“…You might not see him in person, But he’ll see you just the same. Yeah, yeah, You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.” (1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill
Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.
So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?
Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.
If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.
ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.
This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.
Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.
During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.
Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.
Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.
Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.
“I believe in God. I just don’tknow what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill
Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).
Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”
To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.
The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”
As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.
“Philipsaid to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)
For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.
Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.
“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the livingGod, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)
“I love you in a place Where there’s no space or time. I love you for my life You’re a friend of mine. And when my life is over Remember when we were together. We were alone and I was singing this song to.” (1970) “A Song For You” – Recorded & Composed By: Leon Russell
Does the name, Stuart Sutcliffe mean anything to you? Does his name sound familiar, as if you think you “should” know who he is? If you’re in the dark on Stuart Sutcliffe, don’t feel badly. Most would be, if asked.
Stuart Sutcliffe was an artist (mainly abstract paintings). In fact, as a teenager, he attended the Liverpool College of Art. While there in the late 1950’s, he met another blooming artist named, John Lennon. As friendship grew, John and Stuart found yet another love, other than artwork, in the form of music. John had a struggling band of young musicians, and asked Stuart to consider joining his group. Before you could say, The Quarrymen (One of John’s earlier titles for the band.) Stuart was playing the bass in this ragtag Liverpool crew of schoolboys. At times it was a band of three lads, other times a band of five. If you’ve ever been part of a music act, than you know this is so common of a problem.
Photo: Amazon.com Stuart, with John Lennon and George Harrison
It’s funny how things work sometimes when unforeseen events help to make other unforeseen events happen. Step 1-2-3…
Stuart was a good artist with the brush and canvas. In fact, one of his paintings sold while he was learning songs with the band-mates. Paul McCartney speaks today of how poor they were. They couldn’t even afford a tape recorder. When the proceeds landed in Stuart’s pocket, John & Paul persuaded him to buy a quality electric bass guitar with it. Feeling the pressure, he did just that.
Stuart can also be applauded for helping John come up with the name, Beatles, although it did go through a couple of spelling changes. So, off they went, playing mostly cover songs in any and every club in Liverpool, along with, surrounding villages, school and church dances, even hitting the road up to Scotland for a short tour.
Photo: All That’s Interesting – The early Beatles, with Stuart seated on the left.
Early 1960, (Two years before Ringo joined the band.) when Stuart was only 19 years old, and George Harrison even younger than that, the manager of the Beatles booked a 3.5 month residency in the red light district in Hamburg, Germany. They were contracted to play a certain amount of gigs at a club which had recently made a conversion from a strip joint to a live music club. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots did in between packing in the crowds. (Yeah, I won’t go into all that.) Because of some bad episodes, and bad decisions, the contract was cut short. However, not all things were bad, depending on who you ask.
While the lads were turning up the volume in Hamburg, Stuart met a German girl who was a shutterbug with a camera, Astrid Kirchherr, who was also an art lover. Astrid took loads of photos of the band live on stage and elsewhere. Stuart and Astrid spent a lot of time together during their stay in Hamburg. When it came time to leave Hamburg, Stuart wanted to stay. He even went so far as to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. While there, he told his new love, he thought he might like to become an art teacher someday.
Before you could say, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, the decision was made. Stuart left the Beatles, but gained a fiance.
I know, the two don’t look too happy. But they were both artistic, so they could get away with not smiling. Frankly, I couldn’t find a photo of Stuart smiling or laughing…anywhere. I’m not sure what that says, if anything.
Of course, many will say, “Oh, wow! What a missed opportunity! This guy probably kicked himself later. He should’ve stuck with the lads and said so-long to the photographer.” Others will look at Stuart’s choice as, “Awe, how sweet. He loved her so much that he was willing to leave behind his Beatle band-mates. Instead of rolling in the dough, he wanted to roll in his his love for Astrid. How romantic.” Then there are some who will be more cynical with something like, “Yeah, it was love alright. Truth be known, he loved the art-world too much and it messed with his head. Priorities, priorities.” Paul McCartney says Stuart left for love, no matter what other sources might print. How do you see it?
Here’s what we DO know. Beyond, “Love, love me do…” if you live long enough, you find the richness, and the depths of love. If you live long enough, you’ll discover love changes everything. It can change your outlook, your scope on life, your plans, and priorities. Love defined is a mystery, really. For me, love is like a powerful current, an undertow beneath the surface unforeseen, undetected by sight. Love can donate a kidney. Love can empty out all self-awareness. Love can give away life for the benefit of another.
Could it be, Stuart left something he loved for something he loved more?
“‘Tis better to have loved and lostthan never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson
Jesus defined love in John 3:16, “For God SO loved the world, THAT He gave his only begotten Son, THAT whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting (eternal life after physical death) life.”(emphasis mine)
Notice the “action” love takes in that passage.
Somehow, in someway, love is linked with loss. It is like a clipping of the wings that we have grown accustomed to since birth. When a parent holds a newborn in their arms for the first time, suddenly there is a shift. Inwardly, we declare, “I will do whatever I must do to give you a good life.” In a strange way, in that moment, we put “self” on the shelf.
I, for one, have failed at love many times in my life, especially as a younger individual. Yet, life has taught me that when true love is exercised, one does not mind cutting off part of one’s “self”. Stuart Sutcliffe, all of 19-20 years old, may have understood this.
Unfortunately, Stuart and Asdrid had very little time together. In 1962, while in art class in Hamburg, after complaining of headaches and sensitivity to light, he collapsed and passed away. After an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as a Cerebral Hemorrhage. In a twist of fate, it was yet another unforeseen event for Stuart Sutcliffe.
Astrid was asked to be an advisor on a 1994 film, “Backbeat”, which focused on the Beatles early years in Hamburg, which included Stuart and Astrid. She kept her toes in the love of photography all of her life.
In May of 2020, Astrid died after a short illness at the age of 82. She lived alone.
Be ready for the unforeseen. The instructions were left with love in fuel for the race.
“He said tohim the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.'” – John 21:17 (NAS)
“We are strong. No one can tell us we’re wrong. Searching our hearts for so long, both of us knowing, love is a battlefield.” (1983) “Love Is A Battlefield” Recorded By: Pat Benatar Composers: Holly Knight & Mike Chapman
“These, ‘so-called’ Christians, like to attack whenever they don’t agree with someone else!”
