Day 4

Day 4 of the Siege:

Social distancing seems to be taking place in the animal kingdom also. I have been watching my neighbor’s stray cats…and they have their own hierarchy. I watched one little guy get completely shunned by the community…and I knew…I knew he was going to be my special little guy.

At first he was a little standoffish and not wanting to be friends…but with some coaxing and food, I managed to get him into the house.

I know we’re going to be best friends.

I took a picture of him to show you his bright smile.

Ear To The Rail

This is story that may or may not have happened in the summer of 2018 on a motorcycle trip with a few good friends. This story is fictional to any readers (or wives) who wish to use it against any of these supposed friends of mine. Places, names, and my memory has been altered to protect those who may (or may not) have done these things.

In the summer of 2018, there was a group of us riding motorcycles in Kentucky. We were adventure riding…it’s riding dual sports with all your camping gear packed in saddle bags. It’s great fun on and off-road. If you’re familiar with the Wildcat Memorial in the Livingston area, there’s a good size stream (or small river) called Rockcastle River. It’s usually about 50 feet across and depending on recent rain, Rockcastle can be about a foot deep, or it can be over 4 feet deep where a 4 wheel drive road crosses over it. Yes, you read that right, part of the road goes through the river.

This river can be a problem when crossing on motorcycles. If the water is under 2 feet deep, you’re probably ok…but if the water is over that…you risk water getting into your engine and killing it. More than one person in our extended network has had problems. One trip I had taken with a couple of these guys had ended when Kyle swore his bike could make it across only to drop into a deeper hole about 3/4 of the way across and his engine air intake took in water when his seat disappeared below the water line. For the next 3 hours we fruitlessly tried to revive the drowned bike, only to have to get the trailer and tow it home. Brian had also dunked his bike on this very crossing on a different trip.

We like to ride off-road on these trips as much as possible…Wildcat area has some fun gravel roads and places to ‘play’ but it’s kind of a dead end if you get to the Rockcastle and have to turn back. Backtracking will cost you about 30 minute to get to the same place across the river.

On this particular trip, we came down the hill from the Wildcat Memorial, crossed over the train tracks and came to the edge of the stream. We shut the bikes off, walked the banks and studied the depths…we cracked and had a beer as we sat under the shade for a minute. We had some decisions to make as lunch was becoming more and more on our minds.

Where we decided to go was 10 minutes across that creek…but a good 30 minutes to backtrack the road we had just come down. No one thought it was a good idea to cross the creek, but no one wanted to backtrack either. We sat there for a minute.

Two of the guys walked back up the road 70 feet to a railroad track behind us while a few of us were taking one last hard look at the stream.

Those two came back and offered up a third option.

We could cross on the railroad bridge.

We could do… what…???
Ok, that was crazy enough to justify taking a look. We put our gear and helmets on…we rode up to the railroad tracks and looked across it.

The railroad track that ran perpendicular to the road we were on, then became a bridge that crossed over the stream, and then became part of the land again as the bridge ended and continued across the paved road on the other side that ran along the banks on the other side. The train bridge was about 120 yards from our point to the other side where you would ride off onto an embankment parking area on the other side. About 30 yards beyond that, the track wound around the corner of a hill to where you could not see. From where we stood on the track, there was a steep slope down to the water of the Rockcastle, a good distance across, and then rose again on the other side….I’d guess the bridge stood off the water 20 feet…and I would guess the water under the bridge to be very shallow to maybe 4-5 feet deep in the deeper parts.

The top surface of the bridge itself was about 14’ wide (I’m guessing) divided into thirds with all loose gravel base and large metal parallel rails that rose out of the gravel a good 6 inches.. The outer third was gravel with a meager single hand rail for maintenance crew, followed by the middle third between the raised rails that was loose gravel, and then the other side with another single meager handrail.

If you rode down the center of the bridge you had to contend with the rails. They stuck out of the gravel maybe 6 inches and would be great to guide someone down the center of the tracks…but if the need to get out of the tracks arose, they might prove to be difficult to get over them and out of the way if needed. The outer edges had enough space to ride on, and I suspect that you could stand on the very outer edges of the gravel and the train would not hit you, but you would have to be way out on the edge of the bridge and the lack of guardrails and the height, not to mention a train running by you would be unnerving. It could be done, but it was going to be a little scary too.

We all stood there, studying the track, talking it through, and reading the obligatory “you will die crossing the bridge” warnings followed by the “if you don’t die all the way, we’ll put whatever is left of you in jail” sign.

As we stood there, a red pickup truck drove off the road on the other side and stopped next to the tracks like he was waiting for someone or something. We watched the driver, he watched us. Was he police? Was he some kind of railroad FBI? He started eating his lunch and we went back to thinking through our Nitro Circus stunt.

Two riders, I think I’ll call them Kyle and Danny (clearly hypothetical names of course), pointed their bikes towards the bridge and said, “just say the word and we’ll go’. But I didn’t like the idea….I didn’t like it at all.

Since we could not see around the bend, it was impossible to know how close a train was. I took off my helmet and put my ear to the track like I had seen done in many western movies…there was no sound. I was thinking that was good…but then again I had never done that before so I was wondering if this were an actual thing or was I betting my life on a Hollywood gimmick?

We looked at the track and thought through how long it might take for someone to cross over.

Maybe 90 seconds.

But if a train came around the corner of the hill…and you were halfway, you would probably have an butt puckering moment where you might have to gun it and play chicken with a train because the rails and tight radius would make it impossible to turn heavy bikes like ours around. There would be no turning back, once you were on, you were committed.

The leader of our group put it to a vote…and asked everyone “does anyone feel strongly about this crossing?” There was a few seconds where the rest of the group weighed out going across. Some were all for crossing, some were not so sure, but I literally stood alone as the one person who said I didn’t think we should cross…I said I would catch up to them down the road.

As we stood there, starting down the tracks in one direction, we turned around and noticed there was a man walking up the tracks towards us from the opposite direction about 30 yards out. He was a much older man wearing tattered overalls and what looked like an old engineers hat. He appeared out of nowhere and was walking slowly towards us like a ghost. My Spidey senses tingled and I didn’t like the feeling I was getting.

I definitely was not going now…..I was spooked.

The leader of our group must’ve felt the same thing. No sooner that we noticed this man and he made the call for all of us. We were going around.

And just like that, we abandoned the bridge crossing and started up the road.

We quickly went up the hill, passed the Wildcat Memorial, and then down the hill, wound around the bend and turned a corner to the railroad crossing. It was probably a total of 4 or 5 miles from our river crossing, but where the paved road crossed the railroad tracks, we were stopped by blaring bells and red lights as a massive train roared by us.

I was in a slight shock as reality set in.

“IS THIS TRAIN ON THE SAME TRACKS, THE SAME TRACKS THAT CROSSES THAT BRIDGE???!!!! DID THIS TRAIN COME ACROSS THE BRIDGE WE JUST THOUGHT ABOUT CROSSING!!!” I asked dumbfounded and shocked. No one really wanted to acknowledge that it was the a train that had come down the same tracks we had stared at a few minutes prior. The timing was eerie and unbelievable and we didn’t talk much for a while over the headsets.

I think we all knew that was too close to laugh about…but maybe it was just me.

There is no way of knowing the exact timing of the train crossing, but there is no arguing that it would have been very VERY close. In my mind, we had just avoided what could have been a bad situation.

We will never know how that would have played out.

We could have crossed without incident and taken off down the road and never known about the train.
We could have had a complete disaster on our hands.
We could have gotten caught on the bridge but the train could’ve stopped in time to avoid everything except the “persecute you ’til kingdom come” part.
We will never know on this side of heaven.

But… I pay attention to that that voice in my head says.


I remembered this story and knew it was the next one I would tell…but why tell this story?

I wrote the first part of this in a couple days…reworked a couple places, but the bones were set quickly. The 2nd part of this I took to God…I needed Him to help me write the end. A week later, today, as I sit drinking coffee on a Monday morning, I feel I have a part of it.

