A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

When The Rapids Rage

“…And the rush of crashing water
surrounds me with its sound.
Striking out to reach you.
I can’t get through to the other side,
When you’re racing in the rapids,

there’s only one way, that’s to ride.
Taken down, taken down
by the undertow…”
(1974) “In The Rapids” Recorded By: Genesis Composers:Anthony Banks, Michael Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett

Earlier in June, I wrote of my experiences while attending my daughter’s wedding in Buffalo, NY. My other daughters, D’Anna and Tabitha, and Tabitha’s daughter, Skylar, as well as, D’Anna’s fiance, Nik, all made the journey from Texas to be at the incredible occasion.

Being former citizens of the Buffalo area, naturally the family wanted to check out old stomping grounds, our old house, and iconic places of the area. Nik, on the other hand, had never been there. D’Anna was on a tear to get Nik to Niagara Falls. Before you can say, “Drip-drip”, the family hightailed it over the Grand Island Bridge to see one of the Seven Wonders of The World. I have never gotten tired of visiting and revisiting this magnificent awestruck creation.

From the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side. Horseshoe Falls of the Niagara.

Once there, the kids did what they had time for. They visited The Cave of The Winds behind the falls. They explored the panoramic view from the foot of the falls, while on the deck of the Maid of The Mist touring boat, where you can feel the churning rumble beneath your feet. And of course, what’s a summer day if you miss getting sprayed really nicely climbing the wooden staircase next to the American side of the falls. They were immediately reminded the water is always cold in every season.

For me, the drive just outside the falls, in itself, is something to behold. Before you arrive at the falls, you travel a road which stretches alongside the upper Niagara as it speeds toward the falls. The closer you get to the falls, the more turbulent the river becomes. Some 100 yards, or so, before reaching the rim of the falls, the upper rapids churn and toss the waters filling the misty air with the roar of its rage. I have written before about the ominous, “point of no return” warnings set for boaters, which may be about a mile upstream. By the time you see the rapids racing to the brink, the force of the poundage of the water could violently toss the Empire State Building over the edge. It’s massive. It’s powerful. It’s unforgiving. It’s stirring to walk alongside the rapids as you feel its unmatched strength.

Nik and D’Anna did just that.

At some point, Nik noticed something that caught his eye. Most wouldn’t even notice, or even think about how it happens, but someone with a observant mind would take note. It was this…

There, just a few yards from the brink of the falls, a stubborn tree in the middle of the roaring deadly rapids. They noticed it didn’t budge, sway, or even wobble. There was no detection if the tree was rooted beneath the torrent on the riverbed, or if it was an uprooted tree from upstream which found a stabilizing foothold in the boulders beneath the surface. Nik was amazed at the tree’s resilience as the crushing flood crashed into its trunk, pushing, tugging, and grappling through the might of the raging undertow. So astonished by what he saw, he took the picture with his cell phone. My theory? I believe it to be a driftwood tree carried downstream which jammed one of its limbs in a crevice of a boulder, or two, anchoring it in place, forcing the rapids over, or around it. From what they observed, unless authorities remove it somehow, that tree might never see the edge of the falls.

Flying back to Dallas, Texas, while on my layover in the Baltimore airport, as I waited to change planes I took out the phone to catch myself up on the news of the week. I had been so busy while in Buffalo, I hadn’t seen any news reports Of course, as I began to scroll through the headlines, I regretted stepping out of oblivion.

So much anger, rage, and social idolatry has become the norm in such a short time. Hatred, deception, chaos, Marxism, and crime are on the rampage. Oh, and did I mention hatred?

The one giant elephant in the room parents discovered over the pandemic, as their kids were going to school online, was they actually got to see what their children were being taught. One of which, is CRT (Critical Race Theory), birthed out of the BLM movement. If not familiar with the CRT protocols, its statements, and its goals, you should look it up for yourself. In a nutshell, in very seductive undertows, it pits one race against another. The focus demonizes the white race, teaching all white people are born oppressors. How blatant is that? The focus is to shame the white race with the false idea that if born to white parents, you are unable to rid yourself of being an oppressor, a white supremacist, or a flat-out racist. Even our own president has said as much at his podium.

