Remembering Dr. King

MLKDr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a personal hero of mine. I think there was so much to admire about him. He consistently stood for justice, for peace, and for non-violence. He believed in the Kingdom of God, and he believed that Christians, regardless of color, ought to do all they can to create outposts and colonies of God’s Kingdom here on earth – to create what he called “beloved community.”

When I was in grad school, I did a project on Dr. King’s rhetorical skills, looking at the way he was able to take traditional black preaching styles – with its use of storytelling, rhythmic phrasing, and uplifting hopefulness – and combine that with the logic and power of traditional white sermon styles. (And thanks to my lifetime friend from college, Kurt Stallings, for giving me the idea!) In the process, I read just about everything that Dr. King ever said or wrote. I was absolutely blown away by the body of his thoughts.

Many of us are familiar only with his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, and obviously, that’s wonderful. But there is much more, so on this day set aside to honor him, I will let him speak for himself.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

 

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

 

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

 

The time is always right to do what is right.

 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

 

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

 

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

 

The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.

 

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus and extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

 

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

 

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

 

There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey Gad rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment… By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club.

 

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

Training for Christmas Fun

When someone finds out that I’m a model railroad aficionado, most of the time, it brings a sort of tolerant half-smile. That changes at Christmas. Tell someone you’re into model trains at this time of year, and their eyes will invariably light up, and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s so cool!” And you’ll hear a great story about a parent or some other loved one, a long-gone Lionel or other train set, and some wonderful memories. Even people who have no interest in trains the rest of the year, become nostalgic and even wistful thinking about trains around a Christmas tree.

asmr_logoSo I am happy to tell you about our model train club, the Abilene Society of Model Railroaders, and our annual Open House, coming up this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13 & 14. Our layout is at 2043 N. 2nd, behind Global Samaritan Ministries, here in Abilene, and the times will be Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM, and on Sunday from 1 – 5 PM. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted, and all ages are welcome. (For more about the hobby, see my previous post “The World’s Greatest Hobby.”)

The club layout is in HO scale (pronounced “aitch-oh”), which is based on a proportion of 1:87 – in other words, 1 foot on the layout represents 87 feet in real life. (Yes, that’s an odd number, and there’s a story behind how it developed that I won’t bore you with right now.) The club is seeking to represent the old Texas & Pacific Railway (now Union Pacific) from Ft. Worth through Abilene and on to Big Spring – although club members are allowed to “freelance” sections to reflect their personal interests.

CutI have been adding to the scenery on a 20 ft. section of track, representing a rural area somewhere in Callahan County; other club members are doing sections that represent Abilene, Baird, and elsewhere. The scenery is finished in some areas, partially done in other areas, and not even started in some portions.

There are many different techniques for creating realistic scenery. In my case, I used blue Styrofoam insulation board, stacked up and carved to represent ridges and hills, then covered with a thin layer of lightweight plaster. I painted it and sprinkled a product that represents grass, then placed lichen in various shades of green to represent trees. I am pleased with the final results.FW&D_depot

Other scenes: A Burlington engine passes in front of the old Ft. Worth & Denver depot on Locust Street in Abilene –>

theater_corner<– A downtown city scene. Do you suppose patrons at the movie theater complain about the noise when a train goes by?

oil_field1A tank farm, complete with pump jack. –>

T&P_station<– The T&P station in downtown Abilene.

underpassNear the Swift Meat Packing Plant. –>

Mel<– Member Mel Herwick adds details to a section of scenery.

engine_facilityLocomotive shop facility, still under construction –>

Club members are happy to share our layout and our passion for the hobby, and we invite everyone to come out this weekend and see the trains, and also see our progress on the layout. Besides the main club layout, we will also have smaller displays of model trains in other scales, as well as an operating Thomas the Tank Engine that little ones can run themselves. (Why should the big kids have all the fun?)

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. When did the Abilene club begin? Our club started in 1991, partly in connection with the Abilene Railroad Festival which also began that year. The railroad festival is no longer being held, but our club continues to go well.

2. How long did it take to build the layout? The current layout was started a little over two years ago, and is a little over half completed. At some future point we plan to expand our area. Once that’s done, it will be a matter of adding more scenery, and improving what has already been done – there’s a sense in which a model railroad is never finished.

