Our House, Our Home

18 10 2020

In the first six years of my life I was kind of bounced from one home to another. Starting in the great state of West Virginia, Ma (as I always called her) and I moved to Maryland to live with her brother’s family and find work. I was later sent back to WV to live with my Great Aunt Dot and her husband David. From there I found myself being sent to Kentucky to my Great Aunt Pearl and Uncle Price who had moved there and ran an upholstery shop; we lived in small apartment above the store. Pearl and Price left there and I went to live with Price’s sister’s family. Mom had to leave me with other folks for a time as she tried to get on her feet. A single mother back in the 50s didn’t have the easiest road ahead of her, especially one with physical limitations; Ma had over an 75% hearing loss. Finally, the day came that Pearl came back to Kentucky to get me and we traveled to a whole new place–Fremont Ohio. Fremont was bustling with many factories that offered work to ones that needed it. A good number of folks from the Appalachian region had moved there for a better life. I can remember the joy I felt when the bus pulled up in front of Tremper’s, kind of a magazine, tobacco, and soda shop. There, on the sidewalk with a big smile was Ma. I don’t think I touched the steps of the bus when the door swung open; I just jumped straight into her arms. Toting our luggage, the three of us walked across State St. Bridge and up Sandusky Ave. to the smallest house I had ever seen. It had a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room; I doubt it was much bigger than my garage today. But we made do until the day Pearl told me we were moving down the street into a big house over on Holland. I was so excited; I had been sleeping on a rollaway bed in the living room and now I was going to have my own room. That excitement dissipated quickly the moment I saw the place. It was a big house alright, but it looked like a strong wind could knock it down. This place had been built back in the 1800s and at one time was a showcase home with the wide 1-house façade and narrow Greek Revival front attic-story windows. (I got that description from a fascinating book, “Fremont, Where History Lives” by Larry and Krista Michaels.) But over time, it had become an apartment house until it was abandoned for many years. Now it was run down with many trees and two sheds that leaned hard to one side. Pearl and Price had been coming there to do work for some time and fixed up enough of the house that we could move in.

I wanted to explore the neighborhood, but everyday there was work to be done. As the adults did carpentry, painting, electrical and plumbing; it was my job to carry trash out to a pile in the backyard. Price had a disability so he didn’t work but Pearl and Ma had jobs they would go to each day, and then come home to do repairs to the house. We moved there when I was 6 and it seemed like the task for fixing this place was endless; but that didn’t deter my Pearly Mae! Every day she put in several hours at times backbreaking tasks to make that house a home.

The lowest point came when we had to evacuate, I believe one Spring. We lived two blocks from the Sandusky River and it flooded that year.  Pearl had put hours into sanding the hardwood floors and then staining them. They were beautiful! But after the river had subsided and we were allowed back, those floors were now covered in black silt, garbage and even a couple dead fish. I remember seeing my beloved Aunt’s face look as if she was ready to cry. But after a few minutes it was task at hand; get those floors clean and re-stain them. To my young mind it just didn’t seem like it was worth all the effort, so one day when it was just the two of us, I ask her, “Pearl, why do you love this house so much?” Sitting down at the kitchen table with me, her face became soft looking but very serious. “Johnny, all the places you have lived, the places your mom has and even Price and me always belonged to someone else. This is our home, and you watch, someday it’s going to be beautiful. I know I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the place as she did, but if that’s what Pearly Mae believed then I would also.

I must have been about 14 the day I rode my bike home and just stopped in front and looked. Most of the old trees were gone, as were the sheds. In their place were flower beds and lush green grass. The front and back porch set the house off with trellises on the ends that colorful flowers grew up. In the back was a long sidewalk with an arched trellis spanning 20 feet and again flowers growing up and over. On both sides of the back sidewalk was a huge vegetable garden that yielded enough food to can and eat until the next growing season. Pearl no longer had a dream; she had a home she was proud of. The inside was just as lovely with not only the floors, but the wood trim stained to a mahogany finish. Pearl loved tropical fish and had several large fish tanks placed around the house with one that was my favorite she had built into the wall. With the largest yard in the neighborhood, there were numerous times and she hosted outdoor parties for all the good people that lived around us. Pearl was ahead of her time when it came to diversity. We had folks from every race sitting at the long tables eating, laughing, and enjoying being together. I was so proud of Aunt Pearl, her beautiful house, and my home.

“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” Charles Spurgeon                                           .

I have no doubt that many had the chance to buy that house (Which by the way, cost $1,500), but when they saw with their eyes what it looked like they all walked away. Pearly Mae saw it with her heart. She looked past the mess and the deteriorating conditions and saw beauty no one else had. She felt rich in what God had given her. A home.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Pearly Mae retired and moved back to West Virginia to be near her brother and sisters and many of the neighbors she had been growing old with cried. But she loved being with her family again and would stay there the rest of her days. Still, several times she told me in confidence how much she missed Fremont, her friends and her beautiful home there.

On Feb.3, 1984 a tragic accident ended this “Traveler of the Rock Road” journey here on earth. And this man she used to call “Little Boy Blue” still misses her. But I wouldn’t wish her back for anything. You see as much as her heart saw the beauty of her Holland St. home, that same heart also saw the Home where she would spend eternity. Keep an extra seat at your kitchen table, Pearly Mae. Someday we’re going to sit and talk again, but this time for a hundred years!

Thank you, Fremont for giving us a home there.

See ya next time.





