A New Song In My Mouth

orchestra-conductor_250“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:3 ESV

 

A few years ago, I was having lunch, with Brother Greg Keenen and Brother Dale Marshall, at a Pizza Hut.  We were visiting and eating, when Brother Greg mentioned a song that was playing in the background.  Both of them seemed to have a little bit of an internal struggle. They said they remembered the song well because it was popular when they were in high school and they had liked it.  Because of our age differences, it had no effect on me at all. Before that day, I had never heard the song.  It was popular after 1977, when I became a Christian.  Another time, the three of us were having lunch at Boomerang’s.  Background music was playing in this restaurant, as well.  This time, I was the one with internal struggles.  I had a great desire to move the tables and chairs back to form a dance floor and get up and dance.  The song was “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett.  If you are not familiar with the song, I would describe it as having a heavy bass guitar beat coupled with Pickett’s gravelly voice to form a tune that made me want to move.  This song was popular when I was in high school.  It had no effect on Brother Greg or Brother Dale.  It was popular when they were in grade school.  I have been interested in how a sound or a smell or a taste can trigger memories and reactions from our past.  Sometimes, they can even make you want to get in the flesh, as the Scriptures describe going back to a way of life that we lived prior to salvation.

With this offering, I would like to examine the influence of music in my life.  How it has helped to shape who I am, by seasoning my emotions, by affecting my thought process and my spirituality.  Like King Saul, the right type of music can create a positive mood within me.

Perhaps my first awareness of music was while we were living in the Bakersfield area.  As the car radio played, I would hear music from Buck Owens, Hank Thompson, Ray Charles, and Perry Como.   I thought they were on one station.  As I got older, I realized they didn’t come from the same station or were in the studio singing live.

In our home, music appreciation began for me, with cartoons on television.  While the primary interest was in the cartoon character, such as Bugs Bunny, the music was something that I grew to enjoy.  When a cartoon would have a quiet morning scene, the accompanying music was usually Morning Mood, Suite No 2, Op 46, No 1 by Gynt.  Hungarian Rhapsody #2 by Liszt was featured in “The Cat Concerto” and “Rhapsody Rabbit”.  Largo Al Factotum by Rossini was in “Magical Maestro”.  Do you remember Elmer Fudd, at Corn-gie Hall, leading the orchestra in playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1, in the “Corny Concerto”? How about “The Baton Bunny” or “The Rabbit of Seville”?  In “What’s Opera, Doc?”, Elmer Fudd utters “Kill The Wabbit!” as Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries plays.  Yes, I learned to appreciate classical music from watching cartoons.  Sometimes I like to listen while eating a carrot; just to help me remember my beginnings.

In the early sixties, my family would watch the Ed Sullivan show.  I remember when The Beatles came on and played “All My Loving” and “Tell There Was You”.  They were definitely different than Buck Owens or Beethoven.  I bought several of their albums as I got older and was a Beatles fan.  I liked their early and middle work, but lost interest after Sgt. Peppers because I didn’t understand the drug use references.  From a spiritual view, it is interesting to see the downward progression in their writing; from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”.

Shortly after this time, we were in Dallas to visit our Texas relatives.  My mother’s brother, Richard owned a gas station in a predominately black part of town.  On his radio, I heard James Brown for the first time.  Wow! Then I was exposed to The Supremes and others from the Motown sound and loved it.  Culturally, I was raised racially neutral.  My parents never instilled any bias toward any ethnicity to me.   I have been interested in how people live and why they think the way they do and why they believe the things they believe.  Through music, I have been able to relate to those from other cultures as I tried to understand who they were.

In the eighth grade, I joined the Marlow Outlaw band.  I wanted to play the drums, but the band director said to me, “Son, everybody wants to play the drums.  You need something distinctive! “.   That distinctive instrument was the French horn.  I have often suspected it was the only instrument he had available and had probably been turned down, multiply times from previous students, who had wanted to play the drums.  He began by teaching me the notes using FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine.  He taught me how to identify a whole, half, quarter, and eighth note.  Next, came finger placement on the keys and how to blow into the mouth piece.  I remember the first song I tried to play was “Greensleeves”.

When we moved to Grand Coulee, Washington, I started playing French horn again.  The school band was small and lacked someone to play the lone horn no one else wanted to play.  They had plenty of drummers though.  The band director was excited to have me join.  She was from Idabel, Oklahoma and was looking for a ray of hope from someone from her home state.  I was to play first (and only) chair.  I was placed next to the baritone horn.  While a French horn can sound elegant and regal, the music written, for most of what we played, was less than exciting.  On more than one occasion, I would play the baritone music.  It was more involved, than the French horn sheet music.

Outside of the band room, my musical choice was what was on the radio.  I liked Three Dog Night, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Aretha Franklin, Steppenwolf, Beatles, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, James Brown, ex cetera.   As I have said in earlier stories, I had anger issues.  I can see now, the music I listened to then, didn’t help calm me down.  I would go to dances or other places to hear music that would help me release the anger, not knowing it was only increasing my anger.

That’s the way it went until I became a Christian.  When the rage was converted to peace, my outlook changed and so did my music.  I began to enjoy the truth of the old hymns.  I enjoyed the praise and worship music, which was increasing in popularity, in the late 1970’s.  I had joined the church choir and tried to use the voice He gave me to honor Him.  I have a theory that the music you enjoyed before you were saved, will probably be in a similar form after you are saved.  I didn’t like the twang of a steel guitar before I was a Christian. I don’t like it now.  Before I was saved, I looked for music to move me physically.  Now I look for music to move me spiritually.  I have to be careful not to get caught up in the flesh, even with Christian music.  Romans 8 is an excellent passage to study and apply to our life, regarding living in the flesh or in the Spirit.  I am to put aside the music (and all other things) that would cause me to live as I did before my salvation.

