I Almost Couldn’t Bear The News

“When I know you know baby, everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy and we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away…”  (1972)  “Listen To The Music”  Recorded By:  the Doobie Brothers  Composer:  Tom Johnston

Someone very wise once told me that you never are really sure what you’re praying for when praying for your children.  Usually it becomes more clear in retrospect of a life event.

Megan is my middle daughter, now 30 years old.  I have written of her before, so forgive me if part of this post sounds redundant.

Out of three daughters, Megan is the one most like me, in various ways.  My girls are precious to me, and Megan is the one who aligns more closely to who I am.  It could be because when she was a toddler and pre-schooler, I was Mr. Mom for a few years.  When Tabitha, her older sister (2 years older), went on to kindergarten, Megan and I spent lots of solo time together.  In fact, the solo time lasted two of her young years.  Although she lives in Buffalo, NY now, and I live in Dallas, Tx where she was born, we do still have a special bond.  It’s always apparent when she comes home for a visit.

Megan hug April 1st 2017

Megan was a child actress before she turned singer & recording artist.  Megan has racked up a mound of accolades in upstate NY for the last 12 years.  The bands she fronts have been news worthy and award-winning.  (Currently you can see some of her videos when you look-up Grosh, or Grosh Band.)  She’s on stage about as much as she sleeps each week.

Meganfest

MEGAN-BROWN in Artvoice June 23rd 2016

Photo:  Megan in Artvoice Magazine, June 2016.

Exhaustion and burnout can be an issue if not careful in that business.

So, enter kayaking and camping.  We didn’t do either of these things for outdoor activities when she was a kid, but she always wanted to.  She and a small group of close friends often rough-it out in the beautiful countryside of the southern tier of New York State, or northern Pennsylvania.  With kayaks and tents loaded up, they always manage to find these areas of serene landscapes to unplug and get the fingernails dirty.  Last weekend, they chose the gorgeous hills of the Allegheny National Forest.  Megan always takes pictures for us.  (Why am I hearing the whistle of the old Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

Kayaks PA The lakes and streams are crystal clear, and cold.  With an oar in one hand, and a camera in the other, I love getting to see her kayak perspective.

Kayak 2 PA

Honestly, can’t you just smell the pines and feel the cool breeze rising off the calm waters?  Yeah, me too.

At night they circle the campfire, laughing at each other’s stories, and roasting s’mores over the open fire.  Usually, it’s the wee hours before everyone hits the tents and rolled out sleeping bags.  Ah, youth.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug 2nd around 5 o’clock, while nicely wrapped in their sleeping bags, the piercing quietness of the forest suddenly was shattered by the canvas-shaking roar and snorts of a loud animal in the camp.  Everyone jumped a couple of inches off the ground by the unexpected wildlife just a few feet from the tent stakes.  Peeking out from the flaps of the tent opening, Megan saw something huge and hairy hovering over the food supplies by the now quenched campfire.  Someone turned a flashlight on the enormous growling mass of a creature to find a extra large black bear.

Black Bear Wiki

Photo:  American Black Bear (Wikipedia)

The flashlight in his face didn’t disturb him one iota.  Then someone began to yell and scream at the hefty bear with hopes of frightening him away.  The vocals fell deaf on his slightly rounded ears.  About that time, someone, probably the drummer, had the idea to grab a couple of metal chairs, and beer bottles, and proceeding to clang them together in a sharp ruckus sound for the bear’s fear factors.  No doubt the sound echoed throughout the hills with an ear-shaking frequency.  Still, the bear did not flinch.  Not one eyelash was batted.  It seemed an 18-wheeler could hit the big wall of black hair and he would’ve only be slightly annoyed.  Fright began to turn in the minds of Megan and friends as their bear-banishing choices came to an end.  In cases like this, experts say to flap your arms way up in the air while growling and yelling as you jump up and down to make yourself look bigger than you are.  For some reason that is the best way to scare-off a bear, and other wildlife.  However, no one was brave enough to try it as close as they were to the massive beast.

Nothing they did worked to spook the animal away because he was laser-beam focused on a nylon backpack full of all the ingredients for s’mores.  That’s right.  Inside were graham crackers, marshmallows, honey, and chocolate bars.  He tore into the tough nylon exterior of the pack, as if it were rice paper, and began to chow down, cardboard boxes, plastic wrappers and all.  Nothing that they could do, percussion, scream, or shine on him mattered.  His mind was in tune with one thing…his sweet-tooth.  Interestingly enough, right next to him was a cooler full of hot-dogs, deli turkey meat, and cheese.  I am sure his nose picked up on the scent of the meat and cheese, but even so, the sugar in the backpack was his priority.  THANK GOD!  Finally, the brute of a beast knocked over a cooking kettle next to him and with a dart, he ran off with the makings of s’mores.  The key was…he frightened himself.  His own, “fear itself” shook his core.

I told Megan if that had been a mama with her cubs looking for food, they all would be dead in the woods, far from civilization.  (It was just the dad in me adding that tidbit.)

alone calm faith light
Photo by Garon Piceli on Pexels.com

Yep, sometimes when you pray for your kids, you often don’t know just what you are praying for until after a life & death event occurs.  The Everlasting Arms searches the prayerful heart while holding the future in His hands.

In this strange and spooky election year, full of rage, riots, fires, loud voices, along with a frightening pandemic, we can choose to be the bear, or we can choose to be the kids with noise-making talents.  Personally, call me Yogi.  With all the distractions of our uneasy, restless times, I shall not be moved.  My choice is to stay focused of the life, liberty, and the sweet pursuit of happiness our founding fathers placed in a bag just for me and my descendants.  I will NOT be distracted from it by all the noise-making.  My choice is to stand on what I know to be true in my heart, that core which turns me to the east or west, north, or south.  I will keep my nose in that bag of treats from 1776 and disregard all else that attempts to woo my attention.

Thank you, bear.  Thank you for the personal application at this time in my life.  Most of all, thank you for obeying your Creator by not caring if my daughter was five feet from you while stuffing your cute face.

Speaking frankly, the bear necessities can be rediscovered in fuel for the race.

 “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”                – Proverbs 17:12 (NAS)

 

Pedaling Through

Cover Photo:  Pexals

“We come together on this special day
Sung our message loud and clear
Looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future disappears
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never, never old
That’s the way of the world…” 
(1975)  “That’s The Way of The World”  Recorded by: Earth, Wind, & Fire  Composers:  Charles Stepney, Verdine White, M. (Maurice) White.

It was hot that afternoon in May of this year.  My wife and I were busy doing yard work under an abusive Texas sun.  At the time I was using our manual push-lawnmower, when from behind me I heard my name, “Alan”.  I turned around and there, on our side lawn, was a dear old friend from our high school days.  (For the purpose of this blog we will call him, Terry, because that’s his name.)  With a slight jump, I turned quickly to see who was speaking.  About the time I recognized him he said, “You two look like you’re working harder than I am.”  We laughed because we knew that wasn’t so.

There Terry was, straddling his 10-speed bike, decked out in his spandex, gloves and helmet.  Because we stay connected, we knew he was a cyclist, mad for the road.  A good example of his biking adventures, for a lunchtime ride, he recently ate up a little over 18 miles in one hour and five minutes.  That’s saying a lot for the average amateur cyclist, but Terry is my age…60 years old!  Put that in your tank.  We had a good 10 minute chat and off he went like a oiled-up speed demon on Mountain Dew.

man in blue and black shirt riding on bicycle
Photo by Mídia on Pexels.com

During our visit, we found out he streaks right by our house on his trek.  Often, I catch this blur of color wiz passed the front window in a fraction of a second.  “There’s the Terry-streak,” I always shout out.

Terry and I spoke briefly once about how our street has a slight downhill tilt going from east to west.  It didn’t surprise me when he acknowledged the fact.  I am most certainly sure Terry can tell you where each pothole is, the inclines of each road, and the expected traffic of every city street he tackles.  After so many runs, you get to where you memorize these things.  (In healthier days, I was a runner.  You get to intimately know your pavement.)

Road

Whatever road we find ourselves on can be filled with obstacles, dips, and uneven pavement.  Frankly, it can be an accident waiting to happen.  Terry admitted to experiencing a couple of mishaps.  (He is on notice with his wife.)  It seems to me we tend to focus on the tough, jagged miles ahead of us more than the road we have conquered behind us.  Who is to say which view is best at the end of our race in this life?

July 4th is a big deal for the Unites States.  We usually celebrate it with gusto each year as we commemorate the day we declared our freedom from England’s king and his government.  This year’s celebration has been a bit dampened by the pandemic and recent damaging social unrest in our streets.  Oh, we’ve faced hardships and struggles before, although this struggle, and the combination thereof, is somewhat of a different blend.  America is pedaling up a long incline at the moment.  It’s been a hard few months.  It feels like the Statue of Liberty should have a tear rolling down her cheek.  (That is, if Lady Liberty still stands by the time you read this.)  And if all American flags haven’t been burned by the time you read this, you might find they don’t seem to wave as proudly as the year before.

Flag Not Unfurled

We know from past experience, when we learn from history, there will be times of uneven roadways stretched out before us.  We have seen where potholes arise from nowhere.  We have witnessed a nation can run head-on into mobs of traffic going the opposite direction.  Downhill coasting will come along in a nation’s history, as well as an uphill climb.  It’s all a matter of the cycle of the way of the world.  This world, not the next.

Homestead in Graham

As for me, long may she wave through the harsh winds, uphill battles, cloudbursts, and unexpected rocky surfaces.  Through the breeze there is a Divine whisper which says all things are possible with fuel for the race.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”   –  Declaration of Independence 1776.  Penned by Thomas Jefferson.

 

The Journey On Highway COVID-19

Cover Photo: t0.gstatic.com

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”  (1968)  “The Weight”  Recorded By:  The Band.  Composer:  Robbie Robertson

The Anvil

By:  Alan Scott Brown

There’s nothing like heat in the desert rising off a paved road.  They’ll say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat.”  Just tell that to the sweltering backpacker, Levon “Fanny” Gates.  He shockingly found himself in the middle of a wilderness, on the road to a place called, Nazareth, just on the other side of the state line.  I say, “shockingly” because before his boots felt the searing concrete of this wasteland, he had been dreaming of the village with its rolling hills, orchards, and well-established vineyards.  His freshly cut front lawn was the launching point for a pleasurable outdoor hike through the pines, the cool brooks, and lavish meadows.

As if he had awakened from a dream of the plush land of plenty, he now absorbs the dangerous sunrays, feeling every drop of sweat rolling down his torso.  His canvas hat certainly covered his head, but the scorching heat invaded his scalp as if he wasn’t wearing anything at all.  Even his denim backpack was soaked in sweat.  If it wasn’t 112 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be soon, when the afternoon sun comes piercing through.

gray concrete road
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Not much vegetation thrives out here, with the exception of sage, cactus, and the occasional Yucca plant.  Refreshing rains are welcomed, but scarce and quick.  Fanny prayed for, what they called back home, a “gully-washer.”

With each step, he seriously worried about the soles of his old hiking boots.  The baking surface of the road is far from friendly, and he felt the waves all the way up to his sunburned face.  At first, he wrestled with the thought of his soles melting in the staggering temperature.  Then, as he caught up with his fast-forward mind, he envisioned a potential hole in the rubber sole.  None of the options were comforting to imagine in this desolate landscape.

Prior to walking into this wilderness, he knew how many miles he had traveled, but now all had changed.  His harsh surroundings overwhelmed his calculations, thrusting him into a mystery without a map.  A solitary roadside sign mentioned a couple of towns being 200 miles ahead, but they were unfamiliar to him.  The miles seemed unending, without a mile marker.  Disorientation was setting in as a menacing reality.

