Archive for February 2014

I Get it Honest

How old were you when you started driving, and who taught you?

 

 I started driving when I was 13 years old when we lived in Orange, Texas and I was in the eighth grade. My dad was my teacher…and he was not famous for being the greatest driver in the world! We had a 1952 model Dodge, which was one of the first Dodges with an automatic transmission.   Up until 1952, you had to shift through the first two gears using the clutch with your left foot, and then the third gear was your running gear.  

The next year, Dad bought a 1953 model, which was Dodge’s first V-8 which also had an automatic transmission.  You would put your gearshift in the drive position, then accelerate to about 30 mph, then let up on the accelerator and the transmission would go ‘click’ and automatically shift into high gear, or your running gear.   (By the way, the reason we had a 1953 model so soon was because Daddy had wrecked the ’52 on the way to preach in a gospel meeting at Kirbyville, Texas. A cow stepped out on the highway and, when he swerved to miss her, he hit a tree and even turned over a couple of times… Oh, and by the way, he caught a ride on in to Kirbyville and still preached that night!)

So….I really had a great teacher!  And Uncle Bubba taught me how to drive a standard gearshift in his 1950 model 6 cylinder Ford pickup.

That’s why I’m so versatile, and such a good driver!….in spite of what your mother says!   :))

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My Sunday Drives Aren’t in the Fairway

How did you decide to preach?

 

From my junior high years all the way through my sophomore year in college, all I had ever dreamed of doing was to be a professional golfer. Growing up as the ‘baby brother’ with three older brothers–and being very competitive by my nature already–my most exciting times emotionally were those times (starting at age 14) when I would beat, out-putt, and out-drive my three brothers and my Daddy. Thus, I felt sure I could make it as professional golfer.   When I was a senior in high school, I was offered an apprenticeship by the Spalding sporting goods company, which was quite an honor.  That was back in 1958, when many athletes the company thought might be successful were lured into such programs in order to “have the right to their autographs and endorsements” when they did succeed.  It was a pretty heady experience for a very competitive 17 year-old kid. When my dad was taking me to college at SFA in Nacogdoches in 1959 (I’d been offered a book & tuition scholarship there to pursue my 2nd passion which was football, another story by itself), we were talking about my golf plans, and Daddy teared up. When I pressed him about why he was crying, he said, “Son, golf pros make their living on events which culminate on Sunday afternoons, and I can’t imagine one of my sons doing that instead of being in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day.”

That was probably one strong contributing factor (along with several others) in my decision to give my life to preaching….I’d never seen my dad cry before. Without going into all the details of the next two years, we come to 1961. My brother, RJ, who preached in Madisonville, came to visit Mom and Dad in August of that year.   I don’t know if my folks were in on it or not, but after a great visit (including some golf), RJ said, “Nier, why don’t you come to Madisonville and live with us, go to college at Sam Houston in Huntsville, and maybe you could help me preach at a little church called Mt. Tabor north of town….and…..he threw in the real bait, “There’s a couple of real precious girls I’d like for you to meet–one’s a blonde, and the other a brunette”. That pretty much ‘sealed the deal’.

I came to Madisonville on Aug. 20, 1961, preached my first sermon that morning at Mt. Tabor, then back to North Madison where I met a beautiful young lady in a red dress with beautiful long black hair. I made it my mission to get her to marry me…..and…..I’ve been preaching ever since!  :)).  

I believe God was in it all the way! One precious daughter, three precious sons, and twelve glorious grandchildren are all proof that God called me to Madisonville.

 

Magic on the Mail Route

What’s the funniest story you remember from your days of carrying mail in Midway?

 

Letters to Santa.#1.   Karen riding with me and how I would put quarters in the dashboard knowing that if you’d slam your fist on top of the dash, a quarter would roll out….she believed it was a magic trick! :))

#2.   Shanda & Sheila Bryan wrote to Santa Claus at the North Pole.  I took their letter, opened it, and then wrote a letter from Santa assuring them that they would get everything they had asked for on Christmas Day.  You’ll never convince them there’s no Santa!

#3. On one occasion, Don Brooks, my dear friend from Groveton, Texas, was really griping about the postal system.   I told him, “Don, you can write any way in the world in Madison County, and I’ll get it….however you address it!”   Sometime after that, one day while we were sorting mail getting ready to head out, Ms Elma said, “Look at this letter that was forwarded to us from Madisonville.”

She handed it to Dickey, who looked at it, then handed it to me.  The only address on it was:  
               Reverend Leroy
               Madison County, Texas

Whoever forwarded it had written in bold:

  TRY MIDWAY…..

I asked Ms. Wakefield what she was going to do with it, and she said, “I guess I’ll have to dead letter it, because there’s no return address on it….only a postmark from Groveton. I said, “Can you open it? Maybe the context will give us a clue who it might be.”  She opened it and, as she started reading, she just fell out laughing!   It read:

Dear Lanier,
If by some chance you get this letter, I will never say anything else about the Post Office as long as I live.   

