Rumination XLII – Eulogy for a Great Man

(Once again in this post, the RT yields to his more-balanced alter ego. The RT promises to return to his usual snarkiness in the near future.)

Robert Ray McClanahan – known also as “Buddy”, “Slim”, “Ray”, “Mr. Mac”, “Double-R”, “Railroad McClanahan”, as well as various names that should not be uttered in a church building – R. R. McClanahan was my Daddy.

Dad was born to a school teacher and a sharecropper in Pecan Gap, Texas just before the Great Depression. My grandfather raised cotton with his father in the black dirt in central Texas. The only property he ever owned was a pair of mules. When he died in 1930, he left my grandmother with nothing but three children under the age of six at a time when nobody had anything and things were about to get worse.

My grandmother taught school in central Texas during the school year and returned to East Texas each summer to work her family’s farm. Money was scarce and Dad’s older brother had to go live with another part of the family because no one could afford to feed that many mouths.

My Dad got two pairs of overalls and one pair of shoes at the beginning of each school year and his Mother had to make them last a whole year. They survived on the generosity of others. Dad said that nobody had anything and everyone shared what they had. He remembered those as good times.

He went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, taught mostly by his Mother. When the lessons for his grade were finished, Dad did his assigned work, then worked on the lessons for the next grade. By doing so, he was ultimately able to graduate high school when he was sixteen.

From the time he was old enough to do so, he worked to help support his mother and his sister. At one point, he was making three dollars a week, two of which went to his Mother.

When he lost his job at the movie theater in Mount Pleasant, Texas a month before graduation, he didn’t know what to do. His neighbor, Ernest Sinclair, saw him sitting on the porch, crying. When Mr. Ernest asked him what was wrong, Dad told him what had happened and that he wouldn’t be able to support his mother. Mr. Ernest told him to be at the railroad depot at 5am the next morning, because the Superintendent was in town. Mr. Ernest promised to get him an audience.

Dad was at the depot at 4:30am to make sure he was there on time. When the Superintendent met my Daddy, he hired him as a student telegrapher on the spot, even though he was 16 and hadn’t yet graduated high school. During the final weeks of school, Dad went to the depot every morning and studied railroad, then went to school, then back to the railroad when school was done.

And so began Dad’s career with the Cotton Belt Railroad. He worked virtually every depot in East Texas, sending and receiving train orders via telegraph, then delivering them to passing trains. Each time the Superintendent came through an office where Dad was working, he would comment to those around him: “Keep an eye on that McClanahan fellow. He’s one of the good ones.” In 1949, he was promoted to Train Dispatcher in Tyler, TX.

He was too young to serve in WWII, but joined the Texas National Guard in 1948 when the draft was reinstated (yes, he was a draft-dodger). He served fourteen years in the Guard and rose to the rank of Captain. He became the battalion adjutant and was the Colonel’s “get it done” man.

In 1950, he married his first love, Gerry Lou Brogoitti. She was the daughter of one of Mt. Pleasant’s most prominent citizens and he was from the other side of the tracks. They had met when he was in high school and she in junior high. But once he graduated and she was in high school, it became acceptable for them to date. When she went to college in Commerce, TX, Dad knew he had real competition and “wore out a car” driving back and forth to see her.

My sister Terry Lea came along in 1951, Cindy Ann in 1956 and lastly me in 1959. Dad worked three jobs to make sure that our family had the stability that his didn’t have. The railroad was always #1. He also worked at the men’s clothing store in Mt. Pleasant. And he ran “Mac’s Bike Shop” where he sold bicycles that he and Mom rebuilt. He was determined that our family would stay together, no matter what.

In 1960, he was promoted to his first officer position on the railroad, Freight Agent in Texarkana, TX, beginning the “Trek of the Gypsy Railroaders” my Mom always talked about. He was promoted to Trainmaster in 1965, which took us to Memphis, TN. In 1968, he became Assistant Terminal Superintendent at East St. Louis and our family moved to Collinsville, IL. He then rose to Terminal Superintendent at East St Louis, the busiest rail terminal in the country, before he was transferred to Eugene, OR in 1970 to become Terminal Superintendent there.

During our stay in Eugene, Dad was named Project Manager for a new rail yard in West Colton, CA which was to become the most advanced rail yard in the world. He was ultimately transferred to West Colton in 1971 and our family moved to Redlands, CA. Once West Colton was completed, Dad was named Terminal Superintendent.

Let me pause here, to say that each time our family was transferred, Dad knew that it was coming before he shared it with the family. Mom would say: “Kids, your Dad is cleaning out the garage and you know what that means.” Once the transfer was official, Dad would call a family meeting and let us know where we were about to go.

When the garage cleaning started in early 1974, we knew something was afoot. Dad came home in the next few weeks and told us we were going to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Our response was something like: “WHERE???”

And so, in November 1974, our family came to live in Pine Bluff and Dad became Assistant Superintendent and heir-apparent to the Superintendent of the Cotton Belt. While Pine Bluff was not East Texas, my Mom declared it to be “close enough” because of the pine trees and rolling hills of south Arkansas.

In 1983, Dad was named Superintendent upon the retirement of his predecessor. That skinny 16-year-old kid who met the Superintendent on his private rail car in 1945 was now the Superintendent himself. The young clerk who sat on the steps of the depot and talked with his peers about who he would fire if he were the Boss was now the Boss. The student telegrapher was now the man who called the shots.

Over the next five years, the Cotton Belt went through three mergers in rapid succession, as the rail industry consolidated into mega-railroads. The last of those mergers bought him out. He retired at age 59, after 43 years with the Cotton Belt and Southern Pacific.

In retirement, he helped build the Arkansas Railroad Museum into what it is today. He and my Mom bought and restored rail cars. He ran excursion trains in NW Arkansas. He helped run excursions with the 819. His love for all things railroad never faded.

When my Mother passed away unexpectedly in 2000, my Dad was lost. He lost his first love. He lost his energy and the color in his face. He lost his interest in the railroad. He lost his will to live. My sisters and I were preparing to lose our Dad, too.

But then, a year or so later, his energy level picked up. The color returned to his face. He called me to ask my permission to take a lady named Betty Hickerson out to lunch. They were married in 2002 and life began again for both of them. Ms Betty gave my Daddy a reason to live and she gave my sisters and me another 17 years with our Daddy.

Ms Betty, we are forever grateful for the love and care that you gave our Daddy. We know that this is every bit as hard for you as it is for us. You will remain in our hearts and in our prayers.

While the other kids at school had Dads who were lawyers or firemen or plumbers – or in some cases, members of the Mafia – I had the only Daddy who could get a locomotive out of the ditch. And the only Mother who had to get locomotive grease out of a suit.

Other kids had Dads who took them bowling or fishing on weekends. Our Dad made us go to church, and Sunday school, and gospel meetings.

Others had Dads who taught them how to hunt. Ours taught us the value of hard work and commitment.

My Daddy could dispatch the entire railroad Division single-handedly when the union went on strike. My Dad could determine the cause of train derailment over the phone from hundreds of miles away. My Dad could actually drink railroad coffee. My Dad could build anything, fix anything and organize anything.

My Dad is my hero. He was when I was a kid and he always will be. He was larger than life to me when he was running a railroad and he continued to be when he could only manage a few steps in his walker.

The past few months have given all of us time to be with him, to talk about things that mattered and to say “goodbye”. If you spent time with him, you probably heard him say that he’d had a great life, that he’d had a “good ride” and that he had no regrets. I expect that all of us hope to say that when our time on is finished.

He had a lot of friends. He had a good number of enemies. But friend or foe, everyone I’ve met respected Robert R. McClanahan. He may have fired his fair share of folks, but the ones I’ve met told me they deserved it and that he hired them back later.

I’ve been blessed to see how many lives my Daddy touched over the years. From his railroad and business colleagues to his church family to his friends and loved ones. He made a difference in the lives of everyone he touched.

Robert R McClanahan was a great man and my Sisters and I are better people for having him as our Daddy.

Daddy, we love you and we’ll miss you terribly. But knowing that you are safe in the arms of Jesus and that you are with Mom forever makes this time bearable. We’ll see you soon.

Memorials may be made to https://RileysWarriors.org

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Rumination XLI – Twenty Years Later

(In this edition, the RT yields the floor to his far more balanced alter-ego. You may rest easy in the knowledge that the usual snarkiness of the RT will return in due time.)

Exactly 20 years ago (as I write this), my young family’s world was spinning rapidly out of control and there was absolutely nothing we could do to stop it.

At 8pm on Friday, January 29, 1999, Michelle and I found ourselves virtually alone in the ER at Arkansas Children’s Hospital with our two-week-old son, Riley, who was suffering uncontrollable seizures. We had no idea why and it would be many long hours before we did. A whirlwind of shock, worry, vaporizing hopes and dreams, anger, helplessness and sadness – interspersed with a million other feelings and concerns – engulfed us.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Our life journey began simply. When we married, Michelle wanted a house full of kids, but I wanted only two. You know, the typical American family: Mom, Dad, a son and a daughter. We had already been blessed with two beautiful girls, but I was willing to go one more to round out the litter with a son.

In the spring of 1998, Michelle called me from a pay phone outside a Sears store in a mall in Ohio to say that she was pregnant. She had slipped away from her Mom and a long-time family friend to buy a pregnancy test at a drugstore. After a positive result, she called me in tears of joy to share the news – which explained why she had been nauseated in the mornings. While we were both reeling from the news, she had to hang up because she saw her Mom coming and wasn’t ready to share anything.

We didn’t know that our third child would be a boy. But if he was, he would have his grandfather’s name – or something like it. At least his grandfather’s first name and middle initial. I didn’t want him to have his grandfather’s middle name for fear that someone would actually call him by it. We settled on Riley as his middle name the night before the scheduled C-section. Robert Riley McClanahan would be the second in our clan’s history with the initials RRM.

Riley came into the world the morning of Friday, January 15th, a typical Arkansas winter day. He was every bit as perfect as his two older sisters. Ten fingers, ten toes, round face, rosy cheeks. At birth, Riley was the spitting image of his oldest sister. We took him home two days later, after Michelle had recovered a tiny bit after the C-section.

With the third child, things are almost on autopilot. Changing diapers is automatic. Rocking, burping, patting and jiggling are all muscle memory at this point. Even dealing with cholic is ingrained in Mom and Dad. Except that we didn’t have any of those magic simethicone drops that we’d pumped the girls full of in their first weeks, so I got to make my first post-midnight visit to a Walmart Supercenter to buy some. Nothing to it.

