Monday, March 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tomorrow would have been my Dad's 76th birthday. Yes, he was an April Fool baby. So appropriate! He loved to laugh and make others laugh. I'm sure he has them rolling in the aisles in heaven....

Tuesday was his funeral service. We began with a moving rendition of "Beulah Land", sung by yours truly. Following a brief comment and prayer from Dad's pastor, I played for my two sisters to sing Dad's favorite song, "One Day at a Time". They sang beautifully, and Dad would have been proud.

I had the honor of speaking for a few minutes about Dad. I spoke about his love of family, his love of fun, and his faith.

My stepmom's granddaughter and great-granddaughter closed the service with "Precious Memories". There are thousands of memories- everybody has a "Bob" story. The tears flowed freely and frequently.

We had a brief time at the cemetery, then on to the church for a full-blown Southern feed.

It took a few days to tie up loose ends in his estate, but that has all been completed as far as I know. So now, we are left with the empty spot that Dad used to fill. I don't have anyone to call at 10:00 am and 9:00 pm anymore. I love my Dad, and miss him terribly. But I cannot tell you how much fun I had with my sisters and their spouses! We know where Dad is today, and that we'll see him again- and that frees us to be ourselves. We had a great time together!

I'll take a few days to recover and heal a little before I write more normal stuff. So for now, hug your family. Have a good laugh, know where you're going.

Life is good! Really, really good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Home

Today is Easter Sunday morning of 2008. At just past 4:00 in the morning, the only sound in Daddy’s house is the gentle whooshing of his oxygen supply and the machine that generates it. We’ve kept watch over Daddy through the night, thinking that each breath might be his last. And that’s ok. Daddy is non-responsive now, laboring to draw each breath. It’s time to let go.

There were a lot of people in the house earlier today- well, I guess that technically that would be yesterday- family and friends and well-wishers bringing food and kind thoughts and sweet prayers. But it is very odd that this house be so full of people, and still be so quiet. This house- this home- is always a hub of activity, abuzz with the flow and laughter of life. The quiet that blankets the rooms here is unnatural. I’m sure that will soon change.

We have spent a very sweet time with Daddy. This afternoon, my sisters and I had a chance to hang out with him. He couldn’t speak or open his eyes, but he knew we were there. My younger sister, sitting in the bed with Daddy, gently rubbed his hair, his shoulder, his tattooed forearm. I couldn’t help but think of my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, with Scout telling Boo Radley that “it’s okay, you can pet Jim if’n you want to…” She left a while ago to go home for some rest, taking my wife and daughter with her. My older sister is in bed next to Daddy now, gently singing songs he might remember; songs about heaven, hymns we have sung in church. We don’t know if he can hear in his physical body, but I think his spirit, his soul is being comforted. Her voice, low and hushed, is beautiful.

I can’t sing to him- tears choke off my vocal cords. I can’t get in the bed with him- too many people there already. But I stand next to him, hold his hand, and thank God for the blessing of my fun-loving, beautiful dad. And I pray that he is not suffering; that I can let him go.

Mrs. Jean, our angelic stepmom, is walking the house. She has showered and dressed for the day; she is making me a ham and biscuit for breakfast. Pretty soon, the family will return. We’ll watch with Daddy until Jesus decides he’s had enough. And this cold Easter day, my Dad- Daddy- can celebrate with all the hosts of heaven the resurrection of Jesus face to face….

If I believe what I say I believe, really….
How bad can that be?

All night we kept vigil over our father and husband. But at 6:30 AM, Jesus decided it was time for Daddy to go home. With a final labored breath, Daddy let go and slipped gently into the new home God has been preparing for him for almost 76 years. We were all there- Ms. Jean, my two sisters, and me- crying the soul-deep cry of the mourner while offering praise and thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father for releasing our Dad from his tortured body here. In his new home, there is no cancer. No deaf ear. No irregular heartbeat. All is fresh and new! Go, Dad- you are the man!

