This is Amber Brooks.
Get this music gang.
If you want to know what is in my heart right now…or at least what I am praying will be there…
This is Amber Brooks.
Get this music gang.
If you want to know what is in my heart right now…or at least what I am praying will be there…
In my thirty-third year, Molly and something else unplanned and unexpected began to stir in me. I hid the pregnancy a while…My parents were so worried about us having three kiddos already. I know that they thought it was not prudent nor practical. But just like Molly, who seemed to be product of divine breath, songs, lyric and literary works were stirred to life in me. All those inhalations in Mrs. Barton’s were finally being released. I taught myself guitar that year. I had to; I needed chord progressions to offer musicians as a base. Musicals and plays and all these wonderful and so inconvenient, holy things began rushing out…I couldn’t hold it back anymore. The baby was coming, regardless of my efforts to hide or cloak such. For about a year I wrote, by myself, and with collaborators of skill far beyond mine, for friends, for ministry projects, and for fun.
And then a storm struck and all was chaos for far too long…and I could not write… I could barely read…I was back to just trying to breathe as much as I could…
The summer of my tenth grade year Megan Thompson encouraged me to go to Student Council Camp with her at Berry College. I was up to go most anywhere with Megan, so I went. It was a God set-up all the way. I remember the feeling when my foot first hit the ground at Berry. Everything seemed to shimmer, like a lake disturbed. The place, the very grounds seemed alive. There was this motion, this other realmness. I looked around silently for agreement. Had I lost it? Some people seemed totally unaware of it…others betrayed a slight acknowledgement in their eyes and smile.
We did all kinds of team building stuff the first day, it was really fun. I loved the people on my team and our leaders. My roommate was a sweet girl from a county not too far from ours. I liked her. As we lay down to sleep she got her Bible out to read and asked if it was okay for her to keep her lamp on a minute or two. I had started reading through the Bible myself, no one required it, it just seemed a good idea to me. So, I got my own Bible out and started where I had left off. It was somewhere in John. When I began to read, this time, the words leapt off the page at me. It was alive, too. My heart raced…I looked to my roommate quietly reading. She was totally unaware of the earthquake within me. I read on until she reached for her light. Then I made myself close the Bible and try to sleep.
The next night we all had vespers at this old stone chapel. As we were about to enter the air, wind surged..it was if God was pressing, nearly shoving me forward.
The following night Cathy, a friend I’ll write more about later, sang…and shared…and then and things became clearer…And who these people were, so many at least, became clear. The leaders were pretty much all believers…incredible ones for their age. And so many of them were headed to UGA, to my town for the next four years. We became friends that summer and began to write one another…I even went down to visit them at St. Simons Island and to see all that God was doing there to prepare a generation of leaders in his Church, catholic.
Megan and I remained friends throughout high school. She didn’t push me along with God. There were people in place to do that for me now…people she introduced me to at Berry. She watched and loved me and continued to light the way for others to come near. She went off somewhere to college and then off again, I imagine, to serve someone else.
