“The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told: A Memoir,” I mumbled to myself as I reached for the front copy of the book on the shelf in the frigid airport in Austin Texas.
That’s the beauty of this life, we never know when ours is going to be enhanced. We don’t always know when we’re going to learn a lesson or be reminded in a different way of The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Dikkon Eberhart tells the sometimes fun, sometimes painful, but always fascinating story of his famous family, their lives, and the crushing weight that comes with trying to measure up in this flesh.
Courtesy of Dikkon Eberhart
Dikkon is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning and former United States Poet Laureate, Richard Eberhart. His grandparents on the other side were pioneers in the floor wax industry.
As the title of Dikkon’s book suggests, his mom did really meet Adolf Hilter. Robert Frost did come to his house for dinner and helped him with his homework for English class. But the most important part of this memoir, how Dikkon came to know the truth of God.
Dikkon’s colorful memoir is also a history lesson about the social consciousness of this country and how it evolved. And how at least a portion of that evolution took place in Eberhart’s humble living room with him feigning sleep upstairs.
There are countless colorful characters recollected in Dikkon’s book that dropped into the Eberhart’s living room and lives. One of my personal favorites is the times Dylan Thomas read Dikkon bedtime stories with booze on his breath. Another favorite is Margaret Hamilton, the actress that played the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz.
The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and the Greatest Story Ever Told doesn’t just tell the glamorous side of a well-known family. Dikkon is forthright about his mistakes and shares intimately and honestly with his struggles, the very thing we all have in common… and why this memoir is so relatable.
Dikkon doesn’t tell this story in a prideful manner. His story feels like he’s sitting beside you and sharing his life story with you, inviting you in to learn what he’s learned along the way.
I contacted Mr. Eberhart and asked for his permission to write this post about his book. In the course of our correspondence, I found Dikkon to be the same gentle and humble person who penned this masterful memoir.
“The Time My Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and the Greatest Story Ever Told: A Memoir” has found a special place in the short stack of books that I consider my favorites. I hope you’ll take the time to sit down with Dikkon and be reminded that we all have struggles, but we know The Author of the Greatest Story Ever Told.
You can pick up Dikkon’s book at the bookstore, Amazon, Dikkon’s site, or at the airport in Austin. Stop by and say hi to a brother and friend you didn’t know you had.
Kids are taught the proper way to conduct themselves in all kinds of scenarios, learning the ropes so to speak. We’re educated on the insider secrets about what, from the exterior, looks like just another chore or responsibility, but the truly great ones make the tricks, secrets, dealing with people and not getting fleeced exceptional.
I recall my mom showing my sister just how big a splash of leftover coffee to use in a brown sauce. Not so different than my wife reminding the girls how many hot yellow peppers to add to the pot of red sauce that’s big enough to bathe the dog. (not kidding… but Larry is a Shih Tzu)
The little things can make all the difference.
While there was a myriad of things to learn as a boy on the bumpy road to manhood, one of them, though now obsolete and just a memory, was even better than a first trip to Disneyland; shopping for cars.
Sure you could use the same formula for work trucks or basic family transportation, but using the car shopping technique for cool cars, muscle cars, turned a chore into a labor of love.
In those days it started with a newspaper, but not just any newspaper. The real experienced folks knew to start with the Sunday paper. That’s how a boy learns he’s fast becoming a man; when you tore apart a newspaper and discarded everything, including the funny papers, to begin searching the classifieds.
Then there was the local Auto Trader, worth every cent of the fifty it cost. The veteran car shopper knew the publication came out on Tuesdays, ’cause in the used car business, it’s “first come first serve”.
I was taught to “dog ear” the pages and circle the potential motored treasure, sit by the landline getting addresses and directions, then plot a course around the city with approximate meeting times.
I learned fast that the best used car shopper does more than just kick a few tires, he crawls on his back and belly to look for things underneath the V-8 sporting muscle that the outside alone could hide.
One of the standards was pulling the dipstick to look for traces of water or gasoline in the oil. Another was checking the color of the exhaust to let you know if the engine was tired and burning oil, and on and on.
Time spins by like the obsolete spinning top and we’ve gotten more sophisticated. We’re less and less subject to the whim of some fella maybe trying to off a lemon.
I’m reminded that avoiding interactions with others can keep us from getting burned, but that’s not the point of our lives. It is a fallen world, but that doesn’t mean we have to become cynical. That was the Truth behind learning the ropes…
There’s value in interactions with people. In the end, that’s what it’s going to be mostly about, I think.
Which sorta makes it my duty to look for that perfect Plymouth Barracuda. Or maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I was learning the ropes of justification…!
