Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Rodney Phillips was my Friend


Rodney Phillips was my friend.

On the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King I feel compelled to say that.  I can’t get it out of my mind and I have a feeling I won’t rest until I tell the world that simple fact.  So there I ‘ve said it and now in 2018 through the miracle of the internet I’ve said it to a lot more people than I was able to say it to at the bus stop in 1965--the time I should have said it.  When it would have mattered.

When I was in high school I was in a creative writing group that met at the Dallas Public Library and was led by Miss Siddie Joe Johnson, the head of the library system.  Miss Johnson was a published author of several children’s books and much in demand as a creative writing teacher.  She had only one condition:  the class had to be integrated. 

In 1963 in Dallas none of the high schools were integrated.  Nothing was.  So that was where I met Rodney Phillips, a negro boy my age who went to Booker T. Washington High School.  This was before that school was named a Performing Arts school where Erykah Badu became famous.

Rodney stayed to himself in the writing class and I didn’t know much about him other than his writing style was way out there.  Where most of us wrote poetry Rodney was into short stories and wild fantasy despite Miss Johnson’s admonitions to us all to “write what you know.” 

One evening after class  Rodney and I walked to the bus stop together to wait for our separate busses going to our very different parts of town to our very different homes.  As we waited we continued our conversation about school or writing or whatever we had been talking about in class.  It was a very natural thing for us to do:  two students the same age with the same interests. 

As we stood there a man approached us and asked me, “is this boy bothering you?”  I was so taken back and knew immediately what was going on.  So many thoughts and words swirled through my mind that all I could think to say was a simple “no.”  And that was it.

I immediately wished that I had said “No, he’s my friend.”  But the moment was over.

Rodney, of course, understood.  We were both mindful that in other cities, in other moments, the guy could have, might have, pulled Rodney aside and beat him to a pulp or worse.

It’s over 50 years later and sometimes I despair that we haven’t made any progress at all.  In many ways people are meaner to each other than ever before. 

But I do know one thing:  racial identity will eventually disappear.  There is too much intermarriage to believe otherwise.  Racial purity is a thing of the past and eventually everyone will be the same skin tone.  So people are going to have to find another way to identify the folks they are going to hate.

In the meantime, I’m afraid I lost track of Rodney after high school.  He was interested in dancing as much as writing and he had a dancer’s body and moves.  I hope he found a way to pursue his passions.  He was my friend. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ending and Beginning with Laughter


I spoke at my dear friend Linda’s funeral last week and wore my Groucho glasses.  It was a private joke.  Too long to go into here and it’s not the reason for today’s story anyway.  Linda was a big proponent of the idea that funerals not be too solemn so that was my little contribution.
We put the "fun" in funeral

One of the other speakers was another old friend and mentor to us both, the Rev. Dr. John Williams, Chaplain at Austin College.  Standing around before things started we caught up on our journeys and he asked me what I was up to.  John is the kind of guy who deserves a real answer to his questions.  And that’s how John Williams became the first person I shared the news that I’ve been accepted at Austin Seminary to be part of their Certificate of Ministry program.  It will take two years to get the certificate on-line. I should start classes in April.  Concurrently, I’ll also be part of a separate program through Grace Presbytery to become a Commissioned Pastor.  The Presbytery part is still pending since I haven’t heard from them yet. On the surface it sounds like just seven classes over two years and some weekend seminars. It's not an ordained pastor gig--I understand it to be more like pulpit supply.  But my friend/pastor Julie told our congregation this morning that it will be a lot of work and I’m starting to worry what I’ve gotten myself into. I still don't really know how big of a deal this is or if I can even do it.

This all started a few months ago at a Presbytery meeting when I went to a lunch break-out session to inform us about this “new” deal where small churches who can’t afford full-time pastors can get one of these Commissioned Pastor folks to help them out in a pinch.  I went to the meeting thinking I would “go get us one of those people” for our church.  Only to find out the meeting was to find out “how to become one of those people.” 

I felt very tricked.

Then the following day the sermon was on Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents where the Master gives the three servants different amounts of money/talents and they do different things with them and the master gets so upset at the servant who hides his talent because he was afraid he would do something wrong with it and mess up. The point of Julie’s sermon was that God gets more angry if you do nothing with the talent He gives you than if you blow it.  