Make the Chili

27 09 2020

Adam and Becky had been married for over 30 years and always had a wonderful relationship. When they had first wed, money was tight so they couldn’t go out except on a rare occasion. But one thing they could do and always enjoyed is to go driving around the small mountain roads there in their home region of Missouri. The scenery was breathtaking and they had a favorite pull-off place where they could look out over the Ozarks. Often, they would sit on the hood of their old car and watch in awe as the sun began to go down. At a point it would be at a position where it seemed like sunbeams were bouncing off the majestic hills. As the sun sank below the horizon, the sky would light up in a brilliant yellow and slowly change to a soft red and orange. And as shadows started to cover their mountains, the image was one that every skyline in America would envy. They may not have had much money, but they felt rich with emotions from their weekly date night.

Time moved on, they built a home and raised two daughters that often they would take to their secret Shangri-la land. The girls would squeal and laugh with delight watching the beautiful colors of the sky, then sit quietly in reverent awe as the stars began to fill the heavens. On the ride home they would always fall asleep, but years later both would tell how those moments were the most memorable of their young lives.

The girls grew up, married and moved away leaving Adam and Becky to enjoy the empty nest years ahead of them. Unfortunately, Adam was suffered a severe stroke which left him partially incapacitated. Over time he grew stronger from rehabilitation but would never be able to work or drive a car again. That left Becky as the sole breadwinner for the two of them. Adam became well enough to stay on his own so she took a job that demanded many hours from her. She’d come home exhausted every day, but good old Adam would have the house clean and dinner waiting on her.  Still, Adam would get restless just sitting home all day, so occasionally he’d say, “How bout we go up to our spot and watch the sun go down?” Now the last thing Becky wanted to do after coming home from a hard day’s work was to go back out. “Adam, I do enough driving back and forth to work, to the grocery store, your doctor appointments and to church on the only day I have off. And you know I don’t like driving on those roads after dark. I’m sorry, but no!” Sometimes he would call one of his daughters to see if maybe one of them could come home for a couple of days and take him up there. But they were busy with their own families now and couldn’t take the time to grant his request. Adam was an understanding man so he would drop the subject, but still hoped they could get up there just one more time. Sadly, he finally did but not the way he had envisioned.

Becky tells of the day she came home from work to what she thought was Adam sleeping in his chair; sadly, he was gone. She would speak often of how she should have taken the time to go up again to their spot in the mountains; and that brought her great sadness. Several days later she and the family made their way to the sight to spread Adam’s ashes and remember all the times they had there. But through the tears and the heartache, she tells how she could see Adam smiling.

Philippians 3:13 “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”

Adam and Becky were strong believers in Christ, and they had assurance that one day they would be with Him in heaven. Even though she was sad that he was gone, and she never gave Adam his last wish, she knew he wouldn’t want to come back for all the beautiful sunsets in the world. Becky found peace in knowing Adam was happy, and Home. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We do not want merely to see beauty … We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Becky truly believed Adam was now part of the beauty of God in two ways; He was with the Lord, and while being at the place that he loved on earth the most. She of thought of that every time she went to visit him on the hillside.

It’s been some years since Adam went to be with the Lord. As for Becky; well these two “Travelers of the Rock Road” were finally united again; on their favorite mountain, and at the throne of God. Awesome!

I wrote this story after reading another that reminded me when one of the daughters shared theirs with me; how much her parents loved each other. She also said that it helped her to consider even the little things, the things that seem more a bother than what they’re worth. And it helped her and her husband to always consider the feelings of each other. So, let me close by sharing that with you. You’ll see why I named this story as I did.

“A good friend of mine unexpectedly lost her husband. A couple months later we were running together, chatting about nothing. She asked me what my dinner plans were, and I told her hubby wanted chili, but I didn’t feel like stopping at the store. When ran a few more minutes when she quietly said, “Make the chili.” It took me a few more minutes to realize we were no longer talking about dinner. It was about going out of your way to do something for someone you love because at any minute they could be unexpectedly taken from you. So today I’m sharing with you that wisdom handed to me by my dear friend, that I’ve thought of many times since that day. Next time someone you love wants to go for a walk, or watch a football game, or play a board game, or just want you to put your phone down and give them your undivided attention, just do it. Make the chili.”

See ya next time

I hope.





Hidden Blessings in the Dirt

13 09 2020

This story came to me through a friend who gave me permission to share with you good people.

I love gardening, raising numerous fruits and vegetables that we love to eat fresh or canned. At work a number garden and enjoy telling how our crops are doing and getting new ideas from each other. During one of those conversations, a coworker named Jack was listening to all we were talking about and commented that he would like to start gardening but didn’t know a thing. Sam, a man who had been growing a garden for years told him he’d come over to his house and help him get started. He told him what to buy at the store and that weekend they’d get started. Saturday morning Sam showed up at Jack’s house with a tiller loaded on his truck. Soon he had an area in the back yard all tilled up. They added fertilizer and Sam tilled the soil again. Then they started putting the plants in the ground in straight rows adding Epsom salt and water to each one. They worked all that morning and half the afternoon and finally finished preparing Jim’s new garden. Sam told him what he would have to do to ensure proper growth and that he would drop by occasionally to give more pointers and check on the progress.

Jim was so excited when he began to see small green tomatoes that would ripen to a bright red, lettuce as the heads grew larger, beans beginning to sprout, small ears of corn growing in the stocks, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash filling up the area that once was only black soil, seeds and tiny plants.  Everyday he’d rush home from work to see the progress of his garden and do whatever work he needed to keep his plot plush and rich to produce the food he was growing with his own hands. Jim would get his wife and daughter to come and see the progress, but he could see they didn’t share the same enthusiasm that he did. His wife would say, “That’s nice, Jim, but are you sure this stuff is going to be safe to eat?” Like Jim she never had a garden before and was nervous about eating anything growing in the dirt of their backyard. His daughter was of the same mindset and told her dad, “I’m not eating any of that stuff!” Still, that didn’t deter Jim’s enthusiasm and he knew his family would change their tune come harvest.

