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James R. Stout


The Path

Please allow me to share a poem that I recently composed. Thank you!

The Path

I crawled along a manicured path made of dirt and grass with dew.

Strange and wonderous things I saw, shiny, bright and new.

My eyes soon focused, and my understanding of life blossomed and grew.

and as I journeyed the path countless others joined on cue.

 

Soon the path was paved with stone and I walked and then I ran.

Curves and twists and turns appeared and the path darkled in short span.

Stones honed by hand were replaced by concrete made to tran,

and the tempo of life accelerated as did the speed of man.

 

I settled down in a pod of sorts to navigate the highway sky.

The miles were many, and the visions legion, questioned the aged “why?”

And all too soon I began to gray and grew weary of the buy and buy.

So, I returned to seek a simpler life, free from the eternal lie.

 

Time does not exist, yet it is a precious commodity all men seek.

And in my seeking I came upon a path, that belonged to the humbled meek.

A path that seemed familiar, that previously I had only glimpsed a peek.

The light grew dim, the sounds were silent, and numbed nerves were stilled,

but the cacophony blinded and deafened me as the path lead home, and my

heart, soul, and mind were filled.

 

 

The Fly and The Nod

            Sometimes humility is thrust upon us at the most inopportune times. I’m not sure if those events are God’s way of adjusting our attitudes or if they just happen via our own inadequate devices. I’m guessing it’s a little of both. It was the fall of 1988 and I was the part-time youth minister at the church that I grew up attending. Money was tight given I was working two part-time jobs while attending college. The only suit that I owned was a hand-me-down suit from my father. It was beige in color and probably had been quite in style a decade before. It didn’t fit very well either. The sleeves were a little short and the pants had been altered for my father who had a higher waist than I did. So, they were a little tight in all the wrong places. We didn’t have the money to have it altered and it likely would have cost as much to have it altered as a new suit would have cost. I did own a sport coat that I could wear with some dress pants and those two outfits took turns on Sunday mornings. The sport coat was itself about 6 or 7 years old and I could get by with it as long as I didn’t try to button the buttons!

            Sunday morning services required me to sit up on the stage area with the part-time music minister, part-time education minister, and our pastor. We all faced the congregation throughout the service. The only time that I would get up and speak was to make announcements regarding upcoming youth events and to do the children’s sermon. I especially enjoyed the latter because I was always a kid at heart. Still am.

            I always tried to look my best despite my woeful attire. I had been a long-haired type for most the prior 15 years, but I got a short haircut and shaved my mustache and beard. I didn’t feel like myself though. I didn’t look like myself either. But I felt it was expected of me by the older folks in the congregation. It was about that time that I discovered that I didn’t like my ears at all. They are much better operatives when under cover.

            Before the service I had just enough time to get from the youth classes to the sanctuary with a very brief moment to perhaps get a drink of water and to visit the restroom. You simply can’t just get up and leave the service when you’re up on the stage during the service. On this particular Sunday I was running a little late and had to make my pitstop in a hurry. But I made it just in time and was seated in time for the call to worship. We stood up and sang a hymn and then the education minister made the morning announcements for the coming week. Then another couple of hymns. It was during the second hymn when I happened to look down and what did I see? My fly was unzipped. In church. There I was in front of the whole church with my fly unzipped. I quickly bent down and got my Bible and folded my hands in front of me, holding the Bible, and covering the gaping hole. I was mortified. I had visions of the lights bouncing off my tidy whitey’s, which were no doubt peeking out and blinding the congregation. Then I realized that when that hymn was over, I was going to have to walk by myself down to the steps of the stage and gather around the kids for their children’s sermon. How was I going to do that? I couldn’t turn around on some pretense and zip up the zipper because the choir sat behind us and would all have something special to talk about at lunch. I dared not look down for fear of calling attention to my current condition.

            So, what did I do? I became a surgeon. Well, as deft as one anyway. I held the Bible with one hand but managed to make it look like I was using both hands by placing two fingers on the Bible. Then with my right thumb and forefinger, hidden by the Bible, I slowly inched the zipper up. Thankfully it worked smoothly. Just as the hymn ended, I completed the task. Then as I was about to walk down to talk to the kids a thought went through my head. What if it works itself down again?

            I’m glad to tell you that it didn’t. I did the children’s sermon and went and sat down. You would think that would have been enough for one morning. But nooooo! As usual I was operating on about 2 hours of sleep due to I had been up all night delivering newspapers. As exciting as the first 30 minutes of the service were for me, I found myself starting to nod off during the sermon. I took to pinching the soft spot between my thumb and forefinger. If they could have talked, then they would have said something like, “So this is how you treat us after saving your bacon?” Any port in a storm. I didn’t fall asleep, but I sure did a lot of fidgeting up there keeping myself from nodding off.

            Finally, the service was over, and I was ready for a nap. Sunday afternoon naps after lunch were always welcome in our house. As we gathered our two children from the nursery one of the deacons came up and shook hands. He looked at me and says, “You did really well up there today.” To this day I don’t know if he and the rest of the congregation saw it all or not. I certainly was feeling humble after that experience. And, my attitude got adjusted whether it needed it or not.

Stand By Me

            My father used to say, “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.” He also used to say, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” I have tried very hard to follow his advice. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been able to accomplish everything that I set my mind to. The truth is there are always going to be things outside of our control that may ultimately thwart our attempts to accomplish a task. Let me tell you about one accomplishment that I set my mind to doing and despite the odds being against me I managed to not only accomplish it, but to do it right. But it sure wasn’t easy.

