Welcome Home, Exes, and Other Random Thoughts

Scatter-shooting while thinking about sports columnist Blackie Sherrod and the great articles he used to write for the Dallas Times Herald

Welcome back to all the Haskell, Mattson, Weinert, and Rochester exes! We are glad you are here and hope you enjoy your visit. No doubt you will notice some new things, here in Haskell and elsewhere – there are several new businesses on the square and around the community, and others that have moved from their familiar locations to new sites (including the Haskell Star offices, now at 112 North Avenue E, and in with the DCOH and the Chamber!). From the football game to the street dance, to the various programs and class activities, we extend best wishes for a safe and enjoyable time with classmates, family and friends. We also pause and remember all those we have lost to Covid and other causes since the last homecoming.

Speaking of football – I love hearing and singing the National Anthem before the start of the games and wish more folks would sing out. I know it’s not an easy tune to carry, but I for one love those lyrics and the true story they tell: how Francis Scott Key was being held on a British warship after negotiating the release of a doctor who had been captured. The Brits were engaged in a fierce naval bombardment of Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore, in preparation for invasion, and Mr. Key was being held on the enemy ship and was literally up and down all night. He was watching by “the rocket’s red glare,” to see if the American flag was still flying over the fort, or if enemy forces had captured it.

By the next morning, at “dawn’s early light,” of course, it became apparent that the fort still held firm – and our flag still flew. Our daughter Brittany lives in Baltimore, and a couple of years ago, we got to visit Fort McHenry. I know we are all proud and thankful to be Americans, so let me encourage us ALL to sing those patriotic words – even if we’re not the best vocalists.

Here’s a tip of my cap to my friend Steve Allen Goen from Wichita Falls. Steve is an authority on Texas railroads and their history; he’s also an author and photographer with several books to his credit. Many of his books are beautiful “coffee table”-style collections of gorgeous color photos of different railroads around Texas. He has just released the third in a new series about railroad passenger trains – and this one will be about the Burlington Route, including the Fort Worth & Denver and the Wichita Valley railroads that served Haskell. And he tells me one chapter in this newest book will be about the Doodlebug that operated between Wichita Falls and Abilene.

I have spoken with folks from the Friends of the Haskell County Library, and they may be able to host an “author’s book-signing” later this year, so Steve could come and sell copies of his new book. Watch this space for more details.

For my birthday, my family took me to a showing of No Time to Die, the new James Bond film. I have enjoyed actor Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. He says this will be his final appearance as the British agent, and if so, it was pretty good.

Maybe that’s an idea for a future column – rating the various Bond movies and the different actors who have portrayed author Ian Fleming’s suave agent. You can start a pretty good argument among fans of the series, wrangling over Sean Connery or Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or perhaps Daniel Craig, as their favorite actor-spy.

I have written before about how much I enjoy sitting on my back porch, watching and listening to all the birds as they fill the trees. It’s still something that I love to do, and especially watching the different species of avian friends who come and go with the changing seasons. Now we have new guests – monarch butterflies. These travelers are making their semi-annual visit to our area, and I love to see them as they fly around. It seems especially appropriate with the colors of the fall season, and this close to Halloween, for them to appear in their orange-and-black markings! And thank You, Lord, for the beauty in all of Your creation.

More Haskell Railroad Memories

Last week we started telling stories of the old railroad days in Haskell. One story told by Haskell native Sam Pace involved his grandfather who owned the first Ford dealership here, and how they used to receive new automobiles in railroad box cars, dissembled and in crates, and the mechanics had to reassemble them.

Sam’s cousin, Dr. Jim Ratliff, remembers once when a dead whale was lashed to a flat car and parked on a sidetrack, in 1937 or 38. He especially recalls the awful stench of the rotting sea creature, but why the carcass was there, why it was parked in Haskell for a time, and what its destination was, are all mysteries.

He also remembers hearing stories from his parents and other family members about when the Ratliff family relocated to Haskell from Decatur, Texas, in the 1920s; he says his dad Roy, and older brother Dennis, had to ride in a cattle car with the family milk cow. (Dennis Ratliff would go on to become a successful attorney, a district judge, and a member of the Texas House of Representatives, but he when arrived in Haskell for the first time as a young man, it was in the middle of the night, riding with a milk cow on a mixed train…)

As we mentioned last week, Dr. Jim, Sam, and lots of other folks remember riding the “Doodlebug.” This was a self-propelled passenger coach that also offered mail and package service. The Wichita Valley Railroad operated a Doodlebug in the 1930s and 40s between Wichita Falls and Abilene as Trains 111 and 112.

Sam Pace says riding it is his “claim to fame.” He recalls taking a school bus to Weinert (or maybe Munday?), then riding the Doodlebug back to Haskell. Others remember the opposite, taking the Doodlebug from Haskell north to Munday or Seymour, then riding a bus back to Haskell. Woody Turnbow remembers riding it up to Munday, then walking to get an ice cream cone before boarding the bus for the trip back to Haskell. John Sam Rike III remembers when his first-grade class went on their field trip to ride the Doodlebug but says he didn’t get to go – he was out sick that day with an earache.

Students from Mrs. J.V. Vaughter’s class line up to board the Doodlebug in this 1947 photo. For many years, riding the Doodlebug was a much-anticipated field trip for Haskell students. Can you identify anyone in this picture?
(Photo from Images of America: Haskell County, by the Haskell County Historical and Genealogical Society, original photo submitted by Hess Hartsfield.)

Another Haskell native who recalls riding it was Fitzhugh Williams, son of longtime Haskell physician, Dr. T.W. Williams. Mr. Williams – known to some as “Buttermilk” – remembers boarding the Doodlebug for the trip up to Seymour, then riding a school bus back. He says the self-propelled car was a dark olive-green color with a cab that was painted red with yellow trim, and as he says, “yellow or white lettering.” One of his most vivid memories from riding the Doodlebug was going across the railroad bridge over the Brazos River just south of Seymour. He says he was very impressed and a little bit scared crossing that bridge, “because it was a long way down!”

Another detail he recalls about the Doodlebug is the name “Railway Express Agency” printed on its side. REA was a forerunner of services like UPS and FedEx. Mr. Williams says he remembers once when REA delivered a shipment of baby chicks. “They came packed in heavy cardboard,” he says, “with lots of vent holes in the cardboard. The crates were about six inches tall, and maybe 24 to 30 inches, square.” He also recalls Mr. Audie Stocks, who owned a truck and used to pick up shipments that arrived by REA and deliver them to people and businesses “all over town.”

Several of you have told me about fathers and grandfathers who drove cattle to local railroad stock pens for shipment to market; there were cattle pens north of town around Josselet switch, and others south of town, near where Overton Road is now. Numerous farmers also shipped out carloads of wheat and bales of cotton via rail – but times change.

A growing economy and changing infrastructure meant shipping by highway rather than rail. Trains are still a vital part of the national economy, and Amtrak still carries passengers between major cities, but locally, the rails were all gone from Haskell County by the mid-1990s.

But some of us recall fondly the days when railroads meant prosperity for a community. Some of us collect railroad antiques; others build and run model trains. Some of us like to read and tell stories about those days and what it was like to ride “that magic carpet made of steel.”

And some of us still get chills to hear the sound of a lonesome whistle in the middle of the night.

Come Before Him with Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song. - Psalm 95:1, 2

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays, for a variety of reasons and sweet memories.

Some of my earliest memories of this day go back to my grandparents, Archie & Sallie McMillan. When I was a young child, for some reason, I wouldn’t call her “Grandma.” I heard other people call her, “Sallie,” which I tried to do, but she didn’t like that. I started calling her “Sa-Sa,” and the name stuck. So we would go to Sa-Sa & Pa-Pa’s house.

My grandmother, Sallie McMillan – “Sa-Sa”

I don’t really remember usually having turkey for that meal – I recall that she usually fixed a big hen, and usually in a pressure cooker to make it fall-off-the-bone tender. But what I REALLY remember about Thanksgiving at Sa-Sa’s house was her fruit salad. It had lots of big chunks of apples and bananas and fruit cocktail, along with chopped walnuts and coconut.

Of course, we had lots of other stuff to eat, and plenty of desserts, but I always loved her fruit salad. What was especially great was, if there was any left over, she would freeze it, and we would eat it at Christmas. Pa-Pa died in 1969, and Sa-Sa passed in about 1988, but I still remember them both, especially today. And I’m thankful for her, and for such sweet memories.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your
gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious
about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Thanksgiving also means football, of course; in our family, that meant the Cowboys. The greatest one was Thanksgiving, 1974, when George Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang” laid a vicious 3rd quarter hit on Roger Staubach and knocked him out of the game. The ’Skins were up 16-3 at the time, when an untested rookie from ACU came into the game as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, Clint Longley. He had earned the nickname of “The Mad Bomber” from his teammates, because of his default tendency to throw deep in practice.

