Country Boy

"Mama was a waitress and Daddy was a truck driver; I grew up in a country song." That's a line I've used a lot when trying to summarize my life growing up. We didn't live in the country, but I didn't consider myself a city kid. I tease my son about being a 'city kid' mainly because I know he'll probably never pluck a chicken, build a barbed wire (bob-wahr) fence or fall asleep at the dinner table after a day of hauling hay. When Barbara Mandrell sang

I was country when country wasn't cool

I felt like I could honestly say "Sing it, sister!", though my father would have disagreed. He was a real cowboy; I just played at it on weekends and summers on Grandma Turner's farm. I wore my boots and pearl snap shirt to the Top O' Texas rodeo every August. I got Molly Bee's autograph there one year. Dad sang Bob Wills songs when there was no working radio in the truck, which was almost always, and completely wore out the one Lynn Anderson tape he had when he put an 8-track tape player in the Chevy. Ernest Tubb and Porter Waggoner were the height of entertainment on Sunday evening TV. I kinda did grow up in a country song.

In my teens I distanced myself from these roots. But the Eagles and Charlie Daniels and Marshall Tucker and Lynrd Skynrd had a real country vibe to them, and they were cool. By college Willie and Waylon and the boys were outlaw country, and they were cool, too. I think we, meaning all the folks who grew up like me in between rock and roll and country, disavowed our country roots after John Travolta did "Urban Cowboy," but we'd still perk up at a Buck Owens or Jerry Jeff Walker song. And being able to two step and dance to the Cotton-eyed Joe (cot-nod joe) came in handy many times. Country music is chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy* for me; not something I'd eat every day but incredibly comforting and sometimes it's the only thing that will fill up the empty spot.

About a week ago I got an email from Eddie Brown ... some people call him Edward. Anyway, Ed (that's what I call him) invited me to lunch though he lives like 5 hours from here (and yes, for my yankee friends ... it's still in Texas). Anyway, it seems that a bunch of old friends were going to be in Boerne (that's where Ed and Millie ... some people call her Mildred ... live). It had been a while since I'd seen some of these folks and I needed a fresh memory of them so I got up early and hit the road. I made it to the Dodging Duck before Ed did.

Simply put, a good time was had by all. Linda, Tonya, Frankie and Millie, my high school dream girls, were there along with Millie's husband Bill, her brother Matt and his wife Lori (or is it Laurie?), Dub Taylor, Doug Burns and Ed with his wife and daughter, Carolyn and Meredith. Quite a crew. Stories were swapped, catching up was done and we all reminisced about the evils of peer pressure. Apparently some of us were more easily influenced than others, but let's not go there. The food was good, the beer was better and it just felt like a special day. Yeah, it was kind of crazy to drive 5 hours for lunch, but I really felt like I needed to. I must have hugged them all about a half a dozen times, and I'm not known to be a hugger, before I finally said a firm good-bye. Well, I take that back ... I didn't hug the guys. Ed and Doug were sure hugging a lot, but that's another story.

I had the Bison Burger for lunch that day and as I hit the road for the drive back I regretted not having the chicken fry. I switched on a country station, thinking it had been a while since my last country music fix. I didn't know a lot of the songs, but that didn't really matter because you can understand the lyrics. By the time you get to the second chorus you're singing along like it's an old favorite because it just feels familiar.

I listened to Jack Ingram sing "That's a Man" and I thought, "I just had lunch with the kind of men he's singing about."

When the Eli Young Band sang "Always the Love Songs" I remembered sitting on a dock at a lake, either late at night or early in the morning, the night that Tonya got married, and having a long (probably drunken) conversation about life with Linda.

And George Strait, what can I say? I heard "River of Love" for the first time and I realized that some people get it, some people don't. I figured that all the folks at lunch had been out on that river ... most more than once. They probably get it.

On the way home I stopped in Austin to visit a friend who's going to school at UT ... t.u. to some of my friends and family. She's a beautiful young woman and I felt like the creepy old guy sitting in the restaurant with her, but it was a good visit. My friends were a bit shocked when I told them my plan to stop in Austin and see a former Sunday School student ... not because I was stopping, but because I had taught Sunday School. Anyway, we had a great talk. I told her about my friends, and she told me about what's going on in her life. I was impressed by her maturity and sincerity and the love she has for her friends and family.

