Archive for career

AKA Brother Smitherman

Tell me the story of you and James Otis and Brother Smitherman.

 
This goes waaaaay back!  When I started working for James Otis’ dad back in 1961, Ottie (his nickname) and I were always ‘prankin’ one another.   I won’t go into all the practical jokes that he and I and his brother Billy played over the years. Just suffice it to say there were a bunch of em!

The Smitherman story had its roots in the passion James Otis had seen in me during football season of your brother Ben’s senior year, 1984-85. That group of boys had shown a lot of athletic potential throughout their years in school and had a whole group of dads who were reliving their own childhood dreams through their sons.  Their first football game was against Willis, and the score was tied at the end of the game (something like 7 to 7).   Several of us dads were watching their practice the following Monday afternoon and very frustrated because the boys were just kinda ho-hum about the whole thing…(well at least we didn’t lose)…but all of us dads had been coached by coaches who taught us that a tie ball game was equivalent to ‘kissing your sister’!   There were several of us involved in this discussion, but the three more vocal ones were myself, John Hardy, and Dickie Westmoreland (R.I.P.).  As we talked, we all agreed that Coach Harper and his crew were good  coaches, but just didn’t know our boys like we did…and what it would take to get them fired up and keep them fired up!

I was chosen to be the one to talk to coach Harper and tell him that we weren’t wanting to coach the boys but, “Would there be any way he would let us dads meet with the boys on ‘game day’ to give them our version of a motivational speech?”   With the full assurance that we weren’t wanting to coach (just inspire them), he graciously consented.

On ‘away games’, the team would usually eat at the Corral Cafe before loading up on the team bus and heading out for the game. We were to be allowed about 15 minutes in this ‘dads experiment,’ and the dad chosen to be our first speaker was Jerry Cole.  The choice turned out to be perfect, because Jerry had played college football and pro ball with the Houston Oilers.  His theme was drawn from something one of his coaches had used to motivate him. Here it is: “If you had two equal teams playing tug-a-war…eleven on each team, equal in strength, everything totally equal…BUT…if ONE man lets go of his part if the rope, the other side would win!

That night, we went to play Cleveland. In the last quarter with the score tied, something was born that carried that group of boys all the way to the state championship playoffs. The crowd began to chant with one voice, “Hold that rope! Hold that rope!” Long story short, every man did his part holding that rope, and with just about 14 seconds left on the clock, Asa Bennett kicked a field goal which WON the ball game!  No tie that night!  Our boys not only learned a tremendous life lesson that night, they started one of the neatest journeys on which a group of dads and their sons have ever traveled!!

Every week, I had the responsibility of choosing a different one of the dads to be the ” motivator” for that particular week! All the coaches and even the whole town got ‘pumped’ over what was happening with that football team!

James Otis knew how much fun all of us were having that football season, so he took it upon himself to pull the ULTIMATE practical joke on his old friend, Lanier Stevens! We were in about the second or third round of the playoffs and were scheduled to play one of the Lufkin teams on Friday night. On Tuesday evening, the phone rang at our house, and I answered it. I’ll try to give you my best recollection of that conversation:

“Mr Stevens, I’m calling from Abilene, Texas and our daughters have become great friends out here in  college. Have you heard Karen speak of my daughter? (You hate to say, fella, I don’t have a clue who you’re talking about, because he spoke of their friendship in such glowing terms!) So, I kinda grunted along with uh-huhs and yeahs, waiting to see what this urgent phone call was all about. He continued, “Brother Stevens, we’re in a real bind. You know, my daughter’s getting married Friday night, and the preacher who’s supposed to perform the ceremony is critically ill in the hospital. My daughter thought since she and Karen are such good friends, that you might come and marry her! Cause she doesn’t want just “anybody” to do it.  She wanted it to be someone ‘special’, and since she and Karen are such good friends, she asked me if I would call you!”

My heart goes out to this man! JAMES OTIS HAS ME!

But, wait a minute…I’ve got a playoff game in Lufkin on Friday night!  How do I tell this man (whose daughter is such good friends with MY precious daughter) that I can’t marry his daughter because of a football game!

Then, in one of my typical brilliant moves…knowing that Church of Christ preachers are ‘a dime a dozen’ in Abilene, and that I might help them make a substitution, I said, “What’s the preacher’s name?” To which he quickly replied, “His name is Brother Smitherman. Do you know him?” Call it coincidence or whatever, when PawPaw was preaching in Orange, Texas, there was a preacher at a church in Port Arthur named Brother Smitherman.   So I said, “Well, I have known some Smithermans!” 

Well, James Otis almost lost it when I said that ….and ever since that phone call, my nickname has been, “Brother Smitherman!”   ,,,and that was just the beginning!

It’s 4 in the morning….I’ll finish some of the other chapters at a later date!   :-)).   Pop

Getting in the “Zone”

What does your Sunday morning preparing for church schedule look like?

 

Every Saturday evening:
1. I try to summarize, pray, and be as sure as I can that the lesson I’ve been preparing is what the Holy Spirit wants me to teach.
2. I try to finalize my CD and burn it for Sunday morning’s radio program.
3. Try to be in bed between 10:00 and 11:00.