What happened next, Cowboys fans still talk about. And Redskins fans have never gotten over.

This rookie put together what might be the most improbably comeback in team history. After leading the ’Boys to two other touchdowns, with just 35 seconds to play, Longley found a streaking Drew Pearson racing down the sidelines, and he scored. We won 24-23. It’s still one of the greatest wins in Cowboys history.

Four years later, Kathy and I were celebrating our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife. I was a senior at Dallas Christian College, and she and I were in a singing group known as Revelation. Thanksgiving weekend, 1978, we were in the recording studio, cutting a record. (Do I need to explain what “records” were for any of the under 40 crowd?) Since we couldn’t go anywhere for the day, Mom & Dad came to Dallas, and we had Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment.

Fast forward to 2010. My mom had passed away just two months earlier, and we were sharing our first holiday without her. My brother David and his wife Gina hosted the whole wild & woolly bunch of us at their home in Spring. He fried a turkey, my nephew made some amazing cranberry dressing on the stove, and everybody fixed their favorite recipes. I made one of my Jack Daniels Chocolate Pecan Pies. We shared the day and the warmth of shared memories as we surrounded our dad and comforted each other and gave thanks for the legacy we shared and the sweetness of her presence still in our midst.

I am thankful for family, for friends, for sweet memories and for wonderful times together. I am thankful for my job and for all of the blessings we enjoy. I am thankful for Jesus. And I know that the blessings I have received are not mine exclusively to enjoy but have been given so that I can in turn be a blessing to others.

I hope your holiday is filled with everything wonderful, and that whatever the circumstances, you can give thanks with a glad and sincere heart. Happy Thanksgiving!

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
 and His courts with praise;
 Give thanks to Him and praise His Name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
 His faithfulness continues through all generations.
 Psalm 100:4-5 

Reflections on a Fire

It’s been said that fire is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. The wildfires still burning in California and Colorado certainly prove that. But some of my fondest recollections of childhood involve being around a campfire with my dad and my brothers. It may have been a family camping or hunting trip, a Scouting event, or a church men’s retreat – but it seems like, we ALWAYS had a fire.

“The wonderful smell of burning piñon pine takes me back in my mind…”

Recently Kathy & I added a backyard fireplace, a chiminea, to our back porch, and I am really enjoying it. The wonderful smell of burning piñon pine takes me back in my mind, and the warmth certainly feels good on these cool evenings.

Fire has always held a fascination for people. When the ancient philosophers talked about the “Four Elements,” they were referring to Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. So what is it about fire that attracts so many of us, that makes us stop and stare into the flames?

In part, I think, it’s the attraction of home. Historically, anytime settlers would build a cabin or a cottage, there would always be a fireplace. It provided warmth for the home. It provided a means of cooking, and it provided light for those who lived there. Fire was pretty basic (and essential) to survival. And I think it was Louis L’Amour who once wrote, “No man is so poor that he can’t afford a fire.”

It was at one of the first Boy Scout camping trips I ever went on – I guess was in the fifth or sixth grade – that I remember building my own fire and cooking my own lunch over it. It seemed like quite an accomplishment to me at the time.

Besides cooking, fire was an essential component at blacksmith shops. Being able to heat metal, refine it, work and shape it into various tools and implements – these were needed skills on the frontier. They used to say that the two worst sins that a blacksmith could commit, were to not charge enough for his work, and to let his fire get cold.

But I think that one of the best things about fire is that it creates community. Many of us have had the experience of sitting around a campfire, with family or friends, and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a good time for telling stories (true or not!). More than that, it’s a good time to just be still – to sit and stare into the flames, to think and reflect, and just be.

When I think about good fires, it’s not surprising that God often uses fire as a symbol for Himself. It was in a fire – a “burning bush” – that God revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:1-3). It was in fire, along with other signs, that God descended to the people on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:18). It was with fire that God answered the prophet Elijah against the false prophets (1 Kings 18:38). When God poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples at the birth of the church, one of the signs that was given was “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). And when the Apostle Paul was teaching the Thessalonian church about how to treat one another, he advised them, “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thess. 5:19).

In our crazy, hyper, noisy world, with social media, cell phones and the Internet all clamoring continuously for our attention, we can all benefit from just slowing down and enjoy the company of loved ones around a nice, warm fire – or just to be there, sit still, and be alone and quiet with God.

Starting Over

Hi. It’s been a while, but I’m back. Thanks for being here.

As some of you know, I haven’t posted anything in a while; in fact, I haven’t posted anything new since I returned to Abilene, following the flooding of Hurricane Harvey. To be honest, I was feeling so overwhelmed by circumstances that I was unsure of how to proceed.

Back in mid-October, I went to work for Glenn & Carol Dromgoole at Texas Star Trading Company in downtown Abilene. They are wonderful people, and I really enjoyed working there, even though it was only a seasonal job. But because it WAS a seasonal job, that position ended once we got past Christmas and the annual inventory.

Meanwhile, dad remains in a nursing home in Lewisville while the Orangefield house is being rebuilt. My brothers Jimmy & David – along with lots of volunteers and some INCREDIBLY generous help from some of our cousins – have made great progress on the house, but it’s still probably going to be March or April before it will be ready. And since I can’t afford to twiddle my thumbs until then, I’m back on the job market.

Anybody have a good opening for a 60-something pastor?

I’ve been doing a lot of praying lately, and a lot of soul-searching, for what kind of job I want, and I’ve reached an obvious decision: I feel like God is leading me back into full-time ministry; I just don’t know where. So I have been polishing up my resume, and searching for open church opportunities. I am firmly convinced that if this is, in fact, what God has in mind for us, He will open the right door.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in it, here’s my resume.

I would love to stay in West Texas – Kathy & I both really like living here, and we have so many great friends. But anyone who has been in professional ministry knows that moving to new areas and making new friends is just part of that reality, so we will see.

Meanwhile, God’s words to Joshua keep me going – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).

The Flood Diaries, 2

(In my previous post, I began compiling Facebook posts that I made during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Here are the rest of those entries.)

 

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Back at the house in Orangefield. My brothers Jimmy & David & their team have done some amazing work, getting wet flooring, sheet rock, cabinets, and more removed and thrown out, and stacking up things that can be salvaged.

Job 1 over the next few days will be to go through all the salvaged stuff and continue the sorting/storing/disposal process. Kathy is washing dishes right now, and I’ve also been on the phone with FEMA and the insurance people. I foresee an immediate future of lots of organizing and sorting, and a lot of trips to Walmart and Home Depot. This will be a long process. So many others are in the same shape or worse. As always, your continuing prayers are deeply appreciated.

 

Tuesday, Sept. 12 – The work of cleaning, sorting, and boxing up what can be salvaged, continues here at the house. It’s a slow, tedious process with lots of little joys and much sadness – joys at finding unexpected sentimental items that were either undamaged, or else can be dried out and kept; sadness at so much that was soaked and cannot be kept. So many books – books that I have treasured – so many Bible study notes – all gone.

On the other hand, it’s just stuff. And we are still very blessed. My son Travis was able to get my computer going again! That’s a definite blessing. And so many friends, praying for us, encouraging us, sustaining us.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

 

(From my sister-in-law, Christy) Saturday, Sept. 16 –  I have to say that today has been ridiculously hard. For over 33 years this home has been an anchor for our family. I watched my kids grow up in this house and I can’t even begin to count how many dinners I had around her dinner table. I did not grow up in this house but it was my home too. Overwhelming is an understatement by far. We will restore what’s been lost and work to bring Dad home. We will have family dinners, holidays and reunions here again. We are strong, we are 1RG!! #1RGFamily

 

Saturday, Sept. 23 – I’m happy to report, it has been a fairly productive week. We have completely emptied out all of the closets and gone through all of the records, receipts, papers, keepsakes, and memorabilia that my mother collected / acquired / inherited over the years. This was a group project that several family members worked on together.

We found some absolutely fascinating material, such as:

  • A list of all the towns & villages in France where Grandpa Garison fought during World War I, including notes about which villages they marched to, and which ones they rode in trucks to reach.
  • Mom’s scrapbook from her senior year in high school, including souvenirs from attending the Texas Music Educators Association convention in Dallas in 1955. I never knew she had dreams of becoming a music teacher and band director!
  • The “bride’s book” that my grandmother Sallie had from her wedding in 1934.

And on and on and on.

Meanwhile, we have pulled all the sheetrock from the house. We still have to demo dad’s bathroom – it got a LOT of water behind the walls – and to finish taking out the upper kitchen cabinets. We’re planning to reuse some of those, but for now, they have to come out. And other work remains.

I am so tired. Tired from moving stuff from room to room. Tired of smelling the mildew stink from the enormous pile of rotten furniture and moldy building materials piled up out by the road. Tired of being tired.

But I know we are making progress. The piles of stuff to go through are getting smaller. Our family is closer than ever, I think. Friends are coming alongside us to help in ways big and small. God is faithful, and He promises that when we pass through the floodwaters, they will not sweep us away.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

#1RGStrong

 

Wednesday, Oct. 4 – Most of the work of sorting, packing, and throwing away is finished. On the upper shelves of five closets, my mom had saved box after box of photos, scrapbooks, old receipts, and more. Some of it has been wonderful to explore – but much of it, quite tedious. (Mom, did you really need to save your cancelled checks all the way back to 1957?)

Anyway, we have finished going through all that, and repacking what’s worth keeping. We have ripped out all the old Sheetrock and insulation from the whole house, except for one tiny bathroom that we’re still using. It’s next on the demo list. Then we can start to rebuild.

For my part, after several long conversations with my brothers, we have decided that I should go home to Abilene. There’s really not much for me to do here, and my carpentry skills are so poor, I usually tear up more than I fix. Fortunately, my dear wife Kathy also thinks it’s a good idea for me to come home. So, towards the end of next week, we will load up a truck with my stuff and schlep our way west across Texas.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in Lewisville, where my brother visits him twice a day, and where many of the grandkids and great-grandkids can come to see him. He’s getting excellent care. At some point during the rebuilding process, we may move him to a care facility closer to home. Our goal, of course, is to get the house back in a livable state, and get dad back in it. That is several months away.

I’m looking forward to being back in Abilene, and so many wonderful friends there, but I’m also going to miss being in Orangefield. I will miss the old friends that I have reconnected with, and the new ones I’ve made. I will especially miss the West Orange Christian Church where I’ve been preaching, and the wonderful folks there. None of us knows what tomorrow holds. Im planning to move back here in the spring, assuming that dad is able to come back home when the house is ready. God may have other ideas.

This will probably be my last update from the flood zone. It’s been just over a month now, and life goes on. But I have been reminded of how precious and tenuous life is, and how much we need our neighbors, family and friends.

Thank you to all who have shared so generously with your prayers, concern, your calls and emails, and your gifts. There’s a part of me that is thankful for having gone through this, because of what it has taught me about learning to depend on God. On the other hand, I’m ready for this chapter to be over, and to get back to ordinary things.

What’s next?

The Flood Diaries, 1

Longtime readers of this blog know that I took the summer off from writing – then came Hurricane Harvey. I broke my self-imposed exile from Facebook to post pictures and make comments and observations during and after the flood.

I thought I would gather all of those thoughts and pictures together to keep them as a record of this whole episode. I’m planning to edit these as minimally as possible.

Here’s my look back at Harvey and his aftermath, 2017.

Saturday, Aug. 26 – As of 3 pm CDT, Dad & I are fine. There are reports of tornadoes in the area, but we’re safe. Prayers appreciated for everyone being affected by these storms.

Monday, Aug. 28 – 15″ here & counting, so far. Many have received 2 or 3 times that much. The next round is starting.

Tuesday, Aug. 29 – As of 8 am Tuesday morning – we have received 18″ here at the house, including 2.5 over night, and it’s still raining. There is widespread flooding across the county, and rain is expected for at least another day or two.

We are fine here, thank the Lord – the house is dry, and we still have plenty of groceries, and electricity. We are all going a bit stir crazy from being cooped up together, but not bad, considering what so many others are dealing with.

Continuing prayers for everyone affected by this storm certainly appreciated!

 

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Okay, first things first – dad and I are safe. We started getting water in the house about 3:30 yesterday morning. By mid-morning it was 18″ deep & rising.

Dad's House

Dad’s House

House & yard

The house & yard from the road

Kitchen

The kitchen – the water is about 14″ deep at this point and still rising

We had quite an ordeal getting out, including waiting outside for over two hours in a cold, windy rain. But after 7 hours and 5 different transfers, we made it to the emergency shelter at Bridge City Elementary School. I hereby take back any snarky thing I may have ever said about Bridge City. Those people absolutely knocked themselves out to take care of us. God bless them for their kindness and generosity.

 

This morning we were bussed to Jack Brooks Airport (Beaumont/ Port Arthur), where we were transferred into the care of FEMA. We are not sure what is next. They’re telling us we’re going to be flown out to shelters outside the hazard zone, especially with new storms expected here this weekend. We’ve heard Dallas. We’ve heard Galveston, or perhaps Austin. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Dad is holding up pretty well. He got very wet & cold yesterday but was better once I got him warm & dry. And we are thankful to our friend Max, who was able to take in Chica, so we don’t have to worry about her.

I will try and post some pics when I can. Meanwhile, just know that we are safe & dry, and sooner or later will head to a shelter. I will update as I get the chance. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers, and please keep ’em going up.

Praise God for His care, and for the kindness of neighbors and strangers for the assistance they are continuing to give – sometimes at the peril of their very lives. God’s protection be over them.

PS – I forgot to mention – we received an ADDITIONAL 28″ of rain from Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Crazy.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Friday morning – My apologies for not being able to update before now. FEMA and the Air National Guard evacuated us last night to Dallas on a C-130 cargo plane. Buzzy picked us up at Love Field, and Kathy and Erin met us at Buz & Deb’s house.

Dad is fine, sort of. He’s absolutely exhausted. I think we’re going to have to admit him into an assisted living center, for the time being, which is not going to make him happy. I’m afraid his house will be unlivable for a while. Last we heard, the water had not even started to go down there. I have been involved with enough flood recovery to know that it will be a long process. We fully intend to rebuild and get him back home ASAP. We are going to start talking to FEMA and our insurance people today.

Chica is staying with our friend Max, who didn’t get flooded.

Lots of people have been asking how they can help. To be honest, we got out with not much more than the clothes we were wearing. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all, but thankful to the Lord for His help and for so many wonderful friends.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Lunch in Ft. Worth – Happy to be out of the aftermath of Harvey – heading back to Abilene for a while, and having lunch at .Whataburger

 

Saturday, Sept. 2 – First morning back in Abilene. Ate some great Mexican food last night. Going shopping for clothes. Filling out FEMA forms. Happy to be alive and out of SE Texas for a few days, but my heart aches for so many who have lost so much – ourselves included. Praising the One Who is close to the broken-hearted. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever!

 

Wednesday, Sept. 6 – Exactly one week ago, dad & I were on the side of a canal levee, in the rain, waiting on a second boat ride, to get to some place dry. Today, I’m sitting on the patio of my favorite Mexican food place in Abilene, enjoying a delicious chile rellenos for lunch.

The contrast is surreal.

I have no words to express my gratitude for SO MANY FRIENDS who have blessed us with their prayers, phone calls, gifts, and so much more. Abilene – Haskell – West Texas – I cherish you. A thousand times, thank you.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in North Texas. It’s not where he wants to be, but it’s necessary for the time being. We plan to get him home as soon as feasible. Two of my brothers are going into the house today, to begin the cleanup & recovery phase of all this. Kathy & I are planning to head that way soon. So many of our family & friends in SE Texas are in the same situation as us, or worse. Your continuing prayers, along with other expressions of support, are definitely appreciated: prayers in protection against looters, especially.

Meanwhile, the truth of Isa. 43:2 has become very dear to me.

PS – In thanking our WEST Texas friends, I didn’t mean to leave out our EAST Texas friends who have also been so kind. We treasure you all!

 

Friday, Sept. 8 – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” I have cherished these days in Abilene with family & friends to rest up from our evacuation, but now it’s time to get back to work – heading back to Orange County, where my brothers and their team have already begun working on dad’s house. It will be a long process.

Words cannot express how moved and overwhelmed I have been by the outpouring of love and support from so many. You have refreshed my spirit in many ways, and I am deeply grateful.

Please continue in prayer for dad and our family through this time. And until I see you again, may the good Lord bless and keep you.

 

Adjustments

March 10, 2017 – Friday morning

As I write this, it’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve moved in to live with my dad as his caregiver. I knew this would be an adjustment in many ways, and certainly it has been. Some of those adjustments have been tougher than others.

I knew I was going to miss my family in Abilene, and I do. I miss our home, and especially my wife, Kathy, and her sweet smile and her gentle sense of humor. She is wonderfully attuned to hearing the Spirit of God, and I miss the blessings of just being around her. As many of you know, she also has an amazing singing voice, and I have always loved standing next to her as we worship, and hearing that beautiful voice offering up a sacrifice of praise in gorgeous harmony.

I miss my many wonderful friends. Many of them are from church and from our Bible class. Proverbs says as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and I am a better student of God’s Word because of the “sharpening” these friends have provided. It has been a privilege to study with them. Others have shared with us through life groups and other ways. Whether sharing from the bread of the Bible, or sharing Chinese food at Szechuan’s, the sweet friendships and fellowship have been a rich blessing.

As I said to some friends before I left Abilene, most blessings in this life are temporary, and when those blessings are gone, we can either be angry that we’ve lost them, or be thankful that we got to enjoy them for a season, and I choose to be thankful.

I don’t want to forget my friends from our model train club, and the fun we had running trains together and sharing that great hobby.

And that’s not all. Certainly, I miss the good friends and colleagues with whom I worked at CCC, and I miss the work of meeting neighbors and building a better neighborhood. Yesterday was the second Thursday of the month, which was the regular day for “neighbor lunch” potluck dinner, where I would prepare the main dish and the neighbors would bring the sides. I miss the good food, and the good conversation that we had together.

I miss my CCC co-workers, and the shared struggles that we had together. That’s what it means to be part of a team, so that “joys are magnified and disappointments lessened,” because we went through them together. And in shaping teenagers to become Young Leaders of Abilene, or in helping families move towards better financial stability, or just giving someone a ride to the store, they are still doing that work, and God knows, we need more good neighbors in this world.

So yes, there are people and things that I miss greatly about Abilene. But I am receiving many blessings as well.

I enjoy sharing time with my dad, and hearing stories about the interesting life he’s led, people he’s known, places he’s been. He has worked hard his whole life, and always put his family first. Imagine: all those years, I thought he LIKED the dark meat of the chicken! Turns out, no, he actually prefers the white meat, but he was letting his family have the first pick.

So now, if he needs a little help with the chores of everyday living, it’s my privilege to assist him with that. I figure he’s earned it.

Just the other day, he showed me a picture from his days in the army. He was about 23 or 24, a corporal in charge of a crew manning an anti-aircraft gun. The picture shows him, kneeling down, with the members of his crew all around him. They’re all smiling, and you can tell that these are young men in the prime of their lives, defending their country during the Korean War, but also ready to have a good time when they’re not on duty.

I’m learning other things too, and receiving blessings beyond measure. And I’m thinking that somehow, in some way, maybe this is what God has in mind for us. Not that we should all move in with our aging parents, necessarily, but that we should be more willing to care for each other, to give up some of our own conveniences and comforts when necessary, for the sake of helping someone else.

And just this morning, we got a phone call that my niece and her husband had just had their first baby, a little girl. Everybody is doing well, and the pride and love in my brother’s voice was special beyond words. It was a wonderful moment, being with my dad when he saw the first picture of his newest great-grandchild – this makes number eight. And thank You, Lord.

So there are compensations for the things I’m missing. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

Hello, I Must Be Going

A little over two years ago, my family and I moved into a beautiful, spacious home on Abilene’s far north side, to continue doing the work of meeting neighbors, building relationships, and serving the community. It has been a very enjoyable time, we love this house, and we have made some wonderful friends among our neighbors in the North Park neighborhood.

npfh-sw-1And we’re leaving.

About a year ago, my colleagues and I at CCC began asking some very hard questions about ourselves and the work we are doing in Abilene neighborhoods; the result of those conversations was to decide that as an organization, we were not being as effective as we would like to be. The work of building relationships is great work, but relationships in and of themselves will not bring about the kind of community renewal that we all want to see. Creating the social capital of bringing neighbors together is great, but you have to then “invest” that social capital in ways that make sense.

npfh-se-2Part of the way CCC had been doing things was to have several community coordinators – that’s my “official” job title – and place each coordinator in a separate neighborhood. Some of those neighborhoods were small; some were enormous. Some coordinators enjoyed focusing on kids and families; some were more interested in working on “bigger picture” issues. All of us wanted to bring about the “safe, caring, whole community” our mission statement envisions – we just weren’t sure that the strategy we were following was going to get us there.

We talked with a lot of people. We read books from numerous experts in this field. We sought input and approval from our board. And at the end of that process, we decided that what was needed was for all the coordinators to live in the same neighborhood, so that we could more effectively work together – to share the load and to take advantage of our various gifts and talents, and also to support each other, so that one individual was not having to be responsible for an entire neighborhood by himself or herself.

From there, we naturally began to ask, “Which neighborhood?” And again, following a lot of discussion, we settled on College Heights as being the most logical choice. The irony, of course, is that College Heights is the neighborhood where my family and I lived for over six years, in the old Friendship House there, before we moved to North Park. For a lot of reasons, though, College Heights makes the most sense as the place to refocus our team efforts. We talked with our partners; we talked with our funders.

Then I had to confirm to my family that we were, indeed, going to have to leave this beautiful house.

There have been a lot of logistics in all this. Buy or rent? New or old? How large? Which section of the neighborhood? We searched for over eight months, until we finally found a small house in the southeastern part of College Heights that we think will work for us. It’s currently being re-habbed, and we should be able to start moving sometime by mid-October.

To be honest, we’re not sure what will be happening with the North Park Friendship House. It could become CCC’s administrative offices, and continue to serve as a venue for neighborhood events; there are other options as well. Certainly, we want to carry on the wonderful relationship we have had with Hardin-Simmons University, and CCC is definitely planning to have an ongoing presence in the North Park neighborhood.

This move will be an adjustment for our family, to be sure. Like many older homes, our new house has precious little storage space, so we’re having to downsize and get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s a two bedroom home with a living room and dining room, but less than half of the square footage of our current home, and certainly without the large community room for hosting events. It will take some getting used to, but it will be fine, and I’m looking forward to renewing friendships with some of the neighbors in that immediate area, and to making new friends, too.

I’m especially looking forward to continuing to partner with my CCC colleagues, to loving neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to helping build a stronger, safer, better community by building relationships one neighbor, one home, one block at a time.

So, farewell, North Park. You have blessed us and welcomed us into your lives, and we’ve enjoyed being your neighbors for the last couple of years.  We look forward to continuing as friends. And hello again, College Heights. It’s good to be back.

Here we go.

 

 

 

Lessons from Dad

I hope you had a pleasant Labor Day holiday weekend, and that you were able to do something fun with family or friends. I spent the weekend with my dad.

Dad & me 9-3-16Harry Louis Garison, Sr., is 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 still lives in that house where we grew up. Other than the three years when he was in the army, he has lived on that property in Orange County, Texas, his entire life.

Almost six years ago, my mom passed away from a stroke, and it was a hard blow for him, but he was determined to stay by himself, and he has. Well, not quite by himself – he has a gentle giant of a dog, an old German Shepherd named “Chica,” who is his faithful companion. My dad is also blessed with some great neighbors and good friends who regularly check on him and sometimes even bring him food.

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, and watching him and the way he carried himself has gone a long way towards making me who I am today.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is that Christianity is not something you just talk about; it’s how you live. Dad has 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 are the principles by which my dad has lived his life. It’s how he operated his business and how he raised his family. To this day, he is a role model for my brothers and me.

Something else I’ve learned from dad: patience. 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 recent years, dad has shown great patience in another way. Dad has non-diabetic neuropathy, which has destroyed his balance and left him confined to a wheelchair. It has also turned his hands into claws, and left him unable to use his fingers. But he still lives by himself, dresses himself, and cooks his own food every day. He has gotten very creative in finding ways of doing things he used to do without thinking about it. He still gets them done; it just takes longer. But he is patient enough (and stubborn enough) to keep working on the chore in front of him, until he finishes it.

There’s a lot more I could say about my Dad, but one recent story reveals a lot about him. Dad enjoys ice cream as a treat, and he buys frozen goodies from the Schwan’s truck that comes to his house. Just the other day, he had 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 slipped and fell, and spilled ice cream sandwiches everywhere. Just at that moment, his home health nurse arrived, and came into the kitchen to find him on the floor. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing on the floor?”

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

That’s my dad.