Neal . . .

I married Sandy in 1972. Our marriage would always serve as a connection to Plainview, her childhood home. The truth of it is that to an outsider looking in, Plainview just doesn’t look like much, just another dusty West Texas farming community. However, for those who were reared there, it is special – it is home – and as the old adage goes, “Home is where the heart is.”

The truth be told, Plainview is home to some of the nicest and kindest people I have ever known. There is no better example of that truth than my friend, Neal Burnett. I have known of Neal for most of my married life, but I have personally known Neal for the past ten years or so. Let me explain. Neal has been a farmer in Plainview for most of his adult life; but then again, he has always been a man with several irons in the fire. For a number of years he also owned and operated a service station in Plainview. It was a full-service station back in the day when those were around. I suppose the first time I met Neal it was at that service station, as Sandy’s Dad had a charge account there for years. During visits to Plainview, I would often ride around the farms with Billy and he would occasionally stop by Neal’s station. It was a rather common thing to run into Neal at his station. Sometimes, he would even work the driveway, greeting customers, and cleaning windshields. Years later I would get to know Neal personally in Rockport. He and his lovely wife, Donna, maintain a second home here and normally spend the winter months here, as Plainview can get terribly cold in the winter months. Neal and Donna are members of the Sunday school class I teach at First Baptist Church. In fact, there are several former Plainview folks in the class such as Roger and Betty Horan and Jerry and Betty Mickey. Up until recently, Glenn and Harriet McGuire and L. D. and Betty Ballard were also members of the class. There is usually a steady stream of Plainview visitors coming to the class throughout the year.

Neal was what is described today as a progressive farmer. I think that means he was forward-looking and welcoming of modern technology as it was introduced to agribusiness. He was a successful farmer; and, of course, that is a relative term as farming is a year-by-year enterprise and some years are better than others.

I am not sure of all of the professional entities to which Neal belonged, but I do know that he was involved with Farm Bureau, a Texas mutual insurer, and I know that he sat on the Board of the National Corn-Grower’s Association. I ran into him in the Atlanta airport years ago as I was returning home from a seminar in Boston and he was headed to an Annual Meeting in Orlando. I believe Neal was the only Texas farmer to serve on that Board.

Neal was also a good citizen of Plainview and Hale County and served his community for years. He served in the Plainview ISD Board for many years (elected), even serving as Chairman of the Board for several years. He also served in the thankless role of Chairman of the Hale County Appraisal District (appointed). That entity under State law establishes and sets the value of property for the taxing entities. Truth be told, that is a non-paying job from which most folks would run – and I would be the leader of that pack. Neal also served as a County Commissioner (elected) for several terms. Of course, Neal served in many other capacities over the years to help his community. He and Donna have also both been active members of First Baptist Church—Plainview all of their adult lives.

Neal is a strikingly handsome man, while Donna is both elegant and beautiful. She is a grand lady with not many equals. Together, they are quite the couple. They produced and raised a lovely family, and that family continues to grow year by year, and they lovingly welcome each addition. For them, family is everything. Their children both love and adore them. It is a lovely thing to observe that family as they submit to the Biblical instruction of “Honor thy Father and Mother/” In that context, I don’t suppose I have ever heard a grown man speak as lovingly and respectfully of a parent as Neal does his own Father. I am deeply touched by the obvious love, respect, and admiration Neal still displays today for his Dad who passed away over 40 years ago!

Neal is just an easy man to like and enjoy hanging out with. He always treats others with kindness and respect. He is not like some who enjoy cheap shots at friends and acquaintances all in the name of making a joke. Neal is a man with good social skills and graces. He is also extremely funny and is gifted with a wonderful sense of humor. He knows how to tell a joke and how to deliver a punch line. I recall one day a group of us were about to have lunch at a place in Mexico. As we perused the menu, one of the guys spotted one entree he found interesting and said, “They have frog legs, anyone interested?” I chuckled and asked Neal if he had ever eaten them. Neal looked so serious and in his dry wit, calmly said, “I loved them, but I had to stop eating them as I had a bad reaction to them!” I was surprised and, of course inquired about the reaction, he smiled sheepishly and said, “They make me awfully jumpy!” I belly laughed, as did everyone else at the table. It can actually be dangerous to eat or drink anything around Neal, as his humor can cause you to choke or spew out whatever you might have just put into your mouth.

I am going to bring this to a close here. If I tried to list the funny things about my friend, Neal, I would never finish this blog. Just let it suffice for me to say that Neal is absolutely one of the kindest, most genuine men I know. He is as honest as the day is long and he is filled with integrity. Several years back, Neal sponsored me on a Walk to Emmaus. I will never forget the sight of that good man carrying my bag into the Mercy Center like a bell-boy at a hotel. It was something that seriously humbled me and served to prepare my heart for what would happen over the next few days.

I love, respect, and admire him, his darling wife, and his entire family. They are all very special people, but then . . . the apple never falls far from the tree.



No Country for Old Men . . .

The first time I watched the movie was aboard Aftermath, our big boat. My buddy, Walter, and I ordered a pizza delivered and watched it together on satellite. The movie troubled me then and it still bothers me now; yet, I still continue to watch it when it is on TV. Walter and I spent time talking about it and what it meant.

The movie stars one of my favorite actors, Tommy Lee Jones, as a back-country county sheriff named Ed Tom Bell out in far West Texas. It also stars Josh Brolin as a local-yocal named Llewylan Moss, who lives in a beat-up old trailer house and is married to a plain little country gal named Carla Jean, who works at Walmart. Llewylan drives into the country-side on his day off to shoot an antelope for meat for the table, and stumbles upon the kill-site of a drug deal that went wrong. He discovers a black case containing $2,000,000, which unbeknown to him also has a tracking devise. Llewylan believes his good fortune has changed his and Carla Jean’s lives. Boy, did he ever get that right. That tracking devise puts a really bad man – a bounty hunter – on his trail. That part is played by an actor who made the character frightening as a being that had absolutely no limit to evil. He had cold, dead eyes and brutally killed at will, even when not necessary. In fact, he uses a quarter on a couple of occasions to decide if a person lived or died.

I grew up in West Texas and know the people out there. The supporting actors were perfectly cast, and accurately portrayed the local culture, speech, and mannerisms. One such example is the sheriff of El Paso County, who bought Ed Tom a late-night cup of coffee after Llewelyn had been killed and taken to the morgue. As the two sheriff’s sat down to sip their coffee, they discussed the current culture and its sad circumstances. The El Paso sheriff says, “If you would have told me 20 years ago we would see our kids walking the streets of our Texas towns with orange hair and bones in the noses, I would never have believed it.” Ed Tom (Tommy Lee) says, “I think it all began when they quit saying sir and ma’am.” The El Paso sheriff replies with, “It is the tide . . . the dismal tide, it ain’t the one thing.” His statement is so profound that Ed Tom slowly repeats it, “It ain’t the one thing!” The statement speaks to the conservative angst and the corruption of certain cultural watersheds that have weakened the generation’s intellect and left it without a moral compass. The consensus seems to be that drugs and drug money along the Mexican border have pushed human darkness far beyond anything in the past. The sad truth is that today’s reality of the Mexican drug cartel’ activity certainly verifies the accuracy of their conclusion.

Joel and Ethan Coen nailed our cultural situation in this movie, as it slightly eases the curtain of time back slightly and speaks of “looking out for what is coming, and it can’t be stopped.”

This movie frightens me for Ali and Abi . . . as I fear it projects a time when that good country won’t be suitable for old men . . . for older law enforcement personnel . . . and old law enforcement methods. I also fear it won’t be suitable for pretty young girls either.

The two young boys who rode up on their bicycles following the car crash near the end of the movie were so authentic and typical of the lads of that area. One of the boys literally pulled his shirt off and gave it to the bad dude who had broken his arm in the crash. The bad dude asked him to tie the shirt up as a sling, pledge that he had not seen him as “I was already gone when you got here,” and then handed the kid a $100 bill. The kid sad, “That’s a lot of money mister, and I don’t mind helping someone out.” The kid with him said, “Half that money is mine,” and the big-hearted kid said, “You still have your damn shirt.” Those boys could have been me and my pals back when we were kids growing up out there.

It is concerning to know that there are really evil people like that in the world, and it is more concerning to know that there are no limits to what they will do to push their ugly vice onto our culture. To them it is simply about money’s power . . . but I believe they are being used to the max by the enemy of our souls. I believe that the movie accurately portrays our situation in this confusing era of time.

No Country for Old Men is certainly not a movie for children. I am not a movie critic, but it struck me again last night that surely there must be a sequel planned. The movie simply ended too abruptly and left too many unanswered questions and issues unsettled. Ed Tom is relating the dream he had the night before to his wife at the breakfast table. He said the dream was about his father (who seemingly had been dead for a number of years) riding horseback by him in the dark night, with snow on the ground. He said his Father was “Carrying far (fire) in a horn, the way they did in the older times.” He concluded his telling of the dream by saying, “and I knew he would be out there in all that dark waiting on me when I got there,” and then the screen instantly goes black and the movie is over.

It Seems to me . . . that Ed Tom has to kill the crazy, evil guy and then ride off into the sunset. It simply can’t just remain with Ed Tom bored to death in retirement and the evil dude out there doing his evil stuff . . . unchallenged.

Ed Tom’s philosophical old uncle who lives confined to a wheelchair by a bad man’s bullet, told him “You can’t stop what’s coming . . . that’s vanity!” I suppose that’s right, but I just think that Ed Tom must step forward and at least . . . meet what’s coming!

I don’t think I will watch that disturbing movie again!

Circumstances . . . Events . . . and Choices . . .

. . . The three elements which most significantly impact one’s life!

Circumstances – a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner, agent, that accompanies, determines, or modifies an act or an event. An example is: “We wanted to be married, but circumstances prohibited it.”

The simple truth is that oftentimes circumstances are beyond our control; yet, have a profound impact on our lives. Personally, I know of no greater example of this truth than the childhood of my sweet wife. She grew up in a dysfunctional family . . . all the while yearning for a loving family and a good home-life.

As an adult—wife and mother—she became the envy of her friends as she created that very environment for her children. She became the role model for young mothers. The reality of it all is that children rarely control circumstances, but as adults can overcome those circumstances.

Denied her heart’s desire as a child because of circumstances; yet, motivated in adulthood to be faithful to be what God had created her to be. Circumstances can impact and restrict life for a while, but can also motivate us to rise above and grab onto greatness and stretch us beyond what we believed possible.

Events – a thing that happens, especially one of importance. Many times life is impacted by an event . . . such as the person one loves marrying another person. Sometimes the death of a loved one becomes a life-changing force. Either of those events can have a long-lasting impact on one’s life. Many sad songs have been sung on the subject. George Jones sang of it, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Elvis sang of it in “A Long Black Limo” as have many others. The birth of a child is an event which almost always changes and impacts a life. I recall as Sandy and I left our house to go to the hospital for the birth of Courtney, Sandy paused at the door and looked back into our home. As an excited about-to-be dad, I was perplexed and asked her, “What are you doing, don’t you know we must hurry?” She calmly smiled and said, “I am just taking a final look around; this place will never be the same again” and chuckled! Wow, was she ever right!

Decisions – it is certainly true that both Circumstances and Events can have a profound impact on life, but the truth of it is that nothing impacts life like the choices and decisions each of us make. We make a decision to marry, we choose who to marry, and that has a powerful impact on life.

One chooses to quit school . . . another chooses to go to college – both choices impact life in a serious way. A parent decides to abandon a child; wow, what a life impact. The doctor gives a difficult test report to the patient, and the patient chooses to receive treatment, or perhaps to refuse treatment – either choice brings an impact.

This morning I read an article where all three of these elements came into play and had a long-term impact. It had to do with the plane crash in which a group of young, talented, and excited entertainers died and shocked the nation. It was on February 3, 1959, in the stage of infancy of Rock and Roll music that suffered its first tragedy. The circumstance was that a larger group of actors were touring on what was dubbed as the Winter Dance Tour and involved shows in 24 Midwestern cities. A winter blast hit the region and the heater on the tour bus went out. A number of the entertainers got sick, including a drummer who suffered frostbite and had to be hospitalized.

Buddy Holly charted a plane to fly him from Fargo, N. D. across the state line into Moorehead, Minn. The plane was a Beechwood Bonanza – piloted by a 21-year-old kid. The charter was to carry Buddy Holly and his band, the Crickets, but through some choices and negotiations the passenger list changed. Richie Valens of La Bamba fame and the Big Bopper, J. P. Richardson, became the passengers who would die with Buddy Holly on that tragic day in history.

One of many interesting elements in the story is that Buddy Holly’s bass player, one Waylon Jennings, made a choice to give up his seat to the Big Bopper. Of course, Jennings went on to become a Country legend with Willie Nelson and a few others in what was to be called Outlaw Country. I suspect he never boarded a plane for the rest of his life that he did not think about that decision back in ’59. I am sure I would not – that is just how I am!