And I’m sitting there in the pew thinking to myself, “Uh Oh.”

This was not my idea at all.  I have to trust that if God wants this to happen then it will happen. So, I’m going to take it one step at a time and see where this road leads. 

On the way to church this morning my mind was still on Linda and her funeral and the stories we didn’t tell.  One of my favorites was one I told at her ordination.  It was the story of how I knew she would make it; how I knew she would succeed.  It wasn’t always so obvious.  When she started seminary she was middle-aged with children at home.  She had started late in life.

The first time I heard her preach it was at a church that had huge clear glass windows in the chancel.  Behind them was farmland and pasture.  As Linda was preaching I could look past her shoulder and see out the window and there was a gorgeous white egret off in the distance lumbering across the pasture preparing for flight.  She ran for a while then started flapping her wings.  As she approached the church windows it appeared she would never be able to get into the air in time to miss the building. She had started too late. All I could think was “That bird is going to fly smack dab into this window!” and braced myself for the impact.  But just as she got to the building she found a burst of energy and took to flight and soared into the air like she owned the sky and it was a marvelous sight.  She was pure white and beautiful and graceful and magnificent.  And that was the moment I knew Linda would become an ordained minister.

As I drove to church this morning I went over that story again in my mind just because I love the memory. I was feeling pretty mellow and all- the kind of mellow you get on your way to church when everything is going right.

I happened upon a flock of little brown birds fluttering alongside the road nibbling on something on the ground.  Just as my car approached going 70 mph, one of them flew up high enough that my windshield caught her and smashed against her- instantly breaking every bone in her body and flinging her off my car.  It happened in in the blink of an eye, an unceremonious "splat," leaving behind nothing more than a couple tufts of downy feathers and a spot of bird goo on my windshield.

It took about fifteen seconds to register the irony of Linda’s magnificent white egret soaring to the sky and my little brown sparrow smashing against the windshield.  Then I started laughing.  And the laughter turned to tears of panic running down my cheeks and then back to laughter. And I laughed all the way to church. 

1.       I have no idea how this is going to end

2.       I would really appreciate your prayers 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Talking to God in the Parque Centrale


After three days celebrating the ordination of the first female pastor in Norte Presbytery Julie and I had three days in Antigua.  I travel well with introverts and we mostly went our separate ways except for meals and a couple of shopping trips. Introverts like my traveling companion love their quiet time and I suspect this may be why Julie tacked on these three days at the end of the trip.  Extroverts like myself have to have it forced upon us.  I decided this would make make a marvelous opportunity to have my own little retreat.  Like going to Ghost Ranch but cheaper and with different scenery.

Certainly my hotel room was as close to a monastery as they come.  In fact, I once stayed in a monastery that had more amenities than this room--like heat and a lamp by the bed. The heat was no big deal since the rooms offered heavy wool blankets. 

But having a bedside lamp was one of those conveniences that make you think twice about what the words “convenient” means. To turn the light off I had to get out of bed and walk across the room to the wall to the switch.  This walk was about three feet so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was not stumbling over a lot of furniture on my way back to bed.  No, a bedside lamp wasn’t necessary at all—not any more than having the bathroom right there in the room with you.  The toilet being right next door to my small room was actually closer to my bed than it probably is for some people if they have a large bedroom.  It was the principal more than the actual inconvenience.

And we were booked in this hotel for $25 a night (a bargain!!) for three nights. An eternity?  What was I going to do with my two free days?  Two days totally free of any schedule or structure.  How often does a person get this gift? 

I decided God had placed me in this position for a reason and there was something I needed to see or hear.  So I would make myself available.  I would listen for God to speak to me.  That was my plan.  No more.  No less. 

I went to the Parque Centrale when Julie and I split up after breakfast.  The introvert went happily off into the city to map the streets in her head. The extrovert stood there momentarily wondering what on earth people do with themselves when they are alone.  For just a tiny moment panic set in.  There was just so much space, so much air.  I stood there on the curb with CafĂ© Condesa at my back looking at the park.  So much air.  So much space.

