Borders

“Now in my place.
There are so many others.
Standin’ in the line;
How long will they stand between us?”
(1975) “Nights On Broadway” Recorded By: Bee Gees. Composers: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb

My left turn took me down Pine St. which intersected Jones St. At that vantage point, you can clearly see the old house, the second lot to the right.

Photo: Google Earth shot, from many years ago, of my granddad on his front porch in Greenville, Texas.

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Opal Atherton of Greenville, Texas, bought the old house in 1955. Prior to their moving, they lived in the country on a farm south of Greenville. Because the new I-30 was being built straight through the property, they chose to move into town. My mom was only 11 years old when they settled into the house on Jones St. It was an old neighborhood, in fact the original house itself goes back to the late 1840’s. Driving down the street just a few years ago would remind you of the neighborhood in the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. High ceilings, large porches and floor-to-ceiling windows. We still have the old skeleton keys which go to the three bedroom doors with crystal-like glass doorknobs. It’s the house I knew first as a newborn.

Photo: A rare snow on the lawn of my grandparents house taken from the west side of the property.

The couple who owned the place before my grandparents were excellent landscapers, and true green-thumbers. My mom described it as a garden showplace on the block, filled with fruit trees, a small orchard along the west side of the house, various flowers, holly hedges, and various items of produce in the backyard. I remember as a small child some of the lush cool Saint Augustine grass, and the trees and grapevines climbing the western kitchen window. However, my grandparents were not of the same fabric as the former owners. Over the years they didn’t nurture much of the plant life on the property. As it turned out, my granddad didn’t want to spend much money on the the water bill. Still, much of the trees, hedges, and perennials remain to this day.

Next door to them, on the west side lot, lived a wonderful middle aged couple. They lived on the corner lot in a simple white frame house. They became dear friends of my folks right away. They had children of their own, although I am unclear of how many. The neighbors shared meals, special dishes, after school snacks for my mom and her two brothers. The man there was a wiz at making homemade candies. He was well-known for bringing a plate of them over to the house for holidays, or special birthdays.

At the time, there was no backyard fence, or border fence. In fact, the former owners of the house had shared a small orchard with their neighbors next door as their gardens ran along the back border of the properties. A line of Bradford Pear Trees grew along the adjoining side yards beside the neighbor’s driveway. When I was a toddler, I actually recall running through the garden and into the neighbor’s backyard without realizing it was their property.

The year the couple moved out of their house, to a newer neighborhood across town, is uncertain. I believe it was around 1967-1968. From that time on, the house next door must have had a revolving door. More than likely, it became a rent house. Over the years, several tenants moved in and out. It seemed like each time I came to visit my grandparents, some new family lived next door. Sometime around 1969, or 1970, my granddad had a backyard fence put in. By that time, most all of the shared garden and orchard were no more. Sad but true. There was nothing to stand in the way of constructing a privacy fence for the backyard.

Photo: (1999) My grandmother with my Great Dane, Wolfgang with the privacy fence behind her.

Years later, maybe by 1977, the old house next door was torn down. If memory serves me right, there was a fire that destroyed a room in the house. After the house was demolished, only the unpaved driveway and front steps to where the porch once stood was left.

After my grandparents passed away, my mom inherited the family house. She lived alone there for several years until she developed mild dementia last year. It became necessary to move her out of the old place where she was no longer able to take care of the house, or herself very well. She has been living with my wife and I ever since November of last year (2021). As for the house, we plan to sell it soon. There’s so much work that must be done before I can even begin the process. The place is an old friend, filled with a lifetime of precious memories for my mom, and for me. Nobody ever said it would be easy to let go of an established family home.

About a month ago, I had made the hour long trip to Greenville to check on the house. I took that left turn onto Pine street, a left turn I have made a million times in my life, and drove to the stop sign where Jones St. intersects. I looked to the right to glance at the tired house from across the empty corner lot, and was absolutely stunned. So stunned, it took my breath away. There, in the vacant lot, construction work had been done to prep for the pouring of concrete for a new home. Even more surprising, our fence on the adjacent west side was missing, showing our backyard open and bare.

Photo: This WAS part of the backyard. Showing where the side fence was, about where the baseboards are fixed for the foundation. Also, missing, next to the white storage shed, was a brown storage shed. The stakes next to the white shed are the property stakes placed.

Furthermore, my granddad’s storage shed, which sat next to a second storage shed, filled with well-worn garden tools, old auto parts, and storage boxes, was also missing. As I pulled up in front of the house, I could see where property stakes were hammered into the ground marking what the contractor believed to be the property line from the curb to the back border fence.

Photo: From the curb to the back fence line. All the Bradford Pear Trees were uprooted and removed.

