May 13, 2018
The rocking chair porch at a Cracker Barrel
THE OLD TAYLOR PLACE
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor lived on 125 acres, about 8 miles from the old Sabine school outside of Lindale. Daddy had done quite a bit of work for them through the years, and after Mr. Taylor died, Mrs. Taylor offered the place to him to farm on the halves (share cropper). He jumped at the offer, and we loaded our stuff into a wagon and moved in when I was around three or four.
People ask me how I can remember so much of this stuff. I guess it’s because, we were kinda far from town, not any kids close by, and everything I knew was what was going on where I was.
Remember, no television. Heck, we didn’t even have electricity at the old Taylor place.
My sisters were all older than me…didn’t have much to do with me.
So my life was walking with, talking to, watching everything my daddy did.
He didn’t talk much around people. But he talked to me.
And I listened.
You know, I can still see the rocks on that red Sabine sand.”
“It’s just like you’re watching a movie in your head, isn’t it?” I am amazed at how much he remembers.
“Yeah, I guess it is. A movie.
Hey, Randy, did I ever tell you about my teacher at the Sabine school?
Miss Irramae Braziel. She taught the first three grades. She was always telling us about the evils of whiskey.
One day me and a couple of my friends were getting a bicycle pump out of Miss Irramae’s trunk to air up a volleyball. Someone found a bottle of whiskey in the trunk.
We wondered if her husband might have put it there, and we didn’t want to say anything in case she would get upset. So we kinda hid it in some bushes off the schoolyard.
A little later, one of the guys told her what we had found and that we knew it was bad so we got rid of it.
A couple of the guys were out there one day, sipping at that whiskey, and Miss Irramae saw them through the window, walked out into the school yard, quietly spoke a few words, held out her hand, and they handed her the bottle.
She never said another word about it.”
May 13, 2018
The rocking chair porch at a Cracker Barrel
I let Wendy and her parents out at the front door and drove off to find a parking place. Lunchtime at Cracker Barrel on Sunday and on Mother’s Day; probably the absolute busiest day of the year.
“It’ll be about forty minutes,” Wendy said as I walked up.
There were three rocking chairs together, so the three of them sat down.
“Oh, Blair,” said MaryJane, “stand up and I’ll fix it.”
I looked up, and she was trying to reconnect his suspenders to the back of his pants.
She was laughing quietly, probably, partly because it was kinda funny, and partly out of nervous embarrassment, because there was an audience. (You know how the chairs are lined up on both sides of the porch, facing each other.)
Blair sat back down, and, since there were no more chairs close by, I just took my place standing behind his chair. I planned on hearing some stories during the wait.
Blair snorted, and said “Look at this!”
I looked. The suspenders had popped loose again, and the end was resting on top of his head. He chuckled, and looked at the young man across the way, who was watching the drama unfold.
“You didn’t know Cracker Barrel provided comedians, did you?” he said, as if he had planned the whole show.
The young man laughed, and gave me his chair.
I sat down and asked, “So, when you were growing up, did y’all ever have horse races?”
“Oh, yeah! A lot of times.” I could see his eyes focusing on the film playing in his head. “A bunch of guys would get together, usually at our place…”
“The Old Taylor Place?”
He always chuckles when I say that. I can’t tell you how many of his stories took place at the Old Taylor Place.
“It was usually on weekends. Not everybody had horses that they could use that way, but it wasn’t unusual.”
I asked, “What about you? Did y’all have just one horse, or were there more?”
“Well, we usually had a horse around, but Daddy would train ‘em, and sell ‘em, so we didn’t usually have a horse for very long…unless he really liked the horse. Once, he walked to Tyler to pick up three horses for some neighbors.”
Blair’s dad was a blacksmith (one of many skills, including farmer, horse doctor, well-digger, town mover, freight liner, and other stories for another time ) and he was able to provide people with horses.
“So he got to Tyler for the three horses. Quite a walk from Lindale. Two of the horses were 8.00 apiece. The third was 4.00, because it had a bad scar on its leg. It was a red sorrel, and Daddy decided to keep it for himself. He saw something valuable in that horse. A lot of folks wouldn’t want a horse that had been injured . Thought it might come back to be a problem.
Anyway, Daddy threw a hundred pound bag of feed on the red horse’s back.
‘ What are ya doing, Doc?’ the men asked him.
When he told ‘em he planned on riding it back to Lindale, they laughed and laughed.
