“When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong. Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.” (1979) “The Rose” Originally Recorded By: Bette Midler Composer: Amanda McBroom
After a heartbreaking divorce, my 15 year old daughter, Megan and I, found ourselves in suburban Buffalo, NY, frantically hunting for a cheap apartment within the school district she had been living in. My oldest daughter had already flown the nest, and my 2nd grade daughter had moved back to Texas with her mother. (That was my idea, which I regret to this very day.) Our lives seemed to be devastated, destroyed. We lost so much in the storm of it all.
It was in the blur of November, 2006. Megan dearly loved her school, along with her nearby friends. We were also looking for an apartment that would accept our family pet, Jojo, a tiny Yorkie, and Megan’s best buddy. With about 10 days to a foreclosure move-out deadline for our house, we found the apartment needed. That sounds like a quick, smooth transition, doesn’t it? Keep reading.
I will always remember, after a two week search, Megan, Jojo and I were sitting in our SUV with a heavy cold rain pounding on the roof of the vehicle in a drug store parking lot. We had just grabbed the latest edition of a local newspaper with a very small apartment ad section. Our area had very few apartments within it. My ex-wife was a white-collar criminal, among other things which I won’t go into, and had ruined my credit rating due to the record of crimes she committed over a 26 year period. I wasn’t sure a landlord would take me after a credit check. We were brokenhearted, exhausted, wet and worried.
As a dad, I feared homelessness. Something inside me boiled up with a fierce fight to keep my child from living under a bridge, or in a foster home away from me. As the lake-effect rain fell like artillery shells, prior to opening up the newspaper, I told her we should pray first. Through giant tears, we prayed together for a place to fit our needs in the area within the boundary lines of the school district, and the scope of the deadline. The odds were tremendously against us. The uttered prayer was a desperate one coming from my gut. My voice shook, my body trembled. My heart was wrenching, and my mind was at war with the facts fighting my faith. After the prayer, as we wiped our wet faces, we opened the ad section to immediately find an apartment which seemed tailored to our needs. Fast forward, it was exactly the right place for the three of us. The property manager graciously heard our story of desperation with all the pain in our bellies. She was a single mom with a history which included a nasty divorce. Even a move-in date of 10 days was accommodated. It was the right place at the right time, with the right person overseeing things at the right location. We stayed there while getting Megan through the high school years. Talk about a Godsend! It’s a crux forever etched in my mind and heart.
Why did I open up this very dark scene of my life to you? I’ll explain.
Recently, I walked into a CVS drugstore to find this candy display…
As much as I love Reese’s, this sign for the display upset me the second I read it. I’m not a legalistic, dogma consuming, strict, uptight, letter-of-the-law guy who rages on at anything written or said which hints at erasing Jesus. We live in a world that pulls away from God, that’s clear. Jesus Himself taught us that we are to expect to be ridiculed, mocked, and even sent behind bars in some cases. So, I understand a world, a culture, a marketing plan of Godless thoughts and intentional secular mandates which ignores the truth of Easter. That’s what a lost society will do. It’s natural for them. I get it. However, will I rely on peanut butter and chocolate to remember Easter on April 4th, 2021? Actually, the opposite happens. I tend to forget candy, plastic grass in baskets, and sugar eggs wrapped in colorful noisy cellophane on Easter. There’s nothing wrong with those things at all, but it’s not my reminder to observe this…
The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
Memories can be sparked by almost anything. A bubble of a recollection may arise simply with the aid of a song, a movie, or a pressed flower in the pages of a yearbook. What a pleasure when that happens…if it’s a good memory.
Today, I looked up at a basket full of dead flowers on top of a curio cabinet in the corner of our living room. It dawned on me that although I knew the basket was there, I never really took a great deal of notice.
A bit embarrassed of my neglect, I asked my wife about the basket of what appeared to be dead flowers. She kindly educated me without reacting harshly at my lack of awareness. She told me they are some selected flowers I had given to her over the years. Instead of tossing them out when the blooms die, she collects them in the basket above a cabinet full of precious items from the past. These will not spring to life at this time of year, but they do spark living memories. The colors may be faded, and the petals fragile, but they are still valuable. Frankly, I felt like a jerk. I should’ve noticed that about her. It warmed my heart, just like when I see a local newspaper being offered at a drug store stand.
Much like these memorable flowers from days gone by, a Christian, (This is one who accepts, and believes, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for sin, and has faith that He rose again from the tomb.), I remember the cross of Christ, but I celebrate His bodily resurrection. He died in my place, for my space in His eternal family. His death on the sacrificial cross was indeed dark. Yet, His resurrection is bright, and colorful to this very hour. He displayed the knockout punch over guilt, sin, and death itself, which is the penalty for sin which entered humanity’s DNA in the beginning. How could I forget? I am redeemed, spiritually rescued, stamped by His righteousness. The fine folks at Reese’s can’t help me with that.
Because of this resurrection, His guiding Spirit is present in my bright and dark days. If you are not a believer. it would be impossible to truly grasp this.
