Friday, December 30, 2016

Anniversary





"Anniversary Song" was written by Steven Digman, a gentleman about whom I know little, other than he wrote an amazing song that was recorded at some point by Eva Cassidy.  This I know about Eva Cassidy.  She has one of the most spectacular voices I've had the pleasure of hearing.  And that she died in 1996 at the age of 33.  In, as they say, relative obscurity.  Her voice, her interpretations, her pacing...all of it...enchant and captivate.  Hers is a voice you hear not only with your ears but also with your heart.

As this year dissolves into melancholy vapors and the new year staggers toward us like a newborn colt, I'm grabbed by the thought that we all are experiencing another anniversary.  A day I put much more value upon than I do other significant days, including birthdays.  Though we all simultaneously (time zones excepted) experience the end of one year and the beginning of another, that experience is as unique as stars, or grains of sand, or snowflakes.  Simply put, we individually own each anniversary.  We personally inherit a fresh beginning.  And though we mourn those people in our lives who didn't make this particular anniversary event, we cannot help but celebrate the enormity of the opportunity.

The chorus of "Anniversary Song" goes like this:

I never thought I'd get this old dear
Never had a reason to live so long
And the Lord's been like my shadow
Even when I was wrong
No I never thought it would turn out this way.  

Though compelling, the words alone don't do the song justice.  Eva's voice and the music which accompanies her, however, form unforgettable art.  That said, these words have stamped themselves on my soul.  The writer is said to have commented:  "Not being a religious man myself, I still think that if you live long enough, into your seventies, then God must have been there somehow."

Now I don't deign to suggest that Mr. Digman meant something other than what he said, but here's what I hear.  What I hear is that the older you live, the easier it is to recognize God's hand in your life.

I wonder how many of us thought it would "turn out this way?"  Whatever way that is.  I'm going to guess there have been some unanticipated twists and turns in your life. Along with those times when you pause and contemplate how you got to the place you find yourself today and consider the question:  how in the world did I get here?  

But here is what I like about one year ending and another beginning, this fresh anniversary and the blessing to be able to experience it:  we have a fresh opportunity to rewrite the way it turns out.  Not the whole book, the entire story, all the verses of the song.  But a chance to grab a fresh sheet of paper and go in the direction of our choosing.  To pick up where we left off and plot a new adventure.

Amazing, no?  And here's the real kicker, we have that opportunity every single day...to re-route our own history.  To redirect our own future.  I just happen to think that on the most unique day of the calendar, the one that begins as one year and morphs into another, there is extra impetus to do so.

Forget the resolutions.  When did you ever stick to them anyway?  Just plan on getting up in the morning and walking out into the sunshine of the first day of 2017 and celebrating another anniversary.  And that shadow you see?  Well, I think Mr. Steven Digman would say that it's a reminder that the Lord is right there sticking with you.  As close and tight as He can get.  Even when you're wrong.

Happy New Year, folks.  And a very happy anniversary to you. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Merry Christmas, brother....




I sit in the den of our 200 year old farmhouse and look out the window, across the front porch, past the old well house, through the trees in the lot that once was an orchard, and I spy the cabin he built a dozen years ago.  Its red tin roof is bright and cheerful even in the grey overcast of a mid-December day.  There is no one home.  It was sold this past July to some folks from Nashville who use it and the surrounding riverfront acreage as a get-away.  I breathe in the silence, then hold my breath, seeing but not hearing the only movement in my line of vision, ice melting and running in drops off the eaves above the porch.   And, except for the plaintive cry of a stray calf, temporarily separated from its mother, the cold, wintry silence thaws the past and feeds my thoughts.

I like to believe that I am temporarily separated from my brother who once clomped  around the wide porch of that red-roofed cabin.  A man who was often larger than life and whose voice would carry over the several hundred yards between his place and ours.  And I miss that voice, sometimes in an excruciatingly acute fashion.  A similar timbre of voice was about the only thing we shared as adults, but he was my brother and I loved him every single day of his life.

I think of him at different times.  Though we seldom exchanged cards, I remember him on June 28, his birthday.  Whenever talk turns to fishing, I think about how his face would tighten into a smile and his eyes would dance at the thought of heading to the banks of the Elk River with a rod and reel and a can of night crawlers.  When my wife and I take one of our trips to the panhandle of Florida, I think of the times he and his wife loaded up their dogs and a couple of cats and headed to their place on St. George Island.  For weeks at a time.  He was most at home there, I believe.  Something about the rhythm of the ocean and blue skies and golden sun.  He took to all of that.  He grew bananas, of all things.

And, of course, Christmas.  Not recent Christmases but the Christmases of long ago when we were boys and he was truly my little brother.  When he would sit in his footed pajamas, mesmerized by the bubbling lights and shimmering tinsel on the Christmas tree.  How he would tiptoe around until he spied his name on a gift.  And, if no one was looking, he would lift it and shake it, taking a stab at what might be inside.  When I was ten and he was five, I intrigued him with stories of Santa Claus and how I was pretty sure that if we stayed up late enough on Christmas Eve, we would finally catch old Santa sneaking into our house with a bagful of presents.  I cautioned him to the risk, however, of getting caught.  We always shared a bedroom and it wasn't hard to convince him that any thud in the night were reindeer hooves on the roof. And how in the world could he say that he hadn't just heard what was most certainly sleigh bells.   I would tell him to close his eyes tight and pretend he was asleep so Santa would make sure to stop.  And I would close mine.

On Christmas morning, I couldn't remember who had fallen asleep first.  But we leaped from our beds at the same time and slipped quietly into the living room.  I recall in those times I received a great deal more joy watching him discover his Santa bounty than I did discovering my own.  My brother had a way of exhibiting delight that I just never got the hang of.  So, on those Christmases long ago, I claimed my delight through his.   I piggybacked on his joy.  And it grew my love for him.

This coming February he will have been gone two years.  There wasn't even time to say a really decent goodbye.  And though missing him hasn't eased up much, I take solace in what's available.  If you've never heard the the Sarah Darling song "Knowing What I Know About Heaven," I'd suggest you give it a listen.   So when my mind insists on trying to bring my brother back, when I want to reverse time and make things turn out differently, when I want to imagine that the cancer hadn't found its way to his body, or when I want to wish him back to the porch of his cabin or settled comfortably on the banks of the Elk with his voice harmonizing with the sounds of the flowing river,  I think about the lines of that song.

"Knowing what I know about heaven
Believing that you're all the way home
Knowing that you're somewhere better
Is all I need to let you go.
I could hope that I could pray you back
But why on earth would I do that
When you're somewhere life and love never ends
Knowing what I know about heaven."

