Sunday, February 26, 2017


                My Dad is in the hospital.  It's been four days since he was admitted with what we thought at the time was a mild heart attack.  Since then they have ruled that out, but he has a serious case of pneumonia.  His recovery seems to be slow and difficult.  That is hardly surprising;  Dad is 90 years old.  He hasn't been able to walk in five years, since he broke his hip.  He has Alzheimer's and much of the man that I know and love is already gone.  Yet the thought of losing him tears me to pieces.

                Dad - Ben Smith, as the world knows him - was born in Hemphill, TX on August 30, 1926.  He volunteered to serve in the State Guard as a teenager; in 1942 he even gave directions to a lost and bewildered Colonel named Dwight Eisenhower who had taken a wrong turn during Louisiana maneuvers.  Ben joined the army as soon as he turned 18, eager to take part in the War before it was all over.  He saw a man killed right in front of him during a live fire exercise during Advanced Infantry Training; after that, he was stationed in Hawaii, where his job was guarding Japanese POWs. His unit was scheduled to take part in the second wave of the invasion of Japan - they were told that their survival rate would be about 1 out of every 132.  Only one man out of every hundred and thirty two to hit the beach was expected to survive the invasion without being killed or wounded!  To this day my Dad attributes his survival to President Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb.

                  After the war, Dad came home and went to college on the GI Bill.  He also met and married my mother in June of 1950.  By then Dad had already given up his plans of going into business and had decided to enter the gospel ministry.  He was briefly called up to serve during the Korean War but never posted overseas; my sister Clinta was born during this time.  Two more siblings would follow; my brother Dwain was born in 1954 and my sister Jo came along in 1957.  I was the last of four, born here in Greenville in December of 1963.

                Dad took his call to the ministry seriously.  He served in several small churches throughout East Texas and Louisiana; his longest tenures were at Roxton, TX - from 1956 to 1962, North Baptist Greenville, from 1962 to 1975, and Faith Baptist Quinlan from 1978 to 1988.  He has preached thousands of weddings and funerals, baptized countless converts, conducted revivals, presided over building programs for new churches, and ordained dozens of deacons and ministers.  His motto as a pastor was "Love the people," and he did.  I do not know how many marriages he saved, how many suicides he prevented, how many lives he touched with his humility and compassion and sincere, country wisdom.  My Dad was more than just a preacher, he was a pastor, and a better one than I will ever hope to be.  Anyone can get up in a pulpit and preach a message, my Dad lived his and lives it still, even trapped in the cage of an ever-shrinking mind.  He remains kind, decent, and more concerned about others than about himself to this day.

                Dad has also been a fine husband.  In all my years, growing up and as an adult, I never heard him say a negative word about my mother.  Not that they never disagreed or quarreled; I know they did, but they did so behind closed doors and never let us see them angry at each other.  His devotion to my mother when she suffered health problems or the time when she was badly injured in a car wreck was touching to behold.  In their retirement years, before he injured himself and became immobile, they traveled all over the country, spending months at a time in their RV, especially in their beloved park at Mountain View, Arkansas.  Seeing my mother hover over him during the current crisis has been a stirring reminder of the fact that love ultimately wins, and that "in sickness and in health" actually means something, even in this day and age.  I aspire to be the husband to my wife that my father has been to my mother.

                To me, my Dad was always the biggest, the best, the strongest, and the wisest man on earth.  He could carry me on his huge shoulders when I was worn out from a day's hike, he could work me into the ground when the yard needed tending in the summer, he was a fountain of good advice during the turbulent years of early adulthood, and while he never once tried to intrude into my marriage, he also never withheld his wisdom on the subject when I asked for it - and his advice was nearly always right.

                I remember once, when I was six years old, Dad bought me a rod and reel and took me fishing.  I drew back for a cast, threw my line out as hard as I could, and sent the rod and reel sailing into the water when I didn't grip hard enough.  I sat down on the bank, ready to cry because I had lost my fishing pole.  Dad calmly noted where my rod had sunk into the lake, reeled in his own line, and cast across the spot where my rig had sunk.  He slowly reeled in his hook, and lo and behold! He snagged my pole and reeled it right back in and handed it to me.  From that day forward I would not have been surprised to see my Dad walk on water!

              For ninety years, my Dad has lived a life of courage, decency, devotion to his God and his family, and love for his fellow man.  I do not know how much longer I will have to spend with him, but I do know that he will leave a gaping hole in my heart when he goes on to his reward, and an example I will forever strive to live up to.  Seeing him struggle for breath at the hospital reminded me just how rare and precious our time with our loved ones is, and makes me want to do the most I can with the time I have left.

              Every year I always look hard to find the perfect card for my Dad on Father's Day.  A few years ago, I found one that was perhaps the best summary of how I feel about my father of any I'd ever seen.  It showed a little boy riding on his father's shoulders, as I rode countless times when I was small.  Its inscription was simple and to the point:

                                 "Dear Dad - Loved the view.  Loved You.  Still do."

Get well soon, Dad.  Your little boy still needs you.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


  First of all, it's not even midnight any more, it's like 2:30 AM - more middle of the night than midnight, if you get my drift.  I have no idea what I am going to write about.

    Oh, wait, why am I up so late? you wonder.  Well, my family is taking care of my wife's mom, who is 88 years old and no longer very mobile.  She cannot get out of bed or to the restroom unassisted, so we take turns staying downstairs at night, listening for her bell when she needs something.  During the week, my two adult daughters are paid to look out for her, but on weekends it's time for me and my wife to do our share.  I do Friday nights, she does Saturdays.  So that's why I'm here.

    I had thought about another political rant, but honestly, I'm sick of politics at the moment - and politics is something I normally live and breathe!  But the hatred that pervades both sides of the political aisle right now is so depressing I just don't have the will for it.  Thomas Jefferson said in his inaugural address: "Let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and as capable of bitter and bloody persecutions."  And yet, here we are.  How can we find common ground and move our nation forward when each side is convinced that the other is out to destroy the country?  It is deeply troubling.

    But politics is not the only thing that troubles me in these gloomy hours of the predawn darkness. At 53, my own mortality is staring at me more intently than it once did.  Don't get me wrong - I know that I am not really that old yet.  But the thing is, once you hit your fifties, you can no longer remotely pretend that you are YOUNG.  And I liked being young.  I liked being strong as an ox, with enough stamina to hike the river all day long, come home, grill supper, snuggle with my wife, and do it all again the next day.  Nowadays when I go arrowhead hunting I need a full day to recover, and those river rambles cover a lot less ground than they used to.  Even so, if I could freeze things where they are now, I would be OK with that.  I can still do everything I ever did, even if I do it more slowly these days and am a bit more sore afterwards.  But time waits for no man, and I'll blink and fifties will turn to sixties, and then sixties to seventies.  I don't want to be that old!  My greatest horror is losing my mobility, becoming a burden to my wife and daughters, and living on and on in a debilitated state as my mind and body slowly wither away.  I'd much rather keel over with a heart attack in my sixties or seventies, going out like a light whose switch has been flipped, than linger on into uselessness.  But I don't get to choose, and that is what troubles me.  Death itself holds no fear for me, nor does what comes after death. For all my flaws (and they are many!), I am secure in my faith and confident of my eternal destination.  It's the journey there that scares me!

   What else do I worry about?  Money, of course.  We've never had much of it, our savings are not great, and yet those retirement years are getting closer and closer.  I have a sneaking suspicion that, if my health holds out, I may well be teaching into my seventies or eighties.  But that's actually not a terrible fate - I do love the classroom.  I'd rather strike it rich and buy a nice retirement home on Lake Limestone, but honestly, if I have to live in this house and stay at this job for another twenty-five years, well - the house is paid for and the job is fun.  My kids keep me feeling younger than I really am, and that's a good thing.  But I would like to be able to go to Red Lobster and order the stinkin' lobster without worrying about how I will pay for it, you know?

