Ancient Wisdom

I bet that most of my friends are not aware that I am an Indian . . . a proud Kickapoo!  I surely am, but I haven’t always been.

When the oil glut hit Texas in the mid 80’s, I was a young guy who had just been in business a short while.  I had actually done quite well and had some nice accounts receivable, but also had some debt, too.  I had invested ahead in several future ventures . . . Optioning up land for apartments and investing in loan-packages development . . . when it hit.  I had several deals working and, in fact, had several years work in the planning process.  Prices on real estate hit new lows, and my future deals only appraised for about 50 cents on the dollar.  Actually, I found myself at a really peculiar place . . . I had built several apartment complexes and I was responsible for managing them and all that entails, but the portfolio was just not yet large enough to enable me to make a living for my family.  There I was . . . in debt, a middle-man in New York had embezzled most of my receivables, obligated to manage what I had created, a husband, a dad with a young family, and unable to make a living and pay my bills.

Sometimes our situation can look so overwhelming . . . and that was certainly where I was at that moment in time.  I had no clue what I could do . . . but I knew the Lord had always met my needs in the past and that He promised to continue to do that.  Soon into my dilemma, my phone rang one afternoon and it was not a call that I wanted . . . but it was the call I needed.  The caller was my old friend, Jim Hickman, Housing Chief at the HUD office in San Antonio.  I can still remember his words, “Tiger, we need your help again!  We have placed the Eagle Pass operation in receivership, and need you to go out and clean it up, hire and train a staff to run the operation after you leave.”  He also told me that the FBI had made a number of arrests up and down in the organization and that things were in a mess.  I shuttered at the thoughts of living/working in Eagle Pass, but when we talked money, the amount was just what I needed . . . so I knew it was the Lord’s provision.  I agreed to go out the next week and meet with his staff and get started.  I knew I had a challenge on my hands, and when I told my family that evening over dinner, it became clear my biggest challenge would be my wife.  She was horrified at the prospects of vacating her new home and moving to that desert place on the border.  Courtney was a champ and never complained one bit . . . and she had some words for her Mom, too!

 We arrived there at an interesting time in Maverick County history . . . the Kickapoo Indians (several hundred people of all ages) were living under the International bridge.  They were building cardboard houses from appliance boxes they removed from the nearby Sear’s mail-order-store dumpsters.  They were cooking over camp-fires and bathing in the Rio Grande.  One morning several months prior, a large mass of people showed up at the river and proceeded to cross over, much to the dismay of the Border Patrol Service.  Using bull horns, the Agents ran up and down the riverbank issuing orders in both Spanish and English, but the people continued crossing the river.  When they had crossed over, the Agents stopped the people and tried to communicate, but these folks spoke neither English nor Spanish.  A decision was made to get some food and water for the people and detain them until a linguist could be flown in.  Suddenly the airwaves picked up the story and the Nation’s attention was focused on these people . . . who are these people and where did they come from?  Over a few days, it was determined that they were Indians, but no one seemed to be certain of which tribe.  A request was issued to several tribes to send a representative in an effort to establish communications with these visitors.  As it turns out, they were Kickapoo’s and part of the tribe in Oklahoma.  As communications were established, it was discovered that something like 100 years before, a battle broke out amongst the people and there was a blood-letting.  A portion of the tribe left Oklahoma and headed South ultimately wandering deep into the jungles of Mexico.  These had long been a nomadic people . . . and actually are the last of the nomads.  As the story unfolded, it was learned that one morning . . . just out of the clear blue someone said that they ought to go back and see their kinfolk, so they gathered their meager possessions and headed north.  That was what put them at the bridge originally.  Congress acted and granted these lost Indians dual citizenship and they were allowed to go on their way.  The tribe walked all the way to Oklahoma; they traveled along the highways and by ways.  Many communities along the route proved to be good Samaritans to these nomads. Of course, it was all on the news and garnering much attention.  The first lost Indians to show up in over 100 years!  As the story goes, they ultimately arrived at the reservation in Oklahoma and were warmly received.  However, whatever that old problem had been, it reared its ugly head in just a few days and there was another blood-letting. The people left again, now fully understanding why their ancestors had refused to live with the likes of their Oklahoma kin!

The problem . . . they had no place to go.  Someone mentioned that the best they had ever been treated was when they stayed under the bridge along the river.  So, on the spur of the moment the decision was made to return to the bridge, and that is just what they did.  The officials in Eagle Pass and Maverick County were sure surprised that their visitors had returned with the intention of claiming the community as their new home!

National attention continued to be focused on the situation, and amazingly Teddy Kennedy and the Heritage Foundation partnered up and purchased 1,000 acres along the El Indio Hiway and gave it as a reservation.  Soon after closing, most of the people moved to the reservation, but a number of them remained under the bridge.  That was when I arrived on the scene.  Of course, like everyone else I had to drive down and rubber-neck.  As I looked at that situation, it broke my heart to see children living is such conditions.  I told myself that if I didn’t do something to help these poor people I wasn’t worth the salt that went into my gravy (an absolute and certain measurement of character often used by my sweet, little Mama).

I had my new Administrative Assistant, Alicia, schedule a meeting with the Chief and the linguist that was helping the tribe.  When they arrived at the Hi-Rise, we served them lunch and showed them around.  I explained that I wanted to assist the Kickapoo’s by building homes for them.  The Chief had adopted the name Raul Garza to do business on behalf of the tribe.  Raul and I would become good friends, but at that moment in time he was wary of all offers of help, and the truth of the matter is that he was wise to be cautious, especially in the “free state of Maverick!”  Just a side note: three years later as I was moving back home I had a printer make 500 bumper stickers  saying, “Welcome to Illegal Pass” and passed them out.  I promised the Chief that any and all work that I would ever do for the Kickapoo people would be done without any fees.

After they left, I called the National Center for Housing and told them that I wanted them to set up a seminar in Oklahoma City in the immediate future.  I needed to get to OK City, but I simply could not afford to fly there at my own expense.  Once the Center and I got the dates worked out for the seminar, I called the Bureau of Indian Affairs – Indian Housing Regional Office located in OK City.  I talked with the director, Hugh Green; Hugh would also become my friend.  I told him that I would be in OK City doing a seminar and invited him to attend and to bring along a few of his staffers.  He did. Through the course of the three-day seminar, I talked with them about the Kickapoo tribe and its situation.  I left OK City at the end of the week with an application and a long “To Do” list!