Life is a journey. A grand adventure. There are always risks, there are always some levels of assessment when looking at something where you know you must step out, you must put some things on the betting table that may end up doubling, or they may be wiped out.

Sometimes you bet your heart.
Sometimes you bet money.
Sometimes you bet your health.
And sometimes you’re all in and it ALL is on the line.

ALL on the line… like when it’s the train bridge where you stand alone against a group of friends that want you to cross with them…all the while a train is bearing down on this decision on an all or nothing play.

IF you’re reading this and you’re standing, looking across a long bridge that appears quiet and serene…but in your heart, you know there is risk…

…then I ask you….

What do you really gain by taking this risk?
Are you going against your inner voice because all the others are telling you to ignore it?

Again…what do you gain with this risk?

I’m not saying there’s a time not to take risk.
I’m not saying to always play it safe.

What I am saying is that if the risk is high, make sure you put your ear to the rail in your spirit and ask God before you set across.

The Wood Box

Growing up, I remember so many summers we would go to northern Minnesota (pronounced “Minnie’ Soh-da”) and we would spend a couple weeks at my grandparents on my moms side…Bill and Marie.

The grandfather on my mom’s side was “grampa Bill” and my grandmother was “Gramma”. Bill got a name but grandma was always just gramma. Grandpa Bill drank Schmidts beer, all day starting after lunch and smoked a pipe constantly with Prince Albert (in a can) tobacco. Grandma tended the stove making home made rolls, cookies, and pies. There was always the smells of fresh bread, pipe tobacco, and burning wood…smells that are still my favorites even today.

They lived in northern Minnesota out in the deep woods country. People out there were often farmers, hunters, fishermen…strong people who loved the great white north. It was a wild land back then…seemed untamed and we often heard stories of wolves and bears killing cattle and sheep…so to us it was like our own ‘wild west’ where it was just natural for everyone to have and carry a gun…including us.

The land was filled with dangerous animals…like I said…it was filled with stories of bears, timber wolves, and the Dickensons. The bears and timber wolves you could trust….but those “Got dammed Dickensons…” well they were just some of the worst sons of bitches you could ever come across, but Grandpa needed a villain for his stories….but I’ll get to that in one of these stories. For now, the Dickersons were a well to do family in the area that were notorious (at least to grandpa) for swindling and cheating and moving boundary markers when you weren’t looking.

Grandpa Bill grew up logging and trapping in this land. He was a woodman to the core. His house was in a small ghost town called Puposky, on the edge of Lake Julia, near Buena Vista and Bemidji. It was a 2 bedroom, one story, maybe 650 sf house that was probably built just after World War 2. This small house had no running water, no bathroom, and it was heated by a wood burning stove. Water was hand pumped every day from a well just outside the house …the outhouse was 20 feet from the house in a wooden shed and a pit underneath it (no running water, right?) …and the house and cooking were done by use of a wooden stove that had to be regularity fed hand split wood. Water for the house was hand pumped from the well into buckets that were carried into the house. It was a HARD life that we would never understand in today’s world. In northern Minnesota winters were particularly brutal with lows reaching -20 for weeks on end….and all those things you had to do outside like bring in wood, pump water, GO TO THE BATHROOM (!!) …you did those…day in and day out, whether it was 75 or -20. It was a different world, it was a different time. They lived the same way for as long as they were alive.

My grandfather died in 1986, 90 years of age, and my grandmother continued to live there another 10 years, by herself, until we brought her home when she was found wandering lost one day and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

In that area, in those parts of the Northern Territory, people look out for each other, people needed each other…and people were genuine…they didn’t have time not to be.
Unless you were a Dickenson….

I say all this to say something else.

My grandparents were poor by any standard you look at in the United States…but they were so rich in the color of their lives, abundantly blessed with hospitality and love, and it’s where I learned some of life’s biggest lessons. When I look back at growing up, it’s in those woods I learned to hunt, fish, to have freedom and adventures…and laugh with a man who was a key figure in my life. God how I loved them and I loved that farm, lake Julia that was a 5 minute walk, and the lands of wild northern Minnesota.

This little house had a garage like structure next to it, a “pump house” that housed I don’t remember what….but it had an old refrigerator that didn’t work that held old books, it had old bottles and beer signs, naked women calendars, vote for Ike buttons….it had a door on it that said “no minors”. For most of my young life, I thought ‘no minor’ meant that if you worked in the ore mines in the area, you weren’t welcome. I thought that was pretty rude and would be a teenager before I understood the message.

The pump house had all kinds of odds and ends, broken clocks, kids toys, AN OLD BAZOOKA SHELL (another “NO SHIT??!!!” story for another time) some ‘girlie’ magazines and calendars, and often a few cats…but the biggest thing about the pump house was the large bell that hung above it. Hundreds and hundreds of times Grandpa would encourage us to shoot this bell with a Crossman pump up air BB gun. Every time you hit it with a “PING” he laughed deeply and genuine…and then he’d encourage you to shoot something else. Usually a bird or something alive. My heart usually didn’t let me shoot something alive, but Grandpa made his life as a trapper, a lumberjack, so shooting things was just part of life up there.

My grandfather loved to give us a Crossman pump BB gun to shoot everything and anything from beer cans set up, to home made wind chimes he made, or anything that happened to be scurrying or flying around as we were out shooting. He always laughed and was impressed with our marksman skills. He also loved and encouraged us to fish, getting a neighbor at the lake to loan us a row boat. My brother and I were crazy wild boys with all kinds of energy and endless curiosity that was perfect for such a place as this to turn us loose in. It was an outdoor paradise.

As much as we loved to explore, shoot, and fish…there was always some work and some special ‘project’ my father took on every time we went up there. He would use the 2 weeks to fix or repair something that needed fixed. Once it was a roof on the house, once it was to pull the siding off the house and insulate it, once it was digging a new outhouse for the bathroom. Whatever it was, it was dad’s summer project, and thus OUR project.

There were two worlds up there when we visited. One was dad’s world of ‘projects’ and work…one was grandpa’s where kids had adventures, played and explored of fishing at the lake or wandering with BB guns or 22 rifles or exploring the pump house or barn.

I’ve never thought of this before, but there was always a colliding of worlds when we went to grandpa and grandma’s. Our world back home belonged to dad and work and responsibility and more work. Grandpa’s world had adventure and exploration and freedom. We often had to walk the line of both worlds when we went there. We got to explore and shoot and wander and row on the lake…but we also had those adventures interrupted by dad’s world…his projects.

Today I still try to live in those two worlds that I cannot seem to get to be at peace…I am either all the way in one, or all the way in the other….in my world they do not, and can never coexist.

The dichotomy of my father’s and my grandfather’s worlds was never so incredibly vivid as the story of the wood box.

You mention ‘wood box’ story and mom will start laughing at the thought of it. It is probably her favorite story and my father laughs at himself when the story is told, but there’s still a little bit of saltiness that comes along with it too for him.

so…the story of the woodbox.

Grandma cooked off an old cast iron wood burning stove. You fed split wood down into it, it heated the house and cooked the food. It was the only heat, it was the only way to cook and wood for it would often need to be brought into the house and stacked in this old woodbox that sat next to the stove.

My dad must’ve decided at some point that the wood box was pretty tattered and worn out and seeing how dad had great carpentry skills, he decided to make her a new one. It would be a quick and easy afternoon project for him…or so he thought.

So on this day my father decided he was going to build grandma a wood box. Dad started off on his usual measurements, found a couple sheets of plywood and began cutting away to construct this box. My older brother Brad and I were always his clueless helpers. We held the dumb end of the measuring tape when he measured, we held the wood when he cut, held the flashlight when it got dark, but we never got to use the saw or hammer the wood or pound nails…and we never had any clue what he was doing, but like rowers on a pirates ship, we were chained to the oar and we were there to ‘help’ or (sometimes and…) go down with the ship.

