called “Big Mama” and the one who was just “Grandma” had set out bowls of butter beans or fresh creamed corn or fried okra.
A small sign on the fence told one and all that they could send donations to a McKenzie Post Office box to help with upkeep on the cemetery lying just beyond. From time to time I have chipped in.
Why shouldn’t I? Because here is the final resting place of many with whom I share DNA. All four of my grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins of all sorts. My Lee great grandfather, James Kenyard. (His father, James Madison, never came home from the Civil War and no one knows where he is buried. James Madison’s father, William Greenberry, is buried a few miles away at South Butler cemetery in McKenzie.)
I remember trips to this same spot as a boy. At that time many of the graves were simply mounds of earth. Some decorated with colored glass. Some with mussel shells that stood on towers of sand that were not eroded when July thunderstorms came along. One was fenced with a roof over it. Over time, the roof came down and the shells were replaced by granite, or sometimes concrete.
Unlatching the gate, I entered this sacred ground. There were daddy’s mother and father, one of his brothers and a sister who lived less than two months. There were mother’s parents, buried in the same plot as my grandfather’s twin brother and his wife. Uncle Earl Bennett who ran a grocery store in McKenzie and loved life. Great uncles and aunts whom I vaguely remember and second cousins.
An usually chill April wind came out of the west as I did what I always do–wish I knew more about my people. Oh how I would love to ask them questions today. About the times they lived in, about going to church and plowing a mule and surviving the Great Depression. Would love to swap stories with them.
Sure, I talked to my grand parents. But it was the talk of a child and the questions were about childhood things, not penetrating questions that help you to truly look into someone’s life and sometimes their soul.
The church and cemetery are on a spit of Covington County sandy soil, about a stone’s throw from the Butler County line to the north and maybe two miles to Conecuh County to the west. And as places go, most would consider it insignificant. But just as southerners cling to their sense of place, I cling to here and the memories it shared with me under a brilliant blue sky.