Photo: My grandparents as newlyweds in 1938, nesting at the Brazos River, Texas. They were married 69 years until his death.
“Ohh, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would see you through? The kind of love my Momma and Daddy knew. Yeah, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would last through the years, through the trials, through the smiles, through the tears. (Bridge) For now the tenderness has been replaced with something less, and it’s hard to find what we left behind…..”
(1983) “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love?” Recorded By: B.J. Thomas Composer: Lewis J. Anderson
I love the truthful lyrics in the bridge section. “…the tenderness has been replaced with something less…”
There I go again, using the highly overused word, “L-O-V-E” when I didn’t mean it. Oh, sure, I like the lyric, but I can’t say I “love” the lyric…or can I? Come on, you know what I mean. My brain, my emotions, my gut, truly holds the lyric close to my heart. Is that love, or infatuation?
Valentine’s Day can be so cute in so many ways. The little Valentine cards we used to swap out in out elementary school days cause me to chuckle now. Just like the little heart candies, “Be Mine”, “I think you’re cool”, “Here’s a heart for you”, etc. It was all so very innocent, wasn’t it? Then, we grow into our hormone-owned teen years. Yikes! Us guys can truly be a grand example of what love is NOT. You girls seemed to have a better handle on it. Maybe I’m wrong about that. You tell me. It reminds me a bit when I think of the old TV show, “The Love Boat” from 1977-1986. You remember the first couple of lines to the theme song, “Love Boat”. Singer, Jack Jones piped it out:
“Love, exciting and new. Come aboard. We’re expecting you….” (1977) Composers: Charles Fox & Paul Williams.
I think that has been one of the distractions about the definition of love in our culture. Love can be ‘exciting and new’, but usually not. In fact, ask any couple who just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary about “excitement” or “newness”. They will laugh at you. But wait a minute. Isn’t passion, sexual desire, and infatuation exciting and new? My twist would be, yes. Passion, sexual desire, and infatuation can be exciting, especially if it has just redirected your focus in life, a new focus, even if only for a brief amount of time. But….is passion, sexual desire, and infatuation, L-O-V-E? Let’s ask the British rock band, 10cc from 1975…
“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m goin’ through. And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve go it made. I’m not in love, no-no…..”
Actually, some of the lyrics in this hit can be downright hurtful, like:
“I keep your picture upon the wall. It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there. So don’t you ask me to give it back. I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me. I’m not in love, no-no. It’s because…” Composers: Eric Stewart & Graham Gouldman
OUCH! I wonder if he was that honest to her face, or if the song was just therapy written on the road in a cheap hotel?
Valentine’s Day can be a danger for some unsuspecting romantics out there. (I know of what I speak. I can write about this with real-world experience.) Let’s face it, we want to be loved…right? That desire is in the human heart even before birth. Like an empty blender just waiting for the colorful mix of goods to be poured into us. Am I right? Come on, be honest with me.
So, sure. We love dogs. We love cats. We love horses. We love romantic movies. I love that color on you. I love a brilliant, blazing sunset. I love Tex-Mex and Chinese food. Boy, do I love that ’68 Ford Mustang. What kind of L-O-V-E is that?
How ’bout this? You see him/her from the other side of the restaurant, munching on a burger. The view is of a nice looking specimen of humanity. You toss away your slightly tomato-stained napkin and walk briskly straight for him/her. You only have two words in your vocabulary at the moment as you lock eyes on this beautiful person. As you arrive at the table, your mouth opens and out comes the channeling of David Cassidy…“Hi, I think I love you.” He/she chokes on a slice of onion. After the Heimlich Maneuver, he/she is bold enough to ask…“How do you know?” Good question. I guess you could say, “It’s your crystal blue eyes, your matching blue suit, the tattoo of the hammer and sickle over the entire left side of your face. I love everything about you!” Okay, got it. A wise person, with a head on their shoulders, might say you idolize the look of this person. What you don’t know is, he/she is a closet Neo-Nazi, an axe murderer, and someone who leaves their filthy Mini Mouse socks on the floor. So, after he/she reveals these details of “WHO” he/she is, you lower your head with embarrassment, turn and walk slowly back toward your table to rejoin your spouse and five children.
It took me decades to reevaluate using the word, “love”. If you THINK you’re in love because of what the other person can do for you and your life, you should reevaluate. Toooften this is the case.Or, you love the “idea” of falling for someone with an Irish accent, or someone from your hometown, or someone with red hair. So, you go on a hunt to find an Irish redhead who just happens to live where you grew up. Careful. That smell is from a dead relationship. Take inventory of your motives and fantasy life.
I’m grateful for the letter “L”. It launches both “Love” and “Like”. If you start to say “love”, and don’t truly mean it, you can easily self-edit as you evolve your pronunciation into “like”. Try it. “I need you to know I really, really LLLLike you.”
Are you confused yet?
Scripture defines love as a verb, not a feeling. Some reveal they didn’t understand love until they had a child added to their lives. Getting into the weeds of original root word languages, you could discover there are different brands of “love”. Yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves. We should love our families with all that we are. And yes, we should love our enemies. “That’s hard”, says Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. There’s a picture burned into my mind, from the Desert Storm War in Iraq. It captured the image of U.S. Marines feeding and hydrating Iraqi POW’s in the sands of southern Iraq. What high bar to hurdle.
Jesus labelled the highest, premium degree of authentic love.
““There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”– Jesus – (John 15:13 (Amarmaic Translation)
Literally, if you cannot agree to die, or be tortured, or to take-on someone’s cancer (if possible) for another person’s well-being, their life, their health, than most likely the highest shelf of the zenith of love is not an active agent in the relationship. Would you give a kidney to an old friend with stage 5 kidney failure? Would you run into a burning complex to rescue a co-worker? I think all various levels of love can be measured starting with the definition given by Jesus, Who loved you enough to do just what He said.
No, I am not willing to be sacrificed for a plate of tacos & egg rolls.
Be careful little mouth what you say. Be careful little hand what you write. If Valentine’s Day causes someone to misread your true heart for them, it isn’t kind. In fact, it would be cruel. Honesty is always best. It might be best to find a stain on the wall as you decide which 8×10 should go there.
One thing is certain, love is the very theme of fuel for the race.
Love ya! Mean it!
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body,but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. – Apostle Paul – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a (Berean Study Bible)
“Every time I see your face It reminds me of the places we used to go. But all I’ve got is a photograph And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”(1973) Photograph. Recorded by: Ringo Starr Composers: Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.
Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write. I just know I have to. I MUST write about it.
Meet Terry Sindle. Terry was a dear friend of mine. We were the same age. He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived. It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York. They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher. But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.
(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)
He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative. He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum. He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow. I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best. He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer. I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport. Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing. We both had poor single moms. We both loved music, and music performance. And we both loved pizza…or so I thought. Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza. So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn. When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS? THIS isn’t pizza!” Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza. We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy. It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.
