Ramblin’

Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

In a town with one red light there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was Smith’s, or to the locals, “Smiss”, the grocery store, but even if you were really taking your time and got stuck behind somebody’s grandmother who was shopping for a family reunion, you could see the whole store in less that ten minutes. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what entertainment means. I suppose that it’s what you do for fun whenever you are caught up with all the chores at home. So when all the grass was cut, or there were no pecans left to pick up, Dad would take us what he called Rambling. It was Dad’s form of entertainment. Essentially, my brother Zach and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup truck and drive around back roads for the better part of the day.

It was always a surprise to go rambling, not something that we worked up to, like fishing, but something that could be done rather quickly when you discover that you’ve found time, but not made time. I never knew where we were going, although I was relatively certain that we’d stop at the store to get a cold “drank”. Dad would get a Pepsi, Zach a Dr. Pepper. I would get a Grapico. We’d set in the truck and enjoy our drinks. After the policeman pulled Dad over because he saw one of us standing up right next to Dad, we had to start wearing our seat belts. Being the youngest, I had to set in the middle with both legs hanging over into the passenger floorboard, so as to be out of the way of Dad shifting the gears. I remember being really worried about learning how to drive as I watched Dad press the clutch and shift the gears in that little truck. How was he so coordinated? How did he know when to shift them?

“You can listen and the motor will tell you when to shift the gears.”

I would do my best to listen to the motor through the hissy static of the AM radio broadcasting the Braves game. I was so intent that I would hum along to the pitch of the engine as he accelerated through the gears after stopping at a lonely stop sign on some back road. I was mesmerized by Dad’s ability to drive with only his thumbs.

There were various destinations although I don’t recall guessing, I was just along for the ride. We’d often go to the Logan Martin Dam and climb across the guardrail to peer down to the rocks amongst the stench of dead fish where the men cast out into the churning water hoping for a catch. There was an old man there named Mr. Bird. He was always there, but if he wasn’t fishing, you might as well pack up your tackle and go home.

Sometimes we went to visit a distant relative who removed an oxygen tube to take a drag on a cigarette. I only remember these people because Dad took me to see them. They would have never been able to make it to the barbecue at the next major holiday. But I remember them, if only faintly through the eyes of a child. They’re gone now, and I wonder how many stories with them.

We would visit ancient cemeteries so Dad could point out where a great grandfather was buried. I could barely read then, but I wish I would have taken better notes. It was interesting to see the graves of people who had been born in the 18th century. Dad taught us proper cemetery etiquette: don’t holler, and don’t step on anyone’s grave.

We ate a few times when we went rambling. I remember going to Jill’s restaurant in Leeds one day. Dad came walking back from the counter with two ice cream cones half a foot high. Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

Through rambling, Dad immersed us in the art of looking out the window while you’re riding in a car. He taught us how to spot a Red Tailed Hawk, and where to look for a Great Blue Heron. It’s still a thrill to be able to point out a herd of deer on the side of the road, or a redbird on a fencepost. You can always tell when you’re riding with someone who never did any recreational riding. They won’t appreciate your superior observations skills, and will usually complain about watching the road, or make some remark about traffic before looking back down at their phones.

I go rambling sometimes with my two kids now that Sarah is letting them both ride in the truck. We drive slowly by the waterfall, neither of them can argue that it’s not on their side since everyone is on the same row. Wes usually rides in the middle with his feet over in the passenger floorboard so I can shift gears. I’m still a little wary of these new automatics. We’ll get some ice cream and I’ll point at the hawks.

Rambling 5/25/2019

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Bicycles

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

You probably remember when you first learned to ride your bike. Maybe your Dad had been running behind you, holding on to the banana seat, and you looked back to see that he was standing twenty feet back with his hands on his hips grinning at you. You panic and then crash. This is repeated until you don’t crash, and that’s how a lot of people learn to ride their bike. Others never started out with training wheels, and were told to just go ride it. My Uncle Tony taught me to ride without training wheels at Gram’s house. It was a faded blue bike with gummy white rubber grips on the handle bars that left a tacky feeling on your hands. He was running behind me as I peddled, until he wasn’t, and I kept right on going. I’ve only met a couple adults who never learned to ride a bicycle. It’s difficult to imagine childhood without bicycles.

