Monthly Archives: August 2012

Forgetting to get dressed lately …

Colossians 3:12 – “… you must therefore clothe yourselves with … gentleness …”

Finding myself homebound, ailing and recuperating from pneumonia last week, offered ample opportunity to consume a portion of the programming on our DVR, but there are still: 62 episodes of “M*A*S*H”; 30 episodes of “Wild Kingdom” (side note: I interviewed my boyhood idol, Jim Fowler, back in ’98); “Barbecue University” (21 episodes); “The War” (10); “Nova” (13); “Haunted Highway” (10); and “The Boys in the Hall” (7). That’s just a smattering of the clutter – I mean, “information” – that I have DVR’d. And you can never watch “Mermaid: The Body Found” too many times.

There was also time to take stock of the other things that interest me, and if I’d had the energy and adequate stretches of consciousness, I would have lost myself in origami, an art that I’ve tinkered with but not yet mastered. Organizing notes and outlining long-term projects for the Tribune would have been another wise use of time. Better yet, I could have worked on finishing “Chasing the Devil” (unfinished novel No. 1, book two of trilogy) or “Gone” (unfinished novel No. 2, third part of trilogy), before National Novel Writing Month comes in November and I begin “Dixieland,” the sequel for the trilogy.

Oh, the things I could have done. I certainly had the time.

Instead, I convalesced and reflected, and even before I re-encountered that No. 1 pet peeve of my life – the Creasy Springs/Business Loop/West Boulevard roundabout ‑ it dawned on me during that time of reflection that somehow it IS possible to survive without a constant infusion of Diet Coke, and also that lately I have not been a gentle person. It really didn’t take Phil Schaefer saying so on Sunday at Christian Fellowship to convince me, but apparently he WAS speaking only to me: “Clothe yourselves with gentleness.” There are some other clothing requirements in there, too, like “patience” and “tender mercy,” but the one that stabbed me Sunday – and again later this week – was “gentleness.”

I’ve even been “snarky” with people lately. And I hate snarky. Apparently I’m good at it, but not proud of it. One of my first lines of defense is sarcasm. It’s a trait that rarely leads to productive dialogue and consensus. While I wrestle with the insecurities that make me need to be right and clever, I need to nip “snarky” in the bud.

Can’t be that and gentle at the same time.

Back in 2000-01, I spent most of the school year substitute teaching in Jefferson City and Blair Oaks. I worked the 4-to-midnight shift most of the time at the Jefferson City News Tribune, so I usually worked two or three days a week making a little extra dough as a public school sub. Please, please, don’t EVER make me sub again for middle school students! High school was okay, but what I especially enjoyed was the special needs classroom or grades K through 2.

One of my best experiences was subbing for the music teacher at Callaway Hills Elementary School in Holts Summit, where just inside the classroom door was a sign that said: “Before I say it, ask: Is it true? Is it nice? Is it necessary?”

Lately I’ve needed that reminder, and not so much in how I speak, but how I respond non-verbally and how I want to respond to the incredible imbeci … – I mean, people – who simply can’t grasp that roundabouts are NOT four-way stops, and that you’re supposed to yield to traffic already in the circle to your left.

Gentle. I’m working on it. If I’ve been anything less, don’t excuse me, but please – in your most gentle spirit – please forgive me.

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Speaking of *steroids …

I came within four questions of running the board Thursday on “Double Jeopardy!,” and I nailed “Final Jeopardy!” — who was Monet? — while only one of the teacher contestants got it. I was on fire.

Well, not literally, but feverish, but also hyper focused, which is extremely rare for me. I often do well with “Jeopardy!” questions — Wednesday’s final answer, “Who was Brutus?,” stumped the contestants but not me — yet I must confess that Thursday’s results might be tainted.

I was hopped up on steroids. That’s right: I was using performance-enhancing drugs. (Prednisone).

