Plates A-Spinnin’

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time.
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit,
and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
(1956) “Hound Dog” Recorded By: Elvis Presley Composers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Originally Recorded By: Big Mama Thorton in 1952.)

What’s not to love about a hound?

Photo by cheptu00e9 cormani on Pexels.com

Well, maybe a little less drool, and a pair of shorts would be nice. But for a country raised kid, who loves raccoon or rabbit hunting, you just can’t get any better than the amazingly instinctive radar nose of a good hound dog.

It happened around 1905, Young County, Texas. William “WR” Brown, my Grandpa Brown (From my dad’s side.) was a hunting lad with a rifle and a couple of excellent hunting hounds. Later in life, he also had champion wolf hunting hounds. If you’ve ever read the book, or saw the movie, “Where The Red Fern Grows”, then you already have the picture of kids living out in the boonies, raising pups for wild game hunting. Dinner on their mother’s table depended on it. (Sorry PETA, that’s how it was…is.) It’s difficult for me to imagine him as a young teenager. This is how I knew my Grandpa Brown during the 60’s and 70’s…

Before I move on, I must explain a bit of what life was like in west Texas in those times. My family was a pioneering clan which aided in establishing the county, about 2.5 driving hours west of Dallas, Texas. I have written about my Grandma Brown’s father who rode a mule from Georgia right after the Civil war settling in Young County, Texas. My Grandpa Brown’s folks moved to the same area not long after. Life was rugged. You lived off the land, or you starved. You carried a firearm wherever you went as the land was not tame on several levels.

A view from our family homestead in Young County, Texas close to the Brazos River.

They lived along the red waters of the Brazos River. In those days, a hunter had to watch his back at all times. They shared the land with bears, wolves, cougars, panthers, rattlesnakes, razorback wild hogs, etc. A boy grew up by his father’s side when roughing it through the brush hunting for the next meal. By the time a kid was 12 years old or so, he went out solo with a rifle strapped to his back. Often it would be an overnight hunt, especially when it came to chasing down raccoons. I remember well my one and only time raccoon hunting overnight with my cousins. Watching the hounds tree a raccoon was like watching a choreographer at work. It was such a learning experience.

At the age of 15, or so, my Grandpa Brown and a friend, gathered their hounds for an overnight raccoon and possum hunt starting along the banks of the Brazos on foot. The night would prove to be frustrating as the critters outsmarted the hounds a few times. The boys were trained to be persistent, never letting the word “quit” come up in their minds. Following the sounds of their barking hounds, they ate-up the clock and the miles deep into the west Texas wilderness. In fact, youth’s enthusiasm drove their steps much further than they had anticipated. To this day, the family still can’t say how far they traveled through the relentless terrain. Some estimate they must have crossed county lines, but no one can be sure.

The miles were unforgiving through the mounting hours. Calling back the hounds in a state of total irritation, the two boys realized they had gone way beyond their intentions while chasing the ever eluding varmints. Exhausted, the boys huddled with the dogs, made a campfire, and nodded on and off in the pre-dawn hours.

Just before sunrise, the two hungry hunters put their heads together to calculate how long it would take to get back to the Brazos. With a quick step, they retraced their journey among the cactus and mesquite trees.

After dawn, they caught the rich aroma of smoked venison floating through the dewy brush. Being so tired and hungry, they let the hounds guide them to the area where the meat was being prepared. Without a traveled road anywhere nearby, they came upon an old one-room shack with prairie hens pecking the ground. They could see the glow of an oil lamp through a window near the front door. Unaware of who lived there, sheer faith and boldness kicked-in as the boys decided to approach in hopes of a bite to eat. Knowing the times of that day, along with the pioneering spirit of new Texans putting down roots, I imagine the place looked something like this…

An actual photo of a home built by one of my relatives sometime in the 1880’s.

The rickety plank door opened as they approached. An old ragged man, holding a rifle, greeted the two teens and their dogs. He asked who they were. As the duo told him their names, along with their failed adventure, the old man sized them up, realizing their obvious circumstance, and generously invited them in. He told them he was just rustling up some breakfast with plenty to spare. Putting my imagination together, I can say he probably looked much like my relatives in that time, like the two gentlemen from family records show…minus the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

An actual photo of two of my Timmons clan from Young County. Unsure of the date of this shot.

The old man invited the hounds to enter as the boys hit a fine wall of cooking eggs and smoked venison. Inside, by the roaring fire, sat his two hunting hounds eagerly waiting for a plate of food. The small cabin was dusty, with a scent of musk competing with the pan on the iron-cast stove.

As the old man directed, the boys took a seat on a wooden bench at a table near the fireplace. As he asked them about where they were from, as well as, information about their folks, he added a few more eggs to a pan after pouring some hot coffee into a tin cup they were to share. It was clear that the old man and his two hounds lived alone with nothing but sage as a neighbor. As the food was about done, the old timer reached up to an opened shelf where he grabbed three tin plates.

The trio had a fine time sharing stories of the country, hunting and fishing spots, and the wildlife. The cabin was warm, the food was hot, and the bellies were filled.

When the plates were emptied, and the conversation began to slow, the teens wiped their hands on their pants, mentioned how terrific the food was, adding how they needed to get back to retracing their original trek. The old man nodded his head stating he sure enjoyed the unexpected company. He admitted, “Ya know, I never see a soul in these parts. Not hide, nor hair.” Just then, the old man picked up the tin plates, and the iron pan off the stove, and placed them on the creaking floor right by the table leg. Stating as a matter of fact, with a slight chuckle, “Come on hounds, have at it! They always lick the pans and plates.” As if waiting for a cue, the old timer’s hounds raced toward the pan and plates, mouths first. As the tongue-lashing began, the plates started to spin with the force of eager tongues, until the dogs instinctively put their paws on the plates to stop the circular motion. The teens laughed as they watched the licking fracas at hand, partially from the sight of it, but also because back home their mothers would’ve never allowed it. As every drop and morsel had been lapped-up, the aged hermit picked up the pan, along with the plates, and placed them back on the shelf where he retrieved them. My Grandpa Brown and his hunting buddy, never went back there again.

True story.

Are you appalled? Of course, we must put ourselves in the position of this old hermit. No doubt, this man’s habits were out of the norm, but not from his perspective. Obviously, for years, maybe decades, he allowed his dogs to clean his plate and pan. After all, a hounds tongue is long and wide, covering a lot of surface in very little time. For him, it sure saved him a lot of well water. From his viewpoint, those plates ended up looking very spotless. And I’m sure they were after the hounds had their way with it all. However, for my grandpa and his pal, they saw the opposite. They saw hunting hounds, who fetched animals in their mouths, dead or alive. These are the same country hounds who would looked forward to finding a leftover stiff carcass in the woods just for the satisfaction of something to chew on. Yes, as cute as they are, they’re the same animals who clean themselves, every part of themselves, with their tongues. Certainly, these canine tongues should not be a poor man’s dish washing machine.

How hungry are you now?

I align it to taking a black felt-tip pen and finely dotting a white poster from corner to corner. Tape it to a wall in a dark room. Go to the other end of the room, hold a flashlight, turning it on with the bulb facing away from the poster. What do you see? In the darker part of the room, you see, through the ambient glow, a blank white poster on the wall. Even taking a step or two closer to the poster, you still can observe a white poster. Yet, if you shine the flashlight on the poster, you suddenly see the speckles you made with your pen. If you dare to bring the flashlight closer, the dots become very present to the eye. What appears to be a clean white poster, is indeed flawed with black dots.

