Adventure Is Second Nature To A Child’s Mind

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Who were your heroes when you were a kid? During my growing up years, from early childhood, all of the kids on our street lived in a world of make-believe. We played outdoors and we played pretend. I think we were pretty good at it. Did I mention that we took our play seriously?

 

One of our favorite games was playing soldier. My dad had been a soldier and I guess at some level my brothers and I wanted to be like him. Of course, it was long before we met him, but he came back from WWII with a German helmet and a German dagger. We had seen those things. In addition, his Army uniform was in his closet. We had seen that, too. We wanted to be like him.

 

I am not sure how our lives would have been impacted had we been born prior to WWII and dad been separated from us while serving in the armed forces. Of course, ours was a different world back then. News of what was taking place on foreign fronts was limited to the newspapers and radio. In addition, there was confidence that what was being shared via the airwaves was filtered through truth and responsible reporting. Personal communication with loved ones was through written letters that could be weeks in arriving. Apart from that, there was a shroud of silence.

 

For the past couple of years, I’ve followed a blog entitled Pacific Paratrooper written by G P Cox along with about 5,000 other readers. He really has a lot of followers who regularly read his blog. I occasionally make a written response to what the author has shared. He, in turn, occasionally makes a written response to something I’ve written in my blog. I am proud to think of him as a friend though we’ve never met. Our only communication has been electronic. I always smile when I see he has “liked” something I’ve written. I suspect the same is true for him. I sense that in a lot of respects we have much in common as baby boomers.

 

G P Cox has effectively chronicled the annals of history and brought news from WWII to the computer screens of many who are descendants of those WWII veterans who served from an environment of imminent peril. Often his blogs includes letters written by those in harms way back to their families in the United States. Reading the personal letters make it easy to imagine how the news of what’s being shared was received by a mother or father or other close family member.

 

I have such respect for the families of those who currently serve in harm’s way in our military. I’ve seen first hand the courage and valor required of my grandchildren and their mother when Craig was separated from his family and in the midst of things he chooses not to talk about. Unlike WWII, children of those serving today have a lot more information available to them. Sometimes I think the shroud of silence may have been easier. It re-enforces the concept: “No news is good news”.

 

Getting back to my childhood, when we were playing soldier, it worked best and it seemed more real when we dug foxholes in the back yard. It didn’t cost anything and all you needed was a shovel to make it happen. I guess it goes without saying, “We sometimes got into a lot of trouble for messing up the yard?” It definitely proved to be a circumstance where forgiveness may not have been easier to obtain than permission, if you get my drift.

 

It also made the game of pretend more real if we actually engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m a lot tougher than I look. For the record, I still am. Without fail, my twin brother and I both wanted to be Audie Murphy. He was a real war hero. Of course, we had gone with our dad to see the movie “To Hell and Back”. Seeing the movie is all it took. At the age of eight, we wanted to be like Audie Murphy and we talked the talk and fought the fight in the world of make-believe.

 

As a side note, sometimes I think it would be great to be eight-years-old again. I mean, after all, you never consider the possibility that just because you can’t do it now, doesn’t mean that someday you can’t. In the midst of adulthood, reality has a way of limiting your perception of the kinds of adventure available. When you are eight years old, anything is possible.

 

We played pretend because we wanted to be like the people who were our heroes. We wanted their life to be our life. We wanted their endeavors to be our endeavors. From the vantage point of childhood, their accomplishments could become ours. Sure, we were in a world of make-believe, but if they could make it work, so could we. Besides that, were we all taught from early on, “You can be anything you want to be?” Isn’t that the mindset of how you grew up as well?

 

Isn’t that still the American dream? Isn’t it the idea that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative? It is easy to latch on to that concept as children. We all think we have the stuff it takes to be successful and achieve the things we dare dream about.

 

So who is top dog? Don’t we all at one time or another anticipate being at the top of the leader board? Isn’t filling that role at least a passing dream we’ve all entertained at some point in our lives? Doesn’t the person at the top of the leader board generally garner more respect or attention? Don’t we all ideally think we at least have the potential?

 

  • Doesn’t the president of the bank automatically have more clout than the college student who is a part time teller?

 

  • Doesn’t the owner of the restaurant have a much higher level of income than the waiter who waits the tables?

 

  • Isn’t the coach of the team more important than the student manager?

 

  • I was pastor of a church once were one of the members owned an oil company. She lived elsewhere, but when she came back to visit (she did often) everyone in the church treated her as though she was Royalty.  Don’t get me wrong. She was delightful and she was generous. I would have liked her regardless of her income level. If she had an opinion and expressed it, no one would dared have questioned her suggestion, though I’m sure she would have been open for that to happen. You’ve heard the expression: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”. So it was with her. It re-enforced the concept that money talks. I promise you, she carried more clout than the lady who always brought her four German shepherds to church with her and left them in her car (with the windows down of course).

