Thoughts While Traveling

Kathy and I are just back from our vacation, and we had a wonderful time. We went to the Metroplex and got to spend time with our son there, then we flew to Baltimore and spent a few days with our daughter there, whom we hadn’t seen since before Thanksgiving. We were able to go to a Rangers game and we visited Washington, DC, saw a lot of famous sights and historical sites, and ate a bunch of really good seafood. And in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you more about where we went and what we saw, but for now, I want to share some observations I had while we were on our trip – random thoughts about traveling.

This was the first real trip we have taken together in over two years, partly because of moving back to Haskell, and partly due to the pandemic. And as a lot of people have observed, we were definitely happy to just be going SOMEWHERE – she and I are both fully vaccinated, and it’s just nice to be able to be “out and about,” to see different locations and some new faces. So here are some things that I noticed in the midst of our goings and comings:

It’s been a very green year. All the way on our drive over to Ft. Worth and Dallas, we both kept talking about how pretty and green the countryside was and is. By this point in a normal year, the grass would be brown, the wildflowers would all be long dead, and even the trees would be looking droopy and dried up. Not this year. The grass is still lush and green, and it’s nice to see. And Thank You, Lord, for the rain.

“O say, can you see?” We went to a Rangers game Saturday afternoon at the new Globe Life Field ballpark – it is air conditioned with a retractable roof, and a very comfortable place to watch a ballgame. (The Rangers lost in extra innings to the A’s.)

Anyway, I was in line at a concession stand before the game started, and had just gotten to the register, to pay the man for our order, when we heard the familiar opening notes of the Star-Spangled Banner. The cashier said to me, “Just a moment, sir – we will wait until the anthem is finished.” I glanced around and sure enough, everywhere I looked, all the concessionaires were standing still, in a posture of respect, and the whole area fell silent.

In my mind suddenly, I was with my mom and dad, my brothers, and our grandmother, and we were at an Astros game in the late 60s. I looked over and noticed that my grandmother wasn’t singing, so after it was finished, I asked her about it. She reminded me that one of her brothers had been killed in Korea, during an enemy rocket attack, and she said that the lyric about “the rocket’s red glare” was painful for her to think about.

Just then, the anthem was over, and I remembered that I was in line, buying nachos and sodas – but now with unspoken gratitude to the management there for putting commerce aside for three minutes and honoring our National Anthem and all that it means.

A lot of smiles. I have to admit, I was a little anxious about my first plane ride in a couple of years. Not because I’m afraid of flying, but because of all the horror stories that have been in the news in recent weeks regarding the extremely disruptive behavior of many travelers. I’m sure you’ve heard these stories, as well, about passengers going crazy on flights, acting disorderly, even trying to open exit doors in midair.

But those worries were absolutely pointless. From the TSA agents to the Southwest ticket and gate staff, to the flight and cabin crews and our fellow flyers, everyone seemed to be smiling and patient, and just trying to get to their destinations with a minimum of fuss and bother. It was nice.

Taking off is the best part. My favorite part of any flight has always been that moment that comes after you’re finally on board and seated, with all of your gear stowed and the seat backs and tray tables in their full upright and locked position. The plane is taxiing along and finally gets to the runway, then turns and gets lined up for takeoff. The engines begin spooling up, and then it happens: You start rolling down the runway, and you notice the seat back pushing harder and harder against your spine. You’re rapidly picking up speed and you notice the bumps of the expansion joints in the concrete below you, as the physics of flight take over and the pilots turn a 90-ton tricycle into a jet airliner. The nose lifts, then the whole plane, and off you go, into the wild blue yonder.

I love it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best part of the whole flight.

Life in the Slow Lane

I recently made a trip to East Texas and a good part of that time was spent driving on the freeway. At one point while I was on I-20, I came up behind some slow-moving traffic. I checked both mirrors and looked over my left shoulder. There was no one coming, so I pulled into the left lane and began to pass an 18-wheeler.

Suddenly my rear-view mirror was filled with the reflection of the massive grill of a large pickup – I mean, this guy was RIGHT ON my bumper. I was already going a few miles an hour over the speed limit to get around the truck that was now beside me, but I sped up as much as my little car could. I finished passing the truck and pulled back into the right lane, and the guy in the pickup roared past me, leading about three or four more cars behind him. I was going well over the speed limit by this point, and they were leaving me behind like I was standing still.

I certainly realize that there are emergencies in life, and there are times when speed is necessary, for a variety of reasons. And I’m aware that no one ever had a hit song, “Life in the Slow Lane.” Still, it seems to me that many of us would do well to take a breath and slow down a little bit from time to time.

I was in the ministry for a long time; I have also been a teacher and a neighborhood coordinator for a faith-based non-profit organization. I have done news and sports for radio and print, and if there’s one thing all those jobs have in common, it is that they all involve talking to folks and hearing their stories – building and developing relationships with other people. And the thing about relationships is, they take time. There is no substitute for this. It takes time to get to know someone, and to share stories. It takes time to sip a cup of coffee and look at pictures of family, or to share a glass of iced tea and talk baseball. Friendships and good relationships with neighbors and others develop slowly, gradually, over a long time, and they can’t be rushed. But they don’t happen by accident. Good relationships occur when someone is intentional about making them happen.

We understand this principle applies in many areas of life. When you plant a garden, you invest time and effort, and then (and only then) can you harvest your crop. When you cook a meal, it takes time to let flavor develop. But many of us have lost our understanding of this.

In a society where microwave popcorn takes too long, we’ve lost our appreciation for slowness. We have the world literally in the palm of our hands, and we can just Google whatever we want to know, for instant solutions. In our rush to get to work, to raise our kids, to juggle everything we have to do, we miss out on the joys of slowing down and savoring moments. Even in our leisure, we rush to get somewhere, so we can take it easy, forgetting that life is a journey, not a destination. So not only are we forgetting to “stop and smell the roses” – we’re not even noticing that there is a rosebush.

The good news is, things don’t have to stay that way. Summer is a great time to practice slowing down just a little. Invite a neighbor over to sit on your porch or your patio and get to know one another over something cold and wet. Fire up the grill and practice your outdoor cooking skills for your family and friends – you’ll discover it’s time well spent, and you may also discover that conversations are more enjoyable over a charcoal fire.

Or just slow down and take a moment for yourself and find some peace in the solitude.

It’s very common at graduations or weddings for parents to think about the baby that they brought home from hospital, seemingly only yesterday, but now that baby is grown up and moving out. The parents wonder, where did the time go? But by then, it’s too late to savor those moments. All you can do is cherish the moments to come.

It may take a little getting used to, and you can’t do it all the time, but there’s a lot to be said for occasionally pulling over and enjoying life in the slow lane.

The Train to Yesterday

I have been fortunate enough to get to take a number of passenger train trips over the years. One of my favorites was a special trip a few years ago with my youngest brother, David Ray. He’s a pastor at a church in Spring, Texas, just north of Houston.

My brother David and I in front of Amtrak’s “Sunset Limited” in Houston.

He and I had often talked about trains and taking a trip together on Amtrak, so we did just that – not so much to go anywhere, but more just for the experience of riding a passenger train together. We boarded the eastbound “Sunset Limited” in Houston, and toot toot, we were gone, headed for Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Now as my friends can tell you, I love trains, but as great as that part of it was, an even better part was getting to spend time with my youngest brother. We grew up in a family of four boys – he and I are the bookends, with me as the oldest and him as the youngest. Our mom’s parents lived in the small Hardin County town of Grayburg, between Beaumont and Houston.

The old Missouri Pacific RR main line ran right through there, and when we were kids visiting our grandparents, we used to spend hours down by the tracks at a small railroad sidetrack where they used to load freshly cut pine logs onto flatcars, destined to be turned into paper at one of the mills in East Texas.

(Yes, I know we shouldn’t have been playing there, and that it probably wasn’t safe. Get over it. We never wore bicycle helmets, either.)

How we loved to see freight trains coming through! The big blue and white MP engines, the long trains, and the red caboose at the end. The box cars with names of faraway places – Bangor and Aroostook, Atlantic Coast Line, the New York Central and Central of Georgia, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and the Santa Fe, the Denver & Rio Grande and the Illinois Central, just to name a few. And when they came roaring through, it was all noise and power, sound and fury, speed and excitement. We knew to get well off the tracks and wave from a safe distance. And as Johnny Cash once observed, it was always very important that the conductor in the caboose waved back.

Somewhere I still have some flattened pennies that we made, and I remember running back to the tracks after the train had passed, to find those little squished pieces of copper, still hot from the friction of the wheels that ran over them.

And the smells on those hot afternoons – the oily odor of the creosote from the ties, and the zingy smell of hot steel in the Texas sun. We would walk along the rails and practice our balancing skills and watch the distant signal lights, hoping they would turn red, heralding the approach of another train. I have a very sweet memory of sitting on the freight platform with my dad, next to the tiny beige and brown depot, absolutely enthralled as the massive trains roared past, and watching the rail joints move up and down as the car wheels went across them.

Anyway, our grandparents have long since passed away, but the little town is still there, and so are the freight trains, now operated by Union Pacific. And when you take Amtrak heading east towards Beaumont, you go roaring right through there.

So David & I climbed aboard in downtown Houston, checked in with the conductor, and headed for the dining car and lunch. We both had a pretty good Angus beef hamburger and enjoyed a nice visit with an older lady and her niece who were returning to Florida after a trip to California. After lunch, we walked to the observation car as the train rolled through the Southeast Texas countryside and past the little towns.

Grayburg is literally just a blur when you go through there on a fast train.

The Grayburg depot is long gone, but the siding is still there, and it doesn’t take long to go past it. As we went through there and saw where we used to play, I looked over and saw my brother wiping away a tear. I asked him what he was thinking.

He said he thought he saw four little boys running over to the tracks after the train went by, looking for flattened pennies.

2.9013

The “Losada Line” is the name of a principle of human interaction that has generated a huge amount of controversy in recent years. Also known as the “Positivity Ratio,” this idea says that all of us have many encounters with other people throughout our day, and that in order to maintain good mental and emotional health, we need at least 2.9013 positive, uplifting or encouraging interactions, to balance against one negative encounter.

In other words, most people need to be praised, patted on the back and encouraged about three times as much as they need to hear bad news, criticism or condemnation. One application might be that bosses should spend three times as much time praising their people as they do criticizing them, in order to have a company that runs more smoothly and employees that are more productive. At least, that’s the theory.

Now, this so-called “Losada Line” is VERY controversial. A large number of researchers and social scientists have criticized the study that produced that report and raised serious questions about the validity of its research and conclusions. And some of those criticisms seem to be well-founded.

Which, in my opinion, does not take away from the basic truth that people need encouragement and a kind word.

All of us have friends who can always make us feel better, even during difficult situations. We have probably had the experience of going to the hospital to visit a sick friend, and that person ends up cheering US up. The ability to inspire, to motivate, and to encourage others is a precious gift.

Now granted, too much positivity can occasionally lead to distortions. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt, rather than a pat on the back. If you’re at the doctor’s office, you want your physician to give you truthful answers, not “happy talk” that ignores serious problems. But the truth is, most of us have more than enough bad news in our lives, so sometimes we need to be intentional about seeking out words of encouragement.

It’s not ignoring the truth to want to surround ourselves with companions who can offer words of hope and joy. It’s not sticking our heads in the sand to choose to focus on the good around us, to see a glass as half-full rather than half-empty. It is not weakness to want to hear from friends who can offer encouragement and inspiration when we are down. And it’s not foolish or naïve to try and be more positive and encouraging in our dealings with others. It sounds cliched and even out of date to say, but we can start by counting – and giving thanks for – our blessings.

Haskell has been blessed lately to have several new leaders come join our community. We need to celebrate these folks and look for ways to support and encourage them! Their fresh ideas and new ways of looking at things may be just what we need to overcome some of the challenges we face.

I am reminded of a letter that outgoing President George H.W. Bush wrote to incoming President Bill Clinton, in January 1993. You may recall what a brutal, bruising campaign year that 1992 had been – and yet, in his letter to the guy that beat him, Mr. Bush said,

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck –

George

So, if I may paraphrase President Bush, our new community leaders’ successes will be Haskell’s successes. Let us do all we can to encourage them in their endeavors.

One of my very favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 11:25 – “A generous person will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” So let us strive to be generous in our attitudes and dealings with others – to be people who are refreshing to know. My prayer is that we can all learn to be the kind of community member, the kind of family member, the kind of friend, who can offer a word of encouragement and hope to those around us.

And to do that, at least 2.9013 times more often than we criticize.

Remembering Dad

Harry Louis Garison, Sr., was a remarkable man. Known to his friends as “Buddy,” he was born at home on August 25, 1928. When he got married, his father gave him an acre of land across the road, where dad built a house for his new bride. He lived in that house for the rest of his life. It was where my brothers and I grew up, and that was where he died on December 6, 2018 – about 75 yards from where he was born. When Hurricane Harvey flooded us out in August 2017, dad had to go live in a nursing home while my brothers and I rebuilt the house, but other than that, and the time he was in the army, he lived on that same piece of property in Orange County, Texas, his entire life.

My son Drew with his “Paw-Paw”

Dad had a long career as a mechanic and a business owner. When we were boys, my brothers and I took turns working for him. Watching him went a long way towards making me who I am today.

One of the most important things learned from my dad is that Christianity is not something you just talk about; it’s how you live. Dad lived his life in accordance with the scripture that says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Dependability, honesty, hard work, loyalty – these were the principles by which dad carried himself. It was how he operated his business and how he raised his family. To his final days, he remained a role model for my brothers and me. Always tell the truth. Treasure your family. When you give someone your word, follow through, even if it’s not easy. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Give a fair day’s work for a day’s pay. Do it right the first time.

One thing in particular that I remember about my dad as a working man was how diligent and focused he was at work, but when the working day was over, he had that special gift of being able to shut it off, come home to his family, and not think about work. He was that most rare of breeds – an honest mechanic. And I wish I could put into words how proud it made me whenever I would meet someone who would say, “Oh, you’re Buddy’s boy. You know, your dad is the only man I trust to work on my car.”

Another thing I learned from him was patience. (He was a lot better at that than I am.) Whether it was fixing some stubborn problem on a car or dealing with a difficult customer, my dad always modeled patience for us, even though he would probably say he didn’t do a very good job at it.

In his last years, dad showed great patience in another way. He suffered from non-diabetic neuropathy, which destroyed his balance, crippled his ankles and feet, and left him confined to a wheelchair. It also turned his hands into claws and left him unable to use his fingers. He had to get very creative to find ways of doing things he used to do without thinking about them. He still got them done; it just took longer. But he was patient enough (and stubborn enough) to keep working at the chore in front of him, until he finished it.

There’s plenty more I could say about my dad, but one story reveals a lot about him. One of his favorite treats was ice cream; he used to buy frozen goodies from the Schwan’s truck that came to his house. One day he bought a box of ice cream sandwiches, and decided he wanted one right then, so after the truck left, he opened the package and took one out, and was putting the box in the freezer above the refrigerator. As he was stretching up in his wheelchair, he lost his balance and fell, spilling ice cream sandwiches everywhere. Just at that moment, his home health nurse arrived, and came into the kitchen to find him sprawled out in front of the fridge. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“Never mind that,” he said. “Help me get this ice cream back in the freezer before it melts!”

That was my dad.

Honoring Old Glory

This coming Monday, June 14, is Flag Day – the day set aside to honor our nation’s flag. It was on June 14, 1777, that the Second Continental Congress officially designated that the new national flag should be “…thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” President Woodrow Wilson was the first to issue a proclamation recognizing that date in 1916; Congress made it an official designation in 1949, even though it is not a federal holiday.

The flag is a beautiful and meaningful symbol of our country and the values we hold dear. White represents purity and virtue; blue stands for justice and vigilance, and the red represents courage, and of course, the sacrifice of those who have shed blood defending that flag. It is a powerful national symbol, which is why so many Americans find flag burning and desecration to be so offensive.

At the risk of upsetting some of you, I would point out another type of flag desecration that is all too common by some people: neglect. I have seen many flags flying that should have been taken down and retired a long time ago –the flags have been shredded from the wind and faded by the sun, and their edges are frayed to threads; sometimes, the flag is reduced to less than half its original size by the wind and the weather. It may not be deliberate misuse, but perhaps that makes it even worse, because it shows a lackadaisical attitude of thoughtlessness and neglect.

Many years ago, when I was a Boy Scout, I remember one time when our troop held a “flag retirement” ceremony. Our Scoutmaster, Oscar “Red” Davis, had several old, torn, faded flags. He gave some of our more senior boys scissors and directed that we carefully cut out the blue fields, then cut the red and white stripes into separate strips. Mr. Davis then had one of our Eagle Scouts read a poem about the meaning of the flag and what the colors symbolized. Then with care and reverence, we burned (yes, that is the honorable, appropriate way of disposing of a faded flag) the different components of the flags and buried the ashes, again with great respect.

You see, Mr. Davis was a combat veteran – he had been with the U.S. Army in Korea, in that brutal winter of 1950. He knew how precious that flag was, and is, and he instilled in us – in me! – an awe and patriotic awareness that continues to this day. So I don’t worship the flag but I do hold it in high honor, with deep appreciation for all that it means.

On a lighter note, if you’re looking for a scrumptious, sweet way to think about the flag, you might try my daughter Brittany’s “Flag Cake” recipe. Coconut – strawberries – blueberries – what’s not to love? She often makes it for summertime events. The recipe is attached below.

One interesting local story relating to the flag relates to a certain community in eastern Stonewall County, Texas. The town was originally laid out in 1903 by G.R. Spielhagen; he was one of several German immigrants to the area who had arrived beginning around 1900. Herr Spielhagen called his town “Brandenburg,” after the German city of the same name. When the Stamford & Northwestern Railway bypassed the community on its way to Spur in 1909, the citizens picked up and moved the town to the trains, renaming it “New Brandenburg.”

During World War I, there was a strong, anti-German sentiment across the country; “Hate the Hun” was a popular slogan. And so, to show their pride and allegiance to their new homeland, the folks in New Brandenburg petitioned the post office to change their town’s name, choosing instead the most patriotic name they could think of. And that’s how, on August 9, 1918, the community of “New Brandenburg” became known as “Old Glory.”

God Bless America.

Brittany’s Flag Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 “Classic Yellow” cake mix (brand of your choice), along with its required ingredients (eggs, vegetable oil, water, etc.)
  • 12-16 oz. Cream of Coconut (found in the mixers aisle of the grocery store)
  • 8 oz tub of Cool Whip
  • 1 cup Shredded Coconut (sweetened or regular) 
  • 3/4 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup whole blueberries

Directions

  1. Bake the yellow cake according to the instructions on the box in a 13×9 inch glass or metal pan.
  2. Set aside the baked cake to cool in its pan for 1-2 hours. Remember to set out your Cool Whip to thaw (if needed)!
  3. Using the skinny end of a wooden spoon or toothpicks, poke small (1/4 inch) holes in the cake that reach all the way to the bottom. The holes should be about 1.5 inches apart.
  4. Pour 3/4 cup of the Cream of Coconut over the cake, spreading with a knife to cover the entire surface and fill the holes.
  5. Mix the remaining 1/2 cup of Cream of Coconut into the thawed cool whip, and then spread the entire mixture over the cake.
  6. Sprinkle shredded coconut over the cake as evenly as possible.
  7. In the upper left corner of the cake, place blueberries in rectangular pattern to create the field of blue in the American flag. Slice the strawberries width-wise and place on the cake to create the stripes of the flag (remember, the top stripe is white, the very bottom stripe is red).
  8. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Brittany’s note: This recipe is easily adapted to celebrate any flag! Rearrange the blueberries and strawberries to make the Texas flag, or use sliced kiwis and strawberries to create a tasty homage to Mexico or Italy. 

Running into the Darkness

People run OUT of burning buildings. That’s simple human self-preservation, to get as far away from danger as possible. Yet we know there are those who run INTO burning buildings. We call them firefighters. We also call them heroes.

Normal human reaction is to get away from gunfire, especially if you’re unarmed. But soldiers and law enforcement officers routinely run TOWARDS gunfire, especially when a buddy is in trouble. And medics will do this, even though they are unarmed, to save a life. Heroes in action.

These are examples of physical courage in the face of danger. But there is another kind of courage, just as rare, and just as worthy of celebrating. It is the kind of moral courage that runs into the darkness where another person is trapped.

As humans, we were meant to live in relationship with others – family members, co-workers, neighbors. We were meant to live in community, to provide mutual support and encouragement. But relationships are messy. If we want to enjoy truly mutual relationships with others, that requires that we make ourselves vulnerable. It also requires that we allow others to be vulnerable to us.

And there’s the problem: most of us want to keep our emotional distance. Oh, we’re fine with relationships as long as they’re on the surface, or as long as it doesn’t require too much of a commitment from us. But when a neighbor or a co-worker needs someone who is willing to listen, to “weep with those who weep,” as the scripture says, to be willing to just make an investment of time – are we willing to be that person?

So I come back to our opening thoughts. We admire the courage, the loyalty, the selflessness of a firefighter who would charge into a burning building, or a medic who races into a combat situation, to save a life. Are we willing to do the same thing for someone who needs a friend?

The world is desperate to see the love of God. The world is aching to see Christians who will live out what they say they believe. Are you willing to be that person? Am I?

Are you willing to be the one who goes to the old man who lives down the street, and has no one to talk to? Would you spend an hour a week, just sitting with him and listening?

Or how about that single mom at work? Will you be the one who reaches out to her and offers to babysit for a little while, just so she can go buy groceries without the kids? Or maybe even, let her go get her hair done, without having to worry about the little ones?

When Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of hell would not “prevail” against it, what did He mean? That hell would attack the church, but that the church would never fall to those attacks? Well, that’s certainly true, but I think that interpretation misses the point.

I mean, think about it. Have you ever been attacked by a gate? No, gates are for DEFENSE! When Jesus said the “gates of hell” would not stop us, He is telling us that we need to break down those hellish gates and seek for those who are trapped inside, in their own private, spiritual hell. Storm the gates! Rescue the prisoners! Find those who sit in darkness and bring them out. As Isaiah 61:1-3 says,

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion. (emphasis added)

Somebody cared enough about you and me to go get us; now we need to go get someone else. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. Each one matters. Each one is important. And no one gets left behind.

Be a friend to the friendless. Be a neighbor to the lonely. Be a brother or a sister to the one needing a family. Be the hands and feet of Christ, reaching out to care for the least of these.

It’s NOT ‘National BBQ Day’

This coming Monday, May 31, is a national holiday. For some, it’s a chance to head out to the lake and maybe catch some crappie or bass. Some see it as a chance to soak up some sun. For auto racing fans, the weekend means it’s time for what is perhaps the most famous competition in motor sports – the Indianapolis 500. For many communities, it’s a time for patriotic parades, with flags, bands and floats. Some folks see it as a chance to fire up the grill and have family and friends over for a fun time. A lot of retailers have big sales, while other folks are happy just to have the day off. For many, it’s the unofficial start of summer.

All of those things are fine, and each can be appropriate in its place, but Memorial Day wasn’t originally designed for any of those things. And although the exact origins of the day have been lost to history, its intention is clear: to remember and honor those who have given their lives in defense of this country.

“Decoration Day” (as the day was originally known) began during and especially, immediately after, the American Civil War (or the War Between the States, if you prefer). Several communities, in both the North and the South, held ceremonies to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers.

One of the earliest was on May 1, 1865, when a group of several thousand recently-freed slaves reburied with honors the remains of 257 Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison camp. The Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus (Georgia) established a program in the spring of 1866 to decorate the graves of soldiers throughout the south. Similar events had been happening in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and elsewhere in the north.

In 1868, Union General John A. Logan issued a proclamation establishing “Decoration Day” to be held on May 30, annually and nationwide; Logan was the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization made up of Union Civil War veterans. Some have claimed the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any specific battle, but instead could be universally recognized; others have suggested that it was chosen because it was the best date for flowers to bloom in the north.

There are more than 25 different communities that claim to be the founder of the observance. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill recognizing Waterloo, New York, as the “official” birthplace of the holiday a hundred years earlier, but the evidence for this is sketchy, at best. Rochester, Wisconsin, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Grafton, West Virginia, all host annual parades that have been continuously running since the 1860s. During the first half of the 20th century, the focus graduated shifted from exclusively honoring those who fell in the Civil War, to remembering all those who had died in our nation’s defense. The name “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882 and gradually became more common, especially after World War II; Congress made that the “official” name in 1967.