Now my dad has an uncanny ability to do anything carpentry, can take anything and everything apart without any working knowledge of said item or engine. It was dumbfounding to my grandfather who did NOT have such skills. My grandfather was a woodsman, hunter, logger, and farmer. How he survived without those skills in such a brutal environment, I don’t know. But dad would show up and see all the projects that needed to be done and would set to work on at least one big one every summer. But this day, above all days, dad would be sorry for the little task he had set his mind on. It would have the best of him.

So, out in the yard, my dad started with measurements and a drawing and two clueless sons. Soon the pieces were cut, and the box took shape…sort of.

At some point, something was off and the box wouldn’t fit together…and my dad’s temper began to flair.

A word of finesse here, dad’s temper could be bad and at times… and sometimes it could nuclear. Now, when dad got mad, and you were working with dad, you were worried that his temper might go nuclear and make you the object of his anger…so when dad started to get mad, Brad and I got quiet and worried.

But we were at grandpa’s.
And grandpa thought dad’s temper was funny.

So when things started to go astray and my dad started to get mad that the wood box wasn’t going together, grandpa pulled up a chair from the yard to watch.
And give comment.
And to laugh.

Two worlds in tension.

There my Grandpa sat in his lawn chair, beer in one hand, pipe in the other, to watch this unfold a little more…and to poke at my dad. Those of us who knew dad, knew those words were like poking a bear. But grandpa wasn’t scared of dad when he got angry…he’s the only person I have ever known that was not scared of my dad when he got angry. Thus, the more UN-amused my father got, the more amused my grandfather got.

So, we’re working in the yard and this ‘simple’ project dad had started and the box is not quite coming together, and dad is frustrated…and grandpa is amused. My brother Brad and I were bug eyed as we thought grandpa was pretty funny but scared that dad was going to turn on us. But these two great worlds were at odds with each other this day, and Brad and I had front row seats to the showdown.

After a bit of back and forth, Dad’s adjusted a couple times, gotten the box together, and dad’s ready to claim victory over the whole affair. Dad, carrying his work of art, walks across the yard to the house in what would be his GREAT TRIUMPH that would silence the laughter of my grandfather. He climbs the two steps of the side of the house, balances the box on one knee while he flings open the screen door…
…and jambs the wood box squarely into the frame of the door, not quite getting it inside the door.
Dad readjusts his grip on the box and turns it a couple times and tries again and again.

There’s a moment when heaven and earth stopped and, for a moment everything was dead silent…waiting for my dad…

to realize…

The wood box will not fit through the door of the house.

My father erupts in profanity fitting of a pirate in the high seas
…to which….
My beloved grandpa Bill erupts in laughter, doubled over gasping for breath, tears forming in his eyes. Grandpa’s laughter brings mom to laughter and tears as she couldn’t help herself.

Picture this. Grandpa and mom have tears in their eyes and are having a hard time breathing. Brad and I are bug eyed nervously giggling…fearing what dad may do…and my dad is unleashing a tirade of profanity on the situation…furious at the box, furious at the laughter…and my little brother Jamie walks into the yard, trying to make sense of it all..and says…in a 4 year old Charlie Brown voice,

“Is daddy angry?”

Grandpa and Mom erupt with howling laughter, both her and Grandpa were laughing so hard at this point they couldn’t breathe, their faces turning purple, tears streaming from their eyes. My mom trying to be apologetic to my dad, trying to give him support and sympathy, but couldn’t breathe.

My brother and I were worried of the consequences, but the site of mom and grandpa doubled over with tears in his eyes, gasping for breath brings us to laugh too. Jamie is too confused to do anything and is too afraid to either laugh or cry. He will someday probably need therapy that will point back to this moment.

I don’t remember exactly what dad did, but know he gave up and went to cool off and finished the wood box later…and it would fit through the door this time. He will laugh at everything later after beers in the cool of the evening and all would be right with the world again.

My two worlds collided that day over the wood box. I was scared and I was laughing…I thought it was funny AND I thought I might get killed. Grandpa knew we wouldn’t die that day because Grandpa wasn’t scared of dad when he was mad, I have wondered why. He is literally the only person that I have ever known that wasn’t scared of dad. Why? I guess I will have to ask him when we meet again.

Those two wolds are still at war in me…
One world hell bent on successes, one wanting to explore and be free.
One world where the world squeezes the life out of the heart, one where the heart squeezes life out of the world
One world wanting and driving towards success and perfection, one world wanting to leave all behind to chase the setting September sun.

Maybe all men have this…I don’t know. But I always gravitate to those who were a little like grandpa. They, from time to time, like to fall off the grid and disappear for a few days to rid themselves of boundaries and showers and ‘safe behavior’ and explore new lands, to walk off the flat earth…to the place where the sign says “dead end” or “beyond here, there be monsters”. We smile when we see these signs…because you know that this is where the map ends and the adventure begins. If you’re smiling right now, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

In my grandfathers world, there was no work that really had to be done when we were there. He wanted us to go and explore and be wild. He celebrated our wildness and adventures, he fanned the flames of explorations, and he encouraged us to test our strength. In our worlds back home, there was none of this. Grandpa knew this…so when we came to his world, we were indoctrinated into it, set free in it, given old world skills and old world freedoms. We were given BB guns and 410s and rowboats. There was no land that we could not wander, no place on the lake we could not row to…our only boundary was ‘lunch’ and ‘dark’ that brought us back…
…eventually.

He was the wilderness of manhood, celebrating my 10 year old need to run and explore and swing an ax and fish ALL DAY. He put guns and firecrackers and axes in my hand and trusted me not to kill myself or blow the world up…he loved us enough to set me free from the world that forces a young man to conform. He was the kind of grandfather that every ‘safe’ mom would fear, yet only the most blessed of us were mentored by him and the northern wilderness. To this day his gifts of time and freedom are still alive in me, still bearing fruit. I still seek adventure, still seek those times untethered to the world of deadlines, dollars, and duties…the things that kill my heart.

I am not belittling my father or his contributions to my character, the lessons that one must instill for a boy to become a man…they are most necessary in the manhood transformation…you must become a man that contributes to the world. That was no easy feat for me and a bunch of rowdy brothers like mine. But my grandpa Bill has a special place, in my life, for embedding and embracing the things that the heart of a man needs to survive.

Said another way, there are things a man must do to survive.
Do not confuse those with what a man must do for his heart to thrive.

My dad was tasked with instilling me with what I needed to survive.
My grandfather was blessed with the easier yet crucial role of tending to the heart of a young boy…which was to set it free from time to time…because the ‘wilds’ are still where I go to find
‘life’ that cannot be acquired any other way.

The wood box is physically and symbolically important…the wood box holds the wood that feeds the fire in the house, and symbolically holds the wood that fires the heart. Grandpa and dad are the struggle within me to tend to my heart. The wood box “incident” showed the polar opposites that existed in my world at the time both then and now. The tension in what must get done to accomplish things and what must get to do to set your soul free, to keep your heart alive.

The ‘wilds’ are still where I go to set my heart free…to loose my 10 year old to explore and test my strength and look for treasures. It’s often where I go to find myself again.

I write this with all respect to my father and in respect, love, and tribute for Grandpa Bill and Grandma Marie, who lived near the town of Puposky and Lake Julia in northern Minnesota, forever my Neverland.

Growing up, I remember so many summers we would go to northern Minnesota (pronounced “Minnie’ Soh-da”) and we would spend a couple weeks at my grandparents on my moms side…Bill and Marie.

The grandfather on my mom’s side was “grampa Bill” and my grandmother was “Gramma”. Bill got a name but grandma was always just gramma. Grandpa Bill drank Schmidts beer, all day starting after lunch and smoked a pipe constantly with Prince Albert (in a can) tobacco. Grandma tended the stove making home made rolls, cookies, and pies. There was always the smells of fresh bread, pipe tobacco, and burning wood…smells that are still my favorites even today.