One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar. He was an incredible guitarist. I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar. His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”. Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band. In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog. TWO DAYS! He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs. He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn. He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.
You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather. I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition. I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading. It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music. He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977. He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.
Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads. Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy. Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully. We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards. With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics. (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.) Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.
Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town. Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career. We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock. Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on. We lost track of each other by 1980.
Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times. It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act. He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.
(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)
Then…all went silent.
About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend. By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link. Nothing came up. Internet searches came up empty. It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.
Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search. With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit. Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37. What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing. May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him. My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable. All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida. All other searches came up zero. It was highly frustrating. I gave up and the years went by.
A couple of months ago for Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.
(My Alan Brown & Co Band. Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)
In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977. That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants. Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.
Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry. I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough. So, I lit a fire under my chair.
Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister. I messaged with her right away. Afterwards we spoke on the phone. Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death. Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief. After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist. Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live. In fact, he died 3 days later.
Terry did well with his music while here. In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records. Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed. His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there. He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married. They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.
While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients. That didn’t surprise me a bit. He had a huge heart. As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life. He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s. He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again. At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus. AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back. Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.
Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed. She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years. I was thrilled! I did so. Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace. You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt. In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up. Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.
(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot. Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)
A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet. Once again, I was thrilled! I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us. They were itching to show up.
When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling. It was so strange. All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me. As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor. Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster. They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years. We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew. Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth. When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son. The others drove up shortly after.
(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot. I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)
For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts. The guys poured out all their memories of Terry. No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together. Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years. He dearly loved his wife and sons. Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up. After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise. That was his concern while preparing to leave this life. He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.
Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub. I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades. Of course, I know what she meant. Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad. His eyes lit up as I described our days together. He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry. He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited. He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.
As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized. It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty. And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help. So many don’t. He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away. To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well. I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become. You are an impressive young man, Matthew. And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.” Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.
Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others. If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.
One day I will see Terry again. And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”
A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.” – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)
“Oh, crumpled bits of paper Filled with imperfect thought Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel Between the present and the past We only sacrifice the future It’s the bitterness that lasts. So don’t yield to the fortunes You sometimes see as fate It may have a new perspective On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear You can listen as well as you hear It’s too late when we die To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988) The Living Years, Recorded by: Mike and the Mechanics. Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson
The hallway was busy between classes that day. The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street. Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang. I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session. My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door. That’s when I looked up and saw her. It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall. She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir. It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students. I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning. As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her. By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me. OUCH! That was unexpected. It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock. It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.
Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.
Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976. She was about five weeks older than your’s truly. Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances. In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment. It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot. We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly. From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another. There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro. We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year. We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities. Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc. I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school. We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other. One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.
With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her. Possibly life at home had hit a wall. Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line? Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.
One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years. Chivalry was the order of the day in my family. I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady. When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter. He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.” He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room. If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat. If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side. If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders. When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through. You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place. You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car. And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it. In fact, I do that for men, as well as women. To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day. It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor. I’m branded with it. So, what was up with Lori?
At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S. It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners. Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue. It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times. I would have been clueless. Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room. Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me. Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view. And here is where I went wrong.
My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction. Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together. Never once. In fact, I totally avoided her. My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.” This is what unchecked anger can do. And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was. And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth. Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart. My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness. Yes, it was wrong. Very wrong.
One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life. However, we did. God had other plans.
Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.
A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates. One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior. Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion. Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events. During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me. My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification. With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club. Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends. Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again. Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.
August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.
Someone called out to her through the noisy event. With a turn, my eyes caught her. There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends. My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche. After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.
She had changed so much since our teen years. Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her. Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her. She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded. Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering. Often, at our age, it’s guesswork. I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her. “Lori? Is that you?” She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled. “Alan! Well, as I live and breathe! How are you?” I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture. I know, it’s all so stupid.) We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes. After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with. I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas. Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting. Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us. Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed. It was so clear. Despite our differences, we could have been friends. Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades. Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore. Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year. Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me. Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.
Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”. It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.
After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma. This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me. A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness. An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior. At that time tests were inconclusive. Apparently, Lori shrugged it off. She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less. She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments. That was during the last week of September. She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later. After the very touching service I spoke with her parents. They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.
Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.
“…Would you know my name If I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same If I saw you in heaven?
Would you hold my hand If I saw you in heaven? Would you help me stand If I saw you in heaven?
Time can bring you down Time can bend your knees Time can break your heart Have you begging please, begging please…”
My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart. Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense. At my age, how could I have remained so immature? When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure. As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER. Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit. As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle. The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself. And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital. What a moron I was. So much time wasted. So much life experience gone. So many chances crumbled away in the living years.
After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed. The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace. Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori. Forgive me.”
As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.
True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times. Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.
“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults. But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.” – Jesus – Mark 11:25-26 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)
“I Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends, a chance to share old memories and play our songs again. When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name. No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Garden Party (1972) Written and Recorded by: Ricky Nelson
Did I catch you singing? I know. It’s got a terrific hook on the chorus. Truly, it’s the iconic song Ricky Nelson was known for at that stage of his short life. The lyrics sound as if it was a pleasurable garden party with old famous pals, but it was birthed out of rejection and sourness.
It was October of 1971, the Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival Concert was a huge gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was billed to showcase older American Rock ‘n Roll giants, prior to the British invasion, from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell. They were among many kickin’ it on stage that night. Back stage, and in the audience, the ultra-famous were in attendance from various corners of the entertainment and sports realm. The lyrics in the song, “Garden Party” point that out.
It was his turn at the mic. Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders. Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too. Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets. He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s. But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”. At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more. He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night. However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”. And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network. I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies. Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network. From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects. But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously. Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it. It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director. What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me. Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character. Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy. I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail. It was the author. He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version. He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home. I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation. Then I politely declined to attend the party. Why, you might ask?
For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena. Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable. Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends. Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other. Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie. Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?” I just don’t mingle well. It’s as simple as that. There, I’ve said it. Arg! I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.
Cast parties are fine, in fact I have attended lots of them through my acting days, even hosted many myself. Most all cast parties I’ve been a part of were packed with fellow cast-members I had the pleasure of working with face-to-face. Those were actors and crew in which I developed relationships with, or at least decent acquaintances. Those were parties where we could let our hair down and enjoy reminiscing about lines being dropped, favorite scenes, and wardrobe malfunctions. (In 1978, while playing Johnny Brown in The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, I walked out on stage singing with my fly opened. Thank the Lord it was only a dress rehearsal. Orchestra members noticed it first down in the pit.) Cast parties are always a grand time laced in lots of laughter. Here, the difference is, I never played against another actor in last year’s session. My recorded lines were like a looping studio session where the dialogue was digitally dropped into scenes in post production. There was no actor but me, myself, and I. I played to a mic and a music stand. I never met any of the actors on the bill. To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of session, it happens more often than not. At the upcoming get-together I would know the author, his wife, and the recording engineer/producer. It’s not that I am really anti-social…or am I? Ouch! What am I admitting?