He was born April 1, 1932, a holiday perfect for his personality and character. And he went home at 6:30 am, just as the first light of dawn was breaking on this resurrection Sunday. He was the first one today to enjoy the Sunrise Service of Easter- only he really gets to see the real sunrise service of Easter- in heaven.

I love you, Daddy. I’m proud of you. Rest now- I’ll see you in a little while…..

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the Road Again

Tomorrow is the day!

My sweet family is returning from a week-long tour of the mid-southern states of Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and back to Oklahoma. Through all that travel, they have visited Jane’s parents in Kentucky and my family in Tennessee. I have been reminded once again how pitiful I am as a single man. Just tonight, at 11:30, I was washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and bagging garbage before the family came home, hoping they wouldn’t discover my untoward slobbiness. Of course, when they read this, they’ll know. Actually, my wife will know anyway. We disagree on the way I sweep, the way I put dishes in the dishwasher, the way I fold clothes. And so to keep the peace, I just don’t do any of those things. Though it hurts my feelings when I'm discouraged from helping, I feel I must oblige.

But while she is away, I must take action!

I had to have clean clothes to wear as well as clean dishes from which to eat my frozen bachelor meals. It is so amazing what a person can do when times get desperate! So I got creative- I put my two dirty plates and two dirty glasses and two dirty forks in the dishwasher. I also put my jeans and last pair of black socks in there as well. Two birds at once! Or so I thought....

When I finish mopping the soapy water from the dishwasher off the floor, I’ll have to wear my blue suit instead of my jeans because I had to cut them from the inside of the dishwasher. They got sucked down into the drain. That’s okay, because I have some blue socks in the drawer; the black ones from the dishwasher were ground underneath the twisty arm that throws water up to the top rack, where my socks were. They left little cotton/poly furballs everywhere. It looked like my daughter's Webkins threw up dozens of little wet, black hairballs.

In the morning I must untangle the sheets so I can make up the bed. I’ve also lost my toenail clippers- could they be in the bed? And I am out of toothpaste- fortunately there is some leftover bacon grease, and I think I can make a tasty paste to use to clean my teeth.

While my family was traveling, I had beautiful conversations with my oldest son, Andrew. He has let me worry and cry about dad, he took care of my girls, and kept me posted on each and every home-cooked meal he had. I was forced to hang up on him a couple of times when he would call and only say. “mmmmmm,”. He was eating tenderloin (both pork and venison) and homemade biscuits, cheesecake, or bar-b-que. I was eating pork and beans from the can and Chee-to sandwiches.

My precious daughter just wants to love on her Daddy; I concur. And my beautiful better half is just that, the better part of me. I miss her so much! I am not much without my best friend.

The evidence is in the dishwasher.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Faith

While I am trying to grow into this blogging thing, deciding what to write, how to write it, and why I should write, I struggle not only with content, but with purpose. As I browse other blogs, and seem to notice a theme; most of them, at some point, deal with personal issues of great importance to them. And so today’s entry will reflect an issue important to me.

I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for many years. I have experienced times of wonderful growth, times of spiritual drought. I have experienced times of unbounded joy with Jesus, as well as times of deep sorrow, where all I have to cling to is my faith. I have had entertaining times when people told me that Jesus wasn’t real; my faith was wasted on falsehoods and fallacies, fairy tales that had no basis in truths. Those times were funny because the Holy Spirit was talking to me the whole time they were speaking!

And now we celebrate the baptism and commitment of our daughter to faith in Christ. We pray that she develops and grows in her faith and we parent her to offer the best opportunity for that. These days afford easy opportunities for rejoicing, for celebration and sharing our faith with family and friends.

Simultaneously, we are walking through the final weeks of the life of my father. My faith exhibits itself differently in this situation. I find a silent strength, an underlying comfort that allows me to celebrate and to grieve. It also affords hope and assurance that I will see my dad- and my mom- again one day.

You may believe faith is a personal thing, designed to be kept to oneself; fine. My faith is personal for me. However, my faith is very real; faith in a living Savior who loves me and gave His life for me, and who will return for me someday. Go ahead and tell me it isn’t real; the smile on my face will be me talking to Jesus about you talking about me!

Life is good….

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Times

What a wonderful gift- the gift of hoops.

Today Jane and I met with sweet Madilyn's teacher for our Parent / Teacher conference. That went well, all is good. And when I arrived at the plantation, I discovered my two children playing basketball in the drive. Not one to back down from a challenge, I parked in the street so we could use the entire driveway for the court. As I dropped my backpack against the fence, sweet Jane came out to see what I was up to.

Then it happened...

Eric and Madilyn vs. Jane and Andrew. Live at Madison Square! We played hoops for a good while, laughing and yelling, disturbing the neighbors and stopping neighborhood traffic. Andrew was barefoot; Jane was wearing a long-sleeved tee; I was wearing my business casual; Madilyn wore a grin as big as all outdoors.

We don't get out very much as a family, and with as much fun as we had this afternoon, we have all we need right out in the driveway.

For our neighbors: if it embarasses you to drive by while we are playing, don't drive by.

Life is good....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the River

The morning was still and quiet, and we worked silently in the coolness of the early dawn. I was at the motor, keeping the nose of the boat against the current, tucked under an overhanging willow tree. Daddy was in the front of the boat, tying a new trotline onto the base of the tree. We would stretch that line across the muddy Hatchie River, bait the 20 or so hooks, and wait for the fish to bite. But only if we got this line tied.

I couldn’t see Daddy at all through the leafy mess. I could hear the words he was using as he struggled to keep his balance, and tie off the line. Some of the words I knew, some I didn’t. And so Dad had worked up quite a frustration when the very large cotton-mouth snake fell out of the tree and into the middle of our boat.
As a young man of 14 or so, I still thought of my dad as a fearless man of steel, sinew, and bone, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But the man I saw at that moment was anything but fearless. It was really more a case of self-preservation, I think. For when that snake fell into our boat and began frantically trying to escape by crawling toward the front of the boat, dad’s brain disengaged and his fear kicked in. He grabbed his trusty rusty .22 rifle, pumped a shell into the chamber and zeroed in on the poisonous snake.

And I watched this action unfold, it dawned on me that my dad was not fearless when it came to poisonous snakes in close proximity. I also realized that Daddy was about to shoot several holes in the bottom of our aluminum boat, while we were several miles down river from the boat ramp. With great poise and precision, I screamed like a schoolgirl and threw dad the paddle I kept in the back of the boat. And I backed the boat from under the tree, in case he had a twin brother. Or father. Daddy dropped the rifle, picked up the paddle, and with a savage fury began to beat the poor snake to a bloody pulp. With great, wood-chopping blows, daddy wielded that paddle like a 10 –pound sledge hammer, blow after blow, until there was nothing left but a slimy 6 foot black body ending in a bloody mess on the front seat of the boat.
I didn’t know what to say. Daddy was out of breath from exertion and, I suppose, fear, so he didn’t say anything either. For a moment, we sat looking at each other. Dad slowly reached down with the shredded stump of the paddle (that was all that was left) and scooped the snake out into the water, where it slowly disappeared beneath the muddy waves. I had to ask, “Daddy, were you really gonna shoot that snake in the boat?” I don’t remember his response, but I do remember- all these years later- regretting that I asked the question.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

What's in a Name?

My dad was born Robert Baptist Barron in April of 1932. April 1st, to be specific; a prophetically appropriate April Fool baby. I cannot imagine another man on the planet who is named for a major religious denomination who was born on an outrageous holiday who could get away with so much while living such a wonderfully full life.

It all began for dad at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. Born eleventh of thirteen children, my dad was the first to be born away from home. Due to serious health complications (I assume brought on by the trauma of giving birth to 10 other kids at home), my grandmother was rushed 35 miles to Baptist Hospital in a desperate effort to save her life, as well as the life of her unborn son. A harrowing surgery was successful in saving the life of my grandmother and my Dad. My grateful Poppa, in an effort to show his appreciation to the Baptist Hospital of Memphis, named my dad for the hospital that saved his life.

