Train Up

“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.”  (1998)  “Father’s Love”  Recorded by:  BOB CARLISLE   Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE

I have a secret I want to reveal to you.  But first…

The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard.  One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping.  In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways.  As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground.  As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again.  The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk.  It is highly unusual, but stunning.  His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores.  As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with.  If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward.  It’s all outer space to me.  She knows what she’s doing in this arena.  One thing I do know, training takes time.  Training takes endurance.  Training takes the touch of love.

I was raised by a single mom.  With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father.  Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage.  However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me.  He was old enough to have been my dad.  He was only 42 when I came into the world.

Granddad at the grill. early 1980s. Photo:  My granddad, Martin Atherton  (1918-2008)

My mom’s dad was a giant of a man.  In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall.  Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.

Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days.  He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved.  His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands.  Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character.  He would’ve done well in the wild west times.  Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.

I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”.  He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life.  He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod.  His word was his bond.

Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him.  Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths.  He was someone God would write about.

He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.

6 OMA MRA Bonnie&Clyde Photo:  Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)

He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines.  He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only.  He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.

He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.

He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.

He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.

Example:  Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline.  She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child.  She never could have children afterward.  This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times.  He often caused havoc in their small farming community.  At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand.  It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending.  As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide.  Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go.  My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off.  During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other.  He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan.  Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold.  He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law.  In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died.  In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful.  Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.

He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones.  It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss.  He was always looking out for the needy underdog.

He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.

He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.

He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.

Many pages could be filled about my granddad.  Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder.  Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.

There is a passage that’s always caused me pause.  It comes from Solomon.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture.  Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable.  Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way.  A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ.  Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon.  Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life.  (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.)  Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood.  Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law.  While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.

Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate.  Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.

At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught.  Just ask most ministers with older kids.  How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor?  The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents.  It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love.  Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers.  For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages.  Certainly the principle is there.  I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education.  However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do.  Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.

Girls & Me-March 2015

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna  (2015)

For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…”  The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite.  It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now.  Wouldn’t that be commendable?

The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk.  Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward.  My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come.  It takes a stick and a string for now.

Oh, yes.  I mentioned I would share a secret with you.  Here it is.  My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training.  When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.

Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…”  – Deutoronmy 11:18-19  (Berean Study Bible)

 

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)

 

 

Leaving behind Part of Yourself

“Every time I see your face it reminds me of the places we used to go.  But all I’ve got is a photograph and I realize you’re not coming back anymore.”  Photograph (1973)  Recorded by:  Ringo Starr.   Composers:  George Harrison & Richard Starkey (Ringo).

It’s not just a few in my family tree that has suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s.  However, although each and every one, that I knew, may have forgotten who I am, I’ve yet to forget who they are/were.  That’s vital.  Investing in the lives of our kids and grandkids is a memory deposited into their minds and hearts one drip after another, like a savings account.

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Recently, I wrote about my beloved grandparents, complete with scores of pictures.  The gentleman above is my great-great grandfather Martin from my mom’s side.  I wrote of him last summer.  If memory serves me right, the man was born in the 1840s.  Here it is, 178 years later, and family still speaks highly of him.  What a reminder of how to live out a legacy for future generations.

That’s my granddaughter, Skylar in the cover photo above the title.  September brings Gradnparent’s Day at her school.  I was invited to visit her 2nd grade classroom, sit in an uncomfortable, tiny plastic chair and watch her while in her zone.  Make no mistake, these opportunities are blessed times.  My hope and prayer continues to be that she will remember my love for her.  Someday, as she sees the photographs of us together it will spark memories I have deposited into her mind so she will be able to bring them up to her kids and grandkids.  After all, when I do leave this life, I will be taking my memories of her with me.  It’s a biblical concept.

Skylar with Papa Brown at pre-k stone soup 2014

Grandparent’s Day from Kindergarten class.

The years run by us like a river rushing to the brink of a waterfall.

Skylar 1 year old birthday.

Her first birthday.  (That was a dress her mom wore when she was that age.)

As much as we might want to hold back the floods of time, it’s just not the way God designed it.

Skylar2

One day old and sound asleep.  (When her mom was born, I was afraid to hold her.  It was new to me then.)