I turned left and went into a small shop and bought a notebook and a new pen in case my own ran out of ink.  Then I went back to the park in search of the perfect bench.

I had more time than I had every had the luxury of having in my life: two days with absolutely nothing to do.  I could thoroughly consider all my options.  I wanted a bench with the light at my back so I could see.  I immediately spotted the “pigeon problem” so realized I wanted a bench that was NOT under the trees where nature would take its course on my head.  This pretty much led me to the far Eastern edge of the square with the Cathedral at my back and nothing overhead.  I sat and started writing. And listening for God.

I lasted about 30 minutes and started thinking that I could probably get a really good massage really cheap here in Guatemala.  Anyone with a touch of ADD like myself would be impressed that I lasted even that long.  God was just going to have to take me in 30 minute spurts.

So I Googled massage places in Antigua on my phone (the $10 a day International calling plan had already endeared itself to me and was an old friend.) and using the map feature I figured out how to find it.  Off I went to an unknown address in an unfamiliar city where I didn’t speak the language.  I only got lost once if you count getting lost the same way multiple times as all the same lost situation.  But I eventually found it and got there in time for the appointment.  After all, I had all the time in the world.  No schedule.  No structure.

It was a good massage.  Nothing spectacular.  Very relaxing.  I went back to the park.  “Maybe this will free up my spirit,” I thought.  “Maybe this will open up my soul and allow me to hear God speak to me.”
This time at the park I stood for a while and watched the children play among the pigeons, the palomas. There were hundreds, possible thousands, of pigeons sitting in the huge live oak trees overhead.  Periodically, someone would throw out seed on the pavement and they would all swoop down to the pavement.  Then we would have hundreds of pigeons on the ground.  The kids loved to run through the mass of birds.  Then the palomas would all fly off—back up into the trees.  So we had a merry little circus going on with either hordes of children running or flocks of birds flying about three feet off the ground. There was a lot of laughter and flapping of wings.  A couple of older women taught me the word “Paloma” and we discussed where the birds slept at night—not in the tree; no, the birds slept in the nooks and crannies of the church at night con Cristo, with Christ. 

 

I was not listening for God to speak to me, I admonished myself.  I needed to settle down.  So I picked out a bench and sat.  I was being too extroverty.  Shame on me.  I was having such a good time I started thinking that maybe I could just sit there all day and just “Be.”

After a time a man came and sat by me.  He appeared to be in his mid-twenties or early thirties.  Clean cut. He was wearing a clean maroon shirt.  Very politely he asked me if I knew what time it was.  I had some trouble trying to figure out how to say 12:30. I couldn’t remember Spanish for “twelve” but thought I could say “medio” but didn’t know the “half” part.  I ended up just showing him my phone and trying to say the word.  He helped me say it. We each turn our faces back forward and I resumed thinking about doing nothing.

He asked me if I spoke English.  I think he meant to ask if I spoke Spanish.  And then told me he spoke a little English.  Then told me his name was Noah.  I told him my name and he stuck out his hand for me to shake. It wasn’t rough or dirty but it wasn’t city hands, either.   He asked me where I was from. I think he may have told me his city but I can’t remember. Then he told me there was no work in his village and he had come to Antigua to look for work.  He said he was a carpenter.  I said a few sympathetic words and he repeated that it was hard to afford medicine and food.  There was no food in his village.  He didn’t have that many English words available.  I wasn’t sure if he didn’t have the money for food or if the whole village didn’t have food.  I got the impression that it wasn't just his family’s problem but the whole village needed food and medicine.

And, of course, in the back of my mind the tape was playing:  the tape you get issued to you as a tourist that tells you this Parque Centrale is a hotbed for panhandlers, that these people are Gypsies, that they do this for a living, that this is their job, their gig.  The souvenir ladies surrounded us with their constant chatter:  “Senora, I can give you good price. Very good quality. Good price.”  We had already passed a drug addled young girl sprauled on the street, offering her body for sale.  And another horribly disabled older women quietly begging for money.  Everywhere we looked in the tourist part of Antigua there was someone who wanted money.

So my tourist antennae was up.  It was always up in Antigua.  I was no dummy.  But this guy was different. 

