Some Personal Stories to help you get better acquainted with
Mediator, Joe B. Hewitt
The Night The Baby Died
I was standing at the foot of the bed when the baby died.
My grown sister, Naomi, and her big, tough husband, Walton, sobbed in grief as they lay across the bed. Mama and our 14-year-old sister, Wanda, frantically worked with the baby, trying to keep him alive. Mama gave him an enema in hopes of reducing the fever.
The memory seared permanently in my mind: I can still see, looking through the eyes of a toddler at eye level to Naomi and Walton’s feet, with their shoes pointing down, hanging over the edge of the bed. I remember looking up to Mama and Wanda while they frantically worked with the baby as he lay on the kitchen counter. As they worked, they wept. My sister, Rose and I cried too.
I was not yet three. She was four.
Naomi and Walton were one of the most handsome couples in Boone County, Arkansas. They had a beautiful baby boy they named Bobbie Lee. Living in a little two-room house Walton had built on his Dad’s farm, Naomi and Walton were in love, happy and planning to build a future.
A few weeks earlier, while driving the few miles into the little town of Bergman, Naomi and Walton helped a woman and four small children who had been walking down the gravel road, not an unusual sight in 1934 when the world was in deep depression. The grateful mother loaded her children into the car and admired the five-month-old Bobbie Lee. Her children coughed all the way to Bergman.
Bobbie Lee contracted whooping cough and died. Hearts that had been so full of love, hope, and optimism were suddenly crushed and replaced by profound grief that permeated the very soul.
“I’ll never have another baby,” Naomi vowed.
In 1937 Mama had another baby, John Gordon, named after her father. Naomi and Walton came for a visit from Texas, where Walton was now a roughneck in the oil field.
“When I held that baby, I couldn’t help it. I wanted a baby,” Naomi said. She had four more children.
At age 16 Naomi assisted the midwife at my birth. Naomi and I were always close. She was sort of an assistant mother to me. For the rest of her life she embarrassed me with her favorite introduction, “This is my baby brother, Joe B. I used to diaper his butt.”
Throughout her life, any time she talked about Bobbie Lee, she wept. I visited Naomi a few months before she died in January, 2002, at the age of 87. Unable to stand, she was in a wheelchair in a nursing home. We talked about old times. When the subject of Bobbie Lee came up, she wept again.
What has this story have to do with mediation? Nothing. But it has a lot do say about a mediator who has seen life, heartaches, triumph, and death, and who can empathize with people.
Sales Training Paid Off
By Joe B. Hewitt, Mediator
Having “been there and done that” increases the effectivness of a mediator. At age 19 I trained salesmen for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Many preliminaries worked up to the final goal, getting the prospect's signature on the dotted line and arrangements for payment. I taught trainees to stick with the prescribed sales procedure and not be sidetracked from the goal of closing the sale. Lessons learned at such a young age have stayed with me.
When I am mediating a case, I don’t lose sight of the goal: settlement. We may go around the block discussing feelings, but I always steer the parties back to the goal of settlement.
A lifetime ago Dale Carnegie designed Britannica’s sales procedure. When salesmen stuck with it without deviation, they could average 1 sale out of 5 presentations. The main ingredient was confidence. I taught them to go into the sales procedure believing in the product and our ability to sell it.
I remember these lessons too in mediation. I believe in mediation. I am confident in my ability to help iron out differences and get people together. And, gratefully, my average is much better than 20 per cent.
On rare occasions when I have to declare an impasse, that doesn't mean I quit working on the case. I stay in touch with the parties, continuing to try to settle right up until trial date. It is not unusual for me to recess a mediation to give time to gather documents, and settle the case weeks or months later.
My Life Before Birth
By Joe B. Hewitt
In 1926 my Dad drove his Model T Ford from his Oklahoma farm far north to the Peace River Valley to claim free land the Canadian government offered to World War I veterans. He left my mother and two older sisters in Edmonton, Alberta, while he continued on north-west another 300 miles. All this helped determine where I would be born.
“Wheat was shoulder high,” Dad reported when he got back to Edmonton. Mom didn’t share his excitement. She had been born in North Texas and grew up there and in Oklahoma, places much warmer than northern Alberta. After returning to their farm Mom talked him out of moving to Canada.
But that wasn’t the end of the adventure.
Dad still craved a new scene, a new challenge. Two years later he sold the Oklahoma farm and staked out a homesteaded 40 miles south of Grants, New Mexico, just west of the Continental Divide. He and many other farmers hauled their flatland horses to the 6,600 feet altitude free land offered by the United States government. The farmers believed this beautiful country covered with piñon pine trees would make good farm land.
They planted corn and beans, food staples for poor folks in the Americas. Dad built a cabin and general store out of pine logs on a dry, little traveled road and opened a gas station.
Without benefit of rainfall figures for previous years, the homesteaders put in dry ground seed that stayed there. (With only 11 inches of annual rainfall the area almost qualified to be desert.) The newcomers worked the ground for two years and planted more corn and beans. The horses never acclimated to the high altitude and died. The corn and bean seeds never sprouted.