They lived in northern Minnesota out in the deep woods country. People out there were often farmers, hunters, fishermen…strong people who loved the great white north. It was a wild land back then…seemed untamed and we often heard stories of wolves and bears killing cattle and sheep…so to us it was like our own ‘wild west’ where it was just natural for everyone to have and carry a gun…including us.

The land was filled with dangerous animals…like I said…it was filled with stories of bears, timber wolves, and the Dickensons. The bears and timber wolves you could trust….but those “Got dammed Dickensons…” well they were just some of the worst sons of bitches you could ever come across, but Grandpa needed a villain for his stories….but I’ll get to that in one of these stories. For now, the Dickersons were a well to do family in the area that were notorious (at least to grandpa) for swindling and cheating and moving boundary markers when you weren’t looking.

Grandpa Bill grew up logging and trapping in this land. He was a woodman to the core. His house was in a small ghost town called Puposky, on the edge of Lake Julia, near Buena Vista and Bemidji. It was a 2 bedroom, one story, maybe 650 sf house that was probably built just after World War 2. This small house had no running water, no bathroom, and it was heated by a wood burning stove. Water was hand pumped every day from a well just outside the house …the outhouse was 20 feet from the house in a wooden shed and a pit underneath it (no running water, right?) …and the house and cooking were done by use of a wooden stove that had to be regularity fed hand split wood. Water for the house was hand pumped from the well into buckets that were carried into the house. It was a HARD life that we would never understand in today’s world. In northern Minnesota winters were particularly brutal with lows reaching -20 for weeks on end….and all those things you had to do outside like bring in wood, pump water, GO TO THE BATHROOM (!!) …you did those…day in and day out, whether it was 75 or -20. It was a different world, it was a different time. They lived the same way for as long as they were alive.

My grandfather died in 1986, 90 years of age, and my grandmother continued to live there another 10 years, by herself, until we brought her home when she was found wandering lost one day and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

In that area, in those parts of the Northern Territory, people look out for each other, people needed each other…and people were genuine…they didn’t have time not to be.

Unless you were a Dickenson….

I say all this to say something else.

My grandparents were poor by any standard you look at in the United States…but they were so rich in the color of their lives, abundantly blessed with hospitality and love, and it’s where I learned some of life’s biggest lessons. When I look back at growing up, it’s in those woods I learned to hunt, fish, to have freedom and adventures…and laugh with a man who was a key figure in my life. God how I loved them and I loved that farm, lake Julia that was a 5 minute walk, and the lands of wild northern Minnesota.

This little house had a garage like structure next to it, a “pump house” that housed I don’t remember what….but it had an old refrigerator that didn’t work that held old books, it had old bottles and beer signs, naked women calendars, vote for Ike buttons….it had a door on it that said “no minors”. For most of my young life, I thought ‘no minor’ meant that if you worked in the ore mines in the area, you weren’t welcome. I thought that was pretty rude and would be a teenager before I understood the message.

The pump house had all kinds of odds and ends, broken clocks, kids toys, AN OLD BAZOOKA SHELL (another “NO SHIT??!!!” story for another time) some ‘girlie’ magazines and calendars, and often a few cats…but the biggest thing about the pump house was the large bell that hung above it. Hundreds and hundreds of times Grandpa would encourage us to shoot this bell with a Crossman pump up air BB gun. Every time you hit it with a “PING” he laughed deeply and genuine…and then he’d encourage you to shoot something else. Usually a bird or something alive. My heart usually didn’t let me shoot something alive, but Grandpa made his life as a trapper, a lumberjack, so shooting things was just part of life up there.

My grandfather loved to give us a Crossman pump BB gun to shoot everything and anything from beer cans set up, to home made wind chimes he made, or anything that happened to be scurrying or flying around as we were out shooting. He always laughed and was impressed with our marksman skills. He also loved and encouraged us to fish, getting a neighbor at the lake to loan us a row boat. My brother and I were crazy wild boys with all kinds of energy and endless curiosity that was perfect for such a place as this to turn us loose in. It was an outdoor paradise.

As much as we loved to explore, shoot, and fish…there was always some work and some special ‘project’ my father took on every time we went up there. He would use the 2 weeks to fix or repair something that needed fixed. Once it was a roof on the house, once it was to pull the siding off the house and insulate it, once it was digging a new outhouse for the bathroom. Whatever it was, it was dad’s summer project, and thus OUR project.

There were two worlds up there when we visited. One was dad’s world of ‘projects’ and work…one was grandpa’s where kids had adventures, played and explored of fishing at the lake or wandering with BB guns or 22 rifles or exploring the pump house or barn.

I’ve never thought of this before, but there was always a colliding of worlds when we went to grandpa and grandma’s. Our world back home belonged to dad and work and responsibility and more work. Grandpa’s world had adventure and exploration and freedom. We often had to walk the line of both worlds when we went there. We got to explore and shoot and wander and row on the lake…but we also had those adventures interrupted by dad’s world…his projects.

Today I still try to live in those two worlds that I cannot seem to get to be at peace…I am either all the way in one, or all the way in the other….in my world they do not, and can never coexist.

The dichotomy of my father’s and my grandfather’s worlds was never so incredibly vivid as the story of the wood box.

You mention ‘wood box’ story and mom will start laughing at the thought of it. It is probably her favorite story and my father laughs at himself when the story is told, but there’s still a little bit of saltiness that comes along with it too for him.

so…the story of the woodbox.

Grandma cooked off an old cast iron wood burning stove. You fed split wood down into it, it heated the house and cooked the food. It was the only heat, it was the only way to cook and wood for it would often need to be brought into the house and stacked in this old woodbox that sat next to the stove.

My dad must’ve decided at some point that the wood box was pretty tattered and worn out and seeing how dad had great carpentry skills, he decided to make her a new one. It would be a quick and easy afternoon project for him…or so he thought.

So on this day my father decided he was going to build grandma a wood box. Dad started off on his usual measurements, found a couple sheets of plywood and began cutting away to construct this box. My older brother Brad and I were always his clueless helpers. We held the dumb end of the measuring tape when he measured, we held the wood when he cut, held the flashlight when it got dark, but we never got to use the saw or hammer the wood or pound nails…and we never had any clue what he was doing, but like rowers on a pirates ship, we were chained to the oar and we were there to ‘help’ or (sometimes and…) go down with the ship.

Now my dad has an uncanny ability to do anything carpentry, can take anything and everything apart without any working knowledge of said item or engine. It was dumbfounding to my grandfather who did NOT have such skills. My grandfather was a woodsman, hunter, logger, and farmer. How he survived without those skills in such a brutal environment, I don’t know. But dad would show up and see all the projects that needed to be done and would set to work on at least one big one every summer. But this day, above all days, dad would be sorry for the little task he had set his mind on. It would have the best of him.

So, out in the yard, my dad started with measurements and a drawing and two clueless sons. Soon the pieces were cut, and the box took shape…sort of.

At some point, something was off and the box wouldn’t fit together…and my dad’s temper began to flair.

A word of finesse here, dad’s temper could be bad and at times… and sometimes it could nuclear. Now, when dad got mad, and you were working with dad, you were worried that his temper might go nuclear and make you the object of his anger…so when dad started to get mad, Brad and I got quiet and worried.

But we were at grandpa’s.

And grandpa thought dad’s temper was funny.

So when things started to go astray and my dad started to get mad that the wood box wasn’t going together, grandpa pulled up a chair from the yard to watch.

And give comment.

And to laugh.

Two worlds in tension.

There my Grandpa sat in his lawn chair, beer in one hand, pipe in the other, to watch this unfold a little more…and to poke at my dad. Those of us who knew dad, knew those words were like poking a bear. But grandpa wasn’t scared of dad when he got angry…he’s the only person I have ever known that was not scared of my dad when he got angry. Thus, the more UN-amused my father got, the more amused my grandfather got.