He didn’t sound panicked or emotional. He didn’t pressure me in any way.  He used a very conversational tone of voice.  It was very much like we were just having a conversation about the fact that he had no job, no money, no food and no medicine for his family. It was almost like we were talking about the weather. This was what made it so easy for me to discount him, to feel like I could just say I needed to meet my friend for our one o’clock appointment. Then I stood up and left.

I didn’t think too much of the exchange. 

Until the following morning when I was waking up.  That’s the time of day when the Holy Spirit usually speaks to me. That time of day when I am my most vulnerable and accepting. Open to anything; trusting; willing to listen.  That is when God sends me the messages that require the most trust.  The suspension of logic.  My guard is down in the morning because I haven’t had a chance to put it up yet.   How different our days might be if we could live our lives according to the wishes of the paraclete prior to the logic of the day. 

It wasn’t a “Sit Straight Up In Bed With Your Eyes Wide Open” kind of revelation.  It was a slow and soft realization that maybe that could have been God visiting with me. And what makes it a hilarious situation was that the whole reason I was in the damned Parque Centrale to start with was that I wanted desperately to encounter God. I had specifically asked for God to speak to me. I just never expected him to sit down on a park bench beside me and shake my hand.  I didn’t expect him to introduce himself as Noah. 

I was expecting God to speak through that clear intuitive voice inside my head.  Like the one I got driving down the road once.  Or that time on the trail at the Grand Canyon.  The voice inside my head. 

And bam! I get this guy who is clearly offering me an opportunity to give him some money because his family needs food and medicine.  His village, his people are in need.  But he told me this right there in the city’s prime spot for panhandling.

“Send me a message, God,” I said.  And God told me quite clearly, “My people are hungry. They need food and medicine.”  He had even said it in English.  There was no translation problem here. 

And I ignored him.  I walked off. I blew it. I didn’t give Noah a dime.  Not even a Quetzal, which is worth even less.

What would you have done?

And what would you have done if you knew it was God asking you instead of a human?

And does it make a difference?

P.S.....The next morning I set out for the Parque to see if I could find Noah and set things right.  The minute I stepped foot outside I tripped over the threshold of the hotel and fell head over heels onto the cobblestone pavement.  Once inside the parque a pigeon immediately pooped on my head.  I never saw Noah again. I had one chance and I blew it.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Repairing Christmas


Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Now before you drag out the chains to tie me up and convict me of heresy, hear me out. Maybe I’m not talking about you and your family. I know you’re going to a lot of trouble to make this year’s Christmas the best ever. But for other people Christmas won’t be the perfect day they have hoped. 

I’m sure your day will be perfect. After all, look at all the work you’ve put into it. You mailed the cards, decorated the house, made a spreadsheet of gifts and bought them all and paid for them and now they’re wrapped and all you have left is to make a delicious egg nog for Christmas Eve. But there are some people who are not as perfect as you. 

Maybe they can’t get their finances to fluff out or get their family to suddenly become functional when it never has been before. We try to put it all on Hallmark’s shoulders, saying they created this greeting card fantasy Christmas but it’s everyone’s fault. Not only does the entire American economy pivot on this season but we see the past with rose-colored glasses then tell ourselves to top it. Then if and when the day doesn’t pan out to be perfect in our eyes, if the wrapping paper doesn’t glisten enough or family appreciate each other enough, we just dissolve into a puddle of failure. About 20 minutes after it’s over we find the day was not what we had hoped it would be and a black cloud of disappointment and unworthiness falls over us. 

Is it any wonder that one of the most popular activities on Christmas Day has become going to the movies? Everyone sits in a dark room without interacting with each other in any way. This trick allows you to be together but not really. It’s a great valve to let a little pressure off slowly and quietly. Everyone goes to separate corners. It’s nothing more than a Family-sized Time Out but with popcorn.

It’s amazing what the memory does in the eleven months that follow. It re-creates the day into something far more than it actually was. 

None of this, by the way, is Jesus’ fault. We have to take full responsibility for what we’ve done: taking one single day and spending over a month preparing for it, spending every available dime on stuff nobody even needs then cramming every relative you have around a table filled with more food than you eat all year. Yes, this monstrosity of a day is all our own making. We have turned one single day into some magnificent dream that ends up being mostly a dream after all. 

