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.