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Saturday, December 24, 2011


Haunted metal husks,


like road kill

for carrion

to pick their bones.

Still steel, as

muddy rust

slowly eats

the memories.

Residue of past



into breaking

day gray


The battle scarred



like a giant

guard over

their confinement:

as if they could escape

the heavy jaws

of crushing


that waits

to reduce

them to


One day,

they’ll return

but we’ll not

recognize them

as we travel along

life’s endless road.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


  I had stopped posting for a while. It was all coming out about cancer. I tried intercessory prayer for a week or two. I have returned to only praying for God's will for me ... for us. This is whole. This is right. This is good.
  While praying for his will it came clearly, "Carry my message." I was concerned that the writing was not good writing. I was concerned what people might think. I was concerned for the privacy of my loved ones. I don't believe that this way of thinking is God's will.
  I'm not sure what I can do to help. I only know that this is what I do. I can only pray that it can help. If only one person ... for one millisecond can find something in these words that makes things better ... that shines a light in the darkness ... then I will have accomplished my goal.

Peace and blessings to all God's children :

My son has

Cancer. He’s

Suffering, pale

Yet laughing. He

Vomits then grins,

“It’s all good, Dad.”

He’s gone now to shoot

A bow and arrow with a

Hunting friend. Tomorrow

He’ll be too sick. I swallow

My food knowing he can’t.

His twin brother is suffering.

They are at the age of finding

Themselves yet now frozen in

This time of sickness. Their mother

Is suffering as she slips on the rocks

Of this endless, tumbling river. Each

Careful step, treachery defies her. She’s

Better than she sees herself and it claws

At her motherhood like an angry beast

Gnawing at her doubt. In the darkness

I feel the embrace of God. I listen and

Toil as I hear in the distant fog others

Crossing the river. I mourn for the

Suffering children. They come

With their bald heads and

Imploring eyes reaching

Out to touch my mouth

With their trembling


Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Can't Find My Way Home"

Where would I go if not to God? I have been to many of those other places during a time when I would not submit.
I have traveled those arduous and filthy paths where no one and no thing offers solace. I know the heartbreak of seeing the glow of family joy around the blazing hearth from outside a picture window while roaming endlessly in the cold and dark.

Where would I have gone  if I had not found the grace and dignity of faith that harbors the only truth? I have been to the road of lies that is self-sufficiency. It led to torment and loneliness and I almost did not find my way.

Years past, a haunting voice cried out in song, “ I can’t find my way home." Stevie Winwood was a heroin addict and through the veil of his youthful genius recognized his disease. He yearned for the love he knew beckoned on the other side of his dark brokenness. He could see joy through his window of misery.

The drug and alcohol addicted have suffered and they have died all these years on the altar of broken ideals. They have suffered in the spotlight of derision while our ignorance rubbed salt in their wounds.

Jesus came and he touched the lepers. Jesus came and healed those that had been cast aside yet we discard our children because we do not understand their search.

There are those that “can’t find their way home.” Would we deny them the light of our Lord because we abhor their disease?

Can we reach out to the lepers of today with the hope and grace that we have been so freely given? Can we carry the message of truth to those who wallow in the lie of escape?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Coming Gray

Winter is like the unveiling of a

masterpiece. We see revealed in the

uncovered distance, a world of light and

form. We must not hurry our gaze or

the secrets will remain hidden.

Looking thoughtfully through 

thin silhouettes of bark and limbs

I become aware of the private places

that rested behind the verdant

explosion of warmer seasons.

Each falling leaf exposes another

life’s breath. Once, I rued the coming

gray, anxious for warmth’s

protection. Now nature’s painting

speaks to me of winter’s truth.

I have become glad of the withering

with knowledge that the universe

awaits my viewing. I have

discovered the ringing harmony

of grieving song.

My steps fall softly on the

moist bed of yesterday’s

dreams and I am grateful

for the heat of slanting sun

through the window.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Paper Arms

  My son is battling a cancerous tumor in his leg. He’s not supposed to put any unnecessary weight on it. The femur is brittle and unstable because the tumor has eaten away at it.

Being constantly bound to a couch, chair or bed , he has developed little habits. Of course he has become more comfortable asking you to get him things (thankfully he’s still polite)

  Recently he began to make things out of paper. They are mostly palm-sized stars. As he gets better at it they become more dense and sharp.

   The other day his mother called me at work and exclaimed, “Corson’s feeling better. He opened the door leaning on his cane and threw this star at me. It kinda hurt cause it’s sharp and pointy. When I yelped he chuckled and gave me his devilish grin.”

  It was good news. Tougher days will come, just as before so I am grateful for good news.  Last night he had converted to paper airplanes of various size and shapes. Some were rather sharp and compact. Others were more streamlined like those we made when I was a kid.

This morning in the hazy dawn light as I folded blankets in the den I was picking up airplanes and stars made of lined notebook paper and a thought came to mind. If I was bound to a couch, chair or bed what would I most want to do? I would want to project myself up and away from that place. I would want to physically affect those that moved about me. I would want to touch them somehow; get a reaction from them.

   In the hazy dawn those small stars and airplanes become the arms and hands of my son reaching out to touch the world around him.

  Sometimes, in this place of material existence to which I am bound, I make little paper stars and airplanes called, “the written word.” If you should find any of them lying about, maybe you could take a moment and pick them up.

  When I pass by again I’ll know that someone has been there and I’ll be better for it. Maybe we both will be.

Take it with you if you will. I have plenty. I have a feeling that my son does too.


Ever since I was a child, Halloween has brought a wave of euphoric recall. On my first Halloween, as the night stole in, my mother put makeup on my face. Unsure, I held her hand as we negotiated our way down the narrow front steps into the crisp cool dark that was filled with the shouts and laughter of children.

I remember her glowing smile of assurance as I looked up at her. I came to know that feeling of interior warmth I felt that night as a place of joy not tainted with the steady diet of fire and brimstone the real world seemed to dispense. This night at least was a moment of freedom cut loose from the bindings that enslaved me.

Years later, when my children prepared to enter the cool night as ninjas and blue multi-legged caterpillars visiting earth, my heart glowed again as I recalled my mother’s face.