Who knows?  Maybe there are Christmas trees in Heaven - I see no reason why there shouldn't be - and they are strung with miles and miles of brilliant bubble lights and glinting tinsel reflected in the faces and eyes and smiles of my brother and everyone else who has made that celestial journey.  I mean, what better place to celebrate Christmas than Heaven?  And, as much as I miss him, I wouldn't pray him back from that ultimate bounty of everlasting life and never-ending love.

But, you know what, doggone it, it sure would be nice to hear that sweet voice one more time.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The tree that almost wasn't



My favorite tree almost wasn't.  When a tornado ripped through the center of our farm in April, 2014, trees were the favorite targets.  Countless numbers were ripped from the earth, twisted at their roots like corkscrews, or broken in half by the F4 winds.  Hundreds of them, having thrived more than a century on this earth, were destroyed as easily as you would snap a toothpick in half.

One small tree at the edge of the yard was cracked in half by the winds, splintered a few feet from its base, the upper part  nearly destroying a hundred year old shed.  A track hoe removed the large upper half from the shed and I added to my to-do list taking my chainsaw and putting the pitiful remains out of their misery.

Fortunately, my to-do list fell a few items short of done.  And at some point weeks later, all tornado clean up work stopped and everyone just rested for awhile.

Days became weeks and weeks became months and so on.  Before you could turn around a year had passed, it was spring again and guess what?  That little piece of tree, left for dead and sentenced to a burn pile, started sprouting new limbs.  And weeks later, the buds on those limbs became leaves.  And then more limbs and more leaves.  Impossible, I thought.  I mean, that tree was a goner.  A splinter.  A hopeless shadow of what once it had been.

Now, over two years later, it's much more to me than a tree.  It's a reminder that nothing is done until it's done.  And our minds simply don't have the power to determine that.  We are limited to seeing through a glass darkly during our time here on this tiny planet and we are reminded to "set (our) minds on things above, not on earthly things."

It's also a reminder not to give up.  To have hope and to have faith.  And when that hope and faith blossoms, new worlds open up.

And, finally, that little tree continuously reminds me that regeneration is always possible.  Rejuvenation.  Redemption.  Resurrection on all levels.  Even at our lowest times, when winds of fortune have turned ugly and rendered disaster, tragedy, or devastation, there is hope.  Or even when there's just a malevolent breeze that blows us about from time to time, knocking us down, pushing us off course, there is recovery.  There is reinstatement of our more vibrant, more confident former selves.  There are new seasons and new beginnings.

Next spring I'm looking for my favorite tree to be even taller and fuller and stronger.  Who knows?  It might even have a nest of birds.

I think I would feel like a grandfather.




Thursday, November 17, 2016

An open letter to Million Women's March on Washington




                                                           Getty Images Topical Press Agency


Dear Ladies of the March:

So...I'm hearing that January 21st is cooking up to be a big day, huh?  I guess no small number of you is going to journey to our nation's capital to protest.  Multiple issues, I hear.  Lots of problems.  Rampant disrespect.  I should tell you, though, that I'm a little suspicious it has more to do with who didn't win our latest presidential election than you might want to admit.  But that's neither here nor there and there's no need for us to get off on the wrong foot.  Today, it's called the "Women's March on Washington."  A few days ago it was "Million Women's March."  Stay tuned.  A lady definitely has the prerogative to change her mind.

Okay...I could be so tongue-in-cheek here that I would pierce through the inside of my mouth right through to my stubbled jaw.  I don't think that would get me anywhere, however, so I'm going to try to practice a little restraint.  But when I read that "the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us...", I'm thinking that the whole thing is getting off to a start that appears to lean heavily on hyperbole. Demonized?  Really??  Also, those for whom this gathering is in the name of are "women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA (when did we add those extra letters?), Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault."  Talk about inclusive!

Problem is:  who's not on this list?  I can certainly claim more than a passing interest in several of those categories.  So, why not just march for everyone who's afraid?  Everyone who has truly suffered injury and injustice.  Even everyone who has had their feelings hurt in their life because someone said something.  Everyone who has ever been boxed out of the mainstream for whatever reason at whatever time.  Hey.  It's everyone, folks.  Every blasted one of us.  At some point and time in our lives, to some extent, we all have been on the outside looking in.  It's called life.

You say you want to "send a bold message."

Well, guess what...

You will.

You will send a bold message to this nation and the rest of the world that this is the most divided this country has been since the Civil War.  You will send a message that says we are a frightened nation.  You will send a message that we don't respect, honor, or support our democratic process.  (Yes, you will!  I won't let you argue that!)  And that we are a nation that assumes our leadership is going to fail before that leadership has a chance to perform.

You will send a message that says we are weak.

Your message will be heard loud and clear and our allies will wonder what happened to the America that they aligned with and identified with for generations.  Through several wars.  In good and bad times.  That strong America who took on all the bullies and backed down for nothing or no one.

And your message will resound deafeningly to our enemies who never in a million years believed that the United States could become so fractured and so disorganized and discombobulated and so...so...ugly. 

And so very ripe for the picking.

And the media, folks, is already drooling rivers.  If you thought they liberally spun the election news, watch this.  They'll spin this march on Washington like Linda Blair's head in "The Exorcist."

So organize your gathering, your march, whatever you want to call it.  I know that it will draw folks from sea to shining sea.  From L.A. to Tampa.  From those tiny islands of blue counties that looked so pitifully awash in the sea of red on the election maps.  

I cannot fathom the millions and millions of dollars that will be spent and the millions of hours that will go into the planning and organizing and executing.  Individually and institutionally.

Listen.  Just a little advice.  Consider it a travelogue of sorts.

While you're in Washington, drop by 700 Pennsylvania Avenue.  That's the National Archives and it houses our Constitution including the First Amendment upon which you will be operating while you're in D.C.  Then you might cruise by the Capitol and call on your representative to Congress. That's the person who best can help you get this all done.  And save you any future trips and expenses in trying to move our government in a direction you find more personally appealing.  And less injurious.  Because you can march till you drop but if your Congressional representative isn't tuned in, it's all for show.  (And I'm sure you're not doing it for show.)

While you're at it, take a peak at the Lincoln Memorial.  Look closely at Mr. Lincoln's face and you might just see a tear on his cheek (some folks think it's a mole) not for what this country has become, but for what you want to make people believe this country has become.  And President Lincoln had a phrase for what you are promulgating:  "A house divided against itself cannot stand."   And whether you support Mr. Lincoln's ideology or not, he certainly knew about divided houses.

