Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number

“Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home”
– (1974) “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” Recorded By: Steely Dan Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

On my Facebook page I decided to have a little fun with an age old question for old rock consumers. The question was: “Did Rikki ever lose that number?” Considering the song was recorded in 1973, along with the reveal that Rikki was an old college girlfriend of Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, it could be Rikki is in her early 70’s now. If Rikki has already experienced cognitive issues, maybe Rikki no longer has knowledge of where that number may be.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

While counting down the hours to Thanksgiving this year, I watched a news feature on the growth of Dementia and Alzheimer’s in our country. Because Alzheimer’s runs through the maternal side of my family, I was glued to the report. Contrary to popular belief, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. The “plaque” which appears in the brain seems to be the main monkey wrench in the gears of the mind. Also, there can be shrinkage of the brain matter itself. Dementia is a general term for a slip in mental abilities which gets in the way of everyday life. Dementia is NOT a disease, but considered a brain disorder. There are various kinds of Dementia, as well. Trust me, it’s complicated and a bit over my lay-person’s head. However, if one has Dementia, the symptoms can mean troubles in connecting names of loved ones, or others. One can find it more difficult to follow driving directions, communication skills and focus, the spelling of words, and losing items like…(wait for it)…phone numbers. In the days of yesteryear, it often was referred to as “senior moments.”

Not long ago I mentioned on this platform the fact that my 76 year old mom is now wrestling with a minor form of Dementia. It does appear to be a fading of figuring out how to use her cell phone, remembering names and places on the fly, and losing train of thought in conversation. It’s difficult for me in that she has always been a sharp person with an incredible skill of trouble-shooting and memory. Before spellcheck software, she was my spellcheck. Now, she’s almost given up on texting words. And yes, she’s very much aware of the cognitive decline. It is very concerning.

Photo: My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

It was a bittersweet privilege to watch her be a selfless 24/7 caregiver for my grandparents. My granddad had Dementia issues, and my grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease. There was a great deal I learned from her just observing how she handled the frustration of seeing her parents traveling downhill with this issue. The main lesson i gleaned from her was how to speak to an Alzheimer’s victim. I learned to never correct the victim when they speak inaccuracies. Gently agree, or placate on a subject. Never show anger if the victim made a mess in the kitchen, or bathroom, or soiled their clothing. It’s best to approach them as you would a toddler. (In many cases, the victim almost “youthens” in their reasoning.) Most of all, we must treat them with compassion, and deliver the highest respect, even when at wits end. Remember, your Dementia or Alzheimer’s victim once was a doctor, a pastor, a teacher, a cop, or a quality control inspector, etc. Most of all, they were once loving parents in the majority of cases.

Remember, someday, it could be you needing the comfort of a champion caregiver.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It would be a crime to suddenly think less of a loved one, suffering from this disorder or disease, who once knew how to care and love you without compromise. Certainly there are exceptions in every relationship. It could be you were a child of an abusive parent who now needs your love and care in the dark years of cognitive failure. It would be a treasure to know Jesus spoke about you…

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) KJV

An accurate Greek translation from the original text reads like this…

“Happy are the kind – – because they shall find kindness.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) YLT

So, Rikki, if you did lose that number, it’s okay. Maybe you ‘sent it off in a letter to yourself’. Come on, I’ll help you find it.

I am full, due to the fact God remembers the count of the hairs on my head. I found out while topping my tank with fuel for the race.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” – GOD From Isaiah 49:15 (NAS)

Table Or Booth?

“…We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I, face to face.”
(1977) “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” Composer and Recorded By: Billy Joel

When Tabitha, my oldest daughter, landed her very first job, it was at a Perkins Restaurant in Williamsville, New York. All of 16, she was ready to make some part-time cash. I was so proud of her. Holding menus each night in her arms, her first words were, “How many in your party? Table or booth?”

If life’s decisions were just that simple, wouldn’t that be nice?

Table or booth for you? Which way do you go? Better yet, what’s more interesting might be why you choose a table or booth.

