Sunday, December 29, 2013

Forgiving Nona-Pearl


My wife and I took the wise old man out of Hillsboro Manor for a couple of hours to see the Christmas lights and to get a cheeseburger and fries from his favorite drive-in. He is not very demonstrative, as you know, but he showed his love for the sights of the season by a soft smile. Every now and then he said, “Wait a minute.” He meant for me to stop the car so he could look at the displays. His favorite was a live nativity at a local church with real animals. “That is a good donkey,” he said. “He is gentle as a cat. Reckon Mary rode a donkey? That is not in scripture. They might have had a wagon, you know. Pregnant girl ought not to ride a donkey the 50 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.” I asked him if it was really that far. “They had to go around Samaria, you know.”

When we got to the drive-in, he said he wanted jalapenos on his cheeseburger, cheesy fries and a large chocolate malt. I ordered the same for myself, with just a slight guilt pang. My wife got a chicken sandwich, no fries, and water. Another pang. While we sat there in the lot enjoying our sandwiches, the wise old man said, “Dan, I am not getting any younger, but I still like to make resolutions. Do you make any?” I pondered the question and said, “Well, no, but I would like to hear yours.”

“I am resolved,” he said, “to live for Jesus. Now, what that means is a life of love and forgiveness. I have a lot to forgive, son, a lot.” I choked up a little, because that was the first time he had ever called me son. “I have to forgive, first of all, myself,” he went on. “I am the hardest person I know to forgive. But I have to truly forgive me before I am free to forgive Nona-Pearl.” That was the first I had heard of Nona-Pearl, but I did not want to appear nosy, so I said nothing. He paused a long time, taking the last bite of his burger and slurping his malt.

“Nona-Pearl nearly killed my spirit, son, he said sadly. She nearly did. By saying she loved when she did not love. By lying about the one thing no one should ever lie about. I loved her. I truly did. But, she did not love me back and it has taken me a lifetime to forgive her for not loving me. I finally did, by realizing what an unlovable person I was at that time. She was right not to love me just because I loved her. But I wish she could have…”

My wife said, “Did either of you ever marry?” He slurped again and again until the malt was singing the drugstore blues. “She did. And they got rich. Gambling joint in Jacksonville. Then two. Then four. Then more. All up and down the east coast. I saw her in Jupiter two years ago. Jupiter, Florida, not the planet. She did not recognize me. “Do you still love her,” my wife asked. “In a godly way, yes. As a human. As I was saying, I am resolved to live for Jesus, loving and forgiving everyone, even myself. I am getting there. Thank you both so much for the supper and the sightseeing tour. Now, Dan, your belly is too big. Get that under control.”

“But how, sir? I have tried all kinds of diets and exercise.”

“Little meat and nothing sweet. Uh, Christmas burgers and fries notwithstanding. And malts. Slurp.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Benign Wild Man


Phil Robertson is not the ignorant redneck some take him to be. A man of great common sense, he has a master’s degree in education from Louisiana Tech. He was a teacher who invented a duck call that precisely replicates the sound of a duck. Ingeniously energetic, he and his family gradually turned that invention and its spin-off elements into a multi-million dollar business and an enormously successful television show.

He went through a period of great debauchery and almost lost his family because of his wild behavior. But, he repented, apologized, was baptized and became a believer, faithful churchman and evangelist. He has kept his persona as a more or less wild outdoorsman, but, as his wife says, he is much nicer now. Thus, one of his subtly attractive qualities is the contrast between wild appearance and benign character.

A number of contemporary media and entertainment folks do not like the way the television show depicts that subtlety, largely because doing so repudiates the trite and narrow formula that has been a staple for so long, where originality has mainly consisted of bland variations on vulgarity. They simply cannot fathom the reasons for Duck Dynasty’s appeal and great success. To them, “Modern Family” should be way up there in the ratings and the Robertson’s show should have only sparse viewership of backwater clientele. The phenomenon is similar to the traditional network moguls’ puzzlement over the success of Fox news and the low ratings of their own opinionated venues.

Who would have thought that a humorous article in GQ magazine wherein Phil Robertson paraphrased a passage of scripture would bring two disparate worldviews, into such public contrast? The conflict is only marginally about human sexuality. In the good-natured interview, Robertson says that he loves all people and does not judge. He says he leaves judgment up to the Almighty. But there is a whole lot of judging going on from opposing voices. One condescending commentator pontificated that someone should sit down with Phil and explain to him how his remarks (his paraphrase of scripture) were offensive to some. This person obviously considered himself superior and thought Robertson could be “educated” to fit the mold of his own unexamined view.

Phil Robertson proved you call a duck by imitating the sound a duck makes. Perhaps he has also proved that you build a television viewership by imitating the sensibilities of your audience. The Robertson family seems familiar to many of us, tonsorial habits notwithstanding. It seems familiar to the many of us who read and prayerfully study the Bible as God’s word. It seems familiar to those of us who go to church, pray at meals, love our families and love to laugh.

“Duck Dynasty” seems especially familiar to many of us Southerners, because, hey, we all have an uncle, brother, cousin, or at least an acquaintance like the incorrigible Uncle Si.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Travels With Ward


Mother married an old acquaintance of hers seven years after my father died. My father passed away five months before my birth. So, I was seven when I got a stepfather. After Mother and Pop had been married about a year, Mother wanted to go see my older sister, who was working for the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Gloria had landed the job in her early 20s after her discharge from the Women’s Army Corps.

Mother’s good friend Dorothy had a daughter in Connecticut and her brother, Ward, had a new car, so the three of them made plans to go “up north” to visit their kinfolks. I was a big eight-year-old, almost as big as my new Pop. As I recall, they gave me a choice—stay home with Pop or go along on the daunting journey. As a lifelong mamma’s boy, you can guess which I chose. And it was a very long trip. Ward was a strange fellow who seemed to be in a perpetual hypnotic state, not requiring food or drink. He also had a very strong and high-capacity bladder. His new Dodge was obviously an idol and he wanted to keep it immaculate both inside and out.

Ward packed heat, too. It looked like a German Lugar. He slept with it under his pillow. The girls roomed together and Ward and I shared a bed in the cheap motels along the way. I am usually a pretty good sleeper, but with that gun barrel pointing at my head under Ward’s pillow, I slept light if I slept at all. During the day in the venerated car, Mother would have to awaken me for those rare food or gasoline stops or to see sights like the Chesapeake Bay. I slept on the ferry ride across it.

I was very glad to part company with Zombie Ward when we got to Hartford and caught the train on to Boston, and gladder still to see my sister. For the first few days, she seemed pleased to have her mother and little brother in her cramped cold-water flat, but it didn’t take long for her to remember why she had chosen to live so far away. Friction between mother and daughter was as thick as our drawl. My sister talked just like the rest of the people up there. Where we said “Bawston,” she said “Bahston.” Where we said “park” she said “pahk.” In other words, she was not the girl we had known and loved and I suspect she was a tad embarrassed about our country demeanor.

But, overall, she showed us a good time. We saw the sights and I slept wonderfully well without the threat of being shot. As we were leaving in a taxi to go to the train station to reconnect with the armed Zombie and his sister, the driver noticed our accent. “Where ya from?” Mother replied, “Arkansas.” The driver asked, “Have many cars down there?” Mother thought he had said “cows” instead of “cars.” She replied, “Used to milk one every day.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christa Christmas


The night after Christa McAuliffe died at age 37 in the Challenger explosion of January 28, 1986, I was speaking at a professional gathering of teachers in Magnolia, Ark. Of course we felt a connection with McAuliffe, the first teacher to have been launched into space. I modified my talk to give honor to her and the other crew members that were lost in that tragedy. (Later, while I was a dean in Florida, I visited the middle school named in her honor more than once.) In my audience that night in 1986 was a school administrator from El Dorado, Ark. who remained a respected colleague for many years and became my good friend. (His name is Kermit and he collects frogs.)

Fast forward 27 years. After not having seen him in many years, I discovered Kermit sitting across from me at a professional conference in Hot Springs. In a hallway conversation later, my friend learned that I was living in Washington, Ark. He said, “Dan, I am president of SARA and would you be interested in serving on our board.” SARA is the acronym for Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. “Sure, I said, the facility is just a mile walk from my house.”

About this time last year, I got the official invitation and started attending the meetings. Christmas and Candlelight is the main fund-raiser for SARA and I was asked to coordinate the scheduling of the many musical groups who perform in buildings all over Historic Washington State Park the first two Saturdays in December. I have completed the task and there are some really special groups and individuals scheduled to perform December 7 and 14.

Visitors usually appear to be in awe of the natural beauty that the park’s candlelit streets provide as they stroll through this historic village. The charming old homes are adorned with pine cones, grapevines, magnolia, and evergreens. Decorations, music, and more set the mood for a truly historic holiday experience. Daylight tours from 1-5 p.m. Candlelight tours begin at 5 p.m. when thousands of luminaries are lit, and continue until 8 p.m. William's Tavern offers a Christmas buffet from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. You may also choose to enjoy a horse drawn surrey ride or shop the gift shops for that special holiday gift.

Date: December 7 and 14, 2013

Time: 1 pm - 8 pm

Admission: $10 adults, $5 children

Phone: (870) 983-2684


 

This year at Christmas and Candlelight, I plan to honor in the silence of my heart, the memory of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who gave her life to advance knowledge.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thankful for Boyhood


I am very glad to have lived to be an older man. You know that biblical allotment? Well, I am there and beyond. It is good to be thankful for our lives, that’s the long and short of it. What a privilege to be alive on the planet in our time! But I was reflecting during this Thanksgiving season about how grateful I am for my boyhood.

I am thankful for my dog Fuzzy that was my boyhood companion. When it was possible for him to be with me, he was. When it was not, he waited. When he saw me coming he was all wags. My uncle called him Danny’s Shadow.

I am thankful for my horse Nancy, my boyhood mount. She did not like me and we never really bonded, but I loved our rides through the Louisiana countryside. She never wanted to go where I wanted to go, except when we turned towards home. Then there was no holding her back.

I am thankful for my cats Buttercup and Sweetpea there were my boyhood cuddlers. They lived for rubbing against human legs and sitting in human laps, competing for the best spot. They were not very good mousers, but why should they be when we fed them sumptuously?

I am thankful for my old hybrid bicycle, my boyhood transportation to the very edges of civilization. The bicycle man of my hometown had produced the vehicle from spare parts. It was part Schwinn, part B. F. Goodrich. But I was not into brand names back then, nor am I now. I just wanted something that would jump ditches and go the distance, and that bike satisfied.

I am thankful for the ditch that was my boyhood clay factory. A neighbor boy and I used to dig up the good clay and make extravagant sculptures, from ape-man heads to miniature villages, from squirrels to bowls, from coiled snakes to buffaloes. Our sense of space and form were enhanced by our many experiments with clay. An added benefit of the beloved ditch was the easily captured crawdads that lurked there.

I am thankful for the Kapok sleeping bag of my boyhood that accompanied me on many camping ventures, both the official ones with the Boy Scouts and the unofficial ones with the guys from church. None of us slept very much on these outings, but at least I was warm when we told stories, spun yarns and created tall tales.

I am thankful for uninhibited baseball games in vacant lots, for Rover Red Rover, for Sling the Statue, for Jacks. Yes, boys do play Jacks and I actually got pretty good at it: cows in the barn included. I am deeply grateful for spin the bottle, one of the games that we all looked forward to as we approached the threshold of puberty.

Mainly, though, I am thankful I survived my boyhood. Wordsworth said the child is father of the man, meaning that our childhood experiences are very important to our development into adults. I can see his point.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quite a Journey


Just call me Joe, okay? I had mixed feelings about going to Bethlehem for the census. I mean, I was proud to be a part of David’s family. Who wouldn’t be? But I was irritated with the so-called government for their money-grubbing ways. Were they really counting me or the little bit of money they could get out of me?  Another worrisome thing was my betrothed’s pregnancy. A long trip walking and riding old Shag could not have been a good thing for her at that late point. She never complained, though, sweet girl that she is.

She had told me, of course, about the angelic visitation. All kinds of supernatural events were happening in her family. This one, though, was huge. She had found favor with Almighty God Himself and would be the means by which he would take on flesh and dwell among us. That was a weighty responsibility for me, but nothing compared to the task before her. I thought to myself more than once, if you are going to be a stepfather, might as well make it of God’s Son!

It was quite cold for some of our trip, the dead of winter, but once we came into the region of Bethlehem, the weather cleared and the air warmed up. From two miles out we could hear the babble of crowds arriving in the region. At a mile out, people were putting up yurts and other shelters. Beasts of burden and children were moiling all over the road. One hospitable family offered us a place in their newly constructed A-Frame shelter made of sticks and brown palm leaves. I told the gentleman about Mary’s pregnancy and that we wanted to get closer into town to an Inn so she could be comfortable. He understood, but gave us a couple of hunks of fresh bread, some wine and some broiled goat meat for the road. It was good but the wine was more like vinegar. You couldn’t drink it without making a face.

