When Stars Fly

“Good morning starshine.
The earth says hello.
You twinkle above us,
We twinkle below…”
(1969) “Good Morning Starshine” Recorded By:: Oliver Composers: Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado

It happened at 3:33am, Thursday morning, April 29. I will describe it as it was explained to me.

North Texas had been visited by a swath of severe thunderstorms overnight. As these huge thunderstorms do, spread out far and wide, delivered hail, winds, rain, thunder and lightning, but not everyone gets all of it. A couple of miles north of my street, hail beat on some windows, but not at my place. A tornado was spotted moving across the northern neighborhoods of my town, but not my neck of the woods. High straight-line winds blew down some wooden fences down the street, but not in my backyard. Oh, sure, I’ve had storm damage before, but not this time. Yet, it was enough to lose some sleep due to all the atmospheric activity. By 6:00am, all was wet, calm, with a bit of drizzle.

A couple of hours later, I called my mom, who lives a bit over an hour away, to see how she survived the April application. In case you are a visitor to my blog, I feel the need to explain what you are about to read. My mom lives alone, with her dog, in the house she grew up in. It was built in the mid 1840’s with very thin, non-insulated walls, along with single pane windows. Let me tell you, it needs mounds of work. Not long ago I wrote of her beginning struggles with cognitive issues. Thus far, she is able to care for herself, and others in her town she cares for, but her memory, and the ability to put the right words together in a sentence, is beginning to show.

When she answered the phone she had a strange edge to her voice. After the “Good morning.” and “How are you?“, she asked me if I was calling her to inquire about what took place in her area at 3:33am. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. They had another tornado.” She survived a tornado a couple of years ago which brought down two of her giant trees onto her roof.

Photo: My mom’s house after a tornado blew over her house. A cousin and friend were first on the scene to help.

When I asked what had occurred, she told me the following.

She told me it was something that she had ever experienced before. The severe thunderstorm was loud…very loud. She has an antique aluminum roof which can drown out any conversation you’re having whenever there’s a heavy rain. She also went on to describe the roar of the winds rattling her bedroom window sashes.

Then, as she and her dog, Charlie, tried to go back to sleep, the entire bedroom suddenly illuminated. It was so bright she noticed it with her eyes closed. The radiance, filling the bedroom, was not like filaments from a light bulb. She described the glow was strange, with a tint of a dull yellow. Charlie jumped off the bed and ran out of the room as if he had seen a lion. Out of the corner of her eye, hovering in midair, she observed what she called “a little star.” Instantly, I thought hallucinations may have been at play due to her mild cognitive condition. Hesitant to ask her to repeat what she just said, I asked her to describe it as best she could. She observed a little white “star”, with a bit of yellow to it, floating in the air, very slowly moving toward the other side of the room like “it had somewhere to go”, as she put it. By this time, I was scratching my noggin in dismay. She then stated that as it slowly moved toward the other side of the room, another “smaller star” came up behind it and almost “bumped into the bigger one because it didn’t want the bigger one to feel lonely”. By this addition to the story, I felt sure it was a dream she was having. But then, I remembered how Charlie high-tailed it out of the room, and stayed gone. I asked her what happened next. She said without any warning whatsoever, she witnessed an ear-zapping explosion which shook the walls of the house and lifted her off the mattress. It caused the two stars to burst into several mini stars and vanished. The picture she characterized began to come into focus. I asked her if the “explosion” was thunder. She said, “Yes, I believe that’s probably the proper word people would use”. She went on to say a few minutes later, there were people in the street talking loudly with big trucks, (probably the fire department).

Later, after discussing the scene with my wife, she reminded me of a lightning rod which sits on the edge of the roof just above her curtain-covered bedroom windows. My late uncle had installed it decades ago for my grandparents. No doubt in my mind, with the particles charged in the air, a lightning bolt was about to zoom in and strike the rod about eight feet from her bed. It’s clear that there was an arching of some kind which traveled through her window, or wall, giving her a brilliant light show. It’s a miracle there wasn’t a fire, or electrocution.