It seems like I wore out and outgrew bikes like I outgrew shoes. It probably didn’t help that we left our bikes laying in the yard to get rained on. My Dad would just shake his head when he saw this. When you got a brand new bicycle for Christmas it was easy to haul it up onto the porch and use the kickstand, but the new wore off pretty quickly after one good winter mud puddle. It never occurred to me to clean my bikes. The only maintenance I ever thought about was air in the tires and oil on the chain. Dad would catch the spent motor oil in an old kitchen pot with only one handle whenever we changed the oil in the family vehicles. After crawling out from underneath the truck or van, he would tell us to fetch our bikes. He flipped the bikes over and we would work the pedals as he poured the gritty black oil over the moving chain. You could feel the whole drive train working more smoothly as the lubrication was applied. This usually made a glorious oily mess as much of the oil splattered all over the rest of the bike. We didn’t mind though.

I had a bicycle with cement tires. It was already old when I got it as it refused to be worn out. Not many people I’ve talked to have heard of cement tires. There is a reason cement tires never caught on. Imagine riding on a pothole riddled road in a car without shocks at full speed. That almost gives you the same feeling as riding that bike.

Not content with standard issue, every boy in our neighborhood felt the need to modify his bicycle. The junkyard of worn out bikes at each house usually supplied us with adequate parts. Sometimes, probably most times, the modification did not make the bike any easier to ride or better. It was the feeling of seeing an idea come to life that gave us satisfaction. Adam Bryant put a go cart steering wheel on his BMX style bike. It was the hardest thing in the world to steer. Zach and I put bicycle tires on a scooter. It went a lot faster, but the bigger tires raised the platform to an uncomfortable height for anyone who actually wanted to reach down with a foot to scoot. Jared and Creed put roller blade wheels on a pair of two-by-four studs and pulled them behind their bikes. I’m not sure why, and when I talked to Creed the other day, he still wasn’t sure why. But they did it, and when they rolled up into our yard each with a makeshift trailer rattling behind them, their face shown with pride because of their ingenuity, and they wanted to share their success with us.

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

We rode bikes everyday until one of us got a car, and our bikes sat out in the rain and rusted until one day a man that Dad knew came and picked them up for scrap metal. We didn’t realize it at the time but as I watched him drive away a chapter closed in my life.

To combat the sedentary nature of my desk job, I recently purchased a proper adult bicycle. I’ve ridden 225 miles since I started three months ago. The changing temperatures that you feel as you ride through the shade and the hollows of Alabama takes me back to being a child on a bicycle. Having a wreck on a bike as an adult however, is a completely different experience.

I’ve tried sporadically over the last year to teach Wesley how to ride his bicycle without training wheels. At times I’ve felt like a failure as a Dad because I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to devote to this task. Other times I felt like he almost had it, but he stopped short. A few days ago while I was at work, he got on his old smaller bike, and told his mom, “I’m going to practice riding my bike without training wheels.” Without any help on that particular day, he figured out how to ride his bicycle.

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My Mind Goes Back

When I squint into the early morning Spring sun

my mind goes back to getting up before daylight

to work all day with my grandfather.

Not knowing what the day would bring.

I just showed up to work, with eyes fighting sleep and the sun to stay open.

When I smell freshly cut grass in the late afternoon shade

my mind goes back to playing softball in the back yard

with the whole family and half the neighborhood kids.

A celebration after sweating behind a push mower for half a day.

When I taste a handmade hamburger at some hole in the wall diner

where no one cares about the health score hanging on the wall,

 my mind goes back to being a kid and going somewhere with my dad.