What decision do you have to make? How far will the impact of that decision reach into the future?

Billy and Tammy . . . A Couple of Great Friends . . .

The first time I saw either of them was in Snyder. I believe it was about April in the year 2000, our having just survive the big Y2K scare. Duane had hired them on the remodel project at La Posada since the time of my last visit. He was impressed enough with them that he called me and told me about them.

I liked them both instantly. They were sweet, kind-hearted people who had obviously had some difficulties in the recent past and really appreciated their new jobs. As I got acquainted with them, I was once again reminded of the great responsibility I have as an employer to always be honest and fair with people, and to remember that folks are working for a paycheck so they can provide for their families. They both needed and deserved to know the truth and what they could count on. Billy and Tammy had not been treated fairly by their last employer, and it left them in a bind. They had two sons and aged parents, and they needed good jobs and fair treatment.

They were both good workers, bright, and quick to learn. Duane was a great teacher for them in that he was an excellent craftsman and was so kind and loving with them. They both adored Duane and we’re happy to do anything he asked of them and did their very best to do it just like he requested. Of course, that made Duane happy.

I was so impressed with Billy and Tammy that as the remodel project drew to completion, I offered them permanent employment with the management firm, which would bring them down to the Coast to live. They accepted the offer and have been with me since. They started off with Tammy managing a family property and Billy doing the maintenance at that property as well as an elderly complex nearby.

We arranged for Billy to take a refrigeration class at Del Mar, a local Jr College, and test to get his license. Over the years, Billy has become a Cracker-Jack a/c man, and has taught the other maintenance men what he knows.

Billy and Tammy have made a couple of moves over the years—always agreeable to go wherever they are needed. Anywhere I have a struggle, they are pleased to go help, and to do so with a smile of their faces. Not once through the years have they ever asked me about money before accepting an assignment—they have simply said, “You have always been fair, and we trust you to do your best for us, as we strive to do our best for you.” What a wonderful approach to life.

I love knowing they have my back . . . and I do know that for certain. I have theirs too!

Wherever it is that Sandy and I retire, I want to be able to buy a nearby house for them in their retirement. I am going to always want them to do well and be nearby. They just make life better.

Sandy and I talk from time to time about the truth of knowing other couples, and how it is that you might really like one or the other, but then simply struggle to just be around the spouse. It is a pretty rare thing in my experience, but we both love and like Tammy and Billy each one—and individually and together.
I am delighted that I met them. I am happy they accepted my offer those years ago. My life and business are much better because they accepted the offer. They are a model of what employees and friends ought to be.

Heck, my whole family loves them and feels like they are part of the Melton family, not just the Mid-Coast family. I guess they really are!


A Funny Memory . . .

On Monday I drove Sandy and Cole to Progresso, Mexico, to visit the dentist. Charlie rode along with us. This is a trip which several of us make a number of times each year as it saves quite a bit of money. As an example, Cole required a root-canal and Sandy required two root-canals on Monday. On this side of the river a root-canal, a temporary, and then the crown totals about $2,500 each; on the other side it costs $400.

It is about a three-hour drive each way, but we find ways to make the trip a bit more pleasurable. We usually leave home before 8 am and sometimes stop by Whataburger for a quick, light breakfast, which we eat on the way down. Then, upon arrival, we go to lunch at a place in Progresso named Arturo’s. We all like Arturo’s as it is a really nice place. The tables have linen table cloths and napkins, and the wait-staff wears livery and each of the guys are always well-groomed. It is an upscale place where the food is always good and the service is impeccable . . . both must always be really good as the restaurant is totally dependent upon American diners, as it is simply too expensive for the local folks.

As we had lunch there on Monday, I recalled a trip some time back. On that visit, several of the guys needed to see a dentist, so we postponed lunch at Arturo’s and everyone split up and went to find a dentist and get on the list for that day. The agreement was that we would meet back at one of the shops in an hour, report on each person’s schedule, have lunch at Arturo’s, and then everyone would head off on their own for the afternoon. The plan worked out and we all met back as agreed. Charlie returned back and announced that he was quite hungry, so the group made its way to the restaurant and was seated. Our drinks were served and our party enjoyed each other, laughing and talking.