Rather than stopping for rest, he made the decision to push himself forward in hopes the next curve, the next hill, or the next valley in the road, would reveal a much needed oasis.  Hooked to his belt, he had one full canteen of water, which needed to last longer than anticipated.  Fanny was self-rationing his meager provisions with intent.

“I can do this,” he whispered with uneasiness.

landscape photography of rock formation near highway
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Keeping his eyes on the road ahead seemed to help him psychologically.  Yet, wild stallions in search for water, a lone service station, or another traveler with a tent would be a sight for soar eyes.  But each time he glanced to the left or the right, it proved to be discouraging.  In fact, most of the view reminded Fanny of NASA’s photos of the surface of Mars.

The feeling of abandonment was authentic, bleeding from his inspirational thought bubbles of solitude.  He tried to be hopeful by telling himself Nazareth must be within 3 miles, 5 miles, or maybe 10 miles.  The attempt to distract himself from the tide of broiling air failed at every turn of the road.  Before the desert sun could bake his mind completely, he scanned through multiple thoughts, thoughts which could fill a library, only to fool himself with wisps of self-constructed hope.

While pushing his legs to walk an incline in the road, he noticed something he had felt once before on this journey.  A pain, a specific pain in his back.  Of all the body aches he had endured, this backache was king of them all.  Hiking slowly up the side of a hill introduced him again to the racking misery coming from his lower back muscles, mainly from the right of the spine.  It was a bit of a mystery in that he hadn’t injured himself, and never had an old trauma from his athletic history.  He suddenly was reminded of the adage, “No pain, no gain” from his high school baseball coach.  He said it aloud, thinking it would be a magic charm the universe would accept.  It wasn’t.  Still, his inward need to persevere pushed his weary bones onward.

As he reached the plateau, he celebrated his efforts shouting into the hot breeze,

“BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!”

As the late afternoon sun played havoc with his vision, Fanny cocked his head to one side as he caught a distant rumble of an engine.  Since he had begun to adjust to the mirage of water puddles on the pavement, he tossed it up to “hearing things” due to a bit of dehydration.  After a chuckle, he took a couple of strides when he stopped in his tracks.  The sound was getting louder.  He looked up in the blue sky to see which direction the plane was coming from.  It sounded like a single engine airplane from the 1920’s.  As he was hunting for the aircraft, he recognized the distinct sound wasn’t a plane at all, but rather a vehicle approaching from behind.  He quickly turned to scope out where it originated.  Wiping, then squinting his tired eyes, he saw an old blue pickup truck bouncing down the road toward him with its radio blaring a 1940’s big band tune with heavy brass.  He wondered where it came from since the area was void of ranches or farms.  As it approached, he could see only one occupant in the cab.  There was nothing impressive about the old truck, with the exception of the fact it was an older model one might see in a vintage car show, and overly worn, to boot.

 

blue single cab farm truck on brown grassland
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

As the truck began to downshift, coasting slowly as it pulled alongside him, he could see more clearly the one behind the wheel.  The driver looked as if he had just fallen off a hay trailer.  He was donning faded grey pinstriped overalls, like the old train engineers used to wear.  His misshaped straw hat went well with the old beat-up truck as it, too, had seen better days.  With a metallic squeak, the truck came to a halt.  It was clearly in much need of a muffler replacement.  The ragged driver turned down the radio and leaned over to roll down the passenger side window.  It was then Fanny could take-in what the man looked like.  He was an old-timer with a weather-beaten face.  His bushy eyebrows were salt & pepper mix.  His chest-length beard was white and wiry.  He had piercing ice-blue eyes which displayed a kindness, all by themselves.  Before Fanny could speak, the old man greeted him.

Spoken with a healthy snicker, “Howdy there, young man.  Nice day for a stroll in the badlands, wouldn’t ya say?”

The backpacker detected an accent, which reminded him of the deep south of the United States.  He wasn’t sure if he was being mocked by the question, or if it was an attempt at levity.

“Yes, sir.  It would seem so,” said Fanny, as he took his hat off and wiped his wet forehead.

Without hesitation the elderly man asked with a nod, “What’s your name, kiddo?”

“I’m Levon.  Most everyone calls me, Fanny,”  revealed the traveler.

The old man broke out in a belly laugh, “Well, who on earth pinned that nickname on ya?”

Fanny grinned, uncomfortably so, looked away and explained, “Yeah, that’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I bet so,” replied the old man.  “The name’s, Christopher.  Through the years, lots of folks have called me by a slew of other names.  But, Christopher will do.  So glad to meet ya…Fanny.”

“Happy to meet you, Christopher,” the young man said.  “Hey, where did you come from?  I’ve been on this road all day and I’ve not seen one house, truck stop, or vehicle coming or going in either direction.”

“Oh, don’t ya know?” asked Christopher.

“Know what?” inquired the trekker.

Pushing his hat back to the crown of his head, the old man responded, “Well, it’s very possible you were never informed.  This is a one way road you’re on in this dust.  Always been that way.  It’s true, only one-way traffic on this stretch.  That’s the reason why I drove up behind ya.  I’ll tell ya, that afternoon sun is brutal through the windshield.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed the young hiker.  “You know, maybe you can tell me something.  Would you know how far Nazareth is from here?  I really thought I would have spied it by now on the horizon, but nothin’ doin’.”

“Nazareth?” inquired the old one with one raised eyebrow.  “Is that where you’re off to?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Fanny.

While pointing his finger, the old man said, “Well, kiddo.  I can tell ya this, ya won’t get there carryin’ that anvil.”

Puzzled, the young man froze.  He looked behind him, turned back again and asked,  “Anvil?  What anvil?”

The elderly one broke out in laughter once again at Fanny’s answer.  “Boy, it’s that 95 pound chunk of solid iron at the end of the rope, the rope draped across your right shoulder there,” Christopher pointed out.

“Ah, yes.  THAT anvil,” Fanny stated with pride.  “Frankly, I forget it’s there.”

The elder wrinkled up his nose in an inquisitive expression, “You mean to tell me you’ve not felt every muscle in your body burning from the weight you’re towin’?”

“Come to think of it…yes.  Yes, I have,” Fanny admitted.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Christopher said in response.  “I’ve got the perfect solution for ya, Fanny.  Take a look inside the bed of my truck.”  Seeing the young man’s hesitation, he continued sharply, “Go ahead, son.  The Loch Ness Monster ain’t gonna jump out and bite ya.  Feel free, take a look.”

Fanny took a cautious small step toward the side of the pickup.  As he leaned closer to get a peek, his mouth fell open with a hushed gasp.

The old man said, “Tell me what ya see, boy.”

Fanny took a big swallow to say, “It’s a truck bed full of…well…full of anvils!”

“A whole stack of ’em, I’d say,” described the old driver.

In amazement, the young man questioned, “But, why are they there?  I mean…what are you doing with all of those anvils?  Are you selling them?  Do you work for a salvage yard or something?  I’m shocked this old antique can carry the load.”

“Fanny, I guess you could say I collect ’em,” answered the old rugged driver.  “In fact, I’ve been addin’ to my collection for many moons now.  I could tell ya how many travelers have allowed me to take the load off their backs, but you’ve been sun-baked enough today to appraise anything.”

The young traveler concurred, “You’re right.  I’m a bit fried.  However, these travelers you’re talking about, are they on this road?  I’ve not seen a soul until you drove up.”

“Yes, but everyone has their own journey, and most have similar burdens,” replied the old man.  “At the same time, some heavier than others.  As you can see, there’s various sizes of anvils here.”  After a brief pause of silence, Christopher added,  “Here’s my offer, kiddo.  If you trust me with your anvil, every pound of it, I’ll help ya toss it behind us, addin’ to the pile.  You can unload, and load-up in the cab with me for a straight shot to where you’re meant to be.  I just love playin’ the Uber out here.  But…keep in mind, the anvil stays in the back.  Alligators aren’t allowed in the cab with me neither, ha-ha-ha…”

Fanny looked down at the scorching concrete between his hiking boots and bit his chapped lips in thought.

Christopher, seeing the struggle to find words, added, “There’s rockslides out here, ya know.  As ya get close to a hillside, or an upcomin’ canyon, ya might stumble over a stone in your path.  When your strength is wrenched, you’ll find it difficult to keep your stance.  It’s even worse to find footing after a heavy fall with nobody around to shoulder the load.”

Shaking his head with a look of uncertainty he replied, “No, sir.  I have made this trip on my own strength, and I intend finishing it on my own.  Besides that, you’re a stranger to me in a beat-up old clunker.  No offense, but who’s to say you could get me to Nazareth?  I’m sorry, sir, but your offer doesn’t look promising from where I stand.  I will do this on my own fuel, and navigation!”

The old man smiled, put his right hand on the stick-shift, looked deeply into Fanny’s eyes and said, “Boy, ask yourself why.  Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”

After a quick mental search, Fanny answered with a tone of resolve, “Christopher, the only honest answer I can come up with is, I’ve grown accustomed to my anvil.”

With a serious timbre in a lower register, Christopher asked, “And the weight of it?”

“I deal with it, just like this unexpected desert,” explained the young one.  “Do you understand, old man?”

“Oh, I do, son.  I really do understand,” replied Christopher.  “Listen, dusk is knockin’.  No need for walkin’ in the darkness.  I’d say, grab some winks for a fresh start in the mornin’.”

As the elderly man began to roll up his window, he grinned through his long mustache and said, “Well, I know you’ll give it your all.  Still, keep in mind, it’s needless for ya to take this desolation, with all its loneliness, and the weight you’re carryin’ solo.”  With that, he put the truck in gear, turned up the radio, and off toward sundown he drove.

silhoutte of a man
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

Fanny continued his trek with a bit of angst in his steps.  Christopher somehow offended him with the offer of a free lift, as if the old man thought him weaker, frail, and without survival skills.

He began grumbling to himself, “How dare that ancient dinosaur-of-a-coot say I needed help through this parched piece of earth.”  Still, in the attempt to bolster his decision, he raised his voice a notch, “Who does he think he is?  He’ll see me in Nazareth, sitting under the shade of an apple tree, sipping on a glass of their best vintage.  He’ll be shocked to see me resting on my anvil, without any aid from his sorry rack of rust.”

With all his energy depleted by his rant, Fanny began to look for a safe spot to sleep for the night.  Darkness had fallen, but the moonlight helped in the hunt for a place to bed-down.  Soon, he located a soft sandy mound with his name on it.  He found sun-dried chaparral fit nicely for kindling.

Overnight hours passed and the silence was deafening.  As usual, he used the anvil as a pillow, even though the shape was not friendly for his head.  He found the surface of the iron was still warm from the sun, which was welcomed as desert nights tend to issue a chill.  Unfortunately for the camper, as the nature of anvils, its surface turned cold.

From time to time he heard a small rock roll off the side of a rise just feet from where he was laying.  Another time, he was awakened by what he thought was the flapping of large wings.  He imagined buzzards mistaking him for a dead man.  He then tried to keep one eye opened, but exhaustion won the moment.  Another awakening caused him to jump when he heard an insect scratching on his ear.  He began to inwardly acknowledge his sleep would be thin at best.

Without knowing why, he opened his eyes from a sound sleep.  It was just before dawn.  Across the road from where he camped, he swore he caught a shadow figure racing from the road into a ravine on the other side.  Startled, he bounced up to a sitting position while fixed on the area where it vanished.  What he wouldn’t do for a pair of night-vision goggles.  After a minute or so, and a few hyper heartbeats, he shook his head and took a helping from his canteen.