Photo by Fabiano Rodrigues on Pexels.com

My mom has always been a selfless, servanthood champion of a person. She has cared for many an elderly person out of love and concern, including being a 24/7 caregiver for her aging parents when they were still with us. Her focus has always been comforting and assisting someone other than herself. She always looked for the “least of these”. I must say, I cannot count the multiple times this woman of faith has been protected from clear and present dangers at her doorstep, whether from would-be attackers, would-be thieves, flying bullets, car crashes, hail, tornadoes, and now lightning strikes. Until very recently her health has been phenomenal, considering she never took good physical care of herself, for the most part. A great example: When she moved in with her parents, when it became necessary to care of them, she did so for 12+ years, completely sick-free! What are the odds? Not even a common cold for that length of time. Amazing!

So many of late are living in fear because of the “charged air” we find ourselves in. Have you felt a bit of it? Racial tensions, wholesale racial accusations, political unrest, a horrific southern border crisis, rumblings of faulty foreign relations and war, COVID, mask shaming, high taxes, trillions of projected dollars being deducted from your income, riots, looting, arson, shootings…..ect. It seems we are all just waiting for the stars to explode.

When I was a little boy, I always watched for the Allstate Insurance TV commercials. In the 1960’s, when it came time to deliver the words…

“You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

It would show a set of a man’s hands, not a drawing, with palms up, cupped together as if catching rain pouring off a gutter. According to my mom, I would tell her that was God’s hands. She would chuckle, and agree with me. I bet Allstate had no idea they were creating a Sunday school lesson for little ones.

Still, in the middle all things chaotic, which fluctuates and hovers in the air for a time, one truth remains, a Solid Rock many ignore, but shouldn’t. The particles in the air may flare up and even ignite, but I also know all things are sifted through the hands of the Great I AM of Genesis. We are, my mom is, in good hands.

Never drive into a raging storm without a tank full of fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague. He will cover you with His feathers; under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the calamity that destroys at noon. Though a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, no harm will come near you.” Psalm 91:1-7 (Berean Study Bible)

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)

Winds Of Change

Cover Photo:  Pexels

“Don’t you understand what I’m sayin’,
We need a god down there.
A man to lead us children,
Take us from the valley of fear….Get on up, look around;
Can’t you feel the wind of change?
Get on up, taste the air;
Can’t you see the wind of change…”  (1975)  “Wind Of Change”  Recorded By:  Bee Gees  Composers:  Robin Gibb & Barry Gibb

She was on the phone with a friend at the time, looking out her open kitchen window over the sink.  She had heard some windy commotions outside and wondered what was coming as the sky quickly turned the afternoon into a darkened dome.  Before you could shout, “Run, Toto.  Run.”,  all the trees from her kitchen window view suddenly swayed and bent as if they were made of rubber.  Just at that moment, her phone conversation was cut-off as a very loud “BOOM” caused her to jump right out of her apron.  The clashing sound of calamity shook the entire house.  It sounded as if a car slammed into the living room at the front of the house.  She raced toward the sound of the crash.  As she opened the front door, she was met by a wall of leaves, branches, and limbs on her front porch.  The thicket was so massive, she couldn’t see through it all.  Frankly, it left her stunned.  At first she just froze trying to make sense of what she was looking at.  After she was able to get a hold of herself, she heard voices coming from the street on the other side of the wall of vegetation.

“Is anyone injured?  Are you okay in the there?”

At first she thought it humorous that someone would be yelling from the street asking if she was okay.  Still not seeing the larger picture of her circumstances, the wonderment turned into a chuckle.  She giggled and yelled back in response;

“Yes, I’m fine.  Thank you.”

They told her she needed to find a fast way out of the residence.  Thinking the comment was somewhat bizarre, she ultimately decided not to ignore the suggestion.  She walked to a bedroom toward a side door of the house, which opened to the driveway, only to feel a wave of shock as she made her way outside to the front lawn.  Again, a sense of frozen ice poured over her as she gazed at the green monstrosity.  The last of four giant sycamore trees was uprooted and laying partially on the roof, as well as an old telephone line strung across the width of the property, keeping the full weight of the tree from damaging the house any further.  (That was a God-thing.)

