Monday, January 27, 2014

Judge Not


Juanita of Hillsboro Manor called and asked if the wise old man had taken his flu shot. “I do not know. Shouldn’t the Manor have a record of such as that?”

“We should but I cannot find a flu shot on there. Dr. Hassan says he got one. Anyway, Mr. Ford, he is bad sick. It acts like the flu. I wanted y’all to know how bad he is, because y’all are kind of all he has.”

My wife and I headed over there as soon as we could make arrangements and when we walked into his room, he was propped up in bed reading Henry V. “You must be feeling better, sir,” I said, “reading one of Shakespeare’s finest.”

He rasped and his voice was a pitch higher than normal, “Love this play, Dan. Imagine going up against such odds. Do you think Shakespeare ever got over his negative feelings for the
French?”

“I don’t know sir. Most non-Englishmen come off badly in the plays, right? Remember Sir Hugh in Merry Wives?” He started laughing but it became a deep, tight cough that could not deliver. “Want me to read to you, sir,” I asked.

“No, son. Thank y’all for coming. I was just thinking about your barbecue and your wife’s potato salad this morning. I have no appetite at all. Anyway, the food out here has no special touch to it. The cooks try, but they are limited in many ways.” Then he started coughing again and I poured him a glass of water.

Then his eyes fell back to the page and he said, “The French soldiers wanted their attire and their horses to look good on the outside, but there was no true soldiering on the inside. Dan, I am glad that God looks on the heart. I was thinking of that when y’all came in.”

Then he looked up and suddenly dozed off. He was smiling. My wife went for Juanita and she called the doctor. The wise old man seemed peaceful enough, even though his breathing was shallow and labored. Juanita said, “He had been reading on that big old book for days. That one and the Bible and that prayer book were the only books he fooled with for the last two weeks.

He opened his eyes when Dr. Hassan came in. “Hello, Tiki,” he said softly to the doctor, who replied kindly, “Are you feeling not well, sir?”

“I am better. My friends have come.” The doctor gave him a shot and studied his chart. He said, “Perhaps this congestion shall soon not be so. I shall the humidifier order for room.”

When Dr. Hassan and Juanita left, the wise old man said, “Well, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, Thank you for caring. I know I will be passing on soon and I fully expect to wake up with Our Lord. He looks on the heart. I am glad and sad at the same time about that. He died so the sad part gets thrown away, you know, that part of our hearts that we are ashamed of. I am afraid most of us still carry the sad part, though. The glad part, the part that is atoned, redeemed, saved is what he sees as our whole heart. If I do not see you again, my admonition to you is that you stop judging other people by what you see on the outside. Just do not judge, period. There is more to people than we can possibly see. Father Muñoz has my wishes. Love y’all.”

On the way home, my wife said, “He is Catholic?”

“Who knows,” I replied, “who knows?”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

All We Can Do


Western Union exists today as a money transfer organization, but in 1955 when I went to work for the company, it was much more vital and multifaceted. I became a messenger for Western Union the day after I turned 16. Of course, I had worked at other jobs unofficially before that, but I was “legal” as of December 19, 1955.

Messengers delivered telegrams. That was a given. But we also were called upon by citizens to run errands for them—for a fee, of course. Further, Lion Oil Company used messengers to deliver bills of lading to the railroads and to the refinery. And, from time to time, some of the employees would call upon a messenger to do some work for them.

In fact, the big boss, a nervous little man who had a habit of adjusting the waist elevation of his trousers with his wrists, had me deliver his children to Sunday school and church. We were the only two who worked Sunday mornings and there was never much work to do on those days. I drove my 1939 Chevrolet clunker to and from work. Of course, I had to ride a bicycle to deliver messages. But the big boss would give me a couple of bucks from his pocket to drive out and pick up his two boys and deliver them to church at 10 a.m. and then pick them up at noon.

The two boys were nice, polite and peaceful, unlike their ever-edgy daddy. The big boss had several pat phrases he uttered regularly. One of these was, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.” He would say that if, for example, we had been unsuccessful in getting a telegram delivered. Maybe the address was wrong, the people had moved, died or changed their names. Inevitably, when I would come back into the office with such a telegram, he would require an explanation, then say, adjusting his trousers, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.”

I worked 17 hours per week when school was in session—after school and on weekends—and 40 hours a week in the summertime. After I signed on, I had worked over three weeks without a paycheck. I finally got the nerve one Sunday to ask the big boss when people got paid. He said, “You mean you have not been paid yet?” I said I had not. Then he pulled out a drawer and there were three checks for me. He went ballistic. “That blankety-blank payroll guy was supposed to be paying you every Friday. He just stuck your check in his drawer. He has already gone home by the time you get here on Fridays. I will talk to him about that. Yeah, yeah, that’s all we can do.”