Al Capone, the notorious gangster, murderer, and bootlegger, would perform an action of goodness right after finishing up a most hideous crime. He gave mega funds, over and above to the Catholic Church. He gave away free gifts to the poor. He began soup kitchens for the homeless. Some say it was for laundering money. Yet, all of that was good, but the hound drool was all over it.

Too often, in our measly efforts, the norm to remedy sin’s guilt and shame, we work something we, and others, would see as a good deed. You might say, some see it as an attempt to build a tower to climb the levels of eternal self-insurance. In doing so, it cleans our dirty plate, or so it would seem from our fallen perspective. King David wrote something astonishing. Those who read it were dismayed. Frankly, it is still baffling to most. He wrote, “…There is no one good. Not even one…” (Psalm 53:3 – my translation) He wasn’t saying people don’t do good things, or people neglect displaying explosions of loveliness. Instead, he was showing us the misnomer of a sparkling tin plate, licked by one of the filthiest tongues created. He was pointing out that what we consider good can never rise to God’s holiness, His spotlessness, His sinlessness, His standard.

We see it all the time, even in high places. We now call evil “good”, and good is now “evil”.

I am sure the old hermit died in that shack, believing with all his heart that his plate was cleansed every night. However, two teenagers knew the truth of it.

To leave this earth spotless can only happen with a free offer of washing in fuel for the race.

“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Ripples

“Sometimes even now,
When I’m feelin’ lonely and beat,
I drift back in time and I find my feet,
Down on Mainstreet…
Down on Mainstreet”
(1977) “Mainstreet” Written & Recorded By: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

(I’ve always wondered if Bob Seger meant to write, “Main Street” vs “Mainstreet”. Oh, well.)

Deep Ellum is an old section of Dallas, Texas, just off the east cusp of the downtown area. The “main” street is Elm Street. However, over the decades, during the development and expansion of what is now known as Deep Ellum, it is a full-blown artsy neighborhood of small businesses dishing up terrific nightlife, complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and live music clubs. You can also expect a plethora of outdoor festivals. A pedestrian’s party haven.

Photo: deepellumtexas.com

The last time I was there, I was enjoying my daughter’s band at a quaint brick-walled night club. She was on a national concert tour that year out of Buffalo, NY.

Deep Ellum was one of the scheduled gigs before performing at the annual SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas.

There’s nothing like the sound of live music, Texas sunshine, and the smell of street tacos in the air. In a bohemian part of any large city, you can always expect street vendors.

Allow me to introduce you to one of Dallas’ most beloved street vendors, 60 year old, Leobardo Torres Sanchez.

Credit: Miriam Torres Leon

Like a ripple of joy expanding out into the streets of Deep Ellum from Leobardo’s goodies cart-on-wheels, comes the opportunity for cotton candy in a bag, or on a stick, (He always wants you to know it was grown right here in Texas. Come to think of it, I might have seen a crop or two myself). He’s also loaded down with apples, popcorn balls, and often in the summer, balloons on a stick. Along with the tasty treats, he has a gift for dancing up a storm, including a pretty mean moonwalk. Those who frequent Deep Ellum know of the exuberant Leobardo very well. He is hard to miss…or hard to miss hearing.

Originally from Mexico, Leobardo has been selling his stuff on the curbs of Dallas for over eight years now. Like many men south of the border, Leobardo left his poor village, leaving his family behind, to find work away from home. He did just that with his focus on chipping-in on the American dream. According to his daughter, Miriam Torres Leon in Mexico, he faithfully sends money back to his family. He is seen as wealthy to others back home. He lives alone in a rented room, lives humbly, but considered blessed. He is a man who truly loves what he does each day.

Credit: Miriam Torres Leon

If you visit this section of Dallas, you not only will hear good things concerning Leobardo from the business owners, their patrons, and the cops on bikes or horses assigned to the streets of Deep Ellum, but also the homeless and fellow street vendors. Many of the homeless have had their hands filled with free goods straight from Leobardo’s cart. Another street vendor mentioned recently to the Dallas Morning News how when he was robbed, Leobardo gave him 40 bags of cotton candy to sell to help stretch the dollar. That is a good reflection of the kind of heart you can expect from this man of commerce on wheels.

As you may have heard, Texas was hit in mid February with a freak winter 100 year storm with temps plunging to zero and single digits for much of Valentine’s Week. Leobardo, and street entrepreneurs like him, were forced off the streets. Being concerned after hearing of the Texas freezing storm, his daughter in Mexico called him. On the 12th, he told her the plummeting temperatures was unbearable to him. He told her not to worry, even though he lost electrical power due to an unprepared power grid, explaining to her that he was in his rental room wearing several jackets and had wrapped himself in layers of blankets. His circumstances was not unique here. Millions of Texans lost power, water, and sometimes gas.

After several days, Leobardo’s daughter could not contact her dad. However, she did put out a message on social media about the situation in hopes the Deep Ellum community might be able to locate him. Unfortunately, his daughter, Miriam, didn’t know his address, or just what part of Dallas he lived in. A couple of street vendors who knew Leobardo, and his location, heard of her digital posts and fought through the frigid weather to check on him.

On Tuesday, the 22nd, as the thawing was welcomed in Dallas, the police did a welfare check on Leobardo. He was found deceased in his frozen room. His body was found in his bed under several layers of blankets and wearing multiple coats. This poor man was one of a multitude of Texans who did not survive the single digit blast from a very rare weather tragedy. The heartbreak is real. Leobardo and I were the same age.

As the news of Leobardo’s death began to circulate, the mourners responded in droves with cash funds for his family in Mexico, flowers, written tributes, and a Go-Fund-Me account. It seems Leobardo was indeed a man of poverty. but wealthy in heart.

As I read of Leobardo’s passing, I was awestruck by the outpouring of the kind citizens affected by this man with what many would consider an insignificant life. Knowing that sounds harsh to read, or say aloud, I must state the following. Many who walked by his cart-on-wheels, maybe even purchased an apple from him on a hot summer day, might have seen him as a “lower rung” individual. Those who drove by Leobardo’s cotton candy stand, while on their way to Del Frisco’s for a $350.00 dinner, may have smirked at his efforts to scrape out a buck, or laughed at his dancing in the dust around his cart. Tears filled my eyes when imagining a man or woman seeing Leobardo ahead at the corner, crossing Elm Street just so they wouldn’t hear him ask in his broken English if they would like a popcorn ball. You know why, right? Because if one avoids someone like him, they are conveniently cancelled in one’s mind, as if they don’t exist. It’s that easy to put someone under the foot.

Then, at some point in my thoughts and imagination of these things, I remembered the outpouring of love from gentler hearts. Some of which who knew him, some who just gave him a smile as they walked around his cart, or perhaps some who bought one of his balloons for their child. I read more of the comments made by the many he impacted with his humble life. That’s when I smiled through a tear which had escaped.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)

A pebble can be so insignificant under foot. The sound of a hiking boot crushing many pebbles, as the weight is distributed, has a unique tenor. Yet, when the sole applies weight to just one pebble, the resonance is hardly noticeable. But, pick up that single insignificant pebble, toss it into a still street puddle then count the ripples from the point of contact to the outer edges on all sides. Isn’t that all God asks of us while we walk our various pavements? Impact others around you. Sway individuals with your light, so that everyone will see how God works in your heart. In doing so, we make waves.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Making a ripple around you has a blueprint in fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7 (NIV)

Texas On Ice

“I really can’t stay.
But baby it’s cold outside.
Got to go away.
But baby it’s cold outside.
This evening has been…
Been hoping you’d drop in.
So very nice.
I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice…”
(1949 release) “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Composer: Frank Loesser

My posts are written from my desktop computer in our study/studio in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas. Today, Saturday, Feb 20th, is the first day this week I felt comfortable enough to plug the computer back into the wall socket. We have been practicing electrical limits, among other outages here.