This Halloween one of my sons was in the children’s hospital, weak and struggling, tended by the nurses and his mother. My other son dressed as a Frenchman. He skipped down the front steps into the night looking back at me over his shoulder. His face was grinning but I couldn’t help but wonder if the doubt I thought I saw in his eyes belonged to him or me.

It’s the first Halloween in his life that his brother is absent. A Father’s broken heart is a funny thing. One moment it will drown in sorrow … the next it will ball up its fists and curse at God for the unfairness of it all.

The doorbell would ring and all manner of princesses and samurais, ghosts and warriors, came and went. As the short night moved on they grew taller. Though their eyes still sparkled with mirth, I suspected that they began to recognize my sadness.

So I gave out candy and wore a smile that I did not believe as I thought of my sons out there in the darkness. One is a Frenchman for a while with his beautiful smile and sad eyes; the other … a ghostly pale monk looking out at me from that hospital bed … and I struggled because I could not save us from this.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Love of the Father

They are a light
In the darkness of my
Spirit. Eyes like mirrors
Of blood bound truth. “Daddy,
Daddy,” they bless my core with
The sap of adoration. Spindly saplings
Reaching upward yearning to mingle their
Branches among the elder’s; not knowing
To take care. From on high we can topple when
We reach without asking,
Where grow my roots?
What moist, rich soil feeds the heart of my being?
Do I reach past the nourishing flow of wonder?
Am I still enough so Mother can lift me up to the Father?
Does my life flow clear to salvation?
Do I rest in each season giving faith to the ebb and flow?
Eyes like hope are the reaching hands of my sons.
As the Father gazes upon us we rise to rest in the
Heart of his lasting embrace.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just Because I Need To

For over a month now, due to constraints and duties beyond my control, I have been unable to attend church. This Sunday a tiny window of opportunity presented itself yet there were still pressures and consequences that made the decision difficult.

After vacillating somewhat I posed the question that I believe should always come first. “What would God have me do?” At that point … “nuff said.” Decision made.

So I “compelled” one son (the other is sick) to join me. I had commitments but I knew that much more was calling. I justified my need to leave my duties and go as “carrying a message”, honoring a commitment, setting an example … all the rote answers to why we go to church.

I rushed to be on time until I found myself standing in the sanctuary, singing with my fellow congregants. Suddenly but clearly the truest answer came to me. I needed to be there. I needed to sing these words of praise, hope and joy. Why could I not just sing them in the shower or car? Why could I not simply read the bible or other spiritual literature?

I avoided church for twenty years as the “opiate of the masses.” Today I know that corporate worship is the manna of our lives that infuses us with the strength to live. As those voices rose to the upper ranges of human octave my heart soared along with them. When the small children with their cherub faces exited the sanctuary my seriousness could not contain my huge smile at their innocent satisfaction with themselves.

Most of all … it was the glowing faces of these folks who walk with me hand in hand on our journey with Christ. I saw their histories, as I know them, in their eyes as they loved me and I loved them back and I was healed. I touched them and they touched me and I was renewed.

God speaks to us through each other, you see. We know the Father through the hearts and minds and experiences of our brothers and sisters.

Finally a young woman I have watched grow from adolescence to young adulthood stood and sang a hymn of gratitude in her clear soprano and I struggled to hold back the tears. Her joy lifted us all to a place beyond where any can go alone. The unabashed clarion of her faith held out its hand and caressed our cheeks, each and every one, with the unquenchable love of God.

I am no longer a young man and much has passed. One thing I know is that I must be with my fellows on this eternal journey of the spirit. I must sing with them and work with them. I must shake their hands and hug them. I must hear their joy and their lament and I must experience the all-encompassing love of God as it lives in his house.

I go to church because I need to. Please come with me to this place of love. Please come with me to My Father’s house. I have something to show you but I cannot show you with words. You must feel it and if you go with an open heart I suspect that you will one day discover that you need to go too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In the Dark

 Last night, as I sat in the darkness on the stiff couch of the hospital room, my focus was drawn to the bed where he lay. He had drifted off into a drugged fog. I sat with the energy of the last few days passing before me as my heart and mind settled into this place of surreal images and sudden quiet.

 The mechanical bed became a ship on the night horizon. Running lights glowed as his slumbering form morphed into a breathing superstructure that guided the bed through troubled and painful waters. His destination is a far away shore that for now we can only yearn for.

 That though, is another day. For now we seek rest from the trials of the present. We stand before the steady headwind leaning into our faith in the knowledge that God is with us. He captains this vessel that carries my son into a deep and darkened sea.

As I wept, I observed the silhouettes of the space about me. They will be forever in my mind’s eye as a place of passage carrying us forth into hope. Yes … there is mostly hope that we will emerge from these ghostly shadows into a light of balmy day where my son will walk in glorious grace to a future of light and joy.

So as that ship of pain passed slowly before me, through waters of foreboding and fear, I sat breathing oh so carefully so that the devils of despair not hear us passing by.

And now we have emerged into morning. Shadows are illuminated. The IV pump drones endlessly as it did in the deafening dark like a dreadful buoy signaling disastrous shoals. Now it is a heartbeat.   

Living in this unfair place where children suffer is like unto “purgatory”. It is an in-between place that would rob us of our humanity. Yet I find in the eyes and posture of their loved ones a dreary hope that one day this will all pass away. One day that small figure resting in a fog upon their ship of pain will arise to play and groan no more.

Last night I watched his ship in the fog pass that tolling buoy of pain. This morning he smiled as we entered, for a little while, safer harbor.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fountain Pen

 People often ask me why I write. I suppose the simplest and most honest answer now is ... because I need to. This piece is a little long. It was the first thing  that I wrote a couple years past when the writing all started up again.  I'll post on the topic over the next few weeks.
  Why we write is like the "first rung on the ladder." Come "climb up on the roof "with me.



 Long ago when I was a child, in a middle class, pleasant, southern neighborhood called Chantilly, I sat impatiently waiting on the front steps of my home. Crew cut and inquisitive I had discovered a box top offer on the back of some Sugar Smacks for a "fountain pen." (yes ... I am aware today that it was actually a "cartridge pen") New technology it was. You inserted small cylinders of ink into the pen. A probe drew the ink into the sharp, pointed tip.

   It reminded me of the quills the Founding Fathers used to pen our beliefs. It represented history tied to new ideas like a buckboard wagon with a gas motor attached to it. There was this wonderful blending. I was going to save the world with that pen you see. There were ideas and truths that must be told in order for mankind to move forward.

  Grown ups needed to heed the thoughts of our fresh and knowing young minds. They were messin’ things up somethin’ awful. I knew there were war and bad guys. The black and white television exploded with the harsh news of death and destruction. The daily newspaper, that infuriated my father, carried reams of murder, pestilence, disease and horror. Sirens sometimes wailed in the night. Evil lurked in the hearts of men and they needed to be reminded of a higher place. They needed to listen to a child’s comic book heroes. Do good deeds. Save the poor damsel in distress. Feed the hungry like Jesus did. Love your neighbor and be kind to the world.

I had told my mother that summer morning, “Momma, I’m gonna save up and get this fountain pen.”

“ Ok Honey. You do that. Though I can’t for the life of me see why a seven year old would want a fountain pen! Wouldn’t you rather save for a toy truck or something you could play with? ”

“No Momma. I NEED this pen!”

“ Ok Honey. You save those box tops and I’ll help with the mailing.”

 Somehow I felt that she didn’t think I would really follow through. Kids can be a little flighty you know. One day it’s this. The next day it’s something else. What she doesn’t understand is that George Washington and Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson all knew the real truth. “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

 Look what the Declaration of Independence had done. It had tumbled a world power like a line of dominoes on the Formica kitchen table. It had created a country like God made the universe. Like a chicken lays an egg. That pen had extolled the virtues of mankind and brought a king to his knees, not unlike a boxer knocking out his opponent, in the form of a few rag tag believers and by golly I was going to show the world how it was done. “Government by the people for the people.” I was going to pen my way into the hearts of America. I would write tomes to truth. I would tap dance my way into the hearts of mankind. Toot the horn of progress. Tiptoe through the remorse of the lonely. Tell the world in real time what the answer was til they were dancing on the rooftops!

 When I was done I would be famous and they would make me president because I was so smart. Then I would save the Indians., rub salve on the souls of the poor starving children, sing the praises of honor and duty, sign great treaties search the world for the deepest thinkers. I would shout to one and all that there is a path that we can all travel together. I yearned for the love of all mankind. I needed to believe that we could mesh our souls in a way that created a utopia of feelings. “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!” “Hi Ho Silver … AWAY!”

 Well I want you to know I spotted that mailman way up the street striding down the Nessman’s driveway. They had three boys Tommy, Tony and Tyler. We all played together. “Today’s the day I just know it!” My heart began to palpitate more and more as that blue clad public servant grew in my vision until he was a giant “Jungle Jim” hard hat and a pair of high black stocking socks on huge, hairy legs and he was holding out a rectangular, white box to ME, a little boy mind you. I was receiving my first piece of mail and it had to be the fountain pen. I thought I would explode with glee.

 That darn box was a “booger’ to get open though. I don’t remember the mailman leaving. All I could see was that box as I worried it open. Then at last there it was! Just like they showed it on the box. Two inky cylinders and that beautiful brown and clear lacquered epistolary tool of the scribes. “Hot diggity dog!” I held it for a moment just feeling it in my little hand. It was smooth and elongated, orb like.

 Finally I had my very own fountain pen, my vehicle into the world! My uncles would sometimes pay me quarters to stop talking for fifteen minutes. I bet they’ll pay attention when I write a book. I just bet you when I’m famous they won’t be grinning that grown up “oh ain’t he funny” grin.

Well I want you to know that I just sat there on the white washed concrete steps in the shady front yard of Kingsbury Dr. admiring my new fountain pen. I could smell fresh mowed grass and the wet earth. Pine trees wafted like gooey cinnamon up my nose. I could hear the whippoorwills call happily. The steps felt cool under me in contrast to the warm, humid air until I was jolted back to reality as I heard a car door slam!

  I looked up from my reverie and there comes my Dad! Now I need to tell you just a little about my Dad. He was sort of a cross between Johnny Cash and John Wayne. When he walked into a room all the air just sucked right out of it. He could grin and everybody melted, frown and they froze. He was sort of good looking you see and had a booming voice. He always wore starched shirts and pressed pants. He stomped when he walked. If you were in the house it would cause all Momma’s little knick- knacks to tinkle and shake.

  I loved my Daddy but he could be plain mean sometimes so I generally tried to steer clear. Especially when he was just coming back in from a work trip, which is exactly what he was doing this day. He didn’t look any too happy either. “Hey Beau … how’s my little buddy doin’?’’ he drawled with that lazy grin.

 “Great Dad! Look at this fountain pen I got in the mail! I saved box tops and ordered it myself! “Ain’t it great?”

“Well Beau, (he always called me Beau you see) it certainly is a fine pen but I don’t think it’s such a good idea for such a little fella to have this kind of pen. You need a ballpoint I think. This thing breaks and you’ve got a mess that’ll never clean up. You’re liable to have an accident in the house and ruin the carpet or God only knows what.”

“But Dad that’s why I wanted it. It’s a grown up pen. I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“I don’t know son. I can’t believe your Momma would let you have such a thing … nothing but an accident waiting to happen. You let me have it for now. I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll see.”

 He reached out his great big ole hand and I couldn’t do a thing but hand over that pen. I want you to know that in that moment my heart broke right down the middle. He wasn’t just taking a pen he was punching me in the gut just like he had drawn back in meanness and let me have it.
  He stomped away that day around the house and out of sight and I sat there on those white washed concrete steps and felt the hot tears stream down my red, flushed and freckled face. My blood rose to a fever pitch as it pounded in my temples and I hated him like a bull hates red, like a tiger hates fire, like a preacher hates sin. My heart raced and my knees went weak. I changed a little in that moment. I never saw that pen again and I never forgot how easily dreams could be taken away.

I’ve got twin boys now. They are truly a gift from God. Sometimes I can be real grouchy and say things in a way I wish I had just kept quiet. I try to remember though that a little boy’s dreams are just as deep and just as intertwined in their hearts as our grown up dreams are. I try to remember to say I’m sorry and admit promptly when I'm wrong.

