4.10.2016

Say Something. Anything.

I blame my Dad for this blog. Not only because he was and will always be my story-telling mentor, but also because it was in the sadness of his death that I first wrote something, anything, that I felt was worthy of being written down. It's been a little over 15 years since he died. In that time period we raised our son. As a father, I often looked back to Dad, both the good and the bad, for help, guidance and perspective on how to be a parent. Have some kids. You'll know what I mean.

B.A. & G.A. & Aunt Barb & Uncle Bill
Billy Andrew Turner was born April 25, 1918 in Alanreed, TX and died February 24, 2001 in Amarillo. Though his death was not entirely unexpected, the cancer had come back and he chose not to fight it the second time, it was difficult for me. I was a relatively new father, a recently gone-back-to-church Christian, and a positively guilt-ridden son. When the time came for his funeral, I knew I wanted to say something, anything, to stop the circulating questions - what's the point? where is the meaning? when will I understand? why am I numb? how am I to blame?

Sometime during the week before his funeral I woke up at 2AM, wide awake, with no chance of getting back to sleep. I was anxious, too anxious to sleep, and fired up the computer to write, hoping that I could come up with something that was worthy of being read at my father's funeral. When the sun came up I thought, "This is it. I'm done. This works, and says what I need to say." Recently, in getting ready for our upcoming move, my wife found the one page eulogy I wrote and read at my Dad's interment in the Alanreed cemetery. I'm adding it here below, not to brag or for posterity, but because it signals, for me, a connection to writing with a purpose, with inspiration, with divine assistance.

Over the years I have had the honor to write and speak at several funerals. My Dad's. My father-in-law's. My friend Beverly Ewing. And I have had occasion to write about a loss, specifically a letter to our youth group regarding the loss of Libby Fellows, the beautiful young daughter of a dear friend. I have often wanted to write about the loss of my niece, Colby Turner, but I could never be as eloquent and heartfelt as my brother's writing, which is as it should be. I mention these not to brag, but to make the point that in all these situations I have felt that the writing has been purposeful, inspired, and healing to me. I hope it has been healing to others as well.

I spent the first 17 years of my life living with Dad ... seeing first hand, and often criticizing, how he worked, how he lived, how he managed relationships. I spent the next 17 basically ignoring him. There was the occasional visit, the occasional 'thank-you for helping me get my car fixed,' and the very rare Sunday afternoon truck ride to Hedley or McLean or Booker, but for the most part, he left me alone and I enjoyed by freedom.

I can't quite put my finger on the key point in our relationship recently. Mutual respect, maybe? Well, it probably didn't matter to Dad. When I look back, it seems he always treated me the same way, regardless of what 'phase' our relationship was in, and I think the key point over time was always respect. Oh, we had differences of opinion on many, many things. But I always listened to his point of view. And then he'd listen to mine. And then, after about a half hour of silence in the dusty cab of some old truck, I'd get a story.

Sometimes the story fit the situation. Sometimes it didn't. Usually, I listened to the end. I wish I remembered them all. Well, I suppose, in a way, I have remembered them all. I always listened to Dad's stories with a pinch of disbelief, and sometimes more than a pinch. As I got older I realized that the stories were not just a historical retelling of some event, but were little morality plays and parables. The embellishments, the level of detail, and the consistency of the message made them all hang together and presented a rather complete version of the Gospel of Life according to Bill. I've forgotten most of the stories. I couldn't write a list. But the message got through somehow, and I think Dad would be proud of how I've turned out  ... at least so far.

Well, now I've done it. I promised myself not to bring up religion here, not because Dad wouldn't appreciate it, but because, frankly, it's awkward. We all have different beliefs, and I'm certainly in no position to comment from authority, but I do have two things, two religious things, that I want everyone here to hear.