Just me and dad.

I smile and think of him as I take a bite, he would have liked this.

When I hear hammer of diesel engine and smell it’s aromatic exhaust

my mind goes back to working odd jobs on construction sites with my older brother.

Dust is flying in the air and the sun is going down or coming up.

We worked all day.

When I hear the cawing of a crow breaking the still, clean air on a cold fall morning

my mind takes me back to the quiet frosty cotton fields behind the house.

When I drive on a rough neglected back road,

my mind goes back to the river loop.

Now I’m on the way to the boat launch with Zach and Dad.

Or on the way home from the tiny Chinese buffet across the river with the whole family.

When I smell years of stale cigarette smoke in a time capsule house from the 50s my mind goes back to my grandmother Ida Lang’s.

When a familiar musty smell escapes as I open an old book in some quiet bookstore, my mind goes back to laying in the floor reading through the ancient encyclopedias.

When I hear just about any song my mind goes back to first time that I heard it.

Some songs have a stronger memory attached to them.

And yet, sometimes my mind goes back on it’s own.

A feeling that’s hard to explain.

Sometimes I think I go back to a place that I never was, and when I get there, I am sad because I was not there the first time.

There are places that my mind takes me back that I don’t want to go.

Then there are places that my mind can’t take me.

Ah, but other times,

my mind goes forward.

Things That Matter

Isn’t it funny that baby animals learn so much faster than we do? A baby deer will be up and on it’s feet within a couple of ours of being born, but it could take a child more than a year to learn to walk. It is a curious thing. It’s not that humans are unintelligent. More than likely you are reading this on a handheld device with more computing power than the technology NASA used to put men on the moon. How can we be so intelligent, yet so vulnerable? Such were the musings of my dear friend. Admittedly, I’ve never heard a rhetorical question that I didn’t think needed answering, but there is an answer to this existential pondering.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27

There were a lot things created in the first chapter of Genesis. No, all things were created in the first chapter of Genesis, but only mankind was made in the image of God. Before there was government, before there was a church, there was a family. God has a high view of the family. Nathaniel Wilson said that, “God, the almighty, could have called himself anything, but he chose to call himself Father.” With the knowledge that as a Father I am responsible for teaching my children everything, there also comes a sobering weight of responsibility.

At my baby dedication, my pastor and grandfather, Brant Douglas Reynolds, summed up the complex role of parenthood, admonishing my parents to, “Teach him to brush his teeth, but teach him have clean speech. Teach him to comb his hair, but teach him to keep his mind pure.” As a parent, I’m responsible for feeding my children natural food, but also food for their minds. I’m to help them learn to walk, but also to show them how to conduct themselves in society.

In the information age, we have to be selective about what we are going to teach our children. Not only because there is false information, but because vast amount of information available, it isn’t possible to learn everything that can be learned. As parents we are the curators of the ideas and skills that we want to instill in them.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

I would do my children a grave disservice if I trained them up to do something in their childhood and then expect them to do something completely different when they become adults. What a tragedy it would be to learn that what seemed all important in your childhood was now completely irrelevant in adulthood. As sad as that is, it’s far worse to learn that what you did in your life had no weight in eternity. I want to concern myself with matters of eternal significance. I want to teach my children about the eternal kingdom of God.

In my journal, I often write my clearly defined beliefs on things. I do this in order to practice articulating ideas. But I also have a fanciful idea that my children will pass the journal down and it may come into the hands of a relative that I have not met. My prayer is that they will read these journal entries and the ideas and beliefs will not be foreign to them.

I have compiled a short list of things that matter that I feel a grave responsibility to teach my children, and am not willing to leave to chance. I want teach my children to have good manners. I want them to know how to treat people with respect. I want to show my children how to be a good father, and a good husband. I want my children to be good citizens. These are all honorable aspirations, but there are a few things that are even more important than these.