From the time I was a toddler, I always preferred a booth. It never changed. One of my favorite places in Dallas, Texas was an Italian eatery called, “Caruso’s”. It was a cozy little place, filled with candlelight. Although it closed down long ago, it was well known for their singing waiters. I auditioned there myself back in those times. Caruso’s was a great place for a day job for opera performers and club singers. There was another thing I loved about the place, their booths with privacy doors. Not every booth was equipped with the saloon-style swinging doors, some were simple stall-style doors, but I always asked for it. My dates considered them wow factors. And if someone wanted to pop the question at Caruso’s over a plate of Chicken Alfredo with a glass of Blue Nun, the booth doors were the romantic choice.

For me, the booth was indeed more private. After all, you had a wall on one side, not another table of onlooker diners. Also, the back of the booth conceals who you are with, what you’re eating, and how you hold your fork and knife. As early as I can remember, I loved sitting next to the wall with another person sitting next to me by the isle. What’s worse, sitting on the stool at the counter. Thinking back, I know why I leaned this way.

One of my favorite diners, Rainbow Cafe, Carrollton, Texas.

If I count the first nine months prior to birth, I spent almost three years experiencing evil. My early days were laced with hearing, seeing, and feeling emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. My teenage father was a rapist, an adulterer, and a violent, mentally ill raging alcoholic. The violence not only targeted my mom, but also toward me in my infancy. His parents warned my mom’s parents that he might try to end my life in the crib. I could tell you much more, but I will leave it at that. By the time the divorce was finalized, I was a three year old, living with my mom’s parents in a peaceful, sheltering home. They always were a haven for this lad.

My beloved grandparents in the 1980’s, Martin and Opal Atherton.

So, whenever we went out for a meal, I felt so secure next to my mom, or my granddad with a wall next to me. My guess is, violence must have erupted a lot around the dinner table in our home. It’s funny how even to this day, deep inside, I want to be next to the wall in a booth.

So, yes, “A booth for two, please.”

My middle daughter’s old band, Dirty Smile.

Earlier in the autumn, September/October, the Jewish community celebrates, “Sukkot”, commonly called, “The Feast of (Huts) Booths”. It is also entitled, “The Feast of Tabernacles”. The festival commemorates the days of protection God gave the Jews in the desert after the historical escape from Egyptian slavery. You might say it’s a bit like a Thanksgiving holiday. It was God’s idea. You can find more about it in Leviticus 23, and a few other passages. One might see it today as camping out. They were to set aside a week to live in small makeshift, temporary three-sided shelters where the family lived, ate, and slept guarded from the brutal desert sun, cold nights, and scorching winds. In modern times, depending on what’s available, many build them in backyards, or apartment patios, or balconies, out of plywood, and/or lattice work, vine branches and/or palm leaves. It became known as a time when God sheltered intimately with the family, as He would “Tabernacle, or hut with them”.

It seems to me, after a long scathing, often times brutal election year, I need God to hut with me. I want to be soothed in my booth, with my body touching the wall while the Ancient Of Days, the One Who is always at the helm, sits next to me. On the other side is the isle of tabled onlookers. Until I’ve left this place to sit at His table, it’s what I need.

So let me say again, “Booth for two, please.”

When searching for a strong, and very permanent shelter, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (World English Bible)

Fact Checkers

“You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes”
(1975) “Lyin’ Eyes” Recorded by: Eagles Composers: Don Henley & Glenn Frey

POLITICS! Don’t you hate it? Who can you trust? My advice? Research the records and achievements yourself, not by the words spewed like a fire hydrant in the midst of a political campaign.

Actually, some thrive on politics as if it were a favorite summer salad, favorite sports team, or favorite holiday. Not me. And yet, I have friends in politics who have run for office. Better them than me.

Currently, in the USA, we are all swimming the the sewage of heated political races, soon to wrap up in November. At the same time, we also know, in our hearts, the political games, lies, and rhetoric will not stop. When a news hound, one must learn to switch to a comedy when the time is right for sanity sake. Trump, Biden, or Mel Brooks?

