Writer’s Block

Writer’s block! The mere suggestion of it brings up the image of images of thirty pages of paper in crumpled balls around a trash can. Each page has on carefully crafted line at the top that just wasn’t good enough. Each project represents another tree murdered from a virgin forest in the attempt to encapsulate a profound thought to inflict on a reader.

For me the labor of getting thoughts crystalized with correct verbiage and spelling was the source of great angst during my days of compulsory writing. The realities of that day were that four or five typographical errors caused a page to be so irreconcilably flawed that no attempt at erasure would ever fix the smudgy look that too many changes causes to a work of art. A few of my papers in Graduate School were composed on a KAYPRO IBM XT clone with two low density floppy drives. Sins of spastic fingers or a third grade spelling vocabulary were magically erased on that smoking hot beauty as long as you could remember which “magic letter” would send the cursor to the region of offense.

My parents both had undergraduate teaching degrees from what is now Vanderbilt’s Education School. My mom had a teacher’s degree with a major in English and a minor in Library Science. Dad had a teacher’s degree with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. When they went back to Seminary they both finished Master’s degrees that represented 60+ and 90+ hours respectively. We lived all over the United States, and traveled extensively. I had a lot of opportunities for life enrichment even at an early age. For me it is difficult that my spoken vocabulary always outpaced my spelling vocabulary.

At this point I am going to take an outdated rant against some of the linguistic bologna we were given on the subject of spelling. Can I get a witness here? How many of you were told, “Just spell it like it sounds” These are lies of the devil. The spelling of words in English are a function of the societies they assimilated as they were conquered by and conquered the mainland of Europe.

Perhaps the most egregious spelling fallacy was, “Look it up in the dictionary.” I would rather read a dictionary than try to look up a word I can’t spell in a dictionary. Was I the only one who figured out if the words are listed in alphabetical by spelling; you really need to know how to spell them to look them up? One of my greatest grade school fears was falling asleep with my head cradled between the pages of the offending dictionary.

Enter the world of twenty-first technology. Words are changed in mid thought with no eraser crumbs clogging the rollers of your manual typewriter. Spelling is corrected with little squiggly lines under the dubious guess of the spelling. Now my only fear is correctly spelling the wrong word. AND WRITER’S BLOCK IS NOW MAGICALLY CURED.

It would be nice if the problem were only that simple. For me the issue boils down to lack of inspiration. My thoughts flow like a river if I want to convey a thought. If the subject is uninspiring, the trash can fills to overflowing, or the electrons are obliterated into “Delete” oblivion.

Enter the fifty two year old Sid. Somehow in my history of failed attempts at inspiration, I realize that writing is a way I can crystalize my soul into a gift that I can share with people around me. It is a little chunk of me, that I can scratch my mark on history. Written speech is such a gift. Perhaps I will use it a bit more. Then again, it has taken me about a month to finish my treatise on Writer’s Block. Maybe I will throw this away and start over. Naw! I have more to write later, and it is time to move on.

Happy Mother’s Day

It was three years ago today. I was immersed in the kind of work I really don’t enjoy, a turnkey renovation. Jobs like that seem to drag on forever, and this was no exception. The phone call came. My dad was being comforted by a friend in the ministry who had the love and compassion of an old minister who had seen the scars of death in this life many times. He said, “Your mother is with Jesus.”
After that started the complex series of emotions that death brings. Mom had been close to death about six months earlier. I stood over her hospital bed, and watched her against all odds wake up. The doctors did a most amazing procedure which bypassed her blocked liver. It was something I thought would have prolonged her life for several years, but it really didn’t fix her ultimate problem.
Mom’s problem is that, we live in a body that is dying. Modern medicine pushes new boundaries in combating diseases that destroyed young lives, but it is like a big game of “Whack-a-mole.” Every time you knock one down another pops up. The total of the failure of all the systems that keep us alive is the ultimate dying of natural causes. Nothing is natural about death. It was never supposed to be this way. My pastor has said it well, “We stand over a body in a casket, and we say ‘He looks so natural’ and the truth is he is in the worst shape we have ever seen.” As a preacher’s kid who grew up with the wall of our house contiguous with the graveyard fence, and the participant in many a funeral, I can tell you that the body looks dead.

