Where The Road Leads

“So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl…
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies,
Beyond the yellow brick road.”
(1973) “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” Recorded By: Elton John Composed By: Elton John and Bernard Taupin

Isn’t it funny, how we don’t exactly know where the road we are on ends, or what detours may be in store, until we get over the next hill for a good visual?

Such was the case, some 22 years ago, one hot west Texas day for me, the weary traveler. Grab your popcorn.

I was planning on a 2.5 hour drive (one way), west of Dallas, Texas, to be with family for a relative’s memorial service. The drive out there displays a change in landscapes, cactus, hills, and red sandy soil.

I was doing an afternoon drive-time radio show at 90.9 KCBI at the time, in Arlington, Texas, halfway between Dallas and Ft Worth. It was to be a busy day. The funeral was planned as a morning service, and my show in the Arlington studio started at 3pm. What was even more complicated was the fact that my producer had scheduled the multi award-winning recording artist, Natalie Grant to be live in studio with me that day.

Photo By: Dean Dixon Natalie Grant

Although this was early in her solo career, she had several hits out by that time, and I was looking forward to chatting with her about her life and what was around the next bend. But, I almost didn’t make it.

I needed to be at the service in west Texas. It had been a long while since visiting with my dad’s side of the family there, not to mention I wanted to pay my respects to a very dear uncle who fought through many speed bumps in his life and yet, was a champion to the very end. So, I looked at the map (This was before Google Maps and GPS was offered to for the everyday person.), and carefully back-timed the journey, along with figuring the average length of a small town memorial service. After putting numbers together, considering I couldn’t stay for the family luncheon, or the graveside service, I put away the calculator with confidence I could accomplish such a journey, and still keep my commitment to my producer and Natalie, and her record label.

The trip there from my north Dallas home was uneventful. It was a familiar journey. All went well.

The state highway and interstate system is just like most states when driving across rural areas. There would be lots of winding curves, hills and valleys, and small towns where if you blink you would miss them. Then, from time to time, there would be getting behind a farmer’s tractor slowly on his way to the next pasture. Nevertheless, the clock and I remained friends. I arrived in plenty of time prior to the service and met up with many family members.

With about three hours prior to my radio show, I said my goodbyes, and headed east for the lengthy drive to the studio. However, because my destination was the radio station in Arlington, I was unfamiliar with the trek from point A to point B. It seemed uncomplicated enough, I just never travelled this particular route.

Because I left the service without eating lunch with the family, I became a bit hungry on the way. Thinking I could hold out until I reached the studio, my stomach started to complain. Looking at the fuel gauge, I would soon need to stop to top off the tank.

Over the river and through the woods, I spotted a small mom & pop gas station with a convenient store attached. Well, I was hungry, and it was indeed, convenient. After filling up the gas tank, monitoring my watch every few minutes, I decided to grab some food items I could nibble on while driving. It’s been many years ago, but if memory serves me right, I grabbed a stick of beef jerky, a Hostess cupcake, and a diet Coke. (Nutrition was out the window with my need for speed.)

Have you ever tried starting your car, along with putting on your seatbelt, while opening a soft-drink bottle and a stick of jerky all at the same time? It’s not easy, at least not that day.

As soon as I could open up the food items for easy access on the center console, I got my wheels quickly pushing the white rock gravel out from beneath the tread and off I went from the gas pump toward the driveway out to the highway…or so I thought.

About 20-30 yards of a white gravel lot separated the fuel pump and the highway pavement. I sped-up toward the exit of the gas station property, anxious to get back on the road toward Arlington. When I think back on the 20-30 yard jaunt across the lot, I most likely was focused more on wrestling with a difficult wrapper keeping me from a thick slice of smoked beef jerky. I quickly approached the pavement of the shoulder of the highway when to my surprise, I ran out of both white gravel and anticipated pavement. When my destination came into full view, like a NASCAR driver, I worked the brake as quickly as I could, even pumping the brake as I slid over the loose gravel. Why? Because I made the mistake of not paying attention to exactly how the gas station was orientated to the highway. In my shock, I was driving rather quickly toward an edge of the gravel lot to a steep embankment down into a fork of the Brazos River, which was some 20-30 feet down to a shallow rocky bottom stream. When I came to a timely full stop, I threw it in park and just sat there reminding myself to inhale and exhale. There was no guardrail, no fence, no warning sign, or directive indicator whatsoever. Other than an air pump for tires, there was no warning of a drop-off at the edge of the gravel lot. If it had been a nighttime visit to this location, they would’ve had MY memorial service the following week. As I slowly got my bearings and put it in reverse, I could see my front tires were probably 6 feet from the edge. As you can imagine, I was sweating bullets.

Photo by Frank K on Pexels.com

Over the winding paths of my life, I can honestly say, life can be very much like that experience. Isn’t it true? There will be times when you are rolling along just fine when suddenly you find yourself headed smack into a brick wall, a curb you didn’t see, or a cliff’s edge. Don’t fool yourself, they all don’t always come with warning signs, or road reflectors, or rails to guard you from gravity taking over. And isn’t it true that often times situations like this are delivered by way of being distracted somehow? Something else that entices, something else outside of yourself which tickles one or more of your five senses. Then, without much warning at all, another unnoticed reality is on an intercept course where you can’t put the brakes on quickly enough. Exercising caution at all times is wise, on the road, in a parking garage, as well as, the road of life.

Only you know what that is in your life. Only you know when this has shocked your steps forward. Only you know what to guard against. You and God, the One Who sees all things before you and after you. He knows each of our roads are different.

In case you were wondering, I got to the studio on time, with about 30 minutes to spare, even before Natalie showed up. It was our first time to work together, but would have the pleasure of working with her again a few times later in our careers. When I told her what had happened on my way to the radio station, her jaw hit the floor. She said the Lord had His hand on me, even when we’re unaware. She was right.

When needing to know where the pitfalls are in your road, locate the map in fuel for the race.

“For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the LORD, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29: 11-12 (Amplified Bible)

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Over The River And Through The Woods

“But I would walk 500 miles,
And I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man walks a thousand miles,
To fall down at your door”
(1988) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” Recorded By: The Proclaimers Composers: Craig and Charlie Reid

Ella: No! We are staying here for Thanksgiving!

Orville: But, Mama! I miss her!

Ella: Not another word about it, young man! They’ll have their Thanksgiving, and we’ll have ours, right here! Now, go wash up before I blister your bottom!.

That’s how I project the row between my Great-Uncle Orville, and his mom, Ella, my Great Grandmother Swindell. I knew them both as older people, and I figured if I were to write a script based on the bout they had, that would be about the size of it. One thing is for sure…it was loud.

Because no one is living who was there, and the next generation can no longer recall, I have to piece together what took place. Hang in here with me. I will tell you the facts as I know them.

It would’ve been Thanksgiving week of 1938. My grandmother, Opal and her little brother, Orville, were best friends. Although he was about five years her junior, they were tight all through their growing up years, and beyond.

Photo: 1930 Opal and Orville

The Swindell’s had been living in and around the Wolfe City, and Greenville, Texas area. Opal and Orville were the only children born to Ella and Claude. Claude was a true Jack-Of-All-Trades, but the family spent much of their days as sharecroppers. Because of the nature of a sharecropper life, there were times the family lived on the road, out of the back of a truck, unless the crops just happen to be situated near their actual house. At some point, an opportunity arose in the Ft Worth area and off they went to live where the work was.

Back in the Wolfe City, Texas area, the move didn’t sit well with my granddad, Martin Atherton, who was Opal’s one and only boyfriend in school. The distance was too far for the young lovers, and there was only one telephone located in a general store, and THAT was what we once referred to as long distance. ($$$) The young couple made the decision to get married as a solution to the heartbreaking problem. So, they hitched-up, July of 1938.

Photos: (Top) 1938. My grandmother in her wedding dress. (Bottom) My grandparents in a photo booth, around 1937.

But, poor Orville was feeling lost in a new town without his big sister. Yet, Greenville, Texas, where the newlyweds resided, was about 80 miles away as the crow flies.

Fast forward to November of ’38, when 12 year old Orville petitioned his folks to travel to Greenville to have Thanksgiving with Opal and her husband. After all, he missed his sis terribly, and never had a holiday without her. Here I must say that I don’t know just what the issue was. It very well could’ve been the Swindell’s wallet was still thin from the recent move, or Orville’s dad couldn’t take off from whatever job he landed at the time. Either way, the answer was, “No”.