The Word of God is Infallible

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: II Timothy 3:16

As much as I would love to just give truth to people, especially my children, they must make that investment themselves.

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23

There is Only One God

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine hear, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thing hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

It’s easy to put this at the top of the list, because God makes it a priority throughout the Bible.

Jesus Christ is God Manifested in Flesh

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Colossians 2:8-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, ) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us word of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:19

You Must Be Born Again

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about baptism. I was once at a funeral where the officiating minister quoted this scripture with the addendum that ,”being born of the water was natural child birth.” I instinctively cried out, “No!” If I don’t teach my children that baptism is important, someone else is going to tell them that it isn’t necessary.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

Baptism fulfills the covenant of circumcision.

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also yea are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:11-12

Above all, I want my children to be saved. At the birthday of the church, the Apostle Peter answered the direct question about salvation: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Acts 2:38-39

All of these things matter to me. I’ve got to be responsible for what happens in my home.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Playing Church

My brother and I used to play church. He’d stand the toy box up on it’s side and use it as a pulpit. I would receive the offering, testify, and say amen whenever he was preaching. It was just me and the pastor for a long time. Eventually, after many prayer meetings, our church grew and our little sister Lindsay was able to help out with the music ministry. Pastor had his hands full with these two saints. He’d often have to tell us what to do and when to do it. “Alright Sister Lindsay, that’s enough singing. Brother Zane is going to come receive the offering now.

Sometimes we’d have revivals, and our cousins would come over. Zach would baptize anyone who wanted to baptized in the same toy box that was the pulpit. Sometimes he would baptize anyone who didn’t want to be baptized too. “No! No! I don’t want to be babatized!” our cousin Daniel protested.

“Hold your nose!” Zach said. ” I baptize you in the name of Jesus for the remission of your sins!”

Church was, and still is, a big part of our lives, and our play reflected that. I’m getting to watch my kids play church now in very much the same way that we did yesterday when I was young. Miriam, ever the songbird, sings constantly. She won’t be bothered by not knowing the words, she’ll make up her own lyrics as she strums along on a hopelessly out of tune guitar.

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s in my soul!

She hasn’t realized that all music isn’t church music. And if she ever sees anyone singing on video, regardless the setting, she will comment, “That’s a different church.”

Wesley protests when something isn’t just so. “Miriam, you can’t sing that anymore. The conference is over!” He measures his weeks by the church days, hoping for Sunday School the most. From time to time we go to a “different” church for a special service or something like that. He is very concerned that the different church teaches the “whole Bible and not just part of it”, and he will ask me to make sure.

Wesley and Miriam on their way to church.

Really not much has changed as we’ve matured. We’re just not playing anymore, but actually doing it. I’ve traded my broom for a real guitar. Zach really never stopped preaching, and today pastors Christ Temple Pentecostal Church in Jena, Louisiana, although he doesn’t usually baptize people against their will. Lindsay never stopped singing, now she just knows the right words. I pray that my kids never stop either.

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Portrait of a Southern Gentleman, or Things I Learned From My Dad

I was brushing my teeth this week, and while I generally do it every day, I can’t remember which day, so, I was brushing my teeth this week. I look in the mirror while I’m brushing my teeth. I was taken off guard to see that my forearms have grown considerably since I’ve been working in a more strenuous environment. For a moment, I thought that I was looking at my Dad’s arms.

I think my earliest memories of my father is of him splitting wood in the back yard. His forearms swelling as they gripped the maul. I was watching from my upturned five gallon bucket chair. Now I see him open the chicken pen and feed the chickens. Now I am standing on the back porch watching Dad wade through the flooded back yard in the pelting rain with a chicken under each arm. I watch a chicken snake as long as a fishing pole swim between his legs. I remember him killing the snake with a hoe. I remember him loading a rusty wood stove with the wood that he split. I remember riding around in his red Mazda. Mostly, I remember him coming home from work just about every day. Because my Dad is a faithful man.