Remember when you were broken after the death of a loved one? He was there. Remember when you lost that job? He was there. Remember when you suffered that miscarriage? He was there. Remember when you found out your spouse was cheating on you? He was there. Remember when you held your firstborn in your arms for the first time? He was there. Remember when you looked into the eyes of the one you loved and said, “I do”? He was there. Remember when the abuse came when you were an innocent child? He was there. Remember when you narrowly escaped an attack which came out of nowhere? He was there. Remember when you were involved in that car crash? He was there. Remember when your savings ran out and you didn’t know how to pay the next bill? He was there. Remember when you found yourself dazed from a sudden collapse of your reputation? He was there. Remember when you were afraid as you walked in to a new school? He was there. Remember when you found yourself in the hospital, not knowing what was to come? He was there.
The better question might be…Did you look for Him there?
Easter comes with a curious wordplay. In English, when we see a single rose, we say, “It’s a rose”. As English tends to do, sometimes words can sound the same, but spelled differently. You can look at the empty tomb of Jesus and say, “He arose“. Both brilliant and beautiful. Fresh flowers, alive and thriving, can remind the redeemed person of faith, as well as, everlasting love blooming from Easter’s original event. No faded blossoms here.
So many reasons to remember His resurrection power over all circumstances can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.
Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” – Jesus – John 12:23-24 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“I really can’t stay. But baby it’s cold outside. Got to go away. But baby it’s cold outside. This evening has been… Been hoping you’d drop in. So very nice. I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice…” (1949 release) “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Composer: Frank Loesser
My posts are written from my desktop computer in our study/studio in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas. Today, Saturday, Feb 20th, is the first day this week I felt comfortable enough to plug the computer back into the wall socket. We have been practicing electrical limits, among other outages here.
In case you haven’t seen the news this week, Alaska got mad at Texas and threw-up all over us. For my friends up north, and around the globe in winter-friendly areas, allow me to apologize on this printed line before I continue. I spent five years in Buffalo, NY and know how piercing winter can be north of Oklahoma. However, this week in Texas was historical.
It’s a very rare thing, almost unheard of, if we see zero degrees on the thermometer in Texas. It’s also rare to see single digit temps in the winter. We see the teens, but only once or twice a winter, if that. Yet, in the last few days we saw zero and the single digits. To accompany the drastic frigid blasts, we were dipped in snow and ice for much of Texas.
Oh, sure, one might ask what the fuss is about. We love snow here in Texas. We rarely see it. When we do, it may be an inch or two once a year for a day, or even an overnight and morning before it vanishes. However, with the record breaking lows on the temperature scales, the snow and ice didn’t melt all week. Only today we crawled over the freezing mark with snow melting slowly. Swimming pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and creeks froze. Kids took up ice hockey. Pile-up crashes occurred on the freeways, due to dangerous black ice on the pavement. One event involved a multi-vehicle pile-up in Ft Worth where over 130 vehicles were involved, several fatalities, and dozens injured.
All of Texas was hit.
Apparently, Texas can handle a day of the extreme single digit temps, with minus wind chill factors to boot, but if it continues…real problems arise.
The investigations are ongoing, but Texans were struck hard this week. It began with enforced rolling blackout power outages. Then for many, in fact over 4 million, were without power in weather only Canadians could love. The wind turbines, which partially fuels power transfers, froze. The oil and gas pipelines were frozen or interrupted. The cascading rolled along as so many had to go without water, too. At one point, over 13 million, nearly half of Texas, experienced water boiling orders due to water treatment facilities grinding to a halt. I know several in my own circle who went without gas, water, and electric for 3-4 days. A friend posted this shot of how she got her meals together as if it were the 1800’s.
Organizations amassed efforts to help in Texas-sized fashion. Water and food lines became the norm. Here’s one at a local church parking lot waiting for cases of water.
For some, desperation took over as grocery stores were raided, leaving empty shelves.
Sadly, various ranchers began cutting off the ears of their cattle due to frostbite. Many farmers with hogs and goats had to do the same. Without gas, electric and water, many poultry plants stopped production as chickens and eggs froze in the hatcheries. Even feed and seed couldn’t be shipped to the ranchers and farmers. Hundreds of sea turtles were rescued on Texas beaches as they could no longer move. The Texas citrus crops are done for in the Rio Grande Valley. It was reported today by Sid Miller, Secretary of Texas Agriculture, that volunteers are harvesting frozen wildlife, deer, wild hogs, antelope, rabbit, etc, for massive BBQ’s and wood smoking to aid in feeding the public. He went on to say that even dairy plants need natural gas to pasteurize milk products. No doubt, Texans are in for a food shortage. Who knows how long it will last?
Unfortunately dozens of Texans have been found dead, and I’m sure many more will be found as the thawing has just begun.
Mistakes were made around the desks of decision in preparing for the unthinkable this past week. Lessons have been harshly learned. Preparedness will be reviewed and replaced for any future natural disasters, even those which Texas doesn’t normally see.
As pipes are being repaired, and shortages hover over us, I know One who is never short on power, and everlasting water.
This classical Greek word, ἐνδυναμοῦντί, changes everything about running on empty while facing outages. The Darby Bible Translation states it very closely to the original Greek text:
“I have strength for all things in him that gives me power.” – Philippians 4;13
The Greek directly places the emphasis on tasks, or circumstances being wooden horses which can be hurdled.
“(For) all things I have strength in the One (endynamounti)strengthening me.” -Direct Greek translation as Paul wrote it. FOREVER CHURNING! No frozen wind turbines here!
