This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, a story from Scott Jones. God is a pastor and the author of Growing Up Rural, Lessons Learned for a Lifetime. Today, he shares with us a story about a childhood experience from that book entitled, Thinky Boots.
Take it away, Scott. Beginning from 4th to 5th grade for me was very difficult. Our school in Ziering, Iowa consolidated with the neighboring town of McCallsburg and became known as Nesco or Northeast Story County. Since we lived out in the country, a school bus would pick us up early in the morning and we would be on the bus 30 to 45 minutes, stopping at other houses along the way to pick up other kids. We would be let out at the Ziering school building and then get on to another bus that would take us to McCallsburg, which was 10 minutes away.
After school, we would go through the same procedure to arrive home. There were new kids in the class from McCallsburg whom I had never met. And our 5th grade teacher, she seemed to be very strict and uptight, which was much different than my 4th grade teacher. And to top it off, we had to learn something they called new math. And I got my very first failing grade the first nine weeks. Now that did not sit well with my parents.
So mom and dad tried working with me on this new math and I limped along for the entire year. Now, sometimes in the morning before the school bus arrived to pick me up, I had to do chores. I had to feed the hogs as we did not have automatic feeders. The hog lot was a mixture of dirt, mud and hog manure. And depending on the time of the year, if it was dry or rainy, that would dictate the ground underneath my feet to feed those hogs. At any rate, I usually wore my buckle up rubber boots to keep my shoes clean. Now this particular morning, I was running a little bit late in feeding the hogs before the bus came.
It was early winter, and snow was on the ground, but the hog lot had not frozen over. So it was still quite soft and gooey, thus sticking to my boots. Upon finishing up, I ran to the house to get my school supplies and catch the bus as I saw it coming down the road. In my hurriedness, I did not clean off my boots.
I thought, it'll be all right. I will clean them off at recess in the snow. So upon arriving at school, I went directly to my classroom. Our classroom had a type of walk-in closet behind the teacher's desk, where we would hang our coats and put our boots.
Also, our school was heated by those big metal water heater radiators. There were a couple in the classroom and a smaller one in the coat closet. As class began, everything was going fine until about halfway through the morning. All of a sudden, our teacher lifted her head and turned as though something was annoying her. She started into teaching again and stopped a second time, looking back toward the closet. She placed her teaching material down and got up and went back into the closet.
It seemed like she was in there a long time. She finally appeared with a pair of boots in her hand. Something brown and ugly was dripping off those black boots, and the smell, well, it was horrendous and permeating the classroom. She was not happy. She asked, whose boots are these?
No one answered. I shrunk down in my seat at my desk. She asked a second time, whose boots are these? My class mates all started to look over at me as I sheepishly raised my hand and confessed my crime, of bringing stinky, hoglot manure covered boots to school, only to bring a new type of unacceptable perfume to our fifth grade classroom.
I thought, oh boy, now what? Well, she was very gracious to me as I was sure she saw my worrisome expression and even a hint of shame before my classmates. She stated to everyone in the class and didn't just pinpoint me, please, for those of you who live and work on the farm, clean your boots off at home before coming to school. She then asked me if I would please take my boots and place them outside the door of the school building and leave them there until it was time to go home. But what took the edge off the incident was the way she looked at me as she handed me the boots. It was as if her expression toward me was, Scott, it's okay, and I understand.
That gave me the courage to come back to class unashamed, and no one ever said anything to me about those boots. Maybe the fact that she knew my parents pretty well as my mom also was an elementary teacher played a part in her response. Whatever the case, I had a newfound respect for her, and she became one of my favorite teachers. Well, through this incident, I learned a number of life lessons. The old saying is true, as in this case, never judge a book by its cover. When I said that my teacher always seemed uptight about something, that was because her husband was very sick, and she was the breadwinner as well as her husband's caregiver.
