Tuesday, December 31, 2019


    Has it really been twenty years since the calendar rolled over from 1999 to 2000?  I remember as a kid thinking just how far off and futuristic the year 2000 sounded.  Then, when it finally got here, the big discussion was, what do you call the first decade of a new century?  I mean, "The 2000's" sounds like it should refer to an entire century, not a single decade.  "The Oughties"?  Who even uses "ought" for zero any more?  By the time you explain it to a teenager, you've forgotten what it was you were going to say about the decade.  And, before we figured out how to refer to that troublesome collective that stretched from 2000 to 2009, the decade ended and saved us the trouble of giving it a name. 

   But then the next one started, and we all more or less agreed that it could be called the "Twenty-teens." Never mind that it sounded more like a group of people in life's most attractive and annoying age grouping than a ten year period on the calendar, at least we had some consensus!  But the thing is, neither of these decades really felt like they were part of a whole new century to me.  I still found myself thinking, well, in twentieth century terms - despite the fact that not a single one of my current high school students this year was even born in the nineties.  No wonder they think I am old!

    But now here we are in the Twenties.  It's no longer a new century, it's old enough to vote and nearly old enough to (legally) drink now!  The Twenties . . . that just blows my mind.  My Dad, father-in-law, and mother-in-law were all born in the Nineteen-twenties - and now I will have to say it that way to avoid confusing my students.  Time, that crazy, elastic, all-consuming fire that burns our lives away so much faster than we want it to, has done its magic trick again.  The twenty-first century has come of age.  The decade that began a century ago was remembered as "The Roaring Twenties," with Prohibition, gangsters, Model T's, flappers, jazz, "moonshiners," the first movie stars, and the golden age of radio.  How will historians remember this new decade that dawns tonight?  Will it be the "Yelling Twenties"?  The "Snowflake Twenties?"  "The Trumpster Twenties?"  Or will history take one of its screaming left turns and leave this decade with a nickname that none of us can foresee tonight, as we sit here imbibing our beverage of choice and listening to the fireworks outside?  No one knows, but if this blog and I are still going a decade from now, feel free to check in and we'll discuss it!

   But it's customary on this occasion to look back as well as forward.  So I would like to say a few words in fond memory of our recently departed friend, 2019, and then perhaps drop in an unofficial obituary for the entire decade of the - say it with me now! - Twenty-teens. 

    The biggest thing I will remember about 2019 is that it was a year of difficult goodbyes.  In January my friend Randy Daw, the man who invited me on that marvelous 2016 trip to Israel (scroll back to the entries for March of that year to read all about it), died suddenly of complications from brain cancer.  Randy was a beloved pastor, a talented musician, and a joyful soul whose departure left a big hole in our community.  Then in April my sweet cat, Fortuna, the only cat I ever raised from the time he was a tiny kitten, had to be put to sleep after a run-in with a car left his digestive system paralyzed.  I never thought I would be as attached to any pet as I was to my dear "Tuna Kitty," and holding him while the vet administered that final injection was the hardest thing I have ever done.  In May, I bid hale and farewell to my boss, Steve Bowers, who left Greenville Christian School after 9 happy years to take on a new job at a small school in rural Kansas.  Steve was a wonderful leader during his tenure at GCS, and the easiest boss I have ever worked for.  More than that, he was and is my friend, and even though his successor, Mark Reisner, is doing a fine job, I do miss Steve's corny sense of humor and his willingness to laugh at my jokes no matter how dumb they were.

    The hardest goodbye came in June, when my sweet, godly mother, Laura Jean Smith, went to be with my Dad in heaven.  Mom had just turned 87 and had enjoyed good health for nearly all of her life.  She was diagnosed with cancer in January and given five to six months to live; the doctor's prognosis proved grimly accurate - but the silver lining on that cloud of sorrow was that the other part of the diagnosis also proved correct - Mom had little to no pain, right up to the end, and was able to get out and enjoy life with her four children right up to her final month.  Her eighty-seventh birthday party in May was attended by the whole family, and she enjoyed being with us all the more because she knew it would be our last celebration with her on this earth.

    November brought a different kind of goodbye, as my daughter Rebecca (the younger of the two by six minutes) walked down the aisle to marry her longtime sweetheart Joseph Reyes.  She moved with him to Fort Bliss in El Paso, where he serves our country as a young soldier.  So now our nest is half empty, and Rachel will be taking her own walk to matrimony in March.  I've heard about the "empty nest" for the last decade or so; it will finally be our time to experience it!

    But 2019 brought a lot of positive accomplishments and new challenges with it as well.  For the first time since I began writing in 2012, I finished a novel manuscript and was not offered a publication contract for it.  I get it; publishing is a business and my last release, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, underperformed badly (despite being, IMO, one of the best stories I have ever written).  Undaunted, I decided to branch out and write a story in a completely different genre, set in a time period that I have long studied but never written about, the early nineteenth century.  As I write this, PRESIDENT HAMILTON: A NOVEL OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, is about three or four chapters short of completion, and has been a wonderfully fun project, taking me in directions I never intended to go.  2019 was also the year that I made my first ever visit to New York City, and returned to Washington DC for the first time since I was twelve years old. Both these milestones took place in a single journey, as I was a sponsor for the class of 2019's Senior Trip.  Gallivanting around the Big Apple with a crazy crew of 18-year-olds was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time, and it was also a chance to bond with a very special group of young men and young ladies one last time before seeing them venture out into the world.  Later that summer, Patty and I went on a trip to Galveston, TX together, and spent three wonderful days on the beach, enjoying the sun, the surf, and each other, delighted to be away from home together again.  2019 was also the first year in a long time that I not only did not pastor a church, but actually had no church responsibilities at all - no Sunday School class, no Praise Team, no VBS, or anything else.  However, after church-hopping for over a year, Patty and I both were looking for a place to settle, so in October we found a new church home, First Baptist Church in Campbell, Texas, and I have a funny feeling that a Sunday School class probably lies in my near future.  All in all, 2019 was a difficult year, but it was also a wonderful one.  Thanks for the memories, oh departed arbitrary time division!

     Now as I enter 2020, I want to also take a look back over the entire decade that began 10 years ago in 2010.  At that time I was still in my 40's and had two kids in high school; I had just accepted the pastorate of a small house church in Lone Oak, TX, and was supplementing my teaching income by raising goats and buying and selling Indian artifacts on eBay.  Over the next decade I would -

* Become a published author, writing six books and seeing five of them into print through a wonderful independent publisher, Electio Publishing.
* Get my lifetime teaching certificate from the Association of Christian Schools International, which means I will never have to worry about keeping track of CEU's (Continuing Education Units, the bane of every private school teacher's existence) again!
* Go through my first church split as a pastor, and also preside over my first-ever purchase of a new church building
* Find a ton of nice Indian artifacts, and also quit selling any of my personal finds (the good points are just too few and far between to give up!)
* See both my daughters graduate high school, enroll in college, start dating, get engaged, and see one of them get married
* Meet a lot of new friends and deepened my relationships with some of the old ones
* Speak at the funerals of both my Mom and my Dad
* Celebrate my 35th wedding anniversary
* Make a wonderful trip to Israel and visit dozens of sites mentioned in the Bible
* Go on two Senior Trips, one with my daughters' class to Disneyworld, and then the other one last spring, that I described above.
*  Go on a diet two years ago and drop nearly 50 pounds, and manage to keep most of that weight off!

   All in all, it's been a good year and a good decade in my life.  I am grateful for my wife, my family, my friends old and new, some close by and some far, far away.  I am blessed in more ways than I can count and vexed in only a few.  So as all of you ring in 2020, I hope the new year finds you at least as happy as it finds me!  Bring on the Twenties - we're ready!!!

   Oh, one more thing - since my last book underperformed a bit, maybe you'd like to help its sales rank by ordering a copy or three.  Here's the Amazon link; your support would be greatly appreciated (and it really is a fantastic story!!).


Tuesday, December 24, 2019


   It's been a very different sort of Christmas this year at the Smith household.  My family held their big gathering Saturday down in Houston, since a majority of us scattered Smith siblings and offspring now reside in that area.  Patty and I weren't able to make it for a variety of reasons, mainly because travel is becoming increasingly difficult for us given our responsibilities as caregivers.  Then my daughter Rebecca is now gone from the nest, living with her husband Joseph in El Paso, so our house is a little more empty than in previous years.  On top of that there is the matter of  sickness - I've had a nagging cough for several weeks now that I can't quite shake, and my poor wife has had pinkeye, asthma, and bronchitis going on for two weeks now - one thing gets better and the other gets worse, it seems!  So, with all this in mind, we have no big gathering planned tomorrow, no host of company coming over, just us four here at home quietly celebrating among ourselves.  It would be easy to feel melancholy about this year's lack of shared cheer.

    But then I reflect, in the words of my favorite musical, "how lucky we are to be alive right now!" We have been most richly blessed in more ways than I can count.  Despite mild seasonal illnesses, we both remain in solid health overall.  I just turned 56, but I have the blood pressure of a teenager and I can still put in a full day hiking on the river and keep up with guys half my age.  I'm still married to my high school sweetheart, and after 35 years we still love each other, and more importantly, we LIKE each other.  We just went to see the last movie of the STAR WARS saga in the theater together in the same town where we saw the first movie in the series 42 years ago, as a couple!  We've raised two beautiful daughters who are loving, big-hearted, and fun to be around.   We have a wonderful church home, we both enjoy our jobs, and we have food in the fridge, presents under the tree, and a roof over our heads.  As an author, I have published five novels in five short years, and have a head full of stories waiting to be told yet!

    So as I sit here on Christmas Eve, thinking about what has gone before and what lies ahead, I think about all my friends and the people who matter to me, some of whom have far more reason to be melancholy than I do.  I think of one of my very closest friends, whom I will not name here, separated from her kids and her husband while serving our country on the far side of the world, and I pray for her safe return.   I think of my favorite artifact-hunting partner, battling serious illness and trying his best to live life to the fullest despite his daily battle with pain, and pray for his health to improve.  I think of the precious family in my school whose eleven year old son is fighting for his life against childhood leukemia (#prayfortrevor!), and I pray that this will be the year their lives return to normal.  Despite their woes, each one of these precious people has taken the time to celebrate this remarkable season of the year with good cheer and brave hearts, which makes my grousing earlier today about "the worst Christmas ever" ring pretty hollow in my own ears.

    Most of all, I think about the remarkable event that we celebrate during this season.  You see, two thousand years ago history was torn asunder as the Creator of the Universe stepped down to earth and took on human form.  As the Apostle John put it, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  I believe that - every word of it.  I've been laughed at for my faith on more than one occasion; I've been ridiculed and told that I was brainwashed into belief as a child.  I've been told that I am incapable of rational thought because of the simple fact that I believe in God.  But none of that matters to me.  I am a historian, a scholar of the past, a student of antiquity.  I believe that the Jesus of the Gospels IS the Jesus of history, and I believe that He did what the Gospels say He did and that He was who the Gospels say He was.   That belief has sustained me throughout my adult life and will sustain me till the day I die!

     Everyone shares their faith in different ways.  While I have served as a pastor and a teacher for many years, I believe my greatest gift is the gift of storytelling.  So whether I am sharing the Christmas story from the pulpit, or talking about the Crucifixion in front of my World History class (at a Christian school, I might add!), or writing about the adventures of a fictional crew of Biblical archeologists, or re-telling the story of Christianity's early years from the perspective of a jaded Roman bureaucrat, my faith permeates everything I do, and is interwoven into every story that I tell.  Because what I believe IS who I am. Because I believe, not just in "the Spirit of Christmas," but in the One whose birth we celebrate this season.

   So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whether you are at home or far away, whether you are with your loved ones in the flesh or in spirit only, whether you are well or ill, I want to take this chance to wish you and yours a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, from our house to yours, in the name of the CHRIST we celebrate today.

    May all your days be merry and bright.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Sneak Peek at my Newest Novel, PRESIDENT HAMILTON!

    I've been working on this story for almost a year now and it is turning into a true alternative historical epic! So here is a sneak peek for all you faithful readers, and especially for you HAMILTON fans:

The year is 1811. In this chapter, President Hamilton visits the state of North Carolina, even as the United States has been sucked into a war with Spain over the  Florida territory.  While there, he is called on to give an oration on the Fourth of July, 35 years after the Declaration was signed.  He uses the opportunity to push for his program of voluntary emancipation for the slaves of the South:

                                           CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

          Hamilton stayed in Raleigh until the Fourth of July, at Governor Smith’s request. An endless series of balls and parties were given in his honor, and when he was not being serenaded by bands and politely declining requests to dance, the President took the time to meet with as many members of the North Carolina legislature as possible.  He sounded them out individually on the topic of emancipation and found that many were still considering their positions.  Always charming, ready with a smile and a quip, a legal precedent, or a passionate argument – depending on his audience – Hamilton exercised his years of political savvy and considerable powers of persuasion to move them in his direction, as once, long ago, he had pleaded, cajoled, and bargained New York’s reluctant legislature to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

          He had agreed to stay in town long enough to deliver an oration on the Fourth of July, and then was heading south to the Cape Fear river, whence he would catch a ride on a special barge the governor had commissioned for him down to Wilmington, and from there he would take ship to Charleston, South Carolina.  He was anxious to get closer to the border where word of military developments could reach him sooner, but he also wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to speak to the citizens and lawmakers of North Carolina on the emancipation issue.

          By the time the Fourth rolled around, word of his presence had spread throughout the state, and a crowd of nearly ten thousand gathered on the Capitol grounds to hear him address the assembled dignitaries there – governors past and present, most of the state’s congressional delegation, and the entire state legislature were seated before the special platform that had been erected on the capitol building’s front steps.  The state militia passed in a military review, and Hamilton returned the crisp salutes of the soldiers with great affection.  A select group of Revolutionary War veterans, mostly now in their fifties and sixties, marched by under the banners they had carried during the war.  Hamilton saw a few familiar faces in that crowd; he did his best to make eye contact and give an individual wave or shouted greeting to each man he knew.  It was a hot day, but there was a pleasant breeze and the humidity had dropped enough that the heat was much more bearable than the previous week.

          Governor Smith spoke first, and he paid a moving tribute to the spirit of American independence, and then he saluted the veterans of the Revolution who were in attendance.  Finally, he spoke glowingly of Hamilton:

          “For the second time in our state’s history, it is our honor to welcome the President of our United States to our capitol!  On the thirty-fifth anniversary of our nation’s independence, we salute this unparalleled patriot, a courageous warrior for liberty in both peace and war, the architect of America’s prosperity, President Alexander Hamilton!”

          Alex stood and bowed as the applause of the crowd washed over him.  For a moment, his mind flashed back to his childhood; he recalled his hardscrabble upbringing on the streets of Nevis, his relief when his mother had relocated them to a much better home on St. Croix, and the devastation that had overwhelmed him when she fell ill and died.  He remembered the terrifying hurricane that swept the island when he was a teen, the horizontal rain lashing his skin and the roof of their house being ripped off by the storm’s raw power.  The essay he had written about the storm for the Royal Danish American Gazette had first brought him to public notice and had generated the wave of public sympathy that had eventually sent a penniless orphan to New York to get an education – and that was where his odyssey began.  Now it had brought him here, as President of the United States, about to address a vast crowd of people on the anniversary of the independence that he had helped win for his adopted country.  It was so overwhelming that Alex simply stood there for a moment, blinking as the applause continued.  He looked down at the carefully prepared speech he had labored on for a month, and then folded it and put it in his pocket.

          “My friends,” he began; “fellow citizens, patriots, noble veterans of the Revolution, volunteers of the North Carolina militia, and Americans all;  I cannot express to you the honor I feel for being accorded the opportunity to stand here before you today.  I have always prided myself in my ability to craft appropriate words for any occasion, and I had labored long and hard on a speech to share with you today.  But I have decided, instead of reading prepared remarks, to simply address you from my heart.  Thirty-five years ago on this day, the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson were adopted by the Continental Congress, informing the world that a new nation had been born, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the noble idea that all men are created equal, and that our rights and liberties are not a gift of government, but rather our divine inheritance from the God who made us.”

          The crowd rose to its feet, applauding again as he paused for a moment.  When they resumed their seats, he continued.

          “I was a lad of twenty years when I heard those words for the first time,” he said.  “I had already made the decision to take up arms to defend the rights of a nation where I had barely resided for a year but already come to love.  Even as we struggled and fought and killed for this notion of a nation that we had only begun to build, I knew that America, as deeply as I loved her, did not fully live up to the noble creed which we had declared to be our founding principle.  Perhaps this was what Thomas Jefferson intended all along, I have come to realize – that the words of the Declaration were not a statement of a goal realized, or a mission accomplished, but rather a quest, an ongoing experiment to refine and build upon the foundation of liberty that was laid on the Fourth of July in that glorious year of 1776!”

          The crowd applauded again, and the assembled veterans joined in with loud huzzahs.  Hamilton nodded in appreciation, and then continued.

          “We live in an age of marvels, an age where reason has put superstition to flight, an age where men can still acknowledge the sovereignty of the Almighty and yet recognize that He has gifted us with an  extraordinary measure of free will, the power to shape and alter this world we live in – the right to change our course in order to more fully embrace the spark of divinity God placed within each of us! We can now embrace our God-given intellect and appreciate our God-given freedom more fully than any generation in the history of mankind!  We have harnessed the power of steam to drive boats against the wind and current, Doctor Franklin showed us how to capture the essence of lightning, and who knows what marvels await as we continue to explore the full extent of the gifts God has blessed us with?  The children of the nineteenth century will see change on a scale that our fathers could only dream of!”

          “Yet, despite our remarkable achievements in the arts, in science, in technology and invention, we are still a primitive people in one aspect – we deny liberty to our fellow men in the name of profit!  How can we truly call ourselves free when we buy and sell men, women, and children at the auction block?  How can we hold ourselves worthy of God’s love when we violate the very Golden Rule taught by our Savior Himself?  I would never want to be a slave, so I have committed to never owning a slave.  What I would ask on the Fourth of July is for the people of North Carolina to embrace this idea of liberty as well – that we are only deserving of freedom when we grant it to those we hold in our power.”

          There was some scattered applause, and a few jeers, but most of the crowd kept their silence, Hamilton pressed his point, hoping that the silence meant that some, at least, were considering his appeal.

          “I have heard the arguments in favor of slavery passionately made by men who truly believe them to be true,” he said.  “I have heard how slavery benefits the benighted sons of Africa by exposing them to the twin lights of Christianity and civilization; how the sick and elderly among slaves are lovingly cared for by their kind masters; how labor gives purpose and dignity to a life that would otherwise be spent in squalor and pagan misery.  I have heard that the slave in the South is better off than the mill worker in the North, who has no guarantee of care or compassion in the event of sickness.  I do not doubt the integrity or sincerity of the men who make these arguments, but I would pose a question to them, a simple inquiry that cuts to the heart of the inherent flaw in their position:  Have any of them ever been a slave?”

          “If slavery is as benevolent and beneficial as its defenders make it out to be, why do not poor Southerners, suffering in economic distress during hard times, ever once volunteer to become slaves?  And why do those who are held in bondage constantly seek to regain their liberty, knowing the penalties that await them if they are recaptured?  If freedom is as dangerous and fraught with peril as the slaveholders claim it to be, why do slaves constantly risk all to gain it?  If slaves are happy and content in their state of bondage, then why has every plantation in Virginia which has adopted my plan of emancipation seen its productivity increase, and its rate of desertion drop from what it was in the days of the lash and the bloodhound?  And let me ask the single most important question of all – would any of you, my friends and fellow citizens, volunteer to become a slave?  Is there any inducement that could compel you to place yourself on the auction block to become another man’s property?  Of course not!  Then why, if none of us would ever choose to be a slave, should we choose to inflict that condition on others?”

          “North Carolina stands on the brink, my friends, of a momentous decision. While I know some here in the South have accused me of tyranny, of coveting other men’s property, and even of outright theft, the fact is that they are wrong.  As I recently told an elderly black man who stands on the brink of emancipation, I too have a master whose will binds me.  That master is an idea, a concept, a set of principles and rules embodied in the United States Constitution. Although it is the fondest wish of my heart that every man in America be free, I will not force a single person to give up his slaves against his will.  It is rather up to you, the people of North Carolina, and the legislators that you have elected, to make the momentous decision.  Will you rise up, and help America live out the meaning of its creed?  Will you take a stand for liberty and justice?  Will you see your children and children’s children guaranteed to enjoy the blessings of liberty, granted to us by Almighty God?  Or will you bequeath to them the whip and chain and the auction block as their inheritance?  The choice is yours, but I would ask you today, as we celebrate the liberty we won at our blood’s expense, at the loss of so many good men, from our own British masters, to strike a blow for liberty!  Help America rise up and truly embrace the creed that we fought a Revolution to establish.  Rise up, as free men, and share the gift of freedom with those who labor among us.  Sow the seeds of hope and future prosperity for ourselves and our children, and they will rise up and call you blessed.”

          The crowd surged to its feet, and cheers enveloped the President. He looked at the sea of joyous faces and realized that he had won.  Oh, there were still a few scowls scattered among the crowd, but the vast majority were applauding his sentiments, and the legislators behind him were taking note.  God willing, another Southern state would emancipate its slaves by the end of the year. 

          He knew that South Carolina would be a much harder sale to make – its slaves were more numerous, its planters more conservative and aristocratic, and its people more dependent on slave labor.  He doubted that the state would ever voluntarily free its Negroes, but perhaps he could win a few souls over during his visit; perhaps a small handful of planters would embark on the experiment of paid labor, and if they did, perhaps the example of prosperity they set would encourage others.  Eliminating slavery in the deep South would be a generational project, and Alex prayed that future Presidents would continue to work at it as hard as he had.

          The applause began to die down, and Alex stared out at the crowd, smiling at their enthusiasm.

          “My friends, you have filled my heart with gladness today. State legislators, I pray that you will take note of the enthusiasm for liberty that has been expressed here this morning when you take up the Emancipation Bill in your next session. To all who have listened to me today, and to all who are not here, but will read what I have said in the newspapers, I ask you to calmly and rationally consider the proposal before you.  In giving freedom to the slave, you will ensure freedom to your posterity.  Now, as we celebrate the Independence of our great nation on this Fourth of July, let us lift our hearts in appreciation of the gift of God that is freedom!  I thank you for the privilege of standing before you today, for the enormous honor that has been granted me, to lead this great nation of ours.  May God bless you all and may His face shine with favor on the United States of America!”

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


    I haven't written here much lately; the fall of 2019 has been unusually busy.  For my literary fans; I am still writing!   I have been pecking away at my latest novel, PRESIDENT HAMILTON; it seems every time I get closer to a conclusion another plot twist inserts itself and I have to add another chapter or two. That's the thing about changing history - it's hard to know when to stop!  Changing one thing changes everything; as I constantly remind my students, history turns on tiny hinges.  But the story is progressing nicely and should hopefully be done by Christmas, or at least by the end of the year.

     What else?  Of course, my teaching job keeps my pretty busy most of the time.  This fall I have five courses that meet every day and one that meets two days a week, plus I am teaching a night class at the local community college on top of that. I teach 7th grade Texas History, 8th grade U.S. History, 9th grade World Geography, 10th grade World History, 11th grade dual credit American History, and a course I created a few years back simply called "Modern America" - it's a survey of pop culture, history, sports, and politics from the 1970's to the present.  I came up with this class because, like virtually every college history instructor I know, it's really hard to cram in everything from Reconstruction to the Present in a single semester.  Most college instructors I know rarely get past the fifties; in a good year I'll get to Watergate - but that still leaves around 45 years of history untaught.  Modern America covers the gap, so I make sure that my high school kids graduate knowing about everything from Iran/Contra to 9/11, from the first Star Wars movie to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.  I have a ton of fun teaching this course.  This spring I will be adding 12th grade U.S. Government to the schedule; it's always fun teaching government in an election year, and we'll get to track the primary elections first hand and enjoy watching some of the debates.