            I graduated from high school in 1974. I thought about going to college then, but I was too interested in trying to “make it in music”. I made a very brief attempt in the summer of 1978 and managed to get 9 hours college credits. Then the desire to keep trying to make it as a singer and songwriter got in the way again. The next several years were a series of ups and downs. In 1979 I was offered a staff songwriting job for MCA records in Nashville. I was ready for the adventure. Unfortunately, my wife of not quite 3 years didn’t want to move so far away from her parents. It was briefly discussed, and it was my feeling that I had a choice. Move to Nashville and take the job or stay married. Well, I loved my wife and I took my vows seriously. I called my contact at MCA and declined the job.

            By 1982 I had bought equipment for a home 8-track recording studio. It was a modest set-up, but capable. It was my idea to record demos and keep trying to shop them around via correspondence. That was just plain naivete on my part. Most of those tapes were likely thrown in the trash without ever being opened. You just couldn’t get your songs heard that way. In September of 1983 we learned we were expecting our first child. That changed things drastically. For one thing, it was a difficult pregnancy for my wife, and she was unable to work. I had recently (before knowing about the pregnancy) left my job in the architectural hardware business (a job that was going to play out within months anyway due to a severe downturn in the building industry in Houston) and secured a 2 month contract to play at a Houston restaurant and club chain. It was a good gig. The plan was for me to keep getting more contracts. But then another one of those “out of your control” things came into play. The new fad of DJ’s was starting, and a lot of the clubs were switching over from live music to DJ’s. I was unable to secure any concrete gigs after the 2 months and now we were in serious money trouble. I took what I thought would be a temporary job in the delivery business and it ended up lasting nearly 3 years. Our son was born in April of 1984 and then our daughter in August of 1985. We were barely making ends meet and in some cases the ends weren’t meeting. I even sold all of my musical equipment except for one 6-string acoustic guitar. It was a very rocky time.

            By 1986 I decided that I would have to do something to better myself and therefore provide better for my family. In those days, you couldn’t even get an interview for a good job without having a college degree. So, we made a plan. My wife was on board, but somewhat leery. The plan was about as cockamamie as they get, but if we stuck to it, I knew we could make it to our goal. The road was going to get pretty bumpy for the next 4 years. The plan was that my wife would get a full-time job doing what she had been doing prior to the babies. We moved closer into town and leased a house for less than what we had been paying for our house out of town. I took a series of part-time jobs and at some points a full-time job while attending school at night. Over the next four years I delivery pizzas, delivered the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal (the first two were 7 days a week from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.!), worked as a locksmith for the University of Houston, worked route sales one summer for Borden’s Ice Cream, and for two years also worked a part-time position (on top of the delivering papers etc) as the youth director at two different churches. I kid you not when I tell you that I don’t believe I got more than 3 hours sleep in a row for four years! I was taking an average of 12 college hours a semester. Oh, and I stayed home all day to be the primary care giver to our children. This allowed me time (during their nap) to study. It also saved us the money that would have been spent on daycare and most importantly it allowed our kids to be raised by a loving parent.

            Now, I would love to tell you that everything was great, and it all worked out the way we wanted. But the fact is the stress and strain of all it was causing some problems between me and my wife. She didn’t like her job (and I understood the feeling very well) and I would find out later that she resented me going to school when she wasn’t able to. But that’s another story. Things were really getting dicey by the fall of 1987. I wanted badly to tell my wife that I just didn’t think I was going to be able to do it without her support. Well, it was true. I had a lot of reasons for accomplishing my goal, but I needed to know she was standing right there beside me and that I had her support.

            One day in November I needed to go to the mall near the townhouse we were then leasing (even cheaper than the other lease house). As I was walking through one of the main areas near the food court, I saw a sign that caught my attention. There was a little fad at the time that I had pretty much laughed at but seeing that sign gave me an idea. It was for a new recording booth operation. It was pretty cheap. Well, it was downright cheap. They had some very cheaply made background tapes of a boatload of songs and you would go inside a little booth and while they piped in the background tape you sang along, and the finished product was recorded. It cost you $15. I looked through their list of songs and one jumped off the page at me. It was the old Ben E. King song, “Stand By Me”. It was getting a lot of airplay again despite being 27 years old. The reason was because of the movie with the same name and that the song was featured in the movie. Great movie, by the way. I had also liked John Lennon’s version from 1975. So, I decided to pay the $15 and record that song and then give the cassette tape to my wife as a way of asking her to stand by me as I worked towards our goal of me finishing school and then being able to get a better paying job to support our family. A funny side note to this is I didn’t realize that they were going to be piping me through the loudspeakers set-up in the food court! I’m sure glad I didn’t stink the place up! I knew the song quite well because I had sung it hundreds of times in clubs. It only took one take. When I stepped out of the booth a crowd had gathered outside and gave me big round of applause. I think I turned several shades of red.

            Well, I took that tape home and after the kids had gone to bed, I told my wife that I wanted to talk to her about something serious. I told her how much I loved her and the kids. I told her that I was sorry that I hadn’t made better plans when we were younger. I told her that more than anything I wanted to complete school and provide a better life for her and the kids. Then I told her I wanted her to listen to something. I played the tape for her. Well, she cried. I wasn’t sure if she was upset or happy or whatever until she gave me a big hug and kiss and told me that she would stand by me and together we would get through to the end.

            The next 2 and a half years seemed to drag by. But some great things happened along the way. After completing 57 hours at the University of Houston, I was offered a full scholarship to Houston Baptist University starting in the fall quarter of 1988. All I had to pay for was the books. The scheduling of my part-time jobs became a tightrope act given my upper level classes were all daytime classes. My wife quit her full-time job and got a part-time job while I delivered the Houston Post 7 days a week and worked at the church. Her part-time job allowed her to be home with kids when I couldn’t be and visa-versa. It was a mess is what it was, but then I graduated in 1990 from HBU with a 3.5 G.P.A.

