I have written in previous posts my hero from earliest remembrance is my brother Berry Lee whom I always called Bubba. Because he was eleven years older he seemed grown to me and certainly acted that way toward our sister Marilyn and me. He never told me but when our mother died at age thirty-seven years from far advanced breast cancer and Marilyn and I were very young he felt a very real and urgent sense of responsibility in caring for us. I suspect in her last days our mother Mimi told Bubba she was leaving us in his care, and he needed to be more than just an older brother.
Through the years I learned more about Mimi from Bubba than anyone else. He would tell Marilyn and me how beautiful she was and what a quiet and gentle spirit she had. He told us things she said and how she supported and encouraged Pop in the difficult days of her illness. He also told us about her faith and how certain he was she had been born again with a new life in Christ. One of the sweetest things Bubba said to me concerning Mimi was very near the end of his life. About a month before Bubba departed this life he had been getting progressively weaker, and he knew the end was near. Cathy and I were visiting LaNell and him in their home and as we were leaving he had been talking about Mimi. He said he knew he would be seeing her again very soon. And then he said this; “John, when you leave this life and come into the presence of our Lord Jesus you will bow down and worship him as your Savior and your Lord. I believe the very next person you see will be your Mimi who will tell you how much she loves you and how proud she is of the man you became. And the next one you see will be me!”
As a young boy I tried to emulate some of the things I saw in him or saw him do. I tried to walk like him with a slight pigeon-toed gait, I practiced my cursive writing to look like his, and at times even tried to dress the way he did. As he grew older his children told him he looked and dressed like Mr. Rogers of television fame. I was glad I hadn’t gone that far to look like him despite my personal admiration for the character of Mr. Rogers.
When Bubba left home for college I remember the sadness I felt watching him drive away. He owned a red Model A Ford that he kept in perfect condition, and I stood at the end of our long driveway waving to him until he turned left onto North Madison and disappeared from sight. I wondered if he would ever return because I didn’t understand what it meant to go to college. I did know he was going to the University of Arkansas, and he was going to play football for the Razorbacks. I was told I wouldn’t see him again for a long time, but he would be coming back.
When he did come home for semester breaks and for Christmas it was a very big deal for me. We played catch with the football, shot baskets on the basketball goal and played pitch and catch with the baseball. He taught me the basics of all those sports, and I thought he knew everything about every sport and just about everything else.
There were so many intangible things he taught me but the tangible things he gave me are real treasures now. When I was a struggling teen with all the insecurities which accompany it I received several hand written letters which were six pages or more in length. He was in medical school and then later an intern at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and had precious little time to spend writing letters, yet he made the time for my sake. Those letters were written before his life was filled with Christ, but he wrote words of encouragement saying I should strive to be the “best man and most loving man I could be.” He added if I did my best to live up to Christian ideals I would have a greater influence in the lives of others than I would ever imagine. I have four letters from this period of time and the theme is much the same in each one. He was obviously thinking a lot about me and the heritage given me which I should pass on to others. Bubba was the only man who ever sent me letters like that, and I not only read them multiple times but have saved them for these sixty-five plus years. Marilyn told me she also received long letters from Bubba and how much they meant to her also.
Several years following Bubba’s spiritual transformation in 1967, Cathy and I moved to El Dorado to begin our life there. In 1977 Cathy and I were born again and everything changed for us. Bubba no longer wrote letters to me but for every birthday he would send a card on which he wrote some special message to encourage me. Some of the words were humorous but most were intended to strengthen my faith. On the card he sent on my fiftieth birthday he wrote: “John, you are so special! I thank the Lord for giving me a brother like you. When Mimi was pregnant I’m almost sure I prayed for a lil’ brother- and He answered that prayer in a special way- not just a brother to have fun with- (Marilyn was sweet and a wonderful sister, but she wasn’t interested in boy’s things)– but the Lord gave me a brother who shares the same hopes and desires in Christ- and whom I love- as my best friend. From your Bub Berry Lee.”
If there is someone in your life who has been special to you, I would encourage you to take the time to write them a letter (or even an email) to tell them what they mean to you and how they have blessed your life. Who knows– they might still be reading those words sixty-five years from now!
So very special! Thanks so much for writing and sharing this! It sure makes me miss Dad today even more. I miss him everyday but some days it’s harder than others. Now, because of what I just read, I’ll have puffy eyes and a red nose all day long. 🙂 I do hope you are planning on putting all of these in a book form, otherwise I’ll have to go back and make copies of all your stories–which I have kept and will not delete. Thank you! Dad of course was right–you are VERY special and we too thank God for you! Much love!
This was one I had a little problem writing because it’s hard to see well through tears. Remembering and writing these stories has been good for me though, since I have thought about doing this for a long time. I plan to put the stories in book form and will get Mary Kay to help me. Just not sure when.
Cathy and I are in El Dorado for Drew’s graduation and had a nice visit with Andy and Ginger. He was telling about the time he and Matt Wadsworth set the woods behind your house on Melrose on fire. We had a good laugh about our pyromania!
Blessings to all. We’re excited about the big wedding in October. That’s a great picture on the card and we looked on the website for the other photos.
I think Berry Lee and LaNell did good by naming Lydia after your mother. The sound cut from the same bolt of cloth. And your brother had the best handwriting of any doctor I’ve ever known! I still tell people things that Berry Lee taught me either one on one or in a Bible study somewhere. For sure, he made a mark on my life and countless others.
I am moved to tears reading this posting. I am pretty sure I cried all the way through your post. You sure do know how to respect those who have gone before us and bring the love you had for your brother to a reality as the reader. Your Mimi would be more than amazed how you turned out in life.
The Character traits your bubba described about your Mimi is a transparent reflection of what I see in you. Dr. John thank you for being a living, breathing, and walking testimony of the life that Christ has given you to live.
Dr. John you are my hero and I am so thankful that God has blessed me to be able to cross paths with you in this lifetime.
Keep the good faith. Fight the good fight.
– Garrett Vanderpool
Thanks Garrett. You are a very special friend and have been an encourager to me to continue with this blog. I wish you could have known Bubba since you two would have also been good friends. He loved the technology of computers and would have had lots of technical questions for you. He used to wear me out trying to get me to learn all the technical things he was studying about them, because he had a bent for study and investigation.
Cathy and I love you and Shelly and are praying for your fast and complete recovery.
Dr. John, shortly before Mrs. LaNell died, Bro. Berry Lee sent out a Christmas card/letter to his friends. His health was swiftly deteriorating also. The letter, for me, was one of the most inspirational things I had ever read. Here was a man, whose wife was in the final stages of dimentia and whose own health was rapidly declining yet the letter had not a hint of self-pity or bitterness. Instead it was filled with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for all His blessings and love. I carried it around in my Bible for years. I even shared it with my Sunday School class. I’ve misplaced it and would really like a copy if you can find it. Brother Berry Lee was one of the finest Christian men I’ve ever known . His Christian influence on me and all who knew him will last well beyond his time here. (Also, along with you, an awesome Sunday School teacher!)
Nelson: It’s great to hear from you and thanks for your words about Bubba. His life and ministry impacted all those of us he touched, as he taught us by example how to live and to die. I will look through my files but don’t think I have a copy of that particular Christmas letter. You might ask Andy if he saved that letter. He and the other kids did keep lots of his writings and letters.
I love seeing you still in the choir when we come for a visit. We had some wonderful experiences together in those days.
Blessings to you Nelson: