Friday, April 29, 2011

Like Father...

...Like son, or so the saying goes.

The picture goes back quite a way - to the mid-1970's in fact. I was serving my first church appointment and dad came to Missouri to attend my ordination as a minister. Up to that point he thought my calling to the ministry was a whim and just a passing fancy. I think the reality of my decision hit him when he saw me ordained. Dad was not an openly spiritual person - often he was working on Sundays and did not attend worship services. Fact is, there was a point in which I asked him why I had to go to church when he didn't. I don't recall his answer but his relationship with God became more evident in his last months of his life.

Today I continue to wonder why dad seemed so down on life. He wrote a form of autobiography and in it he seemed to dwell on the failures in his life. I think he always strived to make a million and that seemed almost a passion with him. When he did not achieve the financial success he craved, he felt that life had cheated him and in his estimation he was a failure time after time. In the book he wrote he kept blaming the negative things of life on his "overpowering" ego.

The sad part is that in a great number of ways he was an amazing person. Creative in many ways. A visionary in some ways. And though he would never admit it, he was a person who saw opportunities and did something about them. He struggled with the state of Army leadership early in his career after graduation from West Point. In a sense he shared the concerns for the future like General Billy Mitchell who ended up court-marshalled for his beliefs, but later proved to be valid during World War Two. In many ways dad underwrote progress and was disappointed time and again because many people did not share his dreams which were stalled or opposed. He was a great artist - had gifts in photography, drawing and painting, and business acumen. He was head statistician for the World Champion Army football teams in the mid-1940's. To this day I keep wondering why he felt so disappointed with life when in actuality he accomplished a great many things far beyond what most men do. If I sound proud of my dad, I am.

I guess the differences we shared are that, like him, I have never gloated about the things that have happened in my life. However, I've rejoiced at different things that happened and just kept moving through doors in life to the next opportunity that came along. I don't dwell on negatives, and have celebrated life where I have been and look forward to the next exciting chapter.

But when dad was laying in his hospital bed, life slowly ebbing toward death from esophageal cancer, he told me something that has stuck with me for years. He said, the last time I saw him, "I guess this is the last time we'll see each other this way". I had no glib answer or ministerial response. I just nodded my head and then he grinned and said, "But we will meet again". And I believed it and know it will happen.

My dad was a disciplined person all his life - wrapped up in projects. Sometimes he was not an easy person to understand or respond to. Especially when I was a teenager. But I will always say that he never was the failure he thought he was - He was caring and an example of creativity and sponsor of things that were beyond most people's understanding, and in doing so, he made his and our world a better place.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Easter Mountain-top Experience....

Imagine a camping trip with three teen-age young ladies who had never camped out before. Never pitched a tent. Never cooked over a campfire. Never tried to sleep through a night filled with creature noises.

To make things more challenging for all, I was trying to get past some really bad times in my life. Prescribed drug dependency. Depression. Withdrawal. Terrible downers.

We had made it from Misouri to the high country in Colorado near the summit of Monarch Pass. It was a peaceful place, a lovely stream rippled behind our campsite.
The weather was perfect and we relished life together.

But late that night a storm swept down the mountain. High winds. A deluge of rain, hail and ferocious lightning and thunder. There we were, in tents that threatened to blow away. In tents that did not protect us from rain which soaked the inside of our tent and our sleeping bags. The girls, my wife, and I were terrified.

But as quickly as the storm attacked our campsite, it was gone, moving slowly into the valley, rumbling east and away from our campsite.

I found it impossible to sleep and left the tent to go to the edge of the campground where I sat on a rock to watch the storm slowly make its way toward Canyon City. I looked over my left shoulder and saw a brilliant white light in the inky blackness of a starless night. I could not understand what the light was and was captivated by its slow emergence. Suddenly I realized that it was a snow-capped mountain reflecting the rising sun to the east. It was an amazing birth of a new day and I was captivated by the scene.

As dawn grew into daylight I noticed something else: all the footprints from the day before had been washed away. It was as though yesterday had never happened and the bright new day was starting out completely without blemish.

Then I realized that life is like that. God, in a marvelous way, can do away with the ugliness of life - our worst times - and start us off anew into a bright new day of opportunity and optimism. That's what happened to me. I felt a new sense of peace
and joy - a new sense of hope and a resolve for the days ahead. Depression, frustration, dependency on artificial crutches were gone, and life became a joy. To say the least, a wonderful door opened to new and exciting things.

I like to think of that mountaintop as my Easter Experience. A form of resurrection, if I can put it that way. It's something that was a life changing experience in which life since has become rich snd positive. So, if I may say this, I think that God can provide marvelous and beautiful personal experiences comparable to the Biblical story of Christ's persecution, death, and resurrection. Have a blessed Easter and allow God and Jesus to get the credit they deserve.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ballgame.....

The picture is of Seth, one of our Indianapolis grandchildren. It was taken a few years ago when he was involved with community baseball and he was good, Today, he is a tall, gangly, good natured high schooler with an almost 3.9 grade level and too much school work to be involved with a lot of sports, and besides, he is getting to be a really big computer addict. But we remember his baseball days with a cheer or three.