I was first introduced to her as Mrs. Cooper. I have no idea how old she was or wasn’t. She was one of those women who seem ageless. She was tall and thin and wore a wig, sometimes a bit ajar on her slightly large head. She dressed smartly, usually in pants suits, and carried herself like a choir director. She may have in fact been one on the side. I offer such as everyday, everyday, we sang. She would have us all stand for the pledge and then we, Mrs. Cooper’s 4th and 5th grade class, would sing. Usually we started with “Amazing Grace,” Mrs. Cooper had a pretty strong voice so she pretty much matched our effort, but we all sang. You did not fail to sing, the earth would open and swallow you or Mrs. Cooper would be mad which was worse. “She didn’t take no foolishness,” she often reminded some about to be punished plebe before sentencing. She didn’t. Not many of us, even myself at 4 foot something were scared of our 5’1” principal fellow, he was harmless, but Mrs. Coooper was a whole other story. We sang…”Amazing Grace,” maybe “God Bless America” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and always, always…”Let There Be Peace on Earth,” her favorite of all favorites. Yes, this was public school in the 1970’s, Yes, in the most liberal and progressive county in the state of Georgia, and No! no one ever dared tell that to Mrs. Cooper. Mrs. Cooper had by her choice, the top ten and the ten poorest academic performers. A few regular folks were thrown in to absorb some of the divergency. Everyday, Mrs. Cooper would tell us how very smart that we were, all of us, because she had us, and she only got the best. And then she would steal a look at us in the smart zone and dare us to be less and live. Everyday, while the rest of the crowd tried to read or copy spelling words, she walked among us relating how we would be valedictorians of our class. She named every valedictorian she had ever taught, and how one day we would add to her list and become famous for such as well. Then we would receive our nearly college level reading assignments and be let loose on them. A 10:55 a.m. everyday, Mrs. Cooper sent the children out to get some air on the playground conveniently located outside her huge picture window. Her “babies,” that is legitimate future valedictorians, were allowed to linger…At 11:00 a.m. her friend, Miss Thompson came across the hall, her class disposed to P.E. or some purposeful pursuit. It was usually my job to turn on the t.v. On came Bob Barker and The Price is Right. Barring nuclear disaster, she watched it faithfully. She would pull out peanut butter crackers, the orange packaged kind and tell one of us to run go get her a can of Coke, handing the lucky envoy a quarter. Sometimes she bought us one. Then we would watch …or read or do something deathly quiet. There was no talking for children during The Price is Right. But she and Miss Thompson laughed and carried on at folks on the show. When the credits rolled, one of us called the kick ball and four square gangs on in for spelling tests. Here is where we earned our special status. Mrs. Cooper purposely filled her class with the most gifted and the least gifted academics. She explained to us, with high hopes of duplicating herself, “You don’t really know this material until you can can get them to know it.” We were regular tutors for some children, occasional tutors for others. It built skills in us, but more importantly, humility and compassion…It broke my heart to see some of the children in that class try so hard and barely succeed in things which came so very easily for me. This was long before the age of “special needs students” having much special care…of course we had all types…but we worked with them one on one everyday. We succeeded when they succeeded in mastering what was required of them. Mrs. Cooper’s system broke every rule the Clarke County Board of Education could ever think to draft. But it worked…it produced better minds and hearts. I learned two important things from Mrs. Cooper…1. Every child is the best that there is because they are yours, and 2. Some rules and the folks who make them just need to be stared down. A few times someone called her out on her methodologies, she’d tell us about it, until The Price Is Right came on. We asked her what she said. “I didn’t say anything, I just stood my ground and looked them up and down.” In my two years as her student, she usually got her babies twice, I never saw her change her ways except to ramp them up a bit. She kept on singing and kept us singing and kept on speaking life and kept on requiring more where more was given and kept on watching Bob. Mama told me not too long ago that she saw that Mrs. Furr, she dropped her “new husband’s” name after she divorced him and returned to the name of her good as gold first husband, had died. Lord, I don’t know how old she was. I don’t have any idea how old she was when she taught me. But if she was 60 and I was 12 then she was 92 when she died. And for the record, she got her valedictorian our year; I give her all the credit.
Think Miss Frizzle as an English teacher, that’s Mrs. Barton. She was the zanniest adult that I had ever encountered…and she changed my world on so many levels. Mrs. Barton is the first person who spoke directly to the artist in me. It was sort of our secret. I think she spotted that well camouflaged streak in me the first time we met…She was always searching out brethren. I was not the outgoing singer, dancer, performer type. Yes, I could give a speech or oral report well, I could be in front…but my giftings weren’t really there. She knew that I loved to read and she had to suffer through my papers so I guess it showed itself somehow in such.