3. Isn’t model railroading expensive? Well, it can be – you can spend hundreds of dollars on one engine if you want – but it doesn’t have to be. Speaking for myself, I certainly don’t have the funds to build a large layout, or the time, space or expertise, for that matter. But by being a member of the ASMR, I can have access to a great layout that I would never be able to afford to duplicate at home. I have also made some great friendships and my fellow members are happy to share their time and experience with me. As with any hobby – fishing, quilting, golfing – how much you spend is up to you.

4. What about other sizes of model trains? One of the first things that newcomers to the hobby must decide is what SCALE they want to model. As mentioned, the club models HO scale, which is the most common, and has the widest selection of engines, cars and model buildings available. A good beginner’s layout fits well on a 4×8 sheet of plywood, which is another reason it’s so popular. Other popular scales include N scale, which is smaller – a 3×5 size beginner’s layout works great – and also O scale, which is derived from the traditional Lionel trains that so many older folks grew up with. And there are others.

5. How can I get started? Many people begin by buying a train set at Christmas; that may or may NOT be the best thing, depending on the age and interests of the person you’re buying it for. For younger children, a wooden “Brio” style may be a better choice; for older children (or grown-ups), a set that includes an engine, some cars, track and a transformer, often for around $100, might be a good choice. Most sets will be either HO or N scale; it’s your choice which one you get. HO sets take up more room but are easier to put together and often easier to operate; N scale sets are more compact, but are less forgiving of bumps in the track and other beginner mistakes.

If you decide to buy a set from a “big box” retailer or craft stores, don’t expect much help. Traditional model train stores can be more helpful for beginners, but also more expensive and sometimes hard to find. But there are PLENTY of online resources, and several good hobby magazines that can be very helpful. There are also lots of “how to” videos you can access for free on YouTube.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Happy Birthday, Dad

Harry Louis Garison, Sr. – known to his friends as “Buddy” – was born August 25, 1928, in Orange County, Texas, the second son of Stanley and Mazura Linscomb Garison. While he was still a boy, his dad – my grandad – built them another house on the same piece of land, and that’s where my dad lived until he got married. He graduated from Orangefield High School in 1944 after completing the 11th grade – that was as far as they went in those days!

IMG_0003Dad served a hitch in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. After his time in the army, he moved back home and went to work as an auto mechanic. He and my mom were married in 1957; Hurricane Audrey slammed into the Texas & Louisiana coast the same week. Dad was such a “confirmed” bachelor, his friends teased him that when he finally DID get married, it caused a hurricane!

(The picture is mom & dad & yours truly, all wearing matching shirts that my grandmother made for us.)

He and mom moved into the house when my brothers and I all grew up; it’s the house he still lives in today. It’s literally within a quarter of a mile of where he was born and raised. He’s quite proud of the fact that, except for his time in the service, he has lived on the same land his whole life.

Mom & dad raised the four of us boys, and later, became “unofficial” step-parents for my brother David’s girlfriend, who would eventually become his wife. The whole time we were growing up, there was one bathroom. THAT will teach you some patience!

As I mentioned, dad was an auto mechanic. For a good number of years, he was co-owner of a Texaco station there; later, he opened a shop where he could just work on cars, and not have to worry about pumping gas.

What 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 and come home to his family, and not think about it. 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.”

I was in elementary school when my dad got serious about his faith. He had been baptized as a teenager, but later, as an adult, he came to believe that he needed to commit his life to God in a more intentional and personal way, so he was “rebaptized.” And he has stayed faithful to the Lord ever since.

He has truly set an example for my brothers and me to follow, and given us some big shoes to fill. Always tell the truth. 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.

50thAs I was looking for some pictures of my dad to include with this article, I began noticing that in nearly every picture I have of him, he is either with my mom or some of his kids or grandkids. That’s typical. This is a man who truly put his family ahead of himself. He has lived for his God, his family, and his country, and is not ashamed of a bit of it. (This picture is from their 50th wedding anniversary.)