It is clear to me about what I am supposed to listen to.  Ephesians 5:19 says to “speaking to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”  But at some point, Christian music changed.  The music I listened to after salvation was from The Maranatha Singers, Wayne Watson, Don Moen, Dallas Holms, Russ Taff, Keith Green, Steve Green, Michael W. Smith, Brooklyn Tab choir, ex cetera.  All people who seemed to love the Lord and played their music to honor Him.  I’m sure selling music was important to them, but I always got the idea from them, being popular was in God’s hands.  Not through promotions.

As I see it, the music was changed to just create sells.  If they had to leave the Lord out of it, that seem to be alright.  And that saddens me.  I grew to stop listening to contemporary Christian music.  For a while, there was a classic Christian music on the radio, but it didn’t last.  I started listening to more classical music and more sports radio.  To be honest, it didn’t fill the void for music that honors the Lord.  I know there are good writers out there.  Chris Tomlin and Matt Redmen are two who come to my mind.  I don’t like their music very much, when I hear it on the radio, but I enjoy singing their songs in our church service.

Maybe I’m just old and out of touch.  Or maybe, I just old enough to remember, when some Christ- honoring music was common place, on the Christian music scene.  I want to make sure that what influences me is pleasing to the Father.

After listening to all the music that I have heard in my life, I close with this.  From my favorite song, that was written by Laurie B. Klein.  She wrote, “I love you, Lord and I lift my voice to worship you, Oh, my soul, rejoice.  Take joy, my King in what you hear.  Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.”

 

My past was part of what shaped me into the person I am now.  What has helped shaped you?   I appreciate and welcome your comments.

God Will Make A Way

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In the fall of 1990, life was good for me and Terrie.  I had been working for nationally known manufacturing company for seven years.  I had just received a VIP recognition award from them, for being the best customer service representative in the region.   After sixteen years as a professional artist, Terrie was in her first year of elementary teaching at a Christian school and she loved it.

We had just started going to a new church, which was growing.  The preaching was good and the people seemed to love the Lord.  We had had a spiritual setback at our previous church and knew that this new church was where the Lord wanted us to be.  There wasn’t any shopping around Continue reading

On To Colorado Part 3

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In Part 1 and Part 2, I have tried to convey my awareness of life in a new and changed environment.  It was an environment more rural than Lamont.  It was a life with less money than before and as a result, I was more aware of the difficulties of life.

We lived in three other locations in Colorado; two places in Castle Rock and one in Denver. Castle Rock is about 30 miles south of Denver and about 35 miles north of Colorado Springs.  Interstate 25 connects these cities, going North and South.  From what I understand, Castle Rock is now a desirable place to live.  It has golf courses, fancy homes, and the good life.  In the early 1960’s, it had a large butte rock hill that a community was built around.

We lived in a small house on 7th Street, just off Wilcox.  We were the only house on the street, as it was a dead end street one block long.  Just east of us was a railroad track.  Across the track was the base of Castle Rock, the hill.  Across the street, was the junior high school that I attended.  We had a great view of the playground and those on the playground, had an unobstructed view of our front yard.

The whole family lived in the house, with Dad gone during the week.  I think he was working in Trinidad at the time.  My brother had just signed up with the Navy and our time of all of us living together was coming to an end.  As I have said earlier, I was fairly naive and innocent.  I just lived in my own world and didn’t pay much attention to anything else.  I remember one day when Larry had a friend over.  We rarely had friends over.  I don’t think Mom tolerated it very well.  Larry leaned over to his friend and said, “Watch this!”  He looked at me and gave me the middle finger salute.  I didn’t know what it meant, but instinctively I knew it wasn’t good.  So I jumped on Larry, trying to wrestle him.  Larry thought it was hilarious and was rolling around, with me on top of him, laughing his head off.  We had wrestled together often.  Usually I was trying to protect myself from him tickling me.  He had tickled me until I vomited, but strangely, it was not malicious, he was just trying to have fun with me.

Before he left for the Navy, I was home sick from school.  I had just started the seventh grade.  Again, we lived across the street, less than forty feet from the playground.  Classes were outside for recess.  Larry had a great idea for his kid brother.  He grabbed me.  I thought “Is he going to tickle me till I throw up again?  That won’t take long.”  I quickly understood he had something else in mind, when he swiftly removed every stitch of clothing I had on, opening the front door, shoving me out into the front yard, locking the front door; all in one continuous motion.  Here I was, a pale white skinned naked seventh grader, with a sour stomach kneeling on his front yard.  In my mind, all the noise and movement of the playground stopped.  The whole school and yes, the rest of the town was now in formation on the playground.  Twenty in a row for a hundred rows, standing at attention, each with their right arm straight out, at shoulder level, pointing and laughing at the naked kid with a sour stomach.  Now the reaction of those on the playground may not have happened as I imagined, because I did not remain in a kneeled position.  I scurried behind the only bush in the yard.  I waited until recess was over and slivered back into the house.  I’m sure I will forget that day, when he was just trying to have fun with me, someday.  I still love my brother and he loves his kid brother, but I keep my eye on him during recess.

Living next to the railroad track was exciting loud.  When we heard a “northbound” coming, we would do one of two things: one was to lay a penny on the track rail waiting for the train to pass, then to retrieve the flattened copper disc.  Secondly, we would crawl into a galvanized culvert that was just over the front yard fence and crawl to the center of darkened pipe.  The ground would begin to vibrate and the sound of the approaching train became deafening.  As the train passed overhead, we would scream in a primal yell, that only the two of us could hear.  When the train had passed, we crawled out in to the sunlight and look at each other and smiled.  We had overcome once again.  A few years ago, Terrie and I were in Castle Rock.  I had not been there in over thirty years, but I drove right to the house.  There was someone still living in the small house.  The junior high school had become a school administration building.  The playground was now a parking lot.  The train tracks were still there and the galvanized culvert was still there.  I had remembered it being very large; its actual size was only about two feet wide.

There are other stories that took place in this house, but I think it best to let them pass.  Learn from them, but let them go.