Then in 1968, as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Congress changed the date from May 30, to the last Monday of May, which we still observe today. In 2000, they passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking all Americans to pause at 3:00 pm, local time, and remember the fallen. The National American Legion has chosen to honor those who died by distributing and wearing red silk poppies – a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields,” about the flowers that grew over soldiers’ graves in World War I.

However you choose to observe the holiday, let us take a moment, each in our own way, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind. Let us pray for our nation and our leaders, and pray that the Lord will bring His peace on earth.

I’ll give the final word to British poet Rudyard Kipling, whose son was killed while fighting with the British army during World War I. In his poem Recessional, Kipling writes

The tumult and the shouting dies –
  The captains and the kings depart –
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
  An humble and contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
  Lest we forget – lest we forget!

A Visit to Jefferson

Jefferson, Texas, is a beautiful, historic community in Northeast Texas, between Marshall and Texarkana. I had the chance this past weekend to go over there, to indulge a totally frivolous hobby of mine – model railroading.

You see, I still play with trains.

Like many little boys who grew up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, one of the earliest toys I can remember playing with was an electric train. Unlike many others, I never outgrew the fascination. Other kids might have received a train by Lionel or American Flyer; in my case, it was made by Marx. I don’t remember much about the actual train, other than playing with it until it absolutely fell apart. Marx Toys was the same company who would later make the “Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots” and the “Big Wheel” tricycles, but to me, they will always be a maker of trains.

So, back to Jefferson – it’s a very picturesque small town that celebrates its heritage of historic homes, railroads, old-fashioned paddle-wheel steamships, lumber and oil industries, and more. Over fifty buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and there are numerous good places to stay, from beautiful and historic hotels to quaint and comfortable bed-and-breakfasts, along with good restaurants and interesting little museums and antique shops.

And every year, they host a big model RR show where hobbyists from across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas come together to watch and run trains and visit with their fellow enthusiasts. A model train club from Orange, of which I was an active member when we lived down there, goes to Jefferson every year with their portable layout, so I went last weekend to see my old friends from that club, and enjoy some time running and playing with the trains.




Hundreds of hobbyists and spectators, drawn together by their shared passion of model railroading, gathered this past weekend in Jefferson for that city’s annual train show.

Like many hobbies, model trains have their own jargon. One of the first things you learn is about scale – how large or how small are the models? The classic Lionel trains (and my original Marx trains) are known as “O” scale – pronounced, “oh scale.” O scale operates on the ratio of 1 to 48; that is, one inch on a model equals 48 inches in real life. A man six feet tall in the real world would be a model an inch and a half tall. O scale models are big and impressive to watch as they go by, but they can also be expensive, and they can take up a LOT of room for a layout.

The most popular size is known as HO – you pronounce the letters separately: “aitch – oh.” The name comes from the fact that it is roughly half of the size of O scale models, or H-O. These models have a proportion of 1:87 – one foot of track equals 87 feet in real life. You can build a decent layout on a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood, which is how a lot of hobbyists start out.

There are many other scales, each with their own devotees and specialties – Z (1:220), N (1:160), HO (1:87), S (1:64), O (1:48), and G (1:29). Each has different advantages – you can build a nice Z scale layout in a suitcase, whereas G scale is often the choice for running outdoors on garden railroads. It all depends on what you like.

One of the most revolutionary developments in the last few years has been something called “Digital Command Control,” or DCC; this enables you to control each locomotive separately, independent of any others, utilizing a miniature computer chip installed in each model. You can even install miniature speakers on the trains, enabling engines to operate with realistic sound effects. All this allows for a level of realism previously unimaginable.

One thing people always want to know: isn’t it expensive? Well, it can be (especially when you’re just getting started), but it doesn’t have to be. One of the great things about being in a modeling club is the ability to pool resources, share knowledge and expertise, and run on a club layout. (And, just in case you’re interested, there’s a great model train club based in Abilene.)

I had a great time seeing my friends and enjoying our shared love of the hobby with them again. And I’m more determined than ever to finish setting my home layout back up, to once again enjoy my own little empire in miniature. All aboard!