The two Major Leaguers banned in the last two weeks for using steroids probably weren’t being treated for pneumonia, as is the case with me, but the infractions (Melky Cabrera’s and Bartolo Colon’s, not mine) have the sports talkers buzzing. So here’s what I want to say to the Hall of Fame voters, those wholesome, sober, fastidious, faithful-to-wives sports writers.

If a player admitted cheating (see: Jose Canseco) or has been banned for using performance-enhancers (M. Cabrera, Colon, et al), they shouldn’t be eligible for the Hall. Case closed.

Otherwise: Shut up.

Roger Clemens. Hall of Fame.

Barry Bonds. Hall of Fame.

Mark McGwire. PLEASE. Hall of Fame!

Before I give you my take on the Steroid Era, let’s shine the light on the Greenie Era, that period of the 1970’s and early 80’s when The Big Red Machine, certain Pittsburgh Pirates, now Hall of Fame Philadelphia Phillies and many others were fueled by something other than their sheer love of the game. Back in the late-80’s I basically stumbled into a friendship with Ken Reitz, former Cardinals third baseman and later a Cub and Pirate, who also had some unpleasantness with the Commissioner’s office for the substance abuse that eventually wrecked his career.

He swore me to secrecy, but dropped the names of some of the game’s biggest stars. If not for the “greenies” — speed, amphetamines — that players popped incessantly to deal with the brutal grind of a 162-game season and the advent of something new, a thing called “free agency,” many of those players wouldn’t have lasted past mid-August. They pepped up with speed and air-braked with booze.

And management knew it; maybe more than tolerated it. Reitz told me he played for a Pirates team that had greenies in bowls like M&M’s. The die was cast for my future opinion about the Steroid Era when he told me — by names — the sports writers who routinely helped themselves to an occasional “treat.”

It’s the writers who cast Hall of Fame votes.

Was Barry Bonds “dirty?” Probably. But for his entire career? Probably not. Did the cocktail of “supplements” that Mark McGwire ingested enhance his performance? (Define “enhance.”) Did he suddenly learn to hit a baseball? Were they illegal? Technically, no. Did those needles really pierce The Rocket’s posterior? He says not.

So we don’t really know, and if you think that view is so naive that it’s laughable, consider that we also don’t know how many of those massive moon-shots that McGwire hit while he and Sammy Sosa were SAVING baseball in 1998 were hit off “enhanced” pitchers. Roger Clemens seemed to have the best years of his career in his twilight. If he was “juiced,” how many of the batters he had to face were also supplementing?

I am NOT saying that two wrongs make a right. I’m saying that the information that exists isn’t strong or consistent enough to be fairly and uniformly applied by the sanctimonious hypocrites that form the fraternity of the Baseball Writers Association of America. How did Cal Ripken Jr. perform so well for so long? Derek Jeter?

Albert Pujols?

Until there’s standard, reliable and accurate testing, cheating will occur. So let’s test and boot the cheaters. But when we single out the ones we’re most comfortable seeing as villains — Bonds, McGwire, A-Rod, Clemens — it leaves a haze of suspicion over the others. And it completely ignores that some of the game’s greatest from 30 and 40 years ago — several with uniforms, balls, gloves or bats safely ensconced and gathering dust by now at Cooperstown — got a wink and a nod on their way to enshrinement. (What about The Babe? How did Joe DiMaggio endure that 56-game hitting streak? Didn’t The Mick use some sort of pain-killer for those awful knees? And even if Ty Cobb was clean, he was a horrible human being, one of the nastiest, meanest to ever walk the planet. Maybe it was ‘Roid Rage that prompted him to go into the stands and beat up a one-armed man?)

Finally, I hope Roger Clemens, age 50, does return to the mound for an encore. In fact, he needs just 20 wins to become No. 3 on the all-time wins list. Is he an arrogant ass? Seems so. Could he actually pull it off? Probably not, no way.

But I’d love to see him try.