Before I move on to the meat of this event, let me warn you that Orville was a real pistol. They called him, “Whistle” due to the thick fabric of his overalls making a chaffing sound between his legs because he was always running from here to there. He was a bit on the hyperactive side, although that’s not what they called it back then. He was also a tough kid. He loved sneaking upon unsuspecting cows and horses in order to jump on their backs for a ride. It didn’t always go so well. He enjoyed leaping off the roofs of houses and barns which often didn’t go so well. One day, while hunting, he tackled a very unhappy dog out in the woods, brought him home to keep him as a pet, fighting him all the way. When he arrived to show his parents, Orville was scratched and bitten all over, still holding the growling, restless ornery dog in an armlock. “Look Mama! He’s my new pal!” Ella was beside herself, and furious. Standing there in her kitchen was her bloody son holding a very disgruntled…coyote! That too, didn’t go so well.

Later in the night, after the disappointing news concerning Thanksgiving in Ft Worth, he couldn’t sleep much as his mind was going in circles on how he could relieve his rebellious itch. After a while, he figured out a plan.

Early the next morning, still steaming from the argument with his mom, he slowly, covertly got out of bed, quietly leaving the house, then grabbed his bicycle and headed east for Greenville in the predawn hours.

Keep in mind, this was before the interstates and tollways. Which part of Ft Worth is unknown, but it was much smaller in the 1930’s than the metropolis it is today. I am unclear the route he took, but I assume it was the same route he was familiar with from the move earlier in the year. I imagine this would be small state highways, farm-to-market roads, etc. Much of the county roads back in those days were not paved. Today, directions from Greenville to Ft Worth takes you on interstates and the George Bush Tollway, about a 90 mile jaunt. Google tells me an athletic cyclist could figure an 8 hour ride. However, Orville’s bike would not have had the luxury of multiple gears. The 12 year old boy would have travelled through some small towns, on dirt roads, and one lane state highways. Looking at the old routes, cutting across what is now the northern suburbs of Dallas, I believe his trip would have been around 80+ miles, taking approximately 9-10 hours, given the journey and the old bicycle.

Imagine the shock on Opal’s face when her worn out little brother comes coasting up to her front door. From what I was told as a kid, he was hungry, exhausted, and cold.

According to my Uncle Orville’s story, he made the trip without stopping. However, knowing what a card he was, that could be a stretch of his actual experience. In fact, I have wondered if some poor trucker saw him and offered him a lift, saving him a few miles. But, only God really knows. I do know my granddad and grandmother drove him back to Ft Worth themselves.

My mind also wonders about the thrashing he might have received when he finally made it back to Ft Worth. I am sure Ella and Claude were fit to be tied.

Later, Orville’s bent pulled him into the cowboy world. He lived his life breaking horses for a living, and keeping up a ranch of his own. The rodeo circuit was also part of his life for many years. He broke dozens of bones in the process. It didn’t always go so well. I don’t believe I ever saw him not wearing cowboy boots. His perpetual youth always amazed me, even in his elderly years. He was funny, witty, always smiling and laughing. . One Thanksgiving at my grandparents house back in the early 70’s, while watching the Dallas cowboys play a nail-biter of a game, just as they squeaked out a win, he jumped off the couch, dove head-first over the coffee table, ending in a standing position after somersaulting across the living room floor yelling a cheer all the way. He was in his upper 40’s at the time. Yep, that was my Uncle Orville.

If someone were to ask me what I loved most about the man, it would be how much he adored his big sister, Opal, my grandmother. Everyone did.

Photo: (2006) Orville “Whistle” Swindell and his sis, Opal Atherton.

Uncle “Whistle” Orville Swindell went on another lengthy journey just about five years ago for his heavenly home. With all certainty, I know my grandmother was waiting for him at the gates. I can only imagine the reunion.

With the Christmas season coming up, I couldn’t help but think of someone else who left his secure home to travel a great distance to be with the ones He loved. A king, leaving a throne where He was praised, worshipped, and adored continually. He left it all for a tough, rugged, humble existence here on our turf. Jesus so loved us that much to make the trip so that we might make the choice to be with him where He is today.

Most believe the final journey isn’t all that far. Check out the map in fuel for the race.

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:3-4 (Amplified Bible)

The Sound Was Happenin’

Like a lazy flowing river,
Surrounding castles in the sky.
And the crowd is growing bigger,
Listening for the happy sounds,
And I got to let them fly.”
(1972) “Listen To The Music” Recorded By: Doobie Brothers Composer: Tom Johnston

Remarkable, isn’t it? Music has the ability to awaken memory banks which have been on pause for decades. Just a riff from a guitar, a tinkling of the keyboard, or a certain downbeat of percussion, and ZAP…you remember all sorts of scenes from when that song pierced your young ears. Test yourself sometime. Suddenly places, people, jobs, schools, loves, all come flooding back. Music truly is a computer file wrapped up in rhythm, rhyme and harmonies.

I must say, many tunes bring back such a place…and such a man.

Carrollton, Texas, my hometown, a northern suburb of Dallas, was much smaller in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. (I have written about our town in others posts.) In 1972, when indoor malls were new, and in vogue, or just being built, we shopped the various shopping center strips of the area. Before I discovered the gigantic record stores like, Sound Warehouse, Peaches, Tower Records, Rhino Records, or even the record section at Sears, here in our community we had, The Happening Sound Shop.

Nestled in the Carrollton Park Shopping Center strip, was a fairly small storefront, an authentic mom & pop retailer of everything in sound (music). Times have changed things a bit with tenants, retailers and renovations, but this is what a section of it looks like today.

Photo: The Happening Sound Shop was located in this small section of the shopping center strip, right around where the blue sign is.

Bill Allen was the owner. Not much is known about his earlier days, with the exception of being a manager of a production facility. For reasons that are unknown, in 1972, he left watching over assembly-line workers and opened up a record store. His vision grew with the addition of stereos, headphones, amps, guitars, CB’s (popular in the early to mid 1970’s), and other accessories. To further the customer’s opportunities, he opened up little semi-soundproof rehearsal booths in the back of the store, as well as guitar lessons from private music teachers.

Photo: NS yearbook ad. Bill Allen made sure there was a wide selection for every wallet, long before The Guitar Center.

With all his inventory of various products for the ear, the little shop became a bit crowded. But that was okay for those of us who lived just around the corner. In fact, our high school in the 1970’s was only about 200 yards away. It was perfect for a quick dash to Happening Sound at the lunch hour. THAT was terrific marketing from Bill Allen himself. Then in August of 1978, a second high school opened in north Carrollton, and Bill Allen made sure his shop was well known on the new campus.

Photo: Carrollton Chronical. 1977, Bill Allen at the counter taking orders for Elvis’ new project after his death at Graceland. The line was lengthy.

Growing up in our expanding community I doubt there would be one person in the 1970’s who didn’t frequent The Happing Sound Shop at one time or another. Many of us were there often. Bill Allen introduced us to the music we were hearing on the radio with his assorted stacks of wax.

Photo: RLT Yearbook. Two friends from my high school days in one of the many ads for Happening Sound Shop.

Bill knew where to put his advertising dollars. He had ads in the school papers, the playbills of many theatrical productions from the various schools, sporting evets and programs, and local newspapers published in Carrollton, and the neighboring suburb of Farmer’s Branch. He invested in the ISD of our community, as well as the young lives coming up. He had Happening Sound Shop, with the phone number, etched on all the guitar picks he sold. Many still have them to this very day. It’s been said he would mark down a price if a kid was short on cash. It was noticed. In 1983, even Billboard Magazine wrote an article on Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. The title of the article, “How One Texas Store Survives”.

As technology grew, so did Happening Sound Shop. Bill Allen stacked up the vinyl albums to the walls, always displaying the latest singles available on the old 45’s. Then came the 8-track tape cartages and players, then the cassette decks segued in the mix in the late 70’s and early 80’s, leading up to building shelves for something called, CD’s. He saw it all.

Photo: From Facebook Happening Sound Shop fan page. There are some mementos us older folks still carry in our wallets.

Bill Allen was an unusual retailer in several ways. He was witty, very quick with words, and humorous chatter. He had a gift of gab that could’ve landed him a radio talk show. The man understood how relationships, and filling needs, kept the clientele coming back.