Unable to go back to sleep, Fanny stretched his legs, and his sore back, in preparation for the day ahead.

“The sun is winking at me from over the hills, ” he said as he reached for his anvil.  “There’s no time like the present.”

He peeled back the wrapper of an energy bar from his cargo pants thigh pocket, finishing it in record time.

With the young morning sun at his back, and the anvil dangling once again from the rope hoisted over his right shoulder, Fanny felt new aches making themselves known in his calves, ankles, and feet.  He thought to himself that if he just put one foot in front of the other, the pain would work itself out.

As he made his way, his mind was flooded with the movements and sounds he heard overnight.  He convinced himself that he was in no real danger…or was he?  Like a video clip running through his mind, he couldn’t erase the glimpse of the unknown shadow figure dashing away from his makeshift pallet.  As hard as he tried, he remained at a loss concerning its identity.  In the end, he boldly rationalized the thought.  He determined the quiet swiftness indicated a cougar, or a coyote.  The “what might have beens” gave him a sense of authentic fear he had not felt before.

Hill after hill, ridge after ridge, no sight of his goal.  With every turn, curve and valley, he had hopes of seeing the ornate village painted in his mind as the heated hours wore on.

During the mid-morning, the searing winds kicked up with a devastating blow of a wall of dust and sand from the west.  Immediately, it became a battle for each inhale.  Fanny pulled his hat over his nose and mouth for protection.  Vision became sparse.  Tiny grains of sand stung his skin like miniature darts speeding from a horizontal projection.  Through the torrent of hot dust and sand, he spotted a boulder nearby and ran to the east side of it, blocking the onslaught of the turbulent blast.  After what seemed like an hour or so, the sandstorm passed.  With tremendous relief, Fanny came out from behind the boulder, grateful he had discovered it when he did.

With a couple of clearing coughs, he thought to himself, “What else can happen on this journey?”

bird s eye view photography of road in the middle of desert
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

By early afternoon, he was running low on water.  His fear rose each time he shook the canteen to hear the lessening of the swish.  His quads were beginning to burn in his thighs.  His shoulder was bruised from the rope slung over it, cradling the anvil.  A growing headache, once only a nuisance, now pounded from the top of his head.  Realizing he was experiencing a deeper dehydration, he guarded against panic.  He was beginning to despise the constant mirages of heatwaves appearing as glimmering bodies of water.  Suddenly, he heard Christopher’s words from the day before, challenging him with the question of why.  “Why don’t ya wanna take your load off?”  He found himself flirting with the question.

Mid afternoon descended.  After following a sharp curve in the blistering road, Fanny peered into the shadow of a small canyon wall just ahead.  The shade spread all the way across the road, and then some.  There, on the shoulder of the roadway, about 40 yards away, was a figure of some kind.  Cautiously advancing toward it, there, in the shadow of the rock wall, he saw Christopher casually leaning against the tailgate of his blue pickup.

“It seems we meet again, kiddo,” shouted Christopher with a wave.  “The shield of a nice-sized rock in a desolate place is mighty fine, wouldn’t ya say?  It’s nice and comfortable to me.  Come on over, I’ve been waitin’ for ya.”

Fanny found he was somewhat relieved to see the old man, and a convenient shade.  He smiled, shook his head in amazement, entering the cooling shadow of the canyon.

As Fanny got closer to the truck, he scratched his head and asked, “How did you know I would be here at this time of day?  Are you stalking me, old man?”

Christopher laughed at the question and replied, “Who knows?  Maybe the old truck is equipped with radar for weary travelers.”

Wiping his hands on the front of his well-worn overalls,  the elder turned to the pile of anvils in the bed of the truck where he pulled out ice cold bottles of water from a Styrofoam ice chest.

“Here ya go!  Fanny, take a load off.  You deserve it.” ordered Christopher.

Right away, before breaking the cap seal, Fanny first put the cold bottle against his neck, and then his forehead.  With a deep heavy sigh, an expression of relief fell over his face.

“Ahhhhhh, that feels so good,” said the hiker.

“No doubt,” answered Christopher.  “Tell me, how did ya sleep last night?”

After opening the bottle for his first couple of gulps, the backpacker responded, “I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that great.”

“Oh, really?” replied the old man.

Delaying his answer with another long swig of water, “Let me tell you, the desert may not be my kind of surroundings.  I heard noises I couldn’t examine.  There were sounds coming from everywhere, including what I think were buzzard wings.  That’s way too close for comfort.”

“Is that right?” Christopher said slowly.  “What else?”

“You may think I’m nuts, but I spotted a quick shadow I couldn’t identify just on the other side of the road,” described Fanny.  “It’s not something I look forward to seeing ever again.  By the way, just how many miles is it to Nazareth from this canyon?  As far as I can tell….”

“Ya know, owls are night hunters,” Christopher interrupted.  “They keep rabbits and rats on the run for sure.  Wingspans can be impressive.  Such a wonderful creature.  As for nocturnal critters in general, I could write volumes on the kinds and species out here.  They’re everywhere in the cool of the night.  Some folks just let their imaginations run away with them like a train on grease.  Truth is, they all were created with excellent night vision.  In that respect, they’ve got a leg up on ya.”

The young traveler admitted, “It sure made for an uneasy night.”

While checking the lose left side of his back bumper, the elderly man stated, “Ya know, fear is an enemy.  Fact is, it comes in many forms.  You might even compare it to a parade coordinator-sending one flatbed float rollin’ by after another, all designed to frighten every person from every walk of life.  Your walk of life happens to be on this very road, in this very desert.  But always remember, fear is a liar.  It promises the worse case scenario in most all situations under heaven, and yet rarely delivers.  Son, it’s always best to think of all things as fleeting.”

Fanny laughed and belted out, “FLEETING?  Ha, this desert isn’t fleeting  Did you see that sandstorm?”

“Hang on now.  A liar’s performance is to convince his audience,” stated the old one.  “The sudden desert you approach will be full of woes.  Hard things happen.  Expect it.  It’s part of the learnin’ curve.  Oppression bubbles up.  Depression develops.  Illness lurks here and over there.  Pain arrives, creeping into your skin, your muscles, your mind, and even your very soul.  Soon, a lacking drains your strength, your joy, and eventually, your reasonin’.  Yes, the desert is all of that and more.  It’s a beautiful place, too…in its own way.  The colors and scattered shades are brilliant.  Yet, there’s danger out here.  There’s isolation expected, married to obscurity.  It’s all about who ya face it with.  But the sweet truth is, when journeying through the desert, like ya are, you’ll find it’s only temporary.  All parades must end, even sandstorms.”

The young man paused for a moment before speaking, “But if there is a learning curve to suffering, what and where is it?  I mean, where’s the final exam in this hellish classroom?”

Christopher stroked his wiry beard for a moment.  He turned toward a scenic view of the desert and explained, “The better question would be…Why experience it alone?  Look out at this barren ground.  Each step is a test.  You are gettin’ an education, albeit in a lesser degree without an instructor.  My offer still stands, kiddo.  Let’s take this anvil off your back and put it where it belongs…behind ya, without a rope attached.”

Fanny bent down to tighten his boot laces during an uncomfortable silence.  He then stood up, adjusted his canvas hat, looked at Christopher and responded, “No, sir.  I will finish this challenge I’ve walked into.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate your free offer, but, there’s something to be said about knowing my own conditioning will push me to my destination.”

The elderly man’s ice-blue eyes twinkled as he challenged the young traveler, “And when your anvil of comfort breaks your fleeting, temporary strength, with no one there who is stronger to save ya…what then?”

“Thus far, I’ve adjusted to its weight.  It’s okay, really it is,” said Fanny in a softer, kinder delivery.  “It may take me a while, but I will get through this desert.  But, I can’t wait to feel the soft, cool blades of grass in Nazareth under my bare feet  The universe will give me strength.”

“Don’t count on the universe.  She’s unforgivin’, and unable to love, ” said the old one.  “You, my young man, will find you’re bein’ schooled in the land of waitin’.”

With that said, Christopher watched Fanny strap on his anvil for the journey out of the shadow of the rock wall.  Just then, the old man pulled out a brown paper bag and two more bottles of water from the bed of his truck.

“Okay, kiddo,” holding out the items.  “Here, ya take these.  You’re gonna need it.”

Fanny displayed a large grin at the kindness Christopher displayed.  “What’s all this?”

“Well, there’s various items of protein in the bag, some nuts, dried figs, jerky, and some cold sliced pineapple you’ll wanna eat pretty soon,” explained the elder.

Laughing, the hiker inquired, “Pineapple????  Where did you get pineapple out here?”

Christopher just giggled with a lovely childlike delivery as he opened the door to the truck, got in, and started the rattling engine with a backfire.

“Here’s to hopin’ we will see one another again, ” said the old man.  “Ya know, hope is a healin’ thing.  Even in a deserted place.”

Fanny replied quickly, “I could use that for sure.”

“I know ya do, son.  I know ya do,” stated Christopher as he put on his sunglasses.  “Be aware of the shadow figures, Fanny.  It’ll serve ya well.  But, with that said, I’ve never read an obituary where a shadow killed anybody.”

With a whistle on his lips, and his hands on the wide steering-wheel, Christopher began to slowly drive back into the punishing sun.  The young trekker raised his hand slowly to wave the old man off.  Just then, Fanny realized he never thanked Christopher for the provisions.

Two days and nights passed.  It was about noon when Fanny found himself dragging his feet, literally, across the baked concrete in near total exhaustion.   With each painstaking stride, he began scanning the horizon for the old man’s pickup.  His energy was virtually depleted, and he knew it.  The morning delivered some scattered clouds, which aided the weakened young rambler, but now, nothing but abusive piercing sun shutdown all effort.  He felt himself wanting, even craving, a visit with the caring driver.

Just as Fanny journeyed down a slope, from a crest in the roadway, he tripped on something.  As if in slow motion, he fell forward, hard onto the hot pavement, in unison with a loud ringing thud as the anvil met the road.  He screamed in pain from the impact and fierceness of the raging temperature of the road.  He quickly turned over on his backpack as a buffer from the concrete.  It took him a minute to collect his mind.  He looked for wounds, finding a few scrapes and cuts to his elbows, cheek, and the palms of both hands.  He noticed his pants were ripped at the left knee as blood began to find its way through the khaki fabric.  Troubled at what caused him to lose his traction, Fanny looked around to find the object which caused the fall.  There was nothing there.  Unable to bend his left knee, he struggled to push himself up on his right leg.  With the rope still in his hand, he tested his body for limping to the side of the road.  The pain in his knee was crippling.  It was a mammoth project as he slowly hopped his way to the sandy shoulder, dragging the anvil against the hot pavement.

Assessing his ability to trek ahead, he noticed something protruding from the bottom of the toe of his right boot.  A closer look revealed a piece of the sole of the boot had come loose, and had partially folded back while dragging his feet during the endeavor to keep walking.  Whether it was heat exhaustion, the brutal conditions, or a pure wake-up call from injuries, the young hiker admitted being trapped, for the remainder of the day, right where he sat.

As the sun slowly descended into the western sky, Fanny tried to lift his spirits.  Finding a small bit of shade under some brush, he began to sing every hit song he could recall from his teen years-songs that made him smile.  He busied himself mentally listing his family tree as far back as the war of 1812.  With each mental exercise he was surprised at the slowness to fire-off a thought, or memory.  He wondered about heat stroke.

“It would seem the elements are doing a number on you, Mr. Gates,” he sarcastically mumbled to himself.  In pain, the hiker laid under the tiny shade of the brush for any relief he could manage.

