My grandmother’s grandfather was a man named Andrew Rowlett. This would have been my father’s mother’s mother’s father. Rowlett was a circuit-riding Freewill Baptist preacher in the late 1800s. He rode an old yellow mule named Steve, and went from church to church, preaching around the Swifton, Arkansas area. Every year, on the first Sunday in May, all the churches would come together by wagon, horse, or just walking to have a big celebration with church all day and dinner on the ground.
When the dustbowl came, many churchgoers moved west, to California and other parts, but the tradition was handed down. My great aunt Callie started New Home Assembly of God in Fresno on East Lind, and when I was boy, her son, Bill Stanley, was the pastor (and still is, to my knowledge). Every year, on the first Sunday in May, family and friends would gather for church, then stay and pack the kitchen with cooks, pack the dining hall with food, and pack our tummies with masses of potluck chow. Then, usually we’d have a “singspiration,” where the various singers in the audience would come up and sing a song, or pick a verse from the songbook, and we’d sing until our hearts were as sated as our stomachs, and everyone would head home.
For some folks, like my Grandma, and my great aunt Tennie, home meant next door to the church, where they lived in two small houses. For my family and me it meant across town, because we didn’t even live in that area anymore. For others, it meant a drive across country from Arkansas, because family meant something special. Something worth remembering and honoring.
Once in a while, First Sunday in May was held back in Arkansas, and we’d head out there to celebrate with relatives we hadn’t seen in years. My Great Uncle Jesse with his farm and fresh warm milk right from the cow! My bootlegging great uncle JD, who sometimes lived in California, sometimes lived in Arkansas, sometimes lived with his wife Lorene, and sometimes didn’t. He showed me how to check a catfish trap once.
“Want to check the catfish trap?” He asked.
“Sure! How do I do that?!” I was ten and this sounded really exciting.
Apparently you have to go out into the middle of the crick (Hillfolk for “creek”) to check the trap. I found out the hilariously wet way. I adored that man. He used to “mow” his lawn with gasoline and blow torches.
I have spent most of my life the beneficiary of families for whom I have shown little to no respect for, most important of those being the family I’ve created with my wife. We have three children, all of whom frustrate me to no end, and I have a beautiful woman in my bed who would do anything for me, except give up on me when I do. I have not been the father or husband they deserve, the man they need.
For the last six months I have been reevaluating my life, reexamining my priorities, and realigning my dreams. I have always wanted to be someone important. Someone whose work means something to people. Turns out, I already have an audience. It’s high time I start serving their needs, because they are my biggest fans.
So this is David 6.0, or DaVId (clever, right?!). My mission on this earth is to make a safe and healthy space for my children to grow up in, earn enough money to give them as much White Privilege as I can muster for their future, and secure a happy retirement of fulfilling extracurricular activities with my wife. But instead of my previous focus on the money and the means, the focus is on the woman and the children. I am finding that if I look through a window that already gazes on them, our visions always stay in alignment.
It has been many years since I’ve attended a First Sunday in May, but maybe it’s time to start a tradition like that with my own family. How better to show them a legacy of love and togetherness that transcends time, space, or borders of every kind?