Monday, March 28, 2016

The Burning of Red Paul

Bleeder valve - Device on a liquid propane tank which releases gas vapor, allowing the tank to be filled.

He was called "Red Paul" because his hair was a fiery orange-red. Our friend Izear once said that if he would wear a white cap, he would look like a match.

It was a hot late August in the delta. A hot and dusty day in which we had been spraying weeds and disking the turnrows in preparation for the coming harvest.

The sun was several hours from setting as we parked the tractors under the large elm tree next to the butane (LP) tank.

Dad had pulled the pickup next to the 1000 gallon tank and was attaching the filler hose to the truck's fuel tank.

Vapor hissed from the bleeder valve. You could see the wrinkles in the air as the gas escaped toward the tailgate of the pickup.

The same tailgate to which Red Paul ambled up, arms resting on it, one foot propped upon the bumper.

Fumbling in his shirt pocket, he produced a pack of Camel non-filters, shook one out, and hung it on his lower lip.

Dad had turned away into the truck's cab. I had opened the door on the passenger's side, not noticing when Paul flicked his Bic lighter.


A streak of flame enveloped Red Paul and he jumped/fell several feet backward and to the ground, dropping the lighter. Fire extinguished.

Dad rushed to Red Paul, who sat dazed in the dirt. I grabbed a tow sack and started beating out the fire which had flared up in the bed of the truck among the grease and empty oil cans.

Red Paul, apparently not much the worse for wear, had become Pink Paul.

We loaded him into the truck and sped toward Helena Hospital, not more than six or eight miles away, stopping as we went to beat out the flames that were fanned into life in the truck bed as we sped along.

 The folks in the emergency room diagnosed first degree burns, gave the victim some salve for the more painful spots, and told him that his skin would peel and that his eyebrows would grow back.

I can say, without malice but simply stating fact, that Red Paul was not a pretty man to begin with. Having a pinkish, peeling face and no eyebrows did not improve this.

Warning: smoking cigarettes can be hazardous to your health.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

When the Willows Bloom

This popped up on my FB timeline today.

The willows I wrote about have budded and are nearly in full leaf and as I re-read this post from a year ago, I had a new reason to celebrate God's goodness.

There were two trees in the front yard when we moved into this house thirteen years ago. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they both looked like they belonged in some haunted forest.

The one next to the driveway appeared stunted, with gnarled, twisted branches, and every summer would produce bitter-tasting, inedible berries which resembled tiny, marble-sized persimmons.

Which, when they fell, made an ugly, smeared. red-yellow mess on the driveway.

The other tree grew in front of the front bedroom window. It too was unattractive and prone to dropping sizable branches on the lawn for me to clean up. It bore apples, small green apples the taste of which tended more toward a mouthful of dirt than any sort of apple.

At one point, a whole section of the tree collapsed across the lawn and into the street. The remainder leaned threateningly toward the house.

So when Gary (our landlord) came to cut down the apple tree and asked if we would like the other tree gone as well, my immediate reply was, "Yes, please."

The two willow saplings which took their place were an immediate source of joy to Joycie and me, but especially to her.

They looked rather forlorn that first winter, desolate limbs drooping leafless to the ground, or whipping about in the bitter wind.

But they were the first trees on this block to bud and bloom, and every spring, she would always say, "Look, aren't our two trees beautiful?"

I thought of that as I looked out the window from the kitchen table and saw the green appearing on the long slender branches.

I thought of the joy that something as simple as two willow trees in bloom can bring to a grateful heart.

Spring is here again.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Music, Music, Music

I hope the next big trend in music is...talent. -meme shared on Facebook

So my high school classmate, James Dickey "Hoot Baby" Darnell weighed in on this topic with the comment, "More good music was written and played between 1950 and 1980 than in any other time in the history of the world."

A bold statement.

Especially when you consider disco. 

Sandy and I were having a very similar conversation just the other day. We subscribe to the theory that "God gave rock'n'roll to you (Argent; 1973)."

We noticed two things.

The first thing is that there have always been those who try to take advantage and ride the rock'n'roll wave in an oversimplified, formulaic fashion. Cookie-cutter music, I calls it.

But, thankfully ( and more importantly), there have been (and still are) those whose music seems always fresh, varied and (of course) rockin' while remaining instantly recognizable as their music.

