Tag Archives: Belle MO

32 years of mystery and revelation: Married to my best friend

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Thirty-two years ago tonight – I’m writing this on the eve of anniversary No. 32 (6/5/14) – my groomsmen, a bunch of on-fire-for-Jesus evangelicals, were probably somewhere eating pizza or studying their Bibles. I would have been right there with them except for a powerful need to be by myself. I was parked at the Belle City Park, facing the lake that had positive, powerful connections to my young life.  I stared out at the darkness, strangely calm although aware that an “I do” in about 14 hours would chart a course that I was not ready to begin.

Kelly had been 19 for six weeks. I would be 19 in nine weeks. We were just kids who were in love, drawn together six years earlier – barely teenagers – at about the same time both of our homes and lives were gut-punched by the divorce of our parents.

We weren’t “ready” to be married. Yet when I say, “Kids, don’t get married when you’re 19,” we’d do it all over again. Every day is at once new and predictable, laced with a solid measure of security yet seasoned with adventure and discovery. Kelly and I are as different as night and day yet also as similar as lifelong best friends and companions should be.

But imagine changing the way it began? Any delay, any detour might have meant missing the miracles of Feb. 26, 1985, and March 13, 1987 – the births of Kishia and Natasha. Imagine …

The night before our wedding, as I stared out over the pitch-blackness of the city park lake, I asked God for a sign, some indication of whether I should be getting hitched in a few hours. It already seemed that there had not been a time when I didn’t know Kelly – we started “going together” in the eighth grade, Nov. 22, 1976 – yet the thought that overwhelmed me at that moment was to imagine like without Kelly.

There was a lot I didn’t know at the age of nine-weeks-before-19. But what I saw at that moment was life-altering and confirming. The answer was right there in my gaze toward that dark lake: Nothing. Empty. Alone.

I didn’t see what the future held, but I saw what it wouldn’t hold if I opted out of “I do.” I’m not sure if Kelly had a similar epiphany. And if she did see even the most unfocused, however brief glimpse of our future together, the very fact that she didn’t flee and get as far from me as possible is a remarkable demonstration of grace.

I’m a mess. As a writer, I filter each word, sentence and paragraph I write through perspectives that range from, “That’s really pretty good” to “That’s the worst piece of drivel ever penned by a human being.” The wiring is basically the same when it comes to husband-hood. Just when I start thinking, “Hey, I’m finally getting the hang of this,” that other voice suggests, “Dude, you don’t even have a clue.”

I love to watch Kelly. Sounds kinda creepy, maybe, but I love just watching her: talking on the phone, reading, being Grammy to our Princess Kianna, in deep thought – sleeping. Her facial expressions, her unique-to-Kelly mannerisms and speech patterns, the look on her face when she’s sweetly and intently listening to a random stranger who approached her to just spill their guts about life’s trials and troubles. (That happens more often than I can count).

Thirty-two years.

There’s still so much I don’t know. I still don’t know how it’s possible to be so comfortable, so close and so connected to someone. And just when it seems that I’ve given my bride a lifetime of reasons to pull away and withdraw, she pulls even closer and loves even more.

Thank you, God, for Kelly, for these 32 years, our lives together, and the rest of our lives being amazed by the mystery of it all.

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Five days and counting, we’re full blown ‘Wedding Central’

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Wedding countdown

Five days away from Natasha and Kory’s “I do.” We’re now counting down by blocks of time and tasks that are getting checked off Kelly’s master list(s). (Re: see yesterday’s post).

Once upon a time, we could drive to Wal-Mart, I’d drop Kelly off at the front of the store, and she’d begin shopping and after I’d found a parking space, I’d go in and find her. It worked pretty well for a couple of decades. Nowadays I enter the store as I tap Kelly’s number on my cell phone to ask, “Where are you?”

It’s getting more difficult to recall life PD – pre-digital. Technology makes my head spin.

I’m also have trouble remembering when Kelly wasn’t part of my life. We began “going together” – that was the vernacular of the day – on Nov. 22, 1976. That was 37 years ago. We’ve been married 31. The truth is, every pre-Kelly memory seems to be attached to the question, “Where was Kelly?” We’re that connected; seems like we’ve always been.

Life without Kelly? I don’t want to remember that. The night before our wedding, I drove to the Belle City Park, where I’d caught hundreds of fish from the lake and clubbed hundreds of hits (and a few over the fence) on the baseball field. Some of my finest moments of almost 19 years of life had deep connections to the park and lake in my hometown.

But that night, I sat in the car, alone, fairly sure I knew we were way too young to get hitched, yet too much in love to give any credibility to conventional wisdom. As I stared out over the pitch blackness of the small lake, I asked God for a sign, some indication of whether I should be getting married in less than 24 hours. The thought that hit me was to imagine life without Kelly, and as I continued the ponder the profound question, the answer was right there in my gaze.

Nothing. Empty. Alone.

Meaningless and stagnant, much like that lake.

I married my best friend, and Kelly will say the same. We’re a couple of lucky, blessed married folks.

How to Wreck Your Marriage

Wrecking ball No. 12 – Major on minors. When you disagree or reach an impasse, be sure to pick your battle based on your spouse’s perceived weakness or that hot-button criticism that you know will throw off your spouse emotionally and mentally. Even better, stake your claim to your right to be an incredible gift to humanity by making a big deal out of … Nothing.

It’s not just about arguing over which shade of green is best – olive or evergreen – or what to name the dog. It’s about using that wrecking ball over and over by pounding your spouse with your “victories” in such disagreements. It’s amazing how something so trivial can be used to find and then wear away the chink in his/her armor, eventually exposing his/her heart so you can move in with even more force to prove your superiority.
If you’re puzzled about what qualifies as a major or minor point, just adopt the conclusion that everything is a big deal.

Playlist

Going to my deep well of sacred hymn favorites. These old songs play on a fairly continuous loop in my noggin. Here’s a super not-so-old arrangement of At The Cross, performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

Two observations: Yes, it is sometimes tortuous to watch Bill Gaither sing. And at around the 1:27 mark it looks like Mark Lowry has fiery horns. Cool. And, oh yeah, Guy Penrod and David Phelps have crazy awesome voices.

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kelly, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion, Wedding countdown

A lifetime of New Year’s Eve deja vu

Half-way through December, when it came time for me to resume my NaNoWriMo novel, to catch up on roughly 873 unread emails and blogs that I follow, and to breathe new, consistent life into Jackson’s Journal, I had a high-level meeting with myself and decided to extend my “down” time another 16 days.

Enough. I’m breaking the huddle, getting back in the game, shaking the dust off any other cliches that refer to getting the rust out of my routine. I’m pumped. In fact, I’m going to blog every single day of 2013. Or not.

First, I’m taking stock of the greatest blessing of my life. My bride (Kelly) and I did some calculating tonight and determined that since 1974, we’ve been together every single New Year’s Eve except one. Folks, that’s 38 NY Eves.

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I love the story of Dec. 31, 1974. Kelly and her family and 36 other people — 41 in all — were at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd.

It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember, the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watch-Night Service. Or maybe the evening didn’t start at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store in Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle.

My Little Black Book of Great Adventures — aka, my childhood diary — recounts the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; the Little Black Book of Great Adventures doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle pointed to me and my sister, Kathy).

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to the Little Black Book of Great Adventures:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially wan to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collec the “stuff.” (Ed. note: we had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had lost her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly Drewel, who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Finally, follow me back to (or is it “forward to?”) NY Eve 2012, where I’m making the resolution to finish the novels “Dixieland” and “Chasing the Devil” in 2013, with at least one of them published by year’s end.

And then I laugh as I glance again at the Little Black Book of Great Adventures and find this:

“Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit. In the past I’ve started a few books that I never have finished, and I’ve got several ideas for books, stories and songs. I have written about 25 stories, 15 songs and started about 5 books. It takes time to write, so I think I’ll put aside more time to write.”

And then I listed some belated resolutions for getting that done: limit television; get my homework done at school; stick with something.

The date: Feb. 8, 1978.

The more things change …

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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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Memoir-in-progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part three of a four-part story from July 26-27, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for the conclusion on Thursday. And keep the term “lifelong dream” in perspective. I wasn’t yet 15.

Our favorite spot of all was The Cave. It was really a limestone/sandstone overhang on the south-facing hill in Mike’s woods, but I never doubted that if we ever found an entrance big enough to squeeze through, we’d discover that the entire hillside was a network of caves or maybe even one enormous cavern.