So, we’re working in the yard and this ‘simple’ project dad had started and the box is not quite coming together, and dad is frustrated…and grandpa is amused. My brother Brad and I were bug eyed as we thought grandpa was pretty funny but scared that dad was going to turn on us. But these two great worlds were at odds with each other this day, and Brad and I had front row seats to the showdown.

After a bit of back and forth, Dad’s adjusted a couple times, gotten the box together, and dad’s ready to claim victory over the whole affair. Dad, carrying his work of art, walks across the yard to the house in what would be his GREAT TRIUMPH that would silence the laughter of my grandfather. He climbs the two steps of the side of the house, balances the box on one knee while he flings open the screen door…

…and jambs the wood box squarely into the frame of the door, not quite getting it inside the door.

Dad readjusts his grip on the box and turns it a couple times and tries again and again.

There’s a moment when heaven and earth stopped and, for a moment everything was dead silent…waiting for my dad…

to realize…

The wood box will not fit through the door of the house.

My father erupts in profanity fitting of a pirate in the high seas

…to which….

My beloved grandpa Bill erupts in laughter, doubled over gasping for breath, tears forming in his eyes. Grandpa’s laughter brings mom to laughter and tears as she couldn’t help herself.

Picture this. Grandpa and mom have tears in their eyes and are having a hard time breathing. Brad and I are bug eyed nervously giggling…fearing what dad may do…and my dad is unleashing a tirade of profanity on the situation…furious at the box, furious at the laughter…and my little brother Jamie walks into the yard, trying to make sense of it all..and says…in a 4 year old Charlie Brown voice,

“Is daddy angry?”

Grandpa and Mom erupt with howling laughter, both her and Grandpa were laughing so hard at this point they couldn’t breathe, their faces turning purple, tears streaming from their eyes. My mom trying to be apologetic to my dad, trying to give him support and sympathy, but couldn’t breathe.

My brother and I were worried of the consequences, but the site of mom and grandpa doubled over with tears in his eyes, gasping for breath brings us to laugh too. Jamie is too confused to do anything and is too afraid to either laugh or cry. He will someday probably need therapy that will point back to this moment.

I don’t remember exactly what dad did, but know he gave up and went to cool off and finished the wood box later…and it would fit through the door this time. He will laugh at everything later after beers in the cool of the evening and all would be right with the world again.

My two worlds collided that day over the wood box. I was scared and I was laughing…I thought it was funny AND I thought I might get killed. Grandpa knew we wouldn’t die that day because Grandpa wasn’t scared of dad when he was mad, I have wondered why. He is literally the only person that I have ever known that wasn’t scared of dad. Why? I guess I will have to ask him when we meet again.

Those two wolds are still at war in me…

One world hell bent on successes, one wanting to explore and be free.

One world where the world squeezes the life out of the heart, one where the heart squeezes life out of the world

One world wanting and driving towards success and perfection, one world wanting to leave all behind to chase the setting September sun.

Maybe all men have this…I don’t know. But I always gravitate to those who were a little like grandpa. They, from time to time, like to fall off the grid and disappear for a few days to rid themselves of boundaries and showers and ‘safe behavior’ and explore new lands, to walk off the flat earth…to the place where the sign says “dead end” or “beyond here, there be monsters”. We smile when we see these signs…because you know that this is where the map ends and the adventure begins. If you’re smiling right now, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

In my grandfathers world, there was no work that really had to be done when we were there. He wanted us to go and explore and be wild. He celebrated our wildness and adventures, he fanned the flames of explorations, and he encouraged us to test our strength. In our worlds back home, there was none of this. Grandpa knew this…so when we came to his world, we were indoctrinated into it, set free in it, given old world skills and old world freedoms. We were given BB guns and 410s and rowboats. There was no land that we could not wander, no place on the lake we could not row to…our only boundary was ‘lunch’ and ‘dark’ that brought us back…

…eventually.

He was the wilderness of manhood, celebrating my 10 year old need to run and explore and swing an ax and fish ALL DAY. He put guns and firecrackers and axes in my hand and trusted me not to kill myself or blow the world up…he loved us enough to set me free from the world that forces a young man to conform. He was the kind of grandfather that every ‘safe’ mom would fear, yet only the most blessed of us were mentored by him and the northern wilderness. To this day his gifts of time and freedom are still alive in me, still bearing fruit. I still seek adventure, still seek those times untethered to the world of deadlines, dollars, and duties…the things that kill my heart.

I am not belittling my father or his contributions to my character, the lessons that one must instill for a boy to become a man…they are most necessary in the manhood transformation…you must become a man that contributes to the world. That was no easy feat for me and a bunch of rowdy brothers like mine. But my grandpa Bill has a special place, in my life, for embedding and embracing the things that the heart of a man needs to survive.

Said another way, there are things a man must do to survive.

Do not confuse those with what a man must do for his heart to thrive.

My dad was tasked with instilling me with what I needed to survive.

My grandfather was blessed with the easier yet crucial role of tending to the heart of a young boy…which was to set it free from time to time…because the ‘wilds’ are still where I go to find

‘life’ that cannot be acquired any other way.

The wood box is physically and symbolically important…the wood box holds the wood that feeds the fire in the house, and symbolically holds the wood that fires the heart. Grandpa and dad are the struggle within me to tend to my heart. The wood box “incident” showed the polar opposites that existed in my world at the time both then and now. The tension in what must get done to accomplish things and what must get to do to set your soul free, to keep your heart alive.

The ‘wilds’ are still where I go to set my heart free…to loose my 10 year old to explore and test my strength and look for treasures. It’s often where I go to find myself again.

I write this with all respect to my father and in respect, love, and tribute for Grandpa Bill and Grandma Marie, who lived near the town of Puposky and Lake Julia in northern Minnesota, forever my Neverland.

 

 

This Little Girl

This little girl.

This little girl calls me “unca No-née”.

To those that don’t speak the language of a three year old, let me help you. That’s clearly (to me) “uncle Tony” in a language that is special to her and I.

My niece often points to the football magnet schedule on my brother’s refrigerator that bears my image and tells him and his wife my name and asks when she will see me again because it’s never enough.

We don’t talk much yet, but she always has something to show me that she’s colored or made with Play Do, or a book she wants me to read. She wants to show me her toys and new clothes.

She can’t get words out to communicate all the excitement in her life and that she’s happy I’m with her and wants to tell me about things…but the words for her are not always there. The honest truth is that I can’t always get the right words either. My heart runs over with emotions some times… she’s just love and life all bundled up in a 3 1/2 year old smile. In some ways it’s good that words are not her strong suit yet…because fun and play are our common currency that we can spend freely on each other.

This may be as close as I get to being a dad, as close as I will ever understand it. It weighs on my heart. It weighs on my faith some times if I’m honest.

I don’t know when it happened or why, but for a large part of my life, I didn’t want to get married. Maybe it was the culture of growing up in the 80’s or just my selfish view of life like I wanted to be the lone wolf, as stupid as that sounds now. I wanted to spend my years embracing a life of adventure and journeys. I wanted to see the world and it’s treasures and I didn’t want anything or anyone holding me back.

And so I did.

Somewhere in the midst of living life just north of NYC in Rye, passing through Allentown Pennsylvania, and Terre Haute everything changed. I realized traveling this world alone was…well…lonely. You can stand at the top of a bowl in Breckenridge Colorado or marvel at the art at the Church of the Savior in St Petersburg Russia, or play with orphans in a river in El Lemon, Mexico…and remember it with beautiful detail…only to not be able to reminisce unless you have someone who was there with you. To others, it’s just a 30 second story that lacks any real meaning or context. The people that I experienced it with are wonderful and good friends, but they are often transient drifters in my life…sometimes there for a season, sometimes not. If I’m honest though, I often realize that I’m the drifter.

My life is much different now…but also very much the same.