Moms Treed House June 2019

Photo:  My mom with a cousin and a kind neighbor.

That is what happened to my mom on June 19, 2019, a little over a year ago, when a tornado made its way over her house in Greenville, Texas.  She was well protected that day as the tornado touched-down in several areas leaving a wide path of destruction in its wake.

In 1955, when she was 11 years old, the family of five moved in.  There, between the sidewalk and the front curb by the street, were four strategically spaced large sycamore trees which went from the east side of the front curb area, to the edge of the property on the west side.  These four trees, with their over-sized leaves, ascended over the top of the telephone poles.  Here in Texas, they can climb to 100 feet in height.

Sycamore Texas A&M Forest Service

Photo:  Sycamore – Texas A&M Forest Service

Of course, that was 1955.  You can imagine how much growth there’s been throughout the following decades.  However, one by one, each met the ground.  Two had to be cut down many years ago, for one reason or another.  Just two weeks before the tornado last year, the third gigantic sycamore was partially uprooted by powerful straight-line Texas spring winds.  As it leaned on power lines, hanging over the street, the city rushed over to cut it down for safety sake.  I remember my mom being somber after another old friend of lumber was hacked-up and hauled away, saying;

“Well, at least we still have one left.”

I remember not feeling optimistic at all.  My mind kept going back to the uprooted tree which left its turf so easily in the wind storm.  One couldn’t help but wonder if the last sycamore would show stronger roots in that small patch of ground by the curb.  Alas, the tornado took advantage of the last top-heavy friendly giant.

All of my life I watched that quartet of timber grow.  In the spring and summer, the shade was tremendous as it branched out much like a colossal umbrella over the lawns to the left, right, and across the street.  During the fall, the 10″ golden leaves would float down like feathers, carpeting the entire property, the sidewalk, the street, and the driveway.  My cousins and I would run and jump in the crunchy foliage just to listen to the loud crackling beneath us.

As I received the pictures of the downed tree, I couldn’t help but think of the loving grandparents who lived there, the countless holidays celebrated, and the sight of seeing the four sycamores greeting us as we turned the corner toward my grandparent’s house over my six decades.  As a kid, I was known to jump out of the car, run up to one of the trees and shout;

“Zacchaeus, you come down!”

But, straight-line winds of hurricane force are not too unusual in Texas, and the occasional tornado will never have mercy in its path if close to the ground.  They were old trees with hindered root systems, considering the narrow piece of ground they rested in between the sidewalk and the street.

Moms Uprooted Tree June 2019

Photo:  The tornado pulled the old roots right out of the east Texas black clay.

You may be asking why I am writing about this event now, some 13 months after the fact.  Okay, I’ll tell you.

In recent weeks America has been brutalized by COVID-19, accompanied by unnecessary brutality and murder by police officers in Minneapolis, a culture war, violence in the streets, anarchy, widespread arson, public prideful lawlessness, statues of founding fathers, and historical figures, destroyed by mobs, sacred monuments defaced, over-the-top cancel culture targeting places, people, emblems, labels, businesses (big and small), police defunded, assaulted and murdered, (even efforts to remove the police as public servants, even as violence grows).  Once accomplished, who will we call when the next school mass shooting event occurs? Once accomplished, will a social worker arrive to calm the next mass church shooter as he reloads his AK-47?

!!! WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OURSELVES?

Then there are Marxists pushing their far-leftist ideology into the mainstream, tyrannical thought-judges are now in vogue, even Jesus is being attacked.  Anarchists, and those who have had closet hostility toward America, seem to be free to do what they please.  By the way, it’s worth noting, if you’re a small business owner, look out!  Extinction is possible if they get their way.  Some politicians are making excuses for it all, or looking the other way without denouncing the violence.  Such politicians are not worthy to hold an office.  Socialist radicals are ready to disassemble the Constitution, as well as, the Bill Of Rights this country was built on.  All of this, and more, within just a few weeks.