The Top 10 Favorite Players of My Lifetime

To make these lists, I actually had to see the player play — in person. My honorable mention 20, in no particular order:

David Freese; Hal McRae; Frank Howard; Rollie Fingers; Gaylord Perry; Al Hrabosky; Johnny Bench; John Mayberry Sr.; Rod Carew; Brooks Robinson; Cookie Rojas; Bob Gibson; Freddie Patek; Willie McGee; Catfish Hunter; Bo Jackson; Cal Ripken Jr.; Darrell Porter; Willie Stargell; Pete Rose (who should be in the Hall). I saw Barry Bonds as a Pirate and a Giant. But he’s not a favorite. But he belongs in the Hall.

Top 10, in order: George Brett; Paul Molitor; Nolan Ryan; Mark McGwire; Derek Jeter; Reggie Jackson; Hank Aaron; Carl Yastrzemski; Albert Pujols (No. 3 until he went west); Ozzie Smith.

Now: I DARE you to put an asterisk next to any of those names.

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And along comes pneumonia …

THIS was going to be the week that I resumed regular blogging. The week I was going to master active voice and conquer passive voice. (Except that sentence). The week my weekly cycling total would eclipse 50 miles. The week that long-delayed, long-term projects at the Columbia Daily Tribune would get new life and bring smiles to the faces of my editors.

I had big plans.

Then along came pneumonia. It’s (at least) the ninth time this respiratory malady has flattened me in the last 20 years.

I know, I know. There seems to be a problem here. Two years ago, my fine physician, Dr. Carin Reust (University Physicians, Smiley Lane Clinic), fashioned a plan to figure out why I’m so susceptible to pneumonia. Whereas most people get a bad cold or maybe influenza and then, after suffering with the first ailment for a while they contract the secondary infection of pneumonia, I get a scratchy throat, a cough, maybe a sneeze and BAM! — pneumonia. Skip all the in-between incubation time.

It’s like a cruel board game I’ve thought about creating. It’s called “You’re Sick!” Roll the dice, move your marker (a DNA-helix of the influenza virus, a vial that represents live smallpox from the CDC in Atlanta, things like that), and you land on a square that says “Select A Symptom.” You pick a card, and yours would say, “Scratchy throat.” In your next move, you drink a gallon of orange juice and that symptom disappears. Trouble is, you now have a “severe lower gastrointestinal disturbance.” Now, I pick a card that says “Scratchy Throat,” and on my next move, I land smack dab on the “Pneumonia” square.

It’s true. I almost always go from zero to 60 like that — from picture of health to pneumonia. I rarely get a common cold or a common anything. I had viral meningitis in 1989 and pleurisy in 1992. And somewhere along the way, according to chest x-rays taken in 2010 during a period of good health, I developed scar tissue in my right lung. Just a smidgen, but probably a tell-tale sign that I had undiagnosed, untreated pneumonia or some other brachialcardialigistic ailment, probably during childhood or my teen years. (I just made up that brachialcaria-word, by the way).

In late 2009 my side business of painting, minor carpentry, window cleaning and deep cleaning  (stuff that no one else wants to clean) was so booked that I actually took off work from the Trib the last week of ’09 to finish two jobs. The last part of the last job was spraying “popcorn” texture onto a ceiling on which I’d inflicted dry-wall repair.

I didn’t wear a mask. Within two weeks I was down with pneumonia and that was the end of Jodie The Handyman. Solvents, cleaners, paint and similar chemicals sort of freeze up my lungs now. The allergic/respiratory reaction doesn’t cause pneumonia, but it basically sets me up for the illness. Or something like that.

I have a few ideas where this scar tissue came from:

– All that airplane model glue that I huffed as a kid. (Okay, I made that up). But these are real …

– Spring 1984, as I siphoned gas from the car to transfer into the garden tiller, I got a mouthful. Some of it made it down my gullet. I probably aspirated just enough not to kill me. I remember that incident by this name: The. Longest. Night. Of. My. Life. Remind me to tell you more about it later.

– July 1978, when I nearly drowned in the Gasconade River. Some of that nasty water made it down my windpipe. My lungs burned for days.