I asked ms Elma if I could use the phone, and I called the bank in Groveton where Don was Vice President.    His secretary answered, and I said, “May I speak with Mr. Brooks?” She replied, “May I tell him who is calling?” I said, “Tell him that Reverend Leroy is calling,”

When Don got on the phone he said, “You gotta be kidding me…Dang it, I’ll never say anything else about the post office for the rest my life.!”:))

The Route to Rural Route

So how did you go from being a “parcel man” to carrying a rural route?

 

I followed Mr. Lynn Ratliff’s advice.  He told me when he hired me to be the sub for the two new city routes and the parcel deliveries, “Lanier, I’m going to hire you because I know you can pass the civil service test, but i want you to prove me right and take the test the first time it’s offered again.”   I took his advice and passed with a 96 of 100 possible points on the test.  That changed my status, or rank, in the Postal Service from that of Temporary Sub to that of a Career Employee.   The reason Mr. Ratliff wanted me with that rank was he knew I had a family to raise and he knew I needed more hours than just the 2 hours per day that the temps were guaranteed.   And sure enough, he was right!

I began work in September of 1967 as a temp sub in the Madisonville Post Office.  In around June of 1968, Mr. FM Cleveland, the.carrier for Rural Route 1 in Midway, retired creating a vacant route.  The rules for filling those routes were like this–anytime a route vacancy occurred in a post office, it was always offered to any other carrier in THAT office who was a career employee (unions had put these rules into place). There were only 2 rural carriers in Midway, thus Billy Dickey changed from Rt 2 to Rt 1 because it was the longer route and it paid more. So, now Rt. 2 was vacant.

The way that Postmaster and Rural Route vacancies were filled up until 1968 was that those 2 positions were ‘political plums’  that allowed the senators from the party in power to appoint men (yes, men) to those positions.  The system was called the patronage system. The men appointed were generally patrons of the party in power. The President in 1968 was Richard Nixon (who was a Republican), and the man appointed rural carrier in Midway needed to be a voter (patron) in good standing with Senator John Tower, who would make the appointment.

The two people who wanted the job real bad were: Pat Wakefield and Dorothy Wilson, but there was a major problem….both were die-hard Democrats!   I found out there was a Doctor Wilkerson down in Conroe who was the Republican committeeman for our district who would be ‘the man’ to recommend someone in good standing with the Party.   When I called him, he told me, “Look, we don’t get much money from your county.” (yes, that’s what he said) And when I told him I didn’t have any money, he said, “Well, do you know anyone who knows that you’re a Republican?”   I told him that I had worked to elect John Tower when we lived in Quitman from ’62-66, and that the county chairman (Kyle Milner’s dad) was my friend and Jim Paul, a dear friend of mine from Sulphur Springs, was John Tower’s campaign chairman in Hopkins County.   I gave him both their phone numbers, and he called me back in about 30 minutes with this statement, “Man, you must be really in tight with those guys, Mr Stevens.   There’ll be a letter on John Tower’s desk in the morning recommending you for that appointment.”    I thanked him so much and, when I hung up the phone, my conscience began to bother me so much that I couldn’t sleep that night at all.   I lay there thinking how cheesy that whole system was.

 Every Sunday I had to preach to Pat Wakefield “do unto others”…and I had just ‘done it unto him’!  Same thing with Dorothy Wilson, I’d ‘done it unto her’ as well.  That morning before I went to work in Madisonville, I called John Tower’s office and left a message that I was mailing them a letter requesting that the senator disregard the letter from the doctor in Conroe, and that I’d rather the vacancy be filled through a competitive exam and let the best man win.

When I got to work in town that morning, someone asked, “Lanier, have you seen the headlines this morning?”   I told them I hadn’t, and one of them handed me a Houston Chronicle newspaper.  It read something like this: PRESIDENT NIXON REMOVES THE POST OFFICE FROM THE PATRONAGE SYSTEM…No longer will postmaster and rural mail route positions be political appointments, but will be filled from within the postal system itself.”  All I could say all day long was, ‘Thank you, Jesus’, even though no one knew what procedures were going to be used ‘within the system’.

Here’s where you can see God’s hand in it all.   After a few weeks, there was a postal bulletin published which said, “all such vacancies shall be filled through a procedure which shall be called ‘extending ares of consideration'”. For instance, if a rural route becomes vacant, the first area of consideration would be any other rural carrier in that office…the second area of consideration would be any rural carrier in that county… The third area of consideration would be any career employee in that office who might want the job….the fourth area of consideration would be any career employee in that county who wanted the job.    The postal unions had pled for such a system to help the morale of employees often overlooked because of politics.