Linemen have been busy in Texas this past week.

In case you haven’t seen the news this week, Alaska got mad at Texas and threw-up all over us. For my friends up north, and around the globe in winter-friendly areas, allow me to apologize on this printed line before I continue. I spent five years in Buffalo, NY and know how piercing winter can be north of Oklahoma. However, this week in Texas was historical.

It’s a very rare thing, almost unheard of, if we see zero degrees on the thermometer in Texas. It’s also rare to see single digit temps in the winter. We see the teens, but only once or twice a winter, if that. Yet, in the last few days we saw zero and the single digits. To accompany the drastic frigid blasts, we were dipped in snow and ice for much of Texas.

My backyard.

Oh, sure, one might ask what the fuss is about. We love snow here in Texas. We rarely see it. When we do, it may be an inch or two once a year for a day, or even an overnight and morning before it vanishes. However, with the record breaking lows on the temperature scales, the snow and ice didn’t melt all week. Only today we crawled over the freezing mark with snow melting slowly. Swimming pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and creeks froze. Kids took up ice hockey. Pile-up crashes occurred on the freeways, due to dangerous black ice on the pavement. One event involved a multi-vehicle pile-up in Ft Worth where over 130 vehicles were involved, several fatalities, and dozens injured.

A drone shot of a neighborhood just north of our street.

All of Texas was hit.

Our driveway on the first day. By now we should be in the 50’s & 60’s.

Apparently, Texas can handle a day of the extreme single digit temps, with minus wind chill factors to boot, but if it continues…real problems arise.

The investigations are ongoing, but Texans were struck hard this week. It began with enforced rolling blackout power outages. Then for many, in fact over 4 million, were without power in weather only Canadians could love. The wind turbines, which partially fuels power transfers, froze. The oil and gas pipelines were frozen or interrupted. The cascading rolled along as so many had to go without water, too. At one point, over 13 million, nearly half of Texas, experienced water boiling orders due to water treatment facilities grinding to a halt. I know several in my own circle who went without gas, water, and electric for 3-4 days. A friend posted this shot of how she got her meals together as if it were the 1800’s.

Texans living as if the calendar read Feb, 1885.

Organizations amassed efforts to help in Texas-sized fashion. Water and food lines became the norm. Here’s one at a local church parking lot waiting for cases of water.

Millstone Church parking lot waterline.

For some, desperation took over as grocery stores were raided, leaving empty shelves.

Sadly, various ranchers began cutting off the ears of their cattle due to frostbite. Many farmers with hogs and goats had to do the same. Without gas, electric and water, many poultry plants stopped production as chickens and eggs froze in the hatcheries. Even feed and seed couldn’t be shipped to the ranchers and farmers. Hundreds of sea turtles were rescued on Texas beaches as they could no longer move. The Texas citrus crops are done for in the Rio Grande Valley. It was reported today by Sid Miller, Secretary of Texas Agriculture, that volunteers are harvesting frozen wildlife, deer, wild hogs, antelope, rabbit, etc, for massive BBQ’s and wood smoking to aid in feeding the public. He went on to say that even dairy plants need natural gas to pasteurize milk products. No doubt, Texans are in for a food shortage. Who knows how long it will last?

Unfortunately dozens of Texans have been found dead, and I’m sure many more will be found as the thawing has just begun.

Mistakes were made around the desks of decision in preparing for the unthinkable this past week. Lessons have been harshly learned. Preparedness will be reviewed and replaced for any future natural disasters, even those which Texas doesn’t normally see.

As pipes are being repaired, and shortages hover over us, I know One who is never short on power, and everlasting water.

This classical Greek word, ἐνδυναμοῦντί, changes everything about running on empty while facing outages. The Darby Bible Translation states it very closely to the original Greek text:

“I have strength for all things in him that gives me power.” – Philippians 4;13

The Greek directly places the emphasis on tasks, or circumstances being wooden horses which can be hurdled.

“(For) all things I have strength in the One (endynamounti) strengthening me.” -Direct Greek translation as Paul wrote it. FOREVER CHURNING! No frozen wind turbines here!

Often this verse is taken out of context. Remembering, that text without context is pretext. You really should read the complete chapter in Philippians. Many times Paul admitted he suffered when stuff happened that he could not control. Way too often God allowed Paul to experience the fan being hit. Early Christians were getting hit hard in their own type of cancel culture, not to mention the local government restraints, as well as, Rome itself. But Paul is so encouraging by saying, when the trials come, I know I can, and do, get through them by the One who continually pumps in, like a rushing fountain of water, the ability to overcome by a power which is outside of myself.

Texans are tough, but God is tougher. If we break chains, if we move mountains, it’s because He infuses the strength into us for the purpose. If even hell freezes over, because of his ongoing distribution of His all-powerful grip, we will skate over it. If He should send snow to our rooftops, in a state that takes on 110 degrees in the summer, then He will give us a transfusion of His ability to walk through it.

He will never lose His distributed power. There are no outages in fuel for the race.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – (Jesus) John 15:5 (NAS)

Service, Please

“…But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”
(1979) “Gotta Serve Somebody” Written and Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Dylan had gone through a spiritual heart conversion, and with it came this song. Many scoffed at it, including John Lennon, who cruelly responded publicly with his own cut entitled, “Serve Yourself”. It was one of Lennon’s final recordings before his death.

His name was, Uncle Doss. At least that’s how I knew him. He was an intriguing, somewhat mysterious man in my early childhood. I was always trying to figure him out.

My Grandmother Swindell lived in the country, just about six miles away from my grandparent’s house in Greenville, Texas. Now, I realize that sentence looks odd, but allow me to explain.

You might be wondering how many grands did I have as the crow flies. Ella Swindell was my grandmother’s mom. Although she was my Great-Grandmother Swindell, my mom called her, “Grandmother”, so I did, too.

To describe her at all would be best done to mention Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) from The Andy Griffith Show. Although shorter than Frances Bavier, she dressed just like her. Her hair was arranged as Aunt Bea, most of the time. And on Sunday, like Aunt Bea, she wore the little pill hat, combined with a thin netting veil over her face, white cotton dress gloves, and a small black patent leather purse with a short strap. Oh, and yes, she had the “work your fingers to the bone” ethic, with the quick on the draw attitude of Aunt Bea. She was a green-thumb, no-nonsense, get-it-done worker of the soil. My mom called her a workhorse of a woman.

Photo: Wikipedia: The Andy Griffith Show -CBS. Frances Bavier. as Aunt Bea.

Generally, a few times a year in the early to late 1960’s, we visited her little cottage, out in the east Texas farm country, during weekend visits to my grandparent’s house. (If you’re a longtime blogging friend of mine, you might recall that I have written a snippet about Ella Swindell before. However, it’s been a long while.) We would drive down the county dirt road, passing corn and cotton fields, then pull up onto her makeshift driveway of chalky white rocks. I couldn’t wait to jump out in my cowboy boots, crisp blue jeans, and straw cowboy hat, run through her pasture behind the little frame house, and explore the old, haunted barn which rattled and groaned in the Hunt County winds. This city boy truly loved the adventure.