“I’m DONE with my old high school friends who claim they’re Christians!”
“I’m not surprised anymore by what Christians say. They are all haters and ‘Trumpers’!”
“I’m not surprised either. In fact, I expect it from them (Christians).”
“Yep, most of them (Christians) are uneducated !…#@&*!”
Offended yet? If you are not of the faith, you’ll find it doesn’t necessarily bother you. Or should it? Keep reading.
Let me back up a bit to explain the above.
A “friend” of mine, going back to my high school days, launched a very negative attack on her Facebook post after she read another angry person’s comment on a private group posting memorials of deceased alumni, or teaching staff from my old high school. It’s a very nice service to have, especially when you’re an alumni who cares for old friends and teachers from yesteryear. I have been able to honor former classmates by attending their funeral services due to the fact I was briefed by the memorial page. Yet, all of the harsh words written above about “Christians” were in reaction to the cover photo of the memorial page. Here’s what launched those scathing words thrown at “Christians”. A simple photo.
Yep! That’s right, the cross. I guess this gang of vipers would break out in physical convulsions at Arlington Cemetery. It all began with one individual who responded to an obit of a departed alumni. The string of replies were the common condolences, well wishes, prayers for the family, etc, Then came this one who didn’t write anything about the deceased person, but instead questioned the use of the cross as the cover photo. In his complaint, TO THIS PRIVATE GROUP PAGE, he mentioned there were so many classmates and teachers who were not Christians. Stupidly, and yes, I used that word just now, for his assault on the cross, mentioned how the high school is a public school on school district land, therefore religious symbols should stay out of it. Of course, the school, or school district, didn’t put up the memorial page…a “private group” did so on the Facebook platform.
Back to my old high school atheistic chum. She notated on her page a description of what she saw on the memorial page, and how it should be taken down, in the recent flavor of cancel culture. Of course, she wanted to stir the stew, and she certainly did. Most of her friends on her list are far left edge, godless people, who talk about how tolerant they are, but only selectively tolerant. Tolerance for me, but not for thee. So, as one might imagine, a slew of her Christian-hating friends poured it on with a hot liquid steel spew about followers of Jesus. I only shared a short snapshot of what I read. The string of comments went on and on. It wasn’t long until one of the attacking clan aligned all Christians with Donald Trump and overall conservative political supporters. A few foolishly targeted Jesus Himself in their ramblings with despicable adjectives I cannot repeat here.
One of the complaints my old pal had, surrounded the fact that there were some people who responded badly to the man who questioned using the cross as a memorial symbol. Some were defending the cross vigorously from a faith-based point of view, others were chewing on the guy from a civics perspective. However, many replied to him in a loving way. In all cases, everyone was lumped into the “Christian” pile, a pile to burned, or eaten by lions. Been there, done that. Yet, frankly, many did not answer him with an attitude of love, but more on the scale of scrapping with an enemy. The baby hits the ground with the bathwater. Some lambs do roar. Other lambs are just so tired of being attacked by popular culture who thinks a person of faith is a Neanderthal. One vomiting up, “Most of them are uneducated!” (They should remember that whenever they pass by a Presbyterian Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Baptist Hospital, etc.) Otherwise, if Christians stay silent, inactive, and keep their teachings only inside four walls on a Sunday, then all will be right with the world. But a city on a hill can’t be hidden, can it? Salt and light alters things. The Cornerstone continues to cause many to stumble on their dark paths. The spewing haters don’t realize it, but they are indeed proving the scripture to be so accurate.
You might say, “Hey, Alan, wake up and smell the coffee. Are you new to today’s world?”
I spent most of the 1980’s on a job where I was mocked for my faith daily. I’m no stranger to this at all. My reply to such a question lies with another question. What if you take out the word “Christians” from the hateful circle of vile, and replace it with…Jews…Hindus…Muslims…Agnostics…Atheists…LGBTQ…Vets…Mexicans…The Disabled…Blue-eyed people…Bald people… Well, you get my point. The ones shouting, “RACISM!” are usually the most guilty of the sin. Take any of those titles and replace the word “Christians” and the Woke squadron would be all over you like ugly on Sasquatch. Am I right? Are you nodding your head?
I’m not biblically illiterate. Scripture states, humanity ran from God. We still do. We don’t want to be reminded there is a code for living, set by an ultimate Authority. Those who are still running from God’s arms want to make their own codes, their own roads, their own laws. After all, we have to validate whatever we do in action, word, or deed. Am I right? It’s very much like the crowd who shouts in the streets to defund the cops, or delete the police all together. It is why Jesus said if we follow Him, expect haters, expect stones to be thrown, flaming darts released, missiles to be launched. The bottom line here, it’s all part of an ancient Holy war. Israel understands that all too well.
You might be asking yourself if I “Unfriended” my old high school screamer. No, I can’t bring myself to do that. However, for my sanity, I did take a “Break” from her.
Loving others can truly be a battlefield.
The highway of faith is a gauntlet, yet overcome by fuel for the race.
“Blessed are you whenever they revile you and persecute you and they say every evil word against you for my sake, in falsehood. Then rejoice and triumph, because your reward is great in Heaven, for just so they persecuted The Prophets who were before you.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:11-12 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“Sometimes even now, When I’m feelin’ lonely and beat, I drift back in time and I find my feet, Down on Mainstreet… Down on Mainstreet” (1977) “Mainstreet” Written & Recorded By: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
(I’ve always wondered if Bob Seger meant to write, “Main Street” vs “Mainstreet”. Oh, well.)
Deep Ellum is an old section of Dallas, Texas, just off the east cusp of the downtown area. The “main” street is Elm Street. However, over the decades, during the development and expansion of what is now known as Deep Ellum, it is a full-blown artsy neighborhood of small businesses dishing up terrific nightlife, complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and live music clubs. You can also expect a plethora of outdoor festivals. A pedestrian’s party haven.
The last time I was there, I was enjoying my daughter’s band at a quaint brick-walled night club. She was on a national concert tour that year out of Buffalo, NY.
Deep Ellum was one of the scheduled gigs before performing at the annual SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas.
There’s nothing like the sound of live music, Texas sunshine, and the smell of street tacos in the air. In a bohemian part of any large city, you can always expect street vendors.
Allow me to introduce you to one of Dallas’ most beloved street vendors, 60 year old, Leobardo Torres Sanchez.