Do I have regrets, sure. Do I dwell on them? No. I don’t believe that regrets are something to be carried forward. They are dreams of yesterday that become anchors in moving my voyage, my life, forward. I’m not saying having regrets is wrong, I’m saying carrying them is.

As a single person my whole life, there are things that I was dreaming of and praying for and waiting for, that did not happen. I do not have the ‘wife of my youth’, I will not have years to spend with her and travel before we have kids, if I have kids at all. I will not likely have a 50th anniversary with her, I will most likely not have a bundle of grand kids.

Through the wonder of Facebook, I have watched friends get in relationships, get wrings, get married, get pregnant, get boys and girls, get boats and cars and motorcycles.
They “get” a life with someone else.

I have seen first dates, first facebook relationship changes, first flowers, first ultrasound, first child, first tooth, first words, first steps, first day of school, first date, first prom pictures…and I celebrate with them all. And I live with the realization that I may not have those.

I have made my peace with my path and I will play my best hand as best I can…God can and will redeem whatever he wants at any point. Until then, I will finish well the hand that I have been dealt and I will not be sorry for the life in my living.

Often times when I am riding motorcycles off road, down trails or dirt roads, there are often vines that overhang the trail or the road. These vines often have thorns in them. If you’re not real careful and observant when you’re riding, these little vines that hang out will catch and tear at your flesh just enough to make you bleed… just enough to take your concentration off the path that you’re on.

Regrets are a lot like these thorns.

If you’re not paying attention they can tear at the flesh of your heart. It pulls you off the path that you’re traveling, and, if you ignore them too much, you can get tangled in them and lose your way.

In full disclosure I know that if I had the chance to do it all over again I’m not sure what fork in the road I would take to a different path, nor do I know where I would have taken it.

But one things I do know…I do know that I would make ALL NEW mistakes and I would probably regret the things that I didn’t do on that path that I am currently on.

My life to you may not look normal, but it’s still life. There are times when I would trade everything to have a wife and children. And, there are times when I wouldn’t trade anything for the moments of freedom and adventure in my life. God says He gives us life and life more abundantly…there are no conditions on that.

I’ve been blessed with many friends who mean well and say the right things…but I’ve also heard a few of the wrong things….and just to be clear:
…to say I’ve done life wrong is ignorance and judgmental of not only me, but the path HE has put me on.
…to say I’m being too picky cheapens your choices, saying that you settled
…to say I’m somehow living a life that’s ‘less than’ by being single is a bit short sighted
…to say I’m missing out is just your view… because I could say the same.
…to say that marriage is easy is naive…to say it is an answer to your problems is ridiculous. I’ve seen the pain some of my friends have lived with…and I feel ok with my choices.

My path requires a special perspective…if you have been in my shoes, if you have experienced the pain and pleasure, the Colorado mountain highs, the Death Valley lows, the places I can go, and been where I’ve been, maybe…just maybe, you can speak to my perspective.
Do I want to meet someone special in my life? Sure…until then, there is only the life that I have. Like Val Kilmer says that Kurt Russell in Tombstone where Doc is about to pass, he says “There’s no such thing as a normal life, Wyatt. Just life.”

Life is FULL of paths, I regret that I cannot travel more of them, explore them all. If we are honest, ALL of us have traveled our path as best we know how. Whether single or married, children or no, rich or poor, God gives us grace, gives us love and blessings, gives us purpose and meaning if you seek Him. But no matter who you are, what path you’re on, you will have troubles in this life.

We are but for a short time adventurers on this planet, on this side of eternity where heaven watches and we wonder, where mortal bodies trap our immortal soul. Infinite possibilities trouble our short lives no matter what road you take. And so there is no “normal road”, just the one that you are on…just the hand you are dealt.

But

This little girl, this niece of mine is a moment of sunshine, a moment of pure joy that my life misses most of the time. I’m a dad, an uncle, and teacher, a mentor…and for a while, the things that are most important in my life are wrapped up in smiles and laughter and things like Play-do and crayons and chalk. All the woulda, shoulda, and couldas in life get lost in chasing bubbles in the wind.

Double Yellow

 

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I was out riding Sunday afternoon, enjoying the warmest day we’ve had in a while. My KTM motorcycle was running well and I was enjoying the horsepower and performance that she puts out.

Just outside South Lebanon, the road leading out of town along the river was 25mph and I was following someone who was observing the speed limit. Which was annoying me.

The day was going so well and I was ready to get back to some curvy roads at a higher rate than the current horse and buggy speed. The car crested a hill and I could see 35mph ahead of them, and then ahead of that, a sign showing road curves ahead. I dropped a gear, crossed the double yellow lines, and gunned it well above the 25/35mph speed limit and let off as I rolled through a few curves.

As I reached the top of the hill, the music playing in my helmet started making a weird sound.

And then I noticed a some kind of sound and lights were behind me. Somewhere between the car and curves, I had blown by a sheriff.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Or some form of that came out of his mouth.

While he sat running plates, verifying my insurance, and writing my ticket…I asked God for a little mercy…a warning perhaps? Just this once God, please give me a warning and I promise, I won’t do it again today. I’ll try not to do it tomorrow too.

SO…

I got the ticket of passing on the double yellow. From the Warren County website, should be $180 from what I could gather.

Now, I could be mad, upset, think of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t get that ticket. I could have come up with a lie about the car I was following or argue, maybe flip the officer off…but the truth was I was breaking the law and crossing the double yellow was really one of several tickets I could have gotten. I’m sure I was over the speed limit by at least 10, there was maybe a reckless operation, no turn signals, lack of proof of insurance…but I was just being stupid and got what I deserved. I mean, I didn’t even see him I was so focused on getting around this car and up to ‘fun’ speed again.

What do I choose to see here?

The lack of mercy from a sheriff that knew where everyone gets impatient for the speed limit to change outside of town? The lack of giving a warning to a guy that’s only trying to enjoy the first halfway warm day we’ve gotten in a while? A donut eating, ticket writing, jerk ruining my day…?

Or

God warning me to take it easy, slow down, giving me mercy of one ticket instead of the many that could have been written?

In situations like this, it’s easy to play the victim…I mean my day did get a wet blanket and all I really wanted to was just to ride in the country enjoying the open road. It’s easy to say ‘why me?’ Or ‘what a jerk’…because it’s easier to blame someone else.

But truth is, I deserved it.

Life is full of opportunities to blame someone else for our ‘bad luck’, our bad situation, right? We all have one of those friends who blames everything and everyone else for their position in life, don’t we? They’re bitter and nasty and old before their time…

They blame their problems on ________ (fill in the blank)

It’s what you didn’t get from God, the teachers, your parents, your boss, your job…
It’s an ‘entitlement’ you didn’t get…
It’s what society has kept from you…the government or democrats or republicans or certain age group or the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband/in-law/business partner/etc have kept from you

Because there’s got to be somebody else to blame for this…because if there’s not..then there would only be you to blame.

Take a look at those situations that are frustrating you, eating at you, stealing from you and ask yourself…what part of this ‘blame’ is just me being a victim? What part of this do I need to own? Am I cleaning my side of the street? Owning my part of the blame? Is there a behavior of mine that has contributed to the problem I’m in?

There will always be someone else to blame, someone else to point the finger at. Here’s the thing though. The blame game, the victim mentality, is for people who don’t want to move forward.
I was not a victim on Sunday, I was being an idiot on a motorcycle.

Pay the ticket and move on.

Lesson learned.

Get on with life.

House on Fire

A few years back I lived in Madeira. It was a Saturday morning and I was coming back from doing something unimportant and heading home.

I was coming up Hosbrook and saw smoke up ahead. I took notice as I got closer because the smoke was black smoke rolling up from what appeared to be one of the houses ahead of me. In my mind, you don’t usually see black smoke unless someone is burning something they shouldn’t…or something is on fire that shouldn’t be.