If you’re a psychologist, you probably know why I am bent this way. The ugly truth is, I am probably afraid of rejection, even eyes of rejection. I’ve been at award shows, green rooms, and backstage at concert venues where you’re chatting with someone who won’t look you in the eye because they’re way too busy scouting out the next celebrity to be cornered. You find yourself answering their question about family, career, or which hotel you’re staying at when suddenly they quickly interrupt with, “Oh, there’s Amy Grant with Vince Gill right behind you. Gotta go.” Is it just me, or is that not rude? I’m guilty of that behavior as well. So awkward. Again, I say, Arg! In the end, I dislike “…players who only love you when they’re playin'” (Fleetwood Mac)
Has it occurred to me that maybe I’m wrong about all this? Maybe by now you’re saying silently, “Hey, this is weird. He needs to loosen up.” Okay, I’ll accept that. But as I’m being super honest with you, hear me out.
To truly engage with another is to be associated with, connected with, to be in tune with the other, even if in a small way. This is me. If you and I are having coffee at a local spot, I will fully hear you, see you, and meld with you. In fact, I like to make people feel that they are the only person in the room, complete with eye-contact and real chuckles, not out of nervous laughter for the sake of sound to fill up dead air. This is how I was raised to believe.
Poor Ricky Nelson. Every time I hear “Garden Party” I listen for the rub, the angst, the sore spots between the words. Bottom line, he didn’t “know” his audience. Moreover, he didn’t take in serious consideration of the theme of the event. Of course, the audience lacked true love for Mr. Nelson. They only loved him when he played what he was known for ten years prior. In those quick tunes he scratched their itch until he ventured onto something new from a British band. It was a mismatch moment, a sting he took with him to his grave. He died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 14 years later.
In the end, I believe it’s all about “knowing” someone, or at least making faithful efforts in doing so. Because inside that other person is a story which comes from their hearts. A story worth the fidgeting, even if booed. If we “play” at socializing, we do not do justice in the connection. How else will we learn to love others, as God would have us to love?
Still, I remain shy with strangers in close settings. I shared an elevator today where my total sum of verbiage was, “Third floor. Thanks.”
Engaging another may start out with “How are you?”, but if they begin to tell you about their gout, making you’ll want to slip away with, “Ya know, I need a refill.” If so, then where is the honest interest?
More and more I understand why Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.
You know, maybe I should go to the cast party after all. If I do, the boldness won’t come from my clipped persona, but from a deep well of fuel for the race.
“If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for this? Even tax collectors love their friends.If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about this? Don’t even unbelievers do that?” – Jesus – Matthew 5:46-47 (Contemporary English Version)
First of all, a big Texas-Sized thank you to Alicia from For His Purpose for the nominee nod. You are truly gracious. Although I feel I don’t deserve the nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, I am humbled and grateful. I would nominate you if not for the fact you are already a nominee, and so well deserving.
If you’ve not read Alicia’s posts, expect blue-jean, everyday life experiences wrapped in a personal application for spiritual growth. So well worth it.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS? IT’S NEW TO ME.
About the Sunshine award:
This award is given to creative, positive and cheerful bloggers by other bloggers as a token of appreciation and admiration.
Here are the rules:
• Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to him/her.
• Answer the 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated you.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
• Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.
• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post.
Okay, Alicia…you asked. Here are her questions for me:
1) Why do you write?
Really, I believe it’s a threefold reason. A: I love, absolutely love the outlet of sharing my thoughts. B: For whatever reason there might be, I adore the friends I have made in the blogging community. I have learned so much through their writings and photos. Getting to know them has simply been an uplifting pleasure in my life. C: Lastly, I love to teach. My heart wants to touch the soul of another for the better. There’s something special about teaching biblical concepts through personal and social proof experiences others can relate to. Life’s race to the finish is long and uphill at times. We need Divine fuel.
2) Who do you admire and why? (sorry I know I’m sneaking two questions)
Wow, Alicia. That’s an umbrella of folks. If you’ve read my blog you might already know I greatly admire my deceased grandparents. Salt of the earth people with extraordinary servanthood hearts of tremendous love. Also, Chuck Norris, who holds up his socks with thumbtacks. LOL For much of the 1970’s, during my karate/kickboxing life, he was always so kind to me whenever I was around him. Of course, he was/is a wiz at business, the Babe Ruth of Karate champions, and a successful instructor and actor. Beyond that, he has gone through much heartache in life and rediscovered God in his journey back to a peaceful place. He is also a champ in helping kids stay away from gangs and drugs. I want to add, CS Lewis for his writings concerning the introductions into a life with God, and the proof thereof. His book, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters changed my life.
3) What has been your best vacation?
I have to choose just one? Arg! My #1 would have to be when I treated my family (wife at the time and three daughters) on a road trip from Dallas, Texas through Santa Fe, New Mexico and up through Colorado Springs to Denver, Colorado. The family and I had gone through some devastating personal trauma and in need of some immediate healing. It was the week after Christmas in 2001 through the first week of 2002. Plunging straight into the snow and ice we took in the splendor of that beautiful land. No regrets. I would do it again.
4) Where would you love to visit one day?
Scotland, Ireland, and Israel.
5) Why is your best friend, your best friend?
On earth, my wife. I remarried in 2017 to an old high school acquaintance. In 2013, way before we met-up again, I had a major health crash, a near death experience. I wasn’t supposed to survive. It left me in the hospital for six weeks. The hospital staff called me “Miracle Man”. Since then I have struggled physically. She has seen much of the underside of this. Nevertheless, she has been a warrior through it all. We have no secrets between us. We speak truth in love to one another, during the good, bad, and ugly. It makes for a lasting marriage. However, she’s not the one I pray to. She would agree with me that Jesus has been my lifelong best friend.
6) What is your biggest concern (about anything)?
Honestly, above all else, the world my three girls are experiencing as adults, as well as my 8 year old granddaughter. Moral decay, hatred, and violence are causing the earth to groan. Jesus said the times would grow to be like this. Still, it concerns me.
7) When did you last owe someone an apology?
Today! Got to do it before the sun goes down on me.
8) What’s the best movie you’ve ever watched?
Now this isn’t fair. Way too many. If I had to choose one…It’s A Wonderful Life.
9) What’s your most favorite childhood memory?
Mid 1960’s. Waiting until my grandparents, and my mom, went to bed so I could hustle to sit in front of their aluminum Christmas tree to watch the color wheel change the branches to different holiday hues. For me, it was mesmerizing.
10) What do you love most about yourself?
Eek! Is this a trick question, Alicia? Really? Oh, man. Okay, uh….well….uh….I can tell you there’s much I hate about myself. Frankly, I love the Spirit God placed in me to be kind and caring for others. If not for His influence and direction, I would be the opposite. I know this because I know myself without God.
11) If you could ask Jesus a question what would it be?