One odd manifestation of such tools was his incredible ability, or the knack, to come up with nicknames for whoever walked through the door of his shop. With the forever cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, he would see me open the door and would greet me with, “Well, hello Curly!” Others, like my wife, had other nicknames. When he would see her he would shout out, “There’s little Red!” (She’s a ginger.) Other nicknames of note, “How’s it goin’ there, Sugga Booga?” “Come on in, Gold Dust!” “There’s old, Silver Queen!” “I do believe it’s John Wayne comin’ through the door!” “Hey, it’s the Golden Knight himself” “How’s it runnin’, Daisy Jane?” Then you could always expect some creative statement at the cash register. “That’ll be, $239.00 today, Cactus Eater.” (The price was $2.39.) Or, “Here’s ‘er change back, Raggedy Ann. Just like McDonald’s”. “Well, Humdinger, your bail sits at $4.99 even.” One of my favorites was when he sold me Barry Manilow’s latest LP, the comment at the counter was, “Well, Curly, how ’bout fries with that?” He had an amazing memory to be able to keep up with the names used for the customers, especially with the changes as we were growing up and hitting puberty. What a guy!

One final comment on the nickname subject. Our fine arts departments in the ISD were well known for our annual musical productions. In February of ’78, I took on the role of Johnny Brown (Molly’s husband) in, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” production at our high school.

Photo: Carrollton Chronicle, Feb 1978. Me as Johnny (JJ) Brown.

Someone had asked Bill Allen if he would place our promo ad poster in his store window a month before opening night. He did, as he did each year for major high school productions. After the run of shows, from that point on, he called me, “Mr. Uptown Brown”. What’s funny is that’s also my real last name. I don’t think he ever knew it.

You may be wondering why I would write about a small record shop and its owner’s quirky ways from 1972 and onward. My answer would simply be, ask us locals, now with whiter hair with pictures of our grandkids on the fridge and arthritic knuckles. Today there is a Happening Sound Shop fan page on Facebook. No surprise. Tons of people write of their solid memories of Bill Allen and his Happening Sound Shop. People, who were touched in a personal way from childhood by a place, a man, and his love for community.

If you should scroll through the fan page, the string of admiration is clear. The comments go on and on about the man, and the place we all knew to be a shop where no matter what was up in our lives, we felt loved. Bill Allen really cared, without judgements, without slanted favor. When available, many post old photos of the place, Bill, and the old storefront. And for those of us who have moved away from the area, who had touchpoints with Bill Allen and his shop, have carried the precious memories with them. Moreover, they, we, have carried Bill Allen and his kindness in our hearts. In a way, one might say he taught us a bit how to love, be civil, and serve with a joy not often found in modern times.

After diving into theology in my 20’s, I discovered some of Bill Allen’s attributes found in Jesus and His teachings. To serve, not be served. To love, even if you know you may not be loved back. To reach out to the lowly, the poor, the young. To lift up, not to pull down. To invest in lives around yourself, and not store up for self. Call me quirky if you want, but I also see another trait. I see personal recognition, regardless of one’s status in society. Jesus spoke of it often. Scripture says He even named the stars, each and every one. He said His flock knows his voice. He knows each of us, individually, by a special name.

Bill Allen wasn’t wealthy. His mark-ups were never unreasonable, even during the inflation years of the 70’s. Bill Allen set up sales racks, marked down to where any of us could afford what was there. When he saw a customer who was needy, he would point out his depreciated items with a helping hand. He lived a life which left behind a great legacy.

Photo: One of the last pictures known of Bill Allen from around 1993.

Bill Allen’s cigarette habit closed in on him. He was diagnosed with cancer, and it took him quickly. His daughter made the attempt to keep Happening Sound Shop going after her father’s death, but in the end she felt it was truly his baby and could not survive without him. Several months after his death, Happening Sound Shop closed its doors for good in 1994. It was a sad day when the sound ceased to happen.

For a 22 year span, Happening Sound Shop was a bright star, not only for our community of music lovers in general, but to the masses of impressionable young people from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.

Who knows you by name? Find out in fuel for the race, Sugarfoot.

“‘…To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.’” – Rev 2:17b (NAS)

91 Years Of Love

“When you feel cold, I’ll warm you.
And when you feel you can’t go on, I’ll come and hold you.
It’s you and me forever…”
(1975) “Sara Smile” Recorded By: Hall & Oates Composers: Daryl Hall & John Oates

He was raised on farmland. Born around 1869ish+/-. His family, and the children which came later, toiled as sharecroppers, working the crops of other landowners. They travelled from county to county, wherever the work was available. The Tapp family were not educated folk, but they were the salt of the earth, a redneck clan, who knew the backbreaking job of picking cotton, corn, potatoes, and okra from dawn to dusk. If he owned a suit, it was strictly for church on Sundays. His hands were rough and weathered, yet his handsome face endured the Texas sun. He would grow up knowing the horse and wagon days of travel, until he was well into his 30’s when he saw his first horseless carriage.

At some point, date unknown as the family didn’t tend to keep records, he married a girl named, Molly. Later they were blessed with at least five boys, and two daughters, a true gift for a farm-working family. He was my Great-Great Granddaddy Tapp.

One of the daughters was my Great Grandmother, Ella Tapp-Swindell. She was born in 1901. As expected, she learned the trade of farming, along with her many siblings. However, while she was 6, 7, or 8 years old, Molly grew ill and became an invalid. Ella had to quit school and help take care of household duties, raising her siblings, along with learning to be a caregiver to her disabled mother. She married a handsome man of all trades, and talented musician named, Cluade Swindell. Ella was a “Get-Up-And-Get-It-Done” gal who passed the same attitude on to her daughter and son. The siblings were a fine duo out in the sharecropping fields from the time they could start walking. That daughter was my grandmother, Opal Swindell-Atherton. If you are a regular reader of my blog, than you have been introduced well to Opal Atherton in past posts.

Opal was born in 1921. While in Jr. High School in Wolfe City, Texas, she met a wild auburn-headed country boy named, Martin “Lucky” Atherton. He was new to the area, having moved from Oklahoma. When their eyes met, it was love, real love. Blinded by love, they never dated others. They were married when she was 17 years old. The life of sharecropping was over for her, as Lucky, her new husband, was a sharp mechanic. They were blessed to add two boys and one girl to their home. Their daughter, the baby of the family, would be my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown. She was born in 1944.

Again, if you have read my story from my other posts, you already know the tragic details of how I arrived in 1960.

As soon as my mom and I were able to travel, we made a quick drive from Greenville, Texas to Cash, Texas, a tiny farming community just a few miles away from where I was born. There, we visited my G-G-Granddaddy Tapp, along with my G-Grandmother Swindell on the Tapp family farm. The camera was loaded and ready for the photo below. Five generations in one shot. As you can see I was very casual about the entire event.

Photo: Five Generation Picture – June 1960

Many have told me they have never seen a five generation photo. I guess a four generation shot is more common. To have a five generation shot is just simply a gift from God. So, as you can imagine, when the time arrived in my life to obtain yet another five generation shot, I couldn’t wait to get the camera ready. Below is my grandmother, Opal, my mom, Carolyn, me, my daughter, Tabitha, and my granddaughter, Skylar. I love the way my Grandmother Atherton is looking at Skylar here, with yet another 90 years between them.

Photo: Five year generation picture – June 2016

Beyond the rarity of such a photo, as treasured as it is, might be what it represents. For me, it’s a reminder of the love and care which took place from generation to generation. We choose to love because love is exactly that, a choice. Care is a natural by-product of authentic love. When I review the stories told, going back 91 years, I can see this chain of love, like links from one person to the next, holding them all together, weaving a fabric of common admiration, loyalty, and valor. For those who have such a legacy, it is priceless.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Pexels.com

Scripture tells us that there is One who is closer than a brother. At the same time, the Author of such a passage also has revealed Himself as Father, Brother, even Grandfather, in certain aspects. In fact, and I must be careful here, He is even described as Mother because of His tenderness, intimate care-giver, personal supplier, and nurturer, as in El Shaddai, meaning All Sufficient One, IE: “The God Who is more than enough”. He IS our great Relative from generations past.

