Archive for October, 2010
Friday, October 29th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
What? A Convertible? In our driveway?
1963 Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass
Glamorous new look behind the wheel! The F-85 instrument panel is completely restyled, places all gauges for quick and ready reference. New “Delcotron” generator keeps electrical system charging even at idle. Entry and exit is easier, too, with smaller steering wheel for increased clearance.
Buckets on a budget! Solid-tone pleated “Morocceen” is offered in five shades-blue, red, white, black and saddle. Decorative chrome moldings and nylon carpeting add a sparkling luxury touch.
Appointments on the DeLuxe F-85 include full carpeting and foam padding in the front seat. DeLuxe steering wheel, safety-padded instrument panel and two-speed electric windshield wipers are standard equipment.
I don’t think I can remember a time in my childhood when I was more elated.
Our 1963 Cutlass
I was in the 3rd grade, I loved my teacher, Miss Dolan. Life was good! My mom had gone back to work for a really classy hotel as a desk clerk. She would dress up each day with her hair perfect, nice clothes and Tabu perfume. Along with her job came other benefits like movie tickets to the “Cinerama Theater” which was next door to the hotel. We got season tickets for incredible films like “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, How the West Was Won, and many others we really enjoyed.
Dressed as "Tom Jones"
But the movie tickets didn’t compare to the day I saw her drive up in our driveway in a 1963 Oldsmobile convertible. I don’t know why, but I was completely enamored by convertibles. I thought of them as a way to have incredible fun on great sunny mid-western days. I was always curious about the mechanical tops and how in seconds a car could be transformed from a clumsy looking canvas topped car to a beautiful sleek envious ride. I loved seeing all of the models large and small and couldn’t wait to watch someone push a button and slowly lower the top into the back of the car and drive away.
I never thought in a million years we would ever have a convertible sitting in our driveway. My mom was almost as enthused with her new car as I was. I remember sitting in the front with a sleek console beautifully separating the “bucket seats” while she explained the car with such detail. My grandfather, her dad, was a car buff. She had grown up with all of the incredible Chryslers that he had owned, so she was familiar with terms and features that were exciting.
“Johnny, this is an Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass. It has a “ROCKET V-8” engine.”
I thought, “A ROCKET engine?” Wow. I remembered seeing one of the first rockets going up into space and to think of a car as having a rocket engine was even more exciting. She pointed out the button that would lower the top and down it went. Oh my gosh, this is so amazing. “Let’s go for a ride!”
Mom worked the afternoon shift so she wasn’t home much when I was. She came home late in the night and was always asleep in the mornings when I was getting up for school. But almost every morning I would go out into the garage and take a look at “my” new convertible. Well, it wasn’t brand new since she told me she bought it from a customer at the hotel. But to me, a nine month old car was pretty new. Some mornings I would go out and find that she drove the car into the garage with the top down and left it down. Those were the days I would talk her into taking me to school in the “Rocket Engine Cutlass”. How awesome to have the kids at school see me riding up the driveway, proudly announcing, “We have a convertible!”
There were days I would talk mom into letting me stay home saying I didn’t feel well. It usually worked. Since I was “sick” I would often get a new game or toy to help keep me entertained and even better, it was a time to spend with mom since I didn’t see her much. Our weekends didn’t include much family time either. But even better than the new games, in good weather, I would entice her into a ride with the top down.
We had a family room in our basement next to my sister’s bedroom where we watched TV. One night my mom had been laying down in there from being sick. As we were in the family room, my dad came through carrying my mom saying he was taking her to the hospital. She was there for a few days and I was worried about my mom getting better. When she came home I suggested she sleep in my room saying, “You can sleep there so dad wouldn’t bother you in the night”.
Giving her my room was a tremendous sacrifice. Mom had just completely redecorated my room with an Indian printed bedspread, pillows, and décor. I really liked my new room but mom was sick, so she slept in there and I moved to my dad’s big double bed and slept with him. This was fine until one day it seemed she was better and never talked with me about giving me my bedroom back. Week after week, all I saw was my bedroom door closed and sensed that I wasn’t allowed to go in. So, one day I wondered what my new room looked like so I decided to open that door and look in when she wasn’t home.
I was shocked at what I saw. My room was a disaster! I couldn’t find my bedspread since it was buried underneath all of the junk. My new dresser had dried fingernail polish that had spilled on its top which permanently damaged the surface. I felt the air go out of my lungs. I wondered, “What happened to my room?”
I never said anything because I tried to always be the good boy and not upset anything. Not only was my mom sleeping in her private cave, we hardly saw her any more. One Sunday stood out to me because our entire family was in the back yard playing badminton. This had become a rare occasion and its oddity became etched into my mind. Our family was beginning to splinter.
I remember hearing an argument between my mom and dad about the new convertible. It seemed my dad wasn’t as excited about the car as I was. It appeared she had bought the car without him knowing about it. He kept talking about how they couldn’t afford that car. It was clear this wasn’t a joint endeavor. I never saw my dad in the car. It was another private place in my mom’s life that my dad didn’t enter.
As things continued to seem confusing, I found out that my mom had added a second job to her schedule. She was a waitress at a little diner down in town. At one point, she took my sisters and I to eat there where she introduced us to the owners, the Browns. A man came into the diner and sat down with us. I had never seen him before but he was seemingly a really nice man. He paid attention to us and seemed to think we were pretty special. I looked at his smile, his kind eyes, and heard his affirming words. I wanted to spend more time with him, to see him again. The desire to be with him was coming from deep inside me. His name was Mel. I liked what I felt but it also felt confusing.
So, as the weeks went by we saw Mel some more times and I always felt so warm around him. But I never thought about it being strange that the world with Mel never crossed over the world with my dad and our home.
It seemed my dad had become a virtual single parent. He also worked two jobs. He was a mailman during the early part of the day and delivered the daily paper in the afternoon to around 500 people. He was certainly busy but always seemed to be home with us every evening. My sisters were in middle school by this time and were quite capable of fixing simple dinners so they would make “Chef Boyarde” Pizzas and hamburgers and we would sit around the table without mom. Every Tuesday we went out to eat at a local café which was always special for all of us, but mom wasn’t there either.