 

  • Let me ask you this: “Is the pitcher of the baseball team more important than the person who plays in the outfield?” Are they equally important? Be careful how you answer the question. My “All Star” grandsons played outfield this season.

 

What about church? Is there a pecking order or is everyone on a level playing field? I routinely tell people: “We are better when you are here.” It is true. We are all on a level playing field and it takes all of us collectively to accomplish the things that need to be accomplished.

 

My grandchildren will be here later today. We are having Vacation Bible School this week and they are coming to participate. This year I am as well. I don’t remember that I volunteered, but the General signed me up. At least, it gives me an opportunity to be a kid again. I can hardly wait!

 

All My Best!

Don

Memorial Day 2017

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Despite what some may think, I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. I include my daily blog as part of my early morning routine, but I don’t generally scan the horizon for tidbits of this or that. I simply don’t have the time. At least, until this week, I haven’t had time. Maybe with retirement comes more time.

 

It was simply by happenstance that the posting immediately prior to one I posted a couple of days ago caught my attention. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one spoke volumes. Just seeing the picture left a lump in my throat. It would have left a lump in my throat even if I hadn’t known the mother and father in this photograph, but I knew this family.

 

The picture was unmistakable. It was a Kodak moment capturing the worst possible of days in any parent’s life. A triangular folded American flag was being presented to a grieving mother whose face had temporarily aged beyond her years. Her countenance didn’t reflect the joy and smile that is generally characteristic. Yet, with dignity and a sense of patriotic pride she represented strength even in the midst of great difficulty.

 

Whether it was purposeful or otherwise, I do not know. I do know that the picture carried with it a patriotic “God Bless America” theme. The mother’s red blouse, the white pearls and the navy blue blazer spoke an undeniable message. The colors were the same as those in the flag being presented. It, too, was red, white and blue. Of the flag, it is said that the white signifies purity and innocence, the red, hardiness and valor and the blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.

 

Sgt. Garrett I. McLead, age 23, was one of fourteen soldiers who died in a helicopter crash in Multaka, Iraq on August 22, 2007. The soldiers were between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. They hailed from 11 states, spanning from California to Massachusetts. Sgt. McLead joined the army following graduation from high school in 2002 motivated by the 9/11 act of terrorism against our Nation. Out of his love for God and country, he responded to the need. He served in Afghanistan from 2004-2005 and began his tour in Iraq in 2006.

 

It is in Sgt. McLead’s honor and memory that I dedicate today’s Memorial Day posting and to that of his family.  Like I said, “A picture is worth a thousand words and this one spoke volumes”. Patrick McLead added only the notation to his Facebook posting: “THIS is what Memorial Day is about”.

 

I actually didn’t know the McLead family had become a Gold Star family until several years ago when I officiated at the wedding of one of Sgt. McLead’s cousins.  It was then that Patrick shared  with me the sad news concerning his son.  It hurt my heart.   At the time of their loss, the family was living in Rockport.  They now live in Johnson City.

 

I guess at some level, unless a person experiences the loss of a family member through harms way while serving in the military, it is difficult for us to wrap our head around the process of grief up close and personal. Consequently, Memorial Day for most signal the beginning of summer and the first three-day holiday weekend. Most reserve it for a quick weekend trip filled with barbeque, shared laughter with family and friends and a respite from a typical five-day work-week. They are oblivious to the heartfelt meaning of Memorial Day.

 

For folks like Patrick and Patti McLead, it is something very different. Memorial Day carries with it a sense of something sacred. It is so significant that it needs to be wrapped in memories too precious to forget. It isn’t about a holiday or shared time with family and friends and barbeque, it is a time of reflection and remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Patrick and Patti have become seasoned veterans in honoring their son’s memory and moving forward with their lives. Yet each step they take is somehow altered by the memory of what could have been.  I know that is true becasue it is a universal characteristic of all such families.  How well I know.

 

Yet it is the families for whom Memorial Day 2017 has only come to have heart felt significance in the recent past that concern me most.  My heart goes out to families who have not yet reached the place where memory is a treasured gift. Currently every thought related to their husband or wife, son or daughter, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, family member or friend seems directly connected to the details associated with separation, loss and unrelenting pain.

 

The price of freedom isn’t free and when a loved one’s life seems prematurely taken, the sense of grief is overwhelming. Perhaps that is one of the motivating factors associated with the origin of Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was originally called.

 

“In April 1863, in Columbus, Mississippi, after decorating graves of her two sons who died representing their beloved south-land, an elderly woman walked to two mounds of dirt at the corner of the cemetery to place memorial flowers there also. ‘What are you doing?’ friends shouted, ‘Those are the graves of two union soldiers.’ Softly that compassionate mother said, ‘I know. I also know that somewhere in the North, a mother or a young wife mourns for them as we do for ours.’”

 

Memorial Day has its roots all the way back to the Civil War. I have toured the battlefield at Gettysburg three times in the past five or six years. Reportedly, it is the site of the most costly of the battles. The location is very picturesque and today reflects such serenity. How did it ever become a battlefield reflecting so much sorrow? What capacity we have to destroy that which we have been given.

 

In the course of three days, 160,000 soldiers engaged in battle. When it was over 51,000 were killed. Unbelievable! Total casualties from the Civil War totaled 620,000. In case you missed it, that was Americans killing Americans.

 

For the past two years I’ve had the privilege of conducting a workshop on grief at the POW/MIA League of Families annual meeting in Washington D.C. Wanting the workshop to be interactive, at some point, I paused to ask two questions: 

  • How old were you when you learned your loved one was Missing In Action?
  • How long has it been since you’ve given thought to how that loss has impacted you personally?

 

Of course, no one was required to answer the questions, but I was surprised by the ones that did. In the process of answering, several found that they could not. They were blindsided by emotions that left a lump in their throat and tears in their eyes. For all of them, their loved one had died or had been listed as POW/MIA over 44 years before.

 

Memorial Day isn’t a one size fits all kind of experience. It has more to do with one’s life experiences and the people who are now on the other side of eternity and what their absence has meant to those who celebrate all that they have been given.

 

In looking back over the four decades since the loss of my brother, I can truthfully say that at no point have I been a stranger to God’s grace. Across the last four decades, I have experienced and re-experienced every possible range of emotion. Through it all, I’ve never experienced it in isolation.

 

Subsequently, I have discovered what a treasured gift memory becomes. Somehow, with the passing of time, memories become more precious and less painful. Memory serves as a catalyst prompting a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving for the times shared. How wonderful it is to remember the joy of my brother’s presence and the gift of love that memory supplies.

 

Several years ago, Clif Martin, a dear friend, Vietnam veteran and former supervisor, sent me the following note:

I’m glad we still have Memorial Day in America. I fly the American Flag everyday at my house. As I write this, it is raining. You are supposed to take it down when it rains, but today I am not – a symbolic gesture in my screwed up head- like the flag stands tall even when wet, cold and windblown. It droops as though bowing in prayer. Yet it stands tall even when wet, cold and wind blown.

It is Memorial Day and will fly all day regardless of the weather, just as our memories continue as well. As the flag drops, a gust of wind blows. It flaps and sheds the wetness and once again is waving and standing out, just as we should.

After the rain is over the sun will come out, the flag with dry and be warm again much like God’s promise and the flag will fly again tomorrow fully dry and straight.

                                                                                                                           – Clif Martin”

 

All My Best!

Don Forrester

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

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Last night as I stood in the foyer of Crofts Crow Funeral Home in Blanco, my mind went back across the years – 38 of them to be exact. Across the years the sad business of doing funerals hasn’t changed much. I guess that is true since the recording of time.  Sometimes death is expected. Sometimes it isn’t, but regardless of whether families are ready or not, they find themselves immersed in grief and faced with the sad business of bidding farewell to loved ones.

 

Actually, I’m not sure one is ever really ready. Cognitively it is easy to process that the time has come, but when the hour finally arrives it is always ushered in with emotions that reframe the experience. Who can deny it? The death of a loved one is always more than you anticipate or expect.

 

Sooner or later in every life, the hour comes when the commanding need is for comfort. Moments come to each of us when our self-sufficiency is inadequate. Perhaps that is most evident in the death of a loved one. The Scriptures recall for us a time when Jesus wept. That, too, was on the occasion of the death of his close friend Lazarus. So this need for comfort is nothing for which to be ashamed.

 

Comfort often comes from standing fast as a family and supporting one another through the experience of loss. Friends also draw near and offer assistance. They are willing to do anything they can to be of support. But the ultimate source of strength comes from God himself. The good news of the gospel is that God doesn’t abandon us when life becomes difficult. He offers to support and sustain us through the difficulties.

 

Who can deny the importance of standing together in unity as a family? Across the years, I’ve seen families strengthened through the process of grief. I’ve also seen families torn apart and completely unravel in the process. Generally, the unraveling has more to do with inheritance and the belief that one’s perceived fair share wasn’t fair.

 

Last night brought back lots of memories for me. For almost four decades I’ve had the privilege of growing close to an extended family that bids farewell to a loved one later today. In fact, the family has treated us as family since day one of our arrival. Consequently we. too, share in the emotions that reframe the experience.

 

It has been years since I regularly listened to country music, but last night I could hear the voice of Johnny Cash singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” in my head. Do you remember the words?

 

“I was standing by my window,

On one cold and cloudy day

When I saw that hearse come rolling

For to carry my mother away

 

Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, lord, by and by

There’s a better home a-waiting

In the sky, lord, in the sky

 

I said to that undertaker

Undertaker please drive slow

For this lady you are carrying

Lord, I hate to see her go

 

Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, lord, by and by

There’s a better home a-waiting

In the sky, lord, in the sky…”

I had the thought that with the funeral that takes place later this morning, the circle will be unbroken. I will have had the experience of sharing in the final farewell of everyone of the five siblings and their spouses. In addition, I’ve grow old along with their kids. We talked about that last night. The last family member of that generation is being laid to rest today.

 

I have been privileged. You really get close to families when they are in the midst of grief and you have the privilege of providing comfort and support. We currently live on land that belonged to the patriarch of the family. We purchased it from one of his sons who thought we needed to be back in the community. Two decades earlier we had purchased family land from another son. It was on that location that we build our first home in Henly. Unfortunately, we sold it when we moved to Midland.

 

The old farmhouse is directly across from our home. Mr. Lauren was still living there when we first came to Henly. His wife had already gone on to be with the Lord. He had five children. Three still resided in Henly. Two didnt.  Over the course of the past 38 years, I’ve had the privilege of officiating at the funerals of each of Mr. Lauren’s (first name) children and their spouses. Or at least, that will be true at the close of today. At the close of the day, the circle will be unbroken. I will have had the privilege of bidding farewell to every family member of that generation.

 

Having had the privilege of knowing and loving them has enriched my life.

 

All My Best!

Don

We Needed A “New Look”

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Saturday evening at my request, my daughter and son-in-law stopped by the house on their way home from San Antonio. I wanted their impressions of the changes I had made in the house. Most of the changes I made were simply switching out floor coverings, but the impact was noticeable. Obviously, I think it is better or I wouldn’t be scripting it in my blog. The open living area now certainly has a very rustic Western demeanor. The traditional 9 x 12 rug that previously grounded the seating area has been replaced by two cowhide displays used for flooring. Yippee ki-yay!

 

The cowhides are not new to us. One has been in storage under a bed and the other has been on the floor in my office. Since I have G. Harvey prints of scenes with Native Americans and tepees in my office, the placement of the cowhide over the carpet in my office looked great. However, it was always my intention to eventually use the cowhide in our home.

 

Our reluctance to do so was the occasional lack of respect that our dog sometimes had the capacity to display. Consequently, we didn’t want to take the risk of the cowhides being in less than pristine condition. Consequently, one went to my office and the other went rolled up under a bed.

 

Since circumstances have changed, I couldn’t think of a good reason not to bring the cowhide home from the office and integrate the two of them in our primary living area. I think it is a good look. Andrea and Kevin thought it was a good look as well.

 

We were exchanging pleasantries when out of the blue our conversation shifted and from my perspective began to have the feel of a “Come To Jesus Meeting”. It was all figuratively done above the line, but I got the sense that they’d both be pleased if I took a different stance on my posture that Barnabas was our last dog.

 

Don’t get me wrong. They were both well intended and loving. Well, “mostly loving” might be more accurate. From the General’s perspective, I’d say they were very loving. They also have the advantage or disadvantage (depending upon your perspective) of being dog people. They would never consider living in a dog-free environment. I did my best to derail the conversation. After all, before they stopped by my place, they went by their home, fed their dogs and then loaded them in the back of the Suburban (dog hauling machine) so they could come to visit with Granddad.

 

I countered: “Your dogs are always welcomed. Why would we need one of our own? For that matter, Craig and Becky currently have four. You’d think they’d need a license as a kennel. We have more than enough exposure to dogs.” Honestly, I’m not feeling dog deprived simply because Barnabas is no longer with us apart from being in our hearts.   Seriously, we have access to more than our quota of four legged creatures.

 

If Andrea and Kevin were providing their assessment of our conversation, you might get a very different picture than the one I am painting. However, don’t they say that: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”   Since I’m telling the story and it is my observation, I can figuratively frame it as though I am the voice of reason. If we were keeping score, there was nothing to record other than the subtle suggestion that the General is also a player whose opinion needs to be solicited and carefully considered.

 

They didn’t seem either offended or surprised when I told them it was time for them to go home. That was all it took. I didn’t have to use the threat of taking them out of the will. Actually, I didn’t tell them any of that or even consider doing so. They made a good point. Mine is not the only frame of reference that needs to be considered. They are dog people and they’ve got the General pegged as the same. It is true that opposites attract, but I’m not ready to erase the line I’ve drawn in the sand. Let there be no mistake in my posture. Barnabas was our most beloved and LAST dog.

 

I breathed a sigh of relief when we changed the subject and went on to other topics. At some point in the evening, Andrea said: “Dad, I just had a thought”. Her voice tone was filled with thoughtful contemplation. She carefully crafted her words. It was very different from the voice tone I perceived I heard when we were in the midst of the “you need a new dog” conversation. The tone was very conversational and seemed filled with love. However it came as a surprise.

 

“If you and mom want to one day do Craig and I a favor, you should identify for us which pieces of furniture in your home have sentimental value to you. Looking around your house, it is full of furniture and you’ve had most of it all of my life. Figure out what has sentimental value to you and replace everything else. Buy new stuff. Totally change the look of your home.

 

I’ve mentioned many times that I’m hearing impaired. Did she really say we needed to get rid of all our furniture? She then thoughtfully and lovingly provided clarification. She went on to say: “I think you should also sell the house and move to another house.” If something were to happen to you and mom, Craig and I would never be able to part with this place or with any of your stuff. We have so many wonderful memories associated to this home that it would be impossible for us to part with it.

 

When I connected the dots in my head, I figured out that she wasn’t saying our house if filled with junk. She really was providing us a left-handed compliment. She was saying that as it now stands, everything about our home is filled with sentimental value for both she and Craig. When we are no longer here, it will be a daunting task for them to part with any of it. If we go ahead and do it for them, the hard work will already be done once we are no longer here.

 

Now my daughter who is very much “her father’s daughter” was sounding like the General. For weeks the General has been tossing stuff out saying that it isn’t fair to our kids to have so much stuff that we’ll never use or even want. Get rid of it now, so one day they won’t have the task.

 

From my perspective, Andrea just upped the game significantly. While I understand and find it a touching and loving suggestion, I’m not yet ready to sign on the dotted line and call a moving van or Goodwill to get rid of all the stuff in our house.

 

While I’m giving thought to the wisdom of her recommendation, I have a rebuttal that I think will put the thought at bay.   I will enthusiastically embrace the idea and say: “We are selling everything an buying a motor home. We are going to wake-up in a new place every week or so. We won’t even need a post office box. Catch us or find us if you can.” On top of that, Andrea is equally as concerned about my driving as her mother. Can you imagine me behind the wheel of a recreation vehicle? Me neither!

 

All My Best!

Don

A Birthday To Be Remembered

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One of the passions of Craig’s life has to do with hunting. He’d be the first to tell you that there are many upsides to 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of the upsides he counts is the availability of a place to hunt either on the base or in the vicinity of every place he and Becky have ever lived. He’s not just a trophy hunter. He hunts because he likes the taste of wild game and he gets a shot of adrenaline each time he brings home the bacon (I mean venison).

 

When Jenna was four and William was three, they got their first taste of bear hunting. Craig was stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California at the time. All I can say is, “Thank God for guardian angels”. Who in their right mind takes two small children with them hunting anything, much less bear hunting?

 

Like I said, one of Craig’s passions is hunting. Trust me, he and his Marine Corps buddy who was hunting with him weren’t out in freezing weather and snow covered terrain simply because Becky told Craig it was his turn to take care of the kids. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have made the same choice had that been the case. He was out there because he wanted to be out there.

 

Does it relate to brain chemistry, learned behavior, temporary insanity or a combination of all three? It has to be closely akin to the “call of the wild”. A hunter has to hunt. Reportedly, the kids were never at risk. Both were being carried in backpack like devices made to carry small children and the kids were wearing coats, caps and scarfs to protect them from the elements.

 

We went to visit Craig and his family in Northern California shortly after Craig’s lucky shot or pinpoint accuracy as a skilled marksman. Never say I’m not a good sport. I sat down to a culinary experience like no other I’ve ever experienced. I tasted bear for the first time.   Actually, it was the only time. You’re not going to believe this, but bear tastes “just like chicken”. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  I made that up because I thought it was funny. What I most remember about the bear filet mignon that Craig prepared on the outdoor grill is that he wrapped it in bacon and added jalapenos. It actually was pretty tasty. I guess that’s a “no brainer”. Wrap anything with bacon and throw in jalapenos and you’ve got a meal.