This twisted, deranged lie indicates a white person can, and will, never shed the haughty attitude of automatically degrading, from the very soul, other ethnic categories of color, especially anyone of African decent. According to CRT, this happens in infancy.

This is all where the phrase, “Systemic Racism” is developed. If you are one of my readers who has brown, or black skin, this places you in a cultural psychological pit in which you do not belong. CRT, if it has its way, has a dangerous, venomous seedling to be planted in your mind. The seedling will root itself in the crevice of your brain, programming you to believe that today, tomorrow, and always, you will be an “oppressed victim”. No matter how much income you deposit in your bank, no matter what level of education, no matter what position you take in the marketplace of careers, you will always have this root growing its limbs and branches, wrapping its warped ideology around and around your mind like a grapevine, or like a vicious cancer. In the end, you will never displace its roots once they have taken the foothold within. The result will not have you moving forward in our culture, but backward to the 1860’s after America’s war to abolish slavery. Instead of what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about, judging by the character of a person, and not by the color of their skin, you and your children, and their children, will be indoctrinated to adapt the lie of being beneath all whites at birth. That is not a free person. That is not the truth. That is not God’s hand.

CRT divides us into tribes, into mental masters and slaves, and how one race will always be evil. It is also designed to create stigmas of hate within the family unit itself. Ironically, unlike what CRT teaches, so many families are made up of various representatives of races. At American restaurants tonight, many tables will be full of loved ones dining together, who happen to be white and black, Hispanic and white, Asian and black, etc. Not to be missed, there are those wonderful families who have adopted children of various races. I have several white friends who have adopted, or fostered, black children, as well as, kids from other colors of God’s rainbow. CRT targets the family unit at its very DNA strand, which feeds discord. It’s clever, it breeds racism, and it’s deadly.

Is this what we want? Is this leading to a healthy culture, and respectful society? Is it not true that we are all created equal? In the biblical aspect, yes, we ARE created equally. In Jesus, we are no longer these categories: slave and free, women and men, Greek or Jew. (Galatians 3:28 Paul’s writing.) If someone comes along in history with another teaching, they are not of the doctrine of the God of Creation.

Some corporations have adopted the ideology into their HR requirements, especially for leadership positions. The fight to keep it out of our military is a current debate on Capitol Hill as I type this. Now, where various school boards have adopted the indoctrination of CRT into the curriculum, out of social fear or political pressure, some parents are beginning to vigorously speak out at public board meetings. That’s what it will take, patriots who love this nation to stand up for truth, justice, and the rule of law against the rage of a few who wish to see America crumble.

As for me, I hope that tree, in the middle of the rapids in the Niagara, holds tight to its stabling rock. I sure would hate to see it let go due to the sheer weight of the rushing torrent against it, only to see it go over the edge into…oblivion.

A solid rock in midstream was introduced from ancient days in fuel for the race.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water That extends its roots by a stream, And does not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought, Nor cease to yield fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NAS)

Why? Here’s Why…

Upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

My precious niece, Rachael.

Rachael is a 7 year old doll of a little girl, who also happens to be my niece. We are the best of pals. She is always so kind, along with an all-round simple precious disposition. Her eyes have window dressing laced in wonderment. A few days ago, her parents came home from early voting in the small town in which they live in east Texas. When she asked where they had been, they briefly explained the voting process. Looking puzzled she told her parents she thought voting was where Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden stood at the front of a room while everybody got a good look at them. Then at some point the voter walks up to their chosen candidate, takes their hand and promptly takes him home with them. Oh, sweet Rachael, if it were just that easy.

For my friends outside the U.S.A., this is election week. The word “week” isn’t a mistake. Because millions have cast their votes via mail-in ballots, many votes will be counted as they arrive in the mail after Election day, November 3rd. The splashdown of the results will be drawn-out, and earth-shattering in many ways.

If you know me well, you must know I do not get into politics on this platform, and I won’t start now. However, many do ask why a person votes for he, or she. In this nation, many do not vote at all because they have the freedom to make that choice. It is sad, but true. This year, I find it serves to say just why I vote.