After I was called from the house porch to sit and visit, I would bounce through her opened screen door, greeted by her little Manchester black dog called, “Little Bit”. There was always a memorable aroma wafting from her tiny kitchen as we inched our way toward lunchtime, (Dinnertime, in her vernacular.) She made the best cornmeal fried okra and fried yellow squash you can possibly imagine, all grown from her garden. After hugging my 4′-11″ish Grandmother Swindell, I would immediately ask where Uncle Doss was, if he wasn’t already sitting in his chair in the far back corner of the front living room. Usually, her reply went something like; “Awe, he’ll be along dreckly. He knows when to come eat.” Being such a young lad, I didn’t have my arms around just why Uncle Doss wasn’t always around. After all, he was not what you would call friendly, sociable, or a chatter box. In fact, he was the opposite. He was evidently born without facial expressions, complete sentences, and topical interests. Yet, I couldn’t wait to see him.

Nobody had told me just yet how older generational married couples of certain upbringing lived. A good example was the fact Uncle Doss and Grandmother Swindell had separate bedrooms. Anytime I went to the back of the house toward the back door, which opened up to the back pasture, his room was the door just prior to the back exit. The door was always shut when visiting. My curious little brain always wanted to put my ear to the door to hear if he was in there. The temptation to slowly turn the glass doorknob for a quick covert peek into his domain was great. Before I had a chance to try the door, I usually heard; “Alan, leave your Uncle Doss be!” From kindergarten through 4th grade, I spent a week with my Grandmother Swindell during summer vacation. Once I ventured toward the back of the house, while she was out picking green beans for dinner (Supper, in her vernacular.) When I turned the corner for the back door, I saw his bedroom door wide opened. I tip-toed across the creaking wooden plank floor and took a gander. He was away fishing, or down at the general store trading fishing lures with some other old men in overalls. The room looked like something from a ranch bunkhouse for hired hands. It had a vaulted ceiling, and was just big enough for a single spring bed, a small chest-of-drawers, and a closet. I remember being amazed at how tiny it was. Maybe more amazed why he closed himself up in there whenever he was home.

But there we were, visiting with my Grandmother Swindell and Little Bit as he jumped into our laps begging for scratches behind his ears. When it came time for lunch, you could always expect the back door to open and close as Uncle Doss arrived from wherever he had been that particular day. As Uncle Doss walked into the the living room, I would look up at this tall, thin elderly man with a full head of snow white straight hair, ever-present stubble on his carved handsome face with bushy eyebrows. I was always stunned at how long his nose hairs were. I regret I don’t have a photo of him, but he looked a lot like the old western movie star, Randolph Scott.

RANDOLPH SCOTT PHOTO BY:ROBERT ABRUSCATO/MICHELSON/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC

Unlike Randolph Scott, he was not dapper, or even clean most of the time. He smelled of hay, dead fish, and chewing tobacco. He wore old faded denim overalls, a farmer’s cap, and dirty old lace-up rounded toe boots. With a sparkle in my eye, my exuberance in seeing him again would blurt out like water from a spillway, “Hi, Uncle Doss!” My Grandmother Swindell was regularly and surprisingly a bit sharp with him, “Doss, you go get yourself cleaned up right now! It’s dinnertime. Be quick about it. And scrape off those boots, for Pete’s sake!” He would nod his head at us in a down-home greeting, grunt at her, and head off to the bathroom built just for him. As a kid, I thought it funny, and a bit scary, how he was clearly older than she, and yet she inflicted her husband with such a quick tongue in front of us. Frankly, it was a tad embarrassing.

After a made-from-scratch country lunch, which could win awards at the State Fair Of Texas, we would sit a bit longer in the living room, complete with sweetened iced tea, for more east Texas accented chatter. That was my cue to prepare to head out the door to have make-believe adventures in the old rickety barn, and visit a my great-aunt Madge across the dirt road for a slice of freshly baked homemade pecan or apple pie. No doubt, that woman baked all day, every day. She was invariably such a joy to spend time with, and treated me as if I were the only boy on the planet. But she knew I wouldn’t stay long. After all, there were hay stacks to jump on, and corn fields to get lost in.

Prior to my quick escape from the Swindell cottage, I would try to get Uncle Doss to talk with me. After lunch he would sit in his corner chair and light up his pipe. I would sit on the floor in front of him, next to his tobacco spittin’ can, made from a discarded coffee can, with his knees about eye level to me. My goal was to launch my usual start-up questions. “What kind of a pipe is that, Uncle Doss?” Or, “How long have you been wearing those old dirty overalls?” Or, “Can I touch your prickly whiskers?” (He would allow it. As if it were yesterday, it felt like sandpaper.) Otherwise, if he gave me answers, they were usually one or two word sentences coming from his stone face, “Yep”, “Nope”, and “Oh, a bit.” The dog, Little Bit, loved that old man. Anytime Uncle Doss planted himself in his chair, Little Bit abandoned whatever lap he was on, hopping right up on his dusty lap in one leap. By the time I got back from running around the countryside, Uncle Doss would be gone, or shut-up in his small back room. It didn’t seem like much of a marriage to me, not like the union my grandparents displayed day in and day out.

Later in my childhood, maybe third grade, I was saddened, as well as curious, when finding Uncle Doss in a bed in the front living room off in the corner where his chair would normally sit. I didn’t ask questions of him. I think my mom prepared me beforehand. Although surprised by the living room bed, she must have simply told me he was sick and needed more rest. Frankly, seeing him in that bed spooked me just a little. For some reason I was feeling a little frightened by it all.

It was one of the last times I saw Uncle Doss. However, I did find out it was only a temporary illness at the time. Later, he didn’t need the bed in the living room.

Being a tiny bit afraid of my Uncle Doss was the norm. That may be why I tried so hard to get to know him better, which never happened. While in Jr, high school, after seeing the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, I recognized the feeling I had for Uncle Doss in the view of the children constantly trying to understand their spooky, mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. I then understood, Uncle Doss was my Boo Radley.

Photo: popsugar.com To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Robert Duvall as Boo Radley

I’m not sure how old I was when my mom finally broke the news to me. There must have come a time when she thought I could handle the unfortunate truth concerning my Uncle Doss. My Uncle Doss was my Grandmother Swindell’s oldest brother, not her husband. If memory serves me right, there were six brothers, and two sisters in that clan, my grandmother Swindell being the youngest sister, the youngest of all of her sibs. My mom also let me know why Uncle Doss was such a strange individual. Even though he was the oldest, he was like a nine year old child. He was the only one in the family who was stricken with a mental disorder. Being born in the late 1880’s, very little was known on how and why childhood illnesses often caused long-term effects. I’ve been told, Uncle Doss was left with some slight brain damage after a hard bout with a version of the measles when he was a child. Today we know, acute encephalitis can be the result of a measles infection, causing permanent brain damage.

The family was mostly poor share croppers, working the black soil of east Texas, more times than not, travelling from one cotton farm to another, wherever there was work available. Their mother, my great-great-grandmother Molly, was an invalid. The title of, “Invalid” could have various definitions back in those days to country doctors. Nevertheless, their mother was a sickly woman, and unable to take care of her kids. So, Ella, dropped out of school at 2nd grade to become the caretaker of her mom and the sibs who were too young to take care of themselves.

After their mother, Molly died, Ella became the mom of the clan. After everyone was grown and went off on their own, Ella continued to take care of her dad and her oldest brother, Doss full-time.