She took off with friends to go to the basketball game and I got back on the road, heading home. I had heard about a lot of good kids at lunch that day and had just visited with another one. Driving out of Austin I was amazed at the number of Obama stickers and signs and I thought to myself that I get a lot more hope from "good kids" than I do from politicians.

When I heard Josh Turner (no relation) sing "Everything is Fine" I believed him.

As I was nearing Temple I heard Taylor Swift's song "White Horse" and I thought about another young woman I know who could benefit from the sentiment.

When I first glimpsed Reunion Tower in the Dallas skyline Rodney Atkins' song "It's America" was playing. Is it just corny patriotic sentiment, or is it how some people really feel about our country? I think I know which way country boys would jump on that question.

I was taking my exit in Plano. It had been a long day. The song on the radio was the Zac Brown Bands' "Chicken Fried" and I knew my trip was done.

And right now, I can't get John Denver out of my head.

* if you get the chance ... Mary's Cafe in Strawn, TX.


Just Because

On January 20th, around lunch time, I was stopped at a traffic light with my window down. A Toyota Prius, one of those non-descript gray/green/taupe ones, pulled up beside me. The lady in the passenger seat rolled down her window and we had the following conversation:

lady: "Are you listening to the inauguration?"
me: "Yes."
lady: "Can you tell me what radio station you're listening to?"
me: "I'm listening on WBAP 820 AM."
lady: "Ugh. Isn't that Limbaugh!"
me: "Yes it is. Doesn't NPR come pre-programmed on the Prius?"

She rolled her window up and they hummed away in a huff.

Just because I drive a compact car doesn't mean I voted for Obama.

One day I was at the dog park letting the poodle run and had the following conversation with a lady who was wearing Birkenstocks. She had three rescue dogs named Eco, Gaia and Che.

lady: "I've never seen a black and white poodle. Is he a mix?"
me: "No, he's a pure-bred ... registered standard poodle."
lady: "Oh. So he's not a rescue or from a shelter? He's registered?"
me: "Yes. I got him from a breeder in Oklahoma."
lady: "Well, at least you didn't get him from a pet store."
me: "Pet store puppies need love, too."
lady: "Well, we don't need to encourage the puppy mills. Using animals for profit just seems wrong, don't you think?"
me: "Without profit there would be no veterinary science industry or 'holistic' dog food or animal shelters."
lady: "Animal shelters are NOT for PROFIT!"
me: "Without profit somewhere, where would the money come from to support 'non-profit' animal shelters?"
lady: "They are run on donations with volunteer efforts."
me: "Somewhere along the line, someone had to make enough profit to afford a donation."
lady: "You know, typically shelter dogs are more balanced than ones that come from breeders. Pure bred dogs have a lot of behavior and health issues."
me: "You think so? Did you notice that Che has chewed all the hair off his ass and that Gaia [Ed. note: a female beagle looking mix] is trying to hump that basset hound?"

Just because I paid a breeder for my dog doesn't make me a bad person.

On another dog park excursion the poodle started playing with an
overweight Bichon Frise. The owner of the Bichon, a thin man, 40ish, in a shiny yellow soccer warmup, asked me about the poodle.

man: "I've never seen a black and white standard before. Is she purebred?"
me: "He's a boy, and yes, he's a full blood standard. They call them 'parti-colored'."
man: "Oh. I didn't look at his 'business', I just saw the purple collar and assumed it was girl. Sorry about that."
me: "No problem. My wife picked out the collar because it matches the car."
man: "Your wife?"

Just because I have a standard poodle doesn't mean I'm gay.

