Sunday, March 28, 2010

Road Trip

My widowed mother took a job in a town 50 miles from the subsistence farm we lived on and moved us there when I was three. I still remember the trip up there in Mr. Parnell’s old hissing and popping farm truck. A good crowd had gathered to welcome us: one of my cousins, some neighbors of various complexions, a widow that lived on the wooded hill behind our rent house and her reclusive artist sister, whose studio was visible from our back porch.

Mother left me with the other widow fairly often when she went to work until she was able to employ Modine both to keep house and baby sit. When I was at the other widow’s house, I gravitated to her sister the artist’s studio as often as possible because she was an interesting person who made few demands on a kid and genuinely enjoyed my company. She wore a large hearing aid that did little good and chain smoked cigarettes, seldom removing them from her lips. She would sketch and talk and laugh and satirize church people (the way they dressed with “their little bonnets,” the way they avoided her and they way they were hearers only and not doers). Of course, I didn’t know the word “hypocrisy” at the time, but I understood her point completely.

The summer after first grade, my artist friend asked me if I knew Miss Dyer, who taught music at the school.

“Yes, m’am, she came to our room and taught us “Sweet Betsy from Pike” and “Are You Sleeping.”

“I’m going to walk to her house. Will you come with me?”

“Where does she live?”

“Over on Quaker Street.”

“Yes, m’am. I’ll go with you.”

So she lit a smoke and we set out on our rather long journey. She laughed and talked the whole trek, making jokes about the big houses and manicured lawns on Madison Street. Of course, I didn’t know the word “ostentatious” at the time, but I understood her point completely.

Quaker Street was just a gravel road back then, and Mrs. Dyer lived way out there. I remember stopping at a little grocery store, where my artist friend bought me an RC and one of those little cans of peanuts with money in it as a prize. It looked like a snuff can. We had a lovely time sitting on the porch of that little store, she smoking and talking and I giggling and deeply enjoying the unexpected repast.
When we got to Miss Dyer’s house, she greeted us, called me by name and brought out a tray of cookies and a pitcher of water. The two gifted ladies had a wonderful visit while I petted a cat named Mozart under the Chinaberry tree. I don’t remember the trip home.

Thoreau said he didn’t want to come to the end of his life and discover he had not lived. Both these ladies have long since passed on. I am sure they truly lived. I am sure they live. Of course, I didn’t know the word “mentor” at the time, but my life was enriched by more than one.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Watch Out for Fools

Paraphrasing scripture into modern English has been done extensively, but, somehow Proverbs 18 cries out for a fresh modern paraphrase, so here goes:

If someone is not friendly and treats you rudely, more than likely that person is out for personal gain and does not care about others. These people lack sound judgment because they do not care how their actions appear to others. They never evaluate their relationships with a view to correction. In fact, because of their blindness of how others see them, they could possibly be fools.

Here’s how you can tell if people are fools: they take a lot of pleasure in articulating their own opinions without facts or experience to back them up. They do this with no sensitivity at all. If they stay on this path of no self-examination, you can be sure wickedness will follow and good people will ultimately hold them in contempt. They will be disgraced and their shame will come too late for correction. The awareness of their folly will cut them deeply, since there is no way to go back and undo or unsay what they have done or said.

The fool’s opinions can be compared to people who wade out too far into an unfamiliar lake, expecting the water to stay shallow, but when the drop-off comes, they suddenly discover that they can’t swim. In other words, they very quickly come to the end of their own knowledge and find that they can’t fake it any longer. Wise people, on the other hand, are like a bubbling brook, sending out a constant stream of well-founded talk, not too deep and not too shallow; their words ring true. Their honesty attracts followers.

It is easy for the fool to gain favor with many, because of fine words that please the ear. But ultimately, those words deprive the innocent of justice. Strong justice that will inevitably come upon fools involves strife and defeat. These people’s mouths are their worst enemy, especially when they themselves begin to believe their own lies.

It is one thing to report and quite another to gossip. Just as fools like to make their words sweet, the words of a reporter who is a mere gossip are like spoiled gourmet food, they go to the hearer’s inmost parts and do damage.
Moreover, a lazy person who depends on the labor of others is the same as someone who destroys.

Even in the midst of fools (gossips and lazy people depending on those in high places and those who trust in riches) good people have a sanctuary: the authority of God. That authority is like a strong tower of safety.

