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A stairway to nowhere: Poverty is a hard thing to climb out of without falling over or getting pushed back down and feeling hopeless and full of despair. Not to mention hungry or malnourished. Fortunately, my mother and her family found a church that was the "safety net" that a church is supposed to be.

A stairway to nowhere: Poverty is a hard thing to climb out of without falling over or getting pushed back down and feeling hopeless and full of despair. Not to mention hungry or malnourished. Fortunately, my mother and her family found a church that was the “safety net” that a church is supposed to be.


This is the third in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on what the bible says about the poor. (In memory of Goldie McKay, R.I.P.)

Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-46

Key Verses: (40-43) And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

for I was hungry and you gave me no food,

I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,

naked and you did not give me clothing,

sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

I’ve never been poor and hungry, or adrift in a sense of hopelessness to the point of despair, in my much-blessed life. And yet poverty has always felt personal to me.

I’ve noted here before that my mother, born a mere 16 years into the 20th century, was a child when she was abandoned–along with my aunt, uncle and grandmother–by my grandfather.

This tragedy, which scarred my mother for life, occurred in a dusty, rough-and-tumble Texas town when times were hard and life was extremely hard for a single, barely educated mother like my grandmother.

She’d married and had a baby at 16 to escape the hardship of life on a farm operated by a typical farming man, my great-grandfather, who–as was common in those times in our nation’s history–wanted lots of children for farm labor.

So my mother knew first-hand what it was like to be sleep deprived and exhausted from going to bed hungry and malnourished. She always told me that just as bad as the hunger itself was the indignity of begging for leftovers at back doors of the townspeople at mealtimes.

After all, other kids from school were at those mealtime tables, and well-to-do kids can be brutal to poor kids.

“I would go to school some days and feel like putting a bag on my head,” my mother told me once. “I suffered a lot of shame.”

To make matters worse, my grandmother’s church was quite fundamentalist–all about the hellfire and not so much about the service to the poor. That church–my mother always pointed out with no small amount of lifelong bitterness–”gave us fire and brimstone.” She became a lifelong Methodist Christian because “the Methodists gave us something to eat.” The Methodists also gave my grandmother a sewing machine, materials and enough jobs as a seamstress for her and her brood to survive.

Now, let me be perfectly clear. By no means am I suggesting that no fundamentalist Christians and churches ever or ever have lifted up and served the poor with the compassion of Christ.

My mother’s brother, in fact, married a wonderful, Pentecostal, non-judgmental fundamentalist Christian–my beloved Aunt Newell–who lived an extremely simple and humble life, largely so that she could serve the poor. And the diligence with which she fed the poor from her garden, with which she visited took turns with people from her church visiting prisoners in the local jail and taking food to their families, with which she visited and prayed for the sick–continues to inspire me in my own ministry every day. She was a fundamentalist who had a huge, lasting impact on my life and my own ministry and she always will.

And, for the record, she and my mother loved and respected each other despite my mother’s far more liberal theology and a streak of the general anti-fundamentalist hostility in her. And it was my uncle and fundamentalist Aunt Newell who took my grandfather into their home and nursed him in his slow, year-long descent into death by cancer in 1963. My mother refused to see him when he was dying and turned him over to God for the forgiveness she could never muster up for him. (Forgiveness is whole other series for another day.)

My Mother, whom you should know went on to have a long and happy and, for the most part, a happy life in spite of some deep wounds caused by some toxic theology and preaching–and there is such a thing– might have been eaten up with more bitterness had she never seen the witness to Christ that my fundamentalist aunt was.

Proving once again that God indeed works in some strange, mysterious ways in this poor, broken and ever sin-sick world.

Hands are largely for our labors, so that we can provide for ourselves and others and yes, the vulnerable who can't work. Still, you don't lead someone to a productive life by allowing them or the vulnerable ones around them to starve to death.

Hands are largely for our labors, so that we can provide for ourselves and others and yes, the vulnerable who can’t work. Still, you don’t lead someone to a productive life by allowing them or the vulnerable ones around them to starve to death.



This is the second in a week-long series of “Noon Wine” reflections on scriptures regarding poverty and the poor.

Thieves, according to Paul, need to go straight and get right with God for a particular reason.