First, when I was around 10 years old someone in our church told me that if my father didn't start going to church, he was going to hell. That comment was a significant factor in driving me away from church, and it was also important in getting me to go back. I needed to figure out on my own if that was a true statement. I've done a lot of searching and questioning, and I think I've found an answer that satisfies me, which leads me to my second religious point. I actually asked Dad, more than once, why he didn't go to church. Usually, I got a smart ass reply like 'Well, if they'd put some real wine in that Lord's Supper I might' or 'Maybe if they had a pi-an-er.' But I think his basic theology boiled down to, 'I don't have to attend church. I'm willing to let God judge me on my own merits.' That's fine with me, and I'm pretty sure it's worked out for him.

Obviously, I'm writing all this beforehand, but if I was gonna bet, I would bet that the weather for this specific day wouldn't be perfect. Seems like it is always too hot, too cold, too windy or too dry here in the Panhandle. Somehow, that seems just right for Dad. Like the Panhandle weather, Dad never seemed to be perfect. Then you come back for a visit and get the wind and dust in your face and your hair, or your skin gets chapped by the wind and burned by the sun, and it brings back a flood of memories. And you remember the weather specifically. And you appreciate it. And accept it for what it is. And you admire and understand its influence on your life.

This cemetery in Alanreed isn't exactly a 'peaceful valley' either. It's not a picture perfect place; it's not a Norman Rockwell painting. But I think it fits; I think as Dad would say, "it'll do." Dad loved the Panhandle. I love it, too. It has a unique beauty that stays with you. You can't look at this place and say, "Man, it's going to be great living here!" So when you see someone who lives here, loves it, understands it, and appreciates it, you have to admire that person. You have to say, here's a man who respects nature. You have to say, here's a man who deserves my respect. His life wasn't always easy, but he survived, he earned respect, and he was a good father. That ought to be good enough.


B.A., leaving Bill's, avoiding the camera
I hope it hasn't taken as long to read this as it did for me to write this. I said all along that Dad would only want a short, simple ceremony and here I've started preaching. But I have to share one more thing. First, not more than a month ago, out of the blue, Griffin tells Cindy as we're all riding in the car, "Mom, I'm taking Daddy lessons from Dad." Talk about pressure. It dawned on me that I'm not just trying to raise a good kid, I'm trying to raise a good man. And not just a good man, but the next generation of Dads. And when I understood the implication of that, I finally understood a comment Dad made to me last year in one of the final, meaningful conversations we had. We were discussing putting him in a nursing home and he said to me, "Deck, I'm a good guy." And all I could say was, "Yeah, Dad, you're a good guy." And now I know that for Dad that was the whole point, all along. It's a good point to make.

I love you, Dad. Thanks.

3.27.2016

An Easter Story

My collar was too tight and the shirt in general was too scratchy. Mom pinched my side, hard, presumably for kicking the pew in front of me, though I wasn't really trying to make noise or disturb anyone; I was just trying to force my feet as far forward in my shoes as possible because they were rubbing a blister above my heels. They weren't too tight, just not broken in. Once I stopped kicking, my butt got numb. The pews had no cushion.

The church in general had no cushion either. There was not much wiggle room for a young sinner like me. Sunday School was okay. There were memory verses and fill in the blank questions in a work book, which primarily served to make sure you read the scriptures, specifically the King James version of those scriptures, and I was pretty good at that kind of thing. My Dad's contribution to my religious education was to make sure I had my Sunday School lesson completed before he would let me read the Sunday comics ... "Have you finished your Bible study? Wanna read the red funnies?" So Sunday School was okay, easy enough and the teachers always appreciated those who participated, but it was not enlightening or uplifting. The one clear lesson was how difficult, if not impossible, it was to live a good, Christian life. Early on, my young sinner self decided it was simply too much.

My tendency, even as a kid, was to collect data, allow it to percolate for a while, sometimes a long while, and then try to make the most logical, consistent decision possible. The problem was only partially with the data I collected from the church. It wasn't that the prescribed lifestyle was impossible, it was that it seemed inconsistent, and that I couldn't live with. Jesus came to save the world, but what about those who never heard of him? Women couldn't be leaders in the church, but all around me I saw women leading, even in those King James version Bible stories. We were supposed to let our light shine, but our church seemed so insular, so inwardly focused. We were supposed to praise God with singing, but for some reason, pianos poisoned the praise. We talked about Jesus' miracles, the supremacy of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, but there was no room for mystery. How could there be no gray areas when no one could claim to fully know God?