Let me first spew this out. Many false things, hateful things, have been flung on various candidates and the supporters of candidates. Many truths have come out about various candidates which have come into the light. An election year in the modern world obviously is not for the faint of heart. One such splatter comes in the title of “voter suppression” here and there. Does it exist? Sure, in rare cases, suppressing a voter’s right to vote happens, and has happened. Thank God it’s rare, and not widespread. There are terrific checks and balances by election officials to keep this fraud from American citizens. Yet, some make excuses to cause fear and panic. Recently I heard it said, of selective communities, where voter suppression was evident because of lengthy lines at the voting booths. That’s horse slobber! Most voting lines in hotly contested elections are lengthy. When you stand in line at the post office with a package to be mailed two weeks before Christmas, do you call that, “Christmas Suppression”? When you stand in line at Six Flags, or Disneyland for two hours to ride a two minute roller coaster, do you call it, “Rider Suppression”? When you stand in a lengthy line at the DMV or DPS, do you call it, “Driver’s Licences Suppression”? Better yet, While spending the night in a long line to purchase tickets to the next Rolling Stones concert, do you call that, “Stones Suppression”? Sometimes in a heated election year, the whiners squeal like toddlers after a pacifier. It appears there is a suppression of peace and emotional stability.

The fact remains, mail-in ballots, whether we prefer them or not, have forged a noticeable impact this year. Why? They say it’s the fear of COVID-19. Then, there were many days available for early voting at the physical polls. Most of us found an off-hour and day to stand in a shorter line, or sometimes, walk in and out over a 10-15 minute stay. In this country, voting has been made easier than ever before.

So why do I vote?

When I think back to the days, after the Desert Storm War, of the videos of Iraqis standing in huge lines at voting locations, after years of oppression in that country, over threat of suicide bombs, drive-by shooters, and mob violence, I find voting a privilege and sacred honor.

When I think of my granddad standing in a long line to enlist during WWII, leaving his three babies and wife to help to crush the threat against liberty, I find voting lines a welcome sight.

When I think of the oppressed pilgrims who risked their lives fleeing monarchs who made themselves the heads of the church, forcing worshipers to worship as dictated by a king or queen, I find the voting booth a blessed place.

When I think of our forefathers who toiled and fought, were severely injured and died in a war so that slavery might be banished from this nation, I want to run to get in a voting line.

When I think of the father of a friend of mine who fled the poverty and tyrannical oppression in Venezuela, I gladly put on my standing-in-line shoes.

When I think of some of the families of some of my closest friends who crossed the Atlantic due to ethnic cleansing of the Jewish community, I see the voting booth as a horn of an ancient alter, giving legal sanctuary.

When looking at the lootings, the rioters, the mob violence in our streets, where cops stand to shield innocent citizens, the voting booth looks like a place of peace and protection.

When I hear the shallowness of not voting for someone because they don’t like his walk, her make-up, his accent, her hair, without mentioning policies or service records which may, or may not change, or damage our lives, I see the voting lines worthwhile.

When I see flag-draped caskets of the long-forgotten remains of our MIA’s and POW’s from the 1950’s Korean War being unloaded on a tarmac, I know I can, and always will stand in any lengthy line to exercise my God-given right to vote. Those men, and other heroes like them, counted on it.

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

Yes, our sweet Rachael, you are pretty close to what voting is all about. We DO own our vote. We, in essence, take our candidate home with us in our hearts and prayers. And when events occur where good, or bad decisions are made in Washington, we can say, “I own that decision”.

But most of all, dear Rachael, I vote for your future. I vote for your blessing from God to have the liberty handed down to you, so that long after I am gone, you can vote freely for the next leader of your choice. Mr. Franklin was right. It takes effort, strain, and even pain to keep it.

Whether or not your candidate holds office in this election cycle, knowing how God Himself made a way for this unique gift to be placed in your lap, it is worth it all.

The question remains…”If you can keep it”. The answer is written well in fuel for the race.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

 

Remember Who You Belong To

“Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead”
(1970) “Where You Lead” Recorded hit for: Barbra Streisand Composers: Carole King and Toni Stern

—-

“His message was very different. ‘You boys, don’t bring home somethin’ home ya can’t keep.'”

