Clean-up Week

Sometimes, it feels like we’re just moving junk from one pile to another, only to move it again a few days later. 

I had about decided not to write a post today.  I’m always afraid, when I’ve had a rough few days, that my mood will spill over onto these notes, and that’s not always beneficial for anyone.  But, other days, I feel the need to unburden myself in the hopes that someone who has experienced the same thing won’t feel all alone in the world.  I’ll start with some obfuscation and hope that you will stick with me to the end, where all will be made plain as mud. 

Moving junk…Right now, I’m talking about my business.  The merchandise we sell comes in the form of prerecorded compact discs, enclosed in jewel boxes.  We buy hundreds of them a week from various sources.  The delivery men carry them in and dump the cartons inside the front door.  I move the boxes to the counters where they are opened and unpacked.  Then, the CDs are filed in alphabetical order, tagged with an inventory label, and moved to a different office to be entered in the database.  New CDs are given new records, replacements for sold product are simply tallied up and added to the totals for existing stock.  The discs are then moved again, either to my computer to have demo’s uploaded to the online store, or to a table near the files to be further alphabetized and sorted to their respective drawers.  Then we wait.  If you’re counting, we’ve already moved the product four or five times.  And, we haven’t sold a single item yet.

Hopefully the advertising we have purchased fulfills its intended purpose, and orders are entered online.  During business hours every day, the phone rings incessantly with customers who, for one reason or another, are not able to place their order online (or refuse to enter it there).  Both the online and telephone orders are printed from the database and the product is pulled out of the file drawers into stacks on the same table they were on before being placed into the drawers earlier.  When all the orders have been pulled, the stacks are moved one by one to a counter to be…Well, you get the picture.  More moving, again and again. 

When all is said and done, most of the product is moved a total of 10 times while in our store.  And, after awhile, it all starts looking the same and you start to regret ever choosing to sell the junk in the first place.  All day long, just moving stacks from one place to another, only to start over again tomorrow.

If you’ve gotten through this litany of boring drivel and are still hanging with me, congratulations!  You’re going to be rewarded with more junk-moving.  I’m remembering an occasion, almost forty years ago, when Mr. Pennington decided that he was going to help my dad get a garden in.  He came by our house, early Saturday morning about 8:00, dragging me out of bed.  “Your father needs a garden plowed and we’re going to help get it done.”  I grumbled a bit, not seeing how I had any part in this, but I dressed and went with him to get his Troy-Bilt tiller.  Now, if you’ve not used one of these beasts before, let me tell you…The reason they advertise that it won’t jump around on rocks and bounce on the hard dirt is simply that it weighs about 2000 pounds!  Okay, a slight exaggeration, but still to a skinny 16 year old, moving this thing was like shoving a backhoe with the bucket stuck in the ground.  Oh, did I tell you that Mr. Pennington had a bad back and actually couldn’t lift anything heavier than fifteen pounds?  And, to make matters worse, when we arrived at his place to load the tiller in his trailer, it was full of railroad ties and old televisions.  Yep, you guessed it.  I had to unload the ties, thirty of them in all, and the old useless TVs (he wanted to salvage the magnets and tubes someday) and then load the boat anchor of a tiller.  Back to my house, then two hours of running that monster, loading it back up and taking it back to his house.  Then?  You guessed it again; unload the tiller and load the railroad ties and televisions back onto the trailer.  All so WE could get that garden plowed for Dad.  In the whole day, Mr. Pennington hadn’t raised a finger to get the job done!

I usually have a point to these stories, but I’m not sure if I can sew this one up neatly.  The last few days for me have been a lot of personal junk-moving.  Not physically, but emotionally and spiritually.  I’ve had a look in the mirror this week and I haven’t liked what I’m seeing.  There are stacks of garbage and old construction materials that are cluttering up the place.  So some junk is getting relocated.  I think it’s gone, so I don’t have to move it again, but past experience tells me that I’ll probably find it again soon.  Unfortunately, that’s how I clean house; at least it’s how I’ve done it in the past.

I know my method isn’t best, so I’m thinking of pulling a Mr. Pennington.  I can’t do it myself, so someone with a strong back is needed for this job.  I told you yesterday about talking with the kids at church on Sunday.  I’m remembering the message I shared with them, and I’m claiming the truth it reveals.  Tonight, I’m praying that this will be the last time to move this particular junk.  I’m thinking I shouldn’t have to lift a finger either.  The verse I’m talking about reminds us that when we belong to the Savior, old things are passed away.  Examine it how you will; All things have become new!

I’ll take that!  Clean up time…and no moving the junk again later, either.  I’ll try to let you know how it goes.

“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
(II Corinthians 5:17~New American Standard Version)

“‘Buy, buy buy’, says the sign in the shop window; ‘Why, why, why’, says the junk in the yard.”
(Paul McCartney~singer, songwriter)

Mr. Paul Gives a Report

Yesterday’s post conveyed my terror at being accosted in the night last weekend.  The strain of sudden fear and shock should have been enough to last me through the next decade.  I only wish that had been the case.  Sunday afternoon, I again had to face a period of anxiety that nearly did me in, this time in a totally different way.

What could possibly compare with the shadowy figures in the night and the possibility of physical danger, you ask?  Well, you’ll understand completely when I tell you of the horror that awaited me on Sunday afternoon at the AWANA children’s club at my church.  It was the worst!  I had to stand up in front of two different groups of children and attempt to share some of my supposed knowledge with them!  Oh, the apprehension; the mental distress that I experienced!