Dad is slowing down these days. Of course, we lost mom almost four years ago, and I know he still grieves for her. And yet, he tells me, without a shred of embarrassment, that he’s not alone in their house, because he can feel her presence all around him, and he is surrounded by so many wonderful memories.

Even though his health is failing, and he can’t walk, Dad still lives by himself – well, okay, along with his faithful German shepherd, “Chica.” He manages to get around pretty well with his electric wheelchair. He still has a garden in the back yard – he uses a golf cart to inspect it – and he can still climb on and off his riding lawn mower to keep the grass cut. His faith, his courage and his gritty determination continue to inspire me, as I think they do everyone who knows him.

Thanks for letting me tell you a little about my dad. If you’re a praying person, please say a prayer today for my dad, Buddy Garison, and please tell the Lord thank you for giving our family such a wonderful gift.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

Holding On to Our Heritage

UP1996_borderAnyone who knows me well knows that I love trains. Real trains, model trains, amusement park trains – doesn’t matter. If it runs on rails, I want to see it, watch it, and ride it if I can.

I also happen to be a fan of history. I am fascinated by the past, by the forces that shaped our society and by the decisions that brought us to where we are today.

So I was thrilled when several railroads began repainting some of their newest and most powerful locomotives in the old, historic paint schemes of some of their predecessors. What’s not to love, right? It combines two of my favorite passions – history AND trains. (The photo shows a Union Pacific engine passing through Abilene, wearing the orange, red and black “Daylight” colors of the old Southern Pacific RR.)

I’m glad that some railroads are recognizing and honoring their history and their heritage, but it’s not just about trains. There is history worth hearing, all around us, in the neighborhoods where we live, and along the streets where we drive. Grandparents who can teach us, elders who can inspire us, and old buildings that can help us remember the struggles of the past.

Learning about the past doesn’t have to be boring. It’s a shame that so many history classes are being led by teachers who think that history is all about dates on a calendar. Truly, they are missing the point. History – real history – is about people and their stories.

Spend some time getting to know the older people on your block, or at your church. They have stories to tell. Another idea? If you’re in Abilene, go to the library and check out any of the fascinating series of DVDs produced by a GOOD history teacher, Abilene’s own Jay Moore, “History in Plain Sight.” You might want to start with his video, “Who is That Street?” It tells the story of the early settlers who came to Abilene, braved incredible hardships, and carved out a living for themselves and their families – and now we remember them by the streets we drive on. They are stories worth hearing.

Understanding something of our past reminds us that someone came before us and dreamed a dream, and we are the heirs of that legacy. It keeps us humble to realize that we are enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor, and it inspires us to work for those who will come after us – to leave something better for our children and our grandchildren.

Holding on to our heritage helps us know who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. Remembering the past gives us hope for the future.

 

Happy Birthday, Mom

Last September, I wrote a tribute to my mom on the anniversary of her passing, and with the reader’s kind permission, I would like to re-post that article today in honor of her birthday. She was born July 7, 1937, and was always somewhat pleased about having so many “Lucky 7s” on her birthday – 77-37.

So here are some recycled thoughts about my mom, presented with love. Thanks for reading. And if you still can, give your mom a call, just because.

“Thanks, Mom”
(Reposted from September 25, 2013)

100_0190Three years ago today, I lost my mom.  But in all the ways that count, she has never left me, or our family.

Friday, September 24, 2010, started like any other day.  Mom and Dad had gone to Beaumont from their home in Orangefield for an eye appointment, then they stopped at one of their favorite restaurants for lunch: IHOP.  As they were heading home, Mom said that she needed to use the bathroom, but she dropped her keys as she was trying to unlock the front door.  She had already had the stroke that would claim her life.

Dad called the ambulance, and the EMTs promptly arrived.  (The house is out in the country, so thank goodness for enhanced 911 service!)  She ended up at Baptist Memorial in Beaumont.

One by one, my brothers and I, along with other family, arrived as soon as we could get there – in my case, about 3:30 Saturday morning.  The nurses were great, and the doctor was as gentle as he could be later as he explained that this was a “terminal brain event.”

One of my brothers had been on a mission trip to Guatemala, helping drill a water well for a village that needed a new source of good water.  Flights in and out of Central America have a somewhat loose connection to scheduled times, but he was able to get out on time – less than an hour before a Gulf hurricane came ashore, and shut everything down for three days.  He and his wife set a new record getting from the Houston airport to Beaumont.