Anyway, the closer to town we got, the louder the din of humanity and the stronger the smell of animal droppings and human perspiration. There was a line at the first inn we came to, so we walked on to the next one. I left Mary with Shag and the pack donkey and went into the lobby (if that is what you could call it). A sweet-faced man frowned at me, but his eyes were full of compassion. “No vacancy,” he said mechanically.

“Sir, my wife is expecting and we really need a place to stay. You have nothing?”

“Pregnant, huh? Well, let me see. I have slept out in the tack room before when the wife was put out with me. It ain’t terrible if you can stand the smell and the bellowing and the braying. I can let you have that for half of what a room in the inn would cost you.”

“Will you board my animals, two donkeys?”

“Yes, that is part of the deal. They will be right there with you.”

So, we did stay in the tack room and we got there just in time. Jesus came on the scene in the dead of night. Mary did so well. She was very brave. He was her firstborn, you know. Then more supernatural things started happening. Some shepherds found us after having been told by angels that the Savior would be found wrapped in cloths and laying in a manger. Peace on earth!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pastries in Paris


When my wife and I walked up to the desk at Mount Magazine Lodge, the attendant said, “Last name, please.” I said, “My last name is Ford but we don’t have a reservation.” He looked at me incredulously and said, “You don’t have a reservation? We have no rooms left.” Apparently, the colorful fall is their peak season. Then the lady on the other end of the counter said, “Wait a minute, I think we do have a king on two.” And, sure enough, we got lodging on the second floor, in a room with a spa, balcony and lovely king size bed. There was room at the inn!

We had started the day just rambling north, enjoying all the fall colors. We saw autumn’s finest hues on golden hickories, red dogwoods and sumac, multi-colored gums and yellow sassafras. And, in doing so, we ended up at Arkansas’s highest point. After we checked out our room with a view, we had a lovely dinner in the rustic restaurant and went outside to get our meager luggage. We got our first taste of winter up there. The wind was intense and it bit shrewdly. The dude on television gave the weather for northwest Arkansas and I felt we were in the Midwest instead of Arkansas.

I got a great photograph of the sun coming up over the clouds, which were below us, nestled in the valley. Then we went down for a good buffet breakfast and later, a walk in the welcome sunshine. It was still breezy and chilly, but the sunshine felt good and illuminated the fall colors wonderfully. We stayed at the lodge till almost checkout time, and then drove down the mountain to nearby Paris. Paris, Arkansas, of course.

We were looking for a bakery. We remembered one time when we were in Ozark, Arkansas for the flea markets, we stumbled upon a great local bakery and had coffee and baked goodies and we thought maybe Paris would offer similar fare. We walked into a Paris flea market and asked the lady if there were such a place in the town. She said, “No, but, interestingly, I am planning to eventually put a coffee shop in right up there beside the door.” Of course her plans were great, but we could not wait that long. So we browsed her shop and wandered some more. I spied a sign that said “Donuts,” so we went a couple of blocks off the square and entered the establishment. My wife had a couple of delicious crullers and I had a bear claw. The nice lady even made a fresh pot of coffee for us, the only customers in the place.

We then drove on up to Ozark and found the bakery. Closed, the sign said. We were glad we had stopped for pastries in Paris. We spend the rest of our spontaneous outing in the huge flea market down by the railroad tracks. There, I enjoyed people-watching. Colorful people added to our enjoyment of colorful nature.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chilly Getaway


There was a lot going on at Historic Washington State Park over the weekend. They were holding the annual event called Civil War Days and there were outdoor dramas, reenactments and battle scenes galore. One of the things people like to do is to fire canons. Needless to say, we experienced some noise. I am talking about window-rattling noise. So, we decided to have a little getaway up to De Gray, a one-hour drive up I-30 from Washington.

We had a great breakfast in Caddo Valley and then made our way up to the lodge where we spent some time just sitting in the car looking at the color. The hickory trees have become a molten gold and the sumac is deep red, redder than I remember it ever being. And, of course, the sassafras and gum leaves are as unpredictable as they are beautiful.

Then we started our leisurely stroll on the concrete walking trail behind the lodge, but soon decided to try the woods hike that meanders through the hardwoods. While we were deep in the forest, my wife talked about how as a child she and her friends and siblings wandered the woods around Smackover. “That was our playground,” she said. I recounted some woods experiences of my childhood and youth. We discussed how we would get lost sometimes, but just kept walking until we ran into a road or path. These always led somewhere. At that point I remembered that my cell phone had a compass in it, so we made sure we knew which direction we were headed. I found it accurate, since it indicated east was where the sun was that morning.

We walked more than a mile through the woods before we circled back to the lodge where we occupied a couple of soft chairs and enjoyed the rustic décor of the spacious lobby. We laughed about the fact that we were so bundled up and several others were out exercising in shorts and tee shirts. A little chill in the air sends me for winter clothes every time. I even light the heater in our living room when it dips below 50 outside.

There was an eccentric oceanography professor at my college in south Florida who wore a wool hat, overcoat and gloves when it was in the 60s. We used to chuckle about that, but now I suppose we are thought of as just as odd. I do not like to be cold.

I am told we lose a lot of heat through our heads. At one time, I had a headful of thick hair. Now, however, I need a manmade accouterment to keep from losing all that heat, so I have a variety of hats. At De Gray, I had on my Indiana Jones hat that I bought from a shop in Hot Springs a couple of decades ago. I got some looks up there, probably because of that hat. At least I did not wear my beret.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Walking the Walk


Highway 195, or Franklin Street, that runs in front of our house used to be known as the Southwest Trail and it was apparently well-travelled. Historical figures such as Austin, Houston, Crockett and Pike rode through here more than once. The writer Claud Garner who published a fine biography of Sam Houston actually lived in the house we now call home. In fact, many say he built it back in 1918. When I read his pulp novel, Cornbread Aristocrat, I recognized quite a few familiar landmarks and other fictionalized features of Washington, Ark.

My wife and I walk parts of the Southwest Trail almost every day and so we understand it when history books refer to Washington as being situated atop a sandy hill. If we walk north of town, we descend about a half-mile down to the railroad tracks. We pass two courthouses, the 1874 and the 1836, as we go down. Washington quit being the county seat when railroads made Hope the center of commerce. There are not many pedestrians on the north part of the trail because of the daunting climb back up to town, but we feel the need for vigorous breathing for senior aerobic fitness. Folks like us need to get some sustained heart rate elevation at least once a day.