Thieves, according to Paul, need to go straight and get right with God for a particular reason.


SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4: 25-32

KEY VERSE: (28) “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians lays out a set rules for Christian living for those who have found new life in Christ. In the key verse cited above, he makes that interesting statement about thieves, saying that they “must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”

What’s so striking is Paul’s reason why a thief must go straight. He could have said it’s because God clearly commands that “Thou shall not steal.” Or, he might have noted that honest labor is simply good and moral, or that it’s the channel to self-respect and a sense of dignity–all that, of course, being so very so true.

But, curiously, Paul says that a thief-turned-worker, in earning an honest day’s pay, will have something “to share with the needy.” Like scores upon scores of scriptures on almost every page of the bible, Paul’s words underscore the duty of Christians to share and care for the needy.

Mind you, God himself was a worker, having worked for six days and taking that famous day of rest. And I believe that our two hands are given us largely for labor, if we’re at all able. And I also believe that nothing good, for anyone, can come from someone’s laziness or slacking, as pointed out quite pointedly in Proverbs:

    “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14: 23).

    “The craving of the lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor” (Proverbs 21: 25).

There’s some truth in the pearl of wisdom that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Laziness can lead to trouble or crime, and hardship and the crush of poverty on helpless children and other, vulnerable dependents in a family.

Jesus in his youth was a working man and a working man’s son, of course, and Paul a tent maker. And for all of Paul’s concern about providing for those unable to help themselves, Paul didn’t mince words about the Christian duty to work and provide for the family if possible. In I Timothy 5: 8 he wrote, “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Ouch!

Still, the poor matter to God, and they matter big-time, as they mattered to Christ and yes, to Paul. Whatever condemnation Paul had for slackers and sluggards–and undoubtedly even for the thieves that he so wanted to get straight–he was as much on fire for helping and lifting up and sharing with the poor as his Lord and our Lord Jesus.

The other side of "Eden," as Belize is so often described:  Rum in Belize is dirt cheap and sold everywhere and takes a heavy toll in a country where the unemployment rate has been stuck around 50 percent for 10 years while more of the well-to-do and rich keep coming to play or live. (And then there's the famous Belikin beer, which saturates Belize as thoroughly as Budweiser saturates the U.S. at every turn.) This is my friend in one of the villages, who wants to "be a better guy," as he says. He deserves friendship and emotional as well as spiritual and some material support, as any one wealthy and addicted to alcohol or drugs would deserve it.

The other side of “Eden,” as Belize is so often described: Rum in Belize is dirt cheap and sold everywhere and takes a heavy toll in a country where the unemployment rate has been stuck around 50 percent for 10 years while more of the well-to-do and rich keep coming to play or live. (And then there’s the famous Belikin beer, which saturates Belize as thoroughly as Budweiser saturates the U.S. at every turn.) This is my friend in one of the villages, who wants to “be a better guy,” as he says. He deserves friendship and emotional as well as spiritual and some material support, as much as anyone wealthy and addicted to alcohol or drugs would deserve it.

(This is the first in a week’s worth of “Noon Wine” postings concerning the biblical poor.)

Jesusface
SCRIPTURES:
Luke 14: 12-24 (The Great Banquet)
Matthew 14: 13-21 (Feeding the 5,000)

KEY VERSES: (Luke: 13-14) “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

(Matthew 14: 14) “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”

My frequent home-away-from-home church, St. Andrew’s Anglican–which I featured a bit in Sunday’s posting–shares breakfast with the area’s homeless folks on the last Wednesday of every month.

Father Juan always makes it a point in the Sunday worship announcements to emphasize that the breakfast isn’t only about the food we cook and share. Just as important as the meal is being in communion with the homeless–meeting their emotional and spiritual needs as well as the food and material needs–and learning what other needs they may have.

“We sit down and eat breakfast with them and listen to them,” Father Juan reminded congregants last Sunday morning, as he always reminds them. “The homeless are hungry for someone to talk to. They are lonely and we need to know them.”

Handing over a plate of hot food and chatting a bit with a homeless person might make a church member feel good about himself, but it’s half-discipleship. Just giving someone a free breakfast is doing a sort of drive-by ministry for the poor. Complete discipleship is ministry with the poor–giving real time and attention to the homeless one that you cook for, eat with and spend time with.

