Recycling Before Recyling Was Cool

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My reference to Treva’s dad yesterday brought back of host of memories for lots of folks. A dear friend from the first grade read my musings and went back in time. My mention of the galvanized metal boxes Treva’s brother had in the back of his pickup truck that I likened to the entrée of the Clampett Family with stacks of stuff tied on to the back of their truck, took him back in time.

 

He said of the metal boxes, “I bet I know who made those galvanized metal boxes. In the 9th grade I took a General Shop class. Half of the semester was wood shop and the other half metal shop. In metal shop we made a cold chisel that took several weeks to make. We made it by hand, shaping it with a file. The other project was a galvanized sheet metal tool box.
 The day before we were to start on the tool box, we took a field trip to Topper Sheet Metal.
 Mr. Topper introduced himself to the class and then said, ” Hello, Wayne”.
 He then told everyone he had known me a long time and we went to church together. Then he told me to come up and help him. 
Made my day.
 He talked to us about his work and showed us jobs he was working on in the shop, air conditioning duct work that would go into homes and businesses.
 Then he showed us the finished tool box we were going to make in shop class, set it aside and started cutting and bending sheet metal and explained everything he was doing and why. In less than half an hour he made what would take us several weeks.
 Mr. Topper was a kind, gentle Godly gentleman and very skilled master craftsman”.

 

In an effort to tie up loose ends from yesterday’s blog, there are a couple of things I need to clarify. First of all, I made reference to the fact that I can be a jerk. I think most readers overlooked my heartfelt confession of wrongdoing. Maybe my confession was a little too subtle for folks to figure out that I was being transparent and highlighting the fact that I can be the “brother-in-law” from… Well let’s just say somewhere other than heaven.

 

Even my own brother read my blog yesterday and stepped in with his rendition of gentle redirection. He said of my apology for being a jerk: “Your expressed sorrow to Joni appears to be an ostentatious sorrow. If you were truly remorseful about your classless behavior, you would call her on the phone. Hey, I’m just saying…Love you much”.

 

Of course, I really can’t blame Larry for heaping on loads of guilt. That skillset is closely woven into our DNA. We weren’t raised Catholic, but we grew up Baptist with a mother who had the skillset to orchestrate repentance through dishing out a truckload of guilt on her kids. She knew all the tricks of the trade.

 

I don’t even have to think about how it came down. It is ingrained in my head as though it is second nature to me. My kids would tell you that it is second nature ot me. Obviously, my younger and somewhat smarter brother has the same propensity. So how did it go? Oh, yeah: “If you really love God you wouldn’t be fighting with your brother.” Long story short, when you were the target of Mother’s gentle redirection, you always emerged from the experience knowing your were responsible for being unkind not only to your brother, but to God as well.

 

Like I said: “My younger and somewhat smarter brother” grew up with that same frame of reference. I suspect if you were to ask his kids, they’d say he and my Mother have a lot in common. Of course they do. My dear Mother was a gift from God and one of most loving and thoughtful people you’d ever meet. The same is true for Larry Dean. He was named after my Mother. Her name was Neva Dean.  I really miss  her.

 

Okay, so I tried to soften my brother’s accusation of my “ostentatious sorrow” a little by suggesting to Larry Dean that he modify the term to “subtly ostentatious sorrow”, but it was a “no go”. He responded: “Isn’t subtly ostentatious an oxymoron like ‘cruel to be kind’?” Like I said, “It is somewhere in the DNA?”

 

Please hear this. Let there be no mistake. I thoroughly enjoy the back and forth playful banter I share with my younger and somewhat smarter brother. Repeat – Let there be no mistake, we dearly love and respect each another.   You’re probably thinking, if you think like my Mother, “Don – If you really loved God you’d let Larry Dean win once in awhile”. Maybe you’re right. I’ll give that some thought.  By the way, I learned a thing or two from my mother as well.

 

There is a second thing about yesterday’s blog that I need to clear up. I didn’t explain in my blog yesterday why Treva’s dad had a collection of mangled, twisted, bent lead pipes. When it came to sheet metal work, Treva’s dad represented the best in the business. He was the “go to person” not only for folks needing air conditioning and heating ducts, but he also made metal flashings needed in new home construction and for repairing damaged rooftops. When replacing roofs, it is customary to also replace the lead pipes that protrude through the roof and also reflected hail damage.