Why and how did He create music to enrich the brain of humanity, to the point of it being medication? Also, the TRUE story of why and how He did not save the dinosaurs from extinction. To have a Brontosaurus on a leash in the park would be grand. The poop bag would be trouble.
Drum roll please! Now for my nominee choices in alphabetical order:
(If you choose not to participate, you will not hurt my heart. As an admirer, I just want to shine a light on you and your blog for others who may not know of you. No pressure. Nada, zilch, zero. And if you are already a nominee, I am unaware.)
Dominique at 3C Style combines her posts with highly creative photos of her personal showcasing of beautiful stylings from her own closet. She has a talent for matching subjects in nature with her outfits while highlighting eco-friendly ideas. This French scientific journalist from Quebec is a terrific writer who introduces you to possibilities in fashion you might have never imagined before, wrapped in her passion for life. Her zest for life, fashion, and imagination is simply radiant and thought provoking. Most of all, I like the fact that Dominique is a caring, loving person toward others. I’ve learned a lot from my friend from Quebec.
Anel at Barefoot Diary has a highly unique blog. I’ve known and loved her for 41 years and I can tell you of her multiple talents. After the devastating hurricane which leveled so much of Puerto Rico, where she and her husband had been living, they moved on to experience an adventure most would never do. Since they left the island, they have been travelling from one Central or south American country to another, reveling in each culture with gusto. Anel’s blog is all about their adventures. You never know where they will be blogging from next.
Mandy at Blue Collar Theologian is a seminarian and writer. I love to go deep in biblical studies and so does Mandy. She has my admiration for her exclusive casual way of serving up the depths of scripture without going over the head of the reader, especially the seeker. You’ll find she writes about various camera angles of life with a good dose of awareness of biblical thought, shaken together for a personal application anyone can chew on.
Anita at For The Love Of has a smooth way of sharing her love for dogs, which I share, along with God’s love for us. On any given post she will somehow bring to mind the truth of how we crave love, shelter, belonging, and care. Be ready for some brilliant photos that touch the eyes and heart.
Jon at His Grace Is Sufficient is an old childhood friend of mine. He pastors a small church near Green Bay, WI. Recently Jon was diagnosed with ALS. The disruption is already taking its toll on his breathing, his speech, and some mobility. Thus far, he is standing by his word that he plans on delivering sermons until he physically cannot. He asked me about starting a blog to record his journey with ALS. So, I encouraged him to go headlong into it. I love him dearly. Clicking on you will hear his heart of love and his faith through this hard, rocky road he is travelling.
Julien at Julien’s Thoughts can be defined as…his thoughts. He literally takes subjects that press on his mind and heart, considers them against the backdrop of a biblical world view, and woodsheds what he learns. Whenever he writes you can feel his intellect. I am grateful he shares the thoughts as most of us identify with the topics he showcases. A simple devotional thought process which is encouraging, yet challenging at times.
Lisa at Lismore Paper is a master at eyeing antique art forms. She then cleans them up for a visual experience to die for. One terrific graphic design artist, as well as a gardener extraordinaire. I’ve not seen artwork exactly like her talent. Lisa simply is a craft magician. She loves photography, as I do, and often highlights her shutter work in nature. You never know when she will be hiking through the woods taking beautiful shots of plants, birds and trees. One of the items of wizardry from her hands consists of antique prints lifted from pages of old shipping logs, documents, or ledgers and turn them into a background for layering other art subjects. Just amazing. Visit her blog and find options to download her items for your personal use. Sometimes you will find her art on t-shirts, along with other items, which are available. As you explore her visuals she writes of them with the love of an artist at work.
Ann at Muddling Through My Middle Age I believe is my first blogging friend after I launched my blog two years ago. She is so admired. I liken Ann to the wisdom and wit of the late syndicated columnist, Erma Bombeck. She is a volunteer for her local shelter who loves and cares for the four-legged friends behind bars. She adopts, and so do I. She is a loving grandmother who often shares with us of her times with her grandchild. But most of all, Ann writes about the everyday scenarios of life, as well as life’s phases, which can be cantankerous or just plain humorous. She muddles through what life tosses at her while always searching for the rainbow at the end of the day’s conveyor belt.
Ann (another Ann) at Seeking Divine Perspective is an author and truth-teller. I discovered her about the time I was going through some doubts in my spiritual journey. My reading of her posts came just at the right time. Ann is retired and loves CS Lewis, as I do. She is not afraid to share the hard knocks in life, or the current social issues of our times, and what she has learned from them. She is bold with direct conviction, willing to teach with the written word in posts. Don’t be surprised if she types in a prayer on her heart as it often reverberates what the human heart is thirsty for. We are all seekers, some just don’t realize it. Ann spotlights her perspectives.
Stefan at The Fourth Dimension of Life is a young studious thinker. His love for writing truly hits you in the face…softly. Stefan is a bright, multi-talented Indian lad attending one of the best universities in India. Don’t expect his posts to be the norm, or even similar in scope from one to another. Some days you will get a thought in a statement. At other times you will read one of his poems. Inside his random thoughts he often speaks of his life from God’s balcony view. He also can show you his devotional blog link.
Junaisha (June) at The Godly Chic Diaries will lead you to think twice, or three times about the topic she writes about. Unlike some, she is bold about the fact that the spiritual walk is not a perfect stride. She speaks of the fact that there will be failures in the God-driven journey. In her quick devotional posts the spotlight on grace, forgiveness, and mercy are illuminated. Through her telescopic lens concerning life, she will test the mind of the reader with questions not often dissected in one’s own thoughts.
I want to publicly thank all of the above for the influence you have on my life.
And here are my 11 questions for those I’ve nominated:
1 – Who encouraged you to launch a blog?
2 – Who was your first blogger-friend & what drew you to that writer?
3 – What country, or state are you writing from?
4 – Has your writing evolved over time & why?
5 – Be honest with me on this one. How often do you consider the unseen spiritual aspect beyond the tangible? If “never” is the answer, let me know. It’s okay. No tricks.
6 – Do you have a pet?
7 – When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought?
8 – Do you eat breakfast? If so, what does it consist of?
9 – If you’re still friends with a childhood pal, tell me what has kept you together?
10 – What keeps you returning to the same blogger?
11 – Does your own family read your posts?
Again, if you are on my nomination list of favorites and would rather not participate, just know I understand totally. I appreciate what you do and how you make my life sweeter. Love and hugs from Dallas, Texas. – Alan
“A child is black. A child is white. Together they grow to see the light, to see the light…” (1972) Black & White – Recorded by: Three Dog Night. Composers: David I. Arkin, Earl Robinson.
Appreciation note: A quick thank you to the very kind, Alicia from the blog, For His Purpose for nominating my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am greatly shocked and humbled. I do enjoy your everyday camera angles of life with the filter of truths.