An hour later, Mom was gone.  Personally, I think she was just waiting on her boys to all get there before she left.  One by one, we got to say our goodbyes, kiss her, hold her hand, and let her go.  It was Saturday, September 25, 2010.

There were so many wonderful friends who supported us, at the hospital, with their cards and visits, and so much sharing of food, of laughs, of tears, of memories.  My brothers and I got to preach her funeral, and that was a special time.  The funeral procession was over a mile long going out to the cemetery.  And even the funeral director felt the need to comment publicly at the graveside about what a remarkable woman she was.

IMG_0001Here’s mom on her wedding day, and 50 years later, at the church, during their golden anniversary reception, visiting with her dear friend Mary Russell.

Garison's 50TH aniversary 065

Dad has been so strong and brave.  He has learned to live by himself (well, along with his faithful canine companion, Chica), in spite of falling almost two years ago and breaking his leg, which has left him in a wheelchair.  I know that he misses her terribly, but he is determined to carry on and make her proud.

christmas06This is one of my favorite snapshots of mom – it’s from Christmas about 2006, with a whole big, rowdy bunch of us crammed into their small kitchen, and her directing traffic and enjoying the chaos and noise of our family.  And that’s not even all of us.

IMG_0004

Here’s Mom, from about 1959, I’d guess.  That’s her with my brother Buzzy, and yours truly, displaying the blazer, bow tie and cowboy boots that the well-dressed young man was evidently wearing that year.

I still hear her voice in my head, and desperately wish we could have had more time together, but I’m thankful for many things.  And so much of what she taught me, that I still hold on to today.

  • I learned to love God’s Word from the countless Bible stories that she read to us every night.
  • IMG_0041I learned to be passionate about worship from hearing her strong, clear alto voice as she boldly sang out.
  • I learned to serve others by watching the way that she volunteered at church and in the community.  (That’s her, in her hospital volunteer uniform.)
  • I learned to respect people who were different by the way she would never let us use hurtful words, even in jokes.
  • I learned to cherish the moments we have with family and friends, to laugh a lot, to forgive from the heart, and to say “I love you,” and always give “just one more hug.”

Because you never know when you won’t be able to any more.

TwoDollarBill

The Train to Yesterday

I am just back from taking a couple of weeks off. During that time, I was able to visit some family, help my dad with some chores, get some reading done, ride a train, and eat some Cajun food. I was gone for a few days, and came home broke and tired.

That’s how you know it was a good trip, right?

No, I’m just kidding about that part – but it WAS a good trip. The main reason I went was to go down to the Beaumont / Orange area to see my 85-year-old dad and spend some time with him. And we did have a really nice visit, and I was able to help him with some things around the house. But I also enjoyed spending some time with my brother David. He’s a pastor in Spring, Texas, and was also on vacation.

AmtrakHe 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.

MoPac buzzsawThe old Missouri Pacific RR main line runs right through there, and when we were kids visiting our grandparents, we used to spend hours down by the tracks at a small railroad side track 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, and the New York Central, Great Northern, Santa Fe, 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 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.

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.

Grayburg 2011So we 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 countryside and past the little towns.

The old siding at Grayburg is still there, and it doesn’t take long to go past it. I looked over, and my brother was wiping away a tear. I asked him what he was thinking. He said he thought he saw four little boys run over to the tracks after the train went by, looking for flattened pennies.

History All Around

I love history. I love good stories, and history is all about the stories. Those stories are all around us, if we will just take the time to listen.

I don’t understand people who say they don’t like history. Undoubted, they had a poor history teacher somewhere back along the way – someone who thought you could teach history by making kids memorize dates from a calendar. But just as there is more to music than notes on a page, so also there is much more to history than dates on a calendar.

abilene stories coverA dear friend recently gave me a copy of a wonderful book, Abilene Stories: From Then to Now. It’s a collection of fascinating recollections and remembrances by and about people from Abilene. Most of the stories are no more than two or three pages long, and the book contains dozens of them. It was compiled by Glenn Dromgoole, Jay Moore, and Joe W. Specht, three guys who know something about Abilene and how to tell a good story.