Well, I felt like a rich man after I got those checks cashed. I had a pocket full of folding money. So, I bought me a cheeseburger, fries and a malt. Yeah, yeah, that’s all I could do!”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Dan Said and Says


I started teaching college English at Auburn University in 1967. College teaching was fine. I felt challenged by it and enjoyed the interactions. But I somehow kept getting myself into administration. Maybe that was because I knew how to do it. Once a dean, always a dean, people told me, but, even though I was a chairman or dean most of my career, I always preferred the classroom. My own big brother told me I was a born dean and that nothing else would satisfy. Once I stumbled into an academic vice-presidency, though, there was just too much distance between the classroom and me, so I started looking for work outside of academe; even the classroom did not look very appealing at that time.

One of our daughters and her family lived in Sevier County, so I looked for work in De Queen. Early this century, I got a reporter’s job at the Daily Citizen and De Queen Bee newspapers and started this column. I also taught some courses at CCCUA. In the first few issues the column was called What Dan SAID, but the publisher wanted me to put it into present tense and the rest is history. The column has been running for over a decade now with only a necessary hiatus or two.

My assignment was to cover sheriff and police activities, city council meetings, district court rulings, school events, chamber business, the Lion’s Club and anything else the editor assigned me. And, oh yes, I was writing two columns a week for the Daily Citizen and they both appeared in the weekly paper, which, thankfully, has survived.

Just as I was settling into my new life as a newspaperman, I got a call from the Provost at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where I had been dean back in the 1990’s. He wanted me to come down there as his associate to help with re-accreditation efforts. I had successfully led that effort down there 10 years before and he wanted me to do it again as 10-year renewal was approaching. To make a long story short, we went down there for an academic year. The university was re-accredited. There was talk about making me Dean again. Uh-oh. We moved back to Sevier County. I fully intended to retire.

However, the editor of the Citizen and Bee was injured and could not work so the publisher called me to edit the papers, so I did that for a little while, still producing a couple of columns a week. But then a strange thing happened. I got a call from the high school wanting me to fill-in as English teacher for the spring semester. I had no experience as a high school teacher, but accepted the challenge. It was straight classroom work and I loved it.

Later, I took a job as full time faculty at the college in Hope and put in two years there totally immersed in the teaching enterprise. Now I am retired, but still producing What Dan Says. Maybe I will keep that up for a little longer.

Monday, January 6, 2014

On The Edge


Dating was always a challenge for my friends and me back in our teenage years. Our fairly small town did not offer a great deal of variety for such activities.

Some of my high school friends practically lived at the skating rink. They got so good at skating they could do it backwards. They did tricky moves and mastered the art of dancing while rolling. My experience with the sport started when I got skates for Christmas when I was seven. It was a sidewalk activity and, in my neighborhood, we had to travel a bit to find hard surfaces. Consequently, I never got really good at skating. I mean, I could stay vertical, but I was no speed demon, nor could I skate backwards. I only went to the skating rink where my gifted friends hung out on occasion. I just skated around and around, nothing fancy, while these rolling wonders showed off and got all the girls for the skate dances.

Another activity in my town I never got too good at was miniature golf. I thought of the course as a symbol for life. You have a starting point and you must skillfully overcome obstacles to succeed. Some of the obstacles were fun, like the wrapped-around truck tire. But some were perplexing, like the elusive clown’s mouth. Sometimes that demonic dude would swallow your golf ball and sometimes he would puke it right back at you. Like life, you know. You think you are making progress and then you run into some clown who makes it difficult for you.

The best place to take a date during the summer, though, was the watermelon shed. It was adjacent to the miniature golf course and the mom and pop operation offered generous slices of ice-cold watermelon for a quarter. You could fill yourself and your date up on this seasonal delicacy for a buck.

The movies were another matter. One had to be very careful as to the content of these entertainment venues. If it was a war movie, and there were a lot of those when I was in high school, my date would hate it. If it was a romantic film, I would hate it. The best bet was comedy. Movies involving Ma and Pa Kettle, or Abbot and Costello were a hoot and contained discussable subject matter. “Did you like it when Pa got confused about the modern appliances?” Or, “How about when Lou Costello controlled Frankenstein by putting his tie over his nose?”

The most fun I had, though, was when our church youth leaders took our “Young People Department” down to the river and built a fire for a wiener and marshmallow roast. These leaders were savvy enough to let folks pair off and spend time on the edges of the firelight. Life on the edge has been the modus operandi for many ever since.