LOST DOG! – Not so much

“… For whatever reason there might be, 
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory 
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” – “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (1973) Recorded by: Gladys Knight.  Composer: James D. Weatherly

In some post, not that long ago, or far away, I stated something about how dogs teach us so much.  They may not have a pointer (lol), or a marker (lol) board, but they teach nonetheless.

Meet Pippin! (Cover photo above)

Recently, I posted about a young family next door who are moving away.  Steven and Amy are expecting twins, which means four little ones as a total, with only a small two bedroom house.  Yet, they do have three little-bits in the backyard, as well.  I affectionately nicknamed their very territorial duo Chihuahuas, Yipper & Yapper.  (It’s actually, Molly & Pippin.)  The third four-legged pal is a sweet, beautiful dingo.  Her name is Freya, and she believes her main job in life is to try to hush the other two.  They are fun to watch.

I have a new respect for Pippin.  Here’s the scoop.  In the turmoil and business of the family throwing things away, loading trucks, and cleaning the place, the canine trio have shown signs of nervousness.  With all the dust flying in the air from the upheaval, the dogs have been like bacon-on-skillet.  Freya, who doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the activity, tends to bark at the other high-strung Chihuahuas in efforts to calm their nerves.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  While the turnstile rotates back and forth from the old house, to the newly purchased house, the dogs are often left alone.  No doubt they are puzzled, rattled, and bewildered as to why, what, and where.  Transitions are never easy.

Getting to know them over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed Molly, the female Chihuahua, is more of a fighter, in lieu of a flyer.  Pippin is the flyer.  When their uneven gate has been jiggled to a position where the aligning posts don’t mesh very well, leaving about a 4 inch gap, Pippin takes the opportunity.  Yep, three times in two days, Pippin has pushed the gate as hard as he can to gain more wiggle room in order to squeeze through the misaligned fence and gate posts.  When he does, it’s off like a racehorse.  Just as they are pulling out of the drive with the moving truck, they’ll see the little escape artist in the rear-view mirror.  When that occurs, it’s all hands on deck to nab him.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Freya, the dingo, and Molly, the less adventurous Chihuahua, began a barking marathon in the early evening hours on Saturday.  Our dogs, Shorty and Sammie, exploded in stereo.  As we checked out the cause of the canine chorus, there stood Pippin at our front door.  His human parents had been gone for a couple of days, leaving the dogs extra food and water.  My wife carefully placed him over their fence, only to find him at our front door less than ten minutes later.  Looking in his eyes, coupled with his constant trembling, it was clear what was happening.  He was experiencing separation anxiety.  He was craving love and attention from his frequently missing family.  In fact, I surmise he was out to find them, which meant road hazards for the little squirt.  We sent a text to the couple letting them know what had happened, along with how we would dog-sit until they came home.  Our pal Shorty wasn’t pleased at first.

Shorty SulkingHe had this look on his face, which spoke volumes.  The dialogue bubble would read, “Hey, what the heck?  Why is this little yapper in MY house?”  As for Sammie, our Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, it was different.  Sammie seemed to ask if there would be enough food left in her bowl.  She checked on it just before she hid from all of the clamber.  She wanted no part of it.  Sammie is an old lady.  I don’t blame her.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-GimmeAfter Shorty’s territorial greeting, he and Pippin began to play reindeer games around the house.  Of course, they know each other between the fence, but now there was nothing to keep them from being fellow pack members.  Although Shorty is a bit taller than Pippin, it didn’t stop the visitor from standing on his hind feet, placing his front paws on Shorty’s head, as a hard statement of dominance.  That thought bubble was so evident, “Okay, I’m the boss here!  YOU are NOT the boss of me!”  Immediately, the horseplay…or rather, the dog-play, ensued.

The overnight went okay.  Pippin was restless, even growled at times, but he liked getting under a blanket in a snuggle cave mode.  No doubt, if you can’t see unfamiliar surroundings, it must not be there.  Can you relate?

The following morning, all three dogs had some time in the backyard.  The two next door, Freya and Molly, watched, whined, and howled as if left out, like there was more going on at our place.  After awhile, Steven and Amy came home for another load of furniture.  Ecstatic to see him, Freya and Molly were jumping up and down, getting in Steven’s way as he walked toward the fence-line.  As soon as Pippin spotted his human dad, he raced to the fence, wagging his entire body, barking up a concerto.  After Steven held him in his arms, Pippin was all about squirming with excitement, licking every inch of Steven’s face that he could possibly reach.  Pippin never looked back.  He never stopped licking to say thanks.  It was as if we didn’t exist.  Frankly, in his noggin, we probably didn’t, at that heartwarming moment.  After all, we weren’t who he belonged to.

After Steven thanked us, I watched him walk away with our rough-n-tumble amigo, happy as a kid on Santa’s lap.  Clearly, Christmas came early for the little yapper.

Later, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Pippin if Steven and Amy were with him all the time?  Wouldn’t it be magical, if his parents cuddled him every minute of every day?  Wouldn’t it be simply a miracle if Pippin felt the loving arms of his owner 24/7, feeling the surety that abandonment isn’t a word at all?  In fact, wouldn’t it be miraculous if Pippin could always hear a loving response from his adopted owner on any, and all, barking episodes?  If it were possible, wouldn’t it be terrific if Pippin had a tiny amount of faith in knowing his family would always come back?  If so, dog-life would be more tolerable.  Moreover, safety and security would never be in question, even while looking at the back of an increasingly vacant house.

Sometimes, I can be much like Pippin.  In fact, maybe lots of times.  I can identify.  How much do I squirm in life, for the silliest of reasons?  How often do I perceive, or imagine vacancy, with the first thought being, “It will never be full again?”  Too many times I howl at the proverbial moon in sadness, as if there is no relief on the way, or that times will never change.  Why do I forget about Christmas, the original?