There are links of generational love to discover in fuel for the race.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” – Isaiah 49:15-16a (NIV)

Front Porch Tea

“I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hour she calls me.
Radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
I should have been home yesterday, yesterday. Country roads, take me home
To the place where I belong…”
(1971) “Country Roads” Recorded By: John Denver Composers: Taffy Nivert Danoff, Bill Danoff, John Denver

There is just something very special about the backwoods roads, unpaved, rocky, and winding. Of course, if you’re lost, it’s not so special. However, it brings thoughts of peace, tranquility, and comfort. They are so worth the drive onto an unbeaten path. Even more so, if the country roads take you to loved ones, so precious and dear.

Earlier today, an old fond memory just popped into my head from out of the blue. It’s a memory I have not played through my mind in many years. Does that happen to you?

When my mom remarried back in 1965, I was five years old, a wonderful, historic Texas family came with the union. The Brown family, who I am so very proud of to this day. My dad adopted me, changing my name to Brown, and I am so proud of it. My new dad’s family was large in number, a bit on the stoic side, and scattered throughout Young County in west Texas, about 2.5 hours drive west of Dallas. Suddenly, I had many aunts and uncles, and a slew of cousins. Graham, Texas is the county seat, and the general location of the Brown family. Because I have written before concerning the area, the family homestead, and the pioneering family that they are, you might already be a bit familiar with the rich history of my family there.

The nucleus of the large God-fearing clan was my Grandpa and Grandma Brown (Bessie and W.R.) They both were children of Civil War Confederate soldiers. In fact, my great-grandpa, Lewis Pinkney Brooks (Grandma’s dad) was one of the first settlers to the area shortly after the war ended. He came to the area from Georgia on a mule, or donkey, depending on who you ask.

Photo: 1920’s, My great grandpa and grandma Brooks on the porch of the old homestead where my Grandma Brown was raised.. My cousin and her family live there today.

If you have seen the Paramount TV series, “1883”, then you have a taste of what Texas was like during those days of the untamed west. In fact, my great Grandpa Brooks would have been a contemporary of the Duttons, the two main characters in the storyline of the television show. So, my grandparents were not only raised by pioneers, but had firsthand knowledge of the happenings of those days. The family homestead is built just off the Brazos River in what is known as, Upper Tonk Valley, (Short for the Tonkawa tribe who lived there). As a kid, I was mesmerized by their recollections of their parents, the area, and the early days of being homesteaders.

Photo: 1911. My Grandma Brown on the left, with her sisters taking a dip in the Brazos River.
Photo: 1981. My Grandma Brown with some of her grandkids at the time.
Photo: 1971. My Grandpa Brown in his Sunday best.

Anytime we drove out to Graham to spend the weekend with my new grandparents, it was always something I was excited about. I was a city kid. Most of the family lived out in the country, outside the city limits of Graham, Texas. My grandparents didn’t live in the old family homestead, (An uncle resided there at the time.) Their old house was about 5 miles south of the homestead. It sat about a mile off the state highway on a red sandy dirt road among the creeks, mesquite trees, and cactus. There were horses to ride, cows to feed, creeks and rivers to explore, and pastures to run.

Photo; An old abandoned barn, a couple of miles down Tonk Valley Road.

Of course, there was refreshing rainwater to drink right out of a round tin washtub. That’s right. The water from the faucets came from wells which had a strong sulfur, mineral smell. Some got adjusted to it, as they were raised there, but not me. I couldn’t stomach the water, unless you boiled it first. So, my Grandma had a large metal washtub under a downspout off the corner of her kitchen. When full of rainwater, it was brought in where it sat next to her side kitchen window. It had its own ladle. I was always surprised how cool it was to the lips. You didn’t stir it because you didn’t want to bring up the sandy grains of residue resting at the bottom of the tub. But, on a hot summer Texas day, that water was the best tasting H2O I have ever allowed down my gullet.

Although they had an old TV from the 1950’s, they didn’t watch much of it. My Grandpa Brown was a busy farmer, among other things. There were expected pre-dawn sounds of heavy slurping coming from the living room, where I slept on a daybed. Opening my eyes, there he would be, sitting in a chair, in his pinstriped overalls and boots, facing the stove (if winter), or facing the window listening to the first coos of the morning doves, with a bowl and saucer of coffee. No coffee cup for W.R. Brown. I never really understood it, but that’s how he rolled. Afterwards, he was off to his crops close to the banks of a sandy-bottom creek down by the horse pasture. However, I rarely went back to sleep as Grandma’s freshly baked homemade yeast rolls were wafting through the early morning air. Nothing could beat her jarred preserves on the table, and buttered rolls fresh out of the oven. Oh, my! Recently, while visiting my 91 year old aunt, she showed me grandma’s old baking sheet which she used to bake her biscuits and rolls. It literally had holes in it from decades of wear. I sniffed of the old worn pan, but there wasn’t even a hint of bakings past.

Around mid-late afternoon, you could count on the folks sitting out on the wooden plank front porch. They had two or three metal lawn chairs, the kind that bounced a bit, almost like rocking chairs, and usually a couple of old wooden chairs with rope weave, or wicker weave seats were brought out from the dining room. Grandma had the usual large clay pitchers of cool tea made from her rainwater tub, sitting out for anyone who wanted to fill their tall glasses. The ice cubes were there waiting in an aluminum bucket, and tea spoons at the ready. Before you can ask, yes, it was sugar tea. Before I was 15 years old, I didn’t know unsweetened tea existed.

Photo by Arturo Au00f1ez on Pexels.com

Now, you would think, sitting next to elderly folk, with heavy west Texas accents, along with iced tea in hand, out on a front porch looking out at a red dirt country road, would be something only Rip Van Winkle would enjoy. NO WAY! I can’t tell you how much I learned about west Texas history, family history, and life out on the prairie. Sure, there was a lot of chatter about politics, preachers, and current news items of the day, but I was okay with that, too. You know why? Because I knew I was in the presents of greatness, salt of the earth people with dirt under their fingernails. The front porch was what they did for leisure. When family and friends came to visit, they knew to pull up a chair, fill their glasses, and bring up some fat to chew on. Much joy and information was to be had on that front porch of the Brown’s house.

My Aunt Ina Dell’s rendition of Grandma & Grandpa’s house.

As a pick-up truck would drive by from time to time, the driver would wave at the folks on the porch, and a warm kind acknowledgement was exchanged. It seemed everybody knew everybody in the community, especially on the old Lower Tonk Valley Road.

Photo: Old windmill pumping water for the livestock at the old Brook’s Homestead in Upper Tonk Valley.

After Grandma’s larrupin’ dinner, often other family members would come over and we would gather around the slightly out of tune upright piano to sing old hymns. (At the church, the Brown family practically filled the choir loft.) This was a very memorable time as we gathered for what they called, “The Singin'” complete with full harmonies, and old dusty hymn books from a box an uncle would deliver. After about an hour of melody-making, many of us returned to the front porch with tall cold glasses of sweet tea. I was always amazed how DARK it was out in the country. Depending upon the time of year, or weather, we would watch the fireflies dancing around in the front yard for a natural light show. A few of us cousins were given mason jars to do some firefly hunting. It was so much fun. We would chase them around, often bumping into one another in the process, with the sound of the tin jar lids clanging on the glass. Some took their captives home, but I didn’t have the heart for firefly prison. I was happy to let mine go free.

The marriage between my mom and dad only lasted about four years. However, they were terrific, adventurous years for me when at the age of 5-9 years old, I soaked up incredible life-long memories so very worthwhile. The Brown clan continues to be my family today. They are great people.

Grandma and Grandpa Brown have long vacated this earth, but their laughter, voices, and hugs in the pages of my memory, continue to deliver unanticipated smiles on my face. The old house is gone, as well. In the early 1980’s, after my Grandma passed away, after my Grandpa died in 1977, the old place was removed making room for a new house built on the spot by a dear cousin of mine. He and his family have lived on the land ever since. I still drive by there now and then.

Not a lot has changed there over the last six decades, with the exception of a partially paved stretch of road which has taken the place of Young County red sandy dirt. Often I will pull over in an unpopulated spot of Lower Tonk Valley Road, stop the engine of the car, and close my eyes to capture the familiar sounds of the place of old love and wonder. When listening close, one can hear the doves, roosters, and the bellows of the Longhorns close by. Somehow, I tend to leave there with a hankering for a tall glass of iced tea.