The cover photo above the title is a painting from my study/studio wall, just above my desk. It was painted by an in-law many years ago. It’s very dear to me. Here is my attempt to explain why.

Early July of 1967, I believe it to be, my mom, and my seven year old self, drove across the north Dallas suburbs to a house of an old family friend. My granddad and the husband/father of the home had been best friends for decades. The purpose for our visit was clear.

From the day I was born, I always had a dog. We were animal lovers, especially in the canine arena, and had been without a dog for a couple of years. Through word of mouth our old friends felt impressed to pick up the phone and dial our number. Their female mix recently had a litter of pups. Apparently, she had a secret rendezvous in the backyard with a rather handsome neighborhood escapee who was searching for love in all the wrong places. They told us there were “9” of these little babies, about six weeks old, and asked if we wanted to come over for a free selection. No doubt my mom responded with, “WOULD WE EVER? WE’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Of course, she had to talk my then stepdad into the acceptance camp first. (He wasn’t thrilled.)

After we arrived, we stepped out onto their back porch. We were met by an onslaught of highly energized pups, jumping, yipping, and peeing. It was a dog zoo. Honestly, they were climbing up on my tennis shoes doing all they could to get our attention. We held, we petted, we were slobbered on. After I had counted the gang, I realized there were only “8” bombarding us. We inquired. Someone pointed out the runt who was always left out of the constant reindeer games. I looked around the yard when suddenly, there in the corner of the backyard, all by himself, looking rather shy and sad, the runt of the litter. Now, at this point all the advice I can offer is that you must just trust me on the following. I…fell…in…love…that…very…instant.

He was medium chocolate brown, with white paws and a white patch on his chest. His ears were partially floppy halfway up, and looked up at me with a pair of blue eyes. (Later the blue eyes turned to a beautiful copper color.) Without hesitation, I told my mom this was the one. She pointed out the fact that he was smaller, quiet, and didn’t want to play with his siblings, nor did he look like any of his siblings or mother. In other words, he was a loaner, a reject from his own family. My heart just bled for this little one.

The deal was sealed. We took him home in a shoe box. It was roomy for him because he could sit in the palm of an adult’s hand. I spoke with him all the way home doing all I could to make him feel comforted and settled. He never uttered a sound. He looked down most of the way back home, but from time to time he would hit me with those baby blues.

My mom has the mind of a persuader. She could’ve run for office. She made it clear we would let my stepdad name the puppy, thinking that would aid in starting a relationship as a dog owner. (With that said, my advice is to never manipulate your spouse. It can be habitual and marriage-ending.) She eased the little pup into my stepdad’s space. It didn’t take him long to find affection for the four-legged pal. He named him, Tickey, after a childhood farm dog from his past, who apparently had trouble with ticks.

Tickey at 11 months old, 1968.

As he grew, we could see signs of a dachshund mix, with his long body, lengthy snout, and short legs. We also saw a bit of what we thought might be Corgi with the long donkey-ears and the Corgi trait of the turned-out ankle of one front paw. His chocolate brown nose blended right in with the hair on his snout. However, his tail was like a Brontosaurus tail, long and dangerous when wagged. He was a funny looking creature, but he was mine.

We were best buddies. We ate, slept, and when mom wasn’t looking, bathed together. He was smart as the day is long. He could also perform magic with his powerful snout. While sitting in a chair, with a glass or coffee cup in hand, he would rear-up, place his nose under the elbow and push upward with a hard jerk. Any beverage would then levitate…for a second or two. Then my mom would perform magic by making Tickey disappear from the room.

Unfortunately, Tickey would chew on my GI Joes, Creepy Crawler bugs, and little plastic army men to the point of disfigurement. So, being a lad of imagination, I pretended he was a dinosaur set loose in the city where the military had to engage. Of course, he agreed to that.

At that time we lived in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. After the school bell at the end of the day, I ran as fast as I could to reunite with my pal.

During those days, both my mom and stepdad had daytime jobs. Through most of my first and second grade years, I came home to an empty house. For awhile I entered the house through the garage using a key to the garage door. Because Tickey proved himself to be a great digger, it was foreseeable he might use his skills to crawl under the backyard fence for greener pastures, we decided to place him in the garage until I came home from school. This became a huge struggle.

