Thursday, December 27, 2012

Be it Therefore Resolved...


To the many introverts and shy people out there, including me, I propose the following resolution: take the risk of conversation or at least a smile. To the extraverts and bold people out there, you know who you are, I propose the following resolution: learn to listen and be responsive to those who feel awkward in conversation.

I had a very good friend from Upstate New York who was cut in the latter mold. It is very unlikely that two people so opposite could be such good friends, but we were and are. He was a Harvard Ph.D. atheist. I was and remain an Auburn Ph.D. Christian. Needless to say, our worldviews are disparate. He was brash and often loud. And I was and am reserved, most of the time.

The glue that held these polar opposites together was the bicycle. When I quit smoking, I bought a quality, lightweight, multispeed bicycle. My New York acquaintance became my abiding friend as we rode 10 or 12 miles on the back roads of Columbia County most every morning for 15 years. I picked up some of his ways on the rides but, as far as I could tell, he never picked up any of mine. My wife noticed that I talked more and louder in the mornings after our ride. Although, his wife apparently did not notice any softening of his abrasive conversational habits.

The one topic we learned to steer clear of was religion. He could not see why any otherwise sane and intelligent man would believe an ancient myth. I could not understand why he couldn’t see that it was a True myth—the True myth of the ages. Once I said, “Jesus was either who he said he was or a complete madman.” He agreed with that one, but not in the way I intended, so, as I said, we avoided the subject. The only encouragement I got was his positive response to the testimonies in a Christian magazine I often shared with him. I soon learned that he subscribed to the publication.

            After I moved several towns away, he asked me to do a three-day bicycle tour to Mississippi— 300 miles roundtrip. Even though I was not conditioning as regularly as I did before I moved, I agreed.

            Well, it was a miserable trip. He was taking high doses of medication that gave him much too much energy. He rode much faster than I wanted. We didn’t stop to enjoy the countryside as I anticipated and he was insulting to every waiter in every restaurant where we ate.

When we returned home from that trip, I told my wife that, if I ever said I was going on another three-day bicycle tour with him, to kick the spokes out of my bicycle. Our friendship fizzled from there, but all-in-all I still like the guy and would go for a ride with him at the drop of a helmet.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Birthday


I am pondering growing older. Enjoying life. Having been born shortly before Christmas, my birthday has always sort of merged with the greater celebration. But I learned not to look at it as a diminishment but an enhancement of the holidays. This year was no exception. In fact, my wife and I started the fun on birthday eve by driving to the lake to watch the sunset. Incidentally, we ate catfish at one of our favorite places.

Birthday morning, when I got up I smelled sausage frying, a rare olfactory sensation at our house. We try to eat more or less healthily most days, but on special occasions, out comes the high fat stuff. We had scrambled eggs, hot sausage and the kind of biscuits only my wife of many years can create. They defy description—I wouldn’t call them light and fluffy, nor are they heavy and thick. But they are just right: firm enough to sustain a separation but soft enough to turn butter liquidy. Those biscuits receive preserves with a kind of ineffable gaping grin of joy.

After a great breakfast and our customary moment of prayerfully pondering the scriptures, we discussed all kinds of possibilities for the day. One part of me wanted to do a sentimental journey from Choudrant to Ruston to El Dorado to Magnolia. You know the drill: going to some of the old places that have been meaningful in our lives. But that seemed like too much trouble, so I put the mountain bike in my roof rack and we drove to Texarkana, looking for the much touted bicycle path down there. We found it, but it is paltry. Apparently the bike path authorities have just started on the project and it just runs a half mile or so from the St. Michael’s fitness center to Cow Horn Creek. The end of the trail is the Cow Horn Creek Retirement Center. Was that symbolic? Was than an omen? I choose to think not.

After a repetitive and not very satisfactory bicycle ride, my wife bought my lunch at a nearby deli. There was a big crowd of people there and my comment was, “Hey, this is just like being in a big city.” I said that because the eating establishment reminded me of those busy places in West Palm Beach, Berkeley, Chapel Hill, Columbus (Ohio) and other large cities we have called home. (I have noticed, though, that northern repasts are generally louder in such places, while the talk in Southern eateries is somewhat plaintive.)

Of course we did the obligatory shopping that outlying people do when in a larger town and then came home and sat down to my favorite, pecan pie with whipped cream on top. Then I employed the aid of my hearing enhancement Bluetooth device and listened to the holiday album of The Duttons, a luxury I enjoy at least once during the holidays. I’m glad to be getting older.

