Wesley Nicholas Eulogy by Mark Nicholas

Good morning. For those who don’t know, I am Mark, the eldest son of Wesley Nicholas, and I’d like to share a few things about my Dad with you this morning as we remember, celebrate and give thanks for his life. 

Wesley Bernard Nicholas was born on December 30th, 1946, to Joe and Isadora Nicholas, who were both in their mid 40’s when he was born. As an only child, he grew up in the small oil refinery and railroad town of Laurel, Montana, which sits on the banks of the Yellowstone River and just west of Billings by about 15 miles. Montana is well-known as the Big Sky Country and from the town of Laurel you have a good view of the Pryor Mountains to the southeast and the impressive Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. The reason I tell you this is that this place and these views were deeply imprinted in my dad and no matter where else he lived, no place could be or ever would be home to him like Montana. 

Growing up the only child of older parents, my dad had a fascinating childhood in that he was exposed to a variety of things by HIS dad, who was a skilled and resourceful jack of all trades. His dad was the town’s deputy sheriff, the water treatment plant operator, mechanic, machinist, building inspector and a pilot, among other things. This meant that my dad had a broad view of the world and what was possible. As a kid my dad was a paperboy, played trumpet, was a photographer and earned his pilot’s license in high school. He also dabbled in hunting, golf, and wrestling, but the most formative and favorite activity of his childhood by far was being with his dad and working alongside him in their garage shop, which was a wonderland of tools, machines, oil, steel, bolts, and screws. It smelled industrious and wasindustrious. It was a place where possibilities could become a reality. And it was the place where my Dad’s jack-of-all-trades skills were cultivated and honed. (And … if any of you have ever been inside mine, my brother’s or sister’s garage, you will how see these values are still in play, a couple generations later :) 

For example, in the back there is a photo of a homemade tractor that my dad and grandpa built together. 

After high school, Dad moved to Bozeman and attended Montana State University, where he studied mechanical engineering. While there he connected with a girl from his hometown by the name of Barbara and they became friends, playing cards and hanging out socially. During that time, Dad became smitten with Barbara, and though I’m told it took some convincing, he won her hand and they were married in September of 1968. After graduation, Dad accepted a job as a manufacturing engineer at the Western Electric plant in Omaha, Nebraska, where they moved in 1970. 

(Actually, there was a little stowaway onboard who also made the move with them. This guy, whom they hadn’t met just yet. ;)

So Omaha, Nebraska, became the place where my dad and mom set up their tents and raised their family. I was born late summer of 1970, a year a half later my brother Mike came along, and then 4 1/2 years after that, our little sister Wendy was born. 


In thinking back over our dad’s life, there are so many memories, stories and values that I could stand here and tell you about. But for those of you here who have only known him the past 7 years that they’ve lived here in Middle Tennessee, I want to share a few of his meaningful traits with you, in hopes that you will know him and his legacy a bit better. 

The first thing that comes to mind is our dad’s work ethic. As I mentioned previously, he was an engineer and worked at Western Electric (which later became AT&T). His job there at that plant was to design telecommunications connectors for cabling operations. In the 70’s it was all copper cabling but in the 80’s they switched to fiber optic cable connectors. He was a quintessential engineer and was always concerned with detail, precision and process. At the dinner table when my mom would badger all of us with the question “how was your day?”, when it was my dad’s turn he would tell about some supremely boring machine process and how it had to “be exact” and how the part’s variance could not be off more than “1/100th the thickness of a sheet of paper”. I still don’t know how thick a regular sheet of paper is and probably never will - but he did and he cared and that made him good at his job.  

Dad was a self-described workaholic, but it never did interfere with family. His work life was deeply patterned and systematic - he went in to work early by 7am and was home by 4:30 on the dot every single day (this to avoid the non-existent ‘rush hour’ traffic in Omaha, Nebraska). He’d come in the house, drop his keys in the ashtray on top of the refrigerator and briefcase on the counter in the same spot. In the kitchen he’d kiss Mom on the cheek then head straight to his lazy-boy recliner to read the newspaper until dinner was ready at 5pm. In all our years at home, this pattern was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning and never wavered. Looking back, I am deeply grateful for the consistency that he offered, even in something as seemingly trivial as this. 