We could sit comfortably under the overhang and there was just enough room for two sleeping bags side-by-side, with open air on the east and west sides. A small campfire a safe distance from our bedding illuminated the dark depression in the hill and the heat radiated off the sandstone “ceiling.” I’m not sure how we avoided carbon monoxide poisoning. We spent an entire summer selecting 2- and 3-inch diameter trees that we cut and leaned against the opening of The Cave.

Perfect camouflage.

We planned the hike to the river during one of our campouts in the cave. Based entirely on uncalculated speculation and wishful thinking, we made a list of the provisions we’d need and mapped out the journey. We figured that eight, maybe nine hours – easy – would get us to the Gasconade River. Somehow it made sense that if we had our plan written out and every possible detail checked, that would make it much easier to convince our parents to let us go.

My parents had been divorced nine months, so it was my mom’s call. Mike’s parents ran the Golden Rule Café’ on main street in Belle. His dad wouldn’t object, but his mom, Mabel, would resist. My Black Book of Great Adventures contains no written account of how we did it, and there’s nothing in my memory that I can draw on for evidence that what made sense to us apparently also made sense to our mothers.

“Stay out of the river” was the only stipulation I wrote down. Of course, it was the first condition that we broke, but at the time of negotiation, with our life-long dream of hiking to the river within our grasp, we agreed to the “stay out of the river” prohibition.

My mom would drive us to the hike-in point on  Turkey Creek on Wednesday morning, the 26th, and we’d stay at the Rollins Ferry Access until Mike’s dad, Raymond, picked us up on Saturday.

As planned, my mom drove us to the Turkey Creek bridge just after 8 a.m. She drove on to Linn where she was assistant principal at the middle school, which would begin the new school year a couple of weeks later. And so we began the trek to the river, already eliminating the long, winding stretch from the back of Mike’s house to the spot where we were starting. From the start it seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and it also seemed more difficult than it should have been. We’d never hauled that amount of stuff on a hike. No doubt we looked more like cross-country panhandlers than explorers. What didn’t fit in our backpacks we tied to our belts, looped around our necks or simply carried. Fishing equipment, hatchets, cooking utensils, food, sleeping bags, an assortment of extra clothes, rope, first aid kit – and it was blistering hot.

We followed the creek east from Highway 89 through several large farmsteads, armed with the very wrong impression that it wasn’t trespassing if you stayed in the creek or pretty close to the bank. Never mind that we climbed over fences, crawled under barbed-wire or encountered a few cows, we were on a “wild” hike through the hinterland of southern Osage County — until two hours into the hike when the creek wound right back to the highway, probably less a mile from where we started.

Tired, hot, hungry and literally weighed down, we made a joint executive decision: flag down a passing car and just get to the river. We hopped in the first car that came along and we were at the river in five minutes.

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Memoir in progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part two of a four-part story from July 27-28, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for Part 3 on Tuesday and the conclusion on Aug. 2.

My collection of Belle High School yearbooks from the mid-70’s to 1981 includes photos of classmates and schoolmates who never made it to graduation because they drowned. One classmate was horseback riding with her younger sister when her horse bucked, tossing her into a water-filled clay pit. The remnants of the clay pits in and around Belle were huge hills of dirt and gravel, the material removed during the extraction process to mine the clay that was used to make bricks and cement in by-gone years.

The clay piles made wonderful sledding hills and terrific fossil-hunting territory. My pal Jeff once found a trilobite fossil, making him president-for-life of our explorer’s and fossil-hunter’s club.

Besides the clay piles, what also remained from that long-dormant industry were deep, water-filled quarries, and many clay pits didn’t have safe entry points for swimming. A few adults warned me and my friends to stay clear of the deep holes, telling scary stories about deer that stepped into the water to drink, only to instantly disappear because the depth at the bank was the same as the depth in the middle – 40, 50 or even 90 feet deep. And once you were in the water, the wet clay banks were too slick for escape.

Glub.

I avoided clay pits like the plague.

The other drownings that I recall or heard about all occurred in the Gasconade River, which moves a bit slower than most rivers, except that the Gasconade has a mysterious force called the “undertow,” a subsurface current that lurks near the river bottom – a force that grabs unwary swimmers, pulling them under. If the undertow stretched for miles, that’s how far away they’d find your body.

The warning was clear: no one escaped the undertow. It sounded a bit far-fetched, but some of the drowning victims from my school were athletes. Strong people.

No one escaped the undertow.

