Saturday, August 02, 2008

It rocks when it should roll and it rolls when it should rock.

Last night we had some great friends stay over and sleep at our place. They are in the midst of a long summer trip. Really long. They live in Stockholm. Pretty sure that is in Sweden. Pretty sure that is in Europe. The wife, Amy, was the best kid that I ever had in any youth group. No, really. She was. And she married Jonathan and they've set-up housekeeping in his home country. So they were heading back to New York to fly home and stopped here to visit and stay with us. It was great. Catching up with old friends is one of my favorite things to do.

We were sitting in our living room talking after having polished off a couple of "Mama Santa's Pizza's." (Yum.) I saw a flash come from down the hall. That can only mean one thing. Lightening. Well, or maybe the bedroom has blown up. I opted for the lightening option and was correct. We stood on our balcony for the better part of an hour and watched the most amazing storm move out of Canada, across Lake Erie, and make landfall on the other side of Cleveland. God's lightening display was incredible! You had your cloud-to-cloud lightening which lit up all of the multi-layers of clouds. You had your cloud to ground (or in this case, cloud to water) lightening which was positively riveting. It went on and on and on.

Jonathan really noticed it first when he said, "I'm surprised that with a storm like this the water is totally calm." Huh. He was right. It was like glass. No wave action to speak of at all. That really makes no sense to me.

Well, it is 24 hours later and today has been a beautiful day. I just watched the sunset splash-down into the lake. There is no wind at all. Yet the waves are crashing into the shore as though God were using a giant mixer to do His bidding. Go figure. That doesn't make any sense either.

And yet ... it makes total sense. It has been said that all of life is a reflection of God and His handiwork. If that is true, and I believe it is, then while I can't understand it, I can agree that it is a perfect picture of how God seems to work.

Why is it that turmoil rears its ugly head just when you thought you would be relaxing and enjoying life? And when you think you see trouble gathering on the horizon an inner calm suddenly takes over and you just cannot find a good reason to worry or fear. Yet, isn't that just like life? Unpredictable? Untamable? Unexpected? There is this Hand bigger than my hand that seems to be in control. That Hand makes decisions based upon what pleases Him. And He always works those decisions to my good because I have decided to trust Him. It's a biblical concept. It's also true.

Still, it drives me more than a little crazy. Why can't life play by my rules just once? Why won't it play and work well with others? No, I can't really complain. God has been quite good to me. He's given me far more than I deserve. His kindness is what drives me to repentance and makes me want to please Him. Not His harshness. His kindness. You would think it would be the other way around, wouldn't you?

If I were just a little bit wiser I would give up trying to figure out God and trying to figure out life. I would sleep better at night if I were to do that. I would probably be more carefree and joyful. But I must admit that there is something inside of me that drives me to want to understand the un-understandable. I want to "get it." And God says, "No. Trust me." He wants me to "Walk by faith and not by sight." Me? "Show me the money!"

But I don't get a vote. And so the waves of life rock when I think they should roll and they roll when I think they should rock. And God sits on His throne patiently waiting for me to give it up. I mean, give up trying to get a handle on it ... on Him.

What you can understand you can control. I don't understand God. I don't understand this world. And I don't control either one. It's best that way, really. Because I seem to have come to an understanding that I can't understand myself either. And while I can control my words, my actions, and my decisions, I certainly cannot control my frustration and not being the one in charge. Be glad that God and life leaves me confused. Be very glad. Because if I understood it I would most assuredly screw it all up.

I'm just saying...

Friday, August 01, 2008

One day I Heard Voices


Oh the joys of living in Tinley Gardens. The backyard of our home bordered on a huge open field. We are talking acres numbering in the hundreds here. It was mostly vacant space that seldom saw a tractor come by to mow it. It was separated by an easily scaled six foot chain link fence. In the middle of this vast piece of open country stood a 500 foot tall radio transmitting tower. This was the place where the signal for WLS "The Rock of Chicago" was hurled across the country side at, quite literally, the speed of sound.

WLS was not just any old radio station. In the 1960's and 1970's it was the standard bearer for rock 'n roll music radio nation wide. It was a "clear channel" station. That meant that no other station in the country shared it's frequency, 89 on the AM dial. We listened to that station at night when visiting our grandmother in Arkansas. We heard it from family vacations in Tennessee, Missouri, and even Colorado. We are talking serious power here. Even tonight I can listen to WLS at night from my new home in the suburbs of Cleveland. I don't really want to because it has sold out and become "talk radio."

