Memoirs

The Red Brick
Memoirs , Short Stories

The Red Brick

“I see Claire signed your cast.”

“Yup. Hey, Dad. Help me find a red, four-by-four brick.”

“I’ll try. There are a lot of legos here.”

“Dad, it’s not that hard.”

“Okay. So, did you ask her to sign it?”

“No. She likes to sign casts.”

“She does?”

“Yeah. That’s what she said.”

“Oh, I see. Hey, I found a red brick.”

“Cool. Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son.”

Where’ve You Been?
Memoirs

Where’ve You Been?

I’ve blogged about Ray and Hilda before. They’ve been married for more than 61 years. In that time, they’ve faced many challenges, met many struggles, and have overcome them all together. This week, though, fate threatened to do the one thing its never been been able to do before . . . keep them apart.

On Christmas night, Hilda was rushed to the emergency room. She had become unresponsive due to what would eventually be diagnosed as a combination of pneumonia, COPD, and congestive heart failure. At 79, her little body was simply worn out. Ray, the ever-devoted husband, never left her side through the entire ordeal. For 29 days he sat and slept in a vinyl hospital lounge chair right beside Hilda’s bed.

On one of those days, a routine check of his heart showed his pulse had bottomed out at 38. Though he felt fine, the number was great cause for concern, especially for an 81 year old man. Luckily, the ER was literally an elevator ride away. Within minutes, he was processed, evaluated, and admitted to a room three floors above and a world away from his wife.

After a day or so, his condition stabilized. Eventually, I wheeled him back down to check on her.

As soon as he walked in the room (he would not enter in a wheel chair) the usually-despondent Hilda lit up like the Christmas tree she never got to enjoy this year. Her first words . . .

“Where have you been?”

Instantly, my brain hit the play button on the Kathy Mattea song. Wow. Does life really imitate art?

“They’d never spent a night apart.
For sixty years she heard him snore.
Now they’re in the hospital
In separate beds on different floors.

. . .

“He held her hand and stroked her head
In a fragile voice she said,

‘ Where’ve you been?
I’ve looked for you forever and a day.
Where’ve you been?
No I’m just not myself when you’re away.'”

Excerpt from “Where’ve You Been
Kathy Mattea
Words and Music by Jon Vezner and Don Henry

 

As I write this, Hilda is getting settled into a rehabilitation facility while Ray adjusts to his new pacemaker and the discomforts that it brings. And while I haven’t talked with him this evening, I’m quite certain he’s already claimed his spot at the bedside of his bride.

Ray and Hilda only had one child, a saint of a woman who is frankly the only reason their both still with us today. And that woman had me. This week, she and I witnessed the purest, most precious gift God ever gave the world . . . true love.

Sleep well, Ray and Hilda. And get well. We love you very much.

[readolog_first_paragraph]Editor’s note:
We said goodbye to Hilda in January of the following year. She did actually get to come home before God called her home to stay. We all miss her, but not like Ray. Thanks to the pacemaker, his heart is still beating. But it is very broken. Sometimes I watch him stare out the glass door onto the porch, at the empty chair where she used to sit. Then he looks to the sky, and I know what he’s thinking.[/readolog_first_paragraph]

Walking Through the Door
Memoirs

Walking Through the Door

Just over 18 years ago . . .

. . . I heard one word that changed my life forever. The word was “yes,” and it came from the girl I loved when I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me. The days that followed were exciting and challenging.   They were filled with laughter, tears, lots of joy, and plenty of anxious moments.

Today, I was reminded of one such moment.   On the night of our wedding, my bride was determined to have her picture made in her gown on the steps of the Opryland Hotel’s Magnolia Lobby.   This would have been fine, except that our wedding took place at the First Baptist Church in Cullman, AL. That’s roughly 153 miles from church altar to hotel steps.   Since the complexities of getting into her dress prevented the option of simply changing clothes, we were stuck in our matrimonial attire for the duration of the two hour trip.

Furthermore, while we left the church in a spacious limo (thanks again, Mike and Melanie), the bulk of our journey took place in a two-door Nissan Sentra.   The train of Darlene’s dress alone contained for more fabric than the entire interior of this car.   Nevertheless, my two eyes peered through a sea of white satin as we made the perilous journey toward those fateful steps and on to the rest of our lives.

