Saturday, December 28, 2013

Prayers and Premontions

In the 2000 my mother, Lois W. Cloyd, wrote a poem entitled “A Prayer for the Millennium”. The poem was published in a collection of poems entitled American at the Millennium: The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century. I had forgotten about the poem until I came across the book this evening. Given the events that have transpired since these words were penned the poem feels like more of an antithetical premonition than a prayer. It leaves an eerie feeling in my soul.

No more children with nowhere to sleep,
No more children with no one to weep
When they wander alone and cold on the street.
America at the Millennium.

No more children afraid to go to school
Because someone, somewhere, broke the rule
With guns, causing violence, innocent blood.
America at the Millennium.

No more churches with pious airs,
More and more churches with members who care
What happens to people in their everyday world.
America at the Millennium.

 More and more Christians showing God’s love
And telling the world that Jesus came from above
To forgive us our sins and fit us for Heaven.
America at the Millennium.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Report From Bethlehem

For the past several years I have written a Christmas poem. Following is this year's poem.

Emperor Augustus made a decree

No option was given to disagree

Each person must travel to their own town

To take the census ordered by the crown

The census occurred to figure the tax

Emotions were tense, no one could relax

Though family matters called for delay

Joseph made the decision to obey

They made the journey, Mary great with child

Up to Bethlehem, now busy and riled

Unable to acquire a resting place

A stable was located by God’s grace

In this environment, rude, cold, and cruel

A baby was born, a heavenly jewel

In that lonely barn smelling of manure

They fashioned a bed for this child so pure

In the atmosphere of Caesar’s command

The crowds failed to notice what God had planned

To accomplish a mission of high degree

God sent His son as heaven’s deportee

But to the shepherds on the hillsides near

A throng of singing angels did appear

Their voices could not hold back the story,

Of His majesty, purpose, and glory

This child would address man’s misbehavior

Through sacrifice, forgive, be our savior

Deliver us from sinful sways and strays

Bring peace to all who would follow His ways

The shepherds hurried to town with great glee

One so marvelous they wanted to see

Seeing, they reported all that they knew

Jesus is His name, He came to save you.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Real Santa Claus

Do you know who the real Santa Claus is? If you grew up in Georgetown, KY in the 1960’s and 1970’s you knew who the real Santa Claus was. It was Leland Perkins, more affectionately known as Old Perk. Every December he would put on his long white beard, don his read suit and hat and slip those bottomless boots over top his wingtips and venture out into the community wherever invited and play Santa. The costume was a disguise but his jolly attitude and genuine love for children were real. Old Perk put on those characteristics twelve months of the year. He was a good Santa but you just knew who he really was. It was common knowledge that the man behind the beard was Leland Perkins.

But you also need to understand that Old Perk loved to play a practical joke. Since everyone knew and expected that he was the real Santa he got the idea that it would be fun to dress someone else up in his Santa uniform. When the imposter Santa arrived Old Perk would be in the crowd enjoying the confusion of the audience. He pulled that trick at church one year. We were pretty sure the fake Santa was Billy Lamb. We could see for certain that the guy behind Santa with the toothy grin was Old Perk.

One year for the annual Georgetown Christmas Parade Mr. Perkins asked my Dad to play Santa. My Dad secured the costume. My mother and my siblings went on to the parade and I stayed behind and helped my Dad get tucked into the suit. Mr. Perkins had made arrangements for the city police to come to the house and transport the substitute Santa to his place in the parade. My Dad got in the front seat. The only place left for me was the back seat so I got in. I was a little troubled by wire cage that separated the front and back seats. I was even more concerned to discover that the door handles and window cranks had been removed from the back doors. The ride was short and I was released without charges. My Dad found his place in his sleigh and I positioned myself along the parade route. When the parade began the real Santa was strolling along the sidelines in his street clothes. My Dad was riding in the sleigh, waving, and throwing candy, and saying Ho, Ho, Ho. Afterwards he stationed himself at City Hall and listened to the kid’s wish lists. I think my Dad enjoyed the experience.

I have seen a lot of people dressed up in Santa Claus outfits throughout my years. The outfit is always red and the beard is always white and their wing tips always stick out the end of their boots. But every Santa Claus I have seen looks a little bit different. That is because they are not the real Santa Claus. The real Santa Claus, as I knew him, was Leland Perkins. Well, most of the time.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Turning Thanks"

On this Thanksgiving eve I am reflecting upon the anticipation and excitement I had for this holiday when growing up. We would get up early and make the two hour trip from our home in Georgetown, KY to my grandparent’s farm near London, KY. I always loved the activities of my grandfather’s farm. Upon our arrival we could find my grandmother busy at work in the kitchen. My grandmother was a wonderful cook. My favorite food she made on thanksgiving was cornbread dressing complete with onions and celery and spices and of course the giblets. For those of you who are unsophisticated, giblets are the edible inner organs of a foul typically including the heart, gizzard, liver and the neck. It’s the stuff you find wrapped up or bagged up and stuffed into the inner cavity of your thanksgiving bird. My grandmother always made the dressing into patties and then baked them and we would eat the leftover dressing patties all day as if they were candy. There was always fruit salad and for some reason my father received the task of cutting up the fruit. Usually we could find my grandfather at the tobacco barn where he would be stripping the cured tobacco leaves from the stalks in preparation for market. I would be there with him, helping, and enjoying the smell and the warmth of the fire in the potbellied stove. Since dinner was usually a little late on Thanksgiving we could get in a good half day of labor and work up a good appetite. Thanksgiving was one of the rare times my grandmother would get out her good table cloth and make use of her good silverware and china. It was one of the few times we had the privilege of sitting at the big table in the dinning room. My grandfather would take his place at the head of the table and we would each take the places assigned to us. My grandfather would then look at my father and say “Larry, turn thanks”. My father would pray and we would enjoy the feast.

This is the first thanksgiving in my 56 years that I will not be able to see or to make a phone call to my father. He will be at a different banquet table that I do not yet have access to. But when I sit down with my loved ones to enjoy our thanksgiving meal I am certain I will remember him when I “turn thanks”.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

I was six years old. I was in my first grade class room in the basement of the East Bernstadt School in East Bernstadt, KY. My teacher, Mrs. Wilma Griffith got our attention and told us the news. President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. I do not remember much about how the class responded. Nor am I able to get in touch with the thoughts I myself would have had. I just knew that a bad thing had happened. I knew that my folks had not voted for Mr. Kennedy, though I think at least my mother would have liked to. But we were Baptist and in 1960 voting for a Catholic was a gulf that many, maybe most, Baptist could not span. Knowing what I know about the electoral preference of our county the president certainly would not have won the majority among the folks I lived around. Yet even as a six year old I sensed that people liked the president. At least they were intrigued with him. There was something fascinating about a young president with a winning smile and impressive family. It was a beautiful picture. Though people did not understand his background or his faith they enjoyed the glamour that accompanied him. Now he was gone. In one day he was gone, just gone.

This was before the days of the 24 hour news cycle but it would not have mattered anyway. We did not have a television. We got our news from the radio and the telephone and who ever might drop by to talk with us. Everybody was talking about it. The news sank in.

School was dismissed the day of the president’s funeral. My mother out of her own curiosity and probably because she wanted her children to have the educational experience made arrangements for us to watch the funeral. Our pastor, Rev. E. P. Whitt had a television. Pastor Whitt and his wife Sylvia lived in a house trailer in the back yard of the New Salem Baptist Church. Mother piled all four of us in the car and took us to pastor Whitt’s home. There sitting on the floor in the living room of a house trailer parked in the back yard of the New Salem Baptist Church we watched the proceedings of President Kennedy’s funeral. Now isn’t that something. A group of Baptist huddled around a television on church property watching a Catholic president’s funeral. Maybe that great gulf between Baptists and Catholics could be spanned.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Experiencing a Tornado

Today I experienced a tornado. The air was warm and it grew still. I heard the warning siren. I watched the weather station reports. I tried to track the storm on my iphone. Indeed the storm was in the area. I put my shoes on and grabbed my wallet and keys. We considered going down the street to a neighbor who had a basement. But it seemed the skies were clearing around us. The dark sky had moved to the north of us. Then the wind picked up and I heard the roar. Hurriedly we got into the bathroom. The lights went out. The moment was scary but did not last long. When we emerged from our cover the skies were clear. But trees were down and the yard was filled with shingles and other debris. Neighbors soon filled the streets to inspect the damage. There were no bodily injuries to report, just frayed nerves. We all seemed to quickly realize that we had dodged the bullet, or rather that the bullet had dodged us. As best I can tell the tornado cut a path that followed the street in front of my house. It did not touch the earth but snapped the trees off about 12 to 15 foot above the ground. Everything that could be loosened was scattered by its breath. Every tree in the church yard and my yard was damaged and will need to be taken down. The fence around my yard is partially destroyed. The windshield on my truck is cracked and there is dent on the front fender. We had a moment of fear. We have been inconvenienced. But we are alive and we are well. The same cannot be said for other communities scattered across Illinois. Six people lost their lives due to tornados in Illinois today. Hundreds have suffered injuries, some have been seriously hurt. Whole neighborhoods have been wiped out. Many people had a house they called home this morning. This afternoon all they had was a pile of bricks. Their belongings and memorabilia are blown away or ruined beneath the heap. So tonight as a lay my head down to sleep I will say a prayer for my fellowmen who have been stricken by great loss this day. I will ask God to comfort and walk with them as they grieve and as they recover. And I will be quick to say a prayer of thanks that the folks in my house are safe and sound.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Big Daddy

When I was growing up going on a vacation meant we went to visit family. We did not call it vacation we just went visiting. Vacations are something you pay for and visiting meant you got free lodging and free food. Not that we were free loaders because the same family would come and visit us and be treated to the same amenities. A few times we traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to visit my uncle John and aunt Zuma and my cousins Rhonda, Richard, and Rozi. We were so excited when they moved to Shreveport, Louisiana because that meant we could travel to a part of the nation we had never seen before. So one summer we made our reservation. We loaded up the car and began the drive from Kentucky down to Memphis Tennessee crossing over the mighty Mississippi. We drove across Arkansas and marveled at the flooded rice fields. We drove south to Texarkana and crossed over into Texas just so we could say we had done it. From there we crossed into Louisiana and took note that for some odd reason what we called counties they called parishes. Finally we arrived at our destination where we enjoyed ourselves immensely sleeping on the floor, eating free food, touring Shreveport and just “visiting.” On Sunday we attended a Baptist church which gave uncle John and aunt Zuma opportunity to show off their visitors. It was Father’s day and as custom would have it the pastor recognized the youngest father present, the oldest father present and the father with the most descendants present. Then he announced that he was going to recognize the biggest father and asked all the dads over 200 pounds to stand up. Upon standing he asked them to come to the front where he proceeded to have each take a turn on the scales. My father was always a big man and he weighed in that morning at 237 pounds which made him the biggest daddy present that morning. My brothers and sisters and I thought that was the coolest thing ever and we dubbed our father “big daddy.” We could hardly wait to get home and tell this story. We told it to everyone in the family and to everyone in town and to everyone in church who would listen to us. At least I did. For years to come many of the people at our church affectionately called my father “big daddy.”

On September 5, just two months ago, my “big daddy” died. He was indeed a big man. He was big in stature growing larger than the 237 he registered on the scales in Shreveport many years ago. He required an oversized casket. But he was a “big daddy” in many other ways as well. He was big in integrity. You could trust him. He was big in generosity. Upon examining his checkbook register it was discovered that the last check he wrote was for a church building in Haiti. He was big in love. He was big in faith. He was big in hope. He was big in encouragement. He was big in helping others. It has been a long time since that trip to Shreveport. I think on vacations you are supposed to come home with a souvenir. But I came home with a “big daddy.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A place of Clean Hands

A week before I was four years old my baby brother was born. While my mother was at the hospital I went to stay with my grandmother and grandfather Cloyd. They ran a dairy farm which meant there was plenty of dirt to play in. But having a great belief in cleanliness my grandmother scrubbed me up real good before they took me home. Honestly, you have never been scrubbed until you have been scrubbed by Ada Cloyd with a bar of lava soap. Upon my return home I discovered that my Aunt Zuma, Uncle John and their three children Rhonda, Richard, and Rozi had also come to inspect this new baby that had arrived in our family. My cousin Rozi, who was about two years older than me, for some reason was sitting beside the bassinette where my newborn brother lay. I went over to inspect this bundle of joy that everyone seemed in awe of. I reached out my hand to touch my baby brother only to be greeted with a sharp rebuke from my cousin Rozi. In a loud protective voice she shouted “Get your dirty hands off that baby”! I obeyed. I am certain I did not say a word but I remember processing in my mind that she surely has no idea about the cleansing experience I had just endured not more than an hour earlier. I have never forgotten that moment. Surely it is one of my earliest memories. As for Rozi, I suspect I was in my late teens when we last saw each other. I am glad we were able to reconnect via facebook about two years ago. About two weeks ago Rozi became ill and could not eat and grew weak. When she went to the hospital it was discovered that she had two tumors on her liver that had metastasized from other parts of her body. Her demise was quick. Her kidneys failed and by the time her sister, brother, and father got to her side she was basically unable to communicate. Death came painfully but quickly. Her family is left to weep even as they are grateful for a merciful end. I am weeping and praying with them. I am sorry it had to be this way. But let me give a personal word to Rozi: Thanks for a beautiful memory that has lingered with me for 52 years. I am sure there was a crowd to greet you when you passed through the heavenly gate. But be cautious lest you are tempted to go on hygiene patrol. Be assured that all the residents of heaven have clean hands.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pill Organizers

I had a breakdown this morning. For years I have had trouble remembering to take my blood pressure medicine. Some days I have forgotten. Usually my body gives me a reminder of that about mid-day. I am certain there have been some days when I have taken my meds but thought I had not so I took them again. So three or four years ago I bought one of those pill organizers. Actually I must have bought a...n organizer twice because I found two this morning when I went to search for one. Yes, that is right; today I filled the compartments of the weekly pill organizer. I always thought this was for old people. While I am not yet ready to claim that mantle I do want to get old. Doing something that makes me feel older is a little frightening to me. However I have a growing fear of what could happen if I failed to properly take my medications. But please allow me the dignity of hedging a little bit. I began using the pill organizer not because I am getting older but because I am getting wiser.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Plus Members and Regular Members

My cell phone rings. I answer “hello”. Without identification the caller states “yes, I am a plus member and I just want to be a regular member”. I asked “sir, who am I speaking with”? My next question would have been “sir, what are you a plus member of that you wish to become a regular member of”? I was anxious to have had a little fun with the caller. But I suppose he recognized that he had the wrong number and without uttering another word ended the call.

I was left to wonder what organization he was a plus member of. I wondered why someone who was a plus member would want to become a regular member. Surely being a plus member entitled one to more benefits. Of course being a regular member probably cost less. Perhaps the caller had decided that the cost of plus membership was not effective. Maybe he simply could not afford it. Maybe he was not all that interested in the organization but still wanted to be a member.

Now I am a churchman. If my church had tiered membership I might have thought it was one of my church folks calling to tell me they wanted to downgrade their membership. But while we do not have tiered membership we do have plus members. Plus members voluntarily have a greater commitment and greater participation in the church. But that alone does not make them plus members. To really be a plus member you have to have a great love and commitment to the Lord Christ. I have been blessed with a lot of plus members over the years. They have made the work of the church successful. They have made my life a lot easier.

But sadly over the years I have seen some people who once were plus members decide to become regular members. Maybe we worked them to hard and they became tired and experienced burnout. Maybe they fell into sin and became ashamed. Maybe they just got to busy and lost some of their love for the Lord. For whatever reason they “became weary in well doing”(Gal. 6:9) and they released themselves from the responsibility of being a plus member. They began to watch more and do less. It is a lot easier to audit church than it is to do the work required.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

He Showed Me His Life

Last week when traveling to North Carolina I made a stop in Laurel County KY and visited with my Aunt Wilma. Together we took a drive and went to see my father’s first cousin Roy Links. Roy is 82 years old. With the exception of his time in the army during the Korean Conflict he has lived within 3 miles of where he was born. Throughout all these years he has made his living as a farmer raising tobacco and cattle. He stopped raising tobacco 20 years ago. But he still raises full-blooded Charolais cattle. He began developing this herd 50 years ago and at the age of 82 he is still proudly raising and marketing this breed. Roy’s health is failing. He suffers with Parkinson’s disease. He has good days and bad days. He gets tired easily and has to rest often. But with the assistance of his wife Imogene and a hired hand he keeps the farm operation going. When you visit with him the conversation revolves around farming. One gets the feeling that the farm is what keeps him going. Some folks, perhaps most folks, would have quit long ago. But quitting or retiring does not interest Roy. Farming is what he knows. It is what he wants to do. I understand those sentiments. I left the farm long ago but my heart wanders there often.

About an hour into our three hour visit Roy and I took a ride. We got in his pickup and he gave me a tour. When he was a young man he began buying farms when they became available. Over the years he has bought 5 or 6 small tracts of ground and has had rental arrangements on other parcels. He took me to all those places. He talked about when he got them and even how much he gave for some of them. He has built numerous barns and other buildings on these properties. Many of these structures have been built from timber cut from his land. He has taken advantage of soil conservation practices and has improved the fertility of the land. He has been a good farmer. He has taken pride in what he has done. Yet one cannot help but notice a tinge of sorrow that age and health now prohibit him from doing all he would like to do. As we are driving from place to place it occurs to me that in reality Roy is showing me his life. It has been a life of hard work. It has been an honest and productive life. It has been a life of accomplishment and satisfaction. It has been a simple life. But it has been a good life.

I am grateful for the time I spent with Roy. It was a worthwhile journey that revealed an interesting story. As I reflected upon our time together I sensed a longing in my heart. For in a different time with a different set of circumstances with different decisions my life might have told a similar story. One only goes through life once so I think I will forego regret. Instead I will treasure the memory of an afternoon when one man took the time to tell me and show me the story of his life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Interacting with Yesteryear

I visited with my mother Thursday. Actually it is probably not correct to say that we visited. She has Alzheimer’s and has not known me for over two years. But I was there. We were in each other’s presence. The last two times I saw her she lay in a semi-sleep and barely said a word. But today she talked constantly. Some of her words were intelligible. Sometimes she could string 6 or 7 words together in the right order. I sat by her side and listened to her for an hour and a half. I tried to decipher a little of what might be going on in her mind. It was as if a reel to reel recording was being played over and over inside of her. She is part of the recording and she is interacting with the characters and verbalizing her part of the recording. The recording is obviously worn and it skips a lot. And from what I can pick up she changes to different reels at times. I make a few feeble attempts to let her know I am there but I cannot release her from the recording that has become a reality within her. So I give up and just listen. From what I can tell the recording she is interacting with took place sometime in her early adulthood. Once I heard her refer to her two kids. If she just had two, one of them would have been me. Once I heard her cite an antiquated phone # 550-J. I am left to wonder whose phone # that might have been. Finally it is time for me to go. I tell her goodbye. I tell her I love her. I kiss her on the forehead. I leave saddened but thankful. I had not heard my mother groan or moan or scream. I had simply witnessed her interact with a reality of a yesteryear. She seemed content in that reality.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Story Snaps the Picture

One of the most wondrous benefits of a story is that hearing a story might bring from our mind and soul a story of our own. Yesterday I shared a story about the now disconnected phone numbers that had belonged to my parents. Hearing that story my Uncle George, my mother’s younger brother, remembered a story about my mother.

My mother at age 20 had just graduated from junior college and obtained a job as a one room country school teacher. She was still living at home and wanted to use part of her new income to help the family. So she had a phone line put in. It was the first phone the family ever had. George recalls that the phone # was 865-W. To make a call you simply picked up the receiver and a real live operator would make the desired connection for you. It seems that mother also bought new living room furniture for her mom that year and at Christmas time bought a present for every member of the family right down to the tiniest niece and nephew. That was not a small feat since my mother had 10 siblings most of whom would have been married with children by that time. Uncle George remembers helping my mother wrap the gifts at the kitchen table and recalls how proud she was of herself and how happy she was to be able to do that. That would have been perfectly in character for my mother but I had never heard the story before. I am so glad my uncle shared that story because it gave me a slice of my mother’s life I would not have had otherwise. It enabled me to see my mother through a different lens. I saw a picture of her as a young single 20 year old three years before I was born. I can see her smiling face amidst a mound of Christmas presents on the kitchen table. That is a beautiful picture. A camera could not catch that picture but the story did.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disconnected Phone Numbers

(502) 863-3615 was the phone number my parents were assigned when they moved to Georgetown, KY.  They lived in Georgetown for 42 years – from August 1964 through late October 2006. Their residence changed six times over that span of time but the phone number remained the same 502-863-3615. I had that number memorized. Still do. If someone asked for my phone number I could rattle it off 502-863-3615. I have dialed that number thousands of times. That’s the number I dialed growing up if I was going to be home later than usual. It is the number I dialed after each commute I made to college just to give mom peace of mind. It is the number I dialed when I announced that I was getting married. It is the number I dialed when I told my parents they were going to be grandparents (and again, and again). It is the number I dialed to announce the birth of those grandchildren and to tell my eager parents the names of those new grandchildren. It is the number my parents called me from often to ask “when are you coming home”? And it is the number the calls came from to tell me about some crisis for which I needed to come home. That number was disconnected in October of 2006 when my parents moved to Blacksburg, Virginia to be near my brother and his family. I loaded their possessions on a Ryder truck and as I drove away in the big yellow truck I remember thinking that I would never call that number again. Indeed an era had ended. Soon (502) 863-3615 would be assigned to someone else. I have been tempted a few times to dial that number just to see who would answer. Each time I have squelched the temptation.

Not long after moving to Blacksburg my parents became cell phone only customers. I never bothered to memorize their new number. I did not need to. I simply stored the number in my phone under the title Dadmom. Mom’s illness gradually eroded her ability to use a phone so it was always Dad who carried the phone and answered. Over the past seven years I have either called or received calls from that number probably on average of 3 times a week. Yet I had to check the contacts in my phone in order to actually know the number (540) 558-8150. I am not sure what would happen today if I were to dial that number. Perhaps I would get my Dad’s voice mail. More than likely I would get notification that the number had been disconnected or was no longer in service. Soon that number will be assigned to someone else. My Dad died 13 days ago. I sure am missing the phone calls. An era has ended. I guess it is time to delete that number from my contacts list. Maybe I will do that tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

An Old Family Seat

My Great-Great Grandfather George Cloyd owned the first horse drawn mowing machine in Laurel County, KY. I am not sure how long the useful life of the mowing machine lasted but I am in possession of the cast iron seat that came with it. My grandfather found the seat to be more comfortable than those on the other horse drawn implements he farmed with so he would exchange the seat from one piece of machinery to another. My Dad remembered using the seat himself as a young boy growing up. By the time I came along we had long since ceased using horse drawn equipment. But my Dad wanted the seat to keep as a family heirloom. I remember going with him to retrieve it. It was attached at the time to a horse drawn hay rake. We unfastened it and took it home. Dad painted it and mounted it on the deck at the back of the house. I acquired it about 15 years ago and a few years back I got Jeanette’s Uncle George to mount it in a suitable and usable fashion. I have sat in it a few times. And my children have taken their turns lounging in it as well. Frankly, it is not that comfortable. I am glad I never had to use that seat in the course of day’s work. In one sense its significance is ornamental. But I treasure it for its historical and sentimental value. It has been in the family for six generations. In that span of time there have been a lot of Cloyd bottoms in it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ice Water Baptism

My Dad received Christ as his savior in his 21st year on this earth. A short time before he and my mother were married he waded into a farm pond with a country preacher and farmer that everyone affectionately called Preacher Kirby. It was January. There was a thin skim of ice on the pond. That day in front of a crowd of witnesses and at least one camera he was baptized “buried in the likeness of Christ’s death and raised to walk in the newness of Christ’s life”. This week we buried my Dad’s body beneath yellow Kentucky clay. But absent from that body he was already living in the presence of Christ.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Preaching Shoes and Son Shoes

Today I preached my father’s funeral. I did it because he requested that I do so. But I did it at my own insistence. If the task had to be done then the task belonged to me. But in order to do this task I had to put on my preaching shoes. So I put on my preaching shoes and laced them up real tight. And for the past four days the responsibility of preaching my father’s funeral has consumed me. Today I delivered the thoughts that had been burning on my heart. I hope my words helped others. I found catharsis in the experience.

But now I have to take my preaching shoes off. I had them laced pretty tight. This afternoon I put on my son shoes. I drove around town and took a look at the various places we lived and the places we used to go. I drove back to the cemetery. I read my Dad’s name on the tombstone. I picked up a handful of the barren clay under which my father’s body is buried. I crumbled the clay in my hand until it soiled my fingers and palm. I am going to miss you Dad. I am going to miss you bad. Son shoes are a lot harder to wear than preaching shoes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Loss of a Great Friend

Yesterday I wrote in good humor about saying goodbye to my old friend Flip Phone. Today I am mourning the loss of a really great friend. My new phone rang this morning at 8:45 CT. My brother was calling and the news he bore broke my heart. He called to tell me that our dad, Larry Cloyd, had died this morning of an apparent heart attack. The news was not surprising. My dad was 79 and suffered with numerous illnesses. I usually spoke with him 2-3 times a week. We spoke for the last time this past Saturday morning. I was sitting in the Dairy Queen restaurant and “Flip Phone” rang. Like always dad said “tell me some news”. I did not have much news to tell him. We did not talk long. He seemed tired. Now he is gone. So today with fragile mind and voice I have been calling and texting and emailing my brothers and sisters. We are planning a celebration of my dad’s life. Why not? We have something to celebrate. We had a good dad who loved his family and provided for them. We grew up watching a man who worked hard and lived honestly. We got to observe a man of faith who lived his life with generosity and pursuing what was right. So on this coming Sunday afternoon Sept. 8 from 2:00 -5:00 PM we will gather at the Tucker-Yocum-Wilson Funeral Home in Georgetown, KY to receive friends and family and to laugh and talk and remember the life of my dad Larry Cloyd. The next day, Monday Sept. 9 at 10:00 AM we will gather at the Buck Run Baptist Church near Frankfort, KY for a funeral service. I will be speaking at that service. I will do that with honor and at my father’s request. There will be tears and there will be sadness but there will also be rejoicing not only in a life well lived but in the eternity that my father now enjoys. So if you knew my dad, come help us as we share memories and celebrate.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Outdated Friend

I said goodbye to an old friend today. For over three years this friend has been securely by my side, snuggled in the left pocket of my pants. Before this friend there were others like her, simple and dependable, yet able to connect me to friends, family, and even a few foes at a moments notice. All I had to do was get this friend out of my pocket, flip open her cover, press a few buttons, and miraculously I could talk to people who were far away as if they were standing right beside me. This friend never had a name, so I will just call her what she was. Flip phone. Her color was black but the years of riding against the cotton, and wool and polyester of my pant pockets and constantly being dinged by coins and keys and soiled with dirt and sweat had left her partially white or at least a dingy gray. She no longer held a charge very well, her contract was long ago up, and my continued association with her was causing others to think me ancient and out of touch. So today I traded her in. Yep, I got all of a $5.00 credit on my next bill. I embraced the future and left the Verizon store with a new I Phone. I am not to sure about my new friend just yet. I guess we will eventually get along ok but right now I am still trying to figure out how to flip her open so I can get to the key pad.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Harmony of the Locust

It was dusk. The clock said 7:35 PM. We thought we heard water running in the bathroom but it seemed a few minutes early for Brock to be in the shower. I went to inspect and discovered that shower was not on. I listened and determined that the noise was outside. With the windows closed and the air conditioner roaring I could hear the sound of a swarm of locust that had settled in the trees for the evening. In unity and in harmony they filled the air with their cadence. A locust is a small creature, about the size of the end of my thumb. But when they work together with one mind and one purpose they make a sound that not only fills the air outside but penetrates brick and mortar and wood and plaster and glass to make their presence known inside. Their sound is clear enough and distinct enough to be heard above other sounds and cause creatures far more intelligent than themselves to go searching for the source. Did I hear someone say our voice is too small and insignificant to be heard? Maybe we need to just find enough like minded people to stick together and speak together. If we speak loud enough and clear enough we will attract some curious listeners.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tomato Pie

It finally happened! My wife Jeanette and I have been married 30 years, 5 months, and 15 days. In all that time she has never made a pie. Oh, she has made plenty of cakes, cookies, brownies, candy, and sweet rolls. She has even been known to make a cobbler. But never has she made a pie. She says it is because she does not like pie. But she likes me, doesn’t she? Yes, I am sure that is true, but that like has never translated into a pie. Despite my request, my begging and pleading, cajoling, sad faces, and perhaps even attempts to shame her she has never made a pie. I have had to rely upon friends and neighbors and family members and the nice ladies from the various churches where I have been pastor to satisfy my craving for pie. I have had pies from some of the finest cooks on earth. I have received pies that not only satisfied the pallet but were pleasing to the eye. I have had sweet pies and tart pies. Hot pies and cold pies. I have been blessed with nut pies and cream pies and pies made from every fruit imaginable. But my sweetheart has never made me a pie. One would think that after the all the nice things I have done for her and all the wonderful things I have said about her she would bake me a pie. But it has not happened – until today. On the 30th year, 5th month, and 15th day of our marriage my beautiful wife surprised me with a pie. It was a tomato pie! I must say it was very good. I ate two pieces. It was the first tomato pie I have ever tasted or for that matter the first tomato pie I had ever seen. Jeanette has never lacked for creativity. Now understand this was not a desert pie. But it demonstrates love and effort and progress and it was good and it proves that she can do it. Oh yes, believe me it counts, it was a pie!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

George and Barbara

I was pleased and honored this morning that my Uncle George Williams and his wife Barbara were a part of our worship service at North Side Baptist Church. Afterwards my wife Jeanette and son Brock enjoyed visiting with them as we shared a meal together. We were their last stop on what had been a 10 week, 14,000 mile circuitous trip that took them north from London, KY, across Canada, into the Yukon Territory, into Alaska and back via the northwest and mid-western parts of our nation. Truth is, life has been a long and circuitous trip for George and Barbara. They met at a roller skating rink and have been rolling along together ever since. George was 20 and Barbara was 17 when they got married. That was 52 years ago. Not long after they were married George joined the Army. The Cuban crisis was happening and he was soon shipped off to Panama for two years. My memorabilia box still contains a Panama quarter he gave me upon his return. After Panama George went to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and sent to Vietnam. He had two one year tours in Vietnam and later a temporary assignment there as well. They also spent two years in Berlin and during that time they toured much of Western Europe in a tent. (That sounds a bit more rustic than the 40 ft. travel trailer they made the trip to Alaska in).  Somewhere in the midst of all these adventures they had their daughter Tammy. After ten years they decided they had had enough of Army life. They were living in northern Virginia at the time, Barbara had a job she liked and George began a career in sales. Then at the age of 40 he went back to school, received his Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and spent the next 21 years working the night shift as an ER nurse. Over the years they have together visited all 50 states. Upon retirement they moved back to their home town of London, KY. I would call that a long circuitous trip. I am so glad I got to share a small piece of their life journey with them today. George and Barbara, I do not know how long it has been since you have had on a pair of roller skates, but some how or another find a way to roll on.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Fancy Expensive Ride

I took a ride today in a $95,000 car. At least that is what a new one like it would cost. It was long and black. It had plush leather seats and power everything. The ride was smooth. The destination was not far away so the ride was short. Nevertheless I had a chauffer. I got to ride in the front. Over the past 30 years I have taken probably 300 rides in similar vehicles. Sometimes I have taken as many as 20 such rides a year. Most people only get to ride in this kind of car once and they have to ride in the back. But I have always got to ride up front and I have always had a chauffer. Are you impressed? Well, I am not. The fancy car I was riding in was a hearse. Our destination was the gravesite of the other passenger. It seems a little twisted that the fanciest and most expensive car most people will ever ride in is a ride they will not know anything about. I have concluded that fancy and expensive do not mean very much. What do you think?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Just for the Experience of It

There are some things one simply has to do for the experience of it. Tonight, my wife Jeanette, my son Brock, and I went to eat supper at the Hard Times Fish Market in Grayville, Illinois. We did it just for the quirky experience of it. The Hard Times Fish Market is an open air seasonal fish restaurant located on the banks on the Wabash River. The hours are limited to Thursday lunch from 10:00 until 1:00 and Friday supper from 4:00 until 8:00. The atmosphere is rustic. We sat in simple chairs. A 2” x 12” board that surrounded the cooking operation served as our table. The menu was simple. Three kinds of fish all caught from the Wabash River, locally grown fried green tomatoes and fried yellow squash, baked beans, slaw, hush puppies and for desert deep fried doughnuts. It is all the same price so eat all you want and drink all the tea and soda you like. The Hard Times Fish Market has been owned and operated by John and Sue Farmer for the last 21 years. John catches the fish from the Wabash River, Sue helps him clean them, and on Thursday’s and Friday’s John cooks and Sue oversees the service and takes your money. John and Sue appear content and seem to enjoy their lives. As Sue says “we are not going to get rich but we will make it through the territory”. If you tend to stress out about your cholesterol you probably will not enjoy it. But if you like fish then I recommend that you bring your appetite and your wallet and enjoy the experience.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Feeding Ducks (and Geese)

My autistic son Brock and I fed bread to the ducks at the park today. It is more fun feeding the ducks now that the geese are gone. For several months there was a small flock of Canadians who invaded the lake and then hatched and raised a batch of goslings. Geese are bullies. You could throw a piece of bread towards a duck and a goose would swim over and steal it. Even the sight of the goose with that long neck stretched out swimming toward the bread would cause a duck to turn and swim in a different direction. The geese would walk the bank and stick out their necks and hiss at everything in sight. They acted like they owned the place. But the ducks were there first. And the city of Fairfield holds title to the real estate. A few weeks ago we were throwing pieces of bread on the lake and trying to make sure that the ducks got their fair share. I noticed that three ducks had waddled up behind us on the shore. We were standing between them and the geese. I flipped a piece of bread over my shoulder and they quickly ate it unhindered by the geese. I continued giving pieces of bread to Brock and he would break the bread in pieces and feed the ducks. But he had noticed what I had done. Now he would break the bread and about every third piece throw over his shoulder to the ducks behind him. Survival of the fittest is the way of our world. But somehow we need to learn that just because one is bigger, meaner, more clever, has a longer neck, can hiss louder, and move quicker, does not mean they are entitled to everything. Sometimes the solution is as simple as being a barrier and creating a distribution plan.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Putting Away Childish Things

During the Sunday School hour this morning two eleven year old girls spoke to me about being baptized. I talked with them about their faith journey and what it meant to be a believer in Christ and the significance of baptism. I helped them understand our tradition of “coming forward” during the concluding hymn of the worship service so that together we could express their desire and allow the congregation to rejoice with them. They said they were going to do that and at the conclusion of the morning worship they walked forward together. A thirteen year old boy came as well and allowed us to rejoice with him in his decision to follow Christ. It was a good day at North Side Baptist Church. But as our worship service was unfolding today I observed a subtle action that demonstrated a great truth. I noted that the girls did not come to the front for the children’s sermon as they usually did. I smiled inside. I thought to myself, something has changed today. They have made a decision to follow Christ and that has served as a right of passage for them to sit at the back and observe the children’s sermon rather than be a part of it. They have grown up. I wish all believers could understand the Apostle Paul’s admonition that when we grow up it is time to put away childish things.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lessons from My Father's Wallet

A month before completing first grade I watched my father leave for work. He was dressed differently this morning. Usually he donned his starched khakis and went to his job grinding feed at the Southern States Farmers Cooperative. This morning he wore a business suit and was beginning a new career as an insurance agent for the American Life and Accident Company. This new job would require that we re-locate. When my first grade school year was over we distanced ourselves 100 miles from family and friends and all that was familiar and began an adventure in a new place.
My father began his career in the insurance business as “debit” insurance agent. This meant that he went to the homes and businesses of his policyholders and collected the premiums on a monthly and even weekly basis. His clients were ordinary people whose resources were precious to them. His travels would take him back a dirt lane to the home of a sharecropper or down the manicured lane of a horse farm to visit the home of a day laborer. His route would take him to simple homes and apartments and to shacks in the poorer sections of town. He might call on some folks at a garage or a restaurant where they worked. His hours were often long and late. Many times my mother would warm his supper up after my siblings and I had already gone to bed. Sometimes I would get out of bed and was allowed to sit down at the table with him for a few minutes.
My father always carried two wallets; his own, and a larger one in which he secured company funds. A debit insurance agent will handle a few checks and a lot of cash in small denomination bills. Not long after he began this occupation my father contracted Billy Lamb to custom make a wallet for this purpose.  Billy had a large family of six children. To support them he worked as a maintenance man. He also owned and operated a shoe repair shop on South Broadway. In the after hours until 9:00 every night you could find him in the shoe shop. My Dad told Billy what he needed and Billy cut out the leather and sewed it together to my Dad’s specifications. It was a simple long double fold wallet with a compartment for checks and a compartment for bills and a little pocket to put business cards in. My Dad carried that wallet in his business until the wallet became so worn it could no longer be used.
A few years ago my Dad and mother were downsizing and preparing to move to Virginia. My wife was helping them sort and pack.  Dad pulled the old wallet out of a drawer and told her the story behind it and then proceeded to throw it away. With vehemence my wife stopped him, retrieved the wallet, and it is in our possession today as a precious piece of memorabilia. I treasure this worn out wallet because it tells my father’s story. It is a voice that speaks of his character and highlights his values.
The wallet is made of genuine cowhide. Even the stitching is leather. It occurs to me that my father is a genuine man. He never put on any airs. He never tries to be someone that he isn’t. He is comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. He is just Larry Cloyd. He was blessed with a lot of raw intelligence, a massive amount of common sense, and was street smart to the world around him. He used those skills in a simple and genuine way to ply his trade and to care for those entrusted to him.
This wallet also reminds me that my father is a man of integrity. If you are a debit insurance agent handling other people’s money it is important that you can be trusted. First, your policyholders have to trust you. They need to believe that you are honest and not twisting the truth concerning the coverage of their insurance policy. The amount of security contracted in the policy might be limited and the premiums might be small but it is significant to them. When you collect their premiums they trust you as their agent to make sure they are properly recorded. Moreover the insurance company trust you to account for the money in an honest fashion. My father began as an insurance agent in 1964. He would come home sometimes with $1,000 maybe $1,100 in that wallet. That may seem miniscule today but in the 1960’s that was a chunk of change. At night my father would lay the wallet on the dresser in his and mother’s bedroom. Otherwise it was in his hip pocket. Either way it was guarded with integrity.
My father’s wallet symbolizes the seriousness with which he approached his responsibilities. I am quite certain that in his wildest dreams my father never envisioned himself being an insurance agent, much less spending thirty-seven years in the business. Perhaps he would have found his current job or a similar one more enjoyable. I am sure it took courage to make such a radical change in employment. His new profession was not one of choice but one of necessity. He had a wife and four young children whose needs were growing and whom he had great hopes for. To provide for these needs and enable these hopes required that he accept the challenge and pursue a new opportunity. He had his doubters and surely there were doubts that arose in his own soul. But commitment to his responsibilities drove him to succeed.  
My father’s old worn out wallet is a testimony of stewardship. As an insurance agent my father worked on commissions. Thus in a very real sense our livelihood flowed through this wallet. My father and mother made a decent living. Our needs were met. We never went without. We had all that was necessary and a few extras besides. They made sure we experienced the things that would broaden our lives. They assisted each of us in acquiring an education. When it came time to retire they had enough and were able to enjoy a comfortable retirement. They never were rich, but then that never was their goal. I am sure my father could reflect upon several times in his life that he could have made better financial decisions. I am also quite certain that there is one financial decision that he has never regretted. My father was a churchman. As a young man, when he was still donning his starched khakis and going to his job grinding and hauling feed, he made a decision to tithe his income to his church. No matter how tough times were or how tight matters were my mother and father always gave 10% of their income to the Lord’s work through their church. That practice is not just of benefit to the church but it is of benefit to the giver. In doing this the giver comes to understand that the real owner of everything is God and that we are simply caretakers of what God has given us. My father knew the importance of money. He knew what money could do for you. He knew how the lack of it could harm you. But my father was not a servant to his money. Rather he had learned how to make money his servant.
I do not think I ever really understood my father until I got to see him up close in his business. After graduating from high school I got my insurance license and worked with him for a period of time. I took note of the jovial interaction he had with people. People liked my Dad. I watched as he exhibited genuine respect for people and treated them with dignity regardless of their status in life. I listened as he carefully asked questions and how with precise annunciation he explained the benefits and details of their insurance contract. I observed a man of integrity. I am so glad my wife retrieved that old worn out wallet because every time I see it I am reminded of a life well lived.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Brock at Twenty-Eight

On this date twenty-eight years ago I went to bed early. My wife Jeanette had told me that she felt certain that before the night was over we would be making a trip to Springfield, IL for the delivery of our second child. So I slept as the signs of her labor began to develop. She awoke me about midnight. After entrusting Jeremy, our oldest child, into the care of Olyta Hazelwood we made the trip to Memorial Medical Center. There at 6:06 A.M., May 20, our second child, Brock, was born. I had no idea how much his birth would shape my life. Or perhaps I should say I had no idea how much his life would shape my life.

Brock is autistic. He is a man today. In fact he is a big man. He is Six feet tall, weights over 200 pounds, has a big appetite, and a big personality. He lives with us and is under our watch care. Caring for Brock has changed the scope of my life. In one sense it has placed some limits on life. There are some things I cannot do and some things I must do differently because of him. But those limits have added other dimensions to my life. I view the world through different prisms because of Brock. Brock has not narrowed my world but he has broadened my world. Brock enables me at times to see life from his perspective. When that happens I see a much simpler world that is free from hatred and prejudice and struggles for power. Maybe that is why Brock always seems happy.

God in His sovereignty entrusted Brock to Jeanette and I. We have learned to rejoice in the gift God has entrusted us with. We love Brock and he returns that love to us in many ways. Each day Brock teaches us how to find satisfaction in the simple things of life. Brock delights in going to church.  He enjoys singing and at times sings boisterously. Tonight, in our evening worship service Brock and Jeanette were sitting on the second row. Instead of sitting on the platform I was sitting on the front row directly in front of Brock. We were singing and Brock was singing right into my ear. I closed my eyes and just listened as Brock sang the repetitive praise song: “God is so good…He cares for me…I love Him so…I praise His name…He’s so good to me”. Yes indeed – twenty-eight years ago God sure was good to me.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

To Brent - with Love, Mother

When I graduated from high school my mother presented me with a poem she had written about me and for me. It is a long poem composed of fifteen 4 line rhyming verses honed in perfect meter. It is a poetic synopsis written from my mother’s perspective of the first eighteen years of my life. It notes, sometimes with interpretive detail, the important events and passages of my life from the time I was born until I graduated from high school. I am sure my mother labored hard writing the poem, giving careful thought to what she wanted to say and was precise with the wording. I am equally sure it was a labor of love.

Upon completion of the poem she enlisted someone who had abilities in calligraphy to copy the poem on fine parchment and then had it encased in a nice frame and presented it to me as a gift. This kind of gift was typical of my mother. I received it with politeness and with words of thanks. But I am sure I probably thought it was a little silly and I did not show it off to many people. Over the years however I have displayed the poem in a place of prominence in my office and ever now and then I would read it. I read it again this week which is probably the first time I have read it in five or six years. I noted that the ink on the parchment is becoming faded and told myself that I needed to preserve the poem in some other format so the legacy of my mother’s thoughts would not be lost.

I preached this morning from Psalm 121 which speaks of the watch care of the Lord in our lives. It says the Lord preserves our going out and our coming in from this time forth and even for evermore. The psalm reminded me of my mother’s poem. For 18 years she had watched my going out and my coming in and she had recorded the events with remarkable accuracy. The last verse of her poem was an admonition to walk with God – to allow God to oversee my going out and my coming in. So in my sermon I showed the congregation the framed copy of my mother’s poem, told the story behind it, noted its purpose and challenge. But I did not read the poem. But some of my congregants requested that I read it tonight and so I did.

I am glad I have the poem. I appreciate the time and effort and love my mother put into it. But honestly that poem has never been especially important to me. But today the poem took on new significance. Today it became a more relevant part of my heritage. For today as I read it I could hear my mother’s voice. I could sense her love and pride and presence as if she were giving it to me all over again. I was reminded once again of who I am and where I came from. I was reminded of whose I am and the journey that I am on.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Because I am Thirsty

My adult autistic son Brock frequently struggles with sinus congestion. When he does we go to the drug store and buy a twin pack of Dayquil and Nyquil. He will take a shot of the Dayquil “orange medicine” in the morning and a shot of the Nyquil “green medicine” at night until the bottles are empty which usually corrects the problem. This week he acquired a worse than usual congestion problem and our usual remedy was not working very well. We went to the doctor who prescribed another medication and said it was ok to continue our “orange” and “green” medicine routine but as condition got better we could stop. Last night as he prepared for bed he said “take the green medicine”. I thought he was a little better so I questioned whether it was necessary or not. I asked him if he thought he needed the green medicine. As I expected he said yes. So I asked “Brock, how come you need it”? He responded “Because I am thirsty”.

Now I am wondering: How many things do we thirst for that we really do not need? How many things do we thirst for out of habit and routine? How many things do we thirst for that really do nothing to quench our thirst?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More Cemetery Reflections

When walking in the cemetery yesterday I read names like Wikonburger, Koukola, Behymer, Briswalter, Tromly, and Fornof on the tombstones. I am not sure I have ever known anyone with any of those names. I am a little curious about the etymology behind those names and the nationalities and genealogies associated with them. I am sure there are answers to my curiosities but I keep on walking at my sam...e pace. I have to keep my heart rate up and burn off those calories. Besides these stones are not going to talk. I keep moving along my designated path. I take note of an automobile that drives into the cemetery and parks. An elderly man gets out and makes his way across the grass among the stones to a gravesite. The gravesite is fairly recent. No grass is growing on this grave though it appears to have been freshly leveled and raked and perhaps sown with grass seed. I cannot help but wonder what his relationship is to the loved one lying beneath the earth. I would like to know. But this is his moment, his time, he does not need my interference. So I keep walking. I notice however that the man does not stay long. Perhaps there is not much to stay for. Or perhaps there is much to stay for but he cannot bear staying. Perhaps he wants to stay longer but reasons there is no purpose in staying. The man leaves and I keep walking.

It occurs to me that though cemeteries spark a lot of curiosity they also enable us to be oblivious. Here I am among acres of tombstones and each stone has a multiplicity of stories attached to it. Yet none of these stories demand to be told. In silence they allow us to walk by oblivious. Maybe that is not such a bad thing in a cemetery. But we do the same thing every day as we walk among the living. Keeping up our pace we move on oblivious to people and their stories. Maybe sometimes curious thoughts cross our minds but we are either unconcerned or to busy or to afraid to inquire so we keep walking. When that happens we miss opportunities to help and to be helped, to bless and to be blessed. Walking makes for a healthier lifestyle. But if we really want to live we need to stop and listen to the stories scattered along the way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1003 Boxes of Girl Scout Cookies

While driving down Main Street today I saw two girls standing in the cold and snow flurries dressed up as cookies. One was a Thin Mint and the other was a Samoa. I am a sucker for this scene. Not because I cannot live without the cookies. But because I appreciate the work of the Girl Scouts, like to support their work, and contribute to their entrepreneurial education. The look of satisfaction on the face of a Girl Scout when she makes a sale is worth the $4 price of the cookies. So today I drove around the block, stopped, chatted with the Girl Scouts, and bought 4 boxes.  

I have a soft spot for the Girl Scouts because of my experience with my daughter when she was a Girl Scout. She was the cookie seller and I was her sales manager. Honestly, I think I enjoyed the experience more than she did. I like selling things and I was determined I was going to make a salesperson out of her. I also had a rule that I was not going to sale them for her but that she had to make the contacts and take the orders. So on the first day of cookie sales we would hit the streets together and with my encouragement she would ring the door bell and when people came to the door she would ask “would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies”?  Some would buy and she would be happy. Some would say no and sometimes she would get multiple “no’s” in a row and would get a little discouraged. I tried to help her understand that often in life the answer was no and that a negative answer just gives you the opportunity to move on to the next door. We learned to take orders in places of business and that the orders were often larger there. She took her order sheet to church and found lots of friendly buyers there. We learned that repeat business was best and having secured phone numbers from the previous year’s sales sheet she was able to take a lot of orders by phone. Over the years she took special interest in some of her customers. Like the widower who lived a few blocks from us, had a house full of cats and always had to show her the weaving work he was doing with rugs. He would buy several boxes but the sale was never quick. You had to give him 15-20 minutes of your life. But he needed that and we were enriched by the experience. We thought she had sold a lot of cookies one year when she sold 737 boxes. But the next year she sold 1003 boxes. To put this in perspective, if you take the back two rows of seats out of a mini-van and fill it with 1003 boxes of cookies you have just enough room for the driver and the Girl Scout. Of course then you have to deliver all those cookies and collect the money. But when it was over she had helped her troop earn some money and she earned for herself some “cookie dough” to pay a large part of her way to summer Girl Scout Camp. Perhaps my daughter would say I was a tough sales manager. But for me it was a treasured experience that I got to share with her. And if I see Girl Scouts selling cookies I am going to buy some.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reflections From a Cemetery Walk

I am reflecting this morning on yesterday’s walk in the cemetery. I took note of three mounds of fresh dirt (or I should soil. The agronomist in me will not allow me to call it dirt). Each mound represents a life spent. Mixed in with the mounds of soil are mounds of grief. The mounds of grief will linger. But the mounds of soil will not last long. The rains will come, the soil will settle, and the caretaker will come with his rake and level the ground. Grass will grow. I am hoping that everyone associated with the persons buried beneath the mounds of soil are at peace with that person’s passing. I am reminded of an old song written by grandfather Morgan Williams:

If you have any flowers on my grave to bestow
I would gladly receive them today
you may scatter them now while I can cherish them so
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

If you have any words that would comfort and cheer
any words that would brighten my way
you may speak them today while I am anxious to hear
do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

If you have any smiles that you freely would give
As an emblem of love's brightest ray
You should give them today while I am tarrying here
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

CHORUS: Do not wait 'til I'm under the clay
Let your blessings be given today
Let your kindness be shown ere my spirit has flown
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

Friday, March 8, 2013

You are Rich Grandma

Not long after my grandfather Williams died my grandmother moved into a small house in Pittsburg, KY. Though she had moved often in her life and the distance was short I suspect the move was a bit traumatic. It was the first time in all her life that she would live alone. She had gotten married when she was seventeen and had raised eleven children. She was accustomed to a full house, but now everyone was gone. But in moving to the little house in Pittsburg she would not be quite alone for the little house was owned by my Uncle Harve. Only a narrow driveway separated the place my grandmother lived from the larger two story house where Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie lived. They had operated a store from the building my grandmother lived and upon retirement transformed it into a dwelling.

The house did not have indoor plumbing. Grandma got her water from a well out back. We drew it up with a rope and a bucket. She kept a bucket of drinking water sitting in the kitchen. We drank from a dipper and we all used the same dipper. It was such fun. When we needed to use the toilet we went outside to the little white privy that Grandma shared with Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie. Grandma had a garden on the other side of the house. She was an avid gardener but this little piece of land did not yield much for her toil. There was too much shade and the soil had a lot of cinders and slate mixed in it. Few means would have been taken to amend the soil structure or fertility. It was just her, a spade and a hoe, and the seed she had saved from the year before.

I would have been between the ages of 5 and 10 when I would go there and spend the day or night. When visiting there I would bounce back and forth between Grandma’s house and Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie’s. It was only about six “boy steps” from one back door step to the next. Between those door steps I discovered the beauty of my elders. I was full of questions. They would listen. They would take time to answer. I absorbed the answers and marveled at their stories about things and days gone by. It was just them and me. I felt special. I had the opportunity to watch common ordinary folks with meager resources enjoy the simple miniscule things of life.

Both houses sat back no more than 10 feet from the road. Perhaps it was another 100 feet to the tracks of the L & N Railroad. We would sit on the front porch and listen for the trains. Uncle Harve was blind. When the train would come by he would ask me to count the railcars. They were often long trains with well over 100 cars. Each train had a caboose in those days and usually there would be a man riding in the caboose. If you waved at him he would wave back. Till this day if I am stopped at a railroad crossing I will start counting railcars. But there is never a caboose. Uncle Harve would peel the potatoes. I marveled at this blind man’s skill with a paring knife. Sometimes he would sing while doing it. I learned a valuable lesson in those visits that I have to remind myself of quite often. One does not have to have much in life to be happy but you do have to learn to enjoy what you have.

Once when I was staying with Grandma we had to go to town. She had received her check. She called a cab and we went to London. We went to the bank where she cashed her check. I remember the amount. It was $82.00. I looked at her and said “Grandma, you are rich”! I think she smiled. We went to a couple of stores up town, and then we went to the grocery store. The cab came and took us back to Pittsburg. She paid the cabdriver. She would have paid Uncle Harve the rent and I suppose she had an electric bill. I think even then I came to understand that my Grandma was not rich. But I sure am rich for the experience.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Catch a Hold of It" - A Tribute to Everett Walters

The journey of my life has not led me to places or people of prominence. I have not found inclusion in the circles of those who possess great power and influence. I have not had the opportunity to sit among many of the rich and famous. Life has however taken me to some interesting places, allowed me to do a wide variety of things, and to come in contact with some wonderful ordinary people. These ordinary people would make no claim to greatness. Yet many of them have been genuine heroes to me and helped to shape me into the person I am.

One such person was a man named Everett Walters. I met Everett when I was seven years old. My family had just moved from southeastern KY to the “bluegrass” area of the state. We quickly became active participants in the Gano Avenue Baptist Church, the same place where Everett and his family attended. The people at Gano were common, ordinary, salt of the earth kind of folks like us. Some were debit insurance agents like my dad. Some worked in the various local industries or for a government agency. A few were teachers or owned a small business. Everett was a farmer.
Everett only went to school through the 8th grade. But he was an intelligent man. He was a fast learner able to grasp situations and ideas quickly. He was well read.  He had been converted to Christ in mid-life and immediately began to study the Bible and biblical doctrine and was quite knowledgeable in those matters.

Everett was a hard worker with the strength and ability to work fast and skillfully. Yet, unlike many people with a strong work ethic he knew how to rest from work and could leave his labors behind him when it was time for play. He had a tremendous love for his family. He was loyal to his church. He was honest in business. His simple intention in life was to do what was right.

Probably ten years before I knew Everett his sister was tragically killed. She left behind eleven children the youngest being a baby. Amidst the grief and the anger of the moment Everett and his siblings had to determine how to best care for those children. Everett and his wife Marjorie already had three children but at the death of his sister they took in three more and raised them alongside their own. Those children grew up together which meant they all started getting married around the same time. Somehow Everett and Marjorie bore the expense and toil of four weddings from one June to the next!

When I got older I worked for Everett. First on the farm and later in a roofing business he started after he “retired” from farming. I worked for Everett two full summers as a roofer. Those were different times but in each of those two summers I made and saved enough money in a summers work to pay all the expenses for the next two full semesters of college. Often during those summers Everett would want something moved and he would look at me and say “catch a hold of it”. Many times I would look at what he wanted moved and think that it was to bulky and to heavy for just the two of us to move but we would “catch a hold of it” and somehow move it. I have never been all that stout but in working with Everett I discovered that sometimes a grunt and will power can make up for ones lack of strength.

It is funny how some phrases will stick with you. After all these years I can still hear Everett saying “catch a hold of it”. It occurs to me that that is how he lived his life. He faced some large tasks. He had to handle to some difficult situations. He had some heavy responsibilities. Sometimes what was in front of him looked like it was too big to move. But with strength and mental determination and God’s help he would “catch a hold of it” and move it.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Rare and Precious Gift

In each of our lives there are some rare and precious gifts. If we are not careful we will overlook these gifts and fail to appreciate them. These rare gifts are often a person. One of the rare gifts in my life was a man named Kurt Elam. Kurt was my mother’s first cousin. He was the son of Aunt Sarah Elam, who was a sister to my maternal grandfather Morgan Williams. Aunt Sarah’s husband George had been killed while working on the railroad a few years before I was born. They had raised a large family all of whom were grown or nearly grown by the time I knew them. Kurt was one of the older children. He never married and except for a few months in 1953 when Aunt Sarah was living in Covington KY he lived all of his life with Aunt Sarah. At the time I knew him it was mostly just he and Aunt Sarah living together and taking care of one another.

The polite words used in our culture to describe Kurt would have been “simple” or “a little slow”. Some might have said he was socially awkward. He could not read nor write. I am told however, that when it came to reasoning he was a logical thinker and could solve ordinary everyday problems that might arise. Kurt never had steady employment but he kept himself busy doing odd jobs, particularly helping local truckers load and unload their cargo for which he received some small pay. He learned to cope with his challenges and society allowed him to function. He was a member of the New Salem Baptist Church near London, KY and he attended church every time the doors were open. He was always neatly groomed. He was courteous. He was quite. When he did speak it was often a question or a concern about the well being or activity of others.

The New Salem Baptist Church was heated by a coal furnace that was located in the basement. Kurt had the task of firing the furnace and keeping the church warm and comfortable. He took this task seriously and would get up early, walk the mile or so from his house, down Baxtertown Road and across the tracks to the church. No matter how early you got to church Kurt was already there and had the fire going. It was in the process of his carrying out these duties that I had an altercation with Kurt one Sunday morning that caused a different side of him to erupt that I had never seen before. I was probably 6 maybe 7 years old. We got to church early one winter morning and I began to explore the premises. I found myself in the furnace room. The coal furnace had a big lever on the side that you would move back and forth to shake out the ashes. I knew all about this lever and I grabbed hold of it and began to move it back and forth. There were two problems with that. First of all it was not my furnace. For all practical purposes it was Kurt’s furnace. Secondly, the ashes did not need shaking out because there were not many ashes yet which meant that when I moved the lever I was shaking out the hot coals and messing up the fire Kurt had just worked hard to build. It did not take Kurt long to find me and when he did he was angry. His eyes raged and his face was red. He yelled at me. I was scared. My dad heard the commotion and came and rescued me. I was a little worried that dad might have some rage of his own but I guess he figured that Kurt’s abrupt reprimand had been enough. He just got me upstairs to a safe place, told me to stay put and not to mess with Kurt’s fire again. I steered clear of Kurt the rest of that day. By the next Sunday Kurt was back to normal and acted as if the incident had never happened. But I have never forgotten that day. The memory is as clear as yesterday.

I have thought about that incident often and I have wondered why a few shakes of the lever had disturbed Kurt so much. Yes, I had shaken out a few hot coals. While that was a problem and might slow down the heating process it could be fixed easily enough. Another shovel full of coal and a few minutes would solve the matter. I suspect the issue was that I had entered into Kurt’s private world. Firing the furnace and making sure the church was warm was his job. He did not need any help and he did not want any help, especially from a 6 or 7 year old boy. There were few things in life that belonged totally to Kurt but this job did. He knew how to do this job. He knew how to do it right. He was going to do it his way. He was conscientious about this responsibility. I learned a valuable lesson that day about the importance of staying out of the way and letting people do the work that is assigned to them.

Maybe Kurt also understood the importance of his job. The worshippers would be there soon and they would expect the building to be warm and comfortable. Indeed it was important that our bodies were warm. If we were cold we would complain. We would not be able to focus on the truth of God’s word and the movement of God’s Spirit. By making sure the place was warm Kurt was enabling us to have a meaningful time of worship. Indeed we all have important tasks in the church and if we fail to perform our tasks the other facets of the church are hindered also.

Kurt died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 56. I was a teenager at the time. I attended his visitation. It was a humbling experience. I realized then that in this quiet, content, unassuming man we had been blessed with a rare and precious gift.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Perfect Attendance

I began my academic career at the East Bernstadt School in East Bernstadt KY. East Bernstadt is an independent K through 8 school district that encompasses the small town of East Bernstadt and a small portion of rural area that surrounds it. All the other schools in Laurel County KY are a part of the Laurel County School District. In spite of a wide variety of pressures East Bernstadt has proudly and stubbornly maintained her independence and has thrived in the process.

My family actually lived right on the edge of the school district but the district was lenient and if you lived close to the line and could catch the bus you could choose to either go to the appropriate Laurel County school, which my case would have been Pittsburg, or to East Bernstadt. My mother claimed that East Bernstadt was superior and when it came time for me to go to first grade she decided that I would go there. My mother made a big deal out of starting school. We went together and bought some new clothes and some necessary school supplies including a red-checkered satchel with a shoulder strap so I could bring my papers home for her inspection. On the first day of school I got dressed in my new clothes, mother combed my hair and we sat on the front porch to wait on the bus. Our neighbor, Mr. Napier, was the bus driver and I would be the second stop and the second student on the bus each morning. When the bus came I put my red-checkered satchel on my shoulder and walked out and boarded the bus. My mother caught the moment with her Brownie-Hawkeye camera. I have the picture to prove it. I was on my way in pursuit of grand academic achievements as a first grader at East Bernstadt School.

The school and the gymnasium were made of brown sandstone. This was of no interest to me at the time but judging from the time of construction and the architecture I am wondering if they were built as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). There was one class for each grade at the school and the first grade classroom was in the basement. My first grade teacher was Mrs. Wilma Griffin. I had never met her before but I was told that she was my father’s first cousin which made her my second cousin. Her father and my grandfather were half brothers, sons of the same father but of different mothers. So I guess that made her my half-second cousin or should it be my second half-cousin. Genealogy aside she was my teacher and I was determined to not disappoint so I worked hard and did OK in first grade.

Spring rolled around and I had not missed any days of school. I was working real hard to have perfect attendance. But I got to school one morning and noticed that the glands under my chin were swollen and a little sore. I felt fine otherwise but I made mention of this to Mrs. Griffin and she mentioned it to the principle Mr. Mason. Mr. Mason was afraid that I might have the mumps and he decided to take me home. I got into the front seat of his pickup truck and as the journey home began I started to protest that I did not want to go home because it would mean that I did not have perfect attendance. He said to me “Son, you made it to school this morning. If you are better tomorrow and can come to school and do not miss anymore this will not count against you and you will get your certificate for perfect attendance”. I took him at his word and I told my mother what he had said and the next morning I felt fine. I put my red-checkered satchel on my shoulder, got on the bus and went to school. A few days before the school year was over Mr. Mason came into our first grade classroom and asked Mrs. Griffin how many people in her class had perfect attendance? My ears perked up. She got out her record book and read the names of 3 people and my name was not one of them. I held up my hand and boldly said “Mr. Mason, I have perfect attendance. You took me home early one day but you told me if I did not miss anymore days that since I had made the effort to come to school that it would not count against me and I have been here everyday”. He said “You are right. I remember that. You will get your perfect attendance certificate”. There was an award ceremony scheduled an evening or two after that and I went home and told my mother that we had to go to school that night because I was going to get a certificate. That created a bit of a problem because by this time my Dad had taken a different job in a distant town and therefore he was not home. My mother got someone to watch my younger siblings and we went to the awards ceremony. I remember sitting in the bleachers waiting to hear my name so I could go get my certificate. When it came time for my name to be called Mr. Mason pointed out the importance of perfect attendance and told the crowd the story of my desire and persistence and how I had remembered and held him to his word. The crowd chuckled I am sure. I jumped from the bleachers with a thud and walked up and received my perfect attendance certificate.

That was the only year I attended East Bernstadt School. By the time second grade started we had moved 100 miles away. I think it was probably the only year I ever had perfect attendance. But I have reflected upon that experience over the years and I have often wondered about the value of perfection. Truth is none of us are perfect and that probably does not matter very much. There were more than 20 kids in my first grade class that did not get perfect attendance and I am guessing the got along fine without it. Of those of us who did get recognized for perfect attendance at least one of us accomplished that feat due to a minor technicality. Indeed none of us are perfect and to even get close to being perfect means that someone has cut us some slack and grant us a measure of grace.




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