Proverbs 20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?

My Dad did not teach me how to be faithful, he showed me. He has been faithful to his wife. He showed me the importance of loving your wife.

“In 1936c King Edward VIII of England abdicated the throne to marry a woman from the United States. He would rather marry that woman than be the king of England. I don’t know what it’s like to be the King of England, but I do know what it’s like to love a woman.” -Perry Wells at the dedication of Wesley Wells.

My Dad has been faithful to his family. He loves his kids. He has shown me how to love my children. How to speak kind and lovingly. Dad never talks to babies like babies, he talks to them like they’re grown people. I think that may be why children love him so much.

Dad went to work every day because he was faithful to his family and to his job. He only took vacation time to take us to camp meeting, and Alabama Revival Conference, and Men’s Retreat, and Youth Explosion and Back to School Rally. Dad’s family was his top priority and the best thing he could do for us was to take us to church.

My Dad has been faithful to his God. We missed about two Sunday services in my life to go the family reunion at Uncle Freddy’s place on the river. There was never any question of whether we were going to church. Even when times were strange. Not to say it couldn’t have happened, but I never once remember thinking that my Dad might backslide. Dad didn’t just attend church, he lived it at home.

Dad would have been an excellent candidate for college, but he did not have the opportunity. He started working in a foundry right out of High School. And so he worked all of my life, getting promotions as I grew older. I remember Dad buying a set of World Book Encyclopedias from a door to door salesman. I read through them about twice. A year. For the next thirteen years. Dad gave me a hunger for learning and an appetite for literature. Dad values learning in a way that I hardly saw in the public education system. He is a voracious reader, and because of this, there is hardly a topic that he isn’t at the very least conversationally knowledgeable.

Which brings us to conversations. I’ve never met someone that Dad couldn’t have a conversation with. My Father can talk to anyone about anything. Whenever Dad found out that Pastor Dillon was considering me for a Youth Pastor position in Winchester, Virginia, Dad called him up and talked to him like they had known each other for years and as if Pastor Dillon had been expecting the call. Dad has always been my biggest salesman. Perhaps you’re reading this blog because he forced you to read about a town drunk. Thanks for reading. And thank you Dad for being my biggest fan.

My Dad is a music lover. He would drive us boys around in the truck and we’d listen to Motown and British Invasion on the oldies station. He loved to sing along with the radio. I love to hear him sing at church too. My favorite selection from his repertoire is House Of Gold. I can’t imagine any voice but his singing…

Some people cheat, they steal and lie
For gold and what it can buy
But don’t they know that on the judgement day
Gold and Silver will melt away?

What good is gold and silver too
If your heart’s Not pure and true?
Oh sinner heed me when I say
That gold and silver will melt away

I’d rather be in a deep dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God, and doom my soul

After he realized that I didn’t like hunting or fishing, and after I played the broom for two years, Dad bought me my first guitar. It was a sacrifice at the time, but Dad sent me to Mars Music and I picked out the Squier Strat Pack, “Rock N’ Roll in a box, everything you need is right here.” The salesman said. Dad also paid for my lessons with Marky Vincent. I still play that guitar everyday. I keep it out so it’s easily accessible, I think about my Dad every time I play it. Sometimes I play his favorite requests and imagine him listening in, bobbing his head and singing along, even though he is so far away. House of the Rising Sun, My Girl, Every Breath You Take.

Dad showed me how to tell a story. That’s why you, dear reader, have made it this far reading an essay that you will not be graded on. Dad knows how to captivate your attention and get you genuinely interested in a story. He sometimes leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next while he shakes his head and rocks back and forth laughing so hard that he cries and loses his breath. Dad knows how to flavor a story with colloquialisms, short sayings that are stories in themselves, sometimes bizarre but still relatable. Growing up I thought everyone’s dad was as good of a communicator as my dad. The older I got the more I realized that Dad is a naturally gifted bard. Here are a selection of my favorite of his colloquialisms.