    Besides writing and  teaching, my wife Patty and I have found a new church home at First Baptist, Campbell, TX.  After spending almost 25 years in the pastorate, it is a relief to just be a church member again.  Patty plays for the Praise Team, and I have been asked to share a couple of Sunday morning messages by Bro. Danny, our pastor.  But both of us are involved only to the extent that we choose to be; it's nice to know that someone else is in the hot seat for a change!  The folks here are friendly, and the church is just the right size for me - they run around 50 people a Sunday.  Not too big, not too small.  From the very first time we visited it just felt like home.

   But the main reason that I haven't written here much lately is because of the gigantic, life-changing, home-rearranging, bank-account-emptying event that now looms less that two weeks away: MY DAUGHTER IS GETTING MARRIED! 

   Patty and I had twin girls in 1994, Rachel and Rebecca.  Both girls eschewed dating in high school and then acquired boyfriends the year after they graduated.  Both girls stuck with the first guys they dated.  And now both girls are getting married!  Rebecca will walk the aisle and become Mrs. Joseph Reyes a week from this Saturday, on Nov. 30, and wedding preparations have kept the whole house hopping!  Joseph is on active duty in the U.S. Army and is stationed in El Paso, TX.  Rebecca will be moving out there with him right after the wedding, setting up housekeeping in a nice offbase apartment.  Rachel will be marrying her beau, Shawn Grantham, in March and they are looking for a place here in Greenville.

   It's a true season of change for Patty and me.  Both girls have never lived anywhere but home, and knowing Rebecca will move out in two weeks and then Rachel following her in March has thrown us both into a tizzy!  All the usual wedding preparations and accompanying stress are underway; and in addition to seeing both of our girls finally launched from the nest comes the responsibility now thrust upon us of finding home caregivers for my aged mother-in-law.  It's been a busy, stressful time this fall, and the next two weeks are going to be absolutely crazy!  But, that being said, it's also exciting, as change always is.  We will find a way to move on, to take care of the things and people we need to take care of, and continue facing life together as we have done now for nearly 35 years.

   No one knows what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.  With faith in God and confidence in each other, we continue to move forward.

 I'll keep you posted as to how things work out.


Friday, October 18, 2019


       As we wrap up the first quarter of the school year, and begin the tedious task of filling out our student's report cards, all teachers hit that moment when they open the "Comments" box and have to come up with a way to tell Mom and Dad that their precious little Johnny (or Janey) is either not performing quite up to academic snuff, or perhaps could use some serious behavior modification.  That is when the age-old dilemma sets in - exactly how HONEST do I want to be?  There is a fine line between acknowledging the seriousness of a child's problems and being hauled into the administrator's office to face a  firestorm of parental ire.  So, this post is especially for all of you newer teachers who may not be quite sure exactly where that line falls.  Here are the top ten comments that you NEVER, EVER want to use on a student's report card!

10. "Dumber than a box of rocks!"  OK, this is just clearly out of bounds, even if, in the heat of being told that Genghis Khan killed John F. Kennedy, you might want to say it.  And, you can't pretty it up by substituting "a bag of hammers" or "a bowl of potato salad."

9.  "Obnoxious little twerp!"  Again, you may occasionally feel this way, but really, ya JUST CAN'T SAY IT!!!  (And, again, substituting other words for "twerp" doesn't make it acceptable.  Instead, focus on what needs improving: "Johnny needs to learn not to put boogers in Suzie's hair!" or something like that.)

8.  "This student should go far.  Australia would be a good start!"  OK, this one begins in an acceptable fashion, but the second half spoils it.  Jut think that part.

7.  "Did you drop him on his head as a baby?"   First of all, if the parent actually DID do this, they probably feel incredibly guilty and bringing it up is not a good idea!  And, if they didn't, they will resent both what it says about their parenting AND their child's abilities.  This one will get you hauled before the principal for sure. 

6.  "Have you considered home schooling your child?  You're really missing out not seeing him every day."  Nice try.  The kid is in your classroom so the parents can A.  Work to earn a living, and B. Not have to deal with the stuff that made you ask this question!

5.  "I hear that XYZ School down the road is much better equipped than we are to deal with Janey's unique learning style."  OK, this is classic buck passing, and parents will see through it in a minute!  Not only that, your administrator will NOT appreciate your trying to reduce enrollment, and XYZ School probably has a little Janey of their own that they will lob in your direction in a heartbeat if you send them yours!

4.  "Are you SURE Johnny is related to his older sister?"  Yeah, we all have those families where the big brother/sister is one of those overachievers that make us feel like Mr. Chips, but then their younger sibling makes you contemplate the joys of early retirement, or maybe even homelessness.  Again, parents resent the implication.  Just snag one of his fingernail clippings and send it off for a DNA test if you really want to know!

3.  "Perhaps Johnny needs a new hobby to work off some of that energy - maybe alligator wrestling or cliff diving in Sri Lanka?"  Chances are they've already got him doing a few of those things; if not, they're not going to sign him up just because you suggested it!

2.  "This semester, Janey has reached rock bottom and appears to be renting a jackhammer to dig even further."  OK, this is a bit more acceptable than some of the above, but you might want to dress it up a little bit.  No parent likes to be told their kid has dug a hole they have no hope of climbing out of!


1.  "Theoretically speaking, of course, how much would you miss him, really?"

Some things are better thought than spoken.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


      Yesterday, for the twenty-fourth time since being hired on as a history teacher at Greenville Christian School, I loaded up my junior high history class and headed out with a gaggle of parent drivers convoyed up behind me towards the North Sulphur River.  For those who don't live here in North Texas, the Sulphur is a large, artificially channeled river bed.  Once a winding East Texas creek, looping all over the bottom like an epileptic snake, in 1928 local farmers got tired of the Sulphur overflowing its banks and drowning their crops every year.  So they hired the Army Corps of Engineers to come in and straighten the river, cutting a smooth, straight channel for over 40 miles to help the rich bottomland drain faster and spare their crops.  Of course, when you straighten flowing water, you also speed it up, and when flowing water speeds up, it erodes the banks faster and carries more debris downstream.  The channel that was completed in 1929 was about 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep in the middle.  Today, the North Sulphur Channel is about a hundred yards wide at the top - wider in places - and it cuts down through 30 to 40 feet of topsoil, Pleistocene clay, and Cretaceous ocean floor.  It gets deeper and wider every year as the floods carry more and more bank and river bottom away.
    What was an absolute disaster for soil conservation proved to be a wonderful boon to those of us who collect fossils and Indian arrowheads.  Thousands of Native American points, knives, and tools have fallen into the river and been deposited on the gravel bars that cover its bottom over the years. Many have been recovered by collectors, but many remain to be found.  Fossil bones and shells from a variety of upper Cretaceous marine fauna, ranging from the fearsome fifty foot long mosasaurs to giant oysters and tiny seaworms, are also scattered throughout the gravel.  To the searcher with sturdy boots, a keen eye, and the patience to focus on staring at rocks for hours on end, the quest is nearly always rewarded with something amazing.