She had a lot on her plate. I also learned not to shame people when they make mistakes, especially in front of their peers. This can be devastating, especially in those formative years. My fifth grade teacher was not only wise, but she was sensitive to 11 to 12-year-old kids, as she had been teaching for many years. I also learned the lesson, clean your boots off before going to school. And a terrific job on the production by Monty Montgomery, and a special thanks to Scott Jones for his story, Stinky Boots.
And by the way, he learned a lot about his teacher, that she was a wise, sensitive person who was herself going through a lot of things. Stinky Boots, by Scott Jones, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell, and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories.com. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance?
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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we return to Our American Stories. And up next, we have a hometown story. A story from our little town of Oxford, Mississippi, home to 20,000 people and Ole Miss home to SEC Sports folks.
And we're about an hour south, due south of Memphis, Tennessee. This story is told by Eddie Willis, who's a pastor here in town. Today, he's here to share the story about his adoption and his decision at the age of 40 to search for his birth parents. I learned at the earliest age that I was an adopted child. I had a lot of questions for my parents and they always answered. They were always open and honest. This was at a time before adoptions were open, where you knew your parents and that in itself was much different than today.
It was almost like a spy movie. They met some of the social workers in a park and had to bring in a brown paper sack, clothing, be very discreet. And they handed me off in a public park in New Orleans.
And that's how. Up until about the age of 40, I had the mindset that this is the way it was. And they set me on this path in the adoption process. And my parents that adopted me were the only parents that I had and needed.
I felt like I was fine not knowing where I came from. And so it wasn't until adulthood, marriage, children of my own, that I really started having those desires. My wife and I started our family. And then it was during the birth of our first child that I started having these feelings that I'd never had before, that I'm a parent. There must be an emotional attachment to me from my birth mom is the way it started out. And then as a father myself, there must be these feelings from my birth father.
And so all through childhood, I was told that I was adopted out of Methodist Children's Home in New Orleans. And it's one of the last states that has sealed records that just will not be opened and ended up at the door of the Office of Records. And a sweet, kind lady came outside.
And I don't think she knew how emotional it was. And she said, your records are probably five feet behind this door. But if I open these records, I myself would suffer consequences legally. I can't let you see these records.
So I had a friend that was in industry of private investigation and tried to go that route, just a dead end. My wife even found the doctor that delivered me. And he's retired and very elderly. And he said, well, the reason your husband was adopted out of the Methodist Children's Home, but was birthed at the Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, is that it would have been a high risk pregnancy. And she said, well, that makes sense because his birth certificate says he's a twin.
And so I am a twin that survived my brother didn't make it. I tried through the legal system and only legally I had written some letters to senators in Louisiana. And I knew some bills were coming before the state Senate. And I wrote several of these people in power that I said, I can know more about my own canine than I can about myself. I could look up my dog's ancestry, but you're stopping me.
Could you please open these records? It's frustrating. And then it's so ironic. One of my best friends from my hometown, he had seen something that I had posted on the internet, Facebook about looking for my parents. And he said, hey, my wife's old roommate does this. His wife was roommates with a lady that found her mother on her own and started helping other people as a hobby. She's helped a lot of other people and has used a lot of resources at her fingertips, whether it's actual data or favors from people that can get the data. And those favors are typically from people that she helped them find their birth parents.
He connected me with her and this kind, sweet lady, I call her my adoption angel. She was reaching out to all the sources that she had during the seven years that she was trying to help me. She said, Eddie, this is the hardest case I go through, dead end after dead end. And she said, my dining room, I have dead end charts with you at the top. And it's like CSI. I'm trying to solve this case. And it just, I keep hitting dead ends.
Would you please try ancestry? Would you please try the DNA swab? And I just really was guarded about, and I still am guarded about my personal information and my DNA. And my wife really was at the forefront of really helping me. She could tell there was a little bit of my heart that needed to be filled, a vacuum that was still empty. And so she had been helping me search and bought me a kit for my birthday. And it sat there on the shelf and reluctantly after about a month, two months, three months, I did the swab, sent it in.
I let my adoption angel, as I call her, have the password and everything to get into this site. And about three months later, she called me and said, are you sitting down? I said, yes, I'm driving. And she said, okay, I know 99.9% of who your birth mother is. And I just wanted to pull over and I did. And I just was so happy. And I had this information and I had phone numbers because the resources that the sweet lady that had helped me on this journey found my birth mom.
And so there was this information. So again, my wife who had been helping me through all of this said, you need to call her. And I'm like, oh my goodness, I can't do this.
It was just so nervous. I was like a teenager trying to call someone that I was in love with. And I just would pick up the phone that I'd hang it up and then I'd dial the number and then I'd close my phone. And finally I left a message and my profession is a minister.
And I didn't want to think that they were getting this strange phone call from a number. And I was trying to sell something. I said, I'm a minister in North Mississippi. And I was trying to connect with you on a situation. And I didn't hear anything for a day. I didn't hear anything for a couple of days. And I told my wife, I said, I've heard of adoption stories that just don't turn out.
This is not going to work. And so it was a week to the day that I had called and I had this phone call and it was a Louisiana number and I'm staring at my phone. I'm so nervous and I answered just so intrepidly. And I said, hello, my name is Eddie and I'm a minister from North Mississippi. And I was born in Louisiana in 1968. And she said, Eddie, it's me.
And just stopped all of this jargon that I was spewing out of my mouth. It was my birth mom. And so calmly, she said, I just have two questions. Have you had a good life?
Have you had good parents? And I said, yes. And we just both broke down on the phone and we we wept.
It was a joyful, joyful moment. And she said, I wondered if this call would ever happen. She told me about the process and how this had been a relationship in high school. And she and my birth father did not get married, but she remembered even so long ago, 50 years ago at the time, she said, I just remember your feet, your small little feet. And evidently at the time, adoptions were closed and they limited the time that the birth mother would have with the baby.
And she said, I didn't really, I didn't really get to hold you very long. And then the process started where your adoptive parents were able to take you home just a few days later. And you've been listening to Eddie Willis's story of the search of his birth parents.
He hadn't given it much thought until he was 40 years of age. My parents who adopted me were the only parents I wanted or needed, he said. But then came the birth of his child and he started to have these feelings and the search, well, it started for his birth parents.
And 10 years later, after that search commenced, came that call from Louisiana. And he heard these words from his mom, Eddie, it's me. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, we love adoption stories here on this show is they are the ultimate act of human love. More of Eddie Willis's story here on Our American Stories. And we're back with Our American Stories and with Eddie Willis's story. When we last left off, Eddie, at the age of 50, had finally connected through a phone call with his birth mother.
Let's return to Eddie for the rest of the story. After that beautiful conversation, I called her back and there was a no dial tone. It said this number is no longer in service.
And I was thinking, this is terrible. She's disconnected her phone and doesn't want to hear from me. And I was so sad. She called me back in another day and was panicked.
They had installed a new phone line in their house and they didn't know when the company would cut their old line. And she was trying every way she could to contact me, but couldn't. And she was nervous thinking that I was thinking she didn't want to ever hear from me again, which is what I was thinking. And again, she was overjoyed that I had found her. And she had wondered most of her life, even having three kids with her husband. And she married a gentleman named Ed. My birth father's name is Ed.
I'm Ed. It's just, you know, there's so many ironic things, but she couldn't wait to come up with her husband. And she came to our town and we just had this wonderful reunion and she had gifts for my children and just instantly fit into the grandmother role. So we had a great relationship. And then through this DNA company, through Ancestry, Elise, my adoption angel, had called and said, I just noticed your account. You have somebody looking for you and it's on your dad's side. And if I were you, I would call your dad before they get to him and tell him all this information about you've been found and that you found your birth mom. So I had a half-sister that was looking for me. So what I wanted to do, I could have reached out to him, but I told my birth mom, I wanted to give her the opportunity to reach out to him and say, hey, our son is looking for you.
He found me. Because they see each other's unions and functions. They have an admiration for each other, even though the relationship didn't continue. But he had really been very, very quiet about it on his side. I mean, you don't really talk about, hey, I had a relationship in high school and my girlfriend had a baby and he didn't say much, if anything, about it. She had called me back and said he definitely wanted to find me. When I reached out to him, his first words were, why'd you wait so long?
And we talked about sports and we talked about life. Then he really started wanting to get into things deeper. And so then he called me the next day. And then he started calling more and more.
We became deeper and deeper. And we've become very close, just like my mom and I. And so he wanted to meet. And he said, why don't we meet right north of Jackson at a steakhouse? He probably wanted to make sure I was normal.
I assume he'd been there a lot longer than I had. And I think he was anxious. And so we met in there and he said, reach out your hands. And I reached out and he grabbed my hands from across the table. And he said, our family has this line in the palm of our hands and I have the same line just like his in both the palms of my hands. And he said, my daddy, your grandfather has that line and my brother has that line.
And he just got really teary-eyed. He's holding my hand and the waiter comes and we're these two men holding hands in the restaurant. And I said, I'm so glad we found each other. And I'm not sure what all I said, but I said, since I'm a surviving twin, he said, what?
I said, since I'm a surviving twin. And he just wept and just wept. And he said, my father was a twin. After that, he said, we've got to get our families together. And it was time to connect with my father's side of the family. And so they threw a crawfish bowl for us.
They invited relatives far and wide to come. And I mean, it was so neat. It was like a movie. The sun's going down. And my dad said, Eddie's a guitar player. And my half brother said, well, I've got a guitar upstairs. And my cousin sings real well.
And I mean, it was a movie setting. We're having crawfish. The sun's going down. We're singing James Taylor songs and songs from the seventies and the families joining in.
It's like a campfire scene. It was just a wonderful, wonderful reunion. It brought a lot of good memories.
And I want to say it brought a lot of healing because it was such a time of angst swirling around the relationship that my mother and father had and then my birth and then the ending of that relationship and I guess not knowing where I was. My father's children, which are my half siblings, were saying he would never talk about it. And it just was a closed and shut story.
And I think it was breached once or twice. And the family understood that they shouldn't bring that up again. So it was almost a biblical homecoming story for me and my family. My children were just welcomed in. And I think he's so proud of our family. You know, we walk into a restaurant and he'll see his friends. This is my son. And he has mentioned, you know, we've got a lot of living.
We've got a lot of living to do. Even though the records are closed, it was an open story for my parents and the way I was brought up. And my mother and father were just overjoyed that I'd found my birth mother. And shortly after that, my father passed away. And shortly after is when I found my birth father.
You know, nothing could take the place of him. But it's interesting how finding my father after my father passed away and just so many things in my life have fallen into place. I wonder what my children think that, you know, for a while it was like, Hey, you have a new relative. You got another relative.
You got another. Here's some grandparents, more grandparents. They've been on a quite a ride with me.
And I mean, not even bouncing back. They just were very forward. And that's the way it is. So we trade off with all sides of the family, making trips down there and up here. And our initial reunion in Louisiana with my mother, I was able to go see my grandparents. They were still living in their 90s. And my grandmother, who probably was four foot four, she leaned up and I leaned down and she said, I always knew this day would come. And my grandfather was so happy to see me. And they were always the volunteers at their Methodist churches. They always volunteered in the youth department. And they knew someone at the Methodist Children's Home through their United Methodist Connections in Louisiana. And every Sunday at my local church, a tradition that was started before I came to that church, I say, And now the children are going to walk around and take up the change.
This goes to the United Methodist Children's Home. I could look at my personal story negatively, but I don't think I've even chosen it. Just the way I think about it is so positive. As a pastor, I talk so much about being adopted into the family of Christ. And I've had a great life to answer my birth mom's question.