On Thursday, January 21st, an F3 tornado ripped through my work campus, taking down our on-campus electric distribution system. I spent the next several days coaxing a portable generator to provide emergency power to our critical computer systems. My in-laws were in town to see the new baby, so Michelle had plenty of help. We do what we have to do to keep things going.

With that crisis behind me, the next week looked to be a fairly normal week. By Friday, Michelle felt like getting out of the house for the first time after the birth. After I got home from work, we left the girls with a sitter and took Riley with us to the Outback Steakhouse. It was nice to have a quiet moment together after a couple of pretty eventful weeks.

During dinner, Riley became fussy, but it was no big deal. Michelle nursed him and he settled right down. We finished eating, paid the check and headed to the van, planning to go visit some dear friends at the hospital who were celebrating the birth of their second child that morning. As we put Riley into the van, he cried out sharply. It was unsettling to us, but we thought we had possibly bumped his carrier as it passed through the doorway and startled him.

His loving Mom checked his diaper and found that he needed changing. After that, he seemed to settle in and go to sleep. Off we went to the hospital for a visit.

After arriving there, Michelle took the first visit and headed into the hospital while I waited in the van with Riley. It was a cold night, so I kept the van running and the heater going. A few minutes later, I heard Riley spit up and choke. I hopped out of the driver’s seat and over into the second row, where his carrier was strapped in.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I checked to see that his airway was clear, then carried him back to the driver’s seat with me. I laid him face down across my knees, so that if he spit up again, he wouldn’t choke on it. Again, he seemed to settle right back to sleep.

Michelle came down a few minutes later to relive me so I could go up and see our friends. When she got in the van, I told her what had happened, and that Riley had scared me a little bit. She picked him up from my lap and when she did, he arched his back away from her until he was facing straight up. Then he went slack. Seconds later, he repeated the cycle. She had me turn on the dome light to give her a better look. In the slightly-improved light, his skin was grey and splotchy. It took Neonatal Specialty Nurse Michelle McClanahan no more than a few seconds to say: “take us to Children’s”.

Children’s Hospital is providentially located less than five miles from where we were visiting our friends and it took no more than ten minutes to get from there to the door of the ER. I dropped off Michelle and Riley and went to park the van.

By the time I got back to the ER, there was no sign of Michelle or the baby, nor was there anyone else – except the security guard, who made me pass through the metal detector before I could go further. Now when, on a Friday night, in January, in the middle of cold and flu season, has the ER waiting room at any hospital been empty? That was the first sign that maybe something incomprehensible was at work.

And now, we find ourselves at the point where this story began. Michelle and I had no earthly idea what was wrong with our son. He was having seizures for no apparent reason.

With an empty waiting room and few patients in the unit, Riley had the attention of almost the entire ER staff. We knew that he was in the right place, being seen by the right specialists. But we still had no idea of what was going on.

One of the staff took us to a quiet room to collect our thoughts. We made three phone calls, I think. The first was to the babysitter to give her a heads-up that we wouldn’t be home anytime soon. She agreed to stay the night, if necessary. The second was to my sister, Cindy, to let her know that something was going on. The third was to a friend who was a social worker on staff at Children’s.

The first report back from the attending physician was that they still didn’t know why Riley was having seizures. The next report was that they had done a spinal tap and found blood in his spinal fluid. The next was that they had done a CT of Riley’s head and found that it was filled with blood. The news was not good, though it did explain the seizures. The question now was: “Where did all that blood come from?”

Now, before this turns into the book that I’ve always said I would write (and appear to have started), let me compress the next few hours and try to bring this “chapter” to a close.

Around midnight, a Neurosurgery Fellow (not a guy; some uber-resident guy) with a thick, Russian accent told us that, unless he drilled a hole in Riley’s head to allow the pressure to escape, our son would die. And how do you respond to a statement like that? You say: “Then you had better drill a hole in our son’s head”

Our social worker friend had showed up several hours ago and had taken complete and total charge of us (she earned the nickname “Sarge” for life). She had lined up a waiting room in an area of the hospital that wasn’t used on Friday night for us to have a quiet place collect our thoughts, away from the chaos of the ER. And far away from the Russian neurosurgeon who was preparing to drill a hole in our son’s head.

When we got to the quiet, vacant waiting room in an unoccupied remote corner of the hospital, we found about 30 people from our church family waiting for us there. At 1am. In the middle of the night. Or very early in the morning. In winter. On an unseasonably cold January winter night. When all of these folks should have been at home in bed with their families.

But they came. Just to be with us. To hug us. To cry with us. To tell insanely funny stories and laugh with us. To support us in any way they could. This was the second indication that something bigger was at play.

There are more stories from the next few hours than I have time to write. Remember, I’m cutting this short.

Twenty years ago – right now – we were losing our son. Twenty years ago, we thought that, if he survived the night, he wouldn’t survive a year, or a month, or even a week. Twenty years ago, we never imagined there would be a twenty years later – with or without Riley. There was only that moment.

Twenty years later, we still have Riley. He did survive that night, and the crucial days that followed. And the rough weeks that followed that. And the uncertain months that came after. And the challenging years that stacked up until here we are … twenty years later.

They’ve not been an easy twenty years – not at all. Here’s a short list of what Riley has dealt with in that time:

  • Major loss of brain mass. The bleed he suffered when a blood vessel ruptured took a substantial amount of brain with it.
  • Hydrocephalus. The blood that filled and surrounded his brain after the bleed damaged the surface of his brain, making it impossible for him to absorb excess cerebral-spinal fluid (CSF), which is generated inside the ventricles of the brain. This creates pressure inside the skull and on the brain, causing all sorts of problems.
  • Stroke. Riley’s neurosurgeons performed an emergency “procedure” (which you and I might be inclined to call “brain surgery”) in an attempt to flush the clotting blood from the ventricles in his brain. If they hadn’t, the pressure on his brain would have killed him. During that procedure, Riley suffered one or more strokes that further damaged his brain.
  • A ventricular-peritoneal (VP) shunt. A hole was drilled in the side of his skull to allow tubing to channel the excess CSF from the ventricles inside his brain to his stomach cavity through a pressure-controlled valve under the skin behind his ear.
  • Surgery to correct eye position. One of his eyes was turned in because the nerves that controlled the muscles required to balance the eye position were damaged in the bleed.
  • Poor vision. The alignment of his bad eye is now permanently set, so he cannot track with it. The vision in the other eye is not great.
  • Allergies. Riley is allergic to almost everything: beef, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, milk, latex, bananas, pineapple, green peas … and the list goes on.
  • Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Possibly exacerbated by the weak muscles in his torso, preventing his esophageal sphincter from closing properly. At any rate, he has bad reflux.
  • Orthopedic Issues. Atrophied muscles in his leg are unable to keep his hip joint in the socket. His leg has been out of socket for years.
  • Scoliosis. As the muscles in his torso have atrophied over time, the curvature of his spine has gotten way out of whack.
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Riley was recently diagnosed with EoE, which is a weird allergic reaction to certain foods inside the esophagus. Mind you, we don’t know which foods cause the irritation and Riley cannot communicate that to us. This may eliminate many of the few foods remaining that Riley once could eat.
  • Can’t walk. With his leg out of socket and no hope at balance, Riley cannot walk and has been confined to a wheel chair since infancy.
  • Can’t sit up. Riley lost the ability to sit up on his own a decade ago.
  • Can’t dress himself. With damaged motor skills, Riley cannot put a shirt or pants on by himself.
  • Can’t toilet himself. Without the ability to walk or move himself around, he can’t use the toilet.
  • Can’t feed himself. He cannot prepare a meal, though he can put bites of food in his mouth by himself. But if we don’t watch him constantly, he will choke.
  • Has no concept of danger. Riley requires constant attention or he could easily hurt himself. His curiosity makes him want to grab everything, but he doesn’t know that the pan on the cabinet could bust his skull if he pulls it off on top of him.

You know, this list could go on for pages. But here’s a short list of things Riley can do.

  • Love. Riley knows only love. Unconditional love. No hate. No jealously. No envy. Only love.
  • Trust. Riley trusts. He knows nothing else but trust. He trusts his caregivers in every single thing. He never questions.
  • Laughter. Riley laughs and squeals at the simplest things. He doesn’t need the latest and greatest of everything. He LOVES to play with a $3 Slinky. Better yet, he LOVES to play UNO.
  • Charm. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but people melt when they meet Riley.
  • Smile. Riley is almost always smiling, except when he’s overstimulated. And it’s a smile that will melt your heart.

In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

That’s what Riley is. He may be 20 years old, but he has always been, and always will be, a little child. A loving, trusting child. And in his face, I get to see what the Kingdom of God looks like. He is God’s child. He was God’s before he was mine and he’ll be God’s when one or both of us is gone from this earth.

Riley is the biggest challenge that I have faced in life. But, without a doubt, Riley is the greatest blessing in my life, apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The challenges of the “Riley Experience” have made our family stronger, our time together more dear, our compassion for others more real. We are better people because of what happened to Riley.

God used the greatest tragedy in my life to bring about the greatest blessings in my life.

Yes, I still struggle with it. Michelle will tell you that I do. But when I lay down in Riley’s bed to snuggle him at bedtime, all the fears, the uncertainties, the heartaches, the worries – they all melt away.

Thank you, Lord, for all of my children. But I thank you in a very special way for Riley and the twenty years I’ve had with him. And thank you for their godly, loving Mother  – my wife – who blesses all of us with her gentle spirit and never-ending faithfulness to You.

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Rumination XL – The Rambling Texan’s Flora-Bama Travel Guide

This year has seen more than the usual amount of travel for the RT. Not only has the RT spent time in København in 2017, late summer brought an opportunity to spend a week in Flora-Bama.

Where The Heck Is Flora-Bama?

Now, you may be asking: “Just where in the heck is Flora-Bama?” And that’s a good question, for the RT had never heard of it himself before this trip.

It seems that the southeast corner of the ‘Bama panhandle intermingles with the western tip of the Flor’a panhandle. The state lines in this particular part of the world criss-cross back and forth so often that you need a navigator just to keep up with which state you’re in. Along the way, some enterprising fellow set up a bar right on the state line, named it Flora-Bama and history was made.

How To Get There

To get to Flora-Bama, one must go through one or both of Mississippi and Louisiana. Even if you live in Miami, Florida, your route would inevitably take you through Mississippi and/or Louisiana. Both are delightful places, filled with lovely people with names like Cooter, Bubba and Boudreaux.