If we walk south, we do so one block off the paved Ark. 195, a dirt road that may have been the original trail. Anyway, it is a pretty good descent as well as it meanders through some historic buildings, a little forested area and across a plank bridge to the Southwest Arkansas Archives building. This part of the walk is very beautiful in late October because the leaves have started to change. Sassafras leaves have more variety than the others, fading from orange to yellow to red, sometimes on the same tree. Of course, sweet gum trees have variety as well, but on our trail, it seems that dark purple is the favored color for these star-shaped leaves. Also, there are plenty of wild flowers still in evidence in the ditches, along with abundant goldenrod.

There are horses to visit on both ends of our walk. Sonny Boy, a young gelding, lives in a pasture that starts at the back corner of our property. He is a rescued horse that the park historian discovered wandering about with a halter grown into his nose. The historian’s family takes really good care of him and he now looks and behaves as if he has always had the great life he now enjoys. Sara and Stella, the big black Percherons that pull tourists around town in the surrey, live on this part of the walk as well. They are exceedingly calm and self-contained animals. These girls do not get excited about anything. The park’s animal manager calls them bomb-proof. They may or may not come over to the fence for a nose rub, depending on their mood.

This historic roadway is a good trail to walk because of healthy hills, beautiful leaves, wild flowers and, of course, nice horses.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cumquat Ramble


I keep reading in various places that walking is one of the best exercises, especially for seniors. Our afternoon walk here in Washington, Ark. today was great. When those magnolia pods turn red the trees have their own brilliant ornaments. There is a huge and famous magnolia tree a couple of blocks from our house that was planted a hundred years before I was born. It is said to be the largest in the world. It keeps on putting on sprouts from its own root system and it has spread out so much that the state park has closed the road in front of it to keep cars off the system.

Nearby, there are several cumquat trees. No one around here is gathering this pithy fruit. Mowers are running over these little globes that resemble miniature oranges. I guess because they have so many seeds, people don’t want to fool with them. My wife, however, thinks they are beautiful. She has picked several up off the ground to place in glass vases to enhance the fall décor of our house and dining room. I cut one open and tasted it. They are orange-flavored, but very seedy, too. The limbs are quite thorny. In fact, one could make a credible crown of thorns from them.

Down the road towards the blacksmith shop is a small but quite prolific persimmon tree. I picked up a couple of them from the ground today and ate them on the spot. I was surprised at how ripe and tender they were. Unlike the cumquats, they only have one or two seeds each. We are not supposed to pick anything in a state park, but if fruit has fallen to the ground, it is fine. With the exception, that is, of pecans. People at the park will fuss at you if you pick up pecans. Fortunately, we have several giant pecan trees in our yard. We run a contest with the squirrels to gather them. We have too many squirrels around here. Fussing at them does not help at all.

The back road walk to the Southwest Arkansas Archives is the most beautiful in the park. It is a two-rutted dirt road that meanders in front of historic houses, farms and pastures, culminating in a forest walk across a wooden bridge. If you come over to the tavern restaurant for lunch one day, you should walk west down the road in front of the tavern. That is the one I am talking about. Once you pass the 1874 courthouse, you will see what I mean. Down to the archives from the restaurant is about a half mile. So from your car in the parking lot to the end of the end of the trail and back would be a good mile, some uphill and some downhill. The best things in life are free.

Walking is healthy for the body. If you have a beautiful place to walk in nature, it is healthy for your mind and spirit as well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

To Kill a Weekend


I guess you might say that I have retired, though, like most “retired” people I talk with, I have become busier instead of more leisurely in that much sought-after state of existence. Be that as it may, I am having a lot more fun in my activities than I was working an academic schedule.  

We had quite a weekend. A while back I somehow got to be head of the Dear Old Town Club, an organization in Washington, Ark. that promotes local history and, generally, southern humanities. One of the ladies in our club had a brainstorm about a year ago that we should perform a reader’s theater rendition of Harper Lee’s famous story, To Kill a Mockingbird. She and some of the other members redacted it down to about an hour and a half, we practiced the reading, made arrangements for the use of the courtroom in the 1874 courthouse and performed it Saturday night.

Before the show, the park historian lectured about the analogies between the deep south of the novel and Washington. The main difference is that Washington was more of a pioneer type of south than the large plantation south of places like Georgia. Antebellum race relations in the two regions were apparently somewhat different, too. The historian said that accused African-Americans wanted their trials to take place in Hempstead County because there was a tradition that such people would get better treatment and a fair trial. Further, black and white lived close to each other in Washington—everyone knew everyone else—and each enjoyed the other’s activities, such as barbecues and parades.

So, To Kill a Mockingbird may have presented a somewhat harsher view of race relations than existed in this region, though I do not wish to suggest that we were without such problems here. There was plenty of prejudice and injustice in Washington as well as in the south of Lee’s book. Nonetheless, the reading we performed was well-received and the score of attendees were very warm in their reception of our efforts. The outstanding feature of the novel as we told it was that the plot  covered a very wide range in portraying the human condition, from cowardice to bravery, depravity to integrity, ignorance to brilliance, blatant injustice to convictions of absolute fairness. Even though justice does not prevail in the novel, integrity does and Atticus Finch stands as an example of integrity, not only for the legal profession, but for all of us, especially southerners.

Because of our success in presenting the reader’s theater, I think the club will probably do more. For our next production, I would like to depart from the reader’s theater format and do some actual drama. We have several places at Historic Washington State Park that would be appropriate for doing plays. One problem, though, is that, for some reason, we have more women than men in our club. Maybe if I can come up with a play with some interesting male roles, we can attract some more fellows to the organization.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Unity in Government


Thoreau said the best kind of government is that which governs least. He was, you see, a big advocate of individual liberty, not in an anarchistic sense, but in our ability to govern ourselves. Apparently, Thoreau thought the government existed to serve the citizens, not the other way around. His convictions led him to civil disobedience, that is, not obeying any law that he disagreed with. I guess that is fine for a reasonable man, which he was, but the unreasonable person picking and choosing which laws to obey would certainly lead to anarchy at best and chaos at worst. When a representative government such as ours has such diversity to represent, is there any way to bring unity? Perhaps love is the answer. But before we can have an answer, we must have a question.

I like independence, don’t you? I don’t like being told what I must do. “You have to,” is a phrase none of us likes to hear. Remember the old saying that death and taxes are inevitable? I have heard people say that death they can accept, but they hate being taxed to support policies or activities they disagree with. My response to this is to remind myself and others that our government is supposed to be a representative government. We can and should communicate with those who represent us, from the president on down. And, communication is much easier and more convenient now than it ever has been. We must speak up: if we like a policy, we should say so; if we don’t, likewise.

