I have always loved the stretch of sidewalk between the back side of the Olen Hendrix building and the Student Center. It is not exactly the first place people list as a favorite Harding destination but, to me, it’s where so much of my story started.
My grandmother, Lena Ruth Story Pearson (or Mimi as I knew her) would always tell me stories from “the old days” back when she was a little girl growing up in Griffithville, Arkansas, the daughter of a farmer and a store keeper. She told me about living in the first home to have a television set and the only storm shelter in town, right in the middle of tornado alley. She would tell me stories about high school and growing up during the Great Depression in rural White County. She would tell about going down the road to school at “the College.”
I remember the day I told her I had decided to attend Harding University. She smiled so big, pride welling up in her face. She was proud to be the grandmother of a third-generation Harding student.
She would always tell me about being at Harding College during the war years. She started as a freshman in 1945, lived in Godden Hall, and studied to be a school teacher. I asked her once if she was in a social club; she replied “Oh it was Tau somethin’.”
After one year of college, in 1946, she was asked to teach grades first to 12th in a one-room schoolhouse in her hometown of Griffithville. She spent her first paycheck on a pair of roller skates, her favorite activity.
She returned to Harding when the war ended and all “the boys” came back.
My grandmother loved being active. She played basketball and volleyball. But I think she always had an affection for tennis, at least after a fateful meeting one day at Harding.
I had always known that my grandparents met at Harding, but I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t know the whole story until quite recently. My grandmother didn’t talk about my grandfather, Charles Pearson, I think because I never knew him. He died in 1983, well before I was born, and I think talking about him made her sad. But I, a young public relations student in the middle of learning how to do in-person interviews, decided to ask. “Mimi, how did you and grandpa Charles meet?”
My grandparents met at that stretch of sidewalk between the back side of Olen Hendrix and the Student Center back when it was tennis courts. My grandmother and two friends were at the courts and wanted to play doubles. Right at the moment they were looking for a fourth player, Charles Pearson, a recent WWII coast guard veteran, walked out of his house across the street where the Student Center and McInteer buildings are now. They yelled over at him, “Want to play doubles?” He agreed. The Pearsons married about a year later and started life together. Little did Lena Ruth Story and Charles Pearson know that seven decades later their grandson would walk over that space almost daily for four years.
I was recently on that stretch of sidewalk. I was back in Searcy for my grandmother’s funeral, and as I was driving through campus, I couldn’t help myself but go there for a moment and remember what took place in that space 70 years ago. In that moment, reflecting on my grandmother’s life as a whole, I realized that so much of what she learned from her time at Harding, I too had learned in mine.
Every time I would go to see her, she would ask me two things: “Well Grant, how’re you doin’? Where’d you go to church last Sunday?” Always the same, always in quick succession. In my adolescence and even in early adulthood I found these questions a little annoying. Maybe it was because she always asked them. Or maybe it was because I was embarrassed to answer them. But regardless of my answer, her response was always the same: “Well God loves you, ya hear. And so do I.” It took me a while to realize why she always asked those questions, but it was because she cared for me — for my personal well-being just as much as my spiritual welfare.
In the same way my grandmother asked me how I was doing personally and spiritually, my Harding experience also provided that for me. She nurtured me to be the best possible version of myself, and as a student, I was constantly encouraged to renew and strengthen my being. She constantly built me up and encouraged my passions and dreams. In the same way my peers and professors gave me confidence to accomplish whatever I set out to do.
I cannot even begin to count the number of times I passed over that stretch of sidewalk during my four years at Harding. Looking back on it now, each time was as if my soul intersected with those of my grandparents. We three all lived very different lives, separated by seven decades, but the spirit of our experience remains the same. I can hardly walk in front of the Student Center without being transported back in my mind to the late 1940s, seeing Lena on the courts and Charles on the sidewalk opposite, at that serendipitous moment of meeting.
It is so incredibly important that we share these stories. They connect us to a time long past but also to a space that is all too familiar and provide a link to “the old days” but make their yesterday relevant in our today. They make the mundane something extraordinary. Looking into the past is 20/20 — it’s all in plain sight. We can clearly see how God worked in those moments leading two souls to a divine meeting. These stories have power to enrich our lives and strengthen our faith, but first we have to ask to hear them, because if we don’t, they will fade away. Knowing the presence of his plan can lead us to those moments where it all comes back around again, where so much of our lives, and lives before ours, make sense.
What will lead you full circle? What will be your concrete sidewalk?