And the RT’s travels through the area proved an adage he’s known to be true for a long time: “If a place advertises ‘Clean Restrooms’, it doesn’t have them, or much anything else, for that matter.”

Culture

The first thing you need to know is that wherever you may be in the Flora-Bama area, you are either in or very close to Alabama. And that ought to tell you something, right there.

It’s as if Lynyrd Skynyrd is always there, looking over your shoulder. The widespread availability of shotglasses, refrigerator magnets and license plate frames emblazoned with “Sweet Home Alabama” can leave you misty-eyed. And the pickup truck flying four full-sized Confederate flags (one of which carried the banner “Heritage, not Hate”) provided another helpful reminder.

So, even if you’re on the Flor’a side of the Flora-Bama line, feel free to let the chorus of “Free Bird” rip. Preferably from the windows of a late ‘70s Trans-Am.

Cuisine

The cuisine in Flora-Bama is superb, because they use a very special seasoning in the area: Fried

You’ll find it applied to chicken, catfish, shrimp, pies and pickles. The Family RT was able to isolate the essence in the bottom of a basket of fried pickles in the clumps of “fried” that contained no pickles. Very heady stuff.

They also eat many sea creatures in Flora-Bama, again with significant amounts of “fried” applied: shrimp, crab, fish and okra. OK, okra is not a sea creature, but the RT almost had you.

Clothing

When going to the beach, be sure to leave the majority of your clothes behind. This requirement seems to apply equally to men and women. The better to see your tattoos, we guess.

Beach Accessories

When going to the beach, you must not forget the number one beach accessory. It’s not sunscreen, or a beach chair, or an umbrella, or flip-flops, or a beach towel. Each of these is important in its own right, but each places a distant second to the really important thing: BEER

Never – repeat, NEVER – go to the beach without BEER. This could result in a fine or possible bodily harm. The only time that bullies kick sand in your face is when you are not brandishing BEER. Have one at 8am and at 8:15am and another at 8:30am. Just keep ‘em coming.

Don’t fret about finding the right craft beer, pale ale or Belgian wheat. Nope, just pick up a case or three of Milwaukee’s Best or Schlitz or PBR. That’s all you need in Flora-Bama.

And after you’ve downed a six (or two), you won’t care about chairs, sunglasses or sunscreen. You’ll can just lay there like a beached whale. Don’t worry, when you come to well after dark, you can find your way back to the condo using the glow from your fiercely-sunburned skin.

Orange Beach

One of the popular spots in Flora-Bama is Orange Beach. Maybe he missed something, but the only thing the RT saw in Orange Beach were the folks that had spent a little too much time at the spray tanning facility. Other than that, it seemed like a pretty regular beach.

Souvenirs

When you go to Flora-Baja, you’ll want to pick up some souvenirs. Make sure you get the really good stuff: shot glasses, bells, refrigerator magnets, bottle openers, pickled/preserved baby sharks (I did not make that up), baby alligator jaws, beer hats, wife-beater t-shirts, and anything that has “Sweet Home Alabama” on it.

With these in hand, you can impress your friends with trinkets from your classy vacation.

Dolphins

No, not the Miami Dolphins. The RT wouldn’t be caught dead in Miami.

The RT is talkin’ about the Real McCoy in the dolphin world. Those graceful and adorable aquatic creatures that pop up from the water when you least expect them. The Family RT took a private sunset dolphin cruise and had a great time. The RT recommends that you do the same when you are in Flora-Bama.

In case you are wondering, the RT couldn’t tell the difference between the Flor’a dolphins and the ‘Bama dolphins. They were all chattering “Free Bird” as they went past.

In Closing

The RT hopes that you, dear reader, are not disappointed by the brevity of this travel guide. It’s not that there was a lack of things to write about. Au contrare, mon ami! There was an overabundance of material, from the first visit to a Flor’a WalMart to the final stop at a C-store in Louisiana.

Perhaps another day, my friend.

Best, The Rambling Texan

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Rumination XXXIX – How To Succeed … By Really Trying

The RT’s son recently got a job at a local burger place. Since it was his first job, the RT thought he should offer some fatherly advice about work and work ethic. As the RT pondered these pearls of sage advice, he decided that they should be committed to writing and shared.

The following are principles that are guaranteed to help you succeed in life.

The RT learned them from a skinny kid who went to work for the Cotton Belt Railroad as a telegrapher when he was 16 years old, then retired 43 years later from the same railroad as Superintendent – a position that was called President when he started. That skinny kid/successful railroad man was the RT’s Daddy (aka Papa RT) and he was, is and always will be the RT’s role model.

Some of these principles were shared verbally. Others were lived out in Papa RT’s own life. And the rest come from the RT’s personal observations and experience while applying them.

These principles don’t guarantee that you’ll be rich or that you’ll have everything your heart desires. But they do guarantee success in the real-world sense of the word. They will make you feel good about yourself and what you do. They will create an environment in which you can make a difference. And they’ll make a better you.

Here they are, in some vague semblance of order:

  • Nobody owes you anything. That’s right … Nothing. Nobody owes you a job. Nobody owes you insurance. Nobody owes you retirement benefits. Nobody owes you a raise. Nobody owes you a promotion.  Some employers offer these things and some don’t. But regardless, you’ll have to work for everything you get.
  • It’s not about you. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Get used to it. Your job on this earth is to work and serve and take care of others. Focus on what you can do for others and you may find that your needs get met along the way.
  • Work hard. Don’t be idle. Do your job. Do the other guy’s job. Do jobs nobody else wants to do. Do all that’s asked of you. Then do more. If something needs to be done, do it. Don’t wait to be told. Show initiative.
  • Stay busy. When you’re on company time, you work for the Company. You don’t check Facebook. You don’t do Snapchat. You don’t talk on your phone to your friends. You work for the Company. You do your job. You do what the Company asks of you – unless it’s illegal, unethical or immoral.
  • Make yourself valuable. If you have idle time, learn the other guy’s job. Make yourself more valuable to the company. Minimum skills equal minimum pay. Increase your skills, your pay will follow. Build your skills and learn the other guy’s job so you’ll be the most qualified when the Boss needs somebody to fill a more responsible role.
  • Respect the Boss. Remember that the Boss is not always right, but he or she is always the Boss. And that makes them right in that moment. Unless your name is on the door, you don’t call the shots. The Boss does. Be respectful – all the time.
  • Be on time. No, be early. Stay late. Come in on weekends. Work until the work is done, not until the clock strikes 5pm. Clock-watching is for those who don’t want to succeed.
  • Be honest. Completely honest. Honest to a fault. Prove to the Boss that you can be trusted with little things and he or she might give you bigger things.
  • Admit your failures. Tell on yourself when you screw up. Take whatever comes, then get up and get back at it. The only time you are a failure is when you don’t get back up.
  • Be careful with your mouth. If you work hard and prove yourself, you may earn the right to provide feedback. But don’t be surprised if the Boss puts you in your place if you offer comments before that time comes. Especially if you smart off in so doing.
  • Be an adult. Don’t expect your boss to coddle you, motivate you, encourage you or understand you. Work is not a daycare – it’s a job, where you are expected to perform. Do your job well, and let a job well done be your motivation.
  • Do whatever it takes. Eliminate the phrase “that’s not my job” from your vocabulary. To be successful, make everything your job. If you see a piece of trash on the floor, pick it up. If the sink in the bathroom is a mess, wipe it down. If there’s no coffee, make some. Nothing should be “beneath you”. Show the Boss that you’ll do anything to make the Company successful. Then he or she might let you do something important.
  • Support your coworkers. Don’t cover for a slacker, but help coworkers when they need it. Show the Boss that you care about his or her reputation – and the Company’s – enough to do someone else’s work, if necessary. Be a leader among your peers. Raise them to your level; don’t drop to theirs.
  • Make things better. If you don’t like the environment in which you work, change it. Be the change you want to see. If the company doesn’t appreciate your efforts, then find a new place to work. Don’t complain.
  • Life is not fair. You may do all of these things and not get a single thing for your efforts. But know that you did your dead-level best and determine to keep trying. Stay at it and it will pay off.
  • Hard work always pays off. Even if it doesn’t come with a raise, a promotion or recognition, it makes you stronger. It makes you a better person. And that, my friend, is the real definition of “successful”.

There you go. Papa RT’s secrets for success. They worked for him and they’ll work for you. And they’ll work everywhere – not just at work.

It’s never too late to start applying them.

Best, The Rambling Texan

Posted in Leadership, Respect, Responsibility, Success, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rumination XXXVIII – The Rambling Texan’s Copenhagen Travel Guide

Introduction

The RT had an opportunity to visit Copenhagen, Denmark recently to visit his Little Baby Girl, while she was studying abroad. As is the case in most of his travels, the RT made some noteworthy observations which will help other visitors to Copenhagen.

First Impressions

When the RT first touched down in Copenhagen (called København or “koobinhown” by the locals), he was stunned to find out that it wasn’t the world center for snuff or “smokeless tobacco”. In fact, he only saw one empty snuff box on the sidewalk the whole time in København … and it wasn’t Copenhagen … or Skoal (remember what Walt Garrison of the late ‘70s Dallas Cowboys said: “just a pinch between your cheek and gum …”) … or Happy Days. Things were starting out on the wrong foot. Something was, indeed, rotten in the state of Denmark, in addition to the seaweed on the beach.

After meeting up with Daughter RT, it became apparent the she had spent the past six weeks in intensive ultra-marathon walker training, rather than actually studying abroad. She almost succeeded in walking her Daddy to death over the succeeding week, but the RT somehow managed to survive. And what lovely calf muscles we have now. Tak!

The General Populace

You, no doubt, have seen the print ads for Ralph Lauren Polo. You know, the ones with the strikingly beautiful/handsome people with piercing blue eyes, stylish blond hair, striking features and a certain disaffected gaze. As it turns out, all those people are from Denmark. Many folks on the street look as if they just stepped away from a Polo photo shoot (or maybe a fragrance ad, except that none of them were in black and white). After all, nothing says Ralph Lauren’s America like Danish-looking people.

The death rate in Denmark must be abnormally high, because people seem to wear black all the time in order to attend the funerals. Black shirts, black pants, black sweaters, black overcoats … black everything. A stroll down the sidewalk feels like a funeral procession.

Except for the hair. One sees all colors: blonde, black, red, orange, pink, blue, aqua, mauve, cornflower, burnt umber, seafoam green … no, wait. Those last few were from the RT’s Crayola box when he was a kid.

