THE LAST WALKING COTTON PICKER

Repost and edited from Feb of ’11.

“You know son, I guess I’ve gotta be one of the last walkin’ cotton-pickers left.” He said quietly, as if the realization just crept up on him.

“Really?” I was caught a little of guard.

My dad went on to explain the details of some of his childhood that I’d never heard from him my entire life. I knew my dad was born to a poor sharecropper family in Arkansas, I just didn’t know some of the details.

image courtesy of calisphere.org

One of the first times I got in trouble at school was for making fun of another kid. My dad used some of his childhood memories to teach me one of many life lessons.

I was use to teasing and being teased by my big brothers and friends. It was a pretty tough area we grew up in. It seemed kinda natural to make fun of the kid in my class that ate baby food. He must have had something wrong with his stomach or something, but I didn’t bother to worry about that part of the equation at the time.

I was only considering the laughing and having fun part, not the other people’s lives, feelings, and future impact I might have on one of them part.

When word got back to my dad through the usual channels, he was not amused to say the least, but he wasn’t angry. Even at a young age I could tell he was deeply disappointed. Enough time has passed for me to recognize that he was heartbroken by my actions. Those kinds of acts were never part of my dad’s life, he was a champion of the weak or downtrodden.

It would take many of my dad’s stories about his life and experiences to teach a hard-headed son.

My dad didn’t even whip me for making fun of Ronald at school. You see, I knew enough about my dad’s life from my brothers and uncles to know that my dad was a tough. He’d rescued his brothers on many occasions and I knew he’d boxed in the Air Force, just one of the many stories I used to build the vision of my dad around.

That afternoon he took me into his room; that’s where we’d sometimes get whipped for blatant disobedience. The lesson began.

“Sit down son…” He began to tell me about his days in school as a kid around my age. My dad shared with me how there were many times in his school days that his family didn’t have enough money to buy him or his brothers shoes for school.

I was horrified. He shared with me how hurt he’d been as a kid when the other kids would make fun of him for something he couldn’t do anything about. My dad also told me how disappointed he was that one of his own children would make fun of another person the way the kids had made fun of him.

I was learning the other untold side of my dad and who he really was in heart and character. You gotta know by that point, as much as I hated getting whipped, it would have been way less painful than this lesson I was learning.

Whippings were a bit painful on the outside, this punishment was painful on the inside. I never cried as hard over punishment or groundings as I did that day. The next day when I apologized to Ronald I meant those words from the bottom of my heart.

I gotta give my dad credit, he taught me a good lesson. I never, ever made fun of anyone like that again. Oh, there were many more lessons for a kid like me to learn and it usually was the hard way, but not that lesson. That cottoone I got.

I was proud to know and tell others that my dad was one of the last walking cotton-pickers. My dad and I talked about, and he carried that title of realization for about a year and a half after that… Now he’s gone…

I miss my hero, the last walking cotton picker… He taught me a lot…

I share his stories with my kids and friends to teach and inspire them and me to live a Godly and humble life like my dad did.

I’m honored to carry the title and share the memories of the last walking cotton-picker’s son…

PEOPLE ARE FUNNY

People are funny. But I don’t mean the type of funny that makes you laugh or even smile for that matter. This kind of funny seems to do the exact opposite. This kind of funny makes you frown and often shake your head in regret or disgust… ’cause people act funny.

I was reminded how funny people are yesterday around lunch time. I was leaving a business lunch at Applebee’s. It wasn’t my choice and I guess eating dry and overcooked chicken is better than getting sick from it being undercooked… but I digress…

The parking lot to the mega outdoor mall and shopping centers was jammed with people, mostly retired people. The mall is just west of Sun City, the famous old Del Webb senior retirement city northwest of Phoenix.

As I pulled up to the main parkway road that leads to the traffic light on Grand Ave I saw a red Ford F-150 short bed pick-up on the aisle west of me. The truck was slowing to a stop as I checked east again and gunned it into the main parkway.