The land did produce bountiful piñon pine nuts. Navajos came through in large groups each autumn, gathering the nuts. Mom had a problem with some of the Navajo women. Wearing long dresses they crowded into the little store. When they left, entire bolts of cloth mysteriously left with them.
A howling blizzard didn’t affect me personally, being still cozy in my mother’s womb, but it brought an event that broke the boredom of being snowbound for the rest of the family. Cocooned in the snug log cabin while windblown snow took over outside, my Mom, Dad, and sisters heard a loud “bump” on the cabin’s front door. Dad opened the door and a tall, muscular Native American man fell through the opening and onto the floor.
The family got the nearly frozen man to bed and warmed him until he could speak. They understood not a word, and he understood no English. Dad spoke French and Spanish, but the guest apparently understood only his native tongue. He stayed with the family two months without conversing and left in better weather.
Early in the homesteading experience before she knew the farm was doomed Mom wrote a letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News urging more people to homestead in the area so they could gain enough children to start a school. People responded and soon built a school. The newcomers too cleared piñon pines and planted corn and beans.
Hard work and frugality didn’t pay off.
Tough times got tougher. People went broke. Hungry kids cried. Folks came to my parents’ little store and asked to buy groceries on credit. Mom and Dad didn’t have the heart to turn them down. So they all went broke together.
Since I was yet to see the light of day, I learned later about another event that, in the depths of poverty, meant a lot to the family. A sheep wandered on our property from who-knows-where. Dad shot it and the family had a feast.
Dad explored the area on horseback and hunted deer to help feed the family. After one of his forays he announced that he had found the Hole in the Wall, a hideout for bandits. He cautioned the family to keep it quiet.
When the labor pains started, Dad drove Mom and my 16-year-old sister, Naomi, over the rough dirt road north to Grants located just north of black rock lava beds called Mal Pies. He deposited Mom and Naomi at a tourist court owned by the local nurse-midwife, and returned home with the two younger girls.
In those pre-sonogram days, Mom had no idea if I would be male or female. She was just sure I would be big and American. When I arrived at 10 pounds, Naomi assisted with my birth and became my second mother. (My being born in Grants had nothing to do with the east-west highway through there later becoming famous Route 66.)
For the rest of her life even when we were both old, when Naomi introduced me to someone, she mercilessly said, “This is my baby brother, Joe B. I used to diaper his butt.”
While I was still new, Mom sat in the front seat of the truck as it rumbled over a rough lane. She held me on her lap and held a horse’s lead rope in her right hand. Dad drove slowly so the horse could keep up. Paying more attention to the new baby, Mom idly wrapped the rope around her right index finger. Dad stopped the truck to open a gate. Something spooked the horse. He bolted and ran. The twined rope jerked Mom’s finger off.
Dad searched the ground outside the truck, found the finger, wrapped it in a clean handkerchief, and headed back down the dirt road to Grants.
The only doctor available was blind. As he sawed off the end of Mom’s splintered finger bone, he accidentally cut Dad held her still. The doctor reattached the finger as best he could, considering his handicap and the limits of medical science in 1931.
After a few days back home in the cabin Mom’s finger turned black, obviously dead flesh had to be removed because gangrene had set in. Dad took her back to the blind doctor. He removed the dead finger, stretched skin over the stub and sewed it up. I remember noticing as a little child how my mother’s middle finger functioned as an index finger. Even the fingernail took the narrow shape of the normal index finger. She played the piano, sewed, and functioned normally with only four fingers on her right hand.
Dad had been in France, part of the United States Expeditionary Force helping the French and British in the war against Germany. Fortunately he didn’t have to fight in the trenches. Rather as a member of the new Army Air Corps he was on the forefront of modern technology. He repaired and maintained airplane engines.
Dad became a Francophile. He learned French, ate like a European, always using the fork with the left hand. He became an expert at loading peas on the back of a fork.
While he was in France wildcatters discovered oil on Dad’s property near Borger, Texas, and he came home a rich man.
Beautiful Grace met handsome and rich Joe, and in 1918 they married. Dad built a new house in Duncan, Oklahoma, hired a maid to help, and Joe and Grace settled down to married life. Dad bought several rent houses, an auto body shop, a farm, and Mom a full set of sterling silverware.
Dad preferred to travel and go hunting rather than stay home and take care of business. By the time he got to the Peace River Valley, his fortune had diminished down to one farm, which he sold to finance the New Mexico adventure, general store and gasoline station.
The New Mexico homesteaders starved out and most of them moved away. Stories still linger around the Continental Divide about the “Corn and Bean Farmers” who buried seed in dry ground that never sprouted and endured hard labor and distress for their wives and children.
Dad listened to someone who told him about wonderful opportunities in Arkansas. So many acorns covered the ground in the virgin forests that you could let hogs range like cattle. They would get fat on the acorns, multiply their numbers, and all you had to do was round them up and take them to market.
So at the age of 18 months, I went off to Arkansas on another adventure.