Sometime in the teens, Ella Tapp became Ella Swindell when she married Claude Swindell, but it was understood how life would be. So, for many years she took care of the three men in her life until her husband died in the late 1940’s. (Records for that branch of my family are scarce. I’m unsure of actual dates of some events.)

This is Ella on the far left next to her daughter & son-in-law, (my grandparents), my mom as a baby, with her two brothers in front. Ella’s husband, Claude, my Great Grandfather Swindell in the back.

The Swindells and Athertons around 1945. Doss not pictured.

A couple of years after I was born in 1960, Ella’s dad passed away, leaving her with her brother, Doss.

In 1971, Doss got out of bed in his long-johns to find the kitchen dark and quiet. He wondered why his breakfast wasn’t waiting for him. After walking to his sister’s bedroom, he saw the door was still closed. He knocked and called her name, “Ella?” Silence. He tried the glass doorknob, opened the door to find her sleeping soundly under a sheet and blanket. He spoke to her again and again. She didn’t rouse. He approached her bed, nudged her, and found her to be cold. All attempts to wake her fell short. Because she was cold, he went back to his room to fetch his patchwork quilt she had made him and covered her. Uncle Doss lit up his pipe and sat in his chair for some time. Getting a little hungry, he called to her several times without any response. At that point he began to believe Aunt Madge, across the road, might be helpful in getting Ella out of bed. He walked over to his brother’s house, still in his long-johns, where his sister-in-law, Madge was busy washing dishes after breakfast. Still wearing her apron, my Aunt Madge rushed over to the cottage to find my Grandmother Swindell had easily roused…in the arms of Jesus at about 67/68 years old.

It may come as no surprise to let you know, my Uncle Doss Tapp passed away not long after, within the following year.

In short, if my Uncle Doss were here today, with a full healthy mind, he would testify of the great and strong servanthood his sister Ella display for her entire life. Literally, she gave over 60 years of her life to serve others. Unlike John Lennon’s response to Bob Dylan’s musical statement on finding someone to serve, without demanding something in return, was about an unselfishness, putting one’s “self” last.

A hero of mine gave 33 years of service to others. He taught the servant was more valuable than a ruling king. Much like today, he served during civil unrest, crude political scandals and unlawful corruption, economic hardships, incurable diseases among the public, violence in the streets, etc. Still, he found a way NOT to say, Every man for himself!

In that bright “gettin’ up” early morning, when my Aunt Madge walked into her sister-in-law’s bedroom, the words could’ve well been spoken of Ella, “Here is one who emptied herself out because of unconditional, gracious love.”

About ten years ago, after many decades had passed, I chose to drive out to my Grandmother Swindell’s old place in the country. Most all expected a new parking lot over her pasture with a sprawling office complex. Rumors about the area had grown concerning new neighborhoods of expansion for new home buyers, along with zoning for business developments. I was emotionally prepared, or so I thought. Yet, not much had changed down her dirt road. It’s been crudely paved now, but that’s almost all the change. When I turned the corner to that favorite stretch of familiar road, I saw my Aunt Madge’s old house still standing next to the cornfield. Shock came over me to find the old rickety haunted barn was still erect. Her pasture was still wild and free from builder’s dreams. Before I move on, have you ever smiled and shed tears at the same time? That’s what happened to me as I pulled up in front of her cottage, or rather, where her cottage once stood. Seeing that her little humble house had been removed wasn’t the cause of my facial reaction at all. Rather, it was the arranged perennial flowers which continued to bloom, outlining where the edge of her house once was, in a rectangle just where she planted them back in the early 1960’s.

God speaks in various ways, doesn’t He? I heard Him loud and clear that day.

The greatest servant of all is highlighted and illustrated in fuel for the race.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)

Got Fear?

Photo:  Pixabay

“…Just like a ghost
You’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose on Halloween
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you, Spooky!”  (1967/1968)  Spooky.  Recorded by:  Classics IV (Later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section.)   Composers:  Instrumentals – Mike Shapiro & Harry Middlebrooks Jr.  Lyrics – J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

What spooks you?  According to the song, love can cause fear.  I’ve been there.  How about you?  Nevertheless, love was meant to be the opposite of spooky.

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

After a few years as a single mother, my mom had remarried my adopted dad.  They were only married for four years, but I had zero fear in my heart concerning our new lives.  We have a good relationship to this very day and I love him.

Homestead Windmill

Fear wasn’t in my mind at all on one hot summer day in 1966.  One of my favorite things was our trips to Graham, Texas where his family resided.  It was in west Texas, rich in cowboy legends and Texas pioneer history.  Thick in Mesquite, cactus, and brush, the land is rugged.

Being a city boy at six years old, I loved visiting my new grandparents out in the rough and rustic hills.  The new adventures filled my imagination while I ran through the back pastures with their cows and horses in my canvas PF Flyers.  Usually in a cowboy hat with a toy pistol in hand, the hours would pass hiding from Comanches and Tonkawas on the warpath, while protecting the herd.  (Little did I know my great-grandfather did exactly that when he settled there in the late 1860’s.)

There was a sandy creek, mostly dry, running through the pastures where I spent lots of time playing in the sandy bottoms.  In my exuberance, during my brave stance fighting for the homestead, I found myself in an embarrassing, but spooky predicament.  Somehow, and I do mean “somehow”, I galloped my stick-horse to the very edge of a deeper bend of the creek.  By God’s grace I was able to stop my forward momentum before going over a vertical 8 foot drop down to the hard sandstone boulders in the creek bed.  After catching my breath, I could see the rubber tips of my sneakers were roughly two inches from the edge.  Between hard inhales, I said, “Wow!  That was close, Trigger.  Let’s get back to the herd where we belong.”  When I turned right, I found myself trapped by a wide sprawling cactus which couldn’t be negotiated.  Turning to my left, I found myself caged-in by a large amount of…well, I guess I’ll be honest here…cow poop.  Yep, a good pile blocking my only escape, spreading all the way to the prickly-pears.  So, there I was.  I couldn’t jump over the cactus.  I dared not try jumping over the pyramid of cow patties.  With things looking rather dim, I turned to analyze the depth of my chances to the bottom of the creek.  My fear began to build up inside.  A couple of times I considered the risk of breaking an ankle with a leap over the side.  Visions of starvation and coyotes filled my head as I went through a scenario where nobody would ever find me until this is all they would recover, minus the lamps.

Halloween Skeleton

Allow me to put some meat on the bones of my circumstance.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  There is the thought of, “This is easy.  He should’ve just walked out the way he romped in.”  True, but honestly, I couldn’t figure it out at the time.  You have to get in the mindset of a boy barely six years old.  To this little kid, there was no way out of the patch of ground I stood on.  But…someone had a different perspective.

Grandpa Brown

Photo:  W.R. Brown in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’-attire.  (He lived in his denim overalls and straw hat.)

After about four minutes, although it felt like four hours, I began to panic in fear.  Through my tears I started to scream out for help.  Unfortunately I was about half a mile from the farmhouse.  If someone was to hear me, it would be carried by a bird.  As I launched into yelling mode, the nearby cattle just stood there gazing at me as if I just arrived from Mars.  A lesson was learned.  They don’t take to commands like Lassie.  Not one bovine left for the farmhouse to alert the folks.  I don’t recall how much time ticked by when I heard a friendly chuckle on the other side of the cactus.

While trying his best not to let out too much cackling, in a very thick Texas accent the voice asked, “Well, what’s wrong, boy?”