– 1981, Rolla, Mo., Godfather’s pizza. My high school debate partner, Jack Smith, did a sort of Heimlich maneuver on me as I choked on lava-hot double-cheese pizza. Pretty sure a melted bit of that delicious cuisine wound up in a lung.

– 1982, March. After walking back to North Ellis Hall, my dorm at Central Missouri State University, from Country Kitchen, where several of us had a Bible study and where I learned that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian because I’d never spoken in tongues, I went to bed around 2 a.m. Just after falling asleep, I woke up panicked, unable to breathe. No air in, no air out. I raced to the bathroom, splashed water onto my face and stared in the mirror as my eyes bulged and the room spun. Somehow I managed a gasp. (That happened again a month later, but never again since, unless you count sleep apnea, which I also have).

Anyway, I reported to my Pentecostal friends what had happened and that immediately upon regaining full respiratory function, I spoke in tongues. “Sorry,” said my buddy Chris. “Did you pray for interpretation?” No, I hadn’t. Chris said he’d pray for my soul.

There you have it. More of my medical history than you probably wanted to know. And all of this to explain that I’ve missed work all week and, by doctor’s orders, I won’t be back until Monday. Meanwhile, Nurse Kelly is providing exceptional care and, so far, I think I’ve been a pretty good patient.

So far.

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‘Stay out of the river’ … conclusion

NOTE OF APOLOGY: I found this sitting in my “drafts” folder and didn’t realize I hadn’t shared it. My bad. It was pre-set to publish on Aug. 1, but somehow it went to and stayed in “drafts.”

Here’s the conclusion to a four-part story from July 26-27, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I followed our sense for adventure from the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. I generally try to keep blog posts to 600 words or less, so here’s fair warning that this is a long read: over 1,200 words. Rather than split this up into two more installments, I think it’s important to keep the stream unbroken — at least from my perspective. As I finished this up, a flood of long-dormant memories, details and emotions clutched my soul.

It’s odd ‑ the things you think about when you think you’re drowning.

“Will this hurt?” “Will I lose consciousness before, well, you know?” “Will I survive long enough to have a memory of what happened so that I’m replaying the horror as I … die?”

I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, and even if it that happened, the soupy warm, sick-green, gritty water clouded my sight and burned my nose. I struggled hard not to inhale, aware that a mouthful of the murky river water was already in my stomach. The back of my throat burned, but I broke the surface just in time to spit and spew before another gulp of the Gasconade River went down my gullet. I turned my head in every direction, screaming Mike’s name.

I didn’t see him.

Fighting the paralysis of terror, I was certain the Gasconade had claimed two more victims.

My head jerked back under the surface, water pushed its way into my lungs, and an other-worldly force clutched my feet.

Within minutes of arriving at Rollins Ferry Access, Mike and I spotted the perfect camping spot for our three-day stay. A narrow gravel bar about a third of the way into the river beckoned my best friend and I, and we quickly waded and splashed our way through knee-deep water to stake our claim on the gravel bar.

The long-awaited but ill-planned hike to the river had become a hitch-hike via Highway 89, but we were there. By not following the meandering Turkey Creek for who knew how long, we’d have more time to spend at our ultimate destination. Somehow that rationale eased the disappointment of giving up on the hike. The gravel bar immediately yielded an arrowhead and Mike located a good pile of driftwood. He pointed to a deep pool just across the river and announced, “That’s where we’ll catch our supper.” I stepped into the river, cupped my hands and sucked up a long, gritty drink.

Both of us had long forgotten our mothers’ unified edict, and the only condition of their reluctant agreement to let us go: “Stay out of the river.”

The raft we fashioned out of the driftwood was barely sea-worthy, but in no time we were on the other side of the river. Mike piloted the raft and baited our fishing lines as I hung on to the side, floating and navigating our crude watercraft into position. Our casts were quickly greeted by hungry crappie, and our rods reeled in a half-dozen or more for our stringer when a woman stepped out of an Airstream RV parked along the bank and chased us away. “You’re on me,” she said. “You’re on my part.”