Mom’s death was a Public Relations problem for our family. Mom died of Cirrhosis of the liver. The more common cause of Cirrhosis is chronic alcoholism. My mom hated alcohol with a passion. We believe that one time she got some spiked punch at a wedding. We used to delight in poking fun at her about the event. It was a bad move! Her eyes would flash at the prospect that she had ever touched alcohol. The truth is I don’t know why she got that disease. Somehow even today I feel a stupid compulsion to reassure people what they already know. Mrs. Jean was NOT a closet alcoholic.

My dad weaves together this elaborate theory about how she got parasites in a dust storm in Arizona in the 60’s, and none of the doctors caught it, and it destroyed her liver fifty years later. My doctor who has the funniest sense of dry humor about medical problems is that you get them by bad luck. Disease and death are promised realities of this fallen world. As surely as I will get up on Monday, and go back to work on never-ending mechanical failures, I will also go to my grave with a failed body.
I didn’t react at all the day I heard the news. I picked up the wires I was pulling and kept pulling them, but it was the start of persistent grief, that has not faded since then. Three years later it is deeper. As a season I love Spring. Now it brings complex emotions. I see the flowers blooming as I make my treks in and out of Home Depot, and invariably I start to remember the plants we got for mom. It is not a good memory.

My faith in the eternal reality is not shaken. I don’t have to concoct my silly visions of Heaven to be at peace with mom’s eternal destiny. Rather than saying something stupid like she is riding a horse and buggy on a gold road with Jesus, I know that she went to a perfect reality, totally forgiven, in a relationship with the Savior she knew and served for most of her life. Death for her was leaving the bondage of a sin cursed world.

We have a concept of heaven like the eternal saints sit around peering on the earth watching us like ants in an arena. Since then I wonder if they even see the earth. Perhaps the mercies of God he doesn’t allow them to worry about whether their children make the mortgage next month. The truth is that I don’t pray to mom. I hope that she only has her eyes on Jesus.

A week after we were down celebrating our last Mother’s Day with mom, we were at her funeral. We were surrounded with compassion by a community that dearly loved my mother. One of the preachers at mom’s funeral came up with an accidental ironic statement about my mom. He said, “Mrs. Jean is dancing before Jesus.” My mom was such a Baptist she didn’t have a clue how to dance. I guess Jesus taught her.
And then we are left alone. We all hurt; my dad’s loss is immeasurable. For my dad I often wish that he could wake up dead one morning, and the separation be over. He is trying, and he hasn’t lost his faith, but the weight of it all, along with the progression of death in his own life has changed him. Our end game is never pretty.

And once again it is Mother’s Day. Her loving fingerprints are on the life of me, my family, and generations of people living and in the future who will be touched by a life lived well.
Today Mother’s Day falls on the third anniversary of Mom’s death. I truly miss you Mom.

Enigma

It has been three months since I have cranked out a blog entry. I have made a few attempts at a post, but I have been suffering from severe writer’s block. Part of the dry spell has been to an amazing year in business. For about eighteen years, I have been running my business as a “Jack of all trades, Master of none.” I have been in business for twenty years this year. The older Sid would advise the younger Sid to limit your business to what you love doing, and turn down everything else. The down side to this is that since my heart pumps Freon, the peak heat of summer is blinding in intensity for an Air-conditioning man. My creativity has been kind of cooked all summer long.

Perhaps my dry spell has been due to a lack of inspiration as well. I made a few attempts to write some blogs describing mentors in my life. In my list of people I respect and try to emulate my Dad is right there in the center. For me Dad is an enigma. To check out the word enigma I did a quick search and came up with this from Dictionary.com.
“e•nig•ma
noun, plural e•nig•mas; Chiefly Archaic

2.
a person of puzzling or contradictory character: To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears.