Over a period of a few months, we managed to set some legal work accomplished, and the Kickapoo Indian Housing Agency formed and an application for a grant to fund 32 new dwellings submitted into the federal system.  It didn’t take long to obtain funding. As the announcement was made Architects and Engineers came out of the wood work, realizing what a rare opportunity this was.  We interviewed and received proposals from a large number of firms. The design contract was awarded to Ron Barbutti of Barbutti & Associates, of Hondo.  I had insisted that the firm selected be required to move some form of portable housing to the reservation and observe the people and their lifestyle for a couple of weeks prior to beginning any serious design work, and Ron was good to do that.  He hooked up his 5th wheel, loaded up his bride, Evelyn, and the dogs, and headed for the reservation.  Ron and Evelyn would walk of an evening and as the Kickapoo’s cooked over their open-fires, they would make an effort to visit.  Ron is a good artist and he started setting up his easel and painting the people, which the Kickapoo people delighted in.  They enjoyed being the focus of attention.

One afternoon, Ron showed up at my office quite disturbed and insisted on seeing me. Alicia brought him back to my office.  He had a very troubled look on his face and announced, “We have a serious problem with the Kickapoo housing grant.”  I inquired what that problem might be, and he exclaimed, “The Chief has refused for me to design the housing with kitchens, and insists that Kickapoo women cook outdoors!  I am telling you that dude is not going to change his mind.”  I assured Ron that I would speak with the Chief about it, and he suggested that I was not taking it seriously enough . . . It seemed to be a cultural thing for the Chief.

I had Alicia invite the Chief in for lunch the next day.  As we ate lunch, I mentioned Ron’s concern.  The Chief looked me in the eye and had the linguist tell me that, “Kickapoo women cook outside,” and I saw in his eyes the thing that had troubled Ron.  There was something up with this and I wanted to try to understand.  As we talked, I informed him that all housing built with government money had to meet certain required, minimal standards in order to be funded, and that standard included a sanitary place to store and prepare food.  He once again said, “Kickapoo women cook outside!”  I told him that the tribe would lose the money.  Once again he said, “Kickapoo women cook outside!”  I tried to push him on it a bit, but he would not budge. He reminded me that this was all my idea and that his people had lived forever without white man’s houses, but they would not break their tradition.  In frustration, I commented, “Our women once cooked like that too, but for 100 years now they have been cooking in a kitchen.”  When the linguist told him what I had said, he got a perplexed look on his face and asked me, “Do you want our women to become like your women?” In a second I understood that I had just been out done by a guy who could not speak one word of English and had never lived in a house, and I thought to myself, “How in the heck can you argue with that question?”

It seems to me . . . when white folks showed up in America, they discovered a people with a most unusual lifestyle.  The men hunted, fished, played games, and sat around talking while the women took care of the kids, planted, watered, picked the corn, and skinned the animals the men killed and brought home. The women used the hides to make clothes for her family and cooked the meat and served her warrior, and cleaned his fish.  All the while she had no say in much of anything, nor did she even expect to be consulted.  There were no taxes, no government dictates, no seasons or restrictions on hunting or fishing, and a woman never even considered saying, “I do wish you would help out!”  Everyone was happy, the women didn’t complain, families stayed together, children obeyed their parents, and there was no crime to speak of.

I have concluded that my friend, the Chief was actually a very wise man.  I don’t think we introduced an improved system.

In closing, ultimately the houses were built with kitchens — including appliances, along with brick cookers in the yard.  It is still something of a mystery about what happened to those appliances the night following the final inspection.  As I recall the FBI spent a little time trying to figure that out, without any success.  I sometimes wonder if one meal has ever been prepared inside one of those houses.

As I finished my work and we prepared to move back home, the tribe held a special ceremony in which I was the guest of honor.  The simple ceremony was held inside their lovely new community center.  By this time, the grant money was really rolling in and they had hired a professional tribal administrator and the tribe was doing well.  It had a new medical clinic and a number of other services.  At the ceremony I was presented with a formal resolution adopted by the tribal council of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, declaring that I was officially adopted into the tribe as a “favorite son,” and that I was entitled to all of the privileges of tribal membership.  Each member of the tribal council signed the Resolution with an X as his signature.  I was also presented with a marvelous spear engraved with my name and containing a Smithsonian quality spear point.  It was truly a work of art.  I was told that it was to be used defending my lodge and they presented my squaw with a lovely pair of handmade moccasins.

I brought my family home, the economy improved, and I got back to growing my company.  The Kickapoo’s built a casino, of which I am quite sure has caused great misery, just as it has historically done in other areas. 

I think about my tribal brothers and sisters from time to time, and I wonder if there is anyone on the reservation who might even remember me these 25 years later.  One thing in all of that of which I am particularly proud is that my insistence that I would never receive a fee for any services I rendered to the tribe (at a time when I really needed the money and consultant fees were both normal and expected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs) opened a door that might not have been opened otherwise.  My gesture was so appreciated by the Chief and tribal council, that later at my request, they approved a Baptist missionary to set up shop on the reservation and begin ministering to the tribe.  I am thinking that was a wise sacrifice/investment.

 

Alcoholism

Most Saturday evenings I go with a small group to a halfway house.  Our purpose and desire in going is to try ministering to hurting people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction.  Some of them are really hurting, broken, and damaged people.  Most of them have a family somewhere in the background . . . a family for whom they have caused a great deal of pain . . . sometimes it is their own family, but sadly an alcoholic/addict’s behavior can cause great pain that reaches beyond his or her own family (hence MADD . . . Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and SADD . . . Students Against Drunk Drivers).

Our society is so peculiar and hypocritical about alcohol . . . on one side embracing it and on the other side condemning those who fall victim to it.  Drinking has become an important, accepted, and nearing an expected  part of our social culture to the point when someone declines an offer of a drink in a social setting by saying, “No, thanks, I don’t drink,” eyebrows are raised . . . and a question mark is often placed on that person by some in that social setting.  I watched that happen for many years in my own life.