            I would love to tell you that we lived happily ever after. But life doesn’t always go the way you hope that it will. The marriage ended in 2003 shortly after our daughter graduated from high school. I won’t go into all of that now. I hold no animosity towards my ex-wife. I truly mean it when I say that I hope she’s happy. The point of this story goes back to those two sayings that my father used to tell me. The job was to complete college. I had set my mind to doing it and I did it right. Those are some good words to live by. Another saying, this one from my mother, was “Do your best” comes to mind. I did my best and with the help of God, the support of my wife during those years, and the right attitude I accomplished my goal.

            Just for grins, I've attached that 32 year-old recording. The instrumentation was very cheaply made. It sounds like someone did it all using a very inexpensive keyboard for all the parts. But, it did the job for the time. Just click the link.

https://youtu.be/ldouvgNjlEA

Perspective

            I’ve talked about it before. Perspective. The key ingredient to someone’s perspective on something is time. At least, it is for me. During the late 70’s the big fad in music was disco. 1977 and 1978 were the biggest two years and 1979 was fairly big, but by the end of that year disco was on its way out. It had all started back in about 1975 with songs like “Jive Talkin” and “Get Down Tonight”. Yes, there were some earlier disco hits that might lay claim to being the first disco song, but it wasn’t until late 1975 that we started to hear the word disco applied to a genre of music. For about a micro-second I liked a couple of disco songs. The aforementioned “Jive Talkin” is one of them. But within a year I was already making fun of the genre. Within two years I was wearing t-shirts announcing the death of disco. It was a fervent wish by then. I genuinely hated disco by the fall of 1978.

            It would be another two years before it was truly dead. Many people point at “Funky Town” as the last big disco hit. That was in the summer of 1980. Some “experts” say that “punk” music showed “disco” the door. Maybe to some degree, but frankly I didn’t much care for punk either. However, there were a few songs in that genre that I did like. Blondie had hits like “Heart of Glass” and “The Tide is High” (actually, it was more reggae than punk) that I enjoyed. I didn’t miss disco a bit.

            I only thought disco was as bad as it could get. The 80’s brought a lot of irritating music. The electronic fad became as annoying as disco (to me). Even groups that had been hard edged rockers were doing some dismal sounds in the 80’s. Heart is perfect example of that. I love their 70’s stuff, but the 80’s stuff just makes me cringe. Then came the 90’s and grunge. Some of it was good and some of it was decidedly not good. The first sign that perhaps I should re-examine my opinion on disco came in 1994. There was a made-for-tv mini-series based on a Stephen King book in which one of the bad guys loved disco music and played the song “Boogie Fever”. It didn’t sound terrible to me anymore. Now, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to listen to “Ring My Bell” or anything by Donna Summer, but I did have to admit I liked that song. Sometime in the late 90’s I bought some of those “Sounds of the 70’s” tapes. The original hits by the original stars! Each tape would include some of the disco songs and I found myself not repulsed. In fact, I got to where I would crank up the volume in my car on songs like “Play That Funky Music” and “Boogie Shoes”. I didn’t do that with anyone else in the car though. I wasn’t ready for that.

            The last 20 years has seen perhaps some of the worst hit music of all-time. No joke. We’ve had to put up with Rap, Hip-Hop, Taylor Swift, and a whole host of “music” that is just downright bad. There were the boy bands too. Yuck. The only rays of sunshine were some of the old artists coming out with some surprisingly terrific albums. ELO’s “Zoom” and Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ” come to mind. Even an ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, released one of his best ever albums in 2005 with “Chaos and Creation”. And, there have been a bunch of those same old artists that have released compilations. The Beatles released “1” and their entire remixed catalog (twice for some of the albums) and the Bee Gees have released several compilation albums. “The Record” by The Bee Gees included their 60’s hits as well as their disco hits and even some of their music up until 2001. It was this album that I bought and realized that as much as I had not liked their disco music in the 70’s I found myself liking it 25 years later. My perspective had changed with time.

            If you had asked me in 1990 what my least favorite year of my life up until then had been, I would likely have said 1977. It was not a great year. But now that it’s been 42 years and I’ve experienced some much worse years (and some much better too) since then, I don’t look on 1977 as harshly as I once did. I could tell you about the negatives such as money troubles and other things, but instead I’ll tell you the positives. I was in my early 20’s. Eight months of the year I was only 21. I was in great physical shape. I could do just about anything. I had all of life in front of me still. I was a newlywed having married in September of 1976 and I had a young wife who hadn’t gotten bored with me yet. It’s true that I will never think of 1977 as a great year in my life, but my perspective on how bad it was has changed. Trust me when I tell you that things could and would get worse. But the thing is I have learned that life has its ups and downs. As John Denver sang, “Some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” I’ll amend that by saying some days stones get thrown at you and hit you and it doesn’t feel very good. Meanwhile, some days are as magnificent as a huge diamond. And you know what else? Sometimes it is our attitude that makes the difference. While there will always be things beyond our control that affect us both positively and negatively, it is also always our attitude that colors our perspective.

            So as of today, the middle of September of 2019, I choose to have a good attitude. If I allowed myself to dwell on the negatives in my life, then my perspective would be tainted. I don’t want to do that. I prefer to dwell on the good stuff. The bad stuff is going to be there, but maybe I can do what Jill did in the song “Master Jack” by Four Jacks and a Jill back in 1968. I’ll tie up all my problems with a string and put them away. I wasted too much time in my life worrying over things or being upset over things. I am making a concerted effort not to do that anymore. How about you? Won’t you join me?

Struggles

            I’ve been struggling lately. It happens to all of us from time to time. We all have periods of struggle. We may even have prolonged periods of struggles that can bring us down no matter how strong our faith may be. After all, we are all human. Part of being a human being is struggling. Some say that life itself is a struggle. There’s some truth in that statement, but I think the age-old example of life being made up of peaks and valleys is more accurate.