 

The General’s dad was a hunter and he took Craig hunting many times. He would have taken me many times, but I’m not a hunter and I don’t like hanging out in cold weather unless I’m on a ski slope. Besides that I like my “New York Strip” medium rare.” That’s not to say I haven’t tasted venison. Actually, I’ve had it fried with mashed potatoes and gravy and it could pass for a chicken fried steak.

 

We were living in Mertzon at the time and hunting is second nature to a lot of people in that part of West Texas. We were friends with a couple at church that was at least ten- years older than us. They had three sons and they were  about as country and country comes.  They were all hunters.  At any rate, they invited us to dinner one evening and I was amazed at how good the meal tasted. It was the first time I ever tasted venison.

 

Yesterday Craig was feeding a passion that is even greater than his passion to hunt. It was the passion to orchestrate a hunting experience for his children that would build memories for a lifetime.   Yesterday morning, I was at my computer crafting my blog when Craig walked in my office and said, “We’ve got to go. I’m taking William hunting.” They were off and out the door on their way to Johnson City about the same time I left for work.

 

Craig said before he left, “I hope William gets a deer. If he does, I’ll take Jake hunting this afternoon.” I reminded Craig that it was Jake’s birthday. I’m sure I learned it from the General, but I attempted gentle redirection: “You can’t take Jake hunting because he’s requested a special meal for his birthday and he’s having a Star Wars birthday cake.” Craig replied, “You’re right. It is his birthday and that’s exactly why we’re going hunting. Jake wants to shoot a deer more than anything else for his birthday”.

 

If it is the “call of the wild”, all of Craig’s kids have it. All of them love the experience of going hunting. Can you think of anything more boring than setting in a deer blind and waiting on the outside chance that a deer drops by to say “Hello”.  Jake would say I’ve watched too many episodes of “Tea With Mussolini”.  Actually, I don’t remember ever watching that movie, but apparently Craig has told the story that I subjected the family to its viewing.  Periodically, Jake will jokingly asked if I’ve watched “Tea With Mussolini” recently.  The kid is a character.

 

About 8:00 a.m. yesterday morning, I got a text message from Craig. Without further details he wrote: “Call the taxidermist!” Instantly the General chimed in with: “Yippee!!!” I had no idea that she was ever out of bed that time of morning. I guess you could say that group texting is a way to learn a lot.   I decided to respond by providing the name and telephone number of the taxidermist in Johnson City. Craig hasn’t asked, but I’m sure he’s wondering how I knew that?

 

Did I mention there are a number of reasons I don’t hunt? One of the reasons is that once you shoot a deer, you’ve then got other issues with which you have to deal. It was an extended period of time later that Craig reportedly made it back home.

 

William was on top of the world. Not only did he shoot a deer, he shot a big deer. The rack had a spread of eighteen inches and included 12 horns. What do you do but have that professionally mounted? By the time it’s all said and done, you could have a freezer full of “New York Strip” steaks packaged in white paper from the grocery store and a very large handful of money left over. Of course, you’d have forfeited memories of a lifetime for both an eleven year old and his dad.

 

True to Craig’s word, he took Jake hunting for his birthday yesterday afternoon. Bingo – Jake got an eight point. “Thrilled” doesn’t even begin to express it. Another memory logged into a treasure chest that will forever be chiseled in stone for both the son and his dad.

 

I’m not a hunter, but my son and his children are. It makes me proud that Craig invests the energy and resources to craft those kinds of experiences for his children. It is a passion worth pursuing. Any investment you make in the life of a child is meaningful because your investing in their future treasure chest of shared memories.

 

I mentioned that Craig is not a trophy hunter. Actually he’d say anything he kills and takes to the table is a trophy.  When Craig and Becky lived in North Carolina, William would point to the bear hanging on the wall and tell his friends: “This is the bear my dad helped me kill.”  Soon there will be a very large mounted deer head hanging on the wall.  That, too, is fully attributed to the marksmanship of young William.  The way I see it, Craig wouldn’t have a trophy mount of any kind were it not for his oldest son.  He, too, is a hunter and a hunter has to hunt.

 

All My Best!

Don

The Little Boy Behind The Man

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Louis Armstrong is known for his rendition of “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” In many respects, the song could be biographical of many people you meet on the street. Isn’t it true that the little boy behind the man is often purposefully camouflaged so nobody knows?  Yet, the little boy behind the man weighs heavily on the need to orchestrate or to avoid orchestrating a repetitive pattern of behavior or circumstances. Some times hard work, a resolve to do things differently and an opportunity latched onto and ridden for all it is worth, proves to be the catalyst for life to turn out differently than one might think.

