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.
There are different ways to get places, but when I was a kid, it was predominantly the shoe leather express, minus the leather. It was rubber and canvas tennis shoes in those days.
Even with only legs and feet to carry us, we still had different routes to choose to get to school. We never took the long way, the civilized routes cluttered with sidewalks and crosswalks.
We took short cuts. Even if it meant having to go by ol’ man Hatchet’s house. Word was, he hacked up kids with his Hatchet… but he’d have to catch us first.
The well-worn path through thickets, bamboo, gnarly trees, and golden weeds eventually dumped us out close to the elementary school.
The problem with trails is that they’re not always the most direct route. Plus, if they’re there it means they were blazed by someone else.
Davy and I used our tennis shoes like road graders; shuffling, kicking, filling our socks with stickers. It took time, kicking up dust every day, arriving at school just in time and filthy, but eventually we had our own trail, dangerously close to ol’ man Hatchet’s, but trailblazers can’t be faint of heart… or have clean shoes and socks.
Sometimes in life, we don’t set out to blaze trails. The stars align or Divine intervention arranges our meeting with destiny. Sometimes it’s a wooded field, sometimes it’s a business, a mission field, or even a blank piece of paper.
Blazing a new trail has a couple of benefits; one is the gratification that comes from the grueling process. The other is the advantage it brings to others, folks that gain from our endeavor.
I guess it was my mom that passed on her love of books to me. Maybe part of it was all the reading they made me do when I was a kid trying to help me overcome my speech impediment. Either way, I didn’t come to the place where a new path begins by myself.
Long before she could talk, my youngest sat on my lap as I read her books, pointing at pictures and words. She’d look up at me, wide-eyed in wonder, smitten with the magic of words.
Her second assignment in her college writing class was to write about a place. She picked an arcade, but not just any arcade, she wrote about “our” arcade. The place she and I spent countless hours, tokens, and laughs.
My daughter poured out her heart and soul, using the assignment as partial therapy to cope with being away from home… and a dad she sorely missed, but maybe not as much as he does her. She wrote it for me too.
My daughter’s writing, even being objective, is beyond her years.
I’m blazing a new trail, learning the business of writing from the dark side that not many people see. Whether I end up being published traditionally or not, I’ve been gratified by the hard work.
I know now the trail isn’t for me… it’s for the more talented one that shares some of my passion for writing… and blood.
I cussed last week. Which made me even more frustrated at the failing of my frail flesh. It wasn’t out loud, but it was cussing that I kept inside my mind, letting the poison do its work.
I don’t lose the battle with my flesh near as much as I used to, but I got my clock cleaned last week.
I realize that it gets easier to live above the flesh as we get older. One of the biggest factors is age itself.
Another reason to leave the jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle to the younger generations is that we’ve figured out how much energy it takes… not to mention the fact that we’re already plum tuckered.
One of the other reasons that it gets easier to live above the failing flesh is the many gifts we tend to overlook.
I enjoy using my hands. I’ve used them to build a lot of things, but with the decades and evolution of business much has changed. The tools I used to use are different than the ones I use now. These days a computer and cell phone have replaced hammers and saws.
We all get to deal with frustrations, but physical ones seem to have a more immediate effect… which is why I cussed last week before I even knew it was on the tip of my mind.
Maybe it’s more instinct based on the bygone days when cussing and chewing tobacco were just part of the day… along with frustrations.
The crew wasn’t my regular one, good guys, just lacking experience. Especially for “seeing” my vision that the blueprints, for some things, exist only in my mind.
The stringer is the center support piece.
The beam saw I used to cut the single glue laminated beam stringer that weighed around five hundred pounds is obsolete. They don’t make them anymore. Those saws lopped off too many fingers, hands, and arms. Yeah, the massive and jagged blade is bigger than a commercial table saw… set in a handheld gigantic cartoon sized handsaw.
After a couple of days of holding the gargantuan saw, focusing on not letting it cut any of my body parts off, my energy and patience were gone like the good ol’ days.
Splinters in the hands, sawdust in the eyes, and ears, blisters, and sweat rolling into my eyes. Back aching from bending over with the widow maker in my hands, I was a man on the edge.
It must have been the thousandth trip over a block of wood that broke the camel’s back. #&*%@!!!, I yelled to myself in my mind, spittin’ sawdust out of my mouth to no avail, giving in and just swallowing it.
We get into our comfortable worlds that are really the gifts from God and we forget the difficulties that others live with daily.
I need to count my gifts and be more understanding when I judge or give advice because I’m no better than anyone else. Just forgiven… even though I cussed last week.