I’m still reading through the book, enjoying the stories, intrigued by what I’m discovering about this town. That street corner on Chestnut and South First, where they’re putting in new sidewalks? That was the corner where Abilene’s first chief of police used to fire his gun on New Year’s Eve, to tell the bars it was time to close. That stretch of concrete across the north end of the airport, disconnected from everything and looking like it was put there at random? It’s actually a remnant of the Bankhead Highway, the first paved coast-to-coast, all-weather road in America. It came right through Abilene.

Camp Barkeley? It was named for a Texas soldier in WW I who died three days before the war ended, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the face of the enemy. And he is now recognized by the Army as the first Hispanic recipient of the nation’s highest honor for valor. The stories go on and on.

It’s a great book, but you don’t have to read a book to discover amazing stories – they are literally all around us. Even on the block where you live.

  • That sweet little old lady who hobbles around with a walker? She had polio as a little girl, spent a year and a half in an iron lung, and showed incredible determination in learning to walk again. She can tell you a thing or two about courage, for those who will listen.

  • The old man down the street who keeps to himself? He’s the last surviving member of his unit from WW II, that liberated a concentration camp. No one knows the nightmares he has endured for this country.

  • That quiet couple across the way? They spent 30 years overseas as missionaries before their retirement. Let them tell you about raising their kids in another culture, and what they learned together.

These are my neighbors. Your neighbors. When we take the time to get to know them, we discover they enrich our lives in ways we can’t even begin to expect. It’s history, not from a book, but from people who were there and who lived it. It’s a special wisdom that they will share for those who will turn off the TV long enough to listen.

It’s history all around us.

Thanks, Mom

100_0190Three years ago today, I lost my mom.  But in all the ways that count, she has never left me, or our family.

Friday, September 24, 2010, started like any other day.  Mom and Dad had gone to Beaumont from their home in Orangefield for an eye appointment, then they stopped at one of their favorite restaurants for lunch: IHOP.  As they were heading home, Mom said that she needed to use the bathroom, but she dropped her keys as she was trying to unlock the front door.  She had already had the stroke that would claim her life.

Dad called the ambulance, and the EMTs promptly arrived.  (The house is out in the country, so thank goodness for enhanced 911 service!)  She ended up at Baptist Memorial in Beaumont.

One by one, my brothers and I, along with other family, arrived as soon as we could get there – in my case, about 3:30 Saturday morning.  The nurses were great, and the doctor was as gentle as he could be later as he explained that this was a “terminal brain event.”

One of my brothers had been on a mission trip to Guatemala, helping drill a water well for a village that needed a new source of good water.  Flights in and out of Central America have a somewhat loose connection to scheduled times, but he was able to get out on time – less than an hour before a Gulf hurricane came ashore, and shut everything down for three days.  He and his wife set a new record getting from the Houston airport to Beaumont.

An hour later, Mom was gone.  Personally, I think she was just waiting on her boys to all get there before she left.  One by one, we got to say our goodbyes, kiss her, hold her hand, and let her go.  It was Saturday, September 25, 2010.

There were so many wonderful friends who supported us, at the hospital, with their cards and visits, and so much sharing of food, of laughs, of tears, of memories.  My brothers and I got to preach her funeral, and that was a special time.  The funeral procession was over a mile long going out to the cemetery.  And even the funeral director felt the need to comment publicly at the graveside about what a remarkable woman she was.

IMG_0001Here’s mom on her wedding day, and 50 years later, at the church, during their golden anniversary reception, visiting with her dear friend Mary Russell.

Garison's 50TH aniversary 065

Dad has been so strong and brave.  He has learned to live by himself (well, along with his faithful canine companion, Chica), in spite of falling almost two years ago and breaking his leg, which has left him in a wheelchair.  I know that he misses her terribly, but he is determined to carry on and make her proud.

christmas06This is one of my favorite snapshots of mom – it’s from Christmas about 2006, with a whole big, rowdy bunch of us crammed into their small kitchen, and her directing traffic and enjoying the chaos and noise of our family.  And that’s not even all of us.