According to Strasburg (as far back as 1999), the alcohol beverage industry spent as much as $2 billion per year advertising its spirits, while beer brewers spend over $770 million yearly on TV ads alone.  Reportedly, “The most interesting man in the world” . . . advertises a beer with a Latin name that most people can’t even pronounce . . . Dos Eques.  His simple statement, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do . . . I drink Dos Eques. Stay thirsty, my friend!” has become world famous.

All of those ads feature handsome, sophisticated people in an amazing atmosphere casually enjoying the alcohol products.  Sporting events have become the primary and dominant medium for the advertisement and promotion of alcohol to the general population.  The ads are slick, clever, and expensive, but I have never once seen an ad showing a broken person in a prison cell, a halfway house, treatment center, or a detox ward . . . nor have I seen any ads featuring a fatherless family . . . living below the poverty level because the dad is in such a place, or living in an inner city alley.  It is mind-boggling what is occurring in large cities and their struggles with homeless (street) people, but none of that finds a place in the ads.  Alcohol is a large contributor to that situation.

Our culture finds humor in the stereotypes of fictional characters such as the town drunk . . . Otis from the old Andy Griffin TV series is just one example.  The culture also demonstrates racist humor about alcoholism in things like joking about things such as, “the drinking habits of the Irish” . . . and using terms such as, “driving like a drunk Indian . . . ” while being totally ignorant and uninterested in the tragic rate of addiction and alcoholism on reservations across America and how it is growing by leaps and bounds.

The truth is that alcoholism has become a serious issue across the globe and is becoming progressively worse year-by-year.  The World Health Organization estimates that there are now over 140 billion alcoholics in the world, and that the cost of alcoholism on the USA economy is over $220 billion per year . . . exceeding the cost of cancer!  That cost to the economy comes in the form of lost labor-hours in the work place, medical costs, and secondary treatment costs within the USA.

I don’t know much about alcoholism, in spite of having had alcoholics in my extended family.  I grew up with a couple of uncles who were serious alcoholics, and I watched it cost them their families.  I recently had a friend and employee with a serious struggle and as hard as I tried to help him I don’t think I was very effective.  That dude loves me and I know he does, but when he got thirsty he would not hesitate to steal my tools, fishing tackle, and other things and take them to the pawn shop.  After he sobered up, and discovered he was broke and out of gas, he would siphon gas out of my boat to put in his old clunker.  That stuff just never seemed to bother him.  I would try to help him see that he was stealing much more from himself than he stole from me, but he didn’t have ears to hear, or eyes that could see.  I finally had to send him down the road . . . but I did it with a prayer for him.

Here is what I am coming to understand about alcoholics and addicts . . . there is simply nothing that the rest of us can do to help them, until he or she decides that they want to get well.  When they reach that place (hitting their bottom) . . . there is reason for both hope and joy!

This Saturday night I am going to talk to them about a man who had been sick for 38 years and seemingly each day his friends or family placed him in a colonnade beside the pool of Bethesda . . . hoping for a miracle.  One day, the Master of the universe . . . the hero of Heaven . . . the emancipator of humanity . . . went directly to that pool . . . to find that man . . . and He asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5)

That is the question that must be honestly asked and answered . . . if any change is to occur in the individual’s life.

It seems to me . . . that my minutes and energy are both well invested when I go there . . . because the Master of the universe . . . the hero of Heaven . . . the emancipator of humanity comes to that halfway house sometimes . . . and He comes there looking for some who “do want to get well” . . . and it is an exciting thing when that occurs.  I sure love it when He comes by and I get to be in His presence for a while and watch his grace, love, and mercy at work!  It leaves me speechless and in awe . . .  

There is always irrefutable proof that He had, indeed, been present . . . and that evidence is changed hearts and changed lives, and some folks get well!


My Mother . . . What an extraordinary Lady she is!

I am not sure why it is that most kids tend not to realize how special their parents are until later in life.  I know that I always loved my mom and appreciated what she did for me and my siblings, but I don’t believe that I really sensed her greatness until just recent years.

My mother’s name is Stella Mae.  Her maiden name was Cargill.  She was born and reared in Burnet County, Texas, and she and her younger brother, Billy Charles, were raised by their cowboy/rancher dad on his ranch.  Their mother left them with their dad and moved on to greener pastures when they were both quite young.  It seems to me that was a pretty rare thing 80+ years ago, and I am sure it caused her some confusion and pain.  I know that it had to have been an influence in her marrying my dad at 13 years of age.  But to her credit, she made the marriage work, and I know it was not easy because my dad was not always an agreeable man. She actually gave birth to nine children, and raised eight of them, and I know that was not easy either.

Times were hard, wages were low and finances were always a struggle, but she was remarkable at managing resources and she could make a great meal out of just about anything; she really could.  I know kids tend to say those sorts of things about their moms, but it really was true about my mom!  When it was close to payday and provisions were low, she would whip up a dish she called “Sam Barrington gravy.”  That dish was really good in spite of how bad it sounds today (fried bologna in a Pet-milk gravy, poured over sliced bread).  Another dish she specialized in was a casserole that contained a bunch of mixed up stuff that probably were never intended to be cooked together and she called it “Slum Gullion,” and it was actually quite good.  I recall that it had quite a bit of melted cheese. She was a world-class baker and the best biscuit maker that ever walked on this planet.  Her work in the kitchen was art!

As I age and reflect back on her through the years, I am amazed at how much she loved all of her kids and how wonderfully kind and gentle she was with each of us.  I know that she made many sacrifices for her kids.  One of my most difficult memories was a time in my teens when I wanted a new pair of tennis shoes.  She told me that if I would pay half the cost of them, she would pay the other half.  I got my new shoes and was so proud of them.  A couple of nights later, I had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom and the hallway took me past the kitchen where I saw her sitting at the table all alone.  I stopped and watched her without her being aware of my presence.  She had a piece of cardboard and she was cutting out an insole for her old shoe, which I saw had a large hole.  I was embarrassed and asked her why she had helped me buy new tennis shoes when she needed new shoes much worse than I did.  I recall her sweet smile and her saying, “Honey that is what moms do.”  I actually believed that was true for several years, until I discovered that it is actually something that only very special moms do, and there are not nearly enough of them in this confused culture.