I pulled up to the last four way stop sign and stopped to wait for a car to the south to pull out. That’s when I heard the red Ford’s horn blow. I glanced into my rearview to see the guy with the baseball cap holding his arms out to the side, his left one out the rolled down driver’s window. So I mimicked him and did the same thing.

The main parkway road east of the four way intersection opened up to four lanes, each lane a turn lane to left or right on Grand Ave. I saw the red Ford trying to catch up with me before he had to stop short in the left hand turn lane due to the amount of cars in front of him. My lane only had a few cars at the light waiting to turn right.

I have a history and habit of obliging people in traffic that want to talk… or fight. Some habits are hard to break. I stopped short of the cars ahead of me so Mr. red Ford pick-up driver could tell me what was on his mind. His wife talked first.

“You almost ran over us back there,” she said.

“How is it that I almost ran over you when we were pulling out at the same time and I was in front of you? If anything you would have hit me.”

“No. If we wouldn’t have stopped you would have ran us over!” she exclaimed.

People are funny. No one in their right mind could have construed that situation to be life threatening or dangerous or reckless. These folks were emotional. And I learned a long time ago that arguing with emotional people is a big waste of time.

I looked the driver in the eyes and waited for him to say something.

“That Hummer don’t mean a _od damn thing to me!” He had fury in his eyes.

Ahhh. Bingo. He had vehicle hate for me for what I was driving.

I get that a lot. Not as much as I did when it was new, but my truck brings out the worst in a lot of people… ’cause people are funny.

Here I am driving a twelve year old truck with close to a hundred and fifty thousand miles on it and people are still hating it. Or the people that represent what they believe the type of people are that drive them.

They don’t know I used to drive new F-350 lifted crew cab four wheel drive trucks with diesel engines all my life that you could hang meat in, the air conditioners worked so well. The last one was stolen, used and destroyed by Coyote’s hauling illegals across the border. I never drove those trucks more than three or four years anyway. In good times and bad I managed to drive what I know is a truck that is light years better than that Hummer.

They don’t know that the air conditioner in my Hummer is close to useless in the summertime, not a good thing in the Arizona summers. They don’t know that I don’t particularly care for my Hummer. They don’t know that the recession has left scars and changed the way I buy work trucks forever.

I could tell the guy that was around my age, maybe a little older, wasn’t about to call me out so I called him a loser. His wife defended him and told me that he was not a loser.

“Yeah, he is a loser to say something like that,” I said and rolled up my window and pulled up to the cars in front of me waiting at the light.

I had immediate regret for having stopped to let them talk… but people are funny… and I’m part of the group… unfortunately.

There was a beggar standing on the center concrete island leaning up against the light signal pole holding a sign. There’s beggars on every other corner nowadays and I usually ignore them. Most of the beggars are young and fit people that would rather beg than work. And I know in this town if someone wants to work there is a job to be had for them.

But this was a girl. And I don’t know if it was me feeling guilty or if God used the circumstance for His benefit. But I called her over across traffic to give her some cash. In the process the light turned green.

“God bless you,” she said with a sincere voice and eyes. I nodded.

That lane trying to turn left, along with the red Ford with the Hummer haters, got stuck as the girl made her way back across to the center island. That made me smile a little inside… people are funny…

SPRING BREAK

It’s finally feeling like Arizona in the winter again. Well, actually it feels more like Spring. This is the time of year around these parts when you sleep with the windows open. When the seasons change it always seems to take me back in time in my mind to the ones that are long gone. I drift back to the adolescent days of Spring Break.

There was a lot more freedom for youngsters when I was a kid, more trust. I was hitchhiking long before I was a teenager. Part of it was living in a small town. It’s a sinking feeling to see people you know smile and wave as they pass by you as you walk backward with your thumb sticking out. That was back before Fonzie made the thumbs up extra cool.

By the time I hit high school we’d moved to Phoenix. I was none too thrilled about the move that I got zero input on. Funny how God seems to know way more than a Freshman in high school…

It took awhile, but I eventually made friends with the next-door neighbor, who incidentally became one of my life long best friends.