My siblings and I considered our Dad to be an extraordinary and thrifty do it yourself-er and we grew up in awe of his abilities. Whether it was building us a treehouse, re-roofing the house, fixing the cars (I never once remember my dad taking a car in to a mechanic for anything), electrical, plumbing, repairing clocks, etc, no matter what it was, our dad could do or fix seemingly anything. 

My dad was not selfish with his abilities and routinely shared them with others. He was the go-to guy for all the widows at church who needed their cars repaired, free of charge. He would be at church several Saturdays a month working on the antiquated boiler system so we could have heat the next day during services. He also ran the “tape ministry” at church, which meant that he would record, duplicate and distribute cassette tapes of the sermons to shut-ins around town.

Dad’s work and acts of services were very formative for us kids, and his actions showed us that we were to give ourselves away on behalf of others. 

That sounds a bit like the way of Jesus as well. 

Faith was a crucial element of our Dad’s life. He was raised by his parents (his mom in particular) as a Christian Scientist, which if you know anything about it, it is a pretty wacky religion. It was in college and during a time of searching that my mom invited him to a Bible study she hosted in her apartment. He became curious about Jesus and Christianity and after talking to a pastor there, eventually placed his faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ and developed a deep love for God’s Word. 

As I mentioned earlier, he was always looking for ways to serve his local church, but throughout his Christian life, he and my mom supported many foreign missionaries as well, in a number of different countries, several of whom have become lifelong friends. 

After retirement Dad became a Gideon and devoted much of his spare time to distributing Bibles and serving as Treasurer of the local Gideon chapter. 

You can see the pattern here… a life well-spent serving others. 

But there’s a couple more things I’d like to briefly add. 

Music was so very meaningful to our dad. He loved playing trumpet and was a great player. In high school he was often asked to play “Taps” at military funerals, he marched in the Tournament of Roses parade one year and traveled many places with the Montana Centennial Band. In Omaha he joined the Western Electric company band and would play annual holiday concerts, in nursing homes and so on. He also played around on the saxophone and piano. One of my favorite memories as a child is that he and my mom would often play duets on the family piano to serenade us kids as we’d be going to sleep at night. Dad would take the high, melodic parts and my mom would take the lower, rhythmic arrangements. My favorite song in their repertoire was "Jamaica Farewell.” 

And even though he let us play with it when we were older, it was clear that his large console stereo system was one of his most valued treasures, and he would love to play his albums or listen to music on the radio for hours on end. 

For being a pretty reserved guy, music was the thing that kept his emotions right at the surface. He and my mom’s love for music permeated our home, and the net result is that we kids loved music as well. 

My dad was kind of a quiet person and not one who ever looked for or sought attention from other folks. However, he was always quick with a joke or a quip. I’ve noticed in a number of the condolences that people have offered that they remember him as a funny guy. Dad liked to think that his humor was dark and even started writing a memoir a few years back that he titled “Dark Humor”. But truth be told, his brand of humor wasn’t dark at all - rather it was DRY humor or WRY humor even. Kind of like if Bob Newhart was a bit more awkward and a bit more silly - that’s the kind of humorist our Dad was. A lot of times, during a family conversation, everybody would be talking about a topic and Dad would be sitting there not contributing anything, but then POW, out of left field he’d toss out a quip, joke or funny observation. Almost like a non-sequitur, he was there just waiting to pounce with a joke or something that would tickle him. 

His humor was the thing that let us know he was paying attention and that there was a world of thought going on inside his head. 

Dad’s humor was almost always self-deprecating. In the back on the table, there’s a little life history printout that Dad wrote back in 2004 that would give you a small glimpse into his funny mind. 

There is a lot I’ve left out and more I wish I could say to let you know about our dad. But in closing, there is a single word that I think sums up my dad’s life and his legacy quite well. And that word is Fidelity, which means:

Faithfulness to a person, cause or belief AND demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. And also, accuracy in details. 

