Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Train Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls & Me-March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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