Archive for the ‘Through the Windshield of My Life’ Category
Friday, January 21st, 2011
Two Cars Come Together in a Marriage
Kristy and I were engaged to be married and we had two cars that came together with us. The 1969 Camaro and a 1968 El Camino. Not only was I getting married, but another huge change came into my life.
Working for the department store certainly wasn’t going to provide enough income for our life together. My step-father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and encouraged me to try to get a job there. After several attempts to get a job, on July 3, 1973, I was instantly hired. My wage went from $1.95 per hour to $8.00 per hour overnight! Kris was working at a local hospital in an administrative position. So, we felt we were pretty well set to get married.
In our preparation for merging our lives we spent a lot of time planning the wedding and we both wanted a nice place to live. We found a brand new two bedroom apartment that had ultra modern colors and style. The carpet was bright 1970’s orange and the appliances were a really cool, avocado green! I’ll never forget the decor with matching browns, greens, and “burnt” orange as we called it. We arranged to move Kristy into the apartment the month before our wedding.
From an accident that occurred along the way, my El Camino got a pretty bad crush on the front of the fender. Even though I was making a lot more money, we had over spent our budget in preparation for our wedding and new home. I decided not to get the car fixed and spend the insurance claim money on something else. It seemed like a good idea at the time but that decision was something that came back to bite me later, in a way I never expected.
After getting Kristy settled into the apartment we would often spend time there talking and working on wedding plans. One night. Kristy told me something that changed our lives forever. Without uncovering private places, let’s just say that I became shocked and was heartbroken. I had emotions that were buried deep inside me and I don’t think I was even aware of what I was feeling.
Marriage or Not?
My immediate thoughts went to whether or not I was going to go on with the wedding. Something inside me shut down and I went numb. I felt incredibly trapped because we had made so many plans, spent so much money and the invitations were already sent out. What else could I do? I didn’t really think I had an option, so the wedding would go on.
This moment in my life was something that, without knowing it, would cause a breakdown in the foundation of our marriage that neither of us knew anything about. It was a sink hole undermining our relationship that was hidden. I shut down and became detached after our conversation. It was as though I literally forgot about it for a season. I never talked with Kristy, or anyone else for that matter, about what was in my heart. I just stuffed it and went on like nothing happened.
The wedding drew closer and it was time to get the marriage license. When we went to the officials to obtain the license we learned of a waiting period we didn’t know anything about. We were told that we couldn’t get married on Saturday. Oh, man! What should we do? They advised us to get a license in Iowa where there wasn’t a waiting period. So, we talked to the Priest to arrange for the more simple Iowa wedding. We joked about this meaning that our marriage would be twice as strong since we did it twice.
Getting Married as a Virgin
Due to wanting to be a good person mixed with my own fears and naivety I had never gotten into a situation with anyone where sex became a temptation. There was kissing, holding hands, and being close physically, but I felt good about being sexually clean. No one had actually ever talked with me about sexual morality. I guess, I just grabbed on to the idea that it was good to abstain from these things.
I felt very anxious about my first sexual experience. In my small mind on these things I feared I would not know what to do. I had never seen pornography either, so my knowledge of sex was really NILL! Other than my experience with personal masturbation all I had was some knowledge of the bodies, but nothing about how they worked together. Once again in my life, I was left to my own ways to figure things out. No mentors, counselors, or good friends to discuss these things with. I just had to go through it.
We moved into the apartment and with my personal things and our two cars. The merging of our lives went fairly smooth. The “formal” wedding occurred and we returned to our apartment that night. Sexually, things worked themselves out quite naturally and my fears were relieved. Due to my new job and our lack of finances, we didn’t take a honeymoon so that first night certainly wasn’t romantic. We started playing house and found ourselves with a troublesome financial load. We had over spent, over bought, and the price of the new apartment was heavy.
Moving Out With Our Two Cars
There was as conflict in our apartment building from some crazy accusations of noise from our downstairs neighbor. We really weren’t loud people at all and complied with all of the requests to be even quieter. But without much warning we were asked to move out. We think it had to do with the relationship the lady had with the managers and they just decided they wanted us out. It was a blessing because it allowed us to get out from under the heavy rent payments. So, after just a few short months we found ourselves moving from our apartment into an older house that was only half of the price of the rent we had been paying.
We decided that it was time to change the car situation around and felt we needed reliable transportation. As we looked at our two cars we found that the “winking eye” of the damaged El Camino made it unsellable due to safety inspection problems. So, I made the decision to trade off the Camaro for a 1974 Datsun B-210 just like the one pictured here. It was green and had an amazing “four speaker, AM-FM stereo”. Kristy made it clear that trading her Camaro was not her first choice. Looking back on it, I can understand how much she loved her car and how frustrated she must have been for me to have gotten rid of it instead of the El Camino that I didn’t like at all. We were so young and making decisions wasn’t out strong suit.
You take my car, you take my heart!
I think, much like it was for me just before our wedding, losing her car was something that she buried deep inside her own heart. So, here we were two people that were very young, carrying a huge financial load and hurting deep inside in ways we were not prepared to deal with. Our wounds grew deeper and yet we just kept going on without asking the right questions or speaking the truth.
We didn’t talk, listen, or really care about each other in ways that would nurture a healthy marriage. I put my energy into fixing up our home and other distractions. Than to pay for it all, I took on a second job.
After two years we found out that our first child was going to come along. I was ecstatic! Kristy always wanted children so she was too. Our focus then turned to preparing for the baby. Remodeling the baby’s room, getting all of the things needed for a new baby was enough to distract us from the wounds in our hearts.
A Brand New Baby
In March of 1976, Alysha was born! I couldn’t get enough of her. Holding her in my lap, staring at her, she had grabbed my heart. It was a tremendous joy for me to be a dad. We had not been in a church since our wedding, other than maybe a Christmas service. Since my family was Catholic, we felt we had no other optio, but to go through with baptizing Alysha in the Catholic church. It was the expected thing to do so we did it. Neither of us had any particular religious convictions so this was just an act of keeping the peace with my family.
The Sink Hole Began to Sink!
Some of the buried stuff surfaced and we began to have arguments that were pretty typical on the surface but they were fueled by the lack of resolve from the other things we had never dealt with. At one point we had to call a family member in to help us get through the argument. It was right after that big argument that we found out that our second baby was coming.
I felt trapped again. I really didn’t want to continue living like I was. Kristy and I were so disconnected emotionally. but with one child and another one on the way what could I do? I had to just keep one foot in front of the other and move towards being a father again. I stuffed my feelings again. I was not clearly aware of what was going on inside of me. I only knew that I wanted to get out, to find some sense of real connection. I realized I didn’t feel connected anywhere. I felt really concerned about having another baby given the state of our marriage being what it was.
Baby No. 2
In July of 1977, Amanda was born. I was emotionally more shut down by this time and felt an internal struggle bonding with her. But I loved her and saw her bright shining personality develop very quickly. She was easier to connect to. Alysha seemed more emotionally independent from early on. Our two girls were beautiful. They had bright shiny blonde hair and soft beautiful skin. The two almost looked like twins at times. They were our two little girls and we moved on into family life.
With the kids, two jobs, and growing responsibilities my struggle to bond with Kristy just got further buried underneath life. It was much easier to just deal with the surface needs and not pay attention to the emptiness growing inside of my heart. On a regular basis I felt unheard, devalued and unimportant. I tried to cope with the loneliness I felt on a daily basis.
I didn’t have many friends other than those I worked with. I never did anything alone or with another friend. I spent all of my energy on the family and ongoing remodeling of our older house. That was my focus. I did have one really good friend, Dan, who I talked to a lot. We worked together and spent almost all of our break times talking together about life, family, work issues and anything else that came across our time together. I experienced some of the old feelings of jealousy with Dan and his other friends. I felt possessive with our time and didn’t want to go without talking with him daily. I would compromise my job by taking longer breaks than were allowed, hiding in hallways to talk with him. Fortunately I never got into too much trouble for all of the time I spent with him.
I really needed his friendship and time to process my life with him. The jealousy and neediness didn’t go any further so as to cause any big problems. But I definitely was dependant on Dan’s friendship to fill up some of the void I had. He was the kind of friend that was always there. He was there when both of our daughters were born and was present for other important events. I was there for him when his father passed away. I was in his wedding when he married his wife Arlene. We were very good friends.
The cars in my life continued to change. We kept the Datsun but had a few other second cars. Some came along because they were cheap! I remember a 1965 Ford Fairlane that was one of the cheap ones. Then another memorable car came into our lives. A 1970 Ford XL. I think about the cars I would love to have back and this is one of them. The car in the picture doesn’t begin to capture the beauty of the car I had. While the color was close, mine was a special edition with a shiny gloss black engine hood on top of the beautiful Coppertone body. I was so long I couldn’t close the garage door behind it.
I had several life goals in my mind. A brand new custom designed home with all new decor, a brand new car in the driveway, and living in the suburbs. I was only 23 years old by this point.
In searching for these goals to be accomplished, we were about to take another detour and I was having more trouble hiding the emptiness and disappointments in my heart.
Some who know me, may be thinking, “John, weren’t you a homosexual?” “Isn’t that what was going on underneath all of this?”
As I have said, I was sexually a virgin. I was naive about sexuality. In the sixties, no one really talked about homosexuality. I really had no idea of my sexuality. Whether I was homosexual or not never entered the equation. That may sound really strange to many of you who are reading this but it is true. I seemed to like girls, dated some, married Kristy, and functioned normally as I knew how. I certainly wasn’t a “raging” heterosexual, that’s for sure, but I had nothing to compare my life to. I didn’t have friends that I talked with, or listened to about their sexual exploits. I didn’t have a brother. No cousin, or uncle that lived close by.
Oh, sure, I had mostly female friends in high school. I didn’t get along well with other guys that were my peers. I hated sports. I loved home decor, feelings, and had a couple of emotionally close male friendships. I didn’t have a lot of lust for girls in general. I was called s sissy, weak, and “girly” in my childhood. But none of these added up to homosexuality because they were not connected to “sex”. I had a complicated and wounding relationship with my step-dad and an over dominate mother.
Many would say, “DUH” John’s gay. But again, in my world, the only connection I had to the topic of homosexuality was the lady I had worked with that my mom told me was a lesbian. That didn’t count because she was much older and obviously was a female. Certainly I embodied a lot of the stereotypes but in my stunted emotional development I never labeled myself.
I am going to write more about my marriage, sexuality, and the development of homosexuality as I tell this story. But, I’ve written the story in chronological order so it is unfolding as I experienced it. I truly think that the incidents I have described played a significant role in the breakdown of our marriage for sure. I am not sure that homosexuality really played much of a role in all of this up to this point. I was disheartened, emotionally closed off, and distant from Kristy. That was very significant in the whole picture.
Take a deep breath, all of this will start to come out in the next chapter.
Friday, January 14th, 2011
A Beautiful Car!
By 1969, the Camaro was extremely popular. Sales had steadily increased during the first years of the Camaro and set a new all-time high, thanks to its long production run (from September 1968 through February 1970). The 1969 was given an updated look that was meaner than the graceful 1967-1968 models. It had a more aggressive grille, slightly squarer body panels, and squared-off rear wheel openings.
Sportier than all get out! The color? Oh, my, that beautiful metallic blue with white stripes was very popular at that time.
I got to drive one frequently. It wasn’t mine, it belonged to Kristy, my on and off girlfriend from high school. Her car had a floor shifter, black interior and looked very much like this example. It was very fun to drive! Little did I know how significant this car would become.
Discovering relationships as I left high school brought a lot of turmoil into my life both with guys and girls. I was already worn out and not sure I was willing to feel the pain that was coming. So as I became an adult, adult decisions were made to protect myself from things I just didn’t want to feel.
The flow of life of this 18 year old guy seemed to be pretty normal on the outside, but underneath I was suffering once again with things I didn’t understand and seemingly no one else did either.
After I graduated from high school I was ready for some changes. I was growing frustrated with working with my cousin at the truck refrigeration company. We decided it was time for me to move on and I applied for a job at a department store. It was called “Younkers” and was similar to Macy’s or Dillard’s. An upscale store with very nice things and with an upper class clientele it was a small chain in Nebraska and Iowa. I took a huge cut in pay but it was time and maybe this would be an opportunity for my future.
I got hired to work in a diverse department handling “Toys, Luggage, and Records.” It was a great place to be since we got to be around other young people who were shopping for the latest 1972 music like Grand Funk Railroad, Bread, The Who, and so many others that lived through the 70’s but didn’t go much farther.
Tom – My New Friend
I worked with a man named Tom Cleese . At 19 years old, he was one year older than I was. He had unruly long hair and always wore the blue suit jacket that was too big for him. We were required to dress up to work there, but his style lacked the kind of class that I think they were looking for. He also mostly wore corduroy jeans underneath the sagging jacket. But something was cool about Tom. He was more of an open minded type of guy. We spent a lot of time talking and he seemed to be so open to discussing lots of things that many people never talked about.
I grew very close to him. I looked forward to every time we worked together because it seemed he liked me too. I had not had a friend like Tom, so this felt pretty special to me. Tom had a few vices. He smoked, and talked about drinking alcohol. I had never really done either one. Throughout my teen years I tried to be good. I held my values to be important and was a virgin in almost every way! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were just not my speed.
One day, Tom asked me to go with him to a bar in the shopping mall we worked in. He told me they didn’t “card” anyone they knew from the mall and would allow us to buy drinks there. Since Tom had been so nice to me and I was pretty cool on spending time with him I decided to go. He told me about certain drinks that I might like to try and he drank “Jack Daniels” so in wanting to be like him, I indulged. I felt so adult, drinking in a bar with Tom.
After a short while, I wanted to enter one more thing that was like Tom. I bought a package of cigarettes. Feeling, again, very adult, I lit up one, then another, and third. On the third one I felt a tightening of my lungs and said, “That’s enough of those”. And threw the pack away. I wasn’t willing to go that far to be like Tom.
Not knowing what I was really experiencing, I was growing to become pretty emotionally dependent with Tom. I spent a lot of my energy focusing on my time with him and how good it felt to connect, and feel affirmed by this older guy. We went to the bar several more times just to talk and have a drink or two.
Then one night Tom asked me to go to a party with him. He said it was a “bring your own drinks” type of party. Tom said I should try MD-20-20. He said it was a dark red wine and would do the trick to get me feeling pretty good. So he bought me a bottle and I brought it to the party. Before we left he instructed me on how to drive home safely if I was leaving drunk. “John, roll the windows down, its winter and the cold air will keep you alert”. Then further instruction spoke to keeping the radio up loud and eyes open wide. I still laugh thinking about his instruction and my emulating what he had taught me. So, he dropped me off to get my car at the parking lot in front of the store we worked at. I got into my car, obediently rolled the windows down, turned the radio on and got ready to drive home.
I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot. As I drove my ‘68 El Camino forward from the parking space I saw a huge red octagon fly down in front of me. Yep, your right, it was the stop sign. I backed up, slowly, left the sign on the ground and found the exit from the lot and drove home. The sign was repaired with a brace and I saw that brace for many years afterwards, each time I went into that parking lot. My right of passage was so visible to me and I am sure frustrating for the maintenance crew at the mall.
But, I made it home safely and went into the house. I felt so woozy as I walked in. I thought everything was cool but I was late! I had a curfew of 12:00 midnight and it was about 12:30. As I got ready to settle in, my dad came out of his bedroom with his hand out. “John, give me your keys.” “You’ll get them back Sunday night, you’re late.” Nothing more was said and he may or may not have known I was drinking but it was never mentioned.
Tom was a mentor to more for my young adulthood. Maybe not such a good one, but it didn’t matter to me. Tom seemed like the older brother I never had and I loved it. It was the bridge out of high school that I needed to begin my own life as an adult.
So, back to the Camaro, Kristy and girls! Well, the Camaro would come up later. Kristy was still in the picture, but when we were off, there were some other girls in the story. My eyes were looking around for who I liked and who I didn’t. There was a girl in “gift wrap” that was very interested in spending time talking with me. Her name was Barb. I liked Barb as a friend, but nothing about her drew my attention for more than just to talk and laugh with her. She tried her hardest to show me she was interested in more, but I didn’t have the mind to go further. But, one day, someone else struck my interest.
Oh My -She’s Beautiful!
Looking through the LP’s was this young lady and her mom. As I looked down at her hands I saw such beautiful fingers and her nails colorfully painted. Then I looked up. Her hair was blonde and flowing. She was so pretty, and nice! Her mom was nice too, but I couldn’t believe my eyes and the pitter patter in my heart when I saw her. She didn’t buy anything and left the department. I wanted to follow her all the way out. Immediately going to Tom, we talked about girls and attraction. He was dating Ellen who went to school in Chicago, so she wasn’t there often. He talked about how much they loved each other and something tripped in me at that time. I didn’t know what it was but Ellen wasn’t a part of Tom’s local life so I didn’t pay much attention to it.
I didn’t like to hear Tom talk about Ellen because it took the attention away from me. But we kept finding other things to talk about. We especially tried to figure out a way to find the beautiful blonde, but I never saw her again. Another step in our friendship occurred that I’ll never forget.
Tom liked football and would talk about it sometimes. Feeling distant from those conversations I wanted so much to tell him that I didn’t like football but I feared he would think I was weird if I said anything about it. I had NEVER verbally told anyone that I didn’t like it. But standing next to the stereo’s I remember distinctly a conversation when I said, “Tom, I don’t like football.” Expecting to see shock as I waited for his response, he really didn’t have one and said, “That’s ok, John.” I was amazed that the sky didn’t fall when I admitted to him one of the most scary things of all. I didn’t like football! I felt even more accepted at that point. It was the beginning of even more honesty in my life. I didn’t die so maybe I can talk about more things with Tom.
So, still no Kristy on the scene but she would come into the store periodically and we would go out on a date some times. But, overall, my focus was on my friendship with Tom. He moved to a different department and I really missed having him closer to talk with. I would wander over to where he was to talk, but it just wasn’t the same. I got into trouble sometimes because I would stray from my post. Then one day, the most fearful thing of all occurred.
What? You’re Leaving?
“John, I am going to move to Chicago to be with Ellen and go to school.” What, you’re moving away? The shock was extreme and I went home that night with more pain than I think I had experienced in a long time. What would I do? I was going to lose Tom. I talked with a friend of the family that night and she asked me what was wrong . So, I told her about my friend moving away and finished the conversation. At that moment I started sobbing in pain. Tom moved and my life felt so empty and void. But there was a friend of Tom’s that I also had gotten to know who’s name was Gary. I liked him and spent time with him but it just wasn’t the same as Tom.
I made a plan to see Tom again. He was eight hours away in Chicago. I felt older now and knew I could drive my 1968 El Camino there and spend a weekend with he and Ellen. Well, It would be ok with Ellen there, she was nice. So, Tom told me he was living in the school dorms with Ellen and that I could sleep in the “pod” of the dorms on the couches there. My plans were set and I took my first trip across country alone and went to Chicago. Upon arriving I found that Tom and Ellen were living in her dorm room together. He mentioned it was not in agreement with the rules but no one knew and others covered for them. I was a little disappointed in their arrangement. It didn’t line up with my moral values. I didn’t let that get in the way. After all, that is another experience with being an adult. We had some fun and we ate at “Uno’s” pizzeria, and talked a lot. My response surprised me even more. I was jealous of Ellen more than I had expected. I was also jealous of the intimacy they had with each other. I felt rejected and hurt. I didn’t enjoy the weekend at all and was really emotionally shut down.
I talked to Kristy once while I was in Chicago. I was feeling so badly. She became a comfortable, familiar place to grab some connection. While on the phone I told her that I had something to talk to her about when I got home. I had decided in my heart to reconnect with Kristy and move forward with our relationship. Maybe even into marriage. I was really hurting and didn’t want to hurt any more. I thought, maybe if we got married the relationship struggles I was experiencing would go away. I didn’t want to play the look around, dating, game anymore. I was certainly wounded from what had happened with Tom. Maybe the single life isn’t for me. I just wanted to settle down and move on.
I had parked my El Camino on Michigan Avenue, where Tom had told me to park it for the weekend. On Monday morning I walked over to get into my car and it was GONE! I looked up at the sign which I had not seen earlier. It said that cars could park there until 2:00 AM on Monday morning. My car had been towed away. I felt some resentment towards Tom for knowing what the laws were for parking there.
I called Tom and he instructed me on how to find it and $75 dollars later I had my car and was on my way home. Thinking about all that happened during the eight hour drive I became resolute. I was going to ask Kristy to marry me.
Let’s Get Married
When I got home Kristy and I got together and I talked about the weekend. I don’t think I mentioned anything about my painful reactions to Tom’s relationship with Ellen. I didn’t really have that much personal awareness at that time in my life. I did, however ,remember saying, “Kris, maybe we should get married.”
There was never a formal proposal or on-the-knee, request. We just accepted that we were going to get married and began talking about our plans with others. The ring came along, and a date was set. October 12, 1973 would be the date of our wedding. I appreciated Kris’ strength in the area of wanting kids, taking an interest in homemaking and the way she cooked great things for me to eat. She would make a good wife and mother. She must be the one for me.
I never saw Tom again. There were some letters written back and forth but our friendship waned and each of us moved on into our own lives. I often wonder what ever happened with Tom and Ellen. I suspect they got married- or maybe not. They were kind of like Ryan O’Neal and Alli MacGraw in “Love Story.” They were each kind of out of the box thinkers and went against the norms of society.
So, the 1969 Camaro?
What happened with that car? Oh, the story of the Camaro isn’t over and it played an important role in my life and my upcoming wedding with Kris. Stay tuned. Our wedding plans kept us busy but my heart was to be broken again soon. And my 1968 El Camino would get a pretty big dent that created more problems for the Camaro.
Monday, December 20th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
Family Vacations with my Dad
Some of the most memorable times with my dad were our camping trips. Our summer vacations with him almost always included packing up all kinds of gear and going to state parks where we found wonderful communities, interesting historical sites, and strange happenings along the way.
The first trip I can remember strangely enough was in our 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. Yes, the one that Ralph Nader said was such a hazard to drive. Ours was deep burgundy. As a 3rd grader, I certainly was intrigued by the trunk being in the front of the car and the small packaged air cooled engine in the rear. But, in the Nebraska winters that was a good configuration!
We were going to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We had a canvas tent that would sleep my dad, my two sisters and me. He had built a wooden “kitchen” box that stored the cooking supplies. We had a Coleman gas stove, lantern, sleeping bags, and lots of camping “stuff” to spend two weeks away in the hills north and west of our home in Omaha. My mom never went with us. We just figured she didn’t like camping.
So, we took the back seat out of our compact Corvair, built a top carrier for the roof and packed all of our camping gear into or onto the top of our little car. I really don’t know how in the world three kids and my dad fit into the car with all of the stuff but we seemed to do it.
Badlands National Park
When we visited the Badlands I was absolutely amazed at the wonder of the formation. It was like the ceiling of a cave but it was miles of pillars formed from the ground. In my mind it was no less of a wonder than I had perceived the Grand Canyon would be.
We then traveled further to see Mt. Rushmore and the incredible Sylvan Lake. There was one attraction that didn’t seem like much of an attraction at the time, Crazy Horse Monument. It was just beginning to be carved in the top of a mountain so we didn’t see much there. I had hope it would one day be something great, which I think it is much further along today. We had a wonderful time on our historical trip to the Black Hills.
A couple of years later and many weekend trips in-between my dad moved up to a travel trailer. It was really cool to see this aluminum 13 foot “Go-lite” trailer in his back yard. I love to go into its little door and move the table around for a bed and drop the sofa in the back down for a bed there too. I like changes so changing things around was really fun. Sometimes I would just sit in it and dream of where we could go with the trailer.
Our first big trip was to Minnesota and Canada. I brought my friend, Mark Stastny, along, so it was just the three of us. Dad had just bought a 1955 Chevrolet two door hardtop to pull the trailer. It seemed to have a heavier engine in it to handle the load.
I must add that we also had an “Evaporative Cooler” for air conditioning in the car. I am not kidding, this get up was totally out of the 1950’s but we were in the mid sixties so it was quite the experience for me.
Evaporative Car Cooler
Our first stop was to spend a couple of nights with my cousin in Wyzata Minnesota. A highlight for me there was going to the “Betty Crocker” kitchens at General Mills. My cousin worked for them and gave us the real “cooks tour” for sure. They had just released the pink, cherry recipe cake and the taste is still in my mouth for some strange reason. It was a wonderful time with family. We went on up to Canada through International Falls and Bemidji Minnesota. Driving many miles we returned home safe from our “vintage” camping trip.
We had many weekend trips. Ponca State park near Sioux City Iowa was a favorite place. While camping was great fun with fires, camp stoves, and lots of talking late into the night my greatest memory was the time spent with good friends, new and old. There were also some challenging experiences for me as I grew older.
I always wanted to be clean. Kind of weird for an eight year old I know, but camping was certainly not a place to stay clean so it was a must to take regular showers. But, I had a dilemma. I felt extremely embarrassed to change clothes or shower if someone were to possibly see me naked. I’d go into the park and first thing, I would check out the shower facility and begin my plans. Many times I’d find that later at night, or very early in the morning, there weren’t usually any campers in the showers. I’d make a dash for the showers myself and get in and out so that I didn’t have to deal with the naked thing. It seemed to help me to stay clean but the anxiety remained for years ahead. I never talked with anyone about my fears so it just went underneath and I dealt with it the best way I could.
My dad had introduced us to some friends of his when he and my mom went through their divorce. Ron was a mailman with my dad and he was married to Barb. They had three active boys. When I first met this family, Barb seemed to be an over the top kind of mom. Her words seemed to be so strong that I wasn’t sure about what I thought about her. Ron was a very quiet man who worked a second job as the owner of a gas station and a mechanic.
As we got to know them better I learned that they were extremely kind people who loved everyone. Ron and Barb were neighborhood fixtures that virtually everyone knew because of their kindness and their heart for others. This is what drew them into our family in the first place.
When my dad left our home Ron and Barb offered him a place to stay until he got his feet on the ground. I remember Barb telling me how she would hear my dad cry at night in his grief over the loss of his family. They would listen to my dad process life circumstances like they did with so many others.
The more I got to know them, I found that Barb did the same with me. She would probe my life with questions and listen to me talk through the things that life brought along. I would sit at her breakfast counter for what seemed to be hours as we talked. She also became close to my older sisters. As time passed by, Ron and Barb became as close or closer to us than our own family. And even more, they became family to our extended family so we adopted them tightly into our world. The events of our life always included them. They hosted my two sisters’ wedding receptions in their home as well as many other parties and events. Ron worked on all of our cars, more times than I can count, out of the goodness of his heart.
Barb was hysterically funny and energizing to be around. So, without a doubt, the most memorable camping trip was spent in the Ozarks of Missouri. Ron and Barb went with us on this trip and brought a girl named Louise along that was a little older than I was. I was about 14 or 15 years old. My dad, his friends, Louise and I got into our cars heading south for some wonderful laughter, memories, and great camping.
1966 Buick LeSabre
At this point my dad went to the extreme in his choice of cars. He owned a 1966 Buick LeSabre. Barb called it the “Big Black Buick” even though it was dark blue! I learned to drive in that car. It was huge and had power steering and power brakes. It would whirl around effortlessly through the streets. We had also upgraded our trailer to a 16 foot Forrester. It had a bathroom in it! But, we didn’t use the shower so I still had to scout out the public showers in the parks we went to.
We had so much fun laughing, talking, making wonderful memories for a lifetime. Actually, we still talk about that trip today and it was in 1968. During the trip our friend’s car blew an engine. While for many, this would be devastating, but not with Barb around. We were stuck in Higginsville, Missouri. With Barb’s way with people, she overheard someone talking about something in their life and walked up to them and said, “So, you think you’ve got problems, our car engine blew up and we are camping and don’t know what we’re going to do.”
It just so happened that this person new the mayor pretty well and got permission from him for us to camp in the City Park. So, we spent the night with our tents and trailer right there for everyone to see. It was almost like a Chevy Chase movie set! Now we often say, “So, you think you have problems” just for fun.
So, after Ron and Barb got a different car, a 1966 Oldsmobile, we were back on the trail of our camping extravaganza. Our friend, Barb, saw that their new car had a special transmission mode called “Super”. The car was parked going down hill towards the lake. When Barb was trying to back up out of the parking spot, she thought it would help to use Super! Well, as you might imagine, Super was only for going forward so she quickly stopped before going into the lake. It may have been another incident of “So, you think you’ve got problems” but thankfully it just became a lifetime joke for us all to enjoy.
Our camping trips continued for years to come. Dad moved from the Forrester trailer to a larger than life pick-up truck with a camper on it, but by this time our family camping trips had diminished and most of our time in that rig was spent at local state parks, picnics, and sleeping in the camper in the driveway. Life had moved on for me. By this time my sisters and I had gotten married and our lives were consumed by children, work, and just overall life maintenance.
My dad tried to arrange more trips but they just didn’t work out any more. I am so thankful for the many memories that came from the trips we did take. Driving in these “all American” cars was fairly common for the mainstream of family life. But, for me, these cars produced memories from the experiences that came from our camping trips. Somehow during the years each car just seemed to go away and another one came in its place. But the memories remain.
Friday, December 17th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
My 1966 Mustang convertible has come back to me over and over in my dreams. For many reasons, this car was a pivotal memory from my teen years. I loved to wash, wax, and polish it getting ready for a wonderful summer drive with the top down. Playing 70’s music on my eight track tape player made it even more memorable.
Our lives become what they are from the life we have lived. As I look back on being in high school I realized that it was in my teens where the damaged life I had lived as a young chilc started to manifest itself in the relationships I developed. I also see how my past affected the choices I began to make about life. These years were the beginning of my own personal dysfunction stemming out of the dysfunction of the developmental years I had lived in previously.
Cars began to symbolize memories of great elation, as well as memories of the painful history that was manifesting itself in my life.
My first job, my first car, my first girlfriend. Elation, and disappointment. Entering high school was my practice game and I realized I was not ready for the prime time players!
1966 Ford Mustang
There’s no doubt that 1966 is one of the most popular Ford Mustang model years in the history of the car. In fact, March 1966 marked the creation of the millionth Mustang.
Although the first few years were definitely good for Ford and its sporty Mustang, 1966 was the year all that hard work truly began to pay off. By 1966, most people began to associate the Ford Mustang with power and performance. It was the car to have if you needed a daily driver and it was the car to have if you needed a weekend cruiser with a sporty edge.
About that 1966 Mustang convertible; even to this day I dream that it is still in my garage and I mysteriously had forgotten I had it. The dream discovery seems so real that I wake up to realize that it was a dream and feel disappointed the whole rest of the day. I am not exactly sure why I dream about it but I had owned it right in the middle of my teenage years of life.
My First Real Girlfriend
Oh, man, I was fifteen and she was beautiful! Her hair long and silky, she had a bright smile and a wonderful personality. Her name was Beth and she was older than I was. She had her driver’s license! So, on our first date she picked me up in her brother’s 1963 Chevy Impala Convertible and out we went. I don’t remember where we went, but I was definately smitten with her. She was not only older, but she was taller than I was.
We’d meet at her locker at school and others would stare at us because I was just 5′ 3″ tall. She was 5′ 9″ so there was quite a difference but it didn’t matter to me. She was the most wonderful thing that had happened to me.
Being a Teenager
As I began to learn how to be a teenager I found that I was more at ease with the girls and distant from the guys. It is the norm to think that sex dominates a young man’s life during his teenage years. Guys being “girl crazy” are seemingly run amok with sexual urges and desires. But my experience with puberty was that it came into my life seemingly unnoticed due to the turmoil that I had been living in. I experienced the most dramatic impact of the new hormones by discovering masturbation. I didn’t think about it with any sort of moral awareness. It was just a personal practice that entered my life. I wasn’t girl crazy, but I wasn’t aware of any other attractions either. Since I didn’t hang around guys much I didn’t hear much “sex” talk and felt even more estranged from my own sexual identity. Oh, I had many emotional urges going on inside me that were confusing and at times painful. I found myself feel warm thoughts of desiring physical closeness to an older man I was around at times. I wanted to be held by him, just a touch from his hand would send desires through my mind. But since I was so sexually naive I didn’t have anything to attach those feelings to nor did I know how to define them as being sexual.
During all of this, which included my current relationship with Beth, I moved to my dad’s house. The transition was huge for me but I am not sure she fully understood all of my life issues. She came from a wholesome family. She had a wonderful mom and dad and I loved to go to their home because it was so warm and normal. One memory I have of them was when I picked up Beth one night. I went into their foyer and looked into the living room to see both of them sitting there in their wingback chairs with the fireplace glowing. That scene never left my mind because of the wholesome picture that it painted.
We were going to the “Sweetheart” dance together and I was thinking ahead about spending a long time with Beth beside me. She was an artist and we enjoyed art class together. I remember her long plaid wool slacks and her “maxi” dress. We loved to laugh and most of all, I like to just sit beside her and talk.
Then one day, my whole world crashed. Beth told me that her parents didn’t think it was a good idea that she settle down with one person so she broke up with me. I felt abandoned, lost, and alone. I moved on and dated some other girls but none were close to what I had felt with Beth.
Living with my dad brought about a sense of peace that I hadn’t known in many years. But it also brought a lot more responsibility. I willingly accepted all of the things that had to be done to maintain my life. I washed my own clothes, cleaned the house we lived in and learned how to cook my favorite meals. I paid my own bills and virtually lived as an adult. I didn’t think anything about all of these new aspects to my life since I had just launched from the prison of my mom’s house into the free world of personal choices.
My Spiritual Life
I was raised Catholic and my dad was very committed to his faith and making sure his kids were trained to be committed to it as well. We went to church every Sunday without fail. We were raised in catechism and we went through all of the childhood sacraments of Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. We were members of a community Catholic church where we knew many people. They were primarily friends of my dads who worked for the Postal Service with him. They were great people and we enjoyed being around them. But something triggered a strong reaction in my heart as I looked around this church.
I had a strong desire to connect at a deeper level. I wanted to find a place where I could belong, serve, and feel significant to this church family. As a teenager, I looked around for places to fit in and found nothing other than Sunday church and the sacraments. Something inside me told me that I was not significant there, that there was no place for me.
One Sunday my older sister and I decided to look for something different. We “skipped” our church service and went to a Baptist church down the street. We thought we were doing something very risky and that if our dad found out what we had done we’d surely be in trouble. So, on the way home we stopped by our church and picked up a left over bulletin to take into our house to “prove” our attendance at the Catholic church. Our dad never knew what we had done. The other church didn’t impress me either.
So, I made the decision that when I was on my own after high school, I wouldn’t continue going back to the Catholic church. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t interested in anything else either. There just wasn’t any connection or present purpose for me to attend. It was just something we did, not anything that was in my heart.
My First Job
While I lived more like an adult in my personal life, I had a group of friends that I hung out with that brought some fun along with it. The fall was my favorite time of year. We went on hayrack rides, had parties at one kid’s house and hung out together at school. I had worked for a restaurant since I was 14 years old making $1.15 per hour. I worked about 25 hours a week there so I was busy on the weekends and week nights.
Working at the restaurant brought some fun like riding in Mary’s 1970 Dodge Super Bee! Wow, a 383 Magnum engine, four speed transmission, bright purple with black racing stripes, we all manipulated Mary into taking us home on many occasions! Mary was known to be a lesbian, but that didn’t seem to matter to any of us. She had a great car and we all loved to ride in it. Besides, she was really good to us kids. She laughed with us and came to our defense when the main chef would get on our case.
But I also had experienced bullying from an older kid named Randy. He would throw out threats of beating me up by the trash bin if I didn’t do what he wanted to. He scared me to death. I started working there when I still lived at mom’s so I walked to work and back, which was over two miles each way. When I got off at midnight I would look over my shoulder for most of my walk home wondering if he was following me to beat me up. I wanted to leave there so bad but didn’t have another job to go to.
My cousin heard I might be interested in a new job and came to me and asked if I might want to work at his company. It was a transport refrigeration company called “Carrier-Transicold”. I would be working in the parts department. I jumped at the chance to make $2.35 per hour. At teh beginning I worked after school five nights a week. Then when summer came I began to work 40 hours per week. I liked making the money and could afford to pay for virtually all of my own personal things. I also liked the guys I worked with. Jerry and Bill were the same shift I was. I felt like a man alongside of them.
As my bank account increased so did my eyes for a new car. Bill offered to sell me his 1966 Buick special but I chose to buy a 1970 Volkswagen. This car had been originally bought in Germany and was only 6 months old. This made it unique for the American market. I can still remember feeling the texture of the seats, turning the new style safety knobs on the dash board, and certainly listening to the German built Blaupunkt AM/FM radio! I felt pretty sharp in my shiny new vehicle.
I met a girl named Kris. She was friends with some of the folks I hung out with in the library at school. My first memory of her was when a friend of hers was talking about Kris being in a shell and no one seemed to be able to enter her world. I thought Kris was fun to be around and wondered if I might be able to get through her “shell”. So I began to get to know her.
We dated and hung out. I met her family. Her parents were divorced like mine were. Her mom managed an apartment complex so we’d go to her place just to hang out. Her dad lived in a house that was very empty feeling. Her brother also lived there and her little sister lived with Kris and her mom. She was a good cook and enjoyed making things for me to eat like a lemon merangue pie.
I found that there were many things we understood about each other. Divorce, arguing a lot between her parents, and her siblings being the same ages as mine made our families very similar. Driving to see a movie one night I saw the connection between us. I thought she understood my life more than anyone. Having a lifelong need to feel heard, our similarities felt like she heard me.
Our relationship became quite rocky for one reason or another. It seemed like we broke up several times during the next couple of years. We got back together shortly after each time we broke up. This was all pretty confusing to those around us.
During the next year the burden of my car payments became more than I wanted to bear. I was paying $95 per month for my “Bug”. I talked with my dad about it and we agreed that it might be good to sell it and get something else. I did and then found my next car.
It was a 1966 Mustang Convertible. The payments were half of the other car and oh boy, a convertible! I loved it! I polished it, bought “mag” wheels for it and I was stylin! I got an “eight track” tape player for it and listened to Bread, Grand Funk Railroad, Rod Stewart, and so many other popular 1970’s groups.
In my junior year our Homecoming parade was coming up. My car was red with black interior. These were our school colors so I entered my car in the parade. I felt so cool and I may have even had a moment of populararity!
The school I went to felt like it had two classes of people. The rich, and those from the other side of the tracks. I seemed to be able to cross he divide. I was from the other side of the tracks, but since I had such a good job, I could afford to have things that the rich kids had. New clothes, a nice convertible, and I could pay for the other things that came along. I felt independent, responsible, and connected on the surface. But underneath, I felt lost, lonely, unaccepted, and foreign to my school and the kids there.
Yes. I Flunked Phys-ed
We had to take physical education in our course profile. I hated phys-ed! In junior highschool I was teased mercilessly by students and coaches alike. I was not a natural at sports. My family wasn’t a sports family. I didn’t know how to throw a ball, or keep score for any major sport. I wondered what the phys-ed teachers were there for? If they were teachers, then why didn’t they teach. It seemed they were there for the natural sports guys and those of us who didn’t know how, well, we were just left out to dry and feel awkward and stupid. I was so anxious about being in gym class that on one occasion I had to go to the doctor from internal stomach problems.
When I reached highschool I found that it was easier to skip gym class without any immediate consequences. I skipped many classes in 10th grade and learned how to skip the whole year in 11th. Yes, I flunked Phys-ed. I ended up having to take it in summer school. It was much easier and I got by with less stress.
I’m Not Smart Enough
I didn’t do well in school with regards to scholasic achievement. But I had a dream of becoming an architect. As I perused the class selections and I saw the requirements for architecture included taking physics and chemistry. I felt woefully inadequate to take those classes. I thought they were for smart kids and I certainly wasn’t a smart kid. So I had only one choice. Give up my dream for being an architect. Little did I know those classes were nothing more than glorified Physical Science. I loved that class in the eighth grade but I didn’t make the connection. I didn’t feel connected to anyone who would have helped me figure that out. Again, I felt lost and alone so I just had to do what I could to find my way through.
As I moved into the end of my junior year I decided to make my plans to just work and earn a living. I registered for “Coop” for my senior year. This would mean that I got credit for having a job and only had to take two classes each semester. So off I ran! I was an adult now,or so I thought. I learned that independence was the best way to get by. With our “modular scheduling” structure I only had to be in school two mornings a week all through my senior year.
Modular scheduling also made it easier to leave school. If we had more than one hour of free time we could leave. One girl that I hung out with a lot was named Shelly. Shelly and I spent a lot of time together. I remember one special day when we went to lunch during our free time. Shelly drove her mom’s 1969 Oldmobile convertible to school. That car was so cool! We put the top down and off we went! I didn’t parcularly like to color gold, but driving off to lunch in an incredible convertible of any kind was a special event for me.
Since I wasn’t at school as much, my friendships seemed to go away and all I had was Kris. Our relationship was something that just existed but at least I wasn’t alone. On one warm summer evening I remember feeling so connected to her while we sat on my red convertible listening to the “Carpenter’s” singing “Superstar” on the eight track player. I really thought I had it all that night.
Me? Owning A Horse
Jerry, the guy I worked with, owned an acreage. His family loved the country. I looked up to Jerry so much and enjoyed spending time with them at their home. They had a couple of horses and I had always loved horses. There was something different about my relationship with Jerry. I was overly emotional about how he acted with others and how he was towards me. I felt pretty consumed with him on most days but I didn’t really know what was going on inside me.
One day I talked about horses and he told me they would board a horse if I wanted to get one. In my mysterious mind, I thought maybe if I had a horse it would allow me to spend more time with Jerry and his family. So, I found a two year old quarter horse and we took it to their farm.
I drove twenty miles each morning to take care of the horse before work. I loved spending time there. The horse on the other hand was just a vehicle to go to Jerry’s house. This family became an obsession in my life and overpoweredeverything else and all of my other relationships. I spent virtually all of my free time there. I’m sure my dad felt my absense and my over focus on Jerry, his family, and what seemed to be my horse.
I even gave up my Mustang convertible for the horse. I traded it in on an “El Camino” to somehow manage the things I had to carry around to facilitate having a horse. I never liked that car and it gave me unending problems with the engine and other things. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long road ahead with emotionally dependant relationships with guys and the painful challenges of what was going on inside of me.
“Nasty Grams” From Our Moms
Kris and I shared another life experience. It was a place of understanding our common pain. Graduation was coming quickly and I was ready to get out of school. Highschool didn’t work well with my independent spirit so I felt the sooner the better. The week of graduation Kris and I both got letters from our moms. There was something about our moms that was so similar. Each letter seemed to be more of a criticism than a celebration. We both talked about how mad we were at those letters. Our bond was once again confirmed by our survival from having grown up in such dysfunction.
I had lost out on so much growing up. While living with my dad brought such a new life for me, I was still very wounded from where I had been. My relational dysfunction had taught me to survive rather than to live. I didn’t know how to relate well with anyone. I especially didn’t know how to relate to other guys. Since sports was not a common denominator I grew to believe had nothing in common at all with other guys. I mostly new the girls and they were all dating and their attention was more on finding guys to date than it was to build a community.
At the end of the year I remember getting my high school yearbook and looking up my name. It seemed to show my name in bright red with NOTHING behind it. I wasn’t in a club or activity that would have been mentioned. I felt invisible, insignificant, and certainly not important in any way. As I left high school, I moved forward and never looked back. I didn’t remain in contact with anyone other than Kris.
In the next 6 months, my life was about to change dramatically for all of the wrong reasons.
Friday, December 10th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
The 1970 Galaxie was built bigger and stronger than previous models.
These cars were becoming more luxury oriented as the years passed. Ford engineers worked hard to achieve a quiet ride and luxury car comfort for 1970. The lineup was made up of 21 new models . There were several body style choices for 1970, to include: three LTD Broughams, five LTD models, two XL models and six different Galaxie 500 models. The different models were offered in several body styles to include the two door and four door hardtop, two door and four door sedan, sports-roof, and convertible.
This one is a 1970 Galaxie sports-roof.
Blue just like the picture, it drove up in our driveway one day. Surprised, my eyes bugged out like it was Christmas! A brand new car! It was beautiful with the sports-roof being extremely unique in design I was very excited to run out of the door to take a closer look. This car replaced the 1963 Galaxie that was my step dads. I wanted to go for a ride in it but was told it wasn’t going to happen at this time. I was so disappointed to hear those words. But it didn’t surprise me because the last five years were disappointing every day.
In my mind, at 15 years old, this car was just a reminder of the life I felt inside my heart that was separate from the life I had at home. We had a brand new car but it had nothing to do with me since I wouldn’t ride in it very often. I think I did a few times when my mom rarely took it to the store and I got to go along. I used to look at its sleek lines and noticed the cloth interior that was ribbed but soft. It had a vinyl roof which emphasized the double design of the slanted profile with the straight line of the back window. I thought it was really cool to look at.
Five years prior to this time, my step dad moved into our house. From previous writings, you may remember, this is the man who sexually violated me when I was just 10 years old! He began negatively impact virtually every facet of our home life. To say the least, it was very unpleasant to live there. On the first day he moved in I saw a huge, strangely red-stained, desk move into the corner bedroom that used to be mine. It had no handles on the drawers and was hand built by Gerb, as we learned he was called. It was short for Gerber. We heard he didn’t like his real name. He was named after his two sisters who were electrocuted by a loose wire on the wringer washing machine. No wonder he didn’t like it! So, everyone called him Gerb.
As the desk slid into place the rules began. “Don’t touch this desk or anything on it!” It had a door on the front that opened up to reveal a heavy black safe. I wondered what was so valuable that needed a safe hidden in a desk? This was another strange secret about Gerb’s life that brought so many questions to my mind. Oh, you can rest assured, I wouldn’t be touching his desk because the door on the bedroom also had a lock installed on it to make sure we never went in unsupervised.
The next exciting thing that came along was the installation of a “touch tone” telephone! It sat on the ledge in between the kitchen and living room. Oh, my gosh, these just came out! We had a touch tone phone. But soon the rules continued, don’t touch this phone because it’s Gerb’s phone and he needs it for work calls. Just another separation from the things that were so exciting to see, but just too far away to enjoy. I wouldn’t be touching his precious phone either.
Then, the arguments began. Night after night, week after week - yelling, screaming and broken things became the norm. I’d go to bed in my room in the basement with anxiety every night wondering if and when the fights would begin tonight. Gerb worked the afternoon shift. This meant he got off work around 10:30 PM. Many nights he would stop at a bar to drink before coming home but sometimes he came home earlier. But no matter when it was, my mom was ready for his arrival with cheese, salami and plenty of beer to settle the dragon that would arrive soon. Sometimes he would drink up to 16 beers in one sitting so the weekly shopping would involve cases of beer to be drank in the days he didn’t stop at the bar first. He would get extremely upset if my mom would fall asleep on the couch and this might be the trigger to begin the nightly battles.
I never really knew what most of the fights were about other than they seemed to always involve “those kids” which referred to me and my sisters. We were “lazy, good for nothing, irresponsible and worthless” and we belonged to “Old Man Smid” (our dad) which seemed to be the worst thing of all. Mom would often remind us that Gerb never had any kids of his own and he just didn’t understand how to relate to them. I began to see how much she minimized the real story.
After the nightly battle zone would seem to wane, I’d finally fall asleep. Often my sisters and I would go upstairs for breakfast and while we were getting out our cereal we would assess the damage. One morning we looked in the trash and found the dress my mom had been wearing the night before with dark red stains on it. We assumed they were blood from last night’s fight. We never knew what happened because the nightly battles were often referred to as “Gerb was on his “high-horse” again”. HIGH HORSE? Is that what you call it? There were times where the fighting would become viral and link morning, noon, and night together.
Coming home from visiting dad was often the scariest of all. Gerb had very strict rules on abiding by our court approved visitation hours of 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Sundays. If we came hope 30 seconds late by his watch that would inevitably begin a fight. One night when we came home we walked into the front door. Walking in I saw my mom’s friend sitting at the kitchen table and then looked over and saw Gerb holding gun pointed at my mom. He quickly put the gun down and the fight continued as we quietly went to our rooms.
There were so many restrictions on our life that we never knew which one we might cross over that would start the fighting all over again. If we winked just the wrong way, it might start a fight. One day I went to get my hair cut at the local barber. I had to walk about two miles or more to get there. This day at 13 years old I decided to get my hair cut a little different. Instead of getting it shaved up the back, I asked the barber to block it. This meant cutting it straight across the back. When I got home, Gerb lost it! I was told under no uncertain circumstances I would return to the barber and get it cut correctly or I wouldn’t come back into the house. So, back I went, two miles each way and got the expected shave up the back. I certainly didn’t expect that one coming!
Not all was bad.
Gerb was extremely talented with his hands and his mind. He completely rebuilt, from scratch, an entire car engine. When my little sister was ready to be born he built her a rocking crib from some sort of diagram with little spindles and a finish that was so smooth and shiny you would have thought it was sprayed on lacquer, but it had been done with a lot of sanding and a brush. He installed an entire sprinkling system in our yard. He was a brick layer, an electrician, a plumber and had a part time job repairing heating and air conditioning units. I don’t think there was anything he couldn’t do.
I remember him telling me, “John, a job isn’t worth doing if you don’t do it right.” I saw him use virtually every hand tool, power tool, and special tool you can think of. I watched his skills and learned, by osmosis, some very valuable lessons. He was a perfectionist beyond most I have known.
He was a Shriner and very involved in the organization. He started by being involved in a small motor cycle group. then he progressed into the place where he wanted to customize a little car to put into the parades. He got a 60’s Renault four door for the job. He completely custom designed the car. He cut the roof off, shaved down the doors and welded them shut. Of course, he rebuilt the engine, upholstered and painted the car himself. I would often stand amazed at his talent.
When it came to his daily life each day it would take him two hours to get ready for work. It began with a hot shave and a shower. His hair was longer than it looked, curly and light when it was wet. But when he put his special red oil on it to straighten it to perfection it remained in perfect form. His work mates teased him because he would go to the rail yards wearing starched and ironed shirts and kacki pants. My mom would dip his shirts in liquid starch and iron them and put the pants on pants stretchers to dry. She would also sew a crease down the front of the pants to add to the perfect image that had to be present. His shoes were “spit shined” each day to high gloss like he had learned in the Air Force. His regimen included a specialized packed lunch and all of the other things he would take with him every day to work. The man who left for work was a totally different man than the one that came home each night. I don’t know what happened in between those eight hours but coming home appeared to be quite painful for this man.
My First Car!
When I was getting ready to turn 16, my dad said he would go with me to buy my first car. As I pondered the reality of having a car the only solution I could think of is that it would be kept at my dad’s house or parking it down the street keeping the secret that my dad had been involved in the process. Surely Gerb would not have allowed me to have a car or the freedom that might come along with it.
So, dad and I went shopping. For some reason the Volkswagen “bug” seemed to stand out and my first car was a 1964 Volkswagen beetle. I paid $450 dollars for it. I took it to my dad’s and left it there. Since I didn’t have my driver’s license anyway it seemed to be the best solution.
My older sister had already “escaped” to live with my dad and my middle sister was getting married. All I could think of is what I would do without her being there with me. There were many nights where we would get into bed with each other shaking uncontrollably as the fights went on upstairs. Who would save me when she left?
My dad came to my rescue. One day with I was with him he asked me if I would consider moving in with him. What? I never even considered this as an option! I immediately said yes and began to plan my escape. That year my dad had gotten me a portable 13 inch television. But that had to be hidden in my closet so that Gerb never knew I had it. Living with my dad would mean I would be free to enjoy the things in life that had come my way. No more barriers around the potential of joy. Maybe I can laugh again like I had remembered before Gerb became a part of our lives.
So, the anxiety of the move began. But I used the energy to secretly pack my few boxes in preparation for the move. I didn’t tell anyone, certainly not my mom. She didn’t keep anything from Gerb, so this was a secret that had to be kept. I couldn’t risk the potential of my plan being sabotaged. As I looked at the TV in my closet I realized it would come out! And so would I.
All I could think of is getting to spend time with my cousins who lived in town, playing cards with my dad’s friends, enjoying pizza at the local pizzeria and doing all of the “normal” things that others seemed to get to do. Freedom was at my door! My dad was rescuing me and I couldn’t wait.
So, Saturday morning came. My dad was to arrive at 10:00 AM and I had to be ready. Boxes packed: Check. Clothes gathered: check. I am ready but how will I carry this out? I had to tell my mom something. So, at 9:50 AM I went upstairs and found my mom in the living room. Gerb was still asleep so I felt safer and had to get this done. “Mom, I am going to live with dad.” She just sat there and a couple of tears came down her face, “When?” “Ten minutes, mom.”
The Escape Vehicle
So I mustered up the strength I had to gather the last things into boxes. Than I saw dad drive up. It was a blue 1963 Chevy II station wagon. He pulled in and I started carrying boxes upstairs and out into the drive way. After about 15 minutes we were done.
I breathed a sigh of relief and we drove away. I am finally free! I can live! I can go see my car. After all, I was just 15 years old and that was important.
I didn’t see or talk to my mom for about a month. But, I began to find liberty to enjoy a little bit of life. I had to heal. I had spent five years of my life in the worst prison I could have imagined considering it was a house in the suburbs on a normal street of life. It just seemed that no one had noticed our pain. I had felt so alone and trapped. But not any more!
The power of my dad’s question was that it seemed he had heard me. He seemed to know what was going on and how much I needed help. I don’t know why he hadn’t done that earlier but it didn’t matter at that point. I was on my way to a new life.
I visited mom a few times each year after that. Gerb seemed to just stay in the garage when I came over. Sometimes he would come into the house and grunt something to my mom or to me but there was never any kind of conversation that occurred. I was glad to not see him anyway. I mean after all, he molested me, took my home away from me, imprisoned me from life. Why would I want to see him?
The Ketchup Packet that Heals
Later in his life, Gerb got very ill with colon disease. He had several bouts with cancer of the tongue and colon. He had a colostomy which unnerved him to no end because it was “messy.” At the end of his life he was in the hospital and my wife and I were in Omaha visiting. As we drove past the hospital where he was, I took a deep breath and said, “I think we are supposed to go see him.” It took everything in me to turn the car around and follow what I believed to be the right thing to do.
So, in we went. My mom wasn’t there to distract us with her typical non-stop talking, and we sat down in his room. We talked about a few meaningless things. The nurse brought in Gerb’s lunch and sat it on his tray. As I looked at him I saw a frail broken man. He was trying to get his ketchup packet open and he was failing miserably. Gerb had always been able to do anything he wanted. But at this time in his life, he wasn’t able to do even the simplest of things. “Gerb, do you want me to open your ketchup for you?” I timidly asked him. Even at this time, I feared his responses. But with some surprise, he said “Yes.”
He died a few months later. When the pastor who was to lead the funeral came to my mom’s house he asked about who this man was. They had no relationship with any pastors who knew them. I remember my mom saying “he has two children and three step children.” Then she went on to say, “Well, he wasn’t the best step dad in the world.” I couldn’t believe my ears! That was the first acknowledgment from her that there was anything wrong with this picture. Well, at least she did see that something wasn’t right.
So, the last memory I have of Gerb is me opening up his ketchup. Funny, isn’t it? God led me to a place in life where my final interaction with this abusive mean spirited man was to serve him. I still get tears when I think of that tender moment of life. I have no idea what he may have been thinking but God had revealed His grace to me through this unforeseen event.
There was really only a handful of people at his funeral other than friends of my little brother, who has down’s syndrome. As I look back at Gerb’s life I feel grieved that such a talented, competent man ended up to be so invisible. God had given him such incredible intelligence, coordination, drive, and potential kingdom purpose. At the end he was virtually invisible to the masses. It was a sad and lonely ending to his life. I felt relieved that my fears were finally gone forever and that there would be no more present pain from his life into mine. I was also glad that God led me to the hospital visit. It seemed that in the ketchup packet incident, all of the pain was washed away. There was a humility between us that seemed to heal the wounds for me. Strange ending of his life but I am eternally thankful to God for His leading me into His abundant grace once again.
Friday, November 12th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
1965 Chrysler 300 – Grandpa’s Beauty Came Into Our Driveway
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
I know, you are thinking, “How does this scripture have anything to do with the Chrysler 300?” Read further and you will understand my thoughts.
In 1965, my grandpa and grandma came to visit us in Omaha driving up in a brand new 1965 Chrysler 300 four door hardtop. This car was an awesome beauty to behold. Outside it was deep wine burgundy. A color I have never seen on another car since then. It was metallic and shined deeply in the bright sun. My grandpa kept his cars with impeccable detail so you can imagine after driving 500 miles from Denver he had to have the car washed upon their arrival. I was so excited to get a ride in his car.
Huge changes occurred in 1965 for the American car. They had just designed almost every car with “curved” side glass rather than the traditional flat windows. This made cars much more sleek and this car was no exception. It had lines that were drawn with an artist’s eye into a long sleek beauty.
So, the next day Grandpa asked if I wanted to go for a ride in his new 300. Oh, boy, you bet! I got inside and he immediately showed me the price sticker with all the options listed. The final price was $4995.00! that was a huge amount of money in 1965 and this car had everything on it. I looked around the interior and saw “pearl” white everywhere. The dash, the doors and the seats were all so beautiful. Then I noticed the steering wheel, it was a crowning jewel. It was a swirly pearl white like nothing I had seen in a car before. I was mesmerized by the combination of the wine exterior with the pearl inside. He started up the car and put down all the windows. That was a cool feature of the hard top, driving with the side windows down gave it an even sleeker look.
As it ran with smooth precision Grandpa explained to me that this car had a “muscle car” engine in it. With a four barrel carburetor and a 413 cubic inch engine, he said this car would beat anyone on the street. We backed slowly out of the driveway for our test drive. As we moved onto the street, my very elderly looking grandpa, who was completely bald and wore tinted hexagon rimless glasses, stepped on the gas and the car felt like it went out from under us. This was on a straight residential street that was 25 miles per hour! It was a quick burst of speed but he just wanted to show me what “she” would do if you stepped on it. I was so excited!
Then he turned to me and said, ” Do you want to drive it? Come over here and sit on my lap. ” I didn’t even think about the illegalities of what was happening, but oh my gosh, the steering was so easy and it was so cool to see things from behind the driver’s seat. I think I got to drive about a block.
We got back into the driveway and talked further about his new car going over the window sticker with a fine toothed comb. This was an amazing and beautiful car. I got into the back seat and found the smooth form of the bucket seats in front were like a sculpture shaped with human hands to a fine form. And, by the way, in 1965 bucket seats in a four door car were extremely rare, so this four door was quite the sport’s car in every way.
I have looked over the years to see if I could find another one like it but all I can think is that maybe this was a one of a kind special order that would never be seen again.
So, again, what does this have to do with God forming man out of the dust of the earth?
Recently I was reading the book of Genesis and found the passage below to capture my imagination. I have excerpted this from the Amplified Version because it says exactly what I want to convey.
And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it [using all its vast resources in the service of God and man]; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves upon the earth. Genesis 1:28 AMP
We often hear the question, “Why did God create us?” An answer many of us have heard is to “glorify Him”. So, what does it mean to glorify Him? I have often struggled with this question because it is so ambiguous. What can I do to glorify God?
As I ponder this scripture today, I am encouraged beyond belief. If God asked us to subdue the earth through using its vast resources then I think of it this way. Everything that I do as I work every day, is somehow connected to subduing the earth! When I clean house or mow my yard I am bringing order to disorder, shine to dullness, taking trash to an appropriate place to dispose of it.
If you work in accounting, when you go to work to analyze a business practice, you are helping to bring order to disorder. When you teach children, you are helping them to learn to be productive members of society in order that they might assist in taking care of our world and the people in it.
But let’s take this even further. God said he made man out of the dust (elements) of the earth. I also pondered what this actually means. When scientists evaluated the makeup of the human body they have told us that we are made up of water, chemicals, atoms and numerous other elements that are found in the earth. God took those elements and “subdued” them into a miraculous form that made the first man, the animals, living creatures, plants, and everything we see.
I am taking an intellectual leap to say that subduing the earth means to do as God did. Take the elements we have been given and make something greater, more useful out of them! This brings glory to our creator God! To take care of, to steward, to improve upon the earth and everything in it, pleases the One who made it and gave it to us.
When a man heats silica (glass) to a specific temperature then turns it on a special rod he can create beautiful glass objects, vessels, and so many other wonderful things. This is bringing silica into subjection of the artist. When lumber company received raw trees they will cut the tree in its raw state into a manageable form so it can be used to build homes, furniture, and works of art. Through man’s creative abilities there are limitless possibilities as to how the “dust” of the earth can be made into unspeakable wonders.
When the creative hands of the artist press, form, and carve exotic woods, they are put to use in creating a violin, a harp, a clarinet and other instruments that can fill the air with wonderful music! Does this bring glory to God? Or as the metal artist tempers, forms and molds brass into a saxophone, a trumpet, or a flute which, when played by the gifted musical artist, bring us joy, peace, celebration and certainly glory to the Creator who provided those elements for our use.
As Andrew Lloyd Webber took the music in his heart and mind and placed it on paper to be read by men and women his notes became some of the most beautiful musical scores that we can hear. Is it any wonder why we can feel such movement in our hearts as we listen to certain music or see someone dance with perfection? Certainly it is because someone is allowing their God given talent to be put to work in creating artistic pleasure.
I have a friend who is an excellent photographer. I was looking through some of his pictures finding amazing beauty as captured through the lens of his camera. I thought, “how did you see that? Where did you find that flower?” or “Wow, she is beautiful!” I learned that through the discriminating eye of the photographic artist he captures an image that is placed in a manageable framed segment so that I can enjoy it’s intricacy. I saw a forest, he saw the delicate flower in the middle that I couldn’t see. This too brings glory to God. Bringing His creation into a form so we can all enjoy it, is pure worship of the One who gave it to us to enjoy.
Of course, we can use our talents in perversion that certainly brings grief to God and can wound others. But in this writing I want to bring the incredible wonder of God’s command to Adam to subdue the earth to our minds to encourage and lift up our hearts.
Everything we do every day, when we’re centered on the One who created our world, is worship. Its glorifying to His Name whether it is coming from a bookkeeper or a house keeper.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23
I have often thought of this passage in the context of having to work every day and to find a way to make sure I did it with integrity and the right attitude. But now, I find a deeper meaning that is energizing!
Worshiping God through subduing the earth!
So, back to the 1965 Chrysler 300.
As I think about the real message here, my mind thinks of the elements of the earth. The steel, chemicals, natural elements that have come from the earth have been subdued by creative human beings. The designers, mechanical workers, artists, business management teams etc. have all worked together to make an automobile. Not a vehicle just to drive, but to enjoy, to look at, to appreciate and to make memories with.
The beautiful, wine colored, work of art in that car and it’s amazing pearl white interior glorifies the Creator! We can call it materialistic, or we can chose to call it an amazing response to the elements of the earth that God has given us to subdue, to rule over, to use in our daily lives, to bring Him glory!
It’s no wonder why my heart takes a few extra beats when I see an “American Beauty” roll up beside me. God’s heart is beating as well when He sees something we have done with what He has given us. Much like our joy when we see a colorful picture that a child has drawn. They have drawn it with the wax from the earth that has been subdued into a Crayola Crayon! Creation itself cries out in worship of our Awesome, Amazing God!
He replied, I tell you that if these keep silent, the very stones will cry out. Luke 19:40
I think with or without our hands, the elements of the earth speak to God’s glory. As we harvest them, mold them, bring them into subjection through our hands the God of wonders will be glorified!
How amazing is this? Today the work of your hands is part of the stewardship of the creation he has given us! As he formed us out of the dust, He has called us to do the same.
Now sing for joy to the One who is joyful about what you are doing with His creation.
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