#1. The only carrier in Midway had already taken the better route.

#2. The other rural carriers in the county, Roscoe Mills & Bruce Woods (Madisonville),  Matt Stewart (North Zulch) didn’t want it

#3. The only other career employee in the Midway post office was Ms Elma Wakefield, the postmaster and she didn’t want it.

#4. Any career employee in the county.  Just two other post offices in the county….North Zulch had 2 career Positions …..Matt & the postmaster and neither of them wanted it …… Madisonville had 2 city carriers and 2 clerks, and they were all content and didn’t want to apply for the vacant route in Midway……soooo,  guess what?   Who was the ONLY career employee in the county eligible and wanted the Midway position?  His name was Lanier Stevens.  Because of my Lord Jesus Christ and Mr Lynn Ratliff, who had insisted that I become a career employee, I was in the right place at the right time!

 

Going Postal

How did you come to work for the post office?

 

My working for the post office was so much an accidental thing that you’d almost have to think that God had a hand in it!  In my first two years of college, all I thought about was football and golf. I was studying accounting and business courses, because I was good at math and typing.   My focus on sports and school changed when I met Betty Jo Farris on August 20, 1961.  All I wanted to do from that point forward was to marry her and for us to have a family together.  You may ask, ‘What does that have to do with working for the post office?’

I was introduced to the post office by Ocie Milner, the postmaster there, who was the father of one of my guitar students in Quitman.  He told me how he had been given that job through the patronage system.  That system involved getting your appointment from a senator or president who rewarded his supporters with postmaster or  rural carrier positions when they became vacant.   I know that system stunk, but thank God it wasn’t changed until I got my rural carrier position.

When Betty and I moved back to Midway in 1966, we did so because we were starting our family, and I didn’t want to move my kids around like my dad did us.   Didn’t know exactly what I was going to do for a living….I bought a service station from Betty’s brother Don Farris…when it burned down in 1967, I got a job as a carpenter’s helper with a crew from Vick Lumber Yard.  

I was preaching at both the Midway Church of Christ & the Mount Tabor church.  Each church was paying me about $50 per week and, when Ben was born in November of 1966,  I knew I needed to make more money than that–so I took the job with M.Y. Vick.

We were building the Methodist parsonage on Panama Street here in Madisonville, and our lead carpenter on the job was Curtis McVey, one of the guys from the Mt Tabor church.  He popped off one day and said, “Preacher, you ought to throw your hat in the ring for one of those new mail carrying jobs at the post office.”

Up until 1967, if you lived in the city limits of Madisonville. you had to have a PO box or pick up your mail in what was called General Delivery.  They were creating two new City routes in Madisonville, and they were taking applications to take the Civil Service test for those positions, plus one substitute who would also carry a parcel route for all the businesses around the square.(this was pre-UPS and FedEx).

I turned in the application, but forgot to go take the test.  The postmaster at that time was Mr.Lynn Ratliff.   He came driving up to our house in Midway, asking me, “Lanier, why in the world didn’t you go take that test?  Now I’m going to have to hire a woman for one of the new city routes, because out of the five men who took the test, only one of them passed it!”  Geraldine Hahn was on the hiring roster, but they (at that time) only hired women for clerk jobs inside the Post Office.

Lynn wanted me to have the job real bad, and he told me he was going to hire me anyway to be the sub and parcel man in his office.   It turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened, because I was in exactly the right place at the right time due to some major changes that were to take place in the postal service in 1967 and 1968.   That all is another story for another day!  :)) Dad

Football Teed Me Off!

When you were a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

6_fbgolfballAs a little boy, my dream was fueled by the golf matches at Thanksgiving between my Dad and my older brothers.   I first just dreamed of being able to  compete with them…then at about the age of fourteen, that dream came true…and I beat my dad and all three brothers in their annual “Thanksgiving Tournament!”

I went on to play golf as a freshman at Aldine Junior High School, and then when we moved to Haynesville, Louisiana, I played three years as member of the Haynesville Golden Tornadoes…lettering in both golf and football.

Being so very competitive, I thought that I wanted to go to college on a football scholarship, and that’s how I wound up at Stephen F. Austin at Nacogdoches, Texas in 1959.   About four games into the season, I realized that I was not going to go anywhere in football.   That’s when I turned back to my first love–GOLF!

In 1960, Dad and Mom moved to San Antonio, and I moved home to be with them with the dream of playing golf for SAJC. (San Antonio Junior College).  I not only made the team, but our team won the Texas Junior College Championship with me as the team captain, convincing me that my future was in golf.

The next step for me was to find a four year college where I could pursue my dreams in golf. In 1961, my brother RJ was preaching in Madisonville, and he invited me to come live with him and his family and enroll in Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.  I came to live with RJ on August 20, 1961, and on that day my life and my dreams were forevermore changed!   I met a young lady named Betty Jo Farris…and the rest is history.