“Dangerous as doo-dooing in a well.”
“Heavy as a widow’s heart.”
“Goofy as an eight day clock.”
“Wild as a team of goats.”
“Ugly as pootin’ in church.”
“Mean as a snake.”

It was September 11th, 2017. I was vacuuming the church in the altar area, listening to Dragnet on my headphones when I got a call from Mom. She was crying. “I got some bad news. Dad has cancer.”

Cancer. I’d heard of it. A terrible disease that happens to other people and their family members. Cancer takes on a new meaning when it happens to you or someone you love.

Dad’s response was, “If God heals me, I’m going to live for God. If He doesn’t heal me, I’m going to live for God.”

It’s been a rough few months. A hard time. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve prayed a lot. There are a lot of things I don’t understand. I don’t know why my Dad got cancer. I don’t know why the first doctor missed it nearly a year ago. I don’t know why we found out so late. I don’t know why the medicine doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know why God hasn’t healed him. I don’t know why…but this I do know:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

For the duration of my adult life, I’ve called my dad just about every day. He was there to give council. He was there to comfort when we had a miscarriage. He was there when the money was tight. I’ve been able to share a lot with my dad over the years. Every time I hit a major milestone in my life he would rejoice with me, then he’d quote this scripture:

III John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

It’s not an easy thing to think about passing from this life into eternity. Recent events in my life have caused me to reassess my priorities. When I weigh what it is important in the light of eternity it is sobering to think that what most men are breaking their back and neglecting family to obtain does not even make the list of important things. But I don’t want to be like most men, I want to be a faithful man.

Thank you Dad.
Thank you for showing me how to walk in truth.
Thank you for being a man’s man.
Thank you for whipping me when I smarted off to you.
Thank you for being faithful to Mom. Thank you for loving her and honoring your vows. Thank you for sticking together through hard times, through hellish times.
Thank you for being faithful to God. I know that you loved the book of Job, but I didn’t think that you were going to have to relate to it on this level. Thank you for not charging God foolishly.
Thank you for taking out a second mortgage to send me to Bible college. Thank you for raising me to follow the will of God even though it broke your heart when I moved eleven hours away to pursue God’s will.
Thank you for living what you believed.
Thank you for making me get a haircut.
Thank you for buying me my first guitar.
Thank you for buying me my second guitar.
Thank you for giving me my first vehicle, the purple Tacoma.
Thank you for teaching me how to drive a manual transmission.
Thank you for giving me my second vehicle just in time for college. The old Plymouth Grand Voyager.
Thank you for paying for all the times that I went over my minutes talking to my future wife.
Thank you for showing me how to be a man.
Thank you for teaching me how to work.
Thank you for listening to me flesh out all the sermons I preached over the years.
Thank you for loving me.
Thank you for being a faithful man.

Vacation

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up.

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up. I was two years old when the whole family went to St. Louis, Missouri to visit some family friends, Sharon and Richard Davis. We drove Dad’s little red Mazda four cylinder pickup truck with a camper on the bed. Lindsay was under a year old so she was privileged enough to ride in the cab with air conditioning and the radio. Zach and I rode in the bed of the truck the whole trip. Mom was kind enough to give us a blanket to sit on and plastic three liter Mountain Dew bottle in case we had to go to the bathroom, which was great fun. We had no clue that this was not the proper way to go on vacation. Mom and Dad must have wanted to get away real bad. I remember falling into the penny pool at the bottom of The Arch, and being rescued by Andrea, the middle Davis girl.

