Moving to Hattiesburg

Lew is five years old and it is the first time that I shake my fists in anger at God.

On a Thursday in the early spring of 1987 Jeannette Osborne tells us about a workshop that is going to be held in Somerset, Kentucky on Friday and Saturday. She doesn’t know much more about it other than the title: “Pre-language communication in children.” She thinks it sounds important and relevant to us and to Lew and we agree. Unfortunately we can’t arrange childcare on such short notice so Bob and I can both go. Bob has a conflict on Saturday anyway. He suggests that he go on Friday night and if it is good and seems important, he’ll juggle the childcare with his meeting and I can go on Saturday.

When he returns Friday night, he encourages me to go the next day. He has been quite impressed with the presenter and thinks she is sharing information we need to be exposed to.

I find the hotel and the conference room a bit late the next morning. I am surprised to find many faces I recognized in the room including Lew’s Head Start teacher and others who work with him. I only hear a few minutes of the guest expert’s remarks when there is a break. What I hear, however, is enough for me to realize how very important her topic is to us and to Lew. I had heard enough to know that Lew needs what she has to offer. She is from Portland, Oregon or Seattle and is in the process of moving to some equally inaccessible place in the Deep South. I am angry that I had almost missed this when others who know Lew obviously knew about it. I am angrier to discover a resource and a kind of expertise that my son needs and it is totally unavailable to him.

By this time I have been to enough conferences in hotels to know that if you really want to find a bathroom the secret is to go to a distant part of the facility. While dozens of people are standing in line at the nearest restrooms, I flee to a far corner of the hotel. In the bathroom stall I cry and shake my fists at God. How can there be such expertise in the world and it not be available to my son? As I come out of the bathroom, I nearly collide with the guest expert, Kathleen Stremmel. She knows the distant bathroom trick, too. She sees that I have been crying and I let my story tumble out. She remembers having talked with Bob the day before. I tell her how upset I am that my family needs her experience and research but that she is not going to be anywhere within range of us.

The rest of the afternoon she spends extra time with me and with Lew’s Head Start teacher, Judy Clark. She gives us a large binder full of her research and suggested activities to use with children who had not yet developed language. Judy and Bob and I use many of Kathleen’s activities during the remainder of the school year.

This brief meeting with Kathleen has some unexpected results. One of them was that it makes clear that for Lew’s sake we cannot stay in Campbellsville, Kentucky. We have begun to love Campbellsville and its college. We see that it can be a good place to build a life. We can see that it is a good community in which to meet our own needs and to rear typical children. Lew and his family, however, are going to need the deeper medical and therapeutic resources of a larger city. Later that spring Bob starts studying where there might be openings for a professor of sociology at other Baptist colleges in bigger places.

The next summer we take a trip that includes Bob having job interviews in Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, Delaware, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Some things about William Carey College in Hattiesburg make it seem very promising. One day back in Kentucky after Bob has a conversation with William Carey, something stirs deep in my brain.

“Bob, do you remember that woman we met last summer, the expert in pre-language communication?”

Of course he does.

“She might have said she was moving to Hattiesburg….”

I might have hit him with an electric bolt. His response is immediate. “Well, let’s find out!”

I wondered how we could find out (in this time before the Internet.)

“If a person with such a particular specialization is in Hattiesburg, they more than likely work for the University of Southern Mississippi. I’ll call campus information and ask for her number. Let’s do it!”

Bob calls right then and we are given her number! Bob calls her number immediately. We get her answering machine. She is on vacation and will be back in three days.

We count the days until she is back and Bob calls again. This time she answers the phone herself.

She remembers us. (After all how often in a lifetime do people cry because they can’t be with you?) We tell her that there is a possibility that we might be moving to Hattiesburg. We tell her hat Lew will be entering kindergarten. “It’s amazing that you should be calling me right now. I am sitting here at my desk working on the grant for the funding for this coming year’s program. I usually only work with children who are in pre-school but I have been considering adding a transition component and working with children who are leaving pre-school and entering kindergarten. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go ahead and write that into my funding application so if you decide to move here and Lew turns out to be eligible for my program, he’ll be covered.”

She does that. Bob is offered the job, he accepts and we move. Lew is eligible to be in her program. Our year in Hattiesburg turns out to be the best year of Lew’s life.

Image of Cherry Winkle Moore
Cherry Winkle Moore

Cherry Winkle Moore is a visual artist and a retired hospice chaplain. Cherry has a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting, drawing and printmaking from the University of Alabama. Later she completed a Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis in pastoral care. Cherry sometimes says that in her case the MFA stands for Minister of Fine Arts and the MDiv stands for Making Divine Images Visible.

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