I have “governed” in my family and, to some degree, in my work. As a daddy, I would always try to reason with my children, making sure they knew their own responsibilities in situations, and certainly making sure they knew I loved them. As a dean, I would most often try to reason with faculty, which is much more difficult than many imagine. There is diversity at the university, diversity of conviction, thought process, and method of operation. It is a blessed thing when people dwell together in unity but unity of conviction is very rare in academic settings. I suppose that is where the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” came from. But then we have the argument about where our concept of good comes from.

The great author William Faulkner has one of his characters say that what the heart holds to becomes the truth as far as we can know it. And he lists some of these truths: love, honor, pride, compassion, sacrifice. All of these qualities stem from love and, I dare say, every creature born loves, some more than others. So, Walt Whitman was onto something when he wrote that love is the keelson of creation. It is the one thing that keeps us on track, even in the midst of great diversity of thought and opinion.

So, when we think of the intense polarization in government now, we wonder if love might be the answer, for it alone sums up the law.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Old Necklace Factory


The only vendors that came to my town’s farmers market this morning were folks like the artisan who makes clever items out of cedar and the lady who makes bread. But conversation among the visitors was great and even better than buying something, I think. Here is a sample of an earnest conversation between two women I overheard:

“Do people ever sell jewelry here? Some people wear necklaces that smell good.”

“Olfactory therapy.”

“Old factory?”

“Maybe I should say smell therapy. If you smell something pleasant, it makes you feel better. Like, for example, if you smell honeysuckle it makes you feel like springtime.”

“Do they make them necklaces in an old factory somewhere? I know that old chair factory is abandoned. I bet they make them necklaces there.”

“Keep that honeysuckle off my fence row, is all I can say. That stuff will take over. Did you ever pull the little stem thingy in a honeysuckle flower and drink the drop of nectar when it comes out?”

“What am I, a bee? Thai restaurants serve edible flowers with their meals sometimes. Or maybe it is just decoration, but I think people eat them. I have heard that people fry squash blooms and eat them. Cauliflower is really not a flower, is it? Where do they make them necklaces?”

“Back in the day of Gorgeous George, the wrestler, people used to refer to cauliflower ears because when you keep abusing your ears they get this wadded up look like cauliflower. Do you remember Gorgeous George?”

“Yes, I believe he was the precursor of pretty boys like Liberace and Elvis and maybe even Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim’s original stage name was Texarkana Tex. I don’t think he really had any connection to Texarkana, though. I bet they make them old factory necklaces in Fulton.”

“No they don’t. Back to eating flowers, I read that book ‘Alive’ back in the 70s about the Andes plane crash survivors and when they finally got below the snow line and saw wild flowers, they ate them. They were some hungry dudes after such long isolation up in there.”

“I love sunflower seeds. I bet you could make a necklace out of them. Ever see one?”

And so the conversation went at the farmers market. Don’t you love leisurely days when people start out talking about necklaces and end up talking about sunflower seeds? It is an exercise in associative thought. The funny part of it is that, at the moment of the conversation there is nothing strange about it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pig Show


The rains finally came. We had experienced a very long dry spell in southwest Arkansas so the sound of a long, slow summer rain was welcome that night. And the heavenly moisture continued steadily most of the next day, the day we were scheduled to watch our granddaughter show her pig at the Four States Fair. We took the back roads to Texarkana and enjoyed watching the pastures spring into appreciative greenness after the prolonged brown of drought. The creeks were full, the roads were wet and from time to time I felt the tug of potential hydroplaning.

We found a parking place, not an ideal one, at the show barns and slogged through the happy mud to the arena. After finding what passed for a restroom (yuk), we located chairs and watched the familiar process of a swine show. The judge was a kind of ringmaster and he relished describing what he was looking for in a pig. To the layman, it was surprising that there are so many attributes to consider. In most cases, the judge would say, “None of these pigs is perfect.” That probably goes without saying. If there were a perfect pig, the animal would doubtless be walking on gold. But apparently there were some porcine performers close to perfection. These were usually bulging-hipped, broad chested, full-bellied porkers, controlled by enthusiastic and very competitive handlers. The animals were their friends and they were eager to bring out the best side of their project.

The most gratifying part of the show, aside, of course, from our granddaughter’s exemplary performance in the ring, was watching the few children who were different from the majority. It was wonderful to see the support these special kids received from their families and it was particularly gratifying when they won well-earned recognition for their work with the animals.

Well, our granddaughter’s category began at 9 a.m. and we were in attendance shortly after then. She did not show until early afternoon. I am a lunch-lover and my wife has developed an appreciation for a noon-day repast as well. My stomach began to groan at about 11:30 but it was almost 2 p.m. before I could obey its prompting. We gave our granddaughter a fond and congratulatory goodbye and headed out in the rain. Being recreational eaters, we had already decided which establishment would be graced with two elderly people with large appetites. We enjoyed our lunch very much, discussing how wonderful the agricultural activity of showing animals is, how good it is for kids, how different it is from inner-city activities. It is so much better to show an animal than to act like one. (Now, I know that there are good clean activities in the city, too, and that many city kids do not act like animals and some country kids do. That needed to be said.)

We drove home in the rain and even went to sleep listening to the rain once again. Today, however, the rain is gone and the clouds have cleared. It is cool. Cool in more ways than one!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saint Gus and His List


We called him Saint Gus because he kept and kept up with his prayer list. He spoke at the church we attended often about the importance and function of regular prayer and, as an older retired gentleman, he practiced what he preached.

I added several people to Saint Gus’ prayer list and saw results each time. If you placed someone on it, be sure that Gus would ask you about the person from time to time. For example, after initial small talk, he would say, “By the way, Dan, how is so and so. Are his needs being met?” Or, if it was an illness, Saint Gus might ask, “Is so and so healed yet? Has she shown improvement?” And so it would go. Well, I had occasion to put a very troubled person on Gus’ list one time.

I was teaching a sophomore English literature class. The first day of class, I always look at each person when I call his or her name, trying to connect their faces with the names in my roll book. It usually takes me four or five meetings to do so. The first day of this sophomore English class, I was looking at each student until I came to one young lady, I will call her Mandy. When I looked at her, I had never seen such a drawn up, depressed, desperate-looking countenance on a young person. Without thinking, I said, “What’s wrong?” I embarrassed myself by drawing attention to her and hurried on with the rest of the roll call.