 

It all gets back to content. Lead is lead. It can be used for pipes and it can also be used for bullets. Treva’s dad was a hunter and he reloaded his own bullets. To do that, he needed lead. His customers wanted to be helpful. They brought Mr. Topper the old lead pipes they took off of rooftops. They knew that he would re-purpose the lead. In addition, there was always the outside chance they might also get some venison out of the deal. The way I see it, it was recycling before anyone even knew the term.

 

My friend from first grade also thoughtfully added in his message from yesterday: “Like you, my Mama and Daddy crossed the threshold of Heaven some years ago, but when I go home to the house I grew up in, I can go into the garage, go to the work bench, put my hand on a metal lever, pull it down and the years fade away. Daddy and me are loadin’ shotgun shells again to replace the ones we used up that day on dove or quail. Gettin’ ready for tomorrow.  I think grandmother sent Craig a pickup load of memories. Glad he has them, the loader and a Godly grandmother to think of him”.

 

The bottom line is this, “At times I am a jerk, but I also am surrounded by a host of incredible folks who know how to make lemonade out of lemons”.  Thank you!

 

All My Best!

Don

The Gift of Childhood

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My younger brother observed the two three-year-old boys chasing a ray of sunlight in the room and thought it was blog worthy. Actually, that’s not totally accurate. He thought the picture would make a good sermon illustration. In fact, bless his heart, he is always sharing good sermon illustrations with me. Perhaps he has the mindset that if he does his part, sooner or later my sermons will get better. In the interim, he and a host of others patiently wait. The point he made is that we are drawn to the light.

 

While I don’t discount his observation or his theology, the point I want to highlight in today’s blog is a little subtler and one often taken for granted. It has to do with the gift of life. Nothing is more precious than children. In addition, nothing is more refreshing than the innocence of childhood.

 

The oldest three of the five children present at our reunion this year were three-years-old. There was a brother and sister twin-combination along with their eleven-month-old sister. In addition, the other three-year-old-boy had a two-year-old first-cousin that is a girl.  Actually I took some great pictures of the kids playing together.  It then occurred to me that I probably should get permission from their parents before I opted to display one in my blog.  Consequently, I’m playing it safe and sticking with the sunshine.

 

I watched them play and interact as though they were meant to be together. Isn’t that true of any group of two and three year olds? They had no idea that they were distantly related. None of that mattered. Yet, they clustered together and played with a sense of wellbeing as though their connection was destined to happen.

 

The three siblings present are the grandchildren of one of my cousins. The two first cousins are my brother’s grandchildren. Cute kids – everyone! I watched them and I saw them for who they are. The are adorable, loveable, precious and full of life with a sense of well-being. Both my cousin and my brother were older when they experienced the joy of being grandparents. As for myself, being a grandfather is old hat for me. My oldest granddaughter turned thirteen this week. Consequently, I’m a decade into grand parenting and they are just getting started. I am thrilled for them. Being a grandparent is a source of real joy.

 

Our family reunion was short on children this year. For one thing, school had started and the school age children who fill the role of grandchildren for me and most of my other cousins who were present had sports related obligations to fulfill. Not being a sports enthusiast, that is a stretch for me, but I get it. If you’re on the team, you’re obligated to be present.

 

Getting back to the small children playing together at one end of the room, I watched them with a sense of gratitude for the parents they were given. All are responsible, nurturing and focused on meeting the needs of their children. Did I mention, you don’t always find that?

 

How many three year olds have I seen who live with a sense of chronic fear and a history of unmet needs? One of the saddest cases I can recall was a two year old in a full body cast. He was placed in the emergency shelter where I work following his discharge from the hospital. I remember the listless look on his face and the absence of light in his eyes when he first came into our care. Within three weeks, he was a different kid. He was still in a full body cast, but his eyes sparkled and tracked your movement as you crossed the room. He had discovered laughter and had perfected the ability to smile. His only downfall was having a mother who preferred the nightlife with a boyfriend who was brutally abusive.

 

At the family reunion on Saturday, I saw the five children for who they are. They are a gift from God. They are a source of genuine joy. As I shifted my focus and looked in my brother’s direction, he was actively engaged in conversation. Actually, he appeared to be doing most of the talking as two of my cousins listened. However, both of them are also pretty verbal. They would have no difficulty managing to get a word in edge-wise.