And, finally, before you car, bus, train, or fly your way home, take a short ride to Arlington Cemetery and have them put you out at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  That brave, anonymous soul who eternally represents everyone in the military who has ever died for the United States of America.   Then, in the breathtaking silence, gaze over the acres of tombstones that grace in perfect symmetry that hallowed ground .  Those people fought some pretty nasty enemies, many of the same ones who are going to be glued to their televisions watching you on your day, January 21, 2017.  And those enemies are going to nod and smile and hope for the continuing unravelling of the fabric of this great nation. Whether there are a million or two million or more of you, they will cheer you on like you are marching in the Olympics.

So look at it this way, you've already got billions of supporters and you haven't even bought your comfy walking shoes yet.

And you know what?  I highly doubt that a single soldier lying beneath that Arlington soil suited up and shipped off to fight for a certain skin color, a particular sexual orientation, a specific religion, or any special class of human beings.  I'm pretty sure that when they took their bullet, they took it for the United States of America and the great and diverse population within its borders.  They took it for you.

Sorry to be blunt but you're already hurt and scared of just about everything, so I don't think I've caused any additional harm.  And since you're going to be in Washington anyway....

One last thing:  if you decide to stay home that day, you might consider erecting an American flag in your yard.  You might take the money you are going to spend on your Washington trip and donate it to a homeless shelter or a Veterans organization.  Or any local charity, for that matter.  You might invest all that planning and organizing time into going to a VA Hospital or a battered women's shelter, or an elementary school short on funds and giving them your time and energy.  You might attend some diversity and inclusion meetings and add your level of expertise to the group.  You might write a check to the Red Cross to help those thousands of women and children devastated by war, natural disaster, and genocide.  Those who have truly been, to use your word, demonized.

Yep.  You could do any of those things.  Or you might just go ahead and have your march.  

Whichever, God bless you and keep you safe.  We may disagree but we are all Americans.  I love my country and I love you and look forward to the day we are all in the same house.

Now get out there and get those comfy marching sneakers.



Friday, November 11, 2016

On this Veterans Day


"These GIs could not be let down. This was neither the time nor the chance for tactical fencing. The "Lost Battalion" had to be rescued, the German threat to the Yank breakthrough smashed, at any cost.

Thus, on the bright, hot afternoon of August 10, 1944, with magnificent daring, doughboy-laden tanks spearheading the 320th Regiment's attack barreled up the road directly into the powerful positions of the Wehrmacht's elite.

Out of 55 tanks 31 were knocked out in a few hours of furious fighting.

But the Nazi grip on the Mortain redoubt was cracked.

In the bloody and confused struggle which continued on throughout the night and next day many units of the regiment themselves became lost or surrounded, the attack disorganized.

During the following night, under the flares of the Luftwaffe, the remaining men of the 1st and 3rd Battalions were reorganized, combined. At dawn the infantrymen, without the aid of armor, stormed Mortain and the crest of the ridge, seizing both. The Lost Battalion was rescued, its wounded cared for by all the medical resources of the regiment.

The Battle of Mortain, the most dramatic in the 320th's combat record, exemplifies the regiment's relentless style of fighting, the driving power that has been used with four armies in five countries and has been called upon continuously from Normandy through Bastogne to the east bank of the Elbe. The 320th and her superb comrade regiments, the 134th and 137th, form a division - the 35th (Santa Fe) Division - whose record of achievement in the European campaigns ranks with the best."

This is an excerpt from The History of the 320th Infantry Regiment, outlining a battle during WWII as US troops attempted to wrestle France out of the hands of the Germans.  My father, John Loyd Gray, was wounded and taken prisoner of war on August 11, 1944.  I always wondered what he was going through that day because he spoke so sparingly of it.  Except to say that the Germans intervened by taking his bleeding and broken body to a hospital in Paris where German doctors labored to save his limbs and his life.  

Irony at its best.

He was one of those doughboys on foot inches from the tracks of those huge, clamoring tanks, plodding  courageously forward, one foot in front of the other.  A small piece of ground at a time.  From one hedgerow to the next.  

Until a machine gun ripped his legs out from under him and he fell wounded into the mud and blood- thousands of miles from home.

Veterans Day couldn't have come at a better time.  While Americans are marching in the streets protesting the election process that defines our republic, while people are kneeling or sitting through our national anthem, while our country quivers and quakes in the throes of an enormous divide, Veterans Day provides a reminder of what it took to get here in the first place.

My father was a 19 year old rural American (we've heard about those rural Americans these last few days) when he volunteered to fight for his country.  By the time he was 21 he had two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and battle scars.  About the age of so many of the youngsters marching in the streets of cities, towns, and on the campuses of universities around this country.  They can thank him and every other combat soldier, men and women, for giving them that right to march.  They can thank him and all soldiers of the past for sacrificing part, or in some cases all, of their lives for the right to protest the very thing that defines us as a free nation.  They can thank everyone who has spent their time or their blood in our military securing the greatness of this nation we call the United States.

I don't have any astute prose to offer here.  Just facts.  Just a piece of history.  And an undying sense of pride for one man in particular, my father, for having the courage to defend all that we hold sacred.

And I can't help but feel a little disgusted at those who disrespect those sacred things.  But my father would forgive you and my Father forgives you, so I guess that it will just have to be alright for me.


Thank you, Dad.  And believe me, I'm trying to do right by you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Horizons

Horizons





I look out this morning to find a horizon drawn by God's straight-edge.  Put a level on it and the bubble would be right square in the middle...I'd bet on it.  Ocean horizons are defined and dependable.  They are predictable.  They are set and unchangeable.

No they're not.

It's estimated that a six foot tall person with his feet firmly planted in the sand will be able to see out to sea for three miles, and then the earth will rudely curve itself out of the picture.  Should he climb the lifeguard tower, the horizon moves out to around five miles.  From the patio of a Gulf front condo-say on the 10th floor-the ocean's horizon gets really gnarly, somewhere close to twelve miles out.

Where, pray tell, is this all going?  Well, we'll just keep poking at it and see what pops out.

Let's start with Robert Browning, a 19th century English poet, married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a bit of a fox if I may say so.  And it was from inspiration of that foxy lady, I suppose, that spawned the lines:  "Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be."  From another work, he gives us: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

As I sit here immersed in the white noise of the waves, fifty yards from the slow boil of the tide in the Gulf of Mexico, perched some forty feet above the beach, my horizon teases me from a distance of eight miles.  When, last evening, I stood at ocean's edge, I was limited to a panorama of three miles.  (And, by the way, if you wondered why you had to suffer through the scribblings of Pythagoras in high school geometry, you can't get to these numbers without his theorem.)