Often this verse is taken out of context. Remembering, that text without context is pretext. You really should read the complete chapter in Philippians. Many times Paul admitted he suffered when stuff happened that he could not control. Way too often God allowed Paul to experience the fan being hit. Early Christians were getting hit hard in their own type of cancel culture, not to mention the local government restraints, as well as, Rome itself. But Paul is so encouraging by saying, when the trials come, I know I can, and do, get through them by the One who continually pumps in, like a rushing fountain of water, the ability to overcome by a power which is outside of myself.
Texans are tough, but God is tougher. If we break chains, if we move mountains, it’s because He infuses the strength into us for the purpose. If even hell freezes over, because of his ongoing distribution of His all-powerful grip, we will skate over it. If He should send snow to our rooftops, in a state that takes on 110 degrees in the summer, then He will give us a transfusion of His ability to walk through it.
He will never lose His distributed power. There are no outages in fuel for the race.
“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – (Jesus) John 15:5 (NAS)
“…But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”(1979)“Gotta Serve Somebody”Written and Recorded By: Bob Dylan
Dylan had gone through a spiritual heart conversion, and with it came this song. Many scoffed at it, including John Lennon, who cruelly responded publicly with his own cut entitled, “Serve Yourself”. It was one of Lennon’s final recordings before his death.
His name was, Uncle Doss. At least that’s how I knew him. He was an intriguing, somewhat mysterious man in my early childhood. I was always trying to figure him out.
My Grandmother Swindell lived in the country, just about six miles away from my grandparent’s house in Greenville, Texas. Now, I realize that sentence looks odd, but allow me to explain.
You might be wondering how many grands did I have as the crow flies. Ella Swindell was my grandmother’s mom. Although she was my Great-Grandmother Swindell, my mom called her, “Grandmother”, so I did, too.
To describe her at all would be best done to mention Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) from The Andy Griffith Show. Although shorter than Frances Bavier, she dressed just like her. Her hair was arranged as Aunt Bea, most of the time. And on Sunday, like Aunt Bea, she wore the little pill hat, combined with a thin netting veil over her face, white cotton dress gloves, and a small black patent leather purse with a short strap. Oh, and yes, she had the “work your fingers to the bone” ethic, with the quick on the draw attitude of Aunt Bea. She was a green-thumb, no-nonsense, get-it-done worker of the soil. My mom called her a workhorse of a woman.
Generally, a few times a year in the early to late 1960’s, we visited her little cottage, out in the east Texas farm country, during weekend visits to my grandparent’s house. (If you’re a longtime blogging friend of mine, you might recall that I have written a snippet about Ella Swindell before. However, it’s been a long while.) We would drive down the county dirt road, passing corn and cotton fields, then pull up onto her makeshift driveway of chalky white rocks. I couldn’t wait to jump out in my cowboy boots, crisp blue jeans, and straw cowboy hat, run through her pasture behind the little frame house, and explore the old, haunted barn which rattled and groaned in the Hunt County winds. This city boy truly loved the adventure.
After I was called from the house porch to sit and visit, I would bounce through her opened screen door, greeted by her little Manchester black dog called, “Little Bit”. There was always a memorable aroma wafting from her tiny kitchen as we inched our way toward lunchtime, (Dinnertime, in her vernacular.) She made the best cornmeal fried okra and fried yellow squash you can possibly imagine, all grown from her garden. After hugging my 4′-11″ish Grandmother Swindell, I would immediately ask where Uncle Doss was, if he wasn’t already sitting in his chair in the far back corner of the front living room. Usually, her reply went something like; “Awe, he’ll be along dreckly. He knows when to come eat.” Being such a young lad, I didn’t have my arms around just why Uncle Doss wasn’t always around. After all, he was not what you would call friendly, sociable, or a chatter box. In fact, he was the opposite. He was evidently born without facial expressions, complete sentences, and topical interests. Yet, I couldn’t wait to see him.
Nobody had told me just yet how older generational married couples of certain upbringing lived. A good example was the fact Uncle Doss and Grandmother Swindell had separate bedrooms. Anytime I went to the back of the house toward the back door, which opened up to the back pasture, his room was the door just prior to the back exit. The door was always shut when visiting. My curious little brain always wanted to put my ear to the door to hear if he was in there. The temptation to slowly turn the glass doorknob for a quick covert peek into his domain was great. Before I had a chance to try the door, I usually heard; “Alan, leave your Uncle Doss be!” From kindergarten through 4th grade, I spent a week with my Grandmother Swindell during summer vacation. Once I ventured toward the back of the house, while she was out picking green beans for dinner (Supper, in her vernacular.) When I turned the corner for the back door, I saw his bedroom door wide opened. I tip-toed across the creaking wooden plank floor and took a gander. He was away fishing, or down at the general store trading fishing lures with some other old men in overalls. The room looked like something from a ranch bunkhouse for hired hands. It had a vaulted ceiling, and was just big enough for a single spring bed, a small chest-of-drawers, and a closet. I remember being amazed at how tiny it was. Maybe more amazed why he closed himself up in there whenever he was home.
But there we were, visiting with my Grandmother Swindell and Little Bit as he jumped into our laps begging for scratches behind his ears. When it came time for lunch, you could always expect the back door to open and close as Uncle Doss arrived from wherever he had been that particular day. As Uncle Doss walked into the the living room, I would look up at this tall, thin elderly man with a full head of snow white straight hair, ever-present stubble on his carved handsome face with bushy eyebrows. I was always stunned at how long his nose hairs were. I regret I don’t have a photo of him, but he looked a lot like the old western movie star, Randolph Scott.