The other house, in Castle Rock, was just south of town.  I remember when it began to snow, the light snow dancing across the black asphalt of the access road, driven by a north wind.  Side to side, the snow would go. Meandering like a translucent stream.  I was fascinated by it, like when I first saw mirages in the California desert.  These were creations, at the opposite ends of the thermometer, which caught my attention. The back of this house was unfenced and extended to a creek.  The back yard was sloping downward to the creek and was uneven and had some rocks embedded in the ground.  It was not uncommon for Brenda and me to go down to the creek to play.  We would scale the face of the east wall of the creek, pretending it was the Rockies or even the Alps.  A certain day, we found an old baby carriage.  It was broken in spots, but still had four wheels.  We decided to use it to push Brenda down the sloping backyard, into the creek.  We brought it to the top of the hill, placing Brenda into the carriage.  I grabbed the handle and began running with all I had.  About half way down the hill, I ran into a rock that stopped us immediately.  Just like when I flew over the handlebars of my brother’s bike, I went flying over the handle, and crashed.   My face was sliding on the rough surface until it came to a jerky stop.  I stood and found Brenda had been stabbed by the carriage frame.  We could see the whiteness of her bone.  Brenda says I told her to “go, see Momma!”  But Mom was at work.  We started to the house to take care of the wound.  Mom was there.  She said the Lord had told her to go home, she was needed there.  She left work before the accident even happened.  The Lord was protecting the ignorant ones.

We moved to Denver, in a house near the old Montgomery Ward building at S. Broadway and Alameda.  I was to finish the seventh grade here.  Larry was away in the Navy.  Dad was working in Denver and Mom as working as a nurse’s aide.  It was here, that we watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday’s.  It was here, that I got very tired of watching “Wizard of Oz” every year, because Brenda liked it.  It was here, that my bedroom was in the screen-in back porch.  It was here, I began with a “you can’t hurt me” attitude.

I walked about three quarters of a mile to school.  My last school was just across the street.  This school was in the capital city of the state.  I was worried I couldn’t find my way, but my inner “bulldog” began to emerge and I was determined to get there.  I remember being splashed by a dry cleaning truck, one morning.  That may have been the birth of my “look”, a blank face with a dash of perturbed and a shot of annoyance.  Ok, you can’t hurt me; I went to school wet and dirty.  Another day, a neighborhood kid and I were both interested in a particular girl.  We began verbal jousting; he said something about how ugly my shirt was.  I took my shirt off and threw it on the ground.  He ran over it several times on his bicycle, even braking as he got to the shirt.  Ok, you can’t hurt me; I went home without a shirt.  Another day, in gym class, we were to climb the two inch rope.  You know that rope; it’s tied to the North Star.  It looked impossible for me to climb.  I was beginning to get a sour stomach. Sitting cross legged, on the gym floor, I waited for my turn.  Sitting to my right, was a blind kid.  He moved his left hand, slowing, toward my exposed right arm.  His bony fingers touched my arm.  I thought to myself, “If he is going to tickle me, I’m going to vomit – on him!”  His left hand was near my elbow.  He brought his right hand across his body and placed it a little lower than his left hand.  I’m thinking, “How is he going to tickle me this way?” Suddenly, he began twisting his hands on my arm, giving me what was then called an “Indian arm burn”.   That hurt. Then I got confused.  I wanted to hit him, but didn’t think it would be right, because he was blind.  On the other hand, he would have never seen it coming.  I didn’t have to make the decision, because I was next up to climb the rope to the moon.

We left Colorado and moved back to Oklahoma.

Getting older and becoming aware of yourself and life is not always easy.  Hopefully, we are open to God’s plan for us and learn to grow through the pleasant and unpleasant circumstances.

I welcome your likes and comments.

On To Colorado Part 2

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I said in an earlier story, I love to swim.  One of the most unusual places for me to swim was either in Elizabeth or Parker.  I don’t recall the exact location.  I was only there once.  What made this swimming hole so unusual was the location of the pool.  I had to walk through a butcher shop to get to the pool.

I entered the business and went past the front counter, with the steaks, chops and sausages in a case; I walked through a doorway into the back work area and then out a side door to the pool.  The pool appeared to be made of fiberglass and was located right up beside the outside of the butcher shop, with the side of the pool against the wooden siding of the building.  I walked out of the butcher shop onto a wooden deck that was about 6 feet x 12 feet.  The size of the pool was about 12 feet x 16 feet and about 8 feet deep.  It had a six foot tall wooden fence on three sides.  The deck was the only place to stand as the building and fence were directly against the pool.  I don’t recall who went with me, but it was not a private occasion.   Apparently, anyone was allowed to swim there.  On that day, a couple of young women, in their twenty’s, were there for swimming and maybe to buy a porterhouse steak.  One of the women had a fairly newborn baby with her.  Because of the limited space on the deck, and the number of people on the deck, an accident occurred.    The baby, who was not in a stroller or carrier, fell into the pool and sank.  I remember hearing the mother screaming and seeing what happened; I instinctively dived in and went to the bottom of the pool, snatched up the baby and headed to the surface with the baby held above my head.  Thankfully, the baby was unharmed and the mother was grateful.  As it turned out, this was the first of three lives, in which, I was used to save others from drowning.

There was another house we lived in, that I cannot mentally locate.  I remember you had to go down a gravel road.  The entry to the property was a single gate with high post, in the middle of a four wire barbed wire fence.  The gate was also constructed from barbed wire with a weathered post at one end that you would attach a loop of wire that was attached to the high post, to close the gate.  The drive was dirt and had very deep ruts.  So deep, it was better to straddle the ruts and drive with one side of the car in the middle of the drive and the other side on rough pasture land.   It lead to a two- story unpainted house that was, at least a half mile from the gravel road.  We lived in this house in the winter and there was a lot of snow and it was very cold.  At times, we would be snowed in, unable to get to the road because of snow drifts.  I have several memories of this place.