And where do the expectations come from? There’s a newsreel that runs constantly in the back of our minds playing home videos of years past with happy kids unwrapping presents under the tree. But our memories don’t play all of the videos. We forgot to take a home movie of the argument in the kitchen over the turkey or the kids fighting over a new toy. We forgot to take a home movie of the two aunts who aren’t speaking to each other or the uncle who drinks too much. And there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t have a record of because you can’t film inside someone’s mind. The disappointment that a gift wasn’t the right color or the panic over the hot check you wrote on Christmas Eve. 

Family dynamics are a tricky business on a good day. There is always a delicate balance of personalities within any group of more than two people. When you get a whole family together it becomes a circus act of walking a tightrope 50-feet in the air with no net. And their balance can be thrown off by almost anything. And this is on a GOOD day, people.

 Then, for Christmas you put more people onto the tightrope and make them put on a pink tutu like everybody else even though they would rather wear green spandex and you tell them to bring their own baggage and walk the tightrope carrying it. Then we ask everybody to sing and skip rope while they try to keep their balance. There’s no wonder this results in a heap of pink tutus on the ground.

Beaven and I got to talking about the 40 plus Christmases we’ve spent together. Not every single one of them was as good as we had hoped. One Christmas Day my father was in the hospital recovering from surgery. We had more than one tense year because Beaven’s mother was mad about whatever she was mad about that year. A few years we ran on such a hectic schedule going to three houses in one day plus our own that it was mind-blowing and nobody ended up totally happy. 

I know we aren’t the only people who have had the occasional miserable Christmas. For goodness sakes, people die on Christmas Day. I have one friend whose husband was murdered the week before Christmas and another one whose 16 year old son died in a horrible house fire just a few days before. And it was hell. Yet these same people went on to have other Christmas mornings that were filled with joy and laughter. Maybe not the same kind of joy as before but a more mellow joy, a repaired happiness kind of joy.

And none of this takes into account those individuals who will spend the day totally alone. I’m not talking about homeless people here. Because even the homeless have a community of sorts—a band of like-minded people who share the day with each other. I’m talking about people who don’t even have the community a homeless person has. There are some of us who for one reason or another don’t have any kind of family to share the day. The way we’ve evolved Christmas Day has declared them total failures. Do we really want to do this to each other?

Not every single Christmas can be perfect. But that doesn’t stop us from expecting it to be and then getting all pissed off when it doesn’t happen.

I call for a revolt. This insanity is not what Jesus would ask in His name.

Not that I want us all to take the presents back to the store or call up your aunt and tell her not to come. Let’s just take it down a notch. It’s just a day. Could we find it within ourselves to allow the day to maybe not live up to our expectations? Cut it a little slack? We could start small with just giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect. Just permission.

I’ll go first. Come on. It will be alright. Jesus will still get born. The Messiah will still come. 

Jesus did not come into the world expecting it to be perfect. His whole reason for coming was because the world is not perfect and needs someone to love us anyway.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

graduating

Over 13 years ago when our granddaughter started pre-kindergarten our daughter literally went "school shopping."

Years ago, in a move only slightly disguised as an attempt to avoid busing kids to achieve racial balance in the schools, Garland ISD declared anybody could go to any school they wanted as long as there was room.  Only if a school was full would a student be required to attend their neighborhood school. This proved to be a brilliant move for Garland.  We never had busing.  We had racial harmony. And we even ended up with equally balanced schools quite naturally as a result. Most schools revolved around the neighborhood but a lot of times students ended up going to a school based on the location of their parent's workplace and sometimes this was clear across town.

It gave power to the parents and the students and nobody could complain.   I've wondered why more cities haven't thought of the idea.

So when it came time for Emily to pick Sarah's school she had a lot of choices and what she ended up doing was brilliant.  She picked out about five schools near her work and would park in the school parking lot and watch the kids on the playground.  She told me she was looking for a "mixture" of kids.  A mixture of races and a mixture of economic level.  Emily said she didn't want Sarah to spend her days with kids who were all alike; she wanted her to experience all different kinds of people.

And that's how Sarah ended up at Dorsey Elementary School--based on the kids my daughter saw on the playground.  Those kids went with her to Coyle Middle School and graduated with her from Rowlett High School.