One Friday afternoon, at the office, a couple of co-workers and I had
the following conversation.

co-worker1: "So, big plans for the weekend?"
me: "Not really. We've got a couple of church things going on ... nothing too exciting."
co-worker2: "Church? What church do you go to?"
me: "A Presbyterian church in North Dallas. Bentwood Trail."
co-worker1: "Heh heh heh. Yeah. I'm going to worship, too. We're having spaghetti tonight."
co-worker2: "Heh heh heh. Yeah. Me too. Spaghetti. Meatballs. We're gonna be touched by his noodly appendage."
me: "That's nice. Hey, you guys should be Pastafarian missionaries. Take the message to the Muslims in Saudi Arabia or something. Christians are too easy, everybody ridicules them, you should be bold and take a stand for your beliefs ... teach the Muslims the error of their ways."
co-worker1: "No way, dude. Christians have preachers that get caught with their pants down, Muslims have suicide bombers."
me: "Good point. You better stick with ridiculing the tolerant."

Just because I'm a Christian, doesn't mean I support creation science.

The conversation continued.

co-worker1: "No. Really. Seriously. Is your car going to be 'unmanned' when 'The Rapture' comes."
me: "No. I'm not too concerned about eschatology."
co-worker2: "Eska-what?"
me: "End times theology/philosophy. The end of the world."
co-worker1: "The end of the world? The bible talks about global warming?"
co-worker2: "Sure! You never heard of hellfire and brimstone?"
co-worker1: "What about gay people?"
me: "What?"
co-worker1: "Gay people. Do they go to hell?"
co-worker2: "I bet gay people aren't Christian."
me: "I bet they aren't Muslim."
co-worker1: "Do they? Go to hell?"
me: "I don't think so, no."
co-worker1: "Don't all Christians think all homosexuals go to hell?"
me: "Do all homosexuals think all Christians are homophobes?"
co-worker2: "Yeah, I think they do."

Just because I'm a Christian doesn't mean I believe in 'The Rapture', snake handling, bombing abortion clinics or persecuting homosexuals.

A friend of mine was having a problem with his PC.

friend: "Hey, you do computer stuff all day, can you help with me a problem."
me: "No."
friend: "I'm trying to get my Sony camera to work with my Dell PC."
me: [ silence, with a practiced look of extreme disinterest ]
friend: "I think the driver won't load because it's not a Sony computer."
me: "I doubt that's the problem."
friend: "Do you want to come over and look at it?"
me: "No."
friend: "Oh, okay, well, I can send you an email with the error message."
me: "No. Don't."
friend: "Oh, you know what the problem is?"
me: "No, I don't. I don't do Windows."
friend: "Well, you do computer stuff all day. This would be easy for you."
me: "I don't do Windows. I don't fix problems with Windows. That's not what I do."
friend: "Why not?"
me: "Because it sucks and every time I have to use it, it steals a little peace from my soul."
friend: "Oh ... I don't know what to do if you can't help."
me: "Maybe you can find a Dell camera on eBay."
friend: "Good idea!"

Just because I 'work on computers' doesn't mean I work on Windows.

Just because I'm a conservative, middle-aged, Christian white guy don't assume I fit your stereotype. On second thought, go ahead and stereotype me ... I'm not too concerned about your opinion or being politically correct ... I'm going to do what I think is right regardless.


The Quicksand of Reason

George Carlin once did a bit called "The Planet is Fine" in which he argued that all the talk of saving the planet was wasted effort because, eventually, it will be the people that die, while the planet keeps spinning. He said, "And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we’re a threat?", meaning how arrogant of us to think we have powers of planetary scope.

While it may be true (and a tad depressing to think about) that we will someday pollute ourselves to death, it wasn't that specific idea that caught my attention. The interesting part, for me, was how our conceit influences every discussion we have. It was a genius observation. We are arrogant.

... the image of the Lord had been replaced by a mirror.
Jorge Luis Borges

There's talk of introducing a genetically modified mosquito that isn't capable of spreading malaria. Wouldn't that be marvelous and save a lot of lives? The people proposing this would do well to remember the lessons of introducing non-native species like cane toads, Africanized bees, and grass carp ... much less a genetically engineered species. Sometimes we outsmart ourselves, don't we?

We look back and laugh at doctors who bled patients to cure them of fevers, but how well do you think chemotherapy and breast enlargements will handle the test of time? All you have to do is listen to the wide range of possible side affects in any prescription drug advertisement to realize that they are in the business of selling drugs, not in improving health. Instead of Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound for Female Problems we now have an alphabet soup of prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction. Aren't we the sophisticated ones.