But many made that claim. They told me Dad was going to hell for not attending church. They told me the folks in the church down the street were going to hell because they weren't doing church the right way. They told me about judgement, but I don't recall hearing about grace. I got very good at memory verses and bible races and using particular scriptures as 'proof' of righteousness. In the end, however, it didn't make sense, at least to a young sinner like me, and so it became easier and easier to ignore and dismiss what was being taught. To me it seemed suspiciously like the church was creating their own check boxes, so it was not a surprise to me when they checked them off. I did not believe in what they were selling.

And then there was the other data being collected. My Mom took us to church. Dad stayed home. Church was stressful. Sunday afternoons with Dad were remarkably boring, often spent at Grandma Turner's house. Rides home from church were often filled with gossip or arguments or discussion of some sinner's inappropriate behavior. Rides home from Grandma Turner's were usually pretty quiet, except when interrupted by Dad's a capella renditions of Bob Wills or some obscure and hopelessly hokey cowboy song. I rarely saw Mom put money in the collection plate. I often saw Dad checking on some old guy he knew was down on his luck. It's not that Dad was nice and good and Mom was mean and bad, it was simply that Dad seemed happier. The same could be said of many of my other friends who did not go to church, or who went to a church that did fun things. The words I heard in church versus the life I witnessed away from it just didn't hang together.

Some of the words I heard in church included this, from Mark 16:16 ...

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved

This was a regularly featured scripture in worship. Near the end of every service there was what was commonly referred to as an 'altar call.' Inviting worshippers to come forward and be baptized. The expectation was that if you were so moved by the message, the Holy Spirit would call you to come forward and be baptized. The baptistry was behind a curtain, behind the pulpit. Once you came forward, the preacher would take you back to the baptistry. You would change into a white robe. The preacher would step into the water with you, say the appropriate words and dip or dunk you completely under the water. As you came out of the water, the curtain would be closed, I assume to save you the embarrassment of looking like you'd just been dunked. I never understood why they closed the curtain. If the action was holy, I wanted to see it all.

There was, of course, no infant baptism. You had to come forward, fully aware of your commitment. I saw many of my peers go forward to be baptized, some as early as 10 or 11 years old. By the time I was 13 I was feeling the pressure. It seemed that every time I heard "The one who believes AND is baptized" every head in the congregation would turn to look at me. There was no question that the "AND" was emphasized. But I did not believe. I simply did not. And, in my search for consistency, there was no way I was going forward. I could not do something I did not believe simply to conform to community convention. I even talked about this with my non-religious Dad who said, "Don't worry about it. I was baptized every time a traveling preacher came to town. I've been dunked enough for both of us." Consequently, I was never baptized, and as soon as I left home, I also left the church.

This was my thinking at the time. I do not condemn those who taught me, either my parents or the church leaders. I believe they were doing what they thought was best and all I'm trying to communicate is that it was not sufficient for me. I've already admitted my sinfulness. Though I was young, I have a hard time holding others responsible for my hard-headed-ness. None of us made it easy, so please do not interpret the above as criticism. It was what it was; it was my life and I truly have no regrets.

Today, however, at the age of 56, I was baptized at Bentwood Trail Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas by the Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Callender during Easter worship services. We have been worshipping at Bentwood Trail since 1999, and joined in 2000 when our son was 3 years old. I quit going to church as soon as I left home. I did not return until my wife convinced me that it was the right thing to do for our son, and somehow I recognized the truth of that, and agreed to "try" church again. Throughout my tenure at BTPC I have struggled with the knowledge that I was not baptized. Sometimes, it made me feel like a fraud. Other times it was reassuring, knowing that even if I was not baptized, God still loved me.

