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

With the Faith of a Snowflake
Memoirs

With the Faith of a Snowflake

My daughter, McKenzie, loves to dance.  She loves to watch it, do it, talk about it . . . well, that last one doesn’t count since she loves to talk about anything.  But you get the point.  This passion is purely within her.  She takes no formal dance classes, and benefits only from the kind encouragement of a talented friend who helps her along from time to time.

So completely on her own, she choreographed the dance below, a dance that would lead to one of the greatest lessons of faith I’ve ever been taught.  The story is below the video.  So read and watch, or watch and read.  I’ll let you decide.

Ten-year-olds are notorious for dreaming up big plans, setting their hearts on them, but never allowing their brains in on the planning.  This was my fear when McKenzie shared with me that she was choreographing a dance for her upcoming Chorus Christmas Concert.

“Oh, has the teacher asked you to dance?” I asked.

“No.  Not yet.  But I’m going to show it to her when I’m finished.  If she likes it, maybe she add it in.”

“Now wait a minute,” says Papa Bear.  “You do understand that she might not be able to’add it in’ even if she likes it, right?  I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

“Sure, Dad.  I know.  Don’t worry.  It’s just something fun.”

This something fun turned into hours of work, internet research (she wanted to include sign language), and lots of practice.  I was terrified that she was in for the biggest disappointment of her short life.

I know, I know.  Oh ye of little faith.  The teacher loved it, added it in, and made me feel about three inches tall.  But that’s only the beginning of the story.

Two weeks before the concert, McKenzie was stepping out of our van, something she does between 1 and 5 times every day.  But this time, something went wrong.  In a split second, her ankle twisted, her knee buckled, and her heart broke.  After a visit to the doctor, we confirmed the diagnoses as a sprained ankle, bought a pair of cruthes, and proceeded to try and explain to our daughter how God could allow this to happen after she had worked so hard and had come so far.  There were many tears, most of them mine.

But she’s a trooper, our McKenzie.  She resigned herself to the fact that God’s will is perfect.  She told me that while our prayers might not always yield the results for which we hope, we should still pray all the same.  After all, she said, we don’t always know His will, so just to be sure . . .  (I love that kid.)

I was thinking about her comments last Thursday night, the night for which the concert was scheduled.  That’s when I saw it, a snow flake. A big, fat, wet snowflake.  And it had friends.  Lots of them.  By the time I had made it home the ground was covered and the concert was postponed five days.  As it turns out, that’s just enough time for an ankle to finish healing.  More importantly, it was more than enough time for my daughter see just how far God is willing to go to answer a little girl’s prayer.

And so she danced.  Perhaps this was the first of many such performances to come.  But I dare say that none of them will come with a greater sense of knowing just how loved she is by her Creator.  What peace there is in that knowledge. And how fitting that the title of the song to which she danced is “Song of Peace.”

You go, KK.

The Feet That Bring Bad News
Devotions

The Feet That Bring Bad News

Part 3 of 3 in the John 13 series

[readolog_blockquote ]After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.” John 13:21[/readolog_blockquote]

The twelve men were most likely still trying to process what was happening.   Jesus was washing their feet.   He had gone to each of them, one by one, performing the most humble and menial of tasks with the love and care of a Creator for his created.

Now, as He takes His place at the table once again, He says, “So now you’re clean.   But not every one of you.”   Oops. Did he skip one?   Let’s see.   Twelve men, that’s twenty four feet.   No, that’s all of them.   So what did Jesus mean by this?

Here in the middle of this touching act of service, an act that foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would soon make, comes a reveal more shocking than anything we’ve seen on “Lost.”

Verse 21 says, “Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “˜One of you is going to betray me.'” If they had commercials in first century AD, they would have cut to one here.

By now, we know the rest of the story.   Jesus identifies Judas as His betrayer, sending him out to “Do it, and get it over with.”   While the other eleven disciples are still confused, it’s clear to us that Jesus knew as he washed Judas’ feet what was to happen.   Jesus knew what Judas would do.   And still He washed the feet of the man who would soon hand Him over to a brutal and shameful death.

So, when Jesus said earlier, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you,” did He also mean washing the feet of the very one who least deserved it?

And if so, what does that mean for us?   What does this tell us about how Jesus treats us?   What does this tell us about how we are to treat one another?

 

Dinner and a Movie
Devotions

Dinner and a Movie

Part 2 of 3 in the John 13 series

[readolog_blockquote ]Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:38[/readolog_blockquote]

Movies have a way of transforming us instantly.   We watch a James Bond movie and leave the theatre noticing every detail about everyone around us, ready to jump into action at the first sign of danger.   We watch a war hero selflessly sacrifice his life for the sake of those around him.   Then we leave ready to do the same, certain that we are prepared to answer just such a call.

This was Peter after his last meal with Jesus.   He had been caught up in the drama playing out around him.   “I will lay down my life for you,” he tells Jesus.   But Jesus knows better.   This was no movie.   This was all too real.

“Will you really lay down your life for me?   I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Ouch.   Talk about busting your bubble.   It’s easy to watch from a distance and consider ourselves worthy of participation.   But when we are the main characters, life seems anything but cinematic.   Peter left the theatre ready to risk it all.   But as Jesus predicts, his first test ends miserably as he in fact disowns Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.

What Peter promised was not a bad thing.   The problem was in his motivation.   He was more focused on his own glory than the necessary sacrifice that would have to be made.   Certainly, there are moments in life when we are called to do the right thing, the hard thing.   But those moments are anything but glorious, let along Oscar-winning performances.

In short, we can be in the movie, or we can watch the movie.   But we can’t do both.   The choice is up to each of us.