It’s been a wrestling match to begin these posts, to see what form this blog will take. I’m still not sure. Sometimes I will write about world events, and sometimes things happening in our family. But for now, I’ll begin with a post about my childhood.
I grew up in Buncombe. Buncombe is not a city, just a community of a few hundred people…no police force, no ZIP code (did you know the ZIP code turned 50 a few days ago?), no trash pickup (you hauled your own), no phone exchange; just a few hundred people living on the outskirts of Tallapoosa and Waco, Gerogia. I wouldn’t call it a suburb, because I don’t think towns of 2,000 or less can have suburbs. It was a community, in the truest sense of that word. Everyone knew everyone. Not only that, they knew how long you’d lived there, where you came from before that, and an ample portion of your family history. There was no room for secrets in Buncombe. And people were pretty OK with that.
The only real business in Buncombe for a long time was Roy’s Store, a small convenience store of sorts that was centrally located between the Tallapoosa side and the Waco side of Buncombe, right next to the volunteer fire department. People came to Roy’s for milk, bread, chewing tobacco, gasoline, kerosene, and whatever else they could get without the ten minute drive to Tallapoosa (Waco had–and still has–no grocery store) or even the drive over the hill to the store at the Interstate, which kind of wasn’t Buncombe anymore. That store was a key component of my life. I even developed a slogan for them: I would cock my head sideways, half-close one eye, and say, with a degree of vocal fry, “I goin’ to Woh-wee’s Stow-ah.” I remember being asked to say that a lot.
Many of my earliest memories took place at Roy’s Store. Once, my Mama ran in and left us in the car. That was totally acceptable in those days, especially since she parked directly in front of the door. While she was inside, my baby sister knocked the car out of gear and we started to roll. I remember a stranger (I was young and hadn’t met everyone in Buncombe yet) diving into the car and throwing it back in park. We were saved! The very earliest memory I have is one of simply sitting in my Daddy’s truck at the store when I was around three. I remember looking around, intently taking in my surroundings, as if I somehow knew it would be the first childhood memory I retained–or maybe the intentness was the reason I retained it.
Another important memory comes from Roy’s Store at that same time in my life, around three or four. My Daddy was pumping gas with me standing next to him (also acceptable in those days). A man I had never met but whom Daddy obviously knew stepped over to talk to us. Daddy introduced me, but I didn’t say anything. This was a stranger, and I remember being a little afraid for that reason. The man had a different take on it; he looked at me and said, “Oh, he’s shy!” and he laughed.
Shy. I had never thought of myself as shy. I was actually pretty talkative and outgoing, especially with adults. I learned to read at two, shortly before my third birthday, and I was asked to demonstrate that skill to many adults and did so willingly. I had ideas, and I shared them. But this man, this stranger, said I was shy. And so, I determined, I must be shy. The offhand comment of a man I didn’t know was burned into my mind. Perhaps because of his comment, I remember being averse to anyone calling me anything other than my name, even if it was good. My grandmother would call me “sweetie,” and I would reply with, “I’m not ‘sweetie.’ I’m Clay.”
As I grew up, I didn’t always fit in. I tended to be a bookworm, and I was often more comfortable talking with my teachers than with my fellow students. I wasn’t a recluse, but I sometimes didn’t speak when I walked by someone. In most places, that’s a little impolite; but in a small town, it’s almost a cardinal sin. But it wasn’t out of rudeness or conceit; I just thought I was shy. Even as I got older and became more social, I was still plagued by the false impression of the stranger at Roy’s Store.
So my request to you today is this: be very careful with your words. Be especially careful with your children, or with other young people you encounter. Don’t draw conclusions or place labels that may end up negatively defining them. When you speak to them, let them know their strength, their abilities, the gifts you see in them. Encourage those things, but leave them room to grow and become who they are. Speak life into your sons and daughters, your nieces and nephews, your students, and the kids down the street. My parents were good at this, and I strive to be, too. Like clay, you can mold a young life with the actions and the words you speak.
“Life and death are in the power of the tongue…”
“…encourage one another and build each other up…”
1st Thessalonians 5:11