Through the years there were some serious struggles, but she was like a rock. Regardless what happened in the world, I always knew that my mom would be there and that made everything work in my world.  She, through sheer strength of character, religious convictions, and a deep and abiding love held her family together through it all.  Not to speak ill of my Dad, but there were times when most women would have walked out, but not my mom!

As her kids were starting their own families, my dad got sick.  I was limited in what I could do to help, and my siblings were as well.  She went to work and made a living, and she did a heck of a job at it, too!  Somewhere along the way, she decided that she would go to nursing school and danged if she didn’t!  I think she was over 50 when she graduated from Austin Community College.  I remember that she had graduated pretty high up in her class, and she was asked to speak at her graduation ceremony.  I can still she her walk to the podium and without any accompaniment, she sang “One Day at a Time’ and she nailed it.  I was so proud of her!

After she retired, my brother Billo, my precious sister, Dorothy, and Sandy and I pitched in and bought a nice house in Burnet for them.  They were able to enjoy the home for a number of years.

Then, my dad passed away and she was alone.  I know that was difficult for her.  After his funeral, we gathered at the house.  As she faced being alone for the first time in a really long time, she shared some of her apprehension.  I recall asking her if there was not some place she had always wanted to travel to and had not been able go.  She got that cute little twinkle in her eye, grinned, and said, “Well, I have always through I would like to visit Hawaii (I really wish I could write it the way she mispronounced it).  I told her to pack a bag because as soon as Sandy finished up the school year that she was going to Hawaii . . . all expenses paid!  She was like a little kid on Christmas morning.  In fact, as she went shopping, she proudly announced to everyone who would listen that Sandy and Dorothy were taking her to Hawaii, and she invited everyone to join them on the trip.  Some actually made plans to go along, and I had to be the bad guy and say, “No, this is something we are doing for her, and the girls want to take her and her alone?”  Dorothy rented a convertible and they really did Hawaii!  She still comments about it from time to time.

One morning a few years back, she got up, drove across town, and checked herself into Oaks Nursing Home and announced that she was weary of living along.  She had worked at Oaks for several years and knew most of the staff.  She is the Belle of the Ball there and loves everyone. Here is a picture of her “trick-or-treating” at the nursing home this week.

My mother is a most remarkable lady.  She has a powerful and unwavering faith and I know that her heavenly reward will be great.  She is a Romans 8:28 girl and just knows that it is all working together somehow and that everything will be okay.

An event of just a few years back stands out and testifies to the greatness of this precious woman.  Her church selected and honored her as “The Mother of the Year” . . . and at the time of her selection she hadn’t had a kid living in her home in over 25 years!  So it isn’t just me that brags on my mom . . . everyone brags on her!

I believe that all of the synonyms of extraordinary also describe my sweet mother.  She is, indeed . . . remarkable . . . exceptional . . . amazing . . . astonishing . . . astounding . . . sensational . . . stunning . . . incredible . . . unbelievable . . . and phenomenal!  Hey she is my Mom.

I knew it would happen . . . I just didn’t know when

Since April, I have just about every day gotten in the pool and have done a good work-out.  I usually get in the pool about 7:00 to 7:15 a.m., work out for an hour or so, go in and get ready for the office, and then prepare my breakfast.  I am normally in the office by 9 a.m.

Last week I got into the pool and it was really quite cool.  I checked the thermometer that I keep in the skimmer basket, and was shocked to discover that the temp was 77 degrees!  It was 82 and comfortable Sunday evening after the Cowboy game.  It seems that when it happens, it happens quickly.

I would love to install a pool heater, but the gas company told me their gas line ends 17 blocks from my house and they would need to charge me $27,000 to extend the gas line to me.

So I drove to Rockport and joined the community pool.  It is a great pool (60’ x 75’), and it is heated to 84 degrees throughout the cooler months.  There were a large number of people there and most of them seemed to be working out together (primarily walking in chest deep water and using aqua dumb bells to work the upper body.  I do some of that, but I also do a series of other exercises.  So I worked out with them for a while, then broke away to do my own regiment.  They are really a nice group of folks . . . all with one common goal: to be as healthy as possible. Most of them are from some place other than Rockport . . . one couple is from Michigan.  There are a number of prospects for my Sunday school class.  I met one fellow and he said his name is Mike.  He is really a pleasant man, and I enjoyed talking with him as we made our rounds.  He told me something quite amazing . . . he has lost 190 lbs in the past two years . . . and he has done it in the pool!!  He said he walks in the pool for 1 & ½ hours per day, and then swims for 1 & ½ hours per day (no stopping)!!!  That is heavy-duty.  I don’t know what he looked like before . . . but he looks fit-as-a-fiddle now.

This is going to require some serious adjustment to my schedule.  It is about a 30-minute drive from my house to the pool.  That is an hour of driving each day, and the real struggle is the pool does not open until 10:00 a.m.

Regardless, it is something that I just have to do, because I must work out daily and I am just not tough enough to do that in an unheated pool!  I am looking forward to next April when I will be able to stay home and use my own pool again.

 

A Good Kid and a Bunch of Pickles

When Chris was 8, he wanted to play in the new Pop-Warner football league that was just starting in the Coastal Bend area.  He loved the Dallas Cowboys and was convinced that he would one day wear the uniform recognized all over the world and the helmet with the star.  He just knew his time had arrived and it was time to begin his career in football.  I tried to convince him that fishing was more fun and time better spent.  He wasn’t having any of it, so I took him to the organizational meeting at the high school that Friday night.

We left the meeting . . . Chris had been signed up as a player . . . and me?  I had been strong-armed into being the coach of his team.  Our first team-meeting and practice was set for Monday afternoon.  As it turned out, it was fun and I actually had a pretty good team.  The boys would become lifetime friends for Chris.

Two of the boys were Sonny and Jesse.  They were half Indian (Native American).  Their mom had been married to an Indian fellow and they had these two fine boys.  Their mom had since married a local guy and they had a great kid they named Marty.  Marty was about 5 at the time. He was a short, chubby, blonde-haired, red-faced kid with a great personality.  Marty and his mom showed up every day at practice, and Marty and I became fast friends; he followed me everywhere.