Like a ripple of joy expanding out into the streets of Deep Ellum from Leobardo’s goodies cart-on-wheels, comes the opportunity for cotton candy in a bag, or on a stick, (He always wants you to know it was grown right here in Texas. Come to think of it, I might have seen a crop or two myself). He’s also loaded down with apples, popcorn balls, and often in the summer, balloons on a stick. Along with the tasty treats, he has a gift for dancing up a storm, including a pretty mean moonwalk. Those who frequent Deep Ellum know of the exuberant Leobardo very well. He is hard to miss…or hard to miss hearing.
Originally from Mexico, Leobardo has been selling his stuff on the curbs of Dallas for over eight years now. Like many men south of the border, Leobardo left his poor village, leaving his family behind, to find work away from home. He did just that with his focus on chipping-in on the American dream. According to his daughter, Miriam Torres Leon in Mexico, he faithfully sends money back to his family. He is seen as wealthy to others back home. He lives alone in a rented room, lives humbly, but considered blessed. He is a man who truly loves what he does each day.
If you visit this section of Dallas, you not only will hear good things concerning Leobardo from the business owners, their patrons, and the cops on bikes or horses assigned to the streets of Deep Ellum, but also the homeless and fellow street vendors. Many of the homeless have had their hands filled with free goods straight from Leobardo’s cart. Another street vendor mentioned recently to the Dallas Morning News how when he was robbed, Leobardo gave him 40 bags of cotton candy to sell to help stretch the dollar. That is a good reflection of the kind of heart you can expect from this man of commerce on wheels.
As you may have heard, Texas was hit in mid February with a freak winter 100 year storm with temps plunging to zero and single digits for much of Valentine’s Week. Leobardo, and street entrepreneurs like him, were forced off the streets. Being concerned after hearing of the Texas freezing storm, his daughter in Mexico called him. On the 12th, he told her the plummeting temperatures was unbearable to him. He told her not to worry, even though he lost electrical power due to an unprepared power grid, explaining to her that he was in his rental room wearing several jackets and had wrapped himself in layers of blankets. His circumstances was not unique here. Millions of Texans lost power, water, and sometimes gas.
After several days, Leobardo’s daughter could not contact her dad. However, she did put out a message on social media about the situation in hopes the Deep Ellum community might be able to locate him. Unfortunately, his daughter, Miriam, didn’t know his address, or just what part of Dallas he lived in. A couple of street vendors who knew Leobardo, and his location, heard of her digital posts and fought through the frigid weather to check on him.
On Tuesday, the 22nd, as the thawing was welcomed in Dallas, the police did a welfare check on Leobardo. He was found deceased in his frozen room. His body was found in his bed under several layers of blankets and wearing multiple coats. This poor man was one of a multitude of Texans who did not survive the single digit blast from a very rare weather tragedy. The heartbreak is real. Leobardo and I were the same age.
As the news of Leobardo’s death began to circulate, the mourners responded in droves with cash funds for his family in Mexico, flowers, written tributes, and a Go-Fund-Me account. It seems Leobardo was indeed a man of poverty. but wealthy in heart.
As I read of Leobardo’s passing, I was awestruck by the outpouring of the kind citizens affected by this man with what many would consider an insignificant life. Knowing that sounds harsh to read, or say aloud, I must state the following. Many who walked by his cart-on-wheels, maybe even purchased an apple from him on a hot summer day, might have seen him as a “lower rung” individual. Those who drove by Leobardo’s cotton candy stand, while on their way to Del Frisco’s for a $350.00 dinner, may have smirked at his efforts to scrape out a buck, or laughed at his dancing in the dust around his cart. Tears filled my eyes when imagining a man or woman seeing Leobardo ahead at the corner, crossing Elm Street just so they wouldn’t hear him ask in his broken English if they would like a popcorn ball. You know why, right? Because if one avoids someone like him, they are conveniently cancelled in one’s mind, as if they don’t exist. It’s that easy to put someone under the foot.
Then, at some point in my thoughts and imagination of these things, I remembered the outpouring of love from gentler hearts. Some of which who knew him, some who just gave him a smile as they walked around his cart, or perhaps some who bought one of his balloons for their child. I read more of the comments made by the many he impacted with his humble life. That’s when I smiled through a tear which had escaped.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)
A pebble can be so insignificant under foot. The sound of a hiking boot crushing many pebbles, as the weight is distributed, has a unique tenor. Yet, when the sole applies weight to just one pebble, the resonance is hardly noticeable. But, pick up that single insignificant pebble, toss it into a still street puddle then count the ripples from the point of contact to the outer edges on all sides. Isn’t that all God asks of us while we walk our various pavements? Impact others around you. Sway individuals with your light, so that everyone will see how God works in your heart. In doing so, we make waves.
Making a ripple around you has a blueprint in fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7 (NIV)
“Where you lead, I will follow Anywhere that you tell me to If you need, you need me to be with you I will follow where you lead” (1970) “Where You Lead” Recorded hit for: Barbra Streisand Composers: Carole King and Toni Stern
“His message was very different. ‘You boys, don’t bring home somethin’ home ya can’t keep.'”
The cover photo above the title is a painting from my study/studio wall, just above my desk. It was painted by an in-law many years ago. It’s very dear to me. Here is my attempt to explain why.
Early July of 1967, I believe it to be, my mom, and my seven year old self, drove across the north Dallas suburbs to a house of an old family friend. My granddad and the husband/father of the home had been best friends for decades. The purpose for our visit was clear.
From the day I was born, I always had a dog. We were animal lovers, especially in the canine arena, and had been without a dog for a couple of years. Through word of mouth our old friends felt impressed to pick up the phone and dial our number. Their female mix recently had a litter of pups. Apparently, she had a secret rendezvous in the backyard with a rather handsome neighborhood escapee who was searching for love in all the wrong places. They told us there were “9” of these little babies, about six weeks old, and asked if we wanted to come over for a free selection. No doubt my mom responded with, “WOULD WE EVER? WE’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Of course, she had to talk my then stepdad into the acceptance camp first. (He wasn’t thrilled.)
