Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Eye Clinic Dog Story

In the waiting area of the VA eye clinic in North Little Rock I pondered all the service of those gathered for treatment. One fellow in his 90’s wearing a U.S. Navy cap sat proudly with a young lady, perhaps his great-granddaughter, listening benignly as she explained what he certainly must have known about his appointment. There was another World War II vintage vet in a wheelchair, moving around independently, even though a 30ish rock star sporting a lot of ink hovered about him. But most of the veterans occupying the waiting area with me were of the age to have served during the Viet Nam era. One of these was a slight built gentleman in camo, wearing a pony tail and speaking sonorously on his cell.
In apologetic tones, the vet was explaining to the person on the other end that he could not meet face-to-face that day because of medical appointments in North Little Rock. He said “The dogs are only puppies, only seven months old. Sir, I am so sorry they got into your fence. I will certainly take care of that, sir.” He went on at length and I gathered that his home was back in the woods and that he had a kennel. Some of his hunting dogs (pups) had escaped during the previous night and chased some domesticated deer around. I gathered the neighbor raised venison for personal consumption and he naturally did not want the threat of invading predators. It sounded as if the apology was tentatively accepted and when the man got off his phone, he saw my interest and struck up a conversation with me. He was all about breeds of dog and what each one was bred for and how safe dogs were around children if raised aright. I think I had heard all his arguments before. Just when I was about to ask him about his service, the nurse called for him.
I thought of when I used to live in the woods out on Benton Trails, off Bellah Mine Road. I had exactly the wrong kind of dogs for a person who wants them to stay at home—beagles. Oh, they are a wandering breed, aren’t they? I started taking them down to the lake to run some of their energy off but had trouble getting them back into the truck. They did not want to go home, even after an hour or two of intense sniffing, bolting, jumping, wading and sprinting all up and down the shore. To teach them a lesson one day, I left them down there, thinking, I will go back just before dark and pick them up. But, just before I decided to leave to go back down there, I heard them coming through the woods. They both told me proudly, in dog, “Hey, man, we don’t need that truck. We have legs. And, by the way, if we want to go to the lake, we will go.”

And, go they did, on a regular basis. They also figured out where my daughter lived about three miles away as the crow flies. She had given me the dogs in the first place. When they discovered a route to her house, they found it preferable to my house, so, I guess I gave those dogs back to her without intending to. In fact, I am afraid that family has bailed me out of the pet business repeatedly through the years. I probably should stick to parakeets. 

Monday, January 18, 2016


My student from years ago sent me a verse she had scribbled on her Sunday bulletin about the Gospel for that day: changing the water into wine. I always enjoy encountering her pithy poetic efforts and this one made me dream.
That very night, in the night visions, I was there in Cana. “I did not know you could do that, Jesus,” I said. Jesus did not respond. In my dream, he just sat on the steps and stroked a donkey’s neck with a blank stare. “How did you do that?” The query was bound to come. “I am the Lord, your God,” he finally replied.
“I know,” I said, “but give me some science here. I did not see any flashes or churning. The water was water and then it was wine. Did you speed up time for fermentation and where did the grapes come from? That is good stuff.”
“You have your answer, Danny, and it is enough. My mother loves the family and my friends and I were kind of afterthoughts on the invitation list so her request was not terribly out of line. She knew what I could do because at home I kept a supply of the best in Nazareth. Joseph couldn’t even drink that vinegary stuff at the tavern. He developed the finest palate. A phrase comes to mind—the connoisseur carpenter. He wasn’t surprised when he hit Heaven with its racks of awesome reds.”
I leaned against the donkey and murmured, “Lord, will you keep me stocked?”
“Take no thought for the morrow, friend, just know your needs are ever satisfied. Don’t follow me because of matter but because of things that matter. Get it?”
“I think so. By ‘matter’ in the first sense you mean ‘things’ and the second ‘matter’ means inward and eternal significance.” You know how dreams are. I think that’s what I said.
“Thou hast judged rightly, Daniel.”
“Wait a minute, why are you suddenly getting all rabbinic with me? Here we are petting Balaam the Donkey and you get all formal.” Jesus laughed in replying, “What is the matter? What matters is not matter as in material, even though what falls away will be restored. Take, for example wine. When you drink it, where does it go and what does it do? It goes through your system and out, somewhat modified, as you get the good out of it. What it does is something else again, in that it gladdens the heart if taken in aright. So it is with life. Our experiences go through life but they positively modify lives if filtered through the divine will. Without superseding that will and without rushing ahead of the God-prompts, your heart is gladdened to that state of gladness that will be sustained here and maintained forever.”
“Is that one of your parables?”

 “Remember, I turn plain water into wine.” 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Visiting the Wise Old Man

Tommy, who keeps up with everyone he knows, called me just after January 1, 2016 to tell me the wise old man was in an assisted living facility called Bright Leaf near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I found the number and called the facility. The administrator was very cordial in discussing my friend’s status and, at length, put me through to him. He told me he had been at the Research Triangle for about a month before deciding to apply for a place at Bright Leaf. He had apparently been participating in a “think tank” on North Korea. He had lived there for a season back in the 50’s. He urged me to come see him, so, I talked with my wife and we flew to Charlotte and rented a car (a new Lincoln, which was all the rental people had available), and drove to Bright Leaf.
It is a beautiful place, very clean and well maintained both inside and out. We found the wise old man holding hands with an attractive lady in the activities room. He was very happy to see us and introduced us to Trixie, who had served as a special assistant to the president back in the Eisenhower days. Our friend told us Trixie was responsible for having Ike add “under God” to the pledge. She modestly told the story, which, though frequently related did not seem rehearsed. She said, “Mr. and Mrs. Ford, Ike was a no-nonsense, common sense, straight talker. He was not religious in a churchy sense, but he had a deep relationship with God. When I mentioned that the pledge looked more humanistic than Christian, he said, ‘What do you recommend. Put it in writing.’ So I produced a little treatise on the influence of deity upon the founding and preservation of our country’s ideals, you know,  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The next thing I knew, he held a news conference where he handed out and read through the new pledge on television. Needless to say, I was delighted. At the non-publicized gathering after the conference, he told many people that I was the one who came up with the idea.”
The wise old man beamed and told us Trixie was from the south end of Key West. Until Hawaii became a state, that was as far south as you could go in America. She dated Hemingway and was acquainted with Faulkner. “Well,” Trixie put in, “My relationship with Bill Faulkner was a little more than an acquaintance. I was down there in Oxford, Mississippi for the production of the movie version of ‘Intruder in the Dust’. I helped the casting people find suitable locals to play certain characters. Those twins who did everything together were the most fascinating. If you remember the film, those twins did everything in sync, even down to crossing a fence and shoveling dirt. But, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, you folks did not come to visit with me. I will go on a stroll and give you some time with him.”

“Isn’t she something?” the wise old man said with a sparkle in his eyes. I have enjoyed getting to know her. But, let me visit with you two for a while. Mrs. Ford, did you cook black-eyed peas and cabbage for the New Year celebration in Washington. My wife replied, “Well, sir, I substituted turnip greens for cabbage and added potato salad.” We had a great visit.