 I hope I’m doing ok. I hope and pray that I've never taken away their dream. My Dad is gone now. He died a few years ago. I loved him and sometimes I miss him bad … but he should have never taken away that pen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

When We Go Home

A little over a week ago one of my sons was diagnosed with bone cancer. They say that ten to twelve weeks of intense chemo and “limb salvage” surgery can cure him. They say that though, he won’t be running any marathons, he can lead a reasonably normal life.

I have ridden a roller coaster of emotions these past days. It’s all so surreal. They have pumped untold gallons of fluid (much of it toxic) into him. That was done in the hospital over a three-day period.

He’s back home until the next round. He’s struggling to eat or drink anything. We encourage and minister to him yet in the end only he can fight the battle that is waging inside his youthful body.

I have been frantic, angry, anguished and yes … even peaceful at times. I have never felt closer to God. I have never felt closer to my sons. One of the worst parts is that at times it’s as if he’s not there. All he can do is hang on.

I know that this boy is a warrior. I have always known. He reads tomes of fantasy steeped in heroes and honor, odyssey and courage, truth and dignity. His wall is adorned with replicas of swords from various cultures and places in history. He wants to be a CIA field agent. That was the first thing that troubled him after the prognosis.

He likes to wear hats. The upturned fedora that is popular in younger circles today is his hat of choice. He just got a new one. A young friend from church brought him another to the hospital and I will forever see her when I look at that hat.

He has had a “girlfriend” for a while now in the way of early teens. They have been friends since kindergarten. She is absolutely charming in appearance and character. She has been by his side as much as she could from the beginning of the ordeal. They do not speak to one another much in our presence. They tend to look across the room with furtive glances, much like my wife and I, yet she framed a picture of them and bordered it with child-like drawings. She wrote, “be strong” and “I love you” and my heart is breaking as I think of it.

Her family has been right beside her. They are my family now … no matter what happens, no matter where any of us go I will forever cherish them all.

Folks from the church began immediately to bring food. We were exhaustedly consuming casseroles and deserts at the end of the day before the denial even wore off. Steadily they came through the hospital door. They sat with us as we waited. They held our hands and they prayed with us. They helped us to laugh.They came to my work bringing solace in a gray fog … bringing salve to an open wound. They gave us hope and they gave us a place to lay our fear if only for brief spells of time.

I have cried out in anguish to God but know that this is not His doing. Only the love is His. The rest is the whim of existence … the ebb and flow of life from the miniscule bouncing of cells to the everlasting love in our hearts.

So now it is time. It is time to join the battle that has been waged by humanity over the millenniums as the children suffered. There is no “why”. There is only the strength of our God as we strive to join him both here and now and until eternity washes away the pain of this place of flesh and bone … until eternity embraces what remains after suffering … until Father let’s us go home.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Violence

I have typically recognized myself oh these many years as what some might call a “redneck”. No not the racial kind or the kind that drives a “bubba truck” and loves to hunt and fish. I’m talking about the north Charlotte redneck that thinks fist fighting is a viable solution to some problems.

I mean that’s what I was taught as a child. Folks used to chuckle and say “Well … he comes by his temper honestly … then there’s the red hair and all.” Then they’d rub you on the head and tell you what a “little man” you were.

The thing is I loved reading books and other than the Marvel Comics the general gist was to avoid a fight if you could. There was also that nagging, “Jesus thing”. I was pretty sure he wasn’t too keen on “getting in the first lick” and such.

Well I grew up and went in the Navy, hitched across country, tended bar and things like that for a while. The whole time I’m reading philosophy, eastern thought, political science and a lot of psychosocial stuff while living life “leading with my chin”. In the meantime my intellectual, emotional life is screaming at me from a far away, dim and dark place.

I couldn’t help but look at it all and when in my right mind see the most courage in people like Ghandi, and Dr. King, Ralph Bunche (damn near saved the world in the 60’s), Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a long list of peace loving activists that gave their lives and dreams promoting non-violence.

Today I know the truth but it took so long to admit it. Generations have told the boys of the world to “suck it up” and “kick ass” so that’s what they did. If you’re gentle they’ll often ridicule or find a way to run all over you. A lot of that fist fighting was about protecting some poor soul who ran up on one of those people that had been indoctrinated into the pattern of violence that rules our world.

I don’t think that in the end it rules our heart though. When you put Jesus up against fist fighting its no contest. Thing is you just have to keep your eye on Jesus.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"God Speaks"

Back in the Seventies I went into the Navy leaving my little brother  behind. Overseas I would get letters. He was learning to play the banjo from a man named Skeet down at “Beaver Creek”. Stevie had taken to music from the “git-go”, even playing the awful organ our father had bought.

As I plied the South China Seas I had a constant memory of him sitting there with his flaming red hair and porcelain skin with freckles, patiently puzzling out the music as he went along. He was about eleven years old.

Upon separation from the Navy I eventually returned home. I was “troubled”. Having always been hypersensitive, if you will, I had accumulated some baggage and was angry about it. I spent the core of my existence trying to escape from my own skin. In the process I ignored my family … especially my little brother.

My stepfather called me one day to tell me that Stevie would be playing the banjo on stage in my mother’s hometown down south. The venue was an old marquee movie theatre from straight out of the fifties.

With shoulder length hair I imagined myself a tortured poet along the lines of Jim Morrison. I had the act “down pat”, you might say. In spite of my selfish battle with existence I could not rid myself of the need to assuage some guilt by showing up at the blue grass shindig where Stevie would be playing.

Somehow that night I stumbled into the darkened movie theatre in a bit of a blur. Slumping down in the musty seat I brooded stormily waiting for a glimpse of my “kid brother.’

It wasn’t long until the spotlight moved and bathed a small straight backed youth with a spangled red vest playing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” with a speed and dexterity that belied his tender age and raised goose bumps on every square inch of my body. Seconds passed and we were all on our feet howling and clapping as he grinned devilishly at the havoc he was wringing from the hearts of these simple country folks … and me.

Tears streaming down my face I departed hastily when he was finished playing. I don’t remember much after that but I will always remember him standing there on that stage; fingers rolling as that primal sound spread outward like summer rain onto those who would be his fellows.

He stayed with it all these years. He has branched out but remained true to the roots from which he came. Not long past he left the phone company and began to teach and devote his life to his music. He has suffered trying to live in the material world but when he picks up a guitar or banjo or harmonica he suffers no more.