After a bit we paused to say the blessing as lunch was served. I looked down the table to where Charlie was seated and the group busted out in laughter in unison . . . unbeknown to the rest of us, Charlie had done much more than see simply a dentist for an evaluation—he had actually been treated and had an injection! The poor guy had no feeling in his mouth at all and while enjoying the salsa and tortilla chips he had managed to spill the salsa all over the front of his shirt and table cloth . . . both were white, but now red! Both Charlie and the table were a total mess. He explained that he had no feeling and didn’t realize that he had made a mess. The following day Charlie told me that he had chewed up his tongue and cheeks pretty bad.

Perhaps if it had been anyone else it would not have been so comical, but it was classic Charlie. We all got a good chuckle on Monday as we retold the story.


Except by the Grace of God . . .

Sandy had an appointment with the doctor in San Antonio on Friday to see about her right knee, so she had worked in advanced planning and set up a weekend retreat with Ali and Abi and GG (the girl’s maternal Grandmother) at the house in Burnet. Soon she invite Courtney and Anna to join in the fun. They accepted as they are working in Big Springs, which is about 5 hours away. As a surprise for all of us, Chris drove in from Lawton, Oklahoma, which is also about a 5-hour drive. Sandy and I arrived at the house about 5 pm and Courtney and Anna arrived about 10 pm. Sarah, the girl’s Mom, had flown to Chicago for a business meeting over the weekend, so she was unable to join us.
As Sandy and I turned onto Corder Lane, a half block from the house, I spotted our pretty little great-niece, Justess, walking down the street. Justess is temporarily staying in DMC’s Burnet house (next door to our house) while taking classes at the local Jr. College. She was on her way to Storms—the famous old drive-in, to have a bite to eat. We offered her a ride, but also told her that we were only going to be at the house a few minutes—long enough to unload the car and allow me to change clothes to go to the pool at the YMCA, and then Sandy was off to the nail place for a manicure. We suggested that if she could wait to eat she could join Sandy for a pedicure and then have dinner with us. She said that sounded good and got in the car. The girls dropped me at the Y and went and had their nails done. After they picked me up, we went to a new place in town that advertises to be “home style cooking like mama’s,” and it was, indeed. Over dinner, we learned that the place where Justess works had rearranged the work schedules and she had the weekend off, so she was invited to join our family gathering. She accepted the invite and it was “game- on.”
Sandy had scheduled a massage for Saturday morning and the girls had hair appointments for a bit later, so I had the girls and GG all by myself for the first hour. What a sweet time. All of the girls returned in a bit and we had a nice lunch. I suggested that all of the big girls have an afternoon “out” and the little girls and I would have a little “tea party;” something the little girls enjoy. It is basically a time of the girls getting to do pretty much whatever they want to do without much restraint. We spent the time at their playground I had built for them. Soon their Dad arrived, surprising us all.

We made a decision that we would build a fire in the fire-pit after dark, when the big girls returned. We always enjoy doing that and sitting beside the fire-pit in our Cracker-Barrel rocking chairs (the little girls each have their very own rocker and that makes them feel special). Sandy, GG, and I sat on the covered back porch and watched as the others built the fire. As we sat there in the dim light, Ali came out with the Windex and paper towels to clean up the outdoor furniture. One item to be cleaned was the little girl’s table that sits between their rockers and upon which they sit their glasses of juice while they roast marshmallows. While Ali was cleaning the small table, a swarm of wasps came out from the nest they had built under that table. I would estimate that there were easily 75+ wasps angrily buzzing around. Ali and Abi were both right there and completely exposed, but not a single one of us were bitten! That was a miracle for certain.

Later it occurred to me that if one of those little girls had been bitten by that angry swarm and suffered multiple bites, it could have been a very serious situation. I love how the Lord watched over and protected us . . . but then again, He always does that, doesn’t He? The remainder of the evening and throughout the night, I continually thanked Him for His protection over my family.

GG and the little girls were able to spend Saturday night with all of us, and as they were getting ready to leave Sunday afternoon, Abi started crying and said she just wanted to spend the night with Nana and Pappy. GG said, “You spent last night with them.” Abi said, “No I didn’t, I slept in a bed!”