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL (Emmanuel),” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”  (Angelic messenger to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed.) – Matthew 1:23 (NAS)

Our commercialized Christmas won’t get anyone to the answers.  It’s only stuff.  A watered-down Christmas only gets us wet and cold.  It’s only seasonal foo-foo.  Celebrating winter only throws curved-snowballs at shopping frenzies.  It all is so unsteady, passing so quickly, leaving many in post holiday blues.

As a Jesus-follower, I revel in His arms daily.  (Only if I choose not to get distracted by the movements around me.)  My heart listens for His still small voice.  Sure, I see vacancy at times, but all the while deeply knowing, with certainty, with intentional expectations, I will see Him soon.  When I do, I rest in the promise that my obnoxious yapping, escaping techniques, and infractions, are all forgiven through grace alone.  I’m always welcomed home.  Now, THAT’S merry!

Dogs teach us so much about what is in the bowl of fuel for the race.

“…God has said:  ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…’  So we say with confidence:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’…”   – Hebrews 13:5b-6a  (Berean Study Bible)   

The Fall of Life

Painting by:  My father-in-law, the late Bob Niles.  The Cimarron River, Oklahoma.

“The falling leaves drift by the window.  The autumn leaves of red and gold…And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.  But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” –  “Autumn Leaves” – recorded by many, including Nat King Cole.  English lyric version written by:  Johnny Mercer – Capitol Records, with music for the English by:  Joseph Kosma.  (Adopted from a French song, “Les Feuilles Mortes”, French lyrics composed by: Jacques Prevert.)

To say, the majority of our Texas trees are just now releasing their leaves, will be comical to my friends and family to the north.  Yes, Texas trees turn late in the year when so many are bare in points north on the map.  Although I love my Texas, I do wish the foliage was as brilliant as they are elsewhere.  However, I’ll take what we can get.

In the immediate neighborhood, I enjoy the tree across the street from my front porch the most.

Autumn Tree(Pictures from my phone never do the colors justice.  Don’t ya hate that?)

Here in north-central Texas, grab your camera while you have the time.  The leaves turn and drop really quickly.  In no time at all, they are on the ground, ready for the rake.

God’s artistry is, well…simply divine, so to speak.  Where I live, He paints the leaves in mid-late November in various golds, yellows and maroons, depending upon the species.  The nutrients dry-up, choking-off the green chloroplasts in the leaves, while dashing them with hues only a painter could conjure on canvas.  Then, by mid December, the Season-Holder sends the winds to do their job.  Yet, there are exceptions in Texas.  Not every tree belongs around Dallas/Ft Worth.

In my neighbor’s backyard, just on the other side of the fence, is a rather tall exotic tree, native of Indonesia with large leaves.  It looms mainly over our garage, driveway, and side-yard.  Misbehaving, due to not realizing its no longer in Indonesia, it sheds its leaves overnight if the winds can muster-up moving a flag.  When it does, we wake up to shin deep leaves in the driveway.

Wednesday, during prep for Thanksgiving at our house, as we were expecting a few family members, I tackled the job of raking the platter-sized leaves from the driveway.  Don’t get me wrong, I needed the exercise, but it was a lengthy activity without a leaf blower.  We have a compost pile in the far corner of our backyard.  Seeing how many leaves there were, as well as the ginormous size of each, I knew full well it would fill the designated compost section.  And I was right.

Autumn Compost Pile I must admit, the little boy came out in me as I enjoyed hearing the loud crunching sound beneath my shoes.  After awhile, it wasn’t such a novelty any longer.  It took many trips from the driveway, across the front lawn, around the side of the house, across the backyard, down to the back forty to the compost pile.  There they rested, all dead, in the falling-leaf cemetery.  Sad, isn’t it?  All unwanted, as if they were no longer needed, no longer pleasing to the eye, or of any shading value.

Yesterday, being the day after our Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., I visited my oldest uncle.  My precious, Uncle Bob is my mom’s eldest brother.  At 79 years old, he is in the 2nd stage of Alzheimer’s.  I’m old enough now to have seen the dreaded disease a few times in my family, going back a few generations.  My mom’s other brother has dementia, on the foothills of the big “A”, as well.  In fact, my mom wonders if she is experiencing some early warning signs herself.

My visit was mainly with his wife, my Aunt Ellen, and her son, Bobby Jr.  I watched my uncle, a man I have admired since I was a toddler, an intelligent man of mechanical and electrical engineering, sit in his recliner while playing with a blanket like an 18 month old child.  There’s no question concerning his inability to recognize me, and that was okay.  Through the years I learned how to interact with other family members who have suffered from this “long-goodbye” disease.  He shook my hand with a nice grip, smiled, and told me he felt good, after I had told him he looked good.  It won’t be too much longer when he will not interact at all.  How I wish I could wrap my magical arms around him, holding the progression back from changing him any further.  Yet, it’s not the nature of the monster to obey our commands.

Too often a society will see the diseased, or dying, as throw-away items.  Many years ago, my dad told me he had stopped seeing about his mother, overtaken by Alzheimer’s.  When I inquired about his remark, he said, “Well, she’s not the same mother I once knew.  She is no longer useful to me.”  I froze.  It’s astonishing.  Some 34 years have flown by since I heard his explanation and it still astounds me to this very day.  For him, even though sorrow was involved, she was a throw-away item to him.

Allow me to be sarcastic for a moment, with a pinch of anger.