 

I looked at the three men and then I looked back at the small children. I had the thought that day-before-yesterday all of us as cousins were very much like the small children before me. Since that time, our lives have been enriched from the friendship and on-going contact with each other. Early on, we discovered the joy of shared time with extended family. Honestly, my mother and her siblings were very close. That connection held fast throughout their lives. Consequently, it stands to reason that she’d pass on that same sense of priority to her children.

 

How does life go by so quickly? Today is my son’s birthday. If I did the math correctly, he is forty-five years old today. How can that be possible? I just turned forty-five the other day. It really wasn’t that long ago.

 

I mentioned one of my uncles  in a recent blog. I remember his concern when my grandpa purchased a fishing boat. Grandpa was fifty-years-old at the time. From my uncle’s perspective, it was an irresponsible thing for Grandpa to do. It was his position that: “A fifty-year-old man had no business owning a boat. That’s how people drown”.

 

My grandfather obviously was easier to deal with than I will ever be. When my uncle objected, Grandpa sold the boat. I don’t remember Grandpa fishing, but he had a croquet court next to their home. It became the gathering place for him and his cronies to share on an afternoon. I’m not sure why at the age of fifty, you’d be retired, but Grandpa was as well as many of his friends.

 

Like the five small children who are kin, my cousins and I have also been gifted with parents who were responsible and caring. That gift had been passed on to them from their parents. Consequently, the debt of gratitude goes way back up the family line.

 

Somehow in the midst of life, somewhere between early childhood and adulthood, we lost our innocence but we had the sense that we were loved even if we were imperfect. Don’t get me wrong, I also didn’t have perfect parents. Yet, I can truthfully say, “I had parents who loved me.” I can also can say that: “My parents didn’t have perfect children. Ronnie and Larry were a mess”. Yet, all kidding aside, the two of them did a better job of meeting family expectations than I did. If my mother were still living, she’d tell you I was hardheaded. She’d probably express it like this: “Donnie liked to do things his way.” The General will tell you the same thing. Not that it matters, but I still do.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

LOOKING GOOD

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There were many stories that surfaced during our family reunion on Saturday, but I thought I’d capture one that features my cousin “Eddie”. At some point, he said of himself: “I used to go by Eddie, but I eventually dropped the ending an opted for Ed”. He mentioned previously running across an old friend from high school who called him “Eddie Don DeMoss”. He said, “Wow! That took me back in time.”

 

Ed – Eddie – Eddie Don – Eddie Don DeMoss?  Identify the name anyway you want, but he is the cousin that occasionally reads about three lines of what I’ve written before he loses interest and moves on to something else. Since I’ve included his name four times in the first three sentences, I suspect I’ll hold his attention.

 

Actually, I had forgotten that Eddie’s middle name was Don, but in thinking back, I do recall that his mother routinely called him Eddie Don. At the time, I was called Donnie, so it never occurred to me that we had the same name. Eddie is a graduate of Permian High School and a year older than Ronnie and me. Actually, he is two years older. I think he said he was seventy-one.

 

He asked me, “Was it you or Ronnie that stayed for the basketball game between Permian and Ector? I made the winning shot and I didn’t even know it until the next day. I guess you could say ‘I was the hero, but the disclosure came too late for me to enjoy the sensation of victory’. No one knew we won until the following day”.

 

Honestly, was he for real? Could he be delusional? Was he on a Rocky Mountain high? “No” is the short answer for the last question I posed. That would be totally out of character for him even though he does live in Colorado. He probably wasn’t delusional either. He grew up Methodist, but he always towed the line. His mother would have boxed his ears if he ever colored outside the lines.

 

Eddie has never been tall enough to play basketball!   Actually, I don’t know if that’s true or not, because I couldn’t walk and dribble a basketball at the same time. Consequently, I never stayed for a basketball game. For that matter, I wasn’t tall either.

 

My aunt mentioned Eddie’s dad. She said, “L.V. was always so much fun to be around. When he was a young man and beginning to date, he’d sing and dance around the house and ask: “Mama, Mama – Do I look good?” Grandma would always respond: “If you act half as good as you look, you’ll be just fine”.

