Names and faces — namely, putting them together — have never been my strong suit, something I’ve puzzled about since the two things I’ve spent most of my vocational life doing (journalism and …
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Names and faces — namely, putting them together — have never been my strong suit, something I’ve puzzled about since the two things I’ve spent most of my vocational life doing (journalism and pastoral ministry) both could stand a good dose of that kind of detail.
It takes me awhile to get the two put together but once I do, then most of the time they stay in my noodle. But I’ve long envied those folks who can meet a person and then 10 years later call them by name. Maybe they’ve taken one of the courses or seminars taught about the tricks and methods of how to make you better at remembering names. Or maybe they’re the teacher.
One of those tricks is to play a word association game when you meet somebody new, to look at the person and to associate something about them with their name. For instance, if you meet Joe Hall and Joe stands about 6-foot-6, you might think “Hall ... Tall” and remember him later. That’s not a bad idea, but it’s not always that easy.
I tried it once when we moved to a new community after I became pastor of a church there. In that church, there was a lady — a Mrs. Womack by name — who had sat “too long at the table” (not that I have any room to note such). But, nonetheless, suffice it to say she would have had difficulty buying clothes off the rack unless it was a rack in the sheet section or something that could double as a tent. Now, she was a fine and gracious lady, mind you, and as Mama taught me and her other two Southern boys, I could easily say about her “Bless her heart” and such. So, I want you to understand I’m not making fun of the lady, merely pointing out a physical fact.
Anyway, upon first making her acquaintance, I thought I would try the word association game. Noting her ample girth and that her name was “Womack” I thought the perfect word association would be to think of “stomach” when I saw her again since, you know, “Womack” and “stomach” sort of rhyme.
Proud of myself for being so creative, I noticed the next Sunday that she was in the house. At the end of the service the folks filed out the door to tell the obligatory falsehood that the sermon was good. And as the dear lady neared me, I reached out to grasp her hand and then proceeded to say, “Good morning, Mrs. Kelly.”
I say all that to say that details are important but they’re not everything. Sometimes they can get in the way, something I don’t always remember or do very well. Even the poet tells us they can be a problem as in the old saying, “The devil is in the details.” But I also note that sometimes the details of life have a way of slipping up on us and it may be a little thing but it can speak loudly and long to us.
That happened to me as I sat down to knock out this column, which is what some folks have told me they wish I would do to them before they subject themselves to reading another one. And as I sat at the keyboard, I did a mental fast-forward and realized that this week’s edition of the paper would include the date Oct. 22.
My dad’s birthday.
I hadn’t consciously thought about him for a day or two, maybe more, I suppose, although I think he’s with me every day. Sometimes I’ll catch myself using words he used or remembering something we did. And above the work area in my study, hanging on the wall, is a large framed colorized picture of him at about age 5 or 6, dressed in the fashions of the day of 1916 or ’17.
He would have been 110 if he were still with us today. I wasn’t thinking about him until I looked at the date on the calendar this week. I guess if he were still here, we wouldn’t be doing all that much at his age but maybe he would have surprised me.
What I do know is I miss him, even as I live with the arthritis he gave me in my knees and shoulders. I especially miss him when I think about him. Some time ago, Shirley fell into a clean-up mode and uncovered a significant number of family pictures, including some of him in his better days. I sat and looked at them awhile and remembered — or tried to — what he sounded like and his nuances and quirks and sayings, like “keep it between the ditches,” said to me often as I was learning to drive.
And then I remembered that over on a shelf in the living room are a handful of family VHS tapes — yes, I know VHS is what dinosaurs use — with that very thing on them.
I think maybe I’ll pull them off the shelf and catch up on the details.
Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.
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