All games were played on Saturday mornings.  Following our game, we would sit in the bleachers and watch the other games; it was cool.  The games were well-attended and we even had a concession stand.  Every week Marty would find me and sit right beside me.  I would look down at him and ask him, “Marty, did you do any work this week and earn any money?”  He would confess that he had not.  I would tell him that I sure would like to have a pickle . . . he would light up at the thought and say the he would too!  I would pull out two one dollar bills and tell him, “Marty, I am going to buy each of us a pickle today, but next week you get a job and earn some money and you can buy the pickles next week.”  He would agree, grab the two bills and strike out for the concession stand as fast as his short little legs would take him.  I would watch him go and would chuckle at my happy little pal.  After Marty purchased the pickles, he would begin eating his and would walk all the way around the stadium, stopping to visit with folks along the way.  By the time he got back to me, his pickle was long gone . . . and so was the thin little sack that had once covered my pickle.  As Marty would walk up to where I sat, he would hold his chubby little hand up and offer me my pickle.  His little hand looked just like you would expect a little boys hand to look after he had been running around the football stadium for 3 or 4 hours. I would smile and tell Marty that I had changed my mind and that he could have my pickle, too.  He would grin and say, “Wow, thanks, Johnny!”

We did that same ritual every Saturday morning during that football season, and the next, and the next.  In fact, that group of boys played football together all through Junior High and on thru High School.  Marty and I went to every game and we did the pickle thing every single game . . . Marty eating both pickles and promising that he would show up next week with money to buy the pickles.

Chris and the guys graduated from high school and headed off to prepare for life.  Some went to college, some went into the military, and others went to work; but over time, I lost contact with each of the guys.

Several years later, on a Friday evening as we were preparing to leave for our Friday-night date, the doorbell rang.  I answered the door and there stood a fine-looking, blonde-haired fellow wearing a white shirt and a tie, and of all things, he had a gallon jar of pickles under each arm! He beamed and declared, “Mr. Melton, I am Marty and I work at HEB supermarket.  Every time I walk down the pickle aisle, I am reminded that I owe you a bunch of pickles, and I have come to pay an old debt and clear my conscious!”  Sandy and I both howled in laughter and hugged on our old pal, Marty.  He sure made a good man.  After he left, we chuckled over how funny it is that different things just stick with different kids.

Marty is a married man today and lives in the Texas Hill country.  I saw a photo of his son on FB recently.  Marty’s son is about 3- or 4-years-of-age, chubby, and has a head full of blonde hair. He also has a sweet little round, red face.  I commented on the FB photo and said . . . “He certainly looks like his dad did at that age!”  I prayed for that sweet little boy and hoped that there would be some things that would stick with him in his life . . . just as they had with his Dad!


The Struggle . . .

Do you struggle with doing things that you later regret having done?  I suspect that most of us have such experiences.  Why is it that we have such a problem with saying and doing things that we don’t want to say or do?  Why is it that we struggle with this issue?  The problem has been excused or discounted many times and in many ways.  An excuse offered by the comedian Flip Wilson was (and we laughed), “. . . the devil made me do it.”

The Apostle Paul, speaking of himself and his life said that he was like two different men.  One was the “New Man” and the other was the “Old Man.”  He said that the New Man had some special things in his heart to do, but often times he discovered himself automatically doing just the opposite.  He said it was a lifelong struggle for him.  He wanted to say and do things that pleased God, but sometimes the Old Man got in the way and prevented him from that.  His conclusion was, “O wretched man that I am.”

I know that to be true about myself.  Sometimes, I am embarrassed about some of the things I say and some of the things that I do.  I feel like Paul in that it is never my desire to embarrass or hurt anyone, I just look up and realize that I have just done something that I never wanted to do. Then, I struggle with the question, “Why on earth did I say such a goofy thing?” or “Why did I do that?”

Sometimes, this happens in big things, and sometimes in smaller things.  An example of a big thing: I remember several years back an announcement was made that the Butcher of the Holocaust had been identified and found. His name was Adolph Eichmann.  He was arrested and put on trial in a world court.  The charge against him was the slaughter of millions of Jewish people under the leadership of Adolph Hitler.  The report was that there was one witness who had seen him then, could identify him now, and would testify to what he had done.  That man’s name was Yahule Denure.

The trial started and went on for several days.  Then, the day for Mr. Denure to testify arrived. He was aged, quite feeble, and slowly entered the courtroom (with assistance).  He had come to testify.  As he entered the courtroom, he looked to the front of the room where the Butcher sat behind a bullet-proof glass enclosure.  As he looked at him, the two men made eye contact . . . the Butcher and the victim.  The TV camera caught it all and the world watched on.  Immediately Mr. Denure fell to the floor, sobbing and weeping. After some time, he managed to compose himself and went to the witness stand to tell his story.

Later that evening, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes interviewed the quite, tender man. Mr. Wallace asked, “Mr. Denure, was the horror of seeing him for the first time in 50 years so overwhelming that it produced such a powerful reaction from you?”  Mr. Denure replied, “No, that was not it . . . I was afraid about myself.  In a moment of clarity, I recognized something about myself.  I realized that in the right circumstance, the right time, and the right place, I could do even as he had done, and that frightened me about myself.”  Mike Wallace got it . . . he slowly turned to the camera and asked, “Is Eichmann in all of us?”

I suspect that there is more truth in that question than any of us would like to admit.  While we will never do what the Butcher did; but, still we have left some people behind us hurting.

An example of a smaller thing: Sometimes, we are rude to a waiter in a restaurant or a sales clerk in a store.  While it may seem small, it hurts another person’s feelings and that is not small to the person.  So, what is the solution?  I think Paul got it right when he said that we ought to die to ourselves daily and let Christ live in us, fresh and new every day.  It is the solution, but the old man sure gets in the way.  Yet, every day is a new opportunity.

Marshall Shelly, in his book entitled, Well Intentioned Dragons identifies and describes eight types of people who operate inappropriately in other people’s lives.  Here they are:

  1. BIRD DOGS: Always ready to point out other’s mistakes;
  1. WET BLANKETS: At first, they appear to offer warmth, but up close they only spread doom and gloom . . . they are quite negative;
  2. FORTUNE HUNTERS: They look at people and see only possible contacts, potential clients, or an opportunity – we might be the key to them getting their bonus;
  3. STEAM ROLLERS: They get pleasure from straightening others out, and flattening their joy;
  4. FICKLED FINANCIERS: They use money to control people and events . . . but the bank closes the minute they don’t get their way;
  5. BUSY BODIES: Always in everyone else’s business . . . while neglecting their own;
  6. SNIPERS: They shoot at others from the cover of the bushes, all the while avoiding the light of confrontation; and
  7. BOOKKEEPERS: They keep a very detailed set of records on everything others do wrong, yet they can never remember anything they might have done right.  Their books also exclude anything they might have done wrong. 