Most of my friends – in fact, I think all of my other friends – also liked to hike, splash around in the creek and even camp out under the stars, but they usually wanted to achieve some greater purpose. What was the point of the hike? What were we after? With that attitude – when the destination was more important than the journey – those friends got bored.

I never, ever got bored traipsing through the woods. And neither did Mike. I wrote about a night in August 1977, just a few days before my 14th birthday (Mike was a couple of years younger) when we stayed up all night on a clear hilltop in the forest, watching the Leonid meteor shower.

My other friends didn’t share my breathless fascination with nature and astronomical light shows. The night we watched that meteor shower, Mike and I brought a Bible and a flashlight, so we could take turns reading aloud the scriptures that mentioned stars, creation, the heavens, and the awesomeness of God. True, we were goofy nerds. But we were Christian nerds. I had other friends who would have read the Bible with me in the woods, but they wouldn’t have sat in silence for hours in the chilly night air to watch meteors and to hear owls hooting and night creatures scurrying.

I shared that connection only with Mike.

We wondered about the stars, about the deer that we could hear but couldn’t see. We watched a momma skunk waddle past with three little stinkers. We whispered about the Great-horned owl that stared at us from its perch just 20 feet away. We quietly talked about our next adventure.

We wondered what it would be like to follow the creek all the way to the river.

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A true story: Stay out of the river, Part 1

Join me for a four-part story about the summer my best friend and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River.

A perfect assortment of driftwood practically begged to become a make-shift raft, and a few minutes and several feet of rope later, we had a raft. My best friend, Mike, and I weren’t exactly Tom and Huck – only one could ride on the rough, roughly four-foot-square river vessel, while the other held on to the side, floating and guiding our creation – but our sense of adventure knew no bounds.

So much for the one edict from our moms: “Just stay out of the river.”

Just stay out of the water? Right. After all, Mike and I were making our long-dreamed hike from a creek off Highway 89 in Osage County to the Rollins Ferry Access about 10 miles away – as a crow flies – on the banks of the Gasconade River. Our mothers, finally worn down from two straight summers of pleading, finally relented and reluctantly agreed to give us three days to have a hike and a campout at the river.

“Just stay out of the river.”

July 27, 1978 – From the Black Book of Great Adventures (a.k.a. the personal diary I kept as a kid) … “Our hike to the river was a success. Sort of. I’ll explain later.”

The next entry didn’t come until Aug. 30, 1978, and it referenced a separate essay, “What I did on my summer vacation,” which detailed one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

Mike and I hiked every inch of the thick woods behind his house about a mile north of Belle, Mo., off Highway 89. One of the coolest hikes we ever took – until that trek to the river – was a route south from his house, through the woods, across a county road (and countless private properties, no doubt), to a little slice of childhood paradise we called Horseshoe Falls, on the northern border of my hometown. Horseshoe Falls was so named from the creek that spilled out from under a pile of boulders, then forked into separate arcs that formed a horseshoe.

I’m not sure who named it Horseshoe Falls. There was a tiny waterfall, a thin stream that poured off the side of a boulder before splashing onto rocks about four feet below. And I suppose the creek formed a horseshoe. I was told – again, can’t recall by whom – that aerial photos showed a horseshoe shape in the woods behind the elementary school.

I didn’t see the aerial view for myself until several years later – and still can’t swear it’s a horseshoe – but by then a lot had changed. Several locals called the creek a wet-weather stream, and yes, it was much slower and much lower during dry spells, but I knew Horseshoe Falls. I knew that it was spring-fed and I knew when a nearby farmer suddenly had a pond when he dammed the creek way upstream. There were small fish in the creek: shiner minnows, small sunfish, crawfish, tadpoles and frogs, mean water snakes and a wonderful assortment of bugs that, years later, I identified as excellent indicators of good water quality.

Horseshoe Falls was not a dry stream. At least not until the spring was dammed.

Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River. Jodie and Mike followed the creek. How could we get lost? A U.S. Geological Survey map and microfilm details of the area – just the things a nerdy 14-year-old managed to get from the USGS office in Rolla ‑ showed that the creek that spilled through Horseshoe Falls was the same creek that ran at the bottom of a valley behind Mike’s house, about two miles from Horseshoe Falls. The stream also seemed to be connected to the larger, wider Turkey Creek that flowed under a bridge on Highway 89.

