Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

When I Hurried Downstairs to Enjoy the Cool

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I grew up in a house that demanded more gentility, income, and poise than my self-effacing family could muster. My dad’s vocation was hunting, fishing, and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys—to whom he contributed three. His hobby was running the family business, a mistress who demanded more than his convenient effort. Thus, our house, my grandmother’s house, oozed more elegance and munificence than its creature inhabitants. In short, like a blue blooded thoroughbred, rode by an amateur jockey, our house was more than we could handle. We were outclassed, so to speak, by our domicile and we all knew it.

The kitchen, in our awe-inspiring house beautiful that could have no doubt appeared in Southern Living was strategically placed close enough to the dining room to make food presentation quick and efficient. But it was far enough away to keep the heat from the kitchen, so to speak, literarily and figuratively, from the dining room.  

As the ceiling fans gently shook the cut glass crystal chandeliers, Mammy brought fried eggs, grits, and biscuits to our bountiful, olfactory Shangri La dining room table.

The adults never ate on a small table in the kitchen, like we do in all the houses in which I have lived in my adult life.  It must be a Yankee thing.  The adults always ate their meals—no matter how simple and unpretentious—in the dining room—with starched  1000 count Egyptian white cotton napkins and table cloth  (why not—we owned a laundry after all!).

We kids, though, were only allowed to eat dinner (lunch) on rare occasions but never breakfast.  We ate breakfast in the kitchen.

I loved those times.  The kitchen floor was made of New Orleans street cobblestones, as I mentioned previously, smelled like horse urine when they were warmed.  But the cobblestones, shiny and bright with floor wax generously bestowed by Mammy, felt awfully good on little boy feet.  The cobblestone kitchen floor was only second in line to the veranda blue tile floor.

No one every worried about dropping food on the kitchen floor.  Either Mammy would sweep it up, or another helper or what my mother called “a girl” who twice a week helped Mammy clean, would clean it.  Besides, Mammy had a habit of dropping wet sticky wax on whatever was on the floor so I distinctly saw traces of previous culinary masterpieces on the floor.  Like shellacked pictures on Christmas pictures to Mammaw, Mammy Lee carelessly preserved previous meal excesses by putting generous portions of commercial wax on previous floor messes.  Thus, in effect, our kitchen floor was a museum collage of previous meals we had eaten in the last ten years, or at least all the meals since Mammy Lee ruled our household.

In the right corner under the mixer was a stain from a memorable chili dinner last December.  Mammy’s chili was legendary.  The best in Southeast Arkansas. Carefully preserved by Mammy’s exuberance and wax, the remaining chili still felt good when I saw it. On the other hand, the green English peas under the right edge of the ice box, were a nightmare I would gladly forget.  Somehow Mammy spilled a few peas on the floor and forgot, or chose, to leave it there, even when she waxed the very same corner.  Those green peas were from the same genus and species, from the same meal, as the one I secretly deposited my requisite supply of English peas into my right front jean pocket. “No thank you,” I told my mom. “I am quite satisfied with the English peas I had already received.”  And I was.  The darn things had filled up my pocket!  Unfortunately, though, before I could deposit my treasure in the commode, I forgot about it.  The little rascals resurfaced in Mammy Lee’s Wednesday wash and I must tell you she was not amused.  Yes, I did not enjoy looking at the English pea shrine under our ice box.

Every morning Little Bill had two fried eggs—yolks broken—grizzled edges.  I had two over easy, with running yolk eggs.  We both loved thick bacon with heavy rind.  My big brother Bill was so good to me—he sometimes shared his precious treasure with his little brother—he would yank that sucker out and give it to me to chew.  He is still a generous soul.  John Hugh, on the other hand, inevitable preferred left over cornbread, buttermilk, and copious amounts of sugar.  To top things off Mammy would top everything off with fresh squeezed orange juice—I didn’t know they make it any other way until I went to college.

I don’t know what breakfast was like in the dining room but in the kitchen it was a veritable cornucopia of joy.  We were polite to one another.  We shared our homemade preserves and bacon.  There was a surplus of good feelings and good.  And, by the way, we did not worry about dropping things on the floor—in fact, to assure later good memories, we purposely deposited a few memorable items.  I wonder if that bacon rind is still where I dropped it?

The kitchen was not the dining room.  It taught us that life had limits and ceremony.  But we did not mind.  Life is that way too.  Sometimes the kitchen is not the dining room with crystal chandeliers but it is comfortable and it doesn’t matter much if you drop something on the floor.  Perhaps the price that one pays for pompous circumstance is too much and we should all be happy in the kitchen.  Think about it.

