Sharp Dressed Man…

Graduation Night-1969.

Mother was headed to a party after her high school graduation.

Daddy was a wild sailor home on leave.

They crossed paths and the rest is history.

A few days. A few letters.

And the next thing you know, it is August. Mother is on a plane to San Diego to get married.

My grandmother calls ahead to her close friend we lovingly called Aunt Nell. Aunt Nell lived in Lakewood, California.

Aunt Nell was asked to meet my parents at the airport and stop the wedding.

I loved to hear her tell this story.

She said she got to the airport and took one look at Daddy.

“He stepped off the plane and he was wearing his dress blues.”

“Your Daddy was sharppp…..”

She said, “I told myself there would be no stopping this wedding…”

We all laughed.

She was right.

They were married in her backyard 50 years ago today.

Daddy always loved for me to tell that story and copy Aunt Nell’s voice.

He would smile.

Aunt Nell came to Johnny and Angelica’s wedding 30 years later. She made no secret about the fact that she was looking for Daddy.

Still makes me smile.

I guess ZZ Top was right-Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man.

Young girls, old ladies and brokenhearted daughters.

Neither one of my parents made it to see this day.

But I will celebrate you both in my heart today.

I got the best and worst of both of you.

Thanks for the rebel heart. I use it daily.

I love and miss you both dearly,

Your baby girl

One-Hour Photo…

When my brother chose his wife, I knew how much he loved her.

We all did.

And we still do. Twenty years later.

Today is her birthday and I just have to say how very thankful I am for everything she has been in my life.

One of the toughest challenges we have faced is living our lives without the very person who brought us together.

Johnny.

I found a disposable camera when I cleaned out Daddy’s house.

I called Wal-Mart today to see if they were ready.

“Can you tell me something? I know this is unusual, but what is on those photos?”

I explained that I lost my Dad and I just wanted to be prepared for what I would find in the envelope.

She told me it was kids playing with rocks.

I had secretly hoped for one last glimpse of Johnny.

No such luck.

On the ride home, I shuffled the pictures and realized that what I was seeing was Daddy’s life after Johnny.

The grandbabies were throwing rocks.

He was throwing himself into them.

I think he was looking for one last glimpse himself.

When I think of it now- Everytime I see those boys, I have not only him. I now have Daddy.

Thank you Angelica for loving those precious boys. My brother. My Daddy. And me.

Happy birthday. I love you Always.

Sister

Don’t tell your Momma…

We have cried until our cheeks burn and our eyes feel swollen.

We have been fed by the best local cooks for almost a week.

We have spent more time together in the last 30 days than we have in the 12 years since we lost Johnny.

Sitting around numb and unsure how next week will go without a daily dose of Papa.

The adults are in one room and the kids are in the kitchen.

We hear a roar of laughter that symbolizes wrongdoing.

Curious as to what confession was made, we find my nephew Jared telling on Papa.

Years ago, Papa took the grandbabies down to his favorite place-the Cahaba River Road.

He let them ride in the back dangling their feet off the tailgate.

He would hit the brakes and sling them forward.

And he would “goose” the gas and sling them back.

The kids loved it.

On one occasion, Papa got carried away.

He slung out Jared and Joah.

He panicked and hit the brakes. They said he run around and dusted them off. After making sure they were okay, he warned them not to tell their momma.

“If your Momma finds out, she ain’t never going to let y’all go off with me again.”

Jared was laughing because he never told.

I am laughing because he did.

He would have been so proud of his grandchildren this week.

They wore overalls, took care of him one last time, but most of all-they kept his secrets.

I am personally hoping we are about to find out a few more.

Thank you so very much to everyone who has supported us this week.

For everything- the love was abundant.

We found your love and kindness everywhere. We found it in hugs and in the flowers and the food.

We even found it in true Southern Style- with a little money in the sugar bowl.

I don’t know if we can return it all, but I promise you we will try to keep it going.

As we have been reminded so very often this week, love is eternal.

And so is gratitude.