 

Armstrong is not the composer who wrote the lyrics to, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”.  Yet, the lyrics could be true for Armstrong himself. He was born into an impoverished family in New Orleans. His story is much like the story of the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” that I referenced a couple of weeks ago.   Armstrong learned early about the trauma of broken relationships and childhood abandonment. In his infancy, his father left his mother for another woman. In the midst of that bitter disappointment, his mother abdicated her responsibilities as a parent and left Louis and his older sister in the care of their grandmother and at times his uncle. At the age of five, his mother repositioned herself to be responsible for his care and he subsequently resided with her, her relatives and an ever-increasing number of step-fathers.

 

The little boy behind the man he subsequently became attempted to financially provide for his mother during his childhood. He worked as a paperboy, hauled coal and sold discarded food to restaurants, but none of it was enough to keep his mother from working the only trade she knew and that was prostitution. To say that his life wasn’t a bed of roses is an understatement.

 

Armstrong’s exposure to music came through listening to the bands that played in the brothels and dance halls. At the age of eleven, Armstrong dropped out of school and joined a quartet of boys who sang in the streets for money. He also was taught to play the trumpet by a band member.

 

Looking back on the days of his childhood, he credits music with giving him something for which to live. He said: “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine – I looked right in the heart of New Orleans…It has given me something to live for.”

 

A Jewish immigrant family that owned and operated a junk hauling business provided him odd jobs and emotional support. He reportedly started working for them at the age of seven. What he learned from him is that they salvaged more than junk. In the truest sense, they salvaged him and provided him a level of nurture and support he had never known. They treated him like family and sheltered him from discrimination.

 

They too, from his opinion, were the subjects of extreme discrimination and ungodly treatment by white folks who thought they were better than the Jews. He says of them: “I learned from them how to live – real life and determination”. Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant given him by that family for the rest of his life.

 

The little boy behind the man often has a very different story than the one that subsequently emerges. Last night, the General and I had dinner with a couple young enough to be our children. The man shared some information about his dad’s childhood that he recently learned.

 

In fact, many of you may have seen a picture of the man’s father. It really is a small world. In his adolescence, the man’s dad was forever captured as one of the boys playing basketball in a Norman Rockwall painting. Rockwall’s paintings captured the best of American life. He said of his paintings: “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, that it should be, and so I painted only the idea aspects of it”.

 

The man sharing his father’s story said, “My dad recently shared with me that he never had a bedroom until he and my mother got married. His family lived in a small two- bedroom home in Stonebridge, Mass”. You may be familiar with Stonebridge, Mass. It is well known as the home of the Norman Rockwall Museum. What is not so well known is some of the hardships that accompanied families just outside the rustbelt of industrial America.

 

So, how does a family of five negotiate making a two bedroom home function for their family? In this man’s case, as luck would have it, he was the odd man out. His parents had their bedroom and his two sisters shared the other bedroom. The home also included a screened in porch. That adds a whole new concept to be the “odd man out”. He slept outside on the screened in porch. Can you imagine surviving a winter sleeping outside on a screened in porch is Massachusetts?

 

What would it be like as a three-to-four-to-five year old child hearing the sound of the door close behind you? The very thought hurts my heart even if the outside temperatures weren’t an obstacle. I can’t imagine the level of terror that had to accompany that experience from a young child’s perspective.

 

In the early years, as a little boy, he was sent outside to sleep under the warmth of quilts. One of his parents would subsequently carry him back into the  house and place him on the living-room couch after the rest of the family had gone to bed. I surmise that the man’s story is filled with a multiple of different hardships. Like Norman Rockwall said: “The world wasn’t the perfect place he thought it to be.” I’m sure that same reality was true of the child, adolescent and young man that never had a bedroom until he got married.

 

The little boy behind the man is often purposefully camouflaged so nobody knows.

 

All My Best!

Don

I Was The Apple Of My Mother’s Eye – So Were My Two Brothers

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Today is my mother’s birthday. She is 91 years old today.  She has been on the other side of eternity for the past six years.  Can that really be true?  I question that we’ve been separated for that long.  In fact, I question that we’ve been separated at all. I have such a debt of gratitude for her love that I refuse to think of myself as independent from the things she held dear. What is true for me is also true of my younger brother. 

My mother died two days before her 85th birthday.  Both my younger brother and I were privileged to be present.  The same was true for our wives and for each of our daughters and sons-in-laws. Larry had telephoned me in Austin a few hours before her death and said the doctor had pronounced that time was near.  Though I was not thinking clearly, Treva and I threw some clothes in a suitcase and immediately headed to the airport.  There was only one thing on my mind and that related to our need to get to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in time to bid mother farewell. Fortunately, my daughter and her husband made it from Austin in time as well.