    Something else I wonder about, here alone, hunched over a keyboard at 3 AM now - why don't my books sell better?  I have three novels in print, two more in the pipeline (LOVER OF GOD releases in April!!), and I'm working on number six.  They are GOOD books - my readers have all loved them, I have 65 Amazon reviews and only one negative one in the bunch.  But my sales rank is still way down in the millions.  I have often said, and I mean it, that I will stack my books alongside any other author in the field of Christian fiction and they'll measure up.  One of the things that inspired me to write, to be honest, was reading a book that hit the Christian fiction best-seller list, and being appalled at just how badly written and researched it actually was.  I thought: "I can do better!"  and I think I have.  But I don't have widespread name recognition, and teaching full time doesn't give me as many opportunities to promote my books as I would like. So there on Amazon they sit, delighting the few who read them - but only a few read them.  I have dreams, of course - every writer does.  THE TESTIMONIUM would make an amazing movie, and THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE could be an epic TV miniseries.  But, so far no studios or screenwriters have called.  But we all need a dream, and runaway literary success is mine.  I'll keep writing if you guys will just keep reading!  Actually, that's a lie.  I'll keep writing anyway.  I'm addicted to storytelling now, there is no going back.

     Speaking of storytelling, I just finished Chapter Five of THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE.  And Chapter Six is beginning to take shape in my head, so perhaps I need to wrap this up and get back to working on my book, whaddaya think?

    Thanks for hanging out and reading my ramblings.  I promise to be more coherent next week.

    You know, something else I wonder.  They make cold pills so you can get some relief when you are sick and weak.  Then they place them in this hardened plastic blister wrap that is a challenge to open, even when you are healthy and strong.  Someone in the pharmaceutical packaging plant is a sadist, I suspect!

    OK, now I'm just babbling.  Till next week!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A DAY IN MY LIFE . . . .

  Because after all, who doesn't want to know the glory and grandeur of a schoolteacher's existence?

  Let's see - a restless night because my wife was leaving for San Antonio this morning, and she kept waking up and remembering something she needed to do - so she'd get up to go do it, and I'd stir and see she wasn't there and wonder if it was time for me to get up, which it finally was on about the third or fourth such awakening.  So I helped her pack up, carry her bags out, get my goodbye smooches and promises of a joyful reunion Saturday night (yes, after 32 years I still hate it when we are separated for more than a day!), and then get my own self combed, shaven, and ready for work. 

   I grab a couple of donuts on the way to school, then come on in and update my board - I keep a countdown of the number or days left in the school year, and a daily quote (this one was from Shakespeare - "Ignorance is the curse of God, while knowledge is the path that leads us to the heavens," I think it reads) on the whiteboard in the front of my room.  Then I track down a couple of students who didn't fill in their History Day entry forms completely and get the data I need from them, and by now the first bell of the day is ringing.

   First period is my Dual Credit U.S. History class.  We are talking about the last years of the Indian Wars today - from the Sand Creek Massacre to Little Bighorn, Chief Joseph, the hunt for Geronimo in the Sierra Madre, and finally the horrors of Wounded Knee and the Dawes Severalty Act.  It's an ugly chapter in American history, and I'm always glad to be done with it - but it does need to be taught.  Part of history is learning from our mistakes.  I do have a little spare time at the end of class, so we begin to talk about the great cattle drives of the 1880's right before the bell rings.

   Next was chapel.  We had a pretty good speaker today; he was preaching out of Proverbs 7 and his topic was "Are you Being Seduced?"  Needless to say, that got the high school students' attention, and he made some good points.  After chapel, it was time for my Freshman World Geography class.  We studied the contemporary issues facing Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, and the Pacific Islands - from ecological and economic problems to the potential impact of global warming - and then we began working on learning the capitols of the countries in this region.