After we arrived, we stepped out onto their back porch. We were met by an onslaught of highly energized pups, jumping, yipping, and peeing. It was a dog zoo. Honestly, they were climbing up on my tennis shoes doing all they could to get our attention. We held, we petted, we were slobbered on. After I had counted the gang, I realized there were only “8” bombarding us. We inquired. Someone pointed out the runt who was always left out of the constant reindeer games. I looked around the yard when suddenly, there in the corner of the backyard, all by himself, looking rather shy and sad, the runt of the litter. Now, at this point all the advice I can offer is that you must just trust me on the following. I…fell…in…love…that…very…instant.
He was medium chocolate brown, with white paws and a white patch on his chest. His ears were partially floppy halfway up, and looked up at me with a pair of blue eyes. (Later the blue eyes turned to a beautiful copper color.) Without hesitation, I told my mom this was the one. She pointed out the fact that he was smaller, quiet, and didn’t want to play with his siblings, nor did he look like any of his siblings or mother. In other words, he was a loaner, a reject from his own family. My heart just bled for this little one.
The deal was sealed. We took him home in a shoe box. It was roomy for him because he could sit in the palm of an adult’s hand. I spoke with him all the way home doing all I could to make him feel comforted and settled. He never uttered a sound. He looked down most of the way back home, but from time to time he would hit me with those baby blues.
My mom has the mind of a persuader. She could’ve run for office. She made it clear we would let my stepdad name the puppy, thinking that would aid in starting a relationship as a dog owner. (With that said, my advice is to never manipulate your spouse. It can be habitual and marriage-ending.) She eased the little pup into my stepdad’s space. It didn’t take him long to find affection for the four-legged pal. He named him, Tickey, after a childhood farm dog from his past, who apparently had trouble with ticks.
As he grew, we could see signs of a dachshund mix, with his long body, lengthy snout, and short legs. We also saw a bit of what we thought might be Corgi with the long donkey-ears and the Corgi trait of the turned-out ankle of one front paw. His chocolate brown nose blended right in with the hair on his snout. However, his tail was like a Brontosaurus tail, long and dangerous when wagged. He was a funny looking creature, but he was mine.
We were best buddies. We ate, slept, and when mom wasn’t looking, bathed together. He was smart as the day is long. He could also perform magic with his powerful snout. While sitting in a chair, with a glass or coffee cup in hand, he would rear-up, place his nose under the elbow and push upward with a hard jerk. Any beverage would then levitate…for a second or two. Then my mom would perform magic by making Tickey disappear from the room.
Unfortunately, Tickey would chew on my GI Joes, Creepy Crawler bugs, and little plastic army men to the point of disfigurement. So, being a lad of imagination, I pretended he was a dinosaur set loose in the city where the military had to engage. Of course, he agreed to that.
At that time we lived in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. After the school bell at the end of the day, I ran as fast as I could to reunite with my pal.
During those days, both my mom and stepdad had daytime jobs. Through most of my first and second grade years, I came home to an empty house. For awhile I entered the house through the garage using a key to the garage door. Because Tickey proved himself to be a great digger, it was foreseeable he might use his skills to crawl under the backyard fence for greener pastures, we decided to place him in the garage until I came home from school. This became a huge struggle.
Tickey absolutely had the adventurous heart of Marco Polo. My little dog wanted to sniff the world, not to mention we never had him fixed. He was a runner. Any opportunity, he was off to the races like a lightning bolt. I never understood how short legs could run so fast. I mean, you never could open the front door without first seeing where he was. If he saw you walking to the door, he would stalk quietly behind you like a ninja in a Chuck Norris film, just gazing at the first crack of the opening. So as my seven year old arms strained to lift the garage door each day, I had to also play shortstop as I had to nab Tickey shooting out of the garage. Too many times I would try to chase him down in tears, afraid he would get hit by a car. Frantically, I would yell at him, “Tickey, come here, boy! Follow me home. It’s easy, just follow me. It’s safe back at the house. Please, come home! That’s where you belong!” He was way too fast. If only he would’ve taken the initiative to follow me when I called, he would’ve been a lot safer. It didn’t take me long to find out I needed to bribe him with packets of dog food. Only then would he obey. Let me tell you, that got real old, real fast.
In that same year, we were to go out of town for an outdoor family reunion in west Texas. There was no way Tickey could go. After carefully sealing the base of the backyard chain-link fence with bricks, and logs, my stepdad thought it safe to leave Tickey in the backyard for the weekend. A neighbor was to come over each day to give him food and water. The gates were never locked.
It was Sunday night when we arrived back home from the weekend trip. It was dark, and I had just awakened from the backseat of the car, ready for bed. I remember my mom seeing some stains on the dark front porch, wondering what it was and how it got there. In my daze, I didn’t care and went straight to bed. There, on the front door, was a hand written note. What we didn’t know was, Tickey had slipped through a space between the fence post and the gate post for a weekend adventure like no other. That little sneak.
As it turned out, Tickey had his vacation day running around the neighborhood, checking out the sights, sounds, and smells. No doubt he did his part to populate after his own kind while out cruisin’ around, like father like son. Later we heard he outran anyone who tried to catch him. In the driveway of a house a few blocks away, was a tire of a parked car that just must be sniffed. While sniffing the edge of the tire, the car owner got in his car, put it in reverse to leave. As he began to drive out of his parking spot, he heard a dog crying out in pain. The man jumped out to find Tickey rubbing his noes with his paws. Apparently, he ran over the tip of his nose as he had his nose stuck under the tire when he put it in reverse. Right away the man tried to console Tickey. He made the attempt to pick him up to get a better look at the notable nostril nip. However, in classic Tickey-style, like a flash he jolted down the street like a racehorse in Kentucky just as fast as his little legs would carry him. Being a dog lover, the man hopped in the car and followed him all the way to our front porch. Tickey was hurt, bleeding, and frightened. He found him cowering in the corner, right by the front door while crying and bleeding all over the porch. When finding no one was home, he wrote a note asking if we had a small brown puppy with a chain collar. He left his phone number. Tickey was so traumatized and tired, he allowed the man to pick him up and he took him home.
We had a wonderful reunion. No serious damage was done to his nose. We all learned a great lesson from the event, especially Tickey. He got schooled in keeping the nose from where it doesn’t belong. He became more of a homebody afterwards.
