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Some dates mark the big milestones
Now and Then
Dr  Roger Branch March WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

Most dates are simple numbers in the flow of time, but some mark important milestones in human history or personal life. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the Japanese surprise attack on the Pacific bastion of Hawaii turned Dec. 7, 1941, into a “day of infamy” that would live forever.

Perhaps the terrorist attacks on targets on the homeland Sept. 11, 2001, is even more seared into the national psyche because so much was captured at the moment on national television. I do not know why I turned on my TV at the very beginning, but I watched in shocked fascination for the rest of the day. The other time like that for me had been at the assassination, funeral, etc., of Pres. John F. Kennedy. Both left abiding scars and leave me baffled as to how and why this nation could so soon lose its identity and integrity.

September 6 is a special personal date for me. My father, Oscar Branch, was born September 6, 1912, in newly established Toombs County, Georgia. On the same date, 41 years later, I had my first date with Annette Slater from just across the Ohoopee and fell in love for then and forever.

Daddy taught me many things, more by example than by instruction. He taught me how to discern at a glance which leaves on a tobacco plant were “ripe” for harvest and how best to “pick” them. I was a grown man when he told me that I was the best picker around and I swelled with pride. The lesson was “There is a right way to do everything.” The rows of corn that he planted and cultivated were rifle-shot straight. He spent hours setting up the planters — then the plows — on the toolbar of his tractor. He could be impatient, but not with how he husbanded the earth.

Integrity. I never knew him to tell anything but the truth unless perhaps he was misled or inadequately informed. He would get mad in a hurry if someone questioned his word. He preferred to do business with a word and a handshake. He once sent me on a mission to repay a dime that he had to borrow under an unexpected circumstance. From borrow to repayment was one day.

Counsel. When neighbors and family needed advice, help or intervention, they came to him or to both of our parents. Some children of his siblings were almost as old as he, but they respectfully called him “Uncle Oscar.”

He grew in faith as he aged. In time, he became a humble, always seeking to learn man of the Lord and a wise church deacon. He did not see himself that way, but one man who grew up in his church wrote, “When Oscar Branch prayed, you knew that the Spirit of the Lord was in the house.”

Because he tended to equate his worth with productive work on the farm and its livestock, he became frustrated when disabilities increasingly limited what he could do. He did not realize what a powerful force he was in the lives of his sons, their wives, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They absorbed character from him. When they entered his room, they flocked to him, eager to be held in his arms. One day when we visited, Annette asked how he was doing. It was a “down” day and he answered, “I don’t know why I am still living.”

Her instant reply was “To love the babies, Daddy, to love the babies.”

She was a perceptive woman. In the 10-plus years since she died, I have had a lot of time to reflect. This September 6 marks the 70th year since our first date. It seems like yesterday and forever. A beautiful line from Hoagy Carmichael’s, “Stardust” often plays through my head, “When our love was new and each kiss an inspiration.”

In fact, it lasted beyond the “new” through 58 1/2 years of struggles, pain, joy and triumph. It actually matured during her many years of battles with a series of autoimmune disorders that finally killed her body. It persists in her physical absence.

September 6 is upon me. I am profoundly aware of the blessings it represents. I also understand the renewed grief that comes from the loss of those blessings. I told each of them that I appreciated them but not nearly often enough and that adds to the grief. The problem with regrets is that it is impossible to go back and fix them.

My annual pilgrimage helps a bit. I will take roses to the family cemetery in Toombs County, where their bodies lie next to each other. I will tell them again that I love them and say some of the words that I did not say often enough when we were together. Who is to say that they will not hear?

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

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