If you are an American citizen ignoring what this nation has been going through, keep in mind, you just might be “wished away” by a mob of puppets who want to uproot and remove you, your property, your livelihood, your beliefs, and your government of liberty quicker than a Texas tornado.  Once accomplished, your life, and the lives of your descendants, will never be the same.  The wind of change is something the Jews in Nazi Germany can tell you about, if they were here to testify.  Ancient kingdoms were written about in the Bible, along with historical records in museums, only because you no longer can visit their cultures due to the winds of change.  They have been uprooted and removed.  Sure, we can leave fairly impressive architecture behind us, just like the Mayans who vanished.  Is that what we want?  Are we inviting these mobs of unrest to crush the roof over our heads?  Really?

How strong ARE our roots?  Do I sound like an alarmist?  Maybe I am.

Moms Uprooted Sidewalk June 2019

Photo:  A hoisting crane holding up the tree as the arborist slices from the top downward.  The roots pulled up part of the sidewalk, no longer pedestrian friendly.

When I was maybe 12 years old, my grandparents gave me a patriotic album.  I still have it in a box in my garage.  It was highly unique in that John Wayne recorded these stirring poems about America and her citizens. (By the way, John Wayne is now under attack by the cancel culture.)  It was called, “America, Why I Love Her” (1972).  By today’s standards the project might sound a bit corny.  It is very much red, white, and blue.  Nevertheless, it is very well done, shellacked with stirring poetry, delivered perfectly by the rustic actor.  One of the cuts on the album is called, “Mis Raices Estan Aqui (My Root Are Buried Here)”  You can type it into Google for a quick listen.  I don’t want to give it all away, but I will say something about it here.  It speaks of the roots of a citizen, firmly planted in the soil of America, the America with all her bumps, bruises, and smudges.  It speaks well of the love for country, property, her enduring make-up, and her documents which publishes our liberties.  I would like to believe the roots are not shallow.

With all that is currently blowing upon this nation and her branches, one might ask about the depth of the roots.  Could it be too many complacent ones are not seeing the forest for the trees?  One might wonder if the root system has been hindered on all sides.  One might even go so far as to inquire; have the recent vortex down-bursts leveled irreversible damage?  When the face masks come off, will there be a sinister grin, or a look of fortitude in righteousness?  Ask yourself this question….Will we fall for anything?

The value of liberty, which shades all Americans, is well spoken of in fuel for the race.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.                                                                                                            For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.”  Jeremiah 17: 7-8 (NAS)

 

What Took Kobe Bryant’s Life?

Photo:  The Sun/UK

“…The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
a more congenial spot
for happily-ever-aftering than here
in Camelot.”  –  (1959/1960)  Camelot (Musical score theme song.)  Composers:  Lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner  Music, Frederick Loewe

I’ve never been a big basketball fan, unless the Dallas Mavericks are in the playoffs (Still waiting).  However, I am a fan of humanity.

Tragic, so very tragic, the recent taking of 9 lives aboard Kobe Bryant’s leased helicopter.  NBA star, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna were among the diseased.  It’s not just NBA fans who are mourning the sudden loss, but literally multitudes around the globe are feeling the sting of this horrific event.

You might have been spending time in a cave somewhere if you’ve not heard the news of this helicopter crash from Sunday morning, January 26th.  In the Los Angeles area, after an early morning church service, Kobe and his daughter boarded the helicopter with 7 other friends, including their well-experienced pilot.  They were planning to attend a youth basketball tournament scheduled for later in the day in Thousand Oaks, California.  Unfortunately, a few minutes after takeoff, the pilot made a maneuver to rise above the morning fog for clearer vision.  He had asked permission from the control tower to fly under “special visual flight rules”, literally flying by vision only.  After getting approval, air traffic officials say that the craft reached 2,300 feet then took a fast dive at 2,000 feet per minute, crashing head-first into the side of a steep mountainside.  Officials report they were 20-30 feet from clearing the mountain.  Truly heartbreaking.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing.  There’s lots to be learned.  Two facts are certain, there was a thick morning fog which couldn’t be negotiated for lower altitude flights, and no terrain awareness warning system on board to notify the pilot of the mountain in his flight-path.  Experts say the helicopter basically disintegrated on impact.  Death for all on board was instant.