One of the memories was the wood burning cook stove.  I remember placing crumbled newspaper in one of the openings to start the fire and later, adding kindling to enlarge the fire.  Mom cooked some great meals on that stove using her cast iron skillet.  I’m sure that wasn’t the only heat source in the house, but I do remember checking on my Dad as he slept one night.  I opened his bedroom door and the room was extremely cold.  He used an electric blanket to counter the coldness.  From the light coming from the hallway, I could see frost on the nylon banding of the electric blanket, which had formed from his breath.  He was snoring so I knew he was ok.

I always enjoyed when we would have relatives come for a visit.  The Christmas of 1959, we had my Mom’s brother, ‘Preacher’ Barron visiting and we also had my Dad’s brother, Uncle Loy and his family. The house was full and we had fun.  One day, we all went to a small to medium sized pond that had frozen over.  The depth of ice thickness was tested by the adults and was determined to be safe. We went on the ice to slide around.  I say slide around, because we didn’t have ice skates, just our shoes.  We were having a great time.   After a while, the excitement level peaked, when Uncle Loy drove his car onto the ice!  I thought he had lost his mind.  The ice could have cracked and the pond could have swallowed Uncle Loy and his car.  I have only felt frightened twice while in Uncle Loy’s presence.  On this occasion and once when we were traveling from Colorado, coming into Oklahoma City about three o’clock in the morning.  His bright lights shown on a man in a white shirt and white pants covered in blood and dirt.  Uncle Loy reached under his seat and pulled out a pistol, but that’s another story for another time.

During this same time period, Uncle ‘Preacher’ was working for the people who owned the house as a ranch hand.  He was to feed the cattle, especially since the ground was covered in snow.  He took me with him one day to help him.  We loaded the light green Jeep pick-up with hay bales.  Back then, they were standard size hay bales, not the big round bales we see today.  We were then supposed to drive around the pasture slowly, throwing hay bales off the back of the pick-up.  He asked me to drive so that he could throw the hay.  I had never driven before, so he gave me instructions on how to put the truck into gear, easing off the clutch and then to go slowly around pasture.  He had placed hay bales on the top of the cab and fairly high in the back of the pick-up.  I got behind the wheel and he climbed on top of the hay.  My driver’s side window was half way down, so I could hear his instructions to me.  He called out for me to begin.  I pushed the clutch in, placed the transmission in gear and I gave it some gas to increase the revs.  As I was easing out the clutch, my foot slipped from the pedal.  That caused the truck to lurch forward and stall.  The engine was now dead.  I heard a thud from behind the pick-up.  As I sat in the driver’s seat, I turned my head toward the half open window and waited.  Physically, I take after Mom’s side of the family and I am built similarly to my uncle.  My big muscular uncle, made his way to my window, limping as he walked in the snow.  I had caused him to be catapulted from the top of the soft hay to the hard frozen ground.  He hooked his leather gloved fingers on the half opened glass, looked at me and said “Son, Are you trying to break an egg in me?”  I was never sure why he worded his statement the way he did, but I got the meaning.

As Christmas day approached, we didn’t have any money for Christmas presents.  A local church brought out a box of used toys to our house.  Brenda and I were told we could each pick one toy.  We also received a small brown paper sack, which contain a red apple, a naval orange, and a peppermint.  I think this was the first time I had seen God’s provision from people outside of our family. I will always appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the gesture and know it was generated by God’s love.

I want to tell you about Castle Rock and Denver.  That will be On To Colorado Part 3.

Maybe you recall a time when you saw God provide for you or His people sharing His love.  Tell me about it.

On To Colorado Part 1

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After leaving California in 1959, we moved to Colorado.  We lived in five different towns in the center of the state.  Actually, we lived in five different locations.  Not all were in town.  Some were in the country.

Our first place was located east of Castle Rock, almost to Franktown.  How this house was every found is a complete mystery to me.  The house was about a quarter of a mile off Highway 86, on the north side of the highway.  The drive was a swallow rutted dirt road, which rose up a little hill, above the highway and led to the lone white wood framed house.  It was fairly non-descript, with the exception of a bright green grass lawn in front of the house.  It was apparent that the house had not been occupied for some time.  The clearing for the house, was encircled with small cider trees.  The trees created a wind break. The long drive ended on the east side of the house.  The door to the kitchen was on this side of the house.  We used it as our main entrance.  I’m sure it had a front door, but it was never used.

The first morning, after moving in, we awoke to see that it had snowed about three or four inches during the night.  It was very quiet and peaceful there.  Looking out our front window, we saw two white tail deer.  They were eating the green grass of the lawn, having moved the snow with their noses.  I had never seen deer or snow before, especially that close.  It was very exciting for me.  We also had two magpie birds, which visited us often.  They were large black and white birds who were very vocal.  We call them “Heckle and Jeckle” based upon the cartoon series of the time.

After settling in, we began to explore the area around the house.  With the snow still on the ground, Larry, Brenda and I began our trek.  Larry would point out rabbit tracks, deer tracks, and some tracks he said were bear.  I’m still not sure he was telling the truth about them being bear tracks or if he just wanted to scare us.  Either way, it was time to head back to the safety of our house.  When the weather was bad, Highway 86 would be closed because cars could not make it up the ascending curved road to the west of us.  This provided a great opportunity for us to hike out to the road and slide down the road without fear of traffic for an afternoon of sledding.