 

My aunt mentioned that in their later years, after she and her older sister were widowed and Uncle L.V. was a widower, they went shopping with him in Dallas. He knew exactly what he wanted only he had to see it first. Everywhere they took him, nothing seemed to be exactly what he had in mind. The older sister said, “Well, there’s only one other store we haven’t tried. Do you want to go to Neiman Marcus?”

 

Wouldn’t you know it, Neiman’s had the perfect suit and he didn’t even flinch at the price. Some time later he accompanied my oldest aunt to the First Baptist Church in Nocona. He reportedly was dressed in his Sunday’s best? A friend of my aunt saw the two of them together and purposefully paused long enough at the entrance to the church to get an introduction. She was shocked when my aunt introduced him as her brother. She responded: “Oh shucks, I thought you had a gentleman friend.”

 

The lady latter reported to a friend who lived in the small community where my uncle grew up, that she had met my aunt’s brother and that he was very handsome. The friend responded, “If you think he looks good now, you should have seen him when he was a young man! He was the most handsome man and you couldn’t have found a nicer person or better gentleman anywhere”.

 

My cousin interjected: “He heard someone once say about the DeMoss family, ‘They are good people. The DeMoss family wouldn’t steal a pound of cotton from you.’ The expression seemed a little strange to me, but I’m accepting at face value that it is a genuine compliment. However, when I think of cotton, I think lightweight. How much cotton would you have to steal to get a pound of cotton?   In case you’re struggling to find the right answer, the answer is “a pound”.

 

Law-abiding, self-respecting and God-fearing were the mainstay of the party line my grandmother expected of her children. As luck would have it, their children passed on those three characteristics to their grandchildren as well.

 

I turned to my cousin Eddie as asked: “In what way are you most like your dad?” I’m not sure what I expected for an answer. My uncle was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known. He dreamed big and he was always up for the next adventure and business opportunity. His life was filled with adventure and far away places. His work was oilfield related. He was in Cuba under the initial reign of Fidel Castro. Reportedly, it was a close call. He got out of he country just in time. He also worked in both Venezuela and Argentina for a number of years. Every time I hear the song, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, I think about my uncle and the excitement of faraway places. He always had the most interesting stories and the pot of gold was always just around the next corner at the end of the rainbow. He loved life and nothing slowed him down.

 

There was any number of things that Eddie could have chosen to respond to my question: “In what way are you most like your dad?” You’ll think he is really smart when you hear what he answered. He responded by repeating the question. He then said: “I guess I am most like my dad in the way I look. I look just like him.”
I say this tongue-in-cheek on the outside chance that Ed – Eddie – Eddie Don – Eddie Don DeMoss is still reading. The response, “I look just like my dad” after hearing my aunt talk about my uncle’s reputation for having chiseled-in-stone-good-looks was pretty clever. However, that leads me back to the questions I asked earlier: “Honestly, was he for real? Could he be delusional? Was he on a Rocky Mountain high?” At any rate, it is really nice to have him in the family.

 

All My Best!

Don

The Old Home Place

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What would it be like to spend one’s golden years living in the home where you grew up? I have a couple of friends who have the good fortune to “live in and on the old home place”, so to speak and walk the acreage that previously had been walked by their father and perhaps, his father-before-him. My two friends are not acquainted and they live miles apart, but in many respects they share the same kind of pilgrimage. Both have the good fortune to have returned to the family farm/ranch and literally reestablished the ties to their roots.

 

The land has to look differently from the vantage point of mature adulthood than it did when you were still a wet behind the ears little kid and saw unexplored adventure around every boulder or unexplored parcel of land. What would it be like, not only to re-explore it in adulthood, but to have the sense that “this land is mine?”

 

Think about what that would be like. I’ve often wondered when I’ve visited in a place that has stood the test of time, “If wall’s could talk, what stories would they tell?” If at the age of 69 or 70, you are surrounded by the walls of your childhood, you don’t have to guess about the stories. For the most part, you’ve lived through them. Those stories were instrumental in fabricating the many dimensions of who you are. Sure, they don’t represent the totality of all that you’ve experienced and embraced, but they are substantive in your grounding and the totality of your existence. They represent a place with a special name. It is a place called “home”.