The loss is simply tremendous.  Mourning now are scores of family members from each of the 9 victims from all over the map.  Then there are the friends of each of the 9 deceased passengers from every corner of the globe.  Of course, there are acquaintances of each of the lost ones.  Naturally, there are those who mourn from the ranks of basketball fans, teammates, coaches, millions of fans who never met Kobe, or the others on board.  Each life always touches a multitude of other lives.  A falling rock in a still pond makes wide ripples which travel to its various shorelines.  I guess you could call it, the George Bailey Effect.

There’s always one question finding its way first when tragic news hits in such a disastrous, unexpected exit.  What killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter?  Some will say, the pilot.  Some will point out the helicopter with no warning system.  Others might say the control tower staff.  Those in the valley below, watching the smoke rise from the crash site, might announce the mountain destroyed their lives.  I’m afraid the debate will be long lasting.

God bless the loved ones left behind.  May they find true peace and comfort from the Name Above All Names.

A couple of days before the crash, here in the Dallas area, we experienced soupy conditions as well.  This is what downtown Dallas looked like from a commercial flight coming in for a landing.

Foggy Dallas by Ross Hardin & Dallas Morning News

Photo:  Ross Hardin, via Dallas Morning News

Have you ever driven in such a fog?  Have you ever taken a walk, or a jog on a trail in dense fog?  Imagine being in the air with 50 feet of visibility.  It’s highly disorienting.  You might find yourself without your barings of left/right, up/down.  This may have very well been the enemy of the pilot, the killer of the flight.

art fingers foggy hand
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Allow me to say bluntly, there have been times when my foggy conditions had nothing to do with humidity, or the weather in general.

Too many times in my life of twists and turns, I invited fog to encroach on my path.  My walk with God became hazy, disorienting, and unable to see His flight-path for my life.  Have you ever been there?  A shinny object over there brought in the haze of a spiritual backslide down a steep slope I never thought I would ever experience.  Rounding the corner on my designated path… look…a beautiful rabbit to chase.  So, in my distraction, I put on my Alice In Wonderland shoes and off I went into a misty cloud of darkness where my vision, my focus was lost.  Over the hill, you spy a gorge below, filled with a blur of a whipped cream-like fog-bank.  Immediately I ponder what it would be like to climb down into such a chasm to get up close and personal inside the misty haze.  Once there, you realize it’s not the chosen path where safety lies waiting.  The climb back up to the clear view is so far away.  Instead, you can’t see above, around, or through the muck.  You can flash your lights on bright, but it only bounces back by the wall of fog.  No need to use your shadow as a compass, for the fog offers no shadows.

Fog is not our friend.  Fog lacks grace.  Fog lacks love.  Fog serves up misdirection.  It cares not who you are, or how many halls of fame you have been inducted.  One thing fog does possess…a weakness.

Ask any ship captain.  The foghorn is imperative when on the sea.  The tiny partials of H2O, making up the low-hanging, ground-loving cloud, is perfect for carrying audio.  Sound waves board these tiny morsels of water within mist as if they were minuscule microphones which transmit quickly to the nearest ear.  The foghorn is set at a very low frequency where the vibration skims off the surface of the water like a thin stone gliding on the exterior of the deep.  The low frequency pierces the dark, murky mist.  It bellows out, “I’M HERE!  ALTHOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE ME, I’M AFLOAT HERE IN THIS CLOUD!”  Soon, a lighthouse ashore, beams its blinding lamp toward the sound of the foghorn, guiding the ship to port.

Lighthouse Final Take

Photo:  My wife’s, Michelle Niles-Brown very first painting.

My flight-path in life has met with mountainsides a few times.  When I segue into the fog of this world, I will be, and have been, disoriented, adrift from my control tower, unable to hear its wise words.  Count on it happening when you seek only “special visuals” from your own judgement.