Our Dad - and our mom’s husband - was faithful to us, his family. He was faithful to his friends and faithful to his God. He was loyal and always supportive. I heard him say several times that he wanted to be known as someone who always provided for his family. And by God’s grace, he was able to do just that. Thanks, Dad, for leaving us with a good legacy to aspire to and a story to live into. Your story was a good one and we are grateful for your fidelity in all our lives. We look forward to seeing you again in the resurrection, your body, mind and soul restored and glorified. Until that day, we’ll be missing you being here with us. 

And while I’m being thankful, I want to publicly honor and give thanks to our Mom, who sacrificed so much in caring for Dad his whole adult life, but particularly towards the end as his MS became more pronounced and burdensome. Dad endured so much without complaint, and you were there with him, holding his hand every step of the way. I love you, Mom, and I can only imagine the truckload of crowns being readied for you in heaven. Thank you for setting a loving example of faithfulness too. 

And finally, to my parents’ friends at Smyrna Baptist Church - thank you for your welcoming kindness to my parents in their relatively short time here. You have given them a place to belong and a church home away from their Montana home. May God bless you for this. To God be the glory.  

Like Willows In The Wind by Michael Salerno


The flowing water passes by
With whispers in the dawn
The sunlight kisses me with peace
Until her light is gone

I sit beside the water’s edge
And breathe the midday light
The branches sway above my head
While memories come to sight

I think of how the years slip by
And slowly drift away
How laughter travels through the air
And fades to shades of gray

How tears come quickly in the dark
But dry beneath the sun
And even when a heartbeat stops
A life is never done

I’m glad there is no place to run
To hide from what we know
Because I’d never choose the truth
That grace could only show

I feel the sweet embrace of peace
Surround me in this place
The scent of joy has drawn me here
To touch my weary face

And now I truly understand
How hope can live within
We bend with love yet do not break
Like willows in the wind

Submitted By: Michael Salerno

1,000 Days by Molly Nicholas

1,000 Days by Molly Nicholas

I have known of my son for 1,000 days. He is approximately 2,560 days old. I do not say “approximately” because I can’t do the calculations, but because I do not know exactly how many days he has been alive.

I first see his picture when our adoption agency posts a note to prospective parents that he is about to be entered in the database for harder-to-place children — older children or those with significant medical or psychological challenges — and that anyone who is interested in finding out more about him should send a message. I request more information about him, as I have done several times with “waiting children” in the previous couple of years. I look through his narrative, social and medical reports, and additional photographs. I love him as soon as I see him. I forward the documents to my husband, along with an attempted non-prejudicial message, “See if this strikes you in any way.” Within about a minute, my phone rings with my husband saying, “I think we should do this.”


Never mind that this child is in a different country than the one for which we have been approved. Never mind that moving forward with this child will mean redoing much of our paperwork, once again driving around to banks, doctor’s offices, police departments, and myriad government buildings to get new documents printed, notarized, and certified.  My friend Jill http://jillphillips.com/music? has a song that sings, “And then out of nothing, it’s telling me something I didn’t know that I knew.” There is a mysterious kind of knowing that can happen to a person, and it seems all the more sweet and supernatural when it comes to your life partner in the same time and space.

The agency requires that we make our case in writing as to why we would be the best parents for this particular child. And so I spend most of a weekend writing the letter that will change the course of our lives forever. A couple years later, one morning before school as he is putting his shoes on by the back door, my son smilingly asks out of the blue, having heard some of this tale before, “Mom, when you first found out about me, were you so happy?” Oh yes, definitely. “Were you so excited, that you wanted to write a note?” Tell me again the story of how you loved me and wanted me as soon as you saw me.

* * *

I have lived with my son for 906 days, the first 40 in his country of origin.

After 24 hours of travel, my husband and I touch down in an East African land I have heretofore only seen in photographs online. A social worker and a driver greet us near the customs area. The smell of smoke fills the air outside, and the roads are full of people out walking. All of my senses are overwhelmed. Cutting through the din of the dance music blaring through our driver’s speakers, the social worker asks, “Which one of you is going to learn Luganda?” Wait, isn’t the child going to learn English? Why are there so many people outside at midnight? What have I done and is it too late to just turn around and go back home?