Danes are generally nice people, though they don’t make eye contact and don’t say “excuse me” when they bump into you, step in front of you or shove past you. Apparently, there’s no Danish equivalent to “excuse me”, so they just don’t bother. I guess they didn’t have a Mama like the RT’s who bopped them on the head anytime they bumped into somebody and didn’t say “mine dybeste undskyldninger for at støde ind i dig” (that’s what Google Translate came up with when the RT gave it “my deepest apologies for bumping into you”).

Tattoos and Piercings

It seems that Danish sailors brought home the practice of tattooing from Polynesia many years ago. And then took it to a new level. The RT thought there were a lot of tattooed people in the good ol’ US of A. While that is, indeed, true, there is a MUCH higher percentage of them in København.

Coupled with piercings of every conceivable body part, this makes these folks look like Danish sailors that got caught up in the ship’s tackle box and had to claw their way out.

Graffiti

The local folk in København apparently dig graffiti, as it appears everywhere, including Amager East, where the RT stayed. This initially set the RT back, wondering if he had landed in gang territory. However, the area was otherwise nice. Apparently, graffiti is simply a form of expression for Københavnites. Nothing says “Velkommen” like spray paint.

Language

In Denmark, the people speak Danish, a language not unlike English, except the Danes have done something cute, bordering on adorable. Over time, they’ve come up with a completely different word for everything! It’s not only adorable, it’s also quite fashionable. It sounds remotely like Deutsch, spoken with a mouth full of Life Savers.

They use “ring diacritics” in written Danish (that’s when you have something like extra Cheerios lying around and sprinkle them on top of other letters so you can claim they have a different sound). In addition, they apparently make a lot of mistakes when printing signs and ads, because they have to go back and cross out a lot of their regular “o”s. Then when a complete sentence is finally arrived at, they randomly omit certain letters when speaking, just to keep the tourists guessing.

Bicycles

Københavnites love their bicycles. Really. No, REALLY. There are bicycles EVERYWHERE. And they move FAST. And they WILL run over you. On several occasions, the RT was almost flattened by a speeding bicyclist. So, watch out. Or you could become a statistic.

Interestingly, most of the bicycles in København are of the style that Mama RT had when the RT was a child. Single speed, balloon tires, fenders, wide seat, etc. The kind that Papa RT cranked out of Mac’s Bike Shop in East Texas in the ‘50s. Thankfully, there are few hills, so the ol’ single speed bike does the trick.

Money

The currency in Denmark is the Danish Krone (which makes the RT want to sing a song by The Knack: “M-M-M-My Ka-rona”). And the RT saw many Danes spending their krone on Corona (they do love to drink).

The krone is worth less than the good ol’ US dollar, and quite a lot so. It takes about six krone to equal one US dollar. That means when you go buy a hamburger for 79, DKK (don’t forget the comma; it means the same as a decimal point; and a decimal point means the same as a comma; can a fella get a ring diacritic over here?), don’t worry – you’re not about to drop 79 Simoleans. You are actually only handing over about 12 tamales.

On his last European trip, the RT got pretty good at spending Euros, because they were worth slightly more than good ol’ ‘Merican petrodollars. So, when something cost 10€, you knew you were spending about 11 smackeroos. But with these krones, it was a hard conversion. Dividing by six in his head on the fly ain’t the RT’s strong suit.

So, the RT came up with this easy trick. First, move the decimal place (or the comma in this case) one place to the left. So, your 79, DKK becomes 7,9 something-or-other. Then add a little over half as much, and you get 12 or 13. And that’s about how many clams it’ll set you back.

See how easy that is? Or maybe Google will come up with some glasses that automatically convert DKK to USD. Until then, the RT is doing it his way. Or maybe you can just divide by six.

Canals and Boats

There are many canals in København, which leads to many bridges, as well. And like any good city with canals, there are boats that ply them constantly. And like any place where boats interact with bridges, there are spans these boats must pass through.

To make the absolute greatest use of the available spans, the designers made the boats approximately 30 Ångstroms narrower and 20 Å shorter than the available span at high tide (did you notice how the RT snuck in a letter with a ring diacritic there?).

This makes for some interesting “interactions” between the boats and the bridges. Just remember to keep your head down, and your arms and legs inside the boat at all times. Or another statistic could be in the making.

Festival

As is his custom, the RT arrived right at the peak of summer festival season. On this trip, it was the Mega-Crane, Gaping Hole, Trenching Implement and Sewer Pipe festival. Everywhere was singing and dancing around the heavy equipment and random chasms in the street. It was hard to fight the urge to join in. No visit to any city is complete without a view under the streets and sidewalks.

On the side streets, there were regular exhibitions of large delivery trucks backing up. Every morning. Outside the RT’s window. For real. Beep, beep, beep.

Free Christiana

Now, there is a special place in central København called Free Christiana. It seems that right after Jimi finished playing The Star-Spangled Banner and set fire to his Telecaster back at Yasgur’s Farm, all the hippies who were watching picked up, moved to København and took over part of one of the islands in the city center. They declared it Free Christiana and kept doing all the things they did out at Woodstock – free love, free dope, free STDs – you name it. And because they smelled so stinkin’ bad, the authorities decided just to leave them be. And they’re still there!

Of course, most of the original bunch are now in their 80s, but they had lots of kids and taught them to act the same way. Lots of rainbows, dilapidated trailers, peace signs – it’s all there. So, if you’re in the mood to relive the ‘60s, come on down to Free Christiana; they’ll leave the lava lamp on for you.

Swedes

It’s a good thing that the RT was in København during the summer, because had the strait between Denmark and Sweden frozen over, and had the RT seen a Swede attempting to cross over on foot, he would have been obligated to hit said Swede with a stick, per Danish law. Not that the RT has anything against Swedes, mind you, but he would have felt obliged to support his Danish hosts.

Suffice it to say that Danes and Swedes aren’t very close, though their fates have been linked for centuries.

Architecture

København is renowned for its, er, rather “unique” architecture and style. In East Texas, we would just say that it’s kinda weird. There’ll be a beautiful old castle and right next to it will be a funky, boxy structure called “modern architecture”. The RT will take the castle any day.

Danes also have their own “modern” designs for furniture. Very curvy and hip. Definitely more comfortable than a stump.

Castles

There are many castles, or slots, in the København Region. Seems as though each king had to outdo the previous one. There’s Christiansborg, Kronberg, Rosenborg, Frederiksborg, Amalienborg, Sønderborg, Dingelborg, Hyperborg and Cyborg. OK, those last three were made up. But there are a LOT of castles.

Christiansborg Slot currently houses the Queen’s reception halls, the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Supreme Court. Its history reminds me somewhat of the famous Swamp Castle in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

King: I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started, all I had was swamp! Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em! It sank into the swamp, so I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. I built a third one. It burned down, fell over, and then it sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up! And that’s what you’re going to get, lad – the strongest castle on these islands!

Christiansborg and its predecessors were destroyed by invaders, rebuilt, burned down, rebuilt, burned down again, then rebuilt. This one should stand for at least a few more weeks.

Kronberg Castle is the sweetest of them all in the RT’s book. That’s because it was the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Now, don’t be thinkin’ that the RT has gone all snooty on you and started reading Shakespeare. Nope, not at all. But the RT got to see Hamlet Live there and was actually able to understand it. The RT hopes that someone can track down Mrs. Griggs (his high school English teacher) and tell her that he finally gets it.

Food

While you are in København, you’ll probably want to eat some food. The skinke is quite good, as is the kryllen. Or maybe try the fiske. Those are really just ham, chicken and fish, but the RT thought the names were cool. Personally, the RT dropped a lot of krone on is, kanelruller og kaffe. That’s ice cream, cinnamon rolls and coffee to you flatlanders.

Do go to Papirøen (“paper island”) when in København. It’s an old warehouse where paper was once stored. Today, it’s an old warehouse filled with street food vendors … and four million people. None of which can say “excuse me”.

And you’ll want to try a hot dog from one of the many street vendors. It ain’t your regular ol’ ‘Merican hot dog – the kind that leaves the water you boiled it in kinda red. These hot dogs have flavor! Instead of a regular hot dog bun, they cut a baguette in half, make a hole down the center, squirt it full of mayo, ketchup or mustard, and slide the hot dog into it. Pertty cool in the RT’s book.

Cigarettes

Yes! Have some please! And smoke them everywhere! Especially while sitting next to the RT in a public place! And please blow smoke in his face! Tak!

Many young people in Denmark smoke cigarettes (as well as other herbs and spices). In an attempt to curb the smoking epidemic, the Danish Government requires not only warning labels on cigarette packages, but also warning PHOTOGRAPHS. These photographs of people coughing up blood, people with oozing chest wounds, people crying over caskets, people being zipped into body bags and people with missing toes (yes, toes) apparently have zero impact on Danish youth, but made the RT want to toss his cookies right there in the checkout line at Netto.

So, please smoke more cigarettes, yes! And please leave your empty packages on the ground as garbage for the RT to see and want to vomit.

Toilets

The Danes have a special word for toilet: toileter.  This is very handy to know when you need to go.

Like many European countries, the toileters in Denmark have two flush settings/sizes: “Mommy, I go pee-pee” and “Look, I make big doody!”

The RT trusts you’ll know which one to use and at what times. At least you won’t have to pay for the privilege.

Environs

The weather in København is quite delightful in summer. Highs in the 60s, lows in the 50s, low humidity, nice breezes, occasionally rain showers. In short, nothing like the summers in the South. The RT could get used to summers like that.

However, the sun never really goes away in Denmark. Oh, it goes below the horizon about 11pm, but the sky never gets fully dark, and then Brave Helios is staring at you again in the wee hours of the morning. This leads to sleep deprivation for little ol’ boys from East Texas. The RT finally had to go back home just to get some sleep.

Final Thoughts

While the RT has no desire to move to København, it’s definitely a nice place to visit. Except in the winter, when the sun never really comes up. That would be tough. You’d be wandering around in the cold and dark, bumping into people who can’t say “excuse me”.

All for now, The Rambling Texan

Posted in Humor, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Rumination XXXVII – An Eighteen-Year-Old Sermon

While searching for something else, I stumbled upon a sermon I was privileged to share with my church family 18 years ago this month. I share it here because I still believe everything I said back then. God is good! The Rambling Texan

A Perfect Boy
A Sermon Delivered to the Pleasant Valley Church on June 13, 1999

On January 15, 1999, God blessed our family with our 3rd child, a baby boy, Robert Riley McClanahan. He came into this world at 8:02 AM that Friday, weighing 9 pounds. Riley was perfect in every way. He was absolutely beautiful. He wiggled and squirmed and cried like newborn babies are supposed to do.