At the root of this, like Carlin said, is conceit. And our ego isn't satisfied with simply claiming complete knowledge, we have to take it one step further and claim that each and every problem is so complex that common sense just won't suffice. This type of pride, this excessive love of self, is thought of as the original, most serious and ultimate source of all sin, but we proudly put it on display every day.

Israel and Gaza are at war and much has been said about causes, disproportionate responses and moral correctness. How many times have we heard that there is no resolution to the enmity ... and we've heard that for what, 5,000 years? I'm sure that Middle East experts would say I'm over simplifying, but it seems to me that if there is no chance of a negotiated settlement (and given that the primary tenet of Hamas is the destruction of Israel I'd say that's a fair assumption) then somebody has to kick somebody else's ass to settle this thing ... there needs to be a clear winner.

But no, we have to analyze the property rights for the past millennium and balance injustice against privilege and rationalize the morality of using innocents as shields and public relations pawns. And don't forget to take time to express some outrage at the brutality of war (if you listen closely you can hear the "tsk, tsk" of the pontificating celebrities) ... because we are the thoughtful, civilized and progressive people of the world.

Advocates of diplomacy, forbearance and restraint try to stake out the moral high ground by saying "we must negotiate as equals" and "we should not impose our western ideals on these oppressed people." How condescending. If we were truly negotiating as equals we would say "these are our ideals, if you agree with them, welcome to our world, brother." Instead we make excuses and say "their oppression has kept them from developing to our higher, civilized standards" or "our commoners aren't sophisticated enough to embrace the diversity of our separate cultures so please, do what you wish to undermine/enlighten us."

Our arrogance, apparently, gives us super powers. Just ask the scientist who can explain the whole universe with his own reasoning, the fundamentalist Christian who is more perfect than you and the politician that lists saving the planet as a 'to do' in his day planner - they all have the answers. I fear, however, that they may have simply lulled themselves into a false sense of competence.

George Sand, pictured here, once wrote, "Vanity is the quicksand of reason."



In several entries here I've mentioned teachers. Today I came across three small books that I've apparently had for some time. They are books of poetry written by a couple of my high school teachers. One book, Selected Poems 1959-1988, was written by my senior year English teacher, Mr. A.R. Nooncaster. The other two, Candles at Noon and Triumphant Moment, were written by Elaine Ledbetter, my Chemistry teacher.

The photos I've included here were taken from a website created by R. Malcolm Brown, Jr. about the 40th reunion of the Pampa High School class of 1957. No, I wasn't in school then, but I found it incredibly interesting that these photos, from 1957, were of teachers that were still teaching at PHS in 1977. In the picture above, Mr. Graham, on the left, was my junior year history teacher. Mrs. Torvie, next to him, was still teaching English in 1975.

I don't think they make teachers like they used to, or maybe I'm just suffering from Good Ol' Days Syndrome.

Mr. Nooncaster is on the far right. They probably
had to seat him, otherwise, at 6' 5", his head would
be out of frame.

by A.R. Nooncaster

When I am dead, my foes will say,
Without a qualm, without delay,
That I was moody and aloof,
Too sensitive to bear reproof,
Demanding much and quick to flame
At others with a lesser aim,
Impatient, hard, and sometimes rude
To those I should have wisely wooed,
Volatile and vehement,
Explosive in an argument,
Too blunt in speech, too prone to see
The failings of humanity,
And in other ways perverse,
My friends, I fear, will say much worse.

Mrs. Ledbetter, with the camera.
Mrs. Morgan, Miss Dozier and Mr. Bowman.
Miss Dozier was my sophomore English teacher.
Mr. Bowman was one of my Driver's Ed instructors.

My Gifts

by Elaine Ledbetter

Each time I pause
To think upon the vast array
Of gifts bestowed
Unearned, unsought upon my way,
I bow in deep humility.

The more I have
The more I owe. How great my debt!
God, prick my heart
With pointed pain should I forget
My trust and use them selfishly.

Mr. Rice, far left, was my sophomore year Algebra
II teacher