Often in my teen years, just before heading out the door, my mom would say, “Remember Who you belong to”. More than a few times I would look down at Tickey and reply, “You mean, like Tickey?” At one of my best friend’s house, before going out on the town, his gruff dad would deliver his redneck crass wisdom. His message was very different. “You boys, don’t bring somethin’ home ya can’t keep.” The two of us would chuckle as we walked out the door. He meant well, deep down. We knew what he was telling us in code, as his wife replied in disgust, “Leroy, don’t say that!” Two very different directives in two very different households. One message was, to take stalk in all that you do when integrity is at stake, knowing God Himself sees all things. And remember who you follow. The other directive was, what ever you do tonight, sow the wild oats, but don’t bring me trouble because of it. At least that’s the PG version of Leroy’s meaning.
Full disclosure here. There were many times I did NOT remember Who I belonged to. There were times, being away from home, away from my mom’s teachings, I forgot HOW I needed to come home, and in the same shape I left her front door. Then again, there were moments, and they usually are “moments”, when I made real-time decisions to stop before crossing a dangerous, or unethical line that was before me. Maybe in those moments, I mentally heard my mom’s voice, or maybe the inner voice of God’s Spirit saying “Here, and no further.” If only I could’ve recalled that late Sunday night when blood stains appeared on our front porch, my course might have hit the wiser trek more often. Ironically, my mom’s phrase would be used by me each time my three daughters left the house for a night out. How does that happen?
As for Tickey, he was with me throughout my childhood and teen years. We went through so much together. He stayed healthy, along with some white which grew along his long snout in later years. He was there at my wedding rehearsal dinner in 1981…really.
On August 7th, 1982, he was to say goodbye to us. I had been married for over a year, living across town from my mom and Tickey, but visiting often. Old age had taken its toll. That week he showed signs of a mini-stroke. This particular morning, he was taking a dive. Knowing he would probably not survive the day, my mom brought him to my place, on her way to her job, so we could spend some final hours. It was just the two of us all day. He was slowly going down throughout the day. I stretched out on the floor next to him, petting him, scratching his belly like old times. I leaned over speaking softly about our childhood days and his misadventure with the tire. There was a video of him humorously hopping through snow like a bunny in 1977. I showed it to him. I thanked him for his years of loyalty, laughs, and love. Most of all, I thanked him for making my childhood special. I made him as comfortable as I could, although he wasn’t showing signs of pain. Mid afternoon I called my mom to let her know he was slipping away. She came over immediately. Just like that summer day in 1967, it was just the three of us together as we both did all we could to keep him from seeing us shedding tears. He drifted away that afternoon quietly at 15 years of age.
God taught me so much through the gift of Tickey. Lessons of love, belonging, grace, care, and how to remember to turn the heart toward home in darker days.
I am 60 years old now and still miss my runt buddy. Yet my memory is blessed as I recall how he found love and value at our house, enough to remember who he belonged to.
The road map to belonging is printed inside fuel for the race.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” – Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)
“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him, ’till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.” (1969) “The Boxer” Recorded by: Simon & Garfunkel Composed by: Paul Simon
No worries if you are not a fan of the martial arts. This memory, I hold dear to my heart, is really not about the martial arts, per se, but rather about the essence of the spirit of an individual.
The cover photo above the title is a promotional shot of an old friend, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas. His friends simply called him, “Greek”. I believe I have written about him before a couple of years ago. Greek was a third degree black belt and kickboxer. He won 90 consecutive tournaments, and in 1971 he racked up 13 grand championships at the age of 21.
He was ranked in the top ten of American Karate fighters between 1971-1975. He was Texas State Karate champ for 6 years straight, and Louisiana State Champ 4 years straight. In 1975, Greek went full blown full-contact fighting in 1975.
He earned the PKA U.S. Welterweight Championship title. Turning his focus as a world contender in full-contact kickboxing. Greek amassed a record of 39 wins, 4 losses, with 24 wins as knockouts. The Star System ranked Greek #1 in the world in the welterweight division in 1980-1981. His garage was packed with trophies, wall-to-wall. In fact, he sold some to collectors when money ran short to pay for airfare when fighting in other countries.
Prior to moving to the Dallas, Texas area, I had spent three years in Sherman, Texas, about an hour north on Dallas. In those days, 7th grade was the first year of what they once called, Jr. High School. I entered Dillingham Jr. High School where they were still working out the issues of integration. Many African American kids and white kids mixed for the very first time, and it didn’t always go so well. This was 1972/1973, when race riots still popped up in the streets, gyms, and little league baseball fields. 7th grade was hard for me. I saw the ugly side of racial distrust and rage as civil rights issues were still fresh. There was gang warfare, mob brutality, and ambush violence in my school. I received the bitter end many times. There was so much a young guy shouldn’t have seen and heard.
During that same year, a church friend of mine taught me some basics in the art form of Japanese Aikido. Meanwhile, my army vet uncle, and former Golden Gloves boxer, did the same for me every so often. Before you could say jump, I became a fairly good street fighter at 12 years old…because I had to.
My single mom and I moved to the Dallas area the following summer (1973). Trust me, it was a much needed move. Although the north Dallas suburb we moved to was quiet and calm, with very little violence, I was not going to be surprised. I searched for a karate school, but found nothing in our new neighborhood. I talked my mom into letting me take the Korean form, Tae-Kwon-Do at a gym once a week at the campus where she worked, (Texas Instruments). It was free for employees and their families. Even though it was only once a week, I started and was hooked immediately!
Not long after, a top-notch Tae-Kwon-Do school opened up just five blocks from our apartment. BINGO! Great place. My instructor was once a Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor and a world karate champ from the early-mid 1960’s. Once again, I talked her into joining the school. About a year later, the school had to shut down. I was broken-hearted. I was alone with my instructor as he was packing up his belongings in the rented space. He told me of some karate champs he had trained and asked if I was sincere about continuing on with training. After he got my exuberant answer, he introduced me to this young, 5′-5″ stout sweaty guy in a shag haircut. It was Greek. He invited me to his small training center in the downtown Dallas area. Yes, I talked my mom into it. My karate buddy, Steve & I, caught a ride for workouts at Greek’s school. As soon as we walked in, we could see we were entering into the realm of some serious competitive fighters. We were sparing with national & world contenders. You might say we had landed in the cream of the crop in the karate/kickboxing world.
Through most of my high school years, we ate, slept, and breathed Karate/kickboxing. Chuck Norris would come to visit from time to time as we trained, or fought in tournaments.