He wrote a song once called “God Speaks”. I made the mistake of listening to it for the first time in a room full of people. “God Speaks”… yes he does … through the voice and experiences of a little red headed kid trying to find his way.

He’s a father now and is trying to create his first professional “cd”. He’s raising the money the only way he knows how; by touching the lives of all the people he meets with his heart.

Listen … and you will hear him. Listen and you will hear “God Speak” through my brother’s music.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lest We Forget

Last week I ran across an assignment to a writing class about “the things we should never forget.” A moment ago I was talking to a “friend” from the past and misted up. It brought to mind the fact that I should each day make sure to remember where I came from.

I was raised by what we call “God fearing” people in a medium sized southern town with growing pains. My grade school feet were firmly planted in the Fifties … crew cuts and deck pants, late Fifties cars with fins, bobby socks and pony tails, Elvis and people still being baptized in the river back where my parents came from.

Then came the Sixties. We thought we could change things. Bring down “the man” and create a society that could wage peace rather than war. We thought we could “love” each other (we were a bit confused about what love was) We wanted change.

Many considered drugs to be a bridge to this utopian ideal. Carlos Castaneda wrote about peyote-induced visions. Some revisited Native American practices with the intent of expanding their minds. They ended up “using to live and living to use.”

We “bridged” into the Seventies of disco and  urban rodeo until popping out the other side we began to realize that the utopia had become a hell of sorts and we were wallowing in it. Some started families so their children had “hippie parents” or worse suburban recreational “users” with a morally diversified value system. Funny though, a lot of the children in that generation did just as each generation does and went in the other direction.

Turns out we weren’t that important after all … mostly just spoiled rotten little brats doing whatever “felt good.” We had ridden Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet” and “rolled” like Dylan’s stone. What we found was that there was “a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes.”

Crawling out of that slippery hole was too much for some and they gave their lives on the “altar of change and love”. Some eventually saw light and a hand up and realized that there was a “time for every season under heaven” and were reborn.

Funny … when we were having race riots in high school people were bringing chains and knives to school. Hate, fear and anger filled the air so thick it was nauseating. In the end the “Jesus Freaks” walked up the steps and reached out a hand to a black girl. She took it and they walked out onto the grass together. He lifted her onto his shoulders with the help of his buddies. Before it was over we were all crying and hugging and shaking hands. Everybody began to sing folk songs. Even the angriest were neutralized by this exhibition of peace and love.

So today sometimes we remember. Our "TM mantras" are gone and in their place are the eyes of our children. We began with hope and it turns out that was the real bridge. Hope for a brighter future … hope for a world that wages peace not war … hope that we can “find the cost of freedom … buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you. Lay your body down." , so that on the other side of that bridge of hope we can rise up to a new beginning ... unless we forget.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Carpenter's Hammer

You have to give it to this guy. I don’t know how he does it. I mean there are plenty of carpenters that work to support a family. It’s not that. It’s his calm acceptance … an assurance that every thing is as it should be. He’s good at his work but it’s his ethic that impresses me.

How many people could find out their wife to be was pregnant knowing it can’t be theirs and hold fast to their commitment? What force, what strength of character can instill the kindness and diligence to carry this woman, burdened with child, to Bethlehem for the census? Born in a manger because there was no room at the inn.

Yet he smiles and perseveres. Sometimes when he’s weary, he’ll smash his finger or cut himself but he doesn’t complain. I can feel the sweat mingle with blood and I listen for the cry that never comes.

He’s worried now. The boy has been gone all day and it’s not like him to stay too long. He wants to go looking for him. He has raised this child with love and tolerance so he knows in his heart that the boy is ok wherever he might be. He has known all along that he’s only a steward. This boy is truly God’s child.

Everyone has doted on Mary; as well they should, yet he has stood quietly with his calloused hands guiding her … holding her up. He has provided and taught, always setting an example of quiet fortitude and undying faith for this son.

Sometimes I wonder if they even see him here as he labors in the unbearable heat and biting cold. Do they hear the prayers he whispers to the Father in solitude? Do they ever consider the doubt he must have felt?

This child is a miracle, destined for greatness of a different kind. I wish they could see his father here, in the dirt, more clearly as he strives to live up to his commission. I would only be a lowly hammer, yet in the hands of this man I am more. I am a living instrument of his labor. I am his tool for the building of the future.

I am Joseph’s hammer and for that I am grateful. I can only wish him all the peace of a father’s love. One thing I know for certain. He has earned it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Elf's Ear

 I wrote this a little while back. It's never had a home so I'm going to send it out into the ether. Peewee has died since it was written. Tucker just made his high school soccer team. I guess the combination of those two events and a long hot work day brought it all to mind.

  I'm extra proud of Tucker today ... not so much just because he made the team. He decided about a year ago that he wanted to play soccer. He has sacrificed and worked. He has gone to bed early and exercised above and beyond the call of duty. He has practiced and practiced. In other words he has shown his mettle once again.

  They say sports can help build character. This young man was born with character. Sports just continues to "sharpen the knife".

  I didn't ask him if I could do this. My guess is he might say no. This is one of those times when it'll be better to apologise later than to explain now. So here goes ...


“I’m concerned we’re putting him through more pain and bother unnecessarily, but I guess we’ve got to try. They want to do everything we possibly can to save his ear.”

“Maybe since he’s so young and the ear’s still growing it will take hold.”

“ I have my doubts but we’ll try.”

Earlier that day, prior to overhearing this conversation, I had received a frantic call from my wife. I was busy at work, multi-tasking as usual. Immediately I detected the alarm in her voice. Our sons were just toddlers at the time.

“Minerva has bitten Tucker’s ear off. I heard Corson (Tucker's fraternal twin) shout and when I looked, there lay part of an ear on the kitchen floor. I’ve put it on ice in a plastic bag. There’s blood everywhere. What do I do?”

“Load Tucker up and take him to Presbyterian on 51. I’m coming to kill that dog. I’ll meet you there afterward. I TOLD you to get rid of it.”