After a sweet time together on Sunday morning and a nice lunch, we all packed up, said our good byes, and the kids set out for home. Sandy and I hung around for a while and took Justess out for a look at the “Poor Farm,” which had long been our parents’ country place and so named by my Dad. Justess had grown up in the state of Indiana and had no clear memory of the old family home, but had heard of it all of her life, so she thoroughly enjoyed the walk-down-memory-lane as Sandy and I pointed out various landmarks and told old family stories. It always amazes and pleases me how much the younger kids always seem to enjoy learning about their family’s history.

Sandy and I arrived home a bit after 9 pm last night and received texts from the kids announcing their safe arrival at their respective homes. As I reflected on the sweet time we had experienced, I was again reminded how thankful I am for The Father’s watch-care and His kindness to us in all of our comings and goings. He is so faithful . . . and I am so thankful!

A Sad Message . . .

A guy who I love and admire shared a text with me last week that he had recently sent to his dad. The message was not an attack, nor was it meant to be mean or even intended to be hurtful. It was sent to ask a legitimate question that deserves an answer. The guy’s dad had for all practical purposes neglected him and his sister all through their years of growing up and failed to provide for them financially. As they grew up in difficult circumstances, their dad raised another woman’s child in some luxury. All of that is bad enough, but then the dad took every opportunity to run their mom and her family down to the guy, and constantly held himself up as a model of a man (well, always in words, but never in deeds). The guy simply asked his dad, “Why didn’t you love us?” That is a fair question . . . why would a man father a child, profess to love the child, then seemingly abandon the child in every meaningful way, yet still insist on visitation rights, but during that visitation make the kids feel as if they were a burden. The guy asked his dad, “Why did you get us here for visitation and then stay drunk most of the time? Why did you drive with us in the car while you were drunk? Why did you leave us in a hotel room alone as little kids while you went to bars and drank at night? Why did you even want us here? What was that about?”

As I get older, I seem to get more emotional and tender-hearted. I watch movies on TV like “The Judge” that show the pain and scars inflicted within a family and upon the kids by poor parenting. That stuff hurts me and causes me to reflect on and even reevaluate my performance as a dad. Of course, I made some mistakes, but I believe that Courtney and Chris both knew that I loved and adored them. I believe they both were always confident that I loved their Mom and that I would always be there—through thick and thin. I believe they both know today that I love and approve of them. I certainly do and I greatly respect and admire the fine adults they have become.

Last year I developed a serious situation with a debilitating spinal-cord injury that required radical surgery, and a long and difficult rehab process. Courtney and Chris both flew into action and came to Sandy’s and my aide. Chris literally put his life on hold and came and took care of me day-by-day. I have never seen a man do such a thing for his dad. It just does something amazing to my heart every time I think about the love that was involved in his sacrifice. Chris is absolutely the best man I know and that is true for many reasons!

Of course, the dad did not reply to my friend, nor did he attempt to offer any explanation for what he did. He never will . . . he will just go on acting self-righteously and continue to try to project himself as being superior and above his own son. I am at a loss to understand a man such as that, but the world is filled with them. Many of them drive sports cars while the tax payers feed and house their children.

My friend is a smart dude. He has lived with the truth about his dad for pretty much most of his life, and knows that his dad’s failures as a dad and as a man don’t actually reflect anything about him—that stuff only reflects on his dad. My friend is actually quite well-adjusted and has a healthy self-esteem, in spite of his childhood and the neglect. Yet, I know that he regrets not being able to have a loving relationship with his dad . . . every guy wants that . . . to love and to be loved by the man who fathered him. That desire is as natural as breathing.
As I thought about my pal’s text to his dad, I thought that such a text from one of my kids would shatter my heart. I know the guy’s dad and doubt it even gave him a second’s pause. I am certain that he quickly dismissed it and found a way to justify himself in his mind and placed all of the blame on his son.

It Seems to me . . . that the dad is totally blind to the things of life . . . and what has real value and meaning. The Bible says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools.”

Dude, I am sorry that is how it is . . . and yet, I am glad that you do know it isn’t about you. It really never was . . .

The truth of the matter is that I would be proud to have you as my son. I think you are a fine man. Your mom did a great job of raising you.

Injustice . . . to the max . . .

Tonight I watched 60 Minutes . . . something I rarely do. The program is a bit sensational for my taste. I am both glad and yet sorry I watched.

Tonight’s stories involved the case of one Glen Ford, a Black, man convicted of murder and robbery and sentenced to death by lethal injection in 1984. Mr. Ford lived in the worst prison in the USA (Angola in Louisiana) on death row for 35 years—the longest on record. Just think about it . . . for 35 years he lived in a 5′ X 7′ cell, with one hour per day to get outside to stretch! All the while knowing he was falsely accused and would likely die any day for a crime he did not commit, but no one seemed to care. His plight seemed hopeless.