Today we have lunch at church. It is an event called Prime Timers. I will get a cupcake because I have a December birthday!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry


The word “merry” as in Merry Christmas developed from an Old English form “myrge” which denoted pleasing or melodious. “Myrge” is related to an older Germanic form that meant “short-lasting.” That interests me because the only time I ever hear the word “merry” used is during the relatively “short-lasting” Christmas season. No one says “Merry Easter” or “Merry Fourth of July” do they? The “melodious” connection is also fascinating, since we do so much singing around Christmas time. So, when we say “Merry Christmas” we are, linguistically at least, wishing people a pleasing, melodious Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper) celebrating the birth of Christ (Christ Mass). But that’s not what I mean when I say it. The phrase brings back to me remembrances of giving and receiving, fellowship and family, and, mostly, Jesus’ traditional birthday.

Before I learned that it was more blessed to give than to receive, I remember the joy of finding my first bicycle under the tree on Christmas morning. I got it before I knew how to ride it and it was a 26 inch one. I was seven, large for my age, so my mother found one that would last me as I grew. Learning to ride it was tricky because my arms would barely span the width of the handlebars. But with the “help” or better stated, torment, of my two older brothers, I got the hang of it. I also remember learning the joy of giving one Christmas later when I was eight. I had earned some money washing cars and mowing grass and wanted to buy Mother something nice. I went to Woolworth and bought her a black ceramic panther that I though was so cool. When she un-wrapped that gift, you would have thought it was made of gold. She kept that paltry piece of d├ęcor on her coffee table the rest of her life.

“Merry Christmas” also brings to mind celebrations with friends and family. I’m reading a book of journal entries, “I Acted From Principle,” by a Civil War surgeon. In Dr. McPheeter’s account of Christmas, even though it is war time and his work as surgeon required amputation after amputation, he relished the holiday for camaraderie, singing, drinking eggnog and seasonal games. My early memories of Christmas are set in dark international warfare at the tail end of the Great Depression, and yet they were happy times. My widowed mother found the wherewithal to provide a wonderful meal and we had cousins, aunts and uncles and friends at our humble abode throughout the season.

But, of course, the real reason for being merry during this season is the fact that Jesus was born in just the right time and place to satisfy prophesy and to establish the most astonishing and unexpected kingship ever. His story is eternal. As C. S. Lewis puts it, Christianity is the “true myth.” It is an event significant for all ages and beyond.

So, Merry Christmas means giving and receiving, friends and family, and robust celebration of the greatest mystery of the ages. Joy to the world!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Slough Story


Many legends circulated by and about Tom Crider, the recluse who lived in a house on stilts way out on the back side of Wildcat Slough. One was that when he worked in the oil fields as a youth, a pipe went down his mouth and the side of his throat, and he wouldn’t go to the doctor. To make it heal, he filled it with Sweet Garret Snuff, and constantly kept it filled. This story gained credibility every time Tom opened his mouth, a brown cavern emitting a gurgling raspy voice. Another legend was that he ate turtles raw, the snuff supposedly overpowering any salmonella germs that may have been present. I never saw him do it, though. My favorite legend was the one he told my cousin and me himself when I was seven and my cousin was eight while we were fishing the slough. He gurgled it out this way, if memory serves:

“Way back yonder in 1937 I seen a human-like footprint in the mud where the Saline branches off south of the slough. That thing was as long as the bottom part of my leg and then some and nearly as wide as your daddy’s hiney [He said that to my cousin, whose daddy, Uncle Herbert, was very well-nourished]. I seen part of another of the same kind of footprint, lapping off at the edge of the water. Well sir, I built me a blind up in a gum down in there to see if I could find out what laid that foot, taken me a quart of shine up there into my blind, my snuff and a couple of perch sandwiches. I bone them big red-ears and roast them over a fire and put them in cornbread, don’t you know. [He didn’t mention eating turtles].

“Long about daylight, a thrashing around down there by some willows woke me up, and there it was. A great old big thing, all hairy and muddied up, a-wallowing on the edge of the Saline like a over-heated hog. I watched him as he backed up to one of them stout willows and commenced to itching his back on it, making a real contented grunt when he done it. Then he stopped real sudden like and sniffed the air, looking all around. I stayed quiet and watched it a long time, the thing putting off a smell like rotten eggs, wet dog and skunk. Before long, it kind of looked up in my direction and taken off out into the river and swam on its back down it till it was way down yonder on the other side and then he crawled up into a pine thicket.

“I went to my blind several nights after that, but the thing never showed up again. I only saw it one other time, in broad daylight, when I was squirrel hunting up where them May haws is on the Strong side of the Grand Mere Lake. I was in the shade down by a stump, kind of camouflaged, you know, and I seen that thing stripping May haws off one of the larger trees and smacking loud as it ate them. It never saw me but went on pretty soon and I could hear it a long time after I lost sight of it going up in them hardwoods.”

My cousin and I remembered that story after Tom Crider’s grave-side service in 1958. We both agreed that he made a believer out of us. Tom’s was the only burial I’ve ever heard of where a Justice of the Peace presided.