Friday, March 14, 2014

The Man from Crockett County

Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, I met a man who would forever change my life. It was the spring of 1998 and I had agreed to go and preach for the Christian Chapel church of Christ on Gibson Wells Road. This was located between Humboldt, Alamo, and Trenton, Tennessee. I was finishing up my Masters Degree at Freed-Hardeman, and I was engaged to Amber Faughn (who is my wife of 16 years exactly to the day as I write this - Happy Anniversary, Dear!). I was excited about the opportunity of being a full-time preacher for this small country congregation. Dr. Clyde Woods had set me up to preach there. Dr. Billy Smith had preached there for 16 years before going to work with the Estes congregation - the church had a great history of preachers besides those men. So for a year, every Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night I drove to Christian Chapel from Jackson, TN, and this wonderful, loving group of Christians, about 40 of them, let me cut my teeth from their pulpit.

But one man from the congregation in particular became a personal friend to me. Over the years he was like another father. He lived in Crockett County, near Alamo, off highway 54. By the way, he always wanted you to know he lived in Crockett and not Gibson County. He liked to make funny and harmless jokes about the Gibson County folk. He had a farm there off the highway right on the Obion river bottom, and farmland in other local places that he had purchased from family members over the years, about 1000 acres in all. He was a cotton man, and every year he would grow some of the prettiest cotton east of the Mississippi.

When he found out I liked to fish he invited me to come see the place. He had a levee built to harbor a private lake on the back of his farm that hugged the edge of the bottom land. Rains would bring in healthy waters and the lake was nearly 20 acres in its hay day. The first day I went there I caught a 5 pound bass. I was hooked. I had the time to go every week nearly, and sometimes more than once a week. I will tell you in that first year I knew Billy Hudson, the man from Crockett County, we fished and fished and I probably caught at least 1,000 bass, not to mention, crappie, bream, and other fish. And the fish were healthy and large!

The first time we drove out to the back of the farm Billy put me on the back of his 3-wheel Honda ATV. I was scared to death the way he was driving. It was a warm day in February and we went down to the lake and rode the levee to look for a place to fish from the edge (later we always used a boat). He failed to mention to me that at the time the bottom was infested with cottonmouths. He took his 22 along with us at his side and as we rode the levee he shot about 20, some at point-blank range. One in particular he shot while it had its mouth open about to strike at my pant-leg. I am telling you I had only been away from California for about a year or so and it was about all this city boy could handle! His cousin, Buddy, had enough of the snake problem, and later that week he went down to the lake and killed 91 snakes. We never had much of an issue after that! (We still had to kill snakes now and then).

But the lake was such a good fishery, I couldn't stay away. And Billy was so fun to be with. My dad, who was my all-time fishing partner, stilled lived in California, and being with Billy was like being with him, pure fun. Billy had low-sugar and he used to have to take Snickers bars and Pepsi-Cola along on our outings. He jokingly would say I would keep him out there in the hot sun to his death because I liked the water so much. We talked and laughed and enjoyed God's creation and the beauty of Christianity together. We talked about our families and the Bible and just things that guys need other guys to talk about. He had a lot of good advice and I cherished learning from him. He helped me immediately to be a better husband and eventually a better father.

Billy's youngest daughter, Morgan, was a young teen who also attended with us at Christian Chapel. She had recently been baptized when I first arrived there, and Amber had several young ladies her age to work with and encourage in the church. For Amber and me, it was truly our first work together in the church and we enjoyed it. I have never seen a father love a daughter more than Billy loved Morgan. She was his late edition, and he cherished her even more because he had gone through a difficult divorce. Billy was determined to do everything he could for Morgan. He enrolled her in a private Christian school in Jackson and drove her everyday. He wanted her to be a strong Christian and have the joy that comes only through Christ, the very thing Billy himself clung to throughout the most difficult times of his life - losing his parents and siblings, and his wives, and going through heart surgeries and other health issues. Billy was a simple man, but he was the best kind of man. He believed in God, the Bible, family, hard work, and if he was your friend you would find no man more loyal or more giving. He loved to laugh and joke, and he had a smile and a chuckle that I can see and hear in the corner of my mind that will never leave me this side of heaven.

In the spring of 1999 I was given the opportunity to move to a congregation in southern Kentucky. Ironically we moved to a church that was only 10 minutes away from Billy's place on Kentucky Lake. He had taken me there once the year before. I would never have imagined my new home would be so closely located. Only about 2 miles away from his lake spot I met my next elderly farmer friend, Greg Ferguson. Billy had always wanted me to get into deer hunting, but he warned me I might get addicted. He was right. I have been hunting on the Ferguson farm for the last 14 years. I still go back every fall.

It was nice to have an excuse to see Billy and Morgan when they would come up to the lake. I had never ridden a jet-ski before Billy put me on one. For a man in his sixties I was impressed to watch him on a jet-ski. He was pretty talented at anything he tried. He scared me on that thing like he did on the three wheeler - but at least no snakes this time - just a lot of fast water. Over the years I would travel back to fish and visit the Hudson place. My dad would go with me when he was out for a visit from California. On June 28, 1999, my dad and I had the greatest moment of our fishing lives at Billy's lake. Dad caught an 8-pound, 8-ounce bass. I grabbed it with my hand and lifted into the boat and we celebrated. As I look over my left shoulder while I write this, that bass hangs on my wall. My Papa Tatum, my dad's dad, was also there on that occasion. I will remember that moment always. I am so blessed!

I really have enough material on Billy Hudson to write a book, but I will include one funny story about him in this tribute today to just help you understand his humor. Every Sunday evening for the year we were at Christian Chapel, we would go eat with a group of about 15 folks in Trenton at the Majestic Steakhouse. What fun times! One evening a waitress came to serve us - and to Billy's dismay she had an eye-brow piercing. He knew what that was, but he wanted to give her a hard time. As she introduced herself as our waitress, Billy replied, "Girl! What have you done? You've done missed your ear and done caught yourself up in your eye!" Then he giggled. I had to leave the table because I didn't want to laugh too hard for too long in front of the waitress.

Being with Billy Hudson was just different. It was different in the best way. He was honest. He was good. He was funny. He was sincere. He was loving. He was unselfish. He was a man who knew how to live in the joy of Christ. I wish everyone who calls themselves a Christian could be as happy about life as he was.

Billy had a lot of health problems, but he lived through them. He toughed it out to his 80th birthday on February 3rd of this year. I always remembered his birthday because it was the day after Groundhog Day. He went on to be with the Lord a week later.

In the movie, "A River Runs Through It" - the main character's last words, as he looks back at the past fishing experiences with his deceased dad and brother are - "I am haunted by waters." What he meant was that all he had left were memories, and the days with those men he could not reclaim. My dad and my brother Billy have also gone on now - but I am not haunted by waters. I am cleansed by them. The fondness of those days of my maturity have woven together the fabric of my personality and have shaped my dreams. And the waters that have cleansed me spiritually, to which dad and Billy also once submitted, will one day reunite us all in the everlasting kingdom of our Father. Where there will be no more death, no separation, no more sorrow, and no more pain. I can't wait!

I don't know why God has blessed me so richly to have such men in my life. But I understand that I will be forever indebted not only to my Creator, but to the men who taught me how to be a man myself. Who enjoyed mentoring me.

There was a man from Crockett County. His name was Billy Hudson. He changed my life.

(the photo above includes Billy Hudson (left), Richard Lane (middle), and myself (right) - at the age of about 25). Billy had this picture framed and in his bedroom. I thank Morgan for taking a picture of it with her phone and sending it to me).
Dad's Fish

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