Minerva was our 100 pound black lab that I’m sure was bi-polar. She was nothing but trouble from day one. I grabbed my pistol, jumped in a car and squalled out of my car lot headed for the house. I was planning to run the light at highway 51 but suddenly there was Kimberly directly in front of me. You couldn’t miss that big black Hummer. She turned left at the light and I had to follow. We raced down the road to the emergency room.

When we arrived we found out there was no plastic surgeon so we all took off in the Hummer for Presbyterian downtown. It was the one of the craziest rides of my life. I bounded over the median, ran red lights and laid on the horn the whole way with flashers going. It had to be an insane sight in folk’s rear view mirror.

The whole way Tucker is telling Kimberly “It’s ok Mom. It doesn’t hurt. It’s just the gooey that bothers me.” Once there I jogged into the emergency room carrying Tucker and the wide-eyed nurses waved us on back. They laid him on a gurney where a nurse looked at him briefly She had to call a plastic surgeon.

It took him two hours to get there. I’ll never forget my beautiful, flawless child lying in the harsh emergency room light .The bloody pulp of his ear contrasted violently with the stark white pillowcase. My job was to talk calmly while looking him in the eye like everything was just rosy. He was flushed yet smiling. The thing he was most concerned with was that dog. He was scared I was going to kill it. He made me promise not to.

When the young surgeon finally showed up he was professional and obviously good with kids. “Tuck”, as usual was a real trooper. The doctor mumbled,

“Excuse me a minute please”,

and signaled for the nurse to follow him out. I was pacing when I heard them speaking quietly around the corner of a hallway wall. I must have looked a little crazed because everybody behind the nurse’s station was cutting eyes at me kind of nervous like. So I turned on my heels and strode back into the room. The doctor and nurse were close behind.

The next few months were tough. It was daily bandaging with lots of pain. My wife would often cry afterward. He had to wear a big old cup on his ear and it really cramped his style. The ear turned black as coal. At one point he developed a nervous facial tick, which really scared us. We thought he was developing something akin to Tourette’s syndrome.

The stupid dog had been spirited off to the cousin’s farm. I’ve never laid eyes on it again except in pictures. To this day my heart jumps and I grit my teeth every time I see one of the pictures. The wife and kids go visit her every now and then.

So today Tucker’s got what we call and “elf ear”. When he’s watching television he’ll rub on it sometimes. He grew his hair long to slow down all the questions. Recently he had the hair cut shorter for soccer though. It doesn’t seem to bother him.

It turns out the dog was eating the cat’s food for the nine millionth time and Tuck went to stop it. He stumbled and fell, landing on the dog’s back. The dog had a hurt leg so nipped at the source of pain. One of the dog’s canines caught the soft tissue of Tucker’s ear and when he pulled back it just snatched it right off.

I hate to say it but it slowed Tuck down a little. He had always been a “no fear”, wide-open kind of little guy. This sort of stuck though. Maybe it’s a good thing in a way. Our Dalmatian Peewee, that we rescued, lies on the den floor with him most nights cuddled up like a girlfriend. I don’t think she’d bite him if he tried to extract one of her teeth with a dull spoon.

After all this settled down and his pain was gone I began to look back on it with some regularity. Never has vanity seemed to be a single drop of an issue with Tucker. Deep down it was always one of my main worries. Each concern he had during it all was for someone else.

Even today when I ask him does he want to get it fixed he says “Naw … not really Dad. It’ll keep me from being able to do stuff for a while if I have the surgery. It doesn’t really bother me. It just itches sometimes, so I rub it.”

He loves Minerva and doesn’t blame her a bit even though she’d always been “nippy”. He’s still crazy about animals and they like him as much as he likes them. For a while after ... my heart was broken. I was afraid that the accident had taken something away from my son. As it turns out the whole mess probably gave him much more than it took away.

It’s funny how we think we know so much and insist that our children pay attention to us. The next thing you know, the going gets tough and they’re the ones teaching you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ageless Beauty

  I wrote this a while back. I am grateful that I shared it with her before she left. The problem is that had I not been encouraged to do so by a dear friend of hers I would not have.
 Sometimes sharing of ourselves is uncomfortable, especially for the men. We are taught to hold tight to our sensitivity. I have made a commitment to try as best I can to see the beauty all around and share what I see.
 Yesterday I read in a funeral program and I paraphrase, "elevate our lives to a more God-like humanity." Only this would I hope to accomplish.
 The dear soul in this piece has left us now along along with others. We were at the church standing in line at a funeral service. I was whispering to a friend when she touched my arm and spoke softly, “Could you please finish signing my name for me? I just can’t seem to do it today.”
  I gazed into her shining eyes so full of pain and fatigue as my own quickly misted. She wore a scarf on her head in the fashion of a gypsy. She’s in her winter years and struggling with chemo. I put my arm around her and leaned in closer. “You know I can … I love you.” I assured her.

  She moved softly into the chapel as I looked where she had left off in the registry. The first letter was legible; after were two feeble attempts to form the second. I felt somehow blessed as I finished writing her name.
  Sunday she was sitting on the half pew that rests against the back wall of the sanctuary. I thought "she has changed her usual seat in case she becomes sick and needs to exit quickly."
   I crossed the aisle, took her hand and kissed it in the old way of gentlemen. I held on for a moment as I drank those dark eyes so full of memory.
  She wore a wide brim crimson hat that shaded her face. Her matching lipstick was striking as she smiled weakly up at me. She was stunning in her fragility, as we stood connected somehow in that hallowed space.
  It came to me later that I would like to ask if I could see a picture of her from when she was a young woman. I’ve decided not to though. I’ll simply treasure this haunting beauty, kindness and strength that I've stumbled upon. I shall forever see in my mind’s eye her quiet and determined struggle to comfort the bereaved on the white page of that funeral service registry. I shall forever see her move quietly into the soft glow of the chapel's morning light.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Band of Brothers

How does a brood of brothers arrive at tongue biting, rowdy, fighting assurance? What is it like to plow a field, baking heat, sweat foamed mule dropping his load in the sandy loam? You are twelve years old … about the age of my children now and you sweat. Rows never ending. Beatings and fear. No one to talk to. Nothing to speak if there were. How do you laugh when barefoot you grind through the hunger of poverty? The oldest responsible for all those behind. How do you learn and grow in the frigid snow, thin soles soaked through? Feet blistered from the cold. Must feed the animals. Must be a man.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Elwood's Idealism

Last summer as I multi-tasked at work my co-worker George shouted from out front, “ Scott … there’s someone here to see you and he’s asking for Scotty.”