Really, Poppa, couldn't you have just written the hospital a nice thank-you note?

Parents, think really hard before you name your children.

Even so, life is good....

The Circle is Complete

In the rural south, a familiar and popular song tells of the circle of faith a family shares, securing their eternal home as a family. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" has been recorded many times, and is a haunting reminder of whether or not family members will be reunited in "a better home a-waitin' in the sky, Lord, in the sky"...

This past Thursday my beautiful daughter completed the circle for our family by recognizing Jesus Christ's authority and asking Him to come into her heart, forgiving her and securing her place in heaven. That is my joyfully tearful translation of her thoughts, and I could not be happier for her! Submitting to any authority is a difficult idea in today's society. And while my wife, my son and I have all submitted to the authority of Christ, we wished for our little princess to make that decision on her own, by herself, in her own time.

This morning in the early worship service my precious daughter walked down to the front of the church to tell our beloved Pastor. He celebrated with her, confirmed her decision, and prayed with her. According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, my precious daughter is now a new creature, having been cleansed of all unrighteousness. And she will learn to live in joy, in peace, in celebration as she learns more about what Jesus taught, why He came, and why He is coming again. As a Christian, it doesn't get any better than this.... except to have the privilege to perform her baptism ceremony! Now our family circle is unbroken........Amen and Amen! Hallelujah!

Life is good....


video

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Toward the Finish Line


I've written about my Dad in a previous post, and wanted to issue an update on his declining health. He called me early this morning to tell me that he had a great night of rest, and felt really really good. No pain, no dizziness, a big appetite are things that evade him on most days. He was so pumped!

This evening when I spoke with him, he said this hadn't turned out to be a good day after all. His heart has jumped out of rhythm, leaving him tired, weak, and feeling empty and sluggish. His pain has returned with a vengeance, so he has maxed out his morphine for the evening. The cadence of his speech, an easy southern dialect, is slow and labored. After a few minutes of speaking, it was obvious that he was tiring.

His beloved brother fell today while fishing, tearing the scalp from his skull, landing him in the hospital for a night of observation. Dad didn't even make it to the hospital to visit him.

He is still committed to selling some fence posts tomorrow morning before church, and to taking my sister and her family out for lunch. He will push himself until he absolutely cannot go another step.

This is the cloth from which I am cut. I am watching and learning and remembering.

No matter what, life is good....

Short Story - "A Test of Wills"

I heard him just as the first color of daylight sun broke across the crooked ridges and cutover timber along the eastern horizon. If this didn’t play out just right, it would not be a good day.

I remained perfectly still, ears straining for the telltale sounds that would give away his position. My eyes strained to pierce the dark shadows yet unreached by the thin fingers of dawn’s early light. Every sound, even my own measured breathing was amplified a thousand times by the fever, and I was sure that my heartbeat would give me away, would reveal my hiding place that I had worked so hard to secure.

For days I had struggled, trying desperately to get-and stay- ahead of my adversary. And even though the outdoor temperature was well below freezing, salty beads of sweat dripped slowly down the bridge of my nose, around the side of my flared nostril, and down over the top of my dry lips. My hands, now clammy with sweat, gripped the Turkish walnut of my rifle, my only friend in this harsh environ. Others before me had tried to hide from the old man, but each, in turn, had been discovered, and turn in turn, been defeated. I willed my muscles to remain absolutely still, fighting with everything in me the urge to turn my head and look behind me. I had discovered a long time ago that careful hiding is a learned skill, and if I were to triumph here, I would have to remain deathly still for a long time.

