I. The Young and Tender Years
My story begins as an average kid, you know, a rambunctious, curious, get into everything I was told not to get into, do it my own way type, as I’m sure many who are reading this were.
I was born a P.K., "preacher’s kid," on December 23, 1970 in Jackson, Mississippi. My dad, David Austin Watson, is a Methodist pastor in Jackson and was also a traveling evangelist when I was young. My father was raised in the same type of atmosphere when he was a child as his father was also a minister. So needless to say I was raised in a very religious family atmosphere and was in church every time the doors were open.
I enjoyed "growing up in the church" so to say, for the most part. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I looked forward to going to church all the time because I’d be lying. I am glad, however, that I had the opportunity to hear the Lord’s word and get an understanding of the Bible.
My father is a great speaker and knows the Bible very well. He has brought many people to know the Lord and has helped them discover the everlasting love that God has for us. My father dedicated his life to preaching to and teaching others at a young age, preaching his first sermon as a 13-year-old, and has been doing it ever since.
His father, the late Austin Watson, was also a great speaker and left this world after making a great impact on many people’s lives. Papaw, as we grandchildren called him, was what I would call a modern day disciple of God. He lived every day of his life to its fullest for the Lord and was a strong-hearted man who was the backbone of the Watson family. I am honored to have been named after him and hope to pass it on one day when I have children.
When I was around five years old, my dad took a job in Florence, Mississippi as president of Westminster College. It was a small bible college, which was his alma mater and where he met my mother, the former Linda Jeanette Jones. The school was founded in Tehuacana, Texas. Soon after my dad was named president of the institution the school’s name was changed to Wesley College and we moved into the "president’s house" that was provided by the college. The school usually had no more than 100 students and was founded to help people pursue some type of ministry.
We lived just across the street from the college in the president’s residence and I loved it. My younger brother, Michael, who is two years younger, and I had plenty of room to roam over the big piece of land where the house stood. With the college right across the street we spent a lot of time wandering over there playing, and getting to know the college kids. Michael and I usually were supposed to hang around the college’s cafeteria where we were watched by one of our baby-sitter’s Brenda, whom everyone called "Mac." We loved Mac.
She always kept us entertained by letting us play with the big pots and pans in the kitchen. We’d make mud pies and she’d go all out to entertain us. She would put our mud filled pies in the big cafeteria oven and actually cook them for us. She was really good at keeping our attention, but just because I wasn’t supposed to, I would sneak off and escape the area and do my own thing.
I was a very mischievous kid, I must admit. I was always getting into something and wanted to be in the middle of everything. I remember running around playing in the wide hallways in the main building until someone would tell me to calm down or get out while class was going on. I’d run around with the college students and either drive them crazy until they ran me off or mess with them until they finally gave in and played with me. Luckily most of them enjoyed having me around so I had a lot of older friends.
Most of the students that I hung around with were females. They would be the ones usually baby-sitting Michael and me when my parents went away. I remember one of my favorite things to do on campus was to just walk in wherever I wasn’t supposed to, basically just to see if I could get away with it.
My favorite place to sneak in was the
II. Life’s Transitions
The following year my family had something come our way that would change our current lifestyle. I’ll never forget that evening. It was a Friday night; my brothers and I had just finished watching one of our favorite movies as kids, The Wizard of Oz. My mom had the kitchen smelling heavenly, as she had made us our favorite dish...pizza! The night was going very well. Then it all went downhill.
While we were eating, my mom had a question for us.
"What do you boys think about moving to Alabama?" she inquired.
Our first reply without thinking it completely through was "Yeah!!!"
Alabama is where my mom’s family lived. I loved going to Delta, Alabama in the small community in Clay County and roaming around the countryside. I had two cousins, Mark and Douglas, who were around the same age as I. They could find more things to do in those hills in Alabama than you could in city life as a kid any day. We would roam the woods hunting with BB guns, stopping at creeks and catching crawfish, swimming in the pond down the road, or just lying under my grandmother’s musky dime vines and eating them until we were sick.
These are the visions that I had in my head when my mom asked if we wanted to move east. My dad was out of town preaching so I assumed we would get ready to leave once he returned.
"When are we gonna leave?" I excitedly asked. "When daddy gets back?"
"No your dad won’t be going," she said with a pale look. "We’re getting a divorce."
I could feel my heart drop and my face flush as tears filled my eyes. I dropped my food on my plate and looked at my mom and exclaimed "WHAT?!!"