Now, I told you all of that to tell you this.   I dropped Darlene off at the entrance of the Magnolia lobby, along with all of our assorted bags, suitcases, and ancillary items.   Then I set out in search of a parking space, which I eventually found somewhere in the neighboring city of Hendersonville.   When I finally returned, I found Darlene in the lobby out of breath and frantically gathering our things around her.

Apparently, it was only after I left that she realized there was no good way to get through the revolving door in her dress.   And once she was in, how would she get back to all of our bags?   She saw no staff to ask for assistance. She was stuck. So she waited, and waited, and waited.   But since I was walking back from the next county, it took a while.

In the mean time, people began noticing my lovely bride in her sparkling cathedral gown. Even now, I can hear what they were thinking. “Oh look, Henry.   That poor girl has been abandoned on her wedding night, and in such a lovely dress.  What a shame!”

Eventually, a few well-intentioned bystanders learned of my wife’s plight. Suddenly and without warning, they grabbed our bags. They took Darlene by the arm.   They propped open doors. And in less time than it took us to say “I do,” they ushered my new wife across the threshold . . . without me.

She still talks about the fear and panic that set in immediately as all of those people, some she had just met, some who were total strangers, began swarming her and taking our things.   The flurry of good intentions left her disoriented and scared.

Almost 18 days ago . . .

. . . I heard a word that changed my life forever. The word was “cancer,” and it came from the girl I love as she suddenly wondered about the rest of her life.   So began the anxious moments. But this time, I found myself standing at the threshold.   It was my job to get Darlene, along with our children, along with everything in our lives, through that door despite the huge obstacle in our way.   There were so many things I was responsible for. And so I waited . . . and waited. I stood there not knowing what to do next.

That’s when it happened.   The people around me began picking up my stuff.   They began taking me by the arm and ushering me forward.   But wait! I don’t want to go through that door.   I’m not ready.   Put my stuff down. I can carry it.   I just need time to figure this thing out first.

Fear and panic set in as all these people began swarming me and carrying my things.   The flurry of good intentions left me disoriented and scared.   That lasted a couple of days.   That’s how long it took me to realize how to do what only I could do.   So I reached out and took my wife by the hand.   And with the help of our family and friends, we’re now walking across that threshold – together.

This is a special note of thanks to all those who have suddenly grabbed a bag or gathered a gown or opened a door.   There are so many of you.   And you are so good – so God.   Thank you for loving us during this time.   I can’t say that it’s easy to let you do these things.   But this is simply a journey we can’t take alone. We love you.

 

Arab, AL
Memoirs

Arab, AL

Arab was not a large city. I don’t believe it is now either.  But at the time of my childhood, we boasted a population of approximately 8,000 people. As it turns out, 2005 estimates place it around 7,500.  So it seems we might have been a bit ambitious some two decades ago.

But I gotta say that I love it when people ask me where I’m from.  “Arab,” I say.  Of course I pronounce it appropriately. Not like (?er?b) as in “Arab Muslim.” Most of us were Baptist or Methodist.  But (a rab) as in “a rab-id coon bit my dog and now I have to shoot ‘im.”  There’s always an odd silence that follows.  Once I savor that moment, I continue.  “It’s a little town just south of Huntsville.”  At this, I almost always get one of two responses.

Some just shake their heads.  But most – and I do mean most – will say, “Oh, sure. I know Arab.”  How so many people have come to be connected to Arab is beyond me.  Sometimes they have relatives there.  Sometimes they recall having sold such-and-such to so-and-so (who is usually related to someone in the first group).  Regardless, it’s one of those freaky rules of nature, like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Almost anyone can be traced back to Arab in six steps or less.

Don’t get me wrong.  Arab is not without its famous events and people.  For starters, there’s the annual Poke Salat Festival.  But perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that  the short list of hometown successes (according to Wikipedia) includes  actress Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider et al). I should note that I find no other evidence of this anywhere online. But regardless, she  joins my friend Jill King (Country singer and songwriter) as the only two mentions.

I am predictably NOT on the list.  Apparently they don’t consider winning the University of North Alabama “Ugly Walk” Competition worthy of recognition.  Well, I’m not bitter.  But I would also like to point out that I was the star of the brief-but-popular morning radio segment “Breakfast with Brandon” on AM 1380 – WRAB (Your Friend and Neighbor).  That listening audience spanned from Joppa to Scant City. So it was a pretty big deal.