But let's keep going.  In order to gain that extra five miles to the brink of the horizon, I had to do work.  I had to experience some level of accomplishment.  And that accomplishment came at some sacrifice.  In the most basic sense, I had to drag luggage and food and every Apple device ever created up a couple of flights of stairs and stow all of it in the condo.  I distinctly remember sweating.  Profusely.  Shouldn't be a big deal but when Bobby Browning invited us to grow old with him, I'm not sure that he was doing a ton of step climbing.  At a secondary level, I had to work for many years and do the correct things around planning for the future so that one day I would be able to meet the financial obligations of a week on the Gulf coast.  Not exactly up to the standard of challenges faced by Warren Buffet, but something beyond a Christmas savings account at the local bank.  Regardless, let's be honest...we're still at the most basic level of meeting obligations and being even remotely diligent.

I could stair-step us right along at this point, but I think I'll just get to it.  Our horizon is nothing more than our reach.  And no matter who we are, we do have the ability to reach as far as we possibly can.  Sometimes we choose to reach...I mean really stretch it out there...and sometimes we simply decide to go for only that which is within arm's length.  It's our choice.  That simple.

So the question is:  is there really a discernible difference between seeing three miles of emerald green and agate blue versus eight miles?  I mean, the sea is the sea, isn't it?

Well, my answer is yes.  The sea is the sea.  And, yes.  There is a difference.  You can continue to climb after your legs buckle, you can choose to reach higher and longer, you can fight harder, and you can maintain a death grip on every foot...every inch...that you attain.  Because that extended horizon means a few more precious seconds of that delicious sunset - that melting ice cream sundae overflowing with cherry and strawberry sky and whipped cream clouds.  It's being able to see that magnificent ship steaming eastwardly six miles from shore, the ship that's not even a figment of your imagination when you limit yourself to three miles of horizon.  You have another zillion gallons of emerald sea for your eyes to relish before it meets that bank of clouds along God's razor-fine straight-edge.  It's the opportunity for another drop of satisfaction, another small bite of life...one more verse of your favorite song.

In the end, when you find yourself blessed to have lived a life that has recognized the value of conscious, dedicated effort, that is a gift in itself.  The bonus is that prolonged reach being rewarded by an extraordinary grasp that we pray we will find a way to be worthy of.

I watch two seagulls breakfasting in the foam of the ebbing tide.  The breeze has picked up, ruffling the feathers of a persnickety blue heron.  The casual dining partners skitter back and forth devouring random treats.   Their horizon, according to Pythagoras, is less than a mile.  Poor birds.  Much less then a mile.  But, after a while, when they take wing with full stomachs and wet, sticky feet, they climb the currents of the sea breeze with amazing ease.  Higher and higher they go, until they are two indistinct dots against the blazing blue sky.  And I think, my God...they have the power to create an endless horizon - no limits, no ending!  And I believe it is just that, my friends, that Robert Browning was referring to when he said that the best is yet to be.  And, yes, yes, yes.  That is what a heaven's for.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Word of the Day




                                                          Photo from Audubon.com


This morning,  the Word of the Day on my Dictionary.com app buzzed its way into my life.  Just a tiny vibration and an almost inaudible purr.  But a word that sent my muse scurrying in demanding that I compose a few words.

My, but this word is unforgivably coincidental, if I believed in coincidences,  seeing that I'm sitting on a screened porch, listening to small waves breaking, breathing salty air, and watching seagulls line up for seafood brunch on the unapologetic white sands of the Gulf of Mexico.

The word?  Albatross.  Al-ba-tross.  And though I'm not sure of the shared DNA between said albatrosses and said gulls, they look pretty similar to a landlocked bloke such as I.

But as you know, we don't really conjure up the bird when we think of albatross.  Unless we picture it hanging around our  straining necks.

Dictionary.com tells us that an albatross is a noun that is "a seemingly inescapable moral or emotional burden, as of guilt or responsibility" or "something burdensome that impedes action or progress."

You know, we're in a day where "no news is good news" rings pretty darn true.  We have seemingly unbridled global terrorism.  We have civilians shooting civilians, police shooting civilians, and civilians shooting police.  We have a partisan divide unequalled in my memory and this partisan divide appears to be driven by mutual disgust and distaste for the "other party" candidate.  We are divided on so many fronts that we're going to have to invent new fronts upon which to be divided.  We have what is, in my opinion, a rip in our societal seam that threatens the entire garment of the republic.  We have hate, fear, and anger wrapped in one great big ball.

We have, folks, around our collective necks, an albatross of pterodactyl proportions.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes in "The Ancient Mariner:"

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.


"Instead of the cross...".  Things that make you go, "Hmmmm."


I'm not ashamed of my fellow Americans.  That would be prideful.  It's the whole "he who is without sin" thing.  If I am ashamed of my fellow Americans, that would mean that I stand in judgment of them.  And God help us if someone of my ilk were to stand in judgement of anyone or anything.  I have no business even picking up a stone, much less casting it.

What am I?   What are my feelings?  What are my emotions?

Well, I suppose that there is an exact word I could use, but I'm not sure that I can find exactness here.  I'm alarmed.  I'm disappointed.  I'm concerned.  And I'm a little scared.  Wait, strike that.  I'm too old to be scared.  I think a better word might be "anxious."

I don't like posing issues and concerns without remedies.  But I have none.  In today's familiar parlance, that's above my pay grade.  In fact, I have to question whether there is a solution.  I suppose that all problems, simply by being problems, have solutions, so my hope is that there is a person or people out there who can put us right again.  I'm thinking that whatever the solution is, it's going to take time.  Lots of time.  A couple of generations maybe.

I think of the seemingly endless plight of the Israelites.  About as soon as they had things figured out and found their way back to God, something was already percolating to shove them back into the same predicament they had just gotten out of.  Such a cyclical thing.  And, who knows?  Maybe our current societal ills have occurred before - perhaps many times before - and I'm just not a studious enough historian to know that.

What I do know is that I will pray everyday for America.  I will pray that we will mend our rips, sew up old wounds, stabilize the foundation this country was built on, dispel negative rhetoric and angry words, and find a way to symbolically join hands in the spirit of unity.

I will pray that we will find a way to remove that gargantuan albatross necklace from our stiff necks and walk unimpeded, unprejudiced, and with pride.

In another coincidental non-coincident, yesterday's Word of the Day was cackleberry.  Not nearly as compelling and thought-provoking as albatross, but certainly an honored member of our lexicon.  And it begs the question:  what came first, the albatross or the cackleberry.

Come on.  Look it up if you need to.  I did.  And, you know,  just maybe you'll have something to smile about today.  And that, just maybe, might be the start of something good.  Something really good.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beware the Blob






The gang I ran with is on the seventy side of sixty.  Most of our dreams either came true, didn't quite make it, or split the difference.  And maybe the time is near to pull the plug on those that didn't.  While comfortably basking in those that did.  But age and dreams aside, I like to think about those freckled, sunburned, sweaty, jeans-clad years of my youth.   In fact, I have a friend that, every time we get together to chew on the past,  remarks how great it would be to have a do-over,  just one day, to relive a snapshot out of times gone by.  Just a day to go back and wallow in all that was, without a solitary thought of all that wasn't or would be.  One more visit to the old neighborhood and find ourselves astride bulky, single speed Schwin bikes, dodging the familiar cracks and faults in the sidewalks and maneuvering around the rare pedestrian.  Trudging one more time with bats and balls and gloves to the vacant lot that was the nexus of our neighborhood to deposit another pint or two of blood, sweat, and tears into the ragged soil of that hallowed ground.  Or gather in a gang after supper and choose sides for Kick the Can or Capture the Flag and dash between fireflies and clotheslines in the thick, watery air of a magical July evening.

It's okay to say that those were the "good old days" because they were our good old days.  Days when the 'hood was a town block, four quiet, small-town streets creating a perfect square of modest houses on tidy lawns.  Days when homes were slung open to drop-in company every morning and remained unlocked at night, screen doors slamming with the traffic of neighborhood living, and curtains dancing slowly to the breeze slipping through wide-open windows.  Days when all mothers were your mothers, all fathers were equally respected and feared, and friends were more like brothers and sisters than just...well...friends.

Days when calls to supper echoed across lawns and slipped through the shade of enormous elms and oaks and mulberries.  Days when dogs ran free and gobbled their meals at whichever house they had flopped down near at mealtime.  Days when bike crashes and errant rocks brought mothers bustling out of their houses and into the streets armed with towels, bandaids, and mercurochrome.  Days when mile wide front porches were oases from the heat of the summer,  a sweaty glass of ice water was a indescribable delight, and heaven was sipping a chocolate milkshake at the drugstore counter the day the latest Superman comic came out.

And in these current times, these difficult times of division, polarization, and raging battles of differing preferences and perspectives,  I can't help but recall the odd excitement of the presidential election years of my youth.  When the candidates were both good, solid, trustworthy folks and they talked about what needed to be done to make sure that our country did the things that showed respect and garnered respect nationally and internationally. Things that improved the lives of all Americans.  Things that manufactured hope for the future.  They kissed babies and shook hands, even with each other, and instilled a sense of safety, security, and prosperity even in us snotty nosed kids.  And when our parents and neighbors talked about their preferred candidate, they did it quietly and with respect.  Mock elections were held in school (I think Nixon held a slight edge over Kennedy) and I don't remember a single case of yelling or screaming or fighting or even a modicum of anger, regardless of who came out on top.  Election nights were stay-up-late nights, black and white television coverage with totals written and erased and rewritten on chalkboards, truly unbiased anchors reporting the results of each state with a mixture of excitement and solemnity.  And the next morning, the sun rose, bottles of milk and cream appeared on back porches like magic, folks headed to their jobs, and we had a new president.  And everyone went back to living and working and striving to be good neighbors and upright citizens.

So when my friend talks about getting a do-over, just one more trip back down memory lane,  I nod and agree and say, yes, what a great thing that would be.  And we sit there with our own thoughts and remember those days and those things that still bring us great joy.  And make us smile.

Times were simpler.  Weren't they?

You know, they say that "the good old days" are constantly changing.  That all the past eventually becomes "the good old days."  And I can't completely disagree with that.  Or, at least, I couldn't until recently.  Until the last several months when it seemed you could hear the fabric of this great country of ours sickeningly rip.  When it became painfully evident how polarized we have become as a society.  How anger and hate has bubbled its way into our lives like the Blob did in that movie of the late fifties.  Some of you remember The Blob.   It starred a wall of disgusting gook that grew larger every time it consumed someone or something.  It ate houses and farms.  It devoured everything in its reach.  At one point, it became such a huge mass of destructive gunk that it appeared it would eventually destroy the entire nation...maybe the entire world.   Thankfully for us wide-eye, popcorn-crunching and gum-popping adolescents, Steve McQueen discovered that cold stuff killed the Blob and a group of kids armed with fire extinguishers bravely faced it down and froze it. The Air Force flew it to the Arctic and dropped it in the middle of that icy wilderness.  The movie finished with a typical "The End," but, this time, it was followed by a question mark.  Leaving us all to wonder if maybe one day it might, Lord forbid,  return.

Is the Blob back?  And is it this universal accumulation of hate and rage that we see every time we turn on the television or boot up a social media site?  And is it consuming everything in its path and growing to gargantuan proportions?  Were these movie makers actually prophets?  And, if the Blob was a prophetic warning, can we stop it?

Maybe.

If we can, it will take more than a group of kids with fire extinguishers, but I do believe that the end to the Blob begins with the kids.  Well, actually it begins with us adults ceasing to act worse than kids that know no better and providing them with the appropriate role models.  It starts with us taking charge of our individual lives and not being influenced by negativity.  It starts with us saying "no more" to each and every faction that wishes to influence us in such a way that is derogatory to us as a peaceful society and a great nation founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It starts and ends with us refusing to be devoured.  Refusing to be sucked in by this ravenous monster that disguises itself as the "new norm."  And if we can do that, then maybe, just maybe, the current generation can overcome all the raging divisiveness that we are handing them and have a shot at  their "good old days."

And maybe that's what my and my friend's do-over is all about.  It's not about us being able to go back and live a day in that utopia we so fondly recall.  It's about doing what it takes for future generations to have their moments in the sun.  It's about giving them something equivalent to all the goodness of the days we were blessed with.  It's about giving them a chance.  It's about giving them something better than a frosty soda fountain milkshake and the latest edition of the Superman comic.

Hold on a minute, though.  That might be a little tough.  Because when I really think about it,  I'm pretty sure that there could never be anything better than that.

But we could certainly try.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Margie and the cows



Margie Gray loved animals.  I remember one of her brothers telling me a story many years ago about how when Margie was a little girl, for lack of anything else being available to adopt,  she would rummage and dig in the cool, mossy crevices of the spring above the family's cabin until she found a box turtle to make a pet of.  Not a lot of pet potential there I would think, but I suppose when you're a little girl in the middle of the country off Lee's Creek, you made do.