No matter how thick the cloud bank, no matter how wide the fog may be, no matter if the visibility is only 5 feet, when I hear the cutting foghorn of my Creator, I not only sense my built-in warning system, my flight-path is rediscovered.  The choice is mine to make the correction on faith, and not by sight.

Learning from life’s tragedies can first be navigated by fuel for the race.

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.  And I am giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them from my hand.”  – Jesus –  John 10:27-28  (Aramaic Bible Into Plain English)

 

 

 

Like A Bridge

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

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

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

Covered bridge from Joan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy.  Bring back that sunny day…”  Stormy (1968) Recorded by:  Classics IV.  Composers:  Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie

As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees.  The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees.  Great day to mow the lawn. LOL  It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive.  What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.

Our springtime was horribly rough.  May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail.  We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June.  The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves.  Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings.  We’ve had many this year thus far.

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

Photo:  My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof.  She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado.  The house is about 164 years old.  It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage.  Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.

Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms.  I’ve written about this before.

Sammie In Storm Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen.  You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake.  All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter.  I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room.  When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand.  Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not.  The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.

Frankly, I can understand her pretty well.  I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do.  Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms.  On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers.  They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto.  In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch.  Yet, I still love them.

Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain.  I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house.  I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should.  If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me.  But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.

Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album.  The last song on the project is my favorite.  The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”.  Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply.  It speaks.  Here’s a section for you:

“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.  Give me a piece of your mind.  Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind.  Recorded by Grosh.  Composers:  Lougen/English (Her band-mates)

(Sample the cut at:  groshband.com.  Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume.  (Also available for downloads.)  Tell me how it grabs you.)

There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life.  Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst.  Car crash – no warning.  Job loss – no warning.  Health crisis – no warning.  Death in the family – no warning.  Can you identify?

How honest is this?  At times, I have felt alone.  At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers.  At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place.  At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.

Life is so much like the weather.  Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so.  Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath.  You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds.  (It’ll take about 3 seconds.)  In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken.  A bit at a loss.  A bit bewildered.  This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.

Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”.  Many times I fail.  In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best.  Synthetics are just that…synthetic.  Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?

Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can.  The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary.  In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too.  We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually.  My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  Why?

Where else could I go?  He simply is the biggest person in the room.  The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way.  He alone called Himself, “The Rock”.  In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.

He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?”  Wouldn’t you ask?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)

Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”.  It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew.  For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all.  Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be.  Wow!  That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation.  Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be.  A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.

Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level.  He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love.  He claimed that He and God were one.  Yes, a heavy thing to say.  And then He proved it several times.  Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”.  It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description.  It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14)  That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.

Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace.  IE:  A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)

 

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)

 

My Tribute To Larry Bierl

“I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories…”   I Will Remember You, (1995).  Recorded by:  Sarah McLachlan.  Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, Dave Merenda

Cover photo:  Anne Neville/Buffalo News

Life sure has its ways of reminding us how we should have corrected ourselves at some point and time.  The rear-view mirror can be a teaching tool.

I lived in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, a Buffalo suburb, from 2003-2008.  It’s approximately 5,300 in population.  I chose Williamsville because it was a beautiful, quaint little area, away from the city where I did a radio show.  The property taxes were higher, with the safe neighborhood, as well as the school district.  It was a superb place for my three girls.

Often times, while driving into the quiet, older downtown village of Williamsville for a dinner run, or a nice walk down to the Ellicott Creek waterfall in Glen Park, we would see a mysterious man walking the sidewalks.  He was quite the oddity for the setting of Williamsville’s more upper-crust reputation.  He was a homeless man, or so we assumed.  The majority of the homeless were seen in the city, not the norm for the Williamsville/Amherst section of Buffalo.  More than likely you would see him clad in camouflage coat & pants, or a pair of cargo khakis, hunting lace-up boots, and long heavy yarn scarves wrapped around his neck that hung down to his thighs.