For the rest of my life, we didn’t really go on vacation. I’m not even sure what a normal vacation is supposed to be like. If it’s what I think it’s supposed to be like, we couldn’t have afforded it anyway. What we did find a way to afford and what we looked forward to more than anything was spending time in Montgomery, Alabama at the Alabama District United Pentecostal Church Campgrounds on Pike Road. The original building was built in 1918 as one of the first schools with grades 1-12 all under one roof. At the time, High School was considered higher education, hence the “High”. The Alabama District had purchased the old brick school in the ‘70s and converted the classrooms into dorms and used the auditorium as the sanctuary. There was a big “Debt Free In ‘73” Plaque in the old lobby with the names of people who had donated to help pay off the mortgage early. My grandfather’s name was on there. By the ‘90s, a new sanctuary had been built beside the old school, I remember the new sanctuary always being freezing cold, I think they trying to make that air conditioner make up for all the years that it was absent. I didn’t complain, we didn’t have air conditioner at my house until I was eight and I think my parents had the same mindset.

There were four different week long camps held each year during the month of June: Crusader Camp, Jr. Youth Camp, Sr. Youth Camp, and Camp Meeting. Each of these camps roughly coincided with elementary school, middle school and high school, with camp meeting being for the whole family. Every June from the time I was eight until I was nineteen, I spent at least two weeks at the campgrounds for the various camps held there.  Camp was so great an influence on my life that it became one of the annual events that I still use to measure the years in my life, the other being Christmas. The focus of each camp was the same: Church. The daytime would be filled with games and activities, and the night time we would have church. There was also a day church session.

Crusader Camp was my introduction to camp. I remember The Hoppers were the feature children’s evangelists. I was and eight year old from a small congregation in a small town, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a minority. Our church taught gender distinction and to put this doctrine into practice, I only wore long pants (and still do) and my sister only wore skirts or dresses that covered the knee (and still does). Perhaps this dress code was a little redundant seventy five years ago when ladies had only just begun wearing pants, but glancing at the current gender identity crisis we have in America, I think we made the right choice. I’ve always stuck out- perhaps not as much as my sister- for dressing modestly, and Crusader Camp was the first time that I didn’t feel like an outsider. This was the longest that I’d been away from home in a single stretch. I had so much fun that I could have stayed another week.

I remember one year the air conditioner died in the dorms and the heat was unbearable. At about midnight, all of the boys were led out to lie down on the cold cafeteria tile, and the girls went to the freezing sanctuary. As soon as the counselors got everyone to stop giggling and lay down, the air conditioner came back on and we had to gather everything up and go back to the dorms. I’m very thankful for air conditioning.

Jr. Camp is when I really wanted to start playing the guitar. The two main events were softball, and choir. Since social media was not on the scene and  good decade away  from saturation, we were just excited to be able to hang out with our friends and we didn’t really need an event packed day to have the time of our lives. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive, so we would just sit and talk at the snack bar if we didn’t play softball. I loved playing air hockey at Jr. Camp, but what I looked to most was hanging out with friends, especially girl friends. The premier event at Jr. Camp, and Sr. Camp for that matter, was the Pizza Banquet on Thursday night. Guys would ask a girl to be their date and we would eat Domino’s Pizza after service in the back of the sanctuary. While we were eating, we would have Midnight Madness which is a lot tamer than it sounds. There were skits, messy games, music, but mostly comedy. People were easier to entertain before YouTube and social media.

In a time before cell phone cameras, we would buy a few disposable Kodak film cameras, snap terribly framed group pictures, and order double prints so we could share them. There is something ceremonial about viewing your pictures when they come back from the one hour photo at Wal-Mart. You sit down on the couch and pass the pictures around and relive the moment, a week or so later. It seems that camp was one of the only times I thought it was important enough to take pictures and I have a stack of pictures from different events at the campgrounds over the years. I remember feeling a lot cooler than I look in these pictures.