IMG_0004

Here’s Mom, from about 1959, I’d guess.  That’s her with my brother Buzzy, and yours truly, displaying the blazer, bow tie and cowboy boots that the well-dressed young man was evidently wearing that year.

I still hear her voice in my head, and desperately wish we could have had more time together, but I’m thankful for many things.  And so much of what she taught me, that I still hold on to today.

  • I learned to love God’s Word from the countless Bible stories that she read to us every night.
  • IMG_0041I learned to be passionate about worship from hearing her strong, clear alto voice as she boldly sang out.
  • I learned to serve others by watching the way that she volunteered at church and in the community.  (That’s her, in her hospital volunteer uniform.)
  • I learned to respect people who were different by the way she would never let us use hurtful words, even in jokes.
  • I learned to cherish the moments we have with family and friends, to laugh a lot, to forgive from the heart, and to say “I love you,” and always give “just one more hug.”

Because you never know when you won’t be able to any more.

TwoDollarBill

Reflections on Memorial Day

(Some of you may have noticed that I have taken a break from writing these columns for a few weeks.  Well, break’s over, and it’s time to get started again.  Thanks for reading!)

This past Monday, America celebrated Memorial Day.  I’ve been thinking about that, and wanted to share some thoughts.

Memorial Day is NOT national barbecue day.  And it’s not a time for the linen sale at the mall, nor for the opening of the city’s swimming pools, nor the unofficial start of summer.  It may have taken on some or all of those meanings, but that is not why it exists as a special day.

Memorial Day was originally known as “Decoration Day,” and originated during the Civil War.  Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claims to have started the tradition, when local ladies decorated the graves of war dead with flowers on July 4, 1864.  Unfortunately for their claim, there are several documented cases in Virginia, Georgia, and elsewhere, of similar observances in 1861 and 1862.

To further add to the confusion, President Johnson signed a proclamation in 1967, naming Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day.  The truth is, it was such a good idea (and an obvious one), that it originated in several places, independent of each other, at about the same time.

Back in the days when families had private cemeteries, many Southern families would gather once a year in the spring or early summer to weed the grounds, repair any damages and place flowers on the graves.  This was often done in connection with a family reunion and “dinner on the grounds” at the cemetery – it was a way of retaining family connections with those who had gone before, and in my opinion, a lovely custom.  (My good friend Joel Fox has told me of attending his family’s cemetery get-togethers, and I always thought it was a nice tradition.)

So, it wasn’t a big stretch to go from such occurrences to placing flowers on the graves of those lost in the war.

One of biggest early celebrations of the day came in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865, when nearly 10,000 recently-freed African-Americans came together to honor the hundreds of Union soldiers who had died in a POW camp there.

The term “Memorial Day” was apparently first used in the 1880s, and both terms seem to have been used until after World War II.  However, it was not until 1967 that “Memorial Day” became an official Federal holiday – originally set for May 30, and later changed to the last Monday in May.  Some localities still hold their observances on May 30, which is coming up tomorrow as I write this.

Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day, which comes on November 11. (That was previously known as “Armistice Day,” and originally marked the end of hostilities of World War I in 1918, but that’s another story.)  Memorial Day honors those who have died in the service of their country; Veterans Day honors the service of all military veterans.  Both are appropriate, but they are not the same, and should not be thought of as interchangeable.  (Thanks to Woody Turnbow for helping me appreciate this distinction!)

Besides honoring the sacrifice of those who have died, Memorial Day has also been a time of asking the larger questions of the cause for which they died.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, for example, the day was often used to decorate the graves of the Southern Civil War dead, and to promote the “Lost Cause” of Southern independence.

The day can be divisive and hurtful to some.  For some, it is a time to mourn the waste of so many lives and the loss that represents; for others, it is a time to celebrate liberty and promote patriotic values.  So what are we celebrating?  Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism?  Or the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

It’s a good question, I think.

On the larger issue of remembering, here are just two Biblical truths to consider.  First, go read the book of Deuteronomy, and notice how many times Moses commands the Israelites to “remember” during his farewell address – by my count, 16 times, or about once every other chapter.  You definitely come away from that heartfelt speech with the sense that he wanted them to hold onto and cherish the thoughts of all that God had done for them, and to live accordingly.