You have seen some “throw-aways”, I’m sure.  For some, it might be the guy at the Thanksgiving table who only makes minimum wage  Or it’s the guy at the table who is of wealth.  For others, it might be the single-mom, working 10 hour shifts as a waitress at a diner, with a pencil behind her ear.  When leaving the eatery, after tipping her as little as possible, it’s common to be approached by a homeless man in the parking lot.  After a well rehearsed sob story, he asks for bus fare, when it’s probably a scam to purchase another bottle of cheap Scotch.  Is it possible there is a neighbor with a heavy accent from another part of the world, or another part of the state?  There might be a co-worker who has a brother, stricken with AIDS, who is no longer claimed as family.  Maybe it has to do with a few hundred people living in the low-rent apartments from the other side of the tracks, not to mention anyone who resides in a mobile home from a trailer park.  It may simply be an individual with an obnoxious nervous tic.  Lately, it seems, the “throw-away” nearby is an outspoken Democrat or Republican, and certainly anyone under a red cap who attends political rallies full of cheering presidential fans.  Where does the list stop?  Seriously.  Do we stop with the elderly, the babies, the ill, the poor, the odd, the mentally handicapped, the black, the brown, the red, the Asian, the blue-eyed, the brown-eyed, the blind, the atheist, the person of faith, the vegetarians???  Before you know it, there are thoughts, coming from those without blemish or issues, surrounding the “raking-up” of these “throw-away” segments of citizenry, appointed for the societal compost where they can pile-up and wither away together.  After all, they are no longer pleasing to the eye, no longer useful or needed.  They are usually noticed when they get in our way of sight, or too loud under our shoes.  Hum, where have we seen that before?

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father, as well as the soul of the son is mine…”   – God –  Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV)

The truth is, we ALL fall down, one way or the other.  The universal truth is, we ALL fall short of perfection, the perfect standard.  You know it, and I know it.  The eternal caliper is immovable, uncompromising, and righteous.  Honestly, which one of us can ever measure-up?  Only one did, and He wasn’t you or me.

In God’s undying outreach of love toward us “throw-aways”, GRACE (unearned favor) is offered.  It’s an offer from the spout of fuel for the race.

2 Peter 3:9 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.


Continue reading “The Fall of Life”

Perpetual Horn of Plenty – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

With the exception of the panhandle, Thanksgiving in Texas is rarely a cold, frozen one.  The Thanksgiving week of 1969 was different.  Every once in a blue moon there will be snow, or any frozen precipitation, falling on Texans during the holiday festivities of Thanksgiving.

It was late Wednesday afternoon when nine year old Scotty, and his twenty-five year old single mom, were carefully driving down an east Texas county road on the way to a Thanksgiving family gathering.  It was a tradition for Scotty’s two cousins, two pairs of aunts and uncles, and possibly a great-uncle and aunt, to descend on the old house of his grandparents for a big turkey feast with the usual trimmings.  Sometimes, even his great-grandmother would also join the holiday visit.  His grandmother always had a knack for tossing together decor for whatever holiday hit the calendar.  Scotty could hardly wait.  He knew there would be a two-on-two football scramble in the backyard, a children’s table all to themselves, and a heart-pounding afternoon watching the Dallas Cowboys vie for the Thanksgiving Day kudos.  He loved his family dearly, especially his grandparents, who were more like parents to him, and young enough to be so.  Only forty-five miles kept them apart.  Weather conditions were not going to push this mother and son away.

Pumkin Tray

Scotty, nor his grandparents, ever knew the poverty he and his mom survived in.  His very independent mom had unique and creative ways of dressing-up the darker news of reality.  Generally, his clothes were made by his mom during those times.  She always let him pick out the bulk fabric.  The block of cheese in the fridge — U.S. government issued due to her low wages — was made to look like a huge feast that mice could only dream about.  He learned countless ways cheese could be used in the oven, the skillet, and with pasta.  Little did he know, for several weeks, it would be his main diet.  The old, broken-down rent house they currently called home, had only one gas stove to go with cold creaking wooden floors.  The windows were original single pane, thin, and cracked.  Honeysuckle grew through the cracks in his bedroom wall from outside vines.  Because of her imaginative story-telling, Scotty saw it all as an adventure the kids at his school and church could never imagine.  The honeysuckle vine in his bedroom was his vortex to a life as a cowboy, living out on the range, with nothing but a saddle for a pillow and a horse-blanket to shield himself from the cold prairie.  The little gas stove in the living-room was the campfire built to warn-off the coyotes and mountain lions.  In the spring, bees would hover over the honeysuckle blooms in his room.  Were they actual bees?  Not at all.  They were flying dragons coming to battle his plastic dinosaurs and GI Joe, and what a battle they pursued.  Since his mom worked overnights on an assembly-line at a factory, he had his imagination to keep his mind busy, away from fear and loneliness.

His mom’s car was a hand-me-down, 1964 Oldsmobile.  She accepted it as a gift from her parents just a year earlier.  It was in good condition, due to Scotty’s granddad being a top-shelf mechanic, who was well-known for babying his vehicles.  For this little lad, it was a limousine.  Although it was solid, and drove nicely in all weather conditions, using caution was his mom’s mantra.

Oldsmobile-1964

eBay.com

Single motherhood was an overwhelming strain.  Her first marriage, at the young age of fifteen to Scotty’s biological father, was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship.  In fact, it lasted less than three years.  The young father was only a vague memory for the young boy, more like a vague mystery.  About a year later, Scotty’s mom went on a blind date which led to a wedding, her last wedding, when Scotty was five years old.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

The man was a gentle, intelligent, strict sort, but was incapable of love, as most know it.  For four years, Scotty grew to understand not to approach his dad.  He knew not to ask him to play ball, or watch him try the training wheels on his bike.  It seemed the National Geographic, the checkbook, and the newspaper were priority.  Scotty knew his dad to be distant, even in the same room.  Yet, the boy loved him, in spite of the wall between the two.  The thought passed Scotty’s nine-year-old mind that this would be the first Thanksgiving, out of the last four years, without his dad.  Beyond the failed relationship, it saddened the boy, nonetheless.  He was too young to understand the word “bittersweet,” but was beginning to learn the taste.  The love he experienced, the love he learned, was plentiful from his mom and her family.