We slowly made our way upstream, just west of the Highway 89 bridge, where another woman told us we were welcome to fish in a little eddy just a stone’s throw from her back porch. She even brought out cold lemonade, offered to make us something to eat, and warned us to be careful. She didn’t even pretend to be impressed with our driftwood raft.

“Respect the river, boys. It’s dangerous.”

As dusk settled in and the mosquitoes became the size of small birds, our little gravel bar turned into a soon-to-be-15-year-old’s dream buffet: fried fish, fried potatoes, snack cakes and campfire cornbread. The disappointment of short-changing the hike-of-the-century quickly faded as we fell asleep, stretched out on our damp sleeping bags under the stars.

Thick fog lingered just above the surface of the slow-moving water and the increasing regularity of cars and trucks crossing the bridge announced the start of our first full day at the river. As Mike slept I walked into the water, stopping at thigh-deep and splashed my face. The cool river soothed the massive mosquito bites on my arms and neck. Still tasting the salty fish and taters from the night before, I put my face in the water and filled my belly.

The moment the fog lifted, the late-July sun baked and the humidity basted. We hunted for arrowheads, flipped and skipped rocks, stacked some firewood, ate a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, and chatted with boaters that passed by. By noontime, the sauna-like heat was unbearable and Mike stepped into the river.

I joined him. I laid back and floated, my mind empty and my belly full.

Maybe it was several seconds, maybe a few minutes. What I do remember was realizing I was several feet downstream from our gravel bar campsite when I put my feet down to stand.

Instead, I sucked in a mouthful of soupy warm, sick-green, gritty water. My head went under and my feet weren’t able to find the bottom.

After discovering that Mike was also drowning and going under a second time – this time gagging and throwing up in my throat – the undertow showed mercy, and my head bobbed above the surface again. In an instant I heard Mike screaming my name and caught a glimpse of him tossing something my way. The deadly undercurrent snatched me again and as I stretched my arms high, a massive piece of driftwood splashed into my hands, giving just enough buoyancy to bring my head and torso out of the drink.

In that split-second, just moments before the Gasconade River was going to become my watery grave, Mike Thompson saved my life.

We reached the bank and lay on our sides, throwing up, coughing up and sobbing. Every inch of my body was numb. There was sand in the pockets of my shorts, sand in my hair, mud in my mouth and under my nails, and a sick odor of sick-green river water in my nose and deep in the pores of my skin.

I wanted to go home.

As we recovered on our little gravel bar, the woman who let us fish behind her house shouted from the other side of the river. “There’s a storm coming! I don’t think you’re safe there!” She invited us to wait out the storm in her house. Instead, completely discouraged, dispirited and stinking of river muck, we packed up and less than 24 hours after a kind motorist dropped us off at the river, we walked back to the highway to flag down a car to take us home.

Heavy rain was already falling when a northbound car stopped to let us in. It was the superintendent of the Linn school, Joe Phillips, heading to the middle school in Linn where my mom was working, getting ready for the new school year to start.

I don’t think either Mike or I ever told our mothers the real reason we cut short our stay at the river.

My mom brought us home, but not before we waited out the storm at the school. Radio reports indicated that a tornado had been spotted somewhere in rural Osage County, in the vicinity of the Rollins Ferry Access. Torrential rain fell all day and all night. The Gasconade River rose dramatically. I later heard that the Airstream RV washed downstream just after the woman who’d chased us off had run for higher ground.

A few days later, Mike’s dad, Raymond, drove us around to look at flood damage. As we crossed the Highway 89 bridge, I looked to the east to see our gravel bar.

It was gone.

It never has reappeared.

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Guest blog: Missing my Granny

By NATASHA JACKSON             

 

I didn’t realize until the other day that I am still grieving the loss of my Granny Nola. Of course I cried when she died. I cried a lot. And I cried at her funeral. But I had a lot of peace about her going because I wasn’t the one taking care of her when she got really sick. I was in Fiji. And I wrote her a “good-bye on this earth” letter while I was there and my mom read it to her. I didn’t see her at her absolute worst. And I’m so thankful that I didn’t.