On the night they all graduated together, as the class of 2017 prepared to walk into the arena to the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory", they announced that the class had voted to have their foreign born classmates carry the flags of their own countries following the American flag. With that, the music started and a marvelous procession of colors began down three aisles that included about 13 flags in addition to Old Glory's red, white and blue.  There were the flags of Mexico, Guatemala, Great Britain, Spain, Cameroon, Japan, Russia, Nigeria, Iran and several others I didn't recognize.

graduation video

All these years Sarah had been immersed in the colors Emily had seen on the playground 13 years before.  Yet when I asked Sarah about the different countries it didn't register with her.  It was just her friends.  She had never noticed.


Saturday, September 09, 2017

Hard Things, Three Years Later


Facebook reminded me of something I posted three years ago today.  And I wanted to share it with you along with an update.  It was a dramatic event in the life of several people:  a car accident that almost killed our almost-granddaughter’s brother. This is the part where I could tell you that everything is fine now but that would be deceptive.  It’s been a long three years.  I think everyone including his parents have lost count of how many surgeries Dylan has had.  He is still waiting for his head to heal enough to get a plate implanted to replace enough skull to protect his brain. 

It’s been a hard three years.

Here’s my original post.  It was one of those that came so easily I know the Holy Spirit wrote it for me so I figure it might be worth sharing with you again.

===========

Things have been heavy at our house the last couple of days.  Our weekend started with great promise. Emily came with the girls for no particular reason.  It wasn’t a holiday, there were no “food standards” so I didn’t cook myself into a nervous breakdown. We had tacos and nachos and ice cream.  Everybody kind of came and went as they pleased. It was a relaxing time.

Sarah has her learner's permit and Emily is letting her drive. We went to the movies and Sarah drove home in the dark and did fine.  Essie is on schedule to get braces on her teeth so the popcorn at the movies was especially savored.  It was like “goodbye” popcorn.  And I just now remembered that she doesn't go by Essie any more.  She is Elisabeth now.  At least, at school.  In public.  Someday only our family will call her Essie. 

We’re getting to the part where they grow up. And I’m not sure how I feel about that, as if my opinion could stop time if I wanted to.

Saturday morning  just when the cinnamon rolls for a late breakfast came out of the oven Sarah came running into the house straight for her mom in the back room.  Things were quiet for a time while I wondered what the rush was.  When they emerged Sarah was crying and could only show me the message on her phone that her best friend’s brother had been in a car wreck.  A bad one.  A life-threatening, head injury, brain damage, scary one. Later, when the facts came in, it sounded like a classic beginner's mistake when the inexperienced driver hits the side of the road then over-corrects and over-corrects that and ends up rolling the car. Emily and the girls packed up and left for home to get in a position where they could help Savannah however she needed them to.

Damn this learning to drive process.  Damn youth.  Damn learning the hard way.

Savannah’s family is very involved in scouts and church.  The First Christian Church, two blocks away from the Garland town square, held a prayer vigil there.  Hundreds of people came to support them.  My daughter held her own daughter while the town sang “Amazing Grace.” Emily told me she could feel Sarah shaking in her arms.  
                                                                                                                                          
Growing up isn’t easy.  We want to keep our kids in a bubble and protect them from pain.  But I don’t know a single person who has managed to pull this off.  Instead, I know people who claim that if you learn from mistakes then they should be the smartest person on earth..

Expensive weddings didn't prevent both of our daughters from divorce. The best therapy in town didn’t keep me from being an alcoholic.  Yes, I’ve gotten used to the fact that I can’t drink and it has become but a minor footnote in my life. Do I wish it was different?  Of course. But it is what it is.

Sometimes things are just hard. And you can't buy a guarantee.

If you have a kid who is learning to drive you can spend hours and hours teaching them but the learning process is a process with no guarantees.  Learning is hard.  And on top of that, you can’t control the other drivers who share a freeway with them.

Beaven and I know the secret to driving on ice and snow.  When you hit an icy patch and lose control, our technique is to just let go of the wheel for a little bit until the wheels have a bite on the road surface again. You, in effect, let go of any control you think you have.  It’s no guarantee that you can prevent an accident this way but it’s the best recommendation from all the experts. It’s always worked for me.