The fullness of discipleship requires that the giver validate the humanity–the very personhood–of one in need.

Serving the poor or homeless requires nothing less, really, than honoring the one who has no place to lay his head and no guarantee of another hot meal any time soon. And never mind, as Jesus said, that “they cannot repay you,” because “you will be blessed” and “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

And never mind the issue of whether the poor or homeless one is deserving of free food and your time.

In healing and feeding the 5,000, Jesus didn’t feel compassion for those “deserving” of healing or feeding. In fact, the puffed-up religious elites that Jesus rebelled against believed that the “lowly” people that Christ stooped down to be with deserved nothing.

As Dorothy Day put it, “The gospel takes away our right, forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”

Things i like: Kayaking out to a caye (key, i.e., island), where it's just me and God and the Holy Spirit and lots of water and fish in the sea below. "God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good." (Gen. 1: 10)

Things i like: Kayaking out to a caye (key, i.e., island), where it’s just me and God and the Holy Spirit and lots of water and fish in the sea below. “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1: 10)

Things I like, with respect to her greatness the late Susan Sontag, she who was a great list keeper who listed lots of the simple things in life that she simply liked a lot (as well as things she didn’t like but let’s have a positive Sunday and think about stuff we just like a lot):

One thing I've always liked--"high church worship services" like you get at Anglican Churches like St. Andrews Anglican Church in San Ignacio where I usually attend church. Father Juan, on the right, is originally from Colombia but is now the rector at the dynamic St. Andrews Church. And my good young friend with the razor-sharp wit Father David (left), who grew up in Indiana and ended up an Anglican in San Diego and then in Colombia by way of Oxford University (did I mention he's very smart?) is also at St. Andrews here.

I like–”high church worship services” like you get at Anglican Churches like St. Andrews Anglican Church were I usually attend church. Father Juan, on the right, is originally from Colombia but is now the rector at the dynamic St. Andrews. And my good young friend with the razor-sharp wit Father David (left), who grew up in Indiana and ended up an Anglican in San Diego and then in Colombia by way of Oxford University (did I mention he’s very smart?) is also at St. Andrews here.

We also had a mission team visiting today from Pittsburgh led by another talented young Anglican priest, Mother Elaine. Among things I like--to see young clergy with gifts and graces and talents and smarts and leadership skills and  good humor coming up in the church universal.

We also had a mission team visiting today from Pittsburgh led by another talented young Anglican priest, Mother Elaine. Among things I like–to see young clergy with gifts and graces and talents and smarts and leadership skills and good humor coming up in the church universal.

Big crowd where I worshipped with those "high church" Anglicans in San Ignacio on a beautiful Sunday morning. St. Andrews typically has a lot of us American expats, tourists and visitors passing through town but mostly local and very faithful Belizeans. Many years ago, two of the elderly church-member women kept the church going without a rector. They are amazing church mothers, elderly lay Christians who refused to let this church die. It's now one of the most dynamic and vibrant churches in western Belize, operating one of the best schools in the West.

Big crowd where I worshipped with those “high church” Anglicans in San Ignacio on a beautiful Sunday morning. St. Andrews typically has a lot of us American expats, tourists and visitors passing through town but mostly local and very faithful Belizeans. Many years ago, two of the elderly church-member women kept the church going without a rector. They are amazing church mothers, elderly lay Christians who refused to let this church die. It’s now one of the most dynamic and vibrant churches in western Belize, operating one of the best schools in the West.

View of St. Andrews from the altar. Kids graduating from the St. Andrews primary school got front-row seats this morning.

View of St. Andrews from the altar. Kids graduating from the St. Andrews primary school got front-row seats this morning.

And in the spirit of Susan Sontag, more things I like, with picture postcards, follow:

And in the spirit of Susan Sontag, more things I like, with picture postcards, follow:


I like: riding my red motorcycle ("Rojo") around western Belize's kazilion rural roads, where I happen across scenic little farms like this one. I like meeting Belizean farmers like the brothers who have this place who were under a shade tree drinking some beer and just gabbing and enjoying their Sunday when I mosied over and met them.