One step in the right direction is to be mindful of the list and work hard at not being one who operates inappropriately in other people’s lives.

I needed this reminder today.  I hurt my sweet sister’s feelings a while back.  I regret that . . .


The Grocery Store

My dear friend and former Pastor, Charles Fake, has a great blog entitled, “Howdy Ya’ll.”  I love to read it as he is always thought-provoking and oftentimes allows his great sense of humor to come through.  Recently his blog was about his memory of the grocery store he knew as a boy and he reflected on the changes in retail food sales that have occurred since he was a boy.

It reminded me of a time when I was in the 7th grade and worked as a carry-out boy at Furr’s Super Market in Hobbs, N. M.  That would have been around 1962 and was at the time when stores had a marketing gimmick called “Double S & H Green Stamps on Wednesdays,” and boy did it ever work.  Women really loved and wanted those Green Stamps!  The response was so great that the store worked out an arrangement with the Junior High school that I attended (good old Houston Junior High) in order to have sufficient help on Wednesdays.  A large group of us boys from lower-income families were put into a vocational program so that we could be excused from school a half day each Wednesday so we could work at Furr’s.  We loved it and felt that we were very important.  We were required to wear a white shirt and a tie every Wednesday and we were paid $1.25 per hour, and even got tips on the carry outs!  $5.00 plus tips . . . and a hearty meal to boot!

We were only scheduled to work half-day shifts, either morning or afternoon.  We fell into a terrible habit of stealing from our employer and worked as a group on our crime.  We would enter the store as a group; one boy would go down the aisle with the potatoes chips and grab a bag, while other boys were working on aisles having bread, cookies, cold cuts, milk, paper cups, etc. We would carry our loot back to the stockroom where we picked up our aprons and clocked in, and then proceed to have a feast.  I have wondered about it some through the years, but our thievery didn’t ever seem to bother any of us little Sunday-school-going crooks.  We all pretty much went to Temple Baptist Church and were in Pete Peterson’s Sunday school class.  Of course, none of us every brought the subject up for class discussion.

One Wednesday, I was scheduled to work the afternoon shift but for some reason that escapes me now, I was late in arriving at the store.  As I ran toward the stockroom to grab my apron I passed one of my partners in crime, Joe Ball, and asked him, “What did ya’ll have to eat?”  Joe handed me what I thought was a cookie.  I continued on to the stock room and grabbed my apron and ran to the front of the store when the cashiers were crying out “CARRY OUT” with every breath!  As I arrived on the scene, I popped the cookie in my mouth and grabbed a basket that had been filled by a sacker and headed out of the store escorting my Green Stamp lady shopper. Suddenly my stomach began flip flopping! That jerk, Joe Ball had given me a dog biscuit . . . Wow, I really learned what it means, “Be sure your sins will find you out!”

That ended my life of crime on the spot!  I have never stolen one single thing since.  I tried crime . . . but I guess you could say it just sort of left a bad taste in my mouth.  Old Joe Ball really did do me a big favor, but I couldn’t see it at the time.  I am kind of sorry now that I beat him up about twenty times over that dog biscuit during the next five or so years . . . but then, again, I may have helped him too! You can bet Joe learned that practical jokes on the wrong guy could prove . . . bruising!  I can pretty much guarantee that old Joe Ball never gave another guy a dog biscuit!

My recollection of the grocery store is not as fond as is Charles Fake’s.


Management is fun . . . it is the people who can be a struggle!

Yesterday Stacey walked into my office and said, “She is at it again!”

I asked her what was going on and she said, “Sally is on the war-path again and others are nervous and some are questioning why you don’t do anything about Sally.”  NOTE: Obviously, Sally is not her real name.

I own apartments . . . that is my business.  I am the President of the firm that manages the apartments.  I am also President of the firm that remodels them when that is needed.  Much of my portfolio is made up of apartment complexes designed for older people – who for whatever reason – did not retire with much other than a social security check.  The government assists many of them with the rent.  I also have other complexes designed for families, which also offers assistance with the rent.  I have other apartments that are known in the market place as conventional, which simply means that anyone can lease an apartment, if they can pass the screening criteria and can afford the rent.  I also have some single-family houses that are rentals.

Back to Sally . . . Sally moved here from New Orleans a couple of years back.  She is a Cajun and she grew up pretty hard.  Through her life, she had to fight for everything (she says), and she is a pretty hard lady.  She is quick to speak . . . but often slow to think.  She just reacts to things . . . and most of the time she reads the situation wrong and thus her reaction is wrong.  As an example, recently three of her neighbors were at the mail station collecting their mail, one of them said something funny and they all laughed.  Sally had just driven into the parking space and got out of her car. She heard the ladies laughing and automatically assumed they were laughing at her . . . she marched over and told them off.  I am sure that she has behaved in that manner much of her life and consequently she has been laughed about quite a bit.  I know her behavior is something that causes others to talk about her . . . and understandably it also causes people to avoid her like a plague.

My policy is that my staff and I simply do not get in the middle of tenant spats.  Neighbors fuss and then make up, but that does not happen if management becomes involved.  Things escalate when one believes management is on his or her side.

But, there is also the place when a tenant’s rude behavior reaches the level where we do have to step in and sometimes take legal action.  It always begins with us asking the person to come to the office and discuss the problem.  In that meeting, we identify the specific problem and advise him or her of the consequences of continuing ahead with such behavior (then we hand the person a letter confirming what we just told him or her).  It is at this stage that we really learn some things about the person and what makes him or her tick . . . and it is also an opportunity to help the individual.  That does happen and it is sweet when it does.

When I talked with Sally on a prior occasion, she said, “I have to get even with them, Mr. John.”  I ask her “Why?”   She pondered that a few minutes with her head down, then in a very sad manner looked up at me and said, “I don’t know why, I just do . . . it is how I am.”  I asked her, “Sally, do you know who I try to get even with?”  She grinned and said, “Wow, Mr. John, do you really try to get even with people, too?”  I assured her that I do, indeed, try to get even with people . . . but I try to get even with the people who do things for me . . . try to get even with the people who try to help me.  That I try to repay kindnesses . . . but that seems to have been above Sally’s level of thinking.