Quick, who recorded "Nothin' But a Good Time"? Unless you are a hair-band aficionado, You probably wouldn't know.

Conversely (or Nike-ly?), we can hear the opening chords of a Foo-Fighters song, for instance, and immediately say, "Ah, it's Dave and the guys."

The point is that, as musicians, we gratefully acknowledge (and borrow from) the past while enjoying current crunchy offerings from talented player-songwriters.

Always striving, as Willie Brown commanded, to "take the music past where you found it."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Bee-hind Got Left Behind

...and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23

This was told to me by my father whom I regard as a usually reliable source.

You know about the tractor shed, situated maybe thirty yards from the back porch of the Old House.

Seems my dad and a couple of the hired hands were working there one morning, when they heard a ruckus from the house.

Which consisted mostly of me screaming and my mother calling, "Come back here to me!"  Or some such motherly advice.

The situation quickly became apparent as I rounded the corner, taking very long steps indeed, with my two-year-old legs, yelling, "Daddy, Daddy!"

Lagging behind, but not too far behind, was my mom, clutching a willow switch.

Being nearly eight months pregnant, she advanced slowly but inexorably in my path (like the "turning of the earth," as John Wayne would have put it).

I continued in my flight from justice and rounding the far corner of the shed, noticed a storage room filled with oil barrels and other things. A hiding spot.

Dashing inside, I quickly hid my head between two barrels.

It is a commentary, I suppose, on the as-yet unformed nature of the two-year old mind that I apparently reckoned that as long as I could not see my pursuer, she could not see me.

I soon learned the fallacy of this line of thought when my mother stepped into the narrow room and found that which she had been seeking.

The rest of the story, as my dad related it, takes little time to tell. I re-rounded the corner, cries of pain replacing screams of fear, two-year old legs taking very long steps, my mom hot behind me, whistling willow switch doing its job and onlookers collapsed in laughter (rather mean-spirited laughter, to my way of thinking) at the boy who ran from his mother and whose bee-hind got left behind.

Friday, March 4, 2016

That Great Day

And when he appears, to wipe all our tears forever away....-Jonny Lang

I used to wonder what it meant to be "heavenly minded" and why I wasn't as much so as I felt I should be.

My faith, it seemed to me, was lacking since my thoughts of heaven were fleeting at best and somewhat vague. To have thoughts of heaven, I felt, would of necessity involve thoughts of standing before Jesus and beholding, for the first time, His lovely face.

I must admit I have had trouble conjuring images of Jesus' face. But I recall his saying, "Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me."

So maybe in a sense I have seen Jesus; in the face of an aged saint as we sat and visited and smiled together, or in the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we sit down to share a meal and enjoy the sweet fellowship of laughter, tears and sharing our innermost thoughts.

I have come, in this past year, to long more for heaven as I have seen friends and loved ones called home and shared the grief of those who have suffered loss as well.

As much as I have loved life, it seems every day to be more a blessing as I see more clearly the final goal at which we, God's blessed children, are aiming.

Trials and troubles? Oh yes, we will always have those.

Well, not always.

There will be that great day. Isaiah foresaw it. As did John. Jesus spoke of it. Paul looked forward to it.

"Behold, I make all things new." This is the promise.

And we look forward to that great day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Is It Really a Contest?

I am in competition with no one. I have no desire to play the game of being better than anyone. I'm simply trying to be better than the person I was yesterday.

The only time I can recall ever being truly angry with my brother was over a game. An argument had arisen over interpretation of the rules and he was as angry with me, I believe, as I was with him.

An incident from our childhood? Sadly, no. We were both full-growed boys and the competition (involving several of our friends) was fierce.

I may have mentioned before that my siblings, though loving and supportive in every way, were every bit as competitive as I was; indomitable in defeat, insufferable in victory.

The incident with Rodney caused me to take a step back and look into my heart. Did I really need to win so badly, was my self-worth so dependent on my having my way, that I would sacrifice this precious relationship to achieve my desire?


In this political season, I found this past week's Sunday School lesson apt. Screwtape instructed Wormwood to direct the patient toward a "party" church.

Did this church, I asked the class, then have streamers, balloons and funny hats?

Obviously not. Obviously the demons had something else in mind.

I forgave my brother and he forgave me, as brothers do.

Hey, where's my funny hat?