That moment finally came and all of Jim’s hard work had paid off. Each day he would gather more and more crops to bring proudly into the kitchen to show his wife for her to prepare. Sam had given him written instructions on canning, freezing, and preparing vegetables to eat right away. His wife would continue to look doubtful, but Jim was happy with his results. He’d even bring pictures to showoff what he grew. Didn’t seem like anything could rain on his happiness. Well, almost anything.

Jim showed up at worked one day, but with a different demeanor, like a sadness in is soul. He pulled Sam off to the side to have a private talk. We couldn’t tell what they were saying, but you could tell by their looks it was serous. Later Sam told the rest of us that Jim’s wife finally told him there was no way she was going to eat any of the food he grew. She and his daughter just didn’t trust it so they we’re going to take a chance. Since Sam had helped him get started, Jim wanted him to have all the crop, to which he agreed. We all felt bad for Jim, going to all the work, elated with the results, but then not to reap any of the benefits except to give it all away. Sad.

Two weeks later Sam was having a yard party and invited everyone on the crew to come; this included Jim and his family. The food he and his wife prepared was incredible. Besides burgers and hotdogs there were salads with tasty cucumbers, peppers, onions and tomatoes, corn on the cob, green bean casserole, zucchini flan and potato cakes. Sam had put out a feast that was pleasing to everyone there, especially Jim’s wife. She went to Sam’s wife to thank her for inviting them and tell how much she loved all the dishes. Sam’s wife smiled and then told her something that made her face turn as red as the tomatoes. “Well I need to thank you! After all, you and Jim gave us all the vegetables we ate today.” Jim’s wife’s stomach went from feeling happy, to a rather sick feeling.

There’s a quote that goes like this, “Faith is trusting God even when you don’t understand. Often God leads us in a direction that we have a hard time trusting, perhaps it’s something new and different to anything we ever did before. Only to realize the blessings we missed out on by not trusting. “To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust him in the dark—that is faith.” Charles Spurgeon. Another one I like is “Faith is trusting God even when you don’t understand His plan.” There have been times in my life that I met trusting God’s plan the same way Jim’s wife trusted him. She loved her husband, but just couldn’t bring herself to trust food that she didn’t buy at the store or in the restaurant. That took more faith than she was ready to give–just like us at times with God. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I Know The Plans I Have For You’ Declares the Lord, ‘Plans to Prosper You and Not to Harm You, Plans to Give You Hope and a Future.”

These two “Traveler’s of the Rock Road” learned a lot that year, not just in the benefits of growing their own food but practicing faith and trust. The next season they grew another garden and she leaned how to preserve the vegetables so they could enjoy them until the next harvest. Showers of blessings can come in many different ways. Even as tomatoes and cucumbers!

See ya next time!





Officer Smokey

23 08 2020

Back in the 1960s if you lived in Fremont Ohio and didn’t know anyone on the police Phil Smokeyforce except one, it would the same officer; everyone knew Phill Huss. Phil was not only a police officer; he was the city detective and juvenile delinquent officer. And if for some reason you didn’t know Officer Phil, anyone in the whole city from ages 3 to 93 knew Smokey the Clown. This was Phil’s alter ego. Dressed in hobo rags, a well-worn derby, large red nose, and over exaggerated makeup, Smokey would be seen at many city functions especially parades where he would tool up and down the street on his minibike stopping occasionally to put a small child on the back and  give them ride with him. Yeah Phil was a great guy known to all and liked by most. I met him when he stopped by our house on Howland there in Fremont shortly after we moved in and started remodeling. He liked my Great Aunt Pearl and Price and often you’d find him sitting on the front porch spending a little time talking. He knew Ma and me also, and he knew she was a single parent trying to do the best she could raising me. He promised he would look out for me. I guess I thought that was nice, that is until I came to realize what he meant by watching out for me.

I don’t know how he did it and truthfully I didn’t like it, but it seemed like if I got into any bit of trouble old Phil would be there like he was watching from around the corner or behind a house! And if I did get away with something, he’d be at the house the next day or so talking to me about whatever I got into. Phil would give me a very harsh talking to, mostly to scare me, which he did; but then he would do something nice like take me to lunch or get me into the fair or races for free. I appreciated all he was doing, but being young only meant I’d get into some mischief again. One late night I got into a situation that was more than mischief, it was criminal.

It’s not worth going into what I did, but I can still remember the police cars and their flashing lights all around me and the others with me. I remember how cold the handcuffs felt against my wrists and being put in the back of a squad car. And I’ll never forget being taken to the station where they put us in a jailcell that smelled terrible and closed that heavy door behind us. If ever there was a time I wished I was dead, it was then. I didn’t want to face Ma and Pearl; I know how brokenhearted they would be over my stupid stunt. But worse than that I knew there was another person I was going to have to stand in front and give an explanation, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Phil!

I was released the next morning to Ma, but not before Phil talked to me and he made it clear I better tell him the truth; I was too afraid not to. This time I knew I had blown it big time and I could be looking at some time in a juvenile delinquent center. For the next week, very little was said on the topic. I was to go to school and then straight home and nowhere else. Ma was on the phone several times, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was about. I had a bad feeling I knew what it was about anyway. The next week Phil showed up at school to talk to me in a private office. He was right to the point. “You come to my office every Monday after school and tell me about what you have been doing. You are not to go anywhere unless you talk to me first and you better be where you say you’re at.” I asked “How long do I have to do this?” “As long as I tell you to do it!” He bellowed. Works for me!