We then moved to Elizabeth.  This house was on a small ranch or farm.  Apparently, part of the rental agreement was to care for the cattle on the property.  There were a couple of horses that were available to ride the fences.  Being from Texas, I think Mom really enjoyed riding the horses.  We also had a Guernsey milk cow.  We had an old green Studebaker Champion sedan.  When it was time to milk the cow, I would get on the front fender of the car and we would drive out into the field, find the cow and lead her back to the barn.  I felt like Rowdy Yates, from Rawhide, on a cattle drive.  We would milk the cow and separate the cream.  We had a glass jar with wooden paddles with a hand crank to make the butter.  We would churn the cream and let it set up overnight.  We would sell the butter to the local Safeway store.  I guess that doesn’t happen anymore.  I remember a special breakfast treat from this house.  We may have had it at other places, but this is where I remember it the most.  Normally for breakfast, we would have Quaker Oats (not instant or one minute, it had to be cooked) or Cheerios.  It was here that I remember the wonderful smell of cinnamon toast.  The broiler of the stove was turned on; white bread was spread with butter and placed on an aluminum foil covered pan.  Then before the bread was placed into the oven, granulated sugar and cinnamon was sprinkled on top of the bread.  The white oven door was closed and the anticipation began.  I wouldn’t walk away from the oven.  I stood smelling and watching to make certain the toast would not burn.  When toasted, the hot bread was divided for each of us to enter our own sphere of delight.  I would gulp the cold milk from our cow.  The outer edge of toast would be a little hard and crunchy.  As I ate inward, toward the center of the bread, the soft pools of butter covered with cinnamon awaited me.   What delight!  What a great way to start my day.

Being alone on this property, we created our own forms of entertainment.  We liked to walk through the forest exploring.  We would see porcupine and other animals.  We also liked to play “pickle”.  Pickle is a baseball game consisting of three players, two were baseman and one was a runner.  The premise was to teach a player, offensively, how to steal a base.  Defensively, it was to learn how to fake out a runner creating an out.  On one particular day, Larry and I were the baseman.  Brenda was the runner.  As we were throwing the ball between us, I made a throw that hit Brenda in the back of the head.  I put a knot on her head.  Looking back, I must take responsibility for her craziness now.  Apparently, that one little throw was enough to tilt her intellect in future years. If I had only known it was that easy.  Actually, Brenda turned out to be an intelligent woman, except for that Ethel Merman, theater thing.

Writing these words, sitting in my study, listening to classical music, I was thinking of how much I loved and enjoyed my family over all these years.  How much they meant to me then and now.  We didn’t have much money, but God provided for us.  How blessed I have been to have a close family.  As I have gotten older, I have learned other families didn’t have what we had.  While Dad was working out of town, I know now he was trying to provide for us.  Mom could have a quick temper, but she work hard every day.  She showed us love.  I have a big brother who took on the responsibility of shepherding a little brother and sister, when Mom had to work.  When discipline time came, we were lined up sitting in chairs, like at the doctor’s office, waiting for our appointment with the belt.  Larry was always the first one in.  He would take most of the heat.  I owe him for making it easier for me.  I was next on the leather merry go-round.  Dad would grab my left wrist and propel me in a counter-clockwise direction.  Brenda owes me for taking the rest of the heat.  I never really knew for certain, but I always suspected she was given just a “talking to”.  I have a little sister, who was always someone to play and explore with, who on many occasions, was my only friend.

Well, there is more to tell.  Look for “On To Colorado Part 2”.  Perhaps this story has stirred a memory for you.  Please let me know.  I appreciate your comments, likes and shares.

What Happened To Steve Elkins?

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“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:17

People who knew me before I was twenty-six, have asked what happened to me.  Why I don’t do the things I used to do or think the way I used to think.  My attitude and outlook are different.  My previous attitude and outlook were fueled by passive rebellion.  The rebellion was manifested in anger and it was hot.

I was angry about several things.  My main concern was I didn’t seem to be able to fit in.  We moved around a lot.  In my twelve years of public education, I attended ten schools, in five states.  I was just a kid without any special qualities to draw people to me.  I was very shy.  I was not able to verbally communicate very well.  I was unsure of how to do things or how to relate to others.  As a result, I developed an unseen shield of protection – an attitude of “take me or leave me- I don’t care!”  But I did care.

While I loved my immediate family very much, it seemed like my Dad and I didn’t bond.  We didn’t spend much time together or even talk about things.  I think I grew angry about that.  I would have like to have had his instruction, his insight.  But that was not to be.   He did instruct me in three things, which I remember clearly and practice to this day: 1) The part in my hair must be straight (if you look at my hairline now, there is no waver in my part), 2) my shirt buttons must line up with my pant zipper 3) my belt buckle must be centered on my shirt buttons/pant zipper.  I do not walk out of the house without checking to make sure all is straight and in line.

I came from a semi-Christian home.  My mother was a Christian and would take me to church.  My father didn’t appear to be interested in spiritual things.  As I grew older, I would do, think, say things which were contrary to what my parents or what God would want me to be.  By the time I was twenty six,   I was well aware that in God’s eyes, I was a sinner.  My life showed it, my attitude showed it.

One day during a break at work, some of us were playing doubles ping pong.   I went for a ball to the left of where I was playing.  I landed on a table.  I got up, laughed about it and went back to playing.  That was on a Wednesday.  By Friday, my chest was hurting and my left leg was dragging.  I thought I had pulled a muscle.  We massaged my shoulder, beat on it, put heat and ice on it.  But it felt like I had been stabbed close to my heart.  I couldn’t lie down because of the pain.  I was propped up in a corner, sitting on the floor.  On Monday, I went to my doctor.  He did some test and sent me home.  When I got home, the phone was ringing.  It was the doctor’s office instructing me to go to the hospital immediately.  I had a blood clot in my left lung about an inch from my heart and a pulmonary embolism (collapsed lung).

I stayed in the hospital for a week.  My doctor, who was Cuban, said “ESteve, choo are a verry lucky boy!”  I thought about that and about all the things we did to treat me.  If that blood clot at moved another inch, I would have died.  I would have gone to the place reserved for lost sinners.

My wife’s parents had been going to church.  One day, as I was convalescing, I went to lunch with Terrie and her mother Pat.  While we were eating, a man who went to church with Paul and Pat was at the restaurant. He talked with Pat and asked her how her son-in-law as doing and said he was praying for him.  She introduced me to him.  I was impressed that a stranger was interested in my well-being.

