Tag Archives: home

A Passing Truck

17933944_1332678760146276_5840434144147931136_n(1)It was just a truck.

I was pumping gas at the Shell station next to the lively Pacific Coast Highway last Friday when I just happened to see a white pickup truck pass by sporting a black bed cover. It was nothing special, but it produced a memory from over a quarter century ago.

At the time I was in college a good five-hour drive away from home, and my meager possessions did not all fit in a regular truck cabin. A bed cover just made sense given the space challenge and the unpredictable Arkansas weather. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, so my dad bought some wood and some black, weather-resistant astroturf, made careful measurements and some posts to fit the corners, and before long my truck bed was in the dry.

It was just a passing truck, but it reminded me.

I loved that old truck: A maroon, stepside, 1989 GMC Sierra 1500 with a short wheelbase and a big ol’ 350 engine that made it fun to pass cars and tractors and chicken-hauling trailers on those long drives across the Arkansas hills. It wasn’t my first vehicle, but it was the first one that I was proud to call my own, and although it was out of my family’s price range, I’m pretty sure my dad wanted me to have it. He sacrificed a lot for me.

I know it was just a truck, but it was where I first kissed Jody and later (but not much) where I asked her to marry me. When we decided to buy our first house, we sold that truck to afford the down payment, not long before that sweet dad of mine died.

It was just a passing truck, I guess, but it caused me to remember another truck that represents home and the love that shapes your life, so it made me smile.

Special Memories

familyMy parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December.  Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart.  My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack.  While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.

This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth.  Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers.  Where does the time go?

The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain.  The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room.  When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.

But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays.  What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles.  Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head.  Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters.  That’s what I will remember this week.  The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.

These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers.  My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8.  I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others.  But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.

I do have an idea this year.  This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world.  I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street.  Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me.  The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside.  I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.

I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories.  And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

This Old House

I realize that “old” is a state of mind and not a specific age.  I also realize that old is often my state of mind.  Some circumstances are less than helpful.  My parents are gone.  My sisters are grandparents.  My children are adults.  My hair color is Caucasian, and my beard is gray.  I am blind in one eye and increasingly cannot see out of the other.  I thought Pokemon GO was a statement granting a Jamaican proctologist permission to proceed.

But contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

If all went as planned, this post will publish as I fly back to California after a family visit in Arkansas.  It had been a couple of years since I visited, and it was good to go “home” for a few days, even though Arkansas has not really been home for nearly two decades.  On these increasingly sporadic trips, I always make a point to see the little place on West Mueller Street that I called home for the first couple of decades of my life.  My parents rented the tiny house for sixty dollars a month until I was in high school, and I still remember the day that the landlord increased the rent to ninety and my dad went apoplectic.  He took it as a personal insult given the thoughtful care he donated to the place.

The little house went downhill after the Sturgeon family moved out sometime around 1990, and it always made me sad to see its deteriorating condition.  An overgrown yard.  Broken down cars.  Peeling siding.  In particular, I would always look to see if the basketball goal my dad mounted on the roof of the garage was still there, and amazingly, year after year, it held on.  A couple of years ago, it appeared to be holding on by a thread, dangling from the plywood backboard looking more like a lone gymnastic ring than a basketball goal, but it was still there.

I won many dramatic NCAA and NBA championships on that goal, and I couldn’t tell you how many beautiful cheerleaders fell in love with me in my imagination given my astounding heroic feats on that cracked, cement driveway.  My dad often sat on the porch silently just watching me play.

Well, it finally happened.  The goal is gone now after a good run of forty years or so.  And it made me feel a little older.

But you know, in a sense, even without that old basketball hoop, I still feel like my dad is sitting on the porch watching me, and that provides great comfort.  And, in another sense, I get to take his place on the porch and watch my children live out their dreams in this life, and since he was my first hero, taking his seat is a pretty great thing to do.

Yes, contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

Resurrection

My faith leads me to believe in resurrection, not just as a one-time event but as a truth that can provide hope to any circumstance. This entire blog—Starting to Look Up—is a direct reflection of that idea.

Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which received varying levels of attention throughout the country.  Some of you know that my family experienced Katrina firsthand and have heard more than enough about it from me; however, many of our new friends in California had no idea and have kindly expressed interest.  To the latter, you may be interested to know that I wrote a little journal that described our experiences in the months that followed the storm, and recently, although a bit embarrassed, I published the journal through a print-on-demand outlet–embarrassed in part from not appreciating my grammatical deficiencies until law school made them apparent, but also because I did not clean it up at all, i.e., no editing, no page numbers, etc. But that may be appropriate since the entire Katrina experience was a tad messy.

For a flavor, here is an entry from the book that was published as a letter to the editor in the Sun Herald newspaper for Christmas 2005. Now, in retrospect a decade later, I believe even more strongly in resurrection and ever-present hope.

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

In August 1943, over six decades before Hurricane Katrina, Kim Gannon and Walter Kent copyrighted a song titled, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” That same year Bing Crosby recorded their brand new song, and it became an instant holiday classic. For its first Christmas, it comforted thousands of American homes ripped apart at the hands of the Second World War, but this was only its big beginning. It has comforted many more every Christmas season since.

There is something both mournful and peaceful about the tune and lyrics:

I’ll be home for Christmas / You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe / and presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me / Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams

It plays well in Mississippi this 2005 holiday season, too.

Long ago, I was taught the difference between a house and a home. A house (I learned) has a roof and walls, while a home consists of people. It was a clear distinction. Using these handy definitions of course, the tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents facing the Christmas season displaced from their “houses” should just toughen up and be downright holiday-happy that they can be “home” for Christmas in a tent, or in a trailer courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or even several states away from where their mailbox stood in August.

But I don’t like the definition. Not anymore.

I, for one, think ornaments lovingly handcrafted by sticky three-year-old hands from years gone by are an important part of a home. And I think pictures of Christmases past, with fresh looks of surprise at the sight of a newly-opened presents, are just a downright vital part of a home, too. You can disagree all you want. And I think rarely-seen homemade videos of the last Christmas together before the kids took off for college, and cookbooks with that special recipe for fudge, and that Bing Crosby CD we always listened to on Christmas morning, are all very important ingredients in this wonderful word called “home.”

And this Christmas, thousands upon thousands of these precious ingredients are piled in a landfill somewhere. This is why I think a lot of things about this particular Christmas season sucks. Pardon my French.

Oh, but we’ll make the best of it. There will be downright cute attempts at making a FEMA trailer (of all things) festive. There will be Christmas dinners in hotel rooms and readings of “The Night Before Christmas” with more family members in residence than normal, and important explanations that Santa Claus not only comes down chimneys, but he also comes right through the flap on the tent.

We’ll do our best. And Christmas, believe it or not, will still help us. After all, it revolves around the story of a displaced family living in a barn. And how that story is the birth of hope for the whole world. We need to hear that story most desperately this year.

But in spite of it all – even while considering the very source of hope – we will sing that old Bing Crosby song with extra meaning this year.

Yes, we residents of the Gulf Coast will be home for Christmas, but this year, it will only be in our dreams.