Sunday morning was always the time to go to church. My dad came from a Catholic family. He made sure my sisters and I always went to church. We learned that God was at the center of life, Jesus died for our sins and offered us a place in heaven. Dad taught me to have faith in God for the little things and the big ones. He lived what he believed and laid a foundation of faith in my life that in a simple way carried me through my childhood. But my future would become much too hard for my lack of maturity in understanding God in the difficult times.
The Gary Moore Show, or Dick VanDyke, or Mary Tyler more also stood out to me as memories with my dad. We also enjoyed sitting on our large front porch on warm evenings just quietly watching the cars drive by. We had a game we played where we would guess the brand of the next car that drove by and see who would get it right. These were good times with my dad. But the household was soon to explode and things were shaking loose. The separation of lives that was growing with my parents but it didn’t seem to bring any arguments. My dad never talked about the things we were seeing so we were left to our own imagination to figure it all out. This split way of living went on for about two years.
My life just seemed to be a crazy kind of normal until one day when I was in the fifth grade. As I walked out of school to take my usual, three block, walk home I saw the convertible drive up next to me on the street. I was a little shocked since my mom was usually at work. The door opened up and mom got out of the passenger side and told me to get in. I looked in and my sisters were in the back seat. When I got in I quickly looked into the driver’s seat and to my surprise, Mel was driving.
I felt the joy of seeing him, but I also felt a tremendous rush of confusion and fear. Our home world had just collided with Mel’s world. Mom said we were going to the Brown’s house and stay there for a couple of days. I don’t remember how she continued on in our conversation but it seemed that my dad was leaving our home. From what she had said, it seemed that dad had become dangerous and was to be feared. She told us we shouldn’t see him. So that night and for a couple more days I slept in a sofa bed with my mom in a strange place.
When we finally went back home things seemed to become angry around us. We didn’t know any details, but after a while my dad would come over on Sunday’s to see us. He was friendly and yet it all seemed so clumsy.
Our lives had changed drastically. Many times my mom would take us to bars where she would meet Mel for a “few beers”. The music, smells, and atmosphere are unforgettable to me. Even to this day I can’t stand the smell of beer because of the remnants of those times in my mind. But, at the same time, considering Mel was there I would sit close to him, touching his life next to mine. He was warm, friendly, and continued to be affirming and loving towards us. So, with mixed emotions, going to the bars was something I hoped we’d do, as long as Mel would be there with us.
Later that year my mom had planned a family trip to go to Denver to see our grandparents. I really looked forward to our time with them. My mom had a friend named Lucy who was going to go with us. So, we all packed into the Cutlass convertible and drove 500 miles to Denver. When we arrived we were all excited to see our family there. Smelling the wonderful aroma of her homemade dinner rolls was incredible.
Shortly after we had arrived a man came to the door and my mom invited him in. She introduced us to him for the first time. She said that he was going to go with her and Lucy into the mountains for a few days. I felt so disappointed. This was our vacation together and mom was leaving us! But that’s the way it was, so arrangements were made for this stranger to stay the night at our grandparents house. Since I was the boy, it was decided that he would sleep with me in the double-bed in the guest room.
As I went to sleep that night, this strange man began to do strange things that included me. In the fog of sleepiness, I am not quite sure of the details but I knew he took my hand and used it to touch him in ways that were strange and shocking to me. When I woke up my first reaction was to wipe it away and excuse it as though it didn’t happen. Or, I thought, maybe it was something he had done in his sleep and didn’t know about it.
The next day they left for their three day trip and my grandparents took us on our own mountain tours, as they always did. We drove through the hills in my grandpa’s Turquoise, 1962 Chrysler 300 Two-door hard top. It became a typical fun time with them so it was a good trip. I just wished my mom had been with us rather than with this man.
Soon, the elation of the wonderful Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass convertible became a bad penny. The changing climate of my life had gone from a dream come true, to a dream that wouldn’t go away. No one ever knew about the interchange that occurred that night other than this strange man and me. I buried it into the recess of my mind and moved on.
About six months after our trip my mom sat my sisters and I down for a serious conversation. We never had those, so this was quite unusual. She merely wanted to ask if we were to have a choice, which man would we want her to marry, Mel or the Strange Man. By this time he wasn’t so unfamiliar to me. There were a couple of times he joined us at the bar but it just wasn’t the same as it was with Mel. He invited me to go on a ride on a great big train engine and my mother assured me it would be fun. So a few hours were clumsily spent with him and I couldn’t wait for the day to get over. You might imagine what our answer was. We were unified, “We want you to marry Mel, Mom”.
No more was said but one day I came home from school and the house was all rearranged. Not only didn’t I get my original room back, but my temporary room was dramatically changed and new furniture was moved in and a lock was placed on the door. I was shuffled to the basement into an unfinished room and couldn’t imagine what had happened.
The Strange Man moved in. The house rules changed to reflect his “On Call” job at the railroad. Everything that was familiar became unfamiliar. Our home became even angrier. Fear entered my heart as it did my sisters’. We didn’t get our choice, Mel was now gone and we never saw him again. We were trapped into our home with someone that very clearly didn’t like us. It seemed that their arguments always included his anger towards something related to “those kinds”.
1957 Ford Fairlane
Shortly after this man moved in, the convertible was gone and a 1957 Ford Fairlane four door had replaced it. I was so disappointed to see this utilitarian vehicle had replaced my “Rocket V-8″. It seemed it was a money thing. The Man brought along with him a White 1963 Ford Galaxie 500.
His ford didn’t have a Rocket Engine, it was sluggish because it had a special edition “Salesman’s Edition” economical engine. I think it was a Ford thing! I heard along the way that he didn’t like Oldsmobiles.
1963 Ford Galaxie
As the world around me began to crash we also found out that mom was pregnant. A few months later, she had a baby girl and we were all so excited to see her. I always wanted a new little sister or brother and now I had one!
We paid special attention to her and spoiled her because we really enjoyed having her around. Wendy brought a special light to our household in the midst of the challenges. But my sisters’ joy of their high school years were snuffed out by the restriction of all of the new household rules. They had no social life or liberty. This brought me to become fearful of what was coming ahead for me.
The unfolding of my years of pre-pubescent development were laced with anger, confusion, fear, and seemingly invisible pain. I was living with a mom who seemed to not care at all what I needed or wanted. A man, who for all intents and purposes, had blown up our home with his own unresolved conflicts of life.
Memories of convertibles are still wonderful and I find my heart skip a beat when I see a particularly beautiful classic with its top down. 1965 Lincoln Continental’s are really special. And I can really get excited when I see a wonderful mid sixties Ford Thunderbird with a top that slides into the trunk like butter.
A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Life brings with it joy and pain. The fulfilled dream of having the convertible in our family was a wonderful time to enjoy. Pain symbolized from the same special car became the nightmare that wouldn’t go away. Life continued on with my step-dad. The conflicts never stopped. The fighting between him and my mom did not end until his death over 30 years later. I have learned that all of these memories are what make up who I am today. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.
When I look at the totality of my life experience, cars seem to span the years with fun times, wonderful excitement at their beauty, and hope that one day, in the twilight years of my life, maybe I’ll have a beautiful convertible that I can drive around to my heart’s content. If not, surely God has the very best waiting for me to drive on the “Streets of Gold”!
Friday, October 22nd, 2010
This is a series of reflections on my own life that I hope will encourage you to think about yours. Many of us have things in our lives or activities that are energizing for us. Sports, hobbies, maybe places or memories that are really special to us that came from our connections to those around us as we grew up. Mine hangs on wonderful cars from my childhood that were connected to significant memories.
of My Life
It not only impacted automobile history, it carried wonderful memories throughout my life.
Cadillac offered no less than eleven different body styles for 1959. The ‘59 Caddy had it all — looks, performance, and comfort. It stood as the ultimate symbol of success, impressive and — yes — controversial. The outrageous tail fins and jet pod taillights evoked either a love it or leave it attitude with the public.
Some have even said that “the signature tail fins soon became Cadillac’s most famous styling feature, but with each successive series of new cars these rear fender appendages grew higher and more flamboyant.
By the late 1950s they had reached ludicrous proportions and were of questionable taste.” Of course, just about everybody knows about the monster fins on the ‘59 Cadillac but for me, those fins became a signature that impacted my life in unforgettable ways.
A Cadillac entered my life as a symbol of God’s faithfulness!
I was born in 1954 and lived in Colorado until our family experienced something that changed all of our lives forever. I had just reached two years old. My dad came home one day to find that his marriage to my mother was in desperate condition. Due to his caring heart for me and my sisters the decision was made to give us a place of refuge while he and my mother attempted to deal with their marriage problems.
My dad’s family lived in Iowa. They were surrounded by a little community of 500 people that was anchored by a towering steeple on the local Catholic Church. This piece of nirvana also had a movie quality baseball stadium much like the one in “A Field of Dreams”. It was called “Memorial Stadium” and was built out of wood timbers and was painted the expected emerald green with white lettering. The houses were all in generally perfect condition. If you picture a “Leave it to Beaver” television set, this small town would come into view.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, we were transported 600 miles across the country to our new “temporary” home. We were taken to live with two aunts and their families that lived about a block away from each other.
For some reason, it was decided that my two older sisters would go to Marian’s home and I went to Lorna’s. Marian had three older boys already and she welcomed my sisters into her family graciously. She loved that she would have two girls to add to their mix. Lorna had two girls and a boy so it was natural that I would share a bedroom with their oldest son, Alan. He was a great big high school, college prep, kind of guy. I idolized him but he was gone a lot so I connected more with his littler sisters. They loved having a new little brother. I was just a little over two years old so they could carry me around, play house with me, and generally act like a mom.
Their house was a small “Cape Cod” four bedroom home. It was bright white with Red shutters and awnings. It sat on the busiest corner of the town that had the only Stop Sign. Simple in design, they had built it from scratch in 1948, the year their youngest daughter was born.
My Aunt Lorna
Right next door is the house where my father was born. My grandparents lived there. There was a sidewalk through the back of the two houses to connect the two together. This family saw each other daily and sometimes more than once per day.
Lorna’s husband’s name was Art. Art was an astute business man. He knew numbers and business management like the back of his hand. But, in this small farming town, he had chosen to farm and raise and sell popcorn. Their popcorn was the very best quality available. Nothing short of the best would work for Art. He and his brother had become very successful and were known as some of the most affluent in their community. They were involved in their church, and in helping the town to grow. They were visionaries and had put this town on the map all around the heartland of our country for their accomplishment in the popcorn business.
Their success in farming and popcorn allowed this family to have many of the finest amenities in life but their lifestyle was very modest. As I sat in the bathtub my aunt would say, “We don’t have fancy bubbles, just swish around real quick and you’ll see bubbles in the water”. Their simplicity was calm and comforting to me.
If you can imagine in the fifties, this home had an attached two car garage with an “electric garage door opener”. Due to the electronics required to manage this modern equipment, a button had to be specially installed under the dashboard of their cars to lift the door. It was always so much fun to see my uncle secretly push the button a block away and turn the corner to see the door going up seemingly, all by itself.
Lorna was a professional wife, mother, and business assistant to her husband. The attention to detail in running her home and family was profound. There was no stone unturned. Her home was immaculate, her children well educated, and her husband’s business successful, to a large degree, because of her supportive role in his life. Meals were always ready down to the intimate detail of her family’s needs. Not necessarily a gourmet cook, but she knew how to get the job done.
The life of the family I had been thrust into gave me security during the transition. We always counted on lunch at the “noon whistle”. Some of the days an elaborate lunch might be made and transported out to the farm fields, but no matter where it was to be served, it would be there.
Laundry was always done on Monday’s. Clothes were meticulously washed in a wringer washing machine and hung on the lengthy clothes lines on the side of the house. Lorna’s caring heart came through all that she did. She worked tirelessly to care for those she loved. I always remember her basement floor because even that was clean and was painstakingly painted grey with sponge patterns of color to make it pleasing and creative. This was all matched in her garage floor which was so clean you could eat off of it. I had now become a part of her family and began to benefit from all she had given to those who had come before me.
This home had a loud “clck, bang” that would occur over and over during any given day. The back door into the kitchen from the garage didn’t have a fancy pneumatic closer on it; rather it had a simple spring to bring it shut. The heavy weight of the lacquered pine door with a glass window in it would slam each time anyone would enter or exit. There was no question that someone was coming in when friends or family would come over for an unannounced visit. Even a slamming door became a comfort to my heart because I knew that every time that door would bang shut it was more love coming in to say hello, give a hug, or just to say “you’re important to us”.
My uncle Art quickly gave me a nickname. “Louie! Where’s Louie?” If he knew I was there he would always announce his desire to see me when he walked in from the garage for lunch or after a hard day’s work. He was always smiling and ready to greet me with his loud, masculine, but loving voice. My aunt called me Johnny and so did everyone else here.
Something profound entered my life in this home. It was love. I knew that without a shadow of doubt, everyone here in this little piece of Middle America loved me, Johnny Joe.
Since I was so young, I followed Lorna around everywhere she went. She cleaned, I watched. She washed, I learned. If it was grocery shopping, I went along. Taking lunch to the farm, I rode in the car out over the dirt roads and into the fields to their machines and tractors where the men rested while they ate what she had brought.
My female cousins babysat me when Lorna and Art would go out to the “Moon” on the weekends. The Moon was somehow the nickname for the local community bar where the others would congregate for dancing or just for fun. We had lots of fun at home ourselves. Bonny would toss me in the air on her feet. Jean would spoil me rotten if she was home from school or not on a date. My new “sisters” were doting over me every time they could. Family lore says that my aunt and cousins potty trained me. I guess this was a pretty significant time in my life.
As Lorna cleaned I noticed something that would be fun for me to tackle. She had a steel gray torpedo shaped “Electrolux” vacuum cleaner. She let me play with it as she cleaned. It was fun and she seemed to enjoy me playing with it so we did things together – or at 2 years old, so I thought.
While I was adjusting to my new home and settling in something else was happening in my heart. Without words to express my feelings I was grieving the loss of my other family. I didn’t know what was happening but the pain was tremendous. Where is my mommy, my daddy? Where did my sisters go? I see them sometimes but not every day. What has happened? No one knew what to do with my grieving heart so we went on with life but, I didn’t just go on. The wounds of being abandoned by my family followed me all through to my adulthood. It didn’t mean that anyone intentionally left me alone, it was just part of life that happened and inside it left a gaping hole.
My parents decided to try to give our family another try so after nine months of being with my aunt’s family, a pick-up truck pulled up in front that had a trailer hooked to the back of it. There was a metal cover on the bed of the truck and all of our things and my sisters and I were loaded into the back and off we went. We were moving to Nebraska to live together again.
At our new home in 1957
Now, what am I supposed to do? Where is my new family? What about the slamming door of friends or the loud noon whistle that drew us all together for lunch? No one calls me Louie any more. I think I remember who you are, mom and dad, but I am not sure I want to feel this all again so I don’t want to be near you. Aren’t you the ones who left me here nine months ago? And now I am feeling this all over again. Actually, I am not sure I want to open my heart up again.
I learned later in life that my heart shut down from the fear of abandonment and the potential of going through all of that again. My human brain had told my human heart to shut down for my own self preservation.
So, we settled into our new home. I was elated to discover that sometimes we could go back to my little slice of nirvana and this was absolutely wonderful for me. As I would visit for summer vacations I found that Electrolux vacuum could bring even more positive responses from Lorna. I learned how to use it and clean like she had shown me to do.
Me in 1959
One time when I went to visit, their bright yellow and black Cadillac had been replaced with a brand new one! It was bright red and had huge fins. It was the brand new 1959 Sedan DeVille! The interior was memorable to me as it had white leather trim with black and silver cloth inserts. It was so wonderful to look at, much less to ride in. It had a big wide center arm rest in the front seat that became my special place. Yes, this was before car seats for children and there wasn’t a seat belt in sight. I could see high over the gigantic hood and the spaceship like automatic dimmer sensor on the dashboard. When we’d go to the farm the huge vehicle would just float over the gravel roads and into the fields with comfortable ease. My aunt’s hands would swirl the big steering wheel around to bring this huge behemoth anywhere she wanted it to go.
I wanted to discover more of this car so I asked if I could vacuum the car out. I secretly played with the little buttons that moved the seat up, down and back and forth thinking I surely would get into trouble. I got in trouble so often in my other home for simple things that I transferred my fears to this situation.
But the freedom to be curious gave way and I pushed the window buttons and played with everything I could find. I did vacuum the car out but that was just a cover to allow me to dream about this big wonderful car. In the end, I didn’t get into trouble, I received my reward. “Oh, thank you Johnny, you are so helpful”. I was just four years old when they got this car so I was easy to please.
I started a routine of going to Lorna’s home in the summer for vacation times with her family. We would get back into the routine that was so familiar from when I lived there. I could relive my fond memories each time. I remember riding in the back seat of this car with Lorna’s friend while she spoke so highly of me to the others in the car. “Johnny is so good to have around, he cleans for me and he is fun to be with. We just love him so much.” And plenty of hugs and kisses always followed.
Their affirmation was a dramatic contrast to my other home. I felt criticized, ignored, unimportant and lost there. Each day was uncertain and with barking commands coming from the commander who looked like my mom, I wasn’t certain I was loved. My dad worked long hours at two jobs just to make ends meet and when he came home he was faced with such challenging marriage problems he was emotionally unavailable for any of us. Of course, I couldn’t have possibly understood this at the time but as I grew older it all began to come clear to me.
When I got to go to Lorna’s home I felt relieved from the conflicting environment of my home in Nebraska. My aunt’s family wanted me and loved to see me. The “Louie’s” continued and I loved to hear Art yell them out. The slamming back door was such a comfortable sound. And yes, that bright red Cadillac symbolized for me the dramatic design of something wonderful as I related it to how I felt in their home.
Every time I see a sixties Cadillac my heart take a little skip to the memories. But sometimes, the reality of today can break the dream. I returned to Iowa for a relative’s birthday. My Aunt had passed away years earlier and my uncle Art lived in the home alone. He graciously invited my wife and I to stay with him when we were in town. So, I got so excited! I hadn’t stayed at their home since I was a teenager. I told my wife how wonderful it would be and looked so forward to reliving the memories of my old home.
Uncle Art in 2002
So, in we came and Art said we could stay upstairs in my old room. We went up and right away it was different. The room smelled musty from a lack of use. It was somewhat cluttered with some things that had been brought out of the closet for some reason. I remembered how sparkly clean and orderly the house always used to be.
We got ready for bed and lay down. Again, the bed smelled of an old mattress. As I lay in that room I couldn’t stop the flood of memories that entered my head. I didn’t sleep well that night. It wasn’t restful anymore because life was different today. Lorna was gone, Art had gotten older and his voice no longer full of the life he once had. The house wasn’t what it was and my old room was just that, an old room.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
I learned something about loss and grief from my short one night stay there overnight. We are designed for an eternity in a perfect place we often call heaven. This world isn’t heaven and often brings us to the reality of an imperfect world that can be hard and complicated. We have glimpses of heaven here but in the end, it isn’t heaven.
When my uncle Art passed away I had fleeting thoughts of trying to buy this old homestead. I felt possessive and didn’t want anyone else to live there. I didn’t want this home to change and possibly lose the tangible evidence of something that for me was so dear to my heart. A place where I felt loved and accepted.
When I think of home here on earth, I am always drawn back to Iowa. The summer corn fields, the small towns that are built around churches and schools and the gravel roads all warm my heart. But when I think of my eternal home, I am hopeful of a place that has been custom designed by my Heavenly Father that will bring me to the height of feeling safe, connected and eternally loved. I believe I will be greeted there by my aunt and uncle and so many others who have been important in my life.
A couple of years ago I was seeing a counselor for some struggles that had surfaced. He led me to a visual model of praying and asked me to think of a safe place in my life. I immediately thought of eating in my aunt’s kitchen as a child. He asked me to describe what I saw and what I was feeling.
I saw Lorna cooking and I was sitting at the table playing with my silverware. I was completely free because she didn’t mind me being a kid. I looked over at the chair next to me and there sat Jesus. He was staring at me. I felt really uncomfortable with His stares because it was a piercing message through His eyes that He loved me.
So we moved forward from that place into some prayerful processing of another point in my history. When we finished my counselor asked me to return to that safe place. I focused again on the room and something had changed. Jesus still was looking intently at me with His piercing love but my aunt had turned around and began t speak. She merely said, “I know.”
My eyes began to well up in tears. I recognized so clearly through this moment that Jesus had provided a place of love and acceptance for me knowing how miserable and painful my home was. My aunt was motivated to love me because she knew I needed her mother’s heart. Those two words in our prayer time laid salve on some deeply seated wounds in my heart. A new chapter opened up for me of recognizing God’s love in a deeper and more meaningful way. I began to receive something from Him that was new and rich.
So, you ask, what is up with you and your love for Cadillacs? I can answer that question easily. It is the gift of a memory of love from my Father in Heaven. He gave me that bright red Cadillac to carry through my life until now when He would show me personally, that He loves me and has heard my heart cry all through the years. He had not forsaken me but provided me with someone who would love me when I needed it very much.
This is why my life verse from the Bible is:
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!”
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The LORD protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9
Thank you Father. I receive your love today
Your son, “Louie”.
Friday, October 15th, 2010
This is a series of reflections on my own life that I hope will encourage you to think about yours. Many of us have things in our lives or activities that are energizing for us. Sports, hobbies, maybe places or memories that are really special to us that came from our connections to those around us as we grew up. Mine hangs on wonderful cars from my childhood that were connected to significant memories.
Through the Windshield of My Life
An Unspoken Hero
We were all in a white 1959 Buick LeSabre going about 85 miles per hour.
Can you imagine this car barreling down I-80 from Omaha to Lincoln Nebraska with a bunch of cub scouts and a radical den mother? I can remember it as well as yesterday. I was only about 8 years old.
A two door “hardtop” with large fins, slanted quad headlamps and all the style anyone could ask for. 1959 General Motors cars are probably my favorite of all time. I have several scale models from this year. You don’t see many of them on the road today. If I could only get into the drivers seat of one of these it would be awesome!
In 1959 Buick Motor Company built the most radical and wildest Buick yet. With fins that swept from the front to the rear, and a grill made of rectangular squares, the 59′ Buick was created with all new design!
The LeSabre included bright trim strips that ran the length of the body. Standard LeSabre equipment included dual horns, electric wipers, glove box light, horizontal Red Line speedometer and a trip mileage indicator.
Much like the radical impact of the star ship design the Buick had on the American scene, we can impact one another’s lives in some wonderful ways. Read on and and see if someone comes to your mind that influenced you with acceptance, affirmation or just feeling loved through them. Let the good times roll!
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:24-25
It is my desire to be more proactive in loving people in word and in deed. I believe so strongly that people are more responsive to personal improvement when they are encouraged for the things they do that are right and good. So, “spurring one another on” in this context is through building relationships that include encouragement, affirmation, and messages of love towards one another.
An example from my own life
My life has had many ups and downs. I have spent a lot of time processing through my personal history and have often spoke of the pain I’ve experienced. But, I would like to give honor to my past positive experiences here through a person who influenced me. An unspoken hero of my past that made a huge difference to me personally.
There I was, in the highlight of my grade school years. It was just a year or so before my family imploded from divorce. There was a storm brewing in my family that I didn’t know about. The season before the storm later became a bright spot in my history. Maybe this is why I remember this time in my life so well. It was good.
We had just moved into a brand new subdivision in Omaha Nebraska. It was called Westridge. The road in front of our house wasn’t even paved yet. We were one of the first completed homes built by the Thornton Construction Company. Bill Thornton, as my mom called him, was creating a new living environment for the bright and hopeful late fifties. The designer colors for kitchen appliances were pink, turquoise blue, or yellow but we were coming from our previous home and the ones we brought with us were white.
We had one black and white television with rabbit ears on the top. It was the same TV that my sisters and I watched the Beatles television debut on the Ed Sullivan show! A vivid neighborhood memory of mine that recurred often was of the ladies in the fresh new neighborhood. Just like he movies, they were walking down the sidewalk with coffee cups in hand visiting other ladies to get to know each other. Ah, yes, this was the fifties! A seemingly lost decade that only some of us baby-boomers remember.
The Speedy Driver
So, back to that wonderful 1959 Buick, the speedy driver was Dot Wheeler. Dot was a unique character. She was the mother of two boys and a girl. Their family lived four houses from us on our main street in Westridge and I played with the two boys almost daily.
Bobby and Larry, were great friends for me throughout my grade school years. If I had a quarter for every time I told my parents I was going down to “Bobby and Larry’s to play” I might be richer today. We rode our bikes, walked long distances together and dug holes to China in the weeded area behind our houses. We had many sleep over’s through the years. They were my pals, my buddies. Their mother also had a significant impact on my life.
Dot was my Cub Scout den mother. We made Paper Mache’ space alien heads out of huge balloons. We also built an six foot tall dinosaur in her basement for the Cub Scout parade. She knew how to do everything. We built it out of a wood frame, chicken wire and Paper Mache’ . We had actual dried ice for smoke coming out of its nostrils. There wasn’t anything Dot wouldn’t do for us or with us. We camped out in her huge back yard many times. I remember being there one afternoon making a Bunsen Burner out of a “juice can” and a “tuna can” and cooking my own hamburger on it. Um, I can almost smell it right now. I got a badge for my accomplishment that was a great reward. Dot supervised the entire process while allowing me to make the project by myself.
As we thoroughly enjoyed all of the neighborhood activities we also drove to some of them. Dot would pack a bunch of us in her ‘59 LeSabre and out we’d go onto the interstate. She always drove fast and we loved it. Just a few miles down the road was the Western Lanes bowling alley. I loved Saturday cub scout bowling league events. I always took a dollar along so that I could buy one of the best soda fountain hamburgers in the world! I wasn’t so hot at bowling, but the day was always great fun. We had turquoise bowling shirts with two white stripes down the front. We were a team! Dot was right there with us rooting us on.
Once a year Dot would take us all to her home town of Lincoln Nebraska. It was about 50 miles down the highway from our home. We were always so excited to go. It felt like a fancy vacation!
Lincoln had everything an 8 year old boy would want, caves, a planetarium, natural history museum, and every boy’s favorite, dinosaur bones all over the place.
Robbers Cave was great fun too. A small cave just the right size for a group of boys to explore. It was sandstone so we could carve our names in the walls easily. As we’d look into the ceiling cracks and crevices we’d often see bats too! We also enjoyed touring the Nebraska State Capitol. The huge towering domed building was always significant to walk through. An hour’s drive to and from Lincoln made it a long day of fun and memories for us all. With Dot’s enthusiasm we enjoyed it even more.
Without the ability to digitally reproduce one of the most memorable things about Dot, all I can do is try to create it here. It was a signature whistle;
“Phreeooo!…… Phreeooo! Phreeooo! Phreeooo! Phreeooo!….. Phreeeeeeooooooo!”
She’d open the back door of her house and out it would come! Every day we’d hear Dot calling her kids home. Her whistle could be heard from all around the block. We all stopped playing and went home when she blew the announcement that it was “dinner time”.
This last year I had the awesome opportunity to reconnect with one of Dot’s sons, Larry. He was a little older than I was and I lost track of him when I moved out of the neighborhood when I was 15 years old. Doing the math, I hadn’t seen or talked to Larry for over 40 years. Thanks to FaceBook, we found each other and have become reacquainted over the last few months.
Larry became a Christian around the time we last spoke. He went on to become a pastor for a life vocation, had a family and moved around some. We talked about his mom. Regrettably, she passed away a few years ago. She died from heart disease, but she was with her family who loved her so much.
Who has influenced you in your lifetime?
Do you have someone that encouraged you to grow or brought some excitement to your life as a child? Is there someone that made a difference that you won’t forget? What makes you think of them? Is it something like a 1959 Buick LeSabre or a special baseball team. Maybe it is something you might see in a second hand shop that you say, “Oh, I remember those”? One lady I knew once said that she gets excited when she sees the Giants play because it reminds her of sitting on her father’s lap while he watched them throughout her childhood.
I have had many challenges in my life that are painful to remember, but I don’t want to forget Dot. My eyes and yes, my heart turns to these old cars to keep my memories alive of those things in my life that were good! Fun times with people who loved me and others with great sacrifice are important.
I never saw Dot again, but when I reconnected with Larry I mentioned going 85 miles an hour down the interstate in that white Buick. He had remembered the fast driving, but not the Buick. I never forgot the memory and therefore, the Buick comes attached. I will not forget how his mom took me into her life of fun, encouragement and great times.
Maybe the person who made a difference in your life would like to know. Tell them how they impacted you. It just may make their day!
I am so glad that:
“God sets the lonely in families.” Ps. 68:6
Friday, October 8th, 2010
Through The Windshield of My Life
A Reflection of My Journey
Through the All American Automobile
I am beginning a series of reflections on my own life that I hope will encourage you to think about yours. Many of us have things in our lives or activities that are energizing for us. Sports, hobbies, maybe places or memories that are really special to us that came from our connections to those around us as we grew up. When affirmation comes to us or special times involve people we have felt connected to, we often want to recreate those times by going back to them over and over. I believe that men often like sports so much is because of the coach, or the dad who encouraged them or spent special time with them surrounding baseball or football. Women may like to cook because of their moms mentoring them in making their first cake, or sewing because their grandmother helped them make an apron that she wore when she moved around the house.
Something that really makes my heart jump is a beautiful car. I have loved cars all of my life. Mostly, the ones that really make my heart sing are those from the late fifties and early sixties. It is no wonder that those are important. On warm summer nights my dad and I would sit on our large front porch and play a game of “guess the car” as they would drive by. We would talk about which ones we liked the most and try to name the maker or model as we saw them. In the fall we would go to car dealerships and sit in the new models one by one.
One particular time I remember was when the 1963 Corvette Stingray came out. I’ll never forget the strange “ball” door knobs that you would pull to release the latch on the inside of the door. I remember the famous “split rear window” that was only on that one model year. In the winter we went to our local Civic Center to see all of the custom designed cars and fancy painted beauties.
So, today, the magazine I subscribe to is Hemmings Motor News, “Classic Car”. I can’t wait for the next issue and can’t seem to throw any away. As I page through them I see my life before my eyes. One car reminds me of Boy Scouts, the other of my Aunt and Uncle. A special edition of Cadillacs allowed me to stroll through my fondest family memories of living with my Aunt and Uncle and the summer vacations I had with them. Fond, positive, memories bloom like the whisps of clouds above when I stroll through old car shows. “59 Cadillacs are my favorite but then a wonderful 1966 Thunderbird convertible will cause my heart to go “pit-a-pat”. I am not really connected to sports but I am sure for some men a Giants game is not to be missed. Hum, I wonder why?
As I write future issues, if you don’t like cars, just think of what makes your heart sing. Ponder why you like what you do or why you spend so much time on a hobby. Picture in your mind a special place where you long to return to some day so that you can relive a part of your life that brings you to a warm pleasant memory.
I am going to begin with a story about my dad. This lays a foundation for my life that is very significant to me. I am who I am because of who my dad was. His faith, his unconditional love, his kindness and stability all laid a foundation that I live out of every day.
The first car I remember as a child was a red 1953 Oldsmobile. It had a two tone paint job that included a bright shiny black top. It was bulbous in design and was a tank.
What symbolizes some of the first wonderful memories of your life? Was it the Yankees? Was it a Singer sewing machine? How about a flower or a lake cabin? Maybe a fishing boat? Or the smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Whatever it was, I hope you will remember, ponder, reflect, and turn to our Lord, Jesus Christ with thanksgiving for those things that are positive. Life can surely be challenging but even in the deepest pain lies a good God who can paint a wonderful picture out of our difficult world.
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God
A Tribute To My Dad
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8
In 1948 Norman Smid married Vera. they were married for 16 years most of which were tumultuous and broken. They had three children, two girls and then I came along as the youngest and only boy. In 1965 my mother divorced my dad and his life was broken into a million pieces. His greatest grief was that he would no longer be with his kids on a daily basis and that somehow he felt that he had failed God and the church from being involved in a divorce.
For twenty five years my dad lived as a single man. He struggled with loneliness and at times experienced some very low times emotionally. He was extremely committed to his convictions that a man should only be married once and if divorced, he should live as a celibate man and not pursue anything that would tempt to lust or inn inappropriate behavior with a woman.
As I grew up my dad often referred his life before he was in the Army Air Core. He had a green army trunk that held objects that meant a lot to him and reminded him of his life. Amongst the things he had pictures of people that he knew. There was a couple of pictures he talked about with fondness that were of a lady we always knew as “Monica”. Monica and my dad were engaged to be marred before he went off to the war. Upon his return they broke up and my dad moved on to marry my mom.
Working as a letter carrier he had many great friends that were a working family for him. He showed his character through how his friends loved him and were committed to him through the trials of life. Due to some bone spurs on his feet he found he could no longer work so he retired in 1974 at the age of 52. This left him with a lot of empty time on his hands which was a challenge for those who loved him. He went through some depression and a heavy dependence on others which caused some pressure on his family. It was a time in our lives when we were heavily tied up with little babies and just couldn’t seem to meet his relationship loneliness. He started to volunteer with a local agency that helped mentally challenged kids. He became a swimming coach to them and they all loved him dearly. It seemed to me that this is when my dad’s life began to improve. The unconditional love he received from those kids began to break through his depression and he started to see life with a different view.
In 1987 my dad called me with some interesting news. He said he had found out that Monica was a widow and he wanted to talk with her. So, he proceeded to drive half way across the country to see her again after all of the years of their lives passing by since their last conversation. Needless to say, a flame was ignited again in their lives and shortly thereafter they got married! They lived in Las Vegas Nevada and were both extremely happy with their reunion and in their marriage. 50 years had transpired and I was 33 years old and finally I knew my dad as a happily married man and a husband who loved his wife dearly. It was pure joy to see his life come to a fulfillment of his dreams from when he was 19 years old.
This story would be like something you would see on Oprah. Their love was rich, they shared a common faith and served each other sacrificially through their married years. Monica survived cancer, heart surgery and double knee replacement as well as the challenges of her own adult children. During this time my dad had illnesses of his own so their life wasn’t pain free but they supported each other, loved each other, and were deeply fulfilled.
So, after just 8 years of marriage, my dad passed away in 1997. I sure wished he could have had more time with Monica but through those years they were so happy together. As we began to talk about the memorial plans I felt strongly led to ask to give a eulogy for the two services that were going to be held. One in the church he was attending in Las Vegas, the other in his home church in Omaha Nebraska. I asked each officiating Priest if that would be permissible and both of them said yes. So, as I thought about my dad’s life I could think of no better way to tell others who he was than to talk about the way he faced his own life with grace and how he related to others along the way. One of the greatest strengths my dad had was the way he could love each person as though they were the only one. He loved my sisters and I so uniquely that we often would tease each other with, “I’m dads favorite”. We truly felt that way.
During our family memorial service several of my female cousins came up to me and showed me a pin that my dad had given them. Each one a little different but they proudly wore them and they walked in to the service several of them whispered to me, “your dad gave this to me” as though someone else didn’t get one like they had. I found that indicative of who he was and the way he treated people.
I wrote some notes for my eulogy which I still carry in my Bible today. When I got home from the last memorial service I compiled my notes and I sat down and wrote an article to show others who my dad was. I wanted more people to know him and I didn’t want to forget that day or what I had shared about his life.
Through My Dad’s Eyes
“Dad, I’m gay and I’m going to divorce my wife.” All I remember from that evening’s discussion were tears, love, and a father that was trying to share wisdom from his own life experience. “John, don’t do this. Leaving your family will not help anything. I don’t want to see you do this to yourself or to your family.” My dad didn’t scold me or get angry. But I was too stubborn. I was stuck and fearful. At that point in my life, I wasn’t listening to anyone.
My dad had a life of many sorrows and disappointments. There were times when I saw such depression I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through. But one thing was consistent: his active faith never wavered. As long as I knew him, he never left God’s side . . . no matter how tough things got. One of his many sorrows came as he was faced with my homosexual struggles. I had been married for six years and had two beautiful daughters that I loved very much, but my heart was so confused. When I got married in 1973, I swore that I would never get a divorce. I had been hurt so much by the divorce of my own parents that I didn’t want to ever see my children go through that experience. Yet through pornography and my deep curiosity about men I developed a homosexual fantasy life. The final step came through a homosexual friend who introduced me into acts of adultery and I willingly followed.
I left my wife and family and embraced a life of sexual promiscuity, frequenting bars and overall irresponsibility. But through this period of my life, no matter what, there was always a connection with my dad. We didn’t separate from each other. Yet the difference in our lives created an invisible barrier between us. I thought by simply introducing my dad to my partners and friends that he would grow to understand and embrace my homosexuality. My dad’s responses continually revealed his relationship with the Lord to me as he exhibited the spirit of Christ. One night I stopped by my dad’s house, testing the waters of acceptance. “Dad, I would like you to meet Joe. He is a good friend of mine.” My dad responded with grace, extending his hand to Joe. He would engage in conversation with my friends, and never pulled away from them.
I invited my dad to my house to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. I still have pictures of my homosexual partner, at the time, cutting the cake amidst a roomful of friends. My dad was right there, supporting my daughter and relating to the others with grace. He never faltered in his personal opinions or in his relationship with Christ. He was uncomfortable with my lifestyle and disagreed with my choices, yet he was willing to be uncomfortable in order to actively love me.
My friends were aware of my dad’s respect for them. They respected him and trusted him because he treated them as human beings loved by God. Through the witness of a friend, I eventually began to understand a walk of faith. I decided to rein in my life and my dad was still there rooting for me. But my new faith based life was not yet clear to him. As a result, when I decided to move to full time ministry work he was very uncomfortable with the idea. “John, I ’m not sure about this. You’ve always had a hard time sticking with something. You might change your mind, and be worse off than you are now.” I stood on my convictions. “Dad,” I said, “that is how I used to be. But I’m growing up. My faith is giving me the strength to become more mature.” About a month later my dad came to me with these words, “John, I believe this is a good decision and I want you to know I am with you all the way.” With my father’s blessing on my work and my life, nothing could stop me!
I found I was invited to share my story in very public ways. In June of 1997 I was scheduled to be on Larry King Live. My dad once more showed me the spirit of Christ. The day before the program was to air he called me. “John, I told all my friends this morning at breakfast to watch the show. I told them my son was going to be on TV.” My dad was not ashamed or embarrassed about my life, past or present. He carried no guilt or shame about what was going on. He was proud of me and supportive of me sharing my life story. He continued over the years to tell others about me and the new life I had found.
In one newspaper interview regarding my story, I stated that during part of my childhood my dad had been emotionally absent. I later asked if it had hurt him to read what I had said. “Sure it hurt,” he responded. “But it was true. During that time in my life, I was under so much stress that I was unavailable for anyone.” His response put healing salve on my wounds. I saw more clearly into my dad and the way our father–son relationship had developed.
Over the last couple years of his life, my dad’s health began to fail due to a lung disease. He hated being attached to an oxygen hose, and became frustrated when he couldn’t go places like he used to. But each time I would call, or he would call me, he would repeat the same message. “Everything with me is just great, I love you, keep up the good work.” During the last two months of his life he was in the hospital hooked to breathing machines and IVs. When we went to see him, he would usually smile and wink. It wasn’t until his last week alive that he became more frustrated with the medical input. He knew he was going to die and was ready to go.
March 21, 1997, my father passed away. He was seventy-five years old. We had spent thirteen years building a deep, rich relationship. His godly faith and humility played an important part in my growth towards more maturity. Norman John Smid has left this world for a better place. I still miss him greatly, and would love to hear him say once more that he loves me and I am doing a good job. But I have no regrets about our relationship. During his last bout of illness, he had no dying words or last minute rushed message to tell me or anyone else. He had already shown us and told us many times. Likewise, I don’t feel I left out anything. I had shown him my love and respect, and he had let me know that I had also blessed him in his life and faith.
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:17
I received a model from my dad that I share with others as they suffer through the difficulty of having a challenging loved one.
• Tell your kids you love then and actively show them.
• Be willing to be with them even when it may be uncomfortable for you.
• Respect all people no matter how you feel about their behavior.
When they take positive steps of growth, bless their steps and show them that you see the changes they are making, even when they don’t have a proven track record.
• Model humility and trust in the ever faithful Jesus Christ.
I am not sure I will ever be able to measure up to my dad’s reputation or his love, but I know he supported me and believed in me. I’ll never measure up to God’s standards either, but I know I am His and He loves me and believes in me.
© 1999 John J. Smid