The photo at the beginning of this blog piece is my favorite of my mother.  Hands-down.  I don't know what touches me most:  her fashion magazine look against a backdrop of borderline poverty, the countenance of absolute rapture that emanates from the two pooches, or the other-worldly glow of my mother's face as she seems to divine the innocence and unconditional love from her pets, routing it up through her heart and out  her eyes.  Eyes that seem to have found something farther down the road.

No one has the perfect life but some fare better than others.  Margie Cashion was barely into her teens when her mother passed away after a long, tough illness.  The decade of the Great Depression colored her childhood in ways that I'll never know.  World War II found her moving to Louisville with her sister Hazel and finding employment at Bowman Field.  She met my dad on a blind date during a visit back home, fell in love with a recently discharged soldier, married and built a life.

Folks I knew always said that if there was reincarnation, they wanted to come back as one of Margie Gray's pets.

Fast-forward forty years and my mother found herself in the role of a farmer.  A cattle farmer of all things.  And there was the rub.  Being an unapologetic animal lover made life tougher than it had to be on a cattle farm.  It didn't help that she named each and every calf that was born.  Or that she bottle-fed all the calves that found themselves rejected by their mothers.  Or the innumerable nights that Margie Gray doctored and nurtured a sick cow or calf back to health.

Bonds are great until they must be severed.

So, you see, sale days were particularly tough.  Getting the calves loaded wasn't the problem.  When the truck and trailer arrived, she simply called up her babies.  I can still hear her voice:  "Come on, babies, let's go.  Come on babies."  And here they would come, crowding onto the trailer as calmly as if they were going on a field trip.

 No, the problem came when the trailer pulled away with a crunch of gravel and clouds of dust and rolled down the drive to begin the trip to the sale barn.  My mother grieved.  She grieved as deeply and as long as the cow mothers did.

My dad passed away in 2001 and my mother held on as long as she could.  But the time came that the herd had to go.  Geri and I came down from Nashville that morning, to lend moral and emotional support as much as anything else.  When the buyers arrived, the cattle were herded and loaded. It was a long, grueling process and my mother shed a tear for each animal as it was loaded on a trailer.  Unfortunately, it wasn't a clean sweep, and there were a handful that managed to slip away into the woods, and no matter how hard anyone tried, they couldn't be coaxed to load.

The next morning, the buyers arrived armed with more men...and horses...and ATVs.  And for twelve hours they tried to catch a half dozen head, four cows and two calves.  It was a loud and anguished day.  Lots of yelling, cursing, screaming.  ATVs tearing through the woods like giant hornets.  Men brandishing lariats on horses attempting to corner animals half as agile but twice as determined not to be cornered.  The whole sweaty crew left that evening with nothing but dusty clothes and sunburned necks to show for it.  Said they'd be back the next morning with more horses and more ATVs.

That evening, as the sun was setting behind the woods and filling the sky with a soft strawberry glow, my mother walked out to where the pasture met the woods and called. Her voice carried lightly on the breeze.

"Come on, babies, let's go.  Come on babies."

And, one by one, they ambled out of the woods and into the paddock she had readied with hay and water.  Once they were in, she closed the gate.

My mother always said the farm was never the same without cattle.  She said that they kept her company after Dad died.  And that it felt good to have something out there living and breathing on all those stretched-out acres.  She said she liked hearing them and being able to look out her windows or back door and see them.  They were really nice company, she claimed.

And I sometimes think maybe that was what that pretty, well-dressed young woman was seeing all those many years ago, in that rough scrabbly yard with the two pups pressed reverently against her.  I think maybe she was seeing her future and that her future would contain lots of creatures needing her.  Lots of innocent four-legged guys and gals needing a true and steady advocate.  Lots of creatures in search of a soothing voice, a kind touch, and a strong and loving heart.

If they were fortunate enough to cross paths with Margie Gray, they found all these things and more,  I believe.  And were happier and better for it.

As was I.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tossed in the Sixties

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This morning, southbound on I-65, my satellite radio was tuned to "The Sixties on Six" with Phlash Phelps, the sun was a brilliant yellow against a flawless blue sky, and the interstate miles were melting away like a Dairy Dip vanilla swirl cone on a muggy July afternoon.  And let me tell you something that I suspect you already know:  it's doggone hard to feel down when you've got the Sixties up and blasting from eight, nicely balanced Bose speakers.  You know what I'm talking about.

Humanity has been obsessed with time travel since the beginning of, well, time.    And who doesn't know that the best conduit for traveling through time is music, and I just happen to be irrevocably connected to the Sixties.  Call it my hamartia.  Call it my passion.  Call it living in the past.

Where else can you begin a decade with Chubby Checker's "The Twist," peaking at number one on the Billboard 100 on September 24, 1960 and listen while it fades into static with The Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Women," Billboard's top hit on August 23, 1969?  And, oh my goodness, think about all the chock-full-of-greatness in between.

It was a Remember When kind of morning.

Percy Faith's violin-y rendering of "The Theme From 'A Summer Place'" finds a skinny, freckled face kid lined up at the Lincoln Theatre waiting for a ticket to see a steamy movie, at least by 1960's standards.  Then emerging from the cool, dark theatre a couple of hours later, a little wiser but a lot more confused.  What did my innocence just witness?  Adultery and teenage sex?  Pregnancy out of wedlock?  Whew!  All that education and I have to return to the seventh grade at Robert E. Lee on Monday?  Couldn't get that boathouse  and Sandra Dee off my mind, though.  Sandra Dee.  Oh my.  Blonde, beautiful, and promiscuous.  Where do you go after Sandra Dee?

A year later, "Runaround Sue" (I wouldn't find out about those hussies for a few years yet) and the bompa-bebomp ding a dong dang of "Blue Moon" in 1962 found my inner adolescent and my outer teenager  duking it out for control of my mind and my body.  I don't remember the victor but I recall the casualties.  (And I thought my parents were the ones with a problem.)

The summer of '63 arrived and Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs (why don't we have names like that anymore?) introduced me to a crazy little shack beyond the tracks.  I'm not sure that I was suave and debonair enough to know about coffee houses and expresso, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't have minded meeting that barefooted gal in black leotards, given the chance.  Yeah, whoa baby, I gotta get back to the Sugar Shack.  And Sandra Dee?  Sorry, sweetie, go back to Troy. You're ancient history.