I didn’t know it then, but later found out Phil pulled a lot of strings to keep me from having a record and being sent off. I’m sure he did it mostly for Ma knowing how hard it would be on her. So, for a good time after that we’d have a sit down at his office. I thought I was there to tell him what I was doing each week, but the time was spent mostly with him lecturing me on life and growing up right. I’m sure I found most of it boring, but his words on our last day together still ring in my ears. “Johnny, you have the chance to grow into a good man. Don’t disappoint me.” I was going to do everything I could to heed those words, but I was angry when I left his office. Who did he think he was telling me how to live my life? I didn’t have to listen to him, after all he wasn’t my dad and I didn’t even see him as a friend. He was just a cop!

What started me thinking and then writing about Phil is when I came across this quote, “Some people appear in your life when you need them most. They love you & lift you up, reminding you of the best, even when you’re going through the worst. These people are not just friends, they are Earth angels.” That got me thinking on all the times he seemed to show out of nowhere to keep me from trouble. And the one time I did get into a bad fix, Old Officer Smokey to the rescue. God had a plan for me and He sent Phil to help me over a few rough places. The anger I once felt was replaced with adoration and respect for what this man did for me. I wished I had told him that, but the years had rolled on and I was now living in Indiana so I figured I would never get the chance to thank Phil. But you know God has a way of making good things happen.

I’m not sure the date, somewhere around the late 80s/early 90s. I was back in Fremont for a short visit and downtown with my three kids who were young at that time. I happened to notice this old parking meter officer sitting in a Cushman writing something. I stared at him until he looked my way. “Phil?” He got out and walked over to us with a bit of confusion written across his face. “I’m Johnny Miller; do you remember me?” Now he was smiling. “Johnny my goodness it’s been a lot of years. how are you?” I didn’t answer his question, I had something else in mind. Looking down at my children, I said to them, “I want you all to give this man a big hug; for if it hadn’t been for him your dad wouldn’t be the man he is today.” There were tears in old Phil’s eyes as each took their turn giving him a big. “Johnny, you just made my day. Thank you.” I responded “Phil, you helped make my life. Thank you!”

God knew I was going to need a lot of help in “Traveling the Rock Road.” Some like my Lady were meant to be there for the long haul. But ones like my dear friend I lovingly call “Officer Smokey” were sent to help me in the places were the road was rough and they lent a hand, or in Phil’s case, a boot to get me in the direction I needed to go. He could have just done his job as a police officer and nothing more, but he acted as a friend and even a mentor. I’m reminded of the scripture from Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  I found another saying that expresses how I feel about this man.

“God doesn’t want us to be alone in our journey. He sends us the right people at exactly the time we need them most and uses them to carry out His purpose in our lives.”

Thank you, Lord, for sending Officer Smokey at the times you knew I needed him in my life.

Fremont, you are truly blessed to have had this Man of Honor as part as of your community and legacy.

R.I.P. Phil

See ya next time.





There’s No Place Like Home

9 08 2020

When Rick called me with his request, I knew immediately I couldn’t refuse him; after all Rock _nwe had been friends for years and I knew he wouldn’t be asking if he wasn’t desperate. He lived 120 miles west of me and wanted me to come there, pick him up and take him to parent’s home some 300 miles the other way. Rick was suffering from a type of cancer that had slowly been taking life away for several years. He could no longer drive and even had trouble standing or walking for short periods, and this may be the last time he’d ever see his childhood home. “Rick, you be ready at 8 tomorrow morning; I’ll pick you up and we’ll be to the farm before nightfall.”

It took a little while to load all the things Rick was taking home, including the extra blankets because this disease made him feel cold constantly, but soon we were on our way maneuvering through the busy city streets of Chicago until we were on the highway heading east. During our travels we talked about how he was doing, what good and bad days were like for him; thankfully, he was having a good one at this time, probably fueled with the knowledge he was heading home. We talked on my subjects, music of course since we were both musicians, philosophies, ideologies, life experiences, and the love we both shared for our Lord. It was a nice visit we shared with smiles and laughter since we had not seen each other in years. When we entered northwest Ohio, I pointed out to him how flat the terrain was; something he already knew since we both grew up in that region. “You really don’t care for the land here, do you, John?” “I like it alright Rick, but remember my birth state is West Virginia, and where I live now is rather rolling. So, when you compare to those places, I find this area boring.” “Oh John, you feel that way because you’ve never been a farmer. To them this land is paradise; easy to plow, plant and reap a harvest. When the crop is full, for miles there’s nothing more beautiful.” Taking a quick glimpse of my friend I could see a faraway look in his eyes, as if he could see something no one was able to. Rick, old friend, you make it sound like you miss this world.” There was a pause before he said, “There is no place on the face of the earth that I love as much as I loved my days on the farm.” I found that comment a bit intriguing. Here was a man that left shortly after graduating from high school; he went to college and pursued a career that allowed him many luxuries including hobnobbing with many famous people. He traveled extensively and lived a jet setters’ life, one that many would love to have experienced. But now, my old friend was telling me his greatest love was for the old farmstead, simple, basic, and filled with more life coming from the yield the land produced, than a dozen large cities and a hundred celebrities. He was so happy to be going home. And I like that.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.”

Perhaps this is what Rick meant when talking about the farm, for once we reached his home, I knew there was something special here. His mother, tears of joy rolling down her face embraced the son she had not seen for some time. She quickly saw to his needs and had set up a place in the living room for him to be comfortable. She offered me something to eat, but I needed to get on the road and back to Indiana.  She thanked me several times for bringing her son home before I could get out the door. As I made the trek home another thought entered my mind as I pictured Rick, his mother and the love that was in that old farmhouse, “There’s no place like home.”