But a few weeks ago, I went to a senior assisted living center in Warrensburg and played and sang piano for the sweet old folks. To me, I did horribly. My voice was cracking the whole time because I was getting so emotional. When I played the hymn, “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” there was an elderly woman in the front row who started singing along to my poor piano skills. She sang so loudly and clearly. When I looked up at her, she had her eyes closed and was smiling so big. It really touched my heart. When I started to play and sing “Amazing Grace,” my emotions took over and I broke down. I had to stop playing. I was sobbing in front of 30 or so very elderly people. I felt so ridiculous. I mean, who breaks down like that in front of people they don’t even know?

I felt so rude. I had come to bless these people with my musical gifts, and I couldn’t even get through it. Of course I had to tell them what was up. I told them that my great-grandma had passed away and we shared a very unique bond over the Gospel and old hymns. No one understands that side of me better than my Granny Nola did.

The night before her funeral, I had a dream that she was whole, beautiful, and healthy. She was singing “In The Garden,” one of our most favorite old hymns. She loved roses. And she loved Jesus. Granny was so ready to go and be with Him where she could walk and talk with Him. She expressed to me several times how ready she was to go Home. The first verse and chorus:

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses; And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.”

Granny is with Jesus. Experiencing joy incomparable to anything anyone on earth has experienced. Instead of mourning that she is gone, we should be rejoicing that she is there. And I do. But I miss her.

My Granny got me the most thoughtful present I have ever received. For my birthday one year, she gave me a book that had something like 9 or 10 CD’s in it, and they were all instrumental hymns.

At the assisted living center, I had to stop playing hymns and switched to contemporary worship songs. I apologized for my breakdown, and they were all more than understanding. I thought that I was going there to bless these people. But really, it was the other way around. I was blessed, because being there with them helped my heart continue to heal and go through the grieving process.

I thought I was done hurting about my Granny being gone. But apparently I wasn’t, and being at that center was exactly what my heart needed to heal. When I was finished, I went up and talked to the lady who had sung along when I played the old hymns. Her name was Virginia. She asked how old my grandmother was when she passed. “84, almost 85” I said. With a big smile and a tear in her eye, she proudly stated, “I’m 85.” She also played the cello when she was my age. She was delighted to hear that I had and asked me to come and play for her sometime. I told her I would come and help her to relive some memories. Her smile couldn’t have been any wider.

I sensed Granny’s spirit in that place. Not because it was a home for “old people,” but because it was a place where the Lord was worshiped and they loved their old hymns. Just like Granny and me.

Journal Note: Here’s Alan Jackson performing “In The Garden.”

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The best day in a long time

It’s not that days past were necessarily catastrophic or uneventful, but Monday was simply a good day. A banner day.

  • My 49th birthday, yet I didn’t feel like a grizzled veteran. My co-workers even took it easy on me.
  • Kelly spent most of the previous four days studying for her LMSW (licensed master of social work) licensure exam, which she took Monday morning. In a rare example of my bride reaching for the required score rather than the best score, she announced late Sunday, “I can miss 40 questions and still pass.” I teased her about setting the bar low. But she passed the test Monday and will soon receive her license to do what she’s done with me for 30 years: therapy.
  • It was a productive day at work, notwithstanding being stonewalled by communications directors for the governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources. With apologies to my friends and readers in the Southern Boone School District, I rejoiced to discover that Monday night’s school board meeting was rescheduled for next Monday night. That schedule change allowed for more time to enjoy my birthday supper with my very relieved wife. She was positively giddy from passing that test. I am proud of her beyond comprehension.
  • A few weeks ago we agreed to be godparents to four great siblings, ages 8 to 12. Desiree, 12, Dasia, 11, Bryant 9, Bryson 8. We’ve been wondering about the details of our roles as godparents. Monday night we were asked by their mom, Rochelle, to drop by to break the news that their pet guinea pig had died. I do have abundant experience in that, so I broke the news as I held the lifeless little cavy. By doing so, I facilitated the breaking of four beautiful little hearts. It looks like we’ll be hosting a guinea pig funeral and burial in the next day or two. On the drive home with the guinea pig and its cage that the kids — for now — couldn’t bear to see, Kelly knew just what to say: “I guess we know now what godparents do.”
  • But it was one of the best days in a long time. The soul-deep tears and sadness from our little friends didn’t ruin the day. Hardly. Sharing that deep loss and letting our godkids react as heartbroken youngsters would react answered a need of my heart and gave me a sense of peace that an ungrizzled veteran would not have found.