For the next two weeks, Riley continued in his perfection. He was a settled baby, seldom crying except when he needed something. We set up a nursery and dug out all of the baby toys that we had stashed away in the attic. It had been two years since we had had an infant in the house, but we were getting used to it again.

On January 29th, Michelle and I planned an evening out and left Kylie and Kathleen with a sitter. Riley went with us so that Michelle could feed him when he got hungry. After we finished our meal, we took Riley to the van and as I placed his infant carrier in the vehicle, he began to scream. He screamed so much that I took him out of the carrier and gave him to his Mother. She changed his diaper and got him settled again.

We drove to St. Vincent Doctors Hospital to visit Eddie and Paula Shields who had just had their son Carter. Michelle went up first, while I sat in the van with Riley. While she was gone, Riley threw up and started to choke. I got up from the driver’s seat and took Riley from his carrier. Thinking that he was choking, I turned him on his belly over my knee and patted his back to make sure that anything in his airway would come out. He settled down on my knee and seemed OK.

When Michelle returned to the van, I told her that Riley had really scared me and that I thought he had been choking. She took him off my knee and when she did, he arched as far back as he could and his eyes rolled back in his head. She called out to him, but he was quite unresponsive. Being a nurse and a Mother, she knew something wasn’t right and told me to drive to Children’s Hospital.

The five-minute drive to ACH seemed like an eternity, but Riley settled down again on his Mother’s knee. We got to the emergency room entrance at Children’s and I stopped to let Michelle out with Riley. She took a good long look at him and asked me if we were trying to make a problem out of what had happened. We were unsure so she told me to drive on, park the van and then we would decide what to do.

We parked behind the hospital and got out a flashlight so that Michelle could see him better. After opening his pajamas and seeing his color, she immediately left the van and headed for the ER. I followed her there and while she saw the nurse, I took care of the administrative paperwork. By the time that I got back to the nurse’s cubicle, they had decided that Riley needed to go on into the ER.

In the ER, things were very slow and the doctor was able to see Riley immediately. They began to run through possible causes for Riley’s actions and while they did, a social worker took us back to a family room. Once we sat down, our heads began to spin. What happened? Did we do something to cause this? Should we have noticed the problem sooner?

In what seemed like split second, our lives had been changed. Our perfect baby was in trouble. We made a couple of phone calls – to my sister and to Tamara Bellcock – both of whom came immediately. By the time that we got back to the ER, the doctors had ruled out a number of possibilities, but had found blood in Riley’s spinal fluid. They were making plans for a CT scan to see if something had happened to his brain.

The CT scan showed massive amounts of blood in the ventricles in Riley’s brain. The blood itself and the pressure that it caused within his head were causing him to have seizures. His situation was now extremely serious.

The next thing we knew, we were talking to a neurosurgery resident who told us that Riley would die if they did not perform a procedure to install an extra-ventricular drain or EVD. The purpose of the EVD was to allow the pressure within his head to escape and the blood to drain out. We now had to decide whether or not to allow the surgeon to puncture a hole in the top of Riley’s head and work a tube down into his brain.

In three hours time, we went from having a perfect baby to having one that would die shortly if this procedure were not done. Our quiet evening out had turned into a parent’s worst nightmare. We were beginning to understand that our lives were going to be different forever.

The last time that I saw Riley before the procedure, they were moving him up to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) on a gurney. He looked very disturbed and was bicycling – moving his arms and legs in a circular fashion reminiscent of the movement one makes while bicycling. They moved him into the unit and Michelle and I were escorted to the PICU nurse’s lounge to wait.

We sat down again and the questions came back. Will he live? Will he die? Will he ever be the same again? Why did this happen? Why can’t they just fix it? There were tears and there was nervous laughter. The soul searching had begun.

What we did not know was that God was already prompting His family to action. He had already moved those who knew what was going on to make some phone calls. Those phone calls resulted in other phone calls. Within a very short time, a large part of our church family became aware of the Riley’s situation. Prayers were already being offered on Riley’s behalf.

The procedure to install the EVD was a success, but the neurosurgeon cautioned us that Riley’s condition was still extremely serious and that he might not make it through the night. Through her connections, Tamara Bellcock – soon to become known as Sergeant Bellcock because of her exquisite logistical skills – had arranged for the surgery waiting room to be opened to make room for our family and friends. No sooner had we settled into the waiting room than members of our church family started coming out of the woodwork – literally. Every time that I looked up, someone else was coming to be with us. No one knew what to say, but everyone knew what to do – hug our necks, cry with us, tell jokes to make us laugh and pray with us.

By the time that things settled down, there were 30 or so people who gave up a night’s rest at home with their families to come to the hospital to be with us. These folks came for the sole purpose of sharing our trouble with us and they would have stayed the entire night had we not sent them home. Never in my lifetime had I experienced anything so terrible and so frightening as what was happening to Riley. Yet never in my life had I experienced anything so wonderful as the outpouring of love from God’s family.

By God’s grace, Riley made it through that first night. We woke up the next day hoping against all odds that the entire ordeal had been a dream. But when the mists of sleep had worn off, the facts remained – our son was in PICU at Children’s dealing with the effects of a massive hemorrhage in his brain. We knew little about his current condition and absolutely nothing about what the future would bring.

But an amazing thing had happened. Michelle and I, though stressed out beyond what words can express, had an inexplicable calmness within us. I took us longer than it should have to remember what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We were experiencing the results of one of God’s promises. It was comforting to know that whatever happened, whether Riley came through this episode with no lasting effects or if God called Riley home to be with Him, everything would be OK.

Yet, one of the questions that kept coming back to our minds was “Why? Why did this have to happen?” I doubt that I will ever know the reason that God allowed this to happen to my son, but God blessed me by allowing me to see a portion of His purpose from the outset. God has used what happened to Riley to bring about revival – revival in my heart, revival in my family and revival in His church.

The most powerful effect of this whole event on me personally came as an answer to a prayer from my own heart. On the Friday that Riley went into the ER at Children’s, I had had lunch with Mike Ireland. During our time together, I told Mike that I was tired of church. Not tired of Christianity or tired of being a disciple of Jesus, but tired of church. I was tired of church politics and all of the silly things that we find to argue about. I was tired of going through the motions. There had to be something more to following Jesus than “church”.

When I saw Mike at the hospital later that night, I realized that God had provided an answer to my prayers and frustrations. He allowed a life-shattering event such as this to take place and used it to show me what His church is all about – showing His love to the world. They say that you should always be careful about what you pray for, because you just might get it. God answered my prayer, but in a way that I could never imagine and would never have chosen. But the blessings began there and continue today.

I could tell story after story, from my own experiences or shared with me by friends and family, about how God has used Riley’s situation to touch people. But time will not permit me to go on. So perhaps I’ll write a book, where I can devote as much time as needed to address them all.

For now, let me leave you with two more lessons that we learned.

In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We quickly discovered that we had absolutely no control over anything that was going on. As a result, we had no choice but to turn everything over to God – He alone was in control. At first that was a scary thought – not being in control. Yet when we fell off the tightrope, we never hit the ground, because God was there to catch us in His hands. And it is there that He has kept us since that day.

Another lesson came from the many prayers that were offered. James 5 says: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Many righteous people offered thousands of prayers on Riley’s behalf and we began immediately to see the effects. Again and again we prayed for Riley and again and again God answered. Some answers came immediately, some took days or weeks and some answers were “Wait a while”. But God answered prayers again and again.

I’ll never forget the indentations that our knees made in the carpet in the chapel at Children’s hospital. It was there that our prayer warriors met time and again to go before the Father. And we felt His presence and His power when we prayed. I pray that none of us will forget those experiences.

In closing, I’m reminded of what John wrote in chapter 13 of his gospel: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I have learned that the Lord has many disciples in this place, because they have show His love to me.

Closing Thoughts

One of the many ways that God has blessed me throughout this situation is with a tangible reminder of His love and power. Every time that I look at Riley, I’m reminded that he is here because of God’s care. This doesn’t make Riley any different from anyone else in this room – we’re all here because of God’s love for us. But Riley has served as a powerful reminder for me that God is alive and He is in control. God has taught me that if I’ll trust Him, he will lead me through anything. I pray that none of us will soon forget the lessons that he has taught us through Riley’s situation.

It’s important to me that everyone know that this evening has not been about Riley. Instead, it’s about what God has done for people in our church family, like Linda Jones, Amanda Wright and others.

I’d also like to say “Thank You” to all of you who have been with us through the past several months. You have lifted us up and taken care of our every need. You have laughed with us, cried with us and prayed with us. You have cleaned our house, brought us meals, watched our children and run our errands. You have prayed for Riley and our family. Your children have stopped me to let me know that they pray for Riley every night. The debt of gratitude that my family owes all of you is more than we could ever repay. And we know that all of you have done these things not for us, but to bring honor and glory to God.

In just a minute, Keck is going to lead us in another song and then John Carroll will offer one last prayer. But before that happens, I’d like to ask all of those who have been through this with us and those who have been touched or moved by what God has done for our church family to join us down front here. I’d like for us to join hands and sing the song that Mike has picked out for us and then go to God in prayer as John leads us.

Robert McClanahan

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Rumination XXXVI – Why Humans Communicate and What Happens When They Don’t 

(Note to the Reader: The Rambling Texan apologizes in advance that this post lacks his usual snarkiness, and that it has a title that borders on academia. Both were necessary to convey the importance of the subject matter. Until next time. RT) 

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to sit through a good number of supervisory training sessions. Most were quite average and have long since faded from memory. However, one of them still stands out after many, many years. 

Back in the ‘80s, a fellow by the name of Jack Yeager came in from our national organization and taught a session on interpersonal communication. As it turned out, he was a graduate of my college alma mater and we studied under some of the same professors. Maybe that helped this particular session stick with me. But most likely it was because Jack was a natural communicator and approached the topic in a way that was completely unexpected. 

A Unique Perspective on Communication  

Jack started with this fundamental thesis:  

Humans communicate with each other to reduce uncertainty.

The workshop attendees immediately pushed back at that suggestion, but Jack challenged us to toss out various forms of interpersonal communication. We came up with interactions such as: an argument between spouses, a parent disciplining a child, an interaction between a shopper and a sales clerk, a supervisor doing a performance appraisal with a subordinate, or two friends catching up after a long separation. 