Definition two definitely describes my feelings toward Dad. I can only describe the emotions he evokes as full volume on all channels. I think I have subconsciously avoided dipping my ladle into the emotional stew I feel toward my dad because I kind of know what is in the pot. My mom was an angel. I could easily write about her because I know that there is nothing unpleasant in the stew pot. I also think it would be easy to write about Hitler, Caligula, or Queen Jezebel, because they were people with no redeeming virtues. And then I come to Dad, my enigma.

I have found writing this blog to be very cathartic for me on all levels, other than the fact that it has made me want to go back to Freshman English so I don’t sound like an absolute moron. There is something very judicial about binding an emotion up and putting it down in hard copy. It is also scary to think you have chosen a format that displays your dirty laundry to anyone with an ISP and a mouse.

My problem with dad is that I could write several blogs that extol his virtues, and it would be an accurate picture of an amazing man. In reality his virtues would far outweigh his vices. I could also cherry pick through his bad moments and you would have a horrible image of him that was accurate, but represents a small part of his life. I think it is going to take several entries to box up my thoughts toward Dad. Much of my thoughts will never be up for public consumption. One problem I face as I wade through this is that I know that there are many others who had it so much worse. Some men are just pure evil. I hear stories of people who grew up with absolute sadists, and I feel like such a lightweight. Dad wasn’t all that bad. It is very common for me to point out one of my sticking points to my dad with him, and he refers to something worse with his dad. Somehow the fact that others had it much worse doesn’t make my problems seem any less real.

I just got back from a really bad visit with Dad. Dad is eighty-three years old and lives in a 28,000 square foot school building. For his age he thinks pretty well, and gets around alright. The building he lives in is a huge albatross that has slowly sucked down many of his resources. I view the thing as such a sucking liability that it may implode into a singularity. If you ever find yourself flying at near light speed toward Louisiana, you will know I was right. Dad has signs of on setting dementia that will probably be full blown Alzheimer’s in a few years.

Both my grandmothers had dementia in their end game. For Grandma Hagen it just exacerbated her quirks, and made her extremely dependent and clingy. Grandma Gladdish did a complete 180 degree turn from her well composed self. My sweet church librarian grandmother would suddenly weave a tapestry of profanity that would make a drunken sailor bow his head and give up cussing in shame of his ineptness. In either case, I could never tell if they were just totally out of their mind, or if the mask had finally come off. My love for all my family is great enough to believe mainly the best out of them. I kind of cringe at the thought that one day my mask may fall off. I think most of us are scared to delve into the darkness of our own depravity.

My conundrum with Dad is that while he’s showing some clear signs of dementia. I see it as the dad I grew up with, just a little worse. I think I should be responding with compassion, and sympathy. Instead I find rage, at what is a lifelong pattern of bad decision making. Dad knows how to push people’s buttons. When he is pushing mine, I really want to just shut him off.

And yet………I know it just isn’t right to shut him out in his hour of need. Reality is that in my worst moment, I was blessed to be the son of Richard Hagen. As I have time and the liberty to write, I would like to introduce you to my father. An enigma to me, and a man worthy of respect.

Discipline

Sometime in the fall of 1968, we moved to the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  The move introduced me to my fourth school by the early part of my Second Grade.  I moved to William Charles Cole Claiborne Elementary School.  I had to write the entire name of the school on each of our tests.  Most of the time, the test was over by the time I finished writing the full header including my schools name, my teacher’s name, my name, the date, and the subject.

This started an endless sequence in my life of being the new kid in class, and being the crash test dummy for the discipline system of the school.  Over the years I sported a rather impressive resume` of new schools, types of education, and the underbelly of the beast waiting for my punishment at the hands of a principal, or a teacher.

