One-hundred-and-nine years ago today, Charlie Franklin Arnett was born to Cletus and Ophelia Arnett in Calloway County, Kentucky. More specifically, in the vicinity of Browns Grove, a small but thriving (at that time) farming community in western Kentucky. His two older sisters had been born without incident so far as the family record goes. Not so with little Charlie.
“I was what they called ‘a blue baby.’ They didn’t expect me to live more than a few hours. Guess they were wrong,” he calmly related several decades later. “They alternated dipping me in cold water and then putting me in warm blankets. They thought that would stimulate circulation.”
He paused there and then added, “I guess it worked. Something did.”
Indeed, something did work, and he did survive, for over ninety-five years. But there was another complication with his birth that was not remedied at the time or at any other time: his father, my grandfather, died two weeks before Dad was born.
Several years later, Ophelia married Albert “Bert” Bazzell. Mary and Jenny moved into Bert’s place with Grandma, but Charlie was sent to live with Ophelia’s parents. In exchange for a roof over his head and food on his plate, Charlie helped out on their farm. From what I gather from the limited recollections that he shared, he seemed less grandson to them and more hired hand or indentured servant.
In addition to the hard work of tobacco, corn, hay, and such, he was plagued with health problems as a youngster. He missed so much school that he was twenty years old by the time he finished high school at Lynn Grove.
But finish high school he did, and three years of college in Freed-Hardeman’s (Henderson, TN) preacher program. For nearly eighty years, he preached in congregations of the Church of Christ in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois, and a few other states as well. He also farmed, built houses, helped raise six kids, and did a host of other things.
Among the most cherished, perhaps, and almost certainly the most poignant, was being by his mother’s side when she passed away at eighty-three years of age. “I just sat there by her bed, holding her hand. She never fought, never gasped for air, or struggled at all. She just quit breathing, that’s all.”
I don’t believe there was another time when I heard such tenderness in his voice nor saw it on his face. Sometimes, it seems, sorrow brings out the best in us.