Sounds seem louder when sleeping.  Fanny jumped with a start from a nap he didn’t intend on taking.  After a few seconds of clarity, he realized he was hearing the tail of a rattlesnake.  By sheer instinct, Fanny turned over from his position, discovering in the sand to his left a five foot rattler, curled up maybe 12 feet away.  Fear raced through his senses.

close up photo of a brown sidewinder snake on sand
Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Somehow the young man pulled himself together and looked around for a rock.  There, by his left boot, were five golf ball-sized sandstones.  His eyes once again shifted back to the poised snake.  Visions of film footage of how quickly snakes can crawl and strike ran through his head.  Unable to bend his left knee without shooting pain, he grabbed the anvil rope, tossed it at the rocks, maneuvering one within reach.  He thought to himself, “I have one shot at this and it better be right, or I’m toast.”  He methodically, but slowly, reached the rock, grabbed it, then threw it at the rattler with a shout, all in one motion like a professional shortstop.  Speedily, the snake reacted, slithering out to the middle of the road and stopped.  Fanny trained his eyes on the reptile as it turned its head toward him again.  The hiker pitched another rock toward the snake, but this time unmoved.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little beast!  Don’t even think about it!” threatened Fanny.

Keeping his eye on the snake, he examined his precarious position.  Unable to move quickly, due to his knee, and without a weapon at his disposal, he knew he was a sitting duck.  The unexpected desert miles had been cruel, but he covered much ground.  Just as he began to question his endurance to reach the other side of the wilderness, he now might see it end-thanks to a new enemy-and a damaged sole.

Surveying every item within reach for a defense, the young traveler’s anvil caught his eye.  His mind landed on the reality of the weight of it.  Mentally, he began to blame it for his current dilemma.  Ninety five pounds of iron needlessly held him down from where he wanted to be.  In the assumption he could’ve run from the snake just minutes prior, the anvil would’ve proven to be the end, holding him back for the snake’s lunge.  However, in a sick, twisted thought process, his admiration for the useless anvil melted the angst.

Late afternoon approached, and Fanny’s nemesis remained vigilant in a curl, with its expressionless cold stare from the road.  The scene was looking darker for the injured young man.  He imagined the worst.

Feeling a bit delirious, the trapped hiker’s anger boiled, “So, do you have a nest around here?  Maybe you have a brood nearby you’re protecting.  Is that why you’re gawking at me?  They’ll all make terrific belts, you pile of scales!  How does that make you feel?  Tell me, is your crawl really quicker than my hop?  Look, I know what you’re waiting for.  You can’t fool me,” he said, taunting the rattler.  “When darkness comes, you’ll slither your measly self over here and take chunks out of me, as I slowly kill over from your venom.  I know your kind.  I was married to someone like you!”

Fanny was massaging his emotions to accept his coming death.  Dreams were dashed, hope only a dream, and his efforts toward his goal had been wasted energy.  In a moment of clarity, he looked over at his companion: the anvil.  In the light of his circumstances, he knew it suddenly didn’t seem to hold much value.  True, Fanny had grown accustomed to the weight on his back, but in the reevaluation, it seemed foolish to have imagined it to be part of himself in daily life.  In an odd, and maybe an ironic way, it took a trauma in a desolate place to see the fulfillment of the truth.

Another hour slipped by, closer to the coming dusk.  Fanny suddenly had gained a fever.  He could feel chills and cold sweat rolling down his chest.  His time waned in the growing darkness.  His new enemy seemed to detect Fanny’s weakened state, raising its head off the pavement.  Desperation danced through the stranded hiker as he grabbed the empty canteen, the only defense against the waiting venomous reptile.

During a somewhat morbid consideration, Fanny pictured where the fangs might sink in first.  Like a strategist, he began to maneuver his body so that the strike of the rattler would target closer to his hands and arms for a better shot at defense.  About that time, his ears detected a familiar remote sound.  He cocked his head as he zoomed-in on the distant echo of what appeared to be a big brass band, combined with the hum of an engine.  The young man smiled as he identified the modulation of old pistons, pushing an antique pickup in his direction.  Fanny caught a glimpse of the old blue truck rounding a curve, where it began to slow down with its radio blaring away, until coming to a complete stop.  As it did, the right front tire crowned the head of the cunning rattler with a defining crunch.  The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Christopher.

“Well, if it ain’t young Fanny restin’ on his laurels,” he said with warm grin as he walked toward the young man.

Fanny had gasped when the truck’s tire parked on the snake.

Christopher sarcastically asked, “Son, are ya hungry?  Your mouth is wide open like a newborn sparrow in the nest.”

“You…uh, I guess you know, you rolled right on top of that rattlesnake.  How did you manage to do that?” quizzed the injured traveler.

“Oh, practice, I suppose.  It happens,” answered the lighthearted elder.  “I see ya got yourself all banged-up there.”

Sheepishly, Fanny began to explain,  “Yes, sir.  Earlier today I was so spent.  Not realizing my toes were dragging, my sole separated a bit from my left boot, causing me to trip and…well, here I am.”

While scoping out the young man’s injuries, Christopher mentioned the obvious,  “Ya fell on your face, I see.”

“In a manner of speaking, I sure did.” admitted Fanny.

The old man knelt down to get a closer look at Fanny’s damaged boot.

“Hmmm, yep, I’m no cobbler, but I see what happened,”  speaking slower and in a softer tone, “Ya know, where the ‘soul’ separates is a lonely place to be.  What have ya learned, kiddo?”

One side of Fanny’s bruised lip raised as he said, “Seeking shelter is a wise thing.”

“Is it now?” stated Christopher.

“No doubt, ” admitted the young trekker.  “I have come to realize that I’m not ‘all that’.”

“Now, give yourself some credit in this journey of yours,” the old one said.

“What?” asked Fanny.

Christopher explained, “Ya didn’t think about how ya said it.  In all your boldness and anger, ya once shouted, ‘BY GOD, I WILL DO THIS!‘”

Beside himself, Fanny raised his voice in astonishment, “Hey!  How did you know about…I mean…that was a few days ago now…and on top of that, I was in…”

“In the desert, all by yourself.  I know,” interrupted Christopher.  “You might as well have had on a wireless microphone.  That was actually the beginning of your learnin’ while on this path.  With all the wreckage in your life, you were searchin’ for solitude.  Most people do.  Ya see, there’s a big difference between solitude, and isolation.  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In your isolation, ya never really were alone.”

The young man being perplexed raised his voice, “Excuse me, but I still don’t understand how you…”

Christopher interrupted again, “Not many do understand, kiddo.  Even the ones who are most scholarly, with all those initials after their names, can’t get their arms around it all.  Some, the honest and most humble, will even admit it.  I’d say you’re in good company.”

Fanny still reclined there, looked down at his skinned hands and torn pants in a sense of surrender.

Breaking the uneasy moment, the old one spoke up, “Now son, here’s the deal for this time, for this place of desolation; will ya accept my offer?  You’re in the middle of this trip, but near the end of your journey.  I won’t return to these parts for some time, and here, in the waitin’, is the opportunity for decisions.  Trust me on this.  Take my hand and I’ll give ya a lift to where ya wanna be.  As a brash up-and-comer, a lad once told me, ‘It doesn’t look promisin’ from where I stand.'”

The young man accepted without delay, “Yes, sir.  I’m ready to move out of this God forsaken place.”

“Uh, not really… ‘forsaken’,” Christopher said with a familiar snicker.  “You have much to learn, young Fanny Gates.  Come on, I’ll help carry ya to the truck.  Ya ain’t heavy.”

With Fanny’s left arm around Christopher’s neck, and the anvil hanging from his sore right shoulder, the duo methodically made their way to the old truck.

After a couple of steps, Fanny asked Christopher a simple question, “I take it you know where Nazareth is, right?”

The old man opened the passenger side door, helped the younger into the truck and informed him, “Well, of course I know where Nazareth is.  As far as the eye can see from this spot, it’s nothin’ but desert.  Still, Nazareth is not too far from here.”

Just before Christopher closed the passenger door, he asked,  “Uh, son, aren’t ya forgettin’ somethin’?”

Fanny looked bewildered until he saw Christopher gazing at the anvil sitting in his lap.

He responded, “Christopher, do I really need to give it up?  It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.  Over my lifetime I’ve adjusted to its weight.”

“This is the very crux of my offer, Fanny,” Christopher uttered with a straight tone.  “Somewhere down the line, you were lied to.  You only ASSUMED ya needed this weight.  Ya must unload what has weighed ya down in order to come with me.  Now, tell me straight up.  Are ya willin’ to allow me to toss it behind us, to put it to bed?”

Seeing the sincerity in the old one’s ice-blue eyes, understanding it meant everything to him, Fanny agreed to let go.

(CLANG!)

With the anvil among the others discarded in the bed of the old truck, the aged one cranked-up the engine, took control of the steering wheel, and began to make a u-turn.

“Hey, Christopher, you’re going in the wrong direction!”, the traveler said with alert.

“You were hopin’ to go to Nazareth,” stated Christopher.  “Number one, ya wouldn’t have been able to get there by your own power.  Number two, I’m your only Uber out this way.  Number three, you were headed west on a one-way road.  Nazareth is east of here.  Always east.”

“Oh, yeah?  Well, I’ll just have to trust you on that.” said Fanny.

With that, the old man replied, “Yep, yep ya must.”

“Christopher, there’s just one thing of concern here,” Fanny said.  “I don’t have any cash on me for your fuel.”

After a satisfying smile on his old weathered face, along with a slight shaking of the head, Christopher replied, “That’s another thing, kiddo.  Ya never could’ve purchased your way to Nazareth.  It’s all been paid for ahead of your arrival.  Burden-free, son.  Burden-free.”

When loaded down, crushed with the stuff of life’s curses, unload with fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’   For He will deliver you                                                from the snare of the fowlera and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”  – Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wiseguys On Tour

“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse far
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star…”  (1857)  Composer:  John Henry Hopkins Jr.

Yeah, the cover photo above is backstage when I played a wise man in a Broadway style Christmas musical in Buffalo, NY in 2003.  That’s me in the red and yellow.  Lucy was the camel.  She was terrific.  Somehow, I often found myself positioned right behind her…behind.  She didn’t care about blocking scenes, apparently.  Her owner/handler told us although Lucy was mild-mannered, camels have been known to lock their jaws over a human’s head and bite them right off the necks.  In this shot, I had no idea she had her face turned toward me.  I do wonder what she was thinking.  However, she seems to be smiling.  My hope is she just liked my peppermint colored hat.  Nevertheless, I’m telling you right now, riding a camel while singing at the same time is not a great combination.  Zero comfort.  And, poor baby, she stunk!  There’s no way I would, or could, ride Lucy over field and fountain, moor and mountain.

Speaking of mountains…take a look at this.

Wagon Ruts Chicago Tribune

Photo:  Chicago Tribune

One of my fondest memories with my single mom were rare times when we shared a summer vacation.  When we did, it meant a road trip.  One of the joys was to learn the history under our feet.  When we saw signs about approaching historical markers, we would faithfully stop and read the history of that particular place.  It was a great way to close your eyes while imagining placing yourself back in time on the landmark where we stood.

When I was 13 years old, or so, we headed west for an adventure through far west Texas, New Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico.  While driving closer to one of the first mountain ranges, along the Texas/New Mexico border, we stopped at a roadside historical marker.  It directed the reader to look up at one of the mountains off in the distance.  It went on to mention a well-traveled pioneer wagon route which went through the area and over the mountains.  It was complete with dates, names, and pioneer stories.  With the info, it pointed out a place carved out of the incline of a mountain where the covered wagon wheel ruts were still visible.  Lo and behold, there they were some five miles away going up and over the top of a particular mountain, not too unlike the photo above.