Quickly I turned my head toward the voice to see my Grandpa Brown standing there with a farmer’s hoe in his hands.  He was a small, but rugged and weathered, kind, leprechaun-of-a-man with crystal clear light blue eyes.  The long hairs growing out of his ears always impressed me.  In my relief to see him, I explained my simple, but desperate situation.

He chuckled again, “Well I’ll be switched.  How did you get in such a fix?  Can’t you get out?”

After explaining how I boxed myself in, he began to slowly direct me through an escape route, which no doubt was the thin trail I used to get there.  As it turned out, he was working his garden not too far from that spot when he heard me cry out.  Poor guy.  He probably came running thinking I had been bitten by a Rattlesnake.  He was probably more relieved than I was.

Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I should’ve figured a way of escape.  And yes, I worked myself up into a lather which wasn’t necessary.  But that’s what needless fear can do.

Of course, there are healthy fears.  You put some fear into a young child about the dangers of fire.  We have a healthy fear of walking out into oncoming traffic.  What?  You say you have a house for sale at the base of an active volcano?  My healthy fear says, no way.

Please don’t judge my six year old self too harshly.  What about that time you had needless anxiety over a job interview?  You may recall when you felt fear over a final exam.  How about the moments just before you walked down the isle with a wedding bouquet in your trembling hands?  It’s all so spooky.

Do you know how many phobias there are?  I googled the titles.  I was beside myself seeing the lengthy list.  They are real.  There’s the fear of leaving your house.  There’s a fear of lettuce.  There’s even a phobia involving bathtubs and shower stalls.  We all would strongly appreciate you obtain counselling for that one.  Spooky for some, but excessive and pointless.

‘Tis the season, says Halloween.  When you think about how we lather ourselves up in fear, every day of the year, it is all about anticipation.  Right?  We see a darkened line of trees at night, the vanguard of a wooded area, as the mind begins to imagine what “might be” waiting for us there.  Anticipation takes time, a moment or two on the clock to settle.  It all surrounds what we do in those moments before our imagination cooks up the horrid.  Naturally, there are those who orchestrate fright like a band of tubas.

While watching an interview with a so-called “expert” on Sasquatch, I was amazed at the push for fear in the following statement.  The authoritative man set the stage like this:

“Through the years we have learned that Bigfoot is attracted to campsites, and tents specifically.”

The vomit of laughter coming out of me continued for another minute or so.  Think about it.  He claims to be an expert on a beast that has never been found dead, never been captured, never been scientifically verified.  Zero DNA discoveries, or bone fragments.  It’s an animal that’s never been in a clear, sharp video production that wasn’t shaky, or solid focused photograph, all in order to keep the enhancements from detecting a zipper on the costume.  Moreover, any footage (excuse the pun) presented, the elusive Sasquatch always runs away from the photographer.  Very camera-shy.  Certainly, I’m no expert, but it seems to me, with all the footage thus far of a seemingly frightened beast, a human campsite is the last place it would want to invade.  However, it’s fun to be afraid.  Right?  Unless it’s true fright from actual danger.

Here’s my view.  I didn’t have to be afraid of the cactus.  I didn’t need to fear the edge of the creek.  I shouldn’t have been scared of the large pile of poop.  (Then again, I still shy away from poop piles.)  My viewpoint at the time was skewed at best.  My six year old self allowed panic to overtake the true scenario.  What saved me from it all was a gentle old man who saw me from a different perspective.  Love popped the fear-bubble and eased my troubled mind due to my Grandpa Brown.  And THAT made the difference.

When you belong to One who sees all, knows all, and dispatches guardians, the spirits of fear quake and shake.

Sometimes fear is very much like a Jack-o-lantern.  Fearful exterior, but all hollow on the inside.  Fearfulness isn’t heavy to push aside when lubricated nicely with fuel for the race.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ – God –  Isaiah 41:10 (NAS) 

 

 

DNA And Me

Photo:  “Our” family reunion of 1902.

“…Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were…Can it be that it was all so simple then?  Or has time rewritten every line?…” (1974)  The Way We Were.  Recorded by;  Barbra Streisand.  Composers:  Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch.

There’s much to learn from a simple photograph.  I adore antique photos, always have.  They are even more special when you find images depicting your own flesh and blood.  If you love family history, then you and I could share some time over a few cups of java.

Check out the cover shot I placed above.  This is a 1902 family reunion from my paternal side.  No doubt it’s from the summer time in Texas, yet there’s all that clothing.  Look at all stiff high collars, neckties and gowns that crawl up to the chin, along with the hats.  Summers in Texas can reach 100+ degrees easily.  How did they do it?  In all honesty, the southern tradition was to have an event like this right after church on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe that’s why everybody is in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes.  I see watermelon slices, cakes, pies, etc.  And then there’s that guy on the back row, just right of center, swigging a big bottle of….well…uh…Okay, who knows. But remember, church was over. LOL

Being from the south, there is a depth of Confederate soldiers in the family.

Alexander Ambrose Timmons Great Uncle-in-law 1866ish

Photo:  Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865)  Now THAT’S a knife!

Lewis Pinkney Brooks Great Grandpa 1866ish

Photo:  Meet my Great Grandpa Lewis Pinkney Brooks (1866)  After the war, he rode a mule from Georgia to west Texas to stay.  He found himself to be a cattle drover, pioneer settler, homesteader, 2nd sheriff of Young County, Texas, stage coach inn owner, and Indian fighter.

Yes, sometimes inside family history one can find skeletons which may not be politically correct by today’s self-imposed standards.  I’m not one to erase history.  In fact, I gaze at it, study it, and recognize the truth of the way we were.  We need to see how far we’ve come.  We need to discover how and why issues in society arose.  We are in need of understanding before we repeat some aspects of our history which may stain us as a culture.  We also should value perspectives.  One can title a person an “Indian fighter” but often neglects the realities of circumstance.  As for my my great-grandfather Brooks, he dealt with the pains of pioneering.  Tonkawa and Comanche often raided his barn overnight to steal horses, cattle, and mules.  Another time, he and his cousin were building a three-foot herd wall, made of stone, when they were attacked unprovoked.  Grave plots had to be topped in layers of large stone to discourage grave-robbing for clothes and jewelry.  Outlaws are outlaws, no matter the culture.  Yes, it was a lawless wild country in very different times.  Only after years of fighting back in defense of his wife and children did peace began to rise.

Pioneer women were of a different breed.  They were tough as brass doorknobs while growing and nurturing families in the harshest conditions.

Mary Lucinda (Cinnie) Moore-Brooks Great Grandma 1877ish Photo;  Meet my Great Grandma Mary Lucinda “Cinnie” Moore-Brooks (1877).  She was not a doctor, but performed medical aid for the citizens of the county when needed.  There are stories of her alone on foot, in late night hours, traveling to attend to women in labor miles away.  Once a young family in a covered wagon, headed for the western frontier, stopped at the homestead asking for medical aid.  The couple had a baby who was ill.  The family lodged in their house for a good couple of weeks as Mary Brooks tended to the infant.  Sadly, the child couldn’t be saved.  They buried the baby in our family cemetery on the land.  Brokenhearted, the couple got back on the trail and was never heard from again.  She was not only a woman of great courage, but a woman of heart.

Great Aunt Alverse Brooks 1905ish

Photo:  Let me introduce you to my Great Aunt Alverse Brooks (1905ish).  I don’t know much about Aunt Alverse, I just love her face.  I do know she liked to swim in the Brazos River with her sisters.  She lived as a single woman.  (The men must have been pushed away, or simply stupid.)