It's been wonderful. It just was very natural. The way my parents packaged it was that my birth mother loved me so much that she chose to allow someone to take care of me. And, you know, every now and then people would say, Well, you're adopted.
And I'm like, Yes, aren't you? And a great job on the production by Madison. And a special thanks to Eddie Willis for sharing his adoption story. And my goodness, what a story about love, about sacrifice, and what a gift Eddie is to this community. And what a choice that young couple made to let this young child get adopted. This community would not have Eddie Willis, but for that decision.
And he's been ministering to thousands of young men, young women, and students here at Ole Miss and contributing in ways that are unimaginable and incalculable. The story of Eddie Willis here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories. And we've told stories from many of the museums across this great country, from the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum to the Museum of Bad Art and even the American Banjo Museum. Today, we have Aaron Berger, executive director of the NEON Museum in Las Vegas, the capital of NEON, to share the history of Las Vegas and the iconic signage associated with it. So the story is actually pretty interesting.
It was officially founded in 1996. I think one of the great things about Las Vegas is this constant evolution. Every time you visit, if you come by once a year, you're going to see a different landscape and a different cityscape. But there were volunteers who were concerned about the signage that, especially since they couldn't preserve some of the buildings that were being raised, they wanted to preserve the signage that was out front. A unique aspect of signage is that in many cases, the building itself doesn't own the sign, even if it's attached to the building. It's actually leased by the sign maker. And so the sign maker actually owns that piece of property. And so you can raise a building, but the sign often goes back to the original sign maker. And they have what's called a boneyard, which is a place for them to pull parts, pull neon tubing, pull lights, pull mechanics. And so these concerned citizens in 96 started meeting with various sign makers and saying, you know, we'd like to make sure that these parts of history don't necessarily get used to create new signage, but we actually save the original pieces themselves.
It's fascinating to me to be able to tell the story of history using such an unusual medium, right? So we're using outdoor signage to tell you the story of Las Vegas history. It took until 2012 for us to actually open our facility in our current space, which is on Las Vegas Boulevard.
We're a little under three acres of property. We have four physical components to the Neon Museum. The first that, it's hard to say it's my favorite, but I'd say it's probably my favorite is actually the physical building, the lobby that you enter. It's called La Concha, which means the shell. It was designed by an architect named Paul Revere Williams. Paul Revere Williams was the first black architect to be accepted into the AIA. He designed this piece of architecture. It looks like a seashell, but it was designed to try and attract people off the roadway to be this sort of unusual enough looking building that someone would actually pull off the road and say, I want to see this.
So that's our lobby. We get a chance to tell a little bit about Paul Revere Williams, his contributions. This is mid-century, a time where some people would maybe not feel comfortable sitting next to a black man, even though he's your architect, and even though he's an architect who's building the homes of Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra.
So he really learned how to draw out designs upside down so that people could sit on the other side of the desk from him and still understand his designs. So I think that's a unique part of history and an important part of kind of setting the stage of when you come to the Neon Museum. That's the first step. Second step is the neon boneyard. So the boneyard, again, refers to the concept of what sign makers have, which is, again, a space that they go into to pull parts and use for the recreation of new signage. We have curated our boneyard so that it is a very thoughtful and logical tour through everything from small businesses to casinos, the strip, motels, and really gives you sort of a walk through Las Vegas history. One of the things that was really striking to me as a visitor is as you tour the boneyard, you're given an insight into the black experience by being shown the Moulin Rouge sign. The Moulin Rouge was a casino that, while it lived for a short period of time, was the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas. So if you had someone like Aretha Franklin or Sammy Davis Jr. who would perform on the strip, they would do these great shows.
They would, of course, pack the house, but they weren't allowed to stay in those hotels. So the Moulin Rouge became a place for both black and white visitors to stay. It was often a 2.30 in the morning show.
So after Aretha Franklin had done two shows, again on the strip, she would do a third show at the Moulin Rouge for the people staying there. So we have that amazing sign. We have the story of women. We have the story of the indigenous people from Las Vegas and the Las Vegas area. We have the story of Latinx community, the LGBT community. All of these stories are conveyed as you walk through and learn a little bit about the signage that you're seeing.