An edited Happy New Year repost from 2011. I’m taking some time away from blog land and spending it with family over the holidays.
image courtesy of photobucket.com
The years are beginning to look like dashed lines on the highway peering down at 85 miles per hour. As Commander Cody states so eloquently, especially for us of Southern descent, “The lines on the road just look like spots.” The years are ripping by at a speed that’s hard to fathom.
What’s not hard to fathom is that we, like the Hot Rod Lincoln from that old song, can’t last forever. Like the car being pushed past its limits, we wear out, break down, or just plain run out of gas. The time for traveling down the highway of life comes to an end.
Our bodies and lives aren’t so different than the cars in the song either. I remember when my soul ride was the latest model…for a very short time. Like all things in this world, the physical world trapped in the time allotted by God begins to falter. Time takes its toll.
Many of us see an old vintage model vehicle and appreciate it for what it is, and what it was. Some of us are economy cars, some high performance, off-road, work vehicles, or family sedans, but each of us with beauty all our own, designed by God for a specific purpose. Only He knows how many miles we’ll make it before we head to our final resting spot.
The old song ends with the kid being thrown in the clink. “They arrested me and they threw me in jail, n’ they called my Pappy to go my bail and he said son you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ in you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot – Rod – Lincoln.”
The choices we make driving through this life will determine where we’ll end up; in jail, or paradise…
None of us know when we’ll run out of gas or break down permanently. When it comes time to call the tow truck, we’ll all be hopin’ the one with the angelic wings shows up. For those of us who acknowledge the One who made us, that hope is confidence.
I pray a blessed ride through this next year and beyond. May we all feel the blessing of being granted a life and honor God and ourselves by the decisions we make. May we feel the wind in our hair and appreciate the simple gifts first. I also pray for health for our families and friends.
Lets remind one another and not forget to pull off and take some time now and then, after all it’s not a race. There are only two destinations… I suggest the Northern route.
Enjoy the ride, I’ll be striving to be cruising in the slow lane this next year. If I see you I’ll give a wave… If I don’t, I’ll see you, one of these days… at home, drive safe.
I suppose you can grow fond of a tradition, but my hunch is that there’s more to the story… In fact, it is the story. The story and truth that changed heaven and earth. I listened faintly as a child, even felt like I endured the story and tradition associated with it sometimes, but it’s different now.
I remember sitting on the back of the long flatbed of the pickup surrounded by stacked up bales of hay. There were people all around. Some were standing, some sitting, some kneeling, but I was sitting next to my big brother who was probably all of twelve, at the very rear, legs dangling dangerously off the back of the truck.
We were swinging our legs wildly and comfortably as the truck pulled us slowly through the chilly December air. This wasn’t a volunteer activity for my brother or me, but we made the most of it. We mostly laughed quietly, elbowing each other gently in the ribs to indicate the signal for laughter.
The other people were more serious. They sang earnestly as we drove through the night. Even though we were embarrassed, sometimes we’d join in and sing a little when the songs we knew well would be repeated. As crazy as it seems, every time our fellow Christmas carolers would break into Silent Night, it turned into a, well, silent night. Even my brother and I would become more reverent.
The world seems to stand still when that song is sung. The words describing the story act in some supernatural way to bring about reverence… even to the irreverent.
Our pastor shared with us how he’d listened to a story of a country singer named Travis Tritt, recalling his early days playing honky tonks and violent bars where rednecks and bikers would frequent. When the inevitable bar room brawl would break out, Tritt would lead his band in the old Christmas favorite, Silent Night. It never failed to bring immediate peace to some of the rowdiest and irreverent folks this society knows.
I sat in the dim lit den watching the end of a pretty ridiculous Christmas movie while my wife lay sleeping next to me. Immediately when Silent Night began playing with the rolling credits, a side of me rarely seen appeared in the edges of my eyes.
I sat in silent reverence of the story of love. The story of sacrifice. The story of death. The story of redemption… and the story of life everlasting provided by God through our Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that all the ones we’re praying for this season might one day…
Some of you wanted to read the rest of my daughter’s essay, so here it is. A glimpse into my world, but as a parent, this is a glimpse into your world too. This is the universal language of love of parents and children. Although it’s long, I promise this will bring about the Christmas spirit.
A warm breeze ripples over my shoulder as I make my way out of my dad’s prized white pick-up truck and through the parking lot. If there had been a crowd I would have done anything to shove, claw, push my way through, and I know he would have done the same. I finally break free from the cracked asphalt of the parking lot that emits heat from the ground, echoing the heat of the scorching Scottsdale day, to the sandy white cement of the sidewalk. Grass pokes up from along the cracks, a welcoming sight as if they are beckoning one closer as they sway together with the summer heat pushing around them.