After class in the hall, I heard a female voice behind me saying, “Dr. Ford, I need help.” I turned and it was Mandy. I invited her to follow me to my office and she came in and poured out her heart. This single mother had a serious alcohol problem and her mother had kicked her out and would not allow her to see her small child. She said, “I have nowhere to turn, no place to stay, no money, no friends, nothing.”

I called the local shelter that took people like Mandy in and made arrangements for her to stay there. Then I called my wife and told her I wanted to bring her by our house, which, of course, was fine with her. I asked Mandy if she was a Christian and she didn’t seem too sure of that. I asked her if she had a Bible and she said she did not. I gave her my leather bound Good News Bible with my name embossed on it. I was very fond of that Sword because of the little line drawings in it I had embellished with silly stuff. For example, I had the drawing of a donkey in there saying, “I feel like an ass.” To make a long column shorter, at my home my wife ministered to her and once we got her settled at the shelter, I got her on Gus’ prayer list. From then on, Gus would ask, “How is Mandy doing. Still sober? Did she get a job? Is she reconciled with her mother?” You see, he truly prayed and deeply cared.

One little sidelight to round this off: The day after I gave my Good News Bible to Mandy, a colleague of mine came to my office and said, “Dan, Ouachita Baptist just sent us a whole crate of Good News Bibles, do you want one?” When I said, “Thank you, Jesus,” he looked at me funny and I did not explain. I also did not mess with the little drawings this time.

Gus passed away a while back and we miss him…and his list.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Teaching


Labor Day we took some ribs, potato salad and beans down to the wise old man at Hillsboro Manor. We packed an extra plate for Juanita, the head nurse, too. It was not a bribe, but Juanita tends to treat us nicer when we take her something. She told us the wise old man had been hanging out in the chapel for the past few days doing a study. I knew his habit of meditating on scripture, so I did not want to disturb him, but I really wanted at least a short visit with him to catch up. Mainly I wanted him to know that I had retired and would be able to come see him more often.

My wife and I stuck our heads in the chapel door and found him in the front pew with a couple of Bibles, a Big Chief tablet and a bunch of note cards which he had arranged on the pew and on the floor. He didn’t even notice us until we sat in the pew behind him. He seemed truly delighted when he turned around. “What’s that I smell,” he asked.

“We brought you some cookout, sir, I said.”

“Let me gather up this stuff and we will go to the day room. I am as hungry as a female coyote with a big litter,” he laughed. We joined Juanita at a table in the day room. She had already torn into her plate and was full of compliments and questions, especially about how to prepare my wife’s delectable potato salad.

As the two of them ate, I said, “I have retired from teaching.”

“Sure enough?”

“Yes, sir, and I don’t miss it a lick.”

“Interestingly, Dan, I have been doing a study of teaching in scripture. Did you know that the teaching-learning enterprise is mentioned 15 times in the Book of Titus alone? And, Dan, listen to this verse from chapter 2 of that book: “Encourage your students to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.”

“I don’t remember reading that,” I said.

“Well, I changed a bit of the wording to make it fit today’s education, but it’s mainly NIV. Dan, don’t you see that the education problems we face in the 21st century would fade away if students could control themselves and if teachers led exemplary lives and taught with integrity, with no frivolity, leaving behind the inordinate fixation on sports activities? And what about ‘soundness of speech’? I am afraid many teachers today have picked up the jargon and triteness of the youth they teach instead of setting an example of accurate and beautiful language. I have heard teachers start sentences with “I’m like,” and over-use the word “amazing” and “absolutely,” haven’t you?”

Feeling a little guilty, I replied, “Often teachers need to get down on their students’ level to truly communicate. You know, be cool.”

The wise old man took a bite of potato salad then and chewed it a long time before replying. “Or, Dan, they might consider coaxing the students up to their level.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Happy Dynasty


I know and love a lot of people who are not steeped in Southern culture because of my travels and because one of my daughters married one such person and I am committed to love the people she loves. Since I am, thus, so well acquainted with our brethren from up nawth, I have developed a theory as to why so many of them seem to love the phenomenally successful television show “Duck Dynasty.” At first I thought it was because they were making fun of the characters, but later I theorized that busy big-city people are longing for a simpler, more honest, more laugh-prone and, yes, more solidly Christian approach to living. They want to be happy, happy, happy. For example, there is probably not much road rage in West Monroe. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fine Christians all over our great land, all over the world, really, with varying approaches to the faith. So, hey, I am not saying that the South is more Christian, Jack.

But, when a network talking head recently compared the show to the “The Beverly Hillbillies,” I saw how little her ilk really knows of the glorious Southland. I should have noticed the vacuous thought processes of some in the national media when they reported the cooking show fiasco. I mean, the daytime network hosts of the world with their million-dollar contracts and good suits and bad haircuts sound so smart and self-assured until you really hear what they are saying. Most often their doctrinaire biases control and skew what passes for analysis of current events.

Our worldview certainly influences the way we think, doesn’t it? On the show, we see Duck Commander Phil, the patriarch of the Robertson family, exhibiting a strong Christian worldview, gathering his family and friends for a meal, praying unabashedly in Jesus’ name, giving thanks, asking for patience, especially for those who are closest to us. There is Phil’s wife, the Godly woman, Kay, who knows when to submit and when to stand her ground. Blessed are the peacemakers. And everybody’s favorite is Uncle Si, who at the reaffirmation wedding of his brother Phil and sister-in-law Kay said, “Hey, I’ve got something to say here before we go on. Hey, I have been with these two from the beginning and, hey, God loves them and so do I.”

Si has a Facebook page. Not that he ever operated a computer, but, as the site explains, the family put the page up for him. On it is a photograph of Si and his wife of many years. The quotation from him under the picture is, “I love this woman, always have, always will and you can take that to the bank, Jack.”

Even though this family characterizes itself as redneck, their language often bespeaks an educated respect for English grammar. Phil in particular is most articulate in his pronouncements. Even though the north Louisiana accent is alien to some, hey, we can see that they work to communicate precisely and exactly. Phil also has a flair for parallel structures, for example using the word “abode” for “home.”

I was born near West Monroe, so the accent sounds right to me. In fact, when I say the word “happy,” I sound a lot like Phil. And I say it a lot these days.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Beach Ride


This has been a very pleasant summer around southwest Arkansas. We were at De Gray Lake in the middle of July and we were able to enjoy the great out-of-doors for a couple of days. In fact, it was even cool at night, the kind of weather that made campfires feel good. If global warming is happening, our region is missing out on it and I, for one, am glad! The only down side was that the rooms were very cold because they kept the air conditioner cranked up. I couldn’t get warm enough to sleep well.