I was in complete shock. Michael and I began crying and we were confused and didn’t understand. Jon-Jon was in his high chair with food all over his face and hands. So he has no memory of the happenings that night at all.
I don’t remember many more details after getting the news and breaking down balling. The one thing I do remember, however, was my mom looking us all in the eye and confirming that in no way was their separation caused by us. That was very important for me to know and I appreciate both of my parents letting us know that we had nothing to do with their separating.
III. Starting A New
As my dad and I rolled toward Jackson I was still sick to my stomach after getting my emotions all messed up. So the trip was stretched a little longer than normal, as I had to make several stops to the restroom. My dad did his very best to comfort me and began telling me of the happenings that were going on.
My stepmom, Rebecca, whom we called Becky, was pregnant and would be having my father’s fourth child before long. I was so excited to hear that I was going to have another brother or sister. I would have been happy with another brother, but I was honestly hoping that she’d have a girl because I already had two brothers and I wanted a little sister to help look after.
My dad was the pastor at Lakeshore Congregational Methodist Church where he had taken over after Papaw retired. It was steadily growing and more young people were coming now. He told me about all of the church’s youth activities and how much fun the kids were having. I was really looking forward to getting started in Jackson again. He continued to tell me of the happenings in the church and I was going to have to readjust to going to church again practically every other day. I would be going to church every time the doors were open just as I did as a kid. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because I believe it’s good to be active in church. And I was looking forward to it to a certain extent. It was just going to be an adjustment.
I had a lot of special friends at Lakeshore. It has such a family-type atmosphere that makes you want to be there. There are so many kind people there that are good and really enjoy one another.
I remember when Michael and I were together at my dad’s, we’d always look forward to going home with some of our buddies after church or them coming home with us. We were close to a lot of guys who loved sports just as we did. One of our pals, Chris Butts, was as big a sports nut as we were. Either he came over to our house after the morning service or we went to his house.
We were also really close to a couple of characters from the Sherer family, who had been going to church with us for as long as I can remember. Justin and Lance Sherer, were the same age as Michael and I; Lance being my age and Justin, Michael’s equal. They even had a younger brother, Josh, who was Jon-Jon’s age along with a baby sister Lindsey. We really got to be close friends and engaged in a lot of wild and exciting times with those guys.
Justin and Lance were both very good athletes and were very involved with sports. They were also all about having fun as wild, rambunctious boys. We loved going over to the Sherer’s. I don’t think I want to tell all of our wild stories. We weren’t that bad, just crazy kids that liked to get into too much.
When I think about all the things we did many adventures come to mind, but one in particular always sticks out.
They lived in a big house out in the country and there was plenty of land for us to roam, which gave us plenty of things to get into. One day Justin, Lance, Michael, and I went venturing off on our bikes when we came to an old barn. The barn was filled with hay in the loft and we decided we’d go up there and check it out. Once up there we started wrestling around in the hay and of course Lance made Justin mad and things got louder as they argued and wrestled each other. We started getting rough and making more noise as we threw hay and one other around. Then suddenly, we heard someone other than ourselves.
"Who’s that?" we asked quietly, freezing in whatever position we were in.
"Get out of there!" someone yelled.
Well Michael, Justin, and I didn’t wait around to see who it was. We got out of there. Lance wasn’t with us though. Where was he? He was curious to see who it was, I guess, because he stayed back. I wasn’t surprised that he hung around, as he was pretty extreme as a kid.
As we were running across the pasture I could swear that I heard something that sounded like a gunshot. My legs went numb from fear and I was running so hard I nearly fell. I remember my heart beating so hard that I thought it would come through my chest. By the time we got across the fence and felt safe we looked back for Lance and here he came bailing out of the loft, grabbing his bike and booking it down through the pasture.
"Let’s go," he said with a strange grin.
We weren’t grinning though; we were scared. That’s just the way Lance was, always pushing things to the limit to see how far he could get away with it, and we really loved it. When we see one another every once in awhile we relive our stories together and get tickled at the things we used to do.
All of these memories of fun times in Jackson were making me get excited, as we got closer to the Mississippi state line. I was also looking forward to
IV. The Move Back To ‘Bama
After thinking over my decision, I again came to the conclusion that I wanted to be with my mom and brothers. After I completed the first semester of tenth grade at Jim Hill I was going to pack up and move back to Alabama. I called my mom and told her of my decision to see what she thought.