Come spring break time that first year in high school my buddy Lanny and I managed to hitch a ride back up to Lake Havasu City, the place that still had my heart at the time. We got some provisions, fishin’ poles, and a ride from my brother, who was lucky enough to be grown so he could live where he wanted to, and got dropped off at the edge of the pavement on old Highway 95.

Image courtesy of havasusprings.com

It was about three quarters of a meandering mile through the rugged desert to get to the lake. Not an easy task dragging a cooler in the days before they thought to add those fancy circles they call wheels to the bottom of them.

We set up camp in a clearing about twenty feet from the water back in a secluded cove that promised good fishin’. We traveled light so there would be no fancy things like a tent to protect us from mosquitos or anything else for that matter.

When you sleep in the virgin desert you share it with the critters that live there. The musk rats were harmless enough, red racers too, but the rattlesnakes you had to watch out for, coyotes too. We ate what we caught. Eating mostly catfish for almost a week gets old, but beats starving.

I typed the majority of this post out at the airport in Phoenix. We’re heading to California with my youngest for spring break. It’s been a long time since I got to see her over a spring break.

I believe that most of us think we’re in control of our destiny. We tend to over estimate the gift from God of our free will. The truth is if I had got my way all of my life it would look significantly different than it does today, and not for the better to be sure.

It’s times like today that I remember the verse in Proverbs; “A man’s heart plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” And I’m grateful for the mercy and grace that I didn’t even know I was receiving. God doesn’t need hindsight to see 20/20…

FOR BETTER OR WORSE

“Hi, what would you like,” the young girl asked.

“Uhhh… the mahi-mahi, blackened, no rice. Just the uhhh,” I stammered.

“Coleslaw?” She kindly helped me along.

“Yeah, that stuff… that I can never remember,” I chuckled and pulled my wallet.

“I think you were my lacrosse coach,” the young lady behind the counter blurted.

I nodded my head trying to recognize her, “Yep, that would make sense.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the days gone by and the fun she had. I realized that the girl was older than she looked based on her graduating in ’08. That means between around ’06 to ’08 I was one of the people that had the opportunity to make a lasting impression on this young person’s life.

Everyone has people in their lives that leave an impression, sometimes a lasting one, for better or worse.

I liked my art teacher in high school. I learned things from him in commercial art class that I still use in business today. Funny that he didn’t like me as much as I did him. He failed me the last semester. I knew it was personal.

We’d moved my senior year in high school and that county required another math credit. My teacher, the girl’s basketball coach, was tough. She had to have been a Tom Girl at some point in her life. She was positive she could knock the wind out of me with a punch to the breadbasket. I knew better. But she was a person of her word; she passed me from her class with a D- after I took that blow without flinching. That woman could punch… not to mention that I still use things she taught me in her class.

Those are the amusing legacy recollections. If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you already know my dad left a positive and lasting legacy in my life and many people’s lives.

My dad was humble. He never had to dominate a conversation or anybody for any reason. But when he spoke, it was kinda like the commercials from back in the day; “When E F Hutton talks, people listen.” When my dad spoke he had much God given wisdom. It will be nine years this year since he went home to be with the Lord. I’m still learning from the man I called “Pops” in later years. His legacy is alive and his life still has power and purpose.

The amazing thing about investing in the lives of others is the huge dividends that we never count on, but God supplies. So many girls that I’ve coached have gone on to be successful in business and in life as mothers and wives. I’ll still get an occasional message or call now and then from the women who are now in their twenties and thirties to acknowledge the time spent with me and the benefit they got from it.

One of my cherished lacrosse girls.

“I realize now more than ever as a mom that you were coaching us, but what you were really doing was teaching us about life.”

One young women, at Baylor, won an award and her essay was published about her high school lacrosse coach and what she learned from him and how it impacted her life. I was honored. Her cousin, who I also coached, is doing missionary work and sent me a note around Christmas reminding me that I was like a second dad to her.