Turkey Creek snaked and meandered back toward the highway and then northeast until finally uniting with the Gasconade River.

Our creek exploring/hiking trips almost always included a pause for pondering the yearning of our hearts: Someday we should follow this creek all the way to the river.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Stay out of the river”

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Baby, baby!

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Unexpected moments of Light

It’s time for “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” when Jackson’s Journal undertakes a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

I’ve been asked to speak and sing “The Lord’s Prayer” at a memorial service for one of Kelly’s cousins, Delena Sholler, on April 21 in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church in Belle. The location alone sends an unexpected wave of emotion through me, something I’ll explain at a later time, under different circumstances. Delena was living in Texas; I barely knew her. But my “adopted” in-law family called on me, as they often have, to memorialize and celebrate her life.

Delena’s parents are John and Nina Tynes of Union. Kelly, Kishia and our new granddaughter Kianna were planning to visit Uncle Johnny and Aunt Nina today. They are Kianna’s Great-Great-Great Uncle and Aunt. And they are two of my favorite people. Uncle Johnny “gave Kelly away” at our wedding; I recently found a gospel song that Nina wrote and I arranged several years ago.

Remembering that shared history has given me a smile and also brought to mind Nina telling the most spine-tingling ghost stories I’ve ever heard. When I mentioned that to Kelly the other day, she held out her hand to stop me. “Nope, nope,” Kelly said, waving me off and shaking her head. I imagined that just the thought of Nina’s gift of vivid narration sent goosebumps pulsing up Kelly’s arms.

Nina and her sister, Neva, have seen their other three siblings enter eternity: Leroy Guinn, perhaps the most influential man during my early teen years; Nora Wallace, whom I was with when she breathed her last; and dear, sweet Grandma – Nola McDaniel – whom a dozen of us surrounded and serenaded into Heaven with quiet, sacred hymns just three and a half months ago.

Unexpected moments of Light. That’s what I’ve experience time and again with Kelly’s side of the family probably more than my own. The last words I’d use to describe that clan – especially the distant, great-great kinfolk – are pretentious and artificial. These folks are as real as they come. A loose cannon like me fits snugly into the fold.

I’m going to follow this theme of unexpected moments of Light for a few weeks. Last week there was no “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” at Jackson’s Journal, the first time we’ve missed in three months. I’ve shed the legalistic view that “going to church,” even in the virtual world of The Journal, is mandatory for keeping a place at the grown-up table in Heaven. What isn’t acceptable, though, is just going through the motions when it comes to worship and examining my heart, but I’m a pretty good motion-goer-througher. I think I’ve mentioned before I learned from the best.

But you know one of the incredibly cool things about God? It’s as if He decides, “I’m gonna rock your going through the motions routine – when you least expect it.”

That’s called Grace.

So here I was, searching for guitar chords for “The Lord’s Prayer,” and thinking that I’d find something on YouTube, say “here’s what I’ve got for us for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” and then we’d have a quick prayer and walk one block down the street (in Belle, Mo.) to Cecil’s for a frozen dairy treat.

What I found was The Martins singing their own version of The Lord’s Prayer. I clicked. I simply wanted to listen, grab the link, slap it on this page, say “Amen” and get on with setting my lineups for the too-many fantasy baseball teams that I’ve drafted. But wow, what a version. I love, love, love The Martins.

Instead, I went next to In the Presence of Jehovah, another Martins song.

An unexpected moment of Light. If this doesn’t launch you into full-fledged worship mode, then you haven’t got a pulse. This past Sunday Natasha texted me to say, “Visiting a church and a lady is singing ‘In the Presence of Jehovah’ for special music. Thinking of you.”

God was rocking the complacency that I’d allowed to creep in to my heart.

Finally, in observance of Lent and in preparation for Palm Sunday (Kianna is being dedicated) and then Resurrection Day (we also call it Easter) I offer what might be an overwhelming experience. An a cappella rendition of O Sacred Head (one of the more challenging bass lines there is), set to video from The Passion of the Christ.

Granted, this is a long blog entry. (Broke my own rule). And it will take 12 minutes or longer to hear all the songs – and the scenes in the video are unbearably graphic. The thoughts and emotions from this post’s music weren’t what you expected when you started reading.

But I’ll bet you, too, experienced unexpected moments of Light. You’ll let me know, right? 

