Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial


Because Mammaw had so many children, I had a whole bunch of aunts and uncles and first cousins. My oldest brother and some of my cousins served during World War II. My sister was in the WAC and later the Army Reserves as a sergeant first class. My brother Stanley, now 95 and living in Georgia, was a B-17 pilot. After he learned to fly the big bomber, the Air Corps had him teaching others to do so for a while; then he went to Italy. From there he flew 50 missions before the war’s end. My uncle Leonard and my cousin Morley were both fighter pilots who gave their lives in combat. My cousin John Henry was an aircraft mechanic career man and he was still in the Air Force at the rank of master sergeant when I enlisted in 1959.

John Henry was stationed in Bitburg, Germany when I received orders to do a three-year tour at Hahn, Germany, not far from Bitburg. Even though John Henry was considrably older that I was, he came to see me at Hahn and I became friends with him and his family. He knew that Cousin Morley’s grave was in Nancy, France, so he asked me to go with him to find it. We camped out on a stream near the cemetery and explored until we found it late one summer day. He took a lot of pictures and sent them to Morley’s mother, one of our aunts. I do not remember ever seeing Morley. He had already shipped out before my childhood memories kicked in. But it was satisfying to be part of the somber reunion. John Henry and Morley were close. That cemetery in Nancy, France exhibits row upon row of symmetrically arranged stars of David and Christian crosses, giving a sense of order to the chaos that precipitated it. In my mind’s eye, I could see Morley’s fatal flak-lit demise so far away from home where his mortal plans were forever foiled.

My brother Curtis went through the Air Force ROTC program at Louisiana Tech. Upon graduation and commissioning, he went to Harlingen, Texas for pilot training. He was there while I was in Air Force supply school in Amarillo, Texas. One day when I was between classes, the sergeant came and said, “Ford, your fly-boy brother is up at the flight line and wants to see you.” I went up there and helped him do the pre-flight on his T-33 trainer. We talked and laughed and cheered each other up. I did not know that visit would be our last. The Air Force sent him to B-47 training shortly after that and he became co-pilot on a B-47 that went down on takeoff at a base in Ohio. I was in Germany at the time, so I went home on emergency leave.

My surviving siblings and I were all three in uniform at the funeral in El Dorado—Colonel Ford, Sergeant Ford and Airman Ford. After the service, some neighbor kids who had grown up next door brought me some casings of the 21-gun salute firing, a very thoughtful gesture. I plan to visit the grave Memorial Day and think of all service people living and dead, and the many kindnesses shown in gratitude by so many.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

True Worship


Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jesus liked Samaritans. He even made a hero of one in that parable about taking care of your neighbor. In fact, one time he was accused of being one. Anyway, when he and his disciples were on the road one midday, he told them he was going through Samaria. They went into town to buy lunch while he stopped at a well and asked a Samaritan woman to give him some water.

She was quite surprised at this because of the great division between his people and hers. He does not share that hang-up, though, and metaphorically offers her “living water.” As often happened with Jesus’ teaching, she misunderstood the figurative language and asked him how he was going to draw water without a bucket. When the Lord explained that he was talking about eternal life, she still misunderstood and asked him to give her some of that everlasting water so she would not have to come draw water every day. She mistook salvation for a labor-saving device.

It was at that point that he revealed his supernatural insight into her life. After telling her to call her husband, she said she had none. He replied, that’s right, you have had five and the one you are living with now is not your husband. Her response was a little surprising. She simply stated her conviction that he was a prophet, so she asked him about the longstanding controversy between their two peoples concerning the right place to worship. There are people like that. Their lives are in a shambles and they would not darken the door of any church but they are interested in pontificating about religious issues they know very little about.

He explained to her, in effect, that worship was not about nationality, place or religious rules, but about worshipping sincerely—in spirit and truth. Not ready to accept that answer, she said, something like, well, I will wait for the Messiah to clarify the issue. That is when he told her that he was the Messiah. She immediately went into town and testified about the experience and many came out to be instructed of the Lord, many believing in him. He stayed two days.

About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians attacked Samaria and took away all the brightest and best. As the area tried to recover from devastation, their Jewish religious system was weakened.  They used only the Torah and worshipped on a mountain there locally instead of in Jerusalem, thus seeming inferior and in deep error to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus visited the area to show that true worship, that done in spirit and truth, is broad and inclusive, not narrow and exclusive. In short, he put forth a religion of the heart. That fact recalls what he told the ultra-religious Pharisees—you draw near God with your lips, but your hearts are far from him. In saying that, he was quoting one of the Pharisees’ favorite prophets—Isaiah. Religious activity does not fool God. It is our hearts he longs for.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trial Reenactment


I have been type-cast as a judge here at Historic Washington State Park. I play Judge Conway in the 1844 trial down at the 1836 Courthouse and I portray Judge Royston in the 1880 trial at the 1874 Courthouse across the street from my home. This latter reenactment takes place next on Saturday evening, May 7, 2016, so we have been practicing to make it as authentic as we can.

We have some of the old court records and several newspaper accounts detailing the crime and the trial. It was a famous case regionally and lots of people showed up for the trial and later for the execution. The man was found guilty in the actual trial but in our reenactment, we select a jury from the audience and they have yet to find him guilty. We have performed the 1880 trial three times. Twice they found him innocent and once we had a hung jury. The prosecutor will have to work hard Saturday evening to get the historic verdict.

The trial concerned the trial for first degree murder of a man named Sid from the Thomas plantation five miles northeast of Washington. Sid’s wife was very ill. Dr. Hart from Washington was deer hunting on the Thomas place and two field hands found him on his stand and told him he should go check on Sid’s wife, Easter, as she was very ill. The good doctor went and prescribed medications and nourishment for her and instructed Sid as to how to administer the cure.

Immediately after the doctor left, Sid got on a horse and raced through the backwoods to the general store in Washington, where he bought a quantity of strychnine, saying he needed it for pest control. Easter died a horrible convulsive death that very night and Sid buried her the next morning. The hands on the Thomas place were in an uproar, suspecting Sid, and there was some talk of taking the matter into their own hands. When the storekeeper heard of the death and the suspicious circumstances, he told the sheriff about Sid’s purchase and the sheriff went out and arrested Sid. He issued an exhumation order and Coroner Ogden from Fulton came up and, with Dr. Hart and other individuals, fulfilled the order. The stomach was full of strychnine.

The trial was swift and the jury found Sid guilty. The newspapers reported that over 2,000 people attended the execution and editorialized that more would have been in attendance if the creeks had not been out of their banks. Apparently they were having the same kind of flooding we have recently experienced.

Interestingly, Colonel Daniel Jones performed very well as Sid’s defense attorney. It was said that he took on cases of that kind often, seeking to help the underdog. There was not much he could do for Sid, though, as circumstances made him look very guilty. It is good to see, however, that the community took care to be attentive to detail, with a deep desire for a fair trial. Otherwise the hands on the Thomas place would have seriously erred and civilized justice would not have been served.