Anytime someone says Scotty I know it’s from a long time ago. That would have to be high school or back, so I eagerly finished the task at hand and walked outside. There in all his glory stood an old running buddy from high school. “ Elwood friggin’ Costner. Will miracles never cease?”

I figured someone would have shot him by now for messing with their woman or he would have bought it by his own hand in a wreck or “accident” of some kind.

“Hehehe”, he snickered in that head ducking way of his. “Ole Scotty … man, it’s been a long time,” as we do the handshake, chest bump thing guys do to hug but not really.

I must say he looked pretty good compared to most I run into from high school. We are that age that transforms our appearance into something that looks like a pot bellied middle-aged man. I can’t understand it for the life of me.

Elwood was tan and still sported a longish, blow-dried coif that was reminiscent of the big haired rock and roll days of the seventies. He had managed to blend it with a contemporary prep look that allowed him to get away with it in a “Tommy Bahama” sort of way. As it turned out he’d spent a lot of time in Baton Rouge doing the lounge owner, man about town thing.

The thing is Elwood had a way of bringing trouble then sliding out the back door without getting any on him. For those of you who have lived this tawdry sort of existence, you know that the only way to do that is to “throw the snake” on the nearest victim. He wasn’t prejudiced about who that victim was either. A friend would serve just as well as any one.

So I checked to be sure my wallet was still in place. Because Elwood was always such a talker, I told George I was “going to lunch.” So old Elwood and I rode to the local cafĂ© and "hunkered down" to a blue plate special and some war stories.

As the pots and pans banged in the kitchen we sat in the maroon plastic booth and walked back in time to a place I had not been for quite a while. We were a product of the late 60’s in the South. His father had been a state trooper and mine was an authoritarian with a lot of personality.

Elwood and I had always identified with one another. We were the same color auburn except I was blue eyed with freckles and he had light brown eyes and tanned better. Both of us always had a sort of swagger style that was similar. The truth is we’d had a lot of fun going to the beach and clubbing during the disco days.

As it turns out both of us had what you might call a “conversion experience” at about the same period of life. It was probably the simple fact that the road dead ended in the same place but either way we ended up being of a like mind set. He was more fundamental in his religious thinking but I could find no real fault with the end result so I listened attentively to his proselytizing and managed to find corollaries to my more philosophical bent without actually contradicting him.

The next few months were a barrage of calls and emails with attachments consisting of devotionals and men’s retreats out west and such. Then election time came around and as was our habit we “discussed” the impending possibilities and our ideas about it all.

I listened to every right wing, neo-conservative platitude I could until one day I couldn’t hold back anymore.

“Elwood, you’ve spouted so called statistics and ideas for weeks now. Each and every source is recognized and self-promoted as right wing, neo-conservative and I’ve got to tell you most of it is no more than propaganda. Do you ever listen to the other side of the issues? When you garner all this information do you ever investigate the position or agenda of the author? You’re good at putting it out there but I don’t see any real fact checking going on and I’ve got to tell you that a lot of the stuff you’re stating as gospel is just plain false.”

Wide eyed he strode quickly to his car, opening the door on a small library of contemporary conservative literature. Now that the dam had burst I couldn’t stop, “ I didn’t say you didn’t read. I asked if you ever check the facts or consider the other side of the argument … do you check the sources of this idealistic dogma you so confidently put forth?”

I won’t bore you folks with the rest of the “discussion”. I will say that after a “trickle” of fundamentalist email with accompanying attachments I ceased to hear from old Elwood anymore. At first I thought I might have offended him but then I got to thinking about it. Elwood had always had an extremely thick skin. You had to when you were constantly throwing crap on people then having to run into them later. So I figured there wasn’t much possibility that I had hurt his feelings.

I’ve noticed that if you start to ask too many questions of a zealot they have a way of shaking their head and taking the stance of “I’ll be praying for you, brother.” Thing is I can’t help but wonder what it is that they are praying will happen to or for me. Another thing is, can anybody tell me why conflicting ideas should be the end of a discussion?

Seems to me like that ought to be the beginning. Oh well … so much for the “good ole days.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Saint That We Can See

. I remember the face of a dear and cherished woman whose career and good heart I revere. I have seen her recently gazing up at the cross. She is somewhere between here and another place. As I write and read of that vision of her rapture I am overwhelmed.

I wrote this as part of a piece called “Why Some Men Cry” a while back. This lovely woman passed away yesterday. I am much chagrined by the grief I feel. I believe that it’s because Dr. Jonnie McLeod was the embodiment of Christ’s message in human form. Some people “walk the walk” instead of “talk the talk”. Dr. Jonnie was like that.

I encountered her name long ago reading a plaque on a wall. I came to know her as a philanthropist and physician who devoted her life to unpopular causes. She gave herself to the service of those that society wanted to ignore. She reached out her hand and heart to those stigmatized by popular perception. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus helping the lepers.

Drug addiction, sex education and AIDs became banners of light put forth so the world would have to look … would have to do something besides ignore reality. She would not let them sweep it under the rug. She was at times vilified. I know her family suffered and sacrificed as they attempted to live their lives under the gaze and attack of those who would let prejudices and fear rule the public discourse.

I came to know her as one of the kindest, gentlest beings I have ever encountered. I went to her once to express my discomfort and doubt about belonging. She invited me into her kitchen. She looked into my eyes as she touched my hand and she told me she loved me. She told me that God loved me and that not only was I worthwhile but that I was a gift. She gave me permission to love myself and reach out of my comfort zone for the grace that God has given to us all.

She need not have spoken a single word. Her touch and the love in her eyes said everything. Once in a while you meet someone that you know is a messenger. You will know them. You will see it with your heart. When they are gone you will grieve the loss of this light that was God’s love in human form.

Goodbye Jonnie. Thank God for allowing us to know you. We will listen for your song. We will save your seat in the pew and we will write your name in the history of our lives as a voice of truth and compassion.

May peace be with all who grieve this passing. May her message of love sustain you as it has sustained the brokenness of thousands who had once been cast aside.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bare Spots

My wife wanted a new house. I had always liked the older ones in mature neighborhoods. Dappled light from the tree canopy seemed to lift my spirits. The musty smells and creaky boards are like stories waiting to be told.