Second, in the first chapter of Romans, when Paul is making his list of all the depravities of which unredeemed humanity is possible, notice that it all begins with the refusal to remember or give thanks to God for His many blessings.  As he says, “They did not think it was worth their time to retain the knowledge of God” – sounds to me like a failure to remember.

Draw your own conclusions, my friends.

In my opinion, Memorial Day should not be used as a way of glorifying war, or whipping up some misguided patriotic fervor for a cause some may wish to promote.  But it IS appropriate to remember those who have given “that last full measure of devotion,” who have “laid down their life for their friends,” and “who have died that this nation may live.”

It IS appropriate to ask if I am honoring their sacrifice not just with flowers or parades, but with a well-lived life.

And it is appropriate to remember the awful cost of war, and the terrible price paid by the families and loved ones.  My grandmother Sallie McMillan had a brother who was killed in Korea, and I think she grieved his loss to her dying day.

So, to honor those who have given their lives for this country, and to their families:

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self, their country loved,

And mercy more than life.

America!  America!  May God thy gold refine,

‘Til all success be nobleness, and ev’ry gain divine.

The World’s Greatest Hobby

Like many little boys who grew up in the 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.

marx-logoOther 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.

tim_and_his_train_coverWhen I wasn’t playing with trains, I was reading about playing with trains.  My favorite book as a kid was Tim and His Train.  It told the story of a boy who loved trains (I could relate!), and whose dad took him to visit a rail yard.  When Tim’s birthday came around, he found a complete train set waiting for him.

I thought he was just about the luckiest boy in the world.

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 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 6 ft. 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.

scale_comparisonThe most popular size are known as HO models – you pronounce the letters separately, as in “aitch – oh” scale.  The name came 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 built 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.  I’ve played around with different scales over the years, but I’ve recently come back to modeling in HO scale.  Here’s my model of the 1950s vintage “Texas Eagle” as it pulls past the Abilene station.

eagle04aOne reason that model railroading is such a popular hobby is that it incorporates many different hobbies in one.  The hobby can involve carpentry, architecture, engineering, electrical skills, computer programming, history, research, and many other sub-interests.  You can express your artistic self with scenery for any and all types of terrain and landscapes; you can recreate a memory from the past, or come up with an original expression of things the way you think they ought to be.  You can create something out of pure whimsey – the Hogwarts Express visiting a train station on Vulcan – or produce museum-quality reproductions that are accurate right down to the number of rivets.

Some guys enjoy operating their model as a real railroad, complete with timetables and switching lists, making up trains, moving them over the road, picking up and dropping off cars along the way, and doing it all on time.  Other guys just enjoy watching their train tick off the miles as it goes by, enjoying the smooth running operation of the engines and cars.  Some enjoy reproducing modern railroading, with its double-stack container trains and high-horsepower modern diesels, while others prefer the “old timey” tea kettle steam engines and short trains.  It just depends on what you like.

One of the most revolutionary developments has been something called “Digital Command Control,” or DCC.  In the old days, when you turned on the power to a particular stretch of track, every engine on it moved at the same time.  This led to elaborate wiring schemes and dividing the track up into numerous “blocks,” each insulated from the others, so that you could turn on power to one little section of track at a time.  Obviously, not a realistic approach to running trains!

DCC has changed all that.  Now, it’s possible to install a little computer circuit on the engine, and give each engine a unique code number.  With DCC on board, your controller sends out a coded signal that is read and understood ONLY by your engine.  This allows you to run multiple trains on the same stretch of train, each independent of the others.  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.  In my case, I don’t have the space – or the budget – to have a big layout, but I’m a member of the Abilene Society of Model Railroaders.  The ASMR has a nice layout that the members are continuing to build.  As a member, I can run my trains on the club layout, AND even better, I can tap into the knowledge and experience of guys who are much better modelers than I.

wgh_logoIn recent years, several manufacturers of model trains and other interested businesses have formed a trade group devoted to promoting the industry.  It’s called “The World’s Greatest Hobby.”  That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but then again, maybe not.

After all, what other hobby allows you to build and operate your own rail empire, create cities to suit your taste, travel over vast distances, and even go back in time?