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.

THINGS CHANGE

Every town and city has its own landmarks and unique culture. Phoenix is no different. Back in the mid 70’s one of the cool things to do was to “Cruise Central”. Central is a street that separates the east numbered streets and the west numbered avenues. By the late 70’s it was “Cruise Metro”. Metro Center was one those mega malls that are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Back in those days and well into the 80’s Phoenix had a favorite son, even though he wasn’t from here, that was our best kept secret from the world. He was kinda what Bob Seger was to Michigan before the rest of the country discovered him.

“In The Round” is the Phoenician nickname for The Celebrity Theatre due to its 360 degree slowly rotating stage. It’s where we just saw Franki Valli about a month ago. It was the locally famous Jerry Riopelle that put The Celebrity on the map for us youngsters back in the day.

In those days the best concert in town, regardless of which famous rock band was in town, was Jerry Riopelle. His annual New Year’s Eve show at The Celebrity was a must see and was always sold out.

Like a lot of folks, I keep a mental record of my top ten favorite books and authors. I do the same with albums and artists. On my top ten list, or what some of us musical fanatics call “Your Desert Island List”, which is the ten albums you’d like to have with you if you were deserted on an island for the rest of your life list, is a Jerry Riopelle album.

It’s kinda cheating because the album is a live recording so it has songs from a lot of his albums. The album, named for where it was recorded, is titled Jerry Riopelle In The Round. Yes, here locally at The Celebrity Theatre…

things change
image courtesy of discogs.com

I can’t recall how many eight tracks I wore out of that album. I couldn’t begin to try to calculate the times the record needle ran through the grooves of that vinyl album either.

Jerry Riopelle came whisker close to making it big. He wrote songs for Brewer and Shipley, We Five, and Shango. Some of the people that covered his songs have been Leon Russell, Herb Alpert, Kenny Loggins, Rita Coolidge, and Meat Loaf… How or why Riopelle’s “Walkin’ On Water” never became a national hit only God knows… literally…

Of course music is timeless because it can magically transport us back in time in our minds. When I hear a Jerry Riopelle song I can’t help but think of my first car and all the blood sweat and tears I spent to buy it. I can’t help but remember my high school buddy Shawn. I remember all the time we spent together in the gym as adults… and I recall that he almost never missed a Riopelle concert. I think of him riding his bicycle in the bike lane up on Thompson Peak Parkway… and being hit and killed by a motorist in March of 2012.

They say all good things come to and end… I suppose that’s got some merit from a secular perspective, but not a Christian one.

Another one of those things that did come to an end was Jerry Riopelle’s New Year’s Eve show.

I was sad to hear that Jerry Riopelle passed the day before Christmas last December. I was even more grieved that he had been so forgotten that I didn’t find out until almost the end of January.

But things change. Small cities become massive metropolises. Kids don’t cruise in muscle cars anymore. Folks get older and don’t cherish the things they did in their youth. And people die…

With time and loss we tend to ponder our past, our actions, our changing thought process, and our own mortality. As Ecclesiastes says, and copied by The Byrds, there is a season for all things, “A time to be born, a time to die”.

That puts becoming famous in a far different light. Only God knew the heart of Jerry Riopelle. What I do know is this; not one single person in the after life wouldn’t go back and trade fame and fortune for another chance to choose The Truth…

Jerry Riopelle… rest in peace…

A CHANCE MEETING?

I try to avoid the mega home improvement store that I consider to be for amateurs as much as possible, but sometimes it’s just too convenient… This is especially true on the weekends when the professional supply yards and houses are closed, but us workaholics aren’t.

I heard someone faintly calling my name from behind me. I never rush to see who it is. The truth is I never know if the voice is going to be one that I have long since buried in the lost memories of my mind.

I heard the calling of my name more clearly the second or third time. It was a man… I turned slowly to see a familiar face.

“Hey, how are you doing?” The man asked as we shook hands, both of us with a vice like grip.

“I’m good! How are you?” I asked as I studied him and tried to place a name with his face.

“Good, good!” He smiled and nodded his head with animation.

We made small talk for a several minutes. During that time the man’s name eluded me. Still does. But as we talked it dawned on me which part of my life this well groomed and slightly greying man came from.

The man’s familiar eyes and smile had aged some since I’d seen him last. No doubt he saw the same in me.

“You look good, still in great shape. Good for you,” I said recalling the days in the gym that we both worked out at about twenty years ago.

If you spend enough time with a person you find out a lot about them, their quirks, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes.

The man returned the compliment, which may have been sincere or not, I wear long sleeved and baggy shirts so it’s difficult to say. But then he said something else that clued me in and reminded me how much time I did spend with the man a long time ago.

“Still got the cool tennis shoes going,” he checked mine out and chuckled.

“Of course. Some things never change!” I laughed too.

Yes they are cool… except for that smudge!!!

While no one would ever compare my dressing habits to the likes of Frank Sinatra, especially during the day, when it comes to shoes, including tennis shoes, I don’t compromise.

As soon as the man said that I could immediately see him in my mind as the kid he was in the gym. He was always a very respectful young man… one that I’d forgotten all about.

I’m not sure if I heard the Golden Rule first or Matthew 7:12 and or Luke 6:31. I’ve tried to treat folks in a decent way during my life, but know that I’ve come up short more than my fair share of the times.

The man I’d helped train and gave spots to in the gym decades earlier and I chatted for a few more minutes. We shook the vise like hand shake once more and he was off.

He stopped about twenty feet out and turned back.

“I just want to thank you for all you did for me… for helping me,” he nodded with a serious expression.

I smiled and nodded too, “You did good. Good job,” I told him.

“Thanks,” he nodded yet again and disappeared down flooring aisle.

I wish I could say that everybody that has crossed my path in life would have nothing but good things to say about me. Not for me or my pride, but as a tribute to the One I belong to.

It’s a fine thing to strive to be a bright spot in the lives of others, but we all fail. We let others down, it’s inevitable. They let us down too. It’s life. We all know it’s a fallen world after all.

“Father forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”.

It’s peculiar how the little things we do along the way can mean so much to others. That’s the gift that gives both ways, friends.

“… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” (NIV)