 

Thomas Wolfe wrote a book entitled: “You Can’t Go Home Again”. For him that was true. Thomas couldn’t go home again and the reason was of his own doing. I’ve always heard that a man shouldn’t burn bridges. Thomas Wolfe apparently failed to learn or remember that lesson. He wrote down the stories that most people tried to forget and subsequently published them in a book. I don’t recall if the book made the bestseller list, but it put Thomas Wolfe on everyone’s list whose stories were shared in his book. It was not a pretty picture. Of course, neither were their stories.

 

There is something about the concept of family secrets that become public record that can negate one’s sense of welcome in returning home. That is particularly true if you are the blabbermouth that didn’t know when things were better left unsaid. My mother would have expressed it like this: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

 

I think I have read all of Pat Conroy’s books. The books are a good read, but they are a little too autobiographical for likings of his siblings. The same was true for his parents during their lifetime. The upside of Conroy’s becoming a famous author was diminished in the shattering of relationships in his family of origin. At the end of the day, you still have to look at yourself in the mirror. If you’ve offended the people in your life that should be most important, the price of admission to become a famous writer overshadowed prudent judgment.

 

Because Thomas Wolfe chose to write stories thought to be secret and make them public, they were subsequently impossible to either hide from or forget. “Oh yeah, Thomas Wolfe burned lots of bridges”.

 

Neither of my friends who now make their home in what previously was their childhood home made that kind of mistake. Perhaps they both longed for the good old days or for the sense of comfort of finally being home again. Consequently, they both longed for the familiarity of what once had been.  Like I said, both of my friends grew up on a farm/ranch environment and were seasoned to honor the land, their heritage and the people with whom they shared life.

 

Both of my friends are not strangers to the concept of hard work. Like I said, they grew up in a ranch and farm environment and they didn’t shy away from the household chores that covered acres and acres of land. In the midst of their golden years, they still maintain that same resolve. If there is work to be done, they do it.

 

On Tuesday, I talked to the wife of one of my former roommates in college. He is one of my friends who has now returned to the place that goes back as far as he can remember. He and his wife are going to be in the Austin area the next three or four days and we’re looking forward to reconnecting after all these years. I can hardly wait.

 

My friend’s wife said of her husband. “He is now retired, but he really isn’t retired. He’s got to get back home by Monday to plant hay next week. He also leases the land for cattle to graze. He has some chores related to that. He also still preaches when provided opportunity. He stays busy. He goes to church every time the doors are open and he never misses a community meeting.  He stays really busy.  She then added as a caveat, “If he is underfoot, I usually tell someone to stop by and take him fishing.”

 

It has been at least forty-six years since we’ve last seen each other. At some level, I don’t know what to expect. I think of him as he looked forty-six years ago. He isn’t going to look the same now as he looked then. Of course, I tell myself that I do, but I don’t. I don’t look anything like I looked forty-six years ago. I guess that you could say that I’ve grown up and out. Of course, if you say that, you may be on shaky ground. I’m not sure what that means, but it could be a subtle threat. Probably not, but maybe? Be careful not to burn bridges.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treasured Memories Or Memories Laced With Pain?

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. For many adults it will be a time of thoughtful contemplation and memories associated to childhood. For some, the day will be filled with treasured memories of time-shared and the positive impact of a father’s love and involvement in their lives. For others, the day will trigger a sense of pain and disappointment that they missed what others find reason to celebrate.

In my quest to get to know people, I often ask about their story. Perhaps a part of it is a carry over from doing foster care and adoption studies on couples wanting children. In the process of conducting a home study, I always asked: “What do you (or did you) value most about your father?”

Sometimes I could discern the answer before they verbally shared their story. The “deer in the headlights” look on their faces made it clear that my question struck a raw nerve. Sadly, there are many adults who have the misfortune of growing up in homes where there was an absence of nurture and support from their father.

In Garrison Keillor’s book, We Are Still Married, he shares the story of the town’s baseball team. For lots of reasons, the team was named the Lake Wobegon Schroeders. Most of those reasons were the nine sons of E.J. Schroeder who were in the starting lineup.
Obviously E. J. loved baseball. After all, isn’t it the All American sport?

Keillor writes: “ E. J. was ticked off if one of his boys hit a bad pitch. He’d spit and curse and rail at him. And if a son hit a home run, E. J. would say: ‘Blind man coulda hit that one. Your gramma coulda put wood on that one. If a guy couldn’t hit that one out, there’d be something wrong with him I’d say. Wind practically took that one out of here, didn’t even need to hit it much.’ – then he would lean over and spit.

