It’s difficult to grasp nearly 33 years have passed since my mother (the late Bordina Burns), younger brother (Brett Captain), and I left home for upstate New York. You may recall I was 11 at the time, and zealous to transition from life as I knew it, to what I had heard and envisioned in the Empire State. Little did I realize that I wouldn’t truly leave. The mark you left on my life was indelible, and one that continues to resonate to this day. I will discuss that more throughout letter.
The car trip beginning at my grandmother’s house and my childhood home at 705 N. West St. is still afresh in my mind. As we said our good byes to grandma Nan (the late Nannie Nelson), who raised me the better part of my life, I still recollect her solemn but melancholy wave from the front porch as grandpa Boyd’s (the late Boyd Nelson) car pulled out of the steep driveway and onto to the street, enroute to the Greyhound bus station in Chillicothe. As we traveled south on North West Street to West Collins Avenue and later North High Street, my mind raced a mile a minute.
I reflected on bike rides along this very course, the Festival of Bells, butterscotch milkshakes, Grippos potato chips and Tahitian treat soda from UDF, movies at the theater, walking to Sundry’s with grandma Nan and my older cousin Terra (Nelson), attending Sunday School and church at the then Wesleyan Church on North East Street, shopping at Town and Country, playing with friends at Cedar Woods apartments and East End, and the sights, sounds (and smells) of the Highland County Fair. I wouldn’t trade my rearing in Hillsboro for any other in the world. We eventually converged with U.S. 50 and made our way toward Ross County.
I was too naïve in November of 1988 to consider how those we knew and loved in Hillsboro perceived and would be impacted by the move. I am certain grandma Nan and grandpa Boyd experienced great sorrow and felt a void. My younger brother Dirk (Burns), who remained here with his father, undoubtedly felt abandoned and anxious about what the future held (both for himself and us). My aunt Carolyn (Medley) in Columbus, who was dual-hatted as a surrogate mother, most likely experienced remnants of all of the above, coupled with a faith that God would work all things together for our good and His glory. To some degree, the same responses may hold true for all our friends and family. Last but certainly not least, I didn’t contemplate how you, Hillsboro, the community that shaped my outlook towardlife (i.e. faith, optimism, positivity, graciousness, love and humility) regarded the move.
Subsequently, we maintained close contact with family and friends for updates throughout the years (to include periodic return trips home). Regrettably, with the exception of an article published in The Times Gazette in spring of 1995, announcing I’d signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts), I haven’t kept you abreast of my whereabouts, accomplishments and aspirations. This letter is an attempt to do so.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there” (Psalm 139: 7-8 NIV). I would be remiss for not beginning with and testifying about God’s goodness, mercy and loving presence throughout my life. Similarly, during the course of my walk with Christ, which has taken me around the nation and world, I have carried my hometown along with me in my heart.
From Hillsboro to Rome, New York, where I graduated from high school, you were there. From Rome, New York to Springfield, Massachusetts, where I attended college for two years, you were there. From Springfield, Massachusetts to Binghamton, New York, where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in politics, philosophy, and law in May 2000, you were there. From Binghamton, New York to Fort Benning, Georgia where I completed Army basic training in August 2000, you were there. From Fort Benning, Georgia to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where I trained and graduated to become a signal support systems specialist (i.e. communications) in December 2000, you were there. You were with me from Fort Gordon, Georgia to my first duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia in January 2001, and from Fort Stewart back to Fort Benning (upon being selected for and completing Officer Candidate School in February 2003). You were with me after finishing OCS and also at my first assignment as an officer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in August 2003 (where I went on to attain a master’s degree in human resources in August 2004).
I carried you with me throughout my active duty tour (concluding in February 2006) and into the Army Reserves the following month. You traveled with me from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to Martinsburg, West Virginia in February 2006, transitioning from full-time military service to working in industry. You were there and shared in the satisfaction of my receiving a master’s of business administration degree in April 2008, the anxiety and fulfillment of deploying to Iraq for a year in 2009, and the anguish of losing my 13-year-old brother the same year. You were with me when I secured my first Civil Service job with Veterans Affairs in June 2010, when I obtained a doctorate degree in public safety in January 2018, when God opened the door of opportunity for me to return active duty military (Air Force) and Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in January 2019, and throughout my six-month deployment to Afghanistan (November 2020 to May 2021).
I have experienced innumerable blessings in life (i.e. my relationship with Christ, fatherhood, marriage, loving relationships, fulfilling work, protection, vitality and good health (and the list goes on). I’ve also felt great agony and endured many lows (e.g. loss of loved ones, divorce, depression, feelings of inadequacy, disappointments, failures and setbacks). In spite of and through it all, by the amazing grace of God, I emerged more humble, stronger and better, and you were there.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had an affinity for words, information and writing. I recollect spending countless hours scanning the pages of encyclopedias at my grandmother’s house, repeating the process once complete, and anticipating and feeling the thrill of new words learned and insights gleaned each iteration. I would also thumb through dictionaries, cover to cover, enamored by the many words and their meaning. To this day, I attempt to learn a new word and something unique and novel each day. I share this to perhaps lay the foundation for an aspiration I’m extremely passionate about. I’m working on my first book, with many more on the horizon, prayerfully.
Last (for the time being), a childhood dream of mine was to play professional basketball in the NBA. I imagined becoming a multi-millionaire, helping others, and giving back to you, my hometown in some way. The dream of professional athletics wasn’t God’s plan for me (He had something much better in store), but helping others was, and potentially my community. God has given me an entrepreneurial spirit, and I am currently pursuing opportunities to open a business(es) in Hillsboro. My hope is to fill a service gap, and improve the quality of life and economy by creating opportunities.
I will end here for now, but will write again soon. I love you!
Your native son.
Brad D. Nelson, is an active duty service member and contract negotiator with the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he acquires and supports the current and next generation presidential and executive airlift fleet. He is a passionate advocate for Returning Citizens, healthy families and communities, mentoring youth, and proclaiming the Good news of salvation to the whole world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.