I'm sure there were many in my church family who were shocked to see my name in the bulletin to be baptized today. I've been active in teaching, leading worship, volunteering and church leadership for many years. To those who want to know "why now?" after all these years, I have three answers.

First, if anyone was going to baptize me, it was going to be Elizabeth. Despite the fact that she is a woman, and that I would be sprinkled instead of dunked, it felt right. I was part of Elizabeth's call to BTPC, and my work on the nominating committee truly was one of those times when I felt God's call. She has been my friend and my teacher, and there is a 'rightness' in our relationship that is undeniable. Since we will be moving to Houston soon, I couldn't let the decision to be baptized linger.

Second, as I mentioned before, sometimes it takes a while for me to process data and come to a decision. This one was a long time coming, but I finally determined that it was time to take this step. The epiphany came several months ago when I finally realized, after struggling with the whole concept and need and purpose of baptism for decades, that it was something that you get to do, an opportunity, not something you have to do, a requirement.

Finally, I eventually realized that NOT being baptized was my way of controlling my relationship with God. Not getting baptized was my way of letting God know that I was in charge of this relationship. I was holding out, hoping that some day, some way, God would prove himself to me ... burning bush, winning lottery ticket, life changing vision, something. Who am I to demand that the Creator of the Universe prove himself to me? Isn't the logical thing to seek a relationship with God, to simply accept His love that is unconditionally given?



I have grown from a young sinner, full of doubt and stubbornness, to an old sinner, unsure of many, many things, but absolutely convinced that it is better to live into and in the love that is offered, than to try to control it, or to try to force it into conditions and requirements of my own construction. It is not my tendency to leap into faith. Choosing to be baptized, for me, has not been a leap, but rather a decades long process that began with my Mother dipping my toes in the water (though at times it felt like being thrown in the deep end) and ending with being welcomed into the ocean of family and friends and believers spanning not just decades, but millennia.

Who am I? A child of the great I AM, baptized, a participant in Jesus' death and resurrection, dead to what separates us from God, and raised to newness of life in Christ. I will endeavor to choose life in all things, and will succeed with God's help.

Thank you, everyone, who brought me to this point. It has been a long journey, and you have all been part of it, and a blessing to me.


10.26.2015

A Speech I'd Like to Hear from Ted Cruz

A well known woman once said of her upbringing, "We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters ... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules ... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square." I believe that whole-heartedly, and I would expect most of you believe it, too, so I'd like to talk about these important things - truth, rules and earned success.

First, some truth ... some people don't like me. The media tags me as 'extreme,' attempting to link me in the public mind to 'Muslim extremists,' to paint me as unreasonable. Political blogs say I'm unpopular with my congressional colleagues, which is supposed to be insulting - perhaps they believe that Congress is like middle school where popularity is some sort of goal or marker for success. Some, even in the Republican party, have called my efforts to make significant change self-serving. These things, these sticks and stones, are not the truth.

Here's the truth. My views on abortion, on the second amendment, on immigration, on government spending, on national security - they are all squarely aligned with the majority of Americans. They are not, however, aligned with the media or the pop-culture brokers, so it's understandable that many people have the perception that my positions are extreme. The Republicans are not the extremists in this race.

As for being unpopular within Congress, well, that happens when you take strong, principled positions. It's no different than in any other job, really. Congress is famous for having a lower like-ability rating than used car salesmen. I like to think I'm one of the good used car salesmen, the one who tells you about the oil leak and the transmission that slips, and who refuses to 'tote the note' when I know you can't afford it. The sales manager may not like it, but at least I can sleep at night.

In regard to being self-serving, I have to admit, that truly offends me, but politics doesn't have the designated safe spaces of a gender-studies conference, so let me address that head on. Yes, I've used attention getting tactics, but that is only because leadership didn't lead. Yes, I've been abrasive and vocal and demanding, but only on critical issues that needed it, where we should not go-along-to-get-along, where the easy path is the wrong path. Some battles are too important to avoid for political expediency.