I was having a little tendonitis in my left knee while we were up there at the lake, but it felt good enough one day for a bicycle ride. I had loaded my mountain bike into the carrier thinking, as I always do, that I would fully recover soon. I have been expecting a pain-free life for a long time. But I was not disappointed in that ride.

We were staying at the lodge. At about three in the afternoon, I took off on the bicycle headed for the peninsula beach. We have loved that area for a long time, ever since our daughter Alicia was a baby. We played in the warm shallow waters of that beach every chance we got back then, so I had sweet memories of the place.

On a bicycle, one becomes much more aware of rolling terrain than in a car. I had to drop the 21-speed bike down into first gear several times. I was climbing significant hills into the wind. All bike riders know what that means—hard work. But I got to the beach at about 3:30 and that wind that had been my enemy was now a pleasant breeze blowing in off the water. It was partly cloudy and much cooler than I expected as I rested on a picnic table and sipped water from my water bottle. Another astonishing thing was that there were only a few people there to enjoy the ideal beach weather.

I got the cell phone and texted other family members at the lodge and gave this report, “at peninsula bch. not crowded. cool breeze. kids will love it.” Within minutes, while I was waiting for response to my text, the family drove up. When they got out, they ran through the warm sand to the warm water and had a blast. I joined them.

We spent a couple of hours there. The trip back to the lodge was easier for them in the car. But it was easier for me, too. Who would have thought that there is more downhill going back to the lodge that coming from it?

When I cruised back into the parking lot and repositioned my bicycle into the carrier, they were all ready to go to supper. I made quick work of an English bath (just a washcloth) and we went to a nice family restaurant in Arkadelphia, where the catfish was restorative to say the least. We all slept well that night. Maybe it was a tad warmer in the room.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hometown Water


Here is something from a story I am working on that may be of interest to readers of this column. In the middle of the 19th Century, three young bachelors of Washington, Arkansas breakfasted sumptuously together every Sunday before church. They were the twins, store-owners Tom and Lum Williams, age 30 and Dr. Elias Hart, age 27, who had recently established his four-room clinic next to Williams store. Lum served up plump corn cakes and salt pork from the potbelly stove situated in the middle of the hardware section. On this windy and rainy Easter morning, the heat from the stove was most welcome.

“Y’all planning on church this morning?” Tom asked and then went on before the others could answer, “I don’t think I’m going to make it in this storm. I would like to stay warm and dry this morning. Besides, The Reverend is preaching a series on the Second Coming and I find it very speculative. There is nothing definite in those sermons. I need edification this morning, not speculation.”

“But brother,” Lum jokingly put in, “You don’t want to waste that rare bath you took last night. I know you put on clean clothes, too, all the way down, for I saw you.”

Tom grinned good-naturedly and replied, “I’ll just have a sanitary Sabbath here at the store on my own, thank you. I have been pondering a passage of scripture I need to spend some prayerful time seeking the Lord’s counsel on.” The brothers shared a two-room apartment in the back of the store, while Elias made his home next door at the clinic. Many people in town felt that Tom had missed a call to the pulpit, but he believed everyone, not just preachers, should be interested in understanding scripture.

Dr. Hart took a sip of coffee and found it satisfactory before he said, “Tom, are you still worried about that Bethlehem water episode from II Samuel 23?”

“No, not worried, Doc. I am more concerned than worried. I do not understand it is all. Why did King David consider the water from his own home town of Bethlehem, water that he requested, as poison to be poured out on the ground?”

Lum chewed on a piece of dry salt meat as he said ponderously, “Brother, listen. The scripture is very clear. There is nothing puzzling there. David, having been in an exhausting fight, longed for water from his own city. Isn’t that how we feel about the taste of Washington water when we go to Fulton for supplies? That water down there tastes sulfuric, as if it bubbles up from Hades itself. All David wanted was water that tasted right, like our water tastes to us.”

“Why did he pour it out, then?”

“Because those mighty men had risked their very lives to fetch it. He honored them by pouring it out,” Lum explained.

“He should have drunk it. We eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, don’t we?”

“That is a very good point, brother,” said Lum, “but I find no typology in the passage.” And so the story goes.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Put Your Foot Down!


When I was a child back in El Dorado, I overheard Red Mack explaining how to train a mule. He was employed by a man who raised trotting horses, but there were also some draft mules on the place. Red was sitting on the corral fence with my cousin, a lad of about six, and they were studying a big molly mule of about three years old. I was playing in a sand pile nearby watching and listening. Red Mack said, “Those mules like this big old baby here, why, they don’t know enough yet to respect folks. The first thing you got to do is get them to respect you. If you don’t get a mule’s respect right at the start, there will be trouble down the road.”

“How do you do that, Uncle Red? How do you get them to respect you,” my cousin wanted to know. Red was not his real uncle. Mine either.

“Well, sir, let me just show you.” With that Red picked a Catawba bean hanging over the fence and threw it hard at the mule. It hit her on the front hoof. The animal shied, but not much. She stood her ground and looked sideways at Red. He rushed toward the bean and the mare was so surprised that she backed up a step or two and snorted. Then Red put his foot on the bean and said loud to the mule, “I am putting my foot down on this here bean, now, you big old mule. I am putting my foot down.”

The mule stood erect and alert as Red bent down and picked up the bean. He walked towards her waving it and she didn’t budge. Suddenly he threw the bean at her hard and hit her between the eyes. She tossed her head back and almost sat down. Then Red put his foot on the bean again and said even louder this time, “I am putting my foot down on this. You hear me?”

With that the molly mule began to lick her lips and relax a little. Then Red brandished the bean above his head and walked towards the mule. The animal turned her rump to Red and walked to the corner, looking back.

“Get in up on the fence at that corner, boy, and shoo her back. My cousin did so and the mule turned back to Red and dipped her head. Red Mack threw the bean over the fence and began to pet the big animal between the eyes, speaking softly.

“See, boy? You got to put your foot down. Then they will know you mean business.”

I’m not sure his method is fool proof. I think he may have been joking with my cousin. I think Red had been working with that mule awhile and he wanted the kid to believe she was greener than she was. Whatever the case, the training session was good theater. It was a kind of dance between a truly happy old man and a mule who must have wondered what was going on. Please do not try this method on a green horse or mule and if you do, don’t hold me responsible. I was only four and my memory may be flawed. My cousin doesn’t remember the event.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jackie Earl


In my opinion, Hal Holbrook was and is the best mimic in the business. A few decades ago, this speech teacher became famous for making up and dressing up like Mark Twain and he did so brilliantly. Apparently he listened to a rare recording of the great humorist’s voice and got it down perfectly. He was more like Mark Twain than Sam Clemens ever was (ha ha). But it is not easy to portray historic figures. It is very difficult.