If you're still with me on this little time travel, and age appropriate, you might agree that the music of 1964 was a perfect match for the angst and uncertainty that stalks a high school freshman.  Let's face it, we've got the Beatles coming at us across the Atlantic like a fully armed destroyer, wanting, for some strange reason, to hold our hands.  Then you've got our homies, The Righteous Brothers, striking back with one of the world-class slow dance anthems, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," the Animals introducing us to a New Orleans brothel in "House of the Rising Sun," while the Drifters and the Four Tops are trying their best to keep us stateside and focused on basic colonist rock and roll, with "Under the Boardwalk" and "Baby I Need Your Loving."  Slowly losing ground to the Hermits, the Zombies, and the Kinks.  (I'm telling you, there's something in the names!)

That year and the following, 1965, were landmark years for a teenager battling raging pimples and rampant testosterone.  Out with Post Office and Spin the Bottle (Google it, Millenials!) and in with heavy petting and fogging up the windows on the pep bus.  Those were "first real girlfriend" years.  Well, maybe "first real girlfriends" years.  The invasion from England was going full force with a new mop-headed group almost every week.  It was tough dancing to "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am" and "Do You Believe in Magic," but we tried.  February, '65 finds me California bound in the back of a gold Cadillac thinking "I'll Never Find Another You" and "Save Your Heart for Me"  as my first "first real girlfriend"  fades in the rearview, not realizing that my second, third, and fourth "first real girlfriends" were waiting for me 2000 miles to the west.  Where The Beach Boys were already extolling the virtues (or lack thereof) of "California Girls."  Sandra who?

My senior year in southern California hurtled by like a goofy-footed surfer on a runaway wave and suddenly it's May, 1966 and graduation night at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  An up and coming group calling themselves The Association (sounds like a prequel to the CIA) previewed their first hit, "Cherish."  Then as the clock struck midnight and the dancing got slow enough  and close enough to make the chaperones loudly clear their throats,  Percy Sledge began to wail "When a Man Loves a Woman."  Whew!  Hey, is it possible to be seventeen and NOT in love?  Or at least in lust?

Back to Tennessee in the same gold Cadillac that spirited me away (after a surprise layover with a busted radiator hose in the Mojave Desert about sixty miles outside of Barstow), being serenaded by Neil Diamond, The Mommas and the Poppas, the Troggs, and Question Mark and the Mysterians (I ask again: why don't we have names like that anymore?)  Older, just slightly wiser, and ready for the next adventure.

For those of you still with me, I don't know about you, but for me,  '67 and '68 were blurs.  The Beatles hit their Magical Mystery Tour days.   Jefferson Airplane freaked us out with "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love."  The Doors lit our fires and Jimi Hendrix added a little purple to our already thick haze.  I surrendered to my hormones and became a newlywed, a fact that I'm certain still causes my first wife to have rapid eye blinks and night sweats.  Can't say I blame her. You can only get so much mileage out of "Dedicated to the One I Love."

1969 marked the end of the decade and the end of my prolonged childhood.  I'm pretty sure at age 20 I was past due some growing up, so Uncle Sam sent me a letter and took me to live with him a couple of years. Lots of people grew up at the end of the glorious Sixties.  The war in Vietnam raged on even as the Fifth Dimension were clamoring for peace to rule the planets and for everyone to "Let the Sunshine In."  The Beatles continued to hang in with "Get Back" and "Come Together" while, who would have thunk it, Elvis Presley gets up off the mat in the 15th round with "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto."  That year managed to mesh everything that had happened during the nine before it.  It was a hodgepodge of musical styles, a cornucopia of musical tastes:  the sexy rasp of Bob Dylan on "Lay, Lady, Lay," the nostalgic "Hurt So Bad" by the sweater-wearing  Lettermen, the sticky sweet bubble gummy "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies, the hippie ballad "Hair," and the futuristic, eclectic "In the Year 2525."  It was something for everyone, as if the decade was making a peace offering and leaving everyone a nice parting gift. Wrapped tightly and sealed by a groovy little happening on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.   Goodbye Sixties.  You did it up right.

But back to this morning...fifty years later...on the interstate...Sixties on Six...the miles melting, the memories flashing, fingers tapping, shoulders snapping.  Oh, did I dance in my car a little bit!  Yeah, baby.  I did!  Watch this.  A little Swim, a little Jerk, a little Boog-aloo. Dancing like nobody was watching.  Uh-huh...until I glanced over at the fast lane and saw someone was watching.  A trucker.  Watching and laughing.  Uncontrollably.  But, not to worry.  It's all good.

Like I said, for a Boomer, the best pick-me-up is solid dose of the coolest music this side of heaven.  You can keep your anti-depressants, postpone the therapy session, and open the flaps on the sweat lodge.  Instead, I'll take a dozen CCR, a couple of Tommy James and the Shondells, and a six-pack of The Temptations.  Then you can throw in a little Strawberry Alarm Clock and Vanilla Fudge for dessert, and I'm there, baby.

Yeah, baby... Strawberry Alarm Clock and Vanilla Fudge!  Now those were the days!

By the way, have I asked why we don't have names like that anymore?




Friday, April 29, 2016

Thorn bird

                     

                                                       

It was one of those textbook spring mornings.  Your winter-weary flesh initiates a love affair with the near-perfect temperature, the sun softly butters everything around you, and a southerly breeze licks your face and massages your feet.  I suppose it was a perfect morning for sitting on the back porch of the farmhouse, listening to the cardinals' chirps and a weaning, homesick calf crying for its momma; but it was also a perfect morning to get a little work done.

Armed with a sling blade (Karl would call it a Kaiser Blade), a weedeater, and some pruning shears, I headed off for a spot that was absolutely crawling with thorn trees.  All sizes - from infant to young adult.  All worthy opponents, even with my high tech gear.  You see, a thorn tree has a mind of its own, even as you are working to snip it or chop it, it's thinking of ways to get even.  Ways to hurt you.  Ways to maneuver its hateful spikes into your skin.  Gloves?  Forget about it.  Any thorn tree worth its salt will make short work of even the thickest gloves and sink a thorn into the most vulnerable fleshy part of your hand.

What, I wondered, was God thinking when he created this weird tree, this plant of absolutely no redeemable value?  Surely it was a busy day for Him and somehow this anomaly slipped by his otherwise impeccable creativity.  Because I figured that I could spend a day or two just simply trying to find some modicum of worth for this wretched excuse for vegetation, and I wouldn't be able to come up with a single thing.