When I meet with my staff, I often say, “Folks, we just have to try to teach adults things that their Mama’s should have taught them … and honestly, Mama may have tried  . . . like Merle Haggard’s old country western song.”

Some of the simple things we have to try to teach adults are:

  1. You must park your car with all parts of the car inside the yellow stripes;
  2. You must put your garbage bag INSIDE the dumpster, not BY the dumpster;
  3. No one else wants to listen to your music or your TV . . . turn it down;
  4. You have to pay the rent . . . “I just paid the rent a week ago” . . . “Duh, that was for last month and it was 3 weeks late . . .”;
  5. You have to keep your apartment clean, safe, and sanitary;
  6. You cannot store old newspapers in the closet beside the hot water heater . . . it’s a fire hazard;
  7. When the faucet drips . . . call maintenance, there is no charge and it helps conserve water;
  8. Do not water the yard by laying the hose on the ground and turning the hose-bib on;
  9. Treat others respectfully . . . say please and thank you . . . and the list goes on and on;
  10. The central A/C system will not put out cold air while you have the thermostat set on Heat;
  11. If you do not pay your electric bill, the power company will pull your meter . . . If that happens, don’t call our maintenance people as that is not maintenance . . . but it is a requirement of the lease that you keep power on at all times;
  12. No, there is no one living in the attic of your apartment . . . or coming in and eating your food.  That is simply your imagination;
  13. Do not put food out for the stray cats and dogs . . . that is not being kind . . . it is silly and creates a nuisance.  Not everyone enjoys having stray animals hanging around;
  14. When animal control sets a trap and catches a stray animal, do not release the animal. That is dangerous; and
  15. No, our insurance does not cover your car.

While I was visiting one of the elderly properties recently, the Manager told me that she had a couple of neighbors (an older man and a woman) who were in a huge battle and she was at wit’s end with them. She asked me to talk with them.  We walked down to the building in which they lived. The man was outside and we invited the lady to come out too.  I asked them what the problem was. The woman said, “He steals my water hose and I have to go take it back.”  I looked at the hose rolled up on the hanger and said, “Actually, that is the apartment complex’s hose, and it is provided because we know older people enjoying watering, but if it is causing a problem, I will have the maintenance man take it.”  They quickly agreed that they wanted to keep the hose. As we sat there on the porch and talked, I told them about a man I know who is in M. D. Anderson and probably won’t make it.  I suggested they ought to be thankful for good health and life and not be fussing over something as silly as a garden hose that didn’t even belong to either of them. The old fellow told the lady, “I will put the hose back on your side of the building, and I will buy me one at Walmart.  I just used it because I knew it bugged you.  I am sorry”.  They smiled and shook hands.  It was sweet . . . but it doesn’t always work that way.

I have learned a few things through the years, and here are a few of them:

. . . 90% of the problems at the complex come from those who pay the least amount of rent.

. . . We rarely see the residents who pay $1,000 or more per month.  They have their bank electronically transfer their rent to our bank, they advise us of any maintenance needs by e-mail or text message.  Their neighbors rarely see or hear them.

. . . That sweet people just get sweeter as they get older . . . and mean people just get meaner as they get older . . . and there isn’t anything in my business as nasty as a nasty old man . . . or a nasty old woman . . . and there is nothing any sweeter than a sweet, Godly older person.  They are a blessing!  Oftentimes, they teach us some great stuff about life . . . adversity . . . and grace.

Sally . . . That poor gal is in some hot water.  She is very close to seeing her name at the top of the page!

In my business is like the old saying, “Serving the Lord, oh that is glory . . . serving people, now that is a different story.”

 

 

Famous sayings . . .

This was e-mailed to me by my pal, Zach McKinney, along with his disclaimer, “. . . I have my doubts on some of these, but fun nonetheless.”  I agreed with Zach, but decided to use some of them, as follows:

1. The throttles on early aircraft had a ball on the top end.  In order to go full throttle, the pilot had to push the throttle all the way to the wall of the instrument panel.  Hence, “Balls to the wall” for going full speed.

2. During WW II, U. S. planes were armed with belts of bullets which they could shoot during dogfights and strafing runs.  The belts were folded into the wing compartments that fed their machine guns.  The belts measured 27’ and contained hundreds of bullets. Oftentimes, the pilots would return from their mission having used up all their ammunition on various targets and would announce, “I gave them the whole nine yards” . . . meaning they had used up all of their ammo.

3. We have all heard the expression, “If the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”  What most folks don’t know is that the term was used in reference to Creek Indians, rather than a body of water.  The phrase is said to have been written by Benjamin Hawkins in the 18th century; he was the Indian agent to the Creek Indian tribe.  While still in the south, the President requested that he return to Washington on a specific date. His response was, “If God is willing and the Creek don’t rise, I will be there.”

4. “An arm and a leg.”  In George Washington’s days there were no cameras; one’s image was either painted or sculpted.  Some paintings of Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back, while other paintings showed both arms and both legs.  Prices charged by artists at that time were not determined by how many people were to be painted, but rather how many arms and legs were to be painted.  It seems that limbs were more difficult and time-consuming to paint, thus the expression, “It will cost you an arm and a leg.”

5. At an earlier time in history, personal hygiene standards were not very high.  Most people developed acne scars by the time they reached adulthood.  To cover the scars, women would cover the areas of their face with beeswax to smooth out their complexion and improve their appearance.  As conversations were held, if one lady looked too closely at another, she was told, “Mind your own beeswax.”  Sometimes, when a lady smiled, the wax would crack, hence the term, “Crack a smile.”  Then, if she sat too close to the fireplace, the wax would melt and she was said to have, “lost face.”

 

6. Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front.  A proper and dignified woman, as in “straight laced,” would tie her corset tightly, while a less dignified lady would leave her corset tied more loosely.

 7. Early politicians desired feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important.  Having no telephones, TV’s, or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to the local pubs.  They were instructed to “go sip” and listen to what the people were talking about and what their political concerns were.  Many were sent out at a time, with “you go sip there” and “you go sip there,” and report back.  Ultimately, the two words, “go sip” were combined when referring to the local opinion, and thus, we have the word, “gossip;” and lastly . . .