Ever since the summer divorce, from his adopted dad, Scotty’s mom engaged him with games, songs and stories to keep him distracted, occupied, and challenged.  To say she was over-protective might be an understatement, but Scotty never detected it.

While on the road, the boy’s mind began to fidget.  “Mom, let’s sing that Thanksgiving song you taught me,” as he leaned into the rhythm of the windshield wipers struggling with the fresh wintry mix.  She was an outstanding, well-known singer in north Texas church circles.  He loved hearing her pipes.  The look in her face, in response, showed a quick hint of puzzlement, then a sudden burst of joy.

Reaching to turn off the radio, she replied, “You mean, (Singing.) ‘Over The River And Through The Woods To Grandmother’s House we go’?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said with a bounce.

They sang a few verses as he wiped the foggy condensation from his window to scout-out rivers and bridges to go with the lyrics.  It was tough.  The rain, mixed with sleet made it difficult to see past the road signs.  Later, they would play the “I Spy” game, along with more songs in prep for a fabulous duo only grandparents could love.

As the late afternoon bled into the long shadows of early evening, the sleet and freezing rain beat against the hood and windshield.  It was clear, the tires began to slip a bit at the curves in the road.  A look of subtle concern crawled across Scotty’s mom’s face, but he was thrilled to see some white dusting by the roadside, as well as flocked barbed-wire posts along the mesquite trees.

Suddenly, and without the smallest of warnings, the car lost power.

“Oh, no,” she said with a start.

Scotty, unaware of the dangerous circumstances, sensed his mom’s concern.  He quickly replied, “What’s wrong, mom?”

“Nothing, son,” speaking very calmly in a lower tone.  “Something went wrong with the car.  Everything shut down at the same time.  We’ll pull over on the side for now.”

As the car began to coast slowly, she steered it carefully toward the icy shoulder until it came to a stop.

As she threw it into park, she said to the surprised lad, “Okay, I guess we’ll just wait for a kind stranger to notice we are stranded.  There’s not a lot of traffic tonight, but people have to go somewhere for the holiday.  We might be able to get a ride into town.  We’re only about five miles out.”  Scotty was fine with the idea of waiting things out.  For him, it was just one more adventure, albeit unexpected..

Seeing his mom was somewhat disheveled, he thought of ways to pass the time.  “Tell me the story about the donkey who talked to the man.  Ya know, in the Bible,” said Scotty with wide-eyed excitement.  He added with laughter, “And use your donkey-voice, too.”

Visibly gathering herself while masking her own insecurities of the moment, she smiled, replying,  “Sure.  Let’s visit with old-man Balaam and his miracle donkey.”

As was his custom, Scotty pitched her ideas of more stories and story-lines for her to retell.  He didn’t see anything around him as threatening.  Although, for a wisp of a nanosecond, he contemplated what his dad might have done in the situation they found themselves in.  But the stories and songs once again swept him away from the creeping “what-might-have-been’s.”

As precious time passed, Scotty noticed the unique formations crystallizing from one end of the windshield to the other.

Icy Windshield pinterest

pinterest

Watching his breath in the frigid air as he spoke, “Look, mom!  How cool is that?”

Realizing the seriousness of the threat her son was pointing to, she chose, once again, to see it as a teachable show-and-tell.  She reached out to touch the glass, saying, “Yes!  Isn’t it beautiful?  As the freezing rain collects on the windshield, it connects with the other icy droplets in this way, like a spiderweb.  As it stretches toward its other family members, it causes this wonderful piece of artwork in nature.  It’s a real show for us, don’t you think?”

His jaw dropped at the idea of a family stretching across the span of the windshield to reconnect after being separated from the sky.  “It looks lots like grandmother’s fancy glass goblets.  I bet she’ll have them ready for us when we get there,” he said with a shiver.

She could feel the chills run up her spine as she responded, “Love, real love is like that.  Always looking for ways to reach out, even though miles apart.”

Looking at her watch, she realized an hour blew by like dry snowflakes.  The young mother had a noticeable streak of naivety about her.  Although tough times battered the last ten years of her life, she held to a rose-colored idea that all people are loving and kind.  It was displayed once again when she exclaimed, “I am amazed at just how many cars have driven by us in the past hour, without one person stopping to ask if we need help.”  She then recalled her dad telling her to raise the hood if she ever were to have car trouble.

She couldn’t get the words out quick enough, saying, “Scotty, you stay right where you are.  I’m going to try to raise the hood.”  He agreed with a nod.  Nervously, she said under her breath, “I’ve watched your granddad do it many times.  It can’t be too hard.”

As she opened her door, a loud cracking sound shattered the cold air as ice was forming on the exterior of the body of the car.  She shut the door quickly in efforts to contain as much warmth inside as possible.  Her feet told her the sheet of ice was beginning to glaze dangerously over the concrete of the road.  She held on to the front fender of the car, to steady herself, as she slipped and slid toward the front of the vehicle.  After she found the hand lever, just above the grill to release the hood, she lifted it twice with her cold, red fingers, but to no avail.  She then noticed, along the edges of the hood, where it met the body of the fender, solid ice had formed over the edge, locking the hood in place.  A sense of failure and despair poured over her like a bucket of paint.  At her young age, she had toughened to the point of not accepting defeat in any way.  Just then, from the belly of her spirit, she spoke out into the air, “Lord, help us!  We need rescue.”