   Third period was my 8th grade U.S. History class - a sharp bunch with some world class wits (as well as one kid named Witt) in it.  We finished up the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, talking about his achievements both as a founder and as a Chief Executive, and trying to figure out if he really belongs in the Top Four or not (I've always found Jefferson a tad overrated, a sentiment some historians are beginning to share).  After we finished the unit, I gave them a take-home test (great way to conserve class time, those are!) and we had a roundtable on some interesting military history questions a couple of the boys asked during the last ten minutes.

   I have a conference period right before lunch, and I had to mail in the entry forms to this year's regional History Day competition.  After running that to the Post Office, I got some Chinese take-out and sat at my desk, eating shrimp fried rice and reading WOUNDED TIGER by T. Martin Bennett, a wonderful biography of Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese aviator who led the Pearl Harbor attacks.  This signed first edition was a gift from a dear friend and former co-worker, and it is an enthralling read!

   After lunch it was time for Texas History, and today we finished up our discussion of the battle of the Alamo.  So many topics to discuss there - did Travis really draw that line in the sand, or was the whole story made up forty years later by William Zuber? Did David Crockett go down swinging, a la John Wayne, or was he captured and executed after the battle, as portrayed in the more recent (and historically accurate, I might add) movie version of the story, filmed in 2004?  Why do the accounts we have of the events differ on so many particulars?  It was a lively session!

    After them, another conference period.  I refilled my Diet Dr. Pepper, graded a few papers, and answered some Emails, and then it was time for World History.  We talked about the French monarchs of the Middle Ages, and then had a lengthy discussion about the Crusades - what they were about, who was involved, and how modern scholars, both Islamic and Western,  have so completely twisted this religious war of the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries out of its historic context that the participants of both sides would probably not recognize the conflict they fought in!

   Last of all comes my favorite class of the day - Modern America!  I created this course last year, but I had been asking permission to teach it for the better part of a decade.  Most U.S. History II survey courses simply don't get much past the Vietnam Era.  There is just too much material to teach, and doing justice to events like the World Wars, the Progressive Movement, and McCarthyism doesn't leave a lot of time for the events of the later twentieth and early twenty-first century.  Modern America class picks up with a broad view of the postwar era, covers the sixties and seventies in some detail, and then really zeroes in on the years from 1980 to the present. Today we were talking about the year 1992, and most of our focus was on the events of that summer and fall - the looming Balkan War, the botched Federal raid on Ruby Ridge that provided so much fodder to anti-government fanatics, and especially the election - how the jack-in-the-box candidacy of Ross Perot impacted the traditional two-man format and played a large role in the victory of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.  But it wasn't all politics and grave world events - we also looked at the best and worst films of 1992, including BATMAN RETURNS (the last good Batman movie until THE DARK KNIGHT), MY COUSIN VINNY, and also a couple of the true turkeys that turned out that year, such as REVENGE OF THE NERDS: THE NEXT GENERATION and CRITTERS 4.

   Ooops! There goes the bell, and the school day is at an end.  I have frozen Red Wheel foods to get home, a Wednesday night church service to get to, and some ghouls to slay in DARK SOULS 3.  But this has been a snapshot of a typical day at my job - just a quick sketch, leaving out much of the banter, goofy jokes, and casual interactions with my students that make it such a joy.  At any rate, now you know a bit more about me.  Feel free to post comments and questions, and - oh, yeah, one more thing -

                                          GO TO AMAZON AND BUY MY BOOKS!!!  ROFL!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tonight - SPECIAL GUEST POST - A Marvelous Bit of Social Satire From a Dear Friend!