Tickey absolutely had the adventurous heart of Marco Polo. My little dog wanted to sniff the world, not to mention we never had him fixed. He was a runner. Any opportunity, he was off to the races like a lightning bolt. I never understood how short legs could run so fast. I mean, you never could open the front door without first seeing where he was. If he saw you walking to the door, he would stalk quietly behind you like a ninja in a Chuck Norris film, just gazing at the first crack of the opening. So as my seven year old arms strained to lift the garage door each day, I had to also play shortstop as I had to nab Tickey shooting out of the garage. Too many times I would try to chase him down in tears, afraid he would get hit by a car. Frantically, I would yell at him, “Tickey, come here, boy! Follow me home. It’s easy, just follow me. It’s safe back at the house. Please, come home! That’s where you belong!” He was way too fast. If only he would’ve taken the initiative to follow me when I called, he would’ve been a lot safer. It didn’t take me long to find out I needed to bribe him with packets of dog food. Only then would he obey. Let me tell you, that got real old, real fast.

In that same year, we were to go out of town for an outdoor family reunion in west Texas. There was no way Tickey could go. After carefully sealing the base of the backyard chain-link fence with bricks, and logs, my stepdad thought it safe to leave Tickey in the backyard for the weekend. A neighbor was to come over each day to give him food and water. The gates were never locked.

It was Sunday night when we arrived back home from the weekend trip. It was dark, and I had just awakened from the backseat of the car, ready for bed. I remember my mom seeing some stains on the dark front porch, wondering what it was and how it got there. In my daze, I didn’t care and went straight to bed. There, on the front door, was a hand written note. What we didn’t know was, Tickey had slipped through a space between the fence post and the gate post for a weekend adventure like no other. That little sneak.

As it turned out, Tickey had his vacation day running around the neighborhood, checking out the sights, sounds, and smells. No doubt he did his part to populate after his own kind while out cruisin’ around, like father like son. Later we heard he outran anyone who tried to catch him. In the driveway of a house a few blocks away, was a tire of a parked car that just must be sniffed. While sniffing the edge of the tire, the car owner got in his car, put it in reverse to leave. As he began to drive out of his parking spot, he heard a dog crying out in pain. The man jumped out to find Tickey rubbing his noes with his paws. Apparently, he ran over the tip of his nose as he had his nose stuck under the tire when he put it in reverse. Right away the man tried to console Tickey. He made the attempt to pick him up to get a better look at the notable nostril nip. However, in classic Tickey-style, like a flash he jolted down the street like a racehorse in Kentucky just as fast as his little legs would carry him. Being a dog lover, the man hopped in the car and followed him all the way to our front porch. Tickey was hurt, bleeding, and frightened. He found him cowering in the corner, right by the front door while crying and bleeding all over the porch. When finding no one was home, he wrote a note asking if we had a small brown puppy with a chain collar. He left his phone number. Tickey was so traumatized and tired, he allowed the man to pick him up and he took him home.

We had a wonderful reunion. No serious damage was done to his nose. We all learned a great lesson from the event, especially Tickey. He got schooled in keeping the nose from where it doesn’t belong. He became more of a homebody afterwards.

Growing up together. The two of us in 1969.

Often in my teen years, just before heading out the door, my mom would say, “Remember Who you belong to”. More than a few times I would look down at Tickey and reply, “You mean, like Tickey?” At one of my best friend’s house, before going out on the town, his gruff dad would deliver his redneck crass wisdom. His message was very different. “You boys, don’t bring somethin’ home ya can’t keep.” The two of us would chuckle as we walked out the door. He meant well, deep down. We knew what he was telling us in code, as his wife replied in disgust, “Leroy, don’t say that!” Two very different directives in two very different households. One message was, to take stalk in all that you do when integrity is at stake, knowing God Himself sees all things. And remember who you follow. The other directive was, what ever you do tonight, sow the wild oats, but don’t bring me trouble because of it. At least that’s the PG version of Leroy’s meaning.

Getting white around the nose. Teen years, 1978.