Unlike Randolph Scott, he was not dapper, or even clean most of the time. He smelled of hay, dead fish, and chewing tobacco. He wore old faded denim overalls, a farmer’s cap, and dirty old lace-up rounded toe boots. With a sparkle in my eye, my exuberance in seeing him again would blurt out like water from a spillway, “Hi, Uncle Doss!” My Grandmother Swindell was regularly and surprisingly a bit sharp with him, “Doss, you go get yourself cleaned up right now! It’s dinnertime. Be quick about it. And scrape off those boots, for Pete’s sake!” He would nod his head at us in a down-home greeting, grunt at her, and head off to the bathroom built just for him. As a kid, I thought it funny, and a bit scary, how he was clearly older than she, and yet she inflicted her husband with such a quick tongue in front of us. Frankly, it was a tad embarrassing.
After a made-from-scratch country lunch, which could win awards at the State Fair Of Texas, we would sit a bit longer in the living room, complete with sweetened iced tea, for more east Texas accented chatter. That was my cue to prepare to head out the door to have make-believe adventures in the old rickety barn, and visit a my great-aunt Madge across the dirt road for a slice of freshly baked homemade pecan or apple pie. No doubt, that woman baked all day, every day. She was invariably such a joy to spend time with, and treated me as if I were the only boy on the planet. But she knew I wouldn’t stay long. After all, there were hay stacks to jump on, and corn fields to get lost in.
Prior to my quick escape from the Swindell cottage, I would try to get Uncle Doss to talk with me. After lunch he would sit in his corner chair and light up his pipe. I would sit on the floor in front of him, next to his tobacco spittin’ can, made from a discarded coffee can, with his knees about eye level to me. My goal was to launch my usual start-up questions. “What kind of a pipe is that, Uncle Doss?” Or, “How long have you been wearing those old dirty overalls?” Or, “Can I touch your prickly whiskers?” (He would allow it. As if it were yesterday, it felt like sandpaper.) Otherwise, if he gave me answers, they were usually one or two word sentences coming from his stone face, “Yep”, “Nope”, and “Oh, a bit.” The dog, Little Bit, loved that old man. Anytime Uncle Doss planted himself in his chair, Little Bit abandoned whatever lap he was on, hopping right up on his dusty lap in one leap. By the time I got back from running around the countryside, Uncle Doss would be gone, or shut-up in his small back room. It didn’t seem like much of a marriage to me, not like the union my grandparents displayed day in and day out.
Later in my childhood, maybe third grade, I was saddened, as well as curious, when finding Uncle Doss in a bed in the front living room off in the corner where his chair would normally sit. I didn’t ask questions of him. I think my mom prepared me beforehand. Although surprised by the living room bed, she must have simply told me he was sick and needed more rest. Frankly, seeing him in that bed spooked me just a little. For some reason I was feeling a little frightened by it all.
It was one of the last times I saw Uncle Doss. However, I did find out it was only a temporary illness at the time. Later, he didn’t need the bed in the living room.
Being a tiny bit afraid of my Uncle Doss was the norm. That may be why I tried so hard to get to know him better, which never happened. While in Jr, high school, after seeing the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, I recognized the feeling I had for Uncle Doss in the view of the children constantly trying to understand their spooky, mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. I then understood, Uncle Doss was my Boo Radley.
I’m not sure how old I was when my mom finally broke the news to me. There must have come a time when she thought I could handle the unfortunate truth concerning my Uncle Doss. My Uncle Doss was my Grandmother Swindell’s oldest brother, not her husband. If memory serves me right, there were six brothers, and two sisters in that clan, my grandmother Swindell being the youngest sister, the youngest of all of her sibs. My mom also let me know why Uncle Doss was such a strange individual. Even though he was the oldest, he was like a nine year old child. He was the only one in the family who was stricken with a mental disorder. Being born in the late 1880’s, very little was known on how and why childhood illnesses often caused long-term effects. I’ve been told, Uncle Doss was left with some slight brain damage after a hard bout with a version of the measles when he was a child. Today we know, acute encephalitis can be the result of a measles infection, causing permanent brain damage.
The family was mostly poor share croppers, working the black soil of east Texas, more times than not, travelling from one cotton farm to another, wherever there was work available. Their mother, my great-great-grandmother Molly, was an invalid. The title of, “Invalid” could have various definitions back in those days to country doctors. Nevertheless, their mother was a sickly woman, and unable to take care of her kids. So, Ella, dropped out of school at 2nd grade to become the caretaker of her mom and the sibs who were too young to take care of themselves.
After their mother, Molly died, Ella became the mom of the clan. After everyone was grown and went off on their own, Ella continued to take care of her dad and her oldest brother, Doss full-time.
Sometime in the teens, Ella Tapp became Ella Swindell when she married Claude Swindell, but it was understood how life would be. So, for many years she took care of the three men in her life until her husband died in the late 1940’s. (Records for that branch of my family are scarce. I’m unsure of actual dates of some events.)
This is Ella on the far left next to her daughter & son-in-law, (my grandparents), my mom as a baby, with her two brothers in front. Ella’s husband, Claude, my Great Grandfather Swindell in the back.