Pick-Up...ford-trucks.com

Ford-trucks.com

Before she finished the word, “rescue,” an old pick-up truck slowly drove by.  She watched as the brake-lights engaged.  The old truck maneuvered a slow, wide, slippery u-turn back toward the stranded car.  Pulling up next to her, the driver rolled down his defrosted passenger-side window.  Two large hound dogs, poked their heads out, barking and howling at her.  The elderly man in overalls sharply yelled at the hounds, pushing the two aside, out of his line of vision.

“Get back, you two!” he yelled.  “Hello, ma’am.  Can I help y’all?  If you’re trying to open the hood, good luck in this weather,” said the kind farmer.

Being so relieved, she inadvertently put her hand over her heart in gratitude.  “Yes, thank God.  My son and I have been stuck here for over an hour.  The car suddenly went dead, completely without power.  We’re trying to get to Mineola.  Could you give us a lift?” stating the obvious as she shook in the chill.

As he looked down, shaking his head, he pushed his cap further back on his head and replied, “I’m so sorry, little missy.”

Seeing the disappointment in his face, she added, “Or, maybe you could let us off at the nearest service station with a phone booth.  I could call my…”

He winced at her suggestion.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there ain’t no phone booth between here and Mineola.  To make matters worse, as ya can see, I’ve got a bed full of hay-bales, then there’s Yipper and Yapper here in the cab with me.”  He saw the  distraught in her eyes at his answer.  He scratched the stubble on his chin for an unintended pregnant pause.  “I’ll tell ya what I’ll do, little lady.  You get back in that car where it’s safe, and bundle up with your boy there.  Meanwhile, I’ll be headed just south of town where the Mrs is waitin’ fir me.  More than likely it’ll take me…oh, let’s say, half an hour in this mess, and I can call somebody fir ya.  How does that tickle ya?”  He chuckled as he added, “We done got one of those new push-button telephones.  Been just itchin’ to use it!”

Putting her ice-bitten hands under her armpits, she grinned with a chuckle saying, “Yes, sir!  My parents have been waiting for us.  I just know they’re getting worried.”

After writing down the phone number of her parents, he waited to watch her cautiously get back in the car before his tires gripped traction toward the horizon.  Through the glazed windshield, Scotty and his mom watched the blurry red taillights of the truck fade away in the distance.  She never got his name, or where he lived.

“It won’t be long now, son.  Your granddad will be here in no time,” she stated through the cold, biting air.

Thanksgiving morning always came early at the old house in Mineola.  It was 5:00 am when Scotty’s eyes opened slowly to the sounds of pots and pans rattling in the kitchen on the other side of the wall from the guest bedroom.  This was the bedroom he claimed as his own when he was no more than a toddler.  Floating through the early morning air was the scent of pecan pie, bacon, boiling eggs, and freshly baked biscuits right out of the oven.  He smiled at the recognition of his loving grandmother, hard at work in the pre-dawn hours of the holiday once again.  He could hear his mom’s voice explaining the weary traveler’s ordeal from the night before.  Listening to her explanation from the kitchen served as a fog-lifter as he stretched his arms and sat up in bed, grateful for the toasty electric blanket surrounding his body.  During an unanticipated yawn, he felt a bit of a sting coming from his lips.  He could feel they were chapped from the frosty adventure in the car.

This would be the only time he would be alone for the day.  Within six hours, or so, family would begin to arrive with a buffet of dishes in tow for the feast, filling the house with familiar voices, laughter and aromas.

In the stillness, he remembered his Sunday School teacher expressing the importance of being thankful, not just for one Thursday in November, but each and every day.  He wrestled with the truth of it as he thought once again about his dad.  Last year, he was next to him on the couch, watching the Dallas Cowboys play.  Now, there would be an empty place.  With a sudden bound, he recalled a technique taught by his mom.  Scotty threw-off the covers, hopped out of bed, and put on his clothes as a renewed focus in thought.  After putting on his clothes, he dashed out the bedroom door which led into the den.  He expected to see his granddad sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace, slurping his morning coffee from a bowl and saucer.  The fire was lit, but he wasn’t there.  Scotty thought to himself, “Surely he’s not out picking up pecans in the backyard before the sun comes up.”  That was always reserved as a team-effort.  It was a special time with his granddad he always looked forward to, especially when he watched him feed the squirrels right out of his hand.  Curious, Scotty raced to the warm kitchen to join his mom and grandmother.

Me-OMA-Mom filtered

“Well, I’ll be switched!  If it isn’t Frosty The Snowman.  After last night, I just knew you’d have a hankerin’ to sleep late,” said his grandmother with a chuckle.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Scotty,” his mom said.  She took a step toward him as she stared closely at his face.  “Ooh, your lips are chapped.  In fact, your entire face needs some lotion.  Let’s get you fixed-up right now,” saying as she walked toward the kitchen door.

His grandmother, stirring the contents of a sauce pan asked, “Honey, are you hungry for a spot of breakfast?”

Hastily, as if she hadn’t spoken, he inquired, “Where’s Granddad?”

She replied through laughter, “Well, wouldn’t ya know, he got up before I did to go see about your mom’s car.  He said something about an alternator, a battery, and a belt,” she said with frustration, “Goodnight in the morning, that man!  I swear, he’ll be asleep in his recliner before halftime this afternoon.  He’ll be back directly.”

Covertly looking out toward the bathroom where his mom was scanning the medicine cabinet, he turned to his grandmother.  With a softened delivery, he asked, “Grandmother, where do you think dad is right now?  I mean, do you think he’s driving out in the ice?”