    Of course, more importantly for 7th graders, the river is also swarming with frogs, baby ribbon snakes, the occasional turtle, and lots of that lovely and mysterious substance that somehow finds its way onto skin, hair, and clothing during the course of the day - MUD!  I have watched 7th graders find lots of cool things over the years - fossilized shark's teeth, mosasaur vertebrae, Indian arrowheads, mastodon enamel, you name it - but the one thing they seemingly ALL find is a way to get completely coated in mud!  They scoop it, throw it, roll in it, get stuck in it, and do everything but EAT it! 
   Every Sulphur River trip is different.  Last year, the river was just coming off of a 30 foot rise, and there was only one set of tracks ahead of us.  The gravel had been thoroughly tumbled, and the river bottom ripped up and redeposited.  We found eight mosasaur vertebrae, five arrowheads, and dozens of other bits of bone, teeth, shells.  Every student went home with something! Water was flowing freely, and the kids got muddy but were able to wash it off in the flowing stream.  It was one of the most successful river trips in recent history - and I had my friend and videographer, Holly Rice, along to chronicle the day.  You can see the video footage from that day on my YouTube channel here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbZoE8p1m8E

   Of course, I doubt anything will ever equal the field trip I took back in 1997.  Conditions were dreadful, it had been a dry summer and only one small rise had happened since school started.  The water had just come up a couple of feet, enough to put a thick coat of mud on top of the gravel bars and make it that much harder to spot fossils!  But then I happened to look in one of the small flowing water channels between the gravel bars, and just enough bottom had been peeled up to expose a complete Mosasaur skull just coming up out of the shale!  I screamed myself silly that day, and with the help of one student and a couple of parents, I dug up the entire skull and hauled it out of the river before sunset!  I don't have any video footage from that day, but you can see the skull and hear me tell the whole story of finding it at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7Z28c2LdbE&t=17s

   Yesterday's trip was unique.  Conditions weren't great - the river hasn't had a solid rise big enough to turn over the bottom since early July.  The gravel bars were covered with weeds and grass burrs, but the last rain had put just enough water in the river to rinse things off a bit.  There were footprints everywhere; many, many hunters had scoured the gravel ahead of us. But no one can find everything; we started finding small fossils almost right away, and by the end of the day we had picked up an impressive collection of shark's teeth, one mosasaur tooth, one arrowhead and one preform, numerous invertebrate fossils, and many small fragments of fossilized bone.

   But the thing that will stand out in my memory from this trip was the SNAKES!  Right away when we got there, I spotted a small ribbon snake that had grabbed a frog in its mouth as I entered the river.  I grabbed it and it spat out the frog, and I showed it to all my students and posed for pics before letting it go.  Then I caught a small banded water snake not five minutes later, and after that it was on.  Eight snakes, two water snakes and six ribbon snakes, were caught before the day was out.  It got to the point that the kids would holler: "Here's another snake, Mr. Smith" and I'd holler back: "Is it striped and little?" and when they said "Yes!" I'd say "Then you can go ahead and play with it!"  One girl, named Avery, caught a baby ribbon snake and carried it around with her for over an hour, naming it "Salazar" and planning to take him home and keep him.  Their relationship tragically ended when Salazar got tired of being carried and nipped her on the hand; it didn't break the skin but she did get the message and released him.  Junior high romances rarely last!!

    All in all, it was another memorable trip.  We got back to the bridge, and the kids changed into dry clothes (under the careful supervision of chaperons of the same gender!), and then we posed for pictures in front of a bit of graffiti that's now been painted on the bridge for a decade or more - some optimistic soul wrote: "Meagan, prom?" and someone else - possibly Meagan - wrote a huge "NO!!" next to it.  I now have eight straight years of pictures of my kids posing by that painted exchange. They are all hilarious!

   And of course, the favorite part of the trip for the kids AND sponsors is the stop for burgers on the way home.  Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy Store serves hamburgers and fries (good ones, too!), plus some of the best ice cream in Texas.  The kids chowed down and the weary chaperons joined them, happy that another year's worth of memories had been successfully made.  Best of all, we got back to school at 3:10 - five minutes before the bell that marks the end of the school day!

    Over the last twenty-four years, many students have come and gone through my classroom, and many wonderful and fun memories have been made.  But the one day that they all remember, long after they graduate, is the day of the Sulphur River trip.  Speaking of which, only 364 days or so till I take the next batch of kids up there . . . .

Monday, September 16, 2019

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL . . . (Confessions of a Cowboy Fan)

   Aaah, September!  The weather begins to cool off a bit from the brutal heat of a Texas summer (at least, it should by the end of the month - it was still 96 degrees outside today!), students are back in the groove of a new school year, Friday night lights blaze across Texas, and Dallas Cowboys fans do their best to convince themselves that THIS will be the year.  Finally, after an exile that has stretched over two decades and change, Dallas will return to the Superbowl, and we will be able to relive the glory days of Troy and Emmett and Michael, when playoff appearances were guaranteed and championships were a safe bet.

    These haven't been our glory years.  The slow disintegration of the dynasty built by Jimmy Johnson, the micromanaging of a narcissistic owner who won't tolerate independent thinking from a coach (Jerry Jones has fired EVERY SINGLE COACH the Cowboys have ever had - except for the current one!), the desperate search for a franchise quarterback, the up and down seasons, and most recently the playoff appearances that end after the first round is done.  We've lost some heartbreaking, nail-biter games that we should have won (I STILL say Dez caught that ball against Green Bay!), gotten blown out when we were expected to win, and basically floundered as a "better than average, but not good enough" team for the last decade.

   And yet we fans hope on.  We pin our dreams on each new coach and quarterback, each offensive coordinator, each first round draft pick.  We tell ourselves NOT to get too excited, that it's way too early in the season, that we haven't faced a real threat yet - and then we cheer ourselves silly on game day.  No matter how hard we try to suppress it, that "delusive phantom of hope," as Patrick Henry calls it, continues to taunt us and lead us on . . . and we continue to follow.  How far will it lead us this year?  Will it be a mid-season collapse?  A catastrophic injury to a key player?  A heartbreaking first-round loss to a hated division rival?  Which, oh which, will it be?

Or . . .

   Will Dak and Zeke and Witten lead us out of the wilderness at last?  Will Jason Garrett finally be able to don a Superbowl Ring?  Will we be able to crush and humiliate the obnoxious Eagles, the proud, pugnacious Packers, and those cheating chumps the Patriots?  Could this be the year it actually, finally, really, for sure HAPPENS???

   I DON'T KNOW.  It is early in the season.  We've beaten two teams that we were SUPPOSED to beat.  Next week's game, against the hapless Dolphins, pretty much guarantees us a 3-0 start, barring a complete offensive collapse in which every player on our roster dies of bubonic plague - and even then I am not sure the Dolphins could beat the zombie Cowboys! But then the real fight begins.  We will face teams with actual winning records.  We will suffer injuries, setbacks, and stupid penalties. We faithful fans will begin to lose hope with each loss, only to regain it with each win.  As I said, it's early in the season.

   But for the moment, my Cowboys are 2-0.  I'm going to pause and take a deep breath, and smell that sweet aroma that is still hanging in the air, before the winds of that fickle hussy Fortune blow it away for good.  Can you smell it, too?

   It's the scent of hope.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

So it begins . . . again!

       Hard to believe that it's been a month since I posted anything!  But even harder to believe than that is the fact that another summer break is over, and the new school year is beginning.  Last Wednesday we returned for our in-service days, last night was our "Meet the Teacher" night, and tomorrow the kids will be returning to the classroom.  This will be my twenty-fourth year teaching here at Greenville Christian School, and as I think about the coming year, I can't help but be excited! 

     As we were sitting in one of our meetings this week, and our new headmaster was talking about his vision for the school, my mind began to wander (OK, let me say this first of all, this is NO reflection on Mr. Reisner.  Being as ADHD as I am, my mind is a migratory beast - imagine, if you will, a wildebeest on methamphetamines!  That's my brain, minus the drugs of course - it is this great shaggy mental beast bouncing around like a ping pong ball in a drier.  But I digress.  Of course, that's kind of the point of this whole parenthetical essay, isn't it?  Speaking of which,  I need to close these parentheses soon. Let me see if I can locate my original train of thought.  There it is.  Swinging aboard with one leg, climbing back in, and . . .) back to my very first year at GCS.  It was the fall of 1996, and I was looking for a new job, since the new director of the Museum where I was working had apparently decided that she didn't want me there and was going out of her way to make my life miserable.  It was August, and options were limited. My dream was to teach college classes full time, but a four year university wouldn't touch me without a PhD, and while junior colleges were fine with me as an adjunct, full time positions were few and far between!