There were several reasons why WLS was significant to we little ones growing up in Tinley Gardens. First, it was a great place to play "guns." Or "war." You might find that barbaric but you need to get over it. Every kid played guns in those days and I suspect they still do. But we had a real battle ground complete with high grass to hide in, a few rolling hills to sneak up behind the enemy, and plenty of room to roam. It was perfect for reenacting world war two.

The second reason was the way the tower reenacted with the weather. Specifically, thunderstorms. My brother and I would stand in our bedroom window, which faced the tower, and watch as frequent lightening strikes sent visible currents of electricity shooting down it's guide wires to the ground below, sparking and popping all the way. One day we were in school and my mom was out shopping with a friend. As they returned to our house to enjoy a nice cup of coffee mom walked to the kitchen sink to fill the coffee pot. The window over the sink looked out upon the field and the WLS tower. Mom lost her ability to speak. Her friend, Bonnie, said she could only gasp and point out the window. Bonnie joined her in time to see a full fledged tornado slide right past the tower and make a bee line for our little home. They ran to my bedroom where dad had cut a hole in my closet floor making for an easy entry into the four foot crawl space below. That was the safest place to be during tornadic activity. While mom tried with all of her might to remove the floor "plug" Bonnie stood at our bedroom window and watched the twister veer off to the north several hundred feet before it could obliterate everything we held dear. It tore up a lot of homes and property but ours was spared.

The third reason why we loved "our tower" was because once every couple of years we got to sit in the backyard with cheap binoculars and watch skilled men climb their way to the top and paint their way down. The shiny red and white paint job never saw a tarnished day on my watch. "My boys" did a good job. I suppose they even changed the ever blinking light bulbs on the way down.

And the final reason why this tower was so special to us? Well. Honestly, you might not believe this but it's true. One day my dad was eating breakfast preparing to leave for work. Mom mentioned to him that she heard a radio playing. He listened. He heard it too. Actually, they realized they were listening to WLS and its "on the hour" news broadcast. In the broadcast it was mentioned that a convict had escaped Stateville Penitentiary which was located about ten miles to our west. Dad followed the sound of the radio and discovered that it was coming from the heating ducts. Yes, WLS was broadcasting from our metal heating vents. According to their retelling of the story later in the day, mom turned to dad and said, "You think he's in our crawl space listening to the radio?" Dad replied, "You want me to go look?" Mom, in her infinite wisdom said, "You want to get your head shot off?" Dad said that he found that idea less than appealing. And so he went to work. And mom went back to bed. Actually, she pulled the covers OVER her head. This was during the summertime and my brother and I slept in late. But when we woke up we heard the radio as well. We traced it to the same heating duct. The news was not on. Rock and roll was playing. Let's be specifically clear about this. We were listening to The Beatles playing in our crawl space through our heating ducts. And so we did what any eight and ten year olds would do. We decided to go to the concert. We skipped breakfast and made our way to the outside entrance of the wonderful world underneath our house. We pulled the cover off of the little entry way and, flash lights in hand, descended into the netherworld. We saw the water softener, the sump pump, numerous pipes and duct work. No Beatles. No escaped convicts. We scratched our heads and went off to play for the day.

At this point I would like to thank my parents for going to such lengths to protect the lives of their young children on that danger filled morning. They are both in heaven now. Probably listening to WLS broadcasting through those streets of gold.

The WLS building with the big town in the background

*As a side note, we occasionally picked-up WLS on our telephone. Our neighbor got it on her mixer. This was one honken station.

**As a second side note I came across a web site recently dedicated to radio transmitters. Yes, I did. Don't argue with me about this. For the WLS portion check out . There. I told you so. As a result of this discovery I found myself emailing one of the old "disc jockeys" from those sun-filled days in the summer of my youth. I told him my stories. I confessed that "The Big Dare" among the neighborhood kids was to run all the way up to the tower, touch it, and run back. None of us mustered up that kind of courage. It's inner sanctum was guarded by multiple fences all topped with differing sorts of razor wire. The retired disc jockey replied that I should thank which ever god I worship that I never made good on that bet. To touch the tower could easily have fried me on the spot. You would think maybe they would have mentioned that on the "No Trespassing" signs, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Day I Moved To Chicago Again

The day must have come but I do not remember it. I only remember arriving in Chicago. Actually, Tinley Park. Our house in the new subdivision of Tinley Gardens was not completed yet and so we moved into a local motel. No, not a "hotel." That is too nice of a name for it. It was one of those places behind a Texaco station. You know the type. Nice colored lights across the front at night made it look very inviting. During the daytime, however ... not so much. It wasn't really bad. It's just that if you wanted to watch TV you had to put a quarter in the meter. Uh huh. Really. Attached to the Texaco station was a diner. It was exactly what it sounds like. A few tables but mainly a bunch of stools anchored to the floor facing the counter. There were no backs on the stools and they swiveled 360 degrees. It's a major miracle that my brother and I didn't unscrew all of them and fall flat on the floor. It isn't because we did not try.