And now, let's talk about rules, about how they are elemental to civil society, about how those that disregard them are declaring themselves to be greater, better, or more important than you. This is the great divide in our society, those who play by the rules versus those who think they are above them.

Do we really need to make the list? Unconstitutional executive orders. Violation of federal regulations on retaining information. Backdoor hiring of advisers. Hiding relationships with lobbyists. Selectively enforcing immigration laws. Cronyism in general. Political donations propping up Planned Parenthood. Refusing to prosecute IRS officials caught persecuting citizens for their political beliefs. Do you need a list? Do you not see this everyday?

If you have ever observed a situation where an average Joe would be punished, but the politically connected or the famous and influential are not, then you recognize the injustice of the governing class, the privileged class, and 'for thee but not for me' justice. You see the biased reporting, the 'if-Bush-had-done-it' or 'if-a-Republican had done it' inconsistency in the headlines, the infidelities dismissed and even praised for some, which would cause a decent man life-long shame. You see it. We all see it.

Here's what I want you to know about me and rules. I follow them. When my critics refer to a 'failed filibuster' or a 'failed attempt to shutdown the government' please note that in those attempts, I followed the rules. I did not circumvent them to get my way. I did not consider myself above them. Those efforts may not have accomplished what they were intended to, but neither did they violate the rules. They were not unprincipled. You don't take shortcuts. You don't make your own rules. I follow the rules. I challenge the Democrats to make the same pledge, and I hope that Democratic voters recognize the power of this pledge, that though we may disagree, as President, I will abide by the Constitution and we will work to earn the respect of all citizens by upholding the law equally, for everyone.

And finally, let's talk about earned success. On the campaign trail I've not been shy in bragging about my roots, the work and solid foundation of my parents, the opportunities that America provides and that I took advantage of. The Democrats would tell you that 'earned success' is not possible, that the game is rigged by millionaires and billionaires and corporations and big this or big that. They call me extreme and unpopular and arrogant because they cannot afford for me, a product of American opportunity, to succeed, just like they cannot afford for a food stamp family to break the cycle or for a young woman to realize that the most powerful pro-choice comes before conception or for young people to learn that education and success does not require indebtedness.

The Democrats have spent decades deconstructing the family, the incubator of earned success, and undermining the path smoothing power of personal responsibility. All of our current societal woes, from urban violence to economic insecurity to foreign policy chaos, can be laid at the feet of failed Democratic plans and policies, and the Republicans who enable them by putting politics ahead of principle. Government cannot make you successful, but it can get in your way. Billionaires and corporations are not scheming behind the scenes to prevent you from reaching your goals, but they can use an oversized government to skew the market to their advantage.

The government cannot make you perfectly safe or permanently comfortable. It can, however, create an environment that allows you to be your best, and then get out of your way and let you do it. My goal is to rebuild your trust in the American idea, and your belief in yourself. I'm asking for your vote, not because you can count on me as a compromiser, a consensus builder, slickly manipulating the levers of power to advance an agenda, but because we believe in the same principles - honesty, the rule of law and personal responsibility. I'm asking you to cast your vote for principle, not promises and personality. America does not need fundamental change, it needs to return to fundamental principles.

7.17.2015

Snippets

The boy has graduated from high school and will be moving off to the inhospitable northeast in a few short weeks. My inclination is to compile some sort of final list of dos and donts, some words to live by from the old man, but we all know that a black and white list of rules rarely satisfies, and even more rarely suffices as advice for living.

And so I find myself searching for something to say, something that needs to be said, something pithy, and preferably something of timeless value. I've got nothing. I've had a little over 18 years to share what I know about how to live and survive with this baby boy that's become a young man, and now it seems too late to cram in the last crucial bits, as if I have any to share anyway. I've lived my life in much more of an observe and react mode than a plan and execute mode; there's no way I can piece the journey back together and extract the wisdom, primarily because not a lot of wisdom was involved in the first place.

Like the imminent test, at this point he either gets it or he doesn't. Poor fellow. He should've picked better parents.