The report disclosed that at his trial, he had two court-appointed attorneys . . . an oil and gas lawyer with no trial experience and a young insurance company staff attorney who had only been out of law school for a couple of years and his experience was limited to slip-and-fall cases. Mr. Ford was found guilty on circumstantial evidence.

After all that time, the real killer finally confessed to the crime. After all of the legal wrangling, poor Mr. Ford was released from Angola. Three weeks later he received a dismal medical report that he had stage-4 lung cancer and was placed in hospice.

Mr. Ford was clearly eligible for a $313,000 settlement under state law, but that claim was denied by a judge. He said he would have liked to have received that money to help his grandchildren have a better life.

Mr. Ford died soon thereafter. His story is a sad story . . . and a sorry commentary on our judicial system that seems to get it so wrong . . . so often. So often it seems the system breaks down and criminals walk away, and then sometimes we hear of an injustice such as this. Mr. Ford died and went out into eternity, where he appeared before the ultimate Judge, whom we will all one day stand before . . . we can be certain that poor Mr. Ford received a fair hearing there and no false, trumped-up charges were permitted. My hope is that he experienced amazing grace – it was available to Mr. Ford, just as it is to each of us. It is a choice!

As the story came to the conclusion, the reporter interviewed the current DA in the Parish from which Mr. Ford had been convicted and sentenced. The reporter attempted to take a humanitarian approach, but the DA wasn’t having any of that. He acknowledged that an error had occurred, but then declared that justice had prevailed in the release of Mr. Ford; thus, in his mind, the system had worked as it is supposed to work. The reporter hammered on him in an effort to get him to soften up some, which was wasted effort. The DA finally looked the reporter in the eye and said, “Sir, you are looking for compassion, and that simply is not my job. Compassion is the minister’s job; my job is the law!” Again, he insisted that the system had worked! That back-and-forth left me empty . . . that DA either knows nothing about compassion . . . or I don’t know anything about justice. I sure did get what the reporter was implying.

And what is it that you are whining about today? Who was it that did you so wrong? Hmmmmm

Donna . . . a small, yet determined, woman . . .

The first time I ever saw Donna, she was a young girl of about 13 years of age. She was Sandy’s new step sister and they were still in the process of getting to know each other as two girls living in the same house. Sandy’s Dad, Billy, had married Donna’s mom, Carolyn, a few months before I met them. They had a houseful with his three daughters and one son and her two daughters. On that particular evening, Donna was riding with Sandy when we met. Donna was a cute, bashful dark-haired and dark-eyed girl. After that I would see her as I picked Sandy up for dates and returned her home. Donna never had much to say, but she always had a quick, bashful smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

A couple of years after Sandy and I married, we learned that Donna was planning to marry a local fellow named Andy Whitsitt, who had been a neighborhood playmate of Sandy’s when she was a girl in elementary school. Sandy and I were both happy for Donna and Andy. We both held a high regard for Andy. Soon, we had Courtney and then Chris. Donna and Andy had Justin and then James Owens. They were both fine boys!

Justin was always all-boy and into something every waking moment. He loved being outdoors and was always on the hunt. As a preschooler, he would walk all alone down to the creek near their home and catch craw-dads and bring them home insisting that his mom cook them for him. Donna would do that very thing all the while wondering what this little explorer would become.

Soon, we would all discover that James Owens has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and his development would be slowed down, considerably. At the time we learned this, I was involved with an advocate group known as the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), which was dedicated to being a support system for young adults suffering from developmental disabilities, together with their families. In those years, I saw many families make very difficult decisions about a family member much like James Owens. Oftentimes, those families came to the realization that the child’s needs were greater than the family’s ability and the child needed a different living arrangement. In fact, most of us in the family felt that was likely the situation with James Owens, but Donna wasn’t having any of that — James Owens was her son, she loved him, and she was totally committed to making any adjustments needed to keep him at home with his family. James Owens was well-loved, and he knew it; his Mom made certain he did.

Andy did the best he could with it all. He had a good job working as an EMT at one of the refineries in the Houston area, but the expense of a special-needs son was great, so money was always tight. Andy worked shift-work and opened a small engine-repair business and spent many hours in that endeavor. Andy did well, but still the cost of living and meeting needs was great.