Greek was highly respected around the world, and we were grateful to be trained by the very best. I was even more grateful to hear his voice from my corner cheering me on, and giving vocal cues as I fought my opponents in the ring. Being trained by, and placed around talent like that, caused an attitude of never thinking about the possibility of losing bouts. And of course, it was good training for the stuff of life’s struggles.
One summer, when I was 14 or so, I got into a fight while away at summer camp. I lost that one. I was very ashamed. When I was brave enough to tell Greek about it, he said, “You didn’t tell him who trained you, I hope.” Although it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, it was a tad hurtful. But in his own way, he was teaching me something with those words. I had to remember who I was representing with my skills. Greek didn’t train losers. It was understood I was to be an ambassador, a representative of the House Of Greek wherever I went. It was birthed out of the idea of belonging, yet sharing the quality of Greek’s training with those around me who didn’t have a clue. It was a hard lesson. I never forgot it.
During my senior year, I began to be overwhelmed with the music and acting side of my life. For the first time I began to drift a bit from the regular routine of working out at Greek’s place. After graduation in May of 1978, I began to train with him again for about a year.
Through the years, he became more and more of a friend than a martial arts trainer.
A phenomenon became apparent as the years wore on. I started to notice how my peers almost mimicked Greek’s style while sparing, or fighting in the ring. When seeing video of some of my fights, I took notice of it about my own style. Noticeable to some, a certain way of blocking punches and kicks, arm positions, stances, weaving and bobbing, etc. I don’t think it was intentional. Greek always taught us to take what we learned and develop our own style. Even today, when I look at his bouts on YouTube, or any of my peer’s fights, I can see it. Following a master closely can do that.
Once again, I broke away from regular training in 1980 as singing, life, love, and thoughts of marriage began to take more of my time.
In late 1980, or early 1981, I was engaged. One night we were seated at one of our favorite eateries in the north Dallas area. Out of the blue, in walks Greek with a few friends. There he was, looking as he always did after a workout, sweaty cut-off t-shirt and Gi pants in much need of a washing. Our eyes connected, he came over to quickly say hello. I introduced him to my bride-to-be. He made a quick joke to her about questioning my gender. I laughed, he laughed, but she was appalled by the colorful language and topic. She wasn’t impressed. Yet, I knew him and his manners, or the lack thereof. He truly was being friendly in his own way. She was a bit of a stuff-shirt from the other side of the tracks from Greek and his crowd. It was awkward, but grateful it happened. God’s timing is always best.
A few months later, on July 23, 1981, Greek, and four friends, were flying in a single engine plane from Dallas to Atlantic City, New Jersey to work the corner of one of his students who was defending his world title. While over the hills of Tennessee, the plane flew into a horrific storm and broke apart in mid-air. There were no survivors. Just like that, Demetrius “Greek” Havanas was gone at 31 years of age. I wept for days, weeks, even years.
His funeral was packed with the highly notables in the world of the martial arts at the time. Chuck Norris was a pallbearer. With tears, I thanked him for making the trip. He didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. The chapel at the funeral home couldn’t hold the crowd, as many stood in the lobby and outside. A half brother of Greek’s, who was in the Eric Clapton band, sang Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. A minister friend of mine, who was also in Karate, was chosen to officiate the service. In his sermon, he said something like this:
“If you had the misfortune not to have known Demetrius Havanas, just look around you. Look at all of his students, competitors, and close friends. There, you will find Greek.”
He was right. Following a master closely can do that.
Greek was inducted into the World Tae-Kwon-Do Hall of Fame, American Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame. All of the martial arts publications ran a tribute to Greek, as well as sports broadcasters of that day. And I still grieve.
I honestly don’t recall much of the sermon my old friend delivered, with that one exception. But I still carry a little bit of Greek with me every day. Most who know me wouldn’t know the difference as Greek meshed with me so long ago in so many ways.
The same is true for a person of the Christian faith. If you are not of Jesus, you will not fully understand what I am about to say.
When the heart of Jesus enters, by Spirit, into the believer’s heart and spirit, a “Little Christ” begins to grow within that follower. In fact, that’s what the word, “Christian” means, “Little Christ”. Of course, sometimes the fleshly side of self doesn’t allow His Spirit to fully inject into the daily free-will of a follower. The result is the disciplines suffer. We are not robots, or programmed computers. Each believer must wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate righteousness provides, and the spiritual cleats for traction up the steep climb of fault-hood. Each one must choose to suit-up each morning, just like the protective gear we wore in our sport.
A part of my grief remains entrenched in my lack of living-out my regenerated heart in those times. I doubt Greek ever knew I was a Christian in all the years he knew me. I was a young believer with only “lite bread” spiritual training.
I’m a big CS Lewis fan. In his book, “Mere Christianity”, he describes this process in a terrific way of imagery.
(Jesus would state:) “No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here, or a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – CS Lewis “Mere Christianity”
Following a master closely can do that. It will always breed fuel for the race.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“Sister Suzie, brother John Martin Luther, Phil and Don Brother Michael, auntie Gin. Open the door and let ’em in…” (1976) “Let ‘Em In” – Recorded by: Wings. Composer: Paul McCartney
Only God knows what dangers they faced, or what turmoil and unbearable strife they endured. Nonetheless, they made their mark.
Back in the 1970’s, on a lonely hill, on what we knew were the outskirts of our Dallas suburb, where there were still pastures in the area, was a new church building where I was active in my youth group as a teenager. Just on the other side of the west-side driveway, which leads from the main road to the parking lot in the back of the building, was our makeshift baseball diamond. I don’t even think we had a backstop fence behind home-plate. It was more of a sandlot style field to play ball, and practice for the local softball church league. We spent some hot summer days out there, as we wiped our sweaty faces with the leather of our baseball gloves. Just west of home-plate, maybe twenty yards or so, was the edge of a wooded area. Actually, it was more like a dark thicket, dense in brush, Mesquite trees, along with assorted older kinds of trees. The unkempt tangled mass was so thick, nobody dared walk through it without a machete. Therefore, none of us paid any attention to the small wooded clump of pastureland. In fact, if an overthrown ball made it into the thicket, you couldn’t retrieve it without getting scratched by all the branches, briers, and twigs. Little did we know at that time the historical significance submerged beneath.