Mrs. Barton first introduced me to theatre. She took us to plays after school. Our parents had only to drop us off and she met us at the local venues. She opened my eyes to another way of living: free and uninhibited, though often through another’s experience. I remember in 7th grade thinking How do I throw off this accountant type persona – and be that? the artist? How do I free myself of all this weight and responsibility and prudence? A few years later when I reached high school and watched the drama kids from the respectable distance of a student council president, I thought about the many silent challenges Mrs Barton had made to me, every time she took me to those performances, Be an artist, I dare you, do it! I so badly wanted to…but I had set my course and relations and they would have none of it…So I watched in envy for years and years…and years. I have a “Me Book.” I got it when I was six. It has all these preferences which the owner fills in. They address things like: My favorite food is__________, I like the color_____________, and I like to wear______________. The book then addresses future goals. When I grow up I want to play what instrument _____________. When I grow up I want to be a_________________. I am, like most of my family, not musically inclined. It has been my worse subject in school, the only thing that I did not readily master in my academic career. I put down in the “Me Book” ( and I really meant it) I want to play the guitar. In a big steady hand I penned, “I want to be an artist.” I somehow knew even then it was impossible, we didn’t do things like that in my family. But I wrote the words anyway. I had to. That line in my book was my secret desire…how I saw myself, who I knew I was to be. I wrapped and protected that desire for years and years. I held the dream close to my vest to protect it. I whispered to it regularly, …one day. One day…when the responsibility slackens, when there is time and permission is not needed, one day…I will feed you, little fire…I promise…one day I will. Mrs. Barton stoked that little fire in me…when no one else even knew to. Somehow she saw it. I remember that everyone loved her as a teacher. Her class was so fun. I learned a lot about creative writing ( I hope). But I don’t remember many specifics about her class. I just remember being so glad to be in there, with her, breathing this air that was different from all other, air that just seemed to better suit my lungs. I conciously breathed that fortified oxygen in deep, so afraid that I would have no more for a long, long time. I didn’t. All through high school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Lubbs, who was a scream and so like Mrs. Barton in many wonderful ways. She taught speech which I had to take, and drama, a door I never darkened…but peeked around every chance I got. I couldn’t go in… I knew that I would never come back out. All the plans for my future: business degrees and security would be cast to the wind…I knew I was one whom the first drink addicted. So, I turned down the wine extended and poured myself a water. And I survived …but joylessly.
So many of the people who I remember and love best are teachers…I think my teachers always knew that I would one day succumb to the call as well…Maybe that’s why I received the extra attention from so many of them…they knew.
Mrs. Keach taught me second and third grade at Barnett Shoals Elementary School. She was beautiful with wild, flowing flames of hair. Our teachers taught us all subjects but I remember her passion for science. Her brother was a deep-sea driver in the navy famous from the many Natural Geographic specials that tracked his endeavors to discover the depths of the ocean…He was the first guy down in the bathosphere. All that was going down my third grade year. We watched the specials with what felt like ring side seats and special materials about the bathosphere sent from Commander Keach. It was a thrill. I remember so much about the unit: all the weird fish we tried to duplicate with paper mache’ and paints that adorned a net hung across the back wall of her classroom. I remember how fun learning was for her and consequently us. I remember our unit on the gas shortage…it was 1973 and OPEC pressed hard upon us. Lines at the pump were long…sometimes there was no gas and when there was we paid an obscene $1.00 a gallon. Mrs.Keach had the very advanced kids…but she she pushed us far beyond our more difficult vocabulary words and algebraic math problems. She made us think, asked us questions that weighed heavily on us and stretched our hearts as well as our minds…I remember first feeling the “stress” of problems, not my problems, but the world’s, in her class at a white formica countertop staring out a window before me. Thinking of those problems and wondering, What is mine to take up?
In my seat next to that counter, I watched children play hopscotch out of the window behind me. I watched a manned helium balloon and a tornado fly through the window before me. The class was like that, we were allowed to enjoy life and learning freely, but we were pointed toward more than our own enjoyment…In that class we were prepared to journey to those places once unapproachable, to recognize those things that brought destruction, and to ask ourselves What in this is mine to do?
