This is the first of a guest series from Phil Cate. New installments will come each Friday.
All material is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission of the author.
Chapter One: In the Beginning
by Phil Cate
It’s hard to believe I’ve been kickin’ around for forty-five years now. I certainly don’t remember living in my birth town; we left Chattanooga when I was very young. I do love the fact that I was born in the South. The South has so many cool things about it. We put gravy on everything; we can say anything about anyone as long as it’s followed with “bless his heart”; and cholesterol counts are something doctors make up to chisel us out of a few bucks, so we ignore them (although that last one may just be me).
I love being a Christian, too, because most other religions require you to do something. Now, I’m full of character flaws, and no one has ever accused me of being a Steady Eddie or a workaholic; so being consistent about doing something could rule me personally out of most religions. In Christianity, though, you don’t have to do anything. You just have to believe something. This makes me wonder why everyone is not a Christian.
I was telling my story to my buddy, Marshall, the other day at the local chicken-dipped-in-grease-and-served-with-honey-mustard place, and he interrupted me to ask when I had been saved. Now to us Christians, “saved” means the moment we believed that Jesus Christ was sent as our Savior and died on a cross and was resurrected from death, all on behalf of us sinners, to reconcile us with God. I answered Marshall with, “Oh, I’ve always been saved.”
He leaned back in his chair and grinned real big and said, “Most people wouldn’t buy that, but I do. But tell me what you mean by that.”
So I told him. “Mom told me Jesus died on the cross so I wouldn’t have to go to hell, and she taught me oatmeal was good for me, and since she was Mom, I bought it.”
Not that I did anything about any of that. I didn’t eat my oatmeal, but I did believe it was good for me. After all, Mom said so. Likewise, I believed Jesus died for me ‘cause Mom said so, and I bought it — hook, line, and sinker. (Not to mention that I didn’t much like the sound of that going to hell part.) I thought all I have to do is believe something and I’ve got hell insurance. Count me in!
Rumor has it that Mom was an “oops” child; she was ten and twelve years younger than her two older sisters and was the typical baby of the family, coddled and loved by all. Mom was very small-town-girl from Red Bank, Tennessee (on the outskirts of Chattanooga), and a somewhat frail gal emotionally, bless her heart. She was certainly very bright and very competent and very much a perfectionist. A very attractive gal, she was an achiever and a “good girl”. She played the piano in church and never stepped too far out of bounds. She was valedictorian of her high school and attended a Baptist College, where she did very well academically. And there she met my father, another achiever.
Dad was not frail at all; he was 6 feet 6 inches tall, a fierce competitor, a super athlete excelling in baseball and basketball, and a pretty good student. He had been raised in Paris, Tennessee, in the extreme northwest quadrant of the state. He too was very, very sharp and extremely opinionated and hyper-ambitious.
They married the day after graduating from college together. The wedding was held at Mom’s parents’ quaint country home in Red Bank. Together they started out on their journey; it was the late 50s and the sky was the limit for a pair like this. Dad set out to tear up the corporate trail. Both had been raised in the church and continued on with that right through college and on throughout their lives, to this very day in my Mom’s case, and Dad, until his death a couple of years ago.
Dad struggled in so many ways relationally, bless his heart. He was the wild bull in the china shop, for sure; yet he ended up being an incredible salesman, sales manager, and people-person around the office. He was a moxie negotiator; and later in life, he left corporate America to start his own small business and quickly became a self-made millionaire. Yet he struggled with some of his close personal relationships. Looking back, I now know that he did his level best, but at times it was tough for us at home. Dad could be very judgmental and did not hesitate to tell anyone about their shortcomings. For almost everyone that got close to him, there were challenges in the relationship. Things got very bloody emotionally between him and me at times — but we’ll get into that later.
My sister was born in January of 1961, almost two years before me. She certainly got my parents’ talents for academia and ended up as valedictorian of her high school class. She also painted quite well as a child and was an incredible cook. Until puberty and the teen years hit her with the associated rebellion (albeit a mild rebellion in her case), she was quite low maintenance for my Mom. That was good, since my Mom’s tolerance for stress was not large.
This young family lived in Chattanooga for their first few years, and to all onlookers, they seemed to be off to the races. Dad was working as a programmer for Provident Life, one of the very large and esteemed employers in Chattanooga. The computer industry was just really getting going, and Dad was in the right place to take the ride. Mom was living near her family and thriving as a young, attractive homemaker and mother. Lori was a quick learn right out of the womb. They built a new house, and my grandfather helped out by wiring it for free, giving them a nice home at a great price. They were in church every Sunday, and appeared to be off to happily-ever-after.
And best of all, they all had their hell insurance. Two-year-old Lori didn’t, technically, but that was inevitable, right? Mom and Dad would give her the Jesus-and-oatmeal schpeel, and she’d eventually buy in, right? Of course, they lived in the Bible belt; and so if Mom and Dad didn’t quite explain oatmeal and Jesus in a palpable way to my sister, surely the school would, and the neighbor would, and the milkman would, and the babysitter would, and Grandma definitely would.
The American dream with southern gravy was certainly underway, right? Maybe they should have quit while they were ahead.
Next: The Dysfunction Cometh. God said, Let them have a son.
Phil Cate is a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and runs a small medical equipment resale business. He is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at PhilC@ER3.biz or by phone at 678-429-0901
Printed by permission from Phil Cate, Mama told me Jesus saved my soul, but who was gonna save my butt??? Confessions, lessons, and revelations of a born rebel, © 2008.