Jack fielded each one with precision and helped us see that all of them had their roots in reducing uncertainty. Now, there’s no way that I could do justice to his explanations, so I won’t even try. But I will try to share some of what I learned from listening to them.  

After he persuaded us to give his thesis a hearing, he went on to expound upon it and its converse.  

The Converse: The Absence of Communication  

So, if you are willing to accept that we humans communicate to reduce uncertainty, then here are some things that logically flow from the absence of communication: 

  • In the absence of communication, uncertainty increases. 
  • When uncertainty increases, people become uneasy and mistrusting.  
  • Uncertainty from the absence of communication creates an information vacuum, and just as nature abhors an actual vacuum, humans abhor an information vacuum. 
  • To fill such a vacuum, people will begin to manufacture information, giving rise to the grapevine and the rumor mill. 
  • When humans manufacture information, it invariably involves worst-case scenarios, leading to conspiracy theories, false judgments and trust issues.  
  • Before long, the initial uncertainty can grow into a full-blown crisis.

An Example

Jack shared a personal story that helped us grasp what he was talking about and highlighted our human propensity to fill the unknown with the worst possible scenarios. 

At that time, he had a young son. Each night they would read stories at bedtime and all was right with the world. That is, all was good until Jack turned off the light.  

Once the light was off, his son became scared that there was a monster under his bed. Jack would turn the light back on and show him that there was no monster under the bed. Yet when the light was off again, the son again became scared at what was under the bed. Jack told us that his son didn’t THINK that a monster might be under his bed, he KNEW that a monster was down there because he couldn’t see to convince himself otherwise. 

Sound familiar? Ever have a child with similar fears? Ever seen employees in your workplace respond similarly? 

How to Prevent Such Problems  

So, how do you prevent problems like this? Communicate

How do you stifle the grapevine and the rumor mill? Communicate

How do you stop conspiracy theories and suspected hidden agendas? Communicate

How do you begin to restore lost trust? Communicate

Now, what I’ve shared from a workshop I attended thirty years ago might not be enough to completely persuade you to accept Jack Yeager’s thesis. But I will tell you that I’ve observed and experienced enough positive and negative human interaction since that workshop to know that it’s a pretty accurate assessment, especially in the negative sense.  

Nothing suppresses the rumor mill like regular, candid, transparent communication. 

Nothing is more effective at maintaining trust than open and honest communication. 

Nothing takes the heat off a contentious issue like the leadership of an organization stepping up and talking about the “elephant in the room”.  

On the flip side, nothing increases uncertainty and feeds a crisis better than continuing to keep silent during a difficult period.  

Last Words 

So, with apologies to a Jack Yeager, I’ll summarize everything he taught us thirty years ago: 

To avoid crises of trust or credibility or morale, communicate early and often and openly.

I hope this helps you as much in your personal relationships (at home, at school, at work, at church, and everywhere else) as it’s helped me over the past thirty years. 

And lastly, thanks to Jack Yeager for sharing this so many years ago! 

Best to All,

The Rambling Texan 

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Rumination XXXV – The Other Side of Stuttering 

In the last post, the RT surprised the heck out of some folks by saying that he’s really an introvert on the inside, driven largely in part by his life as a stutterer. Difficulties in verbal communication make it difficult for someone to become involved in the casual conversations that are part of everyday life. And such was the case for the RT.

So how did the RT become an extrovert, or perhaps more accurately, an ambivert?

Well, there are several factors and the RT will give you the skinny on each one below.

An Overall Maturing

A good part of the transition from introvert to ambivert comes from the inevitable maturing that comes with age (at least for most of us). Maturity allows us to accept our “warts” and other limitations, and go on with life. Rather than being down in the dumps about what we can’t do, we gradually learn to focus on that which we can do.

And believe it or not, the less we stutterers focus on our stuttering, the less of an issue it becomes. Not that it goes away completely, but it gets easier to deal with over time (at least it did for the RT).

Encouragement At Gunpoint

Another factor that helped the RT overcome a large part of his fear of stuttering was the “encouragement” that he received from others. This was often the result of being “voluntold” to participate in some public event.

The RT’s father, known to many as Double R, voluntold him to read scripture in church when the RT was 13 years old. This was quite possibly the most terrifying moment in the RT’s journey toward ambiversion. Reading from the King James Bible (often difficult for fluent people) in front of several hundred people was definitely akin to getting thrown into the deep end of the pool. And, remember from the previous post that reading a written passage of anything is difficult for a stutterer because you can’t substitute words.

Then, at about age 14, Double R voluntold the RT to lead singing at one Sunday night at church. Remember that stutterers can sing flawlessly, but that didn’t make it easier to announce “turn to number forty four” (these last two words are sheer terror for the RT). But after leading singing for 40 years or so, at least there is no longer any embarrassment.

Other such “encouragement” from folks along the way was equally fun and “helpful”. Therapists who had the RT make asinine phone calls just to make him use the phone didn’t help. They just made the RT mad. Yes, I’m talking to you, Janet whatever your name was, my speech therapist in college. I liked you, except for this torture.

But as the old adage says: “continual dripping wears away a stone.” Not sure exactly how that relates here, but it seemed appropriate. Seriously, the thinking of those therapists was that if you keep doing it, it will become easier. And that is true to a great extent. Except phones. The RT hates phones.

Becoming An Expert

As mentioned in the last post, stutterers are driven to excel in some area other than verbal communication. For some it is writing – a wonderful escape from the challenges of stuttering (hence the RT’s penchant for blogging). For others it is their profession. Or maybe one of the arts: music, painting, dance or some other medium.

Regardless of what the outlet is, a stutterer will drive himself/herself to excel and become an expert in some field.

When that happened for the RT, he realized that the expertise that he had developed gave him something important to communicate. He took baby steps at first, talking for a few minutes in a meeting of colleagues. Then volunteering to present on a particular topic at a workshop of peers. Ultimately, this grew into regularly presenting at national conferences of hundreds of people.

It all sprang from a sincere desire to share with others the things that he had learned. And much to his surprise, people came to his presentations, lectures, speeches, or whatever, in spite of the fact that he regularly stuttered and stammered through them. And they came back multiple times … willingly. It gradually dawned on the RT that folks were willing to listen to him, regardless of the circumstances.

The RT now teaches a large adult bible class each week and doesn’t think at all about stuttering, though it happens every week. And the class members keep coming back. Maybe it’s the donuts.

What God Made

The single biggest factor in the RT’s journey to ambiversion or a level of comfort with stuttering was this realization: God don’t make no junk

(Don’t start analyzing the double negatives in that statement or you’ll miss the point.)

The RT was forty-something when it dawned on him (or was, perhaps, revealed to him) that God made everything in the universe exactly the way He wanted it to be, either by directly creating it a certain way, or by allowing the natural order to work to its end (an indirect work of God, since he set the natural order in order).

That means that the RT’s stuttering isn’t an accident or a curse. It was either God’s direct will or the result of the natural order. Either way, it was God’s work and God’s work is never a mistake. Instead, it is always the working of His plan for His purposes.

So, following that line of reasoning, the fact that the RT is a stutterer is no accident. Instead it is the result of God’s providence. Now that will really make one stop and think.

About that same time, the RT was reading the story of God’s calling Moses (for the fiftieth or so time). That’s when the RT noticed something he hadn’t before.

The story begins in Exodus 3, where God appears to Moses in the burning bush, and tells him that he is to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let Israel go. Moses was not excited by that once in a lifetime opportunity and began to give God the reasons that he wasn’t qualified: he didn’t know God’s name (God told him: “I AM”), the Israelites wouldn’t believe that God really sent him (God gave him signs to perform: his staff became a serpent, then back to a staff, his hand became leprous, then back to normal), and finally, that he didn’t speak well.

He didn’t speak well? This intrigued the RT.

This is what Moses said: “Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’” (Exodus 4:10)

Now, Moses is always on the list of famous stutterers that speech therapists share with their clients to make them feel better (bet you didn’t know that there was such a list, or that Moses was on it). James Earl Jones is also on that list (bet you didn’t know that either; can you imagine Darth Vader as a stutterer?). The RT never made the list, at least that he knows of.

So the RT knew that Moses was considered (at least by some) to be a stutterer, but had never given it much thought. After all, Moses was a famous prophet and man of God, and obviously had superpowers of some kind. He would therefore be immune to the feelings of inadequacy that stutterers feel.

But here was Moses trying to wriggle out of God’s calling, at least partially on the account of his inability to speak clearly. That was a new twist for the RT. Sounds like something the RT would do when presented with a situation where he would have to speak in an uncomfortable setting.

But it was God’s response to Moses that really set the RT back: “The LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.’” (Exodus 4:11)

Let me give you the Rambling Texan’s Paraphrase of this section of Exodus:

Moses: “Lord, I’m a stutter and my mouth doesn’t always work.

God: “Moses, don’t you think I know that?

God reminded Moses that He made man’s mouth, and more specific to this situation, Moses’ mouth. He was fully aware of Moses’ flaws and weaknesses when He called him to do the job. But call him He did.

So, if God made Moses mouth, and knew that it didn’t always work well, yet still called him to be a leader among His people, then is it possible that God knew the same about the RT’s mouth and still called him to fill certain roles in His plan?

The RT thinks that the answer is “Yes”.

In 2 Corinthians 14:7, the Apostle Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh”, then goes on in verse 8 to say: “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’”

We’re not certain what Paul’s “thorn” was, but we do know from the passage above that Paul asked three times for it to be taken away. Yet, God’s answer was “No”? Why? Short answer: a weak Paul working with the power of God was much more effective in His plan than a strong Paul trying to do things on his own.

The same is true of Moses. God wanted to work through an imperfect vessel so that it would be obvious that it was His power working, rather than Moses’.

The Bottom Line

So here’s the bottom line: if the RT appears to have any ability, insight or expertise, it ain’t because the RT is something special. it’s the result of God’s power working through him. And the stuttering is there to remind us both of that fact.

So here’s the bottom line of all of this stuttering, introvert/extrovert/ambivert discussion: it’s a wonderful thing to be an instrument in the hands of Almighty God. It may have taken fifty-something years for the RT to get there, but he got there.

Best, The Rambling Texan

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Rumination XXXIV – My Life as a Stutterer

A recent Facebook post about introverts caused the RT to wax reflective about events in his own life that have led him to become somewhat introverted.