As we pull up to the guesthouse where we’ll be staying, a man wearing a pink bathrobe and carrying an assault rifle opens the iron gate bordered with barbed wire. The house manager shows us to our room. In twelve hours, our son will arrive here. We wake up from our Ambien-assisted sleep, take in our new surroundings, wonder aloud what our son’s voice will sound like, and try to think of pertinent questions to ask his caregiver.

We’re sitting in the living room of the guesthouse, practicing some Luganda phrases, when the security guard opens the gate for the same car we’d ridden in the night before. The driver, another social worker, a foster mother, and a four-year-old boy walk up the steps and through the sliding glass door. He is even cuter than his pictures, and his voice is amazingly just like I imagined. After an hour-long visit, with the social worker translating as I try to gather as much information as I can from the woman he’s been living with, the other adults leave and the boy stays with us. We try to distract him from the chasm opening up between his old life and his new one by blowing bubbles and playing with a balloon.

Even now it is sometimes too overwhelming to think about what he was required to do.

* * *

I have been my son’s legal guardian for 897 days.

In a crowded courtroom, everyone who can be found who has played a part in our son’s story has gathered to testify. Our son clings to us, the people to whom he had been introduced and instructed to call Mommy and Daddy only 48 hours earlier. A week later the judge signs the guardianship papers, and we wait another five weeks for his passport and visa so we can make the 24-hour trip home.

In our first weeks together, we learn to communicate, attempting to meet in the middle of our two languages. There are a few nights where we fear our son’s guttural wailing will never stop, but there are also joyful discoveries, new rituals created, and exuberant laughter. His bond to his father is immediate. It is a great delight to watch them together. With me he has some more business to work out. There are glimpses of physical aggression toward me and also moments of unbelievable sweetness. In the midst of it all, we begin to move as a unit—three people figuring out new roles and new languages and new relationships—but firmly set on this road together. By the time we board the first of three airplanes for the journey home, our son talks as if he’s never had any other life than ours together.

* * *

I have shared a home with my son for 866 days.

He cries every morning for the first several months when his daddy leaves to go to the office. When his words begin to come more readily, he berates and belittles me and exalts his father. Yet he is desperate for me to be next to him every minute and cries in a panic if I am even twenty feet away, in a room where he can still see me. This is a complicated dance that we are in. He does not acknowledge that he had any life in Africa before we came, though of course we know it is in him. Grief and fear leak out in many ways with a child who has experienced so much loss and change.

I am kicked, punched, scratched, bitten, and have hard objects thrown at me. I cry and curl up in a ball on the floor and lament that my son would do these things to me. I thank God that he does them only to me and no one else. I do not worry that he will lash out or lose control with other people. This Thing is between him and his mothers, of which I am at least the fourth.

My neighbor says that when a child acts out like this, what they are really saying is, “Are you strong? Can you handle what I’m going to do?” I do not feel strong.

I lose my temper, though I had previously considered myself nearly unflappable. I find articles on PTSD in children and read books with titles like Parenting the Hurt Child. I see a counselor and ask friends to pray. I eat too many cookies to make myself feel better about how the days go. I gain too many pounds and feel worse.

* * *

I have been my son’s final legal mother for 708 days.

Other than a change in last name for my son, it does not make any difference in our lives that a judge in the United States has declared it so.

My son is as in love with his daddy as his daddy is with him. His underlying message to his father is,You, I have no problem with. I want to be like you in every way. You are the delight of my heart. To me: You and your kind are another story. I am afraid and I want control and I will push and push and push, but please, please, please don’t leave me.

One day as we’re out running errands, I become exasperated by my son’s constant complaining and tell him to stop being a “Negative Nelly.” He angrily responds, “I don’t want you to call me that name.”I ask what he wants me to call him. Silence for ten minutes and my mind moves on to other things. As we’re pulling in the driveway, a voice from the backseat says, “I like it when you call me Baby Boy.”