“So, his sons could never please him, and if they did, he forgot about it. Once, in a game against Freeport, his oldest boy, Edwin Jim, Jr., turned and ran to the center-field fence to try and catch a long, long, long fly ball. he threw his glove forty feet into the air to snag the ball and caught the ball and glove. When he turned toward the dugout to see if his dad had seen it, E. J. was on his feet clapping, but when he saw the boy look at him he immediately pretended he was swatting mosquitoes. That play was the third out of the inning. Jim, Jr. ran back to the bench and stood by his dad. E. J. sat chewing in silence and finally said: ‘I saw a man in Superior, Wisconsin, do that a long time ago. But he did it at night, and the ball was hit a lot harder.’

Can you imagine growing up in a household like that? At a very real level, children need their parent’s blessing and sense of support. Across 45 years of child welfare related work, I’ve got stories I could share. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the stories I have to share have nothing to do with my work. They are grounded in observations and bits and pieces of life stories that people have shared with me in the context of personal relationships.  They are stories from everyday life.

Interestingly, most people self-protectively choose not to share a lot, but when they do, it is simply because they cannot mask the pain of “never having gotten it right” from a parent’s perspective. Sometimes folks sharing their story continue to feel that somehow they were responsible for their father’s lack of interest or involvement in their lives.

I understand the concept of sibling rivalry, but generally that is time limited and one emerges into adulthood with a healthy relationship of siblings intact. I’ve known families where the father figuratively was threatened by the success of his children. Consequently, he always managed to malign or discount any achievements they accomplished. It is beyond me. I don’t get it, but it happens.

In his book Everybody’s Normal Until You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg asks the question: “Have you ever noticed how many messed-up families there are in Genesis?

  • Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him.
  • Lemech introduces polygamy to the world.
  • Noah – the most righteous man of his generation –gets drunk and curses his own grandson.
  • Abraham plays favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael, they’re estranged.
  • Isaac plays favorites between his sons Jacob and Esau; they’re bitter enemies for twenty years.
  • Their marriages are disasters – Abraham has sex with his wife’s servant, then sends her and their son off to the wilderness at his wife’s request
  • Isaac and Rebekah fight over which boy gets the blessing
  • Judah sleeps with his daughter-in-law when she disguises herself as a prostitute.
  • The list just goes on and on. These people need a therapist. They are not the Walton’s.”

In one of his books, Chuck Swindoll chronicles his memories from the vantage point of adulthood. He has an article entitled: “My Dad”  He writes this:  “My dad died last night. He left like he had lived. Quietly. Graciously. With dignity. Without demands or harsh words or even a frown, he surrender himself- a tired, frail, humble gentleman – into the waiting arms of his Savior. Death, selfish and cursed enemy of man, won another battle.

“As I stroked the hair from his forehead and kissed him goodbye, a hundred boyhood memories played around in my head.

  • When I learned to ride a bike, he was there.
  • When I wrestled with the multiplication table, his quick wit erased the hassle.
  • When I discovered the adventure of driving a car, he was near.
  • When I got my first job (delivering newspapers), he informed me how to increase my subscriptions and win the prize. It worked?
  • When I mentioned a young woman I had fallen in love with, he pulled me aside and talked straight about being responsible for her welfare and happiness.
  • When I did a hitch in the Marine Corps, the discipline I had learned from him made the transition easier”.

He then went on to chronicle the things he learned from his dad…everything from how to seine for shrimp. The importance of keeping your shoes shined, car polish, freshly mowed grass…. to having a deep love for America.

“Because a father impacts his family so permanently, I think I understand better than ever what the Scripture means when Paul wrote: ‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory’. (I Thess 2:11-12)  Swindoll concluded :“I will hear the nostalgic whine of a harmonica…held in the hands of the man who died last night…or did he? The memories are as fresh as this morning’s sunrise”.

What a legacy Chuck Swindoll’s father left behind. He obviously had figured out the reality that the only thing he had that was eternal was his children. How do we make investments in the lives of our children that kindle that level of gratitude and thanksgiving?

All My Best!