Oh, I have tons of practical advice. For example, set your drink limit at two, though in my personal experience, once you get to two, three is inevitable. Or, it's perfectly fine to meet and marry a woman of the north, aka: a Yankee, as long as she is wealthy enough to make up for that deficiency. Or, try to  memorize a few snippets of Shakespeare or Shelley (not the Frankenstein one); it might come in handy. That sort of advice has some value, but I'm not sure it's appropriate for this significant life change. I know my college years were a clear line of demarcation, and I expect his to be the same. It's a shame that all I have to offer are jaded observations, not the words to live by that I've always wished had been clearly given to me.

I say that, wishing for words to live by, because somehow I think it would have made the journey easier to have a compass point, a guiding light, something more concrete than 'Please God, help me make the right choices today.' There have been many times in my life when I've sat and wondered "where to next?" or "how did I get here?" or "how did I get here!" and for some reason I think it might have been better if I had known what was next, if I had known what choices had landed me in this particular trouble or that particular delight. But now, thinking back on the jumble of turning points, the risks taken and those not, the over-thought and what-the-hell decisions, I realize mine was not to be a well-planned, comfortable journey. And I wouldn't trade it. I own it. It's mine.

I suppose, in a pinch, that would be my advice, Griffin. Own it. That attractive young woman in your freshman English class? Ask her out or don't, but own that decision and don't regret it. Take the course that requires more effort, or don't. Just admit it was your choice and if, later on, it turns out to be a poor one, make a better choice next time. Throughout life we all have the option, the choice, to become a better person, to improve ourselves, to change our course for the better. In our current society, heading off to college is the perfect chance to do that. I love you, but you are not perfect. You will make bad decisions. Own them. Do better next time. Take advantage of this opportunity; it seems the stakes get higher the older you get.

And now, in a sort of metaphysical "Dad, please stop talking you are embarrassing me" way, I'd like to share something that may be helpful. Or it may not. You decide.

Throughout my life I have encountered what I call "all right" moments, when it simply feels like I am in the right place, doing the right thing. In a weird way, Matthew McConaughey's catchphrase,
"alright, alright, alright" speaks to me. When I hear him say it, it's about being "in tune", in the right moment, at some special nexus. I can tell you now that when we visited Lehigh it felt right. It's why I insisted on a photo, even though a casual glance reveals your epic eye-roll attitude. I'm glad you chose the school, even though it costs way too much. Just own it.


I remember sitting on the back porch of a ratty old rent house on Avenue A in Denton, Texas, with Dr. Matt doing his best to grill some on-sale sirloins on a home-made hibachi and thinking, "I am where I belong."

I remember humbly asking for my job back, after quitting from some immature snit that I immediately knew was not right, and David Johnson graciously letting me come back.

I remember being at the gate at the Atlanta-Hartsfield airport on Labor Day weekend 1982, waiting for your mother to arrive, who at the time was my long-distance girlfriend, and thinking, "I have to ask her."

I remember driving home from Baylor Hospital in Dallas in late September, 1996, in your mother's Lexus, with the moon roof open and the radio blasting, and being absolutely certain that we were ready for the big change in our lives that had just happened.

I remember riding in the pickup with you in March 2001, shortly after my father's funeral. You were 4 years old and out of the blue you said "The good cowboys always get the girl, don't they." And I said "Yes. Yes they do."

I remember waking up with what seemed like an imperative to-do one day, to introduce Pastor Cheryl to Uncle Neil. I frequently thank God for that one.

I remember sitting at a picnic table in a park in Frisco, praying for a sign in our search for a new pastor at Bentwood Trail, and a few minutes later seeing a purple lightning bolt on the projector screen, just before Pastor Elizabeth began her sermon.

I remember meeting your mother in the garage, the day she came home with her biopsy results, and she hugged me and she cried and she wanted to know how we were going to tell you. And despite me being as scared as she was, I knew I was in the right place, and that she was wrong to be worried about you. I knew you would be a strength and a comfort for her, not a source of concern.