I loved the old wild west history, and still do.  Yet, seeing where the brave, tough families made their way from east to west in nothing but covered wooden wagons, was vastly different than reading about them.

There are multitudes of old wagon and stagecoach trails, where pioneers made a way across the terrain, which remain visible to this very day.  There are some more visible than others.  We can literally track their treks.

Wagon Ruts Guernsey

Photo:  Guernsey

I feel the same exuberance when I read about the wise men from the east who made their way to Bethlehem, Israel in efforts to visit a single small house of a poor young family.

They have a mysterious story.  Most feel they were from Persia, modern-day Iran.  (The study on why is remarkable and in depth.  Too much of it to write here.)  Also, at this time of year we sing about three of them.  There are three names given for each traveler which are from tradition, not historically accurate.  Because three very expensive gifts are listed among their inventory, the centuries have placed “three” wise men in the biblical story.  Yep, you guessed it.  The stretchers and benders of history assigned one gift to one wise man.  However, the Bible doesn’t number the wise men, or those in the caravan.  There could have been two, or two hundred.  The account doesn’t tell us.  No matter how many wise men, or Magi, as they are also called, we do know they are described in many ancient middle-eastern and Asian documents, some of which are literally carved in stone.

Magi (wise men) were of a nobility, or an aristocratic clan.  They were widely known for being highly educated with collections of vast libraries.  Magi were scholars, well-versed in multiples of subjects like, astronomy, astrology, science, mathematics, literature, religions, even medicine, and magical arts.  You could point to Camelot’s Merlin as one like the ancient Magi.  In fact, it was a bit of a luxurious priesthood, a fraternity of royal order, living their lives alongside kings and queens in palaces.  One thing is certain, history places them with royals and heads of state, serving the crown for the duration of a lifetime.

The Old Testament prophesied of these kingly types, along with their gifts of high value, hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus.  The star they had studied from Persia was also prophesied in the Hebrew text.  In fact, they arrived at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to ask where this newborn King of Israel was because they saw His prophetic star from their country in the east.  Apparently, they told Herod about how old the baby would be by that time. (Close to toddler range.)  Herod commanded his scribes to find the prophetic passage of the location where the new king would be born.  They looked up the text.  They read from, what was then, a 700+ year old scroll found within the minor prophets.  It was Micah 5:1 – But you, Bethlehem Ephrath, who are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days.”

Nativity sets, as well as artsy Christmas cards, have the wise men in the cave-like stable bowing before the manger.  Actually, they weren’t there.  Again, they studied the new heavenly body in the sky, the old Hebrew prophetic texts, and apparently put forth a travel plan after the birth occurred.  Scripture tends to lean in such a timeline.  When they arrived to worship the baby boy and present their gifts, the scripture says they didn’t approach a stable, but rather arrived at “the house”.  In the original text it indicates they saw a “boy”, not a newborn.  So, the famous painting of the visitation has it about half right.

We Three Kings - Bartolomé_Esteban_Murillo_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_

“The Adoration of The Magi”,  By:  Bartolome Esteban Murillo

For as long as I can recall, I was always fascinated by the journey of the wise men.  Most all scholars have their origin as Iran, and for good reason.  Some have them residing in modern-day Iraq.  Both Persia and Babylon have long historical records concerning Magi.  There are many scholars placing them south in the regions of modern-day Qatar or Oman because of an ancient trade route there which trailed northwest.  It is interesting that there are Old Testament prophecies stating origins like, Arabia, Sheba, Median, Tarshish, etc.  In the book of Song of Solomon there is a description of nobility approaching in a long caravan resembling a smokestack.  This is why many artist renditions show various ethnic groups represented in the wise men.  In fact, because of the fraternal order of the Magi, I can imagine many from other nations might have joined the caravan.  I could go on about this incredible event, but it is not the point of my post.

I wish there were wagon wheel ruts we could study and map-out detailing their yellow brick road journey.  For such a long journey on camel, and/or horseback, or donkey, lots of prep had to be made.  I guess in a way, we can at least trace their actions.  If so, we could identify with them even more.  Come on, consider the evidence with me.

Think of it.  This team of Magi, first had the ancient Hebrew scrolls full of directives on how to find the baby Messiah.  More than likely left by the Jews when in captivity in the region hundreds of years prior.  In other words, they had in their possession, and researched, the known Hebrew Bible of that day, among others.

Scroll Isaiah

Their testimony was clear.  They told all of Jerusalem they studied the scrolls for direction, for awareness, for identification and verification.  When they saw the mysterious, newly illuminated “lower atmosphere” body, which moved ahead of them, leading them to where they should go, they loaded up.  It was no small thing.  Prep consisted of saddling their camels, assembling their attending slaves, possibly communicating their find to neighboring wise men among surrounding kingdoms, and mapped the course.  Before you think it odd, there’s something to keep in mind.  From the ancient Torah, specifically the book of Numbers, Balaam, the only gentile prophet in scripture, wrote a two-fold prophetic delivery,  “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel…” Numbers 24:17a (Douay-Rheims Version)

These doctors of astronomy knew the difference between a celestial conversion, a comet, a meteor, and all other natural universal laws of astronomy.  They understood what they discovered was unnatural, planted for their eyes only.  Keep in mind, it moved as they traveled, like a laser or a drone, vanishing when they arrived in Jerusalem, reappearing only after they left King Herod.  At that point, the illumination directed them south to Bethlehem where it rested over a designated house.  Of course, you realize this was a floating body of light hovering in the lower-atmosphere with actions of intelligence.  So many lose the details of this mystery by not matching up the physical attributes of the object.  Otherwise we are left with a comet, meteor, or a star from millions of miles away hovering over a house among hundreds.  It doesn’t pass the smell test to reasonable readers.  Personally, I believe it was an illuminated angelic being.  But, that’s just my take on it.

They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Do you want to identify with them even more so?  Dare we?  Should we?

Wise men Facts:

They left their comfort zone to make their way to be by His side…on faith!  For those who believe Christianity is a cakewalk, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No, it’s not always rosy complete with a comfort bubble in today’s world.  Jesus told us it wouldn’t be a walk in the park to follow Him.

How dangerous was it?  They proclaimed a new King of Israel to the face of the murderous, and insane King Herod, a puppet king for Caesar in Rome.  That fact right there can give us some wagon ruts to view.  He could’ve tied them to wagon wheels for a good flogging.  But, he wanted them to report back to him after they located the boy so he could destroy Him.  Killing babies was nothing for Herod.  He was famous for killing his own family members that he wanted out of the way.  (He did make an attempt to murder the boy-Messiah , but it didn’t work out that way.)  All that to say, the faith of the foreigners was incredibly stout.  They didn’t have to see to believe.  They were already in expectation based on the Old Testament prophet’s writings of the timing Jesus when He would be born found in the book of Daniel, the eternal kingship, the place, the moving star, etc.

So there they were, in a house of a couple with a young toddling boy…THE Boy, THE Spiritual Redeemer of The World, THE Ancient Of Days in an earthsuit.

It’s important to note they just didn’t high-five the Boy, dump their Santa gifts, eat ham & gingerbread cookies, and head back to their countries.  Instead, they bowed their knees in their royal robes, face-to-floor worshiping Him, even with what they prepared…the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  In other words, it cost them something.  They unloaded what they attributed as value.

In hindsight, the Magi found Jesus very similarly as many do today.  They read, they researched, they believed, they saw, they followed.

Frankly, I think I see more clearly their wagon wheel ruts, and I’m right behind them. Somehow I always seem to be looking at a camel’s behind.

Whenever the wheels of the spirit turn, it’s powered by pistons of fuel for the race.

“…What can I give HimPoor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I were a Wise Man I would do my part,— Yet what I can I give HimGive my heart.”

From:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872) – Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

Like A Bridge

“Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down…Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.” (1970)  Bridge Over Troubled Water   Recorded by:  Simon & Garfunkel   Composer:  Paul Simon

As I gladly munch down on the left-over Halloween candy, I am looking out my studio window spying the very first turning leaves on my street.  Although faint, they are there.  They lack the brilliance of the stop-sign red maple leaves I loved in my Buffalo, NY days, but they do testify of the season in Texas.

Up north foliage-hunters are taking in the unmistakable aroma in the autumn air, as well as taking to the roads gazing at the mix of hues splashing across the wooded landscape.  Depending upon where you are you just might be on an old country road, with all its twists and turns, where after a few curves in the stretch you might just roll the tires up close and personal to something like this.

Covered bridge from Joan

My fiance, at the time, took this shot as we were overjoyed at the find deep in the woods of Western New York.

If you discover one of these in my home state of Texas it would not only be rare, but an oddity at that.  In fact, in the U.S. where covered bridges are not long gone, they will be unless a local proactive community protects them.  Such a lovely view of a time way beyond the scope of our rear-view mirror.

Most were built like this one, humble and narrow, as the horse & buggies and early automobiles were constructed.  Most were designed to accommodate only one buggy, or car of its day going one way.  And finally, most all were covered with roofs, some shingled while others were tar layers or tin.  The majority of old covered bridges in the U.S. were built between 1825-1875.  The traveler of yesteryear would tell you the reason they were covered was to shelter the rider, along with the horse yoked to the wagon, buggy, or stagecoach.  After all, it was welcomed during storms when pounding country roads.  In the heat of summer, it was a natural bull-run and shade.  The breeze would blow from one end to the other while the roof made for a cooling rest stop.  However, even though the functionality existed, the builders of that time would explain the purpose for roof and walls in another way.  The bridges were covered to protect the wooden floor of the bridge from rain, snow and ice, keeping it from water logging and weather-rot.  And THAT’S why you don’t see them much in the dry state of Texas.

If you ever approach an old covered bridge, I suggest parking off to the side to take a leisurely walk through the old rustic structure.  Much like an antique barn, it has that old weathered lumber smell floating through it.  Look up.  Often birds have their nests in its low hanging rafters.  You can hear your footsteps greeting the wooden planks with all its creaks, pops, and knocks.  Examine the railings, the boarded walls, and beams as you run your hand over the aged grain of the timber.  Peek through the occasional knotholes at the water beneath.  Listen for the wind as it communes with the long-standing structure.  Its breezes have been whistling through the old woody frame for over one hundred years or more, sharing tales of older times.  Close your eyes and hear the echoed wooden wagon wheels against the floor of thick lumber.  Listen for the hooves prancing on the planks from one end to the other.  Feel the vibration from a 1918 milk truck slowly making its way through the antique wooden housing.  It’s a very unique experience.

When we were there, I couldn’t help but think about the various travelers who graced the old covered bridge throughout the last century.  Surely there was a doctor in a Model-T on his way to deliver a baby at the next farm beyond the creek.  Then there’s the rancher’s wagon with a new plow horse in tow rumbling the timber slabs.  Back in the day, a circuit preacher on horseback clopping through for services at the Methodist Church, after closing services at the Baptist congregation earlier the same Sunday.  I can imagine, a farmer on an iron-wheeled tractor pulling a flatbed wagon of freshly harvested hay popping the timber floor.  There had to be someone’s great-great-grandparents who raced to the covered bridge during a stormy honeymoon night on the way to the threshold of a new house.  Many, many lives.  Many, many stories.  Many, many who have gone before us to their resting place.

One caution here.  Today’s vehicles are much heavier, much bulkier than what the old bridge was built to accommodate.  Some may have warning signs at the entrance displaying a weight and height limit for those who wish to drive across.  Some SUV’s may be too wide.  Some trucks, too tall for the rafters.  Also, be aware, the buggy wheel of the times never had to worry about flat tires.  Our trek across may find loosened carpenter’s nails.  Due to weathering and age, many pegs and nails find their way back to which they were driven.  There’s much for a driver to consider.