Throughout these days of hard things, I remain his mother and he my Baby Boy. We read storybooks, learn the alphabet, ride bikes, cook together, go swimming, hike around the lake, and kick a ball in the driveway. When he is not afraid, his mind and body soar.

* * *


We start to find ourselves going weeks and then months without a traumatic or dramatic incident. And then there are occasional resurgences. My husband and I try to figure out the patterns and guess at the causes. Has there been a break in routine? Is there an impending trip? Are we at an anniversary of a life-changing event? Some things remain mysteries, for my son has been alive for approximately 2,560 days and I was not with him for two-thirds of them.

Our days now are filled with more joys than sorrows. Our family has rhythms of meals and school and imaginative storytelling and inside jokes and friends and outdoor play and indoor art projects. When he wants to, our son tells us about pieces of his life before we came. My husband and I tell him stories about our lives before we met. We all re-tell each other the stories of our family’s life together.

When my son and I go out in public I like to think that the reason people notice us is because he is so beautiful. I forget that we stand out because we do not look alike. He is part of me. We have walked through fire together. We will walk through more. I have only known of him for 1,000 days.

This essay originally appeared on the Art House America blog.

Gingerbread Sparkles - by Selena Hucal

Community Recipe  

Gingerbread Sparkles  

Gingerbread Sparkles  

For those of us (like me) with  a weakness for anything with a ginger/molasses taste, here is the best recipe for Gingerbread Cookies from my Canadian friend Selena that I have ever tasted. This morning, I think I had 3 before 9 am. 



2 cups of flour  

2 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt  

1 tsp cinnamon  

1 tsp ginger  

½ tsp cloves  

1 cup brown sugar  

2/4 cup butter or margarine (but who are we kidding, butter is better)   

¼ cup molasses  

1 egg  



fine granulated sugar  

(roll into balls and roll in sugar before baking)  


Just for fun- here is her recipe card she wrote out when she was 12 years old that she has kept more than 20 years. 


The mixing  directions are here.  




Hope you enjoy!  



It happened in Walmart.

We were in the lotion isle,  hoping to get in and out very quickly to make Savannah's basketball game on time. From the corner of my eye, I saw a woman with skin the color of milk chocolate approach me.

" Excuse ma'am, are you a Christian?" I was not expecting this in the lotion isle. "Ahh, yes, I am"

 "I could tell you was in your eyes" she said to me.

"My name is Gloria"  

Gloria went into a complicated story about her granddaughter who was on dialysis and in need of medication that cost 19 dollars and continued to tell me about the fact that she, her two daughters, and their children all lived in a hotel room together. Then she pointed to her outfit. It was a silk/polyester blouse with a floral print and a pair of Capri jeans "These and one other outfit is all the clothes I got. We don't hardly have food to eat. The baby is sick..." It kept going.  She then told me about another Christian lady who had happily gone to the ATM and pulled out 60$ for her. "Hmm.. I thought, that was convenient for her. She said "if you don't have any cash on you we can go to the ATM, there's one up in the front of the store.

Savannah, my youngest was standing wide-eyed with a look of amazement on her face. I started to ask Gloria more questions.

"Are you picking up the prescription here?" "No, it's across town" " Ohh. How much we as the medicine again?""Around 19 dollars"  

I opened up my wallet and found a 20 dollar bill. I pulled it from wallet and slipped it into her warm brown hands. "Oh bless you, I love you!"  She squeezed me around my neck. I could smell the mix of desperation, lotion and the cramped smell of body odor and stale hotel room as she hugged me.  

She grabbed Savannah in a grandmotherly embrace and told her she loved her too. Savannah returned her hug shyly and we watched Gloria walk away with the 20 dollars crumpled into her fist.

I have no idea if anything Gloria told me was the truth. From past experiences, I might guess no. Addiction seems to be the most likely of stories. After all, addition will make you do or say almost anything.

I read recently that:

-Over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction (excluding tobacco).

-100 people die every day from drug overdoses. This rate has tripled in the past 20 years.

-Over 5 million emergency room visits in recent years were drug related.

-2.6 million people with addictions have a dependence on both alcohol and illicit drugs.