However, communities grow, realtors have their blueprints for a bustling expanse of a commonwealth. Planning and zoning took their grip as contractors began to clear pastureland for new streets, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.
And so it was, the northern sector of our suburb developed with NASCAR speed in the 1980’s. I lived here during this wave of development and still held my mouth open in awe of all the changes.
One of those changes was my former church selling a sector of their land just west of the building, where our baseball diamond was. It wasn’t long afterward, the bulldozers began to roll, making way for a new subdivision of upscale homes. As they did, they proceeded to clear the wooded area next to our old sandlot. All the machinery came to a halt when a foreman yelled out, “Hey, wait! Hold up there!” As it turned out, there in the midst of all the overgrown thicket, a small cemetery, long forgotten by generations past.
When first discovered, rumors flew around the community. One such rumor was an old graveyard of black slaves with unmarked graves had been discovered. My heart sank just thinking about it. Although it turned out not to be the case, it was the only story I heard about the forgotten patch of a cemetery. It’s what I handed down to my kids, as well. Not once did I visit the place throughout the years. Don’t ask me why. If you did, I guess I would tell you it was because it’s not a very convenient spot to get to. And that is still true today. Nevertheless, I put an end to my procrastination a couple of weeks ago. The historical cemetery sits less than a mile from my street.
It took several years, and some civic struggle, but after the research was done, and the zoning commission had their hearings concerning the old cemetery, it was agreed to preserve the plot. So, in a way, they did just that. They built the new neighborhood around it. Literally, between two of the new homes built at the edge of the new subdivision. There is a marker out by the curb of a very busy street. However, if you blink, while doing 45 MPH, you would never know it’s there. And yet, it is. Nestled between a couple of fabulous homes, on a street of the same, lies a small patch of ground about the size of a small frame house, about the length and width of the average front yard of homes from the 1930’s-1940’s. You might be able to park four or five large SUV’s on the strip of land.
To sum it up, in 1858, a pioneer in a covered wagon, brought his wife and four children across the Midwest reaching the plains, from Illinois to the prairies north of Dallas, Texas. His name was Snyder Kennedy. He was one of the first founders of our town, close to, what was then called, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, approximately three miles west of my house. On this small spot of land, where his family cemetery is now preserved, over thirty people are possibly buried there, including several infants. (I say, “possibly” because there are over thirty names listed, but it has been said, only twenty-three are confirmed in the plot.) There are no longer any individual markers due to the work of vandals during the 1950’s. There are no outlines designating grave plots, or any other markings highlighting where a final resting place can be located. It left me in a saddened state.
Snyder Kennedy’s headstone was later moved to a local community cemetery a couple of miles away, but no graves were exhumed or transferred. The first person buried there is his wife. In 1859, she was laid to rest under an oak, only one year after they arrived to homestead.
A large stone marker chronicles at least thirty names, with birth/death years. One of the family members who rests there is the grandson of a man who helped to finance a great deal of the United States Revolutionary War. At the bottom of the list of family members spanning over five decades, a lone sentence reads, “And others only known to God.”
There is so much story missing here. I wish I knew more about this family, their lives, loves, and adventures. I’m sure a novel could’ve been written of the life and times of these Texas pioneers. But, isn’t this the nature of abandonment?
So, what’s my point?
It’s disturbing to me in knowing this hallowed ground was literally just a baseball’s toss away from me as a teenager, and I wasn’t aware. Moreover, it’s disturbing to me how I drove by this place of honor a thousand times through the decades, never making the attempt to educate myself, and my three daughters, about this courageous Texas homesteading family. Lost ones, forgotten by the community they helped to launch before the Civil War.
It’s disturbing to me knowing the simple truth that generations of my fellow citizens didn’t care enough to keep this ground of grief as a special historic place of honor. For whatever reason, Carrollton’s apathy directed inaction which fertilized the thicket encasing these 30+ interned so long ago.
Likewise, It’s disturbing to me when it’s reported that refrigerated 18-wheelers sit outside many American hospitals storing COVID-19 victims in body bags.
It’s disturbing to me when I hear of our WWII vets falling to COVID-19 while in nursing homes, due to poor management, poor care, or simply unattended. The gravity of the fact that many Coronavirus patients were sent to nursing home communities, infecting others who were sitting ducks, is a hefty weight to digest.
It’s disturbing to me when reports hit the news of funeral homes stacking the bodies of virus victims against storage room walls, due to poorly directed funeral companies.
This is not a political posting, railing against certain politicians, or public health admins, or even a particular nation. I fear we daily count the departed, and toss them aside as a number for the tote board. However, if a famous person falls prey to COVID-19, we acknowledge and mourn that person in every news outlet from here to there. But what about the mom, the dad, those grandparents, that co-worker, and a few 98 year old war heroes? They had sweet memories, loving families, hopes, and dreams. NEVER should one of these be “stacked” on top of another in a body bag.
Unfortunately, I feel the overcooked politicization of COVID-19 has become the dark thicket overshadowing the lives cut short during this pandemic. Beyond that, this Memorial Day in the United States will be less than what it should be due to the restrictions laying upon us.
Yes, it’s disturbing. What may be even more disturbing, is none of this may be disturbing to many in our society.
God help us if memorializing the lost ones becomes blase while in the jaws of this crisis. A memorial will be needed. As on September 11th, names should be recited. Never should it be said, “And others only known to God”. We are created in His image. Humanity deserves more than this.
Is it not true, looking for that silver lining sometimes takes a telescope?
Remembering our lost ones is a dignity taught in fuel for the race.
“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” – John 11:32-36 (NAS)
“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing. You better listen to me, every word I’ve been saying. Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot. I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got. Don’t want your money, don’t need your car. I’m doing all right, doing all right so far. I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.” (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded: Delbert McClinton
Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries. The third is this: “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”
Most see it like this…
I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old. It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional. It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all. It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side. There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins. Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins. Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits. What a great teaching tool for a little kid. Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.
Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens. When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller. The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders. It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.
Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to. It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school. I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year. Later, I would consider it my jogging street.
I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate. At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by. After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man. Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather. He looked to be in his 70’s. The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind. His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty. His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots. There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed. I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office. He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap. After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out. Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue. Seeing this old man caused her pause.
After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling. There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers. One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.
I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport. They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence. A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence. Two things come to mind. First, he did it with ease. Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence. Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow! Cool! Far-out!” I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see. Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.