The Lovely Lady had agreed to help me with an object lesson, so there was a certain degree of mitigation, but she wasn’t the one standing in front of the masses (all 15 of them) and speaking for 15 to 25 minutes.  The little angels filed in, the preliminaries were dealt with, and then “Mr. Paul” was introduced.  I stood in front of the children, who were all sitting in their seats expectantly and I was transported back to school.  Once more, in my mind’s eye, I stood in front of the class with a poorly prepared report, stuttering out my words and turning redder by the moment, knowing that my face and neck were beet red and that knowledge only making it worse.  But here, there would be no teacher to prompt, to try to be helpful, and failing that, to say sympathetically, “Okay, Paul.  You did a nice job, even though you couldn’t remember the name of the main character in the book.  You may sit down now.” 

I’ve stood and preached forty-minute sermons to two hundred fifty or three hundred adults!  I’ve played my horn with a brass group before more than a twelve hundred people in a packed cathedral!  Not once in my adult life have I felt the trepidation in standing in front of a group as I did before this small gathering of children.  Even now, I’m struggling to explain the cause of my nervousness, the reason for my distress.

It should come as no surprise to you that the children did magnificently.  They were attentive, but curious, raising their hands to ask pertinent questions.  They wanted to make comments that linked their experiences to the subject I had come prepared to talk about.  The clarinet I used as an object lesson was of great interest, as were the horrific noises which came from it as I attempted to blow on it.  And, as the lesson came to a close, they were rapt as the Lovely Lady came and played a duet with me, beautifully (her part the beautiful one, mine barely adequate).  When the first group was done, my heartbeat was almost back to normal, my breathing patterns as regular as they get these days.  The second group came in and I had even longer to speak to them.  I wasn’t perfect in my delivery, but was definitely more relaxed.  Again the kids were great, and we got through the presentation just fine.  Whew!  The relief is almost indescribable!

What a joy!  After the fact, I will report gladly that I was delighted to have the opportunity to share with these, the future leaders of our churches, the future doctors, scientists, and teachers, some of whom might be teaching me and practicing medicine on my old body in the days to come!  I actually think that this may be the reason for my stress as I prepared and anticipated standing before them (besides the classroom thing).  The adults I’ve preached to before have all the tools to listen critically.  They are able to think independently and can (and will) argue about points with which they disagree.  Children, on the other hand, are often like sponges.  While they will argue if they have developed a point of view, they will frequently accept a certain idea simply because it has been advanced by an adult they know and respect.

I firmly believe that the onus on teachers of children is greater than on any other group.  I think that Jesus was making this point when He drew the very compelling picture of having a millstone hung around the neck and being thrown into the sea, saying that would be better than to be the one who makes a child stumble in his faith.  Reason enough to be nervous?  I’d say!  And, my eternal gratitude to mothers who love and guide these most valuable of treasures, to the teachers who instill knowledge and life skills, and to volunteers everywhere who are willing to face the terror and the fear of sharing themselves with the future of our society, our churches, our government, and our families.

Having said all that, I think that it will probably be some time before I can screw up the courage to stand in front of them again.  Maybe next year…but, only if they can’t find someone else to do it by then.

“Children are like wet cement.  Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
(Haim Ginott~teacher and child psychologist~1922-1973)

I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: “Checkout Time is 18 years.”
(Erma Bombeck~American columnist and humorist~1927-1996) 

Somehow, I Don’t Feel Very Safe…

I think he had a gun pointed at me, but I really can’t be sure.  The flashlight was shining full in my eyes, blinding me to all else.  As I stopped running toward him and stood stock still, another form catapulted the fence into the backyard.

Another one of my stories from childhood?  Maybe an escapade when I was a young adult?  Unfortunately, neither of those is true, although I think I might have weathered either of the two better than I did when it happened two nights ago.  Somehow, at fifty-something, the adrenaline rushes don’t seem to have the same affect as they used to.  I remember exciting, frightening situations making me and my friends laugh a lot, maybe even scream out a rebel yell in exultation.  This wasn’t remotely like that.  My heart was pounding, seemingly trying to escape from my chest; my stomach was churning violently, and then my head started pounding to match the heartbeat.  Not at all an enjoyable sensation, as I consider it, sitting now at my desk in the late night quietness of the music store, with the acoustic guitar music flowing from Pandora to the speakers of my computer.  Come to think of it, that’s just how it all started on Saturday night!  Oh no!  Is it going to happen again now?

Okay, I’m fine again, so I’ll not leave you in suspense.  The Lovely Lady was gone, spending the night with two lovely young ladies who seemed to need their grandmother more than I did, so there I was, sitting at the computer once more, this time with a purpose.  The day had been horrible from a business standpoint.  The host for our website’s shopping cart had a server crash, so they spent the entire day backing up data, with the result that we lost nearly 24 hours worth of income from our online store.  I’ve talked with you about technology and it’s foibles in the past.  Our dependence on this amazing media is frightening, but I’ve learned to take the rare failures in stride.  So it happened that I was conversing with our web services provider, when I  heard a noise at the front of the store.  I listened for a moment and heard a woman and a man speaking in low tones.  This is not unusual, since there are window shoppers at late hours frequently and I thought little of it.

That all changed in an instant.  There was a commotion at the rear corner of the building and almost instantaneously, our family mutt, Strider, began barking ferociously from behind the store.  I arose immediately from my chair and started toward the back door, only to hear someone banging loudly at the front window.  I thought for a second, deciding that this might be a diversion to keep me from exploring what was happening out back.  Confident that whoever was in front of the store was not likely to kick in the door, I continued out the back door, turning on the light as I exited.  I rounded the corner into the back yard (you know, where the future garden is planned), only to see a man’s form behind the blinding light of a powerful flashlight.  I went a few steps further into the yard, before he told me to stop.  Inured to fear for the moment, I demanded to know who he was and what he was doing in my yard.  As the question left my mouth, another shadowy form came over the fence into the yard, but with the light in my eyes, I could tell nothing about either man.  I shouted the question again.  “Who are you and what are you doing on my property?”  This time, the man told me he was with the Police Department and firmly requested that we move to the front of the store.  I started to object, but thinking better of it, turned and moved into the light by the back door.  As I glanced back, the man lowered his arm, and I couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that the flashlight wasn’t the only object to be replaced on his belt.