Albeit an astonishing view, as it was, what was more disturbing was the stakes were driven into the turf just about 5 feet from the wall of the house. There is also a garden water faucet which protrudes from the ground some 12″ or so, that has always been used to water the lawn. Now, it is on the property next door, and it’s from our water pipes.

Photo: Our wrapped water faucet just on the other side of the property stake. It’s our water bill.

The backyard fence once extended some 10-12 feet beyond where they staked out the borderline. Gone were the line of Bradford Pear Trees where the perceived property line was, just east of the neighbor’s driveway. The grounds look so naked without them.

A thousand emotions ran through my mind and heart. Honestly, I couldn’t think straight. My first recognizable emotion was outrage. I was angry! In fact, I was steaming. I am grateful there were no construction workers there at the time. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My granddad’s fence and his storage shed had vanished, as well as about 10 feet of the side yard. There was no mail in the mailbox. No note on the door. No phone calls from the contractor involved. Zero communication.

After I caught my breath, a deep, sickening sadness invaded my spirit. There was a mammoth gratitude overwhelming me as I thought what my grandparents would’ve done if they saw what had been done. They were long gone to their new eternal home, not to be bothered by earth’s troubles. Thank you, God for the delay of the purchase of this vacant lot until after my folks left.

Looking at the stakes in place I couldn’t help but tear-up as I thought of 62 years of my life knowing and playing on the encroached ground which suddenly was no longer owned by my family. My earliest memories of running through the trees, the strawberry bushes, and the clusters of red berries on the Holly shrubs were vivid in my mind. The dozens of times I mowed the thick Saint Augustine from the time I was in Jr. High raced through my mind. Mental videos of the mounds of enormous Sycamore leaves just waiting for my cousins and me to dive into the crunch were racing through my brain. And now, some unknown stranger took that strip of land for their own. At least that’s how I saw it.

I just knew there had been a mistake. Somehow, someway, this contractor got bad information, an incorrect survey, or maybe a zealous real estate agent decided to take advantage of an old vacant house. There had to be a solution to this issue before they started pouring the foundation. Immediately I took a snapshot of the contractor’s sign sticking up by the curb. I emailed them about my displeasure over the removal of the fence and the storage shed. I mentioned how we would get our own survey done without delay. I called the local county tax office about the matter. The clerk on the other end of the line was very helpful. They sent me the measurements of our lot, as well as a bird’s eye photo of our house. To my shock, the picture from above, looked as if the marker stakes were accurate, according to the deed of the property. I quickly called a cousin of mine who lives just 10 minutes away. He came out with a measuring tape and marked it off to the exact footage listed for the width of the property. You guessed it right, didn’t you? My cousin’s survey put it as exactly the footage published in the original deed. It came out right at the border stakes in the ground.

Photo: Hunt County tax Office: Skyview of our house. To the left is the troubled west side of the property. The turquois line shows the valid borders of our lot.

Don’t get me wrong. My anxiety hasn’t vanished from this stark revealing. Moreover, I am unable to discover just how this happened, and when it happened. Questions popped up right away. Was my granddad a land grabber? NO WAY! He was a righteous man from head to toe. He was a straight shooter with God, family and neighbor. Never would he ever take land that wasn’t his…knowingly. Of course, I wondered how far back this mistake goes. Was this property line blurred over 100 years ago for some reason? Could it have been a friendly agreement between neighbors who shared the lush gardenwork of the couple who lived in our house 70+ years ago? I keep thinking of that “over-the-border” garden facet. How old is it? Could the contractor, who built my granddad’s fence back in 1969, have made an eyeball judgement without a surveyor? Who knows? One thing is sure, everyone that would have the answers are long since dead. There’s no one alive to ask.

Even though the way our fence and storage shed, along with its contents, was uprooted and taken away was harsh, and frankly, rude and inconsiderate, I have been humbled by the experience of finding out the unfortunate truth. I have to be settled in my core about the facts, beyond the sweet lifelong memories I have of the grounds.

Here’s a truth that is marked out by the stakes in my heart. I will not sell to the broker who was involved with the lot next door. Someone else will get our property when the time arrives. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

Spiritually, there are deep reminders as I see the new borderline on the west side of our property. In scripture, God set out some stakes for healthy boundaries to be observed. From the Garden of Eden and onward, God set up boundaries we were not to cross. In doing so, peril was a surety. Very much like buoys marking the drop at the edge of the shallows. Stakes were firmly placed in the ground by ten commandments. Today we see them more as suggestions. Borders, boundaries, property lines mean something. It’s supposed to show the thief to be aware of trespassed ground. It’s turf to be honored. However, in today’s crime-gone-bonkers, boundaries are ignored. Borders, boundaries, stakes, property lines are there for a reason. It matters. Just ask the tax office.

