And then there was one…

In August I posted about my daughter, Dixie Lee, heading off to college. The following month I posted about her brother, Pätrick Henry departing for Marines Boot Camp. Now, I get to write about Nathaniel Levi Cripps heading off to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, for his Boot Camp. Since, the remaining son, Robert Lewis Dabney, will be a senior next year…it is about to get really weird around the old homestead.

Yes, I have had one or more children in my household for the past 41 years. I think I should get an award or something…maybe a monument at the State Capitol in Jackson! I mean, that is more abuse than any human parent should have to endure in one lifetime. Of course, I am joking. I love all my children and it is difficult imagining life without them around, though I am stating to experience the feeling. I do have a step-daughter that will be in the house for another decade, so it won’t be total silence.

Nathaniel is the third of my five sons, and the only one, at 6’1”, to be taller than me. He is named for one of my heroes, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and my grandfather, Robert Levi Bishop. It was after Nathaniel that I began using the entire name of my heroes when naming my children. Otherwise, he would have been Nathan Bedford Forrest Cripps! I opted for the longer Nathaniel, rather than Nathan, when I learned the Hebrew meaning of the names. Nathan means “gift” and Nathaniel translates “gift of God.” There is a biological sense where Nathaniel’s birth is a bit miraculous, so it is fitting.

Levi is an extremely intelligent young man. Growing up, he did an incredible amount of reading. I used to drive the children weekly to the large library in Hattiesburg to check out books. They would always leave with their maximum limit. The problem was Nathaniel could go through that in a day. He started to read thicker and thicker books, and I allowed him to use some of my checkout quota. This kept me from having to make more than one trip a week. One year, I kept tabs on everything he read on index cards. I still have that stack of cards and it is over an inch thick. He was reading over 10,000 pages a month. The books were all out of the adult section, and his retention of the knowledge was excellent.

Some relatives were concerned because he didn’t possess the greatest social skill with his peers. But you have to understand the mind of a genius. Whenever we went places, he didn’t talk with other kids because he was busy talking to adults. The kids were just not on his level. I started teaching him computer graphics design when he was 8 or 9 years old. By the time he was 10, he was on his own doing 3-D graphics. He posted a bit of his work on online forums and got a lot of good comments. When they found out it was a 10 year old kid, they couldn’t believe it.

I began to purchase professional Photoshop tutorials for him, and before long he was passing me up in technical skill. He still had a lot to learn about artistic creation, but he was already getting very familiar with the inner workings of Photoshop.

When he was a teenager he decided to take up playing bass guitar. My children were raised in a constant atmosphere of music. I would play music while cooking, driving, working outside…well almost always. If it wasn’t CD’s, it was concert videos on DVD. While my oldest son and I opted for acoustic and electric six-string guitars…Nathaniel set his sights, and ears on the four-string bass. His main influence was Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. He also really liked Dennis Dunaway of Alice Cooper fame, the late John Entswistle of The Who, and Justin Chancellor of Tool. Nathaniel took lessons for a short while at Magnolia Music Center, but he is mainly self-taught. Out of all my wonderfully musical children, I believe he was blessed with the best ear.

When his brother Pätrick picked up drums, and sister Dixie the piano, we all began to have jam sessions at my metal building next door. It was a fun time and I think we all really miss those days. I was writing songs at the time and we had a blast working on original material. Levi started with a Peavey bass then moved to a really nice Ibanez active-electronics bass. He also graduated from a Peavey bass amp to an Ampeg rig.

When I ran for governor and was involved in political causes from 2000 to 2004, Nathaniel was by my side a good part of the time. He traveled with me to speaking engagements in nearly every State of the Deep South. He got an education few youngsters have ever experienced.

I took Levi to see an Air Force recruiter when he was 17. Since he was home-schooled, he was required to have a GED. At the time, the requirements were also 12 hours of college. Instead he opted to fly to Alaska and spend time living with his eldest brother and family.

In 2010, he started attended college at MGCCC in Perkinston, Mississippi. He graduated in 2014 with an Associates Degree in Applied Science as well as a Technical Degree in Graphics Design. When finding a job with these skills proved difficult, he decided to follow his younger brother into the military. While Pätrick chose the Marines, Levi chose to take the same path as his grandfather and older brother and join the Air Force.

He actually took the ASVAB and signed papers several months ago but there is a long wait for the Air Force. He did manage to land a cake job though. When he graduates Boot Camp he will be sent to Maryland for his technical school where he will be learning Broadcast Journalism. Like his eldest brother, J.T., he is blessed with a “radio announcers” voice. His brother even worked for some time as a DJ at rock radio stations in Gulfport, Mississippi and Anchorage, Alaska.

It appears Nathaniel will have the opportunity to travel the world and cover news and events for the Air Force. Now that’s a job! We are all very proud of him. He has taken the initiative to step out into the world and make a life for himself. As I write this, I sit in a comfortable chair in an air conditioned office. As for Levi, he is feeling the heat and pain of Boot Camp. He is probably asking himself, “Why did I volunteer for this?” Some will wash out before graduating Boot Camp, but not Nathaniel. It is not the Cripps Way. The next time I see him, he will be an Airman in uniform. Once more, I gaze at one of my sons as only the proudest dad in the world can!

Some notes on the photo pages below:
1. Nathaniel loves his brothers and sisters. They were not always happy that he was so bossy with them, but he always looked out for them. He was a lot more protective over them than I was. He would always sacrifice time for them and would even do things like pass up on sweets and snacks if there was not enough for the others to enjoy. If something happened to me, I honestly believe Levi would make sure his siblings were well taken care of, even if it came out of his own pocket.
2. Nathaniel has always been attached to his computers. Even at a very young age, he was beginning to master graphics design software. His time away at Boot Camp is probably good as a rest from the laptop!
3. The Boy Loves the Water: Just like his siblings, some of the fondest memories are from swimming, canoeing and kayaking the various beaches and creeks, swimming pools, and the Gulf of Mexico.
4. Fort Pickens, Florida – A Favorite Spot: Levi loves old forts and battlefields. Over the years I have taken him to several. The family favorites are Fort Pickens and Vicksburg.
5. Various Travels: We used to go to the Audubon Zoo and/or Aquarium in New Orleans almost every year. It was another family fun adventure all the children enjoyed. There are also photos from Universal Studios, our property in Tennessee, various concerts and festivals, and his trip to Alaska. He also traveled a lot with me on speaking engagements. Below, you will see him in photos with Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Lt. Governor Amy Tuck, Grammy winner Lee Peterzell, and others.
6.  Nathaniel loves to eat – it is his very favorite thing in the world to do. From the time he was a baby until present…the boy attacks a plate of food like its the last one on the planet. Around our house he is nicknamed the Human Garbage Disposal…and there is no such thing as leftovers when Levi is around.