The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy. You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound. He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.
Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s. This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere. Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked. An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag. He coached. He taught. He umpired. He pitched. He chose players for the teams. It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up. Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys. They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield. If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth. Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb. He loved the kids. They truly idolized the man. Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home. After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.
A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult. Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.
Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee. For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s. Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis. When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name. Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets. On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s. At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.
Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats. He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded. Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children. As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years. Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas. The games were casual, friendly, and educational. Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first. Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies. Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval. They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”. It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.
Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit. For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas. In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years. Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.
Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids. He was never seen begging in the streets. Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work. Many offered him jobs. He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them. He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.
Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players. In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument. Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA. He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982. Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service. Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.
Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited. Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived. In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline. A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house. It was way overdue. This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.
At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger. It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board. Think of it. In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park. Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar. I’ll leave the subject here.
Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home. He was 84 years old. The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields. His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.
Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas. Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected. Yet, as poor as he was, he gave. Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come. Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him. Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents. Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures. His investment was enormous. I would say, not so poor.
Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.
Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake. It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.
Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.
“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon (New American Standard Bible)
A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.
“See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me.”(1969/1970) “See Me, Feel Me” Recorded by: The Who. Composer: Peter Townsend (Later, this song was part of “Tommy”, the rock opera.)
Embedded in my mind are the regular visits I would make to an old cemetery, a couple of blocks away from my grandparents house in Greenville, Texas. Maybe it was a morbid curiosity, but I really don’t think so. I first recall walking among the old, weathered tombstones at about 7 years old, enamored with the dates of births and deaths. I had a love of history even then which continues today. Among some of the headstones are many which are no longer legible. The Texas weather, which tends to be extreme at times, has become a giant eraser for engraved letters and numbers, especially with sandstone. Yet, the old stones remain as monuments of someone who lived in the community long before it was a certified town. The oldest tombstone you can still read is of a man born the same year George Washington died, 1799. Here in Texas, that’s old, considering Mexico owned the land at the time, and largely uninhabited by white pioneers from the east. One thing is for sure, he was a brave soul, staking out land belonging to the Caddo Indians and Mexico.
One summer day, I ran from the old cemetery, to my grandparents house, crying all the way. My grandmother, being concerned, asked why all the tears. I told her how I had discovered scores of tombstones of babies, toddlers, and kids my age (at the time), all passed away together, or around the same year. When I told her they died in 1917/1918, she told me of the horrid story of the Spanish Flu pandemic which thrived toward the end of WWI. The numbers are staggering. Globally, approximately 500 million were infected. 20 million to 50 million perished, with 675,000 being Americans. Of course, the elderly, the young, and the weak, were highly susceptible to the pandemic’s reach. The shared grief among the towns and communities must have taken its toll. As a little kid I understood it.
Of course, the new Coronavirus, also labelled, COVID-19, doesn’t even come close to those numbers. As I write this, China quarantined over 60 million people, roughly the size of Italy. It’s unprecedented. Again, as I write this, approximately 1,400 have died from the virus in China. 60,000 confirmed cases recorded in China. Unfortunately, I should mention there are rumors the numbers have been downsized by the Chinese government, and that the actual totals are far above and beyond what they have reported. Adding to speculations, rumors are growing concerning how and why the outbreak occurred. Some say it originated from a military bio lab where experiments with bio-weapons takes place. Others spread rumors that it was done by the Chinese government to distract from the news of the freedom protesters in Hong Kong clashing with the Chinese military and police. I truly hope it is not the case.
What is without rumor, are hard facts like, no cure, no medical answers, no recourse for the cases but isolation. Case numbers are growing all across the planet. Cruise ships have been quarantined. Ports have been shutdown. Many cases, who recovered and released, have returned for medical help after resurrected symptoms. Frankly, the news is bleak, dark, and grave.
In one hundred years, will there be a little kid astounded at the number of tombstones displaying “2020” as a collective death year? Let us all pray this will not be true.
Check out this inspiring picture…
Photo: Western Wall in Jerusalem. Israel National News.
This photo shows a prayer gathering at the sacred Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It’s not the average prayer meeting among the people of Israel, but a poignant one. This shot displays an organized prayer assembly for the COVID-19 victims, as well as, medical organizations working around the clock to defeat it. The question is…why aren’t we doing this?
When Jesus walked the grounds of the ancient temple there in Jerusalem, He saw multitudes of the infected, the “unclean” outcasts due to leprosy. Like the quarantined cases, victims of leprosy were bound by law to keep away from the general public. There were leper colonies where they spent their final days. If one got too close to the general population, he/she had to yell, “UNCLEAN!”. Jesus had great compassion for these unnamed cases. Against the enforced law, He went to them, touched them, healed many, and showed love and grace toward the “Unclean”. Someone who hasn’t read about Jesus, or maybe not have taken the opportunity to study about Him, may be asking why He would do such a thing. It’s a fair question. Why would Jesus risk His own health, and His physical life to see, feel, touch, and heal desperate infected outcasts. After all, it was hopeless, or so they thought. There is an answer.
Have you noticed in this post, when referring to COVID-19 victims, I often use the word, “cases”? For the most part, the media, and the medical community, are doing much of the same when reporting on this expanding concern. Why not? Unlike a little kid looking at the name of John Lee Anderson, son of James & Mary Anderson, who died of influenza at 2 years old in 1918, we see a number. Today we would see the next victim of death in China as 1,401 of 1,401. The dead one (case) is taken outside of town, to a COVID-19 fire dump, where the bodies piled up and burned. So much for #1,401. A cruise ship of 2,000 vacationers may have 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, quarantined away from shore. No name, no age, no grandma or grandpa of 18 kids back in Knoxville, Tennessee. We are just counting the diagnosis leaving out “who” they are and what they are to the loved ones waiting to hear of their condition.
It’s sad, don’t you think? In these colder times of humanity, we tend to not care of the hurting hearts involved, or the hardships others must take on to themselves.
Jesus saw “the individual” and their need. Being Who He was, He knew their names, their children, their hopes and dreams. He knew intimately little John Lee Anderson from 1918.
Count on this. There are never any “cases”, any “42 0f 57’s” inside fuel for the race.
“And having seen the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were wearied and cast away, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then He says to His disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the workmen are few.'” – Jesus – Matthew 9:36-37 (Berean Literal Bible)