 8. In the early days of sailing vessels, all war ships and some freighters carried iron cannons aboard for defense of the crew and cargo.  Those cannons required a supply of cannon balls.  It was necessary to have the cannon balls stored near the cannons; however, cannon-balls rolling about while at sea were dangerous to both crew and vessel.  Over time, the best system that emerged to keep the cannon-balls safe and still available was a square based pyramid with one cannon-ball on top, which rested on 4, which rested on 9, which rested on 16, thus a supply of 30 cannon-balls could be stacked in a small area by the cannons.  Yet, there was still a problem: how to prevent the bottom row from sliding or rolling and setting all the cannon balls lose.  The solution proved to be a small plate called “a monkey,” with 16 round indentations.  If this plate was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust.  The solution to the problem was to make the plates out of brass, thus “brass monkeys.”  But another problem developed for vessels sailing into colder climates.  Brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when it’s chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too low, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon-balls would come right off of the monkeys. Thus, the term developed that it was “cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey.”  Now, all this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn’t you?

 Who knows, some of them might just be true.

Shut Down . . . or Melt Down . . . October 1, 2013

A new Federal Fiscal Year began Tuesday morning, October 1st . . . and instead of opening for business, a sign was put in the window saying, “Closed for Business” and our employees were sent back home.

Once again, our elected officials have embarrassed us . . . failed us . . . brought shame upon the offices they hold . . . and they have brought into question once again the issue of integrity, or the lack thereof, in our political system.  Regardless of where one stands on the issues, it is just obvious this mess was never the intention of our founders.  It seems pretty clear this morning that there are 447 people in D.C. about whom the following can be said:

  1. They don’t have a clue what they are doing;
  2. They don’t like each other very much;
  3. They have no respect for the American people and the people’s government; and
  4. They literally, seem to have forgotten who sent them to D. C. and why they were sent.

I have read reports that this won’t actually affect the average American very much, but I would argue that it does, indeed, hurt the average American . . . and it hurts America!

It hurts in the same way that it hurts for a child to hear his or her parent tell a lie.  It simply sets a poor example and sends the wrong message.  The message it sends is a message of “us” and “them”; a message that it is ok to not work together for what is right; a message that says “the opinion of the representative is more important than representing the one who sent you.”

So, what is right and what is wrong in the Washington battle?  There are a number of things that can be entered on each side of the ledger sheet.  Here are some examples:

Under the heading of Good:

It is good that people are free to elect their own representatives; and

It is good that elected representatives would seek to do good (well) for the citizenship (help the poor).

Under the heading of Bad:

It is bad that an electorate would elect unqualified representatives and do so simply because of superficial issues; and

It is bad when a representative government seeks to impose its own value system of right and wrong onto the citizenship and then announces to the citizenship what is good for it, yet then exempt itself from that very thing it has imposed on the people.

There are some serious inequities in all of this.  The members of Congress (435) and members of the Senate (100) are paid $174,000 each per year, which is far above the annual income of the average citizen (they approved their own salaries).  The members of Congress and the Senate get the same salary, regardless of how well or how poorly he or she performs the job.  Moreover, these representatives have given themselves these salaries for life . . . regardless of how long they hold the elected office.  

The central element of the current debate which has caused the current budget impasse, political gridlock, and forced this government shutdown/meltdown is the new health-care program being called Obamacare.  Is Obamacare a good thing . . . or is it a bad thing?  I honestly don’t know, nor do I know anyone who does know the truth.  I know there are a bunch of folks on both sides of this thing . . . but not one of them knows the truth about it yet.

I do know there are some things said to be included in it that frighten a bunch of people . . . and those things can be made to sound frightening for many of us.  But, then, it depends on where one stands that dictates what one sees.  I think the greatest resentment is not the new health care law, itself, in as much as it is the manner by which it was passed into law.

I do know that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has gone to great lengths to prevent Obamacare from being implemented, and I think that I even understand why they have. Yet, the truth is that they challenged the issue in the Supreme Court, and lost, and this is like the 45th time they have voted to kill the law.  It is what it is . . . accept it and get to the people’s business.  If it proves to be as bad as you have been telling us it is, you won’t have any trouble getting the support to repeal it in the future.

As maddening as it all is, in truth it is just another example of how we as people can behave in pretty much every area of life.  Historically, we have certainly shown that we can divide ourselves into a bunch of different ways and into a bunch of different groups . . . by economic status, political affiliations, race, color, creed, gender, and religion.

Our peculiarities about religion can become as confusing and complex as they do over politics, and that is beyond sad.  Politics, by its very nature, is designed to divide and separate people. The word politics takes its grammatical root at the same place as do these words:

Polarize—to cause to concentrate about two conflicting or contrasting positions

Polarity—the possession or manifestation of two opposing attributes, tendencies, or principles

But, it ought not ever be so in religion . . . because the purpose of religion should never be fear based or division . . . but rather about love, redemption, peace with God, and peace with others. Of course, the reply is that each denomination holds its own doctrinal beliefs, and that is where the struggle comes in.  That sounds quaint, but the truth is it is error.  The truth is that there is only one “right” and it is not a relative thing.  There is only one Creator . . . and He only created us for one reason . . . to live in relationship with Him.  Sin became an issue between The Holy Creator and His sinful creation.  But, He made a way to bridge that gap . . . and there is only one way!  Any religious structure or system that cannot show a person that truth and that one way is simply a waste of effort and becomes like polarity.

Even sadder, that same division occurs within Churches and happens over things such as music, style of worship, how much of the culture is reflected in the Church and worship, etc.  It is present in our local Churches, but it ought not be so!  The problems always show up when folks start wanting their own way about things . . .

I read a brilliant illustration this morning, and it brought some comfort to my heart and mind in the midst of the divided world in which we find ourselves.  

Here it is: If you stood a group of people around the walls in a room and you asked them to become unified, confusion would likely result.  But imagine that you set a chair in the middle of the room and asked them to walk toward it – the closer they came to the chair, the closer they would come to one another . . .

Now, imagine that chair was a throne, and God sat upon it . . .

It Seems to Me . . . that mindset could fix a bunch of stuff!