What will she remember about me?  Will the memory file in her mind recall good scenes of happiness or spots of darkness?  All of that is up to me, the decision-maker of the forks in the road.  One memory she may not recall is when at two years old, when I had a longer beard laced in grey and white, she secretly told her mom, with some excitement, “Pa-Pa is Santa!”

As a person of faith, a Jesus-follower, she knows that when at my house she will hear prayers and stories about biblical characters.  Whatever happens to my health in the future that is one thing, an item of everlasting, I will leave with her.

If we still talk about my great-great grandfather Martin in 2018, it’s possible the ones to follow after me might well be reflecting on my pictures, recordings and writings in 178 years.  What will I leave behind for them?

Here’s to lots more Grandparent’s Days to come!  It’s up to me to fill-up with fuel for the race.

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons (and daughters) and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” – Deuteronomy 6: 6-7. (NAS)

Here’s To The Educators

Photo:  smilingcolors.com

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man (humankind) a more clever devil.” – C.S. Lewis

Miss Cain’s first grade class was busy in a reading circle.  Each child in the circle was to have his/her turn at a word in a workbook, one after the other.  The teacher herself, in her green Celtic plaid dress, was sitting in a chair inside the ring of readers, listening carefully to each delivery.  A girl in class had just finished her reading only to be followed by silence.  Miss Cain had seen this before, too many times apparently.  It was him again.  There he was, staring out at the meadow he loved playing in just outside the classroom window.  Before he realized it was his turn to read, BOOM!  He suddenly felt a solid bump on his right knee from the edge of Miss Cain’s fist.  “Alan, you’re daydreaming again!  Pay attention!”  It was her first year to teach.  Probably all of 22 years old.  I had a huge crush on her.  After all, her short blonde silky, soft curled hair was cut in a chic fashion (It was 1966.) which bounced up and down like a slinky when she walked.  My mom said Miss Cain had two wardrobes, one for the conservative school-look and one for her other life.  She had steel blue eyes which matched her terrific smile.  She reminded me a bit of a mix of Goldie Hawn and Kim Novak.  Above all, she drove a fire-engine red, MG Midget Roadster convertible.   What little guy wouldn’t be impressed?  (I lived across the street, so she never offered me a lift home.)

MG Migit 1965

I thought she was the cat’s meow.  So, as you can imagine, it broke my heart when she called me out with a firm bop on my knee.  Several times that year she and my mom had meetings about my daydreaming.  It was a sign of things to come.  They didn’t speak much of right-brained, artsy kids in the days of yore.  She probably retired early because of me.

In most districts around here, the new school year is just kicking off.  Skylar, my 2nd grade granddaughter, started school this past Wednesday.  The kids are hopefully prepped and ready to tackle another year in the classroom.  However, the educators have been prepping for awhile.  There’s so much work done behind the scenes that nobody thinks about.  An educator’s work is never done.  I know all too well.  My wife is a tutorial teacher.  My oldest daughter is a teacher.  My middle daughter has been a teacher.  I have a slew of family on both sides who are teachers or school administrators, active and retired.  Many, many of my friends are educators.  And, do they have stories to tell!

Meet my salty, Aunt Grace Atherton.

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She taught school for decades.  She married my great-uncle Robert Atherton who was also a teacher.  The two of them went on to be well-known school district administrators in east Texas, and the Dallas-Ft Worth area, back in the day.  The two of them raised educators, spawning a second generation of teachers and administrators who made a difference.  In fact, in Arlington, Texas, between Dallas and Ft Worth, there is an Atherton Elementary in honor of the couple.  They were salt-of-the-earth types.  He passed away in 1977.  As for her, she always reminded me of our own personal Bette Davis with an unmatched persona.  At 99 years old, she walked faster than I did.  She was a firecracker, a get-it-done lady.  I remember her email address was “grace-a-doer”.  She passed away at the young age of 103.  Sharp as a tack until the very end.  They LOVED teaching.  Moreover, they LOVED the kids under them.  Love matters!

It may be in the genes.  I, too, was a teacher for a broadcasting school in the mid 80’s, then trained many in voice-work, music vocalization and mentored air-staff during my radio years.  Loved every minute of it.