Another noise, long and deliberate- he was looking for something, for someone- for me! He knew I was there, somewhere, a danger in hiding. I felt the fear rise in my throat as I realized just how close he was; close, but unsure of my exact location. The straining muscles in my shoulders and back ached; cramps racked my legs from lack of motion. I needed to cough, or to clear my throat, or to take in a deep calming breath to slow my racing heart, but I dared no such thing. For me to be so close, and then be discovered... I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I were discovered.

I was not prepared for the inevitable confrontation- though I had yet to get into position, I dared not move. Though I had chosen my hiding place well, I still felt exposed to the entirety of God’s creation under the pressure of the hunt. Calm my breathing! Slowly, in, out, in, hold, out…

Eons of time and generations of man and beast have passed, following this same ritual of survival: the hunter, the hunted, and the struggle for survival. For one, the opportunity to eat another meal, to hunt another day. For the other, the possibility of a premature crossing of the bonds of eternity. Today I will have the opportunity to face this test; soon I would be required to measure my skill not only against my adversary, but against this age-old ritual.

It had been quiet for some time, and I decided to risk a quick look around- I had to know what was going on- even at the risk of exposing my location. I squinted my eyes against the early light, daring to look first to my periphery to the right- I saw nothing. Everything was as it was when I glided silently to my hiding place hours ago. No threats, nothing to reveal my hiding place.

Then I slowly turned, eyes first and head slowly following, to the left. I took a full minute to turn my sweating brow just a few degrees. STOP! From the outer edges of my field of vision I saw movement- he was here! His enormous head was down, studying something on the ground. He was so close I could see the bumps and ridges of unnatural growth at the base of his enormous horns. I could see the fog of his breath as he snorted around- I could not tell if he was looking for me, or just looking for something in general. Once again the fever caused my heart to race, the pounding in my temples flashing like neon and threatening to announce my presence.

He was looking away now, moving slowly, resignedly away from me and my hiding place. This would be my best opportunity to gently and silently move my gun to the ready position. Fighting against the urge to move frantically, I willed my head up ever so slightly, just enough to get a solid look. I held my raspy breath as I raised the old rifle to my shoulder. It took a full half-minute to get it there- I was not willing to risk discovery while I moved. In this time, the grey monster slowly ambled away, as if awaiting my arrival, my violent greeting.

The whole time, my eyes never left the back of the monster’s head. “Relax and breathe!” I told myself. H-o-l-d… o-u-t… i-n… o-u-t. As I slowed my rate of respiration, I squinted my eyes to get a better look, as well as to keep the beading sweat from obscuring my vision altogether. Against my instincts, I willed my body:

Hold still…..

Deep breath….

Now hold it….

Safety off….

Now gently squeeze the trigger, easy, let it surprise me….

The Timney trigger breaks crisply at 3 and a half pounds. The energy stored in the main sear spring, released from its holding place, is transferred to the firing pin. The firing pin makes a small but firm indention in the primer of the .30-06 cartridge, causing a small explosion that ignites the modern smokeless powder and propels the 168 grain bullet from the end of the barrel at over 1800 feet per second. The 1 in 10 rifling spins the bullet tightly, ensuring supreme accuracy, even over the short distance from my hiding place to the back of his shoulder. The bullet enters the shoulder, breaking the shoulder blade and mushrooming as designed. The expanded jacket rips through muscle, sinew, lungs, tearing a vicious wound channel and exits the front of the chest, a perfect quartering away shot. While in my mind all of time and eternity stood still, this careful ballet of science and art takes place in the span of a split second.

I quickly cycled the bolt, ejecting the spent casing and chambering another round. I made myself wait, heart racing even more, breathing now coming in short, desperate gasps, the effects of the fever now in full frenzy. The sweat stung my eyes- where did he go? The echo of the report of the rifle caused a shrill ringing in my ears, so much so that I had to strain to hear the sounds of running feet, of groans, of anything.

Could this be it, after all these years? Many good men had tried and failed to take this guy, old and wise with cunning. I closed my eyes and waited.