            My recent struggles include highly personal struggles and generalized struggles. The latter of these would include witnessing our society crumble and decay on a daily basis. That’s not simply a negative statement. It is the truth. I am at times distraught over the world which my grandchildren will inherit. But ultimately, I know that there isn’t much that I can do on my own to change the hearts and minds of people. People who do not believe in God or right and wrong or good and evil. I can’t change those people. The sad truth is that all I can do is try to help and prepare my grandchildren for their lives yet to come. Ultimately, they will have to deal with the world that they will inherit. They will have to find ways of dealing with living in that world.

            As for the highly personal struggles that I face, most of these are physical in nature. It’s part of growing old. I’ve always been baffled at how one man can abuse his body with excesses and still live to be 95 while another man tries to live his life in moderation and dies at 55. Another way to express this is to give an example. I know a man who is 69 years-old. He is in great shape. He gets out and does hard physical work most of the week. The heat doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is rarely sick. Colds and the flu just seem to pass him by. He enjoys the physical labor the way that most of us did when we were young. Compare this man to two different people. First, my sister Barbara. She passed away last year at the age of 68. The last 15 years of her life were misery for her. She battled a plethora of illnesses. Ultimately, her organs just ceased to work, and she died. Near the end of her life she was unable to get around without help. She was unable to do many of the things that we all take for granted. It was a profoundly sad thing to witness my sister in such pain prior to her death. Yet, she was a year younger than the man I mentioned earlier. What a huge difference in their physical lives.

            Then there’s me. I turn 64 next week. I’ll be five years younger than my 69-year-old friend who runs circles around me. I have perhaps mentioned in the past that I have fought a chronic illness for many years. Well, as I have gotten older that illness has most definitely left its mark. I go to see another specialist on my birthday. Hey, it was the only day available. I mean, it’s not exactly my idea of a happy birthday! I still get out and do what I have to do here on my small ranch. But it has become obvious that my days of doing many of those things are numbered. Sometimes I feel like “Pop” on “Spencer’s Mountain”. I am embarrassed to say that I have to use a cane at times. I no longer can step up onto the tractor without a small stool. The heat has become a problem. I have taken to doing my outside work before noon or after 6 p.m. Some of the things that I truly enjoyed doing here for many years have become unpleasant due to my physical limitations.

            But as I write this blog, I am also doing some pondering. It could be a lot worse. A whole lot worse. I’m not rich, but I’m not likely to be starving anytime soon. I have been blessed with so many things. My children, my grandchildren, my family, the land that I live on, and other such things. I have been blessed with some talents that I am still able to use. I’ve always felt badly for someone who has had a great talent, but through either an accident or illness loses the ability to perform their talent. All these things, the good and the bad, create a fertile ground for struggles. As this life continues onward towards its eventual end and we grow older and lose some of our abilities we must deal with struggling. I admit that this past week has been tough for me. I have doubted myself. I have questioned my abilities. I have worried and I have at times felt like just finding a dark corner to go and be alone. But I can’t do that. The struggle that I have today may well yield a victory tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, then at the very least I can say that I tried. I gave it my best effort. I had one particularly dark day this week. I called a good friend on the phone and we talked. I needed to hear a friendly voice. At one point I asked this friend what probably sounded like a pretty strange question. I asked if my friend thought that I was an “OK” guy. I wasn’t looking for a compliment. I was trying to figure out if maybe I deserve these things that I have been experiencing. Are they my fault? Well, this friend got quiet for minute and I realized that they didn’t quite know how to answer my question. Was I kidding? I do tend to joke around a lot, so I can see how it might have seemed like I was just joking around. Finally, my friend said that I’m definitely an “OK” guy. At first, I had to decide whether or not my friend was just saying it or really meant it.

            Now for all of you who think that I am always upbeat and such a fun-loving guy, please just keep thinking that. Because 95% of the time I am that guy. But ALL of us have struggles that can lay us low at times. I ended up doing some comfort reading. It’s definitely comforting to me no matter how many times I read it. It’s Chapter 14 in the Gospel According to John. I feel a whole lot better having reflected on that Chapter again. So, what if I have to use a cane at times? So, what if I can’t do all the things that I used to be able to do? So, what if I got down for a few days? I am blessed. I have received the greatest gift of all time and when this life of struggles does come to its end, I will never again struggle. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy what I have come to consider the little party that comes before the big party. To each and every one of you that might read this blog entry, my wish for you is that I’ll see you at the big party some day and while we wait let’s make the little party a little bit better by being kind to each other, loving each other, and wishing the best for each other.

How Much is $3 Worth?

            I was recently digging through some boxes in my spare bedroom closet searching for some items that I wanted to photograph for my new book. I opened a box that I probably had not looked into for at least ten years. In fact, I’m guessing the items were packed into the box in about 2004 when I moved out of my house in Pasadena, Texas and never opened until a few days ago.

            Among the things that I found in the box included a high school graduation picture of my son in 2002, a book of maps of the Holy lands, a diary that I kept for about half of 1983, and other such keepsakes. Finally, I found something that is about to turn 56 years old. Seeing it again brought me a flood of memories. What is it that could do such a thing? My first Bible. It’s not a Bible that would be generally given to a child of 8 years old. There are no color pictures in it. It’s nothing fancy at all. I must say that it was made for someone with better eyesight than I have now! The printing is very small. There are some pictures in it from the Holy lands, but they are all in black and white and are of the way things were about the time the Bible was printed. It is amazing to me to realize that things were not that much different for everyday people in 1963 than they had been in the time of Jesus.