     Then one of our friends suggested that I look into the Christian School here in town.  I knew very little about the place other than its existence, and I also knew classes were going to start any day, so I looked up the number in the local phone book (kids, ask your parents what a "phone book" is), then said a prayer and called.  The secretary, Lori Roberts, answered, and as I recall, my introduction went something like this:

     "Hi, I'm Lewis Smith, and I know it's really kind of late in the summer, but I was wondering if you had any teaching positions still open, preferably full time?"

     She responded: "Well, actually, we do have one three quarter time position left open, and I won't say we're desperate, but at the same time, classes start back in one week and we really need a history teacher!"

      I won't say I heard angels singing, but I won't say I didn't, either.  I do remember taking a VERY deep breath and saying: "Well, I have a bachelor's and master's degree in history, I've taught college classes as a TA, and I've been a Director of Education here at the museum for the last two years."

     She said: "Come down and apply, please!"  and I did.

     So I went in and had an hour long conversation with the headmaster, Glenn Slater, who, as it turned out, had taught history there for twelve years - AND got his bachelor's and master's degrees from the same university, same department, and same professors (mostly) that I did!  When I told him I had a letter of recommendation from Dr. Robin Rudoff, I think that may have cinched it - I didn't know it at the time, but Dr. Rudoff very rarely gave out such letters, and he had been my thesis advisor and had served on Mr. Slater's thesis committee.  So, I filled out the application Wednesday night, met with the headmaster on Thursday morning, was interviewed by a hiring committee on Friday night, and then was told Saturday morning that I'd gotten the job!  I took great delight in writing my letter of resignation to the Museum Director (I didn't really burn the bridge there, OK, but I may have poured a wee smidge of gasoline on it - I was VERY unhappy in that job!) that day, and then on Monday morning I showed up for work. Two days later the kids showed up, and by spring I was in love with my job and with my students. 

      It's now the fall of 2019.  Tomorrow the doors will open and the kids will come pouring in, and my annual war on ignorance will commence.  Three classrooms I've taught in, six headmasters I've served under, a couple thousand kids I've taught (at least!).  We've been through cricket infestations, a water snake in the library (I did NOT put him there, OK, I just caught him and released him!), the exciting discovery of a mosasaur skull, the escape and recapture of my corn snake Napoleon  (yes, that one IS on me!) a LOT of April Fool's pranks, countless papers graded, essays read, lectures given, chapel messages preached, as each and every day I try to inspire in my kids a love of history and learning. 

     I know some people hate their jobs and find them a constant source of stress and aggravation.  I sympathize, but I cannot empathize.  My work is fulfilling, it is important, and it has eternal consequences.  For you see, I don't just teach my kids about the fascinating and sometimes bizarre history of the human race.  I teach them eternal truths about God, and man, and our place in HIS wonderful world.  I do my best to live out my faith before these students in such a way that they will want to share it.  We pray together, we read the Bible together, we laugh together, and we cry together sometimes.  We are a family.  GCS is my home, and my students are more than just my students - they are MY KIDS, and I love them.

      Can tomorrow just get here already?????

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Great Tarantula Selloff of 1975!

Tarantulas are a staple of life in most of West Texas.  Big old hairy things, far more scary looking than actually dangerous, you see them crossing the roads at night and occasionally find them under a board or sheet of tin.  I live on the easternmost edge of their range, so they are fairly rare in m neck of the woods - I haven't seen one around here in years.  But it wasn't always that way.
When I was a kid, there was an area in north Greenville, across the street from the park, where an old railroad had once run.  The metal tracks had been torn up, but the rail bed was still there, as were the wooden ties.  This rail bed was home to the only colony of tarantulas in our area.  I'd go up there every time I came back to Greenville (we were living in Dallas at the time, where my Dad had taken on a pastorate) and lift up a tie to hunt for them. Usually there were two or three under each railroad tie, living in separate burrows. I'd catch one and leave the rest; taking it back to our house to show off at school or sell to a classmate.

Now, during our time in Dallas, nearly every Sunday after church, we went to eat at Luby's cafeteria in Town East Mall.  Right across from Luby's was a huge pet store called SunRay Pets (sadly gone now).  I'd eat my meal in like, five bites, and then run over to the pet store to hang out and look at all the cool critters while mom and dad finished their meal at a leisurely pace, visiting with the other church members.  The store had boa constrictors, birds, fish (even a couple of piranha that were labeled NOT FOR SALE!).  And they had spiders and scorpions.  One thing that surprised me was how expensive pet tarantulas were!  Plain old brown tarantulas, just like I caught on the old tracks, were going for $15 each (keep in mind, this was 1975 - that was some serious money!).  So I asked Bernie, the store manager, what he paid for them.  He said he bought them for $7.50 each and sold them at 100% markup.  Well, being the young capitalist entrepreneur that I was, I asked him if he would buy them from me for $5 each.  He said "SURE!"

So that Saturday, armed with a king size pickle jar, I went up to those tracks and lifted up every single railroad tie. Hairy spiders scurried hither and thither to escape abduction, but few did. I caught a grand total of 23 tarantulas.  At $5 each, that was A HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN DOLLARS!  That was almost unlimited wealth for a 6th grader in 1975! My eyes were filled with visions of all the things I could buy with this small fortune.  I got home with the jar and dumped them all in a big terrarium in my room, and Dad promised to take me to SunRay pets first thing the next morning so I could sell them.  (Oddly enough, my mother, who was terrified of snakes, was somehow OK with 23 large hairy spiders contained only by a thin wall of glass in her youngest son's bedroom.)

I slept the sleep of the noveau riche, my mind aflutter with visions of spider-fueled wealth, and all the comic books, monster magazines, and scale models I would be able to buy soon.  Sure, I heard some odd sounds coming from the tank on my dresser, but it was full of energetic spiders! No problem, right?
Then I  woke up bright and early, and looked into the cage to see . . . dozens of spider legs and ONE very fat tarantula!  They had all eaten each other during the night, and the rustling sounds I had heard were the noises of arachnian mortal combat.  Apparently, there could be only ONE!
(Actually, that's technically inaccurate; late that afternoon as I was cleaning spider legs out of the cage I found one very small tarantula that had hidden under a rock to escape the carnage.  I was trying to grab him when the big one spotted him and had him for dessert.)
I honestly did  not know they were cannibals!
(To quote WKRP IN CINCINNATI, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!")
I kept that undefeated champion and named him Goliath.  He was my pet for the next two years, then I sold him to my 8th grade English teacher for $20.  He was a big spider, as large as my hand, but i still would rather have had my $115.
And I don't think I've seen another tarantula in Greenville since then.  Apparently I wiped out the whole colony!

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Sneak Peek at my new novel: PRESIDENT HAMILTON!

  I admired Alexander Hamilton, the man, long before the musical came out.  He was a brilliant politician and perhaps the most influential cabinet member in the history of our nation. But what would have happened had he NOT perished in that deadly duel with Aaron Burr?  Could he have revitalized the Federalist Party?  Might he have been elected President?  What sort of leader might he have been?  Back in January, I decided to answer these questions in a new novel of alternative history.  I am now fifteen chapters in, and it's coming along quite well!  So tonight, for all my loyal readers, I am offering a sneak preview of Chapter One.  My story begins in a prologue that tells the story of the fateful duel; but with a different outcome.  Now Alex returns to New York, his side throbbing from a deep gash where Burr's pistol ball nearly took his life . . .

                              CHAPTER ONE


          “A duel?  Alex, how could you!?”

          The smack of Eliza’s hand across his cheek echoed through the house like a thunderclap.  They had been married for nearly twenty-five years, and Hamilton had seen his wife hurt, angry, mournful, happy, and excited, but the emotion that blazed from her eyes was one he had never seen before. It was pure rage; a towering fury that made him shrink back from her, combat veteran though he was.  His cheek reddened from the resounding slap she’d given him, but her words hurt far worse than the blow he had taken.

          “Our son died in one of those stupid, stupid ‘affairs of honor,’ and now you dare to go and engage in one yourself?” she shouted, her normally pale-tinted face flush with anger.  “What would I have done if you had died?  How could you even think about such a thing?  To rob me of my husband, after fate has already stolen our sweet Philip from me? Do you think that I could possibly live without you?”