In the hustle of today’s schedule and the glow of the screen from the cell phone, a trip back to more innocent days can be as refreshing as a tin washtub of cool rainwater.

We all understand thirst when the heat is overpowering. It’s a craving, especially for cool water for the tongue and throat. It’s so easy for the imagination. Also, we all have a thirst within our natural man/woman, where the hunt for quenching begins, often pulling us to a whirlpool where we don’t belong. The smell of it is distasteful and sour, but unfortunately we, along with our society, grows accustomed to it in our daily choices. Away from the public faucet of such, is prepared a pure reservoir, filled with cool, clear water for the soul. The purity of it pushes down the sediment of the day. A drink to be trusted. A drink to quench deeply. A drink which quells everlasting.

Maybe for you, it might be a quick return visit with the Fount Of Every Blessing found in fuel for the race.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – Jesus John 4:14 (ESV)

Sprinkles of Joy

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.
Brown paper packages tied up with strings.
These are a few of my favorite things.”
(1965) “My Favorite Things” from, “The Sound Of Music” Recorded By: Julie Andrews Composers: Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers

Sitting at my desktop computer, where I write, I truly had no clue of what what I would jot. Does this ever happen to you? Usually, something is already on my mind, burning through the noise and the sights of the day. More often than not, a theme is just itching to slide out of my noggin and onto my keyboard. But not today.

A decent psychoanalysis performed by a solid, experienced professional in the field could most likely open me up and explain why this occurred. Then again, maybe not. I can be complicated.

In my frustration, I sat at my desk looking at a blank screen, which mirrored my hollow brain, when suddenly a light came on. A phenomenon which warms me so often that I take it for granted. Well, not taken for granted today.

Just before I pull back my desk chair from the desk, I face a study closet door, which stands about a foot from the chair to the right of the desk. On the doorknob of the closet, hangs two precious items of note. Let me show you.

Draping over the doorknob is a Christmas ornament of hand painted hues displaying blue, purple, yellow, amber, green and black. The small piece of art is encased in glass with a silver alloy frame and backing. If you look closely, you can read the words, “by Skylar 2017”. Skylar is my granddaughter. When she was 6 years old, she won an art competition that year for this little treasure. It is a small print of a much larger piece she painted that year. Hanging behind the ornament, is the collar and tags of my childhood dog, Tickey. (I have written about him before.) We grew up together. He died at 16 years old, I was 23 at the time. The jingle-jangle of his tags was heard anytime he jumped, ran, scratched. I can reach over and shake them right now, always leaving me with a smile.

Tickey, and a 9 year old me – 1969

Once I sit down to face my desktop screen, this is what graces my vision before I boot up the computer.

16″ across the bottom of my computer screen is a plethora, a sprinkling of little keepsakes. Let me explain.

On the left is a 5.5″ tall cross section of a piece of wood with its original thick, rough bark on the backside.

A few years ago, the oldest, largest tree on our short street was damaged heavily in a fierce windstorm. So much so, it had to be cut down. It was a grandfather of a mammoth tree, no doubt 200 years old, or so. As a memorial, the property owners left a 6′ stump. I am so glad they did. It helps to remind us all that at one time, when my neighborhood was once a thriving cattle ranch from the late1800’s, there stood a tree of testimonial. When they sliced down the massive tree piece by piece, leaving tall piles of lumber along the curb of a full city block, I found a small chunk from this old friend. It had a flat bottom, so it stood up vertically, with its beautiful two-toned colors of its outside ring layers. When I first brought it home, I thought of staining it. But no, I couldn’t. I feel its natural look is stunning as it is.

To the right of the wooden memorial, sits a replica of a Ford Mustang Mach 1 made by Hot Wheels. A girlfriend of mine, from my high school days, drove a royal blue one with black leather interior. It was a beauty, and a beast. I keep it on my desk because I was from the 1960’s-1970’s Hot Wheels generation. Growing up, every cool boy in school had a Hot Wheel set. You were even more so if you were able to collect a herd of Hot Wheel cars and trucks. Well, I was raised by a single mom who worked a graveyard shift. We were poor. So, Hot Wheels was not in my shoe box of treasures. There were the Johnny Lightning 500 cars, a cheaper competitor, which I was able to receive one Christmas, but alas…you guessed it…they were not of the coveted Hot Wheels brand. So, I guess you could say I guard this one with my life.

Just to the right of the Mach 1, lays a genuine, honest, true blue fossil. I sincerely don’t recall where I found it, but I believe I discovered it on the sandy dry floor of the Brazos River in west Texas when I was a kid. Looking closely, it looks to be a part of a neck, or backbone. I’ve never had it analyzed, but as a kid my imagination ran away with ideas. Could it belong to a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex??? More than likely, a duck, or a prairie chicken. My wife poured cold water on a boy’s dream by saying it looked like an intestinal track of a dog. “Gee, thanks, honey.” Either way, it’s a full blown fossil. And that’s what counts. Right?

Just behind said fossil, sits a small stapler I had retrieved from my mom’s storage unit, buried under tons of junk. Nothing fancy, or worthy of writing your mom about. It is rust color, about 5″ in length. It looked very familiar when I unearthed it from the stacks of storage boxes. One day, as it sat on my desk, it hit my memory like a a mob at a New York jewelry store. It was the stapler I used during my high school years. It not only is in decent shape, but it also still has staples in it. Suddenly, it felt like an old friend. And it works!

To the right of the stapler, proudly sits a model replica of the Galileo, the space shuttle from the Star Trek TV series. The old, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701/7 Space Shuttle. It’s more than just a plastic model of the beloved shuttle, but a container. The top hatch opens to a compartment where a library of Star Trek trivia cards can be found. One of my stepsons gave it to me for a few years back. I was a Trek fan ever since the 1960’s series aired. When my three girls came along, they too became fans. That’s one reason why an old picture of my middle daughter, Megan, sits on the back of the shuttle. At that age, she used to say she wanted to ride in a space ship someday.

What the song said is true. Maybe to you raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens may not be your bag, but no doubt you have some favorite things. They don’t have to be large, or expensive. The value is in what the item does for you, to you. Because when that dog bites in life, or the bee stings when unanticipated, a few of your favorite things can trip off a few thousands memories which are reserved in a very blessed place inside. It’s God’s gift.

Poundings of threats of war, rising crime, along with thin wallets can melt away our smiles rather quickly. Losing friends over selected desired pronouns, or ideology which goes against your values, can cause bitterness if not guarded. At the same time, I can vouch for what a small desktop item can bring in your day. The sweet thoughts can point you in an alternative direction where we all were meant to be.

In scripture, there are literally dozens of times where we find where God uses the word, “REMEMBER…” Often, it is the first word in a sentence. Still, we are admonished to use our memories to combat negative, or dangerous desires, thoughts, or depression and disobedience. When we do remember what God has done in our lives, and the lives of others, we can begin to turn the tides of our seat of affections, or a darker path we weren’t chosen to walk. Yes, there’s something to turning the heart toward what we have been blessed with. Just little sprinklings of joy do this. Even if it is a petrified intestine.

Sometimes under “R” in your phone index, a simple line of sweet remembrance, refreshes when taken from fuel for the race.

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.” Hebrews 10:32 (NAS)

Antique Value

“So keep your auditions for somebody
Who hasn’t got so much to lose.
‘Cause you can tell by the lines I’m reciting.
I’ve seen that movie, too.”
(1973) “I’ve Seen That Movie, Too” Recorded By: Elton John Composers: Elton John & Bernie Taupin

As long as I can recall, I have always loved old buildings, old architecture. One of my very favorites would be old theaters. After I moved to Buffalo, NY, I had the privilege of visiting a few old theaters, even performing in a couple of them. Coming from Texas, where most of the oldest theaters were built in the 1920’s-1930’s, with some rare exceptions, our culture was just catching up. However, up north, where vaudeville reigned supreme, the old theaters go way back into the 1800’s, some even dating back to the 1700’s. So, please understand, when I say a Texas theater is considered old when it debuted in the 1930’s, we are talking about a pioneering land.

My mom has fond memories, from the 1940’s and 1950’s, of her small town theater, (movie house) where she and her two brothers would spend Saturday afternoons watching Roy Rogers, Mickey Mouse, and Laurel & Hardy on the big screen. In fact, my very first memory of being inside a theater was in that same movie house in Greenville, Texas. I must have been 3 years old. (1963). All I recall is the movie being a western.