=9.4 million people in 2011 reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

-6.8 million people with an addiction have a mental illness.

-Rates of illicit drug use is highest among those aged 18 to 25.

-Over 90% of those with an addiction began drinking, smoking or using illicit drugs before the age of 18.


These are powerful numbers. Depressing numbers.

Some would say that I only furthered her habit by giving her money. They might be right. My brief "God Bless You" might have vanished from her memory as soon as she walked away; and yet, for her to feel I didn't care about her suffering, even if that suffering was of a different nature than what she explained, to not care, or react in kind, seemed cold.

Maybe I'm wrong and naive.

If I would have had the time,  I might have pushed further, drove across town to pay for her prescription myself, delivered groceries to her hotel room. This could have potentially been dangerous and something I would not have done with Savannah along. But to be assured that she was telling the truth would have been satisfying.

It makes me wonder, how have we become so addicted?

What are we reaching for to be fulfilled?  Are we all addicted to something? Do we have the right to judge? I don't know what the truth was for Gloria. Her life sounded miserable and I felt grateful that her life was not my own.

Some seeds fall on rocky soil. Living a life that is wrought with suffering and struggle and heartache. It seems that might account for a great deal of why people become addicted.  A feeling of hopelessness.

I hope my lousy 20 dollars reminded her that someone cared. It depresses me to think anything else. 

God Bless Gloria--whatever the truth may be.

Photos courtesy of : 

BOOK REVIEW: Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland


There are books that move you to look at your own life. To see yourself in the pages within. There are books that make you want to stay up late because the story is so engaging and so well written, you feel nurtured by each word like feasting on a beautiful meal. Very few books do ALL of these things. Ashley Cleveland's book, Little Black Sheep, is all of this and more. 

Her ability to weave into her painful past, while making you feel hope even in the midst of such pain, is beyond compelling. There aren't that many memoirs out there that can bring us so deeply into another person's story that we can see ourselves in the reflection. This is one of the most beautifully honest books I have ever read. I loved sitting down with Ashley to talk over lunch about Little Black Sheep (please excuse the background noise and throat clearing please:) 
Ashley has also provided a small snippet of a chapter as well as her song Little Black Sheep. Register here to be drawn for a copy of Ashley's book or buy it here now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble



Listen below to Cindy Morgan's interview with Ashley Cleveland, author of "Little Black Sheep":


I wonder if my father ever considered the utter futility of a dual, duplicitous lifestyle. He was a brilliant, complicated man, the product of a Southern matriarchal family with a domineering mother and a silent specter of a father. He escaped the small town confines of Sweetwater, Tennessee, and earned a degree in Architecture at Yale and then a second degree in Interior Design at the University of Tennessee. He served as a second lieutenant in World War II, an event that he spoke little about except to say that he was in Patton’s army. He was handsome, accomplished, charming—and gay. He met my mother in church, found her to be his equal in style and form, and married her, dreaming, I’m sure, of all the gracious living and fabulous parties that awaited them. He was not looking for intimacy with my mother; he was a man who viewed women as accessories or lapel pins: connected at the surface but meant only for display. When he fell for my mother, it was her presentation skills that won his heart. But he reserved the most honest, accessible part of himself for a secret male world fueled by good gin, where sex, glamour, gossip, and luxury fabrics were what mattered most.
Fortunately for my sister Windsor and me, my father’s view of the perfect marriage included children, and we unwittingly came tumbling, two years apart, into a well-designed household that had already begun to reek of alcohol and silence.


Since her debut on Atlantic Records in 1991, Ashley Cleveland has recorded 8 critically acclaimed albums and won three Grammys for Best Rock Gospel Album.  Additionally, she has been nominated for 6 Dove awards. She received her fourth Grammy nomination in 2010 for her current disc, God Don’t Never Change, a collection of spirituals in the Best Traditional Gospel Album category.                                    

Ashley was recently the subject of a documentary by Oscar-winning producer Morgan Neville. 

Ashley is a writer/essayist and has written a memoir entitled  “Little Black Sheep” which was released September 2013 by David C Cook Publishing.  She has contributed essays to two books: The Dance Of Heaven and The Art Of Being; she has also written articles for national magazines such as Performing Songwriter and CCM.  She is currently working on her second book.