"Of course you can move back here," she said. "I can’t wait to have all of my boys again."
I then started breaking the news to my friends. There were going to be some really tough goodbyes, but everyone pretty much understood how hard it was for me to be away from my brothers. It was especially difficult being away from Michael, who was only 23 months younger than I. We had always had a lot in common and were becoming closer and gaining more respect for one another, as we got older. I also wanted to be there for my baby brother as well. It seemed that every time I saw Jonathan he had learned more, gotten bigger and taller, made friends, had started noticing girls weren’t so bad after all, and was just basically growing up. I really wanted to be a part of seeing him grow too.
It was really tough leaving Kevin though, who was like a brother to me himself. He at first couldn’t understand why I was going to leave everything we’d begun. In the end, however, he saw that I needed to be there with my mom and brothers.
As I began moving in I started meeting Michael’s friends, and their friends, friends of my own, and that was it, because I pretty much knew everyone in the tiny town by then. My mom had rented an apartment in Ashland, Alabama. It was going to be a big change from living in Jackson. Jim Hill had around 2,000 students in attendance. The small east Alabama town of Ashland was about equal in its total population as the school’s enrollment I was leaving.
The high school there in Ashland had an enrollment of only 250 to 300 students. Michael warned me of the big changes that I’d be seeing. After all, he’d gone to school at Whitten during his seventh grade year before transferring to Clay County High School.
"This place is nothing like Jackson," he said. "This is a small town and people love to talk."
"Ah, it’s cool," I said. "I can deal with it."
"All right," he said. "But be ready to hear anything."
"It can’t be that bad," I replied.
"No," he said. "It’s a great place to live, it’s just different than what you’re used to."
Yeah, yeah, whatever, I thought to myself.
He had hit it right on the head though.
V. March 3, 1988
The 3rd day of March in 1988 is a day that I will never be able to forget. My brother and I were headed to Alexander City to fulfill our dream of becoming a successful band when it all came crashing down. My life, my family member’s lives, and many of my friend’s lives have been changed forever since that day. It is a date in life’s history that I think about every day and wonder what things would be like had it never happened.
What would my life be like? What would I be doing? Where would I be? Would I be living at all? These are some of the things I wonder about had that day never existed. I don’t know the answers to those questions. All I know is that it was God’s will for it to happen. Why? I don’t completely know that either, but I will know the answers to all of those questions one day.
VI. Beginning Rehab
On March 22, 1988, I was admitted into the Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center. The medics rolled me through the hospital’s lobby, on to an elevator and up to the third floor, which was MMRC’s spinal injury unit. They took me into room 315, lifted me over to the hospital bed, wished me well and were off.
After the medics got me over into the bed two nurses came in and started taking the sheets off to get me situated. I didn’t like this. These ladies were just coming in here and exposing my naked body like it was nothing. It was something that I’d have to get used to, but I wasn’t trying to get used to it that day.
"No, I just want my mom," I cried out like a scared little boy.
With my feeling uncomfortable my mom got very upset. I’m sure back then my mom wasn’t sure what to say or do, but it always seemed to be the right thing some how or another. She knew I was going to have to adapt to the nurses helping me because she couldn’t do it all. Plus, before too long she was going to have to go back to Alabama and go back to work. My mom talked to me about how I was going to have to let the nurses do their jobs.
"You’re going to have to let them help you, baby," she said with tears in her eyes. "I’ll be here for you, but you’re going to have to let them help us, okay?"
VII. Going home
On August 15, 1988 I left the Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center and headed to Alabama. My dad drove me to my mom’s to help me settle in the small apartment where I’d begin my new life. It was going to be very cramped living in those quarters, after being in rehab. I wasn’t going to have a shower to roll in as I did at rehab.
Instead I’d have to slide over onto a shower bench to bathe. It was going to be a real adjustment going from rehab, where I could get anywhere I needed to, to hardly being able to get anywhere on my own.
I had several other adjustments to make as well. I could no longer call a nurse in the middle of the night to bring me a drink of water, something to eat, or whatever else. I could call my mom for anything and she’d come see what I needed. I could also ask Jon-Jon, who slept in the bed beside me, for something and he’d get it. My mom and brother, though, had to get up early in the morning for work and school so it definitely wasn’t the same and took time for me to get used to.
When I got up in the mornings I couldn’t do much more than sit there and wait for my mom and brother to get home. I was really having a tough time dealing with things during those days. I had gotten very depressed and even...