It’s about a year later now, and I’m back in Chicago, in a hospital where Rick is laying in a bed with a few family members and a friend close by his side. The sound of his breathing is almost ear-piercing as his body fights for life. This goes on for over an hour and all we can do it stand by his bedside and pray. At a moment when it seemed the death rattle, as it’s called, was at a crescendo, Rick suddenly became quiet. He looked around the room at each of us standing there. One person quietly said, “It’s okay Rick, you can go now.” He gently sank into his pillow, and he was gone. The brother who loved him stayed by him for over an hour afterwards, and I made my way to the nurse’s station to give them the update, and that the family would like some alone time right now. I walked farther down the hallway to a waiting room and looked out the window. Being seven stories up, there appeared to be a million lights illuminating the city as I look out the window; it’s not my cup of tea, but I could see how Rick could fall in love with Chicago. I imagined Rick was one of the lights staring back at me.

The hour was late; Rick’s brother would be staying to make necessary arrangements, and I started making my way home. As I thought of everything that had transpired over the last year, but especially this final day, I began to smile. Once again Rick was headed to a place he knew and he loved, and there was love waiting when he arrived. No sickness, he was happy and whole; he was in the arms of Jesus. I like the way the Message Bible speaks of John 14:3,4; “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” As I think back on that night looking at all those lights, I’m reminded of quote that goes something like this, “Don’t cry that I’m no longer here, for I am shooting through to Heaven like a rocket!”

Rick is one of those “Travelers of the Rock Road” that I still think about fairly often, and how I’m glad God allowed our paths to cross. It was hard watching his decline, but from it I learned something valuable. There’s no place like Home!

See you next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





It May Fade in the Ears, but Never in the Heart

26 07 2020

Recently, thanks to my Lady, I’m now the owner of the guitar of my dreams–a Taylor onRock _n the professional level. I was no excited to get this new instrument, especially at this time in my life. At 66, my fingers don’t move like they used to, which at times makes it difficult to play. But this guitar is so smooth, it makes my fingers feel ten years younger. Of course, I want to show this beauty off to other musicians; they can appreciate how sweet it plays, so I’ve taken to several who like I, love it! One of my oldest and dearest friends lives in Ohio, so I had to make a special trip there so he could see it and take it for a spin. For over 50 years I’ve admired his ability to make a guitar sing and have been privileged to play 2nd fiddle, as they say, to this talented musician.  As my old friend worked his way up and down the fret board of the Taylor, he would say, “Wow, this is so smooth and easy to play.” I was happy that he loved it as much as I do. But then, he said something that nearly broke my heart. “I love this, just wish I could hear it.”

Over the course of life in a noisy occupation plus all the years playing loud music has taken a toll on his hearing. It first started out with minor problems, but as time went on, he couldn’t hear the music well enough to sing, another talent he was great at it. He can play beautifully by feel, but can’t really hear any of the notes. I knew of his problem, but in my excitement to show him my treasure had forgotten. Knowing how much he loves making music, but now not being able to hear is very hard on my friend, as it is on me as I hurt for him also. I put the guitar back in its case and we sat at the kitchen table reminiscing about the music we made in the early days and how beautiful it was. Time might have robbed him of his hearing, but his memory is keen and when he remembers the glory days, it’s good.

There’s a quote that goes like this; “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

My friend is in good company when it comes to musicians that have suffered hearing loss; Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Collins, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend. All these artists, as well as my friend, have something more in common than hearing loss. The music may have been made with their hands and voices that they no longer can hear well, but it’s still alive, well and strong in their minds, and their hearts.

I have found that same perseverance in Christians that have spent a lifetime serving the Lord. Their bodies may no longer allow them to serve the way they did for a lifetime, but in their hearts, they are still working and living for the God of Creation.  For this is a fact they all know.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So, we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

My buddy and I will still continue to pick guitars as long as our bodies will let us; it’s what we do and who we are. He may not be able to hear the music in his ears like he used to, but this “Traveler of the Rock Road” will always have the magic of music in his heart. Besides, I took the liberty of booking us a gig in 2023 so we have a lot of time to practice. Awesome!

See ya next time.





Hindus, Highways and Rainbow Stew

12 07 2020

It was 1981 and we had been in Indiana for several years since our move from Ohio. Rock _nCathy and our daughter, Jamie, our only child at that time, were going back there to visit her parents. Seeing we only had one car I had to take them there and then return the next day. I remember that Sunday drive as being extremely warm and was thankful for the A.C. in the car. Outside of Fort Wayne on Rt. 24, I saw a rather unusual looking character, at least for this part of the world. Here was an elderly man dressed in a robe looking garment held closed with a cloth belt or sash, carrying a rather ratty looking bag with a strap. As I passed him, I thought he much be miserable out there with the heat index hovering around the 100 range. Up the road a little way, I pulled into a gas station to fill up. When I came out of the station from paying; I once again saw this odd-looking sojourner as he passed in front of where I was still progressing slowly down the highway west. Pulling up beside him, I offered a ride. With a gentle smile he happily got in. Noticing the red dot on his forehead told me he was Hindu. With curiosity teeming, I asked this gentleman what his story was. Well, he was from India and had come to the U.S. to visit friends and see America. His time here had been wonderful, perhaps a little too much for he had overstayed his visa to a point he thought he might be in trouble. He had traveled mostly by bus and had planned to stay with some friends in the Cleveland area when he realized his dilemma. Another friend in Chicago told him he could help him; but couldn’t come there since he did not have a license. So, this Easterner started walking. Afterall, this was how he got around most his life. He had received numerous rides that he was thankful for, but had been walking several hours when our paths crossed and I could see he rather spent. As we rode along, we made small talk about our lives, and our beliefs. This wasn’t a time of either of us trying to convince the other our views were the right one; more of time of understanding each other’s position. And we enjoyed our time together. I had the radio on low tuned to a country station when my friend began listening intently to the number that was playing. “What is Bubble Up, and Rainbow Stew and would this be wonderful if it was free?” Okay, you lovers of Country music will recognize this as a song written and performed by Merle Haggard, and I had to chuckle. The concept of songs that didn’t make sense and that it was only meant as fun was new and a bit confusing to my new friend, and I struggled to explain the reason why. I turned off the radio, but he liked it and asked if it would turn in back on. So, we tooled down the road kind of shucking and jiving to George Jones, Johnny Lee and Willie Nelson. Gotta love it!