          She burst into tears, but her gaze remained fixed on him and her anger did not relent.

          “My dear Betsy,” he said, calling her by the pet name she loved. “Please forgive me.  Honor required -”

          “Bugger your honor!!” she shouted, and he flinched.  He had never once, in all their years together, heard her use that phrase. She grabbed the sides of his head and tilted it downward so that their eyes were locked.

          “I am sorry,” he began, but she placed her hand over his lips.

          “I love you beyond all reason,” she said fervently.  “I have borne your children, I have stood by your side even when you betrayed your vows to me.  I have counted myself blessed to be wed to the most brilliant man on earth.  I did not complain when you paid more attention to my sister than you did to me. I have endured, I have forgiven, and I have always been proud to be your wife.  But I want you to swear a vow to me, here and now, Alex, that you will never fight in another duel.  No matter what the provocation, no matter how deep the insult cuts, you will NEVER do this to me again.  Because if you do, I will leave, and I will take our children with me.  It will break my heart, and it will probably kill me – but I will do it.  I cannot bear the thought of losing you. Am I clear?  Will you promise me?”

          “My dear heart, I could never refuse you,” he said.  “This was the end.  Enough is enough, as they say.  I will toss these pistols into the Hudson tomorrow, and never own another set.”

          She stared into his eyes for a long moment, trying to measure his words and the spirit behind them.  Finally, she sighed deeply, and the anger in her eyes began to fade.

“Then we shall speak of this no more,” she said, “but I meant what I said. Do not forget that, my sweet, irreplaceable Hamilton!”

          With that she threw her arms around him, and he winced even as he returned her embrace.

          “Oh, Alex, you are hurt!” she said.

          “Burr’s bullet grazed my ribs,” he said.  “It is but a flesh wound.”

          Doctor Hosack had bound the wound tightly before they left Weehawken, but the blood had soaked through the bandage and stained the clean shirt Alex had donned after the duel.  The gash in his side was not deep, but it was painful.

          “We’ll see about that,” Eliza said.  “Up to the bedroom with you!  Junior, fetch me hot water and some clean washcloths, please!”

          Alex’s second son and namesake was eighteen years old and bore a distinct resemblance to his father, although he was not as much of a prodigy as his father and older brother had been.  He had been listening to his parents’ quarrel from the door to the drawing room; and now he ran to the kitchen to follow his mother’s command.

          Hamilton let himself be led upstairs.  He was still shaken enough by the events of the morning and the unexpected fury his bride had directed at him that he dared not resist.  Eliza set him down on the edge of the bed and used a sharp penknife to cut through the white linen that bound him around the chest, exposing the wound to the noonday light streaming in from the window.

          The bullet wound was a bit worse than he realized at first – an ugly gash about four inches long, still seeping blood around its edges.  The skin had been peeled back by the ball’s passage, and Hamilton realized that he could actually see the white bone of one of his ribs exposed. 

          “I’m sorry,” he managed to say before turning his head and throwing up the glass of brandy he’d accepted to steady his nerves after the duel.  He had seen men killed, and done his share of killing, as a young man during the Revolution, but seeing one’s own bones shining in the light of day was a bit too much for him.  As young Alex cleaned up the mess, Eliza busied herself wiping the wound down with hot water and new linens.  There were tears streaming down her cheeks as she worked.

          “My Hamilton,” she said after a moment, her voice catching.  “A matter of an inch or so and you might have been lost to me forever!  What were you thinking?  Was Mister Burr so vile to you that you were left with no choice?”

          Alex sat up, his head still swimming but the nausea gone for the moment. He leaned forward and kissed his dear bride on her forehead, his own tears falling onto her upturned face and mingling with hers.

          “Oh, Eliza, my honor is dear to me, but not so much as you!” he said.  “I will say this much, and then speak of this matter no more.  Aaron Burr was a great threat to our Republic; he was the American Catiline, and I had to act the part of Cicero without the powers of a consul.  I baited him, and he challenged me.  But, as God is my witness, I let him take the first shot!  I gave him every chance to abandon his challenge, and instead he did his best to kill me.  I was not going to return fire, but when I thought of all that I had nearly lost – I could not help myself.  I took my shot, and I killed a man.  I killed the Vice President of the United States. Now I must ponder what to do next.  Burr is not without friends, you know.  I am afraid this matter is not settled yet.”

          “Do what you must, dear husband,” Eliza said as she wound clean strips of cloth around his midsection.  “But remember my words! No more duels, ever, or you will lose me and the children, whether you survive or not.”

          “Then my dueling pistols will be retired permanently,” he said.  “I have risked all once; I will not do so again.  From now on, words will be my only weapons.”

          Hamilton stood so that his wife could finish applying the bandage, and then reached into his wardrobe for a clean shirt and waistcoat.  He looked down at his trousers and saw that his blood had dripped down onto them, too, so he returned to the wardrobe and retrieved a complete change of clothes and began to get dressed.

          “You need to lie down!” Eliza said.  “You’ve lost a good deal of blood, and that wound will reopen if you strain yourself.”

          “I must speak to someone,” Alex said.  “It is a short walk, and when I am done, I promise to return and spend the remainder of the day resting.”

          “You should let it wait,” she gently scolded him.

          “Eliza – I must do this,” he said firmly.  “My conscience will not let me rest until I do.”

          “Your conscience?” his wife asked.

          Hamilton bowed his head, and then opened his heart to his wife.

          “I killed a man, Betsy,” he said.  “Not in the heat of battle, or under the moral cloak of a just war for one’s country.  I stared down the barrel of a pistol and pulled the trigger and watched his spirit leave his body.  I need to know . . .”   He hesitated and swallowed hard.  “I need to know if my soul will be damned for all eternity as a murderer,” he finished.

          He retrieved his walking stick from the corner and gingerly made his way downstairs and thence out onto the street.  He could hear the hue and cry of the great city of New York as it sprawled out around him, the fastest-growing city in America, and his adoptive home for thirty years now.  It was a short walk from his house to Trinity Church, and the rectory where Bishop Benjamin Moore lived was right next door.

          The news of the duel had spread rapidly, and a news crier was standing on the corner selling a special edition of The National Gazette, the Republican newspaper once edited by Philip Freneau.

          “Vice President Burr Murdered by the Monarchist Alexander Hamilton!” the crier proclaimed.  “Read all about it!  General Hamilton guns down Burr in cold blood!”

          On the next corner, a rival news crier for Hamilton’s New York Daily Post was touting the alternative version of the story.

          “Aaron Burr nearly kills Secretary Hamilton!  Vice President killed in self-defense after shooting the Federalist leader!” the newsboy screamed out.

          Hamilton took little note of either of them; the fact that Burr had shot first and wounded him rendered Alex legally untouchable.  Duelists were occasionally prosecuted in New York, but when they were, it was invariably the person who shot first and killed his foe that drew the ire of prosecutors.  As for New Jersey, where the fatal encounter had taken place, dueling was also illegal there, but prosecutions were quite rare.  Hamilton was more concerned about the judgment of a much higher authority, and that was what drove him to the rectory despite the aching wound in his side.

          Trinity Church was the tallest structure in New York City, its central spire rising two hundred feet into the air.  There was a large burial ground in the back; Hamilton’s son Philip was interred there.  As Alex surveyed the modest marker that he and Eliza had placed over his son’s grave, he swallowed hard and touched the throbbing bullet gash in his side.  A matter of inches, and his own grave would have been dug there, next to Philip’s.  He imagined how different life in New York – indeed in America – might be if Burr’s bullet had found its mark.  Would anyone remember Alexander Hamilton, if he died now?  Perhaps his tenure as treasury secretary might earn him a footnote in the history books, but Alex had little doubt that had he perished that morning, as Burr intended, his legacy would have been small and soon forgotten. No more, he swore to himself!  America had not heard the last of Alexander Hamilton.  His life’s work was not yet finished.