One semi-new player in the political arena, which has strengthened in time with technology, are the fact checkers. It seems lying politicians can’t get-away with much anymore, or so it seems. It can get soupy at times in a candidate’s journey.

Mr. X: I’ve never raised taxes on the public in all of my political career (some may say ‘service).

News Anchor: Uh, excuse me, Mr. X, but our fact checkers just reported that you did raise taxes back in 1921. Would you like to rephrase your last statement?

Mr. X: In retrospect, I believe I must have been hacked.

Right at our fingertips, we can check a statement made to discover if it is indeed a statement is factual or not. After all, the fine folks at Wikipedia are omniscient, and without flaws. Right? Let’s not leave out the fact checkers under the roof of the giant tech companies, Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. In the end, if a subject matter is not black and white, but rather grey and foggy, the 24 year old employee, who may or may not have an agenda, at one of the big tech companies must choose what to report, and often in asap time.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Let’s say one employee personally leans left. That one might take the opportunity to report their research fact checking as a slant for a liberal taste. If the high tech company employee gets the same foggy bottom-line in the research, that one may slant the answer to the right to fit a conservative narrative. We know this is true because these people, sitting in front of a computer screen, are humans, humans with flaws, beliefs, and sin. This is where bias in media sharpen the fangs. It breeds deflections, misdirection, and (Should I dare type it?)….LIES. And THAT is where “fact checkers” resemble more of the play on words, crisscrossing the checker board, hopping over pieces of truths to get to a landing square in order to remove the enemy on the other side. Who can you trust?

Photo by Roman Kaiuk on Pexels.com

Then, of course, there is the lie by omission…as in, not answering a question to avoid lying, or revealing truth. That’s the horse of a dark color hitched to the wagon of downfall.

No wonder a growing number of citizens in the world today hold very little trust in politicians and their games. Maybe it reminds the voters a bit too much of when their lives were trashed, shredded, or destroyed due to a lying tongue.

Face it, in your past, hasn’t their been a time(s) when a lie(s) targeted your integrity, your value in the eyes of others, or love and family? Many have lost jobs, or entire careers because of the lack of truth-telling. The divorce rate continues to grow, and most of those unions were ripped apart thanks to dishonesty. There’s a reason why the court clerk uses the words, “…the whole truth and nothing but the truth” when swearing-in a witness. It means something. Lies will sink ships, destroy nations, cause the world to be set ablaze. The “lie” is birthed out of the selfish premise that if one is destroyed, the liar will profit. There is freedom, liberty in spades if deceit is absent.

“…You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” – Jesus (John 8:32)

So, if the nearest political campaign seems a bit like a stoning, this may be the root of it.

Before you change the news to a mindless comedy, which I dearly love, consider the One Who said it is impossible for Him to lie. (Hebrews 6:18)

No matter your education, no matter your upbringing, no matter the religion you follow, in the end of all things, which will burn away, the Author of Truth will be standing, waiting for you. Ethics, wealth, mature/immature choices, and in fact some of these will be shown to have been falsities held to, will all fail you in the end. Leaning on deceit, dollars, and divination will deliver nothing when your account comes due. None will give a profit in the scope of eternal existence. He is the ultimate Fact Checker of our personal standing.

So, is honesty really the best policy? (Outside of Washington DC.)

For sure…To be honest…The truth is, vote for fuel for the race.

“And I saw Heaven opened and behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon it is called Trustworthy And True, and in righteousness he judges and he makes war.” – Revelation 19:11 (Aramaic Bible Into English)

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)

Chronologically Gifted

“…But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too….”
(1975) “Landslide” Recorded by: Fleetwood Mac  Composer: Stevie Nicks

Way before I was chronologically gifted, at 15 years old, Fleetwood Mac came out with the song “Landslide”. Being swept off my feet then, I find myself still mesmerized by it. In fact, about seven years ago, while on what we all thought was my deathbed, my rock star daughter flew in from New York to be by my side.

Feb 2013 while still in a coma.