‘You gonna break a horse with a feed bag?’ they asked, laughing and shaking their heads.
Daddy, didn’t ever say a lot, but he just started leading that horse around with the sack of feed on its back, kinda whispering to it, touching it real gentle.
A little while later, he jumped up on that horse’s back and rode it bareback all the way back to Lindale, leading the other two horses.
He broke a lot of horses that way, but he wouldn’t tell anyone how he did it.
They would leave a horse with him to put horseshoes on it, because he might be too busy to do it while they waited.
Horseshoes were .25 apiece. Sometimes people would only get the front shoes, because the front wore out faster than the back.
When they were gone, out came the sack of feed.
When they returned, he would give them a shoed broken horse. He might have charged a little extra for the breaking. I don’t know for sure.
‘Now, Blair, I don’t ever want you to lie about it, but if someone asks you how come I break so many horses and never get hurt, well, just smile and shrug. We don’t need to tell our secret.’
One time, a man came back to get his horse. ‘Doc, you reckon I could ride this horse home without him buckin’ me off?’
Daddy said, ‘Sure, just start out by layin’ across his back.” He looked at me and smiled. We were sharing a moment.
The guy did it. The horse didn’t budge. He sat up, rode him a bit, got off, put a saddle on the horse, and the horse never moved until the stirrups fell against his sides.
I don’t guess Daddy ever told a soul about the feed sack method…except me.”
“Do you think enough time has passed for me to share this little secret?” I asked with a grin.
“ I don’t guess it’ll hurt.”
“Welcome to Cracker Barrel! Wendy, table four four! Wendy, table for four!”
This is one of the old rock and roll songs playing on the radio as I was cleaning windows at the house of an aging hippie and his wife.
I think, “That could’a been me.”
It was turned up high, so you could hear it from anywhere in the house.
I used to love this stuff.
I have to admit, it was nostalgic.
Ah, “nostalgic.” What a pleasant word.
Okay, maybe “nostalgic” doesn’t describe it that well.
It did bring back memories.
Memories of a time when loud music helped drown out my emptiness and feelings of insecurity, and doubt.
Did I say “insecurity”?
“Turn that up! I love that song!” (I can’t stop this feeling, deep inside of me…)
The old days…when life was simple…live for the moment…don’t worry, be happy…if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with…we can change the world, rearrange the world…imagine there’s no heaven… Hello darkness, my old friend…
That’s what it was…a feeling of darkness.
Not in me…the light has overcome the darkness…
In the house.
The music brought back the memories of life before…life that was dark…life that was empty.
The music that used to excite…it sounds so empty…so desperate…so needy.
But I realized what was wrong…
When the music was playing, I couldn’t hear the voice of the One that I love…
That still, small whisper…
The voice that fills that place inside…
That I tried to fill with noise before…
Until I heard it for the first time…
“You must be born again!”
May 8, 2018
TWINS FROM A DIFFERENT AGE
I got up early today. So much work to squeeze in.
I forgot what day it was.
A notification popped up on Facebook ; a memory from two years ago.
MAY 8, 2018 was today.
My 40th birthday.
(Not that one. That’s in November. The 15th. Just so you know. I’ve had 66 of those.)
But, today was the 40th anniversary of the day everything began to change for me.
As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder, as I rushed off to work, I decided to listen to the audible version of my through the Bible in a year program.
Today’s reading was about when Elijah the prophet had just finished whuppin 450 prophets of Ba’al all by himself, then Queen Jezebel threatened him and he got scared and went into hiding.
There is a whole lot more to that story, but that is not what I am trying to tell you about.
You see, the new testament reading for the day was John 3.
That is the chapter of the Bible that I read 40 years ago the day before the big change.
I read the chapter again, today.
Turns out, Nicodemus and I had a lot in common.
He had grown up studying and memorizing and teaching the Word of God.
He tried really, really hard to always keep the law.
He wanted to know how he could get into God’s kingdom.
He had been a teacher to Israel for a long time.
I had been a high school Sunday School teacher for a long time.
Well, this was my second week.
Anyway, I’m sure you see the similarities.
But the thing was, he asked Jesus a question. Jesus answered it.
Nicodemus said, “Huh?”
I read the exchange 40 years ago, and I said, “Huh?” (Just like Nicodemus.)
But, those words were the fire that ignited my soul, changed my heart, made me begin to love the God that I had only believed existed before.
I bet it did for Nicodemus, too.