Don

 

 

“We Think It Is Important”

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For the past several days my thoughts have intermittently focused on Memorial Day. Several months ago, I was invited to speak at today’s Memorial Day Ceremony in Nocona. Sponsors for the event include the Nocona Chamber of Commerce and the VFW. I am both honored and humbled by the invitation. Consequently, I guess it stands to reason that I want to have something of value to share.

The hotel where I stayed last night is on Clay Street in Nocona. It is in the same block where my aunt and uncle’s furniture store used to be located. As I thought about them, Nocona, and the reason for my visit today, I remembered back in time.

The year was 1974. I think it was called the: “We Think It Is Important Campaign”. If my memory is accurate, the POW/MIA League of Families suggested it. Governmental officials in Vietnam were uncooperative in sharing information. They only paid lip service to sharing factual information regarding known POWs who did not return or MIAs whose circumstances were unknown. Someone came up with the thought that one of the things the Vietnamese most value is their land. Consequently, a call was made for assistance in promoting a public awareness campaign encouraging Americans to mail a teaspoon of American soil to Vietnam. It was thought that the visual presence of American soil might soften their resolve in being unresponsive to our requests for information.

Our family had posters with my brother’s picture on it to display. We set a table up on the sidewalk outside the furniture store and provided envelopes addressed to the appropriate Vietnam officials. We passed them out to folks who stopped by to visit. Many agreed to mail a teaspoon of soil. Others expressed their regrets regarding my brother’s circumstances.

I share that story simply to highlight the fact that families who are desperate for information about loved ones will stop at nothing to do what they can to get answers. As I thought about the: “We Think It Is Important Campaign” last night, I processed it in my 69-year-old mind. Were we crazy or what? When you expect folks who are irrational to be rational, isn’t it true that we’ve traded places with them and now are the ones who have become irrational? The same principle applies here. In 1974, at the age of 27, I was young, impressionable and desperate.

Our family’s quest for answers has been a long arduous journey. The upside is that we’ve had a lot of company on the way. We’ve always had support from extended family and friends. In addition we’ve made a lot of new friends along the way. Many of them are in identical circumstances. They, too, long for answers and a sense of certainty regarding their loved one’s fate.

So yesterday, when I asked myself why my anxiety level is higher than usual, I came up with a couple of answers. For one thing, I’ve never spoken at a Memorial Day ceremony before. Secondly, my drawing card for the invitation is linked to Ronnie’s story. That, too, provides me a sense of privilege and humility. Yet, in reality it is not just Ronnie’s story. It is our story. The fabric of our lives is so closely interwoven that the two stories become one. With tears in my eyes, I take seriously the responsibility to get it right?

In addition to thoughts associated to today’s ceremony, I’ve also been rolling around ideas in my head for my next workshop on grief. I’ve been invited to repeat the presentation I delivered at last year’s POW/MIA League of Families meeting in Washington, D.C. However, what if the same people opt to go for round two? They’ll want new information.

Consequently, over the past week or two, I’ve been absorbed in attempting to cognitively process and glean some kind of understanding out of the bits and pieces of new information I’ve collected over the past year. One thing is certain: “Conflict continues to exist”.

I’m not talking about conflict between the United States and Vietnam. I’m talking about the personal emotional, familial and fraternal conflict or lack of closure associated to that chapter of our personal lives. You tell me:

  • Why do over four million people come annually to pay their respects and pause before a black granite wall that includes more names than anyone can begin to imagine? Yet, in reality, most often it is only one name out of over 58,000 that people are interested in seeing.
  • Why for the past 28 years have a hundreds of thousands of people signed on for the “Rolling Thunder – Run For The Wall”? According to their published materials, it is: “To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world”.
  • What prompts folks to visit “The Wall” and leave notes, mementoes, or other information or items? Since 1982, more than 400,000 items have been left by visitors as remembrances and tributes.
  • What causes people like me to at times be blindsided by emotions? Sometimes I’m asked questions regarding Ronnie’s status or what we now know about what happened. When I attempt to articulate an answer, I find that I cannot. I discover a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

At any rate, I’m honored and privileged by the opportunity to speak at the Memorial Day Ceremony later this morning. I guess you could say, “We Think It Is Important”.

All My Best!

Don

The Family Table

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Strange isn’t it, the things you remember? I didn’t even purchase the book, but in the forty-five minutes I had to kill before my meeting started at an office building a couple of blocks away, I read enough of the book to know that I wanted it for my library. That was almost a decade ago, but I still remember the book. Who knows, maybe I thought I’d pick it up later at Barnes and Noble at a discount. I still haven’t bought the book, but I remember the title and the names of a couple of chapters. Did I mention I still plan to buy the book for my library?

The book I had held in my hands a decade ago was written by a physician. Returning to the United States following his service in Vietnam, Dr. Gordon Livingston began his practice as a psychiatrist. Can you imagine the number of stories (mostly sad stories) he’s listened to over the course of his medical practice? Yet when it comes to sad stories, Dr. Livingston hasn’t been exempt from experiencing some of his own. In a thirteen-month period, his oldest son died as a result of suicide and his youngest son succumbed to Leukemia. The title of his book has a catchy ring to it: “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”.

“Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” – Isn’t that the story of most of our lives? I thought about the title of Dr. Livingston’s book yesterday morning after reading an email from a friend who started to school with me in the first grade. He said of himself: “I am old”. He had sent the email the evening before. I read the text of his note in its entirety almost without pausing to breath. Who knows, maybe I’m going through an emotional phase, but my eyes were moist with tears when I finished his thoughtful communication.

I was saddened by the news that my friend had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago. Resolution of those issues are still a work in progress and the ultimate treatment regime is yet undetermined.  He provided enough details surrounding his experience, that it flooded my heart with concern. I guess looking back is always insightful.

My friend is a gifted writer. The trigger or catalyst that prompted my eyes to become moist with tears related to the picturesque and poignant way he described a meal shared with his extended family at their home once the dust had settled and they were all together. He writes:

The table we eat on is older than I am and that is OLD… It belonged to my Dad’s parents, was relegated to the lake cabin well after I was grown and when the cabin was sold my brother and I went to retrieve it. My wife and I have used it ever since. I wanted it because I am connected to it by memories made around it by people long gone. Generations of my family have eaten on that slab of mahogany, laughed around it, cried over it and played dominoes on it. 

Saturday night we ate off of it, laughed around it, played dominoes on it until midnight and made memories I hope will last a lifetime for those who sat around it for a few hours. Except for the grace of God, there might have been tears shed over that old table and one day there will be”.

Isn’t it interesting how a piece of furniture can resurrect memories from one’s past – a shared meal, times of laughter, times of tears, times of shared recreation and a sense of familial togetherness?

My friend has a table that belonged to his grandparents. The table was in the family’s home before he was born and will likely still be serviceable for many more years to come. The table’s presence for those who have the good fortune to share family times around its surface will forever be a reminder of a treasure chest of memories.

Have you ever stopped to think about the memories that have been generated from the presence of your kitchen table? When I was a kid growing up, our family’s table was a gray “mid century vintage chrome Formica kitchen table”. I can envision that kitchen table as I think about the meals my mother served. Breakfast on Sunday mornings was always oatmeal and toast. Sunday dinner was always roast, potatoes, and carrots. Of course my favorite meal was chicken fried steak.  My mother had that down to a fine art. Dad would occasionally fry fresh catfish. That was even better than the chicken fried steak.

  • The kitchen table also served as “study hall” in our home. That’s where homework happened. It was also where model airplanes were assembled.
  • The kitchen table served as a workstation for my mother when she opted to sew a dress or make other objects of clothing.
  • The kitchen table was my dad’s desk when he balanced the checkbook or prepared the family’s income tax returns.

I doubt that Craig can remember our family not having the round or oblong (depending on leaves) maple table that the General and I have had since our 4th anniversary. In fact, I’m certain that he cannot. He was only one year old when we bought it.

In terms of styling, I like to think the table is timeless. My daughter would say it is “past time”, but we hold on to it because it has history (our history). Think of the birthday cakes it has hosted. Think of the number of family members who have sat at that table. The list goes on and on. Actually, at times we’ve been tempted to pass the table on and use other furniture, but for whatever reason, we haven’t chosen to part with it.

I thought about the title “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” when I read my friends email because he and I are the same age. He said of himself, “I’m Old.” For him, the “too late smart” doesn’t fit into the equation. For me it not only fits, but may be my suggestion for an epitaph to be used on my headstone. The General wants to go with “He did It His Way”, but I think “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” is the story of  my life.

All My Best!

Don