The question caused her to pause from stirring.  She wiped her hands on her apron, thoughtfully lifted his chin, and softly said,  “Knowing your dad, I feel he drove out to his folk’s house out west, away from the bad weather.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a smidgen if he left a couple of days ago.  You know how he likes to hike up in those west Texas hills.”  The boy looked down toward the floor in sadness.  She didn’t hesitate to misdirect the subject matter, “While your mom hunts down the lip-balm, why don’t you go to the coffee table in the living-room and see about the horn of plenty.  You remember what to do, right?”

With bottle-rocket exuberance, he acknowledged her suggestion, “Yes, ma’am!”

Horn of Plenty - Amazon.com

Scotty ran to the living-room where the annual horn of plenty graced the coffee table in front of the couch.  His eyes got as big as half dollars when he spied the extreme variety spilling out of the wicker funnel-shaped basket.  His grandmother had it overflowing with a mix of vegetables, several kinds of fruits, and a plethora of mixed nuts in the shell.

Kneeling beside the table, he shouted, “WOW!”  His grandmother was right behind him with a mischievous grin on her face.  “Now, do I need to remind you of the rules?  Without touching any item in the horn of plenty, you have to decide what’s real and what’s fake,” she explained.  “No cheating now.”

Through the years she filled the horn with plastic items of the garden, which appeared to be the real-deal, with only a few authentic items.  One year, the horn was completely filled with real veggies, fruits and nuts.  It always kept the family guessing what she had up her sleeve.

With a lack of decisiveness in his voice, “Ummm, I give up, Grandmother.  Can I start to separate them?”

Not surprised, she said, “Sure, go for it!”

He dove right in with gusto, separating the true food items from the model versions.  As he dug his way ever so much closer to the back of the horn, he saw gold-foil-covered chocolate coins.  “Oh, cool,” he blurted out.  He started to unwrap one immediately.

His grandmother quickly tapped him on the shoulder.  “Well, if that don’t beat all.  You know that’s not before breakfast, youngin’.  I think you haven’t dug deeply enough just yet,” she hinted.

He took her cue.  Reaching the far back of the horn, he found a crisp, twenty-dollar bill, folded up to resemble an acorn.

Holding it tightly in his hand, he showed his gratitude, “Thank you so much, Grandmother.”

His grandmother was an expert at holding her emotions close to her heart.  But this particular Thanksgiving, she almost couldn’t hold back her tears.

About that time, Scotty’s mom walked in the room behind them.  Seeing the touching moment being shared, she leaned against the french-door and quietly listened.

His grandmother knelt beside her young grandson.  With thoughtfulness, “Ya know, Scotty.  You will spend a lifetime scouring right and left for what is real, and what is not.  Those gold coins are good to eat for a treat, but they last only for a few seconds.  A ripened apple looks larapin, but if it’s hollow plastic, it does you no good.  When you find what is the original article, then you know and taste the goodness of what God has made for you.  Most of all, as you decide what is fake, or what is not, remember God will bring you a variety of days to come.  Not one day will be like another.  Some will be sour days, while another will be a day of blessings.  That’s how life’s horn of plenty will be, full of variety.  Your job is to dig for what’s real and right.  God’s way is to change the horn of plenty into more like a tube, an open-ended tube of plenty.  He just keeps on givin’ from His end, even in days when everything seems like hollow plastic.  The scripture is true, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17 – (NAS)  When those days of emptiness come too often, keep in mind, each day is not forever.”

That’s how Thanksgiving day of 1969 began for Scotty.  He locked it away in his heart.

Later in life, forty-eight years later, after Scotty had children of his own, plus a granddaughter, he cherished the days when he could sit by the side of his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother.  Now in her mid 90’s, she had suffered from the disease for about thirteen years.  After he had been told she no longer recognized her loved ones, he refused to stay away from her bedside.  On his final visit with her, in the same old house with a quiver full of memories, there she was.  Only 78 pounds, waiting for the heavenly call to reunite with her husband, he pulled up a chair next to her bed.  Reaching out, he held her thin, weak hand and spoke to her as if she were full of health.

With a lump in his throat, he addressed her, “Hello, Grandmother.  It’s Scotty.  You may not remember me.  I’m your oldest grandson.  I can’t stay long, but I just had to tell you something before I leave.”  He paused to gain strength.  “My horn has been so full.  My life has been blessed with a variety of cultures, love, and laughter.  My adventures have been plentiful, and my plenty has been an adventure.  I have been wrapped in many fruits of the Spirit to this very day.  Not all things in my days have been something to be thankful for, but I’ve learned to be thankful while enduring all things.  I just want you to know, you were a big part of that.  I’ve learned to pack them inside for when the wintry mix becomes seemingly unbearable, when it’s hard to see the road.  Although I regret biting into some plastic fruit at times, I always kept in mind that a day is not forever.”

As he finished what he needed to say, her weakened hand squeezed his.

 

 

 

 

En Garde

Photo:  natinaproducts.com

“Guard well our human chain.  Watch well you keep it strong.  As long as (the) sun will shine…”  – To My Old Brown Earth, (1964).  Composer:  Pete Seeger

I wish I could tell you, but memories fade.  The name of a frequently visited mountain in northern Mexico escapes me, but it was not too far from Monterrey, Mexico, where Saddleback Mountain overlooks the city.  Forgive me for my mental erasers.

Mountain - Saddleback Mountain in Monterrey, Mexico

Photo:  Pinterest

Every summer, at the church I attended as a teenager, the youth group visited an American missionary family stationed in Monterrey, Mexico.  We teens would spend a week putting our shoulders to the plow, getting our fingernails dirty, right alongside them.  Trust me, the sun was hot, the sweat bountiful, and Montezuma’s revenge (sickness) was eventful.