This will not be a political post. This will not be a ranting post concerning those who play at politics, or the swift blinding blame of another. This will lack the spewing of hatred and emotional blathering of negativity currently blowing across the media. If that’s what feeds you, look elsewhere. However, if you are open-minded, wanting to hop off the meat wagon, serving up all kinds of dangerous rhetoric currently being wielded like a Gladius sword, you are welcome to read below.
Billy Boyd was my best friend in 7th grade. In those times that was our first year at Dillingham Jr. High School, before “middle school” was introduced. We lived in Sherman, Tx where the west side of town was mainly made up of white population. There was also the east side where the African American community settled, or was made to settle in post-Civil War days. Dillingham Jr. High was situated close to the border of the east and west sides of the medium market town. We met on our first day of the new school year.
When we left our elementary schools to enter 7th grade, it was a cultural shock for all of the student body. Obviously my elementary school consisted of mostly white kids. At Dillingham the heavy black and white mix was a first for all of us. Billy was African American from the east side of the tracks. He was my first black school friend ever. At the time I really thought nothing about it. In fact, I thought it was cool to have a black friend who was my age.
What I didn’t expect, nor every experienced before, was racial name-calling, slurs, racial riots on campus, gang violence, and violent ambushes. (Forgive me for giving too much info here, but I must write it.) As a white kid relieving himself at the urinal, I was kicked in the back from time to time. Once, I was slammed in the back of my head with a football helmet while standing there facing the wall. This was the environment I was introduced to. Billy didn’t have anything to do with the vicious tagging of white kids. I was on the sharp end of the above racial abuses in a big way simply because I was a white kid from the west side. There were attacks I received in the hallways, between buildings, after football practice, and after school on my way across campus to the bike rack. Some of these were 15 and 16 years old students who were still repeating 7th or 8th grades. I received threats concerning my dog and my mom. In that school year, I learned how to box and street fight the hard way. My uncle taught me how to box, and another friend trained me in Aikido that same year. Through it all, Billy and I remained friends. You might say we were the odd couple. After the school year slowly dropped me into the summer break, my mom relocated out of town, and just in time. Only God knows what might have been if I had spent another year in racial turmoil. However, the hatred and bigotry had a profound influence on me. But, I would experience it again.
When I was a toddler, 98 years after slavery ended in the U.S., I met my first African American. (I have written about him before, but it’s been a couple of years.) While visiting my grandparents in Greenville, Tx, every-other Saturday they had their lawn work done by an elderly black man named Mr. Amos. To this day I don’t know if that was a surname or his first name. No doubt he was the son of slaves, living in the far east side of Greenville in a sector notable for the African American neighborhood. I recall there being a side street which served as the border between whites and blacks, as it was set-up by the local government leaders in the late 1800’s.
From my toddler days, all the way to 11 years old or so, I LOVED old Mr. Amos. I saw him as an uncle from another grandmother. The neighborhood in those days would remind you of the street scenes from the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. He would drag his lawn mower down the street cutting grass and hedges for a few dollars. To see him was like imagining Mr. Bojangles in various ways. He was ragged, skinny, and toughened by the years. His very dark skin was weathered and rough from a lifetime of working in the Texas sun, like leather from an old baseball glove. He always had an old rag, or bandanna hanging out his back pants pocket, along with old worn-out hard-soled leather lace-up shoes. The elderly man always did a wonderful job on the lawn and hedges. He had the talent. Whenever I was there, I would watch him out my grandparent’s front window as he worked his fingers to the bone with pride. I never saw anyone sweat as much as he did. When he finished the front lawn he began to pull his mower up the driveway toward the backyard. From the time I was 3, my grandmother would take an ice cold, frosted bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge, pop open the cap with the bottle opener, which hung on her kitchen wall, hand it to me and say, “Alan, you go give this to poor Mr. Amos.” Wrapped around it was the money he earned. (They were very liberal with the payment.) I would grin from ear to ear as I ran outside before he reached the back. There in my Buster Browns I proudly said in my Mickey Mouse voice, “Here ya go, Mr. Amos!” No matter how often our encounters, he always acted surprised as he shook my hand and replied with his gruff voice, “Well, what’s this here? (chuckle) Why…thank ya, son!” When in my earlier age, I would look at the palm of my hand to see if the black color rubbed off his sweating hand. I kid you not, he never took his mouth off the bottle until it was turned upside-down and empty, without taking a breath. There’s no way I could do that. I would watch him drink in shear amazement. Handing the empty bottle back to me, he would exhale with a huge drawn-out gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air and say, “That’s my boy!” I always waited to hear him say those words. It made my day. He didn’t know it but just saying that to this fatherless lad made me feel warm inside. With his statement of gratitude, I ran back in to tell my grandmother once again, how he called me “son” and what’s more, I was “his boy”. I honored and respected him. Through the years of youth, I wondered why he always looked so poor.
I’m not certain what year it was, but I will say I was 13 (1973) when hatred came calling.
Mr. Amos was in my grandparent’s yard, doing his job one Saturday, when he was suddenly interrupted by his son and daughter-in-law who had pulled up in the driveway. The man was angry with his father for mowing the lawns of “Honkies”. (It’s a name I was familiar with from school. I didn’t believe Mr. Amos thought I was one of those.) Mr. Amos protested saying he was doing his purpose in that stage of his life. The voices got louder as they argued in the side yard. I pressed my ear to the nearest window to hear more clearly what was being said. The son of Mr. Amos spewed about how shameful it was to be “workin’ for the white man” and how embarrassed he was to see him on our lawn in the “white part of town”. My granddad came out to see what the issue was. After he was told, my granddad gently explained to Mr. Amos that it was okay if he needed to go and do what he thought was right. Sheepishly looking down at his tired scuffed shoes, Mr. Amos agreed he should load-up and go with his son. Hearing it my heart broke. My granddad paid him in full, even though the job wasn’t completed, then they drove away. I was highly disturbed. Tears rolled down my freckled cheeks at what I had witnessed. That was the last time I saw Mr. Amos after knowing him through 9-10 years of my childhood.
I had a friend like Billy, as well as a man of grit and heart like Mr. Amos for one reason. Early on my mom had coded within me, from the days of Mr. Amos, to love all people, regardless of their skin hues. As a little one, she read the words of Jesus to me at bedtime where He taught what she preached to me. What she didn’t teach at the time was the perspectives and inward struggles some possess, like the son of Mr. Amos.
Still, I came away from my experiences at Dillingham with a chip on my shoulder, combined with an unjustified angst against black people. In fact, the realities left me unwilling to trust African Americans for many years throughout much of the 1970’s until I got the chance to work and worship alongside African Americans from 1979 and onward.