Note:  I found it interesting that yesterday (February 13,  2014), I received an invitation from Kenny Bounds wanting me to play in the 2nd annual Madisonville High School Invitational Tournament at Raven’s Nest Golf Course in Huntsville.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve even played golf…The Legacy Lives On!!

Music to My Ears

What’s your favorite memory of your mother when you were a child?

 

My earliest memories of my mother as a child are how she would hold Nancy and I in her lap as she rocked in her rocking chair.   She would sing spiritual songs and hymns very sweetly right into our ear.  She’d read to us from the Bible or a Bible story book and then The Houston Chronicle newspaper, especially the funnies.

I believe all of that was what enabled Nancy and me both to be early readers and able to recognize and want to sing the songs our mother had put into our hearts through her singing.

Her fried chicken, roast beef, fried salmon croquettes, pecan pies, and her red beans and cornbread were all our dietary staples.   When I was about 13 years old, she started making a dessert from shredded coconut and pineapple which our whole family loved.

Another memory I have is of Daddy teaching her to drive when we got a 1953 Dodge automobile with an automatic transmission.   She never felt safe driving a car with a standard transmission where she to manually shift gears.   She was usually so scared riding with Daddy that he often teased her about putting dents in the floorboard on her side, trying to “put on the brakes”.

Another memory that is special is that she never cut her hair, but always wore it in a bun.  I used to love standing behind her when she was brushing it, because it hung down below her waist.   No one ever saw that but her husband and her children.

She loved The Lord and her husband and her children with all her heart!

God Bless the Workin’ Man

You mentioned your Dad worked for the railroad in Wharton.  What jobs did he have when you were growing up?

 

beasley_txWhen Nancy & I were born (1941&42), Dad owned and operated a little drugstore with a soda fountain in the little town of Beasley, Texas.  Back in those days, pharmacists didn’t have to go to college to be certified to open up a pharmacy.   Dad had worked under the supervision of an old guy by the name of Slataper who owned a drug store in Rosenberg.   I think that’s where he was working when your Uncle Bubba and Uncle RJ were born. He moved out to Beasley and started his own business there, primarily because that’s where Mama’s sister (Aunt Sally) & her husband (Uncle Henry Ellison) lived.

Mamaw’s family all stated coming to Texas from Kentucky around 1910 and by 1914 at the death of her daddy, William Benton. Her mother had died in 1908 giving birth to her 12th child, uncle Bill. Mamaw was born in 1904, Aunt Tamar in 1906 and then Uncle Bill in 1908. 
     

My daddy’s dad, known to everyone as Brother Tex (Texas Hulan Stevens), was a circuit riding farmer/ preacher in the late 1800s until his death in 1932.   Instead of a horse, he would ride from town to town on a train called the Rock Island Line…..and his middle child, Roy Stevens (1899-1969), would travel with him and lead singing for him.   It was at one of their stops at Beasley or Rosenberg that a young lady named Hallie Mae Benton caught Roy’s eye (she was 14, he was 19), and in 1919 they got married.  He was 20 and she was 15.

They lived on a farm in a little community called Fordtran down between Halletsville and Victoria. Their first baby boy was born when she was 16 and only lived a few days…. Eldred was born when she was 17, Texas Hulan (Uncle Bubba) when she was 19, and Uncle RJ when she was 23.   I, Benton Lanier,  came along when mom was 37.  When I questioned her at her 75th birthday if I was kind of an accident or a surprise, she demurely replied that I was more of a disappointment:)) She then said, “Nancy (born not quite a year later in 1942) was the surprise. I would have never had another on purpose….you were my last shot at a little girl.”

When Granddaddy (Bro. Tex) died in 1932, my daddy began preaching at some of his daddy’s appointments in places like Beasley, Rosenberg, Wharton, and Rock Island.   Many said that he truly felt a calling, not only to preach, but to try to fill his father’s shoes. In 1942 after Nancy’s birth, the 26th & North Shepherd Church of Christ in Houston called Dad to be their preacher, and he became a “full-time preacher” for the rest  of his life.
    

He taught all of his children the value of hard work and I can’t tell you how many times I heard him quote the apostle Paul, “if any won’t work, neither shall he eat!”   I often heard him say, “Always remember who you are.  Number one, you’re a Christian and number two, you’re a Stevens–in that order, and don’t you ever forget that!”

He was good at anything (as far as work was concerned ) that he tried to do.  Businessman, construction work, and one thing that sticks in my memory is his typing.   He used his 2 huge forefingers to literally make his old Underwood (desktop) typewriter sing!   He used to say, “I’m a hunt and pecker, but I want you to learn to type the right way!”   …and he made sure that Nancy and I took all the typing courses that we could in school.