Tag Archive for madisonville

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

April Foolery

What’s your favorite April Fool’s Day memory?
This morning, I received a telephone call from one of my very best friends, Earl Roberts. When I saw the caller ID, I answered with, “April Fool’ just to aggravate him a little.  As he always does, he said, “You ol’ rascal! What are you up to this morning? I had forgotten this was April Fool’s day.” As our conversation continued, Earl immediately changed the subject and said, “Well, I was calling you to give you some good news. Kay and I have been talking, and we’ve decided to move back home to Madisonville.”   

Earl’s encouragement and exhortation was the reason I agreed to consider going back to Midway to preach three years ago. When he and Kay told me shortly thereafter that they had decided to move to Conroe, it broke my heart that they were leaving, because we had made much of our life’s journey together, and I envisioned us together back at Midway.

Well, after we talked a little this morning, he said, “I want to tell you why I called you this morning; Kay and I have decided to move back home, and I was wondering if you could help us find a house there.”

My emotion just welled up inside of me and I said, “Man, you know I’ll help you…when do you plan to pull this off?” to which he responded, “Just as soon as we can!” I was getting all worked up…then all of sudden he said, “APRIL FOOL!”

I told him, “Well, Betty tells me all the time….you just can’t fix stupid….and you just proved how right she is!” He really got me good!  And what’s so sad is that Ben pulled the same trick on me a couple of years ago! “You just can’t fix STUPID!”

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!

The Empty Nest

Today is Jon’s birthday. What is your favorite memory of Jon as a kid?

 
There are so many memories I have of all you kids that it’s hard to say ‘this is my favorite’. With Jon, it happened when he was about to go to Abilene to college, but he really didn’t want to leave home.     Every time one of you kids went off to school, your mom would grieve for several days, almost as if you were ‘gone’. Busy as I was working, we always had the next young’un still at home, and I just didn’t experience that maternal separation each time like she did. We always still had kids in the nest.

I used to stop at our house every day (Route 2 Box 129) to eat a little lunch.  (By this time, mom had finished and excelled in her education. She had bachelors and masters degrees from Sam Houston   and was in demand as an English teacher in both Normangee and Madisonville.) This day I walked in to eat lunch, and there was a note on the end of the bar which said, “Bye, y’all. I’ll miss ya….and if I get homesick, I’m comin’ home!” (I still have the note in my little brown shaving kit in my closet)

Anyway, I knew how badly Jon didn’t want to go to Abilene…and college. He had been a genius as a builder, even as a little boy!   When I read that note, I looked outside. His pickup was gone, his trailer was gone, and his horse was gone!   I cried all during my lunch and, when it was time for me to head back out on the mail route, I thought I’d better go into my lavatory to wash the tears from my face.

When I went to the lavatory, I was in for another surprise! (When Jon  graduated, he received a bottle of Kuros, very expensive and good-smelling cologne. I would sneak into his bathroom and borrow a little Kuros.  The aroma was so distinct, that it had become a game with us–Jon would holler, “Get outta my cologne!”) When I got to my lavatory to wash my face, to my surprise there sat that little bottle of cologne with this note underneath. “Dad, this isn’t much, but maybe it’ll let you know how much I love you!”  Well, I really started bawling then.  I couldn’t stop crying for a full 6 hours! I still have that note (and the cologne) on my lavatory!:))

My baby boy was gone! Also his horse, his truck and trailer. I just wasn’t ready for that ’empty’ feeling…and the ‘nest’ was empty!

BUT…leave it to Jon. He called me in October with these words, “Dad, you’ve gotta help me with Momma. I can’t stand it out here…I’ve gotta come home!”    I said to him, “Now Jon, you know Mom’s not gonna stand for you dropping out of school.” He replied with a typical ‘Jon’ism, “Well Dad, I can flunk out a whole lot cheaper at Sam Houston than doing another semester here at ACU.”   His heart just wasn’t in it, but Betty and I have just thrilled to watch him blossom and grow since!

Follow-up: …On Randolphs and Clarks

You know, those names like Randolph and Clark were so interesting to me. All the Clark family that I’ve known were natural musicians–Jughead, Johnny, Mike, Matt are all descendants of the Clarks who founded TCU.

You’re familiar with the Randolph name–all of the above were also families very involved with churches of Christ in Madison County. Up until the early 1900s, the church in both Midway and Madisonville was simply called Christian church because ‘the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’.

Midway got its name after Midway, Kentucky, where Barton Stone’s Cane Ridge Revival took place. The settlers who came to Texas from Kentucky named it after their old Kentucky home. It tickled me when I found that out from Dr. Bill Humble, when he brought some folks from Abilene to Midway (a place significant in the Restoration movement).

Mamaw’s family also came from that area of Kentucky. ;))

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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.

 

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