A couple of years after I was born in 1960, Ella’s dad passed away, leaving her with her brother, Doss.
In 1971, Doss got out of bed in his long-johns to find the kitchen dark and quiet. He wondered why his breakfast wasn’t waiting for him. After walking to his sister’s bedroom, he saw the door was still closed. He knocked and called her name, “Ella?” Silence. He tried the glass doorknob, opened the door to find her sleeping soundly under a sheet and blanket. He spoke to her again and again. She didn’t rouse. He approached her bed, nudged her, and found her to be cold. All attempts to wake her fell short. Because she was cold, he went back to his room to fetch his patchwork quilt she had made him and covered her. Uncle Doss lit up his pipe and sat in his chair for some time. Getting a little hungry, he called to her several times without any response. At that point he began to believe Aunt Madge, across the road, might be helpful in getting Ella out of bed. He walked over to his brother’s house, still in his long-johns, where his sister-in-law, Madge was busy washing dishes after breakfast. Still wearing her apron, my Aunt Madge rushed over to the cottage to find my Grandmother Swindell had easily roused…in the arms of Jesus at about 67/68 years old.
It may come as no surprise to let you know, my Uncle Doss Tapp passed away not long after, within the following year.
In short, if my Uncle Doss were here today, with a full healthy mind, he would testify of the great and strong servanthood his sister Ella display for her entire life. Literally, she gave over 60 years of her life to serve others. Unlike John Lennon’s response to Bob Dylan’s musical statement on finding someone to serve, without demanding something in return, was about an unselfishness, putting one’s “self” last.
A hero of mine gave 33 years of service to others. He taught the servant was more valuable than a ruling king. Much like today, he served during civil unrest, crude political scandals and unlawful corruption, economic hardships, incurable diseases among the public, violence in the streets, etc. Still, he found a way NOT to say, “Every man for himself!“
In that bright “gettin’ up” early morning, when my Aunt Madge walked into her sister-in-law’s bedroom, the words could’ve well been spoken of Ella, “Here is one who emptied herself out because of unconditional, gracious love.”
About ten years ago, after many decades had passed, I chose to drive out to my Grandmother Swindell’s old place in the country. Most all expected a new parking lot over her pasture with a sprawling office complex. Rumors about the area had grown concerning new neighborhoods of expansion for new home buyers, along with zoning for business developments. I was emotionally prepared, or so I thought. Yet, not much had changed down her dirt road. It’s been crudely paved now, but that’s almost all the change. When I turned the corner to that favorite stretch of familiar road, I saw my Aunt Madge’s old house still standing next to the cornfield. Shock came over me to find the old rickety haunted barn was still erect. Her pasture was still wild and free from builder’s dreams. Before I move on, have you ever smiled and shed tears at the same time? That’s what happened to me as I pulled up in front of her cottage, or rather, where her cottage once stood. Seeing that her little humble house had been removed wasn’t the cause of my facial reaction at all. Rather, it was the arranged perennial flowers which continued to bloom, outlining where the edge of her house once was, in a rectangle just where she planted them back in the early 1960’s.
God speaks in various ways, doesn’t He? I heard Him loud and clear that day.
The greatest servant of all is highlighted and illustrated in fuel for the race.
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)
“Go on now, go, walk out the door. Just turn around now, ‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore. Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye? You think I’d crumble? You think I’d lay down and die?” (1978) “I Will Survive” Recorded By: Gloria Gaynor Composers: Freddie Perren & Dino Fekaris
If you’ve not heard about it, you soon may become a victim of it with a blindside punch.
Some say it began about 25 years ago on college campuses across America. There were “safe spaces” for young college students who wished to get away from hearing opinions which didn’t align with their’s. In fact, any speech, just right of center, began to be shunned in efforts to push a more left field of thought. As this ideology brewed over repetition, married with time, a type of brainwashing began to occur among students. Of course, silencing other points of view was dressed up to appear to be an exercise in “safety” and “chaotic avoidance”. After all, if you banish dissenting thought, which evolves into speech and writing, then debate, disruption, and deciphering another view means self-conjured peace and quiet ruling over others not in your camp. In other words, it can be translated simply as, “I WANT MY WAY, AND I WILL HAVE IT MY WAY!” That sounds strangely like little voices from the past. “I WANT THAT ICE CREAM! I WANT IT NOW!” In the end, true healthy debate will be over.
Imagine a world where your opposition is no more…all the time.
Fast forward 35 years, America is full of 40-somethings who are CEO’s, owners of corporations, and last but not least, chiefs of Big Tech Corps. With a great deal of help from social media giants and corrupt news media, we now see where a culture has risen in numbers to browbeat and intimidate anyone they do not like, or anyone they do not want to hear from. In the name of safety and concern, and protection, conflicting voices can now be silenced in America by the few, not the majority.
This culture has now spread their tentacles into a dangerous discard mode. Literally, a culture delving into “cancelling out” of the public, those who dare to disagree politically, culturally, religiously, and ideologically. Just like the little ones who marinated themselves in the make-believe magic of Harry Potter, wishing away, or vanishing, anything perceived as evil.