Finally, thanks for all the birthday well-wishes.

Tomorrow look for the long-awaited tribute to Granny Nola from our youngest, Natasha, who taught me the importance of letting youngsters grieve the loss of their guinea pigs.

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Overcoming words that sting

Note: Due to a technical glitch, the guest post scheduled for today by Natasha Jackson has been delayed. (Hey, Tash: Send me that story in the body of an email).

Meanwhile, let me share a couple of photos of our youngest daughter: Natasha’s senior picture with her cello (circa 2005) and a much more recent photo (July 2012).

You’ll read in this upcoming guest post about Natasha playing her cello at a nursing home. She earned a cello scholarship to attend the University of Central Missouri (graduated 2011) and played in the orchestra. There’s a much longer story here with incredible scenes about Natasha going to Cameroon and Fiji to spread the Gospel and to share her awesome heart. The story would include sad scenes where some tried to trim her edges, to get her to fit in a theological box, and generally became exasperated — maybe even disappointed? — that Natasha has always rejected being cut from the cloth of conformity and tradition.

She is most definitely cut from a different piece of cloth. The sadness is from the breath-taking blessing that box-stuffers and edge-trimmers miss when they don’t see her heart.

Natasha’s gigantic heart is both blessing and curse. She feels and experiences emotions in a profound, raw way. We’ve shared some of those moments of great laughter and giddy joy. We’ve shared the opposite of those pleasant moments. I’ve often told Natasha that she loves big and hurts big.

Now, just tell her she can’t do something …

Some of the most hurtful words came several years back from her cello teacher. Natasha arrived for a lesson with a folder of information and music that she needed to learn for her audition for a cello scholarship. The private music teacher — someone whom we paid a substantial sum of money over a period of three years — looked at the material and then announced, “You’re not good enough for this. You don’t have what it takes.”

I mention the “substantial sum of money” reference because — and all the music teachers out there need to hear this — you shouldn’t keep taking someone’s cash if, at some point, you believe the student just ain’t got it. You should end the relationship and move on. That’s the honest, dignified thing to do.

We ended the relationship ourselves, and shortly after, Natasha earned a “1” rating on cello at district music contest (and her school, Harrisburg High School, didn’t have an orchestra/strings program), and she also earned that cello scholarship.

Maybe the greatest lesson Natasha learned from that was not necessarily overcoming the words that stung, but now that she is giving private music lessons — piano and voice — she won’t pass on those words that hurt.

Finally … yesterday’s post about the coolest titles — godparent, uncle, Grandpa — completely left out the two most important titles that I cherish: dad and husband. (And one of our former foster sons still calls me “Pops,” which is pretty cool, too).

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Grandpa, uncle, godfather: the best titles

When you’re around good kids for any length of time, you learn to appreciate their parents.

We retired to slumber Sunday night with a different kind of tired. Friday night we had our four godchildren for a sleep-over: siblings Desiree, Dasia, Bryant and Bryson. I will provide photographic evidence of this relationship in the future. We only recently were asked to be godparents. With these siblings, their mom, Rochelle, has already done the work of teaching values, manners and personal responsibility.

Kelly and I are simply following that path to reinforce Rochelle’s work. The godparent role is typically associated with Catholicism, so I’m doing some research to figure out what this means for Protestants. It’s basically the same thing, I believe: spiritual mentoring/education.

Any suggestions?