You can see the deed of eternity with the Pro-Border Maker in fuel for the race.

“And I placed boundaries on it (the sea) and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘As far as this point you shall come, but no farther; And here your proud waves shall stop’?” Job 38:10-11 (NAS)

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A Horse With No Name

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name.
It felt good to be out of the rain.
In the desert you can remember your name,
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”
(1971) “A Horse With No Name” (Originally entitled, “Desert Song”.) Recorded By: America Composer: Dewey Bunnell

For as long as I can remember, I have been an animal lover. I come from a long line of generations of animal folk. Sure, I have my priorities in the dear animal kingdom, dogs being #1. However. close behind the canine arena, would be horses. I’ve always loved horses. I am sorry to say, I never had the opportunity, or the means to own one, but there have been many in my family who have been, or are horse owners.

My grandmother, Opal Atherton, with one of their beloved horses.

My grandparents loved to tell of my granddad’s horse when they were dating in the mid 1930’s. I once remembered his name, but time has erased that from my noggin.

At the time, my grandmother and granddad’s families lived in the country outside Wolfe City, Texas. Granddad rode his horse to school every day on the dirt farm roads through the woods. When he arrived, he would slap his hoofed pal on the behind as he told him to go home. The horse was incredibly obedient, and trotted his way all the way back to the farmhouse. So, when my grandparents started dating, and on days when his horse wasn’t needed, he would do the same, and off he went, down the dirt road with his mane bouncing up and down with a clippity-clop all the way home. In those times, and in cowboys days of the cattle drives, a horse was man’s best friend.

I thought about those days when seeing a disturbing video from New York this past week.

Apparently, a working horse, pulling a carriage, common for the Central Park area and city blocks surrounding it, collapsed in the lane very near an intersection. The carriage driver, got angry, jumping out of the seat, he began mercilessly whipping and kicking the poor horse as the exhausted animal laid on his side after first folding his legs beneath his body like a camel. “Get up! Get up! Get up!”, shouted the driver as he continued to whip and beat him. Witnesses said the horse attempted to obey as he moved in efforts to get back up on his hooves, but failed each time. The crowd gathered as the man continued to whip and kick the downed horse. One shocked sidewalk observer shouted, “Hey, how would you like it if I started beating you like that?” Soon, many began to yell at the driver to stop his cruelty, some calling 911.

When the police and animal control arrived, they found out just why the beaten horse was down for the count. Unfortunately, the beast was malnourished, exhausted, and very dehydrated. Even his ribs were sticking out from his starvation. As the police began to comfort the horse while gently spraying water over his hurting body, the horse began an attempt to lick the water off the pavement as it ran past his mouth. However, with the bridle and steel bit remaining in his mouth, he struggled to lick the residual water. Right away, one officer quickly removed the bridle and bit from him, leaving him free to drink what they offered from the hose.

Photo: W42ST.NYC

The way this animal had been treated, I really doubt he had a name. He was obviously seen as a machine for carriage rides to make money. The last thing I read is that the city workers took him to an emergency animal clinic for treatment. I hope he can recover.

As I watched the cruelty on video, my heart sank for this once healthy creature. The vision of it also reminded me full well of how life can treat us. There always seems to be a point person which inflicts terrible personal pain as we weave and bob through our bouts in life. Or, just the scratches, bumps and bruises which paint us over time where the hard knocks occur, without a personal overzealous driver with a whip. Even government can inflict unnecessary scars during struggles. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but certain politicians, policies, and overnight voting sessions on a weekend under the Capitol dome, can kick the already exhausted overtaxed, citizen. Am I right?

Frankly, I feel like an exhausted horse with no name in the spiritual arena. The Apostle Paul called the Law a tough schoolmaster. Like the collapsed horse, there’s no way anyone can even keep all ten commandments, not to mention the hundreds of others dictated over the rabbinical books from antiquities. Laws show no grace, no mercy. The Torah is there to prove we can not measure up, no matter how hard we try to get back up from the fall.

The Enemy, the Adversary, has a huge whip, and spurs to go with it. The carrot offered never delivers, never satisfies, and never leaves us nourished. When Jesus came, He fulfilled the legalities which knocked us down, and with grace, tended to our wounds with balm and bindings which come from grace, kindness, and mercy. After picking us off the pavement, giving us ever-living water, tending to our brokenness and bruises, He asked us to follow Him with trust for a better road, a better place of healing, a merciful driver.

I sure hope the caring city officers gave him a new name. Someday, I’ll have one.

To find the bridle which directs to a safe haven, look no further than fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NAS)

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)