Moreover, it bleeds into guilt by association. A perfect example would be cancelling all who supported conservative politicians, or whoever worked for a conservative candidate, or a particular administration. If you are a famous, well-established entertainer in comedy, movies, TV, or recording artist, who happens to be a conservative thinker, if you voice it, support conservative views, via donations or speech, you are in danger of being erased in the field of your occupation. Not unlike a pack of jackals on an African prairie, you can be ganged up on, chased through the streets, harassed publicly from your front lawn to your favorite social media site. In severe high profile cases, you can be so smudged because of your views, that you find your bank will no longer serve you. Imagine being turned down for career opportunities after a good screening of who you have been associated with. THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IN AMERICA. History can be rewritten if not opposed.
Yes, the cancel culture is flexing its biceps in the current political atmosphere, in the wake of recent current events. Make no mistake, if it grows, free speech will shrink. In my opinion, free speech essentially could one day be a part of our history…unless they cancel that part in history books. To vanquish, to erase, to delete opposing opinion out of existence is the goal.
If you know world history, you have seen this before. It doesn’t take long to discover nations who lost their freedoms in this way. How about the Salem witch trials right here on our soil? Because of a few disturbed accusing girls, many were executed as they were falsely accused of being witches. It didn’t take long for that small cancel culture to ignite hysteria, anger, and ruin.
At the same time of the growth of this twisted cancel culture, who couldn’t stand up to their own standards for very long, there is a Redeemer Who spent a very short time being crushed by a cancel culture.
Throughout this Redeemer’s life, He taught and exhibited the opposite of a cancel culture. He was okay with being ridiculed to meet up with a Samaritan woman at a well in a town nobody in His culture would ever go through because they had “cancelled” the people who lived there. They thought of it as cursed land. (Sound familiar red states?) He met with her, offered her living water and freedom from accusations. After visiting another town, He invited Himself to the house of a little man who had been “cancelled” by his own fellow citizens because he was a chief tax collector for Rome. Zacchaeus soon found freedom of the spirit after this Redeemer went home with him for a dinner. One day, this Redeemer was approached by a gang of “cancellation experts” who wanted to stone a young woman to death for an accusation of adultery. Even though the law at the time demanded an execution for the crime of adultery, this Redeemer stood between the mob with stones and the accused, boldly challenging the pack of “cancel lovers”. “Whoever here is without a sin in life, let that person throw the first stone at her.”(My paraphrase.) Each one, from the oldest to the youngest, evaluated his own corrupt heart and dropped the stones while walking away. She was not cancelled that day, but rather uplifted.
Jesus was so against a culture of cancellations. He didn’t silence voices of opposition, but asked to hear them. He lived, modeled, and displayed inclusion, not exclusion. Why? Because He knew where it placed a culture. It placed them in a deadly, murderous, unforgiving, and soulless spiral into an inescapable abyss. God’s mercy and grace was rejected, cancelled from the minds of its citizens. In fact, He warned the nation that their stiff-necked destructive behavior, without a turning from it, would direct them to a physical destruction, and a spiritual cancellation. Roughly 40 years passed, and in 70 AD, the Romans utterly destroyed the nation.
In our current worship of cancelling the lives of our fellow citizens, allow me to pick one verse of scripture which shines a brilliant light on how Jesus felt about cancelling those in opposition.
“Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.” – Jesus (Mark 8:34)- Contemporary English Version)
There’s two things Jesus did cancel. Sin as a master, and eternal death.
Freedom of speech wasn’t new in 1776. It’s first found in fuel for the race.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (ESV)
“…He did the mash, it caught on in a flash. He did the mash, he did the monster mash.” (1962) “Monster Mash” Composers: Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi
At this time of the year in America, you might experience some not-so-paranormal sights. During the Halloween season you just might turn a corner and see something like this…
Super frightening things can pop up from out of nowhere, like this…
Who knows, you may bump into a pumpkin on any given front porch. Or possibly, the most horrid, beastly thing which may be in your path…a political sign.
However, my personal spooky occurrence didn’t happen on a nearby neighborhood street, or a fund raising haunted house, or even a pumpkin patch with a maze. My personal ghastly experience appeared in my own living room a few days ago. Keep reading…if you dare.
It happened earlier this month of October, on a misty autumn evening. We had a family gathering, a reunion of sorts, complete with three generations of family in attendance, a potluck meal, three dogs, and eight people total. (Not to be confused with “ate people”.)
There was an abundance of laughter, snacks, and attempts at social distancing. After dinner, as expected, some games were unpacked and played around the dining table. Before you knew it, someone mentioned the game of charades. The partying group of eight formed a circle in our living room with cards suggesting characters and items to be acted out. It was tough when attempting to guess an apple bobbing in water, or a steam engine train, or Cleopatra. Then a family member read his card, got up on his feet and began to portray a raging, violent lunatic of an individual. This was acted out very well. There was rage plastered on his face with nostrils widening with gnashing teeth, looking down toward the floor while violently throwing invisible items toward invisible characters at his feet. Then ending with the clue of his arms folded and an evil grin of satisfaction on his face. Everyone was shouting out their ideas, “A criminal”, “A rioter”, “An angry sibling trashing his brother”, etc. Then suddenly, to my surprise, someone shouted out…”It’s GOD!” The presenter relaxed his disposition as he let go of the character, admitting that God was the right answer. To be perfectly honest, God was the most distant idea in my mind…but not for some in the room. If someone had shouted, “Zeus”, that would’ve been more of an accurate depiction. For me, it was frightening knowing there were those in the family viewing God in such a way.
