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Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.  [Ecclesiastes 12:1]

Precious Memories
    One crisp, autumn night in 1923, at his home near Hamlin, Texas, the thoughts of a gentle, unassuming farmhand turned to the days of his youth - days before the family circle was broken. Days when cares of the world were unknown. J. B. F. Wright was not yet an old man, but several events had occurred which caused him to reflect back upon happier days. He was born in Tennessee, February 21, 1877, the fifth of twelve children. His parents, George Washington and Casandra (Coley) Wright III, moved to Limestone County, Texas, when he was only two years old. It was there in a community called Box Church, located just four miles southeast of Groesbeck, Texas, that he spent the happy days of his youth. He attended the community school, fell in love, and married a local girl named Fannie Jackson. To this union were born eight children. 
    Box Church is a unique name for a town.  Some local folks speculate the community received its name from a circuit preacher named “Box,” who often came to the area to preach, thus “Box’s” church. Others feel that the name came when one of the first church buildings constructed in the area was square, like a box, thus “The Box Church”.  However the settlement developed its name, Box Church became a thriving community of 300-400 people, complete with several stores, churches, and even a sawmill. In 1902, Mr. Wright took his young bride, left the old homestead and, as he puts it, “rambled over Texas for many years.” He was a farmer by trade, but later he became the custodian and nurseryman for Cisco Junior College, Cisco, Texas, from which he retired in the early 1950s.
    John Wright’s mother was one of “the sweetest singers of her generation,” as he told Clint Bonner, a hymnologist.  The songwriter’s earliest memories were of his father and mother singing together the songs of their youth. It was this early environment which inspired Mr. Wright to write more than 500 songs.  He falls into a category with a fortunate few who spend a lifetime writing songs, and for some unexplainable reason, comes up with THE SONG which eclipses all the others, and lifts one to an imperishable place in the hearts of the people.  This happened to John Braselton Fillmore Wright when he wrote Precious Memories.
    In 1909, word came to John Wright that his mother had “gone home to glory.”  Five years later his father died.  The now middle-aged song-writer recounts that the loss of his parents had a “tremendous effect on my life” and their memory “has lingered through all these changing years.”  Once before, Mr. Wright returned to the scenes of his childhood and wrote a few sentimental songs, but these songs have long since been forgotten. But it was on the still, autumn night of October 23, 1923, while he lived in Hamlin, Texas, that scenes of the home he had left 20 years before unfolded in his mind, and he was inspired to write his famous song.
    Perhaps the event, which weighed most heavily on his heart that autumn night, was the recent death of their youngest son, Everett Jackson Wright. “We lived by the railroad, below Hamlin, Texas” Mr. Wright wrote some years later. “Little three-year-old Everett would watch for the ‘chwains,’ as he called them, and he would stand at the frontyard gate and wave his little hands to the trainmen as they passed our house. They would always wave back to him. On Sunday evening, January 22, 1922, he (Everett) was stricken with “Membrane’s Croup” (now known as Diphtheria) and the next day, just as the sun went down, our little boy was dead. For many days after this, when the trains would pass the trainmen would be watching for little Everett to wave, but he was not there. Many times I watched them looking for him, and I wept and cried.” Some time later as he reflected back on that autumn night in 1923 when he wrote his famous hymn, Mr. Wright said, “when my thoughts turned to my own little son whom we had buried the year before, I bathed my pillow in tears.” Thus, true to the line of the poem, it was actually in the stillness of midnight that he wrote:
Precious mem’ries, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul;
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious, sacred scenes unfold.
    Recently, Barbara and I had the opportunity to visit Hamlin and to locate the old J. L. Keen farm just east of town where the Wright family lived and worked. Only a few remnants of sheds still exist where once vibrant families worked and played. The railroad no longer exists even though the built-up roadbed remains. Standing there along a modern highway which now cuts through the front yard of the old homestead, you can still capture a mental picture of times gone by, a time when Mr. Wright was inspired to write Precious Memories.  It’s easy to visualize the trains coming by so near to the house. If you looked about a mile west, you could see the cemetery where Everett Wright was buried and imagined what Mr. Wright must have felt when he was inspired to write his famous hymn. The song first appeared in “Harbor Bells,” published by V. O. Stamps in 1925. It listed J. B. F. Wright as the owner, but with no copyright. According to Nellie Wright, a distant cousin, “a verbal agreement (was made) with Mr. Stamps that every time the song was recorded, he’d get a certain percentage royalty.  He only got royalty from the first recording that amounted to $36.00. Then Mr. Stamps died and his heirs would not honor the agreement.”
    We often talk about one’s education and what academic level of higher learning we have achieved.  There is no doubt that formal education is essential in today’s world. However, some good, sacred memory preserved from childhood is perhaps the best education one could obtain. There is nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing more wholesome, and nothing better for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of church, or of home. One of the most critical factors in making right decisions is precious memories.
    Fond memories can bring comfort and peace and even help us make it through the day.  But negative memories can drain us and keep us from enjoying life.  The uniqueness of memories is that we have control. You chose what to remember.  It is not a single, negative experience that causes one to be so depressed that they cannot function. It is the accumulation of negative thoughts in one’s memory that can render us helpless.  How can we control our thoughts so that our positive memories are the ones that influence us?  Remember all our experiences, good or bad, but do not dwell on either.  Rather, heed the words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
 Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. [Philippians 4:8]
By Robert J. Taylor
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