Now, that idea may come as a surprise to those who know the RT personally, given that he is often loud, ebullient and obnoxious. The Pigskin Preacher opined that he might possibly be an “ambivert”, a term coined by author Susan Cain to describe those who operate in both the introvert and extrovert realms.

So what might have led the RT to become an introvert (or ambivert) in the first place? Well, let me clue you in on something:

I am a stutterer.

Many of you already knew that, but it’s somewhat liberating to actually write those words. And thanks to many of you for pretending not to notice over the years. Because I’ve been pretending that if I tried hard enough, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

But, in spite of all my attempts to hide it or run away from it, I’ve stuttered all my life. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t. I probably stuttered when crying as a baby.

My mother was a stutterer, as well. She always wondered if stuttering was something she accidentally taught me. Or if there was some hereditary, anatomical defect that caused it. I’m pretty sure that neither is the case. I think it just happened.

These days, I manage my stuttering rather well, but this was not always the case. As a child there were times when I almost couldn’t speak.

The Curse of the Stutterer

You can’t possibly know what it’s like without experiencing it, but here are a few things that might help you understand:

  • Imagine not knowing if your next word or syllable or consonant/vowel sound will come out at all, or if you’ll get stuck on that syllable, bouncing on it over and over, unable to move forward.
  • Imagine the humiliation you feel that this occurs at all, but when that humiliation is amplified by laughter and jeers from classmates and others in the classroom, on the playground, or elsewhere.
  • Imagine trying to express a thought, or tell a joke, or answer a question, or ask a favor, or order a hamburger, never knowing how long it would take to get the words out. Or if they would come out at all.
  • Imagine feeling constant anxiety about what you are trying to say, always thinking three or four words ahead to see if a troublesome word or consonant/vowel sound is coming up (for the RT the worst one is the “f” sound), then scrambling to find another way to express the thought or reword the sentence and avoid that obstacle. And doing that in real-time for every word in every conversation, all the while trying to maintain some appearance of intelligence.
  • Imagine the fear that comes when the teacher tells the class that we’ll be reading the next chapter aloud, with each student reading a paragraph. Then the frantic counting ahead to see which chapter you’ll be reading, and scanning it for troublesome letters, sounds and words. Followed by the panic of finding the “worst of the worst” combination somewhere in that paragraph. And, by the way, the second-by-second exchange of troublesome words for easier words described above can’t be used when the words are set in black and white on the page. The anxiety builds as you wait for the teacher to call your name to read. You have no idea what any of the preceding paragraphs were about because you have been solely focused on the embarrassment that’s about to come when the laughs and snickers start.
  • Imagine the dread you feel when you know that you have to give an oral report in class tomorrow, and that it doesn’t matter how well it’s written or how informative it is, you’ll stumble and bumble and stutter your way through it, providing some of your classmates with an excellent opportunity to make fun of you.
  • Imagine the frustration of wanting to participate in a conversation or discussion, but being hesitant to for fear of being laughed at. Or simply afraid that you’ll be a burden to others by forcing them to listen to you.
  • Imagine the anxiety of meeting new people, having to stutter through your own name, all the time worrying about how big of an idiot you must appear to be to them. And when you finally make your way through, you realize that you can’t remember their name because you were so focused on just getting your own name out without appearing to be a blubbering idiot.
  • Imagine the fear of having to make a phone call to someone you don’t know and can’t see, then trying to express a thought to them, all the while worrying about what kind of gestures and pantomiming ridicule might be occurring on their end.
  • Imagine going to the bank to conduct some business, which involves you stating your social security number, which includes a “4” (remember that the “f” sound is the worst of the worst for the RT), and spending what feels like five minutes going “ffffffffffffff”, before finally placing your forehead on the branch manager’s desk in shame. I should have asked for a piece of paper and written it down, but try maintaining that presence of mind when you are making a fool out of yourself in public.

As I mentioned above, while you may sympathize with those feelings, there’s no way to truly understand them until you’ve lived them.

Some Universal Truths About Stutterers

To help you further understand our nature, here are a few things you’ll probably find to be true of most stutterers:

  1. We are universally shy. You would be, too, if you never knew what was going to happen when you opened your mouth. We’ll duck into a bathroom or head the other direction down a hallway to avoid a conversation. When we do get cornered into a conversation, don’t expect a whole lot of involvement from us. It’s just not in our DNA.
  2. We are very self-conscious. As you’ve probably realized by reading this far, we are faced every day with the awkwardness of people around us as we (try to) speak. We are always watching to see how you will react to our inability to communicate effectively. Your body language is every bit as powerful (and painful) as your laughter or chuckle. As a result, we are hyper-sensitive about how we come across and will go to great lengths in an attempt to hide our stuttering.
  3. We have very large vocabularies. You’ll develop a big one out of necessity when you have to figure out a half-dozen ways to express every possible thought, trying to find one you can actually get out.
  4. We’re driven to prove ourselves. We go to great lengths to prove ourselves in one or more areas to show that we’re not total idiots. For some, it’s academics, for others, music, or sports, or art. We feel compelled to excel in some area to make up for our inadequacies in verbal communication. This is one reason I love to write. It’s an opportunity to show you that I actually can communicate effectively.
  5. We can sing flawlessly. Don’t ask us to explain why we can sing words we can’t speak; it’s just that way. It’s probably the rhythm, the cadence, and the poetry all mixed together that somehow resonates inside and relaxes us. For those of you old enough to remember country singer Mel Tillis, take note that he may have become famous by turning it into a schtick, but his stuttering was real.
  6. We despise telephones. It’s bad enough stuttering in front of someone, but stuttering at someone you can’t see is terrifying. (One of my speech therapists from years ago told me the story of an elderly Vietnamese man who came to the US in the exodus from Vietnam in the mid-to-late ‘70s. He had stuttered all of his life. Having lived in rural Vietnam, he had never seen a telephone. But when he came to America and learned what one was, he immediately refused to use it.)

Sum all of this up and what do you have? People who tend to be introverts, afraid of most social interactions.

The RT as a Stutterer

I can’t speak for every stutterer, but here are a few things I want you to know specifically about me.

  1. If I seem distant, or quiet, or even aloof, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s more likely that I’m having a particularly difficult time with my speech (like many things, it ebbs and flows) and am hesitant to say much – at least until I’m more comfortable being around you.
  2. Please don’t be offended if I don’t remember your name the next time I see you. I was far too anxious about getting mine out with some semblance of fluency when we met to focus on capturing yours.
  3. Don’t be surprised if you leave a voicemail for me and receive a text or an e-mail in return. It’s not intended to be rude or dismissive. It’s my way of expressing my thoughts to you in a clear and fluent manner. Remember that on the phone, I’m not only stuttering to you, but to all of those who are nearby. Writing my thoughts allows me to focus on what I’m trying to communicate, not worrying about how it will or won’t come out.
  4. It’s much easier for me to take a call from you (though I will try to avoid it, if at all possible), than for me to make one to you. When you call me, it’s obvious that you want to speak to me. When I call you, I may be interrupting something, or you may not be all that crazy about speaking to me. Again, this is one reason why you will likely receive a text or an e-mail from me, rather than a phone call.

Final Thoughts (at least for Part I)

The experiences detailed above may lead you to think that the RT’s life has been a living hell and that he is forever scarred emotionally. Both may be true in some small degree. There have been days that were truly awful. And there is a fair amount of internal baggage that the RT carries around from years of dealing with this issue.

However, there is hope and there is blessing in what may appear as solely a disabling characteristic. More on that next time.

Best, The Rambling Texan

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The Rambling Texan’s Coastal Maine Travel Guide

(This post departs from the RT’s normal series of Ruminations for something extremely practical.)

(Please note that this post has been updated to correct an egregious error in the chemical notation below, pointed out by the RT’s daughter.)

Introduction

Let’s say that one day you wake up and say to yourself: “I’d like to go to Maine.”

Whoa, now! You can’t just wake up one day and go to Maine. You have to make plans and travel arrangements and find a place to stay and book tours and find places to eat and buy trinkets. You may ask: “How can I ever plan a delightful Maine getaway if I’ve never been there?” That right there says that you can do this. You’re already asking the right questions. And with the RT’s handy Coastal Maine Travel Guide, you’re already halfway there.

So hang tight and let the RT lead the way.

So Where is Maine?

Maine is located way up yonder in the Northeast, where Yankees come from. It’s officially known as the “Pine Tree State”, though from experience, I can tell you that it could equally be described as the “Let Me Cut In Front Of You State” and “Let Me Show You ALL Of My Tattoos State”.

It’s situated between where those French Canadians live (that’d be Canada for all you folks down South) and Massachusetts, otherwise known as “The Kennedy State”. Now, if the US was a running coyote, Maine would be its head. For what it’s worth, Texas would be the hindquarters and Florida would be the front legs. Now, coyotes don’t have much of one, but in this analogy, California would be its big ol’ rear end. Bet you’ll never look at a US map the same way ever again.

Travel Arrangements

It’s important that you book your trip to Maine on American Airlines through Philadelphia. That way, American Eagle (operated by Wisconsin Air) can get you to your destination three hours late due to a mechanical issue with your aircraft. This will be an issue so trivial that it impacts only the auxiliary power unit (APU), which simply provides power and cooling for the aircraft after it leaves the gate. A properly functioning APU would keep your aircraft from reaching 9000 degrees on the inside, but since yours won’t work, you’ll be able to cleanse your pores and sweat off a few pounds while you wait.

And, if you’re lucky, American may have a “mechanical” on your return trip, as well, causing you a delay of six and a half hours getting home. And your bags could have as much of an adventure as you do, possibly even taking a completely different route to your home airport.

Fine Dining

Upon arrival in Portland, Maine (otherwise known as “Portland East” in Merle Haggard’s smash country hit “Roll On Big Mama” from the mid ‘70s) in the late hours of the evening, you’ll discover that the only restaurant open is Denny’s and your traveling companion will balk at the thought of eating there. This will leave you with very limited options for exquisite dining.

You may choose the splendid option of stopping at McDonald’s in Freeport, Maine, home of the LL Bean flagship store and a host of other trendy “shopping outlets”, even one that makes ladies’ purses out of old worn out sailboat sails.

At said McDonald’s, you’ll discover that it sells lobster (or more accurately “lobstah”) rolls. Yep, there’s a picture of one right there on the menu in the drive-through, compete with a red lobster claw on top. Now, I have no idea if the claw is included, or if there is an extra charge for it. All I know is that a piece of the exoskeleton of a saltwater crustacean is what the RT looks for in a good sandwich. Bon appetit!

