Abram McGull II shares his thoughts on community, service and St. Augustine grass.
By Abram McGull II, FY20 Board Chair
On Lemon Meringue & St. Augustine Grass
What is community? The answer to that question seems vague in our current world that is divided on so many issues. I learned, at a very early age that “community” was mowing the lawns of the widows in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans during the oppressively hot and humid summers.
I hated St. Augustine grass. Those green and leafy blades held moisture like the swampy bayous of south Louisiana. On Saturday mornings, I didn’t sleep in and wake to the sounds of cartoons on television. I was roused by my mother’s incessant demand: “Get up boy!” I knew her initial demand was not urgent. With my eyes still closed, I could smell the bacon cooking in the kitchen. But when I heard the sounds of the metal belt buckle growing louder in that shotgun house, I knew it was time to roll out of my bed.
She insisted I had a full stomach and a One a Day vitamin before the southern heat mixed with the foggy Dixie mornings. No, I could not wait until the late evening to mow the lawns of complete strangers in the neighborhood when the grass was drier and easier to cut. She insisted I do my charity work in the heat of the day when my friends were still in deep sleep or watching the many adventures of Jonny and his side-kicks Hadji and Bandit.
Her instructions were unequivocal: “You cannot accept anything but a drink of water.” So, I mowed, complained beneath my breath and drank the water from the widows who lost their husbands of 30 or 40 years and listened to their life stories in between the mowing jobs.
Through the eyes of a 10-year-old, I did not understand the value of the lesson my mother was teaching me. Five years later, I got my first paying job cleaning and preparing local schools for the fall. I got that position through the nudging of a school teacher who lived three houses down. I was proud to earn that first paycheck at 15 years old. The first thing I planned to buy with my money was a lemon meringue pie from McKenzie’s Bakery. And I looked forward to having that whole pie to eat by myself.
Well, I got that first paycheck and bought that cherished pie and put it in the refrigerator until after dinner. Coincidentally, the spinster teacher that helped me get my summer job paid us a visit that evening. As she was being escorted into our tiny kitchen, I could hear my mother say, “we just finished dinner but you are welcome to a slice of lemon meringue pie.” Not any pie, but my pie!
Abram McGull II is always proud to represent his alma mater, Louisiana State University.
Nearly five decades later and 700 miles from my birthplace, I feel right at home. About the same time I was learning my mother’s lessons on altruism and charity, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks was formed.
For more than 45 years and through the generosity of scores of donors, the CFO has helped widows, orphans, homeless, and others in dire need of someone to surround them with love and a helping hand.
These extensions of love and support to those in need are the true foundation on which our sense of community is built. The lessons that I was reluctant to learn from my mother all those years ago make perfect sense to me now.
Originally published in the CFO’s 2019 Annual Report.