Full disclosure here. There were many times I did NOT remember Who I belonged to. There were times, being away from home, away from my mom’s teachings, I forgot HOW I needed to come home, and in the same shape I left her front door. Then again, there were moments, and they usually are “moments”, when I made real-time decisions to stop before crossing a dangerous, or unethical line that was before me. Maybe in those moments, I mentally heard my mom’s voice, or maybe the inner voice of God’s Spirit saying “Here, and no further.” If only I could’ve recalled that late Sunday night when blood stains appeared on our front porch, my course might have hit the wiser trek more often. Ironically, my mom’s phrase would be used by me each time my three daughters left the house for a night out. How does that happen?

As for Tickey, he was with me throughout my childhood and teen years. We went through so much together. He stayed healthy, along with some white which grew along his long snout in later years. He was there at my wedding rehearsal dinner in 1981…really.

Our last snapshot together, 1982.

On August 7th, 1982, he was to say goodbye to us. I had been married for over a year, living across town from my mom and Tickey, but visiting often. Old age had taken its toll. That week he showed signs of a mini-stroke. This particular morning, he was taking a dive. Knowing he would probably not survive the day, my mom brought him to my place, on her way to her job, so we could spend some final hours. It was just the two of us all day. He was slowly going down throughout the day. I stretched out on the floor next to him, petting him, scratching his belly like old times. I leaned over speaking softly about our childhood days and his misadventure with the tire. There was a video of him humorously hopping through snow like a bunny in 1977. I showed it to him. I thanked him for his years of loyalty, laughs, and love. Most of all, I thanked him for making my childhood special. I made him as comfortable as I could, although he wasn’t showing signs of pain. Mid afternoon I called my mom to let her know he was slipping away. She came over immediately. Just like that summer day in 1967, it was just the three of us together as we both did all we could to keep him from seeing us shedding tears. He drifted away that afternoon quietly at 15 years of age.

God taught me so much through the gift of Tickey. Lessons of love, belonging, grace, care, and how to remember to turn the heart toward home in darker days.

I am 60 years old now and still miss my runt buddy. Yet my memory is blessed as I recall how he found love and value at our house, enough to remember who he belonged to.

The road map to belonging is printed inside fuel for the race.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” – Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

“When I know you know baby, everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy and we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…”  (1972)  “Listen To The Music”  Recorded By:  the Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Tom Johnston

Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children.  Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.

Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old.  I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.

Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways.  My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am.  It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years.  When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together.  In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years.  Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond.  It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.

Megan hug April 1st 2017

Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist.  Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years.  The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning.  (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.)  She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.

So, enter kayaking and camping.  We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to.  She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania.  With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty.  Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest.  Megan always takes pictures for us.  (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

Kayaks PA The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold.  With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.

Kayak 2 PA

Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters?  Yeah, me too.

At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire.  Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags.  Ah, youth.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp.  Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes.  Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire.  Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota.  Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away.  The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears.  About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors.  No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency.  Still, the bear did not flinch.  Not one eyelash was batted.  It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed.  Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end.  In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are.  For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife.  However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.

Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores.  That’s right.  Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars.  He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all.  Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered.  His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth.  Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese.  I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority.  THANK GOD!  Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores.  The key was…he frightened himself.  His own, “fear itself” shook his core.

I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization.  (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs.  The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.

In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents.  Personally, call me Yogi.  With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved.  My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants.  I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making.  My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south.  I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.

Thank you, bear.  Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life.  Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.

Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

 “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”                – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)

 

Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)

 

A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing.  You better listen to me,
every word I’ve been saying.  Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.  Don’t want your money, don’t need your car.  I’m doing all right, doing all right so far.  I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.”  (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded:  Delbert McClinton

Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries.  The third is this:  “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”

Most see it like this…

Coins

I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old.  It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional.  It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all.  It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side.  There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins.  Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins.  Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits.  What a great teaching tool for a little kid.  Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.

Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens.  When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller.  The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders.  It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.

Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to.  It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school.  I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year.  Later, I would consider it my jogging street.

I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by.  After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man.  Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather.  He looked to be in his 70’s.  The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind.  His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty.  His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots.  There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed.  I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office.  He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap.  After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out.  Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue.  Seeing this old man caused her pause.

