Athens, Ala. – I was just about halfway through the fourth grade when I was told we were moving to Birmingham. As a young person, in a very general sense, I understood what granddaddy did as a preacher. What I did not yet understand was how members sometimes felt about the preacher. Although it wasn’t the consensus of the church, someone (or multiple someones) had suggested that it was time for granddaddy to go somewhere else to preach. Granddaddy, being the man that he was, didn’t want to hinder anyone from growing spiritually, so he made the decision to move our family. At nine years old, I didn’t hold the same gracious attitude as granddaddy. I was bitter. My grandparent’s home always offered stability and security through very difficult times. Thinking back, that stability was being interrupted and that was probably a big part of me being so angry. I wanted to know who the people were who no longer wanted “us.” To me, it wasn’t just granddaddy, it was all of us. I wanted a list. To granddaddy’s credit, he would never say who it was that made the suggestion that it was time for him to go. Before we moved, a going away party was thrown for us. I couldn’t really enjoy it, because I was preoccupied with “Who was it?” This many years later, a couple things still stand out in my mind. First, I was supposed to have a sleepover with some of my buddies from school, but I had the flu just before we moved, so that never happened. Second, my cat “Tom” could not be found, so we had to leave him. I remember driving away from Coffman Drive, hoping that Tom would come running down the street to catch us. That never happened. To this day, I always go for the gray and white kittens, because those were Tom’s colors.
When we arrived at our new home in Center Point, part of the metropolitan area of Birmingham, we were greeted by members of the church where we would be attending. Grandmother wasn’t ready to cook since everything was still in boxes, so people brought food. From that day, cold chicken fingers stand out in my mind. It’s funny the things we remember, isn’t it? My new school was a Birmingham City School named, “Robert C. Arthur Elementary School.” It was called, “Arthur” for short. I remember granddaddy driving me up to the front of that school for the first time. I was scared and I was unhappy (I believe any kid who goes to school with the kind of haircut I had would be. See picture above). I went in with a chip on my shoulder. My thought was, “I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to be in Athens!” For a long time, I thought about what my old classmates at Athens Elementary might be doing. My 4th grade teacher at Arthur was Mrs. Stith. I didn’t make it easy on her at all. My behavior was terrible. To give you an example, I remember Mrs. Stith telling me if I did something one more time, she was going to send me to the principal. I said something like “I’ll just go now” and walked out of the room. I had gotten in trouble before at Athens Elementary, but I had never acted like that. It was over the top. As time went on, I mellowed out about the move, but it wasn’t until after the 4th grade. I always felt guilty about the way I acted toward Mrs. Stith. It wasn’t the teacher’s fault that I had to move. Unfortunately, she was on the receiving end of my anger. I’ve thought about that for years. Now, I wouldn’t change a thing about the move except for my attitude, but that was something which would only come with maturity.
For several years, I had been on the search for my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Diane Stith. Even though she may not remember (I imagine she probably does though), I always thought I would feel better to apologize to her for my behavior. In the past couple of days, I have found her daughters and even found out that one of her daughters is married to a distant Limestone County cousin of mine. To have an Athens/Limestone connection is almost unbelievable to me. I haven’t yet been able to contact Mrs. Stith, but I feel like I’m getting closer. Closure can be a good thing, even for a nine year old who simply didn’t know how to handle change. There are times when we all regret something we said or did and it’s good if we can find an opportunity to make it right. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see and talk to Mrs. Stith. Until then, I’ll continue my effort to get in touch with her.