One hundred fifty-one days into 1900—May 31—Ezra and Susie McNeal welcomed a baby girl, Essie. In 1910 the family bounced, in a wagon, from lower Alabama to Baker County, Georgia. Word was that schools were better on this side of the Chattahoochee River.
My mother’s mother, Essie McNeal, dreamed of being a schoolteacher. College wasn’t possible, but that didn’t keep her from being a “teacher.”
As a boy, I sat in Nanny’s “classroom,” her screened front porch. The only air conditioning we knew was the breeze stirred by rocking and flapping a Bramblett Funeral Home fan.
If she had a special point to make, Nanny would pause and shoot a stream of peach snuff—through the fork of two fingers—into a cloud of Kleenex in a Maxwell House coffee jar. Nanny was a God-fearing, church-going widow, but she was no saint.
Her husband died young, leaving the hardscrabble load of a mortgaged farm on her shoulders. Maybe that was the reason her salty words could curl the bark on a chinaberry tree.
Nanny could be blunt. If someone raced past her baby-blue F-100 pickup, she would snarl, “Hurry on, you old heifer. H-e-double-l ain’t half full yet.” My grandmother was what she was, and she certainly wasn’t a hypocrite.
The only book that I ever saw in her house was a black, leather-bound Bible. And that reminds me of the night she “preached” on hypocrites, she stopped rocking and said, “Honey, go get me my Bible.”
Before thumbing through onion-skin pages of the King James Version, Nanny launched another stream of snuff. Patting her lips with a clean Kleenex, she said, “Here it is, Luke 6:42.”
And she read:
“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote from that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”
My 10-year-old wrinkled nose told her that I didn’t understand. Holding up her hand and sticking out her index finger, she said, “Look at this. When you point a finger at someone else, always remember there are three other fingers pointing back at you.”
I was still confused, so she explained, “Too many times people want to point a finger and blame others without considering their own faults. See those doorsteps? I believe Jesus was saying that you need to sweep around your own doorstep before trying to sweep around somebody else’s.”
That made sense then and now.
With all the finger pointing today, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Whether it’s a beam or just a tiny mote in our eyes, we all have our flaws. She reminded me, “Jesus said in John 8:7 (KJV), ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’”
We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitudes and actions for today and tomorrow.
If Nanny were still rocking and dipping, she’d be 120. Given the current hate-filled turmoil, I’d expect her to say, “Honey, go get me my Bible.” And she would thumb to Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV):
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up ….”
We’ve had enough “breaking down” and killing.
It’s time to “build up” and heal.