Hazel Pennington Adkins

Hazel as a young girl

Hazel as a young girl

On February 5th, 1921, in a small cabin in the backwoods of Leslie County, Kentucky, 

 Hazel Pennington Adkins was born to Alice Joseph and Willard Pennington.

In the year of Hazel’s birth, the world was a mix of discovery and turmoil. Warren Harding was the US president. In January that year, he signed a resolution declaring the end to America’s state of war with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. It was also the year of the founding of the Communist Party in China, and the first broadcasting of a baseball game across the country via radio. Families sat in wide eyed wonder in their living rooms as they listened to the Pirates against the Phillies at Forbes Stadium.

1921 was also the year of the first vaccine for tuberculosis. Jews were just starting to immigrant into Eastern Europe. All the while, thousands of miles away, for a young beautiful girl, with eyes like her name, a life of discovery and turmoil, was just beginning. 

Hazel grew up in the hills of Kentucky. She was the oldest of seven children. Following her was Mavie, Omi, Oni Polly Jane, Ann, and Arlene.

As a child, Hazel came to the Christian Faith at a house revival, where the community would come together in each others’ homes for food and worship. They would arrive in wagons from all over. A preacher would bring the sermon, souls would be saved and sometimes the sick and crippled among them would be healed. It was in this kind of meeting that Hazel committed her life to Jesus. The soil was rich with the love of God, but the ground of their lives was often rocky. Still, she walked on, never giving up hope for something more. Something better.

Hazel, like all her sisters, was no stranger to hard work, growing up in the era of the Great Depression. But also in those days, as life was simpler, they learned how to make the most out of the smallest joys in life. 

Wayne in his 20's

Wayne in his 20's

Hazel was a young beauty, with long auburn hair and curious eyes. She was the kind of girl that made men and boys alike fall silent when she walked into a church service. It was there, in a church meeting, that she met her first love and her first husband: Wayne Shepherd. It was a love that would be wrought with dark valleys and desperation. 

As the oldest girl, she was the first to marry, giving her vows at the tender year of sixteen. On January 17, at the age of seventeen on a snowy winter night, she gave birth to her first child: a dark haired angel named Lola.

My mother.

Not long after Lola was born, the disappearance of Wayne became a regular occurrence. After Lola, came many other children. And with this, disappearances and visits from Wayne became a part of life, like a wicked wind blowing him in and away again and again. Wayne would re-appear, romance Hazel, leaving her to find herself once again with child. Then he would be off again. To where, she never knew. This was the life Hazel endured.

In the early years of raising her children, they lived in Bad Creek, Kentucky, in a two room, roughly hewn, wooden house. Hazel cooked on a wood burning stove, lit the darkness with coal oil lamps, bathed the kids in front of the fire in a large aluminum tub. The family gathered for meals at a long, handmade table. 

They ate the food she and her children grew and the meat that the boys could hunt. Often there wasn't enough. Being married, Hazel was not eligible for any government assistance. Finally, when she feared she and her children would starve, she decided she had had enough of that wicked wind.  A blessing came by way of a divorce. Her love for him was as confounding as it was tragic. Maybe only she knew what it was about him that made her love him for as long as she did, almost to the point of her undoing. In the end, she chose her children, like any good mother would. 

Wayne with two other women (neither is Hazel)

Wayne with two other women (neither is Hazel)

She made lye soap for their baths and the clothes they wore from burlap sacks. To wash their clothes, she carried water from the creek, heated it, then poured it into a large tub of water where she would scrub the clothes on a wash board. She then hanged them on the clothesline in the yard, drying them in the sun. In the winter, they would dry the clothes by the fire.

 It was a time of simplicity, struggle, and triumph in their tiny house bursting at the studs with nine children.  

There was no man to protect her or the kids. Living as far back in the woods as she did, there was no law or nearby neighbor to call on if she needed help.  