Two Years Ago May 7, 2017
WHEN I WAS A CHILD….
Wendy and I were having a late breakfast, talking about old memories, going back to when our mom’s began to go to work.
Ah…memories. Funny things, memories.
We have so many.
Or, do we?
Think back to some of your earliest memories.
The earliest for me are really little more than very brief videos.
Summer, 1955. I’m sitting by a pool in someone’s back yard. There is an inflatable horse beside me at the edge of the pool. I imagine myself riding that horse around the pool. I climb on, the horse rolls, I go into the water…….When my mom arrives to pick me up, I tell her, “Mommy, I drownded.”
Summer, 1957. First day of swimming lessons at Garland Central Park pool. Grey haired lady in black one piece swimsuit with a Red Cross patch teaches me to hold my breath, open my eyes under water. Just like the pamphlet.
November, 1955. I’m sitting in my brand new red fire truck, imagining myself zipping down the sidewalk. I can’t make it move…I don’t have the strength to pedal.
November, 1955. I’m at the doctor’s office. “Randy can’t pedal his fire truck,” my mom tells him. We take a bottle of iron in liquid form home. I still remember the taste.
Fall, 1955. At my friend Pat’s house, several kids and I are sitting in front of a television, watching a show called Romper Room.
Later, 1956. I am driving my fire truck down the sidewalk. I stop, look up at the men installing an antenna on top of our house.
Summer, 1958. My first trip to the old library in downtown Garland, Texas. Tall shelves, wonderful musty smell. I knew how to read even though I hadn’t started school, and I was able to take some books home with me.
December, 1959. At Monica Park Christian Church, “The Hanging of the Greens.” We had been eating snacks and making decorations. I’m walking on the sidewalk, my stomach flutters, I know I’m about to throw up, I bend over, see my good shoes, and, with every vomitous blast from my mouth, I slide backwards so I will not get my shoes dirty. Three times in a row.
So many questions you could ask me.
Who had a swimming pool?
What were you doing there without your mom?
How did you get there?
Who pulled you out of the pool?
Who else was there?
Whose idea was it for you to take swimming lessons?
Who was Pat?
What other kids were there?
How long before you could pedal your fire truck?
What color was the iron in liquid form? (I know this one. Brown)
What books did you take home?
Who taught you to read?
Were you at church by yourself, or was your family there?
You know something else I don’t remember?
My mom didn’t go to work until my little brother was four. I was nine.
I can’t remember what nine years of home life was like waking up with mom there every single day.
I could answer some of the questions now, but not because I remember.
The memories get burned in in moments of our lives, traumatic, wonderful, scary moments that sear themselves into the wrinkles in our brains.
Tiny little moments that add flavor and experience to an otherwise mundane day to day sameness that we don’t remember.
But there, in the mundane day to day existence was someone who made sure I didn’t live to fear the water, to miss the chance to pedal my fire truck, who made sure I would be able to read by the time I started school.
Someone who saw each little trauma, each little joy, each new experience as a chance for me to grow, to become a man.
When I became a man, I began to put away childish things.
But the memories of moments still happen in the same way now, with traumatic, wonderful and life changing instances.
And there is One in the background, moving through my mundane day to day sameness, shaping each memorable moment into forming me into the man He planned for me to become.
And these memories….they still pop into my mind and help me see the One who guides me through.
I walked in. The light reflecting off the street gave a golden hue to everything, a bit like the sunsets in the old days, but better. Way better.
I recognized the barista. “Hey, Hezekiah, good to see you. I think I would like a medium coffee. Black.”
“You mean, grande?” We both laughed.
“I want to sit with someone new today. Who are the guys in the corner?”
“Oh, Randy, you will like them. I call them The Wise Guys Club. Those four are Judah’s grandsons. I think Solomon and Daniel are gonna be joining them in a little while.”
“And they are….?”
“Oh, yeah, Ethan, Heman, Kalcol, and Darda.”
I laughed again. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to these names y’all have.”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to ‘y’all’. Daniel! Whatcha gonna have today?”
Daniel and Solomon walked in together. “And I was telling them, ‘I guess I’ll just cut that baby in half…’ They thought I was serious.”
Daniel, shaking his head, smiling, “I know, I never get tired of that story. Hey, Hezekiah, how’s the kingdom? How ’bout a large coffee, no sugar, no cream?”
“You mean, venti, black?” Hezekiah, what a joker.