By the time I reached the front door, where two other officers, one male, one female were waiting, the shock was hitting me.  I could have been killed!  What were these idiots thinking?  Did they really imagine that I was going to calmly answer the door of my retail store at eleven PM, when there were invaders in my backyard?  The questions came tumbling into my mind, but I couldn’t ask any of them.  The only thing I could say to the officers was, “Am I supposed to feel safe? Because, that’s not what I’m feeling right now!”  That was an understatement!  I stood there, heart pounding and stomach churning and all the officer in charge could reply was, “Really?  We’re just here to protect you and your property!”  Yep!  That made me feel better!

Turns out that a strange car was parked beside the building in the alley and someone who was familiar with me didn’t recognize it and also saw a person inside the store.  They called the police, telling them they thought the store was being robbed.  The police came immediately, noticing the desperate thief working at the computer, but were still convinced that their skills were needed.  Instead of calling the emergency number we have on file with them at the police station, they thought a more direct method was called for in dealing with the obviously violent criminal seated there.  I’m still not feeling very safe tonight.

I don’t want you to think that I don’t respect the policemen and the danger they endure on a daily basis.  I do.  But, Saturday night, they made some foolish decisions which could have resulted in a calamitous conclusion.  The very people I depend on to protect me almost hurt me.  It’s a shock to realize that the things you have counted on all your life are not infallible.  The people you rely on to make good decisions sometimes make bad ones.  The only disaster this time is that my confidence is shattered.

From a human perspective, I have to wonder if that’s the way it will always be.  We count on people, organizations, even technology to take care of us, only to find out that they can’t, that they make poor decisions or fail at the most inopportune moments.  And, when that awareness hits us, we no longer feel safe and secure.  More to the point, we feel small and unprotected, even vulnerable and frightened.  Maybe this is a good time to reflect about what we depend on; a time to determine that we will put our faith in only those things that really are secure, really are infallible.  In all of this topsy-turvy world,  I only know one Person who fits that description and I know He holds me firmly in His grip.  If a bullet comes out of the darkness, if a bolt of lightning comes from the sky, it won’t be a surprise to Him, nor an accident that shouldn’t have happened.

And considering that, I feel safe again. How about you?

“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger.”
(Sophocles~Ancient Greek playwright)

“Piglet: ‘Pooh?’
Pooh: ‘Yes, Piglet?’
Piglet: ‘I’ve been thinking…’
Pooh: ‘That’s a very good habit to get into, Piglet.'”
(A.A. Milne~British author)

Life has Corners!

…and long moonlit walks on the beach.  I’ve got to admit that this popular item on many folks’ “favorite things” list does seem to be a romantic way to end a nice day.  I’m not really a beach nut, but it has its charm.  The powerful surf pounds and tumbles as it approaches the dry sand, fading to just a whisper as it flows in to caress the shore and then ebbs away.  I’ve sat beside the ocean and waited for someone to flip the switch so the perpetual motion would stop, but the noisy surf just keeps pouring in again and again.  The cool breeze blows in off the ocean (or gulf) and provides free air conditioning for the sun worshippers during the day.  Children wading, families swimming, a few brave souls surfing or wind-surfing, even a horse-back rider or two galloping through the receding surf.  What’s not to like?

Sand, for one.  Sand is one of those enigmatic materials to me.  Where it has been dampened by the water, the sand is almost solid, hard enough to drive on and great for jogging, or for building sand castles.  But, sit in the water and poke it with your finger and it melts.  One minute you’re sitting on a solid surface, the next, there’s a giant chasm under you, dropping you into deeper water.  And sand is even trickier than that.  It dries out.  And, becomes grit.  In your food.  In your shoes.  Underneath your clothes.  In the carpet of your car.  Worse than that, the gentle breeze, that wonderful cooling wind off the ocean?  It is in cahoots with the sand, giving it wings, flinging it into your face as you mount the sand dunes, or walk to the nearest bathhouse searching for a shower to wash it off your feet and out of your clothes.  Every time, in the end, sand is an annoyance; the very thing that entertained and supported you is something to wash out of your hair, off your body, and out from under your car.

Oh, those moonlit walks on the beach?  Better wear your shoes.  I’ve walked down the beach many times on South Padre Island, only to have to give a wide berth to the ever present gelatinous creatures called the Portuguese Man-of-War.  A little like a jellyfish, these are actually four organisms in one, each organism supporting the whole beautiful (ugly) creature.  The float portion, from which the little fellow gets his name due to the shape, provides the transportation, the “wheels” if you will.  This section is relatively harmless, but it’s what draws you close to examine the poor, stranded creature on the sand.  The second organism is the reason you don’t want to try to help it back out to sea.  This is the tentacle section, hanging down below the bladder-like float.  The tentacles can reach as much as 65 feet long and are highly toxic, causing serious burning stings to humans and most other animals.  Their real purpose is to stun or kill fish below the water’s surface and draw them up to the third organism which functions as the digestive system for the strange creature, essentially dissolving the prey over time for the use of the strange colony.  The fourth organism is responsible for reproduction of the deadly conglomeration.

Funny, isn’t it?  The beautiful and exotic are often the deadly objects that can cause the most harm.  We want to touch, to feel, but the result is excruciating pain and loss of control.  The beautiful quickly loses its appeal.  The burned hand is not quick to reach out for the fire again.  Even the sand, that seemingly solid, though shapeable material, turns to bite and taunt its admirers.