One night, as they were about to turn in for bed, she heard a commotion outside, the voices of men who had been drinking. She looked around the house for a way to defend herself without endangering her children, then an idea came to her. She stuck her small hand down in the front of her dress. This was where women, in those days would often keep a small handgun. She answered the door with her hand down in the front of her dress.  Two men stood there, with dirty faces and shifty smiles "We was hungry and wanted you to fix us something to eat." Everything about them spoke danger to her, but what was she to do, alone with her children in the woods.  Hazel spoke next "I will fix you something to eat but I want you to know that I have my hand on a gun and if you make any wrong moves I will not hesitate to blow you away." She showed them in. The kids all staring up fearfully at the men who took two seats at the table." She never took her hand out of her dress. She cooked the food, served them and watched them eat while never letting her show of strength down. Finally, as the sun rose they left, looking defeated. When she locked the door behind them she pulled her hand out of her dress. Her bluff had convinced them and saved her family from who knows what awful thing that could have happened. 

Later on, as her children grew older, she longed to leave the wild hills of Kentucky, and finally she did, moving the city of Dayton, Ohio. All of her kids, one by one, would follow her there. 

If Hazel thought leaving the wild ways of Kentucky would protect her from tragedy in life, sadly, this was not to be true. Her son Willard, a father of five, in the prime of his life, was accidentally electrocuted by a faulty wire running through a puddle of rain in the garage.  After that she lost a grandson in his twenties who was attacked outside of a bar.  There were other tragedies and troubles that don't seem fitting to tell. For one life, it seemed almost too much to bear. Somehow, she did.

There were good times as well. One of my most vivid memories of Grandma Hazel was coming to her spotless house in Dayton, at the age of my youngest daughter now. The aroma of chicken frying and biscuits baking in the oven was mouth watering. I would kiss her beautiful, soft cheek, which always smelled of Jergens lotion. But her hands always smelled of bleach. 

You cannot talk about Hazel without her mentioning her unwavering devotion to Bleach. She was BIG on Bleach. She bleached the floors, she bleached the dishes, she bleached the clothes, she bleached the sinks, and she bleached the counters (maybe even the kids). No germ dared to take up residence in her presence. All her kids use to say that you could eat off her floors. And this was the gospel truth.

We did eat. If you went to Hazel’s house, she would always feed you. She knew how to love you with food.

My Uncle Arthur said that he remembered showing up at her house one night, long after the dinner hour, and it only took a few moments for the kitchen to be brewing. She cooked a full meal just for Arthur. I’m sure each of her kids could tell a story just like this. 

At her kitchen table, with chrome legs and a checkered table cloth, we would sit and listen to stories of the old days in Kentucky, all while she fixed fried chicken, potatoes, and cat head biscuits. I can almost taste it today. 

Hazel was still beautiful and wrinkle free at almost 90 years old. Her life, like her beauty, was deep and complex. She was not a woman without sins or regrets. To make her seem a saint would be untrue and a dis-service to her memory. She was all things. Sinner and saint. Hero and villain. But in the end, regardless of all else, a daughter of the Almighty. 

Her two sons, Larry and Arthur, are quoted as saying something that reflects the feeling of all her kids: “Other than Jesus, Mom was the best friend we ever had”

Hazel as a mother (I think Wayne has been cut out of the picture) 

Hazel as a mother (I think Wayne has been cut out of the picture) 

On Easter, 2007, at her second daughter Frieda’s house, she suffered a brain aneurysm. And yet, she astonished the doctors by surviving brain surgery at 87. 

She spent the remainder of her life in the loving care of Frieda, with frequent visits from her firstborn Lola and her other children and grandchildren from time to time. She lived in a comfortable house in the peace of the woods and fresh air.

On the snow covered morning of January 15th, Hazel went home to be with Jesus, just shy of her 90th birthday. On January 17th, family gathered to celebrate her life and to lay her to rest, the same day as the birth of her eldest daughter, Lola. So, it seemed that day, heaven had received the birthday gift of a daughter coming home.

When I think of Hazel and her life, I am reminded of this verse: 

 "For lo, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."  -Song of Solomon 2:11–1

Hazel Pennington Adkins. 

Rest in God's peace.