As I got closer, I started to pass a ranch house with a garage underneath. The garage was opened and on the left side of the house and as I drove past it, I saw black smoke and flames pouring out of it. There were no police cars, no fire trucks, no gathering neighbors…this was happening right now and I was one of the first bystanders to realize it.

I pulled up on the side of the street and jumped out running up to the house.

The fire was taking off, gaining momentum as flames and black smoke were pouring out of the garage and I remember hearing glass breaking.

As I reached the front yard there was a young boy standing in the middle of it. He was maybe 8 or so, wearing shorts and at t-shirt. He was in a lot of anguish and unbelief and horror as he was watching…slightly pacing…not sure what to do. It was where he lived.

I went up and asked him if he was ok…and was anybody else in the house?

He started to say no, but then screamed “Barney! Barney’s in the house!”
I looked at the house thinking “oh Jesus help me” and could see the garage was spewing flames and black smoke but neither the first floor nor the roof were on fire yet.

“Who’s Barney? Is Barney your brother?” I asked…
I mean if it’s a brother or goldfish or toy animal, there was a big difference and I was going to have to weigh whether I was going in or not.

“He’s my dog!”
Dang…I knew I was going in.

I remember the lady standing next to the boy saying something about “you can’t go in there!” (there’s always one of those) as I ran to the front door of the house…big metal door was right of center of the house. I had no idea whether it was locked or no, but I turned the handle thinking a big “oh shit” thought. I had a flashback to a movie with Robert DeNero where someone opens a door and fire shoots out to consumes the person. (That was only in the movies, right…right?)

I turned the handle and opened the door.

As I opened the door…and there was this literal wall of dark grey-ish smoke…smoke so thick you couldn’t see anything BUT the smoke. “I gotta find this dog” I thought as I stepped into the fog bank and immediately realized the danger of moving forward into the room, away from the door.

Stepping into the smoke was an immediate shock to me. It was a white out situation where all you can see is grey smoke. You can’t see what’s in front of you at all, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face let alone the furniture, shape of the room, or a dog. The thick smoke choked my lungs and I could hear the raging fire eating the building. I could hear popping glass from what I assumed were the first floor windows over the garage breaking from the intense heat. I distinctly remember having the thought “Oh…this is how people die.”

I stopped in my tracks.

I still had my hand on the door and pulled myself back, stepping out of the wall of smoke, stepping back onto the porch.

My mind raced for a second…where would the dog be? Could he hear me? Was he still alive in there? Was it a big dog or small? What exactly was this dog I looking for?

Going back into the wall of smoke was no good, but leaving the dog in there was also unacceptable. The smoke that was heavy and thick, I couldn’t chance getting lost or passing out…there had to be another way.

Believe it or not, I remembered a childhood video where they told you to stay close to the floor…so I bent down close to the patio floor and got on my knees, peering into the front door. I could see a little through the smoke just above the house floor. I decided I would crawl in if I had to.

Crouching down as close to the ground as I could get, I screamed into the fire,
“Barney! BARNEY!” The only sound was the roaring fire.
BARRRNEYYY!”

Then, like an ghost, this old gray haired beagle came wandering out of the smoke. He seemed ancient and the look on his face was one of confusion. He looked more like a “Yoda” than a Barney, but boy was I happy to see him. He looked at me at total confusion.

For a second, I was SO happy as he came out of the wall of smoke. I smiled and I said ‘good boy’. This look of total confusion was on his face as he looked at me…

…and then turned and walked back into the cloud of smoke and vanished.

I was caught completely off guard and dumbstruck as he wandered back into the smoke.

I just about fell over myself launching into the smoke to blindly grab, well, actually tackle him, and scooped him up. Pulling both of us out of the smoke.

He didn’t fuss or go wild or bite me, he seemed to know I was ok.

I brought the dog back to the boy, who, just for a minute was relieved.

A neighbor had her arms around him. She handed him a phone…he (and I) didn’t know what she wanted him to do with it. “Call your mom and dad.” She said. I felt sick for this boy…he made the call. (To this day I regret not taking that phone from him so that he didn’t have to tell his parents.)

At this point, I could hear the sirens wailing in the distance, they were on there way to where we were standing. Knowing that there would be nothing else I could do, I went to my car and drove home.

God uses us for moments like this….no doubt in my mind and I think most people would agree.
I came at the right time, right place, to save this family’s dog.

It struck me later, as it does now still…the dog.

The dog knew it’s world was on fire, it knew that everything was wrong. I’ll go as far as to say it knew it’s very life was in danger. When I called his name, he knew to come to the voice, came to someone calling his name. But when the dog came out of the wall of smoke, he saw something that he didn’t understand, someone he didn’t know, couldn’t conceive?
He wandered back into the wall of smoke, back to where comfort and safety had once been…back into the burning building.

Said another way, the dog would rather stay and die in the surroundings that he knew than have a stranger pull him to the new uncomfortable reality. That’s a goofy thing the dog did, right?

But…

We’re like this dog in so many ways. Our world can be on fire, burning down around us and we’re waiting for the firemen to show up while we sit in the Lazy Boy flipping channels in denial.

The job is coming to an end, the marriage is in shambles, our finances in flames, our addiction our of control…
….and we go turn on the tv
…crack another beer
…look the other way
…pretend it’s not happening.
We wander around a burning house wondering why it’s burning.

Often God sends someone to jolt us out of that denial…a brother, a sister, a police officer, a good friend…and we just turn and walk back into the fire, “nope, reality is not happening today” and we’re not going to hear it. ..it’s like we’ve done enough adulting for the day and that’s all there is that’s going to fit into our reality for one day. We ignore the flames and blinding smoke and noise that’s consuming and sucking the life out of us.

If…

If your world is on fire…then I believe God can be trying to send you someone to call you out of the confusion, out of the fire. I’ve never seen where the Good Father gives up on His child. It may be a familiar face or it may be somebody you’ve never met. But when the way out shows up, no matter what it looks like, get through that door.

Today is Thanksgiving 2018.

If you’re reading this, and it occurs to you that I’m writing this story for you…then take it as a sign that God wants better for you…and then answer God’s voice and reach out your hand for Him to take it.

If you’re reading this, and it occurs to you that I’m writing this story for someone you know. We have those people in our lives that we have reached out to so many times…their lives burning down in front of us…and we’ve watched them and reached out for years, and they continue to wander in smoke.

Ask God to help you reach out again…ask God to bring them to the door…then through the door. Those we know can be the hardest to reach. You can’t tackle them like a grey haired beagle…you have to extend your heart before you extend your hand.

You never know when someone is ready for a new start, a new life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone,

Tony

The Precipice: Conclusion

The confrontation that I had with my neighbor happened in late July, 2018, I detailed that incident in a blog post called “The Precipice” that was published on my blog “dieonempty@wordpress.com” on August 11th of the same year.

I won’t belabor any details of that confrontation. It happened, it was confusing, and it didn’t really end right in my mind…I mean I’m a storyteller, and I wanted a story with an ending that you can smile, nod, and sleep peacefully that everything wrapped up nicely and everything was put back in it’s place like it’s a children’s book.

But it wasn’t.

So after we went to court, after everything was done, it didn’t fit all nicely in a box.

I replaced a custom order door for the 1900s goofy dimensions…the damaged door still sits leaned against the back of my house (Jake will you PLEASE get this!) and I have ZERO expectations that I will be paid back as the court has ordered…about $900 down the drain.

Mentally, I won’t lie, I was on watch for a pissed off ex—neighbor that might try to find me one night with a gun, a knife, or a baseball bat. I set “weapons” in key places should I get confronted in my house or in my yard. I heard things in the night that woke me out of a dead sleep that I went to check with gun in hand. I installed a security system with cameras that were tripped by every animal type in North America. I kid you not, squirrels, possums, raccoons, around 7 different neighborhood cats, dogs, deer (buck, doe, and fawn), MANY birds, a neighbor kid playing with the neighbor’s stray cats, and the mailman, all on a REGULAR basis set off chirping “alerts”.