So we bought the new, raw construction. The bare red clay disturbed me. I needed the austerity to be covered like you need to put on clothes when there’s a chill. I asked her to plant. She was always good at it; a green thumb if you will. She planted ivy of different kinds.

Now it’s everywhere. It’s climbing the trees and the house. Once there were islands of ivy. . Now they reach for each other smothering other growth.

So I worry a little. I’ve tried to pull it up but it resists mightily and is all bound together. The job is too big and will never end. I’m not at all sure I want to eliminate it or I’d spray with chemicals. That would feel too much like botanic murder though.

There’s a beauty in its running like when you spill grape juice on white Formica. You know you’ve got to clean it up but the spreading color mesmerizes you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Backbone of America

The backbone of America is aching. Haunted eyes reach out a hand imploring for a job. The words are proud but the eyes speak the fear of children that feel the gnaw of hunger.

At the grocery store she examines her meager cart before she enters the line. Quietly she picks out one item, places it under her arm … then two more. She turns and walks back into the aisles, her cheap flip flops slapping as she shuffles stoically returning that which she knows she does not have the money to pay.

As I stride impatiently to the druggist counter to pay for some allergy medicine I am pulled up short by an elder couple with matching gray hair. His thick lens, gold frame glasses are dirty but his denim overalls are clean and pressed. She wears a print cotton dress. The colors are faded; the once vivid violets melted to a dingy blue. His hand shakes with palsy as he reaches the bills out to her steadier hand. The cashier matter of factly utters, “That’ll be $92.53, mam.”

She looks like a feeble school marm as she stares blankly at the cashier for maybe the count of three. The old man blanches and growls shakily … “Never mind. I’ll just have to do without it. The insurance is supposed to pay more. Somethin’s wrong. It’s them new changes the gov’ment’s makin’ with Medicaid, I reckon.”

“I’m sorry sir but there is nothing I can do.”

I’m frozen in place as she takes his arm and they slowly walk away somehow more stooped than when I first laid eyes upon them.

As I depart the store to go to my place of business I realize that my heart is heavy and my eyes have filled. Business has been slow for a long time now. Folks are hurting. They are hurting in a way that lives at the core of who we are. Once determined and confident people are reduced to a state of despair that is sadly similar to that gnaw of physical hunger but instead it gnaws at our heart.

Adding to the worry and doubt is the pervading fact that the neighbors are the same … and their families and everyone they know. This is deep and dark water and our limbs are weary. We question how long we can continue to tread water. We stopped swimming long ago because there was no land in sight and all that was left was to hold on.

We know the fat cats are still on the hill. The papers tell us the bonuses still roll on and the corporations are back in the black. Legislation saved those "too big to fail" yet left the backbone of America to ache. As the aching grow s... there is the looming need to marshal all energies … stand tall … walk slow … and keep our eyes on the Father we know is watching.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"

A few years back, when asked by singer David Allen Coe to write the perfect country song, songwriter Steve Goodman wrote a couple of catchy verses. They were added to Coe’s hit “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” that attests to the importance of a broken heart, getting drunk, going to prison, mama, pickup trucks and trains. These are supposed to all be necessary ingredients of any successful country song. There is another kind of country music though that touches my soul like God’s finger reaching down to touch Adam’s on that ceiling in Italy.

Born in the twenties and raised through the Great Depression in south central Alabama little Hank Williams was poor as dirt and beset with what was only known at the time as a chronic spinal condition (probably spina bifida) that would torture him mentally and physically all his short life. His father died when he was seven. There was no reason for this guy to be anything but mean and pissed off: no hope, no peace, no education, no health and very little food on the table. Instead, he learned the blues and gospel from rural folks both black and white. The music sustained him. He combined those music forms with the country music of the day to produce a sound that was unique for his time. Unlike many he remained true to his musical roots until his death. The guitar fit him like those favorite blue jeans that make your butt look good.

I could spend time describing his tragic life to you. It would read pretty much like that country song I mentioned before. It was basically a train wreck. The thing is that out of that wreck sprung an American poet. He wrote many songs; even some hymns. I believe that from the throes of his alcoholic pain oozed the raw truth that punches us in the gut so that we remember the ache every time we think about it.

In one song he asked if we can hear life … “Can you hear that lonesome whippoorwill? It sounds too blue to fly.” He saw hope in a vision … “The silence of a falling star lights up a purple sky.” He painted loneliness with the brush of his heart …”and as I wonder where you are, I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

At first blush, you figure he’s talking about a woman. Then you have to wonder; maybe it’s God he’s looking for, as he howls at the moon in his high-pitched tenor wail.

When I hear Hank Williams cry his lament laced with feeble hope my eyes never fail to well up. My gut tightens. The top of my ears tingle and the hair stands up on the back of my neck. His yearning lays heavy on my soul.

I can see him now flying down a lonely country road in the back of a huge old 50s Cadillac just like in the movie “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. Mom, Dad and I saw it at the Monroe Drive In Theatre out on Hwy 74 when I was a kid. He’s drunk and strumming that old guitar and he knows he’s committing suicide on the time payment plan.

He also knows that he loves God but his demons are winning. He can still tell us though who he is and what his dreams are made of. He can still believe that somewhere in his loneliness a “whippoorwill sings … a falling star brings light” … and a poor country boy can share his poetic genius as true as any man. He can cry out in his pain and the world can hear him clearly.

I’m no expert on music or art. All I know is that when I can see inside an artist by experiencing his work I am closer to what God meant for us to be. When someone can show us his or her soul then we all walk on hallowed ground. It’s a shame country music has such a tawdry and simplistic reputation because at its best it can be as powerful a gift as any art form that has ever existed. If you get a chance … one day when you’re not too busy and no one is around … maybe “google” or “You Tube” ole Hank and take a listen. ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is the title. Maybe … just maybe you’ll come away with a little different perspective.

I’ll close with a line composed from the heart of a simple backwoods troubadour they called Hank … “Did you ever see a robin weep, when the leaves begin to die? That means he’s lost the will to live. I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Strikes me as living proof that “simple” doesn’t always make “dumb”.