The third is the brilliant show. A few years ago we contracted with an artist whose name is Craig Winslow. We have a gallery that is, there's no electricity going to the signage at all. These signs are largely to a point where they are beyond conservation. There's nothing we can really do to bring them back to life. So Craig has developed, through a process called projection mapping, two large towers that pinpoint light onto these, for lack of a better word, dead signs. And he brings them back to life.
And when I say pinpoint, it really is looking at each individual light bulb and seeing that light bulb begin to flicker and come back to life. He does it to sort of an iconic Las Vegas soundtrack. So you'll hear everything from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga to of course Elvis, and bringing it back all of these incredible signs in a great 25 minute experience. And then the fourth aspect is what's outside the museum walls. So we have over a dozen pieces of our collection that adorn different parts of downtown Las Vegas. So through South Las Vegas Boulevard you'll see signage that's out there. The silver slipper, you'll see motel signs, you'll see wonderful pieces that are just really fantastic. And they're all part of our collection but it's in partnership with the city that you can take advantage and kind of revel in those pieces as well. So neon signs really, I think their heyday was in the 50s.
We have examples dating back to as early as the 30s in our collection. But the basis of neon is to use electricity to draw someone's attention. I think the reason Las Vegas is such an epicenter for neon is that all of our, whether it's the gaming industry, the casinos, the attractions that we have, the restaurants, we're all vying for someone's attention. And so these combination of neon lights added to flashing light bulbs, added to these glimmering kind of stars and shines, this is what sort of attracts the person to come in off the street and check out this location versus the location next door. So the signage is critical in a town like Las Vegas.
It's what's going to bring someone in. In the 30s we were dealing with prohibition at that point. The oldest sign we have in our collection is one from the Green Shack and it is a restaurant.
We know that it's from the 30s but we know it's also from after prohibition because they're promoting cocktails. Las Vegas sort of bloomed from people coming from the West Coast, from Los Angeles, coming through town and so the city sort of developed as a result of that, of trying to get people off the road and have a chance to come and spend the night to take advantage of all the things that are offered. But it was also a place as the Hoover Dam was being built, it was also a place where people would come to see the Hoover Dam, to see this architectural marvel. There were of course need for the workers who were working at the dam to have places to go and enjoy after an incredibly long day of work.
So the Green Shack is a great example of that. We have over 850 signs in our permanent collection. On display we have about 250 signs that are out in the actual Boneyard or in the North Gallery and then at night we illuminate about two dozen signs.
The reason that we illuminate just that 24 or so is because A, if we were to illuminate everything you would get a really great sunburn. B, you would sort of get lost and you wouldn't be able to really appreciate any one sign in particular. So newest acquisition that's just come in, we've just accepted the Planet Hollywood sign.
So this is an incredibly iconic globe that is 25 feet across, weighs somewhere in the range of about 13,000 pounds. It opened in 94 outside Caesars Palace on the strip and when the opening took place there were 10,000 people in stadium seats outside to watch the stars arrive for the opening of this restaurant. So including, and it wasn't just stars, I mean George and Barbara Bush came to the opening of the restaurant.
The signs are again, they're a catalyst, right? They're what starts the conversation. What excites me is when people tell me about staying at the Moulin Rouge or their experience, you know, if they were one of the 10,000 standing outside waiting to see the next celebrity at Planet Hollywood. So those types of things, those stories we love to collect as well. So we do programs certainly that are educational by nature. We want people to come in and learn a lot more and take a deeper dive into some of our stories. But we do weddings, we do album covers, photo shoots for everything from TV shows to the cover of magazines. So it is, there is no place truly on earth like the Neon Museum. It's a great way to just, I don't know, immerse yourself in Las Vegas' heyday.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 00:55:57 / 2023-02-17 01:09:40 / 14