I followed them to the table, introduced myself all around, and said, “I remember one time reading through the Bible in the old days. The first time I noticed you, Ethan, Heman, Kalkol, and Darda in the book was when I was 66 years old. ”
“I know what he’s gonna say,” piped up Solomon.
“Yeah, Solomon, you always know, you’re so wise,” said Ethan.
“The wisest!” cracked Darda.
They all laughed uproariously.
“Yeah, you all know, right?” I said, “What I really wanted to know was, were you sad that you were not the wisest, that that honor was bestowed on Solomon, even mentioning you as the comparison.”
“Well, hey! Top four, baby!” shouted Kalkol. “We didn’t have wisdom, until God gave it to us, anyway. It was all Him!”
Daniel nodded. “Hey, there’s old Nebuchadnezzar skating by. I’m gonna go say ‘Hi. See you later guys.”
“The sons of Zerah: Zimri, Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara, five in all.”
1 Chronicles 2:6 ESV
“Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.”
1 Kings 4:30-31 NIV
I got up this morning to let the dogs out.
Something was different.
The fence. The fence on the north side of the back yard, the old fence, the fence with a ragged bottom, the fence that now looked brand new.
I heard someone on the other side of the fence, so I walked around.
“What d’ya think?” My neighbor had a big smile on his face.
“What did you do?” I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard anything. He had to have worked through the night. “Why did you do this.”
“Pretty good job, huh? My uncle suggested it.”
“Your uncle suggested what?”
“Well, we were sitting on the back porch, drinkin’ beer, and I said,’You know what would be great? If I had about four more feet on the side of my yard.'”
“He said, ‘I’ll tell you how to kill two birds. Look at that fence.’ He was pointin’ at yours.” He stopped, looked at me, grinned, and said, “You gotta admit, that fence has probably seen better days. Pretty raggedy, yeah? Anyway, he said, ‘I’ll help you tonight. We’ll take that old fence down and put up a new one. Your neighbor’ll be so happy to have a new fence, he’ll probably never even notice that we took a few feet from his yard.’ You didn’t notice, did you?”
Oh, yeah, I noticed. I noticed real big.
“You can’t do that! You can’t just take someone’s property. You can’t move a boundary line. There are laws.”
“Yeah? But you just got yourself a new fence.”
I felt like my head was going to…”I didn’t ask you for a new fence!”
“And that’s the beauty of the whole thing. I gave you a brand new fence. Free. Cost you nothing.”
“You’re gonna have to move it back. Back to the property line.”
“Well, now, I’ll have to charge you for that. It’s a pretty big job. These fence posts. I put ’em in concrete. That fence ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Now, I have to admit, this didn’t happen the way I told it.
Actually, it didn’t happen at all.
But what if we were created with moral boundaries?
Rules that were planted inside us, to give us guidelines on how to live with each other, how to please our Creator.
Then, some unscrupulous uncle comes along and tells us that we don’t have to stick to those boundaries anymore. That there are ways around them. And we will be a lot happier if we do move these “property lines”.
And, what if we believed Him?
And we started moving them, just a little.
“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.”
Proverbs 22:28 NIV
The first 26 years of my life, I considered myself a Christian. I believed in God. (The demons believe, and they tremble.) The next 37 years, Jesus became my Master. And my Friend.
“The times, they are a’changin’.” I take political stands these days based on one thing: what is true?
1. Marriage was instituted by the Creator with the first man and the first woman. He set the parameters when he told them to be fruitful and multiply. The whole purpose of marriage was for the woman to be the completion of the man, and to bring offspring into the world, to introduce them to their Creator.
2. Doing whatever you want has never been right. Laws and governments were created to protect the people of a nation from people who could not restrain themselves from acting selfishly and doing harm to others in their actions.
3. Honesty is a virtue. Dishonesty is a selfish act, used to bring about a selfish result.
4. Loving one’s neighbor does not mean excusing one’s selfish or harmful choices. Love means telling the truth.
5. Prejudice is wrong. Whenever you take the actions of a few, and ascribe them to all of a group, you are being prejudiced.
6. Because something offends me does not give me the right to do wrong.
7. A nation divided against itself cannot stand.
When we as a nation begin to tell those that are choosing harmful or hurtful actions that it is okay because they have been wronged in the past, we are removing the effects of a God-given guilt that points us to a right path. When we begin to call evil good and good evil, we are defying the God who gives us life.