Grandma Brown with two sisters 1911ish

Photo:  Say hello to my Grandma Bessie Brooks-Brown, with her two sisters, swimming in the Brazos River just below the family homestead (1909ish).  This lovely refreshed and digitized shot is nothing but a joy to look at.  My grandma is on the left.  Notice the swimwear where EVERYTHING is covered.  How many layers do you think they were wearing?  However, it didn’t keep that guy behind them from gawking in his ten gallon hat.  Yes, times were different.

You might be asking yourself, “Why is Alan forcing all these family pics on us?”  There’s a method to my madness.

Have you seen those DNA test commercials?  How can you miss them?  You know the ones where the actor says something like, “I thought my family came from Scotland, so I bought this kilt.  Then I had my DNA tested and found out I’m actually German!”  Recently I had been given a birthday gift card encouraging me to get my DNA tested.  It’s something I always wanted to do.  One of my thrills comes from reading family trees.  This is a notch above the tree.  So, I ordered a DNA kit.

Not long ago I was reviewing some of my medical lab work from a blood and urine sample.  There was an indicator of a possible unknown ethnic bloodline hidden in my genes.  I was shocked.  I do know of some Native American on my maternal side, but I just assumed Anglo-Saxon was the balance of my strand, due to surnames.  The DNA test will spell out the surprises.  It will be nice to get to know the authentic “me”….or will it?

I find it funny how some of these DNA test ads speak of “…finding the real you”, or “I never knew I was this, or that.”   One TV spot had an actor speaking a line similar to, “I ordered my kit because I wanted to know the true me.”  Of course, I understand what the meaning is behind such scripted lines.  I get it.  My issue is the idea of “the true me”.

Lately I’ve been deeply diving into Larry McMurty’s novel series, Lonesome Dove.  I guess I enjoy tales of the state from which I call home.  Reading of its wilder, unsettled times is a blast.  Frankly, it helps me to understand my family in our photos.  One main character, a former Texas Ranger and drover from the Texas Republic years, lost a leg and an arm in a shootout with a Mexican train robber and serial killer.  After he realized he would live as an amputee for the rest of his life, his bolt, staunch personality changed.  He became more withdrawn. I guess you could say the heart of the man shrunk.  His words often consisted of how “HE” was no longer who he was, or used to be.  He saw his missing limbs as tools that identified his toughness, his persona, and his legacy.  It’s not unusual for depression to invade an amputee’s psyche shortly after the vacuum of trauma.  Yet, why look at an amputated limb on a table and think, “Hey, that’s me over there on the table?”  It’s a terrible mistake that tends to haunt.  A disabled vet can testify to this depression-fed mindset.

A leg, an arm, even a DNA strand does not say WHO you ARE.  These things do not relabel the soul and spirit of the individual person.  After a tragic plane crash, or the sinking of a ship, they do not report, “100 bodies were lost.”  Traditionally it’s printed, “100 souls were lost.”  One can be robbed of a limb, a featured look, or a physical profile, but the person inside has not been altered on the operating table…unless the individual cuts away at it by choice.  Whether I am a burn victim, a man of extreme age, facially mutilated, newly unemployed, or an amputee, I know WHO I am deep inside where flesh doesn’t live, grow, or die.  MY DNA doesn’t alter the ME which turns me to the right or the left.  My genes have no power over the ME which molds behavior, or makes eternal decisions.  No bloodline rules and reigns over the ME who chooses to love, serve, or share.  No bloodline from my family tree can measure up to the ME I select in life.  After all, flesh turns to dust in a future grave, or ashes spread by the winds atop a west Texas bluff.

Have you ever heard someone’s final words on their deathbed to be, “Oh, how I wish I had a Celtic slice in my DNA strand.  I would have been a better person?”

We all have our choices, no matter the accent, skin color, cultural slants, or the soil of our birth.  Even a surname doesn’t register the YOU inside your core.  The heart is key.  It’s what God said He evaluates, nothing else.

I look forward to the DNA reveal concerning the body I host.  I know this because of the intake of fuel for the race.

“…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  – Jesus – Luke 12:6-7  (Berean Study Bible) 

Oh, How Those Arrows Do Fly

Cover Photo:  Pixabay

“We took our chance and we flew.  Like an arrow, like an arrow.  We came to our sense to soar.  Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015)  Written and recorded by:  Lucy Rose Parton

It was a beautiful April morning.  While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.

“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you.  They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything.  They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown.  Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”

If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.

In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas.  Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior.  I got Megan through her last two years of high school.  It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment.  Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist.  She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church.  She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth.  Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events.  We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old.  I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.

Me and T-M-D Sept 2016

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

During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas.  I gave Megan the option of moving back with me.  However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own.  And boy, did she!  I love my girls.  Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two.  Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels.  It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.

After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile.  As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate.  They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way.  Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist.  She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.

Megan Mag Photo:  Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile

After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived.  She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds.  They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands.  Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen.  They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.

Megan Grosh CD Release Performance

Photo:  Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.

As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan.  They share band-mates.  Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.

Grace Stumberg on stage with Joan Baez

Photo:  Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez

Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days.  Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day.  The weather was perfect.  I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.

Grace 1&2 pre-show in Dallas

Photo:  Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.

Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour.  Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969.  After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again.  Joan says it will be her final tour.  After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why.  Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days.  (We’ll see.)

To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement.  We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures.  Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into.  We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on.  We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years.  I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter.  As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes.  My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians.  I can’t tell you how it made me feel.

Grace 1&2 Irish pub Dallas

Photo:  L-R:  Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg

Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan.  It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.

The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic.  As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,

“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”

I chuckled as a nervous response.  I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan.  I am held in His hand.

Just then, I felt my chin quiver.  Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next.  I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop.  But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer.  My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car.  When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it.  Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.

It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air.  Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan.  So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach.  In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow.  I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction.  Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.

Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers.  Her flight continues where I will never be.  As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot.  Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see.  During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set.  Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen.  As my arrow, she is an extension of me.

Do dads worry?  Sure we do.  With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth.  There’s where my comfort rests.

Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.

  “Children are indeed a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”  Psalm 127:3-5a (BSB)

 

Heart Hotels

“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel.  And some rooms filled with reckless pride.  And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well,  but there is nobody living inside.  Nobody living inside…”  Heart Hotels (1979)  Recorded and composed by:  Dan Fogelberg

You know how it is.  You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence.  Honestly, I still do it.

I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did.  I was born there, but we didn’t stay.  My mom’s family lived there, and still do.  To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house.  Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place.  However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.

One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.

Greenville Cadillac otel Old pic

The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas.  Photo:  Texas Historical Commission.

In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel.  Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel.  In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape.  She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances.  A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings.  Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more.  My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel.  (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot.  It makes sense, considering the times.)

Greenville Train Depot

The old Greenville train depot.

However, a gem no more.  The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew.  Time and neglect were her new caretakers.  In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years.  Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it.  In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady.  A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints.  Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other.  And now it sits in an almost ruined state.  Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out.  I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them.  I would rather dream of her glory days.  My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition.  My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.

Greenville Cadillac Hotel Photo:  The Herald Banner

Realistically, it’s a long-shot.  She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift.  And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.

Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station.  You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory.  Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind.  I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate.  The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist.  “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979.  It’s considered a classic now.  He has so many greats in his music catalog.  Many bring tears to my eyes.  This is one of them.