My picture was taken around 2007.  Although a few years have gone by, I often run across the digital shot in my computer files.  When I do, without fail, a warm flush runs through my veins.  A smile visits my face each time my eyes land on it.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s still there.  A simple brush fire can consume its aged lumber within minutes.

At the time I didn’t think of it, but life tends to point to teachable moments at the most simplest of objects.  The old covered bridge is very much a photo of my personal life, my personal faith.

As life would have it, my faith in Jesus is a narrow path.  The objector might point out the age of the object of my faith.  To that person, Jesus only lived to be a 33 year old man, some 2,000 years ago, in a far away sliver of a weakened country ruled by a dominating Emperor in Rome.  At first glance through the knothole of history, it would seem old, ancient, and rickety.  That one without faith may see Jesus as unable to hold up the weight faith requires, much like the old bridge.  My agnostic friends and family would say having faith in a 2,000 year old Jesus doesn’t yield much.  After all, to trust an old, seemingly fragile bridge, accompanied by all the poundage of the day, might very well deliver a carpenter’s nail in your tire, slowing the progress to the other side.  The Apostle Peter might come up out of the water to warn of the winds which shake and rattle the structure on the journey across.  All are true, fair considerations.  Still, it’s not a bridge too far.  Besides, isn’t that what faith is?  Believing on something without hard evidence, or even unseen would be a biblical description.

Yet, the coin flips to another view etched in metal.  The ancient, rickety, weathered, narrow covered bridge is the perfect picture of faith.  (If you need to scroll up to take a closer look at the photo, now’s the time.  It’s okay, I’ll meet you back here.  I’ll be waiting for you.)

My atheist and agnostic friends, who I dearly love, should consider why I stopped to absorb the framed structure.  The detail, the craftsmanship, the engineering from someone who went before me, prepared it for me, knowing I would arrive at the entrance in due time is a fascinating thought.  That mirrors nicely the One known as The Great I Am.

Consider this:

Jesus makes a way over trouble waters on multi-layered scales.

Jesus makes a way, bridging, connecting my unholy state to His righteousness.

Jesus made His way narrow.  In order to tread through it, you will need to unload.

Jesus made the way to be solo, only one-way.  Nobody goes through as a duet, trio or quartet.  Owning humility is the entrance toll.  Pride must be shed.  All must leave behind their wide vehicle.

Jesus made a way with low hanging rafters.  To be in Him, bow the head, the knee.

Jesus made a way with shelter.  He shields from conjured destructive elements.

Jesus made a way with hardships expected.  Life in faith will have its rusty nails.

Jesus made a way to new birth, new teachings, new crops to harvest, new flock, new home with an everlasting spiritual marriage partner, and a new promised resting place.

Jesus made a way with old creaking planks, supported by The Rock Of Ages beneath.

As for me, I drive across this faith bridge daily.  Challenging at times?  Yes, but He said it would be so long ago.  The victory trophy comes at my last stride.

Non-believers will claim my faith is a crutch.  I say it’s a bridge, weatherproofed with fuel for the race.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  – Ephesians 2:8-10 (NAS)

Construction Ahead

Photo:  Bartek Wojtas

“..This much I know is true.  That God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you…” – (2004)  Bless The Broken Road   Recorded by:  Rascal Flatts  Composers:  Jeff Hanna, Marcus Hummon, Robert E. Boyd.

Does this sound familiar to you?  A few days ago, as I was on my way to an appointment, I was driving north on one of the main streets in the suburb where I live.  There are three lanes northbound, and three lanes southbound.  It is a very well-known, heavily traveled boulevard.  The speed limit norm allows cruising around 40-45mph.  Suddenly, I am hampered by bumper-to-bumper traffic.  With a rather large exhale, I said out loud in frustration, “Arg!  A standstill.  Figures!”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, I finally arrived at the intersection I was driving toward.  The traffic congestion delayed me for some twenty minutes.  As I was able to get a clearer view of the problem, which caused the bottleneck, it angered me even more.  Yes, I admit, flew off the handle inside my car.  It was unexpected road construction at the busiest time of day for commuters.

Construction-2 Rodolfo Quiros

Photo:  Rodolfo Quiros

Hours later, as I returned home and caught up on social media, I read a notice from the city concerning the specific intersection slowing all of us drivers down to a halt.  It stated that workers were widening the lanes, turn lanes, and reconstructing the curbs, etc.  That’s actually good news, if not for the last part of the traffic notice.  The city was good enough to let us in on just how long the project would take….December of 2019!  That’s a lot of wet concrete, jack-hammering, sawing, frame-working, and all that goes with it.  A tad less than six months for that one intersection.  Ouch!

Well, at least the old pavement itself doesn’t have emotion, pain, and a way to calculate its own history.  It’s very much unlike the way we are constructed.

I don’t know about your life, but I have been hammered, sawed, and broken up a few times.  Even my “No Passing” stripes have been redrawn.  Can you identify?

Shortly after I checked my social media, I locked onto a TV documentary on the National Geographic Channel.  It was a two hour thrill about the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  Stunningly brilliant cinematography, it was a an eye-popper.  It was shot by a hiking crew which began their adventure from the floor of the Grand Canyon.  Not only did they have shoulder cameras, but they also shot their POV scenes from helmet and body cams.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  It was more than fascinating, it was awe-inspiring.  And then the unanticipated spooky moments came.  As they slowly ascended up the canyon walls, mile by mile, their trek involved tiny narrow ledges, some barely seven inches in width.  One misstep, and it’s at least a 500-foot drop.  Yes, I looked away at times.  My mouth couldn’t hold back the words, “Nope, not for me.  Never!”  I decided, right then and there, I would take road construction tie-ups any time of day.

Not unlike the well-planned professional hikers, engineers for the road construction have a blueprint to adhere to.  The mapped-out details will take the more narrow sections of lanes and broaden them for future traffic.  Their scope involves a turn ramp for easy right turns with only a yield sign for safe merging.  Of course, new curbs will be built to accommodate the widened street.  For night driving, good solid curbs have kept my tires from meandering off the road to where I’ve needed to be.

The times my life have been broken-up, jack-hammered, and cut away, were always for a refashioned purpose.  Mainly in retrospect did I ever see it clearly.  Like those adventurous Grand Canyon hikers, I often found myself trying to balance my stride on very thin ledges, step by step.  It seems to me, during those jaunts, I never noticed the drop-off danger just to my left or right.  But the reality was, my boots were on a potential life-ending, risky trail before the constructive remodeling came about.  Like surgery, life construction often is full of hardships.  There’s breaking, bending, stripping, and scraping, all in the process.  Old paint must come off.  Guardrails which aren’t high enough are torn down.  Stubby curbs often aren’t visual enough.  With a journey on that street, one can easily be distracted causing a kissing of the ditch.

Right now, you might be thinking of some tough steamrolling in your own life.  It may be from your past, or your present.  If you believe it’s never happened…it will.  Possibly you thought you might not get through it all before the new cement dries.  Just gazing at the new scaffolding was a mystery at the time.  In fact, it could be you hunted for a detour, but in the end, you had to go through the unsettled intersection to see more clearly.  Am I right?  Usually reconstruction delivers you more easily to where you are meant to be.  Sometimes, the process WILL temporarily hurt, and maybe lengthy on the calendar, but the destination is the goal.

Sign- Cliff warning

Meanwhile, it’s wise to observe the warning signs on the beaten path ahead.  Sure, it may cause a bottleneck, slowing you down from where you set the cruise control, but in the end, it serves.

There’s one thing to keep in mind.  Nobody ever remodels to design a smaller product.  God doesn’t work that way either.  Count on it.  I know do.

When getting the rough places straightened in life, fill-up with fuel for the race.

“You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.” – Psalm 18:36 (NAS) 

Our Irene

“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

WARNING:

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.

Irene (77) Me (58)

(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.

Irene Backyard

Irene Front Yard

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.

Irene & Gene Doughtery Artwork

(Collaboration Art by:  Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)

Irene Art

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 & son,

(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)

 

Knowing Where You’ve Been

“I guess happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rearview mirror.  But now happiness was Lubock, Texas growing nearer and dearer…”   Texas In My Rearview Mirror, (1974).  Written and recorded by:  Mac Davis.

I left Texas once to chase a dream, building on my career.  It’s true what they say about never being able to go back home again.  I did come back.  However, my town, Dallas/Ft Worth area, had grown and changed.  Among the alterations, more glass, steel, and concrete.  Nevertheless, I was glad to be back.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, “A Family Affair”, I had the joy of spending lots of time with my three daughters.  It’s been a celebration of hearts as my middle daughter, Megan, was visiting from New York.  She brought her boyfriend with her this time.  He had never been to Texas and truly wanted to get a good taste of the culture.  That’s not always easy to show, as the Metroplex has grown into an international community.  In Dallas we tend to demolish the old and rebuild.  Feeling what he really wanted was to experience our historical side, we pulled out all the stops.  Of course, he wanted to visit the grassy knoll in downtown Dallas where JFK was assassinated.  For Texans, in general, it’s a tourist spot we are not proud of.

Besides treating him to Texas style Mexican food (Tex-Mex), along with some of the best Texas BBQ available, we drove him out west, so to speak.

Grandpa & Grandma Brooks

Photo:  My Grandpa and Grandma Brooks.

We visited Graham, Texas, a couple of hours west of the city, where cowboys and oil fields are the norm.  My dad’s family is there where we are part of the historical landscape.  My great-grandfather, Lewis Pinkney Brooks, helped to found that part of Texas.  In fact, he was the second sheriff of Young County, Texas.  He built a home there in the mid 1870’s where one of my cousins resides to this day.

Homestead in Graham

Photo;  Brooks Homestead

The homestead is registered in the Texas Historical Society.  He was a pioneer, decorated Confederate soldier, builder, and cattle drover.  Individuals like, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp were contemporaries.  After the Civil War, he left Georgia on a mule to settle in the Graham, Texas area where the Comanche and the Tonkawa native Americans ruled.  There are hair-raising stories concerning gunfights, grave robbers, horse-thieves, and indian wars.  The old homestead was also used as a stagecoach stop for weary travelers, as well as, frontier families in covered wagons heading west.  His wife was a bit of the community doctor and midwife.  She tended to many who needed physical and medical aid, no matter what race or skin color.  Yet, the land was wild, rough, and untamed.  The gun turrets he built in the attic walls helps to tell the tale.  It’s a rich history and heritage I hold dear to my heart.  It’s never a chore to drive out to spend time in the old homestead.  Frankly, it’s like a museum, with a great deal of love sown into its lintels.  We were honored to share it with our younger generation.

Homestead with Megan and Kevin March 2019

The following day, we drove our New York friend to the famous Ft Worth Stockyards before touring the red waters of the Brazos River, along with Ft. Belknap, just outside of Graham, Texas.

Ft Worth Stockyards At Night

Photo:  fortworthstockyards.org

A wealth of Texas history feeds this area of Ft Worth.  Just to the north of the modern downtown high-rises, the old west is almost unchanged.  Throngs of tourists flood the Stockyard District of the city each year.

Ft Worth Stockyard Cowboy

Photo:  Our friend took this shot from his cell phone.

As early as the late 1850’s, cattle drovers drove their cattle up from many areas including, southern Texas and Mexico, then down Exchange Street to the Ft Worth corrals and railroad.  There the herds were prepared for auctioning, or loading onto outbound cattle cars on trains headed north for places like, Kansas City, Chicago, and Denver.  The unique Texas Longhorn breed was, and is, a high commodity.  The top of their hips are almost six feet high.  There’s no other sound exactly like hooves pounding the antique bricked streets.

