For their actions and to each group, we offer our warmest “thank you.”
Their story was told last Thursday on the front page of the Thanksgiving Day edition. Let us revisit it today.
The lives of the Clyde and Charlene Truelove family and the members of Waterville Baptist Church first crossed paths 40 years ago in the merciless summer heat of 1973. They reunited, if only for a few minutes, in 2013 ... just days before this year’s beloved family holiday.
The brief reunion came with purpose. Five Truelove siblings who were just children — ages 2 to 11 — four decades ago asked to meet with Waterville Baptist Pastor Allan Lovelace to do only this ... to say “thank you” for the congregation’s kindness that may have saved their lives during a period of dire family struggle.
It was a scenario of modern day, yet one whose peril was more a reminder of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The late Clyde Truelove Sr., who passed in 1997, was their dad. A proud man and loving father, Clyde was struggling through a series of misfortunes. He and his wife, Charlene, had just lost a child. He was a baby boy, Dwayne. Having been born four months premature, the tiny infant lived only six hours.
Stricken with grief over the loss of her baby, and deeply depressed over the family’s worsening plight, Charlene suffered an emotional collapse. She was institutionalized at the Moccasin Bend Mental Health facility in Chattanooga.
Now faced with the responsibility of feeding five children — Juanita, 2; James, 7; Walter, 8; Lee, 9; and Patricia, 11 — on his own, Clyde’s struggles deepened. He lost his job. Unable to pay the monthly rent, he had been forced to move his family from a modest home on Young Road to an even smaller, aging little house on Kile Lake Road.
The engine in his car broke down and he had no means to pay for its repair. So he walked from employer to employer seeking work. Some were as close as Cleveland. Some were as far away as North Georgia. No one was hiring.
With no money, he could not even afford to have the electricity turned on in the tiny Kile Lake Road house. The family had no source of cool air in the midsummer heat. And without electricity, there was no means of using the home’s well water.
For two weeks, maybe three and perhaps even more, Clyde and his children hauled water in buckets from a nearby creek. The water was used for bathing and doing the laundry ... by hand. Clean water was given by a neighbor for drinking and cooking.
With no job, no government assistance and no hope of outside intervention, Clyde had no way to feed his hungry children. The kitchen shelves were bare. The refrigerator, even if it had been operating, sat empty. No seasonings lined the counters and there was nary even a drop of oil nor shortening to fry or to flavor.
Broken but not beaten, Clyde improvised. Each day, he and one or more children walked the woods and the roadsides foraging for a perennial green called pokeweed. In the South, when it is carefully prepared as food, it is known to most as polk salad. Bitter tasting, and most akin to turnip, collard or mustard greens, polk salad kept the family alive for what the siblings remember to be two to three weeks.
The children ate polk salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With no oil, no salt, no pepper and no vinegar, the greens were simply rinsed clean, boiled, rinsed again, boiled again and drained.
His pride unyielding, Clyde refused to ask for help ... except for the neighbor’s clean water.
Somewhere ... somehow ... sometime, the family’s plight became known. It was brought to the attention of the nearby Waterville Baptist Church. Deacons arrived late one night, knocked on the front door, respectfully shook Clyde’s hand and asked to speak with him in the yard.
It was probably there that desperation spilled from Clyde’s eyes, his thoughts filled in fear, his heart heavy with frustration. The deacons saw for themselves the dire need faced by this Cleveland family. They left and returned later that night with packs of uncooked hot dogs.
Cutting twigs from limbs and sharpening their ends, Clyde and his children roasted the weiners over the open flames of their fireplace. That night, they feasted.
The next day, the women of Waterville Baptist Church arrived bearing armloads of food — some cooked, and some to be cooked. Later in the day, light shined through open windows in the little home as electrical power was restored.
A congregation’s outreach had saved a struggling Cleveland family. The empty bellies of hungry children had been filled. And those children never forgot the kindness of strangers.
“Had they chosen just to look away, I truly believe we would have starved,” Patricia Truelove Holcomb, herself now a mom and grandmother, told our newspaper. “But someone stepped up and said, ‘I won’t look the other way. These children are worth my time to see what can be done to help them.’”
Forty years later as part of their family’s Thanksgiving, these five siblings met with Pastor Lovelace in the new Waterville Baptist Church sanctuary on Dalton Pike, and did this. They said “thank you” ... to a man, to a congregation, to a church and to the spirit of giving that dwells deep in the hearts of all who share this value: “I am my brother’s keeper.”
It is a tender story of Thanksgiving, one we pray will never be forgotten by those who embrace Cleveland and Bradley County as their chosen home.