            I opened the Bible and there on the first page it shows that the Bible was given to me by my older sister, Barbara, for my 8th birthday. Now, I don’t know what the Bible cost was in 1963. As I stated, it’s nothing fancy. But I would assume that it probably cost about $3-$5. Today that would translate into about $50. That was some kind of expenditure by my sister for her little brother. A mostly bothersome little brother I would guess. She was only 13 at the time. She made money by doing extra things for my parents. Perhaps she washed the car a few times (50 cents), watched me and my other sister while my parents were at the store, or some such things to earn extra money. But the fact is she had to work hard for that money, and she chose to spend it on me. That flat-out amazes me today. She sure didn’t have to do that. She could have bought me a 50-cent spinning top and I would have been happy, but something told her to buy me that Bible. As it turned out, that was a gift that was worth far more than its monetary value.

            The Bible saw some wear over the next several years. It was my main Bible for the next five years. It’s replacement? Another Bible for my 13th birthday by Barbara. But during the five years that it was my only Bible I carried it to church every Sunday where it saw service in Sunday School, Church Services, Revivals, and Bible studies. It’s a King James Version. That Bible is dog-eared, some pages are scribbled on, and the imitation leather cover is bent and worn around the ages. But it sure saw some service. I’ll attach a couple of pictures of it at the end of this blog. I’ve owned or own several Bibles over the years in several different translations.

            All of this brings me back to one thing. No matter how many Bibles that I have owned or will own none of them means more to me than that 1963 Bible that my sister gave me. Why? Well, to begin with it was a selfless gift from my sister. It was given with the purest of reasons. She cared about my immortal soul and wanted me to own a Bible that I could learn the story of Jesus, the stories of the Bible, and could study them with my own copy. The other main reason it is so special to me is that not long after receiving that Bible as a gift I came to know Jesus as my personal savior. Becoming a Christian and understanding what that meant made that first Bible come alive to me. As a historian, I was first drawn to the several books of the Bible that are narratives of historical events. To this day some of those books are my favorite books that I love to read over and over again. The Gospel of Luke and Acts stand out in the New Testament for me. Of course, there are the meatier books that quenched my thirst beyond history. The Gospel of John, the Letters of Paul, and The Revelation of John come to mind. In the old Testament I found great interest in Genesis, Exodus, the stories in Judges and Kings, the books written by both major and minor prophets, and so many more.

            The truth is that the Bible, a set of books and letters, reveal to all of those willing to listen, God and His plans for mankind. He loves us more than we could ever understand. I am not a preacher. I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar. I am just a man who at the age of 8 was given a wonderful gift that opened my mind to who God is and in time opened my heart to Him. You just never know when a $3 gift might turn into a treasure beyond worth.

2 Longs, 1 Short

            I have been working hard on my book. I’m currently going through the editing process and I believe the editing process is much harder than writing the book was! Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. Part of the process has been coming up with the book cover. I think I’ve got the one I want to use, but throughout the process I have tried different designs. I was looking through an old trunk that had been my great-great-Grandmother’s trunk originally. It was likely made in about 1860. It went through some changes along the way including a cloth cover, but it is mostly the way it was 160 years ago on the inside. I was looking for a copy of Life Magazine that I knew was in the trunk. It’s the issue following the assassination of JFK. I found the magazine and when I picked it up something fell out of it that must have been put there decades ago. What you ask? Well, it’s a small thin booklet that was given out by a local bank during Christmas of 1958. It was actually a calendar with each day of 1959 allowing space for a note to be written. To my delight I found that it was a daily journal that my Grandmother kept that year.

            She was very diligent in keeping the journal. Every day has something written no matter how unimportant or seemingly insignificant. But the best part was that it gives a great insight into the daily lives of my grandparents as well as notes on their children’s lives and grandchildren’s lives. I’m one of the latter. I turned 4 years old in September of that year. I have some memories of those days, but they are not as organized in my mind as later years of my childhood. Still, I do remember certain things. The best part of this journal is that it is proof of that my memories are real and accurate. In my book I mention spending time at my grandparent’s farm when I was little. In the journal my Grandmother notes on November 22nd, a Sunday, that “The Stouts went home after lunch today and Randy stayed with us.” Two weeks later my Grandmother wrote that “The Stouts picked up Randy today.”

            There were other entries that year that showed I stayed with my grandparents for a combined 6 weeks. That doesn’t count the once a month visits the whole family made for a weekend. Some of Grandma’s other entries were very short and to the point. One day she simply wrote, “Bad cough today.” Another one said, “Sold 2 dozen eggs.” The weather seemed to be one of the major things she wrote about. Something as simple as “Rained all day” or “Cold front came through last night.”

            In early November she mentions that she made three sets of pajamas and two nightgowns. I’ll attach a picture of me, my sisters, and my cousins in our matching pajamas of which she mentioned. I knew the picture was from either 1959 or 1960. Now I know for sure it was in 1959. Besides the journal part of the booklet there are spaces for noting phone numbers for friends and family. At that time, they still had their old crank phone. My Grandfather’s best friend, Little John Shaw” (also my Grandmother’s 1st cousin), lived nearby. He was one of 8 members of a party line on the small local system. Grandma noted that Little John’s ring was changed to 1 long, 2 shorts. There were no numbers and no dialing on those old phones. You rang someone by calling using long and short rings in a combination. My grandparent’s ring was 2 longs, 1 short. Just the opposite of Little John’s. I used to get very confused about all that.

            I remember the way the dining room was during those days. The phone was in the corner of one wall. It was never intended to be used for a long conversation. Phones in those days were for short and to the point communications. No chair to sit and chat. You also had to know your own ring because if any of the 8 members made or received a call the phone rang. If it wasn’t your ring, then you didn’t answer it. In another corner was a small three-tiered shelf. It contained a brush for my Grandmother’s hair, a box of Band-aids, a couple of hair pins for my Grandmother, a comb for my grandfather, and on the bottom shelf there was a notepad. I’m guessing that the journal was kept on these shelves in 1959. It would be just the right place for it.