It was the late 1960’s.  Psychology and alternative thinking was in full swing.  Generations before were raised on the three “B’s” of Education, Bust their Butts with a Board.  It was suddenly cool to just mess with a kid’s mind, rather than bruise their butts.  My Second Grade teacher was a woman named Miss Grant.  She had one of these big bouffant hairdos that must have consumed several of her waking hours trying to get that much volume.  I still remember thinking she was hot.  The great poet, Confederate Railroad, described the look so well.

“Shoulda seen the looks on the faces of my Dad and Mom,
When I showed up at the door with a date for the senior prom.
They said: “Well, pardon us son, she ain’t no kid.
“That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig.
I said: “I know it dad, ain’t she cool, that’s the kind I dig.”

Yeah, an’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an’ er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side.”*

Miss Grant must have slept with hair rollers the size of toxic waste drums.  I believe her makeup was applied with a mason’s trowel.  It has been about forty-five years, but I think she was the first woman that made me notice that females have significant anatomical differences from men. Turns two and four on the race track were particularly overstated.

Miss Grant was particularly fond of psychological manipulation.  Offensive students were “Put out of the community.”  The class had a little annex section toward the back left side facing the teacher.  When you were “put out of the community” she would move your desk over to the annex away from all the good kids.  I love to make light of this form of punishment years later.   I lived outside the community.  I ran organized crime outside the community.  They elected me mayor of outside the community.  I used to make fun of the “Sheeple” inside the community.

Reality is that I was absolutely crushed.  My mother’s eyes would flash, with the momma bear’s protective instinct when I would sob that I got put out of the community today.  It was my first taste of years of the new kid syndrome.  Most kids are tied to their school district by the location of their house.  For many children, their home address doesn’t change for decades.  Every year spent in the same school creates a web cliques that gets tighter every year.  Overcoming the inertia of this gets harder and harder as time progresses.

This blog brings up a personal issue.  How influenced are you by other people’s opinion?  I meet people totally oblivious to other people around them.  They absolutely don’t care what people think of them.  While people like that seem to have few friends due to the number of people they alienate, I am somewhat jealous of them.  They have immunity to peer pressure.  No one manipulates them with guilt, or ostracism, or anything.  The other end of the spectrum is a person who is so controlled by fear of his peers, he is absolutely paralyzed.  I have spent most of my life trying to balance either extreme, but erring on the side of being controlled by fear of other people.  That fear has led me to spend most of my life trying to attract attention to be popular.  It is a great resume` for a comedian.  The fear can be absolutely crippling.

Being put out of the community should have been effective discipline.  The need for attention always took over, and it was another round out of the community.  There is a level or resignation that comes over a person when they start to believe they can never do anything right.  I have seen that look on Sunday school kids, Christian school kids, reform school kids, and hardened criminals.  When hopelessness takes over, discipline is almost useless.

Sometimes we need to reboot our thinking.  It is not just enough to get someone to conform to a set of rules while they are under your authority.  In the big picture, you are trying to teach someone a set of values.  I say this like I have never made a mistake.  Reality is that I have learned most of right by doing wrong and dealing with the consequences.  The art is correcting the mistakes in a way that instills a desire to do right.  If you are crushing the esteem and spirit of a child, you will produce a robot that conforms in your presence.  The end game to that is rarely pretty.

In the end game, I survived.  It wasn’t the worst injury I ever had, and it certainly wasn’t the last injury either.  Somehow forty-five years later the event was traumatic enough that on my Saturday off, I am choosing to share it on an internet forum.  This leaves me with one final chilling thought.  What kind of mistake am I making today, that will waste someone’s Saturday forty-five years from now?  That is way too chilling of a thought for me to deal with on my day off.