Terrie and I went to church, with her parents, after I was stronger.  After a couple of times, I invited the pastor to our house to talk about spiritual things.  Pastor John B Shelton was an older man, near the end of full time ministry.  On Monday night, December 12, 1977, John B rang our door bell at 7:00 pm.  John was a kind man, somewhat Grandfatherly.  We sat at our dining room table.  We talked about Heaven and Hell.  Both I believe to be real.  We talked about who would be in both locations.

After some conversation, I realized that I was a sinner against God.  I could not save myself.  John explained to me that God the Father required holiness and there was separation from him because of my sin.  And because of that sin, I would have gone to Hell in my current state.  But then he gave me the good news!  Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, took my sin upon himself and died on the cross to pay my sin debt.  He was buried and after three days, He was resurrected and ascended into Heaven.

I kneeled at my chair and prayed.  I confessed that I was a sinner and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  My faith was in what Jesus did on the cross on my behalf.  I stood up after I prayed.  There was no thunder or lighten, but what I did realize was that my rage was gone.  It was replaced with peace.  I was at peace with God.  I was accepted in Christ.  I was a new man.  Old things had passed away and take notice, all things have become new.

I will still make mistakes and sin while on this earth.  I know who I belong to and where I will be going when this life is over.  My grandfather used to have a tag on the front of his car.  It said “Saved”.  As a boy, I would wonder “Saved from what?”  The answer is saved from the wrath of God.  Saved to walk in a newness of life, saved to praise and thank the Lord because He has been kind to me.

That’s what happened to Steve Elkins!  Has it happened to you?

The Siding

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I was twelve years old or so, when our family visited my Uncle Loy and Aunt Lois and family in Clayton, NM.  I’m not exactly sure why we were there or for how long we were there.  It seemed to be at least two weeks, but could have been longer, especially since my brother told me he would sometimes go to work with Uncle Loy, which was across the state line into Oklahoma.  Unlike many today, as a twelve year old middle child, I was not consulted by my parents to see if it was alright with me to be there.  They just took me with them, with no discussion.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure I was ever consulted by my parents on any level, such as if I was happy with where we lived, what I wanted to eat, where I went to school, did I have enough money?  I didn’t get that input until after I left home.  I guess they were “old school”.  They were the parents.  I was the child.  They made all the decisions for me.  And to be fair, it worked out well for me.  I did have a bed, food, clothing every day, so no complaints from me.

If my memory is correct, Uncle Loy and Aunt Lois lived in a house that was either on a corner or had a big drive way, which made it look like a corner.  The house did not face the highway.  To the left of the front of the house was a highway or rural street.  Running parallel to the highway was a railroad track with a siding.

Their house was a wood frame house, which I am sure was comfortable for the four of them.  My family added another five, so a comfortable house for four was filled with nine.  Without enough beds for everyone, the adults got the beds and the kids got a pallet.  You know what a pallet is don’t you?  A pallet is one or two quilts placed on the floor to recreate the nice feathery mattress feeling.  At home, I spent a lot of time on the floor.  I’m not sure if it was my preference or if I was not allowed to sit on the furniture.

After some time, the kid’s interest was directed across the road to the siding.  There were two attractions.  The first involved some future construction work.  Placed at our disposal, were a number of  six foot diameter concrete culverts.  My brother Larry, my cousin Sharon, her little brother, David, my little sister Brenda and I would help one another to the top of these mammoth tubes.  Once on top of the culverts we would try to walk them, just like we had seen clowns roll barrels in the circus.  I think Larry and Sharon, being older, were more skilled than I.  Once, I did get one rolling.  My legs were not able to keep up with the momentum and I was thrown from the top to the ground landing on both knees at the same time.

The second attraction was where four or five cattle cars were diverted onto the railroad siding.  We climbed the iron rung ladder to the top of the cars.  Once on top, we ran the length of the cars, leaping across the space between the cars.  We were having fun.  After a little while, we heard a clanking and the railroad cars lurched.  We realized the cars were being attached to an engine and were going to be moved.  All of us headed toward the iron rung ladder.  I was the last one down.  My feet were on the next to last bottom rung when the cars lurched again and the train started moving.  With the last impact, my feet had slipped inside the ladder with my legs between the ladder and the wood siding of the cattle car.  This caused me to hang upside down, supported by my knees, with my arms dangling toward the gravel roadbed.  I must have looked like a Sumatran orangutan on a set of elementary school monkey bars.

Larry and Sharon were running along the track, trying to grab me and get me off.  I didn’t think they would be able to.  Clayton is in the Northeast corner of New Mexico.  In my upside down mind, the train was going to Las Cruces to cross the border into Mexico.  I thought the border patrol might have given me a banana, since I was hanging and looking like an orangutan, to tide me over until the train stopped in Chihuahua, Mexico.  I thought my young live was over and I would never see my family again.

All that took about thirty seconds.  By God’s intervention, Larry and Sharon were able to snatch me from a moving train and plant me back on solid ground.  The back of my knees were badly bruised.  I was not supposed to be orphaned from my family, raised by hoboes on their way to Chihuahua.  I did not have to look at door post trying to spot the mark of previous ‘boes’ who had found a free meal behind that door.  I was supposed to, one day, move back to Oklahoma to a wonderful life with solid spritual values.

I never have climbed on top of a railroad car again.  I think of this story, whenever I hear the clanking of railroad cars coupling together getting ready to move and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Larry and Sharon for not saying “ADIOS, MI HERMANO PEQUENO!!!’ (“Good bye, my little brother!!!)

Whatever Is Pure

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Philippians 4:6-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  

Terrie and I just finished supper.  I grilled some hamburgers.  She prepared the potato salad, the pickles, slicing the tomatoes, purple onion, with mayo, catsup, or mustard.  Whatever we wanted.

Since my mouth surgeries, I only have half the taste buds that I used to have, because of the reconstruction of my tongue.  So when my brain is telling me something tastes real good, I pay attention.  I was enjoying the grilled meat.  The contrast between the purple onion and the sweet tomato was wonderful.  The taste tug of war between the catsup and the mustard, saying to myself and eventually to Terrie, “Boy, this is good!”