I grab my dad’s hand tightly as we reach the doors, red pillars swirling up on either side, a bold “CRACKERJAX” painted above the door in bright gold and red letters big enough to read from a mile away. The paint is new, fresh, crisp. The letters are carefully aligned, a perfect computer font of a script. The sun leans down on us as we walk through the entrance. It’ll be lower when we come out, the mark of hours spent inside, transported into a memory. My dad pushes the door open for me, and I am engulfed in the cool air conditioning washing over us, wrapping me in a familiar hug as I transition from the bright light of a hot Arizona summer to the cool, dim indoors of the arcade lit by colorful flashing lights from each game.
Nestled between upscale Scottsdale shopping districts, the average run-of-the- mill arcade is a hotspot for families as well as a breeding ground for bored teenagers, and my dad and I somehow find ourselves continually drawn back to it. “CrackerGurm’s” as he calls it, pinning the affectionate nickname he gave me since birth on to the end as if symbolizing that it was for me. I am young, too young to even remember when we start coming to Crackerjax, and this is the place where I form my relationship with my dad. I am young, growing up in the illuminated glow of the air hockey table, the vibrant tracks of putt-putt golf. This is an easy, effortless place where I have no second guesses or doubts that follow me throughout my childhood.
Bright lights, brilliant blues and reds and every color in between shine down at us from their respective spots on arcade games, greeting us with a wink as we walk further inside. The air whooshes around us as the air conditioner constantly pours out new air, creating goosebumps on my skin, partly from excitement, partly from the cold. Children’s voices flutter around like bird songs, distinct squeals, and hoots of excitement, the sound of basketballs bouncing off the backboard of a free throw game, the hard sound of a skeeball sliding at top speed into openings, resonating with a loud thud mingle in the air. Animated voices mix with the sound of zombies being shot and cartoon Doings! and Whams! being brought to life brought to you by your favorite video game character.
Our first stop is the coin dispenser, my dad slipping in bills like it is the only thing he’s ever saved up for. The amount of money he has forked over for an endless number of tokens has most likely funded the Crackerjack’s stock, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is their most prized customer. Shiny coins tumble into my eagerly outstretched hands, soon to be stuffed into pockets of my dad’s oversized parachute pants. Every so often I’ll still come across a few of them when cleaning my room, memories beckoning me back.
Gliding down the sloping ramp into the belly of the arcade always held the best feeling when I was a kid. Becoming enveloped in the chaotic awe – the wonder one feels as a child when memories seem the ripest, almost larger than life. Walking down the ramp into a wonderland of shimmering lights and entrancing music dancing in between the different games
forms an atmosphere solely created for moments like this. The lights bouncing around seemingly shine from the reflection of my own happiness. It was a walk I never took alone, always accompanied by my best pal.
The air hockey table, given its own space, as if reserved solely for its two most important clients, is adjacent to the ramp on the left side of the arcade. The average run of the mill air hockey table, adorned with blue and black paint worshipping its pristine deck, was our equivalent to some sort of holy shrine, always visited. Four coins promised the game of a lifetime, soon adding up to 8, 12, 16, 20 before the afternoon was done.
“Ready to lose?” Ever the competitive one, my dad never backed down.
After a few rounds of letting me beat him, we would play all or nothing, no holding back. The slick sound of the thin yellow puck sliding across the table faster than expected bounced back and forth, providing its own commentary. Focus was intense. Stakes were high. Dad versus his youngest daughter. I’d like to think that the more I played the better I got, but recent visits have informed me that my rusty skills are no match for my dad’s jaguar like speed.
Although he normally won, I won’t forget the look he had that was reserved for when I snuck in an extra goal awarding me a win, shock slapping him in the face as he gave a wide-eyed look followed by a surprised grin, his stunned expression always followed by a laugh, commending me for my game. The pride that accompanied his praise always rose up in my belly like a fire finding its way out, a warm and cliché fuzzy feeling exclusively given to me by my dad. A pride that I would do anything for, always striving to earn a laugh and a praise from him.
A man of tall stature, ponytail and scruffy beard, my dad always stood out of a crowd. He wore baggy Gold Gym’s brand sweatshirts of assorted vibrant primary colors along with what strongly resembled parachute pants or baggy shorts with a hat on backward over remarkably long hair. My dad’s appearance spoke for him, displaying his character. A man who chose comfort over looks, who didn’t want to show off with materialism. Who grew his hair out to donate to Locks of Love, always tied back into a long ponytail.
Humble from his roots, my dad grew up in a family of self-proclaimed “red-necks” from Arkansas. The youngest of two brothers and one sister, my dad learned his place by roughhousing of malicious intent and hard teachings from a hard father. Moving to California, then Arizona as a boy, my dad finished high school and worked as a framer, working on houses throughout the valley instead of attending college.
Starting work from a young age of 13, my dad was instilled with a hard work ethic, rising up in the company he worked at to eventually making his own and being the boss. He passed up on his dream of being a writer and settled for something learned from a young age, but later poured his experiences into writing; his hardships something I still cannot bring myself to read.