My hometown, Carrollton, Texas, northern suburb of Dallas, has a very similar theater which is considered a true Carrollton landmark. The Plaza Theater. Recently, some friends visited the cinema from the days of yore, in the old downtown square.

Carrollton had its pioneer families settling here in the 1830’s and 1840’s. It was good farmland, as well as a prime location for cattle ranches. Before you could say, “Remember The Alamo”, the railroad came through and Carrollton built its own train depot, which still stands today about five blocks from my house.

Photo: City of Carrollton Centennial Calendar Train Depot

The old Carrollton square was the original downtown business district. Most of the buildings still stand, but have been refurbished in one way or the other. A lot of urbanization is changing the old square area. One building of note, the old bank building, which sits on the northeast corner of the square. A couple of locals, Bonnie and Clyde, paid a visit to that institution in their day. It’s a retail business today.

Photo: City of Carrollton Centennial Calendar Bank

The other businesses in that time were exactly what you would expect from an old pioneering farming town. There was a pharmacy, a hardware store, a seed and feed store, grain storage elevator, barbershop, etc., complete with hitching posts for the horses. But the main feature in the downtown area would be the gazebo. Once a community artesian water well, it sits in the middle of the square. Through the decades, many band, choir, and chamber orchestra performances have graced the old gazebo, including yours truly. Even local beauty pageants have been decided there. CBS TV show, “Walker Texas Ranger” was filmed in and around the square many times.

Photo: City Of Carrollton Centennial Calendar Gazebo

Sitting now, on the south side of the square, is the old Plaza Theater, built in 1949. One of the outstanding highlights was that the Plaza was the first building in our town to have…(what for it)…AIR CONDITIONING! In Texas, that’s a must! As I type this, it’s 108/f outside.

I moved here in 1973. At that time, the old Plaza was still playing current movies, and some throwbacks for nostalgia purposes. I remember some old silent flicks running through the projector room. Many of my old high school friends talk about the movies they saw there as kids. Disney’s original, “Cinderella”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Bambi”. One friend tells me about a time in the 1960’s, The Three Stooges appeared there for some live gags during a Three Stooges festival, of sorts. Imagine, nothing needing a rating system. You didn’t have to fear shielding your kids from nudity, ideological indoctrinations, or obscene language. Those were the days.

Others, from my mom’s generation, love to talk about the wooden fold-down chairs, huge lollipops, and enormous dill pickles for a dime just waiting by the popcorn machine. However, by the time I arrived in town, my generation was the first to experience the mall cinemas, or multiplex theaters. That was the beginning of the death of the old, one-screen palaces our folks grew up with.

Through the decades the old Plaza has gone through lots of changes, with many owners. It survived at least two major historic floods from the swollen Trinity River which runs just west of the square. For many years it sat lifeless as the building began to show signs of a much needed repair, or overhaul. In fact, this shot was taken my freshman year to be the cover of our yearbook. As you can see, when comparing to the other picture, some of the changes to the front entrance since 1975.

Photo: Carrollton’s RL Turner High School 1975 yearbook

Recently I discovered something I didn’t know about the old Plaza history. The Carrollton square had an original Plaza Theater, but it was located on the west side of the square. It was opened in 1938. The building remains to this day, but now it is a gift and curio shop.

Photo: City Of Carrollton Centennial Calendar Original Plaza Theater

Carrollton’s Plaza Theater has transformed into many venues during the post-movie decades. There have been live plays performed there, ballet, business meetings, concerts, Elvis impersonators, church services, dinner theater, private parties, and dancing events, etc. It’s been gutted, reworked, repainted, added construction, and refinished. All of these changes in one place, but the old memories for so many still remain.

There’s just something about walking into an old place, with all its deco décor, painted trim high ceilings, slanted floors, and that musty hint in the air. Some have glorious winding staircases to a balcony, printed carpeting, with some displaying chandeliers. I love the little ticket box outside, just big enough for one ticket clerk with popcorn wafting in the air. Those were the days.

One might say it’s a desire for the old things, the old ways, the old founder’s culture. Honestly, for me, there might be some truth to that. Others might say, it’s just an appreciation for the solid architecture, craftmanship, and historical sites. There again, for me, that is partially true. Some might say it’s a love of the imagination. And, I do tend to step into a building, which dates back to my great grandparents, and imagine myself being there, enjoying life as they lived it. It could be the same reason why antique stores are in such demand. I also think about the relationships that were growing in and out of that entertainment venue. How many dated their future wife or husband inside the doors of the old Plaza? I do wonder. Summing it up, I think it’s all of the above for me. Frankly, for many, antique things are a waste of time and space.

One certainty nobody ever discusses about “the old days” which should be brought up.

The downtown square, including the Plaza Theater, was closed down on Sunday mornings. Many, all day and night on Sunday. Back then, most were going to church services, including the business establishment owners. If there was an owner who didn’t attend church services, they stayed closed on Sundays because of simple neighborly respect for those of faith in the community. I am no religious legalist by any stretch, I often buy groceries on Sundays. I have no problem doing so.

If you have lived long enough, you know the common values our communities shared. Now, it is considered antique values. The days for respecting the “day of rest” is long gone, and so is my rose colored glasses.. I do have a solid rock I stand on Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That is a comfort.

There is renewal, refurbishing, and remodeling found in the old pages of fuel for the race.

“Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” – King Solomon – Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NAS)

Name That Tune

“All of her days have gone soft and cloudy, all of her dreams have gone dry.
All of her nights have gone sad and shady. She’s getting ready to fly.
Fly away, fly away, fly away, fly away. Where are my days, where are my nights? Where is the Spring? I wanna fly, I wanna fly…”
(1975) “Fly Away” – Recorded By: John Denver & Olivia Newton-John Composer: John Denver

Photo: Singing in Buffalo, NY (2005)

Music has been my life. It’s been my joy, my friend, my tool of praise, my vocation. I fell in love with music before I could speak, so I’ve been told. And it’s no wonder.

Music is an incredible creation. You will not find it listed among the created items in the beginning of Genesis, during the six day event we know as creation. Do you know why? Because music belongs to eternity past, prior to the universe display. Simply, it’s a Divine attribute. It belongs to God Himself.

Music has immense, long-lasting power. The human, and animal minds are its slave. The music staff, when filled, literally navigates the brain. Indeed, music has the strength to change a life, a wavelength, a thought. Even its soundwaves can destroy a glass, a wall, a notion. It is even a giant in the realm of therapy, to build up.

You might have bought a hamburger due to, “You deserve a great today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” You might have purchased insurance due to hearing, “Wherever you’re driving, and wherever you’re bound, like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Do you still smell chicken in the air if I reminded you of, “… Goodbye ho-hum. Say hello to your family. Come on everyone. At Kentucky Fried Chicken, have a barrel of fun.” All written by, Barry Manilow during his hungry years.

Who could forget the TV theme song as Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? If I wrote the lyrics, “Now come listen to a story about a man named Jed…”, would you suddenly see Buddy Ebsen shootin’ at some food? And if I mentioned, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard walking toward a pond with fishing poles, could you immediately hear the whistle of the theme song? I bet you’re hearing it right now. Am I right? If not, you are now.

That’s the long arm of a couple of bars of carefully crafted music notes within a time signature. Tones and arithmetic together can be called, magical.

Recently, it became an urgency to move my mom into our home. Her dementia cognitive levels are causing her personal leaves to fall. Over the past year, it became very clear she could no longer live by herself. She officially moved in with my wife and I the week of Thanksgiving of 2021. Although I watched her be a 24/7 caregiver to her mom, for about 13 years, it is so vastly different to actually BE the caregiver. There is a great learning curve to it all. We also have learned a lot about ourselves. We even learned how we must guard our marriage very carefully during the turmoil of caring for a dementia patient.

I am grateful my mom still has much of her mind still intact with some precious memories which have yet to let go of their branches. Still, names, places, and simple words go missing in the fog of cognitive struggles. However, there remains one large leaf clutching its branch with a strong grip, much like a boat’s anchor on a rope.