Then the Lord brought these verses to mind.  Especially, “whatever is pure.”  What would my burger taste like if I hadn’t put “good” things on it?  We had fresh meat, fresh onion, fresh tomatoes, and fresh buns.  What is my life like, when I don’t put “good” influences in it? What is my life like,when I use bad ingredients.

Christians do get worried/anxious.  Otherwise, the Apostle Paul would not have addressed it.  But he also gave us a process to go through to get rid of it and tells us what we should be thinking about.  I desire to think on the things Paul mentions in verse 8 rather than all of the worldly thoughts and desires.

I want my life to “taste real good!”

Wood’s Addition Part 2

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After writing Wood’s Addition, I felt like there were a few other events I wanted to tell you about.  So I will.

I’m sure we moved to the Bakersfield area, because we had relatives living there.  My father’s sister, Cora lived in Bakersfield and sister, Minnie lived just up the street, at the corner of DiGorigio Road and Rose Street.  I have very fond memories of these women and their families for they always showed us love.

Aunt Minnie’s husband, Bill worked in a vineyard.  We received some benefits from this, which I remember.  One, we would get a box full of Thompson seedless grapes on occasion, which I loved. I still look for them when I go the produce section of the grocery.  Secondly, we were allowed to swim in the irrigation ditches.  These ditches had sloped concrete sides, which we would inch down toward the water.  Sometimes it was a little scary for me if the current was too strong.  On Friday nights, we often had supper with Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie.  While supper was being prepared, the guys would be in their little living room to watch “Gillette’s Friday Night Fights” on a black and white television.  Uncle Bill and my dad really seemed to enjoy it.  I enjoyed the animated parrot that announced the number of the next round.

In the Wood’s Addition story, I told you about thinking I was a California Highway Patrol (CHiP) officer.  I had two influences which made me think that way.  One was the television program “Highway Patrol” starring Broderick Crawford.  The second was Aunt Minnie’s daughter, Jeri’s, husband.  John G was a Kern County deputy sheriff.  I remember well when he would pull in to Aunt Minnie’s drive in his patrol car.  John G was a clean shaven, square jawed good looking man.  Looked like Hugh O’Brian to me.  When he would open the black and white patrol car door and step out, standing straight in his neatly pressed uniform with a “sam brown” belt which ran from his right shoulder across his chest to the left side of his trim waist to merge into the leather of his gun belt. Handcuffs were on one side. His service weapon was on the other.  Man!  What a Man!  Later on, I was exposed to Dragnet with Jack Webb.  Jack Webb wasn’t anything like John G.

I went to Vineland Elementary School.  It was located about four miles from our addition.  I would ride a stub nosed yellow school bus.  I liked to sit up front to watch the driver.  Because it was a stub nosed bus, the steering wheel laid flatter than the steering wheel of our car or pick-up.  I was fascinated watching the driver, as he would make a turn.  His hands would move quickly around the large wheel.  It reminded me of the wheel on a sailing ship, except almost horizontal.  At school, the science classroom had a rattlesnake in jar filled with a preservative liquid.  The snakes mouth was lift open to torment me each class.

At Vineland, I was not very socially advanced.  During recess, the girls would go in one direction and the guys would head toward the baseball diamond.  Team captains were selected and with a baseball bat launched vertically, one of the captains would grab it, usually about half way up the bat.  The two captains would alternate fisting the bat to the top with the last one, who could hang onto the end of the bat without dropping it, having the privilege of making first selection.  On most days, I was chosen last or next to last.  I wasn’t a very good player.  I had never had the rules or premise of the game explained to me and I would try to catch the ball in my right hand, not realizing the purpose of the baseball glove on my left hand.  I can’t really blame the others for not wanting me, but I think some instructions, from someone, would have been appreciated.

Lamont is located in the San Joaquin Valley.  The dirt was wonderfully black and rich in nutrients.  In the proper season, my mom and other relatives would go to the fields to pick cotton or potatoes.  Brenda and I would be taken along, on the days when a babysitter was not available. While it was still dark, well before sunrise, our car would find its way to the ice house.  A block of ice was purchased and placed in a large water cooler, which was then filled with water before driving to the field.  Pickin’ was hard work.  You would start early and stay late.  Cotton and potatoes were picked differently.   A cotton sack was made of canvas with a wide strap which crossed ones shoulder and with the bag trailing for either 10 or 12 feet.  Cotton gloves would be worn to protect your hands from the pointy cotton head.  When a cotton sack was filled, it was dragged over to a scale, weighed, and emptied into a tall trailer.  Potatoes were gathered with a heavy sack with brass grommets in the open end.  The picker wore a wide cotton army belt that had a 1 x 4 piece of wood attached to it and on the 1 x 4, two open hooks were embedded into the wood to correspond to the grommets..  The sack was place on the hooks.  The sack was to be dragged between the legs, with the picker bent over all day, picking the potatoes from the dirt and throwing them into the back of the sack.  I did not participate in either of these jobs.  At an early age, I realized I would be called to office work.  I would find a shady area and go to sleep.

Financially things went badly for us at the end of our time in California.  Bankruptcy was required.  Possessions were returned or sold.  We were forced to leave.  Before we left California, we lived for a short time, at the Weedpatch Government camp.  If you have seen the movie “The Grapes of Wrath”, you may remember when the Joad’s arrived at the camp.  A ditch crossed the entrance to slow traffic.  That’s the same place we stayed.  Back then, most of the cabins were Quonset huts.  We had the foreman’s house.  One night, Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie came for supper.  We had pork chops.  There was one pork chop left.  Uncle Bill and I went for it at the same time.  I unintentionally, stabbed the back of his hand with my fork.  He let me have the pork chop.

I do not have space to write of the influence the 1950’s tv had on me.  You may recognize some of the Three Stooges, Bugs Bunny, or The Wonderful World of Disney in my life.  Some things silly (gestures), some cultural (classical music from Bugs), some expressing values (trustworthiness from Daniel Boone), are influences, that I still shape my thinking.