*Confederate Railroad, “Trashy Women”

A Student’s Tale

It has been said that youth is wasted on the young.  It is probably also true that education is wasted on the uneducated.  I was twenty-four when I received my Master’s Degree.  I finished High School, and then signed up for the next step.  I did a short stint at the International Institute of ACE, and then I went to Bob Jones University.  I worked straight through doing three sessions of summer school making up for the credits I lost at the International Institute.  I was twenty-two with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  I still haven’t figured out why I was in college in the first place, and I was totally unready to face the world.  At that point I had only succeeded in eliminating several Mrs. Not Sidney Hagen.  Bagging the actual Mrs. Sidney Hagen had not happened prior to the Bachelor’s degree so it was a move from Senior Panic to Graduate Grabs.  Thankfully Dianne said, “Yes” somewhere in the mix, or I would have a PhD hanging on my wall.

I had finished a Master of Arts, and was working on a Master of Divinity, and then I saw the future Mrs. Sidney Hagen.  I was twenty-four.  My grandmother who paid the bills on my college education was quite content to keep paying for my educational adventures.  I had never filed a tax return, because I was always someone’s dependent.  I had only taken work on the side because I was bored.  I had been in school without a break from 1966-1985.  For nineteen years of my twenty-four year life, I had been a student and I was tired of it.

I took a job burning boards on a construction site.  It was one of the happiest times of my life.  With a Master’s degree I made $5.00 per hour.  Within two weeks of taking the job, I was called in by one of the partners of the business and given a raise to $5.50 an hour.  He told me that he had never had anyone in the position I occupied that actually wanted to work.  They farmed me out to the painters, and I spent hours sanding cabinets.  On our job site one of my jobs was to pick up the debris left by the sub-contractors.  I had great delight in burning the shingles flung all over the jobsite by a particularly sloppy roofer.  As he cussed in the burnt shingle smoke I sent his way, the balance of nature was right.  Years of teaching pounded in my head that it was right to give your employer an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay was paying off.  The best part of my job was that I was not required to think at all.  It was heaven for about six months.

I am called to be a tradesman.  I think if I had a life verse I would choose Proverbs 22:29.

“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” Proverbs 22:29 ESV

Even the King needs a craftsman to carve the door to the throne room.  I have often found that my glorious moments in life are spent soldering a line set at the back of an Air-Conditioner, or changing the ballcock in a toilet. In the middle of the grind of broken things that makes up my existence, I am at peace with my role of fixing what I can.  Bob Dylan said it well.

Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken.

Everytime you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

In the middle of everything broken, I find this deep intellectual hunger in my life.  I think that most of us speculate how our life would be different if we had a windfall of money, like winning the lottery.  For me I would spend a couple of years traveling the world.  I would like to spend days riding a train from Moscow to Vladivostok.  I would like to dive under the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  I would like to roam for days in the British Museum.  I would like to haggle in the markets of Calcutta, and sample the salmon and capers in Norway.  I would like to slaughter a pig with the tribesman of New Guinea, and walk through the mountains of New Zealand, and then when I couldn’t bear the thought of one more plane ride.  I would go back to school.

I would take courses in digital logic, and philosophy.  I would study literature, and aerodynamics.  I would spend hours debating the nuances of history.  The height of my day would be lunch, sitting at a table of twenty something year olds, sharing my life as a fifty something year old.  In the wonderment of a younger generation I would be young again.  My mind desires some new knowledge in my life.  God painted the landscape of my world with the intellect of an artist with every color of a rainbow and the creative genius of the author of eternity.  I could spend a thousand lifetimes exploring the depths of his mind.

What I didn’t realize when I was in school, is that I had the one opportunity to enjoy education like a sixteen ounce rib-eye steak, and I spent much of my time in school taking this rich banquet in my mind in the same manner that I take a bitter large pill.  I choked it down with water, and swallowed it quickly to get it over.  It got in my system, and it affected my life, but the tragedy is that I could have enjoyed, and appreciated it so much better.  Today as I am writing, I still wonder where that stupid comma belongs in the sentence.  I would like to experience the glory of Rome.  I would like to analyze the battle plan of Lee.  I would like to find a comet inbound to cross the orbit of earth.