When I was in grade school, we'd play a form of baseball during lunch hour. It was a steep uphill run from home base to first, and equally steep run downhill from third to home plate. I guess one evened the other out but it WAS a challenge for a slow person to make it to first. If the ball was hit over the fence it was an out (not a home run), but if the ball was hit into the outhouse enclosures it was an automatic double.

I was manager of my high school baseball team - at least for a while. As manager I kept scoring records - that is, until I made a mistake on the score sheets which made the other team the winner. I was angry but nowhere near as angry as some of the players and our coach who suggested I'd better go to a refresher math class before I would keep score again.

My first major league experience was a game at Yankee Stadium where the Yanks were playing the Cleveland Indians. The only things I remember was the size of the stadium and that Cleveland's ace Bob Feller was pitching. I think the unthinkable
happened - the Yankees lost. Beyond that, I remember little about who composed the teams other than Feller.

But one of my best baseball memories was of the community games in the flatlands downhill from where we lived. Several teams came together in a league of sorts and the games had almost more thrills than in major league baseball. Unlike high paid major leage players, our community league players did it for the fun of the game. There was no backstop so occasionally baseballs missed by the catcher would end up in the creek behind home plate. Since it was a cow pasture, There were moments when players would slide into what they presumed were base pads only to discover that it was, instead, a prominent slimy, smelly, souvenir of a cow. We watched the game from outfield since there was no viewing area behind the plate and occasionally a spectator would catch a long fly ball which always caused a major league discussion as to whether the catch was legal, and the person who caught the ball like as not was recruited to be on the team.

There are lot of good memories in baseball but it doesn't seem the same. Todays bases are clearly marked, the basepaths nicely raked, there are backstops and there are some girl teams that play a really good ball game. And so the game goes on but in some ways it not quite the same as cow pasture baseball. Some things may be gone but they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It happened in April..............

........1938 - 73 years ago. We were living in Ramsey, New Jersey and I was in the fifth grade. Typically, in our lives at that time, my dad was looking for another job. Every year, during the 1930's, my father's job was ending. So combining thoughts of new work and a dream of a place to live, we took a Sunday drive up the Hudson River, crossed the river near Hudson, New York, and ended up 15 miles northeast in the remote village of Spencertown. It was the one I wrote about a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the Presbyterian church.

A mile or so south of town, atop a hill, we found a lovely but cold picnic spot. Nearby my parents found a decrepit old house that seemed to fit their idea of a dream home. Junky old pigpens, a leaning garage, and a swayback barn surrounded the house. The house could rented for ten dollars a month or could be purchased for 2300 dollars and would include 43 acres of land and a year-round trout stream out back. It was too much to resist and so that became our home for a number of years.

We lit the house with kerosene lamps since there was no electricity. We pumped water from a deep well outside and under a porch. We cooked on an ancient black wood range and took baths in a washtub - but more often used a waterfall in the creek. The pigpens were torn down and the wood either burned or used for a dam to make a swimming pool behind the house. The bathroom facilities were "outback" or in bedroom chamber pots or "thunder jugs".

Despite all the improvements, the house was not practical for winter life so we spent the cold weather at my grandmothers house a hundred miles south, where we experienced the 1938 New England hurricane. Our Spencertown house survived the storm and we moved back there for good in late Spring 1939. Eventually the place became a real showplace and I have never forgotten it. And I have never forgotten that it all began with an cold, miserable April picnic in 1938.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ready for the Masters

I have been watching the Masters Golf Tournament the past couple of days - probably to see what Tiger Woods might do, and also Phil Mickelson who I admire a great deal as a family man and as a professional golfer. I gave up active golf when we left Florida but there are times I really miss the game.

The picture shows my wife's brother Don and me on our way out to play on one of the courses in Florida. I miss Don, especially when golf is on television because there are times I can envision him out there with the best of them. He was a skilled golfer and he shed a lot of sympathetic tears for me. My dad was a very good golfer when he was a cadet at West Point and I ended up taking the game up when I was in the Air Force. At one base we were required to have physical training twice and week and during the warm weather I chose golf, and in the winter I was in bowling leagues.

At one stage I averaged 85 or so without handicap and I thought that was great. I accomplished some unique things in my game: one time I drove a ball into a tree where it remained lodged in the crotch of a branch. Another time I lost a couple of golf balls down gopher holes on a course in Arizona. My greatest accomplishment was that I lost 13 balls into water hazards with Don on a course in Florida. That is, thirteen balls lost on an 18 hole course. Don said there ought to have been a trophy of some sort for that caper. We had a lot of laughs together when we golfed together. Occasionally Don would have a problem with a drive or a putt and he'd grin at me and say, "I didn't see that happen and I hope you didn't see it either."

Our golfing times together went way back - maybe even to the 1960's. I always enjoyed my time with him - it helped my game and I amused him. As I said, I miss him because he passed away a few years ago shortly after his wife died. There were so many times we got together and at night Joyce would play cards with Don and Mary. Those were always roudy games and yet they were the makings of great memories. They were good people and I have a hunch that Don might be looking down right now from one of the windows of heaven, watching the champs of today and the champs of tomorrow as they go for the traditional green jacket to the winner of the Masters.
As far as I'm concerned, Don was always a winner to me. Thanks for the memory!