In these days where racial slurs, alongside accusations of racism, are being tossed around like confetti, there’s a warning for us all. When young men soak up vile, filthy hatred from certain websites, or chat rooms brainwashing them to the point of mass murdering another race due to their ethnicity alone, we should take note. Words are like bullets. Enough of them, combined with a deadly spin, will and do rip open the hearts of our youth. Good parenting is so vital. Compassionate parenting is so vital. Informative parenting is so vital. So often these word-projectiles reverberate through the rooms of the home for little ears to plant in the fertile soil of their souls. Each and every community and culture should surgically remove attitudes of hate-filled, damning speech about our neighbors. If not, the next generation will see domestic death, domestic destruction and possibly war. There is a desensitizing which is slow, like marinating a pork loin. Sleeping with the pigs will make you muddy. And oh, how dark that mud can be.
If you dare, journey with me for a moment on the following hypothetical.
If one leans toward Darwinism, and sees another race as beneath their own DNA, then one must ask how it got to such a point. If we, collectively, all derived from an ancient amoeba, which washed up on a beach in ions past, then how can one defend a racial ideology? Maybe the ancient amoeba community rioted against other amoeba of a different thickness of cell wall. Then again, can an amoeba possess hate? Unfortunately, hate is branded in humankind exclusively. There’s a reason for that. Follow me on this.
As we continue to search for the “Missing Link” (still missing), there’s a newer, more popular theory.
If one leans toward the newer idea that humanity was placed here by ancient aliens from another planet, there’s even a bigger leap to make. I suppose it’s plausible ancient aliens also suffered from racism, implanting that curse on the earth as we were left here to populate the world. It would also seem plausible that such an advance interstellar civilization would’ve been cautious to populate the earth with beings like themselves, assuring racism wouldn’t be introduced. If the theory is accurate, then wouldn’t it make sense they would sprout beings which reflected a visual likeness? If so, why do have racial issues at all?
If you come from a biblical world view, as I do, then how can I ever hold to a twisted view of racial hatred? Since I am a creationist, I read and study the account where we were all created in the image of God, a likeness of the Divine. Therefore, how could I ever look at a black, brown, yellow, or red man or woman crying, “Moron!”, “Mistake!”“Mutant” or “Monstrosity!” Racism dictates that you have cheap blood and I do not. But, I’ll take your kidney, or a transfusion if I need one. Cheap? Really? For me, scripture reveals we all came from a set of flesh and blood ancient parents who had a multitude of offspring, and so on. Genesis has the genealogy listed covering about a two thousand year span complete with names, nations and seasons of geology. Even DNA experts have found the evidence which mirrors this view. Within the last few years DNA studies have shown we come from the same part of the world with ancestry funneling into a clan going back to the beginnings of life itself, matching the Genesis timeline. So, why do we, or why should we have this scent of racism?
Let’s be super honest here. I like to call balls and strikes as I see them.
Racism, at its core, is the belief in a lie. Yep, we’ve been snookered.
“…Mmm, no no Lyin’ to the races Help me, come on, come on Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)…” (1972) “I’ll Take You There” by: The Staple Singers
Moreover, racism is an ideology which dictates thoughts of I, me and myself am to reign over another due to my skin pigmentation. The lie woos one to beliefs like; if one is darker, or lighter skinned than I, then that person is to be subordinate to me, simply due to color. It even can get down to the shape of a skull, or the nose. Racism methodically massages the mind and heart of the pre-white supremacist, for example, who will claim God made a mistake by creating black, brown, yellow, and red skin. Unfortunately, even shades of skin tones are targets of racial darts. In addition, let’s not forget the racism within the color spectrum itself. English vs Celts, Anglo Gentiles vs Jews, African tribes vs other African tribes, the list goes on. Furthermore, it revels in the false idea which says a particular race was created to be supreme over all peoples, nations, societies and cultures. If one hears it enough, studies it enough, sniffs the belly of the dragon enough, the ideology is perceived as authentic. Just as evil thoughts grow and widen, hatred begins to fester like Multiple Myeloma which eats away at the bones. Racism eats away at the very soul of a person.
Are you still with me? Can I go a step further?
Let’s say you are one who believes in the afterlife. Maybe it’s a belief that the spirit, once separated from its body, roams the earth as a ghostly individual, for whatever purpose. If you were a racist in the flesh, how do you exercise racism in the spirit world? When there’s a failure to control the body in life, how then do we expect to control and navigate our spirits? Interesting thought. Are we suddenly stronger and wiser in spirit than we were when we had flesh? After death the skin, once proudly admired as a trophy in life, grows pale and decays, falling away from the skeleton, which is the same color as all skeletons. So now, in spirit form, how do you rant and rave over other spirits who have no skin color? In spirit form, racism is also dead. Suddenly, racist views are no longer so important. In the end, the 79 year old racist can look back on his/her earthly life and will see the damning foolishness of a faulty ideology.
Let’s say you have a biblical perspective of the afterlife. In the place described so well in scripture as heaven, there are a number of problems if racism is to continue. First, God says haters (which includes racist users) will not see the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, in this present age, there is the spiritual form left after the body fails. How, as an eternal racist, do you push back on another spirit residing in God’s Kingdom? Thirdly, the ancient text is clear on the following. There will come a time in eternity when the old earthly body will be recreated to reunite with the spirit in which it once belonged, much like the resurrection of Jesus. God does the recreation at His sovereign will. Colors or not, He will do what He plans. Whatever skin color, if any at all, is resurrected in God’s timeline. At that point, how could hatred of it exist? Fourthly, in heaven there is no spirit who will submit to another based on color of robe, earthly ethnicity, or thought. Jesus Himself said there’s only One Who reigns in heaven. All is made new in the afterlife, if with God. In Paul’s writings, he mentions that “in Christ” there is no difference in “Jew or Gentile”, “slave or free”, “male or female”, etc. THAT is God’s view of the color spectrum of the souls He created and saw it to be good. Racism is NOT eternal. What does that tell us about the perceived value and validation of racial disharmony in life today?
Racism will always be with us. The seed is there in this imperfect world. It was introduced by God’s adversary early in human history to distort the mind’s view of every created race. It is the management of it which must be priority. If the lion is not tamed, it will eat the foolish ringmaster.
The shooter in El Paso, Texas believed a racial lie. In his manifesto he wrote of multiple issues which pushed him over the edge like, plastic in the oceans, immigration flow, economics, eco-system, etc. But, in the end, his frustrations were decidedly poured out over helpless Hispanics with intention. The shooter in Dayton, OH and the shooter at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California were driven by hate, even though it appears not to be racially motivated. As a result, many were brutally murdered and maimed. It’s a seeded lie laced by the enemy of the human brotherhood of soul and spirit. Police in Gilroy reported the shooter there wore a clown mask. Appropriate, don’t you think?
Please accept this warning. Those who ricochet darts coming from the mouths of haters, is a very dangerous thing. Wars have been launched for far less. Unfortunately many like the shooters of El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy are weak-minded, easily influenced, or simply mentally ill. They are like a weed bending to a dark wind from whichever direction. The result is, “I AM DOMINATE!” For some, all it will take is a spewing of hate-filled venom to cause the voices to ring violence in their minds. Once it takes hold, it is like the gravity of opium to the offender. If it’s not an assault rifle, it will be a bomb, a poison, a chemical, a blade, a flip of a rail switch, a van, a bus, a truck, a water bottle full of gasoline, etc.