There in ICU, I indicated (I couldn’t speak with all the tubes down my throat.) I wanted her to sing the Fleetwood Mac song while holding my hand. She did. Nurses and doctors stopped out in the hallway, gathered at the door of my ICU room. I cried, she cried, they cried. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Afterwards, I asked her to sing it for my memorial service. Although I came back to life, after six weeks in the hospital, my request still remains.

My friend Ann from the blog entitled, “Muddling Through My Middle Age”, often speaks so well about getting older, complete with everyday events in her life, humor, while all laced in wisdom. I’m not sure I can do so well about this topic.

While doing so, allow me to age six decades right in front of your eyes.

Recently, a friend on social media asked what was the first television image you remember in childhood. Quickly I realized I was a tad older than her readers when answers tended to be, “The space shuttle explosion”, “When JR got shot on Dallas”, or “The Bill Clinton impeachment hearing.” Mine was easy. My first TV recollection (Black & white) was watching King Kong climb the Empire State Building when suddenly the old movie from the 1930’s was interrupted by Pres. Kennedy’s funeral march. It stuck out to me visually because there was a horse hitched to a wagon, with a coffin on the bed, wrapped in the American flag. No doubt, a sight very different from the norm. I was three years old.

 

1963 – My first dog, Tippy. (How about that haircut?)

I don’t say “chronologically challenged”, but rather I am “chronologically gifted”, so to speak. Have there been challenges in my winding road of life thus far? Sure, way too many. But I wish to lean into what has been good in my life, along with what taught me. Although I must remind myself to do so. Follow me on this. Perhaps you can identify with me.

You may be chronologically gifted if you recall the sound of the old rotary dial telephone.

You may be chronologically gifted if you rode a stingray bike with a banana seat.

You may be chronologically gifted if you ate candy cigarettes.

You may be chronologically gifted if you remember the theme song to the old television show, “Family Affair” with Buffy and Jody.

See what I mean? If none of the above makes sense, it could be you are not yet chronologically gifted.

They are all just little delights from an era gone by.

Thank you, Kodak for the film for special cherished moments in life. I bumped into rock legend, Roger Daltrey of The Who in north Dallas. He was cheery and didn’t mind me taking a picture. It was 1975, right after a run of the cinematic version of the rock opera, “Tommy”, as well as a new solo album, “Ride A Rock Horse”. Although 16 years my senior, he looked very…youthful at 31.

1975 – Roger Daltrey at Valley View Mall, Dallas.

Another gift to recall, how it feels to hold your first born.

Nov 1987. My Tabitha.

It’s a gift to recall holding HER firstborn, my first grandchild, 27 years later.

June 2014. Holding my Skylar. (I was looking really gaunt. I was still in recovery and physical therapy.)

You’re pretty gifted if you have fond memories of your first full-time job.

1978 on my first full-time job. (I can laugh at the tie now.)

You can be gifted if you can look back on loves, life, and lacerations and still smile.

1976ish in overalls

You might be chronologically gifted if you are close to wrapping up mortgage payments.

2003, first Christmas in my newly purchased home at 43 years old. (Better late than never.)

You can be gifted even if you were known for playing elderly characters, and now you save money on the old-age stage make-up.

Dec 2002 playing an older role in a Broadway-style musical.

My old stage make-up bag is not that heavy anymore. It’s okay. Counting the worry lines isn’t what I do anymore.

2020 Facebook profile pic.

There was a time, a few years back, while at the check-out counter in the grocery store, the attendant bagged-up four plastic grocery bags worth of essentials for me. Then the young lady at the scanner looked at me a couple of times and asked, “Sir, would you like help getting these bags out to your car?” Bless her little pointed head. There was a second or two of collecting my cobwebbed gray matter and replied, “Awe, no thanks. I think I can handle it.” I grumbled to myself like an old man all the way to the car.

But then, there are terrific gifts that come along when chronologically gifted. Like the very first time I approached the cinema box office window at a time I found it unnecessary to “act” like a senior citizen.

Thank you, Cinemark! It helps when the box office attendant is all of 19 years old..

Of course, the unwanted gift of being a chronological surfer are the funerals added to the schedule. Too many come my way. Friends, family, and familiar ones on your street gone before me. A childhood pal, one of my very best friends, just spent his last day of suffering with ALS. His battle was only two years in length. That’s nothing but God’s grace and mercy..

Because I am a person of faith, a Jesus follower, getting older can be seen as a gift. I am just that much closer to entering His eternal promises than when I watched JFK’s funeral procession. He said He came to offer a life that was more abundant than what it would’ve been like without His provisions, His nurtures, His guiding hand. I have noticed His road signs. Too often, I ignored them, leading me down darker rocky roads. Signs like…

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

When you find yourself chronologically gifted, maybe a landslide in life will be more survivable. And when you find you are indeed chronologically gifted, and you look back and see your younger reflection in the snowy hills just before a landslide brings it down, there’s the Almighty’s Voice within stating the truth, “See, I brought you through that one, and that one, and this one.”

The finish line has promise when the tank is topped with fuel for the race.

” I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.” Isaiah 46:4 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Masquerade

“Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play?
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding understanding anywhere
We’re lost in a masquerade”

(1976) “This Masquerade” Recorded By: George Benson Composer: Leon Russell

As I write this, it’s 104 degrees here in Dallas, Texas, with a heat index (What it feels like with the humidity factor.) of 118 degrees. The last thing I want to do is put on a mask.

If you read my blog posts you already know I don’t write about politics, or political favor, or rhetoric. (At least not directly.) Trust me, I won’t start today.

COVID-19 sure has delivered its punch in various ways. At first we were told masks were not necessary. Soon after, we were told to wear masks if ailing in health in order to protect others. Soon after, we were told to wear them in order to protect our own health from others who may be carriers. Before you know it, we were told to wear them in public regardless. Later we were told it might even be best to wear one in all indoor locations, outdoor locations, and when alone. ALONE? REALLY? So, if you’re hiking alone in the forest, you better have a mask over your big trap. Jeepers, I give up.

Let me start off by saying I want to do the right thing. I’m not one of the rebels you hear about who gets into fights at Walmart because of the lack of a mask on the mug. Beyond all of that nonsense, I have chronic health conditions which COVID-19 targets. To be frank, (and Alan, too) I must wear one when around other people until we have a vaccine. If I contract COVID-19 in my health state, I will most likely die. I know that sounds dark and gloomy, but it’s the truth. So, I do put the stupid thing on.

Me in my non-surgical mask.

Yep, that’s what I look like driving up to the bank teller. Times have changed. In case I forget it, I also have a fresh surgical-style mask in my car with the string around the ears.

Before you ask me, I do take off my sunglasses while in the grocery store. Which brings me to a very honest confession. Over the last few months of this pandemic, I slowly began to stop smiling at people I come in contact with. In fact, I find I no longer speak pleasantries to others as I push my buggy around. The only thing I can figure is that I feel hidden, as if no other shopper can see me. Isn’t that the dumbest statement you’ve ever read?

I sing in my church band, but that’s been nixed since the virus shut our normal church services down. For some odd reason I have grown, or shrunk, to feel I am a non-person in public. Therefore, since no one can see my mouth, cheeks, and chin, why bother to smile? Why speak since all is muffled. Mostly, when you feel hidden, what purpose is there to utter a word? Oooh, this sounds harsh. Am I making any sense?

Others must have the same syndrome because I see it in their eyes as they quickly look away from mine. What’s more, I don’t seem to mind the change I am seeing and feeling. Now, THAT’S sad.

If you saw the cover photo above the title, it might have given you smothering memories of Halloween-past. Remember how those loud, crackly plastic masks made your face sweat big-time? By the end of the night’s outing your face looked like it had ventured into a car wash. Then there’s the old saying, “You can throw me in jail but you can’t keep my face from breaking out.” How true of those days.

Speaking of retrospect, this reminds me of a familiar personal mode, which is far too common.

Mask, or not, sometimes we create our own masks. Don’t we? Not shields of cloth or plastic, but inner shields we default to. Like the ancient Greek actors holding up masks on sticks, we tend to hide our true selves in times of emotional turmoil, anger, and fear. As an artistic so-in-so, I buried myself in stage acting, or for various media. As a singer, I would dive into the lyrics, which drove my stage presence to another level different than who I really was. When I began to settle in my radio and voice-over career, I felt more at ease behind a mic in a control room all by myself, even though there were 200,000+ listeners on the other end of the speakers. In short, I allowed these areas in my life to become masks on sticks to hold up in front of my face…which in translation means: Emotions. If thin in some section of the persona, or physical appearance department, we tend to mask it with other tools from abilities, or our personal strengths. This is why most comics, actors, singers, writers are very often shy in their everyday-jeans.

At the same time, if we could only recall that there is Someone Who knows us, every line and wrinkle. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God has counted every hair on our heads. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God knitted our tendons inside our mother’s womb. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God not only knew us in our mother’s womb, but also made plans for our lives, good plans to oversee.

Pay very close attention to the passage below for emphasis. Please don’t miss this. Notice how Jesus uses His words when meeting a man named, Nathanael for the very first time. Check it out.

***

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:45-50 (Berean Study Bible)

***

No doubt, Nathanael ran back home and shouted, “Look Ma, no mask!”

Although your Creator sees straight through the mask you hold up, others cannot. I will work harder in communicating to others through my eyes. (I’ll act my way through it. LOL)

Knowing, and being known is discovered in fuel for the race.

“And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face had become radiant from speaking with the LORD. Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses, and behold, his face was radiant. And they were afraid to approach him….When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. And when he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, and the Israelites would see that the face of Moses was radiant. So Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. – Exodus 34:29-30 & 34-35 (Berean Study Bible)

 

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)

 

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

The Essentials

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“I need you like water
Like breath, like rain
I need you like mercy
From heaven’s gate
There’s a freedom in your arms
That carries me through
I need you”  (2000) “I Need You”  Recorded by:  LeAnn Rimes                                        Composers:  Dennis Matkosky & Ty Lacy

This is embarrassing, but I need to share one of the craziest knuckleheaded things I’m guilty of.  Keep in mind, I was only 15 years old, full of adventure and vigor, with constant daredevil brainstorms.  And of course, I was indestructible in the summer of 1975.  Weren’t you at 15?

I was at a summer camp, with church friends, from my youth group on the banks of the sprawling, Lake Texoma, on the Texas side.  Lake Texoma is huge, as it spans parts of southern Oklahoma, as well as, north-central Texas.  In fact, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.  It’s a fisherman’s haven, about 74 miles north of Dallas, Texas.  You should Google it to get a better picture of what I’m about to reveal to you.  Sightings of alligators are rare there, but they are there.

Lake Texoma Map Pinterest

Tied-up along the banks, were a few blocks of Styrofoam, the largest about 5’x5′ square, and approximately 2-feet in thickness.  I think they used them for some sort of “King of The Hill” games in shallow waters.  Difficult to keep one’s balance if standing on top.

Three of my extremely bright friends, and I, came up with a brilliant plan.  Like calculating convicts, planning an elaborate overnight escape from prison, we carefully planned out a scheme to barrow some brooms, make our way down to the Styrofoam blocks under the cover of night, board it, and paddle our way to Oklahoma and back before sunup.  Three of us were athletes.  I was a trained tournament fighter in karate/kickboxing.  One was a state award-winning gymnast, headed for the Olympic trials.  One was a football player.  The other was…well…a guitar player.  What could possibly go wrong?

About midnight, we quietly freed ourselves from our barracks.  We made our way to the maintenance worker’s shed.  There we discovered only two brooms, one mop, and a fan rake.  We figured it’s all we had, so we borrowed what God gave us.  What could possibly go wrong?

