Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Welcome Sight

When tech school was over in Amarillo, I caught a bus to El Dorado for a longed-for month off before shipping out for Germany. After the austere scenery of Texas and Oklahoma, the tall pines and hardy hardwoods of south Arkansas were a welcome sight. I even told the fellow next to me on the bus that such familiar scenery was a welcome sight. He just looked at me as if to say, “What are you talking to me for?”
Anyway, years later I was attending an ordination ceremony in El Dorado and the main speaker was a New Yorker who taught at a famous seminary up there. The printed title of his address was “A Welcome Sight” and I thought of my bus ride of many years before.
The clergyman began his talk by saying that when he was a beginning student at the seminary where he now taught, he had a classmate who came from Texas. He said they made fun of the Texan regularly, especially for his accent. He explained that the cowboy would-be preacher said things like “wehcome” for “welcome,” “hep” for “help,” “y’all” for “you guys” and he had a mouthful of quaint expressions such as “I be dawg” and “you dang tootin’.”
The speaker went on to say that when he, himself, was invited down to El Dorado, Arkansas to speak at the present ordination, he thought, that’s close to Texas and I sure don’t want to go to the land of I be dawg, etc. But the person being ordained had been a good student of his and was certainly worthy of his presence, so he decided to go on down to Arkansas, a state to which he had never traveled nor had he desired to visit. He made that clear.
He said that when the airplane he was on got into the vicinity of Little Rock, a bad old thunderstorm cropped up and the pilot did not want to risk landing in it. It was a rough flight, the speaker said. He characterized it as a white knuckle experience. When the pilot announced that they were going to divert the flight to Dallas, he thought, oh no, not Texas. But, he said, when they got into the airspace around Dallas, the weather cleared beautifully, the flight smoothed out and the beauty of Dallas airport shone beautifully upon the earth. Then he said something surprising that brought the house down: “It was a wehcome sight, so hep me, y’all!”
I considered that one of the best introductions to a speech I had ever heard. My initial impression of the speaker was negative, indeed, a northerner thinking he was so superior to the funny-talking outlanders. But, when he got to his punch line, all that changed, and he had my attention, and that of the entire assembly.

As he spoke on his topic of the welcome sight of the resurrected Lord, my mind wandered only once, back to that bus ride from Amarillo, in which I had uttered the same phrase, “welcome sight,” when the bus rolled into familiar territory. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tropical Chill

I served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Palm Beach Atlantic University way down in Florida back in the mid-1990’s. One of my “extra” duties for that institution was directing the self-study for re-accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Shortly after that project was successful for the maximum period of 10 years, we moved back to Arkansas. When that decade was up in the early 2000’s, I was working for the De Queen Bee and Palm Beach Atlantic called me and wanted me to come back down there to help with another self-study for re-accreditation. Nothing succeeds like success. They made me a good offer as Associate Provost and, shortly after I arrived, I became Dean of Arts and Sciences again, as I worked to initiate the self-study.
The university provided a nice place for us to live right next door to my workplace. Of course, since this was south Florida, we did not take warm clothes, nor did we take blankets, comforters or any of that northern stuff. But the accursed air conditioner in our apartment was managed somewhere other than in the apartment—we had no control over it. It was freezing in there. I told my wife we would not need that refrigerator at all. I mean, you could have hung meat in our bedroom. In fact, one night I dreamed Rocky Balboa was in there punching a side of beef.
Anyway, on our first shopping trip, we found a store with good comforters, not an easy task down there. Really, who buys comforters in West Palm Beach? But we found a good one and used it not only as bed cover, but we sat side by side to watch television or read at night with that comforter wrapped around us. (We still have it and I think it is the warmest cover we have).
Palm Beach Atlantic University is an urban institution situated in downtown West Palm Beach, about a mile from City Place, an urban oasis full of fountains and palm trees, restaurants and shops where people of every description gather. Our entertainment during that period of time was walking to City Place and people watching (and listening). Once I heard an altercation between a husband and wife. An elderly lady who had been with them had gone on before them into a store and the wife said, “Well, she’s YOUR mother, not mine.” And he replied curtly, “I know that, but you are a woman and you understand such things better than I.” That made her mad for some reason and she stomped off, leaving him torn between two women. The elderly lady came back out and said, “Where’s Mildred?” He said, “She needed to find a restroom.”

City Place provided good people-watching and -listening. There were a thousand stories in that area every night. I thought about writing a series of them entitled “City Place Speaks,” but it was too cold in our apartment to write anything. I have never been as cold as I was in south Florida. By the way, Palm Beach Atlantic University got re-accredited for another 10 years. That warms my heart.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Appearance and Reality

Everything is not what it appears to be. Spring and winter are like two strong animals fighting for dominance. Some days are like summer and we want to go to the lake in short sleeves and then a short time later we are back in winter, dressing like Eskimos. I am glad warmer weather will eventually get the upper hand, but meantime we endure the struggle.
There are a couple of lakes on Rick Evans Grand View Prairie near my home that I love to visit. They are well-maintained bodies of water with good ramps and fishing docks. But there is something other-worldly about the whole place. Hardwoods are scrubby and pines are gnarled. In short, a prairie emerges from the hardwood and pine forests of our region and it is strangely spectacular.
It is odd to feel remote and out in the open at the same time. Most of my wilderness memories from childhood are in the big woods and the Ouachita River. We hiked and camped, built bonfires and tree houses galore. We learned to tolerate king-size mosquitos and abundant red bugs and ticks. Although we had a repellent called 6-12, we always ran short of it and came home with evidence of prolific parasites. We saw a lot of snakes, mainly water moccasins, and carried snake-bite kits we learned about from multiple sources, but none of my companions ever came close to the deadly creatures. I think that is because we always watched the ground.
You can tell a country person or one familiar with the woods by the way they are ground-conscious. When I was in basic training, we had to hike through rough terrain and I was surprised at how many guys tripped and fell. They paid no attention to where their feet were going. Most of these were from the city and had never walked in the woods. Some of them had never shot a rifle before and country boys felt smug in their understanding of and skill in shooting.
Even now, when I am working out in the yard, I am conscious of the ground upon which I walk. Just the other day I stepped on a camouflaged stick and the other end of it came up and struck my calf. I jumped like an armadillo because my instinct told me a snake had struck. My head knew better, because it was in January and all the snakes are sound asleep, but still, my automatic response brought to mind that I am always aware of ground zero.

Once when my childhood companions and I were camping on the Ouachita, I saw a snake with front legs. He had a broad, desperate-looking head and really active little legs as he coiled down a stump. I wanted a closer look at the creature, so I got as close as I could without being in jeopardy. Then I saw that it was a moccasin with a bullfrog in his mouth. Try as he would, the frog was going down and the snake seemed satisfied with his conquest. Everything is not what it appears to be.