Archive for family history

Now That’s Italian!

Best Italian food you’ve eaten. Was it a restaurant or a home? Where and what was it?


Easy question. Having grown up eating at Hallie’s table, I’d never had anything as exotic as Italian food. When we were on that trip to Poughkeepsie, New York, the guys I was working with said, “Let’s go to town and get us some Pizza.” I’d never been to a sure-nuff Italian restaurant before. The thing that just grabbed you when you walked in the door was the smell! The aroma, stone ovens, and Italian dialects all contributed to make that my most memorable Italian food!

Right behind that was the first time your mom introduced us to her new recipe for LASAGNA.

Leddo Me Tell You Something

What is your favorite memory of Uncle Eldred?


I’ve thought all day on your question about my favorite memory of your uncle Eldred, and there are so many I’ve not been able to settle on just one. I don’t know whether you know this or not, but his nickname for as long as I could remember was “Leddo,” which was an extrapolation of Uncle Bubba’s way of pronouncing Eldred. MaMaw said he would say “Weddo,” and they thought that was cute, but the boys changed it to Leddo as they got older.

With all Eldred’s excellent achievements in his life, and having known many of the men whom he trained to preach who reverently referred to him as Brother Stevens, it always surprised them to hear me refer to him as Eldred, or even more if I said something about Leddo!

One such person was a young man that Eldred referred to in the last sentence I heard him utter as he was about to drive away from our house, exactly one week before his tragic death on February 20, 1979. He said, “Nier, I can’t wait for you to meet a young man from Arkansas who’s in school at Preston Road…he loves to play the guitar and sing just like you!”

That young man’s name was Randy Green and, as you know, our friendship evolved into the formation of The Sounds of Glory Quartet. To this day, Randy still refers to Eldred as Brother Stevens. I’ve wondered many times over the years if Eldred has any consciousness in Heaven about how many lives have been touched through my getting to meet that young man a week after Leddo spoke those words!

Once upon a time…

When you were growing up, who was/is the best storyteller in your family?

Three people come to mind as storytellers in my family for different reasons.

1. Uncle Eldred always fascinated me with stories, because he was so well-read, well-educated, well-travelled, and he incorporated all of the above into his excellence in preaching.

2. Joke telling: my brother, RJ, my Uncle Paul, and my Aunt Myrt (PawPaw’s brother & sister) All three could really keep you laughing!

3. My daddy’s stories always kept me mesmerized, because of all his life experiences…starting in 1899!


I May Be Blue, But You’re Green With Envy ;)

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite colors have always been blue and green. Pretty much equal as far as preference between the two colors.

I’ve never given much thought as to why, except that as a kid, I loved working outdoors…cutting the green grass under the beautiful blue sky!

Hope that makes sense…then, of course, it could be my mother’s fault! You see, I was blonde-headed and blue-eyed (like little Luke next door), and mom would constantly tell me how good blue or green shirts looked on me…so it might have been a touch of vanity that influenced my love for blue and green.

You s’pose?

Lessons from Cavanaugh

What’s the best thing Granddaddy ever taught you?

Some of the sweetest memories I have of Grandaddy are of just very quiet conversations that he and I had. (One was at the hospital while WoWo was in a room, and we were out in the waiting area…another was when Mom was in labor with Dan…several took place at the filling station at Midway, when we came to appreciate each other’s work ethic and how he practiced what he preached, “If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then just keep your mouth shut.”)

1. It was in the old Madisonville Hospital…don’t remember the exact date, but Mom was still going to UT in Austin, and Mr. Cavanaugh and I were sitting in the waiting area while the nurses were tending to WoWo. I felt the time was right to ask him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I think it had about the same effect on him that Wes’ question did in me. Betty was his only daughter, as you were mine. He gulped a little and said, “Just make me a promise…that you won’t ever hit her or beat her…before you ever do anything like that, just promise me you’ll bring her back home!” I saw in those moments how much he loved your mom, yet how he was able to convey through his wonderful sense of humor his love for me and what he expected of me as his son-in-law.

2. You and Ben had both come into the world without extended periods of labor, but it was quite different with Dan. I saw during that wait how much he truly loved his daughter and grandchildren. He just made me want to be a better man.