Mr. Campbell was my school bus driver all the years I went to Barnett Shoals Elementary School. He was tall and thin, older than my Daddy, and he wore a government green or brown pressed uniform everyday. He was the type of man who wore his belt perfectly aligned and whose shoes or boots were freshly shined. When it was cool he wore a cap that sort of matched his shirt. He didn’t talk much; it helped that he towered over even the fifth graders. Our route was particularly long, especially since most of us lived close enough to walk or ride our bikes to school. But for some reason, I never knew why or cared to ask, our route ran all the way out to the very edge of the county where a couple of stray students lived, then wound back around to my house. It was fine with me; I loved the ride. We left the school and headed due west toward the near corner of Morgan county. We drove a quiet highway that basically paralleled the Oconee River and the few neighborhoods along it. An occasional 100- 150 year old homestead that somehow lived on brought me smiles and an imagined life under its huge trees. Further out the homes were younger and less inviting, but we didn’t cater to those neighborhoods. At the end of Barnet Shoals Road, just north of its namesake, we left out our first passengers, a brother and a sister who lived in this mobile home, settled down in this little draw right alongside the road. That was the end of our county, Clarke. We turned around in their driveway. We headed back north through beautiful cropland…no longer seriously planted. About the only farmers left in Clarke County were university professors and their graduate assistants. Then we turned east on Whit Davis Road, the address of my family’s lake and cabin…my other home anytime weather permitted and Nana or Dada, Mama or Daddy would take me. I loved seeing the huge nondescript gate with its wired on “LOCK THE GATE” sign and knowing the secrets beyond that no one else could even fathom. We rolled across some feed cropland and by another glorious old lady with monstrous columns and then turned left at a beautiful highly detailed Georgian Greek Revival that someone was always sinking a small fortune into, trying to restore it to its glory. Then we continued back north and toward civilization on Lexington Road. We traveled down a long hill, over an inviting creek and its breathtaking little valley where rust brown and white cattle collected awaiting their dinner. As we climbed again, houses and neighborhoods, every paint hue and door style forever fixed in my memory, faithfully ticked by. A little farther and we came to my neighborhood, Green Acres. Another hundred yards past my neighborhood, in opposite direction lay Barnett Shoals Road. Down it a half mile was our genesis. The ride took about 50 blissful minutes. I can only remember one time that we did not keep our appointed rounds. After turning around at the county line, Mr. Campbell turned on his blinker before Whit Davis Road. I was sitting in my seat of choice, right behind Mr. Campbell. He began to turn down this red road, it needed gravel badly, there were big ruts which he tried to navigate carefully…Most of the kids were oblivious. A few looked around confused and then went back to giggling with a friend. My eyes were wide, my ears strained for some clue. We drew closer and I recognized exactly where we were. I knew from what I saw through the windshield and what I saw on Mr. Campbell’s face. We were at his house. He quickly descended the bus, ducked inside his house for a moment and then jogged back to the bus and cranked the engine. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments. My eleven years hadn’t prepared me. In that millisecond of eternity my eyes tried to tell him: I respect you, Mr. Campbell. I think that you are decent and good and everything I would want in a Daddy. I trust you and count on you and think no less of you because your house, as tidy as you, is out here, down this not good road, near these not all good folks…We…you and me…we are still the same. I couldn’t tell him that I knew the place well. My Mama and I used to carry Aida, our maid who took care of me when I was little, home right down from his house to a little ramshackle dwelling…and its occupants. Aida was never in a rush to go home. She always kept finding ironing or something to do for me. Now I could better understand why she preferred our cool in the summer, warm in the winter small house in Green Acres and just eating a bite of dinner with Mama and me and my baby sister. We finished the route, on time…pulled up to my stop…435 Brookwood Drive, like always. Mr. Campbell nodded goodbye to the gang of kids who exited before me. I followed them down the steps and out into the sunshine. I turned back and looked up to Mr. Campbell, “Have a good day, Mr. Campbell!” I called. “You too, Honey,” he answered. “Yes, sir,” I smiled in relief. Things were the still the same.