The need to be there was only academic.  I had no idea what we were doing other than following our heart.  Tears stream down my cheeks as I recall those moments, but they were precious and I’ll forever be grateful for the memories.  I was privileged to be with dad when he died and it never occurred to me that anything other than that would be the protocol for mother as well.  What I never considered was how early it would come.  My mother was only two days shy of her 85th birthday.  Her mother had lived to the age of 99.  I had hoped the same for her as well.

Dad had died almost three years earlier.  Prior to his home-going, Mother had forfeited her cognitive ability to cherish the connections that had always held us together as a family.  She was in another place devoid of recognition and connectivity, but none of that really mattered.  We knew who she was and we were determined to hold the course. 

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’ve known so many people that didn’t have the privilege of being the apple of their mother’s eye, but hands down, there was no doubt about it.  What was true for me was also true for Ronnie and for Larry.  My mother had the capacity of loving each of her children 110%.

In fact, when it came to being a source of encouragement to children, she was always at the top of the leaderboard.  She was like the pied piper.  She never met a kid she didn’t like and she was perpetually an advocate in their behalf.  Playful engagement was second nature to my mother and she played it out for all it was worth.

She once told me that no one would love me like my mother and I think she was almost right. The General does a really good job, but my mother knew me when I was much younger and loved me through the terrible twos.  When you consider that Ronnie was developmentally at that same place at the same time, it really defies reality of how she managed to maintain her sanity and loving spirit.  We were a handful! 

Okay, I was a handful.  Ronnie was “John Boy Walton” before the stereotype of “John Boy” was even on anyone’s radar screen.  That has to account for something. My mother was a one-of-a-kind mom.  Of course, I’m sure there are many that would attest that what was true of her, was true for your mom as well. If that’s the case, you are one of the lucky ones. I count myself in that same regard.

Mother always created an “environment of home” to family and friends.  She was spirited, fun to be around, and always predictably dependable in providing encouragement and support.  She was the mother in elementary school that was involved as a home-room support system.  She was active in the PTA.  She was the mother that ensured we signed Valentine Cards for every member of our class.  She was the mother that always made a big deal out of birthdays.  She was the mother that orchestrated on-going extra-curricular activities for her children.  We never missed a “made for children” movie. During our growing up years, our home was the hub where kids from the neighborhood hung out.  Most of our play was outside, but she often had warm homemade cookies waiting for that after-school snack.  She was the mother that often ordered a bottle or two of chocolate milk from the milkman because she knew it would put a smile on our faces.  She had the capacity to make everyone feel welcomed and to feel important. 

She was the mother that thoughtfully put our coats and school clothing on lay-away and ensured they were paid for and at hand before they were needed at the beginning of the school year.  With the precision of a drill sergeant, during our elementary school years, she ensured we change out of school clothes and into play clothes the minute we got home from school. 

I have often said tongue-in-cheek that the first memory verse from the Bible that my mother taught me was “be neat”.  Of course, that’s not really in Scripture, but if there had been Eleven Commandments instead of Ten, mom would have been an advocate for “be neat” to be added.  Our home and her personal appearance were always impeccable.

I grew up in the “father knows best days” where the badge of successful parenting had something to do with one’s children making it to adulthood without getting into too much trouble.  Mother was intent to ensure no failure on her part.  She was the primary disciplinarian in the family. I should know.  I got more spankings than both of my brothers combined. It wasn’t that I was doubly mischievous; it was just that I wanted to ensure that she understood my side of the story.  Obviously I was a very slow learner.

When the spankings weren’t effective and disciplinary issues still loomed, Mother always used God as the “trump card” to manage behavior.  “If you really loved God you would… ; the Bible says…, etc.”  Of course, she was always right, but that was like taking out the big guns to swat a fly. I resolved in childhood that if I ever became a parent, I would never do that with my children.  My children would tell you I’m not very good keeping resolutions.

One of the things I value deeply about my mother is the importance she placed on relationships.  She loved deeply and she loved lastingly. Sometimes along the way she threw in a truckload of forgiveness to negotiate the uphill climb of continuing to love people, but she role-modeled living as God would have her live.

Like I said, “I’m one of the lucky ones”.  Mother’s priorities were always her children and subsequently her grandchildren.  She not only was the world’s best grandmother, but she had the ability to shower that “grandmotherly-kind of love” on children whenever they were in her presence. It didn’t’ matter who they were.  She intuitively always managed to connect with them and was an advocate to support their well-being.  She had no reservation in gently re-directing parents (perhaps at times, not so gently)  if she thought improvement was needed in the opportunities and privileges children were permitted.

Today is my mother’s birthday and I celebrate it with memories that underscore the awareness that I was one of the lucky ones.  What a difference the on-going connection I have with her makes in my life.

All My Best!

Don

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