            Well, thinking on all of this and reading through the journal has been very enjoyable. It allowed me the ability to live that year through my Grandmother’s eyes instead of my memories which are tinted with being a young child at the time. Do you keep a journal of some kind? Probably not a handwritten journal, but if you are on Facebook every day, then a record is being kept. But even that isn’t the same as a handwritten journal. Facebook entries are intended for an audience whether we want to admit it or not. But a journal or diary is just you and your thoughts that are initially for your consumption only. However, 60 years later your journal could be a treasure, a souvenir, for your grandchildren. These are the things that my book, “Souvenirs from a Life” dwell on. You’ll be hearing more about the book as it gets closer to print time. In the meantime, write something down and keep it for your grandchildren to enjoy 60 or 70 years from now.

Christmas of 1959

Top row: My sisters Debbie and Barbara

Bottom Row: Me, and Cousins David and Phil

Big Boy Britches

            I was talking to my brother-in-law today and we started to talk about things that we did when we were kids. Things that would likely kill us today or leave us permanently handicapped. We both remembered climbing up on the roof of a house and thinking nothing of jumping off the roof to the ground below. When I was about 12 years old, I would climb up on the roof via a fence gate and pretend to be a pilot of a P-51 Mustang during WW2. I would become an ace every time and then would get my plane shot up resulting in me having to bailout. Bailing out meant I jumped from the roof, did my best tuck and roll, and came up on my feet ready for another plane to pilot.

            Another thing that I did in those days was the old “Look Ma, no hands!” routine. Only I took it a few steps further. I would get my bike up to speed, probably 25 miles an hour going down the hill of one of the roads in our neighborhood, and then very carefully stand on the seat. It’s a wonder I didn’t get seriously injured.

            I also liked to run up to the swing set in our backyard, grab the rings, swing up and over and then on the return swing do a backflip. The goal was to land on my feet and end up as far from the swing set as possible. For a while I was into the backflip thing beyond the norm. I would climb up into the tree in our front yard, a large Arizona Ash, and hang upside down from a limb about 8 feet off the ground. When I was ready to return to Earth, I simply swung myself a couple of times then let go of the limb with my legs and do the obligatory backflip. I also would climb the chain link fence in our back yard and balance on top of it and then do a backflip.

             My cousins and I would have dirt clod wars when we would get together at the farm or at their weekend cabin in East Texas. Some of those dirt clods could really sting. Things eventually got out of hand when my oldest cousin started to take a soft piece of dirt and wrap it around a rock. It looked like a dirt clod, but it was more like a missile when he threw it. Things escalated from there. The dirt clods were replaced by rocks and it would all come to an end when one of us got hit hard enough to threaten to tell the other’s parents.

            Somehow or other we all survived and had no lasting scars or broken bones. Well, all of this stuff came to mind as I talked to my brother-in-law today. After I got back home, I reflected on our conversation and on a few more things as well. The years start to pile up on us. At first, we don’t really take much notice. At 20 I was able to do just about anything that I had done when I was 12. But by the time I was 30 my body was not quite as limber as it had been. That was partly due to not exercising or being as active as I had been as a child, but it also had to do with the effects of time and wear and tear on my body. I remember playing a game of baseball with the youth group that I was the youth director at a church when I was 33. I still had the power in my swing, but my legs weren’t nearly as fast as they once were. I started to understand why baseball players retire in their 30’s. I used to wonder why they couldn’t keep playing until they were 50. Time and wear and tear. I crushed a pitch into centerfield well over the centerfielder’s head. I made it to second base huffing and puffing from the exertion. One of the kids looked at me and said, “If I had hit the ball that far, then I would have a homer.” No doubt. There was a time when I would have to.

            I fought off a potentially deadly illness in my 40’s and between fighting it off, aging, and the side effects of some of the drugs that I had to take to beat the disease, I was not able to do much of anything that I had been able to only 10 or so years before. I don’t know how it is with anyone else, but for me the years between 55 and 65 are years that you come to realize that you are indeed getting older. At 55, I was still getting out and doing some pretty hard work on my ranch. I had mostly recovered from my previous illness, but my stamina wasn’t what it once was. Still, I got out there and thought nothing of working in the heat clearing brush, trimming trees, mowing, repairing, etc. But by the time I turned 60 those things had become increasingly harder to do. I was also slowing down at work and I was dealing with a lot of things related to my parents. Dad passed away that year and I was needing to help more and more with my mother.

            The next two years were very difficult. We lost Mom and my sister Barbara as well as 4 aunts, 2 uncles, a cousin, and my son-in-law. I admit that during that time I didn’t take very good care of myself. It seemed that all of my energy was being used up taking care of Mom until her death and the other issues mentioned. About a month after Mom passed away, I started to pay attention to myself again. I had drastically slowed down. I retired, but I was finding it harder to do those things that had been easy just 8 years ago.

            Now I’m less than a month from turning 64. I still get out and mow and do what has to be done, but it takes me much longer and it takes a couple of days to recuperate. I went to the doctor recently about weakness in my legs. I have started to use a cane at times if I have to be on my feet for a long period of time. I’m going to a specialist on my birthday (that was the next available appointment with a neurologist) to see if he can figure out what the problem is. My doctor threw around some possible causes when I went to see him last month and none of them sounded like any fun at all. But the one thing that I think I fear more than a diagnosis of a serious illness is that they won’t find anything and that I will be told that I’m just getting old. I don’t feel old in my mind. I’m still me. I still love to have fun and to me I still think like a young person. Maybe not a young person of today, but a young person the way I once was. But all I have to do is go outside to do something that was once simple, but is now painful and hard to do, and I realize how different my body is now. Heck, I’ve even managed to lose 40 pounds since this spring. Still, my legs are weaker each day. I needed to do a small repair to the outside of my house last month. It required me to stoop down for about 5 minutes in order to drill some screw holes. By the time I finished the drilling my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand back up. Finally, I steadied myself against the house and was able to stand back up straight. I could hardly walk though because my legs just didn’t have the strength. I stood there for a few minutes and then painfully started to walk around on my drive. I must have looked like Tim Conway doing his” Oldest Man Alive” routine.

            I don’t like this new thing one bit. But then, I’m mighty glad to be alive. If I have to use a cane more and more in the future, then so be it. I will do what it takes to go see my granddaughters. I will do what it takes to take care of my home and land. I just have to accept that I’ll be slower in doing those things. I generally dislike praying to God for selfish reasons. There are so many people in much worse situations than I am. But I do pray that God will give me some relief or at least the wisdom to know my limitations and the willingness to deal with them as best as I can. At least I can still type, read, write, and communicate. I honestly believe that I am a positive influence in the lives of my granddaughters. I pray that God will allow me to continue to be such. Growing old or being sick is part of life. That doesn’t mean we give up though. I mowed two acres on Thursday in 95-degree heat. It needed doing and I put on my big boy britches and did what I had to do. With God’s grace, I’ll be able to keep putting on those britches for some time to come.

Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog

            My grandparents always had a dog. It was pretty much a necessity for living on a farm. In about 1942 they got a Leopard Dog and named him “Lep”. I have very vague memories of him from my early childhood. Lep died in 1959 at the age of 17. There were many stories told about Lep after his passing. He was said to be the best hunting dog, especially coons, in the county. I heard all the stories and there was not only a lot of respect for Lep in those stories, but a whole lot of love. After Lep passed my grandfather took in a stray and named him Tramp. Tramp had a bad habit of chasing cars as they went past the house. Apparently, he irritated one too many drivers and after chasing a truck one day he never came back. A few days later my grandfather found Tramp in a ditch about a mile down the road. He had been run over by a vehicle.

            Tramp was barely cold in the ground when Grandpa got Bullitt. He was named after Roy Rogers’ dog. But the name was the only thing he had in common with Roy’s Bullitt. Bullitt was a friendly dog and playful, but as the old saying goes, “That dog don’t hunt.” When he was just a puppy it was Christmas of 1961. In those days one of the Christmas gifts the grandsons got was a package of Black Cat Firecrackers. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like giving a 6-year-old boy some explosives. But truth be told, we were well monitored by our parents. Mom was afraid that I would blow off a finger and she would yell “Throw it, Randy!” almost before I could light one. Dad had the best hearing of anyone that I ever knew. Even in old age he could hear what you whispered to someone else in the next room. His livelihood depended on his good hearing. Thus, he watched the fireworks with both hands pressed firmly on his ears. Grandpa was losing his hearing and didn’t seem to hardly notice.

            Well, no firecrackers were thrown at Bullitt or any such horrible thing, but the noise scared the poor dog so much that he spent the night cowering under the house. To a dog, there isn’t much difference between the sound of a firecracker and a .22 rifle. It didn’t take long for Bullitt to learn that the long stick that Grandpa had went boom. So, all Grandpa had to do was take the .22 rifle down from the gun rack and Bullitt went slap dab crazy. (Dad’s description) This became quite the embarrassment for my grandfather. He had once been the proud owner of the best hunting dog in the county and now he had a dog that ran under the house whenever the .22 was near. I remember one time when a coon got in the garage and Grandpa headed out with the .22 to take care of business. Bullitt wanted so bad to check out the critter in the garage, but that .22 scared him to death. He ran around in circles, fit to be tied as they say, not knowing what to do. With tail hung low and whimpering loudly, he finally crawled under the house. Meanwhile, during all that ruckus the coon managed to escape. Poor Grandpa just stood there dumbfounded. He finally headed back to the house, shaking his head the whole way, and muttering under his breath something about “that dab nab dog”.

            Grandpa did come to love Bullitt, but he was always embarrassed by Bullitt’s cowardice. At the end of March in 1967 Bullitt went missing. He just disappeared. My grandparents also had a cat named Tiger that they had gotten when Bullitt was a puppy. Tiger went missing too. We didn’t think much about Tiger being gone because he had become half-feral living on the farm and would be gone for days tomcatting around. But when both came up missing it raised concern. They say that some animals can sense things that we humans can’t. Our family would later wonder if perhaps that was true. During the week of April 17 Grandpa was building a new fence on a part of the farm. In fact, the exact spot where he was working can be seen from the front porch of my house. He came home for lunch on that Thursday and complained of heartburn. Apparently, he had been having heartburn all week. Grandma insisted that he go see the doctor the next day. Well, the doctor examined Grandpa the next day and told him that he didn’t have heartburn. He informed my grandparents that Grandpa had been having little heart attacks all week. In his 67 years of life, Grandpa had never spent a day in the hospital. But he had to spend that Friday night in the little hospital in Crockett, Texas.

            On April 22, 1967 at about 10 a.m. Grandpa, Grandma, and my Aunt Velma were visiting in Grandpa’s hospital room. My grandmother noticed that Grandpa had gotten quiet and asked if he was feeling OK. Grandpa told Grandma that his chest was hurting something fierce. My Aunt Velma went to get a doctor. While she was gone Grandpa clutched his chest, raised up in the bed, and then passed out. The doctor came running into the room and tried CPR, but it was too late. He turned to my Grandmother and said, “I’m afraid he’s gone, Mrs. Parker.” It changed our world.