And now, today, tonight, as I sit listening to random music, sipping on that second drink, or maybe the third, trying to put something coherent together, because writing is now what I do to deal with these life-changing way-points, I realize that you have already given me the "all right" moment. It is Bach, Suite No. 1 (click to hear).





I listen to it daily. It's a minute forty-seven, just a snippet of you playing saxophone at church, and I long to hear more. I want to hear the full piece. I want to know how it ends. I want to be awed by your musicianship, and wonder "was that a mistake, or intentional?" I want to say "this is mine, I made this possible," but I know it's yours. That you own it, and that it, and what it represents, is all right. Your talent. Your work. Your choices. It is the evidence of your path so far, and it gives me comfort that it's gonna be all right in the future.



2.14.2015

Short Stories

 Last week, after church, starting around 3PM, I drove from Plano to Amarillo. It’s about a 6 hour drive, but I made it in 5 and a half. Driving alone always helps you make better time. I drove and listened to music, letting the songs and the scenery suggest things to think about. One of my father’s many jobs was truck driver. I believe I inherited something from him that makes highway driving a comfort.

Along the way, between Quanah and Childress, the sun began to set. It was not one of those majestic, cloud and color infused sunsets. The sky was clear. I was headed west, very aware of the entire process as the sun slid down behind the A-pillar on the windshield. Once it started it didn’t take long. The mostly flat terrain put the horizon at the limit of my sight and I realized that light from the sunset could be seen for 180 degrees, growing fainter at each end. The glow was in front of me. The horizon in my rear view mirror was much darker. I have noticed that phenomena many times, always while driving, and almost always while heading home.

Late Monday afternoon I started the drive back. This time I had company; Elizabeth hitched a ride back. Instead of taking the most direct route, we went a bit out of our way and stopped in Alanreed. My parents are buried there, well, their ashes are, and when I get the chance  I like to stop, pay my respects, say a quick prayer of thanks and simply absorb the time and place. It calms me. It helps me remember who I am.

The cemetery in Alanreed is just off of Interstate 40. I have yet to visit without hearing semis rumble past. It sits on the slope of a hill. Overlooking the interstate I see rolling ranch lands, some scrub brush, some tough old cedars, wash outs and draws and barbed wire fences. The trucks and other highway sounds never bother me because they belong, and besides, the scenery transports me back in time to pickup rides with the windows down along dusty roads, and horseback riding while watching out for soapweed and prickly pear, smelling horse sweat and leather. I taste the dust, feel the heat and sweat or the cold and chills and smell the grass, the dirt, the always sharp and dry air.

We didn’t stay long, just long enough for a review of family members by marker and my short time traveling experience. And then we were on the road, joining the traffic parade, for a short while on I-40, formerly known as Route 66, and then a jog south on Highway 83 at Shamrock to catch Highway 287 in Childress. Two eighty seven is a highway I know well, including all the places where speeding tickets are likely, where to find reasonably clean restrooms and where to change lanes to get ready to exit.

The sun seemed to set early on us, going down for good somewhere between Shamrock and Childress. On the dark drive back, instead of music and scenery pushing my thoughts, this time, with company, they were pulled from me as Elizabeth asked questions, prompting me for stories that she knows I love to tell. The good ones, of course, she’d already heard and I had to catch myself a few times, to stop the re-telling. Elizabeth and I have traded stories before, and it seemed a waste to tell an old one. This seemed to be a time for new stories, for exploring, for reflecting and searching for an understanding of the past as preparation for the future.

I’m always careful in the telling, searching my memory for details, feeling around for the right emphasis, aiming for the right mood and tone. The listener? Well, they are on their own to glean what they might.

The driving was, in the everyday sense, an unremarkable 12 or so hours, there and back. In the grand scheme, in the bigger picture, it was a wonder, like so many common things are and yet, we rarely recognize it. I’ve known for a long time that there are always more questions than answers. It’s trips and times like this one that help me understand that we don’t have answers to the biggest questions, we only have stories, approximations of answers, and they, sometimes, for a discerning listener, will point to the truth.