I was down in the big city a bit back. I was headed from here to there and the big city was halfway to there. My GPS device directed me down the byways that bordered my old neighborhood. I resisted the temptation to detour down the old street to see if the house was still in the condition we’d left it. I didn’t, however; I followed the directions of the lady in the box on my dashboard.
Going up an incline I slowed. Something looked familiar. I didn’t even know which street I was on. You know how those navigation devices are; they tell you what road’s ahead and what roads are branching off the one you’re on, but they do not tell you the name of the road you’re on. The familiarity of the place insisted I slow. I did. And then the sense of the familiar became so strong I stopped. I looked ahead. I looked back through the rearview mirror. I looked out the driver side window. And then I looked out the passenger side window. I had to dip my head a bit to see the house completely, but when I did the familiar became a palatable memory.
I pulled the car to the curb, pulled up the brake, place the gear in park, got out and looked more closely. Yep, it was the house. I was the house where Katie Watkins once lived. I looked down the incline in the direction I’d just come. Funny, back then this incline was a really steep hill. But it was a hill I was willing to climb because on this hill dwelled a goddess, Katie Watkins.
It was the summer following the sixth grade. Sometime after school was out I made the determination that I was in love with Katie Watkins. Who wasn’t? She was the blonde blue-eyed beauty of our class. She was smart as could be. She had these delightful dimples. Katie Watkins was … well, Katie Watkins was Katie Watkins and there was no one else quite like her. Katie watkins need to be made aware of my love.
I hopped on my bike and pedaled like a boy possessed. Remember that incline I spoke of above? Back then it was a hill, a steep, steep hill. I had to zig zag my bike up the hill. I couldn’t get off the bike and push, you see. Katie might see me and determine I wasn’t man enough for her. So I pushed the pedal down and then the other, over and over as I zig zagged and struggled toward my destiny.
Arriving at Katie’s driveway, I parked the bike, struggled to control my panting, walked up to Katie’s backdoor, Knocked and waited. “Can I help you?” asked the man who opened the door.
“I’d like to speak to Katie,” I said.
“Katie?” he said, brow wrinkled. And then he continued, “Oh, Katie, the Watkins’ girl. Oh, she’s not here. They moved to Oklahoma last month.”
Getting back in my car, I said thanks to my GPS for directing me up this road. The memory of Katie brought a smile.
Two weeks later, I ran into Elliott Simmons. He was in that sixth grade class, also. “You’ll never guess who I saw last week,” he said. “Katie Watkins. She asked about you.”
Too bad. I’m older, more mature, no longer desperate. This time Katie will have to pedal up my hill.
I'm tired. I have to tell you, I don't like it particularly when
someone reminds me of my age. I like it even less when my own body
reminds me of my advanced age. I write this on Saturday night, before
Father's Day; and I've just been reminded by myself of my age. Like I
said, I'm tired.
tiredness results from a bit more than usual exercise. I cut the
grass today. I seem to cut the grass every Saturday. It harkens by to
my father. He insisted the grass be cut on Saturday. That way the
yard looked good when people viewed it as they were participating in
their Sunday drive. Back then, in the last century, families went for
a Sunday drive. I never saw anyone drive past our house because we
were on our own family Sunday drive.
cut the grass Saturday like I did back then. Folks don't take Sunday
drives anymore, but my yard will look good if the custom comes back.
And then I cut my hospitalized neighbor's yard.
to thinking about that grass cutting as I remembered my Dad this past
weekend. Considering the grass I had to cut to receive my allowance,
I was well below minimum wage even before there was a minimum wage.
You see, Dad wasn't content with me cutting the grass at our house.
There were other places that needed my talent. Back then, there were
the neighborhood garden clubs. I'm not sure exactly what the purpose
of the garden clubs was, but one of them was maintaining a little
patch of ground on the right-of-way to the entrance to our
subdivision. Dad told them I'd be glad to cut it.
pretty good at it, I guess. I attracted the attention of some folks
in the neighborhood who did have kids they could pay a paltry wage to
cut the grass. Some of them asked me if I'd cut their grass also. I
agreed, for five dollars a yard. There was no negotiation. I cut the
grass; I did not trim; I did not rake, anything beyond simple cutting
of the lawn was extra. Over the years my I cut a lot of grass because
by my senior year of high school I was cutting twenty yards. I
remember it fondly: twenty yards at five dollars a yard came to a
hundred dollars a week. Not bad for a kid, and much more than my
every time one of those lawn maintenance trucks goes by I wonder if I
made a mistake going to college and seminary.