Regarding the name, (and this could just be the product of myth – but one which also eventually found its way to Wikipedia) I’ve always understood it to have come from little more than a clerical error.  The city’s founder was also it’s first postmaster, Stephen Tuttle Thompson. His son’s name was Arad.  Yes, that’s A-R-A-D.  When the city decided to incorporate in 1882, three options were given for the name: Ink, Bird, and Arad.  Apparantly, we went with Arad, but a tragic typo in the process of incorporation deemed us forever . . . Arab.

I’m glad they went with Arad.  If one of the other names had been chosen and misspelled, I might have ended up being from Jnk. I can only guess how we would have pronounced that one.  Or we might have been known as Bord, which was what most of us were anyway growing up in that town.

Make no mistake.  Arab is, and forever will be, at the very top of my list of favorite places to grow up – and that’s not just  because it’s the only place I grew up. I love that city.  Ask any one of those 8,000 7.500 people, and they’ll have their own stories, their own history, their own notable people, places, and things.

Got a good Arab story? Click “Read More” and post it below.  My friend Jackie works for Otelco, so I know they have internet now.

Memoirs

Crimson Nation, Eli Gold

I was born in Tuscaloosa. That’s how far back my allegiance to Alabama football goes. Everything I owned was red and white and featured an Elephant somewhere. I remember as a kid having a Roll Tide metal trash can that doubled as a desk seat. Yeah, we had nice things.

Unfortunately, I never attended the University of Alabama. Nor did I ever truly understand football. I was in the band, which meant I simply had to learn when to cheer and when not to cheer (and even that was a process).

Eventually I attended the University of North Alabama, home of the three-peat Division II national champion UNA Lions. It was then that I learned more and grew more interested in the sport. The Crimson Tide had just been crowned national champions as well, so I had another good reason. Even still, my interest in football was marginal.

But now that I seemed to have somehow crossed the threshold from young adult to irrelevant bore, football is providing a new kind of solace for me. I can’t wait for September each year. I find comfort in tracking the latest NCAA FB news. And my interest in Bama has found a new level.

That’s the long explanation to why I downloaded Crimson Nation by famed Alabama announcer Eli Gold. I wanted to understand the history behind the heritage that is Alabama football.

The book was fascinating. To read of the great coaches like Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas and then trace their impact through players like Paul “Bear” Bryant gave me a great sense of the big picture.

Crimson Nation, Eli GoldTo read about Bryant as a coach, the ups, downs, controversies, and historical moments really put modern-day football drama in perspective. Mike Leech lost his job last year at Texas A&M for allegedly mistreating a player. Paul Bryant nearly killed half of his team one summer in the town of Junction, TX as the coach for . . . Texas A&M. One of those boys, by the way, was Gene Stallings, coach of the’92 national champion Tide.

Lane Kiffen was skewered after coming to Tennessee, stirring up controversy, then leaving suddenly to coach for his true love, USC. Want to guess the name of another coach who took a job, stirred things up, then left after only a year to coach his true love? That’s right, The Bear.

Also interesting was Gold’s extensive commentary on a socially color blind Bryant who recognized the need for a racially diverse team in order to win. According to the book, Bryant lobbied for the inclusion of black players long before he was allowed to integrate. As I read this chapter, I also read a headline in the that day’s news revealing that the FBI had actually investigated Bryant for civil rights offenses. You gotta love history.

The book isn’t particularly well written. But then again, neither is this blog post. Yet unlike this post, the book is full of great stories, and it is structured in a way that keeps you from getting lost in the minutia of dates and names. It’s a quick read and well worth it if you’re in the market for a quick primer on Alabama football history.

As I write this, the first Alabama game of the season is one week away. And once again they are defending National Champions. When I was a kid my grandmother used to bet me $1 that Alabama would lose. Once we went double or nothing and I had to ask for an advance on my allowance to cover my loses. She cured me of any tendencies to gamble. But she only strengthened my interest in and love for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Rammer Jammer!

The Story of Us
Memoirs

The Story of Us

A big thing in our house right now is the History Channel series  America: The Story of Us. Our recent home-schooling experiences have taught us the value of history told in unique and creative ways. We keep recording these programs and getting sucked in by the “I-never-knew-that” factor upon which these types of series seem to be built.

Yet despite the flashy reenactments and deep-voiced cinematic narration, there’s still no substitute for first-hand experience.  My children learned this on a recent family trip to Logan Jr. High School, the historic institution where my wife attended kindergarten, first, and second grades.  I should immediately point out that my wife is in no way historic.  The school, however, is.  In fact, it’s not even a working school now, but rather a community center safely in the hands of local preservationists.