    Those of you who read my blog regularly might remember a guest post last summer from my friend Ellie.  She wrote a wonderful essay on the "joy of the Lord" for me then.  Now, if that essay was all you knew about her, you might envision her as a bit of a Christian Pollyana, an unceasingly positive ray of sunshine.  While that might be one part of her personality, I've known this lady for fifteen years and she has a wicked sense of humor, combined with a sarcastic streak a mile wide!  That side of her was in full display in this wonderful bit of satire she sent me last night, and I felt like it really needed to be shared.  So here without further ado, from my friend Ellie, I present . . .

                                February 1st Is Cannibal Rights Awareness Day

February 1st is Cannibal Rights Awareness Day, and I think we can all agree cannibal rights is going to be the next hot button topic!!!

Some facts:
Cannibals can't help the way they are, they're just born that way. It is cruel to make natural-born cannibals "stay in the refrigerator" instead of being supportive of their coming out.

Since many modern cannibals restrict their grazing to those who died of natural causes, they harm no one, but ask yourself, can "free range" cannibals truly be blamed for what they do, when our collective ignorance and lack of acceptance drives them to seek satiation with quickie munching events in sordid back alleys and public restrooms, risking health by eating prostitutes and the homeless? Imagine if you were forced to break into morgues and cemeteries, your breath forever reeking of embalming fluid! Yes, you might be angry too.

Countless young people, who are born as cannibals, find their budding identity squashed by an unfeeling society unschooled in accepting them the way they are. Parents should take the time to sit down with children and ask, "Do you ever yearn for human flesh, and have to settle for raw hamburger as a poor substitute? At lunchtime do you ever feel like maybe you're just 'different' from other children? Have I ever made you feel like maybe it's not all right to eat a person if you really want to? Do overweight people look appetizing? Honey…are you a cannibal? Do you know I’ll love you if you are?"

We should all speak out against cannibal jokes when we hear them, and recoil from bigoted movies that portray cannibalism in a negative light, when cannibals are a natural part of the beautiful rainbow of diversity we all need to embrace.

Are you aware there are as many cannibals out there as red-heads, or that statistically you likely know at least one cannibal yourself? Did you know that President Millard Fillmore was a cannibal, as is Queen Elizabeth II, and popular entertainer Miley Cyrus?

Remember, for every Jeffery Dahmer there is a Ruben Wolensky. Oh, you don't know that name? He was the cannibal who saved half a bus load of nuns and babies from certain death when their vehicle careened off the road into a lake in Florida, but the bigoted media never covered that story, and tragically Ruben died alone and unrecognized at age forty-three without being allowed to eat even a single dead child in the bus wreck where he rescued so many!

 Do you know that cannibalism was celebrated as healthy in Classical Greece and Rome, as evidenced by the murals of Pompeii, and the ancient cannibalistic “consume the body of Christ” ritual which remains unpurged in the Catholic Church? Or that under Jewish custom foreskins are festively donated as chewing gum to cannibal food banks? It’s true!

In closing some questions to ask yourself:
Have I ever told a joke about cannibals or cannibalism? Do I own DVDs that sensationalize this sensitive issue, portraying cannibals as monsters? Mightn't Stephen King's heartbreaking pro-cannibal manifesto "Survivor Type" present a more positive image of this lifestyle? Have you ever considered sharing that story on Facebook, or volunteering to read it during story time at your local library?

 Have I reached out to co-workers and neighbors who might like the occasional finger-lickin' good basket of finger-lickin' good fingers?

What might I do to increase awareness that cannibals don't choose their condition?

Might I be repressing cannibalistic urges myself?

On February 1st, show your support by donating your body, post-mortem, to feed a hungry cannibal, or perhaps convince an elderly loved-one to do the same. At the very least, proudly fly the blood red flag of cannibal pride, or maybe try a cannibal dinner one day out of the year: its low in carbohydrates, and afterward you can let your children see who gets the biggest half of the wishbone.

It's time we ended all forms of hatred in America and beyond. On February 1st go out and hug a cannibal. Or better yet, donate an organ to stop hunger!
NOTE:  If any of the above offends you, remember that I didn't write it, OK?  ;-)