Everything has changed, but everything is the same. My hometown.
We arrived in Cadiz yesterday afternoon. After spending some time with mom, I left the kids in her care and took off for a little drive down memory lane. As I drove down those old streets and neighborhoods for the first time in years, emotions overwhelmed me. At one point, I found myself pulled over on the side of Noel Drive (the street where I grew up), with big watermelon tears coming down my eyes. These were strange and unanticipated tears. I can’t exactly put my finger on the emotions I was feeling, but the overarching theme was one of joy. To put it simply, it was thanksgiving.
There are 1,000 things in a small town one could complain about, yet there are 10,000 more reasons to give thanks. As I drove through Cadiz in my ole’ Buick covered in Johnny Cash and Marco Rubio bumper stickers, I worshipped Jesus. I thanked Him for the memories. I thanked Him for the blessing of being born and raised in a small town. If you grew up in a town like Cadiz, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
As I made my rounds through my little hometown, here are a few things that caused me to thank the Lord.
Everybody knows everybody, and people never forget you. My first stop was the local Food Giant (formerly Piggly Wiggly). There, I bumped into Lee Lee Grubbs – a girl that graduated a year ahead of me (and also, by the way, the girl that beat me in the one-on-one championship at the 1990 Trigg County Basketball Camp). It was the first time I had seen her in 15 years. She gave me the warmest, most sincere greeting and hugged my neck. It meant the world to me. In a small town like Cadiz, everybody knows your name, no matter how long you’ve been gone. In the words of Miranda Lambert, “Whether you’re late to church or stuck in jail, word’s gonna get around. Everybody dies famous in a small town.”
Simplicity. I drove by what used to be the old Dairy Queen (it’s now been turned into a liquor store, and my momma is still as mad as a hornet about that). But growing up, Dairy Queen was the only fast food place we had, but man, was it special. A trip to Dairy Queen was like a trip to Disney World. I remember many days my grandmother picking me up from elementary school and taking me to DQ for chicken nuggets and a chocolate milk shake. You would have thought she’d given me a million bucks. In a small town like Cadiz, it doesn’t take much to please folks. There’s no Starbucks in sight; the black coffee from the Cadiz Restaurant suits our folks just fine.
Ferrell’s Snappy Service. The nations finest (and greasiest cheeseburgers). 24 hours a day, 364 days a year. Enough said.
Neighborhoods where kids played together from sunup until sundown. I sat there in front of Josh Adam’s old house. He had the biggest front yard. Myself, Josh, Kevin Marquess, Belden Parry, Timmy Butler, and Rob Crabtree used to play baseball (and every other sport) for hours at a time. From the moment we woke up until our momma’s called us home for dinner, we played. No video games. We didn’t watch Netflix. We didn’t play on our I-pads. We played outside. We climbed trees. We rode bikes. We played ball. We broke things. We got in fistfights, but the next day, we turned around and did it all again.
Teachers and coaches that treated you like family. I drove down Third Street past my high school basketball coach’s old house. When you’re 16 and think you know it all, it’s easy to complain about why your team doesn’t win more games, or how the coach’s game plan was flawed. But then you graduate, move on, and gain a little sense and wisdom. That happened to me. I look back now and thank God for Coach Mike Wright, Ben Bruce and others I had the joy of playing for. They didn’t scream and curse at their players. They didn’t come to practice with alcohol on their breath. They treated their players with dignity and respect. They prayed with us before every game. They cared about far more than wins and losses; they cared about developing boys into young men of character and integrity.
I think about teachers like Jane Ellen Wilson, who taught me (and all of my sisters) English. She didn’t simply teach us the difference between adverbs and adjectives, she loved us. She taught us the difference between right and wrong. When my dad died last April, Mrs. Wilson came to the visitation. We must have talked for an hour. She wept with me. She hugged me. She treated me like I was one of her sons.
“The courts.” At least that is what we called them. It was the outdoor basketball courts in downtown Cadiz. What made “the courts” special was that black guys and white guys played together there for hours, but the terms “black” and “white” never crossed our minds. We didn’t notice the color of one another’s skin; it didn’t matter. There were no racial slurs. There were no riots. There were just shirts and skins playing the game that we loved. And through it all, we learned to love one another.
Churches that didn’t seek to impress, but just preached the Truth. I drove up to the parking lot of my home church, East Cadiz Baptist. It was there that my Sunday School teachers (like Mrs. Donna Carter and Juanita Guier) taught me that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. It was there that my Royal Ambassadors (RAs) teacher, Ralph Stevens, taught us the difference in right and wrong (and made us do push-ups if we didn’t pay attention in class). It was there that Bro. Harold Rose would preach sermons with tears in his eyes, as he spoke about the love of Jesus for sinners. It was there that my mother drove the church bus three times a week to pick up kids whose parents wouldn’t bring them. It was there that my grandfather “kept time” for those of us in Bible Drills (aka “Sword Drills”) as we memorized the Word of God and competed for who could find the passages the fastest. It was there that Bro. George Major would bring candy for all of the kids every Sunday, and would beat on the table in youth Sunday School class as he told us the importance of taking the Gospel to other nations where they had never heard the name of Jesus. It was there that Jesus saved me. It was there that Jesus called me to preach. There were no fancy light shows, big screens, or loud music. There were just simple people who smiled and treated everyone like family who walked through the doors. There was just a man from out in the country in an old black suit that stood up and preached the Bible week after week. That was enough.
Family. Last night, we sat there in my mom’s house and we ate and we ate and we ate. There was only one thing missing – Dad. This is our first holiday season without him. As I looked into the empty chair where he used to sit, it struck me: you don’t know how good of a father you have, until you don’t have him anymore. That afternoon, I drove to the cemetery where his body was laid to rest. There, I thanked the Lord for a dad that never allowed a day to go by in which he didn’t tell me he loved me. I thanked the Lord for a father who worked two jobs his entire life so that my mom, my sisters, and I would never want for anything. Then I asked the Lord if He would help me be half the father to my kids that my dad was to me.
I thanked God for the memories, and I thanked Him for this little town that holds them all.