Logan Jr. High School is an unassuming, ancient structure with tan rock walls and hardwood floors that bare witness to years of young feet finding their way through life. Thanks to the afore-mentioned preservationists, almost every detail of this facility is still in tact, right down to the trophies displayed proudly in glass cases along the main hallway.  Fading class photos chronicle a legacy of neatly posed children sitting in ordered rows of desks. Of the few classrooms, most are large and designed to accommodate more than one class at a time. According to my wife, her second grade classroom and its teacher were shared by an entire other grade – at the same time.

The large rooms still have all the trappings, including the manual pencil sharpeners and chalkboards of solid and dashed parallel lines.  But perhaps the most intriguing fixtures are the small hallways hidden behind each of the classrooms.  These narrow spaces, called cloak rooms, are lined with wall hooks and low shelves.  Designed for quick one-way traffic, cloak rooms facilitated the in and out rush of children as they hurried to beat the bell or were saved by it.  It’s not so odd, even now, to find an area of a classroom devoted to coats and books.  But this space was different.  It’s placement, it’s design, it’s feel were all oddly reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie.

I’ll spare you the true historical facts surrounding the school.  Suffice to say that it housed more than one generation of the local community.  Even older family members touring with us remarked several times how much smaller things were than they had remembered as a child.

As we strolled through the dark halls (apparently the preservationists are also energy conservationists), my wife began to laugh.  She told our girls about a particular morning when she decided NOT to go gentle into that good school.  After being dropped off, she cried and kicked and screamed and employed all sorts of unorthodox diplomacy.  Her teacher, unyielding, tightened her grip and hauled her into the school.  My wife’s subsequent protests turned to kicking which resulted in the unfortunate flight of one of her shoes.  The flight ended when the shoe struck the principle in the forehead.

As she laughed, she told us that neither she, nor her teacher, nor the principle were laughing at the time.

She could have shared that story sitting in our living room.  But now my kids have touched and smelled and felt what it was like for their mother to be a kid in school.  They’ve walked those halls, seen those pictures, and heard those stories, even as they stood in the very spot where that history was made.

And so, on a Sunday afternoon, in a little town from which we get the name of our third child, our family gained a true understanding of, and perhaps even an appreciation for, one episode of  The Abbotts: The Story of Us.

Logan Jr. High School

You Mean Somebody Bought That?
Memoirs

You Mean Somebody Bought That?

Yard sales never cease to amaze me.  People really will buy anything.  And my wife will be happy to sell it to them.  Once, I saw her sell dirt.  Really.  This week, it was a used water bottle festively wrapped with a colorful scarf.  Look, 25 cents is 25 cents.  And somewhere tonight, there is a man feeling great about the incredible deal he found on his new plastic fish tank and authentic  Argentinean  garb.

I’m also amazed at the generosity of people.  The poster taped to the back of a folding chair read “All proceeds to support mission trips to Uganda and India.”  Because of that poster, we frequently received $1 for a 50 cent kitchen  utensil, or $5 for a $1 shirt.  At the end of the day, these heart-felt contributions added up to a three digit blessing for both families involved.

So to the one who now sits upon our tired old couch, to the proud owner of that half-used box of tea bags, and of course to the procurer of the now infamous Fiesta Water Bottle, thank you for helping get us closer to our trips to Uganda and India.  We can’t believe you bought it, but we’re so glad you did.

Some Assembly Required
Memoirs

Some Assembly Required

Recently, I was with a group of guys who were sharing some of their worst DIY disasters. As I  recounted my own misadventures, I tried hard not to sound too pathetic. But, honestly, getting stranded on one’s roof while seized by fits of acrophobic paralysis doesn’t necessarily get you any holes punched in your man card if you know what I mean. (Thanks for talking me down, Darlene. I might still be up there if it weren’t for you.)

Others had similar stories””plumbing turned deep sea diving, electric furnaces exposed as gas-powered imposters, auto repairs that ballooned into something only TARP funds could fix. And like most responsible young men, we placed the blame for our failures squarely where it belonged””on our fathers. They didn’t teach us enough. They didn’t pass down the right genes. We’re talking generational malpractice of epic proportions! But, in the end, we all knew it wasn’t their fault.  After all, stupid is as stupid does. At least that was what Dad said.

So I spent some time thinking about my father and the lessons I have to show for our time together. What did I miss? What did I gain? Who would I be if things had been different? Genetics aside, we are who we are largely out of our experiences and our relationships. And when it comes to my father, I can say there are certainly things that are different because of our journey together, the one we took and the one we never got to take.

Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t have the advantage of growing up with a dad in the house. While I certainly never lacked for any parental guidance, love, or care (thanks, Mom), I did face the reality of chasing after a distant, if not elusive, paternal relationship.

I loved my Dad. I didn’t know him or understand him, but I loved him. Yet, like most sons, I seemed to instinctively need his instruction and approval. Other men were present in my life (most notably my sainted grandfather) and worked hard to provide that male influence for me. But there were still things I felt should come from my dad alone. When I was sixteen, my hope for these things ended when Dad lost a long fight with heart disease.

Obviously, Dad and I didn’t share a close day-to-day bond like some fathers and sons. So his passing, while tragic and difficult, wasn’t necessarily devastating for me. But now, as a father myself, I seem to be missing him the most.

I want so desperately to be a great father, yet I have no road map for raising a son, no practical lessons or experience. And unlike some funny DIY disaster story, this kind of home improvement deserves to be done right. I can’t screw this up.

One friend told of his botched experience installing a light fixture. As it turns out, his type of fixture needed to be installed in reverse order. This is a fact he discovered only after he had nearly completed what should have been a quick job.

“I turned around,” he said, “and there was my wife holding the part I should have installed first, along with the manual. She said,’Forget something?’ So, I took it all apart and put it back the right way.”

Wives are good like that. The other day, I was talking with Darlene about Dad. She said, “You know, I watch you with our son, the fun you two have together, the way he clings to you and loves you so much. It’s almost like God is giving you what you never had with your Dad, only in reverse order.”

I know! Right? I was a puddle in the floor. Right there in Bone Fish Grille. I just fanned my face and shouted, “Man, those Bang Bang Shrimp are HOT!” But there was no recovery. She had uncovered a great truth of God’s love and faithfulness in my life, and my cup simply ranneth over.

So when I look back on what I did or didn’t have with my father, whatever lessons I failed to master, it’s almost as if I can see God quietly allowing me to build my life the best way I know how.  And now He’s standing there with a missing piece and the instructions saying, “Forget something?” And I did. I forgot my father””my Heavenly Father.

Could it be that the lessons I thought I had missed I’m actually learning right now? So, I guess I’m going to take it all apart and put it back the right way. The good news is: I’m not alone. I do have a Father, one who loves me and can teach me any lesson I need to learn.

How thankful I am for my wife, for my children, for a mother, and for grandparents who taught me how to love and to be loved. And how thankful I am for a God who seeks to be my Father and walks with me, no matter how big a mess I make of things.

Steven Curtis Chapman Said to Tell Me “Hey!”
Memoirs

Steven Curtis Chapman Said to Tell Me “Hey!”

Just got a call from McKenzie. She’s currently in St. Paul, MN where she just met Steven Curtis Chapman. When she realized who he was, she promptly told him “my Dad loves your music.”

You gotta love that! I wonder if perhaps he grimaced a little at the thought that he’s becoming one of those “sunset” artists who is suddenly more popular with parents and grandparents than with today’s generation.

But he’s still the man. And he showed it. “Oh, cool,” he said. “Well, tell him I said’Hey!'”

KK couldn’t wait to tell me. I love that kid.

A Prayer for Little Mamaw
Memoirs

A Prayer for Little Mamaw

Today our family said good bye to an amazing woman.  Willie J. Hornsby was my great grandmother, my children’s great great grandmother.  As incredible as it sounds that anyone would live to see the birth of their fifth generation, I find it equally incredible that my children actually knew this woman.  She talked with them, laughed with them, held them in her arms.

She loved my kids, and they loved her . . . deeply.  This morning, I received an email from the oldest of my children.  In the email, McKenzie sends out this prayer to her immediate family celebrating the four foot, eight inch matriarch we affectionly refer to as “Little Mamaw:”

Dear God,

We thank you for little mamaw she was a sweet kind woman who we loved alot. We know she is in heaven with you and that she has a new body. That she can eat, drink, run, play, and even laugh. Lord ,we thank you for giving her that chance. Please help us not to grieve but to rejoice for she is in heaven with you. Please be with aunt Annie and her daughter, uncle Sonny and his kids, Mamaw and Papaw, Terry,Teresa and her kids, Diane, Gigi and daddy, and mommy, me, RileyGrace, and Logan. Thank you for her and let her have a wonderful everlasting life with you.

Amen