You might think me too serious of a so-in-so with my thoughts of the clues given. And, frankly, maybe I should’ve lightened up. But, the One I know in my heart, the One dear to me since my childhood, can not be accurately characterized in such a way. Can one read scripture, especially in the Old Testament, and find God brutal, violent, and scathing? Yes, without a doubt. There have been times when God judged a people, a nation, in fact the entire world in Noah’s time. In context, it is easy to find His actions justified. Here’s a couple of examples: There was a people who offered their living newborn babies as a burnt offering to satisfy their false god. They didn’t have this practice for very long because they were removed from history. You will find entire nations wiped out by God’s hand who assaulted Israel, the people of His promise. Early in human history, you will find two incredibly vile evil cities “nuked” (for a better word) by a duo of angels sent by God. Sure, those actions were accomplished by the Almighty. Yet, what most readers miss is the fact that in each instance, God gave opportunities to stand down, to repent, to live by the truth of His righteousness for blessing instead of curses. Each of His actions teach those left behind. And we still remember. So much so, we make movies about these events.
It is interesting to note that most of God’s enemies knew about Him, knew His works, knew His deeds. At the same time, it’s one thing to know about God, even recognize His existence and authority, and yet another thing to KNOW Him. We may know ABOUT Queen Elizabeth, her likes, dislikes, her family, her homes, her deeds, but we may not KNOW her.
Four hundred years after the Old Testament events were history, Jesus was born. In that miraculous act, divine love, a love that cannot be imitated, was displayed. He came in spirit and in truth. Jesus, in all of His loving kindness, generosity, and unconditional love, told us that if we see Him, we also see the Father. In our finite minds it is hard to wrap our arms around the fact that Jesus, and the Heavenly Father, are One. It is the truth of the scriptures. If I go further on this subject I will write a book here.
Unlike the character portrayed by a family member, God always reaches out in love, not willing to destroy or harm. In fact, the opposite is the case. He sent Himself, in the form of Jesus, to be scourged, beaten, humiliated, and crucified in our place for sin sake. Grace with forgiveness is freely offered by the One who is not willing we all perish…not one.
It’s the reason why you don’t see God as a Halloween character for the front lawn.
True fact-checking is available in fuel for the race.
“…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:24 (NAS)
“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 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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.)
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)
“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.
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?
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?
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.
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)
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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)
“Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17 It was our song, it was his song, but it’s over. Please, Mister, please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever wanna hear that song again.” (1975) Please Mr. Please Recorded by: Olivia Newton-John Composers: Bruce Welch & John Rostill
Mama’s Pizza came to my north Dallas suburb in 1976, or so. It was the first New York style pizza to land in our area and it was a true hit. In fact, my single mom and I were one of their very first customers after they opened for business. The interior was very much like the no-frills, old pizza joints in New York City. It had its dark maroon painted brick walls kissing the eight or ten booths lining the long dark narrow dining area. There were three, maybe four tables for those that preferred them. The kitchen was out in the open with its used pizza ovens. (I say “used” because they didn’t look brand new to me.) Two brothers ran the place, both from New Jersey. They were both in their 20’s and going to school. One was in dental school, the other in business studies. They often fought publicly, but it only added to the atmosphere. They didn’t care how loud they were, or who could hear them. I smile thinking about witnessing shouts of, “DON’T BOTHER ME WITH THIS!”…”I CALLED MA LAST TIME. IT’S YOUR TURN, BOZO!”…”AH, FORGET ABOUT IT!”
One of my favorite things Mama’s Pizza had, there on the far back wall, an authentic mounted moose head, possibly a caribou, hanging out from the brick wall. It’s nose was just about eye-level. A couple of friends of mine had a tradition of kissing the nose of the poor beast. Just beneath the animal’s mounted head, an old classic jukebox. My classmates and I almost wore that thing out over our high school years. It looked something like this…
From what I recall, you could select your song for a dime, or a quarter if you wanted to push more buttons for a few more tunes. It seems they had current hits from the 70’s, as well as, some hits going all the way back to the late 50’s. Zero country songs. Very seldom did you ever see a goat-roper (Our word for cowboys back in those times.) come in for NY pizza. That’s was fine with us. We didn’t like country-western music.
Mama’s Pizza hasn’t been here in many years now. I miss it.
One thing Mama’s didn’t have was this…
Photo: Dallas Memories Facebook Group
Now, depending on how you are, you might not recognize what this is. Back in the day many small diners often sported these little treasures. Although most have thrown them out as the years marched on, from time to time you can still find some table-side jukeboxes. It seems like the last one I saw was at the Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, NY.
Photo: Lake Effect Diner, Buffalo, NY. curtinresturants.com
As a kid, and as an adult, sheer excitement would take over whenever I spotted these babies. In fact, I remember searching for songs even before picking up the menu.
I will pretend you’ve never seen one. So, allow me to describe the experience. tThere is a knob, or lever, which turns the pages of the lengthy song-list. As you scan the titles and the artists, you should have your dime ready for your selection. Suddenly, you find your favorite tune, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” by Elvis. Next to the song is a letter or number, or both, that you would push the coordinating button for choosing. Boom, somewhere in the building is a jukebox remotely playing your selection over the speakers at your table. But usually there are speakers mounted in the ceiling for everyone’s listening pleasure…or hatred. And there’s the rub.
Like Olivia, there always seems to be a B-17 in our memory. Maybe you dislike Elvis, and there he comes, forced on your ears because some button-pushing customer in booth #3 selected it without consulting you first. What’s worse, he might have added a couple more Elvis tunes with a quarter in the slot. By the time your selection comes around, it may be time to tip the waiter and leave. Before you know it, just about the time the second verse of “Blue Hawaii” comes around, you’re thinking of taking your sliced tomato off your burger and throwing it toward booth #3. Do the math. B-17 + Communal Music = Internal Sour Notes.
For me, the heavy remains to be my personal B-17’s. You know what I mean. It’s not so much a disliked artist, but rather a song. There’s nothing like music that drags you back to a memory, whether it be a good one, or a bad one. It could be a relationship that went south and the song on B-17 in the selector was what you called, “Our Song”. Tell me about it, I know it very well. I could cry a river a few times. Maybe it was the song on the radio you were singing along with as a truck pulled out in front of you, leaving you in a body-cast for a few weeks. Someone might think of a song sung at a funeral for a loved one. That’s what happened to me with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”. To this very day, I sink in sadness when it plays over the air. The song was performed over the coffin of my friend and mentor back in July of 1981. All these years later the song stings me. Music has Velcro. It’s the way God created it. Music stamps visuals, times, and places. So many songs do deliver sweet mental-videos of first cars, first dates, weddings, births, and graduations. If the guy in booth #3 selected one of those I might be persuaded to buy his grilled cheese sandwich.
Sometimes being in a community isn’t always a pleasant thing. Am I right? It’s all about how you handle what you don’t want to hear, or see. Maybe the group of kids in the corner booth are dropping the F-bomb for all of us to enjoy. Maybe the idiot cutting people off in traffic gets your match lit. It simply might be a neighbor with a political sign in the front yard you wouldn’t vote for. Yep, sometimes being communal isn’t always tasteful. What’s your B-17?
So Olivia is spot-on with, “Please, Mr. please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever want to hear that song again.”
Grace, living out grace, handing out grace overcomes a lot of B-17’s in life. Biblically speaking, it means giving favor to someone, or some thing, who you feel doesn’t deserve favor. Grace fuels merciful action and thought.
“Lady” by Kenny Rogers is a B-17 for me. It brings up a life-long choice which turned out to be a youthful mistake. For many moons the sound of the song angered me, literally. However, when hearing now, I work hard on hunting for the true value the lyrics have for others, not focusing, or feeding on the sour notes of my own past decision-making. What’s history is history, grace would say. I for one, need grace all the time, every day. So glad the Creator invented it, and distributes it. It’s what’s on God’s menu for us, the consumer.
Before selecting that button, it’s wise to order-up a good warm cup of fuel for the race.
“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over–will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” – Jesus – Luke 6:38 (Holman Christian Standard Version)
“Every time I see your face It reminds me of the places we used to go. But all I’ve got is a photograph And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”(1973) Photograph. Recorded by: Ringo Starr Composers: Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.
Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write. I just know I have to. I MUST write about it.
Meet Terry Sindle. Terry was a dear friend of mine. We were the same age. He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived. It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York. They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher. But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.
(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)
He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative. He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum. He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow. I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best. He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer. I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport. Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing. We both had poor single moms. We both loved music, and music performance. And we both loved pizza…or so I thought. Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza. So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn. When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS? THIS isn’t pizza!” Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza. We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy. It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.
One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar. He was an incredible guitarist. I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar. His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”. Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band. In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog. TWO DAYS! He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs. He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn. He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.
You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather. I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition. I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading. It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music. He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977. He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.
Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads. Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy. Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully. We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards. With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics. (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.) Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.
Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town. Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career. We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock. Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on. We lost track of each other by 1980.
Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times. It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act. He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.
(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)
Then…all went silent.
About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend. By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link. Nothing came up. Internet searches came up empty. It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.
Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search. With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit. Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37. What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing. May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him. My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable. All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida. All other searches came up zero. It was highly frustrating. I gave up and the years went by.
A couple of months ago for Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.
(My Alan Brown & Co Band. Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)
In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977. That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants. Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.
Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry. I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough. So, I lit a fire under my chair.
Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister. I messaged with her right away. Afterwards we spoke on the phone. Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death. Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief. After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist. Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live. In fact, he died 3 days later.
Terry did well with his music while here. In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records. Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed. His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there. He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married. They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.
While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients. That didn’t surprise me a bit. He had a huge heart. As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life. He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s. He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again. At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus. AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back. Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.
Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed. She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years. I was thrilled! I did so. Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace. You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt. In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up. Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.
(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot. Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)
A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet. Once again, I was thrilled! I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us. They were itching to show up.
When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling. It was so strange. All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me. As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor. Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster. They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years. We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew. Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth. When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son. The others drove up shortly after.
(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot. I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)
For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts. The guys poured out all their memories of Terry. No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together. Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years. He dearly loved his wife and sons. Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up. After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise. That was his concern while preparing to leave this life. He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.
Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub. I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades. Of course, I know what she meant. Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad. His eyes lit up as I described our days together. He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry. He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited. He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.
As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized. It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty. And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help. So many don’t. He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away. To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well. I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become. You are an impressive young man, Matthew. And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.” Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.
Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others. If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.
One day I will see Terry again. And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”
A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.” – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)