We went from godparenting to having Kelly’s 3-year-old nephew, Marik, on Saturday, overnight and until Sunday afternoon. Just a few days ago I made it clear that when granddaughter Kianna reaches the “why” stage, I will answer every single “why” with a clear, Kianna-level response.

I got that “why” vow put to the test with little Marik this weekend. I’m not good at short, concise answers — just ask Kelly, my co-workers  and anyone with whom I exchange email. But I’m better at that now than I was just 36 hours ago.

Finally, bringing Marik to Jefferson City to hand him off to his dad, en route from Jeff City to Byron in Osage County, our rendezvous site was the Brown Estate where little Kianna awoke from a good nap to find Grammy and Grandpa cooing and doting over her. Her parents, Kishia and Darnell, are making a difference in their daughter’s life. As a result, I have no doubt that Kianna will make a difference in the lives of countless people.

Princess Kianna will be six months old on Aug. 15, two days after this Grandpa’s 49th birthday.

I think a birthday picture will be in order.

This week …

  • Tuesday: Guest blog by youngest daughter, Natasha. She reminisces about her Granny Nola, who died in December. Have your tissues ready.
  • Wednesday: Getting back to the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting theme, a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.
  • Friday: The 80’s. Not the temperature, but the decade. Another memoir-in-progress.
  • Saturday: The Write Life. (Writing advice, writing prompts, words from other writers, etc.)
  • This schedule basically resumes the thematic approach I took with The Journal back in the spring. I’m also genuinely interested and anxious to have guest contributors as often as possible. Practically any subject (we’re family-friendly, but also thought-provoking), preferably something from 200 to 600 words, and I’ll ask for a bio and mug shot.

Now … Reach out and blog.

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Filed under Family, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Desperate for justice: conclusion

This is the conclusion of story that I covered on July 9, 1984, while working for the Belle Banner and the Bland Courier, sister papers of the three-newspaper Tri-County Publications. (Part 1 appeared on Monday).

Police, neighbors and a distant relative put together the following narrative: Seven hours before the auction was scheduled to begin, Christial – who actually went by her middle name, Veneda ‑ dumped 30 gallons of gasoline and 30 quarts of motor oil throughout her wood frame house. The tinder box that was once her paid-in-full haven included piles of old newspapers, a cord of wood, some old tires and $30 worth of fireworks. She was apparently sitting in a recliner in the living room at 5:30 a.m. when she struck the match.

 

The explosion immediately flattened the house, blew out windows at Bland High School just a block away and dozens of other windows through the little town of about 600 people. The explosion blew Veneda right out of the house. A step-cousin raced to the scene and found Veneda – conscious but badly burned and incoherent – laying on the side of the road. An ambulance took her to the University of Missouri hospital in Columbia (called the MU Medical Center back then).

Local police got a call from the Bland Post Office at 8:30 a.m. Someone found a letter taped to the wall inside the lobby, along with copies of the canceled and endorsed check that Veneda had written to the contractor, the signed agreement with the contractor, and the legal notice of the sheriff’s auction. The next day a duplicate of the letter arrived at the Gasconade County Republican, the 3,500-circulation weekly newspaper in Owensville where, incidentally, I would go to work in April the following year.

There’s really no way to end this story on a positive note, although the lien laws were changed a year later to provide greater protection for homeowners.

The image of the smoldering ruins of the house is still haunting. And so are the words of her letter:

“The hassle of living just isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is worth living for. I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work I work for it and somebody else enjoys it … Just because there is a crooked law on the books for you to hide behind to win the easy way, you don’t any of you care about justice. I am a woman alone with no knowledge of the stupid laws. So that leaves me helpless in their hands.

 “I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work … But this is the time I’m not going to hand it over. I’ll burn all and go in the fire myself. Then you bastards can sift the ashes or look elsewhere for the money you want. I signed a contract and I honored it. I paid once for what I got. I don’t intend to pay again … This house and car is all I have to show for 44 years of work. I can’t enjoy it and I don’t intend anyone else shall.”

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress