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We Moved and Lived to Tell About It

102We did it. 

We did it.

We’ve finally moved in to our new humble abode.

Sure, we’re still sleeping on the floor and trying to find out where the silverware is, but at least we’re in.  It’s kind of like the Capture the Flag game – once you’re across the line with the flag, you’ve won.

Ah, it’s a nice place.  We’d invite you all over for a barbecue to celebrate, but truthfully we had to ditch our BBQ grill.  It was home to some pretty angry wasps anyway.  Also, I think we lost all of our groceries somewhere on Pellissippi Parkway.

The house fits us well.  It’s a smidgen over three thousand square feet, and it has a very modest Japanese Maple tree bowing at the front entrance, greeting you as you step up to the clean tiled front stoop.  It has a soft color and a nondescript front yard.

Even the home’s location – 102 Tamara Lane – speaks of its humility.

We like the name.  We’ve lived on streets whose names didn’t fit us.  One was in Ohio and the street’s name – Tuscarawas – gave me the impression that we should be going on a voyage or maybe lead a charge over a distant hill.  Another street in Arizona – Campo Bello – made me feel like I should be ordering a calzone or learn to play a mandolin.  This Tamara name is nice. And even the house number is unpretentious: 102. Like something out of a Golden Book reader for kids.  Not 10036 or 17800 or anything formidable like that.  Just a simple 102.

What a summer it’s been.  We had thirty-two showings at our West Knoxville house before it sold.  Thirty-two.  It took every bit of the summer, something like eighty-five days to get it sold.  People have circumnavigated the globe in less time.  Look, President William Harrison’s full term in office wasn’t even half as long as it took that it took for us to sell The House That Wouldn’t Let Us Leave. It hung on to the last minute.  I think I heard it curse me, but it could have just been the toilet gurgling.  Even as we were pulling out of the driveway for the last time I swear that part of that’s house’s gutter was grasping our van’s rear bumper.

The negotiations with our new buyers went well – with one little hitch.  When we reached the deal, we had nine days to get out.  I made a calm but panicked scream for help.  Thank the Lord for the many people who showed up and helped cram our sofas, appliances, cleaning supplies, frozen foodstuffs and 1970s era shoes into pickups, trailers and the back of our van for numerous round trips from Knoxville to Oak Ridge.  Jill had always said “We have too much stuff” and I would laugh light-heartedly.  I had the noble impression that we were simple folk with the bare necessities of life.  I didn’t think we had too much stuff.

Ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha sob.

We were throwing stuff away.  We were giving stuff away.  We gave stuff to KARM.  We gave stuff to Amvets.  We invited friends to pick up beds, recliners, and an extra refrigerator that sat in the basement and did little more than growl for two years.  Jill even talked about loading our excess furniture on the railroad tracks behind our house to watch the CSX engine demolish it, but I convinced her this legally wasn’t a good idea, although I do admit it would have been cool to watch.

It took every bit of those nine days, but we did it.

I had prayed that we would be able to move in and take up residence in Oak Ridge before I headed back to school.  Guess what.  We finished cramming stuff into our new home’s garage on the night before I had to go to Teacher Training.  Isn’t God’s timing amazing?

And as I write this I must tell you that I am sore.  Lugging furniture gets harder with every move.

I keep hearing this wisecrack:  “Well, you bench press 300 pounds so what’s the problem?”

The problem is that bench pressing 300 pounds is while lying on your back in a stable position with your feet planted and your concentration locked.  Also, the room is air conditioned.

It is NOT lugging a seven-foot tall Frigidaire backwards up a flight of stairs with a hand cart that has a leaky tire.  It is NOT carting basketball backboards or recliners or three-tier bookshelves. It is NOT wrestling the Beelzebub of all furniture items – a floppy massive California King Mattress with no visible grips down hallways and across driveways in the blazing August sun.

Yes, I am sore.  My back is sore.  My arms are sore.  My legs are sore.  Even my eyelids are sore.

No, we’re not done.  There are boxes to unpack, plenty of boxes in the garage.  Then there’s getting with the proper companies to change over utilities:  water, gas, internet … you know the list.  More furniture to shuffle, push and move to the proper room.

I sit down some nights, exhausted.

But when we all glance outdoors every evening…

… and we see a doe feeding with her fawn, not ten feet from our window,

and I see Jill and Julie’s eyes light up and their smiles widen,

I’m not exhausted anymore.

Yes, we moved in to 102 Tamara Lane.

Selling this house has changed our language

2I have found out that our family has now entered into the Babel Zone.  Much like the story of the language disaster found in the excellent narrative in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we have started talking in a language that is starting to scare people.

You might call it Home Seller Babble.  My wife Jill and I and even daughter Julie have been so obsessed with selling our home that we now prattle on in ways that are scaring even our dearest friends.

I admit it.  I try to steer the conversation other ways, but it keeps coming back to our house being on the market.

Jacob:  “The Awaken Coffee House has some pretty decent latte.”

Me: “And you wouldn’t believe the floor plan in our basement.  We’ve even had mold remediation!”

Twelve-year-old Julie went to a party and upon noticing the decorations, immediately used them as a visual tool to explain a Balloon Mortgage.

Even Jill has been seen wandering around the Turkey Creek Shopping Complex murmuring “MLS.  MLS.” for hours on end, only stopping to ask total strangers if they’d like to purchase a home complete with a two car garage and a roof that is only three years old.  More than once security has been called.

We’re speaking in short bursts now, fixated on any chance to introduce a potential buyer to our property.

Tiffany:  “Our little girl got a rash on her arm.”

Me:  “When you say ARM, are you referring to an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?”

Tiffany:  (takes daughter and quietly leaves)

We have learned that our dependence on God is often clouded by our panic that we may not sell the house before the next Presidential administration, but we’re slowly becoming more attuned to God’s leading and a need for more patience.

I am reminded that no matter how long and monotonous the whole ordeal has become, God has us covered.  He’s got the timeline, the buyers and even the closing costs all settled ahead of time.

It brings to mind the time years back when we rented a cabin Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  On the second day of our vacation we decided to go to the Community Center and take a morning swim before going on a hike in the Smokies.  Looking at the deeply cloudy sky, we knew that we wouldn’t be getting any tans that day, but the urge to swim was so great that we got to the Center just as it was opening.

I am not making any of this up.  This is exactly what happened.

I had changed back at the cabin and was ready to dive in, but Jill and Julie brought their swimsuits, flip flops and other gear along with them.  They would go to the changing area and meet me at the outdoor pool.

I trotted out to the poolside and was struck by the scene.  There was nobody else there.  The four lifeguards were standing around, but as I stepped onto the concrete, they quickly ran to their stations.

Now, this is a good-sized pool, about 25 yards long, if I remember right.  I walked over and dropped my towel on a chair and was hesitant.  “Um, is it okay to go in?” I stupidly asked the nearest lifeguard.

“Oh, yessir,” she responded without a smile.  “You go right in.  We’ll be watching.”

“But… it’s just me.  Do you need all of you up there, even that guy over there, that one about three miles away? I mean, you all could stand around and talk and just glance over once in a while…”

She was very professional.  “Oh, that’s okay, sir.  When anyone is in the pool, we are all to be on duty.”  The other three had me in their gaze. All serious.

I really wanted to swim and yet Jill and Julie were inside talking to some locals about restaurants.  If I knew my history, that could mean thirty minutes or more.  And I really wanted to swim.

But if you have ever seen me in the water, you will realize that I really don’t swim.  I sort of frog-kick and then thrash around like a submarine with a ballast problem.  I like what I’m doing, but to tell the truth, I look embarrassing.

And there were four lifeguards watching this huge pool.  And still nobody else came. Jill and Julie were still inside. I could see them through the windows.

So I dove in.  Well, kind of like a half belly-flop.  And then I started swimming.

It was so surreal.  I was all alone, and the distinct knowledge that four very concerned lifeguards were zoned in on only me was both uncomfortable… and yet fun.  It was that way for about twenty minutes.  Four lifeguards locked in on my every move.

They were fixated on my safety.  I could see their eyes when I came up for air.

I fancied an attempt to try a fake drowning, just to see all four bump heads as they tried to reach me from four different angles.   But I didn’t, and I felt like I was drifting along under the eye of the Secret Service.  It was, well,  kind of cool.

And I realize that this is the way God is looking over us as we are selling the house.   Think about it – He has us covered from every angle.  The Father is lifeguarding us.   He is fixated on our every move, and wants only the best for us.  He is on every side, watching us as we move through the waters of this whole business.

The New Heart Bible gives Psalm 32:8 as “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will counsel you with my eye on you.”

His eye is on us.  He leads and protects.  And He watches over us.

Even in selling a house.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Zockoll
Brad Kent Zockoll   Knoxville TN 2017

The day my brother Brent and I became teen-age sports broadcasters

1In the midst of a very trying summer (You remember my blog post about selling the house? We still haven’t sold it)  Jill, Julie and I threw our belongings into the van and headed up to the ol’ stomping grounds in Delaware to see my brothers and sisters.

I’m not saying we’re getting frustrated over our house’s decision to remain unsold, but as we headed out of our subdivision, I could see daughter Julie sneer at our home.  I would have corrected her but I also noticed Jill giving the house the stink eye.  I held my peace.

Took me twelve hours to get to the Delmarva peninsula.  I had to go around the D.C. Beltway which reminded me of the nine circles of Dante’s Hell.  And just as confusing.  I got lost, but eventually made it to Delaware.  It was worth the trouble.  Back to the home town.

Good old Delmar, Delaware – or Delmar, Maryland, depending which side of the street you’re on.  The town is on the state border, and during my teen years we lived in both states at one time or another.

Nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers,sisters … We had a grand time with the family, going to church at Hall’s Chapel (founded 1886 and currently pastored by my nephew Daniel Tarr IV), swimming at Fenwick Island, and visiting brother Brent’s pottery studio.

But the best part is when we talked.  And did we ever talk.

The memories came out first in a trickle but then, just as if the stream loosens other rocks, other stories poured forth out of a recollection of a minor detail from someone’s narrative.  (“Did you say Tom Kapanka was the one who broke the window?  Say, do you remember when Tom Kapanka fell out of the car when we were all on a trip…”) Stories piled up and once again, I am simply amazed at some of the stuff that happened during our high school years.

One of our teenage year memories was about our high school chum Timmy Bully.  This guy was a classic.  He was the first kid we knew to grow a moustache and for some reason he had a love affair with leisure suits – wore them all the time.  He rarely bathed, but fancied himself a ladies’s man with a voice like Elvis (disclaimer: false on both the romance and the singing voice).  We recalled the time we all went on a week-long youth group college trip and he had left his toothbrush at home.  No problem for Timmy – he gargled with musk oil cologne.  Yes, I am telling you the truth.  He gargled musk oil cologne.

Then there was the time at camp where one of our teens lost control on a steep muddy hill while running and slipped, stumbled and careened down the fifty-yard slope before finally getting back into a running upright position only to faceplant right into a school bus.  You read that right – a kid actually ran full-tilt into the side of a bus.

I could go on with numerous recollections, but it brought to mind the time that when I was about thirteen, Brent and I were walking home on a Saturday afternoon in our little town (population was about nine hundred) and happened to go by the Delmar Little League Ball Field, where the kids were having a ball game.  It was near the end of the season and the kids were just wanting to get the final game into the books.  Everyone seemed tired and the players seemed listless.  There were about twenty parents lazily cheering on a relatively quiet game that was just starting its second inning.  I glanced up behind the backstop and noticed that nobody was doing any announcing- I guess a game so late in the season with a meaningless game between two cellar-dwelling teams garnered no special announcing assignments.  I looked at fifteen-year old Brent and it didn’t take long for us to realize that this was a golden opportunity to show off some broadcasting skills.

Before the second inning started, we snuck over and checked the side door.  The stairway next to the concession stand was open, leading right up to the announcer’s booth, so up we crawled.  We unfolded two metal chairs in the midst of this messy broadcaster’s room, a plywood affair with electronic wiring snaked haphazardly all over the floor.  In two minutes we found the proper switches and called to some ball boys to get us a line-up from each team.  We acted like we knew what we were doing, so nobody questioned us.

We threw the switch and announced that we would be handling announcing chores for the remainder of the game.  Everybody seemed okay with this.

But we couldn’t leave well enough alone.  We looked over the line-up for the VFW kids and the Flo’s Market team and Brent decided that merely announcing the players was too boring.

With absolutely no permission from anyone, we decided to give the players nicknames as they came to bat.  Brent dared me to go first.  I was up to the task.

A hefty little guy stepped up to the plate.  “Batting left-handed and playing left field for the VFW,” I said, “Number 13, Peter ‘Pork Chop’ Cummings.”