Two minutes became ten. The natural sounds of the world returned; the whistles and chirping of the birds, the squirrels rummaging for tender shoots or nuts. Ten minutes became thirty. I need a drink! Or a smoke, though I neither drink nor smoke. Following the passing of the better part of an hour, with my patience run completely dry, I had to know. Looking around and seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I slowly climbed from the stand in which I had been hiding. Sixteen feet down the ladder to the edge of the bean field, quiet in the early stillness of morning.

Shy of 20 yards away, lying in his last footsteps, was the most magnificent 14 point atypical whitetail, grey with age, neck swollen from the amazing chemical and physical changes brought on by the rut.

This old man will make a beautiful mount, and will provide food for my family for another few months. As I ran my hand over his beautiful hollow hair, I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father for providing once again for my family, and marveled at the intricacy and beauty of His creation.

It would be a good day after all.

Frustration in the Midwest

Politics, for me, is a frustrating excercise. As we careen into a November election, we are constantly bombarded by ads from party candidates who berate and condemn one another while touting their own experience, skill, ideas, yada, yada, yada. Attorneys, career polititians, men and women who come from a society completely immersed in self-preservation of their political careers often make decisions based on wo can help them with their pet projects. Finding the hard truths and sorting it from the half-truths, the aspersions, the waffling, on and on and on....

AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the worst is knowing there is not a candidate in the race who believes what I believe; who holds precious the ideas of individual liberty and individual responsibility as prescribed in our constitution. Not one of the candidates represents my values, my belief system. So I am relegated again to voting for the candidate who will de-value my belief system the least.

This is an eternal political season.

However, my hope is not in government, in politicians, or in any man or woman. "Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!" Psalm 20:7

A Letter of Recommendation

A few months ago my son brought home a school assignment for me to complete. This assignment would be a part of his permanent record, and required a great deal of thought and preparation. The assignment- write a letter of recommendation for my son, just as if I were writing a letter of recommendation for an employee or acquaintance.

Following is my response.


Parental Letter of Recommendation for Andrew Xxxxxx Xxxxxx
December 19, 2007

I am privileged to write this letter of recommendation in support of my son and close friend, Andrew Xxxxxx. Andrew and I first met a little over 17 years ago in Memphis, TN, and have through the years developed a deep and trusting relationship. I have witnessed tremendous growth and maturity during those years, and I count each day as a precious privilege to know and work with and love and be loved by Andrew.

Few children bring their parents the pleasure and joy Andrew has brought to his mother and me. And few children impact their entire families the way Andrew has impacted our family. As a young child, Andrew exhibited a love for and skill in drawing and interpreting the world around him. He has developed a wonderful, yet wacky sense of humor that we find delightful and refreshingly unique to Andrew. Even now in his later teens, Andrew continues to impress us with his respect, his calm, and his maturity.

Andrew accepts his responsibilities around the house with a minimum of grumbling and complaining for a 17-year-old, and given enough information, is quite capable and consistent in making good decisions.

Andrew is exceptionally patient with his 8-year-old sister, and she simply adores him. Even as a teenager, Andrew shows great restraint in not strangling or otherwise muffling his sister when she goes on a talking rampage. Andrew does love her, and she knows she is loved.

Andrew possesses leadership abilities beyond his years. Those skills remain mostly undeveloped, and like a muscle, those abilities must be exercised to grow and to fully mature. Because Andrew is a very likable person, he can be an influencer of people, and will, in the near future, be a leader of people.

Andrew knows what it is to face, and to overcome personal obstacles. Through our family’s move to Sand Springs, Andrew has demonstrated a calm strength that has allowed him to rise above those obstacles.

In conclusion, I am honored to know and support Andrew Xxxxxx. Andrew is now at the point in his life where he has demonstrated a consistent ability to make good decisions (with the exception of his sideburns and his shirttail), and has earned some independence from us, his parents. And that is a most difficult challenge as I have grown accustomed to having him close by all the time, and there is no relationship that can replace the relationship I share with my precious son.


Respectfully submitted,
Eric Xxxxxx