Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thanksgiving LOL

One of my all time favorite stories told at Thanksgiving is the one told by my paternal grandfather, Charles Johnson. For posterity sake, my mother recorded my grandpa telling his famous story in 1992.

In WWII, November 1945, my grandfather and his fellow African American servicemen were sailing near Spain on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Grandpa said that many men volunteered for duty in the galley (kitchen) which he was one of. The men were asked to take out turkeys from the icebox (freezer) and put them out on tables in the cutting room, so that they could thaw out for Thanksgiving dinner. The next morning, the men went down to the galley, opened up the door, and were met with an awful odor. Everybody cleared the room to get away from the smell. Grandpa said that none of them had gas masks!! However, grandpa, being curious, wet his handkerchief to put over his nostrils and bravely went into the cutting room to investigate the cause of the nauseating odor. He looked at the tag on the turkey’s leg and was shocked to see that the date was 1926!!!! Oh my, the turkeys had been in the freezer for 19 years or more!!! To get rid of all the turkeys, the crew threw them overboard into the ocean. Grandpa said that he cleaned up and went back to see if the turkeys were gone, but all he could see were boxes of frozen turkeys floating down the Atlantic Ocean. No fish were seen. The fish didn’t even want those “stinking turkeys”!!!
It is a LOL ( Laugh out Loud) and ROTF (Rolling on the floor) moment each year when Grandpa’s stinking turkey story is told. Even though he has been gone for thirteen years, his gift of storytelling and his voice can still be remembered and heard.


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Reason Why I Sing

This morning at 3:04 a.m. I was woken up to the song Why We Sing by Kirk Franklin.
Someone asked the question
Why do we sing?
When we lift our hands to Jesus
What do we really mean?
Someone may be wondering
When we sing our song
At times we maybe crying.
And nothings even wrong
I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
That's the reason why I sing
You're the reason why I sing
So, you ask, why do I sing? I sing because God has brought me a mighty long way. November 28, 2016, will be 25 years since I was involved in a horrific accident.
This is how it all happened.
 On November 28, 1991 in St. Louis, Missouri my mom and I were at my grandparent’s house visiting. Their house is on Lee Avenue in the city. On the television, there were warnings of an ice storm. So, my mother and I got in the car and started to make our trek home, in North County, before the impending storm came. SO WE THOUGT!!!! As we were driving on the highway, the car hit some black ice and collided with the wall. By now the ice was really coming down. So instead of staying in the car, we got out to go to the other side of the highway. We did not want any other cars to hit the black ice and hit our car causing us more damage because our car was facing the opposite direction. My mom was in front and I was holding her hand, slightly behind her. I almost cleared our car when another car hit our car, hitting me. I screamed Mommy and then it was lights out.
I needed to be air lifted to the nearest hospital, which was DePaul, but weather conditions were so bad we had to travel by ambulance on the icy roads. DePaul didn’t have a pediatric neurosurgeon, so I had to be transported to Cardinal Glennon.  All I remember was the hospital experience after that. All of the nurses and doctors were very friendly to me and my family. When word got out that I was in an accident and it did not look good, family, friends, and other churches prayed fervently for me and my family. I was in a comma for a month. Christmas that year was horrible for my family and friends.  On New Year’s Eve, my mom and dad got the call from the hospital that I had woken up out of the comma. I did not know what was going on, but I heard a nurse say “ She is going to die”. I became fearful and started to cry. However, in a childlike way I knew to pray. Every night, as I lay in my hospital bed I would pray. I suffered multiple skull fractures and had to undergo multiple surgeries.
My mother taught school in the daytime, but would come to see me after work. While my mom was at work, my paternal grandfather would come every day to sit with me in my hospital room. I remember him sitting in a rocking chair reading his newspaper. He would talk to the nurses and doctors as they would come in to check on me. He fondly called one of my female doctors “Doctor Shug” because she was so sweet to my family. The doctors eventually moved me up to the rehab floor because I was my prognosis was getting better and better. Through much physical, occupational, and speech therapy, I became stronger.  I had to learn to walk, eat, speak, and write all over again. When my elementary school found out I was in the hospital, the principal, Mr. French and my second grade teacher, Mrs. English went the extra mile for me and my family. Mr. French told all the teachers about my accident and they supported me and my family during this ordeal. Mrs. English and her family would come up to visit me. She would read to me and do grade level activities with me. The entire elementary school sent me cards to show how much they loved and missed me. The doctors thought I was going to be a vegetable and be in the Special School District. But my God said no. To the amazement of the nurses and doctors, God performed a miracle on my behalf. On March 19, 1992, I was released from the hospital and came home. I was able to return to  Armstrong Elementary school and continue with my second grade class. All of my classmates were very happy that I was back. With much occupation and physical therapy during school and after school, I was getting better and better. I never failed a grade and continued in school, never missing a beat. I graduated and went on to college. Today, I am 33 years old and doing great.