Regardless,  I was winning the battle and had the field cleared with the exception of two plants.  One a bruising six or seven footer and the other about hip high, qualifying more as a bush than a tree.  I decided to make quick work of Shorty and then move on to Wilt.  As I bent over the small thorn tree with pruner open,  ready to snip it at its roots, I noticed something sitting near the top of the little tree, almost dead center.  I looked closely and saw that it was a bird's nest, perfect in shape and placement.   Meticulously woven shreds of grass had created a nicely rounded chamber for the future deposit of eggs.  I heard a flutter to the side and turned and saw the momma bird sitting along the fence, her beak loaded with a fresh batch of building materials.  She was a tiny sparrow, perfect in her own way, tail flitting back and forth and tiny, black, marble eyes peering at a gawky human hovering about her nearly finished home.

My initial thought was of our farm cats and how they would make short work of a nest full of naked baby birds and that maybe the best thing I could do for Momma Bird would be to destroy the thorn tree and the nest so she could start over in a safer place.  Wait a minute.  Thorn tree.  That's the ticket!  What could be a more perfect place for a low lying nest than dead center of a thorn tree.  I figured there wasn't a domestic cat born capable of  penetrating a thorn tree, regardless of the hapless havoc they could create with a nest of baby birds.

She was one sharp momma, that little sparrow.  Yessiree.  And God?  Well, I reckon His eye is on the sparrow.  As well as the thorn tree.  And I knew what I had always known, but, in a very human way, tended to forget.  God makes no junk.  And He certainly doesn't waste creativity.  Not a drop.

When I slipped away from her tree, Momma Sparrow flew over with her beakful of grass and starting weaving away.  Me?  I shouldered my shears and eased on over to Wilt.  Wasn't any nest in that big boy, and I had a job to finish.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sunny



 God moves in mysterious ways, it is said.  And God knows that I'm not a big fan of surprises, but that doesn't stop Him from messing with me from time to time.  God knows when I need a messing with.  A sharp elbow in the side.

Like today...

I was doing some cleaning up and cleaning out, and, believe me, that's a rare thing for me, when I ran across something that I wrote on August 3, 2010.  I know the date from the content, just as I know I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas when I wrote it because it was scribbled on stationery from the Inn at Carnall Hall, the hotel that sits at the University of Arkansas.  (Pig, Sooie, y'all.)

Here's what it said:

The text message read:  "Bobby Hebb died today in Nashville."  It was from my wife and it took me a minute to recall who Bobby Hebb was.  Then I remembered.  He was the "Sunny" writer and singer, the son of blind musicians and from my home state of Tennessee. What a song!  And I was instantly transported back to 1966, a 17 year old in the passenger seat of a 1959 gold Cadillac, squinting into the early morning southern California sun assaulting the windshield.  I know the skies are a blue that is ubiquitous to that part of the country just as the Pall Mall being balanced between an index finger and middle finger is ubiquitous to my dad's hand.  The right hand that sits atop the steering wheel, guiding us to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino.   Our jobs await, my dad's permanent and my temporary, filling the gap between high school and my first year of college.  KHJ out of Los Angeles was tuned on the radio.  Probably the Real Don Steele spinning the wax.

"Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.
Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain."

I spent three months that summer of '66 copying, over and over, a blueprint of something.  I don't remember what design I labored over, the job being less important than was having a purpose in one of the most difficult transitions of life.  That shaky suspension bridge between high school and real school.  My employers thought they were prepping a future engineer while in reality they were boring a future English Lit major.

But, in those uncertain, awkward times, Mr. Bobby Hebb made things a little easier, a little less trepidatious.  A little more copacetic. 

"The dark days are gone, and the bright days are here,
My Sunny one shines so sincere,
Sunny one so true, I love you."

There was war and rumors of war in Southeast Asia, and the British rock community had slipped in while Paul Revere slept.  It wasn't by land or by sea, actually.  They arrived by jetliner.  In droves.  In fact, old Paul gathered up a bunch of chaps and called them the Raiders and bolstered the invasion by one more Beatle wannabe band.

Maybe every 17 year old  boy believed in those days that everything was on the brink, but I was pretty certain we had reached what we would one day call the tipping point.

"Sunny, thank you for the truth you let me see,
Sunny, thank you for the facts from A to Z."

But, singlehandedly, Bobby Hebb wrote a prescription to treat the angst of hormonal disharmony, long before the pharmaceutical companies manufactured dozens of smart pills to combat stress and anxiety.  Because in "Sunny," we found the perfect woman, a combination of mother, lover, and friend.  In "Sunny," we found optimism of a color that blended perfectly with the yellow southern California sun, the icy blue of the southern California sky, and the kaleidoscope of teenage existence. 

We found hope.

"You're the spark of nature's fire, you're my sweet complete desire,
Sunny one so true, I love you."

Little did I know at the time that Sunny was written just hours following a surreal time for this nation as well as a double whammy of heartbreak for Bobby Hebb.  It was November 22, 1963.  A few hours after Lee Harvey Oswald snuffed the light of John F. Kennedy, someone stabbed Bobby Hebb's brother to death outside a nightclub in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was from the deepest of darkness that "Sunny" was born.

So thank you, Bobby Hebb.  Your desire to see a silver lining in your darkest days brought light hearts and smiles to a generation of young people preparing to enter the fray of adulthood.  Thank you for an anthem accompanying a generation marching into a different kind of war, a war euphemized to a conflict.  Thank you for a feel-good song in an act-bad world.

And most of all, thank you for the lesson that rain soaks us only as long as we are dumb enough to stand in it.  You truly did, Mr. Hebb, "ease the pain."  I hope and pray yours was eased as well.  Rest in peace, Bobby.

I needed to find that little scrap of writing today.  I was glad that I misplaced it over five years ago.  There have been many changes in my life during those five years, including another shaky suspension bridge, this one between professional life and retirement.  I also lost my mother and my brother.  And my wife and I are facing the dilemma of aging, ailing pets, all of them hitting the ten and twelve year mark at the same time.  It's overcast today with a still, cold pallor over everything.  Winter glowers with leafless trees, brown grass, and a chill in the air.

But guess what?  Twenty seconds to download "Sunny" and for three and a half minutes I'm back in the passenger seat of that gold Cadillac, the smoke from Dad's Pall Mall getting sucked out of his open window, to disappear like the ghost of troubles past in the rearview mirror.  His Old Spice tickles my nose as my sunburned hand reaches over to turn the radio up just a little more.  Bobby is thanking Sunny for "the gleam that shows its grace."

Dad smiles, and, when I lean back,  through the spotless windshield there's nothing but excitement and hope.  Blue skies diffused by bright yellow rays.  Check that out, young man, that's the future that sits down the road, just over that hill and around that curve.  That's your future.  And a future, then as now, that is best left to God.

My gleaming, gracious God of surprises. My God with the sharp elbows.