Please, allow me a moment here.  Stay with me on this and see if you recognize someone in your life.

Meet the Irish Rose, Peggy O’Neill.  Choral director, music theory, piano and guitar teacher.

Peggy O'Neill

She looks so calm in this old photo.  To this day, she will tell you, when I walked into her choir room, with a chip on my shoulder in 8th grade, she knew I was trouble from the start.  It was my first year in the area. I had come from a tough Jr. High school where it was the norm for race riots to breed gang warfare.  I think she saw me as a special challenge.  No doubt, she was on target.  Affectionately known as P.O., she did challenge me in a myriad of ways.  Later that year, she had me doing solo work, MC work, stand-up comedy, as well as guitar lessons.  She knew exactly how to keep me perking.  It wasn’t long when I wanted to excel just to make her proud…or because of the sheer fear of her Irish-red-faced wrath.  Unexpectedly, I became her #1 tenor in choir.  She must’ve loved me because she followed me to high school, the following year, where she became part of the choral directorial staff.  We still laugh about that.  She and I remain friends to this day.

Meet Ted Polk, the man, the maestro, the legend.

Ted Polk

T.P. is how we lovingly refer to him.  He was so many things to me during my high school years, but officially he was the top choral director and chief of the choral department.  There were five choirs total in the school of 3,500 kids.  He had a tender way of leading.  He taught music, but more than that, he instructed us in life.  Through my four years with him, I believe he gave some commentary on the lyric of every piece performed.  Rightly so, he made sure us music lovers didn’t just jam to the compositions, but rather knew the meaning of the lyrics and the composer from which they came.  He ushered us into giving each lyric value, not in just musical mathematical mechanics, but also the soul of the phrase.  Under him, I learned how to be more than just a singer and sight-reader, but an artist.  Craftily, he used his faith and philosophy as he directed rehearsals.  He lived what he believed and shared it openly.

I recall a couple of times how T. P. warned us not to get so absorbed in the workforce after school hours.  Gently, his message was how work will always consume your adult life, so free-up those precious days of youth before they fade into history.  The care and the encouragement for each of us was so apparent, available and tangible.  His door was always open and I took advantage of it many times, even after graduation.  He recognized talent and knew how to grow it, mold it and give it wings.  That’s what he did for me.  I could write a novel about this man.  He later would become the district’s Fine Arts Director over all the schools in our Dallas suburb.  Even today there is a middle school which bears his name.  When he died suddenly, a few years later, thousands of us mourned and still do.  You will never find me ashamed to say: I am the man I am today because our paths intersected in my early teen years.  Thank God!

Meet the lovely Anel Ryan.

Anel Ryan

Anel, among other things, was a theater teacher.  It was her first full year to teach when I was a senior in high school.  I was a singer, not an actor…or so I thought.  My choice was not to take theater.  All my electives that year had to do with music and voice.  When I won the male leading role in the musical production that year, Anel took me under her wing.  She was/is a super talented actress and director.  Somehow she saw some seed in me beyond singing and stage presence.  She basically tutored me in and outside school hours with a catch-up acting course, complete with character retention exercises, as well as proper blocking and stage etiquette and disciplines.  It was all so foreign to me, but she pulled out the results she was looking for.  If not for her direction, her challenging this boy and her Job-like patience, I know my performance would have been lacking.  That May, Anel wrote the following in my yearbook, “I’ll be watching your life.”  Oh, my!  I can’t tell you how that small sentence turned my core several times during the days of adulthood.  Afterwards the acting bug stuck!

The following decades were filled with lots of stage and video characters taken, plays written and a couple of thousand pages of script as a voice actor.  There were times she agreed to critique me privately for role development after high school, as well.  Years later, the tables were turned.  One year, while casting my next radio theater project, I asked Anel if she would tackle a tough role for me.  Even though she was living over 160 miles away, she was happy to do it.  She’s one of my heroes in this life.  I love her dearly.

Stay with me.  There’s a method to my madness.

Meet the engaging Eric Bowman.