            Did Bullitt and Tiger know something like this was going to happen? Probably not, but it does make you wonder. With the passage of time the pain of the loss of Grandpa subsided. We started remembering all the good times. As an adult, I look back on Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog and all of his wacky ways and I have to chuckle. I know more now about how my grandfather must have felt when Bullitt would run like a scalded dog under the house at just the sight of that wicked fire stick. If all dogs go to Heaven, then I suppose Bullitt is up there now. I have to wonder though. When the Heavenly choir reaches a crescendo, does Bullitt run and hide under St. Peter’s robe?

Picture of Bullitt, me, and Our1961 Ford Galaxie 500 in 1962

Thank You, Mr. Rogers

In the summer of 1986, my little family began a 4-year journey. I was 30 years old through the summer but would turn 31 in September. My wife was 27, my son was 2 and my daughter was 1. The journey was the journey we went through as I started college and pursued a college diploma. It was a journey with the intentions of making a better life for our family. I’ll tell you all about parts of that journey later. But for now, I want to tell you about a particular period of time. I had a whopping 6 hours of credit from a previous attempt at a college education from the summer of 1978. That’s a whole other story though. My initial goal was to get a degree in Professional Writing from the University of Houston. But there were a whole bunch of core classes that had to be taken first. It had been 14 years since I had been a math class. I had not done well in math in high school, so I had to take a 3-hour basic math class to get up to speed. It had been 12 years since my last English class. The college required me to take a basic English class to make sure I was up to speed. Those six hours would not count towards my degree. I tell you this so that you will understand that starting in the fall of 1986 I took what was considered a “full load” of classes. 12 credit hours, 6 of which would not go towards my degree and I hadn’t been in a classroom for 8 years. It was going to be a challenge.

Now for some craziness for you. My wife took a full-time job in a field that she had previous experience. I took a job working four nights a week at Dominoes Pizza as a pizza delivery driver. I worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. I also worked any extra hours that I could on days that school wasn’t in session such as the Christmas holidays etc. I went to school Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5:30-10:00 p.m. plus I took a 3-hour class on Saturday mornings from 9 till noon. There were some variations to this schedule depending on the semester, but it generally was this way for about 2 years. My time to study and work on research projects was during the kids nap time or after I got home from delivering pizzas. But the most important part of those two years was my being our kid’s primary caregiver Monday through Friday. We couldn’t afford to pay for day-care. We barely made ends meet as it was. It got really tricky the last two years when most of my classes were during the daytime. But that’s for another time.

I loved being with my kids during this time period. While I longed for sleep at times, being with them was so fulfilling and very important to all of our lives. My wife knew the kids were safe and loved during the day, I was able to bond with my kids the way most father’s (at least in those days) didn’t have a chance to do, and the schedule worked out a way for me to go to college.

We developed a routine that worked for us. My wife would leave for work about 7:30 in the morning when I was just finishing giving the kids their breakfast. As tempting as it might have been to sit them down in front of the TV while I did schoolwork or housework, I didn’t do that. I only let them watch TV if we all watched it together and only certain shows were allowed. Most of them were on the PBS channel. Cable was out of the question. As that first year past both of the kids loved the routine and both were talking up a storm. They are only 15 months apart in age, so Matt was not so advanced beyond Hayley that they didn’t like the same stuff.

After breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, I might start a load of clothes, make the beds, and do those normal things. The kids would be following me around the house and asking when it would be time for “rockin”. No, not rocking and rolling, but our time in the rocking chair. At the appropriate time we would go into the den and I would turn on the TV, sit in the rocking recliner, and the kids would take up their spots in my lap. Matt always like to be on the left side and Hayley on my right side. Oddly enough, Hayley turned out to be left-handed and Matt is right-handed. The show that they loved most and the one that I came to love just as much was “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”. They loved the puppets. Especially King Friday, Queen Sarah, X-the owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and Daniel Tiger. The train in “The Make-Believe Neighborhood” was also a favorite. Then there was the mailman Mr. McFeely and often there were guests. We all loved the field trips to see how things were made. I remember how excited both the kids were to learn how Crayons were made. I was fascinated at the underground mushroom facility. After “Mr. Rogers” we would watch their second favorite show. “Sesame Street”. I still remember them both getting out of my lap to do their best imitation of the walking from the song “I’ve Got a New Way To Walk, Walk” When there was an elephant featured on one episode I taught them to walk like elephants with their little arms pointed out in front of their noses. They loved Oscar the Grouch, The Cookie Monster, and Elmo. Big Bird scared them. Me too.

After an hour of TV, we would turn it off and I would read to them from books that they chose. Time zoomed by and it would be time for lunch. After lunch it was time for a nap. Nap time was my time to do schoolwork. Once in a while I would just sit in the quiet and enjoy a period of non-commotion. Life may have been hectic then and to tell the truth I was looking forward to finishing college and having a more “normal” life. But with 20-20 hindsight I realize that we were given a rare gift back then.

Today both of my kids are great parents. Hayley has three girls, ages 11, 7 and 1. Hayley is so good with her kids and it shows in them. They are loving and well-rounded children. In many ways, they each remind me of different aspects of how their mother was when she was a child. Matthew has two girls, ages 10 and 6. When I see pictures of Matt reading to the girls and loving on them, I am reminded of him when he was a little boy. All of the girls, “my wonderful 5 grand-daughters”, are a blessing beyond any wishes that I might have had. I’d like to think that part of the reason they are the way they are is due to that period of time that my kids and I had together back in 1986-1988. Even though their mother and I would end up divorced many years later when the kids were grown, at that time there was a lot of love in our little family. I also give kudos to my ex-wife. She was willing to work full-time so that we could get me through college. I ended up graduating from Houston Baptist University in 1990 cum laude. I couldn’t have done that without my ex-wife’s willingness to go on that journey and help provide for our family while I took a secondary role in our household income due to school. When I see clips from the old “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” show I can’t help but be taken back to that old rocker, a beat-up TV, and two loving and much-loved children sitting in my lap. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, thank you.

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