School was an endless stream of regurgitating outlines, writing uninspired papers, and trying to live up with constant deadlines.  Today I spend more time in concentrated thought trying to win an argument on Facebook than I used to spend producing one of the many papers required in my program.  Watching a freshman trying to produce a five page paper is like watching my wife give birth. (Not really, but you get the point)  I could write five pages on a lunch break at my age.  When I was in elementary school, I was a precocious bookworm.  Getting through the academics was never an issue, because I was usually about seven chapters ahead of the class out of boredom at the slow pace of the class.  When I was in college, I left tons of points on the table because I forgot why I was there, and like a pig just didn’t read the assignment.

My exhortation for my young friends is that you will wake up as a middle-aged person, and realize that decades of your life fly by like the snap of your fingers.  Four to ten years of your life spent in higher education will pass quickly, and it will be the only time in your life when it is acceptable to study till your brain falls out.  Don’t rush it.  It is like a savory steak.  Cut it into small pieces, smell the aroma, and slowly chew every bite.  Burp up the aftertaste, and remember the delight when that flavor hit your tongue.

It took most of my life to realize that the value of education is in the fact that you leave the experience educated.

Cajun Realities

New Orleans Seminary Chapel with the steeple

New Orleans Seminary Chapel with the steeple

So after taking a short hiatus to discuss cars and all things mechanical, I pick up with the story of my life. Dad drove across five states including the transit across the Great State of Texas, all 881 miles of the fragrant fumes of the cow manure which contributes to its greatness. I have made the transit several times. Dad was the crusader and made the trip alone. For us the move was like hopping into a Star Trek transporter. We flew to Kentucky. Dad set up our new life, and we came into our new world.

Our new abode was Parkchester Apartments. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had nice on campus housing that came with a waiting list. Somehow Parkchester was on the list of alternative sites for students needing rental housing. To the best of my memories it resembled a barracks I stayed in on a Russian Mission trip. Dredging up the memories of a seven year old, Parkchester evoked varied memories of feet. The buildings smelled like sweaty feet. It was my first experience with the steam bath that summer in the South brings to mind. The smell in the hallways was similar to taking a swan dive into a gym bag. The second memory of feet and Parkchester was that all night long the floors upstairs creaked to the sound of big feet on sagging subfloor. It just seemed like it was going to be a horrible place from the get go. My dad could be hired to terraform hostile planets. Dad invested in a Sears Coldspot air conditioner. Somehow this magical box, Willis Carrier’s greatest invention, pumping an endless circuit of Chlorodifluoromethane scrubbed the smell of stinky feet from the air of our cubicle. This micro-atmospheric processing unit transformed the thick yellow air into a little bubble of sanity in this hostile new land.

My Kindergarten days were spent at East Globe Elementary under Mrs. Esther Preston in Globe, Arizona. My First Grade year was spent under Mrs. Virginia Dolan at Central Elementary in Miami, Arizona. A cute parenthetical story from my time with Mrs. Dolan was related to a project where she asked us to draw and describe what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a picture and said that I wanted to be a missionary miner. I wanted to work in the mines on the weekdays, and tell people about Jesus on the weekends as a missionary. It stuck in her mind, probably because of the unusual combination of careers. Fourteen years later in 1982 at my grandfather’s funeral, I bumped into Mrs. Dolan. She asked me if I ever became a missionary miner. It was really funny because that summer I was doing mine assessment work on a copper claim, and working with a mission church on the weekend at Gilson Wash Baptist Church in San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. We laughed together at the course that my life had taken at that point. A couple of years later she sent me a graduation present with the sweetest note that said, “I am glad you became a missionary miner. I wanted to go into missions, but I was too scared.” In some ways it represents the paradigm of my life. Most of my living has been made in the dust of my trade skills. At the same time the impressions of my grandmother who was active in the Women’s Missionary Union of Trinity Baptist Church have never left me either. I wrestled for years with the question of what is my calling to missions. It has turned out over time that it is to be a layman who loves seeing the spread of the Gospel worldwide.