I like: riding my red motorcycle (“Rojo”) around western Belize’s kazilion rural roads, where I happen across scenic little farms like this one. I like meeting Belizean farmers like the brothers who have this place who were under a shade tree drinking some beer and just gabbing and enjoying their Sunday when I mosied over and met them.

I like long walks, just to see what's over the next hill, around the next bend, along the next little trail into the bush. Fewer things feel more spiritual and holy to me than an aimless walk, and not necessarily in the country. A city, a town, a village--the spirituality in it is just letting myself be free and open to whatever is down the country trail or the city sidewalk.

I like long walks, just to see what’s over the next hill, around the next bend, along the next little trail into the bush. Fewer things feel more spiritual and holy to me than an aimless walk, and not necessarily in the country. A city, a town, a village–the spirituality in it is just letting myself be free and open to whatever is down the country trail or the city sidewalk.


I like--being living close to ancient Mayan ruins and Mayan culture and because I love learning you can live forever and learn fascinating stuff about that mysterious Mayan civilization, such as it was. They could be a most uncivilized lot toward one another sometimes, one reason for their abrupt demise.  The is "El Castillo," the landmark at Xunantunich in Succotz Village where I lived for six months. Talk about a cool place for long walks . . . .

I like–being living close to ancient Mayan ruins and Mayan culture and because I love learning you can live forever and learn fascinating stuff about that mysterious Mayan civilization, such as it was. They could be a most uncivilized lot toward one another sometimes, one reason for their abrupt demise. The is “El Castillo,” the landmark at Xunantunich in Succotz Village where I lived for six months. Talk about a cool place for long walks . . . .

I like horses and riders, and there's a plenty of them to remind me of Texas in a country as rural and rustic as Belize. Belize is actually a lot like the 1950s rural and still rustic Texas that I grew up in.

I like horses and riders, and there’s a plenty of them to remind me of Texas in a country as rural and rustic as Belize. Belize is actually a lot like the 1950s rural and still rustic Texas that I grew up in.

I like to come up on another roadside attraction of the sort that I can just never resist, like these little eateries where I like to stop and hang out out and eat too much and drink the sodas they bring to you in the big soda bottles, always with a straw in them, and listen to the locals gabbing. Sometimes I get strange looks, btw, when I take the straw out of my soda and drink out of the bottle. Found this place riding down the scenic Hummingbird Highway that goes from the capital city of Belmopan south to the Southern Highway that goes south to the southern Caribbean seas.

I like to come up on another roadside attraction of the sort that I can just never resist, like these little eateries where I like to stop and hang out out and eat too much and drink the sodas they bring to you in the big soda bottles, always with a straw in them, and listen to the locals gabbing. Sometimes I get strange looks, btw, when I take the straw out of my soda and drink out of the bottle. Found this place riding down the scenic Hummingbird Highway that goes from the capital city of Belmopan south to the Southern Highway that goes south to the southern Caribbean seas.

Did I mention all the horses and riders there are in Belize? If you like rural and rustic . . . come to the Wild West of Belize, as they call it.

Did I mention all the horses and riders there are in Belize? If you like rural and rustic . . . come to the Wild West of Belize, as they call it.


I like how free-spirited the school kids of Belize are, like these on the wet playground of a Catholic school I walked by in Belmopan the capital last week. Go ahead and stomp your shoes in that mud real good, guys. It's good to be a kid!

I like how free-spirited the school kids of Belize are, like these on the wet playground of a Catholic school I walked by in Belmopan the capital last week. Go ahead and stomp your shoes in that mud real good, guys. It’s good to be a kid!

And a few more things I like, and like a lot, in the stream of consciousness manner of Sontag: Floppy bibles, St. Francis, Shiner Bock, barefoot women, libraries, wooden pews that creak, watching football, full moons, dark bars, taking photographs, Pope Francis, shrimp, long walks, Thomas Merton, hot sun, shade, history, tradition, rock n roll, indie movies, running, Mark Twain, water from a hose, barns, architecture, cows, target shooting, riversides, real tomatoes, going barefoot, small towns, big cities, the Lord’s Supper, Dorothy Day, candlelight, Spanish, dark-bar music, Wesleyan hymns, “The Letter From Birmingham Jail,” city life, country life, authentic people, “Hotel California,” St. Theresa of Avila, large full moons, Catholic sanctuaries, Oscar Romero, President Eisenhower, pubs, Letterman.

