Small Things can become Larger . . . When time and distance come into Play

I first learned about wind power in West Texas. I have some apartment complexes out there and one is marketed to the upper level oil-patch folks.  We had a group of executives and engineers with the wind-power program move in.  One of the Engineers moved into the apartment across from the corporate apartment I keep for my company, and I got acquainted with him; he was really a nice guy and very intelligent.  One night as I was headed out for dinner, I encountered him and invited him along.  He accepted, and I am really glad he did . . . he explained wind-power energy to me . . . how it works, why it works, when it works, and when it does not work—really interesting stuff.   He invited me to drive out the next morning to their work-site and watch as they erected some of the tall towers.  I accepted the invite and took my Architect and pal, Ron Barbutti, along—as he had just arrived in town.  As we observed the goings-on, it was obvious the crew was struggling with a problem.  When the Engineer came around, I inquired about the problem.  He explained that one of the towers was off-level a couple of inches at the base, but they had shims and such to fix the problem.  As he went on to his work, I commented to Ron, “I do not see how a couple of inches could be much of a problem on anything that massive.”

Ron chuckled and said, my friend, “Two inches at the base isn’t much, but that two inches probably converts to something like 10 feet at the top of the tower!”

His comment has stuck with all through the years, and I regularly encounter situations where that truth is demonstrated. Here are a few examples:

. . . The folks at Charlie’s Place: Someone once said to them, “Take a sip of this . . . ” or “take a puff of this . . .” and that sip or puff . . . over time . . . became a thing of exponential growth in their lives . . . even to the point of controlling them!

A man and a woman say two simple words . . . one a pronoun and the other a one-syllable verb: “I Do” . . . and that thing also grows to become a thing of exponential growth.

A practice of sun-tanning as a teen . . . turns into a struggle with skin cancer at 50.

I am going to write this morning about an incident that was small at the time . . . but seemingly grew over time, completely unknown to me for many years, and I was overwhelmed when I learned what had become of it.  I need to remind those who read my musings that I write this blog at the request of my children.  I write it to serve as a testimony for them, their children, and my other family and friends about what I believe . . . why I believe it . . . and to share some of my experiences in my life’s journey.  The thing I am going to write about might seem like bragging, but please know that is not my intent at all.  I simply wish to illustrate how a simple, random gesture can grow over a period of 20 years . . . for either good or bad.

I recently wrote about my experience and friendship with the Kickapoo Indian tribe in Eagle Pass.  This even happened almost 20 years later in another City . . . in another State, but it is related to the Kickapoos and my work with them.

For many years, I conducted training seminars on housing management, and criss-crossed the nation a number of times.  With my seminars, I traveled from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Anchorage, Alaska, and from way up on the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast, and many points in between.  I always enjoyed the travel, the people, the opportunity to teach others, and trying to challenge and inspire those in my business.  A large portion of the training I did was in association with the National Center for Housing Management, of Washington, D. C.  (NCHM); I have mentioned it before).

All that changed after 9/11 . . . and I really don’t like traveling by commercial air any more.  It has simply lost all charm for me, with the being filmed, manhandled by my own government, and removing my shoes . . .

A couple of years ago, the good folks at NCHM called and excitedly told me that they had successfully negotiated a heavy-duty training contract with The Department of Housing and Urban Development.  They asked me to take a lead role in the training.  I thanked them for the invite, but told them I had to decline as I simply did not want to travel like that again.  After an hour or so, my phone rang and this time it was my dear and long-time friend, Glenn Stevens, NCHM president calling.  (I feel like I helped raise Glenn – his dad was my friend, Roger Stevens, who also served as NCHM President).  I answered and he said, “Melton, there is no way you can escape being a part of this, Dude, we are going right into the HUD offices and we are going to train 16,000 HUD employees!  This is the biggest thing in NCHM’s history and I really want you play a serious lead role; heck, I need you to do that for NCHM.”  After some discussion, I agreed that I would participate, but only to the extent that I could drive.  That meant I would do training in the San Antonio HUD Field office, the Fort Worth Regional office, the Dallas Field office, the Oklahoma City Regional office, and NCHM would send some folks from across the country to sit in on my seminars as student/trainers.  I would spend time with the group at meals and of an evening teaching and explaining what was being taught in the seminars and why.  I would then evaluate the student trainers for NCHM, and hopefully those folks would then become trainers and go to the places where I was unable and unwilling to travel.  NOTE: I was actually roped into flying to one City . . . Atlanta to do a couple of weeks in the Atlanta Regional office (I flew from Houston on a direct-flight to Atlanta).  I am glad that I did that . . . as I met some wonderful folks there and was able to reconnect with some old friends.

The event I want to relate this morning occurred in the Oklahoma City Regional office, on the second day of the first of three seminars held there.  The HUD office was in the replacement building (still connected to a portion of the building destroyed by Timothy McVae in the Oklahoma City bombing.

As I arrived in the training room on that morning, one of the ladies brought her husband in with her and introduced me to him.  In our chatting over morning coffee, I asked him where he worked.  He said that he worked inside the building . . . with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I asked him if he knew my old friend, Hugh Green.  He smiled and said that Hugh had hired him several years before.  He told me that Hugh had retired a few years back, had recently lost his wife, and was in poor health.  He asked how it was that I knew Hugh, and I told him that I had worked with the Kickapoo’s in the early years.  He looked at me in a peculiar way and said, “You are the guy” and excused himself.  I got the seminar started and got to work.  As we took our mid-morning break, the Housing Chief stood and made an announcement that we all needed to go to the 6th floor, so I followed the crowd to the elevators.  The lady who had introduced me to her husband walked along side me.  After we got off the elevator, she directed me to an open meeting room.  As I entered the room the large group of people inside the room began to clap, so I started to clap along with them. Then a tall, handsome fellow who was very obviously a Native American (even if he had not been wearing the beaded head band) stepped into the center of the room and raised his hands in the air, and the room grew quite.  Then he embarrassed me . . . by calling me to stand by him, and he recounted to the group a pretty complete story of my work with the Kickapoo’s.  I was amazed that he knew so many of the details.  As he concluded his remarks, he turned to me and said, “Mr. Melton, what you did those years ago has become something akin to a legend in the Bureau of Indian Affairs . . . an able consultant who helped a native people as a volunteer . . . and declined to request payment for services rendered . . . something lovingly done out of the goodness of a good heart for people so different than himself. Sir, we just don’t see that being done for our people . . . before or since! Thank you.”  As I stood there, about a hundred people walked by and shook my hand and thanked me for what I had done.  I was just overwhelmed and it seemed they had quickly planned a party in my honor.  They had even sent someone out to pick up bakery goods and had made coffee.  It was a really sweet time.

Little things can grow into big things . . . even when we are completely unaware!  I wish I had more of the good back there . . . and not quite so much of the goofy.

The Gettysburg Address: November 19, 1863 . . . 150 years later: November 19, 2013

It has been said that, “the one certain thing about history is that man never learns much from history.”

An important, yet sad, portion of our nation’s history is the War Between the States fought from 1861 to 1865.  This remains the deadliest war in our history, with the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers, by disease and casualties of war, plus an estimated 50,000 civilians.

Historians tell us the causes of the war were complex.  History itself tells us there has always been an on-going debate over exactly what were those causes.  Some of the causes offered are . . . Slavery . . . States’ Rights . . . Sectionalism . . . Protectionism . . . National Elections . . . and Nationalism.  The debate has been going on since the beginning of the war, and I don’t suppose that matter will ever be fully resolved.

While we are not involved in an actual Civil War (e.g. physical battle) today, there is a huge division amongst the American People.  In fact, I suspect that the nation has never been more divided other than during the Civil War itself.  There is also a controversy and debate about the cause(s) of this current and ever-growing division.

Our wonderful Pledge of Allegiance to our noble flag says in part . . . “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  That truly sounds great, but the reality of it is that this is simply something that some really smart people wanted to be true for our nation, but we are, and have always been, a people that can be divided.  Quoting the beautiful words of that well-meaning Pledge of Allegiance over a long period of years simply has not changed basic, human nature.

Several items are being blamed for today’s division: some of them are: entitlement programs . . . big government vs small government . . . government funded/mandatory insurance coverage . . . out-of-control government spending . . . an ever-increasing national debt . . . and so very tragically, the part about our being “One Nation under God” . . . there is a growing controversy promoted by an increasing number of folks who are greatly troubled by the notion that God exists and this Nation having historically acknowledged that truth and showing some measure of appreciation for His presence, provision, and watch care.

This division has reached the point where it even causes shutdowns of our government, and the best that can be done is to kick the battle down the fiscal calendar for a month or two at a time. That, of course, leaves tensions constantly simmering and a possible storm always brewing . . . and the truth is that anything can happen . . . and could happen very quickly.

In November, 1863, then President Abraham Lincoln, a controversial figure at the time, but today viewed as a great and noble statesman, was invited to deliver remarks at the official dedication ceremony of the National Cemetery.  The Cemetery was on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War.  Lincoln’s remarks consisted of only 273 words, of which many are one syllable words; yet, the speech is rightly considered to be one of the greatest and most important speeches in American history.  His remarks offered in that setting, 150 years ago today, are known as the Gettysburg Address! 

Here is what that noble, God-fearing man said that day, from what was certainly a broken heart:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863

 

I am wondering if there are any such thinkers or statesman alive today that might step forward to help our Nation at this confusing time? It is sure beginning to look doubtful to me . . .  

 

Yet, I continue to be encouraged because I have dual citizenship . . . and my other citizenship is in a place with no such struggles or divisions . . . all of that got worked out, once and for all time, a couple of thousand years ago!


Seagulls

Seagulls . . . November 18, 2013

One day last week as I worked out in the pool, a sea gull hovered above the pool, squawking and letting everyone know that he was plenty unhappy about something.  Several of us chuckled at the gull’s persistence and irritation.  I commented to one of the guys that while I was riding in a taxi thru New York City a few years back I made a mental discovery . . . the gulls on the East coast have white heads, while our gulls have dark heads.  The guy chuckled and said, “Actually, our gulls have white heads too!”

I looked up at the gull and pointing, said, “That gull’s head is black.”  He said that our gulls have black heads during the mating season . . . males and females both.  I told him that I was familiar with changes in appearance often being part of the mating ritual in species (antlers, beards, and such), but not the same thing happening to both genders within a species.   The guy assured me that he was an artist and sketched them and that he knew.

I later asked Doc Edwards, a serious birder, about the guy’s comments.  To my amazement, Doc confirmed the guy was, indeed, telling the truth.  I trust Doc, but have concluded that our sea gulls must have a year-round mating season, because I rarely ever see a gull with a light-colored head.

I use to love the sea gulls, but not so much anymore.  There was a time when I would look for gulls working the water and knew there would be a school of fish feeding under the birds, but that never seems to happen anymore.  The primary place I see gulls today is at the fish-cleaning tables, on the beach, in fast-food joints’ parking lots, and gliding above fishing boats . . . in each case crying out, begging for food.

 

I fear that humans have made a serious change in the species survival skills, and an entire generation of those once great fishers, hunters, and scavengers are now primarily dependent on humans for their food.  I also fear that same thing is happening in the good old US of A with its food stamp program.  The numbers of American recipients of Food Stamps in this rich, powerful nation is mind-boggling.

It makes me think of those young Jewish boys who had been exiled to a pagan land many, many years ago.  The one charged with their development in their new home took them on a tour of the King’s palace and while doing so pointed out the King’s banquet table and advised the young Jewish fellows that they were free to eat as often and as much as they wished.  The young leader of the group, Daniel, said, “No thanks, not us, we will just eat vegetables and drink water.”  I have thought quite a bit about it over the years.  I know the young men had a specific diet to follow, but they certainly could have picked and chosen what they took from the table.  It seems to me . . . that those wise, dedicated, Godly young men refused to eat from the King’s banquet table because they knew that the day they did . . . was the day they would begin to compromise who they were.  As the story of these young men plays out, we see them backed up on their principles . . . forced to stand on their convictions . . . and refuse to compromise who they were . . . what they believed . . . or what they were willing to do!  The Hebrew boys went into the fiery furnace and Daniel into the lion’s den . . . and God took care of them.

I am reminded of a time when I was a chubby little kid shining shoes on the streets of Hobbs, New Mexico.  There was a great burger place called Ma Brown’s.  It was a small hole-in-the-wall, with a few tables and booths, and a round serving/dining counter with stools around it.  You could smell the aroma two blocks away.  A world-class burger cost 25 cents or a sack of 5-for-a-dollar!

I loved to stop there and have a burger when I had a quarter.  One day as I sat there with my chubby little hands trying to hold one of those huge burgers, an old man sitting across from me looked on.  I would see him around sometimes, and I am sure he worked at a printing press because he had a pocket-protector in his shirt pocket, filled with pens, and small tools.  I recall that his hands were stained with ink like mine were with shoe polish.  He asked me, “Son, did you thank God for that good burger?” and I knew that my sweet little mama would have skinned me for it, but I was honest and confessed that I had not.  The old fellow, smiled sadly, shook his head and said, “If American’s don’t start thanking God, you will see a hamburger cost $12 in your life.”  I thought that was nuts.

As Sandy and I sat in a small diner in a small, remote town in Alaska a few years back, and as I viewed the menu and saw a hamburger priced at $12, I recalled the old fellow’s words.  It was amazing that while eating a 25 cent burger . . . he could look ahead and see a day of $12 burgers.

I am not sure how it all works out . . . but It Seems to me . . . that I sense that the thing happening with sea gulls . . . is actually quite similar to and reflective of both the food-stamp thing in the USA . . . and what the old fellow was talking about with the prediction of the $12 burgers.

Citizenship

I read an interesting, but confusing, article this morning in Daily Finance.  The article was entitled, “More Americans than ever are Renouncing  their Citizenship,” and says the Wall Street Journal reports that 2013 has already set a new record for “expatriations” . . . people renouncing their citizenship.  The article goes on to say that expatriations are typically motivated by a desire to escape taxes, and that there has been a 33% increase from 2011, which was a record year.

What a crazy thing to do . . . give up citizenship in the greatest nation in the history of the human race, simply to escape paying taxes? To forsake and abandon something provided to you at birth . . . something that so many have given their lives to defend?

I recall a Banker friend telling me about the Chairman of the Board at his bank.  The Chairman was a physically very small Jewish immigrant who had really faced some struggles in his earlier life.  My friend explained that the bank was doing something significant, and the Bank President was explaining that if the Bank did the thing in a particular manner, it could escape about $100,000 in tax liability.  The Chairman said, “Nonsense, do not do that . . . just pay the taxes!” When challenged on it, the immigrant said, “It is a privilege to pay taxes in this great country . . . this country of hope and opportunity!”  I think the Bank Chairman was right.  Don’t misunderstand . . . I am not always happy with what goes on in the USA . . . and with many of the things our government does . . . but still, I would rather be here than any other place. 

I drive down to Mexico on occasion and what I see reminds me how fortunate we are as American citizens.  Our poorest citizens are wealthy compared to most of the people in the world.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce used to say that a 12-year-old child with a paper route earning $75 per month was in the top 10% income group in the world!  I don’t know if that is still true today, but I do know that hard-working men in Mexico work 12-hour days for little $7 to $8 per day.

It Seems to Me . . . that most people fail to see the truth about paying taxes.  The real truth is that we should want to pay a greater amount in taxes!  Think about this: Bill Gates or Warren Buffet can get a call from their accountants saying they will have to pay an additional $10,000,0000 in taxes this year, and it doesn’t even change the way those dudes live for one second . . . on one day!

I think I will just stay and pay my taxes, but I must confess that I do kind of like the new sayings of Jeff Foxworthy, “The United States . . . a nation formed by a group of geniuses . . . but presently being run by a group of idiots.”

I also have another citizenship of which I am quite proud.  My citizenship there has been purchased, secured, and guaranteed forever more, and there are no taxes to be paid there!

A Rite of Passage . . .

Last week a friend posted some photos on FB that took me back in time and made me smile.  The photos were of her son and his first deer (which he had harvested during the youth season). That was a happy young kid. I messaged her that his dad needed to dip the first three fingers of each hand in blood and swipe the young guy’s face to give him the markings of a warrior.  She replied that her husband had done that very thing, and the kid was proudly sporting his new look and would not be washing it off anytime soon.

For young men there are a number of different rites of passages, some of which are often part of one’s ethnic or religious heritage and may include some form of ceremony, such as a formal baptism, confirmation, or Bar Mitzvah. The rite of passage marks a milestone in one’s life.  There are a number of such milestones in life, which includes transition from puberty to high school, graduation, coming of age, marriage, and even death.

In the past, those who lived in the South pretty much always harvested wild game to feed their families.  Many of us continue to do that today . . . both for recreation, meat, and often times as part of our heritage.  For some of us, it is important that we pass on to our sons this custom, believing that country boys can, indeed, survive, and it is, thus, important for a man to teach his son how to harvest and process a deer, pheasant, fowl, and other game.  It is also important for him to teach him how to catch fish.  It just seems pretty obvious that those who can go into the wild and harvest meat for their table will not be looking to the government to feed them.

For me and my ilk, a young guy and his first deer is a pretty serious milestone as he marches toward manhood, and it can certainly include a bit of ceremony with the warrior marking.  I recall a few years back when Chris and I shared the experience of his first deer. That was special, and I proudly marked him as a successful warrior, and he proudly wore his warrior stripes.  After that success, he began hunting on his own and no longer under my watchful eyes.

I have also shared the experience with some of my nephews and with a number of young guys who lived at the Children’s Home over the years.

 The North wind . . . a bit of chill in the air . . . the month of November . . . Thanksgiving approaching . . . opening weekend of deer season just ahead . . . a group of good friends standing around a camp-fire . . . serious stuff for an old country boy!

I love the South . . . I am a product of the South.  My son is a product of the South . . . we are country boys . . . we can survive!


Helping and Serving Others . . .

I recently read a statement that I like, and I hope is really true. It said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.”

On Tuesday evenings a group of good-hearted people in Rockport gather at a local church and provide a hot and healthy meal to feed lower-income people and families in the community.  The amazing part of it is that most everyone who labors on the project is actually quite well-off financially and are doing something for folks who could not do anything back for them.  These good people cook, scrub pots and pans, wash dishes, and serve tables; you would think the folks being served dinner were royalty.  There is even some pretty entertainment . . . generally someone is playing the piano or some other musical instrument and most of the time someone is singing.  The program is known as Community Table.

I was asked to be part of it and serve as a sort of unofficial greeter, and just slowly and quietly roam from table to table, from group to group and see if I might be able to offer a word of encouragement for anyone struggling with life, or perhaps offer a bit of direction to someone who is wandering, or maybe help someone see possibility and hope.  I am amazed at some of the folks who come to dinner, and it is really obvious that some are living really close to the bottom of the food chain.  In fact, I often have the sense with some of them that they might not have been able to have had dinner if not for this.

The crowd is growing . . . It has now climbed to over 400 folks being fed.  I am not sure where they all come from, but there are some people who are certainly struggling with the life experience.

The sweet lady who is in charge of the program, Harrilyn Tipton, recently asked me to think about offering some “Words of Wisdom” to the entire group as they enjoyed dinner; I told her that I would.  Last week she called everyone to attention, introduced me, and asked me to come forward, and offer some “Words of Wisdom.”  I welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming out. I then told them about Jesus feeding a multitude (John 6), and said that many of the smart guys who write stuff about things in the Bible suggest there were, perhaps, as many as 15,000 people present.  Jesus fed them all with 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish (a young boy’s lunch), and when everyone was filled Jesus’ disciples gathered up 12 baskets full of leftovers.  I told the diners that the good folks serving them dinner could not feed them with a few loaves and a couple of fish, but they were certainly doing something noteworthy . . . and I truly hoped it was something they could see.  I explained that in John 15:12, Jesus told his followers that His commandment was that they love God with all of their heart, and that they love one another just as He loved each of them.  I explained that these hard-working, self-giving folks were following Jesus’ commandment . . . and it is their motivation for serving.