When my mom feels the time is right to take her walker to her bedroom for preparations on laying her head on the pillow for the night, I can always count on one thing. My wife follows her there each night as she faithfully assists in bed prep. As I began to do the same on the other side of the house, soon two lovely voices are adrift in the air, reaching my awaiting ears.

My mom looks forward each night to singing a selected hymn from her days gone by. She was, and still is, a terrific soprano. In fact, as I was growing up, she was a much sought after vocalist wherever we lived, singing mainly for churches, weddings and funerals. When I was about 9 years of age, we began doing duo work.

Photo: My mom & I. April 1963.

Nightly, the two of them agree on a hymn, and ring out a duo as my wife tucks her in. (A footnote here. My wife was raised Nazarene, and my mom was raised Baptist. Often, the two denominations did not share hymnals. The two of them decide which hymns to sing, Therefore, many are found to be unknown to my wife, as well as my mom, but they both can read music and have great ears.) At times, I will hear a hymn coming from her room I haven’t heard in five decades, or longer. But each time, I can still recall the melody, harmonies, and most of the lyrics. Music does that. I hate to “spiritualize” everything, but I will say, especially sacred music. Yes, there’s a God-thing going on.

My talents come from my mom, and her mom’s side of the family. They were an artsy clan. My mom has invited me to come make a trio out of the late night serenades, and maybe soon I will. But for now, I enjoy the smile it brings to my face whenever the familiar vocal, which once calmed this child, comes dancing through the air in search of my ear.

I know what you are thinking, and it’s okay. Just know that I know, these bittersweet days are precious. There is a song in her heart because she is simply preparing to fly away.

Your song of the heart can be found in fuel for the race.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Show Me The Door

“…That cold black cloud is comin’ down.
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
(1973) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” Composed & Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Be honest. Give it a moment of thought. What do you first think of when you see a shut door? Like a photo of the sun kissing the horizon. Is it dawn, or dusk? Is the door an exit, or an entrance?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

July 4, 1987 was the official date when I had the honor to join the air staff at a brand new Christian music radio station in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. That July 4th was our debut. I had just turned 27. It was my very first radio job. We were building a 100,000 watt blowtorch of a pop/rock Christian station like no other. It was called, KOJO (Ko-Jo). people laughed as it reminded some of Stephen King’s novel and movie, “Cujo” from earlier in the decade. Ironically, although the name stuck very well to the ear, the call letters were changed in 1989 to KLTY, which it remains today. It didn’t take long before we were named the most listened to Christian station in the world. In just a few months we had accumulated over 400,000 listeners in the Metroplex, and that was just the beginning.

We were in full-court press with promotions, contests, and live remote broadcasts constantly. For several weekends in a row we poured the audience a huge opportunity for various winnings of some kind. After the announcement, the 9th caller would be the one who had their name added for a Monday morning drawing for the prize. We had a knack for making it fun and even silly. A good example was our “KOJO-94fm, Win A Wonderful Waco Weekend While You Can!” contest. We had to mention it every other time we spoke on mic. You can imagine how the tongue had to do gymnastics on the phrase. I had to practice at home. Yet, it was lots of fun for everybody. But now, back from my rabbit trail.

About two weeks prior to “Turning on the light”, which was our handle, we had our very first on-air staff meeting. We went around the table introducing ourselves, stuffing our faces with donuts and coffee. About 98% of us were hired from outside the area. I felt proud that I was one of the home-grown lads. The talent was amazing as each one gave a snapshot of a verbal resume. In fact, since I was the rookie among those radio vets, I felt extremely intimidated. However, the blessing of knowing how much I could learn from such a team was endless in my mind. One guy I hit it off with that summer was a transplant from Seattle, Washington. Meet the incredibly talented, J.J. Hemingway.

(Unfortunately for us, J.J. passed away in 2019. His voice has indeed been silenced, but his memory lives on for all who knew him, or listened to him over the airwaves.)

J.J. and I became friends right away. he was so easy to befriend. His humor, his fast-draw wit was quick as lightning, like a stand-up comic. His gruff, yet smooth voice, was highly unique, and very difficult to describe, to the point of exclusivity. His love for God was open and exceptional. He loved the treasure of God’s grace. He was so imperfect, like all of us, and he knew himself well. He knew where he would be if not for the grace of the Grace-Giver. Throughout his career, his sign-off line was, “And remember, no matter what the weather is like, you can always let the Son shine in your life.” He always meant it. J.J. had many a cloud hanging over him. We worked different parts of the day, so we didn’t see each other on a daily basis. However, on Saturdays, our schedules were deviated. So, I followed his show on Saturday evenings and that’s usually when we were able to catch up.

Every month we had a standing on-air staff meeting at a large well-known pizza place. Alongside business topics from our program director, we had a blast. It was always a casual time with lots of laughter and chit-chat. On one occasion, we decided to share personal funny stories of unforeseen happenings while on the air. Most chose hilarious stories from other stations from the past. One co-worker, Ernie Brown, originally from Houston, gave a whopper of a situation he experienced. In Houston, the station he worked for had a 1950’s converted (No pun intended.) gasoline service station as their broadcast studio. If you’re old enough you remember the type, usually they were small box-shaped buildings. As so many of them were back in the day, the restroom was only accessible from the outside toward the back of the building. He was on the air late one night when he chose to take a trip to the potty. He started Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” (8;02 in length) on his turntable. The outside door was a thick, heavy soundproof Teak wood door. Teak is very costly, but solid. For some odd reason, he left the key hanging on a hook in the control room. He propped it open slightly with a reel of recording tape. That was a bad mistake. Just as he was outside, walking toward the back of the building, he heard the door close behind him. The door was way too heavy for the reel of tape. His story went on about doing all he could to break down the door. Eventually, he rammed it with his car. Yep, he didn’t last long at that radio station.

After we collected ourselves from that tale of adventure, J.J. felt the urge to unload his story about what happened a couple of hours before I showed up to relieve him on a Saturday.

Photo: The late J.J. Hemingway.

We (KOJO) were sharing a two story broadcast building which housed KOJO, along with, a longstanding Spanish radio station. Their studio was on the second floor with us, with the sales department’s couple of dozen cubicles between us. We shared the lounge, the kitchen, conference rooms, and restrooms. Downstairs was a state of the art recording studio owned by another entity. Because of the hourly booking nature of a recording studio, it often was empty. The owner of the building was having the downstairs remodeled for more production studios, as well as, office space for commercial copy writers.

J.J. told the story of this particular Saturday night calamity. With the quick wit of a Robin Williams, he began to blurt out his experience.

J.J. was on the air when nature began to call. The 2nd floor restrooms were just a few feet down the hall from the studio, so we all had it timed in our heads how long the walk took from the control board to the facilities. (In those days, nothing was automated on-air.) J.J. put on a longer song from the artist, Carman, known for his lengthy tunes. J.J. gets to the restroom to find it full of people waiting in line. Apparently, the Spanish station was having some kind of on-air party with selected listeners. J.J. couldn’t wait. So, he runs downstairs to a small restroom not far from the recording studio. He slammed the door and proceeded with his business. After he was ready to go back to the studio upstairs, he couldn’t get the door opened. Apparently, it was a new door that had not yet been leveled with the door jam. When J.J. forced it shut, it was as if it had been locked from the outside. No matter what he did, he couldn’t open it. He was trapped while the Carman song played on toward its ending. He started to panic as he looked at his watch while fearing dead air upstairs. (Dead air is a no-no.) It being a Saturday night downstairs in a construction zone, he was haunted by the ominous echos of a U-Haul truck engine invading his thoughts. His only hope was to scream at the top of his lungs while kicking and beating on the jammed door until someone upstairs could hear him…maybe. After about five minutes or so, a lone sound engineer, working late in the recording studio, heard the clamor down the hallway. He followed his ears to J.J.’s temporary jail cell. The engineer tried desperately to open the restroom door from the hallway side, but it wouldn’t budge. J.J. asked the guy to go to the KOJO control room and start another song. The poor guy had never been upstairs, much less inside the KOJO studios. But, sensing J.J.’s distress, he went to do just that. Listeners hearing dead air suddenly heard an mysterious unfamiliar voice say, “And now, one of my favorite songs.” before another cut was played. After he returned, he realized the only escape plan at that point was to remove the hinges. After finding some tools, he was able to remove the hinges and free J.J. from his solitary confinement. And yes, there was dead air. Needless to say, we all were just rolling on the floor at the pizza place laughing our lungs out. However, the program director didn’t look amused. Still, J.J. kept his job.