SUNDAY MORNING:
1. Wake up around 5:30 am 
2. Hot bath and shave
3. Take medicine and brush my teeth
4. Check blood sugar and eat a little
5. Get dressed and load up my car (Bible, CD, coffee)
6. Try to get to KMVL Radio by 7:45 and get everything cued up to start “Reaching Out” at 8:30
7. Usually, by 9:05 David Ely calls my cell phone with feedback and encouragement about the program
8. Usually, get to Midway church by 9:30 to fill  the communion cups and bread trays for the Lord’s Supper 
9. Teach my auditorium class at 10:00
10. Morning worship at 11:00

AND that’s my routine ever since my daughter got me in the radio about 25 years ago…oooh…makes me tired!

I Brought Home Bacon from the Piggly Wiggly

What was your very first job?

 

Dad had an interesting and very Biblical concept with regard to jobs! “As long as you’re putting your feet under my table, you have a job–because,if any won’t work, neither shall he eat!” There was  a certain amount of job security in that….cows to be fed and milked, chickens to be fed, eggs gathered, and the yard mowed.

When I first talked dad into letting me work away from home, it was a stocking job at a Perry’s Five & Dime store in Orange, Texas.  I wàs in the sixth grade I think…

#2  Gas station attendant
In high school, I worked for Brother Kendrick, one of the elders in Haynesville, La., pumping gas at his Esso gas station.  I remember gasoline cost 10 to 17 cents a gallon back then (1956).

#3  Dry goods stocker & Clerk
Next job was working for Mr. Nobel Shaw in Nacogdoches the summer of 1959 as a freshman in college. Got my first car that year also, a 1950 model flat head 8 cylinder engine.  All that freshman year, I had a job leading singing at the Mound & Starr Church of Christ.  They paid me! 🙂

#4  Grocery clerk
In 1960, my brother Eldred prevailed upon me to move to Fort Worth, live with them, attend TCU in the fall, and lead singing at the Southside Church. To help make ends meet, Eldred got me a job working for a friend of his, Jack Moulton, who was the manager of one of the Buddies Supermarkets, a grocery chain in Fort Worth.

#5  Piggly Wiggly assistant manager
In the Fall of 1960, after the Fort Worth plans didn’t work out, I found myself moving home to Dad’s in San Antonio to attend San Antonio Jr. College.   He told me that, no matter what, my bedroom was always mine; but after age 18, living at home I had to pay a boarding fee (help with the groceries I consumed). I went to the Piggly Wiggly store down the street from the folks lived and applied for a job. My experience with Buddies payed off. Before long, I’m the assistant manager in that store…which payed off for me the next year, when I moved to Madisonville in 1961 and got my job with Mr. John Dean Carter.

(A LITTLE SIDE NOTE)
Just up the street from the PW Store in San Antonio was the Jefferson Church of Christ where Uncle Paul, Aunt Eunice, and my cousin Mike attended church. Their preacher (who I met frequently in the store) was named Frank Dunn, who often had his cute little teenage daughter shopping with him.  Mike worked with me and introduced me several times.   I encountered the name Frank Dunn again in 1967, when Clyde Thompson (EX 83) told me the story of his life.  When Clyde was in prison, he was baptized by Frank Dunn, who was the preacher for the Huntsville Church of Christ.   He also married Clyde and Julia,and–to top it all off–that little girl following him in the grocery store was named Holly…the same girl who wrote ‘Daddy’s Hands’ while she was a student at ACU. Pretty cool…don’t you think?

I Surrendered to God…and the USAF!

What age were you when you decided to follow Christ?  What do you remember about that?

 

I guess I thought that, because God’s word was so much a part of everything that went on in our lives, that I was just a Christian by birth. But at one evening service, my little sister walked down the aisle to the front, made her confession to the church, and my dad baptized her.

I didn’t let Nancy beat me at anything, and lo and behold, she beat me at becoming a.Christian! I was 12 years old. My dad and I did some serious talking that week, and I was baptized a week later. I don’t think I understood real repentance and commitment until after I started preaching, and I think my real conversion took place one day down at Wilson Shoals on my mail route.  

It was during the Vietnam War, and fighter jets from Barksdale AFB would ‘fly that crooked Trinity River’ to practice before going to Vietnam and Cambodia.  Johnny Price’s mailbox, Rt. 2 Box 30, was right on the.riverbank, and one day one of those jets flew right at treetop level right over my little International Scout mail wagon!   It scared me so bad because Peter said whenever men are wondering “Where’s the promise of His coming?” And responds to his question with, “The heavens and earth which are now, will pass away with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.”  By then, I’d been preaching long enough that I was familiar with that scripture, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is it!’  I really expected the fervent heat any moment, and I’d always hoped I’d have time to say one last little prayer to kinda ‘clean up’ anything I might’ve missed asking forgiveness for. You see, I really didn’t understand ‘grace’ back then. Anyway, I opened the door and fell out on the ground on my face, begging God to forgive me for all those unconfessed sins.  Not long after that, I had brother Gaylon Embry baptize me…as a man who still believes that I had “my road to Damascus experience” at Rt.2 Box 30!

I was far too immature at 12 to truly understand what real repentance and conversion is all about.

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