Dad worked during the daytime. I have no solid recollection of what the rest of us did. I do know that one night mom screamed in the bathroom because a "peeping Tom" was gazing at her through the glass slats of the crank-out window. Dad wasn't there or we probably would have had a killing. In reality, mom was more than capable of dispatching the pervert herself if she had gotten her hands around his neck.

The house we were building was about five miles away. Mom and dad managed to buy it for $100 down. That's quite funny given the current market prices. It was a simple two bedroom ranch with an attached garage. Dad way paying to have the shell built and then he was going to take it over and finish the inside. When we finally did move in I realized that this was not a perfect plan. All of the walls were mere 2X4 studs. That means the privacy ratio was effectively zero. Mom hung blankets around the bathroom to afford some privacy. That didn't help much because the plumbing was not yet hooked up. And the house was located across one street from city sewerage. That meant that a septic tank was being installed. When we moved in there were big trenches dug in the back yard. They ran the entire depth of the yard and were about six feet deep. For the first week we lived there those trenches were designated ... our bathroom. It was not pretty. Don't try to imagine it.

The water was hooked up but it was from a well dug on our own property and tasted like pure steel. So my parents and our neighbors (which was also dad's new business partner in the storm door and window industry) would drive into the downtown area of Tinley Park and fill metal trash cans with fresh city water. That's was for drinking. This trend continued until water softeners could be installed in each of our homes.

But there were many huge pluses to living in a new ... VERY new ... neighborhood. Bull dozers were parked everywhere and at night they became the dream machines of every kid that had moved onto the block. We would climb into the drivers seat and for a few precious hours practice being the ones moving the dirt and digging the holes. There were new friends. Kids we had never met. And most of them had no desire to beat me up. That too, was a major benefit. During the daytime we could ride our bikes to our content around all three blocks that had been whittled out of the corn fields on the edge of town. And as an extra added bonus, the land directly across from my house had been designated a park. Volunteer dads took the time to carve a baseball diamond out of it and for the next years I would practice being the latest star of the Cubs or White Sox, whichever team held my fancy at the moment. Yes, in those days you could root for both and nobody called you evil or a traitor. It was the game that mattered.

Finally, one day the house was finished. We had a new home. I found my way to a new school. This time there was no walking involved. No, the wheels on the bus went round and round. I got my own lunch box and my monthly bus permit was dutifully taped to it by my mom. Detroit? Who needed Detroit? I was now an official resident of suburban Chicago.

Little did I know that the best was yet to come. Tornado's and snakes. They were to shape me into the man I am today. (Snickering will not be tolerated.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One Day I Moved To Chicago ... And Back

Dad came to get us. That was the good news. We were moving to Chicago. That was the bad news. And to make matters even worse we did not know if the move was permanent. But I was like ... five years old. So what did I care? Mom and dad moved all of our stuff into the basement of our home and rented it out. Then we made the trek to a rented house on Seeley Street (Avenue? I have no idea.) In Chicago.

I don't remember much about it except that mom was not pleased. At all. Even a little. Dad rented the place all by himself, a dangerous thing for any man to do. I recall mom mopping and mopping and mopping, trying to make things clean enough for her little kids to live in. Or maybe on. Whatever. She was really and truly hacked-off.

One day we went to a park. It was within walking distance to our rental. It had to be because mom did not drive. She wanted her kids to be able to play. Well, it didn't work out so well. While my brother and I played on the swings a car beside us caught fire. I have no idea how that happened because it wasn't going anywhere. It was just sitting there and suddenly flames were climbing up the sides of it. Mom rushed us home and that was the end of our excursions to the Chicago City Parks.

Sometime in the not too distant future we moved back to Detroit. I know it was less than a year because our house was still rented out. This time mom must have had something to do with the situation because we rented a two story townhouse on Chicago Avenue. Catch the irony?