Astronomy and Other Stuff

After another hour or so, you’ll arrive at your condo in East Boothbay. You will be quite amazed to see something we don’t see much of in the summer in the South … stars. Yes, those flaming balls of gas that fill our universe. (Actually, they’re not flaming, as in burning – it’s a thermonuclear reaction, where four hydrogen atoms fuse to form two helium atoms, releasing a tremendous amount of energy in the process, but we’ll save further discussion of nuclear fusion for a future post.) The Southern atmosphere is too thick with humidity and mosquitos during the summer to see anything other than the sun by day and the moon by night.

The RT actually saw the Milky Way immediately after stepping out of the car, something he hadn’t seen since his college days.

Summer Temperatures

If you were lucky enough to find a place to stay near the water, you might wander down to the pier for a few minutes. Then you’ll want to find a chair near the edge, by the water and …

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh …

(Sorry. Zoned out there for a minute.)

You might suddenly realize that the temperature is in the mid-70s with a 20-knot breeze – AND IT’S AUGUST! Which is only slightly different than the 100-degree actual/115 “feels like” temperature you left at home.

But one day, it might reach 80 away from the water and the locals will tell you that it’s “hot” or a “skachah”. Pshaw! I’m happy when the overnight lows at home get that “high”. I wish that the RT could pack up a big ol’ load of 70-degree air and haul it down South for the Summer. Ol’ Man Winter might bring us some come late October.

Boothbay Harbor

One day, you may find yourself wandering around Boothbay Harbor, where you might run into someone from, say, Pine Bluff, Arkansas … who knows your sister … and is traveling with a couple that happens to include someone you graduated high school with, but then again, maybe not. But either way, you better mind your manners, because you never know who’s watchin’.

While in Boothbay Harbor, you might enter a candy store, only to be followed in by a ravenous pack of sixth-grade boys with money to spend. If so, please remain calm and look for the nearest exit. White lights on the floor will lead you to red lights, indicating that you have reached an exit. Once there, ask the nearest stranger to help you throw the boys out, one at a time. Problem solved.

Speed Limits

Maine is much like the rest of the world in that they have speed limits on their roads and highways. These are clearly posted on signs on the side of the road (though some are obscured by lovely fir and balsam branches). However, there is an easier way to determine the speed limit without having to look up from your text messaging. Simply take the speed that you are driving and subtract 15mph from it to determine the actual speed limit at your current location.

In short, however fast you are going, SLOW DOWN! There’s no need to rush … you’re in Maine, and you can get a lobstah roll anywhere without having to hurry.

Lobster Rolls

And speaking of lobstah rolls, no Maine travel guide would be complete without some mention of them. We’ve already touched on this local delicacy as presented on the Mickey D’s drive-through menu.

To visualize the real thing, one need only imagine a lowly hot dog bun with a huge lump of cold, mayo-slathered crustacean parts slapped unceremoniously inside. It’s really just tuna salad made from very expensive lobstah, but don’t tell any Mainards that. And to the RT, tuna salad is something only served to people that you don’t want to stay at your house very long.

If you ask the RT, it should be made of warm, buttery lobstah on a toasted sourdough bun. But they didn’t ask me; they simply took my $20 and slung the aforementioned glob of sea creature goo at me.

However, the potato chips and Australian-made root beer the RT had with it made the meal tolerable.

Speaking Mainglish

If you plan on spending any time in Maine, you’ll need to work on a few vocabulary words. This list will get you started.

Bettah – (adj.) Superior in some way.

Hahbah – (n.) A body of watuh surrounded on three sides by land, often used for the protection of watahborne vehicles.

Heyah – (n.) A location near where the speaker is standing.

Lobstah –(n.) A crustacean found in the cold watahs off the Maine coast. Often mixed with mayonnaise to make high-priced seafood salad.

Kah – (n.) A form of motorized transport for highway use.

Kahnt – (v.) Is unable to.

Pahk – (n.) An area dedicated to frolicking and playing. (v.) To place the kah in a specific location set aside for vehicular storage.

Skachah – (n.) An extraordinarily hot day, above, say, 80 degrees.

Summah – (n.) The season that falls between Spring and Autumn.

Theyah – (n.) A location some distance away from the speaker.

Watuh – (n.) A bi-elemental compound, liquid at room temperature, known as dihydrogen monoxide (chemical symbol: H2O). Covers some 2/3 of the Earth’s surface. (v.) To distribute dihydrogen monoxide over a specified area for the purpose of providing a substance necessary for the successful propagation of foliage. (A future post will deal with the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide exposure)

Wintah  – (n.) The season that falls between Autumn and Spring .

Yah Kahnt Get Theyah From Heyah

You may have heard that it can be difficult to get from one place to another in Maine. Well, you heard right. The coast of Maine looks like it was ripped apart into fingers a few million years ago. (Actually it probably was ripped apart by the geological processes that drive plate tectonics, but we’ll save that discussion for a future post.)

The entire coastline consists of slender peninsulas that run generally north-south, each of which is 25-30 miles long. So, for instance, the cottage where the RT stayed in Maine was five miles “as the seagull flies” from the nearby lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. However, it was a drive of fifty-plus miles and an hour and a half to get there – at an average of about 25 miles per hour. OK, so it was really slightly faster than that, but not much.

So, you really can’t get there from here. You have to go someplace else first and then start from there.

Sailing

If you go to Maine, you will want to enjoy some time out on the water, doing what most Mainians seem to like best: getting wet with freezing ocean water while sailing.

Your Captain, John, will tell you that there is hardly any wind at present and that you may have to motor around the harbor, pretending to sail. That’s just before throws your schooner into a 30-knot breeze, causing her to heel over hard to port, dumping the passengers on the port side into the railing, which is approximately three feet underwater by now. This causes ice cold seawater and assorted crustaceans to flow into your tennies and galvanizes your will to stay alive in spite of the tempest of the sea (the RT’s high-school English teacher would be proud of that last part).

So, remember … nothing says “I’ve been to Maine” better than socks and sneakers soaked with freezing salt water. Unless it’s a lobster salad sandwich … I mean “lobstah roll”.

Acadia National Park

We probably should have mentioned this a bit sooner in this guide, since every photo you’ve ever seen of Maine (except those including live moose) was taken in Acadia National Park. (A Møøse once bit my sister…)

You’ll want to time your arrival at Acadia so that 20,000 of your closest friends and parkmates arrive at the same time you do. This is what makes the Park so enjoyable. You get to watch the stunning scenery go by while dodging parked cars, bicyclists, horses and wandering pedestrians, all the while looking at the park map trying to figure out when the next stunning sight will flash by your car window. (No realli! She was Karving her initials øn the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: “The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist”, “Fillings of Passion”, “The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink”…)

Now don’t get me wrong. The RT enjoys being near the Maine coast with 30,000 people – just not all at the same time. I’m thinking maybe three a day over a decade or so. (Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretty nasti…)

But if competing with 40,000 people for that one fantastic photo spot is your thing, then Acadia is for you. (The RT offers his most sincere apologies to the boys from Monty Python.)

On the way out, you’ll want to drive – or more accurately, crawl – through Bar Harbor, Maine, otherwise known as the City of 50,000 Cars. And after you finally escape Mount Desert Island, where Acadia is located, you will want to stop for ice cream at JJ’s Ice Cream Academy in Trenton (I did not make that up). The RT recommends the Caribou Caramel Crunch (or something like that) – REALLY. JJ’s place doesn’t look like much, but the ice cream is out of this world. Sixty thousand people can’t be wrong!

Pemaquid Point Light

In the RT’s humble opinion, your best sightseeing spot in all of Downeast Maine is the Pemaquid Point Light. The lighthouse sits in a state park at the end of one of those finger-like peninsulas. The scenery is stunning and the lighthouse tour is fascinating.

It’s still an operating lighthouse, maintained by the dedicated folks of the US Coast Guard. You’ll find a fourth-order Fresnel lens in use there (but we’ll save any further discussion of Fresnel lenses for a future post). Fascinating stuff.

You’ll want some comfortable walking (actually climbing) shoes, because the very best views are down a bit from the parking lot. However, the walk is well worth the effort. Just take some time to soak in the view and the fabulous weather.

Bring your camera and a picnic lunch. You’ll not find a better place to take photos and enjoy your lunch. REALLY.

Lobster

Now, we’ve already talked about “lobstah rolls”, but we’ve neglected to talk about the crustacean itself. Looking much like a crawdad that’s been exposed too often to nuclear radiation, Mainesters go crazy over these things. They trap ‘em, they sell ‘em, they steam ‘em, they eat ‘em and they make lobster salad out of ‘em. Seems like everybody’s got a big pile of lobster traps in their yard or on their boat.

And each and every lobsterman has his own color and shape of buoy tied onto his traps, so he can spot ‘em in the water. Don’t ever be messin’ with a lobster trap that ain’t got your color buoy on it. It’d be like rustlin’ another man’s cattle down in the Republic of Texas. If it ain’t got your brand on it, leave it alone. There are eyes watchin’.

Blueberries

Now, I know what you’re thinkin’: “Don’t the biggest and best blueberries in the world come from the Big Piney Woods of East Texas?” Well, of course. Everything is bigger and better in Texas.

However, Maine makes the best tiny little blueberries. They’re not any bigger than a purple-hull pea, while East Texas blueberries are about the size of a dime. And talk about tasty! Mrs. RT picked up a pint at a roadside stand and we snacked on them all day.

So, while in Maine, buy anything that has blueberries in it: pancakes, muffins, ice cream, lobster salad … anything. You’ll be glad you did … except for the lobster salad part.

Guns

There are few things Texans like more than their guns. We like ‘em and we like ‘em a lot. We have a lot of them and we’re proud of it. And we don’t know of many folks who love ‘em as much as we do.

But then there’s Maine. It seems that those Maineicans love guns almost as Texans do. They carry them, both concealed and open. Shoot, you don’t even need a permit to carry in Maine, though they’ll issue them for folks who want to carry in states that have reciprocity with Maine, carry-wise.

So don’t be thinkin’ that Maine is one of them liberal, gun-hatin’ Northeast states. They march to their own beat. Turns out that beat ain’t too far from Texas – at least as far as guns go.

Politics

Don’t know. Don’t care. Didn’t ask. The RT has checked out of politics for at least the next four years.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. A complete guide to all things related to the Downeast Maine Coast.

Yah kahnt find a bettah place for a summah visit. Hope to see yah theyah sometime.

Best, The Rambling Texan
Summer 2016

 

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