With skin splotchy red in most places from sun exposure and scruff that scratched my face whenever he would kiss my cheek or forehead at bedtime, always vigilant to tuck me in. Worn callouses on his hands demonstrated years of hard work and his green eyes always held a glowing warmth, twinkling with wit, constantly looking for his next joke. My biggest fan of all my work, my dad is always the first to tell me how proud of me he is.
A father of two step-daughters and one biological daughter, he was never one to treat any one of us unequally. He embraced my half-sisters as his own children, marrying my mom before I was born. He loved fairly and deeply, more than he had ever bargained for, pouring his heart out into relationships he never expected.
Revisiting my house a few weeks ago in Scottsdale, he opened up to me with a sense of vulnerability that had not been present when I was living at home, one that only opened up once the realization of distance had hit. He told me that before he met my mom, he had sworn to not date women with children. But as he fell in love with my mom, he fell in love with her daughters.
“How could I not?”, he had added. A glimpse into the softness underneath his tough exterior not often shown was revealed to me in that small, warm moment as we sat in the kitchen long after my mom had fallen asleep on the couch in the family room, listening to music that he always insisted on playing for me on YouTube.
He had never expected having a child of his own. Admittedly too preoccupied with work, he had believed that that part of his life had passed.
“But everything changed when I had you. I knew you were the greatest gift God gave me.” Our eyes mirrored each others, both welling up with the feeling of tears that threatened to spill over, tracing down our cheeks as we exchanged matching sniffs in the emotional moment, love bubbling up inside my chest; the returning fuzzy feeling claiming its place.
As we aged so did the building of the arcade, paint beginning to chip from the elaborate entrance, the greens of the putt-putt course turning to a muddy beige. Machines started to become replaced by their new and improved counterparts, entering a more modern age as the old ones lost their beloved gleam, instead only reflecting one’s appearance in the dark nothingness of a blank screen. The pinball machines my dad obsessed over started to dwindle in their number, but the main attractions like air hockey and skeeball remained the same. My dad’s trusty pick-up truck changed to a Hummer. Photo booth stubs show his hair becoming shorter, now resting on his shoulders. Lines began to creep across his forehead and around his eyes, but that twinkle never disappeared from them. Regardless of the changes going on around us, with our age, our enthusiasm only grew. Time after time, without fail, our tradition stood the test of time.
Over the years, however, things began to get busier. Between school and typical teenage moodiness, trips grew less frequent, but somehow more cherished. Or maybe even sad, in a sense.
“Wanna go to Crackerjax this weekend?” he would ask with a bright grin on his face, it slowly diminishing as he heard my response.
“No, dad! Geez, quit asking! I have way too much work.” It would be followed by a curt smirk and an eye roll, one that all thirteen-year-olds seem to have mastered. As I saw the resulting disappointment and quietness grow from him, clearly portrayed on his face whether he was aware of it or not, I’d feel an unfamiliar pang, a torrent of guilt spewing up inside as I began to regret my answer, but controlled by some sort of pride, I couldn’t take that answer back.
“But maybe next weekend…?” I’d try to come up any kind of response that could fix the situation as soon as I felt that pit in my stomach, feeling that in some small way, I let him down. He’d nod and return to his usual self, the window of vulnerability closed off, at least to me. Times like that I’d instantly feel torn between my typical teenage attitude and the feeling that I made my dad upset. I remember almost crying at times, swearing that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to spend time with him and he’d laugh as he gave me an understand hug, assuring me that it was alright.
It’s funny to think how you never know when the last time you do something will be. It’s something I often think about, often accompanied by a sting of missing my childhood and a panicked need to call my dad. You don’t know you’re in the “good old days” until you’ve left them. I didn’t know the last time my dad would tuck me into bed, take me trick-or-treating, or going with him to Crackerjax as a kid until after it happened.
Revisiting now shows an absence of the games we played faithfully and instead, they are replaced by a laser tag arena taking up most the space in the arcade. More modern games have replaced their classic arcade ancestors, the digital presence of the 21st century creeping in little by little. The once-pristine paint that faded to a familiar chip is now restored but is almost foreign.
“Our” Crackerjax is stored away in my memories, safe from the infiltration of change. A change that has invaded our lives in every way imaginable as we grow older, especially present in the transition of my moving to college. Although I’m now only 30 minutes away from my home, it can feel like worlds away.
“Lunch this weekend?” I’m now the one to instigate things, calling my dad whenever something reminds me of him, making plans that I pray he won’t reject like I did as a teenager. It’s different now, our ever evolving relationship. Distance has changed things, made small things like the time we spend more important, more cherished.
“Yeah, that sounds great!”, my dad responds. And when we meet up on a Saturday afternoon to get lunch, he tells me he’s been looking forward to it all week.