I was born February 23, 1945 the third and last child of Oliver and Eunice Heatherly. I pretty sure I wasn't planned; it was probably the result of a spare of the moment notion my Dad had. Keep in mind, that most people who are for birth control have already been born.
Then, I must consider my Mother was the nineteenth child in her family; born when my Grandfather Isaac Bridges was 65 years old, a farmer and local surgeon and dentist. Eunice had so many brothers and sisters that some of them were not related, not to mention her feet seldom touched the floor before she was 6 years old.
I was very young when I was born - nothing special about that. However, there was something unusual and maybe even a bit peculiar in that I still have vivid memories of when I was less than one year old - recalling situations, vivid images and the words spoken. This included the "crib of rejection" (my excuse, but that's for later).
Before departing the old farmhouse on the hill of Friendsville in November 1945, I been intrigued by a fire place that could be seen from two different bedrooms. There were steep steps to the attic that I was forbidden to climb. I had been fascinated by the spiral pattern of holes in the copper covering the door of the pie saver cupboard and stirring my fingers in the red sandy soil at the barn.
Having been born on the day that the American flag was raised on Iwo Jima commemorated by Rosenthal's most reproduced photo, it seems fitting that I can recall an announcement in September that same year. I was lying on a blue blanket with a satin border in the floor by my Grandfather Wess' battery power radio. I was puzzled by the clamor my Mother made in reaction to the words from the radio, "The war is over!"
The calendar marked my first year with events of worldwide significance. Perhaps these things were symbolic of things to come - like goodness and mercy amidst the heartbreaks, overcoming evil with good, and knowing light never flees from darkness. Nevertheless, my extraordinary memory terminated with my fifth episode of childhood Pneumonia as a result of a record 109-degree temperature. I remember the doctors saying to my parents, "If he lives, he probably won't be able to speak or walk or even recognize you." (Don't accept a bad report!)
I helped with the farm work as best I could. Before I began school at the age of 5, I could handle a hoe in the garden, the feed livestock their grain and catch the chicken that was to be Sunday dinner. I thought of myself as a race car driver as I stood in the floor board of the family truck, steering through the field as we harvested watermelons and such.
I was wearing a pair of shorts and barefooted on a warm spring day. My Mother asked me to gravel a few Irish potatoes for supper. Quickly, I rounded up a bucket and then searched for something to dig with. The only thing suitable was an ice pick from the tool cabinet on the back porch. Ice pick turned upward in my hand, I ran full speed past the milk house toward the upper garden where the potatoes grew.
Suddenly, I stumbled over a rock in the path, falling face forward hard upon the ice pick. I rolled over to discover that the ice pick was stuck in my breastbone. Tried as I may, I did not have the strength to pull it out. So, with a trickle of blood down my bare belly from the ice pick sticking out of my chest, I walked into the house and said, "Mom!" My next task was trying to revive my fainted Mother lying in the kitchen floor.
It was beyond my reasoning, why I should get a whipping for not killing myself with an ice pick. So, you might understand that when split my toe with an ax, I just wrapped it up saying only that I had stumped my toe, and I limped because it was a bit sore. At 60 years old, the two halves of that toe nail finally grew back together. (You can't really get away with denial; the reminders will be with you for some time.)
In 1952, at seven years of age, and I asked the pastor of the Greenback Presbyterian Church to baptize me in the Little Tennessee River. The pastor's comment: "I don't know if we made a Presbyterian of Leonard, or he made a Baptist of us."
An early childhood experience changed my thinking. I devised a way to enjoy my Western Flyer Sled even though it was a sunny summer day, by pouring water down a long steep hill in the shade of the hickory tree near the creek. The sled glided down the slick path almost as fast as it would on snow. However, I tired of dragging the sled, which weighed near as much as me, then came a brilliant idea. There was a long rope in the old barn, which I fetched and tied to one the big hickories at the top of the hill - seeing in my mind how much easier it would be walking back up and then pulling the sled up by the rope.
With a running start, I jumped onto the sled and zipped down the slippery slope full of glee. It was a most unpleasant surprise when I suddenly ran out of rope about 3/4's of the way down. I, not so gently, decelerated a ways on my chin and knees on the muddy slope.
This ride made an impression upon me in more than one way. I remember seeing the image in my mind about the rope and tree, but I failed to think it through or check out the details. This experience influenced my later decision to become an engineer, and very importantly, while I knew I saw visions -they had to be thought through. To this day, God generally shows me an image first, then I am to interpret and respond.
In 1960 my older brother, Carlos who had been a real work horse on the farm, left home in search of his future in Iowa. It was during Christmas vacation that both of my school teacher parents, left the dairy farm in my hands while they took a vacation at my Aunt Jessie's in Florida. When my parents returned a few days later, my Dad said that we must get some help and hand-off the tobacco cause the market would soon close. I told Dad that his tobacco crop had sold the day before. Then, I went on to explain how he owed wages to the help I hired and for the truck that took it to Knoxville.
So from then till graduation from Greenback High School in '62, the whole farm was mine to take care of. I grew crops for myself as well as for the cattle, and raise my own livestock to finance my own way. This included sleeping beside the farrowing pen when the time came to be an obstetrician for the sow and her Yorkshire pedigreed baby pigs; these pigs brought $40 each as breeding stock when weaned piglets sold for about $3 a piece.
It was that same year, 1952, when I began to hear the call upon my life. It had something to do with Africa, but I was sure I didn't want to be a preacher - not like the ones I had seen. So, I ran from the notion for 50 years; it wasn't until December 2002 that I first step on African soil. (People say, "Better late than never," but sometimes it is better late than too early. For without my white hair, I would not have been recieved by the Maasai.)