One evening, while sitting in the car in a parking lot, waiting to pick-up my daughter from a musical rehearsal, I saw the man was nearby, digging through a trash bin outside a Wendy’s fast food location.  At closer glance, I observed the scarves with a better perspective.  The scarves were not scarves at all.  They were extremely long strands of thick, matted hair, appearing to be mufflers of wool.  These strands were not dreadlocks, with crafty braids of hair art, although many attempted a good spin by calling them dreadlocks.  They were as thick as a dock rope.  It was an amazing sight, and certainly highly unique.  It told part of this man’s narrative.

My oldest daughter, Tabitha, 16 at the time, worked part-time for Spot Coffee, a popular coffee and pastry bar.  He made a semi-daily stop there for a tall cup of straight java.  He was offered free coffees and food from most of the businesses in the village. or wherever he showed up, but he always paid when he could.  Empty bottles and cans were his prey.  It was a familiar scene, a plastic trash bag full of the soon-to-be recycled items, draped over his shoulder.  He had a zip-lock plastic bag of coins and dollar bills stashed in the thigh pocket of his pants.  Nobody ever saw him begging on the street corners.  However, the community members, not allowing judgement to overrule them, donated money to him coming and going.  One might wonder how the business owners and the police dealt with him.  I am proud to say, very kindly.  Everyone understood, this man was part of our community, living a life of his choosing.

More days than not, if you drove by Spot Coffee, you would see him sitting at one of the patio tables with coffee in hand, gazing off toward the horizon.  He seemed to live in his own world.  He was gentle, never causing trouble.  Although he was not one to enjoy talking much.  He would respond if spoken to.  My daughter has a big heart.  She made sure she spoke to him while serving him coffee, or whenever she was close enough on other occasions.

Larry Bierl AT Spot Coffee Photo:  Carole Taylor & Buffalo News

Sometimes you could see him sitting outside a Burger King on a sidewalk bench, eating a burger.  Other times, he would be stuffing one into an old worn backpack.  It was not unusual for him to decline someone offering him fries to go with it.  My opportunity was one August afternoon as I jogged by the bench.  You guessed it.  I looked straight ahead listening to Fleetwood Mac on my headset, pretending I didn’t notice him.

Many have seen him walking the campus of the University of Buffalo, watching the pigeons.  There is a subway station there, on the south campus, where he often took shelter.  With that said, I think he simply enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the campus, even under hostile weather.

After a year of living there, this man just became a fixture to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I no longer acknowledged his presence, but rather I expected to see him…somewhere.  What’s truly nagging at me is the fact he had a story and I didn’t know it.

Although he was an icon, even a staple in the area, most only heard rumors concerning who he really was.  Not many ever knew his name, including your’s truly.  One rumor painted the man on the street as an alcohol and drug addict.  Another rumor dubbed him as a military vet from the Vietnam conflict.  Because he often paid for his coffee and food, many believed he was covertly wealthy, wanting to experience the street life of the poor.  It’s funny how we can extract scenarios about someone when they are shrouded in mysteries.

One thing is for sure, he was a tough soul.  During the decades of street life, he braved some of the worst winter blasts Buffalo/Niagara had to offer, and they are many.

My middle daughter, Megan, still lives in Buffalo.  Recently I asked if she has spotted the roving man after all these years.  She said he stays pretty much in the Amherst/Williamsville suburbs, but nothing had seemed to change for him.

Last week, Megan posted an article from the Buffalo News newspaper.  During the horrid polar vortex weather system, which blew in sub-zero temps, and all that goes with it, Buffalo was hit extremely hard.

At the height of the storm, he had gone to one of his coffee hang-outs, a Tim Horton’s location, but it was closed due to the travel ban with the deep freeze encasing the region.  (It’s highly rare to see a Tim Horton’s closed due to weather.)  He then entered, for the very first time, the lobby at a nearby luxury hotel.  The manager of the restaurant and bar, offered him coffee and a chair, which he accepted.  Seeing that he was suffering from the penetrating polar winds, he was generously offered a room for the night.  He declined.  (Even if he had accepted, he would’ve abandoned the accommodations soon after.)  The manager then offered hot food, a warm hat, as well as another coat.  As it was his usual form, he declined.  After a small time of warmth,  the poor man began to make his way to the lobby door.  The staff begged him to stay longer, only to watch him nod as he made his frigid exit.

Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, age 67-69, was found the following morning, January 31st, just two blocks down from the hotel, on a bench at a three-sided plexiglass bus stop on Main Street.  Somewhere in the overnight, he had passed away from the wrath of the polar vortex.

Main St Bus Shelter Buffalo

Photo:  Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

The Buffalo News article had published a beautiful letter from Larry’s extended family.  Nobody was aware he had family at all.  His sister was the writer.  As the family revealed Larry’s story, I could hardly hold my mouth closed.  Larry held a master’s degree.  He was once in management of a well-known airline corporation.  He never was a vet.  He never was a drug addict, or alcohol abuser.  One day, in the mid 70’s, for no apparent reason, he walked away from his life as he knew it to be.  He traveled the country, often hitching rides with truckers and hopping trains, only to return to Buffalo to live as a homeless man.  The family did all they could to help him.  They tried for years to convince him to get help.  He declined.  After many years of tracking him, pushing him to get the much needed assistance he deserved, the family surrendered to his wishes.  Nobody in his family ever knew exactly what happened to his mind, or what derailed his life, but he lived with a mental illness.

After reading of his terrible death, along with his story, I must admit, I cried.  As I write this blog, my mind still hasn’t come to grips with how I feel, or how to process this.  Why?  Because I never spoke to Larry, although many I love had done so.  Not once did I ever offer him a meal, a bottle of water, or a new pair of shoes.  It came to mind to grab a gift card at a hair salon, or a clothing outlet, but I never did.  Clearly, God gave me opportunities, but apparently “I” was more important.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus –  Mark 12:31a (NIV)

Sure, there were internal excuses.  They went something like this,  “The Buffalo City Mission downtown will take care of him.”  Here’s another,  “My neighbors will do it.”  Of course the most common,  “I don’t have the time on my schedule today.”  Ironically, I’ve volunteered at missions and shelters since I was a teenager.  You could’ve found me feeding the homeless at various soup kitchens, from time to time in my life.  But Larry….not one thing, not once.  Mentioning him on my radio show would’ve been acceptable.  I could’ve brought more awareness to Larry’s plight.  No, I didn’t open up at all.  I had the chance to make a difference in his day.  I did nothing of the sort.  Part of me never wants to hear rejection, even if it’s offering a pair of socks to a homeless one who may decline.  Well, that’s my lame excuse.  Frankly, my tears weren’t just for Larry, but they were also for my seemingly growing jaded outlook.  God forbid that my heart grows cold and hard with age.

Someone very wise once said, “Never cry for a life lost.  Rejoice because it happened.” (Paraphrased)  One sour soul might say Larry’s life was a wasted life, a waste of time, and a waste of space.  However, the hundreds that helped Larry, who gave of themselves through the decades, were enriched by the man.  Think about it.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Jesus (Quoted in Acts 20:35 – NAS)

It might be wise to deice, or defog the rear-view mirror first, before going the extra mile.

The ice melts.  The sub-zero temps vanish.  But life…life makes its stamp.  Somewhere in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, if you go to a quiet place, you just might hear the whisper of Lawrence Bierl, “I was here.”

Remembering and serving, floods from the river of fuel for the race.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh (and blood)?”  Isaiah 58:7 (NAS)

Slippery Slopes

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

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

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

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

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

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

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

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

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

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

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

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

 

Perpetual Horn of Plenty – A Short Story

By: Alan Scott Brown

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

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

Pumkin Tray

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

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

Oldsmobile-1964

eBay.com

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

Me, KDB & Mom Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, no,” she said with a start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icy Windshield pinterest

pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick-Up...ford-trucks.com

Ford-trucks.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me-OMA-Mom filtered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horn of Plenty - Amazon.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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