By the time I was old enough to go to Sr. Camp, I had already made a host of friends and I looked forward to seeing them at camp every year. By my second or third year, I was playing guitar for the worship team. I don’t remember the first time that I got to play guitar at camp, but I know that Bro. Stan Davidson had a hand in it. Getting the opportunity to play guitar at Youth Camp when you’re fifteen was a pretty big break, and I’m still thankful for that opportunity. Playing at Youth Camp opened the door to play at Camp Meeting. I don’t want you to think that I was an amazing guitar player at fifteen, I was painfully average, but playing in front four or five hundred people forced me to excel. Men like Stan Davidson and Zane Isaacson believed in training young people. They made me feel like a real musician and encouraged me to keep at it. Encouragement is something that was lacking in my community. People who could only whistle would criticize you for trying to learn an instrument. Camp provided me with confidence and opportunity to be a musician.

Something that always plagued the campgrounds was an outdated septic system. Not only were the pipes laid in 1918, the system wasn’t big enough to accommodate a small army of teenagers. Every year someone had to work on the septic system in some capacity. By the time we were teenagers, Zach and I were also emergency staff members. One year the sewer line got clogged sewer line, and Zach had to help out, I was fortunate enough to be at band rehearsal, so I got out of helping that time. When they opened the release valve, sewage sprayed about fifteen yards. When he was done with that job, he just threw his clothes away.

Once a year, not during the camp season, we would make our way to Pike Road to help out at work week. I’ve helped tile bathrooms, paint doors, but what I did most was clean and haul away trash. One year Zach was helping run a piece of conduit under the sidewalk for an electric line. The pipe was hung up under the concrete sidewalk. “Hold on, I think I can feel it.” Zach said to the man on the other side of the concrete and reached his hand down to see if he could pull the pipe through. At the same time the man on the other side of the sidewalk shoved the pipe. The pipe cut Zach’s finger pretty bad and it started spurting blood. He grabbed it and ran into the kitchen with the whole host of workers following him. After we washed the finger off it was still bleeding really bad and someone said, “You better take him to the emergency room.”

My Dad, said, “We don’t have any insurance.”

This reply was met with a smirk by the man who had shoved the pipe. When Bro. Mike Hartzell saw this expression, something came over him and he took Zach’s hand and said with authority, “Let’s pray.”

After everyone prayed, Zach pulled the wet paper towel away from his hand and we couldn’t even find the cut.

I heard some life changing sermons at that old campground. I used to buy all of the tapes at the end of the week with the money I had earned hauling hay. I still have a big stack of those tapes at home, although they are a little warbly from years of listening. There is one tape that has a reserved spot on my desk at home, “The Things God Measures” by Rev. Doug White. I can quote much of it. “The book of Ezekiel, chapter 40…God wants to know how big your altar is…” I remember that night like it was yesterday. I felt God calling me to preach in the altar call after Bro. White had measured out about a hundred yards of rope as an illustration of the line of flax. There were other memorable speakers from the various camps that I distinctly remember, J.T. Pugh, C.M. Becton, Paul Mooney, Mike Chance, and Wayne McClain. I remember being so tired from staying up all night that I fell asleep on the front row of the day session at Camp Meeting one year. I’m ashamed to say that this happened while Bro. Becton was preaching.

I also made lifelong friendships at camp. Back in the days before everyone had a cell phone and the internet was a luxury, we used to get a booklet with every camper’s name and address. It was a thrill to get a letter in the mail, especially if it was from a girl. I had my first crush at camp and we corresponded through the mail until the long distance phone rates went down. I hope that she could read my handwriting. It took a lot of courage to call knowing that her father could answer and I would have to ask to speak to her.

There was a distinct culture at camp and unless you experienced it, it might seem odd and a bit hard to understand. Sort of like someone trying to explain a real vacation to me. I wish the Pike Road Campgrounds story could go on and on, but sadly it must come to an end. In recent years, the Alabama District made the hard decision to sell the campgrounds for a myriad of reasons. This put a seal on my childhood. Sometimes, we adults would like to go back to being kids, but it’s not possible, we can only remember. I hold the memories that I made every June at camp very dear. Temporal things will not last, and even memories fade, at least for now I still have those tapes and pictures.