An on-line image of Confederate States of America Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens, for example, reveals that the casting office for the new Lincoln film knew what it was doing when it cast Jackie Earl Haley in that role. The resemblance is striking. I would say Jackie Earl Haley looks much more like Alexander Stephens of Georgia than Daniel Day Lewis looks like Abe.

I had not read much about the movie Lincoln before I saw it, so it was a delightful surprise when Haley came onto the screen late in the show. I remember him as Kelly Leak, the great pitcher and batter in Bad News Bears. I remember him as Moocher in that wonderful Indiana movie about bicycling, Breaking Away. And, in Lincoln, Haley nailed the Georgia accent, even though he is a California native. He looked, moved and sounded very much like what Vice-President Stephens would have. Most actors just can’t quite get the Southern sound and cadence. I don’t know what the dialect coaches do wrong, but even Southern actors like Reese Witherspoon sound phony when they are in Southern roles. Tommy Lee Jones talks just the same in every role he plays, kind of like John Wayne did.

I was interested in finding out more about Haley, so I looked up some information on him. I learned that he got out of acting for a season after his brother died of an overdose. He turned to directing and made commercials in San Antonio, where he still lives. He is a close friend of Sean Penn, who talked him into returning to film. Among other roles, he is the new Freddie, the villain in Nightmare on Elm Street.

Be that as it may, I thought his brief but careful portrayal of the Confederate leader was sincere and as accurate as any actor could have made it. There was, however, something insincere about some of the other portrayals in the film. As much as I like Tommy Lee Jones, I found his work stagnant and overblown. Sally Field was too much of a modern woman for the role of lanky Abe’s wife. And most of the minor actors such as David Strathairn and even the great Hal Holbrook were mere caricatures or stand-up comics.

But seeing Jackie Earl Haley, hearing him patiently explain to the Union delegation that Reconstruction would not reconstruct anything, was like seeing and hearing an old friend who has grown much older and wiser. His face contained all the agony of defeat and yet there was something auspicious in his demeanor. He was, in short, a fine actor in a mediocre movie.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Are They?


My wife and I used to look for opportunities to come back home to Arkansas for visits when we were in graduate school at Auburn University on the eastern side of Alabama. If we were going to have a three-day weekend, for example, we would have the 1966 Dodge Dart all packed and ready and for departure at the end of my last class in the afternoon or when she got off work. In those days, we didn’t mind driving practically all night long. It was a nine or 10 hour trip from Auburn to El Dorado no matter how you cut it.

On one such trip, late one Thursday night (or in the wee small hours of Friday morning) in the middle of Mississippi, I put the pedal to the metal on a straight stretch, hoping that Smokey was snug in bed with Mamma Bear in this seemingly backwater region. My wife was in the back seat of the Dart with our infant daughter, keeping me alert with a huge thermos of coffee and intermittent sparkling conversation. At one point, my speedometer read the incredible speed of 79 miles-per-hour. Simultaneously with noticing this breakneck speed, I thought I saw the fuzz behind a billboard. As I took my foot off the accelerator, I heard from the back seat, “They are coming!” I thought, Oh my, this is going to be an expensive trip. I replied to my wife’s statement, “Are they?”

She said, “What are you talking about?”  I replied, “Didn’t you say the cops were coming?” She laughed and said, “No, Danny, I asked if you wanted more coffee.” We laughed about that misunderstanding off and on all the way home. “The cops are coming” sounds nothing like “Do you want more coffee,” does it? I don’t know what that was I saw behind the billboard.

I still have some communication problems with my wonderful wife. We are now living in a home that is new to us. We are trying to understand the computerized air conditioner. It is one of those that you have to tell that you are home. Otherwise it goes to 78 degrees. One night recently I went to bed before she did and was just about asleep when she came into the bedroom and said, “It is really warm in here. We need to adjust the AC.” I wanted to know what temperature it was set on so I asked, “Where is it?” Her response was, “The air?” That misunderstanding brought forth peals of laughter that lasted much later that I wanted them to. But, I’m told, uncontrolled laughter is good for your health. If that is true, I should be well.

I guess you have heard the story of the three hearing challenged men playing golf. One said, “It’s windy.” Another said, “No, Thursday.” The third man said, “I sure am, let’s go get us a drink.” I know such infirmities are not laughable, but we may as well have a sense of humor about it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Good Fourth


It is so easy to get mad at those we have chosen to run our government. We often doubt that “representatives” actually “represent” our interests. Or, we may question their judgment or their wisdom or their experience. So many aspects of submitting to the government we ourselves set in place are troubling. We ask ourselves, “Have we created a giant monster with an enormous appetite that just keeps growing and growing and growing?”

Century-before-last, the cantankerous American Henry David Thoreau wrote that the best kind of government is the kind that governs least. He was committed to individual liberty in the same way Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock and the others were as they signed the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago. These men wanted a government that would protect our fledgling country from tyranny and dictatorship, from taxation without representation and from the kind of leaders who thought they knew what citizens needed better than the citizens themselves did.

Since those early days, Americans have fought and died for a government formed on the principle of individual liberty, a government of, for and by the governed. So far, such a government has not perished from the earth thanks to those brave fighting men and women who have been committed to our brand of freedom.

Fifty-four years ago down at the Shreveport induction center, I took the oath that I would defend my country to the death if necessary. It was a moving moment for an 18-year-old with my life in front of me because I had lost close family members, an uncle and a cousin, in World War II, kinsmen who gave the last full measure of themselves to protect others from tyranny and dictatorship and other thieves of freedom. To paraphrase scripture, no one has greater love than the one who gives his life for others.

While I was in the service, my just-older brother gave his life as a B-47 pilot. He was only 25 with a pregnant wife and a three-year-old son. I knew from conversations with him that he would not hesitate to die for our country. Another brother, quite a bit older than I, flew 50 missions in a B-17 in World War II. He is 93 years old now and it is a joy to sit in his living room in Wetumpka, Ala. and peruse his plaques, certificates, wings, photographs and other honors he received in his career as an Air Force officer. My late sister, who was also quite a bit older than I, served in the Women’s Army Corps during the war but later transferred to the Army Reserve, where she served honorably as a sergeant.

As I was reflecting on my family’s patriotism, I recognized that almost everyone I know exhibits a similar kind of loyalty to our country. Perhaps it is not the overt, flag-waving kind, but more of a deep love and appreciation for our country and our countrymen who do not hesitate to step up to the plate for freedom, no matter what the cost.