was that one time when I cut someone's grass for free. Daddy
mentioned that Mrs. Hardicourt, an old maid who lived a block up the
street, was in the hospital. He said she would be coming home on
Monday. After cutting the garden club's project, I headed to her
house and mowed her lawn. I was quite pleased with myself. A good
deed had been done.
evening Mrs. Hardicourt called. She told me she heard I had cut her
grass. I told her it was my pleasure. She then told me that a lawn
wasn't properly taken care of unless the weeds in the flowerbeds
pulled up. She told me whenever I cut her grass I needed to weed the
this blog is posted we're beginning another Holy Week. Well, most
folks call it Holy Week; but, truth is, there are some years when,
with all the extra worship services and demands, we pastor's secretly
have another term for it. Nevertheless, it's Holy Week.
when I was a handsome young lad, and believe it or not there was such
a time, Holy Week was the signal of the arrival of special things to
come. Holy Week announced the coming of spring. The days get longer;
the air gets warmer; and the time for planting has arrived. Mama
always said the time to plant was Good Friday. It was the time to put
the seed into the ground and await the coming of new life.
we waited, Holy Week had also announced the coming of the time to
spruce up, to scrub down the place, to paint the woodwork where
needed, and to sit down at the kitchen table to plan out the vacation
that would be ours in a few months.
Week was a time to go shopping. Back in those days, in the last
century, folks wore what was called their Sunday best to church. Way
back then church wasn't a causal thing. It was time to “put on the
clothes of righteousness” Mama said. One wore one's best to church
every Sunday of the year. And one wore one's brand new best on Easter
Sunday. We went shopping for new clothes and the ladies went shopping
for their Easter Bonnet. Remember that old song, “In your Easter
bonnet with all the frills upon it, you'll be the grandest lady in
the Easter parade”? Funny, I remember all the Easter bonnets
adorning my aunt's and cousins' heads; but I don't have a single
memory of an Easter parade.
Week was a time for all the children to gather in the kitchen. They
say a watched pot will never boil, but it does if it's filled with
Easter eggs. And then came the dying, the hand dying by everyone in
the family. Pardon my waxing nostalgic, but those hand dyed hard boiled eggs beat
today's plastic ones by a mile.
then, in that previous century, Holy Week brought the expectation in
children of dyed little chicks and bunny rabbits. Holy Week brought
the promise of my favorite Easter candy. It was a chocolate egg
stuffed with this white icing permeated with all kinds of chopped
fruit flavored flakes. It was only when I became an adult I
discovered the innards of my favorite Easter egg was nothing more
than the leftovers of the other candies. As such, I learned my
most favorite candy was chocolate covered garbage.
approach to the end of Holy Week sent us down to the church to pull
those folding chairs out of the basement to accommodate the saints
who sang their Halleujahs only on Easter and Christmas. Holy Week
meant one of those chairs pulled out of the basement would be warmed
by Uncle Ronald's posterior. It was the only Sunday of the year a
chair or pew was warmed by such.
here we are once again in slap dab in Holy Week. I'm
remembering all those Holy Weeks past. In remembering I've got some
idea of how this week may end. So, you'll have to excuse me now. I've
got a sermon sizzling, and I'm cooking for a crowd.
parson, along with his faithful canine companion, Charlie Brown, and
Charlie Brown's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Penny – a relationship
that seemed to see-saw between Penny's delightful demeanor and
on-again-off-again food aggressive bitchiness, headed out of the church
parking lot toward home.
sat in the front passenger seat, looking our the front window. Charlie
Brown sat in the rear seat, looking out the back window. At that precise
moment they were not barking to one another and even refusing to look
at each other. The parson, basing his decision on over forty years of
pastoral counseling which indicated one cannot be a counselor to one's
immediate family, refused to get involved. Instead his index finger
tapped on the steering wheel, keeping beat with the eclectic music
radiating from the car radio of WUTC, NPR at the University of Tennessee
was approximately halfway home the parson noticed the vehicle ahead of
them. It was a 1957 Ford Fairlane, with those distinctive rear fins. The
parson's memory was immediately drawn back to another time, a time when
such cars, of obvious unique design, were sought after as chariots of
romance. Ah, the advantage such vehicles had. There were no divided
seats with a gear shift or cup container blocking the closeness of two
amorous persons enjoying adolescent discovery. The parson's dad had
referred to such cars, occupied by such seekers of affection, as
vehicles possessing two heaters.
the parson stared at the distinctive taillights of the Ford, he noticed
a silhouette through the rear window. It seemed to be a mirage, a faint
hint of a time long gone by. But there it was. There was no denying it.
There were two people occupying the vehicle, and the silhouette seemed
to indicate that both were sitting behind the steering wheel.
parson remembered a time when males of his generation drove such
chariots of discovery, such avenues of passage. He stared at the
shadowed figures who apparently had discovered the thrill of a bygone
era. It felt good that such benefits had been passed on to another
highway widened. There were now two lanes. The parson, smiling, pulled
out into the left hand lane. He touched the accelerator to move ahead of
these two discoverers of latent passion. And then he saw the couple
more clearly. The woman was indeed sitting almost squarely behind the
steering wheel with the man. The man's right arm was around her
shoulders, keeping her snuggled close. They both grinned in contented
happiness. They seemed completely at home in their moving time machine.
The parson estimated the driver was seventy-five and his second heater
Well, it's a little after midnight. I got through the second anniversary of your death as well as could be expected, I guess. This was the first time that anniversary came on a Saturday.
I do need to confess to you, I'm a bit concerned about Sunday.
Do you remember sitting in the armchair next to sofa on which I was sitting a week before the surgery you did not survive when a cousin called? When the conversation was over, you turned to me and proclaimed, "I swear, if anyone else asks me if there is anything they can do, I'm going to say, 'Yes, there is; you can bring me a large bottle of Crown Royal?'"
The Rev. Dr. Gary DeMore mentioned that in your eulogy. Maybe that's why I found a large bottle of Crown Royal on the front porch when I came home after your service.
I opened that bottle again this evening in your memory. As I did last year, I poured myself a drink of Crown Royal. I remember how you used to occasionally pour yourself a drink. "Three fingers," you'd tell me is the right amount. Then you'd insert some ice cubes, bring the drink with you to the sofa and we'd cuddle up and watch some program on the laptop while you sipped your drink.
I have, tonight, realized my fingers are much thicker than yours were. What was three fingers to you has an entirely new definition regarding what is three fingers to me. That could possibly account for the fact that, after I poured those three fingers to be consumed in your memory, I may have poured another. Let's see, three fingers times two equals six fingers. Did I pour another? I'm not sure. If I did that woud be, hold on, ten, no, that's not right, hold on, I'll get it, okay, one, two, three, .... Okay, I've got it, nine fingers.
Here's the point: I'm feeling a little dizzy. I have to preach in a little over ten hours. If I preach for the first time in my life with a hangover, it's your fault.
Oh gracious, you know, Ms. Parson, despite your beauty, your beaming countenance, your personality, your feminine ways, when it comes to Crown Royal, you were much more macho than will I ever be.
I raised that (those) glass(es) in your honor tonight. And I could do so because, and here I think you'd be proud of me, I realize I'm alive. Life goes on. Damn it, life goes on.
I'd raise, now, another glass in your memory, but I do have to preach in a little while.
“Bruce, how in the world are you? It's great to hear from you.” Bruce was fresh out of seminary. He attended the parson's church during his college years, and, then, spent a tour with the United States Marine Corps as an intelligence officer. Upon his discharge, eight years later, he entered seminary.
“I'm doing really well, Parson. Really well. Jane said to tell you hello.”
The parson, after smiling inwardly as he remembered Jane's natural beauty and genuine personality, remembered that day almost eighteen months before. It was one of those occasions when the parson as he led them through the ceremony had no doubt this marriage would last forever.
“You give her my love. What are her plans after you get to your appointment?”
“We really don't know yet, Parson. We're hoping she can find some meaningful work there.”
The parson again smiled to himself. Jane was an educational psychologist who was fluent in Spanish and Japanese. He didn't think she'd have a problem finding a job as Bruce moved into serving his first church in three weeks.
“I don't think Jane will ever lack for employment,” the parson offered.
“I don't either, Parson. Look, the reason I called was first to thank you. I know the district superintendent and maybe the bishop called and you gave me a good recommendation.”
“Don't discount the impression you made yourself, Bruce.”
“Look, Parson, the second thing is Andrew Jenkins mentioned that you were taking some grandchildren to Alaska and wouldn't be at conference.”
“That's right,” said the parson. “I'll think of you sitting in the gathering of the ordained as we bounce along in our raft through the rapids of the Nenana River.”
“I somehow don't think you're going to give us a thought, Parson. But, since you're going to Alaska, I won't be able to see you at conference. So, I wanted to call and see if you might have any advice for a novice pastor.”
The parson smiled. He remembered the best advice he'd ever received. “I do, Bruce. I do. You know, the best advice I ever got was when I was backing the car out of the driveway of my parent's house to head for my first appointment. My dad was retrieving the mail from the mailbox. He came over, leaned down, and said to me: “You'll be a success if, when you leave that church, the people say, 'Look what we did!'”
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