If there's three books I like and always will (the bible notwithstanding) it's "Too Kill a Mockingbird," "Huck Finn" and "Great Expectations." Maybe the only three I've read at least three times in my life, and will probably read again. I like em. I like em a lot.

If there’s three books I like and always will (the bible notwithstanding) it’s “Too Kill a Mockingbird,” “Huck Finn” and “Great Expectations.” Maybe the only three I’ve read at least three times in my life, and will probably read again. I like em. I like em a lot.


And still more things I like, and like a good bit: Walking barefoot, Rabbi Heschel, deep breathing, classic theology, country people, campfire, green grass, Dickens, stand-up comedy, Larry McMurtry, Sgt. Pepper, pipe organs, C.S. Lewis, country churches, “The Simpsons,” “Taps,” the Dalai Lama, St. John of the Cross, sometimes some Mozart and sometimes some mean ol’ Mick Jagger song.

And there’s still more I like that I could list, and I probably will list.

So try pouring out your own simple pleasures at times, occasionally stopping to reflect on why you like something you like something. It can help to get clarity in defining yourself, finding the authentic you and being who you are in this world. And Lord knows there’s enough control freaks or conformists in the world who want to define us, to diminish us with labels they think are fitting for us, to make us fit into their own image of themselves.

They will, if we let them, rob us of that personal quality that Jesus insisted on–that quality of authenticity, the true me, the true you too, that God created.

And granted, God created us in God’s own (moral) image, but also gave us the freedom to find our own, honest-to-God hearts and passions in order to receive the gift of “the life more abundant” of which Jesus spoke.

I also love dogs, cats and even sometimes bugs, I also like the earth I mean if trees can grow back limbs and stuff then why can’t the earth have a few secrets? It would only be fair if it did.

— From a 12 year old Belizean,
on wanting to be an “Eco Kid”
at Chaa Creek Lodge & Resort

Chaa Creek Lodge is one of Belize’s first-class eco resorts, located deep in an Eden-like rainforest setting a few miles down the road from home here in San Ignacio/Santa Elena.

Gorgeous room at the gorgeous Chaa Creek Lodge, one of the world's top-ranked eco resorts. they give back an enormous amount to Belize and her people--including the kids at the summer Eco Kid Camp.

Gorgeous room at the gorgeous Chaa Creek Lodge, one of the world’s top-ranked eco resorts. they give back an enormous amount to Belize and her people–including the kids at the summer Eco Kid Camp.

Belize has been good to Chaa Creek and its owners Mick and Lucy Fleming, but Chaa Creek and the Flemings are very good to Belize. As noted on its web site (click here), ten percent of all its room revenue goes directly into environmental, educational and community programs, and in supporting worthy groups and causes.

“This and other initiatives under our long running Chaa Creek Cares program ensure that your stay provides tangible benefits to Belize and Belizeans.”

The resort’s giving back includes giving scholarships to kids from around the country for some fun-filled stays at the resort’s summer eco camp. Applicants for the scholarships submit essays on “Why I Want to be an Eco Kid.”

What follows is an excerpt from one of the 300-word Eco Kid essays that got Lillian Aguirre, who attends a Methodist school in Stann Creek District in southern Belize, an Eco Kid scholarship. (So yeah, we’re little partial to anything or anyone Methodist here.)

(Hat Tip: http://www.bestofcayo.com, which keeps me informed on all the news and calendar events I need here in “Cayo,” as locals call San Ig and the twin across the river Santa Elena–a great Belizean web site.)

“I want to be an eco-kid because I love nature and would like to help to protect the rainforest. When I visit the rainforest, the shade from the canopy of tree refreshes me. The smell of green trees relaxes me and the singing of the birds inspires me. I hope and pray that I might find and fallow a jaguar’s paw prints on a trail or I may look up high above and see an owl staring at me. If I am lucky I hope to see soldier ants carrying leave [leaves] to build their homes [,] wild pigs [,] grunting by howler monkeys hanging on trees branches like thunder.”