Eric Bowman

This comes from a humorous newspaper photo as he was pretending to be a student.  Like Anel, Eric was an alumni of our high school.  We used to poke at him while we sang
the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song when he walked into the classroom.  Do you remember it?  Are you singing the first line?  Me too.  He taught Government and Civics.  His talented style drew the students in with analogies along with side stories of humor.  I dreaded the class until I discovered his brand of teaching.  He got on our street level to help us understand and respect the due process of law, voting and the systems of civic, state and federal government.  I loved his class, as most did.  When I was chosen to be on a jury for an armed robbery, right after the year I graduated, I couldn’t wait to go back to tell him of my experience.  He soaked in all of my verbal waterfall describing my jury duty, including my youthful, wide-eyed exuberance.  He grinned from ear to ear listening intently.  He was excited to see my excitement.  He followed it up by asking what I learned from it.  He was always finding ways to stretch our minds.  I am so glad I visited that day.  He died in a car crash about a year later.

And then there’s an education of another kind.  Often it can be just as relevant as math or science.

Meet the champ!  Demetrius “The Greek” Havanas.

Demetrius Greek HavanasHe was simply known to his students and friends as “Greek”.  Greek was my Kickboxing and Tae-Kwon-Do trainer.  He was a world renown, blue-collar martial arts instructor and world contender in both standard tournaments as well as full-contact bouts.  It would take about four pages to list all of his titles and accomplishments.  (I suggest a Google tap and/or a YouTube viewing.)  With his professional teaching techniques, he created national and international champions.  This was my life outside of school and church.  While being trained by Greek, he kept me and three or four of my high school mates off the streets and among quality….well, okay, semi-quality competitors.

Channeling certain energies of youth can be a very good thing for the community at large.  He knew the ends and outs of protecting yourself in street fights, or in the ring.  He taught us endurance,physically and emotionally.  He taught us how to respect other athletes studying other styles that were different from our circles.  By just hanging around him we learned much about respecting other races, creeds and cultures.  This boy really needed it at the time.  He taught cool-headed, rewarding confidence which gang members often avoid.  To this very day, 40+ years later, I deal with pain like a fighter in a competitor’s bout.  His training opened our eyes to endure.  He instructed in the knowledge of absorbing pain, struggle and fatigue while never giving up.  Under his training you either were toughened to the hilt, or you dropped out to join a chess club.  Case in point:  Last December, when they opened me up for a quadruple bypass, the cardiac surgeon told me I had old bruising on my chest plate, like a tattoo.  I smiled, knowing whose footprint branded its mark there.  He lost his life in a plane crash in July of 1981.  The who’s-who of the martial arts world came to his memorial service, including Chuck Norris, who couldn’t even get in the building due to overflow, standing outside on the steps for the duration.  Through my tears I thanked him for coming.

People building people.  Constructionists building society.  C.S. Lewis was right.  Education alone will not bring inner peace or enlightenment.  It’s such a misconception not often determined through the lens of study.  The turnip will not be squeezed.  Virtues and attributes like ethics, faith and love will not drip out of degrees and diplomas.  Stellar core values often are discovered in individuals who never finished school, or cracked open curriculum from higher learning institutions.  Educators worth their salt know this, accept it and adhere to it.

Great educators produce great educators.  The evidence is all around us.  Common denominators seem to include:  passion stirred with compassion, intuitiveness and love.  It matters!

The debates rage concerning unions and non-unions, private or public schools, home schooling or the little rural frame building out in the woods with an old school bell.  The rub will most likely continue.  However, if you’re an educator of the heart, you’re enriched already through a higher calling.

May this new school year grant you wisdom beyond your degree, beyond your training, beyond your studies.  May your goals be worthy and focused.  May the care for the kids be authentic, full of grace and discernment.  May you and your classroom be well protected from evil.  May it be a sacred, honored and loving place.  May you be comforted when you burn the midnight oil only to rise up early the following morning.  May you discover new loves this year that will ink themselves on your heart during your coming days of rest.  Most of all, know that your very fingerprints will remain on their hearts and minds for decades to come.

Miss Cain, wherever you are…here’s to ya!

Remind yourself each day that many may write about you long after you are gone, maybe some 40-50 years from today.  When wrapped in the thought, you might just find more fuel for the race.

“My friends, we should not all try to become teachers.  In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others.” – James 3:1 (Contemporary English Version)