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Rock Island snow tunnels, ‘Little Fenway’ and other stories

Memoir-In-Progress

 

From my Black Book of Great Adventures

March 5, 1975 — Four days ago I went fishing. Today is the fourth straight day of snow; about 18 inches on the ground, but not real cold. Our dog Mo-Mo is pregnent. Build more tunnels beside the tracks. Fritz got killed by the train, Leroy buried him. I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …


Rock Island Rail Snow Tunnels, March 1975, Part 2/Conclusion

Any account of my life at the green duplex and tales of adventures along the train tracks is incomplete without at least a review of my back yard at Eighth and Swanson. I called that lovely lawn Little Fenway, the best Wiffle ball field in the history of the planet. We lived in the house, of course, but the green duplex’s most important function was filling the role of Little Fenway’s “Green Monster,” our version of the left field fence at Boston’s Fenway Park.

My brother, Robert, and I played our most epic, one-on-one Wiffle ball games there.

Occasionally, other neighborhood Wiffle-ballers gathered for a game or a tournament. In the summer of ’78, just weeks before we moved to the house on Johnson Street – where the oversized yard and empty lot became Little Wrigley – Stephen White hit the longest home run ever in my Wiffle ball experience. His one-handed-swinging blast connected with the most perfect, fastest fastball I ever threw. The ball sailed over the house, err, I mean the Green Monster, across the front yard, over the street and halfway into Beulah Phelps’s front yard.

A hundred and fifty feet.

We silently formed a circle around the ball. A few of us recognized the sanctity of the moment, something so incomprehensible, powerful and reverent that all we could do was gaze at the ball the same way we would have stared in awed silence if someone had stumbled up on a vintage, 1927 Babe Ruth baseball card. It was that profound.

I felt tears well up from the surge of emotion, but I knew Stephen would probably beat up anyone who cried. My best bud Mike Thompson did cry. And Stephen beat him up.

Ah, good times.

The week-long snowstorm of March 1975 delayed the start of Wiffle ball season. We missed the entire week of school and spent Monday and Tuesday making tunnels down the side of the clay piles (small mountains of clay deposits from mining) in the field across the train tracks. One tunnel was large enough to actually take a sled through. The other was traversable only with your body laying flat with arms tight to the chest.

Both tunnels were absolutely terrifying.

And exhilarating beyond description.

The tunnels were on the west side of the steep, rocky hill. The east side was forbidden because it sloped down to the bank of the many-feet-deep clay pit that was covered with slushy ice.

Just west of Stacy and Lacy’s house, we made tunnels that connected two or three haphazard snow domes (similar to igloos) in the deep ditches that ran parallel to the north side of the railroad tracks. On Saturday that week, March 5, the three of us celebrated our week of snow-sculpting creations with a picnic — inside the snow domes.

Our constant companions that week were Stacy and Lacy’s dogs, Hobo and Fritz. Hobo, a terrier-mix mutt, was the most intelligent, bravest and smelliest dog I’d ever known up to that point in my life. His name was fitting for a dog that lived near railroad tracks. Fritz was a young Dachshund, a red wiener dog that was always a step or two behind us and light-years behind Hobo in terms of brain power.

Hobo and Fritz were outside the snow dome when we heard the Rock Island locomotive coming. Lacy shouted for the dogs to get in the tunnel and rejoin our picnic, and Hobo was beside us instantly. Lacy poked his head out of our snow bank hideaway and screamed at Fritz to “come.” The wiener dog was clumsy in the snow, so he preferred waddling between the rails where the snow wasn’t as deep. Lacy screamed again as the train barreled past.

Fritz didn’t make it.

A little while later, we had a short funeral for Fritz. Stacy and Lacy’s dad, Leroy, chopped at the soil and dug the hole. We all cried. Even Leroy.

I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

Songs of the 70’s …

Television in the 70’s was full of “variety shows.” The Carol Burnett Show. Donnie and Marie. Sonny and Cher. Those were real productions with choreographed song and dance numbers, and comedy skits that often went awry (I’m thinking Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show).

Saturday night, March 5, 1975, was The Tony Orlando & Dawn Show. (No, I didn’t write about it in my journal. I had to Google this). Special guest star was Tony Randall. Charo was one of the performers. Tony Orlando and Dawn – Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent-Wilson – sang a “40’s Medley” and “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You).” 

The No. 1 song on the pop charts that week was Have You Never Been Mellow by Olivia Newton-John.

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Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress