Moroni Saw Me - Uncle Dad

Yeah, I said it! I am writing a memoir and I believe that an ancient prophet saw my life. The commentary on it can be found in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Below is one of the stories that I do not mention.

On Being a Dad

Uncle Johnny was my idol growing up because he was a dad. All my cousins had a dad, and I wanted a dad also. My father was alive and well, at the time and to my knowledge, he did not attempt to include himself in my life. Since my cousins referred to Uncle as dad, I picked up the practice of referring to him as such—at least in my mind! The title “Uncle,” equaled in stature to the title of “Dad.” I imagined Uncle loving me the way he loved his children. It sometimes worked too,
He took all the boys fishing often, something I did not find interesting. Going with him though, made me feel included.  Far be it from to ever make it known that I did not like fishing because that dislike paled in comparison at the thought of spending time with Uncle.
A bunch of us kids accompanied Uncle to a fishing spot of his--I do not recall the place. Every time we went fishing with him, he caught something delicious for us to cook and eat--fresh crab or fried fish. It was great! I wanted to be just like Uncle in bringing something delicious to the house, but I had no fishing pole.
My cousin allowed me to borrow his fishing pole and some bait, and Uncle showed me how to cast off. I hooked a fish my first try and pulled it in! Nervous, I did not know what to do and felt awkward about the situation.
I saw the pleased look on Uncle's face and beamed with pride. My cousin determined since I used his pole to pull in m catch that he had jurisdiction over my fish. I did not protest. The fact that I made Uncle proud provided all the satisfaction I needed. Cousin mutilated my fish. He said he did it to make more bait for other fishing. It made sense to my young mind, but Uncle chastised him for it. Again, I was overjoyed that I merited Uncle's concern. I was in heaven! I did not know it at the time, but I starved for a father figure. I am glad that Uncle was there to fill that role for me when he had eight of his own about whom to worry.
The trial that I experienced with Uncle occurred when I absentmindedly retrieved the sugar scooper from the dirty floor where I carelessly dropped it as we stood in the kitchen together. Looking back on that experience and what happened afterward, I believe there was something else on Uncle's mind than my mistake because of the intensity of his response. He yelled at me once he saw what I had done, took the scooper out of the sugar container, dumped some of the sugar out of the container and slapped me.
He did not try to hurt me, I know because Uncle would have taken my head off had he really put any power behind the slap! The reason I remember it so distinctly rests upon the great reverence and love I had for him. Up to that juncture, never had he really yelled at me that I could remember and he had always been the “cool” parent—he did help raise me. To hear the disappointment in his voice and the anger to strike me caused so much shame I wished to disappear.
I remember his hand crossing my face after asking me why I had not cleaned the scooper off before putting it back into the canister. I responded with some typical silly kid response that Bill Cosby would poke fun at had he heard. I remember his hand raked my left eye just a little. I covered my face with both hands and stood there embarrassed. I could not cry because I thought it would diminish me in his sight, and I could not move because I would cry.
I do not recall how long I stood there after that, but my other cousin and friend, Stephanie, comforted me afterward. She did not comfort me because I felt abused or physically hurt. I thought I had made Uncle into an enemy. She comforted me because I thought I disappointed the only man that I knew as a father by being careless.
To some, the incident was insignificant, but to my kid-self, my world had its foundation shaken. I have never really recovered from the disappointment I felt I caused my uncle, which amazingly still affects me presently. I regret I allowed years to pass without mentioning ever to Uncle Johnny how much I loved him and how important his opinion of me mattered.

Moroni seeing that the love of people will wane in the last days taught, “charity is the pure love of Christ.” This love I knew I had toward all of my official and unofficial parents. He records that “it endureth forever, and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47-48) I knew when I read Moroni’s words later in life that I had this love of Christ, charity, for some people. I needed it for all people, not just my Uncle!
 learned how to get it. “Wherefore,” Moroni informs, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”  I could get that love if I prayed for it because it is a gift God gives to all of the true Christians!
I love my uncle even though the family dynamics have changed over the years. No one can take away my good experiences with him or the lesson I learned when I dropped the sugar scooper. The first lesson is:

Sometimes even the best relationships have problems, but those problems are fixable if both parties are willing to forgive.
I did forgive him. Moroni knew that I would have many situations like this, so he put in Chapter Seven in The Book of Moroni in the Book of Mormon. Like Paul in The Holy Bible, Moroni instructed us to have charity, which suffers long and is kind. It does not seek its own desires but the good desire of others. I urge you read the chapters and verses I suggest as you follow along if I have not included them here. 
The second lesson I learned from that episode with Uncle is:

To be careful of my actions because I might not enjoy the consequences.
I gave no thought to my action when I removed the sugar scooper from the floor and put in into the container. Though it was a simple thing, do not great things occur because of simple actions?
Alma taught that! The teaching may not come directly from Moroni, but he still saw my day, my life and supported the book with his life that would eventually teach me.
*Moroni 7:47-48

Moroni Saw Me: Heros

In writing my memoir, I decided to include here sentiments I was unable to express in the book. One such sentiment is my feeling towards the Morrell family. I start with my seminary teacher. LDS Christian youth attend seminary for one hour of religious training each day. It was a small sacrifice as it enlarged my desire to live the gospel. I do not know how I had time for seminary, school, and football. I did it though.
I adored Sister Morrell. She was my seminary teacher when I joined the church. She, along with a host of other members fellowshipped me into my ward. I did not start attending seminary until my sophomore year of high school. I lived right down the street from where Sister Morrell conducted the lessons. She did so from the office where she worked.

Every morning for my first year of seminary, Sister Morrell would call my home at 5:30 am for me to rise for seminary. It seemed that way anyway. We stopped answering the phone, and my mom would yell in consternation from her interrupted slumber, “Rodric, get up and go to seminary!”

We knew from whom the phone call came. We knew there was no avoiding it and I loved her for it. Sister Morrell was a busy woman with a penetrating spirit. She helped the scriptures come alive to me as a youth, and I hung on every word she taught in seminary. God put spiritual giants like my seminary teacher in place to lift and inspire the hearts of young people. Sister Morrell lifted my heart!       

Discover the Moroni Saw Me Project

Moroni Saw Me! by Rodric Johnson - Moroni Saw Me is about a young boy who goes through life's trials dealing with grief and pain as it comes and coming out on top. It is a true story. It is a story that does not end with the final chapter either.

I enjoy the level of involvement the LDS culture exacts of its members—all of our own volition of course. The Morrell family was to me a good example of a Southern Mormon family. They taught me that my misconception about the White Southern family needed updating—at least to the twentieth century.
From them, I learned about Family Home Evening from them, which is a program of the church where families set aside one night a week, usually a Monday, for family gospel instruction and fun above all other things. They do not know this, but because of their family, my family has family home evening 95% of the time—most weeks!
            I recall sitting in their kitchen listening to them talk about different subjects and then playing games in their living room. I did not understand how White people could just invite me in and treat me so well when we were not supposed to be associating according to my third-grade teacher (that story is detailed in the book). The adversary, the Devil, used that one event in my life in third grade to help color all of my experiences in the church and without the church with White people. I loved my Mormon White people so much that I almost considered them normal people, almost. It still took time to bury the incorrect teaching I received at age eight. I clung to the Morrell family. It borderline obsession.
Iy second idol was Patrick Morrell (following my first idol, or role model Dexter). I was there when Patrick left and returned from serving a mission for the church. He came back with some of the most severe stories about his mission! He effectively mortified me of missionary service. I do not believe he did so on purpose, but I hung on every word of his. I think I may have become the annoying little brother type. His services as a missionary definitely put him on my mental hero status board.
I recall one story he told me about a companion he had with mental concerns. I will not retell the entire story here, but I remember Patrick saying that he knew that the Lord wanted him to be the one to deal with that companion and all of his issues. I recall Patrick saying that he had several companions with psychological concerns. The only reason one of his companions went on mission was to fulfill his rite of passage. His companion did not want to be there. In fact, this one companion of Patrick’s could not go home! The family told the mission president that if that elder went home early, he would have no home. They would disown him! Harsh, I know! It made no sense to me then. And, it makes no sense now that I have a son who is old enough to serve as a missionary. I cannot imagine disowning my son forever just because he did not serve a two-year mission. I don’t want to imagine it either.
Patrick could not believe what he had experienced on mission! He told the stories because they were incredible to him and to us--his family and me. He knew I wanted to go on a mission so he told me that I should be prepared when I went to Utah. He said the people can be racist and there is hazing in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. He told me the stories, and I became more anxious. I did not know I had to go through such things just to preach the gospel! Patrick’s mission sounded horrible! In fact, I remember nothing good that he told me about the mission save the Lord confirmed to him that his chief reason to serve a mission was to minister to his companions. I could see the spiritual changes in him, however. When he returned from his service, he was more like his Mom, a spiritual giant. Now, for that change to come upon me, I was willing to risk going to the MTC!
Sister Morrell’s daughter Tracy married my next hero, Buck Golden. I remember going to their house after they were married just to play with their little kids. Buck was a strong example of assurance for me. Buck told me that every daughter of God deserves a husband who treats her with respect. That is what he modeled for me.  Tracy and Buck lived down the street from us for a while. His presence made me feel safe as a youth.

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Moroni Saw Me: Life & Thoughts of a Saint--Extras Not in the Book

In this article, you, my dear reader, will find some details about my life and lives of the people I love. Why do I write about it? Well, the easy answer is: I Can! The more complicated answer is short and straightforward. It is cathartic. We love to read about other people if the story is compelling and interesting. I am a husband, father, and writer. I am also a Mormon. My faith is the cornerstone of my identity as a human and the subject of what makes me... well, me.  I wrote a book about. What I did not want to put in that book I will write about from time-to-time on this blog. 
Like Nephi from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, I think no record is complete without a history of my parents. Since my mother is the parent with whom I grew to maturity, I have the most to say about her.  Mom's life is incredible! As the one-time self-professed black sheep of the family, she often recounted how unhappy her childhood seemed. Grandma, Lilly Bell, had to work, so Mother’s relatives cared for her. 
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Mother hardly knew her maternal side of the family in comparison to how she knew the paternal, Bazin, side. Mother’s paternal grandparents helped raised her while Grandma went off to work--her paternal grandmother Mary Liza Bazin taking the lead according to Mother in doing the raising. Mom never indicated that her grandpa, J. L. Bazin Senior,  as an influence in her life. All of Grandpa J.L. siblings seem to have a hand in Mother’s life at some point and in some manner. Aside from Mary Liza, Aunt Pearline Bazin, who was a divorcee and whose only child she ever had died in infancy exerted parental influence.  Mom told stories of how Aunt Pearl would speak horribly to her and mistreated her as a youth. She claims not to hold a grudge against her because she knew that was the culture back then and the old folk knew no better.  I know Mom told the truth because of my experiences with Aunt Pearl because Aunt Pearl was like that to everybody! She lived to a ripe old age “cussin’” and a “fussin’” the entire time anyone was around to hear. I know I personally used to hate going over to her house, but when Grandma, Lilly Bell, was alive, she would take us over to Aunt Pearl’s home to visit. I hated it.
All of us kids, all the cousins hated it because Aunt Pearl would hog the TV and tell us kids what to do the entire time. She was not mean per se, but her personality was very abrasive. She was my Granma’s sister-in-law and apparent friend because we went to see her often. I did not know that Aunt Pearl was suffering from an illness and could not do for herself the way she could earlier in life due to disability. I do not think I would have cared as a kid had I known, though.
Getting back to Mother, she made sure that Aunt Pearl’s culture did not make it into my life from her, for which I am grateful. She could not stop it though since Aunt Pearl lived long enough to influence her great-nieces and nephews.
 Mother claimed to be the blackest thing in the family referring to her skin complexion. She recalls most of her family members to have less melanin than did she. She said her maternal grandmother, Minnie Phillips, called her “Lil’ black thang.”
When Minnie became ill and could no longer rise from her sick bed, my mother told me that she exacted her revenge against the old lady. She said, “I would pat my butt and lick my tongue out at her!”
As a kid, Mom felt vindicated after her granny called her “Lil’ black thang” which teased her so. At least, Mother thought she teased her. Minnie was just as dark as Mother. Mom claims that Minnie despised her color and despised her also for being the only other dark complexioned person in the house. I impressed upon her to think back, view the situation with her adult eyes, and see if she felt the same sentiments. She reasoned that her grandmother was not being mean, but her words were still hurtful because people teased Mother about the color of her skin and her body size often.
 “I woke up fightin’ and I went to school fightin’! I used to have the boys hollerin’ because they would pick fights with me and I whupped every one of they tails,” she said reminiscing.
My mother never complained that Grandma had to work away from her so much, but she did dredge up abusive stories about her paternal aunts who tormented her. She, however, viewed everything through the lenses of a fatherless child in a society that treated such people with some disdain. Because she had to depend on others for her rearing than Grandma, she did not always get all the information she needed to cope socially.
Once, such a social encounter transpired at school. Mom related to us her introduction to womanhood.
“I started crying and cuttin’ the fool all the way home! I was so upset!
“I just knew my life was over. You see, I ain’t know that much about nothin’ during that time. And you know, they ain’t teach us about nothin'. The old folks did not talk about, you know, sex back then the way thangs is now, which is why I made sure y’all knew everything!
“Well, I walked in the house hollerin’ and carryin’ on like that. Aunt Pearl came in there and said, ‘Girl, what’s wrong with you?'"
“I told her that I was pregnant.”
“She say, ‘who the daddy and how it happen?’”
“I told her Ronnie Russel and said, “He looked up under my dress.”
“Aunt Pearl said, ‘Fool, you ain’t pregnant! You cain’t get pregnant from somebody lookin’ up no dress. Girl, hush all that fuss! You fine.’”
Mom was able to laugh about it, but the experience was real and traumatic for her. It made her feel alone and mistreated at the time. She said that as a younger child she would hide under the house and wait for her mother to return home. The home in which she lived sat atop large brick blocks. She would hide from her relatives under the house for hours in tears “waitin’ for them yellow[i] legs to walk by” so that she could crawl out from under the house and be with her mom.
If it did not happen, the way that Mother related it, she felt used, abused, and hurt until she ran away to New York where she met a man named George Oliver. They married and had a daughter named Diane, my oldest sister. Mom said that Uncle George, which is what I called him, beat her as if she were one of his children. She loved him though. She loved him and had another child with him, Johnny Lee Oliver who died at seven weeks old. After that traumatic ordeal, she drifted away from Uncle George and Diane.
Speaking with her about it, Mom said, “When I lost that one, I went insane. I thought I would never come back from that. I was no good to nobody for some years.”
The agony of having held her son and watched him for weeks only to see his limp body in the crib crumbled her only grasp of joy since the birth of her daughter and devastated her for years thereafter. She thought herself cursed and could never have another child again. She left George.
Uncle George wanted her to be a wife and a mother and she could or would not do it at that time. She told me that she refused to take Diane away from George and subject her to other men. I thought that was a strange statement until she explained some of the terrible things that occurred to her and her sisters at the hands of misogynistic predators. She left Uncle George and my sister and went out into the city to find herself where she eventually met my father.
Mother’s life was a whirlwind of success and failure. It was difficult for her in so many ways because of her past, but she did not ever think of giving up. I learned many lessons from my mother and look to her for counsel as often as I can. She was instrumental in my desire to remain attached to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I am a mamma’s boy of sorts. I cannot claim to be a fully-fledged mamma’s boy because of how Mother raised me after she became the principle adult in my life. Throughout my youth, before the age of nine, she was a mystery to me. I recall telling stories to her, and she would add, “I was there.”
I did not recall her being a very active parent in my life in those years because of her vices. What I remember about my mother in those early years are the struggles she had that kept her away from Reggie and me. Those same struggles left us vulnerable to the world at large, the ugly parts of the world—the parts that I like to forget and pretend never happened.
Constantly I remind my wife that she must take care of how she speaks to our children because we never know what parts they keep within them. When my grandmother Lilly Bell was alive, my mother was not my mother. She was a woman that was the daughter of the woman I esteemed as my mother. Grandma was my mother for all meanings of the word save birthing. Grandma prepared me for bed each night with a bath and pajamas. Grandma hugged me when I feared something. Grandma protected me as best she could from the rude and cruel remarks of well-meaning adults. Grandma introduced me to the strange skinny lady called Catherine after she had been away for years in rehabilitation centers for her injuries from work to her back and other issues. When grandma introduced her to me as the eight-year-old Rodric, I saw a skinny sickly woman who had the same voice I remembered but looked alien to me.
One time, we visited with Aunt Patricia and watched a family video that she had. I remember my mother becoming indignant at the video we watched.
She said, “Who is that ugly black thang there,” referring to a very dark woman in the video. She frowned her face and laughed while insulting that woman. When the woman spoke, it floored her.
Auntie said, “Q-pie (short for cutie pie) that’s you.” We all had a good laugh that day. Mom spoke so horribly about this woman’s looks, and it turned out to be her!
In analysis, Mom used the same words that hurt her as a youth to describe someone else, who turned out to be her! Grandma Minnie called her lil’ black thang. It hurt Mom. It never left her because of the impression that it left on her. Mom used it in her own conversation about others replacing the word lil’ with ugly.  I would surmise that was not the first time she did so.
Mother once and only once said a few choice words to me that I have never forgotten. Those words stung me then, and I think of how hurt I felt years later. I found myself using those same words when speaking to one of my children. A mother’s words are powerful. I hope that my words did not scar my kid, but I know if my wife were to say the same thing, the impact might be more damaging to that same kid. When I told my mother after years of hurt what she had said, she apologized. She never knew that I held onto her words, isolated as they indeed were, in such a manner of hurt. Though she has apologized, the damage, however, remained, and the words occasionally play in my head. It hurt so much then because I knew she spoke the truth. I learned from Mom to praise your kids often. I am so glad she did or I might have had other hurtful phrases to remember. Yes, I purposely avoid repeating it here because it is the impact of the phrase that I want to convey and not the actual phrase. Such words if told me now, would roll off me as Scotch Gard-ed clothing and seem silly to the reader.

My mother’s voice did many things to people. It was the source of much entertainment and soulful healing. Mom was a great singer and did shows while I was a young kid. I recall her going to clubs to perform when we lived in Miami. She met her second husband in that manner, but that is a story hopefully she can relay in her own memoir. Following the end of her second marriage, she eventually gave up her aspiration to travel and sing so that she could look after Reggie and me, but that did not stop her from singing in church. If she could not put on a show for money and the world, she would put on one for the church and the Lord. She took all of the blues from her life and sang them in the gospel songs.
One of my favorite songs for her to sing was Oh the Blood of Jesus.

I love each time Mother would sing it because she came alive. In fact, she came alive every time she sang gospel music! It was her release.

           As my greatest cheerleader, Mother told me my entire life that I was special and lifted me up. I owe to her my confidence. I did not know that I could not actually do all things until I grew up and had kids of my own.  I thought all things were possible because Mother would not allow me to feel any other way.

            After our move to Nashville, GA, from Miami she would encourage me to do well in my schooling. She told me I was smart and intelligent. She filled my head with so much conviction that I marveled when I failed a test and thought I had embarrassed her. She always lifted me up to a fault! I had a long journey down from the mountain of arrogance I built upon her encouragement. She gave it freely and often. I am so glad that she did. Growing up without a father of my own to depend on made her belief in my ability all the more important!

            I cannot tell Mom’s life without infringing upon the privacy of many other family members, so I only give the highlights. Mother was a good mother, though I did not see it until I had my own kids. I appreciate all that she sacrificed for me to have the little joy in my childhood that I had. I appreciate her eternally for allowing me to follow my heart into the faith of my choosing. It is through this belief fostered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that my life changed in a way that would never have happened otherwise.