Forever grateful,

The Acker Family

Good people…

I was about 7 years old and we were driving past a sad little house and I laughed and said, “that’s where so-and-so lives”.

Daddy hit the brakes.

“Don’t you ever let me hear you say anything about someone or where they live. That kid has no more control over that than you do where you live. If someone is working and making an honest living and that’s the best they can do, that is all that matters.”

In 47 years, I got many of these life lessons.

Whenever I thought I knew better, Daddy reined me in with humility.

He was not perfect.

But I never had to point out his mistakes, he was always first to do that.

“I could have done a better job raising y’all”, he would start an apology and his voice would make that familiar sound of regret and heartache that was barely holding back a few tears.

We could all do better.

My favorite thing about my sweet Daddy though was not doing better. It was not being better. It had nothing to do with any of that.

It was being simple.

His best days were spent rounding up a yard full of grandkids. They chopped wood, started fires, and Luke ran a weedeater until his hands trembled. Reagen a.k.a. Ikebod rode her plastic horse Buttermilk in the front yard.

He changed more diapers than most women.

And like everything else in his life, he did it his way.

Nascar style.

When a sagging diaper was noticed, he would announce that it was time for a pit stop. Jacob, being the oldest, stood by in the pit crew holding a diaper and baby wipes. The guilty party ran to the ottoman and threw their legs in the air like they were competing for the fastest time. Daddy made various air wrench noises and entertained while cleaning. He changed a lot of flat tires and blow-outs as he called them over the years, then the fresh toddler got a pat on the butt as they were put back down and a “Back on the road!”

I was always amazed at how the kids cooperated.

But we laugh because he did not fix hair. Shea would get a call, “Baby, I am going to Clanton. Come over here and do something with this baby’s hair.” Shea said Papa would have a hairbrush and ponytail holder waiting.

If Daddy had extra money, he would obsess on how to share it. He would let me know how he was going to divide it. We all got our part.

There would never be enough time or words to describe what he taught me.

But if I could tell you something that would honor him, it would be sit on your porch.

Watch the birds. Feed stray animals. Ride down to the river. Often.

He always reported to us if the Cahaba River was up or down and whether or not the lilies were about to bloom. When we look back at pictures, they are mostly of Daddy holding fish.

He always told us to drive careful and when it would rain. I have told myself I will now have to watch the weather.

My Daddy planted flowers with me, danced with me and taught me to be proud of who you are. As long as you are “good people”.

That was how he described people he was fond of. “Sister, go over there and meet Mr. and Mrs. Townsend -They’re good people.”

He knew the names of waitresses and janitors and truck drivers.

He leaves behind a family who will miss him the rest of our lives.

But we know exactly what it takes to be Good People.

Thank you Papa. For miles of trotlines, duct tape creations and endless hours of arm wrestling and riding horsey.

It was a blessing to be a part of your Acker family.

Where do we go from here?

When everyone listens to the podcast, they are left with that heavy feeling.

I always want them to know about the beautiful things I have shared with you this week.

This really is just a tiny drop in the bucket of this story. I could never tell you everything. It is unbelievable.

Connections.

Friendships.

Support.

Awareness.

Education.

Simple acts of effort.

And even laughter.

I was sent this screenshot and it still makes me laugh.

Our united effort was to not only memorialize John but also to publicly state the fact that one person lost is one too many.

I wanted to end this week with another group project because we have done that so well.

Tags.

Wildflowers.

Music.

They were all a part of celebrating the impact John had on your life.

I would love for us now to commit to educating ourselves.

Whether you know it or not, there is a John in your life. Maybe one in your mirror.

Educating myself helped me understand John and my own depression.

I saw a quote where a celebrity was asked about whether or not talking publicly about her depression was difficult. And she said that actually it was the opposite.

It was almost like every time she talked about it, she spit out a little of the poison.

One day this discussion group will be a thing of the past in your life.

When you look back on the impact of this podcast, I want it to be a turning point.

Just like it was for me. When I saw my own words out there by my friend Julia.