Here’s a full essay from Jonathan Daniel Ludwig, 12 years old:

    I have almost always wanted to grow something. It did not matter what when I was younger I would plant a lot of seeds that I found. I also would like going around and asking my mom if she could spare a carrot top or a potato’s eye or a sweet peppers seed. I would plant everything that I got and I would check them every morning, I would water the small plants but most all of my attempts failed. I still want to grow plants. Another thing is trees I mean if you look at a tree closely there are so many different ants and bugs on it and almost every single one has a home in that same tree.

    One other cool thing about trees is that trees can be cut in half and the tree can grow right back.

    Another thing I love is birds although some black birds can be annoying. Sometimes I look for them but I mainly find parrots. Another thing that I have been finding is toucans, the point is I like to watch birds.

    I also love dogs, cats and even sometimes bugs, I also like the earth I mean if trees can grow back limbs and stuff then why can’t the earth have a few secrets? It would only be fair if it did.

    I would love to know some stuff about plants, bug’s, animals, and of course the cool brown earth and all that good stuff.

    I also like flowers and all their colors and all the variety that Belize has is… well it’s super cool.

    And nature makes me wonder, what is nature? what does it really actually mean?

    Do humans even know or do I know? I am pretty sure I don’t but I sure would like to know more.

    All of the things that happen all over the earth it’s not just in certain places that are interesting it is everywhere.

P1040512


“Brown and Agile Child”
Brown and agile child, the sun which forms the fruit
And ripens the grain and twists the seaweed
Has made your happy body and your luminous eyes
And given your mouth the smile of water.

A black and anguished sun is entangled in the twigs
Of your black mane when you hold out your arms.
You play in the sun as in a tidal river
And it leaves two dark pools in your eyes.

Brown and agile child, nothing draws me to you,
Everything pulls away from me here in the noon.
You are the delirious youth of bee,
The drunkedness of the wave, the power of the wheat.

My somber heart seeks you always
I love your happy body, your rich, soft voice.
Dusky butterfly, sweet and sure
Like the wheatfiled, the sun, the poppy, and the water.

— Pablo Neruda

P1040513

Charles Dean "Deanie" McKay Sr. at the house on Elm Street, Navasota, Tx, where I was raised the first 10 years of my life, before the move to Kettler St.

Charles Dean “Deanie” McKay Sr. at the house on Elm Street, Navasota, Tx, where I was raised the first 10 years of my life, before the move to Kettler St.

Things I like to remember about my Old Man:

– How he liked to rake leaves on a crisp, autumn day and stand there with the rake and enjoy the zen of a burning pile of leaves.

– How he’d get up at 4:30 a.m. and sip coffee till the Post was delivered at 5:10, give or take five minutes. (“Get it while it’s news.”)

– How on hot, Saturday afternoons when I was outside playing with friends while my mother was working in the linens department at Penny’s downtown, we kids would go inside for popsicles or Hostess Cupcakes and he’d be sitting at the kitchen table with hot cornbread crumbled into a glass of milk (a cornbread milkshake) and reading The Houston Post with a fan blowing on him.

– How, till the day he died, he was never seen without a fedora on his head or with one in his hand or close by on a hat rack. (And never mind that the formerly fashionable fedora went out of style forever with John Kennedy’s distaste for fedoras. Deanie was a fedora man.)

– How he liked to sit under the shade on Elm Street and crank out homemade ice cream and watch all my friends on Elm come running down to our house when he sent me to fetch them for ice cream. (Most of which he consumed himself.)

– How calm he could be under pressure, as when a friend in childhood fell out of a tree in our yard and hit her head a little hard on something and all us kids on Elm Street were scared spitless, she cried so much. (Everything turned out OK and he had an ice cream party later that same day.)

– How much he loved to cook and how he liked to cook food that was so spicy (especially Texas chili, of course)–”it’ll make your head itch.”

– How cool it was to ride at his side in the chuck wagon when, for many years, he was the “French Fry and Chili Chef” on the Salt Grass Trail Rides into Houston for the parade for the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo on those cold, February trail rides.

– How he put me on a horse and we rode up to where the TV star and Fat Stock Show & Rodeo parade marshal Hugh O’Brian was camping so I could meet the star of the huge hit TV show “Wyatt Earp.”