Our move to Parkchester and New Orleans started my third school. I enrolled in the Second Grade at Bienville School. Our stay at Parkchester, and Bienville was short because I finished the Second Grade at William Charles Coles Claiborne School near the Seminary on Campus. Bienville is one of the few schools that I don’t remember my teacher’s name, and major features of my time at the school. Cut me some slack here I think I was there for about two months, and it has been forty-five years since I was there. Man I am getting old! I remember that the food in the Cafeteria smelled kind of like some grade of ground horse meat with gravy on it. Somehow lots of cafeteria food smelled like that after that time.

Shortly our name came up on that waiting list, and we were a full-fledged seminary family. Here is where I describe a life that is all things Southern Baptist. My mom as a single woman worked in the library at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. Throughout the South there is that unique look that all cookie cutter Southern Baptist Churches have. What most people don’t realize is that many of those churches from the 40’s through the 70’s were built from plans distributed through the Sunday-School board. The required four pillars of the Southern Baptist Church have great theological significance. The pillars from left to right stand for The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, and The Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program pillar is somehow designed to carry the entire weight of the Church. I believe that the architects assembled together with acoustical and mechanical engineers to combine the perfect combination of poor acoustics, unnecessary brick work, the weight of a constantly paint flaking steeple, creaking floors, and drafty windows which are the characteristics that represent the concept “Church” to all of us who grew up there. The bathrooms have their own smell. There is this fragrant mix of heavy lead based paint and urinal cakes that take me back in time. I don’t really want to get in that time machine, but that smell could take me back if I decided to go.

All of the buildings on the campus had that same red brick Colonial look that was characteristic of Southern Baptist Churches. In the center was the chapel with pillars that stretched to sky to support a pediment that was supposed to have a towering steeple on top of it. The Southern Baptist trying to teach an object lesson about the parable of building a building without counting the cost had erected a beautiful chapel that remained topless for years. To add insult to injury they had coined a logo of this beautiful chapel with the nonexistent steeple, and placed this signature on everything that represented NOBTS. There was no mistaking that there was supposed to be a steeple on this chapel because the designer plates sold in bookstore rendered the artist’s conception of a nonexistent steeple. The inside story was that the steeple that was supposed to fit the building was too heavy for the church to support its weight. At some point in the future, probably after the advent of fiberglass, the building was retrofitted for the load. I remember looking at it on a subsequent visit to the campus after its completion thinking all is right in the world.

Dad and Mom were in school studying for the ministry, and all was right with the world.

Cars I Have Known

The first vehicle I remember in my life was a 1958 Ford station wagon.  Through the fog of time of my half century, and counting years of existence, I can still remember that it was an ugly monstrosity.  Contrary to popular opinion LSD did not originate with Timothy Leery in the 1960’s.  The Illuminati, in their attempts to overthrow the government with a massive trucker strike in 1979, attempted to alter people’s perception of reality by warping the minds of the parents of the 1950’s.  In attempt to undermine the aesthetic senses of Americans a select control group of Detroit engineers were given Acid and a drafting board and told, “Draw us the first thing that pops into your mind.”  In the middle of an exceptionally bad trip one of them excreted the prototype of the first station wagon.  At the moment when half the board room vomited into the trash can, they knew they had a winner.

The thing had some sort of experimental rocket engine for a power plant.  It was heavier than the tailings dump at a Uranium mine.  It was painted some sort of a brownish sandy tan color to hide the vehicle if it were ever driven off into a sewage plant.  The seats were configured in some arrangement with a couple of the back seats facing South when the vehicle was Northbound.  This was to allow the back passengers to feel the same level of car-sickness and nausea backing out of the driveway.  The bumpers on the thing were vestigial appendages (not necessary).  The ugly of that vehicle could repel a stalled concrete truck to forty miles an hour by parallel parking too close behind it.

One day mom wrecked it driving out to the ranch.  I can still remember the splintered paint on the front of it sticking out kind of like eyelashes.  After a trip to the body shop Dad had the beast back to factory ugly in no time.  Parked in our driveway the thing was the quintessential immovable object.