I want you to promise me this.

I want you to listen to the birds sing.

I want you to appreciate a sunset.

I want you to smile.

I want you to do all of those things that are an immense part of living and we take for granted.

And then when it rains.

You trip.

You run late.

I want you to work on your inner voice.

I want you to take a deep breath and shake it off.

I want you to forgive yourself.

But most of all I want you to keep going.

And know if you did it for no one else, you did it for John.

We are all now your forever friends because at some point or another we all live in a mental S-Town.

But it doesn’t even matter, if we are all in this together.

So many of you have said if I just could have talked to him.

I remember thanking Joy Langdon Gray in a private message for understanding that John had issues and still loving him.

Her reply has echoed in my head ever since, “We all have issues.”

Yes we do.

And he would love that.

So here’s to all of us and our issues.

If you can’t share your story, share his. Or share both.

And that’s all I have to say about that for tonight.

Meeting of S-Town Anonymous is now adjourned.

Beauty and the Bee…

When John introduced himself, he would say my friends call me John B.

The B. meant you were his friend.

We used the B. in several ways. It started with note cards.

I found 30+ business cards in John’s workshop over 2 years ago.

I mailed them out to people who were kind as a thank you. Needless to say, they were appreciated.

When I went to have some reprinted, I met David at the counter.

“Did you know him?”

I was nervous when I told him that I did know John.

I told him I was trying to help people and he said so was his sister Katie Beaugez. He asked if he could give her my number.

I am so thankful.

She has been a precious gift.

Katie B. (that is how she is stored in my phone) was a student at the University of Montevallo.

She also happened to be the grant coordinator for Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition.

She was the first to say forgive yourself.

We met to brainstorm on several occasions about what we could do to promote suicide prevention in Alabama.

She encouraged me to take the at-home study course for QPR training.

She coached me through the presentation. She said people will forget a slideshow, but they will remember a story.

I have now spoken in over 10 cities in Alabama.

Every time I put a card in a new hand, you feel that John’s story is helping others.

People thank me.

I think you should thank Katie. Or maybe I should say Katie B.

She is now a counselor. And I know she is going to be a great one. I consider myself her first client.

And when she asked if I thought it was okay if she used the bee on her business card, I was thrilled.

Looking at it this morning, I am a little emotional. It is one more symbol of the ripple effect. One more beautiful sign that we are all in this together.

John’s story is told when I introduce myself thanks to Katie B.

My name is Cheryl Dodson and let me tell you why I am here today…

That is the beauty and the bee,

Love and big hugs,

Cheryl

To know John-You have to know about the Music…

The first time I remember seeing John B. McLemore, he was standing behind his mother. Believe it or not he was quiet.

He had been casually mentioned as a clock repairman and I told him I needed him to “fix” a clock I found at a yard sale.

She wanted gossip. He wanted to leave.

He seemed to be looking at me like he wasn’t sure if he was going to speak.

But once he did….

Pretty soon he would bust in the town hall walking sideways and blurting out whatever had been in his head all night.

He was a night owl.

White t-shirt.

Faded blue jeans.

Unbrushed bed hair.

Dirty glasses.

He would bring me CD’s wrapped in construction paper.

To Cheryl A.

From John B. ❤

John had a large music collection. I always felt it was a beautiful part of him that really was not shared in the podcast.

I introduced him to my friends Todd and Crystal and music was always our common ground. We had some fun.

Years later it would lead me to another friend who shared his love for music.

Andrew Warnberg.

It was so nice to hear new stories and laugh again.

The support group began.

My all-time favorite Andrew conversation.

And there were many.

I opened messenger today to replay the conversations.

I am so very thankful for him.

He gave me lots of advice. Good advice.

We lost Andrew to cancer this year. I wish I could capture in words what his friendship meant to me.

I can’t.

But I can show you what he felt we should do about John.

And I think we have.

And we still are.

Thank you for helping me do that.

All of you.

Big hugs. Big love. Big playlists.

Cheryl