We neared Warsaw/Winona Lake and I told him this is as far as I go, but I would like to buy him a meal or even come to my home to rest for a while. Graciously he declined, wanting to stay on the highway and hopefully get another ride for the final 2 ½ hours to Chicago. So, we went our separate ways there on Highway 30. When I got home, I unloaded the car and settled in to relax before I had to go to work that night. Still, I couldn’t get this man out of my mind. I kept thinking of our time together and how it was so blessed hot out there. After an hour of hearing in my mind, “Sure is hot out there, but hey, don’t give a thought that you let him out on the road and drove away!” Jumping up I went to the refrigerator, grabbed some grapes, poured some orange juice into a large travel mug, put some ice water in a jug and picked up some bananas from the counter and put them in the car along with my guitar in the trunk. (Yes, I used to go everywhere my guitar. Work with me here!) Reaching U.S. 30, I decided to drive ten miles west; if he hadn’t got another ride, he couldn’t made it any father than that. It was within two miles I caught up with him; and my friend was very glad to see me. I gave him what I brought; he ate all the grapes, two bananas, drank all the juice and about half the jug of water. Oh yeah, he had been on the road a long time that day! I urged him to put the seat back and rest, to which he obliged for an hour. When he awoke, we took up where we left earlier, just as if we had been old friends for years, talking, laughing, and listening to Country; even sang along a little, especially when we heard “Free Bubble Up and Rainbow Stew.”

Reaching Chicago was easy; finding the address was another story. This was before cell phones and GPS, so it took another two hours of hunting and getting lost before we found his friend. Before I dropped him off, he must have thanked me a dozen times. He then said, “My God’s blessing be upon you.” For the first time I felt words come to me. “Well, my friend, my Lord has blessed me; He put you in my path today because you had a need, and I can always use another friend. It has been a delight; I thank God He brought us together.” Smiling he then said “Free Bubble Up.” To which I responded “Rainbow Stew.” As I drove off, I could see him in my rearview mirror, he had his hands together, bowing slightly and saying some words in my direction, still with the same smile I had come to enjoy.

Max Lucado has a saying I think of often, “None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that?” I am convinced that God put this man in my path not so that I could evangelize him, but because He saw someone with a need, and He had one of His followers close enough to meet that need. Always and often our actions will tell someone God loves them more than our words will.

Matthew 25:35-40  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

“Lord, thank you for allowing me to serve you, by serving another.”

Well, of course, I never saw this Hindu, Country music loving “Traveler of the Rock Road” after that day. I can only pray others showed him kindness, in Jesus name.

As for getting back in time to go to work, well I knew I was going to be late now so might as well make the best of it. Driving down Lake Shore Drive there in Chicago, I came across a big beautiful park where many folks were out enjoying the early evening. I found a place to park, took my guitar and sat under a tree and strummed a few songs. An older man with a mandolin came over and asked if I could play Bluegrass style. Whoa! Let’s do this! And for the next hour I played rhythm and he burned up that mandolin picking some old songs I was familiar with. What an awesome day! Thank you, Lord for all the Blessings!

See ya next time.

 

 

 

 

 





Jesus Showed Up at a Beer Party

5 07 2020

The one thing I can say about being a Christian is that if you’re willing to be used by theRock _n Lord, you just never know what you’ll be called on to do. There are times I wondered if God chose the right guy for the task at hand. One of those moments came late last year.

A dear friend who was very close to me in my youthful days passed away several months back. During his last two years before that sad moment, we spoke often on the phone and even worked it out to get together on several occasions even though there was a good distance between us. The times of reuniting with this dear man were good as we shared stories of the things we did as kids and where life had taken us now. There were times we laughed, cried, and just enjoyed being in each other’s company, just like it was when we were young. But the one thing that weighed heavily on my heart was the knowledge that his time on earth was drawing short. Two matters were in the forefront of my mind; the first was even though we had many years where we didn’t see each other, I stilled loved this man like a brother. And the second, because I was a Christian I felt if I didn’t share with him what Christ had done for me, and what He could do for him, then I didn’t love him enough. You see I’m a not a preachy type Believer who looks to push my faith and belief off on others every chance I get. I learned a long time ago that method could be a big turnoff to many, so I generally don’t say anything; but hopefully let my life and actions say it for me. I believe that what I have in Christ is incredibly special and that it is a free gift of God to all who put their trust in Him. So, if an opportunity avails itself to tell someone of that special gift and I don’t, then I guess what I have isn’t so special. Amen?

Knowing time was drawing to a close for my friend, I felt God urging me to share with him as often as I could. I imagine we had some 20 conversations on the matter of giving one’s life to Christ. I’m sure he didn’t understand for a time what I was saying, thinking I was pushing some form of religion or moral philosophy, until one day he finally understood two of my favorite Bible passages. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” And Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” My Friend caught on that it’s not what he does, or all the wrong things he’s done in his life; it’s what Jesus did out of love for each of us. The day came when my friend, my brother, called to tell me he had accepted the gift of life through Jesus Christ. And once again, two schoolyard buddies laughed together and cried together.

I remember the Saturday I went to see him and he couldn’t get up from the couch. But we had a good visit, hugged, and said that we loved each other before I left. Twenty-four hours later he was in the hospital; we spoke the following day by phone. He was weak and it was hard for him to speak. I prayed, once again, told him I loved him, and we hung up. Thursday that week he was no longer in pain and his earthly journey had come to an end. It was a sad moment as one would expect. But in my heart, I knew he was okay and that I would see him again. He was now with the Lord.

Now, something I don’t like to advertise, but I am an ordained minister which allows me to perform certain functions; one of those functions is speaker at a funeral or memorial. I told his wife I would be more than happy to perform the service and she was elated that I would do it. As I said, when you’re willing to be used you never quite know what or where God is going to put you. The morning we drove to the location of where we would hold the memorial, we discovered it wasn’t a church; it wasn’t a rented hall or even a graveside service. No, she chose the place where the two of them first met and had many fun times there together in their younger days. This service would be held at an old bar the owner gave permission to use. Oh yeah, this was going to be one I’d never forget. But, Okay.

All the friends and family the two had made began flowing in, many bringing food dishes to be shared after the service. Due to waiting on certain people to arrive from out of town, we were an hour late getting started, so many settled in, talked amongst themselves while enjoying liquid refreshments. Well, this was going to be one for the books! But God put me there so I was going to do my best. When the time came to start the memorial, I shared some stories from the early days and some of the shenanigans the two of us were involved in. I opened the time up for anyone who wanted to share their own memories. There were many crazy stories that kept everyone entertained for well over an hour. When it was time to deliver the message, I was at a loss; for some reason what I had prepared didn’t seem pertinent anymore. So, I shared much of the story I have told you good people today. I told how two old friends laughed, cried, and shared our lives. I then ended with “I know this is a sad time to all who loved him, but I also know one day I will see him again because we both shared Christ as our Savior, just like any of you can. He’s happy, healthy, and living eternally in Heaven. When I finished, there was silence for a bit, tears from different ones. Then it was back to the party.

So, did I do my dear friend and my Lord justice that day? One never knows; I can only hope so. Hudson Taylor said a couple of things that help put it into perspective for me “God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.” Plus, he said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” I imagine some of my friends of a more conservative theology might argue that I shouldn’t have gone to such a place to tell about the Lord. But in my thinking, I didn’t just go, I was sent. Perhaps I did little except plant a few seeds. But, oh my, isn’t it wonderful what can come from a few seeds! All I know is on that day, Jesus showed up at a beer party, and I was His escort. Awesome!

Isaiah 6:8, “And then I heard the voice of the Master: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” I spoke up, “I’ll go. Send me!” (The Message Bible)

This wasn’t an easy story to write or to tell; each time I sat down to gather my thoughts my friend’s memory came flooding into my mind. I still have sadness that he is gone, but I know someday, this “Traveler of the Rock Road” will be waiting to greet me on Streets of Gold.

I love you, David!

See ya next time.





The Truckstop

14 06 2020

As a young person back in my adopted hometown of Fremont Ohio, seemFleetwing Truck Stoped like my friends and I could always find something to do. Since I was in bands back then, I was at a dance or party nearly every weekend. We would gather at someone’s house, pile into my VW Micro-bus and cruise up and down State St, the main drag that ran four lanes from end to end in our little town. Sometimes after dark we’d head to a couple of places that were rumored to be haunted that had names to go with the persona wrapped around them, like Screaming Mimi Bridge or Crybaby Lanes. Our objective wasn’t to look for spooks in these eerie locations, but to scare the bajeebers out of others who came to see if any supernatural phenomenon was taking place. We’d make noises, shine bring lights from the trees, and jump out suddenly at our unsuspecting but nervous prey. You definitely wanted to be quick at getting out of the way because many would slam down on the accelerator in their car and not slow up until they were miles away. For any who are reading this that might have been on the frightening end of our shenanigans, my deepest apologies. But it sure was funny back then.

As the night got late, everyplace would be closed, that is except for one. The Fleetwing Truckstop, better known to the locals as Mark’s. I wouldn’t venture to count how many times I found myself there in the early hours of the morn chowing down on steak, eggs and home fries. It was there I drank my first cup of coffee. My buddies and I had just walked in and sat down when the short gal who must have been a drill sergeant before becoming a waitress sits coffee cups in front of each of us and starts pouring before we could even say anything. “Oh no mam, I don’t drink coffee, I’d like to have a Coke.” She never looked  at me, just kept pouring and said, “I saw your boy stagger in here from the parking lot. You’re going to sit here and drink coffee until you sober up, and don’t even think about leaving before then!” I couldn’t argue with her, and frankly was a bit intimidated to do so. So, we’d sit and drink coffee with a whole lot of sugar. It became a habit to stop out there every weekend, sometime for breakfast, other times the juiciest cheeseburger you ever sank your teeth in, or a bottomless cup of coffee for $.50. If we didn’t bother the truckers who were relaxing and telling each other tales of the road in the adjoining lounge; we could go in there and play some pinball. All in all, it became a great place just to hang out with some friends and as long as we behaved ourselves, we were welcome there anytime. The workers got to know us by name and often knew what we wanted before we even ordered.