Some times to re-gain control of our lives we have to let go for a while before we can hold the steering wheel again.  That’s what the prayer vigil for Dylan Godwin was all about.  It’s our best weapon.  It’s our only hope.

When you walk to the edge of all the light you have
And  take the first step into the darkness of the unknown
You must believe one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid for you to stand upon
Or you will be taught to fly

Patrick Overton
The Leaning Tree, 1976


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tuesday Ice Cream



When Beaven retired a bunch of his buddies decided they wanted to stay connected so they set up a scheme to get together every Tuesday for lunch. A few years later Sarah started kindergarten and since he was already in town Beaven started picking her up from school on Tuesdays and taking her for ice cream.  Since he was in the neighborhood and all.  Bonding time with his granddaughter.  Being the hero granddad and all.  He did this all through elementary school.  Every Tuesday. 

When it came time for her to move to middle school he wondered if things would change.  He wasn’t sure if Sarah would still be cool with going for ice cream with her grandfather after school when she was in a higher grade now.  Would she be too old now?  So, he asked her.
“Sarah, do you still want to go out for ice cream on Tuesdays this year?”  And the answer was a resounding and indignant “yes!” 
By this time her sister was in school, too, a couple of grades behind her.  The only problem with picking up kids from two different schools was that they got out at different times.  He spent the next couple of years in a convoluted weekly routine of picking up Essie at the elementary school then killing time until Sarah got out at 4 o’clock at the middle school. 
I still wonder what a 70- year old grandfather does with a pre-teen girl to kill an hour.  What do they have in common?  What do they talk about?  It’s not like he’s a connoisseur of Barbies or the cast of High School Musical. 
But I do know that when Sarah went into high school a few years later we were sure that his magical time with them would now be over.  Grandfather couldn’t possibly be cool any more.  Ice cream couldn’t be that valuable of an enticement for their time.  Yet, once again, the response was an enthusiastic, “Yes!” when he asked if they wanted to continue weekly ice cream.
The schedule only got worse that year.  Sarah now got out at 2:30 but they had to wait for Essie at 4pm.  His whole day was spent in parking lots waiting for somebody to get out of school.
Then the fall of her junior year came and she had a drivers’ license.  There was no need for anyone to pick her up after school.  She had wheels and could get herself home.  She could drive her sister.  Indeed, she could drive the whole damned school if she wanted to.  She didn’t need her grandfather for anything.  We were sure the days of Tuesday ice cream were over.
But a couple of days before school started she called Beaven and said, “So, we’ll meet you at Braum’s after school on Tuesday, right?”
And that’s when it sunk in.  It never was about the ride home.  It never even was about the ice cream. 
Over the last 13 years Beaven has had a weekly appointment to spend time with his granddaughters.  One on one.  At a table across from each other at the Braum’s Ice Cream store next door to the KinderCare where their mother works.  They can talk about anything they want to. It’s just them; I’ve only gone a couple of times when I happened to be with him for some reason.  It’s their special magical time together.  Sometimes Emily joins them but not usually.  It’s a totally relaxing, unstructured time with their grandfather.  It doesn’t cost a lot of money.  He didn’t set out to do this for 13 years—it just happened.  But it has been one of the greatest traditions of our family. 
Yesterday was Sarah’s last ice cream day. Her graduation on Saturday will only be a footnote compared to the last ice cream Tuesday.
They let me crash the party yesterday and join them.  I expected a sad farewell, one moment of finality where it all ended but that didn’t happen.  Because it’s not ending.  They reminded me he will still come into town every Tuesday for lunch with his buddies during the summer and stop by for ice cream—he just won’t have to wait until school is out for the day.  Beaven has carved out a relationship with these two girls that makes its own rules and is comfortable with itself. 

He will keep taking Essie for ice cream next year and until she graduates—as long as she wants him to. They may expand on their own special gig: a visit to Barnes & Noble bookstore. Grandpa is always good for a trip to the bookstore in addition to ice cream.

It never was about the ice cream.  It was always about the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughters.

We have already found an ice cream parlor in Denton near the UNT campus.