Ft Worth Stockyard Longhorns

Photo:  fortworthstockyards.org

Although the Stockyards are family friendly today, it wasn’t always that way.  Just like in the movies, saloons, whiskey bottles, and skimpy-clad women eager to take your money were the order of a cowboy’s day.  It was here where outlaws like, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sam Bass, and the James brothers frequented the streets.  Also, Bonnie and Clyde found a temporary refuge in the Stockyard Hotel, now a luxury hotel displaying a Texas historical marker.  In fact, the infamous cowboy outlaw from Texas, John Wesley Hardin, didn’t do well in hotels in the late 1800’s.  He once shot a cowboy through the hotel room wall.  It seems the man was snoring too loudly.

Ft Worth Stockyard Hotel

Photo:  stockyardshotel.com

Twice a day, cowboys drive Longhorns across the tracks, down Exchange Street, while onlookers gather with cameras in hand.  It was a stampede of Texas history for our friend from New York.

Ft Worth Stockyards Tracks

Photo:  Sarah Hetrick

May I get real and ask you some hard questions which might offend you?  Either way, I’ll love you.  Okay, here goes.

In an age when a selective younger generation feels empowered by destroying statues representing our history, whether good or bad, I can’t help but feel a mistake is being made.  We saw ISIS doing the same thing to monuments, ancient ruins, and antiquities from the biblical days of Nineveh.  Hear me out before you judge me too harshly.

Sure, one can ask if all of Texas history is good.  Quickly I would be the first to answer in the negative.  On the other hand, I would point out the overwhelming majority of Texas history is positive and inspiring.  In order to appreciate where one lives, it should be understood where one comes from, warts and all.  It’s all about what makes us who we are, and where we are going.  After all, if we, as individuals, take it upon ourselves to burn all things we personally do not like, what does that make us?  What does it say about us?  In this scenario, I dare say, nothing would be left to remember, or observe.  If we succeed in the attempt to erase history, where does that take us?  How does that enrich us?  How do we educate ourselves, or avoid repeating mistakes from the past?  Better yet, how does that serve future generations?  Do we truly want museums to be eradicated, along with the Library of Congress, free speech, free press, etc.?  Something, somewhere will offend someone, somewhere.  Only cows belong in cattle train-cars.

Ancient Egypt declared all historical characters and events were not to be recorded, if they put Egypt’s kingdom in a bad light.  Even certain pharaohs, queens, and races of people were removed from their hieroglyphic records.  If not for archaeological efforts, as well as, other historical documents, we would be unaware of much of Egypt’s history.  It’s a shame.  Their future generations were stiff-armed to learn more of their own culture.   

One of the commands in the Bible, from Genesis and onward, is one simple word spoken by God.  Numerous sentences begin with the word, “Remember…”   The word erupts often in the scrolls, especially in the Torah.  It is filled with God urging Israel to “Remember”, or to “Recall” where they had been, what they had gone through, and Who brought them out of harm and slavery, etc.  He wanted them to remember not only the victories, but also the pain of racism, suffering, defeats, and famines.  There’s value in documenting the sourness of our times.  As we enter the Passover and Easter season, it’s a significant light bulb for us to recall how Jesus broke the bread, then poured the wine and said, (Paraphrased for modern emphasis) “Do this often to remember me and my sacrifice for you.”  Remembering is an important element in the growth, the thanksgiving, and the psychology of a society.

It’s no wonder why in Texas battles for independence it was shouted, “Remember the Alamo!”

Dismantling the rearview mirror isn’t a wise thing.  The road ahead is at stake.

Happy trails begins with fuel for the race.

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…” Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV)

 

 

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

Perpetual Horn of Plenty – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

With the exception of the panhandle, Thanksgiving in Texas is rarely a cold, frozen one.  The Thanksgiving week of 1969 was different.  Every once in a blue moon there will be snow, or any frozen precipitation, falling on Texans during the holiday festivities of Thanksgiving.

It was late Wednesday afternoon when nine year old Scotty, and his twenty-five year old single mom, were carefully driving down an east Texas county road on the way to a Thanksgiving family gathering.  It was a tradition for Scotty’s two cousins, two pairs of aunts and uncles, and possibly a great-uncle and aunt, to descend on the old house of his grandparents for a big turkey feast with the usual trimmings.  Sometimes, even his great-grandmother would also join the holiday visit.  His grandmother always had a knack for tossing together decor for whatever holiday hit the calendar.  Scotty could hardly wait.  He knew there would be a two-on-two football scramble in the backyard, a children’s table all to themselves, and a heart-pounding afternoon watching the Dallas Cowboys vie for the Thanksgiving Day kudos.  He loved his family dearly, especially his grandparents, who were more like parents to him, and young enough to be so.  Only forty-five miles kept them apart.  Weather conditions were not going to push this mother and son away.

Pumkin Tray

Scotty, nor his grandparents, ever knew the poverty he and his mom survived in.  His very independent mom had unique and creative ways of dressing-up the darker news of reality.  Generally, his clothes were made by his mom during those times.  She always let him pick out the bulk fabric.  The block of cheese in the fridge — U.S. government issued due to her low wages — was made to look like a huge feast that mice could only dream about.  He learned countless ways cheese could be used in the oven, the skillet, and with pasta.  Little did he know, for several weeks, it would be his main diet.  The old, broken-down rent house they currently called home, had only one gas stove to go with cold creaking wooden floors.  The windows were original single pane, thin, and cracked.  Honeysuckle grew through the cracks in his bedroom wall from outside vines.  Because of her imaginative story-telling, Scotty saw it all as an adventure the kids at his school and church could never imagine.  The honeysuckle vine in his bedroom was his vortex to a life as a cowboy, living out on the range, with nothing but a saddle for a pillow and a horse-blanket to shield himself from the cold prairie.  The little gas stove in the living-room was the campfire built to warn-off the coyotes and mountain lions.  In the spring, bees would hover over the honeysuckle blooms in his room.  Were they actual bees?  Not at all.  They were flying dragons coming to battle his plastic dinosaurs and GI Joe, and what a battle they pursued.  Since his mom worked overnights on an assembly-line at a factory, he had his imagination to keep his mind busy, away from fear and loneliness.

His mom’s car was a hand-me-down, 1964 Oldsmobile.  She accepted it as a gift from her parents just a year earlier.  It was in good condition, due to Scotty’s granddad being a top-shelf mechanic, who was well-known for babying his vehicles.  For this little lad, it was a limousine.  Although it was solid, and drove nicely in all weather conditions, using caution was his mom’s mantra.

Oldsmobile-1964

eBay.com

Single motherhood was an overwhelming strain.  Her first marriage, at the young age of fifteen to Scotty’s biological father, was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship.  In fact, it lasted less than three years.  The young father was only a vague memory for the young boy, more like a vague mystery.  About a year later, Scotty’s mom went on a blind date which led to a wedding, her last wedding, when Scotty was five years old.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

The man was a gentle, intelligent, strict sort, but was incapable of love, as most know it.  For four years, Scotty grew to understand not to approach his dad.  He knew not to ask him to play ball, or watch him try the training wheels on his bike.  It seemed the National Geographic, the checkbook, and the newspaper were priority.  Scotty knew his dad to be distant, even in the same room.  Yet, the boy loved him, in spite of the wall between the two.  The thought passed Scotty’s nine-year-old mind that this would be the first Thanksgiving, out of the last four years, without his dad.  Beyond the failed relationship, it saddened the boy, nonetheless.  He was too young to understand the word “bittersweet,” but was beginning to learn the taste.  The love he experienced, the love he learned, was plentiful from his mom and her family.

Ever since the summer divorce, from his adopted dad, Scotty’s mom engaged him with games, songs and stories to keep him distracted, occupied, and challenged.  To say she was over-protective might be an understatement, but Scotty never detected it.

While on the road, the boy’s mind began to fidget.  “Mom, let’s sing that Thanksgiving song you taught me,” as he leaned into the rhythm of the windshield wipers struggling with the fresh wintry mix.  She was an outstanding, well-known singer in north Texas church circles.  He loved hearing her pipes.  The look in her face, in response, showed a quick hint of puzzlement, then a sudden burst of joy.

Reaching to turn off the radio, she replied, “You mean, (Singing.) ‘Over The River And Through The Woods To Grandmother’s House we go’?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said with a bounce.

They sang a few verses as he wiped the foggy condensation from his window to scout-out rivers and bridges to go with the lyrics.  It was tough.  The rain, mixed with sleet made it difficult to see past the road signs.  Later, they would play the “I Spy” game, along with more songs in prep for a fabulous duo only grandparents could love.

As the late afternoon bled into the long shadows of early evening, the sleet and freezing rain beat against the hood and windshield.  It was clear, the tires began to slip a bit at the curves in the road.  A look of subtle concern crawled across Scotty’s mom’s face, but he was thrilled to see some white dusting by the roadside, as well as flocked barbed-wire posts along the mesquite trees.

Suddenly, and without the smallest of warnings, the car lost power.

“Oh, no,” she said with a start.

Scotty, unaware of the dangerous circumstances, sensed his mom’s concern.  He quickly replied, “What’s wrong, mom?”

“Nothing, son,” speaking very calmly in a lower tone.  “Something went wrong with the car.  Everything shut down at the same time.  We’ll pull over on the side for now.”

As the car began to coast slowly, she steered it carefully toward the icy shoulder until it came to a stop.

As she threw it into park, she said to the surprised lad, “Okay, I guess we’ll just wait for a kind stranger to notice we are stranded.  There’s not a lot of traffic tonight, but people have to go somewhere for the holiday.  We might be able to get a ride into town.  We’re only about five miles out.”  Scotty was fine with the idea of waiting things out.  For him, it was just one more adventure, albeit unexpected..

Seeing his mom was somewhat disheveled, he thought of ways to pass the time.  “Tell me the story about the donkey who talked to the man.  Ya know, in the Bible,” said Scotty with wide-eyed excitement.  He added with laughter, “And use your donkey-voice, too.”

Visibly gathering herself while masking her own insecurities of the moment, she smiled, replying,  “Sure.  Let’s visit with old-man Balaam and his miracle donkey.”

As was his custom, Scotty pitched her ideas of more stories and story-lines for her to retell.  He didn’t see anything around him as threatening.  Although, for a wisp of a nanosecond, he contemplated what his dad might have done in the situation they found themselves in.  But the stories and songs once again swept him away from the creeping “what-might-have-been’s.”

As precious time passed, Scotty noticed the unique formations crystallizing from one end of the windshield to the other.

Icy Windshield pinterest

pinterest

Watching his breath in the frigid air as he spoke, “Look, mom!  How cool is that?”

Realizing the seriousness of the threat her son was pointing to, she chose, once again, to see it as a teachable show-and-tell.  She reached out to touch the glass, saying, “Yes!  Isn’t it beautiful?  As the freezing rain collects on the windshield, it connects with the other icy droplets in this way, like a spiderweb.  As it stretches toward its other family members, it causes this wonderful piece of artwork in nature.  It’s a real show for us, don’t you think?”

His jaw dropped at the idea of a family stretching across the span of the windshield to reconnect after being separated from the sky.  “It looks lots like grandmother’s fancy glass goblets.  I bet she’ll have them ready for us when we get there,” he said with a shiver.

She could feel the chills run up her spine as she responded, “Love, real love is like that.  Always looking for ways to reach out, even though miles apart.”