One evening my girlfriend and I had gone to a party that got pretty wild, even for me as crazy as I was back then. I knew my gal was uncomfortable, so we decided to leave. On the way to the car, there was group of guys that probably had too much to drink and were making remarks as we passed them. One reached out and put his arm around her. She screamed and I gave the guy a push. Next thing I know I’m looking at a small group of them, and as the old saying goes, I didn’t know how many of them it was going to take to beat me down, but I had a real good idea how many they planned to use! We hurried to the car and left but I could see them piling into another vehicle and head after us. I didn’t want to go to either of our houses because we both lived on dark streets and it would be easy for them to start trouble with no one to see them. So, I drove the only place I could think of; straight through town and out to Mark’s. We got there about 30 seconds before they did and hurried in. My usual waitress saw us and knew something was wrong so I told her a group of guys were going to be there any second to cause trouble. “Oh no they’re not!” She met them at the door as they were coming in. “Out! You’re not coming here so turn around and leave. I could hear them arguing with her but they weren’t intimidating Old Sargent Coffee Pusher! They were losing, but not ready to give up, that is until a trucker about the size of a refrigerator lumbered over, put his arm around her shoulder and stared at them. Intelligence must have kicked in to this posse of punks, as a friend would call anyone who acted tough in a group. They headed to their car and our hero in an apron watched them until they left.  I must have thanked her several times before she stopped me and said, “Hey, I don’t know them, I know you. No one is going to come in here and caused trouble for anyone who is apart of us.” Wow!

Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Now I don’t want anyone to think I’m making accusations, but as I was remembering this story, I couldn’t help but think about what a wonderful message to the world it would be if we treated each other like, “You are important to me.” “You are family.” “I am here for you.” Again, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, except the man in the mirror? And isn’t that where each of us should start anyway? Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Just a thought.

I left Fremont years ago and since then Fleetwing Truckstop and Mark’s Restaurant closed up, but the memories it left in me and many others still remain. And today, when I look back at the memory, fun, and lesson this “Traveler of the Rock Road” experienced, I’m thankful to God for every moment. And especially Sergeant Coffee Pusher!

See ya next time.





How Well Do We Really Know Someone?

17 05 2020

She was easily noticeable when she came to school. It was clear she didn’t have many Rock _nclothes so she wore about same three outfits where most girls had a different outfit to don everyday of the week; for some, probably two weeks. And where most seemed to wear new clothing, I would guess hers were 2nd hand, possibly hand-me-downs. But that wasn’t what stood out when Joann entered the classroom; it was that one precious possession which she wore proudly every day–the biggest brightest smile you ever saw. Joann had such a wonderful attitude that everyone liked her, students and teachers alike. She was positive in her attitude and my goodness, she was funny. She could do cartoon voices and act out skits that left your side hurting from laughing. It was no wonder when we chose up teams for a project or even a game at recess, this silly ragamuffin would be one of the first selected. I liked her also; living in the same neighborhood on the lower east side (which was looked at as the poor section of town), we’d occasionally walk back and forth to school. All that I’ve said of Joann was true, but there was another side that only a few of us knew about, and as I remember that situation, it brings sadness to my heart.

Joanne lived a street over from me in an old house that had seen its better days. It had been converted into two apartments and she lived in a rather small area with three younger siblings and her parents. Her mom was a rather hard person that I never saw smile. Her dad, well, let’s just say he left much to be desired. When Joanne was home, it was her job to take care of the younger children. Once she was at home that rosy demeanor of hers seemed to withdraw and she became very serious in nature. There were times you could hear yelling coming from inside the house as we approached from school that day, and her facial expression would switch from happy to dark. But the next day at school, the happy switch would come on and no one would be the wiser. That was Joann.

One day I came out of the house to see smoke billowing in the direction of Joann’s house. I jumped on my bike and rode over to find firetrucks blocking the street. The other apartment in the house she lived in had a fire in the kitchen and everybody had to evacuate. Joann saw me with a group of the other neighborhood kids across the street so she walked over to us. When we asked what happened she didn’t know, only that all of them were going to have to find some place different to live. She was mostly concerned with the children from the other apartment; they were crying and I could tell this broke her heart. But before she could say anything else her dad bellowed out with a few explicits mixed in for her to get back over where he and the rest of the family were. Compliant as always, she walked away from us and back to her family. I went back to my house and figured she’d have quite a story to tell at school. But when the time came, she was the same Joann everyone there knew and little was said about the incident. To me, it just didn’t make sense.

In reading Charles Spurgeon, I came upon this quote, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.”  As I pondered those words, I realized how true that was in human nature, how easy it is tell of the bad things that have happened and overlook the good that is there also. Yes, I’m as guilty as anyone. But then there was little Joann. Her life was not easy, one that would make many of us miserable. But once she was at school with friends and an environment that made her happy; she was not going to let misery ruin it for her. The problems were still there, but this child refused to let it dominate her and rob her from the joy she was experiencing. Wow!

When I think of Joann, I’m reminded that the Christian life is not always an easy course to follow especially when it feels like the world is crashing in on you. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote in Romans, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And again, in James where we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We can’t always decide the situations we find ourselves in, but we can decide if it’s going to rule over us and rob us of joy that comes in other sources.

It’s now been some 55 years since a little ragamuffin “Traveler of the Rock Road” crossed my path. After the fire her family moved, and she ended up at another school and I never saw her again. But I pray she’s well, happy, and still beaming with that beautiful smile. Something jus tells me, she is.

Thank you for what you taught me,  Joann.

See ya next time.