I put my wallet back in my pocket and grabbed the plastic cup and order number placard when the young lady said, “I remember you always had a cigar in your mouth.”

I cringed… Of all that the young girl could have recalled about her days getting trained like Marines, she remembered that. I hid the hurt within.

“I didn’t smoke them, I just chewed on them,” I explained.

“I know. Do you still do that?”

“No, I haven’t chewed a cigar in probably six or eight years,” I said.

“That’s good,” she smiled.

All of us will leave a legacy. We’re writing the eulogy of our lives that we live out with our actions daily.

We will be remembered for our selfishness or our selflessness. For our pride or humility. For honoring God or ourselves…

There are no do overs… just do betters…

PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP

“You did it yourself?” My youngest asked me. She was downright shocked or confounded.

“Yeah, I did it myself,” I answered with expression to make a point. She’s not a teenager anymore, but I still try to find a teachable moment when the occasion arises… which is less and less these days.

I try to encourage her to take care of her things. I’m pretty sure she considers it more of me riding her, but that’s how it works from the perspective of a parent and child.

She’s busy. She had 18 credit hours at college last semester and she did remarkably well. Proof that she’s not like her dad in some ways…

The truth is the world has changed and her and her sisters can’t begin to see this life and relate to the extinct world that their parents’ generation grew up in. In fairness, I grasp that this life is busier and faster for them than it was for us.

All the technology that was supposed to make life better and save us time has done the exact opposite. Our kids as well as us are caught up in a breakneck pace of life. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down anytime soon… at least on it’s own.

Busy people rely on the expertise of those that specialize in their respective fields. Our oldest is an NP that was doing twelve hour shifts for awhile and her husband runs his own business. On top of that they have two little boys that the Tasmanian devil couldn’t keep up with. They were having prepared meals delivered to their house.

There seems to be a nail place on every corner in our part of the world. And I mean the type of nail on the end of a finger, not the ones you buy in a hardware store. And they’re all full… at least that’s what I hear tell. I’m still too old fashioned or blue collar to partake in any of that sort of Tom Foolery…

A couple of times in the last twenty years I decided that it was a waste of money to pay to get my yard taken care of. I went out and bought all the tools to take care of the yard and lawn my darn self. The last time I skinned the grass and planted my own winter grass I spent more on seed than it would have cost me to have the landscaper take care of it. I gave the lawnmower away the next week.

When I get my truck washed I use the time to either work or write. I, like the rest of this society, have learned to multitask like a machine. Before it became a science and an addiction they called it “killing two birds with one stone.”

My youngest’s Jeep is black so it’s not very forgiving when it comes to showing that it’s dirty and in need of a bath. It’s her first car that she got when she was in high school and she loves it… She just doesn’t love to wash it.

So dirty you can’t see her…

When she was over a couple weekends ago for Sunday dinner we all pitched in and washed her Jeep. It wasn’t her idea… I tried to teach her the art of washing a car. Like I learned from back in the day when “The Car Wash” was one of those open stalls you pulled into and fed the machine quarters. They’re about as plentiful these days as full service gas stations.

After we finished drying her Jeep off I showed her the picture of my ’73 Vette… in the exact same place in the driveway as her Jeep was sitting. I had just washed it by hand a couple of weeks prior. She could see the evidence of a still wet driveway in the picture.

My daughter’s brow creased in question when she asked me, “You did it yourself?”

“Yeah, I did it myself,” I answered like a typical dad.

“How come?” She was still confused by her old school dad.

I didn’t hesitate, “Pride of ownership.” I paused then asked, “It’s nice to have your Jeep clean, isn’t it?”

This time she didn’t hesitate, “Yeah, I’m glad we did it,” she studied her shiny black Jeep, “It looks so good,” she beamed.

That part of her that finds gratification in the work of her hands she got from her dad. She learned a lesson. And I was reminded that I need to remember the lessons that I’ve already learned.