Los Angeles was nice, but it was way too expensive, way too far away, and it never seemed like home. So I put in a bid to transfer to Delta’s Jacksonville reservation office, and I got it! In June of 1991, we gave our second-hand furniture back to Goodwill, packed up our personal belongings, and shipped them back to Jacksonville via Delta Cargo. The four of us left Los Angeles by car, headed back to Florida.
We made it to Jacksonville, got our furniture out of storage from Tampa, and moved into a nearly-new lease/option-to-purchase home in Orange Park, a suburb just south of Jacksonville. I loved our new home!
After living in an apartment in LA for the last year, I thought, we finally have a nice place to call home; a place to settle down, one that could be ours long term. Until my first day at work……
I walked in and found myself somewhere between disbelief and shock. It was nothing like the Los Angeles office. The carpet was worn, the walls needed paint, and they were still using the old big box single-screen computer monitors. My first thought: they’re going to close this office. 😳 I couldn’t help but mention it to a couple of the other employees but they thought I was crazy. So I decided not to worry about it; regardless if they closed the office or not, I was determined to trust God no matter what. Harold got a job at a local car dealer and I got used to working on the old computer monitors.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Orange Park was actually a great place to raise a family; nice schools, parks, and a good church, Ridgeway Baptist. We found a good medical clinic for Megan in Jacksonville at Nemour’s Children’s Hospital.
We also arranged for my mom to come stay for an extended visit with us there too. The only bad thing I remember about living here was the occasional stink in the air. Jacksonville is surrounded by trees; trees as far as the eye could see, and where there’s a lot of trees, a paper mill is likely nearby. I never knew paper mills could put out such an awful smell until living here. Fortunately, the prevailing winds usually kept the smell to the north of us.
Two of our favorite places to visit while living in this part of Florida were Green Cove Springs and St. Augustine. Green Cove Springs is an little old town with a couple of restaurants, shady oak trees and a nice playground. St. Augustine is an old beach town with lots of cute shops and restaurants. It was simply beautiful at Christmas 🎄time.
Approximately a year and a half after moving to Jacksonville, Delta management announced that they were going to close several offices over the next few months. Jacksonville ended up being one of those offices. So much for being crazy! I put in my bid to transfer to one of three cities to work in Delta Reservations:
- Atlanta, because it was the main headquarters.
- Miami, because it was in Florida.
- And Dallas, because it was in the Bible Belt.
In preparation for the move we gave up our leased home and moved into an apartment nearby on a short term lease. Michelle and Megan both made some new new friends right away which made the move a little bit easier.
Michelle and her friends often hung out in little groups outside our apartment listening to music on boom boxes. One day, just for fun, Harold put a boom box on his shoulder and we walked outside within eyeshot of the kids, turned up the volume and started walking/dancing around to the music. We thought it would make for a good laugh for everyone but it backfired. Michelle was so embarrassed; she started crying and ran down the street away from us! We were officially her weird parents at this point. 😳
A month or so after moving to the apartment, we decided we’d better make a weekend visit to Miami, just in case that was going to be our next home. Miami was pretty but it was way too hot and way more crowded than we expected. On the way home I started to have second thoughts about putting it on my bid. When we got back, we found our apartment had been ransacked. Several things had been stolen, including some clothes, a cute little lamp and a set of my mother’s rings. The thief even helped themselves to our food! I filled out a police report and then a couple of weeks later, I saw my cute little lamp, now broken, sticking up out of our next door neighbor’s trash sitting outside her door! I called the police to come back to talk to her. Long story short, the police recovered most of what was stolen, including some things I didn’t even realize were missing. The thief was actually our next door neighbor’s daughter, and one of Michelle’s new friends. She told the police that she came over to our house and unlocked our balcony door right before we went out of town. She then climbed over our adjoining balconies and helped herself to our stuff, all while we were gone. It was a strange experience and it made me sad that a neighbor, even a new neighbor no less, would do that to us.
After all of that, I was really looking forward to moving and it seemed like it was taking forever for the bid results to come out. I remember praying for God to please move us where He wanted us to go.
A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9
Finally, the results came in: Bible-Belt here we come! So after two years in Jacksonville, we moved to Lewisville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, in July of 1993. Furniture included! While our two previous moves were voluntary and only allowed us to bring our personal effects, this move included all of our household effects since they were closing the office. A professional mover came and packed everything and drove it by semi-truck to Texas.
Which brings me to my last story about our time in Jacksonville, and the title of this blog. Soon after moving to Orange Park we kept seeing a young man in his late 20’s or early 30’s, walking up and down the main road. He was thin and obviously homeless. I never saw him begging, he was almost always, just walking. I felt sorry for him so I started buying an extra cheeseburger whenever we’d go to McDonalds and then we’d look for him to give it to. I told the girls that we wouldn’t give him money, but a sandwich would be ok. I tried to talk to him a couple of times but he wasn’t much for talking; he was just so very sad. Sometimes we couldn’t find him and so we would just have an extra sandwich. So then I decided it might be better to put together some bags of snacks and bottled water, and keep them in my car to give to him. Michelle said that the kids at school called him “Johnny Walker” so that’s what we called him. They told her that he lost his job, his wife left, he drank too much, and he became homeless. Their inspiration may have been the whiskey, “Jonnie Walker” but I preferred to think of him as someone with the first name of “Johnny” who spent most of his days “walking.” To this day, I still wonder about him, but out of this experience grew a little street ministry that I’ve done for several years since: bags of snacks, water, toiletries, and a gospel track, to give away to random homeless people. I stock up at the Dollar Store once or twice a year and fill the bags all at once and then keep one in my car, ready to give away. People nowadays call them “Blessing Bags” but to me they are my “Johnny Walker” bags.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4
At first I hesitated to write about my Johnny Walker bags, but it really was the one memory that I took away from Jacksonville that made a lasting impression. It’s also my goal in writing to pass on what God has done in my life, so this is just that. Actually without His saving grace in my life I doubt if I’d have anything worthwhile in my life let alone anything worthwhile to write about.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10