Let me know if you had similar events in your life.  I appreciate your comments, likes and shares.

Wood’s Addition Part 1

WoodsAddition_250I was born in Stephenville, Texas, which is southwest of Fort Worth.  I was told our family moved to the Golden State of California when I was three months old.  My first awareness of being in a place was at Wood’s Addition.  Wood’s addition is west of Lamont, CA on DiGiorgio Road about a half mile from the Main Street of Lamont.  The neighborhood had five North-South streets and one East-West street in the middle.  It was called Center Street, because it was in the center of the addition.  On three sides of the addition, there were alfalfa fields. We lived on Rose Street.  We lived in two houses on Rose Street.

One house was closer to Center Street.  I don’t remember much about the house, except it had a hole on the side of the house that gave access to the basement.  It didn’t have any formal shape, like a square or rectangle.  It was more like someone just started digging in an irregular semi-circle and just left the dirt at the top of the semi-circle and dug down to the basement.  My sister, Brenda, and I had a lot of fun at this place because in our minds, it was a fox hole.  We would run and jump into the fox hole, quickly turn and point, aim, and fire our 2×4 wood “rifle” at our enemy.  It was here, I learned the sound effect for shooting.  A distinguishing feature of the house was the large fig tree in the back yard.  I didn’t like when the figs were ripe and would fall to the ground.  It was nasty when you would step barefooted onto a mushy, smelly fig.  The enjoyable part of the tree was it was very large and gave good shade, but because it had smooth bark and somewhat horizontal running branches, it was great to climb, rest and be hidden for as long as you wanted.

The other house is the one I remember the most.  It was the next to the last house at the end of Rose Street.  The photo above was taken at this house.  The car was a Desoto.  The kid was me. I think I was in the third grade.  If you will notice my khaki pants were pressed.  Mom would wash our clothes in a wringer washing machine.  She had a well-used wooden stick that was used to push down and separate the clothes as they moved back and forth during the wash cycle.  She would only use Tide detergent.  After the wash, the wet clothes would be run through the wringer to extract the water.  Then the clothes were carried in a basket to the clothes line, in the back yard, where they were pinned to one of four clothes wires with two wooden clothes pins per garment.  Mom called them garments.  After the warm California sun dried the clothes, she would bring in the clothes and iron them, using a glass Pepsi bottle filled with water and a corked sprinkler head in the mouth to moisten the clothes to get the steamed crisp effect she wanted.  Every school day, I would have an ironed shirt and pants lying on my bed, she had prepared for me.  Non-school days, my choice of clothing was a pair of boxer trunks.  No shirt, no shoes.  Just me, my boxers and the sun.    Mom nicknamed me Rusty; because of the sun tan I always seemed to have. I loved to play outside.  I liked to played army. I created my own imaginary neighborhood, laying out streets in the dirt and using 2×4 scraps as trucks and cars.  I liked to use my imagination.  We had a tall swing set made from 3” diameter pipe.  What great joy I had as I would swing until the front legs would start to come off the ground.  Then I would “bailout”, flying great distances through the air (maybe ten feet) to land, rolling in the grass with a big smile of satisfaction on my face, because in my mind, I had just parachuted out of airplane over enemy territory and landed safely.  One day, we had a couple of saw horses and a thick piece of plywood on them, to form a outdoor table.  We would use the table for special occasions.  We would make homemade ice cream, banana, vanilla, or strawberry.  One of the kids would sit on the burlap covered ice as someone hand cranked the cream.  I learned a valuable lesson on this table. Here it is.  Are you listening? Never, every try to imitate Fred Astaire by tap dancing BAREFOOTED on untreated plywood.  I got splinters so deep in my foot, they took me to a doctor’s office on Saturday (no ER’s then).  He poked and prodded while I yelled loud enough for Dad and Brenda, who were outside the building to hear me.  That laid me up for a couple of weeks.  That kept me out of the baseball games that where played at our end of the street.

My brother, Larry, would play in these games.  He has been a great brother to me.  When he was about thirteen or so, he would go to work with Dad sometimes.  Dad was a plasterer.  They call it stucco or EIFS now, but he would cover the inside or outside walls with “mud”.  Larry would be his “Hod” carrier.  He would take the “mud” and put it into a vee-shaped wooden box with a round wooden pole in the center and carry it to where Dad was working on the building.  Larry bought a three foot deep swimming pool for us to use one summer.  He also bought an English racer bike for himself.  He let me ride it, one time.  Only once.  I was riding his bike racing quickly to the dead end of our street.  I planned on hitting the brake at the last second, turning the handle bars quickly and slide, whirling the back tire around until I was facing the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, I hit the front wheel brake, instead of the back wheel brake, which caused the back wheel to come up and bucked me and the bike into the third furrow of the alfalfa field.   I choose not to ask to ride his bike again.

I had my own bike; it was a twenty inch bike.  Not fancy like Larry’s.  It only had one brake.  I loved it. If I wasn’t playing in our yard, I was “patrolling” our addition on my bike.  I thought I was a CHiP.  A California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop, who happened to be in the third grade.  I would ride from Pierce Drive to May Street.  Always on the ready, I would look for anything that wasn’t “right” to my eye.  I used Center Street to my advantage.  I would cut across on Center to get to Lowe Street.  Once on Lowe, it was on to the corner grocery store.  We didn’t have 7-Elevens then.  At the grocery, I would park my bike, put the kick stand down, and walk in, chest held high, to buy a Dr. Pepper and M & M’s.  It was not uncommon; to pour our M & M’s or Planter’s salted peanuts into our pop.

I have many wonderful thoughts of this place.  We left Wood’s addition in the late 1950’s.  To a third grade, naïve boy this place was perfect.  After we left and lived in other places, I realized not every place was the same.  The world was more than just a playground.  There were heart aches, struggles, electric bills, house payments, car payments and trying to get along.  Outside of Eden, is a whole new world.