          Benjamin Moore was a tall, long-nosed Episcopal bishop of the traditional sort; his sermons were longwinded and pedantic, but he had a solid grasp of doctrine and was a sound scholar of the Christian faith.  The Hamiltons rented a pew in Trinity Church and attended services occasionally, even though Alexander was not an Episcopalian.  It was, however, the closest church to their modest Wall Street home.  Beyond that, Alex liked the man, pure and simple, and had ever since the first time he met him.

          “General Hamilton?” Moore said when he came to the door.  “Good afternoon, sir, what may I do for you?”

          “I take it you have not heard the news, then?” Hamilton asked him.

          “I have been in my study, preparing my Sunday sermon,” Moore replied. “I have heard no news of anything today.”

          Hamilton sighed and summoned up his most engaging smile.

          “I need to speak with you at length, sir,” he said.  “May I come in?”

          “Of course, General,” the bishop said.  He was a courtly gentleman, only six years older than Hamilton, but he carried himself with the dignity of a venerable greybeard.  “It was inconsiderate of me to leave you standing on my doorstep.”

          Hamilton entered and sat down on a comfortable, padded chair near the fireplace.  Since it was high summer, there was no fire, but the drawing room was comfortable, well-lit, and inviting.  Bishop Moore called for tea, and the maid brought in a steaming pot and two cups a few moments later.  Hamilton gratefully took a sip and then leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment.  All the adrenalin that had fueled him since he woke long before dawn was spent, and he felt exhausted.

          “So, what brings such a noteworthy person to my door on this fine Wednesday afternoon?” the bishop finally asked.

          “I killed a man today,” Hamilton said, too weary for pretense.  “I shot Vice President Burr.  He had challenged me to a duel, and I would not retract my assessment of his character, so I met him at Weehawken this morning. I had fully intended to throw away my shot, but when he fired first, his bullet grazed me and but for sheerest chance would have killed me.  At that moment I returned fire and struck him in the heart.  Sir, I am a military man, as you know.  I personally killed men during the Revolution, and I felt that the righteousness of our cause removed the stain of that sin from me.  But this was different.  I looked at Colonel Burr down the barrel of my pistol and pulled the trigger and sent him to his grave.  My conscience is deeply troubled.”

          “It should be,” said Moore.  “Murder is a mortal sin, my friend, and dueling is nothing short of legalized murder.  It is a holdover from an age of barbarism and savagery and has no place in a civilized society.”

          Hamilton nodded sadly.  He knew that Moore had publicly condemned dueling from the pulpit on more than one occasion.

          “I have not always been a good man, Bishop Moore,” he said.  “But I have tried hard, in my latter years, to atone for the sins of my youth and to be a good Christian. I’ve tried to become a better man.  I have raised my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and read the Bible to them every day.  I pray with them every morning, and I spend my own time in prayer each day.  You are a man of God, sir, deeply read in the Holy Scriptures.  In your learned opinion, have I damned my soul by doing this?”

          “You have sinned, there is no doubt, General,” he said.  “You have killed another man in a violent affair that we dubiously call a matter of honor.  I cannot think that God is pleased with what you have done.  But I also believe that even the worst of sinners is not beyond redemption.  While the Holy Writ teaches us that grace is given, not earned by our own works, I do believe that there is something to be said for making restitution for our sins.  God accepts the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart, General Hamilton.  Is your heart grieved that you have done this?”

          “It is,” Hamilton nodded as he spoke.  “I had no desire to kill Colonel Burr when we rowed out to Weehawken.  But it was obvious that he had every intention of killing me.  If I had thrown away my shot, I am sure he would have demanded another round of fire, and another.  I could see my death in his eyes, and I killed him to save my own life.  I was thinking of my wife and children at that moment, more than anything.  I wanted to live for their sakes, and the only way to do that was for me to pull the trigger.”

          The Bishop sighed, and rose from his seat, staring out the window into the busy New York streets.  He remained silent for a long moment, and then spoke again.

          “I cannot absolve you from this, General Hamilton,” he said.  “But you can atone for what you have done, I think.  You say that the Vice President fired first, and that he intended to kill you.  Were you struck?”

          “Yes,” Hamilton said.  “The bullet grazed my side.  An inch or two more, and it would have gone through my vitals.”

          “Then God spared you for a reason,” Moore said.  “His purpose for your life is not yet accomplished.  Redemption remains possible. I would say to you, though – do not squander the second chance you have been given!  Humble yourself before the Lord and seek His purpose for the life that remains to you.  God does not hide His will from us, Alexander.  If he has some object you are intended to achieve, He will lay it before you.  Be attentive and listen for His voice.  I do not think the gates of heaven are shut before you because of this one act.”

          Hamilton nodded and rose with a groan.  The wound was positively throbbing now, as if someone was jabbing him in the side with a red-hot fireplace poker.

          “Are you well, General?” the Bishop asked.  “Do you need me to call you a carriage?”

          “I will be fine,” Hamilton said.  “The wound is painful, but not serious.  My home is not far distant; I prithee come and visit me soon.  Help me seek the will of Christ for the rest of my life.”

          “I will gladly do that,” said Moore.  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost; how can I do any less?   And you, neglect not the Lord’s house on Sundays!”

          “I’ll be here as often as I can,” said Hamilton. “That I promise.”

          With that he rose and made his way to the door, grateful he had brought his walking stick.  The late afternoon skies were bright and clear; the day had gone from pleasantly warm to uncomfortably hot, and Hamilton’s vision was swimming. As he made his way up the street, he saw people pointing and whispering.  The word of Burr’s death had spread like wildfire through the city, thanks to the intense competition between political newspapers.  He was not afraid; he had braved angry mobs all over New York when he battled the powerful Clinton faction during the debate on ratifying the new U.S. Constitution in the summer of 1788.  Besides, Alex knew that Burr was not as popular with New Yorkers as he had been a few years previously – the man’s constantly shifting political allegiances had disillusioned many of his supporters.

          “Hamilton!” a familiar voice called.  It was Pendleton, his second from the morning’s affair.  “Egad, Alex, are you all right?  You look as white as a sheet!”

          “I am well enough, Nathaniel,” he said, “but I am very weary, and this wound is paining me.  Will you walk with me to my door?”

          “Gladly,” his friend said.  “The city is all abuzz regarding this morning’s duel.  Burr’s faction is trying to paint you as a murderer, but most people don’t seem to be buying into that idea.  The fact that he shot first, and struck you, shows that you acted in self-defense.  I think you will have no legal worries.”

          “That is comforting,” Hamilton said.  “I wish my own conscience would let me off as easily.  I tell you, Nathaniel, as dangerous as Burr was, I still would undo this entire confrontation if I could.  The Vice President’s death is on my hands, morally speaking, even if I am not legally culpable.”

          “You said nothing of Burr that was not true,” Pendleton told him.

          “I know,” Hamilton said.  “The man was dangerously ambitious.  But I wish there had been another way to end our dispute. Here, help me up the steps, please.”

          They had arrived at Hamilton’s house as they spoke, but Alex found he simply did not have the energy to mount the few steps up to the front door. Pendleton took him by the arm and let Alex lean on him.  Eliza was already opening the front door by the time they got to the top step.

          “Alex!” she said, and he could tell she had been weeping while he was gone. ‘Heart of mine, are you well?”

          He summoned up the strength to smile, even though the room was spinning all around him.  Her eyes anchored him, and his love for her was like a lifeline in a storm.

          “I am absolutely fine, my love,” he said, and then fell headfirst into the front corridor.  He was saved from smashing his face on the floor only by Eliza catching him and breaking his fall.

          “Mister Pendleton, please fetch us a doctor!” she exclaimed.  “Junior! James! Help me get your father into bed!”

          Hamilton protested feebly as his wife and sons half carried him up the stairs, but he no longer had the strength to stand alone.  Alex Junior held him upright as Eliza stripped off his waistcoat and shirt.  Both were stained with blood, and his bandage was soaked.

          “Whatever it was, it could have waited!” Eliza snapped.  “You have reopened your wound.  Now lay back and be still.  James, get me hot water and more clean kerchiefs.”

          “I will be fine, I am sure,” Hamilton said, and then darkness closed in around him.