Arizona has a strange concept of rivers.  We affectionately referred to the channel of strew boulders and sand across the road from our house as a wash.  It doesn’t rain for months at a time.  A desert thunderstorm can appear out of nowhere and dump an incredible amount of rain in a short period of time.  The mountains behind our house were 7800 feet tall.  A good rainstorm several miles away can send a torrent of water down a dry riverbed, literally blowing dust ahead of itself.

During one of these events my mother had us downtown for one of those painful excursions to the beauty shop.  It seems like over half my childhood was spent in purgatory waiting on her under a hair dryer, or picking out a dress.  Then the rains came!  During a dry spell the local version of Captain Planet pushed several old car bodies off into the dry wash bed to make them disappear.  When the torrent of water inundated the town the car bodies washed into the concrete culverts that were supposed to divert the water from the city streets.  Just a few days before we were outbound on Dad’s Cajun dream, we watched from the beauty shop as the river rose several feet running through the streets of town.  One of my early experiences with the concept of mortality was that during this storm a lady was carrying a baby that was swept out of her hands during this storm.  The thought still gives me cold shivers on the back of my neck today.

From the beauty shop window we watched helplessly as the irresistible force of the river picked up that ugly Ford and washed it through the plate glass window of the dealership where we bought it.  This was nature’s way of getting even with the malicious engineers that designed that piece of junk.  What a fitting end.  The balance of nature was finally restored.

They towed the beast back to our yard.  I remember Dad opening the engine compartment and my seeing it full of sticks and mud.  We were free.  The old beast died in Arizona and was no more.

Dad drove the 1958 Diamond REO bus, our only vehicle, to Louisiana while Mom, Tim and I took a short vacation to Kentucky.  As part of setting up our life in our new surroundings he brought a brand new 1968 Plymouth Fury III four door sedan.  Next to a 1979 Little Red Truck that car was one of the coolest vehicles I have ever seen.  It was sky blue and sleek.  It had a back deck that seemed to be so deep that it hung over the bumper.  Mom could wrap you up in a blanket, and you could stretch out on that back deck and sleep like you were snuggled in your bed.  Yes, we weren’t buckled in an eight point aerobatic harness of a child seat, but the luxury of sunning yourself on that deck approached art.  Somewhere in the spacious dashboard it had the coolest windshield washer button.  I just loved to create my own personal rainstorm with that button.  It was the closest thing to controlling the weather I had ever seen.  I now realize that I am old, when I fondly remember a 1968 car with new car smell.  It was heaven!

It was powered by a 318 V-8.  I have had that engine in nine of our family’s vehicles.  At the tender age of nine, I also had one of my fondest memories of my childhood.  Dad was over the top cool on the day I spent with my new SK Wayne socket set sitting in the engine compartment of that car taking the heads off the 318 doing a top end overhaul.  Somewhere in the smell of the gasoline and grease he allowed me to explore what would become a lifelong fascination with taking things apart to see how they worked.

My brother Tim often said that he was glad he made it to adulthood without me taking him apart to see how he worked.  Somehow in the midst of that time I also learned how to put things together, and sometimes they worked again.  Once in a while they worked better when I was done with them.  Kudos to a Dad who was patient enough to see my natural gift, and then encourage me on to a skill set that became my life.

I went on to drive, ride, and work on that same (318/360) engine in a:

1968 Plymouth Fury III,

1970 Dodge Tradesman 200 Van,

1974 Dodge Dart,

1976 Dodge Sportsvan,

1979 Dodge D 150 pickup,

1989 Dodge D 150 pickup,

1994 Dodge 350 Van,

1994 Dodge 1500 pickup,

1997 Dodge 3500 Custom Van.

In 2009 I fell from grace and bought a Chevrolet 2500 Express Van.  I towed the sad hulk of a Purple Dodge Van with a cracked block to the crusher.  It closed a chapter in my life where I learned about, mechanics, my dad, and my sons.  Sometimes love smells like gasoline and grease.