Brooms etc

Like four teenage ninjas, we quietly made our way down to the shore, untied the biggest block of Styrofoam available, and with each one sitting on each of the four corners, with our legs hanging over the sides, we began to row like madmen on a quest.  Of course, the brooms worked better than the mop and rake, but we strategically placed the two guys with brooms (I was one of them.) on the opposite diagonal corners for better rowing balance.  So, off we went, in our dark clothes into the dark waters, lacking life jackets, flashlights, reflectors, or flares.  What could possibly go wrong?

lighted building near body of water at nighttime
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

We had a blast, rowing 90-to-nothin’, talking about girls, our camp counselors, the mess hall’s food, our youth pastor, and…alligators.  What could possibly go wrong?

Believe it or not, we made good nautical mileage in short order.  To this day I have no true sense of how far out we went, but I will guess two miles, or so.  What we didn’t realize is how far across the Oklahoma shore was from our campsite.  I will say, it looked a lot closer than reality.

I don’t believe we made it even halfway across when we all decided to take a break.  We laid back, with our empty pointed heads meeting in the middle, looking up at the stars with the sound of water licking the sides of our…yacht.

At that time, we all knew we had bit-off more than we could chew, but didn’t speak it into the overnight air.  After a time, in our exhaustion, we debated the idea of defeat.  Someone brought up the thought that if we got caught we would all be sent back home in a shame wagon.  On the other hand, someone brought up the fact that if we didn’t start paddling back, the sunrise would beat us, revealing our naval escapade.  We would be exposed to those headed for breakfast.  The skinniest guy said he didn’t have the strength to paddle with his mop any longer.  Silently, each of us began to consider the danger we were in, sitting on a piece of Styrofoam in the middle of Lake Texoma, without safety flotation devices, not to mention…alligators.  Personally, I was more worried about the lake legend of the wild goat-man who lurks about the shores looking for young campers, no doubt since the days of Moses.

Bravely, one by one, we agreed to make a 180 to paddle back before dawn.  With arms feeling like rubber, half dead on our feet, we made it to shore while it was still dark.  We swore we would never tell anyone.  The four of us made a pact.  What could possibly go wrong?  You guessed it, the week wasn’t over until one of us (Not me.) bragged about it to a girlfriend.  Before you could say, “Gator-bait” everyone on the campgrounds heard about it.  We narrowly escaped an early trip home.  And some, didn’t believe we did it.  I’m grateful I am still here to write about it.  God’s mercy and grace are real, in real-time.

Me and Tommy

Photo:  I’m on the right, with another fearless one acting like fools.

The 1975-Forging Foursome came to mind recently during our current COVID-19 crisis.  That still night out on Lake Texoma involved four teenagers who relied on each other to stay afloat, to stay alive.  Whether one had a broom, a mop, or a rake, we depended on each other, even though we were pooped in the dark on top of 100 feet of water.  For us, we were a team to be reckoned with.  We were essential to one another.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say.  In this pandemic crisis, only essential businesses, essential workers, essential volunteers were called upon to keep America afloat.  The non-essentials were/are under “Shelter-In-Place” orders.  Truly, there was/is a good reason for it.  The virus we battle is like a team of alligators in darkened waters.  I, for one, am extremely grateful for first responders, medical staffers, fast-food services, grocery stores, truckers, farmers and ranchers, gas station managers, sanitation workers, postal workers, etc….  They are all rowing in unison as fast as they can to protect the rest of us.  They were all placed on their jobs for, “such a time as this”.

However, in the end, WE are ALL “Essential”.  Much like pieces of a puzzle, we are all essential to one another.  Where would we be if not for the shoe salesman, the record producer, the librarian, the barber, the DMV clerk, the house painter, and the carpet layer?  Sure, in the crunch-time of paddling through the dark waters of the COVID-19 battle, some jobs are needed to be on the front lines of the viral war.  I get that.  I agree with that.  However, in the end, after life is done, there will be a ditch-digger, a candle-maker, a school janitor, a tool & die maker, who will realize they were part of God’s assorted massive toolbox.  There are no non-essentials here.

God Himself will say to some, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Each one is precious, and needed.  Each one has an essential place with fuel for the race.

“…Whatever you might do, work from the soul, as to the Lord and not to men…” – Colossians 3:23 (excerpt) – (Berean Literal Version)

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
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Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
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As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
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Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
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By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
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Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)