He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers.  Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city.  Many artists are introverts.  I know I am, to a degree.  His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive.  In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired.  He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers.  OUCH!

Man, the song hurts!  It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here.  At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs.  Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver.  (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)

Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t.  I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer.  His songs spotlight his honesty.  If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”.  Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance.  Have you noticed?

The heart is a strong machine.  We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger.  The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside…  When empty we are left to our chosen devices.

Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own.  Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak.  Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past.  They do remind us, don’t they?  What do we have to show for it?  A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying.  A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding.  Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain.  Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.

Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness?  Dare I?

How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside?  How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden?  The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows.  Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair.  Don’t kick yourself too badly.  I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty.  My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.

Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned.  Like me, I bet you have, too.  You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic.  Prayer-life is a mystery.  Make no mistake about it.  Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.

#1 – Know God first.  Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve.  The passage states:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6  (Berean Study Bible)

#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way.  We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that.  In the old King James language, we “covet” in general.  We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment.  As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives.  (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?  My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971)  Composers:  Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.)   Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth.  One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight.  Jesus mentioned this many times.  After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”.  Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied.  Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.

#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it.  We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball.  In reality, God promises to hear our prayers.  If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later.  Retrospect is a supreme teacher.  I could write a list of times this has happened in my life.  Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers.  Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life.  In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer.  The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God.  There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.    Matthew 6:7-8  (Berean Study Bible)

A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas.  I should have explained the following, but I didn’t.  Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her.  The universe never reached out to counsel her.  The universe never cared for her.  The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil.  The universe never offered a free gift of redemption.  The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind.  The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head.  The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults.  The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her.  The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.

Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone.  There is One who loves closer than a brother.  Search the world’s religious history.  After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities.  It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want.  Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc.  Do the research.  If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred.  I hurt for religious beachcombers.  We’ve all been there.  Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel.  Have you noticed?  Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition,  and grace toward us imperfect people.

(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)

Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant.  Room service is available with fuel for the race.

“What can I give Him, poor 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 Him: give my heart.” 

      Excerpt from:  In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)  

      By: Christina Rossetti

 

 

Spring In Texas

“…Now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the grey.”  – Kiss From a Rose (1994)  Recorded & composed by:  Seal.

Spring is springing in Texas.  As we knock on the door of April, there’s visible signs breaking through.  The cover shot above is the celebrated Bradford Pear just across the street from my place.  I always watch from the blooms from this tree as I equate its awakening to Easter season.

A Texas spring is kicked off by an explosion of a rainbow of colors along the highways, side streets, and pastures.

Indian paintbrush

Just hit the nearest entrance ramp to an interstate, or more rural state highway, and soon your eyes will be filled with Indian Blankets, Black Eyed Susans, Pink Primroses, and Indian Paintbrushes.  No need to plant them, although many do for strategic landscaping displays, just expect these little scenic treasures.

However, the most beloved, the most watched-for, the most valued would the the Texas State Flower…the Bluebonnets.

Blue Bonnets with Barn

It’s guaranteed that if a blue-eyed person sits among the Bluebonnet patches, the shade in the eyes radiate.  In fact, as you drive along the freeway, it’s not unusual to see families taking pictures of their kids among the Bluebonnets.  I’ve personally witnessed a bride, fully decked out in her gown, posing in the Bluebonnets for the professional photographer.  Our next door neighbors followed suit.  Before they were married, he came from Oregon, and she was raised in Florida.  After they settled here in Texas they couldn’t wait to have their family photo  taken among the Bluebonnet blooms.  They knew just what to drag out of their closet, too.  Sweet family.

Blue Bonnets w-Rigalls

Earlier I said you can find them mainly in patches.  It’s true.  Rarely will you find a large crop of them, like a cornfield.  But frankly, I like it that way.  When driving along plots of the Texas State Flower, it just seems to push the unanticipated joy button.  Blue Bonnets with Cows

Texas wildflowers are brilliant, especially when nature is used to cluster them like a painter’s palette mix.  It’s fairly normal to witness Bluebonnets intermingling with the yellows of Sunflowers, the ambers and mauves of Indian Paintbrushes, and the golden winks you catch from the Buttercups.  Mowers are careful to mow around them.  However, I hate to throw a wet blanket on it all.  There is a down-side.

Here in Texas, most wildflowers don’t last long at all.  If you are a Texan, you know to take those pictures while you can.  Our prized Bluebonnets wave howdy only for about five or six weeks.  The perennials usually peak in mid April.  By May most wilt away, not to be seen again until mid March, or so.  For those who diligently watch for them in March, it’s a somewhat sad time when the Bluebonnets begin to fade and say goodbye.

My great-grandmother, on my mom’s side, was well known for her green thumb.  Everything she touched turned green.  She lived in Cash, Texas, a small farming community about sixty-five miles east of Dallas.  Her little frame house, some would say cottage, was built on the edge of one of her brother’s pastures.  Sometime in the mid 1960’s, she planted daffodils along the exterior of the foundation.  I remember playing in the barn next to her little house watching her carefully tend to them about this time of year.  Some would eventually wind-up in a vase on her farmhouse dining table .

Daffodils

Photo:  gardeningknowhow.com

In 1971, she passed away while sleeping peacefully in her bed at the young age of 61.  The house, long since removed, can be easily imagined as you drive up to the spot.  There, along the outline of the old forgotten house, are daffodils blooming each and every spring.  I don’t drive out there often, but when I do, it’s this time of year.  You can count on me to stop the car, gaze at the piece of land, and smile.  The perennials line up, just as they did in 1966, testifying that Ella Swindell once lived on that spot.

“…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14 (NIV)

Our Bluebonnets, and other Texas wild flowers, are a welcomed sight.  But the sweet and sour is reality.  We all admire the beauty, knowing all the while they are short-lived, as the dry Texas sun dictates.

As I get older, I learn so much more than I ever thought I would.  If you’re over fifty years old, you know what I’m talking about.  Not only do we gain knowledge and wisdom (hopefully) we also experience the fragility of life.  Pick a topic.  What fades away after its prime?  What weakens with wear or age?  Could it be the cushy job?  Can it be a bank account?  Dare I mention relationships?  Like a patch of Sunflowers and Bluebonnets, stellar health, often taken for granted, in a single moment collapses.  What about that mid-life crisis red Corvette, once driven with pride, grows old, chipped, and rusty?  Then there’s someone’s model home, the floor-plan of which is the envy of every neighbor to the right and left, sags with age while the pipes and foundation cracks.  Everything depreciates.  Everything thins and erodes.  Everything we touch, feel, see, and taste is temporal.

So James would write, “What is your life?”  It’s a hard question when not distracted elsewhere.  Right?

I think the Bluebonnets, if they were able to verbally communicate, would urge us onward.  I can almost hear them say, “It’s okay.  Bloom where you’re planted, no matter how short the time may be.”  Jesus said we should not take the light, the Spirit of God planted within each who He calls His own, and hide it under a bowl.  The light within is there to share in a darkened world for others to see, and be drawn to the glow of what is done in love for others.  Can the scorching sun beat us down to wither for a time?

Dead Garden

Sure.  Yet, the Creator speaks truths in nature to show we can, and will be, perennials.

So, I say, Bluebonnets don’t bloom for the short span only to take selfies.  They bloom to shine out God’s artistry for our eyes and hearts.  And so are we.

Arise from the dirt.  It can be done when nourished with fuel for the race.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” -Isaiah 40:8 (NAS)

 

 

 

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)