So, you see this is the reason why I sing, praise God, and lift up my hands in worship at church on Sundays and all during the week.  God did a miracle in my life and I am forever grateful to him. There were a lot of tears and prayers for me that God saw and heard. He came to my rescue and now I can tell my story. I thank God for his sovereignty that surrounded me and my family during this frightening time in our lives. God is a magnificent God!!!!!!  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Legacy of Love

A grandmother’s love goes beyond just family, but extends to other children who do not have homes. There are countless stories of grandmothers that are raising their grandchildren because of circumstances with their mothers or fathers. No matter the situation, when a grandmother sees a child in need, her love jumps into action.
My maternal great grandfather, Wilton Cheatham told my grandmother, Ellistine Cheatham Allen, in the early 1960s, to go get her brother’s children because, “ We take care of our blood.” They needed care because of the tragic death of their mother and the incapability of care from their father.
Taking care of family has been a valued tradition instilled in our family from generation to generation. It seems like this willingness to take care of family began with Lannie Pinner Cheatham, my 3rd great grandmother. In 1910, Lannie was the head of her household and living with her were her grandchildren- Noel, Levie, Henry, and Moris Cheatum, according to that year’s census. These brothers and sisters may have been orphaned, abandoned, or something tragic may have happened to their parents. In 1910, Lannie would have been 82 years old and getting feeble with age. How in the world did she take care of herself and these children without the help of an older male? Did she take in laundry, clean homes, grow vegetables in her garden and sell them or did she take in sewing?  No matter what she had to do for her family to  survive nor how old and weak  she was , Lannie had a heart big enough to take in and raise the children as her own.
 As you can  see, taking care of our “ blood” is a recurring theme in the Cheatham/Pinner family. It’s in our DNA. Thank you, Lannie for possibly  beginning the loving and selfless tradition of taking care of family.

When love is activated, there is no limit to the number of hearts that will be touched and cared for. LIVES ARE SAVED AND CHANGED FOREVER.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

VOICES In The Woods

“ Katie, Katie, we need you to go get Granny Lannie again”, yelled Mammy Mags.
“Shoot, not again”, Katie mumbled under her breath.
Mammy Mags explained to Katie that she was the only one who could go fetch Granny Lannie. She didn’t know what it was about her, but she was the only one in the family that could coax her to come back home.
Reluctantly, Katie put on her shoes and coat. She also had to put away her dolls that she was playing with. Although she loved Granny Lannie very much, she never liked going after her because she would wonder off in the woods and Katie did not know where. As Katie started off into the woods behind Mammy Mag’s and Pappy Frank’s home, she came to a clearing by Sandy Creek in Trigg County, KY. There Katie would see Granny Lannie standing silently murmuring to herself. Katie would quietly tiptoe up to her and gently touch her arm. Granny Lannie would flinch and stare blankly back at Katie.
“Granny”, Katie would say in a soft, small voice, “I came to bring you back home. We gotta get back because it will be getting dark soon and you didn’t bring a lantern with you.”
As if Katie was interrupting a conversation, Granny Lannie turned back to the river and silently said a farewell prayer.  Then she turned back to Katie, took her hand, and Katie led her back home to the family. Who was Granny Lannie out in the woods talking to? Why would she go out there?
Granny Lannie was my fourth great grandmother and I wanted to know more about her. Katie Cheatham Shemwell was Lannie’s great granddaughter. Katie Shemwell was 95 years old when I contacted her granddaughter to ask her if Katie remembered Lannie. Katie did remember and said that Granny Lannie’s parents were from the West Indies. She also said that Granny Lannie was blind and became mentally ill later in life. As I would talk to Katie’s granddaughter, Lannie’s  story of struggle and pain began to unravel and become clearer to me. I found out through looking at the census records that Granny Lannie could not read or write. With all of these clues about Lannie I began to piece together my fourth  great grandmother’s life.  
According to her death certificate, Lannie was born on August 1, 1828 in Stewart County, Tennessee and died from senility on August 6, 1928 in Bumpus Mills, Tennessee. Yes, she was 100 years old!!! Born in slavery, Lannie’s life was wrought with various difficulties and struggles. I do not know her parent’s names, but I did find two different last names for Lannie on two of her son’s death certificates-John A. Pinner and Thomas Cheatham. The last name on John’s death certificate was  Gupton and on Thomas’ it was Shelton. My theory is that Gupton was the slave owner’s name in Tennessee.  Gupton sold Lannie away to a Shelton in Kentucky. After slavery, on the 1870 census Lannie is living in Roaring Springs, KY with a Henry Pinner and his six children.
My  cousin, Janet Cheatham Bell, wrote a memoir and included information giving me more clues about Lannie. In her book it says that Kit Cheatham (my 4th great grandfather) married a Lannie Pinner, who was a widower of African descent who had two sons ( Bell, Janet Cheathm, The Time and Place That Gave Me Life p. 28). After Henry Pinner died, Lannie would have been left with six children to take care of, without any means to provide for them.  On December 4, 1875, Lannie Pinner married  Kit Cheatham in Trigg County, Kentucky. Looking at Lannie’s previous situation, this marriage may have been one of convenience for both parties instead of love which hopefully came later. Kit also had two sons that he also bought into the marriage. Lannie bore Kit seven more children ( Dac, John, Stepen, Lizzie, Thomas, James Solomon, and Frances). So in her household she was caring for a husband plus her two steps sons, her seven children, and Kit’s two sons by a previous marriage. She was taking care of twelve people including herself. No wonder she was out in the wood talking to herself!!!!!! In 1910 she was widowed and lived on a small farm in Trigg County with her step son, Aaron Pinner and her grandchildren. As Lannie became older and more feeble minded she went to live with her son Thomas in 1920 and then with James Solomon and his family until her death.

It seems like Lannie’s life was always in transition. From slavery to freedom, from one marriage to another, and taking care of a bunch of kids. By the end of her life, I can imagine that she was tired. Like a marathon runner, a woman’s work is NEVER done. Was Lannie listening to the hopelessness of her past, the plight of her future, or the voices of days long gone and shattered dreams.
Picture of Katie Cheatham Shemwell- 95 years old