It was like I had a petting zoo around my house.

I don’t remember where the idea came up for a restraining order…but someone told me I needed to have one, so I filed for one. To get a restraining order, it’s a two part procedure. First you file paperwork to get a court date. THEN you go to the actual courtroom hearing for the restraining order.

SO to I file for the restraining order, go to court downtown, go before the judge and a date is set for the restraining hearing. Part one is done, part two is few weeks down the road.

With date set and I prepared myself with “my story” and the supporting documents that included the police reports of my first incident with him along with the actual assault report. The day before court I’m a little nervous. I got up early, find parking space downtown, got to the courtroom early, waited for my name to be called…and when it did, I went up before the judge only to be told that the other guy had not been served with papers and the hearing was postponed. They didn’t know how to find him…and that I HAD TO GET HIS NEW ADDRESS to the court.

Three things cross my mind.
1) WHY THE HELL didn’t someone just pick up a fu#%$ phone and call me to save me, the judge, and the 5 other people working in the judge’s chambers that my case was postponed to save us this wasted time in our lives?
2) You want the assaultee to get the assaulter’s address? That’a little messed up.
3) This guy’s on probation, right? Seems the court should have known to call the probation officer to get his new address. Seems perfectly logical to me, right? They didn’t. Seems they leave that up to you to call the probation officer (who knows they can’t tell you the information) to call the court and tell them this guy’s new address.

Anyway, court date is put off for a new one…two months down the road. Two more months of practicing my ninja skills.

Two months go by…haven’t seen him a single time….and I’ve been watching and looking…thinking surely this guy’s got to be pretty angry.

Nothing.

So, two months later, I’m back at the courtroom. I’m there early because I know what and where I’m going…I’m practically a regular now. I let a couple amateurs next to me know that playing with their phones is frowned upon…cause I’m a veteran in the courtroom now and I’ve watched them make an ‘example’ of a person or two. I also know that you tuck in your shirt and don’t wear shorts (One judge declared to all of us, “You’re not at a picnic, THIS IS COURT OF LAW FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!”) Also, side note, if there’s a state seal in front of the judge, don’t step on it…just warning you, it’s a setup.

I’m sitting there…and THE guy that I got into it with, shows for court. I didn’t expect him to be honest…but he showed. He sat in the bench behind me, off to one side. I actually wondered if he would hit me in the back of the head in court. I realize that would go poorly for him but what good would that do if I got some Chuck Norris death punch to the neck?
He didn’t hit me…but I watched him out of the corner of my eye.

Anyway, we were called up in front of the judge very quickly. She asked a few basic questions and we were about to get sworn in. She said to both of us to raise our right hands to be sworn in. I rose mine and the other guy was messing around with getting something out of his backpack. She snapped at him again to raise his right hand with a firmness that caught both of our attention.

He raises his LEFT hand. (Of course he did I thought)

“RAISE YOUR RIGHT HAND!” She barked at him. He’s startled, wide eyed, and shoots up his right, hand AND arm like he’s giving her a Hitler salute. I know he didn’t mean it (or did he?) but I actually had to keep myself from smiling.

We swore in and she told me to present my case.

I began laying out details as I had in my story. She took my copy of the police reports and looked at them as I outlined “my side” of things. I fancied myself a lawyer for a second, yes, this would be my next career.

The other guy tried to interject once, but she stopped him. The second time he tried to interject, she warned him NOT TO SPEAK out of turn and that she would not warn him again! I secretly wondered if she had been one of those mean nuns at one time in her life. Judge’s robe to nun’s habit was not much of a stretch.

I was like, wow, this was really going to go my way.

Until it didn’t.

She looked and listened to MOST of my story before asking, well, not so much asking but telling me that I didn’t have the criteria needed for a restraining order. I needed 2 incidents within 3 months….I only had 2 documented incidents within 5 months. I stuttered…thought for a second. Nothing documented, no witnesses…I had no other cards to play. I finished my side of the story.

My career as a lawyer was halfway over.

She asked me several questions that let even more air out of my balloon…where was the dog when it was loose? His yard. Was the dog ever loose after our first incident? No.

My career as a lawyer was three quarters over.

She then says do you have any other documents? Any witnesses? Anything else I want to tell her? No. Do you rest your case then? Yes I said.

My lawyering career was given a 2 minute warning.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when she asked him if he wanted to tell his side of the story or refute anything I had said. I don’t know what I expected…but I expected things to get worse from here. Maybe he would heap accusations at me, tell them about me being a bad neighbor…or maybe he would lie about things.

“Do you want to add anything? Do you want to tell your side of things?” She asked him.
“No, he told the truth…that’s exactly the way it happened.” He said.
“He told the truth.”

I think he was genuinely surprised that I told truth of everything…and it surprised him. I’m not sure why, but I was surprised that he was surprised.

The judge ruled that the case was dismissed in that it didn’t meet the requirements for a restraining order. I felt as if I had wasted everyone’s time. I was doubtful my next career as a lawyer would get off the ground.

When the judge said it was over and he then asked if he could go back to the house and get his stuff. The judge responded that my ‘stay away order” was in place and that he could not trespass or interact with me whatsoever. She also stated it would be best if he did not take his dog. He said that he had to give up his dog with everything that had happened. He said he hadn’t found a new place to live yet and that he would get another dog when he did.

I kind of made me sad because I know that dog, no matter how much I knew it wanted to eat people, that dog meant a lot to him. He had lost his dog and his place to live, that’s a rough couple months in anybody’s book.

The nun in disguise dismissed us and called the next case.

When you’re done with court, you go out the side door to the hallway where there’s an office, a cubby whole with a person and a printer. They get the official documents of the court, copy them, and give you a copy. So he and I went out the side door…and as we’re sitting there, he walks up to me and sticks out his hand and mumbles something about “being sorry about all this.”

To say I was surprised is quite an understatement.
In my shock, I shook his hand and I mumbled “I am too”.

He gathered up the documents and walked off. I sat down for a minute.
It was over for both of us.

In moments like this, I ask God, ”So….what was that all about?”
I think His response is “It’s not for you to know everything…it’s not all about you.”
Fair enough, I think.

As someone who has faith I often ask God to use me. When I say that I want to be used, I really mean, “let me win the super lotto so I can be super generous with some of it” or “I’ll be the hero in your story”….kind of way. I want a story like “let me catch the winning pass in the Super Bowl and I’ll give you all the glory” kind of way. But that’s not the way God always works. Some times you get to be the punching bag so God can teach the other boxer a lesson.

The lady next door has never given me a reason to think she’s a Christian…but some how I just know that she’s watched over by God. Maybe I was the answer to her prayer or her daughter’s prayer, or her granddaughter’s prayer…but I think it’s the lady.
Why do I think that?
She told the truth the night of the incident. He statement backed my side of the story. She is still my neighbor, and she and her man, and her daughter and granddaughter have been very nice to me ever since.

Another sign is that ALL the stray cats in the neighborhood are drawn to her house. And I mean ALL of them. They lay around her porch like seals on the ocean docks on a warm sunny day.

Maybe that guy he has a purpose to fulfill for God but he was hiding from it, like he’s Jonah and had to be in the belly of the penitentiary whale for 2 weeks to get him to wake up.
Maybe God needed him out of that house and onto something else…I don’t know and until he starts a blog or my neighbors tell me, I may never know.

I also suspect God used that incident to wake something up in me that I’m not fully aware of yet. Or maybe He wanted to show me what I was not….besides a lawyer.

Do I understand all of God’s ways, His reasons, His methods?
Not
Even
Close

Do I trust all of God’s ways?
I say yes…but I have to laugh because I know that I don’t have a choice. Like a toddler buckled into a car seat, I can scream and throw tantrums, or I can sit back, look out the window, and enjoy the ride.

Some day maybe he and I will be friends…we’ll sit and laugh about it, maybe have a beer.
I just hope we don’t attract a bunch of stray cats when we do.