3. One of my favorite Grandaddy stories happened there one day sitting in that waiting area. He was sitting there reading the Meteor when this nurse walked by. She had a nose that made Jimmy Durante’s nose look small, freckled-faced, and when she walked she kind of sauntered (a very unwomanly stride!) As she came toward us, I noticed his eyes following her over the top edge of the paper he was reading. She was clothed in her nurse’s whites…cap, stockings and shoes. When she passed us and turned down the next hallway, he did that little swipe under his nostrils he often did….never looked up or toward me, but spoke loud enough for me to hear him. He said, “Lawdy, I know she can’t help being ugly…but she could stay at the house!” He immediately continued reading with that little smirk on his lips…vintage Cavanaugh.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I learned from him to see the humor in the world, even when you’re going through hard times.

One of the greatest honors I ever had as a minister was to be able to ordain Brother Jesse Cavanaugh Farris to serve as a deacon in the Midway Church of Christ. He had always loved The Lord and the church, but felt because he was shy and not a public speaker that he couldn’t serve in leadership. He was a good businessman and made our church a great treasurer.

One last thing, I never walk in the Midway church building and look up at that suspended ceiling that I don’t remember him (at 69+) helping me hang all those channels and every piece of tile. He was a great, great man!

For Marshall

Today is your oldest grandson Marshall’s birthday. What words of wisdom would you want to pass down specifically to him?


There are 2 scripture thoughts that my daddy (your PawPaw) tried to ingrain into my heart that I want to share with you on your birthday today.  I tried to practice them, claim the promises in them, teach them to my daughter and my 3 sons—and I found that God always keeps His promises!

1.  Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is teaching his disciples, “If you’ll put me FIRST, you won’t have to worry about what you eat, what you drink, what you’ll wear, or having a place to lay your head.”   Just put him FIRST!

2.  2 Thessalonians 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Marsh, these two scriptures will make you a better disciple of Jesus, a better husband and provider, a better father and leader…,.and just an all-around better man. REMEMBER, always put God FIRST in everything…and also REMEMBER, if you want to eat, then WORK!

       HAPPY BIRTHDAY!   Pop

Old Hickory

Why is Andrew Jackson your favorite president?


If memory serves me correctly (which is questionable these days, when I can’t remember why Mom sends me to Walmart), I was always fascinated by his nickname ‘Old Hickory’, and the fact that I gleaned from my history teacher (who was probably a coach) that Andrew Jackson was a man who followed his heart and did it ‘his way’.

That really stuck in my mind. As I got older and did a little research on my own, I found Jackson’s roots were in Tennessee-Kentucky culture that was part of my heritage through my mother (Hallie Mae Benton Stevens).

Jackson was affected ( I don’t fully remember to what extent) by the Stone/Campbell movement, which was also a very important part of our heritage.

For all of the reasons above, I adopted him as my favorite president.

From personal experience, the one president I got to meet and shake hands with (as a candidate in 1960) was John F Kennedy. His height, red hair, and awesome personality really surprised me, because he had been so demonized by the anti-Catholic element. He reminded me so much of all three of my brothers–tall, handsome, articulate, a smile that just blew you away…. I began to realize then the importance of judging a politician, not by his looks, but by what he stands for.

In this day and age (where media creates images they want us to see), it is even more important that we investigate and become involved in the campaigns of the men who become our leaders.

I hope I’ve not been too far off base in my choosing ‘Old Hickory” as my favorite. :-)). Luv u, Pop

Blame it on a coach!

Put Me In, Coach!

What sports did you coach your kids in?


You were the first one I coached, and it was in softball. I have a lot of precious memories of those days. I coached each one of the boys in Little Dribblers basketball and also some in little league baseball. They were all good athletes, and it was so much fun watching them compete!

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

I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered…

What was the first piece of furniture that you built?


The first piece of furniture I built all on my own was the colonial study desk that I now have here in my (your) room.  [This will always be “Karen’s room” even though I’ve been in it for quite a while:-)) ] I saw a picture of that desk way back in 1967, and I built it out there in the old double garage at our home in Midway.   I built it for your mama, because in those days she loved  “Early American” furniture.

Going all the way back to my childhood, I remember mowing, then trimming the long grass out of the cyclone fence using just hand scissors just to hear my mother brag on me (no one ever conceived of such a thing as a weed eater back then). So much of what I’ve built has been to show my loved ones how much I love them!