After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling.  There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers.  One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.

Jimmy Porter Baseball

I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport.  They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence.  A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence.  Two things come to mind.  First, he did it with ease.  Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence.  Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow!  Cool!  Far-out!”  I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see.  Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy.  You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.

Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s.  This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere.  Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked.  An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag.  He coached.  He taught.  He umpired.  He pitched.  He chose players for the teams.  It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up.  Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys.  They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield.  If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth.  Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb.  He loved the kids.  They truly idolized the man.  Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home.  After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.

A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult.  Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.

Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee.  For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s.  Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis.  When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name.  Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets.  On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s.  At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.

Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats.  He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded.  Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children.  As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years.  Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas.  The games were casual, friendly, and educational.  Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first.  Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies.  Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval.  They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”.  It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit.  For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas.  In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years.  Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.

Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids.  He was never seen begging in the streets.  Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work.  Many offered him jobs.  He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them.  He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.

Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players.  In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument.  Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA.  He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982.  Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service.  Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.

Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited.  Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived.  In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline.  A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house.  It was way overdue.  This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.

At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger.  It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board.  Think of it.  In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park.  Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar.  I’ll leave the subject here.

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home.  He was 84 years old.  The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields.  His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.

Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected.  Yet, as poor as he was, he gave.  Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come.  Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him.  Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents.  Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures.  His investment was enormous.  I would say, not so poor.

Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.

Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake.  It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.

Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon  (New American Standard Bible)

A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But All I’ve Got Is A Photograph

“Every time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I’ve got is a photograph
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”  (1973)  Photograph.  Recorded by:  Ringo Starr   Composers:  Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.

Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write.  I just know I have to.  I MUST write about it.

Meet Terry Sindle.  Terry was a dear friend of mine.  We were the same age.  He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived.  It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York.  They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher.  But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.

Terry Sindle RLT Choral

(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)

He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative.  He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum.  He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow.  I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best.  He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer.  I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport.   Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing.  We both had poor single moms.  We both loved music, and music performance.  And we both loved pizza…or so I thought.  Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza.  So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn.  When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS?  THIS isn’t pizza!”  Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza.  We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy.  It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.

One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar.  He was an incredible guitarist.  I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar.  His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”.  Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band.  In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog.  TWO DAYS!  He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs.  He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn.  He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.

You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather.  I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition.  I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading.  It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music.  He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977.  He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.

Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads.  Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy.  Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully.  We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards.  With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics.  (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.)  Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.

Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town.  Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career.  We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock.  Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on.  We lost track of each other by 1980.

Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times.  It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act.  He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.

Terry Sindle Rocking the 80s

(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)

Then…all went silent.

About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend.  By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link.  Nothing came up.  Internet searches came up empty.  It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.

Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search.  With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit.  Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37.  What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing.  May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him.  My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable.  All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida.  All other searches came up zero.  It was highly frustrating.  I gave up and the years went by.

A couple of months ago for  Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.

Me and Band RLT Oct 1977 Terry Sindle far right

(My Alan Brown & Co Band.  Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)

In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977.  That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants.  Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.

Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry.  I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough.  So, I lit a fire under my chair.

Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister.  I messaged with her right away.  Afterwards we spoke on the phone.  Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death.  Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief.  After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist.  Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live.  In fact, he died 3 days later.

Terry did well with his music while here.  In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records.  Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed.  His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there.  He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married.  They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.

Terry Sindle Wedding

While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients.  That didn’t surprise me a bit.  He had a huge heart.  As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life.  He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s.  He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again.  At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus.  AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back.  Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.

Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed.  She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years.  I was thrilled!  I did so.  Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace.  You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt.  In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up.  Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.

Terry Sindle and Sons

(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot.  Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)

A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet.  Once again, I was thrilled!  I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us.  They were itching to show up.

When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling.  It was so strange.  All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me.  As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor.  Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster.  They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years.  We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew.  Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth.  When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.  The others drove up shortly after.

Terry Sindle Memorial Gathering

(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot.  I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)

For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts.  The guys poured out all their memories of Terry.  No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together.  Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years.  He dearly loved his wife and sons.  Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up.  After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise.  That was his concern while preparing to leave this life.  He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.

Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub.  I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades.  Of course, I know what she meant.  Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad.  His eyes lit up as I described our days together.  He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry.  He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited.  He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.

As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized.  It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty.  And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help.  So many don’t.  He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away.  To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.

As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well.  I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become.  You are an impressive young man, Matthew.  And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.”  Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.

Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others.  If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.

One day I will see Terry again.  And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”

A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.”  – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)

 

 

I’ve Been Here Waiting Before

A Christmas Prayer

By:  Alan Brown

I’ve been here waiting before
The plastic holly now unpacked
The same red stocking in fact
My wreath hangs once more

Shoppers agog for a Friday of black
Retailer sales are all the fashion
Passing the Kettle without compassion
Days in traffic we will never get back

Bulbs need renewal on the string
As the tree lots show their pines
I miss the magic once easy to find
Yesterday’s wonder no longer rings

Verse of sugar plums sing out in the frost
Tickets sold for a cracker of nuts
A deer on an odyssey quest and such
And through this fog Your plum-line is lost

Silenced eves when my children prayed
Now vacant rooms echo as omens
Each missing their manger moments
Yet, decor yearns for a garland spray

Tinseled wrappings reflect how You came
Hay and straw, Your newborn scent
Eastern Magi drawn with knees bent
All this plastic never measures Your fame

Gifts come, gifts go, gifts of cloth and steel
They say a man of age checks his list
Somehow I find no strength to resist
There’s stirrings of honesty craving to be real

All these things You already know
All these things weigh as gravity
All these things dismantle sadly
Without You, holiday spirit would lack its glow

Yes, I’ve been here waiting before
Wading through season’s greetings
Fixed in the trappings and feastings
Shine unto me as in the days of yore

“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”  – Jeremiah 29:12-13  (NKJV)

Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

“…Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose on Halloween
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!”  (1967/1968)  Spooky.  Recorded by:  Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.)   Composers:  Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr.  Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

What spooks you?  According to the song, love can cause fear.  I’ve been there.  How about you?  Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad.  They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives.  We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.

Homestead Windmill

Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966.  One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided.  It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history.  Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.

Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills.  The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers.  Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd.  (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)

There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms.  In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament.  Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek.  By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed.  After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge.  Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow!  That was close, Trigger.  Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.”  When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated.  Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop.  Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears.  So, there I was.  I couldn’t jump over the cactus.  I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties.  With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek.  My fear began to build up inside.  A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side.  Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.

Halloween Skeleton

Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  There is the thought of, “This is easy.  He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.”  True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time.  You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old.  To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on.  But…someone had a different perspective.

Grandpa Brown

Photo:  W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire.  (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)

After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear.  Through my tears I started to scream out for help.  Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse.  If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird.  As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars.  A lesson was learned.  They don’t take to commands like Lassie.  Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks.  I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.

While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”

Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands.  He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes.  The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me.  In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.

He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched.  How did you get in such a fix?  Can’t you get out?”

After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there.  As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out.  Poor guy.  He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake.  He was probably more relieved than I was.

Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape.  And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary.  But that’s what needless fear can do.

Of course, there are healthy fears.  You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire.  We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic.  What?  You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano?  My healthy fear says, no way.

Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly.  What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview?  You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam.  How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands?  It’s all so spooky.

Do you know how many phobias there are?  I googled the titles.  I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list.  They are real.  There’s the fear of leaving your house.  There’s a fear of lettuce.  There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls.  We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one.  Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.

‘Tis the season, says Halloween.  When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation.  Right?  We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there.  Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle.  It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid.  Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.

While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement.  The authoritative man set the stage like this:

“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”

The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so.  Think about it.  He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified.  Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments.  It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume.  Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer.  Very camera-shy.  Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade.  However, it’s fun to be afraid.  Right?  Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.

Here’s my view.  I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus.  I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek.  I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop.  (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.)  My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best.  My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario.  What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective.  Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown.  And THAT made the difference.

When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.

Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern.  Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside.  Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God –  Isaiah 41:10 (NAS)