JACKIE LEE CHILDS

Jackie Lee Childs was born on September 3, 1957. He was an only child. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother smoked three packs of cigarettes a day.

When Jackie was 15 years old, his father sexually abused him. But even though it was confirmed by Tennessee’s Department of Human Services, his mother didn’t believe him. Late that night, Jackie crept into their bedroom. He knew his father kept a .38 S&W revolver in a Buster Brown shoe box in his closet. As his parents slept, Jackie snuck into the closet and pulled out the gun. 

He thought, ‘God, if I kill this man right now, I might as well prepare myself to do a life sentence.’

But as he pointed the gun at his father, he realized his mother was lying right next to him. She had her arms around him. Jackie worried that if he fired the gun, he might hit them both. So he put the gun back.

His father died a few months later from cirrhosis of the liver. A year after that, his mother died of Stage IV lung cancer. He said he didn’t grieve either of them.

Into adulthood, Jackie became a cook. He made food for several famous Nashville locations, including the Governor’s Mansion, the Pancake Pantry, San Antonio Taco Co., and the Tennessee Army National Guard, where he fed troops in several different offices.

One day, Jackie was walking along Arthur Avenue when he passed Mt. Bethel Baptist Church. He had walked past it a thousand times, but he said that day, it was “like a magnet. Something told me to go up those steps.”

When he stepped inside, a group of men and women were rehearsing songs. One women in particular caught Jackie’s eye, and she caught him staring at her. When the chorus took a break, she walked over and introduced herself. ‘You look like you got a story to tell,’ she told him.

“She saw it in my eyes,” Jackie said. “I broke down.”

He told her about his father, and the woman started crying. In front of the church, she pulled him into a close embrace. With her head on his chest, she told him, ‘Baby, we’ll get through it.’

“That’s when I knew,” Jackie told me, “that was my soulmate.”

The two dated for nine years, and on the tenth year, they got married. They lived in an affordable housing community in Cheatham County. Their apartment was bug-infested, and their furniture was from Goodwill and other thrift stores. “But it was ours,” Jackie said.

Three years later, a week before Christmas, Lenora died of Stage IV breast cancer. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery West on Elm Hill Pike. Jackie couldn’t afford a headstone.

Image courtesy of user OBXr on FindAGrave.com.

When Lenora died, Jackie walked away from everything, including his apartment. People asked him how you lose public housing. “Well, because I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on,” Jackie said.

Some time after her death, Jackie found himself on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge — now the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge — in downtown Nashville. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated the Cumberland River underneath the center of the bridge was 85 feet deep.

The heat index that day was over 100º with no wind, and nobody was walking along the bridge. It was so quiet, Jackie said, you could hear a pin drop. He climbed up onto a light fixture and stared into the river.

The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge looks over downtown Nashville.

‘God, if I jump,’ he said, ‘I won’t come back up. But if I do jump, I’m gonna be pissed off if I do come back up.’

When he said those words, he felt a chill run through his body despite the heat. He turned around, but nobody was there. Jackie said it was the spirits of God and his wife. He climbed off the light post and walked home.

Later that night, Jackie planned to take a bath in the room he was staying in at the time, but something scared him. As he turned to go back downstairs, the bathroom ceiling collapsed right above the tub.

“God, he allows things to happen. But he leaves it up to us to figure it out. When you pray, he answers your prayers, but it just don’t come down to flesh like me and you.”

Today, Jackie has been approved to receive food stamps as well as disability assistance, the latter of which took four years to process. He will be moving into a one-bedroom apartment this summer. He said he feels like a child waiting for Christmas.