Moral Man, Immoral Society: Part 2

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

 Individuals can be moral in purpose and in actions.  But, combine a bunch of individuals into a coercive group can cause the group to become immoral.  For example, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was initially a good thing for Germany.  He brought jobs and prosperity to his people.  However, as he gained power, the moral imperative became the despotic immoral coercion.
 The answer to this apparent contradiction is, of course the Gospel.  Neibhur stresses the role of the Holy Spirit (what he calls the “religious imagination”).   In a sense groups, political parties, remain moral because the individuals in that societyanswer to a “higher power,” not to the coercion of the group or to the agenda of the group.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German World War II martyr, for example, was perhaps the most patriotic of Germans because he loved his God and his country enough to obey God and His Word above all persons.  This was the only way, Bonhoeffer understood, that his nation could be moral and right before the God he served.  Unfortunately he was a lone voice in the wilderness!
 Today, young people, as you look ahead of you, do the right thing.  All the time.  Every time.  Do not seek to overcome evil with evil, even if your society tells you it is all right.  Make the Word of God central to your life and, as you do, and as thousands do, society will change too.

Pretending: homeschooling in love 2

Friday, July 15th, 2011

 After establishing our password, Zion and I grabbed our browning automatics (broken broom handles), grenades (plastic donuts from Zion’s sister’s pretend kitchen set), and bowie knives (Karen’s carrots) and quietly, with great alacrity, approached the dangerous mail box.
Along the way, of course, we were attacked by banzai warriors (our four barn cats), a German Stuka (our Black Lab), and an enemy patrol (Our neighbors on a walk).  Against all odds we made it.
 But not without casualties.  I sustained a serious leg injury and Zion was nicked in the left arm.  In fact, we lost several good pretend companions. 
 Sly Zion, halfway, as we hid behind the chicken coup insisted on a field promotion to lieutenant or he would desert.  I reluctantly agreed.  In the midst of such carnage, what was I to do?
 After such an arduous and dangerous mission newly promoted Lieutenant Zion and I celebrated at Granna’s kitchen table.  She unceremoniously served us A-rations (Christmas cookies) and mess coffee (hot chocolate with marshmallows).
 It doesn’t get much better than this, 10-4?

Homeschooling: Captain America: A Different Kind of Hero 1

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

 For years, the American notion of a hero has been accosted, compromised, and generally diluted. Gone are the days when John Wayne rode into town and took care of business.  We knew he was good—really good—and we were comforted by the fact that he would kill no one who did not deserve to die. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” Wayne sagaciously intoned.  “Women have the right to work wherever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home.”  Oops!  I guess he said that too but never mind .  .  .
            Not so today.  Heroes exude empathy not goodness. Witness Robert Downey’s flawed, self-centered Ironman.  Or Hugh Jackson’s moody Wolverine.  And who can forget the poor, pathetic Hulk? Everyone wants to forget the shady, morally dubious Christian Bale’s Batman!  But my personal favorite for sissy of the year is Spiderman. One Freudian self-identity crisis after another.  He whines all the time.  Can you imagine John Wayne whining?
            One sidebar—I am arguably a candidate for sissy of the year myself. Last week I had to have a tetanus booster.  Don’t you hate doctor waiting rooms?  And I emphasis WAITING rooms—sometimes for hours. As I waited for my tetanus shot I imagined myself waiting for the guillotine with Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities

You should see what is under my bed. (Part II)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I keep one special book under the bed:  my dad’s Bible.  It is an old leather black Bible, expensive leather, worn now, with the edges exhibiting light brown cow leather intruding out of the faded black.  The cover has “Holy Bible” and “Billy Stobaugh” written in gold letters.

Inside the Bible in my Mammaw’s handwriting is “1939. To Billy from Mother and Daddy, 8 years.”  My dad was born in 1932 and apparently this was his 8th birthday present.  When my dad died on Father’s Day in 1982, when he was only 49, my mom gave me this Bible.

I imagine Dad got other things for his birthday.  Toy soldiers?  A pop gun?  I will never know.  But I know he got this Bible.  If you found your deceased dad’s Bible what would you do? I immediately looked for evidence that he read it.  I looked for a mark, any mark, that would evidence that he read it, studied it, applied it to his life.  Nothing.

Nothing.  Nothing in the family register.  Nothing next to John 3:16.   I know my dad knew God loved him.  I heard him say it a few hours before he died.  But no marks in his Bible.

I know I have lots of marks in my Bible.  I can’t keep up with Karen though.  She is the “master marker.”  Her Bible is full of underlines.  Her Bible underlines are straight and neat.  I can’t do it.  My lines inevitably invade other verses.  I gave up drawing straight lines under verses—I now put squiggly lines.  I once asked Karen to show me how she made straight lines under her Bible verses—sometimes without even a straight edge.  She ignored my question.

I don’t have my dad anymore but I have his Bible.  And there is nothing written in it.

I wish my dad wrote in his Bible, the Bible I keep under my bed.  I would like something—anything—that reminds me of him.  I am 56 now and it is 28 years since he died.  I can hardly remember what he looks like now.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us,   written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”  My dad’s life is written on my heart.  It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible!  Even if you use squiggly lines.  Your kids will thank you someday!  But more important, write your lives on their hearts.  That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

You should see what is under my bed. (Part I)

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

You should see what is under our bed (don’t tell Karen I shared this).

Stashed in disheveled piles are my World War II history books and other treasures.

Inevitably Karen (my wife) will spend eons of time preparing for bed.  While she is brushing her teeth, washing her face, and other necessary hygienic things, I grab a book from my history library and I read about the German U Boat campaign in the North Atlantic.

I have several libraries.  There is the academic library—full of literary criticism books.  That one is stashed in the basement next to my desktop computer.  The one with Windows 98—the last Microsoft software I fully comprehended.  Next, there is the classical library in the family room.  This is the library that is full of “pretty books.”  No one touches that library; it is there for show.  But across the room is the “grandchildren library” full of children’s classics that Karen reads to the grandchildren.

But my favorite library is the library under my bed.  It really is a good idea—you should try it.  Under my bed, safe and clear, are my treasured reading books.  I have perennial classics—Run Silent, Run Deep. Occasionally other favorites sneak in—Milton’s Paradise Lost—which I re-read bi-annually—is propped up next to Operation Barbarossa.  John Keegan’s World War II is a great read and can keep me awake through Karen’s most extensive post-day, pre-sleep preparations.

I hope you have things you treasure and that you keep them close at hand.

Crossing the Rubicon

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

I don’t know, home schoolers, when we crossed the Rubicon. Perhaps it was when we turned off the television or refused to buy the latest entertainment center. Maybe it was when we drove our old cars another year so we could buy the best curricula for our kids. Or was it when we decided to read classics together in our homes? Somewhere, sometime, we crossed the Rubicon and there is no going back.

To push my metaphor farther, we were first “Obadiahs.” Obadiah, like Daniel, was a very influential in a very evil regime. King Ahab and Jezebel are very capable, and in many ways, successful monarchs. From their perspective, they are the ‘true’ leadership. Elijah, and the prophets, were radical, unreasonable, uncompromising troublers of Israel. They were not team players. No doubt Ahab and Jezebel could not understand why Elijah could not carry on a civil discussion about what they saw as tangential, civil issues.

This generation is the Elijah generation. To Elijah, the behavior of Ahab and Jezebel is absolutely appalling. While claiming to worship the Hebrew God they also fill the land with syncretism, with apostate worship of the BAALS. The crowning blow, to Elijah, was when these scoundrels placed the Asherah poles (places where believers could have sexual relations with temple prostitutes) on the hill next to the Temple. Enough was enough and Elijah was ordered home to confront these evil powers on Mt. Carmel.

And Elijah was not accommodating nor was he running away – don’t you just wish Ahab and Jezebel!—he is coming home to challenge the gods of this age.

Ahab and Jezebel are Post-Modernists. They celebrate the subjective. They are committed to compromise – it is their religion. Live and let live! What is the big deal?

Well, you see, Elijah cannot compromise with the stuff they are doing. There is no wriggle room in Judah and there is getting to be precious little wriggle room in the U. S. A. too.

The world of the Baals, folks, is falling apart. And quickly. As sociologist Peter Berger explains, “American mainline culture can no longer offer plausibility structures for the common man. It no longer sustains Americans.” Or, as my old friend Professor Harvey Cox, at Harvard, coyly observed, “Once Americans had dreams and no technology to fulfill those dreams. Now Americans have tons of technology, but they have no dreams left.”

In short order the Ahabs and Jezebels are going to find out that Elijah is not in a compromising mood either. Folks, there are some things one cannot compromise. Elijah and Jezebel are going to meet a man of God who speaks with concrete clarity, who carries the weight of truth.

Elijah is coming in 2010, Christian brothers and sisters. The days of Obadiah are over. Elijah is coming to town.

Are you ready? Can you give up your anonymity? Will you risk everything this year to do what God tells you to do? Will you go the extra mile in your home schooling to make sure that this generation will stand on Mt. Carmel and proclaim the sovereignty and goodness of our God? So they can bring the Kingdom on this earth as it is in heaven? The stakes are high; the potential rewards astounding. We have a chance, perhaps in our lifetime, to experience an unprecedented revival. This is the generation of Elijah. The generation that will have to walk the long, arduous walk up Mt. Carmel and they will challenge the gods of this age. Bring it on! We are ready! Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall profess, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Bring on the fire of Elijah, again, on this nation! God is calling forth our children–Elijahs who will go to the high places of our nation to challenge the prophets of Baal—in the courts, in the university, in the shop, in the home, in churches.


Friday, December 25th, 2009

I chose the coward’s path, I know, but it seemed judicious at the time. I opted for full sedation so I literally slept. It felt like I was traveling back in time to the earliest beginnings of the world.

The operation was a success that is good. But the pain was beginning!

That is also the time, it seems when, the miracles begin!

The time in the hospital—three days was mercifully short, and, in its own way, was rehabilitative. Now I am home recovering.


Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Father Mapple: Delight is to him who coming to day him down can say, “O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s. Yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”—MOBY DICK

That was why, as I stood with my cell phone I cried. Not afraid of the pain exactly, and, of course, I am only joking about Karen—she has a short memory with me and always is my greatest supporter. I was frustrated and mad, mad with myself for picking up too many boxes and mad with God for letting this happen.

Like He caused it. Whatever.

I wish I had a little more idealism when I arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning December 8. But I knew what I was facing.

I was grateful when the anesthesiologist started the IV. “I am a doctor too,” hoping that credentialing myself would somehow impress the good doctor to go light on me. “Give him another stronger shot nurse.”

And I fell asleep.

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances.—HEART OF DARKNESS, Joseph Conrad


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Starbuck, first mate: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.

Captain Ahab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the molding of their features. The white whale tasks me; he heaps me. Yet he is but a mask. ‘Tis the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate; the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began; the thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung.

I was stumped.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want the surgery—I didn’t—I had done the darn thing before—and may I be honest?—it hurt. Really hurt. Let me be candid: in my darkest nightmare, in my worse dream, I never dreamed I would experience the pain I did twelve years ago.

Until you are too sympathetic, however, I have a confession. During the last recovery period, I was languishing with 6 or 8 old men (they were all 20 years my senior—and I am 56). It had taken us 2 days to finally walk on our fragile knees and hips. But we congratulated ourselves for making our first steps.

Until Alice joined us. Alice had had two—not one—but two knee transplants. We were prepared to offer her sympathy—she joined us on the second day and we were prepared to say “Alice, it is ok. We were there! Just move a few toes or something. We will pull you along.”

She sat in her chair, heard the physical therapist give her instructions. “Move a little this or that” sort of thing. Nothing too ambitious.

But, when she heard what we were doing she asked, with some irritation, “Why can’t I do what these men are doing?”

“Because,” we said, “Miss, you don’t know what you are saying. Move those little pinkies and be grateful.”

“Hey guys,” she smirked. “Out of the way.”

“You think this is pain? I have had 3 sets of twins. This is a walk in the park. Give me my walker!”

Our excuse is that we never had any kids, thankfully, but Alice certainly shamed us!

No childbirthing but on November 30, 2009, and even later, pain may be relative but to this man it was something I wished to avoid.

The thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung. For a moment, just for a moment—because I am a dedicated Christian with all the right theology—for a moment—I doubted God knew what he was doing.

Captain Ahab: By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.

I knew our funds were ending. Two months left to convention season—what was I to do? ; My son Peter, thankfully, had already agreed to take over the ministry/business part of this and let me do the speaking and writing. But when December and January arrived and I needed money I could get a part time job—subbing or something—I had already done this before.

But that was not going to happen. No lifting the way I had forever. No more hip banging jobs breaking up fights in public school.

My life as I knew it was over.

Ishmael: [seeing Moby Dick for the first time] Is it real? Do you see it, too?

The Manxman, a sailor: We all see it. That don’t make it real.