Looking at her watch, she realized an hour blew by like dry snowflakes.  The young mother had a noticeable streak of naivety about her.  Although tough times battered the last ten years of her life, she held to a rose-colored idea that all people are loving and kind.  It was displayed once again when she exclaimed, “I am amazed at just how many cars have driven by us in the past hour, without one person stopping to ask if we need help.”  She then recalled her dad telling her to raise the hood if she ever were to have car trouble.

She couldn’t get the words out quick enough, saying, “Scotty, you stay right where you are.  I’m going to try to raise the hood.”  He agreed with a nod.  Nervously, she said under her breath, “I’ve watched your granddad do it many times.  It can’t be too hard.”

As she opened her door, a loud cracking sound shattered the cold air as ice was forming on the exterior of the body of the car.  She shut the door quickly in efforts to contain as much warmth inside as possible.  Her feet told her the sheet of ice was beginning to glaze dangerously over the concrete of the road.  She held on to the front fender of the car, to steady herself, as she slipped and slid toward the front of the vehicle.  After she found the hand lever, just above the grill to release the hood, she lifted it twice with her cold, red fingers, but to no avail.  She then noticed, along the edges of the hood, where it met the body of the fender, solid ice had formed over the edge, locking the hood in place.  A sense of failure and despair poured over her like a bucket of paint.  At her young age, she had toughened to the point of not accepting defeat in any way.  Just then, from the belly of her spirit, she spoke out into the air, “Lord, help us!  We need rescue.”

Pick-Up...ford-trucks.com

Ford-trucks.com

Before she finished the word, “rescue,” an old pick-up truck slowly drove by.  She watched as the brake-lights engaged.  The old truck maneuvered a slow, wide, slippery u-turn back toward the stranded car.  Pulling up next to her, the driver rolled down his defrosted passenger-side window.  Two large hound dogs, poked their heads out, barking and howling at her.  The elderly man in overalls sharply yelled at the hounds, pushing the two aside, out of his line of vision.

“Get back, you two!” he yelled.  “Hello, ma’am.  Can I help y’all?  If you’re trying to open the hood, good luck in this weather,” said the kind farmer.

Being so relieved, she inadvertently put her hand over her heart in gratitude.  “Yes, thank God.  My son and I have been stuck here for over an hour.  The car suddenly went dead, completely without power.  We’re trying to get to Mineola.  Could you give us a lift?” stating the obvious as she shook in the chill.

As he looked down, shaking his head, he pushed his cap further back on his head and replied, “I’m so sorry, little missy.”

Seeing the disappointment in his face, she added, “Or, maybe you could let us off at the nearest service station with a phone booth.  I could call my…”

He winced at her suggestion.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there ain’t no phone booth between here and Mineola.  To make matters worse, as ya can see, I’ve got a bed full of hay-bales, then there’s Yipper and Yapper here in the cab with me.”  He saw the  distraught in her eyes at his answer.  He scratched the stubble on his chin for an unintended pregnant pause.  “I’ll tell ya what I’ll do, little lady.  You get back in that car where it’s safe, and bundle up with your boy there.  Meanwhile, I’ll be headed just south of town where the Mrs is waitin’ fir me.  More than likely it’ll take me…oh, let’s say, half an hour in this mess, and I can call somebody fir ya.  How does that tickle ya?”  He chuckled as he added, “We done got one of those new push-button telephones.  Been just itchin’ to use it!”

Putting her ice-bitten hands under her armpits, she grinned with a chuckle saying, “Yes, sir!  My parents have been waiting for us.  I just know they’re getting worried.”

After writing down the phone number of her parents, he waited to watch her cautiously get back in the car before his tires gripped traction toward the horizon.  Through the glazed windshield, Scotty and his mom watched the blurry red taillights of the truck fade away in the distance.  She never got his name, or where he lived.

“It won’t be long now, son.  Your granddad will be here in no time,” she stated through the cold, biting air.

Thanksgiving morning always came early at the old house in Mineola.  It was 5:00 am when Scotty’s eyes opened slowly to the sounds of pots and pans rattling in the kitchen on the other side of the wall from the guest bedroom.  This was the bedroom he claimed as his own when he was no more than a toddler.  Floating through the early morning air was the scent of pecan pie, bacon, boiling eggs, and freshly baked biscuits right out of the oven.  He smiled at the recognition of his loving grandmother, hard at work in the pre-dawn hours of the holiday once again.  He could hear his mom’s voice explaining the weary traveler’s ordeal from the night before.  Listening to her explanation from the kitchen served as a fog-lifter as he stretched his arms and sat up in bed, grateful for the toasty electric blanket surrounding his body.  During an unanticipated yawn, he felt a bit of a sting coming from his lips.  He could feel they were chapped from the frosty adventure in the car.

This would be the only time he would be alone for the day.  Within six hours, or so, family would begin to arrive with a buffet of dishes in tow for the feast, filling the house with familiar voices, laughter and aromas.

In the stillness, he remembered his Sunday School teacher expressing the importance of being thankful, not just for one Thursday in November, but each and every day.  He wrestled with the truth of it as he thought once again about his dad.  Last year, he was next to him on the couch, watching the Dallas Cowboys play.  Now, there would be an empty place.  With a sudden bound, he recalled a technique taught by his mom.  Scotty threw-off the covers, hopped out of bed, and put on his clothes as a renewed focus in thought.  After putting on his clothes, he dashed out the bedroom door which led into the den.  He expected to see his granddad sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace, slurping his morning coffee from a bowl and saucer.  The fire was lit, but he wasn’t there.  Scotty thought to himself, “Surely he’s not out picking up pecans in the backyard before the sun comes up.”  That was always reserved as a team-effort.  It was a special time with his granddad he always looked forward to, especially when he watched him feed the squirrels right out of his hand.  Curious, Scotty raced to the warm kitchen to join his mom and grandmother.

Me-OMA-Mom filtered

“Well, I’ll be switched!  If it isn’t Frosty The Snowman.  After last night, I just knew you’d have a hankerin’ to sleep late,” said his grandmother with a chuckle.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Scotty,” his mom said.  She took a step toward him as she stared closely at his face.  “Ooh, your lips are chapped.  In fact, your entire face needs some lotion.  Let’s get you fixed-up right now,” saying as she walked toward the kitchen door.

His grandmother, stirring the contents of a sauce pan asked, “Honey, are you hungry for a spot of breakfast?”

Hastily, as if she hadn’t spoken, he inquired, “Where’s Granddad?”

She replied through laughter, “Well, wouldn’t ya know, he got up before I did to go see about your mom’s car.  He said something about an alternator, a battery, and a belt,” she said with frustration, “Goodnight in the morning, that man!  I swear, he’ll be asleep in his recliner before halftime this afternoon.  He’ll be back directly.”

Covertly looking out toward the bathroom where his mom was scanning the medicine cabinet, he turned to his grandmother.  With a softened delivery, he asked, “Grandmother, where do you think dad is right now?  I mean, do you think he’s driving out in the ice?”

The question caused her to pause from stirring.  She wiped her hands on her apron, thoughtfully lifted his chin, and softly said,  “Knowing your dad, I feel he drove out to his folk’s house out west, away from the bad weather.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a smidgen if he left a couple of days ago.  You know how he likes to hike up in those west Texas hills.”  The boy looked down toward the floor in sadness.  She didn’t hesitate to misdirect the subject matter, “While your mom hunts down the lip-balm, why don’t you go to the coffee table in the living-room and see about the horn of plenty.  You remember what to do, right?”

With bottle-rocket exuberance, he acknowledged her suggestion, “Yes, ma’am!”

Horn of Plenty - Amazon.com

Scotty ran to the living-room where the annual horn of plenty graced the coffee table in front of the couch.  His eyes got as big as half dollars when he spied the extreme variety spilling out of the wicker funnel-shaped basket.  His grandmother had it overflowing with a mix of vegetables, several kinds of fruits, and a plethora of mixed nuts in the shell.

Kneeling beside the table, he shouted, “WOW!”  His grandmother was right behind him with a mischievous grin on her face.  “Now, do I need to remind you of the rules?  Without touching any item in the horn of plenty, you have to decide what’s real and what’s fake,” she explained.  “No cheating now.”

Through the years she filled the horn with plastic items of the garden, which appeared to be the real-deal, with only a few authentic items.  One year, the horn was completely filled with real veggies, fruits and nuts.  It always kept the family guessing what she had up her sleeve.

With a lack of decisiveness in his voice, “Ummm, I give up, Grandmother.  Can I start to separate them?”

Not surprised, she said, “Sure, go for it!”

He dove right in with gusto, separating the true food items from the model versions.  As he dug his way ever so much closer to the back of the horn, he saw gold-foil-covered chocolate coins.  “Oh, cool,” he blurted out.  He started to unwrap one immediately.

His grandmother quickly tapped him on the shoulder.  “Well, if that don’t beat all.  You know that’s not before breakfast, youngin’.  I think you haven’t dug deeply enough just yet,” she hinted.

He took her cue.  Reaching the far back of the horn, he found a crisp, twenty-dollar bill, folded up to resemble an acorn.

Holding it tightly in his hand, he showed his gratitude, “Thank you so much, Grandmother.”

His grandmother was an expert at holding her emotions close to her heart.  But this particular Thanksgiving, she almost couldn’t hold back her tears.

About that time, Scotty’s mom walked in the room behind them.  Seeing the touching moment being shared, she leaned against the french-door and quietly listened.

His grandmother knelt beside her young grandson.  With thoughtfulness, “Ya know, Scotty.  You will spend a lifetime scouring right and left for what is real, and what is not.  Those gold coins are good to eat for a treat, but they last only for a few seconds.  A ripened apple looks larapin, but if it’s hollow plastic, it does you no good.  When you find what is the original article, then you know and taste the goodness of what God has made for you.  Most of all, as you decide what is fake, or what is not, remember God will bring you a variety of days to come.  Not one day will be like another.  Some will be sour days, while another will be a day of blessings.  That’s how life’s horn of plenty will be, full of variety.  Your job is to dig for what’s real and right.  God’s way is to change the horn of plenty into more like a tube, an open-ended tube of plenty.  He just keeps on givin’ from His end, even in days when everything seems like hollow plastic.  The scripture is true, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17 – (NAS)  When those days of emptiness come too often, keep in mind, each day is not forever.”

That’s how Thanksgiving day of 1969 began for Scotty.  He locked it away in his heart.

Later in life, forty-eight years later, after Scotty had children of his own, plus a granddaughter, he cherished the days when he could sit by the side of his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother.  Now in her mid 90’s, she had suffered from the disease for about thirteen years.  After he had been told she no longer recognized her loved ones, he refused to stay away from her bedside.  On his final visit with her, in the same old house with a quiver full of memories, there she was.  Only 78 pounds, waiting for the heavenly call to reunite with her husband, he pulled up a chair next to her bed.  Reaching out, he held her thin, weak hand and spoke to her as if she were full of health.

With a lump in his throat, he addressed her, “Hello, Grandmother.  It’s Scotty.  You may not remember me.  I’m your oldest grandson.  I can’t stay long, but I just had to tell you something before I leave.”  He paused to gain strength.  “My horn has been so full.  My life has been blessed with a variety of cultures, love, and laughter.  My adventures have been plentiful, and my plenty has been an adventure.  I have been wrapped in many fruits of the Spirit to this very day.  Not all things in my days have been something to be thankful for, but I’ve learned to be thankful while enduring all things.  I just want you to know, you were a big part of that.  I’ve learned to pack them inside for when the wintry mix becomes seemingly unbearable, when it’s hard to see the road.  Although I regret biting into some plastic fruit at times, I always kept in mind that a day is not forever.”

As he finished what he needed to say, her weakened hand squeezed his.