This one was a winner. I really don't recall whether or not it was clean. I could not have cared less. Because from my upstairs bedroom window my brother and I could clearly see over the tall fence across the street and directly to the biggest video screen my young brain could imagine. Yes, my friends, we had a ring side seat to the first drive-in movie in my personal history. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately?) we were unable to hear the sound. It didn't matter to us. We were in movie heaven. Every new release was ours from our bedroom perch. I have no idea what God was thinking but as far as my brother and I are concerned ...

It was very good.

Monday, July 28, 2008

One Day I Moved to Detroit

I really don't remember much about it. I mean, there was not much to remember. I moved to Detroit from the womb. Now there was a dark place.

But I digress.

9976 Vaughan Street, Detroit, Michigan. I remember the address because, well, because it was written right there on the front of my house. Little kids might not be smart but one thing they do is notice things. And before I moved away from there I had it memorized. Don't ask me about the phone number. I could not reach the phone so there really was no reason to concern myself with it.

I had a tricycle. And from it I eventually graduated to my brother's BIGGER three wheeler. It was shaped like a policeman's motorcycle. Decals and everything. Yeah, policemen in Detroit must have ridden three wheelers. Can't prove it by me. I was between zero and six, remember?

What I do remember is a "ribbon" driveway. That means that the places where the wheels went were paved with a grassy strip between them. There was a front porch with an awning over it. The backyard had a concrete porch too. It also had a sand box and a brick barbeque grill that my dad made. Very cool. I don't remember anybody ever cooking on it so maybe it wasn't such a big thing after all.

There was a basement with a workshop for my dad. He took me there one day and showed me a gallon jug full of a green liquid. He told me that it was not kool-aid. It was poison and if I drank it I would die. He really didn't have to mention the kool-aid part. The drinking and dying was quite sufficient to get my attention.

There was an upstairs too. It had mahogany paneling with closets with doors that blended into the walls and, to a little kid, was shockingly awesome. I never understood why we didn't live up there instead of down stairs.

I went to Horace Mann Elementary School. That is where I attended Kindergarten. I'm not sure but I think we moved away from Detroit before I graduated to first grade. My teacher was really nice. Her name was Mrs. Lambert. I may have been five years old but I knew she was hot. No, not in a sweaty way. I made a pumpkin out of newspaper one day just before thanksgiving. It was colored all orange with a greenish yellow paper stem. Very authentic. (Did I mention that I made it myself?) When the bell rang that day I walked out of my classroom with my paper pumpkin in my hand. And there was nobody there to meet me. I remember standing all alone on the sidewalk. No mom. No dad. No brother. Just me. And so I started walking in the direction they always pulled me in when they took my hand at the end of the school day. For some reason I suddenly noticed for the first time that the driveways actually sloped down to the street. I mean they didn't make you go "thump" over the curb to get from the drive to the road. They sloped. And they sloped very, very well. I had not picked up on that before. But I noticed it on this day and I examined every driveway on every block during my walk home. And I did get there. Not before I crossed several busy city streets. I shudder to think. And then I proudly presented my pumpkin. I would imagine that at some point my mom went ... "oops" ... and realized that she had forgotten to pick her kid up from school. But it was not a big deal to me then and it isn't a big deal to me now.

As my days in Detroit were winding down my dad started driving frequently to a far away city because he could work there. I did not understand that Detroit was a city with a whacky economy. When the auto industry went sour everything went sour. My dad did not work in the auto industry but we were affected by it. And one day I found myself crying as I looked out our dining room window at my dad's pink 1957 Chevy backing out of the driveway and turning to the left. He was going back to that far away city. He would be back as soon as he could but that didn't mean much to a five year old. I just knew dad was leaving. I did not yet know that I would be leaving soon too.

Even forty-seven years later i remember Woodward Avenue, Hudson's Department store, Vernor's Ginger-Ale, the big building downtown with the huge Christmas tree fashioned out of lights on the front in December, Willow Run Airport, Silver Cup Bread, and the building my dad worked in. I remember my friends, Chrissy and Tony. Their dad never mowed their back yard and we had big steel rods to kill snakes that surely lurked back there. We never saw any. But they were there. Tony said so.

Oh. And I remember that walk home. It was no big thing. Every five year old kid should be deserted by their parents in the depths of Detroit at least once. Seriously. I made it. And I sleep just fine at night.

Once the nightmares stop.