Love, compassion, and understanding will always been the answer. In fact, love is the basis found in fuel for the race.
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. – Jesus – Matthew 5:21-22 (MSG Version)
“We took our chance and we flew. Like an arrow, like an arrow. We came to our sense to soar. Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015) Written and recorded by: Lucy Rose Parton
It was a beautiful April morning. While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.
“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you. They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything. They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown. Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”
If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.
In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas. Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior. I got Megan through her last two years of high school. It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment. Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist. She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church. She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth. Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events. We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old. I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.
Photo: L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, me, Megan
During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas. I gave Megan the option of moving back with me. However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own. And boy, did she! I love my girls. Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two. Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels. It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.
After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile. As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate. They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way. Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist. She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.
Photo: Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile
After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived. She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds. They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands. Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen. They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.
Photo: Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.
As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan. They share band-mates. Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.
Photo: Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez
Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days. Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day. The weather was perfect. I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.
Photo: Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.
Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour. Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969. After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again. Joan says it will be her final tour. After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why. Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days. (We’ll see.)
To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement. We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures. Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into. We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on. We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years. I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter. As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes. My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians. I can’t tell you how it made me feel.
Photo: L-R: Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg
Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan. It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.
The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic. As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,
“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”
I chuckled as a nervous response. I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan. I am held in His hand.
Just then, I felt my chin quiver. Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next. I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop. But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer. My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car. When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it. Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.
It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air. Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan. So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach. In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow. I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction. Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.
Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers. Her flight continues where I will never be. As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot. Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see. During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set. Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen. As my arrow, she is an extension of me.
Do dads worry? Sure we do. With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth. There’s where my comfort rests.
Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin…” (1981) “Memory” from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber
The young Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, for the first time, at a foggy depot railway platform. As they introduce themselves, the great Marty Feldman, who played Igor, presents himself as “I-gor”. Dr. Frankenstein, played by the fabulous Gene Wildman, thought the pronunciation was a bit odd. He remarks that he was told it was pronounced, “EE-gor”. Without a slip of a beat, Igor cocks his head, leans in and says sharply (in his very British accent), “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”Young Frankenstein, from 1974 from the brilliant Mel Brooks, is not only considered a classic, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite comedies, if not my #1 favorite. So much so, I have it on both VHS and DVD. I just cackle at the late Marty Feldman’s comic timing in the unforgettable scene. He was a comedic genius. To this day, my finger gets busy on the rewind button, just to treat myself a couple of times before the movie moves on.
As I date myself by the following line, I will be straightforward. As a teenager, when graduating from vinyl albums, I had to replace most of them with cassettes for my car and tape player in my apartment. That was a chore. However, the ease of the rewind button allowed me to quickly scan for my favorite cut from the artist I was listening to. After all, you couldn’t do that with the vinyl LP. You had to be steady-handed as you carefully picked up the needle, while locating the correct grove, when hunting for Elton’s “Crocodile Rock”.
Admittedly so, when on my DVR, or On Demand selection, the rewind button is one of my best friends.
Have you ever noticed, the rewinds are usually not for searching that gruesome scene where the stabbing took place? My guess is that you rarely push the rewind button to “re-watch” the tragic scene where the little boy, along with his dog, can’t escape the burning house. No doubt you never raced for the rewind button to capture again the flogging scenes in the movie Amistad. If so, there’s counselling available for that itch. Yet, I’m afraid we do it all the time…mentally. Think about it.
My last post on this format was about too many windows in old hotels. Well, I’m about to pull back the drapes on one of them for you.
Over 40 years ago, I had a troublesome relationship that went on much too long. This individual was my friend through much of the 1970’s. As time went by, we grew close with a very tight bond, which seemingly was permanent. Fast-forward to December of 1979, things abruptly ended hard with a resounding thud. Most all of my old friendships are still intact and loving. I don’t lose friends, for the most part, and I am grateful. Still, this one was substantially significant in my life…or so I thought. The relationship needed some healing, which never took place, and fighting became our norm toward the bitter end. Truly, it was a downhill slope into quicksand. We were teenagers with mounds of maturity which had yet to settle-in. Regrets? Sure, at least for me. I went back to my friend a few times, during the following days, in attempts to mend, soothe, and restore. But I learned quickly that it takes two to do so. Believe me when I say, it was a nasty split. My friend was wrong, and I was wrong. Nobody was innocent. I have been mourning over it ever since. How sick is that? There have been 40 years of rehashing the “what if’s”, “why this”, or “why that”. The questions roll along, wondering what I could have done differently, as it pertained to me and my chosen actions. If the other person is not able to do the same, it makes it almost impossible to make peace in the heart. But I know you can’t go back and change anything. If you pull out a nail in the fence post, you still have a hole. There’s not been a resolve in my own heart. Thoughts of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comes to mind. Like Jerry and Dean, in retrospect, I believe our lives have been better without each other.
You don’t have to tell me how unhealthy this species of mourning and regret can be. I know all too well. If you’re like me, then you know you can beat yourself up over and over again. Of course, just as you think you have conquered the pain and trauma, you drag out the old dusty remote, hunting for a decades old mental movie from your life, and hit the rewind button. <<
How sad, that we keep an old dusty remote in our minds just to relive heartbreaks which don’t have to be replayed. We lie in our beds, refusing sleep, as we replay infractions from the days of yore. Other times we scan back to a fork in the road, where we turned left instead of right, wondering what might have been. Am I accurate? The scene WILL NOT CHANGE! Oh, sure, you want to see a different outcome, but it is what it is. Yet, in acknowledging that truth, it is also history, where it belongs.
Recently, to my surprise, I discovered my old friend may be struggling emotionally more than I have. While on Facebook, the morbid side of me decided to look for my old friend’s Facebook page. Shockingly, this social butterfly wasn’t anywhere to be found. Later, I sadly learned my old friend blocked my name so that I would vanish when on our mutual friend’s pages. I guess it shouldn’t bother me when thinking someone wants to scrub me from the earth, as if I never existed. There’s not been one word of any communication since January 1980. I was blocked as if I were a troller, stalker, or a monster to be shunned from the town square. “Sanctuary”, cried the hunchback in his chains. I thought it interesting that after 40 years, my name was a curse in the eyes of this person. Wow, maybe I unknowingly inflicted more harm than I received. Somehow, it added salt to my wounds.
Why do we do this to ourselves? What betterment does it apply to our mental and emotional state? Better yet, why do we crave it? We do, you know. We pick up the mental remote, push rewind to find the old scabs in life way too often. What’s more, we push the pause button to gaze for a bit, which makes matters worse. It’s a choice, isn’t it?
I don’t have a psychology degree, but I do know a bit about human nature. Under my belt, there is a ton of biblical advice in which I have marinated. In God’s camera angle, guilt, self-damning, and judgement is what we are to ween ourselves off of. Sure, biblically speaking, when we recognize our own wrongs, we are to loosen our grip, while placing them at the feet of the Righteous Judge. It is written, so we would understand, when wrapped in His forgiveness, there is no divine condemnation staining the humble who apply His forgiveness in a true, heartfelt confession. In doing so, we are to learn to forgive others…and ourselves. The old dusty rewind button should only be for scenes of joy, love, and laughter. Otherwise, take out the batteries.
Thank you Marty, Gene, and Mel.
When in play >, or fast forward >>, always expect fuel for the race.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:11-12 (NAS)
“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 (NAS)
“Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” – A prayer by King Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38:17 (NIV)
“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be. So we grew up together…mama-child and me. Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby. Recorded by: B.J. Thomas. Composers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.
With age, I have learned that…
If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.
If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.
If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.
If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.
If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.
If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.
If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.
If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.
If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.
If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.
If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.
If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.
If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.
If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.
If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.
From my granddad’s cedar coin box. The two of us from 1969.
If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.
If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.
If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.
If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.
If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.
My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)
If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.
If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.
I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…” The reason being, I simply could never measure up. The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.
I am her portrait. I am her monument. I am her novel. I am her screenplay. I am her statue. I am her champion. I am her armored soldier. I am the medal of honor.
To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.
“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah – I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)
“Farewell, Irene, where your dreams abound…You dream of the north, Irene. Well then that’s where you oughta be…” (2016) Irene. Recorded and composed by: Courtney Marie Andrews
As I introduce you to my fabulous cousin, Irene, allow me to lay down a teaser right here. In a few lines I will deliver a shocker, a twist in my spotlighting of this precious and beloved lady.
When I think of cousins, my memory projects mental Super 8 footage of summer days chasing each other with water guns. I have snapshots in my childhood haze riding double on horses, bareback through the pastures. Notably, there’s always visions of playground swings, chasing the ice cream truck down the street, family reunions in the park, and visiting our grandparents together. Cousins were, and are, so much fun.
Entering stage left, my cousin, Irene.
When I was little, I had trouble calling her, “Irene”. My understanding the word, “Ring” came out of my mouth. I was able to overcome that problem.
Over the Easter weekend, the old band got together for a bit of a reunion performance for a Messianic Passover event way north of our home in Dallas. For a Texan, Oklahoma is north-enough. I drove myself up to Enid, Oklahoma, in the northwestern part of the state, for our musical adventure. The long drive gave me lots of time to freshen up my vocals before arriving at the venue in the late afternoon. We had played there two years ago. At that time, after a Facebook posting about the gig in Enid, my cousin, Irene, replied with a tad of chastisement for not informing her. It was my mistake in that I was under the impression she and her husband resided in southwestern Oklahoma, closer to Altus where her mom lived. Turns out, she lives closer to the Kansas/Oklahoma border, in Tonkawa, OK, just another thirty miles or so north of my turn-off for Enid. So, I promised her then I would contact her ahead of time if I’m in that area again. As you can see, we finally got together. Here’s the beauty with two of her pals and my ugly mug.
(We have Cherokee in our family tree. The features show up so much more through her branch of the family. Her mother, my Aunt Evelyn, was very much the same way.)
Although we had kept in touch over the decades, it was always through emails, texts, and Facebook. Rarely were we hanging out for family picnics. Literally, the last time we physically sat together was at our uncle’s memorial service in 1977. It’s such a shame to only see the ones you love at times of sorrow. Do you know what I mean?
What a terrific visit. It’s amazing what you can learn about others when you actually sit and talk face to face. I knew she was an artist, photographer, and an avid activist, a gifted musician, but there’s so much more to my cousin, Irene than I once knew. Part of her artwork is landscaping. Her property is a testament to the fact.
I must say, it’s vastly different from the natural brush country in that part of the state. She’s turned it into a showplace. It reminded me so much of the Dallas Arboretum Park. (Google for photos.) Truly a professional would be amazed.
Part of her array of gifts surrounds being active in charity work and fundraisers. She has donated many items for local charity auctions. One of the things she is known for is her artwork on chairs. You saw the cover photo at the top, by the title, of her in action. Here’s another example of her artsy eye on old unwanted furnishings.
(Collaboration Art by: Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)
These chairs go for a few hundred dollars at various auctions. You can see why.
Irene stays very busy. She is well traveled and well educated. She and her husband were teachers, loving the craft of education. She is a talented canvas painter. An active animal lover, Irene rescues dogs, as well as, dog-sitting for others in the community. Somehow she walks multiple dogs at the same time. I struggle walking two of them. My dear cousin collects items of interest, much in the realm of artwork, from all over the world, decorating her home with such. She’s a volunteer for civic and church events. She can be found in the throws of various social and charitable occasions. She probably makes animal balloons, too. These are just some of the things I have missed out on in not getting to know her better.
We both have a good sense of humor, which has been handed down through our family tree. One day, back in the 90’s, she got a real kick when I called her the “Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) of our family.” The resemblance was authentic. There was a lot of truth to my title for her when we were younger.
(Irene with her oldest son, Jeff.)
Now for the twister of this story about my cousin, Irene. We never played in the playground swings together. We never rode bareback horses through the Texas pastures. We never chased down the ice cream truck. Irene and I never once shot each other with water guns. It’s certainly not because she lived so far north from my stomping grounds. So what’s the mystery?
If you have seen my Facebook page, (Connect with me anytime – Alan Brown, Carrollton, Texas.) then you know she’s not shy about her age. In a recent public post on my Facebook page, Irene mentioned the occasion where we first met. In fact, there is a photo of the moment, which currently I cannot locate in my stacks of family photos. It was 1964. I was four years old, shaking hands with Irene, the beautiful bride!!! (YES, scroll back up for another look at us from Easter weekend.) Irene is actually my mom’s cousin, my 2nd cousin. Not willing to publish her actual age, I will reveal that I will turn 59 in a few days, and Irene is two years older than my mom! Maybe I should add, she’s never had work done. (Haha)
Let it be known, she can run circles around me. We had a very sharp aunt who lived to be 103 who walked faster than I did.
Truly, there’s lots to be said about staying active. There’s lots to be said about keeping the mind youthful and open. There’s lots to be said about nurturing the body, and keeping it moving. Irene has done all of that, and more.
I also think love has much to do with the “youthening” process. Do you agree? Have you noticed? Irene pours out love for others as a way of life, including the animal kingdom. I believe those who chew on hate have bitter, shortened lives. Frankly, that is a biblical concept.
Jesus taught to love one another as we love ourselves. He also went further. He taught we should love the ones we perceive as outcasts, or socially despised. He said so because that is how God loves. In following suit, we find life to be more palatable altogether. Life is sweeter when my mind chooses to love those I normally might not even notice.
Maybe Irene’s teaching days aren’t over. Turns out, I’ve learned a few things observing our Irene.
Love and youthful endurance are grand products of fuel for the race.
“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)