I always admired Donna and Andy and their strength, their love and commitment as parents. I often examined myself as a dad and used them and their situation as a measuring stick. I honestly did not know how well I would have handled that situation if I had to walk a mile in their shoes. Of course, people are often calloused and fail to show proper respect, and occasionally I would hear someone offer his or her opinion relative to what Andy and Donna ought to do. That just infuriated me and I was quick to come to their defense and let the person speaking know that he or she was full of beans and did not have one ounce of the courage Andy and Donna had! I generally suggested that he or she shut up and rather than being so quick to offer advice, the person would do well to offer prayer for this young couple and their challenge.

Donna was always a lady of slight build, and over the years I saw her loving care for James Owens take its toll on her small body. Even when James Owens became a big guy, sweet little Donna would physically wrestle him from a lying position in bed up and into his wheelchair. She never once, to my knowledge, complained about any of it. She loved her son and was totally committed to giving him her very best—which she did for as long as she was physically able.

Andy, good man that he was, was called home at an early age, leaving Donna with Justin and James Owens. Justin was pretty much grown at the time and stepped up and really helped his mom at this difficult time.

Donna would struggle with various issues and with the question of why her life had taken on the struggles it had. For all practical purposes, she had been abandoned by her biological dad and, of course, that is painful for a child to deal with. Her life as a wife was over and as a mother was certainly not easy. Donna later told me that she would on occasion attempt to deal with it and find escape in alcohol. She said that happened more and more. I never knew it had become a problem, but she assures me that it did, and tragically she then had to deal with that battle, look after James Owens, and struggle with being a widow all at the same time. But, with the Lord’s help and provision, she did and emerged through it stronger, better, and more mindful of who God is and His love for her.

Today Donna is, by and large, still a fairly young woman in years, but physically her body is largely spent. She suffers a great deal and is quite limited physically. Today, she is in a nursing home with a broken ankle which occurred during a fall when she passed out recently. Ever the optimist, Donna is sure that her ankle will heal soon, the cast will come off, and she will go back home. I pray that is exactly what happens, and her faith is rewarded.

Donna is absolutely one of the strongest people I have ever known. She is an incredible mom who loves her two boys selflessly. Donna is a special lady at so many levels. I am glad she is my friend. The way she has embraced life and tackled the tasks set before her have been a great inspiration for me and many others.

My friend and sister-in-law, Donna, is in my heart and in my prayers this morning. Her reward in Heaven will be great . . . of that I am certain!

Happy Birthday, Donna — October 9th!

Cars . . .

Recently I saw an advertisement that Jay Leno (of the Tonight Show fame) had a new TV series to begin in October. I sent out a text advising Chris, Ryan, Justin, Billy, and several others. We were all excited . . . we are all car guys. Tonight my phone started sounding off as texts came in advising me that Jay Leno’s Garage was about to come on . . . I quickly switched channels.

It has never been a secret that Leno is a car guy, and with the mega bucks he was paid for the Tonight Show over the years, he bought and collected a number of great cars. The new show takes the viewer into his large metal building and his car collection. It is a guy show . . . and a place where poor guys can dream.

I would love to someday build a large metal building and fill it with a bunch of my favorite old muscle cars (well mostly that, with a few exceptions). Today, I have a small metal building (40′ x 60′) and I have a couple of cool old cars. Currently, I have a 2000 black Corvette convertible and a ’79 Stingray.

If I am ever able to accomplish my dream, I will set it up as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, as a classic-car museum and invite the public to come and enjoy. I would invite schools to bring the kids for tours and educate them about that part of American history.

A few of the cars I would have in my collection are;

’66 Vette
’72 Vette
’68 Road Runner
’69 Dodge Charger R/T
’68’SS 396 Chevelle (copper color)
’69 Mustang
’55 Chevy 2-door, hardtop (black)
’69 GTO
An early 70’s Cadillac convertible
A Hummer of some sort

There would, of course, be a variety of other cars I would like to have in the collection. There would definitely be a ’60 something VW bug (red) . . . I always liked that cute little car, but never wanted one for my car. I dated a couple of girls who had one and would drive it sometimes. That was fun.

Guys just love old cars. There is an old saying, “Boy get older and their toys get bigger, but deep down, they are always little boys.” I confess that to be true in my case . . . I suppose it will always be true.