Doors. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. So what do you see? Is it an entrance, or exit?

Most people see a blockage from whatever lies on the other side. It seems no matter how the door looks, it still holds us back from the other side, maybe from where we want to be. In many cases, we might not want to know what’s on the other side. Yet, if you arrive at a loved one’s home, you step on the porch, and you are faced with a door keeping you from your loved one. What a great thing when your loved one opens the door to reveal their wonderful, inviting smile.

You’ve seen this famous painting before.

Photo: Jesus At The Door – zazzle.com

It comes from a passage, in Revelation Ch3, where Jesus Himself is offering an opportunity to a handful of first century churches. He mentions that He is outside, rapping his knuckles against their tightly closed door. Apparently, at some point, the reel of recording tape they used to prop the door open had slipped out shutting tight the door. It clashes with the irony of how the door of the ark of Noah was shut and sealed as the rains began. At the same time, it’s wise to notice how the door Jesus knocks on has no outside door latch. It indicates He will not force His way in, but rather He must be invited.

Yet there’s another tightly shut door of note.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus mentions an imagery to remember. He paints His self-portrait as being door for entrance. He had said before how He was the WAY, the ONLY WAY to the Father. By saying such, He literally is feeding us highly valuable information so many ignore. He was saying, “If you rely on some other one to give you access to the other side, the door will remain shut.” By teaching He was a door for access to the the other side, this door is unlocked, unjammed, and unlimited for those who accept the invitation. For anyone who feels trapped in life, trapped in abuses, trapped in sins, He opens Himself up for us to escape the solitary into His fellowship, His home, His freedom.

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

No need to pound on a jammed door when drinking from fuel for the race.

“I am now standing at the door and am knocking. If any one listens to My voice and opens the door, I will go in to be with him and will feast with him, and he shall feast with Me.” – Revelation 3:20 – (Weymouth New Testament)

Remember?

“When the night has been too lonely,
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter,
far beneath the bitter snows,
lies the seed that with the sun’s love,
in the spring becomes the rose.”
(1979) “The Rose” Originally Recorded By: Bette Midler Composer: Amanda McBroom

After a heartbreaking divorce, my 15 year old daughter, Megan and I, found ourselves in suburban Buffalo, NY, frantically hunting for a cheap apartment within the school district she had been living in. My oldest daughter had already flown the nest, and my 2nd grade daughter had moved back to Texas with her mother. (That was my idea, which I regret to this very day.) Our lives seemed to be devastated, destroyed. We lost so much in the storm of it all.

It was in the blur of November, 2006. Megan dearly loved her school, along with her nearby friends. We were also looking for an apartment that would accept our family pet, Jojo, a tiny Yorkie, and Megan’s best buddy. With about 10 days to a foreclosure move-out deadline for our house, we found the apartment needed. That sounds like a quick, smooth transition, doesn’t it? Keep reading.

I will always remember, after a two week search, Megan, Jojo and I were sitting in our SUV with a heavy cold rain pounding on the roof of the vehicle in a drug store parking lot. We had just grabbed the latest edition of a local newspaper with a very small apartment ad section. Our area had very few apartments within it. My ex-wife was a white-collar criminal, among other things which I won’t go into, and had ruined my credit rating due to the record of crimes she committed over a 26 year period. I wasn’t sure a landlord would take me after a credit check. We were brokenhearted, exhausted, wet and worried.

As a dad, I feared homelessness. Something inside me boiled up with a fierce fight to keep my child from living under a bridge, or in a foster home away from me. As the lake-effect rain fell like artillery shells, prior to opening up the newspaper, I told her we should pray first. Through giant tears, we prayed together for a place to fit our needs in the area within the boundary lines of the school district, and the scope of the deadline. The odds were tremendously against us. The uttered prayer was a desperate one coming from my gut. My voice shook, my body trembled. My heart was wrenching, and my mind was at war with the facts fighting my faith. After the prayer, as we wiped our wet faces, we opened the ad section to immediately find an apartment which seemed tailored to our needs. Fast forward, it was exactly the right place for the three of us. The property manager graciously heard our story of desperation with all the pain in our bellies. She was a single mom with a history which included a nasty divorce. Even a move-in date of 10 days was accommodated. It was the right place at the right time, with the right person overseeing things at the right location. We stayed there while getting Megan through the high school years. Talk about a Godsend! It’s a crux forever etched in my mind and heart.

Why did I open up this very dark scene of my life to you? I’ll explain.

Recently, I walked into a CVS drugstore to find this candy display…

As much as I love Reese’s, this sign for the display upset me the second I read it. I’m not a legalistic, dogma consuming, strict, uptight, letter-of-the-law guy who rages on at anything written or said which hints at erasing Jesus. We live in a world that pulls away from God, that’s clear. Jesus Himself taught us that we are to expect to be ridiculed, mocked, and even sent behind bars in some cases. So, I understand a world, a culture, a marketing plan of Godless thoughts and intentional secular mandates which ignores the truth of Easter. That’s what a lost society will do. It’s natural for them. I get it. However, will I rely on peanut butter and chocolate to remember Easter on April 4th, 2021? Actually, the opposite happens. I tend to forget candy, plastic grass in baskets, and sugar eggs wrapped in colorful noisy cellophane on Easter. There’s nothing wrong with those things at all, but it’s not my reminder to observe this…

The empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

Memories can be sparked by almost anything. A bubble of a recollection may arise simply with the aid of a song, a movie, or a pressed flower in the pages of a yearbook. What a pleasure when that happens…if it’s a good memory.

Today, I looked up at a basket full of dead flowers on top of a curio cabinet in the corner of our living room. It dawned on me that although I knew the basket was there, I never really took a great deal of notice.

A bit embarrassed of my neglect, I asked my wife about the basket of what appeared to be dead flowers. She kindly educated me without reacting harshly at my lack of awareness. She told me they are some selected flowers I had given to her over the years. Instead of tossing them out when the blooms die, she collects them in the basket above a cabinet full of precious items from the past. These will not spring to life at this time of year, but they do spark living memories. The colors may be faded, and the petals fragile, but they are still valuable. Frankly, I felt like a jerk. I should’ve noticed that about her. It warmed my heart, just like when I see a local newspaper being offered at a drug store stand.

Much like these memorable flowers from days gone by, a Christian, (This is one who accepts, and believes, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for sin, and has faith that He rose again from the tomb.), I remember the cross of Christ, but I celebrate His bodily resurrection. He died in my place, for my space in His eternal family. His death on the sacrificial cross was indeed dark. Yet, His resurrection is bright, and colorful to this very hour. He displayed the knockout punch over guilt, sin, and death itself, which is the penalty for sin which entered humanity’s DNA in the beginning. How could I forget? I am redeemed, spiritually rescued, stamped by His righteousness. The fine folks at Reese’s can’t help me with that.

Because of this resurrection, His guiding Spirit is present in my bright and dark days. If you are not a believer. it would be impossible to truly grasp this.

Remember when you were broken after the death of a loved one? He was there. Remember when you lost that job? He was there. Remember when you suffered that miscarriage? He was there. Remember when you found out your spouse was cheating on you? He was there. Remember when you held your firstborn in your arms for the first time? He was there. Remember when you looked into the eyes of the one you loved and said, “I do”? He was there. Remember when the abuse came when you were an innocent child? He was there. Remember when you narrowly escaped an attack which came out of nowhere? He was there. Remember when you were involved in that car crash? He was there. Remember when your savings ran out and you didn’t know how to pay the next bill? He was there. Remember when you found yourself dazed from a sudden collapse of your reputation? He was there. Remember when you were afraid as you walked in to a new school? He was there. Remember when you found yourself in the hospital, not knowing what was to come? He was there.

The better question might be…Did you look for Him there?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Easter comes with a curious wordplay. In English, when we see a single rose, we say, “It’s a rose”. As English tends to do, sometimes words can sound the same, but spelled differently. You can look at the empty tomb of Jesus and say, “He arose. Both brilliant and beautiful. Fresh flowers, alive and thriving, can remind the redeemed person of faith, as well as, everlasting love blooming from Easter’s original event. No faded blossoms here.

So many reasons to remember His resurrection power over all circumstances can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” – Jesus – John 12:23-24 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)