Certainly, our journey to Mexico was more than just a terrific excursion, but a true life-learning experience, as well.  The time I spent there, working with the impoverished and hungry, can never be replaced.

Our budget was always low, even though we spent each year raising funds for the trip.  Our jaunt below the border, was aboard a couple of old converted (Excuse the pun.) school buses, plus a van.  Of course, when we weren’t doing missionary work, we were given tours and sightseeing trips.

One particular year, I believe it to be the summer of ’75, we went on a trip to one of the highest mountain peaks in northern Mexico.  It was an adventure, to say the least.  The trip consisted of a winding rocky road, in cork-screw style, up the mountain.  The scenery was delightful and the air was thin.  One of the first things I noticed was the uneasy pit in my belly when turning the corners.  You guessed it…NO GUARDRAILS!  It looked something like this…

Mountain Road - drivenachodrive.com

Photo:  drivenachodrive.com

Believe me when I say, the above is not much of an exaggeration.  About every mile or so, when the cliffs allowed, a second lane forked-off for a few yards, only to mesh into a single lane once again.  When a car, God forbid another bus, would come from the other direction, it was a slow, tight squeeze to get by.  At times, it was inch-by-inch.  One of our youth pastors drove our bus.  The other was driven by a layman from our congregation.  All I could do was to sit there with visions of us tumbling down the escarpment to our demise.  There’s a vague memory of holding tightly to the back of the seat in front of me as I held my breath around those curves.  I wondered if our parents would have approved of the ascent.

By lunchtime, the two buses, reached the summit, or near it.  There, we enjoyed a fun picnic as we could see forever.  Naturally, I was not looking forward to the ride back down the mountain.  Before you knew it, it was late afternoon.  The time had arrived to climb aboard the old bounce-queen for the trip down.

Although in low gear, we rode the brakes on the way down, along with great caution.  We squeaked by the corners and curves, keeping the tires as far away from the rocky edges as possible.  You know, they say not to look down, but I’m a glutton for fear.  When I wasn’t looking down the face of the cliffs, I noticed most of the girls in our group were looking down at their feet.  The thought crossed my mind that they were just not into looking out the cliff-side windows.  Then I spied a few of them praying silently.  I’m not afraid to tell you, they were time-sensitive petitions.  A nightmare was about to descend upon us all.

At one point, about halfway down, our brakes burned out.  Our quick-thinking youth pastor pulled up on the emergency brake lever immediately.  The emergency brake didn’t do much as gravity was the enemy.  An eerie hush fell over the bus.  Not one screamed, cried out, or yelled.  It was that serious.  Keep in mind, this was in the mid ’70’s, no cell phones.  Our other bus, behind us, had no clue we were in trouble.  We all feverishly stuck our arms out the windows, frantically motioning the bus to find a place in the narrow road to pass us by in order to get in front of us.  After about a minute, the driver got the idea, as we were moving ahead faster than what was required.  During this near-panic, while coasting toward complete calamity, we all looked for the road to separate into the two lanes for a safe passing.  Just before a scary bend in the road, there was a wonderful sight of the single lane breaking into two.  The rear bus quickly passed us, pulling in front of our bus before reaching the dangerous curve ahead.  As our bumpers hit we began to slow down to a welcomed stop.

THANK GOD FOR…

Guardrail - coralsales.com

Photo:  coralsales.com

Guardrails, for the most part, are something we rarely think about, or even notice.  Usually, we only think of guardrails when we hit one.  Countless lives have been saved by these extruded lengths of alloy, or concrete.  If only the Mexican government thought the same concerning that mountain road.

How many times have we put up guardrails in our lives?  Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes.  At other times, we plow-over our personal guardrails for what we believe will be better scenery.  How many times have we looked back to acknowledge moments of a downward spiral from an out-of-control drive to the edge of stability?  Oh, don’t get me started.  My life’s brakes have failed way more than I want to admit.  Sure, I could fill-up pages of blogs with my mistakes and sins, due to misguided, or misdirected notions.

When you think about it, guardrails are put in place not for aesthetic-sake.  Guardrails are not part of a conversation piece while on the road to a better place.  We drive by them at 75mph with the full throttle of taking them for granted.  The next time you are driving on a high overpass, picture the bridge without guardrails.  It gets you thinking.  Guardrails stand in efforts to protect from sheer inertia, sheer momentum.  Guardrails are placed to defend from gravity, if you should veer off-road.

Laws do the same.  Laws guard us from destruction, desolation, and death.  Laws were made to protect, like guardrails, lest we go too far to the edge of where you will not want to be.  In the same way, law is an educator, a teacher, a guide.  There’s a scriptural theme which delivers the warning signs.  In essence it says, with great wisdom, something like, “Danger ahead!  Here, and no further.”

Sign- Cliff warning

If not for Jesus, who fulfilled the Mosaic law for me, (Galatians 4:4-5) I certainly would be condemned in a million ways.  My efforts will always derail me because I’m only…(Dare I say?),  human.

If you’re like me, there is a tendency to let down the guard too often.  Sometimes we let down our guard with relationships, substances or thought-life, just to name a few.  There have been times in my life when I allowed my heart to be totally unguarded.  Like a hungry wolf, those who are bent on playing the disruptor, delusionist, and disabler, find an unguarded heart by mere sense of smell.  If you’ve not been in the cross-hairs, just wait.  You will be.  Whether it’s a drug, a person, or a darkened thought, which births action, it is wise not to be controlled by the inertia of such.  That final step is a long one.

Life is a winding trek.  Its curves are cut-out of the bedrock with unanticipated sharp turns.  Not to mention, the trip is way too short to veer off course into an abyss that is only beautiful from a distance.

An authentic, fail-safe brake system is only possible with the tested and approved, fuel for the race.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Solomon – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

 

For Sale! Must Go!