It seems to me . . . If the folks being fed and loved on today can come to understand the why of it all . . . they just might want to get up after eating their dinner . . . and maybe grab a broom and lend a hand.  I believed that is how people grow into . . . servanthood.

Perhaps, if today’s diners change the way they look at this program, it might change what they look at . . . rather than looking at folks serving them . . . they might start looking at folks they are serving themselves!

One of my favorite cartoons shows a couple of street guys standing in front of an inner-city Church as morning services had been dismissed and the pastor was on the porch shaking hands with his flock as they exited.  One of the street guys said, “According to that preacher, we are here to serve the others.”  The other street guy thought about it for a minute, and asked his pal, “What are the others here for?”

It seems to me . . . the guy asked a reasonable question.

 


Baseball’s great . . . and colorful people . . . from an age gone by

The World Series is going on this week.  This year it is the St Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox.  I was hoping that the Red Birds could pull it off, but it seems they just don’t have enough bat . . . and the Red Sox has any number of guys who can knock it out of the park.  Tuesday night the game was played in St Louis, the boyhood home of one of baseball’s all-time greatest players, manager, and personality . . . one Lawrence Peter Berra, affectionately known as “Yogi.”

He played pro-baseball from 1946 through 1965.  In 1964, he became the manager of the Yankees and over the next 22 years he would bounce around from the Yankee’s to the Mets, and spend his last three years in baseball as a coach for the Houston Astros.

The truth is that Yogi lived the dream . . . a first-generation American who got to spend his life in the big league!  Baseball does not have many awards that Yogi did not receive, including induction into the Hall of Fame.  But beyond all that, Yogi was just loved by the fans . . . even by those who were not baseball fans.  He was colorful, warm, charming, witty, quick, and clever, and he had a unique manner of expressing himself.  That manner of expressing himself has come to be known as “Yogiisms,” and there are a few books that record them.  The “Yogiisms” are said to very often take the form of either an apparently obvious tautology, or a paradoxical contradiction.  A few examples are:

. . . As a general comment about the game . . . “90% of the game is half mental.”

. . . On why he quit going to a favorite restaurant, he responded, “Nobody goes there anymore, it is too crowded.”

. . . And perhaps, his most famous might be, “It aint over, til it’s over.” Or . . . “it is déjà vu all over again.”

My favorite story about Yogi concerns him as a Manager looking at a rookie right-fielder.  Yogi yelled out to the kid, “Here comes a fly ball, let me see you catch it.”  He then hit a long fly ball into right field.  For whatever reason the kid missed it and the ball hit the ground nearby.  Yogi let out a grunt and yelled out, “Here comes a shiner, let me see you play it,” and proceeded to hit a line drive over 1st base, and surprising, as the rookie ran up to make the play, he missed the ball.  Really frustrated, Yogi handed the bat to his assistant and said, “I am gonna go to right field and show that rookie some stuff, you hit ‘em when I tell you” and he marched out to right field.  Arriving, he held out his hand and told the kid to give him his glove.  As Yogi put the glove on, he hollered to the assistant to hit a fly ball.  As the ball sailed into right field, Yogi was blinded by the sun and missed the catch.  He grumbled and shook his head, and hollered for the assistant to hit a grounder, and as Yogi made a play on the ball, it took a bad bounce and Yogi missed the play.  He turned to the kid, let out a growl, threw the glove to the ground and declared, “Kid, you got right field so messed up, they can’t nobody play it anymore.”

I still enjoy the game, but they don’t make ‘em like Yogi, The Babe, Dizzy Dean, Whitey Ford, and those guys.