IX. Our Shattered Love
Kim was continuing to come see me a lot and I was going to see her as often as I could. We began working our schedules out so that we could see each other nearly every other weekend. Of course it wasn’t as easy for me to just load up and go see her. So she usually came to my house where we seemed to have the most fun back then.
Another special thing about Kim was that she never looked upon me as being disabled. I was confined to a wheelchair, which caused obstacles for us, but we really did most everything any other couple did. We went out to the movies, to dinner, to parties, and other things. We were just happy being with one another.
After awhile, as our relationship grew, our phone bills were growing as well and we weren’t getting to spend enough time together. We knew we were going to have to do something to try and be closer to one another to make things work. We wanted our relationship to stay strong and last because we were truly in love.
One day when she was there for a weekend we stayed up late talking and telling each other that we loved each other and wanted to always be together. We decided that we needed to be closer to one another to make our relationship last. She told me that once she finished up with school she wanted to move in with me if that would be all right with my mom. I was ecstatic. That would be perfect. I was ready for her to just move in right then, and so was she. After clearing it with my mom that’s exactly what she did. She went home, told her mom and dad her plans, packed up, and moved in with me in Alabama.
At that time of my life my family had a lot of things happening. I was finishing up school, we were trying to work with the state on funding for some of my needs, and we were beginning a lawsuit against Chrysler.
We had gotten a lawyer that my mom knew and he was looking into faults the vehicle had when we were riding home the night of the accident. So as I said a lot was happening all at one time. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all that would be going on in our lives.
Not long after Kim moved in she noticed a lump forming on her chest. She kept saying that it was probably just a bruise or something. I was hoping and praying that’s all it was.
X. Getting Back Up
My friends and family rallied strongly around me and did their best to get me going with the will to drive on again. It was going to be hard to reload and carry on after losing another close loved one.
I spent three good years with her and no one can take those moments away from me. They were some of the happiest days of my life. I knew it was going to be a totally different way of living for me without her by my side, just as it was when I lost my brother. I wanted to carry on with my life as well and live it to the fullest until my time comes to pass. And when that day does come I’ll be with all those I’ve lost and we’ll go on from there through eternity.
As I said during the time after Kim’s passing things were like a blurry nightmare and my mind stayed in a state of shock for several months. My family really helped keep me going though. My cousin Tim was always there for me, keeping me going with plenty of things to do. He spent a lot of time with me back then. Larry, whom I’ll always consider family, drove up to the hills of Alabama to check on me often as well. My dad and Becky also lent a gentle helping hand. My mom and brother, who were also close to Kim, hurt along with me and guided me through the fight during those tough days.
XI. Finishing College & Facing More Transitions
The following spring semester of 1998, 10 years after my accident, I was set to finish my senior year and needed only 18 more credit hours to graduate. I wanted to go through the May graduation ceremony with several of my friends who were to finish that same spring. The university would allow me to be recognized in that spring’s ceremony if I finished at least 12 hours that semester. I would have to get the other six hours during that following summer session. I was very appreciative to the powers that be for allowing me and several others to do that, because 18 hours is a load, especially when working and going to school.
I don’t see how a lot of my friends did it. I mean, they’d take 21 hours sometimes while still having a load of activities outside the classroom. A good example of this is a guy named Anthony Boone.
XII. Finding the Missing Pieces
Speaking of the dance clubs, we were becoming regulars at several from Oxford to Memphis. I love the clubs. You get to meet so many people and see their true personalities come out. I also still had a passion for music and am not hesitant in the least to get out on the dance floor and stay there until the place closes. I’m not up on my feet, but I use what I do have to...uh...uh...uh—get down with the rhythm. I love rolling up to a girl who can really work it and get loose. A club with good music and fun people is something I really have fun with and I thank God I’m still able to enjoy it.
XIII. The Here and Now
In conclusion I want to let you know where my family, and close friends and I are now and what we’re doing.
Julie and I have now been married for two years and are doing well. We are living in Jacksonville, Alabama where Jon-Jon and I opened our own "Coop DeVille" after finally getting in touch with the founders, Scott and Susan Brennan. We opened our "Coop" in Jacksonville, Alabama, near Jacksonville State University. We decided that because we spent so much of our money eating from "Coop" while at Ole Miss we ought to invest in it. Everything is going pretty well with the restaurant now that it is getting established.
I am very proud of my younger brother who has become a very responsible man, one who has used his business degree well.