In that tower of safety, good people learn these things: never answer before listening. If your spirit is healthy, your body will respond. Good people try to be wise. Generosity returns favor. Those who cannot agree should not confront each other. Don’t hang onto any insult—let it go. What we say has eternal consequences—be careful. Marriage is good, because God intended it. No matter how many friends you have, your truest friend is the Lord.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My City is Eternal

The bass guitar riff that opens “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders sticks in my head like goat weed seeds all day long sometimes. I’ve been wondering why this bass melody has that kind of power over me and I think I know: it says plod on, Dan, just keep on trucking, not in a stubborn way, but determined to fulfill your purpose on the planet.
Now, I don’t think the lyrics of “My City Was Gone” have much to do with that conclusion. It is a song about an adult going back to Akron, Ohio, her childhood home, and seeing that the whole town was very different. The train station was gone, businesses had been torn down and replaced by parking lots and, in general, it was an ugly place, nothing like the romanticized nostalgic view most of us have about our hometowns. It is a dismal realization.
I certainly experienced a similar disappointment when I returned to my hometown after four years in the military. In the name of progress, many of the old establishments were gone and new factories had sprung up, leaving a blacker air. American Oil’s refinery had become a place that burned toxic waste and the park where I used to play had become a Third World flop yard. The theme song for that disappointment might be one by a punk rock tune like Talking Heads.
But, what is attractive about the bass riff in “My City Was Gone” is the regular rhythm, the dogged repetition, the intermittent variations and the feeling of progress by small increments. It is as if the guitar is crying out, “Small moves; be patient; don’t be discouraged; you are getting there; believe in yourself,” and other encouraging words.
I am not sure why Rush Limbaugh uses that riff to open his radio show. I have read that he pays a steep royalty to The Pretenders for its use. Of course, he can afford it. But I think the reason must be that same sense of optimism in the midst of despair that the song is about. The riff is not gloomy at all, just persistent. So, when the vocalist comes on lamenting the demise of an American city, there is a certain incongruity involved. Naturally, Mr. Limbaugh cuts the riff off before the vocal starts. I think what he must be after is the “plod on” aspect of the music. Limbaugh seems very certain of his purpose and calling on the planet and he reiterates it frequently on the show, so he plods on, determined daily to fulfill his perceived purpose.
As a Christian, I know my purpose is to stay in love with God, try to love others, helping them to see their own purposes and to tell others about the Truth as I have discerned it through study and spiritual experience. So, I’ll be plodding on for God, not in a stubborn or obnoxious way, but with great determination to fulfill my purpose on the planet. When I get home, I know my City will not be gone!
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Left Behind

When I was about four years old, Mother took my brother and me on a little vacation to Hot Springs. There was a lot to do and see: the alligator farm, educated chickens and rabbits doing tricks, having your picture made on a taxidermied bucking bronco (I still have that old brown-tone photo) and walking the main street looking in store windows.
This latter activity got me briefly lost on our second day there. Like many children, I got so absorbed in looking at stuff in windows--electric trains, pocket knives, fake snakes, fake dog poop, etc.--that I didn’t notice when my Mother and brother went into a cafe. I was standing there slack-jawed, gazing into a variety store window. When I came out of my reverie, I suddenly realized I was lost in a strange town a long way from home. My panic was deep and paralyzing. I didn’t know what to do. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear Curtis say, “Danny, come on, we’re fixing to eat here.” At that lunch, I felt like the prodigal, returned to feast with my family.
The second time I remember getting lost was at the county fair when I was about seven. My older brother, older cousin and I were going through the so-called “fun house” together. It was fun at first: skeletons would jump out at us, spotlights would focus on spiders and snakes in the nooks and crannies and weird moans and groans would accompany intermittent zombie appearances. But it was not fun when I got separated from the others and found myself lost in a dark chamber from which I could find no escape. I pushed on every wall in the darkness and kept going round and round until that old Hot Springs panic set in and I began to yell. At last, my cousin’s hand grasped my shoulder and he said, “This way.”
The next time I had that Hot Springs feeling was when I was serving in Germany. I went to Koblenz, about an hour from my base, with some people I didn’t know very well on a Sunday afternoon. We got separated late that night and I had no idea how I was going to get back for work Monday morning. AWOL is a serious crime and I knew I was in deep guacamole. I spent the night in an abandoned BMW on a side street and at first light I found a German telephone. At 7:30 a.m., when I knew Sergeant McDonald would be at his phone, I dropped marks and phennings into the Germanic apparatus. My German was poor, but I made the operator understand I wanted Flugplatz Hahn (my base). I got connected to Sergeant Mac and he said, “I tell you what, Ford, if you get here by noon I won’t turn you in AWOL.”
On the highway, the first thumb I put up got a response from a Lutheran preacher in a new Mercedes. His English was better than mine and he got me to the back gate of Hahn by mid-morning. He also talked to me about spiritual things I had been neglecting and I silently repented. I’ve been lost, but now I’m found. I’d like to stay that way.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.