As I think about these annoying, even dangerous things at the captivating seashore, I’m reminded that all of our life is like that.  We live out our existence in dangerous locales.  There are spiders and wasps, thorns and burrs, lightening and blizzards outside.  Inside, we surround ourselves with drinking glasses that break and cut, heaters for warming our homes that burn the skin, stairs built for access that we fall down, and beautiful furniture that has corners that we run into and injure ourselves upon.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m reminded of a story I read many years ago, in which a young man lost his sight and was at a school relearning his dangerous world without vision.  As he ran into one of those painful corners on a piece of furniture, he asked, “Why don’t they pad all those sharp corners?”  The reply came, “The world has corners; you’ll have to learn to deal with it.”

So, take your moonlit walks on the beach (wearing your shoes).  Enjoy life in this terrestrial wonderland!   Sure there are dangers.  There always will be, this side of Heaven.  Deal with it.  Life has corners!

“When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running, and he says he’s doing nothing, but the dog is barking, call 911.”
(Erma Bombeck~American humorist and columnist~ 1927-1996)

Those Who Wait

I’ve waited all my life.  You probably expect a sentence that starts out that way to have a little more to it.  For example, …to hold my first grandchildto go on a cruise to Alaskato go deep-sea fishing.  The list for folks my age could go on and on.  We have plans.  Plans for happy endings; plans for security; even plans for service.  Many of our peers have waited until they were financial stable to find a place to do volunteer work, go to the mission field, or maybe even just help out at the local food bank.  All these things are admirable, all of them worthwhile.  But, I hadn’t planned to finish the sentence in any way other than it came out.

I’ve waited all my life.  When I was a baby, I waited to be fed, waited to have a diaper changed, waited for someone to play with me.  I really don’t remember that, but it’s true nonetheless.  As I grew, I waited to get up from my nap, waited for a cookie and some Kool-aid at Bible school, and waited for my brother to outgrow his bicycle so I could get rid of the girl’s bike on which I started out.  Then as I arrived at my teenage years, I waited for my first date (highly over-rated, by the way), waited to get my license, waited to go out on the marching field with the band, waited for the judge’s ratings in the music contests, waited when my mom forgot to pick me up after the contest (because I was still waiting for my license), and waited to graduate.

I imagine that right now, you’re waiting.  Waiting for me to end this tedious litany of anticipation for the next event.  I’ll put you out of your misery on that account, but I hate to be the one to inform you that when you finish reading this blog, you’ll still be waiting.  Oh, not that you won’t be doing anything while you wait.  We’ve become experts at that.  I go to the doctor’s office for an appointment and….I wait.  But while I’m waiting, I watch people.  Laptops, books, cellphones (for talking), cellphones (for texting), cellphones (for game playing), cell phones (for checking and posting on Facebook), and here and there, one of the inveterate magazines which I refuse to pick up in the clinic’s waiting room.  There are sick people all around, you know.  But not many of us sit and do nothing.  We fill the time, while we are waiting; in the waiting room; to be moved to another waiting room.  Ah well, you know the drill, so I’ll move on.

The Lovely Lady has the waiting thing down to an art.  When we travel, the craft bags always get packed first, but they go in the car last and are kept with us wherever we are.  One never knows when there will be some moments not filled with activity, so the backup plan is in place, with needlework always likely to appear.  For my part, I have to admit that I actually like waiting.  While I also have succumbed to the lure of the “smart phone” in recent years and have been known to carry a book under my arm, causing a few interruptions to the waiting, I do often pretend to read the book while daydreaming or people watching, maybe even catching a catnap.  Don’t tattle on me to the Lovely Lady, okay?

When we get old, we have other things to wait for; the meals-on-wheels person, the home health care worker, our children and grandchildren.  There is a television program on public television, one of the “Britcoms” about old people in a retirement home.  The name of the program?  “Waiting For God.”  And, while, on this program, they don’t actually talk much about God sensibly, the title they have selected is, in fact the true name of this entire waiting game, isn’t it?  We plan and hope to act, He opens (or closes) the door.  We hope and wish for, He answers our prayers.  I’ve told you before of one of my Dad’s favorite quotes, from Thomas a Kempis several centuries ago.  “Man proposes, God disposes.”

So, we keep waiting, and planning, and doing, all the while waiting for what’s coming next.  I’m amazed at all the living that goes on…while we wait.

I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door. 

(JRR Tolkien)

Contrariwise, Mary!

“I wonder how hard it would be to get a garden planted behind the music store.”  The words came out of my own mouth, surprising even me just a bit as we sat and ate another great meal tonight.  Now, the Lovely Lady is not a cynical person, but cynical would be the only word I can use to describe the look she gave me.  “And, just who would be responsible to take care of this garden of yours?”   I think the question was rhetorical, since probably no one knows better than she my aversion to weeding and cultivating (what is the difference between those two activities, anyway?) in any garden, regardless of the crop.  It seems the cynicism probably comes from the belief that at any minute, I’ll be describing her part in the said garden, and she doesn’t have many spare minutes in her day already.  It could also be that her memory, like mine, is taking the long journey back over thirty years to my last gardening attempt.

We had been married all of two years and I was a bit tired, to tell the truth, of hearing her Dad talk about the size of the squash he was going to have this year.  Anybody can grow big squash; you just stick the seeds in the ground and they grow, right?  But, the property we lived on was not appropriate for a garden, being at the bottom of a rocky hill.  I had tried to till the ground there, only succeeding in shaking and jarring my body unbelievably, because of the boulders growing up through the dirt.  I gave up after the decrepit tiller died one too many times, with a rock jammed between the tines and the motor case.  But I didn’t lose hope.  The Lovely Lady had an uncle who was also a gardener.  Actually, he had nine children who acted as slave labor amongst the vegetables, but he got to do the bragging.  His garden was across town, but he had more space than he could use for his plot and was willing to share.  There was only one catch…we would have to haul water for the crops to the property.  The place we were being offered was actually in a vacant lot with no running water.  While he had permission to use the neighbors tap for his plants, we would need to fend for ourselves if we wanted to give it a shot.  In my ignorance and arrogance, I agreed to the challenge.  Monster squash?  We’d have squash that would make theirs look like culls!

It started out just great; the ground was tilled, seeds planted, and growing commenced.  I had checked with all the experts and was assured that the local rainfall would provide most of the water we needed, so I wasn’t worried about hauling much water.  It didn’t rain much at first, so we loaded up a couple of 30 gallon trash cans with water from our faucet into the back of the 1960 Chevy pickup I had bought for $150.  The only problem with this process was that the shocks on the old rust-bucket were absolutely gone, with the result that anytime I turned a corner, the rear end undulated left and right, splashing water over the edge of the cans.  But, a worse problem was that every bump in the road, large or small, caused the bed of the truck to bounce violently up and down without those shocks to mitigate the motion.  By the time we reached the garden plot most days, fully half of the water was in a trail behind the truck and definitely not in the cans to be siphoned by gravity onto the waiting seeds.

The worst was yet to come.  That summer was one of the most severe local droughts in recent history here, with no rainfall to speak of between May and August.  Along with the lack of rain, the heat of summer burned up my crops faster than I could haul water.  Before my eyes, the garden withered, corn stalks drying up and green beans shriveling on the vines.  And, the squash?  Well, monster squash take copious amounts of water to mature and that wasn’t happening, so no…I had no answer as we sat at the dinner table with the in-laws and the hands were stretched out to describe the size of what was on the vines.  I was beaten and I knew it.  I threw in the towel and the garden burned up altogether with no harvest to show for my work at all.  I have not planted a garden since.

Thirty years have come and gone now, and I think I’m ready to give it a shot again.  This time, the watering hose is twenty feet away from the proposed garden plot; there is adequate shade nearby to retreat to when the wimp in me starts complaining of the hot sun, and best of all?  The spot is hidden from the prying eyes of all who would judge and estimate the size of both the plants and the produce from them.  I’m not sure you can expect a report, unless it’s a rousing success.  Don’t hold your breath.

Does anybody know  if it’s possible to hire cheap labor to weed and cultivate a small garden?   I’ll be happy to pay in zucchinis and yellow crooknecks…They’re sure to be huge!

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.”
(Gnomologia by Thomas Fuller~British scholar and doctor~1654-1734)

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
and pretty maids all in a row.”
(English nursery rhyme~c.18th century)

Roots and Branches

My muscles ache tonight since I spent yesterday working on the hedge.  We planted the Arborvitae about 8 years ago.  Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, my son-in-law actually planted them.  I told him where they should go, but he provided all the backbreaking labor to plant the eight three-foot tall saplings.  We chose these shrubs from the cypress family because the nursery promised a great privacy screen in a matter of a couple of years from these hardy evergreen plants.  We were not disappointed.

Within two years, we had a wonderful hedge just outside the chain link fence on the west edge of our property.  I was careful to water them regularly, but not too often and they thrived, growing to a height of well over ten feet tall.  Until last summer.  We had several weeks of ninety plus degree days, with little rain, so I started watering a little more often, but it was to no avail.  We ended up with eight beautiful, tall everbrowns.  The expert from the nursery pronounced last rites, assuring me that they would not recover.  So, last week I started removing them, to the dismay of my already injured back, deferring the rest of the task until the Saturday just past.  It was a heartbreaking job.  They were old friends, which I had nurtured from saplings.  I provided them with a place to grow and occasional waterings and they provided me with protection from prying eyes and the view of the very ugly deserted car wash across the street.  No more.  Yesterday, the last of them was removed, to be dumped unceremoniously in the ditch, awaiting the mulch truck within the next week or two.  I’m not happy.  The view of the car wash is still just as unsightly as I remember it. 

When we purchased the music store and the house next door, soon to be our home, there was a beautiful pear tree in the backyard, right near the front of the store and the back door of the house.  It provided astounding, aromatic blossoms in the springtime, wonderful, cooling shade in the summertime, and eye-popping colors of red and purple in the autumn.  The trunk of the tree was three feet in diameter, the branches reaching the height of thirty-some feet.  We loved the tree and would have been satisfied to keep it there for as many years as we are privileged to live in the house.  Alas, that also was not to be.  In an ice storm two winters ago, the weight of the freezing water proved too much for the spreading branches, toppling most of them from the huge trunk.  We had no choice but to remove the still erect trunk after the branches were cleaned up and the damage to the store and house repaired.  The lovely shade tree’s life was cut short in a few disastrous hours of nature’s onslaught.

“Some people just shouldn’t try to grow things,”  I can hear it already.  And you might be right.  My thumb is definitely not any shade of green.  I’ve never claimed to be a plant whisperer and I do neglect my obligations to them frequently.  But, leaving that aside, I also have a point to make.  When the expert came to look at my dying Arborvitae, he said that the bushes had died from the roots up, resulting in the dried up foliage and otherwise unchanged trees.  The ornamental pear tree, on the other hand, is notorious for outgrowing itself.  It rarely dies from the root, but because of the way the branches grow out of the trunk, almost always grows limbs which are too heavy for it to bear up under.  Two separate problems, with the same ultimate result; a dead tree.  Bad roots; bad branches; either one results in failure of the entire organism.

There is one tree which grows in my backyard that I don’t worry about at all.  I think its proper name is a Yarwood London Plane tree.  It’s a hybrid of the sycamore tree, but grows much straighter and taller.  To my knowledge, no one planted this tree on purpose, but it grows right outside the fence, within ten feet of the street.  Someday, someone will have to cut it down, but I hope I’m gone long before that (pretty likely since they have an average lifespan of 150 years).  I don’t worry about the tree, because it has never given any sign of needing anything.  The huge leaves provide wonderful shade and it grows straight up to the sky, reaching up some fifty feet.  The beautiful white bark and large hanging leaves only add to its attractiveness.  The little ditch it grows beside evidently provides all the water it needs from the runoff of the frequent rains we have here.  Good roots and good branches, it thrives throughout the year, growing about three feet taller every year, providing shade and beauty without needing anything from me.  This tree, I like!

Now, you know me…I always want to leave you with a moral to my writing, but I’m going to let you draw your own conclusion today.  I could fill another page or two with my take on the connection between these three different plants growing (or not growing) in my yard, but you don’t need me to insult you with that.  I will admit that the idea was sparked by a guest speaker at our church last week, who talked about “trees planted by the streams of water; which yield their fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.”

I’ll leave you to work the ground now and see what comes up.  Happy gardening!

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
(Ancient Greek proverb)

Damaged Goods

Thirty minutes.  Half an hour.  That’s all the time I had to enjoy my Toyota pickup truck before having my first accident in it.  How is that possible?  I had driven it off the dealer’s lot on the outskirts of Fort Worth and headed east toward Dallas.  Well, toward Arlington actually.  My plan was to go to a few pawnshops and junk dealers, oh excuse me…antique stores in Arlington and then head on northeast through Dallas, in the general direction of home in Northwest Arkansas.  That was the plan, anyway.  But I’m getting the cart before the horse, aren’t I?

You may be asking at this point, “Why did he go all the way to Fort Worth to buy a truck?  Don’t they have trucks in Arkansas?”  I’ll try to keep the background short, but the departure from my normal buying methods demands a little explanation, at the least.  You see, my usual way of buying a vehicle is to drive down the road, minding my own business, just moving from one point to another.  All of the sudden, it’s there!  “Did you see that red Chevy truck?  That’s beautiful!  And, it’s for sale, too.”  The next thing I know, I’m calling the owner, taking a test drive, negotiating the price, and paying for a registration.  No research, no planning, no analyzing models or options; just making the purchase, without any hoopla or any stress.  That’s how I got the last truck, for which I had purchased two rebuilt transmissions within 10 months at a cost of over one thousand dollars apiece.  At that point, I started reading the reviews of the model and found that the transmission was “prone to failure under medium to heavy towing conditions.”  Well, duh!  

The old way of shopping had worked just fine for thirty-plus years of driving and purchasing vehicles, but maybe my analytical friends had a valid argument (you know who you are…). So, I started the research.  The replacement for the beautiful red disappointment had to be reliable, had to have a four-wheel drive (for pulling pianos up hills, wink-wink, nod-nod), and especially, it couldn’t eat transmissions.  I spent hours learning about models, checked the discussion boards, and talked with customers about their experience with certain trucks.  I even consulted Consumer Reports!  Finally, I made a decision.  The Toyota Tundra, which had no apparent appetite for transmissions, was the truck I needed.  All the evidence said the 2005 model would be everything I needed in a truck.  The search was on.  Local dealerships were called and asked to see if one was available or to find one in the price range determined to be appropriate (and affordable for me).  Newspapers were checked.  Craig’s List was consulted daily.  Nothing…Weeks passed, with no sign of one locally, so the search was extended.  Still nothing.

Finally, one night as I sat listing instruments to sell online, I made the fateful decision.  I would buy a truck on eBay!  As ridiculous as it sounds, many have done it with good results.  I found one in Atlanta and decided to buy it.  I first asked a question about the towing package.  They would get back to me.  The next day the call came.  “We can’t find that truck on our lot.”  How do you lose a full-size pickup truck?    I left them to figure out the mystery and moved on in my search, finally locating the truck I wanted in Fort Worth.  Yes, they actually could find the truck on their lot and would pick me up at the airport in Dallas if I would fly down.  The salesman met me at the airport and gave me one of the most frightening rides I have ever had in the state of Texas.  (Note to self:  Don’t ever ask for a ride from a Texas driver again!)   Heart rate back to normal, the truck examined and paperwork done, I was the proud and excited owner of a like-new 2005 Toyota Tundra Bluesteel-colored 4-wheel drive pickup.  No scratches, no dents, actually smelled like a new car (I know, they spray something inside them to give them that aura), and I was a happy camper as I headed up the highway to Arlington.

It had been a long time since breakfast and the peanuts on the plane ride weren’t going to hold me for long, so I made a quick stop for a Whopper at the Burger King just off the expressway.  Hunger satisfied and cholesterol rising, I climbed back into my beautiful truck, turning onto the road headed back for the highway.  As I approached the traffic signal a little too fast, I noticed the cars stopping quickly in front of me and I applied the brakes.  I was gratified when the truck slowed to a stop rapidly and at a safe distance from the car in front of me.  My satisfaction was short-lived though, as I heard the tires screaming behind me and then felt the impact of something slamming into the back of my beautiful truck.  The rear end of the truck went up slightly as whatever it was nose-dived under the bumper and came to a stop.  I got out expecting the worst, and wasn’t surprised to find a small import car buried under the bumper with its hood accordioned back to the windshield, and coolant gushing from a radiator ripped open by the impact.  Neither of the occupants of the car, two twenty-something young men, were hurt so we separated the vehicles, pulling onto the shoulder as I started to call the police.  “No don’t do that!” exclaimed the driver.  When I asked why I shouldn’t call, he replied, honestly enough, that he had some warrants out for his arrest.  I didn’t inquire any more about those (one doesn’t ask too many questions of a wanted man, you know), but surveying the damage to his car, and thinking about the possibility of hidden damage under mine, insisted on calling.

So, even though prudence might have dictated otherwise, I got the police department on the telephone. They asked two questions of me on the phone.  “Is anyone injured?”  When the answer was negative, the second query came, “Can the cars be driven?”  My truck, though sadly desecrated in my opinion, could certainly be driven, but I doubted the car would move.  I covered the mic on my phone and asked the young driver if it could be driven.  He answered quickly, “Absolutely!  I’ll drive it if I have to lean out the window to see! And, if he has to push,” jerking a thumb at his companion.  Quite obviously, he wanted to avoid any contact with the Police Department, so I answered in the affirmative to the dispatcher on the phone.  She reminded me to exchange insurance information and addresses and told me to, “Drive safely.”  We took care of the formalities and shook hands.  Then, the very relieved young men hastily jerked part of the bumper of the crippled car off the front, where it was dragging on the ground, leaving it lying in the gutter, shoved down on the pleated hood in an effort to see out the windshield (also badly cracked) and started off down the road, broken belts falling from underneath, metal shrieking against metal and steam boiling up from the engine as they turned the corner and limped out of sight.

I got into my besmirched truck and started toward home, forgoing the anticipated shopping, completely depressed because of the occurrence.  There was no damage visible, and a quick visit to my mechanic upon arrival home confirmed that there was no concealed damage either, but I would never look at that truck again as I did when I first bought it.  It was damaged goods to me, still fulfilling its function admirably, but with a strike against it.

I’ve always wondered about that.  We purchase an item and treat it as a treasure, protecting it, cherishing it, until the first blemish appears.  After that the respect, the honor, is diminished.  I remember my first new horn; how proud I was of it, polishing it constantly, carrying it gingerly.  Until that first ding arrived when I bumped it into the edge of a table as I was cleaning and oiling it.  After that, I just used the horn, without worry about any dings, cleaning it only when it needed attention and not obsessively, as when it was new.  Come to think of it, the horn was much more useful to me after that.  I wasn’t worried about the peripherals, but did whatever was necessary to maintain it simply as the tool it was.  Yes, a tool to make beautiful music, but just an implement nonetheless.  And, as I consider it, that truck was much the same.  I didn’t waste one day worrying about getting a scratch on it.  It pulled my piano trailer many, many trips; sometimes down back roads being scratched by overhanging bushes, and pelted by gravel as other vehicles passed, and I never cared.  When friends and family needed to borrow it, the keys were turned over cheerfully, with nary a word said about being careful not to park too near to other cars or taking care with the paint job.  It too, was a tool, fulfilling its purpose, without the need for coddling or nervous worry.

Not to belabor the point overmuch, but I’m wondering if our relationships are like that a little bit, too.  Kid gloves on, and stars in our eyes, we tiptoe around each other.  Until that first blemish appears; the first tiff, the first fault rears its head.  What, the toilet lid isn’t down?  Toothpaste squeezed and not rolled?  Yes, all these dings and more, maybe even a few major dents appear.  We get past those and make the relationship work, becoming comfortable with each other.  I like the comfortable stage.  Just one suggestion to keep in mind as the years pass, though…A little “spit and polish” doesn’t hurt once in awhile, even on the old model. Kind of keeps the brain remembering what the attraction was in the first place, you know…

“When hope is not pinned wriggling into a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens.”
(Anne Lamott~American author)

A Cluttered Mind

Some days, the jumble in my mind makes it hard to concentrate on one thought long enough to acknowledge it, much less write about it.  You all know what I mean.  It’s like walking into a room with a notion, just the ghost of a reason for going in there, only to be completely overwhelmed with all the things that need to be achieved when you get there.  So, you stay and labor for ten minutes, half an hour, maybe even hours, completing more than one task that was just begging to be addressed.  Then, a few moments after you exit the room, you realize that your original purpose for going in there wasn’t even started, much less accomplished.

So I sit and mull over first one idea and then another, giving attention to each for a few moments, only to let it fall to the floor of my mind, moving to others in the hopes that one might be worthy of further deliberation.  I wish I could tell you it was like going through a room of file cabinets, each neatly labeled on the front, giving me easy access to the subject, or era, or even a specific occurrence.  Alas, that is not the case.  You see, the file room of my brain is definitely more like Fibber McGee’s closet than like any library’s card catalog system.  And, as if to prove my point, both references in the last sentence are to long forgotten locales, McGee’s closet a relic from the golden age of radio and the card catalog a memento of an era past, which disappeared from use in most libraries sometime in the late twentieth century.

As it turns out, I have both systems in use daily at my workplace.  When the local university decided to replace its outdated system with the modern equivalent, contained on hard drives and flash drives, and servers, the Lovely Lady decided that her husband and her brother needed a project on which to work.  With many more hours of labor than I anticipated and after the application of a few too many Band-aids to my hands, the card catalogs became file drawers for CD accompaniment tracks.  They grace the walls of our music store today, a testament to the ingenuity of the Lovely Lady and the determination of one bumbling husband and one skillful brother-in-law.  Every time a customer places an order in our online store for the tracks they need, whether it be for one or thirty, we go to the files, selecting the drawer (alphabetically arranged, of course!  They are library files, after all) corresponding to their request and pull the (hopefully) correct title.  We, and by “we” I mean the Lovely Lady, are duteous, almost to a fault, in keeping the drawers in order and arranged neatly, in anticipation of the next customer’s wish list to be fulfilled.