Photo: Durun.ugrasgrup.com

“When you walk through the door hang on to your senses.  At best you must assume it’s a house of many rooms.” – A House of many Rooms (1995).  Recorded by:  Mike & The Mechanics.  Composers  K/A B A Robertson, Brian Alexander, P. Robertson & Michael Rutherford.

Here in north Texas, it’s a terrific time of year for a garage sale.  We plan on making it happen.  However, our friends, who live next door, are selling their entire house.

MansionPhoto:  Unsplash

No, not that one!

They are a kind, young couple with two toddlers in tow and twins on the way.  They MUST move out.

Our neighborhood is in a historical district.  In fact, the Dallas, Texas suburb, where we live, was founded in our neck of the woods.  So, most of the homes on our street are older, frame-pier & beam style houses with large windows.  Their house is particularly small.  For only being there for about 3 years, they have put loads of work into the place, refurbishing and repairing.  They are very creative, as well.  They have built back-porch stairs, a store house and a nice garden of veggies.  Just in the short time they have resided there, the upgrades have lifted the value of the home to a nice rate any realtor would be proud of.  As of last night, they have had a parade of prospective buyers tour the place, drawing a few offers.  Relatively quick for a brand new realtor sign by the curb.

One of the first people who took advantage of the open house tour, said out-loud, “This is MY home!  I’ll give them an offer today!”  He obviously liked what he saw.  Ironically, he mentioned he and his wife live in a newer part of town where they raised a family in a multi-bedroom & bath home that would dwarf the house of interest.  He went on to say they are wanting to retire and scale-down now that they are empty-nesters.  I hear that!  There have been many who have chosen to go the same route.

As I’ve mentioned, our neighbor’s house is old, but solid and well worth the price.  We will miss the family.

Yet, sometimes, window-dressing can be deceptive.  In 2003, I bought a great house in Williamsville, NY (Buffalo area).  It was beautiful, stoutly built by hand from a team of Mennonite contractors in 1968.  I was astonished it only had one owner.

House Countryside Lane

As the buying process moved slowly on, a home inspector looked the place over with a fine tooth comb.  I walked alongside him, as he almost wore out the batteries of his flashlight, inspecting every nook and cranny.  Thirty minutes later, with his stamp of approval, he took my money and off he went.  Fast forward to our first week in the house, the furnace died.  It was the beginning of November in Buffalo, NY!!!!  Need I say more?  Yes, it was a big problem.  In the end, we found out the inside of the furnace had rusted out.  It was the original furnace from 1968.  The rust could clearly be seen with a flashlight through the vent on the casing of the old furnace.  As it turns out, the home inspector worked closely, almost exclusively, with my realtor.  They shared a wallet.  ARG!  BING! “That’ll be $3,500.00 please.”  AND, by law, they had to cut off our gas line until the new one could be installed, no matter how much snow covered our roof.  It took another two weeks with nothing but a fireplace, along with loaned-out space heaters.  Be careful, deception is often in the list of ingredients to wheeling and dealing.

“The eyes are the window to your soul…” – William Shakespeare –

Handshake

I guess I can’t judge the realtor and inspector too harshly.  In life, I have had to sell myself over and over again with certain temptations.  You probably have too.  Right?  Sure, you give someone the truth in an interview for that job of a lifetime, but maybe there’s a bit of fudge in that cake of a resume’.  Or, you are introduced to prospective in-laws for a dinner and you found you smiled way too much for no good reason.  Maybe, you oversold while writing a blog.  If you’re a politician running a campaign for an upcoming election, well…yeah.  Possibly, in efforts to encourage your non-athletic child, who is about to try-out for the soccer team, you just couldn’t help but say, “You’ll be the best!  You’re gonna slay ’em big-time today!  Go get ’em!”  Sure, it’s an oversell, in efforts to let him/her know you believe in them.  Yet, you knew in your heart it wasn’t going to happen.  In retrospect, you realized there was another, more truthful way, to cheer him/her onward as they display their best.  The opposite is also suspect.  In love, my mom tried to use reverse psychology on me just before a musical audition, recital, or a karate tournament.  It went something like, “Okay, Alan.  If you mess-up, don’t come cryin’ when you get home.  Just suck it up.”  Later in life, she admitted that wasn’t the greatest way to encourage me.  Of course, I agreed with her, but I didn’t admit that I also held a grudge for decades.  Not good.  Oh, the things we learn.

Window dressing is fine, unless the outfit on the mannequin isn’t on the rack inside the store.  When on a date, you might find you change yourself, in some way, to make the most impact.  You were selling.  After the future wedding is over, the newlywed spouse sees you for who you really are.  OUCH!  Deception, no matter how small, can have a large price.  It’s better to calculate, analyze and reveal than to barter a shady soul.  Otherwise, the future relationship may come to a dead end when concealed rust is found in the core of what turns you to the right or left.

Last weekend I attended my high school reunion.  It was a wonderful time of reuniting old relationships, memories and tons of hugs and kisses.  One of my closer friends went to a small after-party that went into the wee hours.  I was not too shocked of how she described the afterglow gathering.  She said, “Alan, I just had to leave after awhile.  There were too many trying to be cool.”  My understanding was, there had to be a smattering of overselling in play.

I’ve learned it is better to be who God knows you to be in front of others.  No doubt, a vehicle to loving others more than yourself.

Our neighbors will enjoy a bigger place as their young family grows.  Possibly an older buyer will purchase the cottage-style house in efforts to downsize.  Now THAT is a sale looking through a humble lens.  Maybe, in the doorway, will be found, a FREE nozzle for fuel for the race.

“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” – Jesus – John 14:2-3 (NASV)