– How he had “the gift of gab” and never met a stranger.

(He was fast friends with Hugh O’Brian and they talked a good while, probably talking horses, food, clothes or cars–the Old Man’s favorite subjects, with me, a child, in awe and disbelief at Wyatt Earp’s shiny boots. It was way better than sitting on Santa’s lap ever was.)

(And anyway, whenever Santa Claus was anywhere in Navasota, he always looked suspiciously like daddy’s great friend and occasional drinking buddy Ike Ashburn.)

"Wy-att Earp, Wy-att Earp, brave, courageous and bold--long live his name, and long live his glory and long may his story be told." -- Wyatt Earp theme song

“Wy-att Earp, Wy-att Earp, brave, courageous and bold–long live his name, and long live his glory and long may his story be told.” — Wyatt Earp theme song

– How he’d take me down to the arena rails at the end of the Rodeo Shows that starred Roy Rogers and Dale Evans every year in Houston so we could shake hands with Roy and Dale and their kids when they kept circling around the arena in a jeep at the end of their shows.

– His wit. (“It’s easy to quit smoking; I’ve done it a thousand times.”)

– How spicy his language could be at times. (As when he tried, again, to stop smoking, or when a son sassed him–not a very smart thing for one of the McKay boys to do, really.)

– How off the wall his colorful language could be. (Description of a dancer on TV one time: “He’s a dancin’ Jesse.”)

– How open he was to changing his life sometimes in radical ways without ever looking back.

Example: Growing up on horses, and owning and riding and enjoying his white mares (there’s many pictures of me or the brothers on those white mares with the Old Man when we were babies–he must have taken home from the hospital on his horse), he sold his last horse when he was 46 and never owned or rode another one, deciding that with no more feeding and keeping horses he could buy more food to put in the freezer. (My mother Goldie was thrilled.)

– What a clothes horse he was. (My mother Goldie–not so thrilled that all the savings from horse upkeep went to new threads, shoes and, of course, fedoras for Deanie.)

– How cold he could be as when he’d put a cube of ice on my back at 5:15 a.m. when I wouldn’t get right up at 5 in the morning to go to work at the cotton or cow farms where I worked in summers. (“Get up now!” he explained.)

– How he abruptly (and at great risk) quit a long, good-paying career as a blue-collar man in the oil patches as a roughneck, and then as a pipeline inspector, traveling all over the Southwest U.S. and Mexico for Humble Oil Co. (forerunner of Exxon) so he could finally settle in with his family and get to watch his last son (yours truly) grow up.

[His explanation that I forced out of him once and wrote down, since he was one never to look back much in the interest of family history: "I got sick of being homesick and living in hot deserts with fools who drank and gambled away their paychecks all night. A lot of fools never outgrow that foolishness. Your kids don't ask to be brought into this world. You feed them first and send them to school with good shoes and clean clothes and if there's anything left over for a little poker or a party, fine and good. By all means, have your fun after you've fed your family and saved a few dollars."

– How much he liked to buy, sell or trade anything–especially cars and especially Ford Mustangs he restored.

– How he could break down the engine in a car, hang it up in a garage and totally overhaul it.

– How he (a jack of all trades if ever there was one) could make or build most anything. (Some of the dads in town bought go-karts for their kids. He built me a go-kart out in the garage.)

– How much he loved to do woodwork in the garage. (Come to think of it, the Old Man pretty much lived in the garage.)

– How he built a very Southern Living patio with an awning in the back yard when we moved from the house on Elm to the house on Kettler so he and Goldie could host parties out there for friends and neighbors on Saturday nights, pre-grandchildren days.

– How much he loved Methodist preaching and his beloved First Methodist Church, where he ushered for a hunnerd years after coming home from the oil patches.

– How he told me several important things outright that stayed with me:

1. “Never let a horse, a snake or a bully smell fear in you.”

2. “Your family and a decent house is all that matters–and really that and a little good food is all you need.”

3. “Don’t ever dress up without your shoes shined.”

4.”I just like to get up and go to church on Sunday morning and hear good preaching and singing and shaking hands and hugging people that care about you and you care about even when you have your differences. It’s just always a better way to start the week.”

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