On the other extreme, there are the filing systems for which I am responsible; Fibber’s closet, if you will.  I’ve discussed my desk, that landing place for objects as diverse as Allen wrenches, or trumpet mouthpieces, guitar tuners, and invoices; not to mention returned merchandise and trade magazines.  We could go around the corner to the Layaway/small parts/spare case storage area, only slightly less cluttered than my desk.  Then there is the container room, dedicated to packaging of all sorts.  Friends donate packing materials; they end up there.  I purchase shipping boxes; they end up there.  Have an item that isn’t suitable for sale in the store, but that might be good on eBay?  It ends up there.  Last night, as I left the store, I noticed a couple of guitar boxes in the hallway and, knowing that the cleaning crew would be here earlier than I this morning, carried them to the door of the container room and shoved them blindly in.  As they settled into place, I heard an ominous crash from further back into the void.  Someday, we’ll find out what that was.  Oh, hey!  We mustn’t forget the storage barn, moved in a few years ago to help with overflow of instruments and shelving.  I walked into it today and was amazed at the lack of space available for my use.  No, it’s not a small building, measuring twelve feet wide by thirty-six feet long.  It’s just that over the last three years, I’ve filled it with things too important to throw away, but not essential enough to have in constant use.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, all of those messy spaces are amazingly similar to the jumble in my mind.  And, I really don’t have any clear idea of what to write about tonight.  So, you’re in luck!  You can forgo the customary reading of my normally salient writing today.  Talk about a fortuitous development!

The mind does run on, and often takes the fingers with it.  Perhaps the filing system could get straightened up a bit before the next post.  Come back tomorrow and we’ll give it a shot…

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?”
(Laurence J. Peter~American educator & writer~1919-1990)

Back In The Saddle Again

The young lady pushed her way into the shop, lugging an old guitar case, not realizing that she was carrying an armload of nostalgia for this aging man, raised as I was in the mid-twentieth century.  I had been expecting her arrival, since she had called earlier to see if I was interested in the guitar, but I wasn’t prepared for the trip down memory lane that the beautiful instrument evoked.  When I opened the seventy-year old case, the name just jumped out at me; “Gene Autry”, the cursive letters spelled, scrolling gracefully along the fingerboard in a script made to look like a rope lasso on either end.  Gene Autry.  The name brings back memories of cowboy movies, and cowboy television shows, and cowboy songs.  Well, even a few songs we don’t always associate with the King of Cowboys, but we sing them every year.  Before Gene, no one had ever sung about that mythical reindeer with a red nose, who went by the name of Rudolf.  Although he didn’t write that song, he did pen “Here Comes Santa Claus”, as well as making “Frosty the Snowman” a huge success.  Is it any wonder that they made beautiful instruments with his name on them?

I remember reading Gene Autry adventure books, based on his radio and television shows, which exemplified honor and fairness, along with a good dose of gun play and suspense thrown in.  What red-blooded American kid could resist the animated narrative, which fed on the dreams and imagination born of a partial knowledge of our not-so-distant history.  I say partial, because the romantic version we were fed was a good bit shy of the full truth of life on the range.  Hunger and hardship were the rule rather than the exception, with no laws and little protection from malicious enemies, save the rifle and side-arm, which the cowboy carried, not for enjoyment, but for survival.  It was not romantic in any sense of the word, but our short memory made it so and every one of us would have happily abandoned our tame life of school and church and family for a shot at it.

At that time, our understanding of the life of the perpetual foe of the cowboy, the Indian, was a bit askew as well.  We have come to learn, in the ensuing years, of the hardship these native Americans endured, much of it at the hands of a power and land hungry new nation, ready to use trickery and force to achieve its goals.  Yes, there were unspeakable atrocities committed by the Indians, but the same must be said of the new residents who, in large part, viewed the natives as sub-human and herded them into strange lands, allowing many to die of starvation and disease along the way.  Is it any wonder then, that the Cowboys and Indians were pitted against each other, both in fact and in legend?

I’m chuckling as I write this; not because of the history of sadness and bad blood between the two races, but because we think nothing today of the two living side by side.  On any given day in my store, you may see Cherokee men and women looking at instruments and printed music, right beside the Cowboys of our day, the rough and rugged men and women we have dubbed “rednecks”.  Cowboy boots, sometimes a cowboy hat (more often a NASCAR cap these days) and jeans; all the regalia of the range rider of old, but there are no drawn guns, no scalps taken, just music made and polite words spoken.

For several months now, we’ve also been privileged to have on display in our store, some very fine Native American flutes.  Hand made by a good friend of the Lovely Lady and myself, they are amazing instruments of beauty, both aesthetically and musically.  Wonderful creations of highly flamed maple and dark-grained walnut, the haunting melodies which emerge when blown skillfully (not by me!) are reminiscent of another civilization.  They are a constant source of conversation and admiration, both of the concept and implementation of an ages-old art.  The Indians have been making these for generation after generation, long before our ancestors set foot on these shores.  It’s apropos that they live in harmony, side by side with the cowboy inspired instruments and western-style music so popular in our culture.

The beautiful Gene Autry guitar now belongs to the music store, awaiting restoration to its earlier glory.  I doubt that it will ever be pristine, nor do I think it will achieve legendary status as a money-making investment, but I’m grateful for the memories of days of cowboy boots, fringed vests, and cap guns, if nothing else.  It was a different time, with fewer deadlines to meet, more fun things to do, and a whole lot less stress. 

Maybe it’s time to teach the grandkids some new (old) games.  I wonder if they’ll want to be the Cowboys, or the Indians…

“I’m back in the saddle again;
Out where a friend is a friend;
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed;
Back in the saddle again.”