There was a moment of complete silence, but then we heard an explosion of laughter from the VFW dugout.  Even the umpire turned around and chuckled.  The little batter was stunned at first, but grinned.  And he got a single.

Brent took his turn with the next batter:  “Now at bat, number 22, catcher Larry ‘Ladies’ Man’ Everett.”  This round of laughter was even harder.  And so we went.  By the time we announced the fifth batter we were getting a thumbs up from the coaches and we knew we were on to a good thing.  We gave everyone a nickname.

“At bat, number 17, first baseman for Flo’s’:  Luke ‘Skywalker’ Stevens.”

“We’d like to thank our plate umpire, Robert ‘Night Vision” Viceroy, for helping out…”

“At bat, number 32, third baseman for VFW:  Denny ‘the Doberman’ Workman.”

“Here’s a special shout out to VFW third base coach Dave ‘Steroids’ Stevens…”

“At bat, number 11, left field for Flo’s’:  Jimmy ‘Gravedigger’ Greene.”

And for the tiniest kid playing that day:  “At bat, number 8, shortstop for VFW:  Kenny ‘the Crusher’ Wiggins.”  He ran around using that nickname all day, reminding everyone that he was the Crusher.

After a while things got crazier.  People were laughing and calling out for us to give a nickname to this coach, that benchwarmer, this parent.  We obliged as best we could.  We even made up fake sponsors:  “This inning is brought to you by the Bi-State Country Store, whose latest sale on Spam is at a special price, one for two dollars or two cans for five bucks.”

I have no idea what the final score of the game was, but I can tell you that the place wasn’t quiet any longer.  We were all laughing and calling out through the sunny afternoon in a little weedy chain-link fence ballpark at the edge of town near the railroad tracks and we were having a great time.  I thought about this then, and I still do:  the greatest memories aren’t built on wealth or prosperity or minutely-organized plans to the last detail.  Memories are mostly built on spontaneous free-for-all fun.  We were all small-town folk just having a simple bit of laughter.

This brings to mind the passage in the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes that tells us of the enjoyable surprise that God provides us, not matter what our circumstances: “the ability to enjoy … to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”  In other words, God allows happiness in the simplest of things, like when two brothers climb into a rickety announcer’s booth at a tiny ball field with a group of kids and parents on a dusty Saturday afternoon.

And last week’s Delaware trip down Memory Lane once again reminded me to be thankful for the little things that God slides into our lives day by day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We think our house really, really doesn’t want us to move away.

1

It looks like a welcoming homestead, doesn’t it?  Nice new roof, floor-to-ceiling windows, two fireplaces and a front that is gently smiling at you, inviting you to be a part of the warmth and love inside.  It boasts a gorgeous Japanese maple and a stately Chinese elm tree out front, with ornate ironwork fencing surrounding the front porch.   I mean, with over 4,000 square feet, the Ponderosa would be an easy sell, wouldn’t it?

Don’t you believe it.

The house knows we’re trying to move away.  It’s angry.  It’s plotting revenge on us.

We all got along so well for nine years.  We even gave our home a nickname, Ponderosa, alluding to its size and homeyness.  We shortened that to “Pal,” because we loved the old place so much. We treated Pal with great respect.  We had cookouts, and birthday parties, and even my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner, complete with a canopy tent and little chicken drummies.  We even had a bounce house in the back yard one time.  Those were great memories.  We used to be such good friends.

We repainted Pal’s deck and cleaned out old hornets’ nests.  We put on a new roof and I constructed a playhouse for my little girl.  We tore up old carpet and replaced two sinks’ plumbing.  We gave the best care we could give Pal.

Christmases.  Thanksgivings.  New Year’s parties.

And now this.

“I told you  we should have talked in low whispers,” I told my wife.  “It overheard us talking about the sale.”

“That’s nonsense,” countered Jill.  “Besides, it saw the real estate agent’s sign out front.”

We heard the house creak.  I believe it was chuckling.

“Somehow Pal’s doing something to the potential buyers whenever we’re gone,” I said, looking around.  “Something we can’t figure out.  I wonder if it puts footprints where we just vacuumed?”

And mess up all of my nice carpet stripes?”  Jill growled.  Yes, she actually growled.  Jill is obsessed with vacuuming these neat little rug rows before a new real estate showing occurs.  Messing up her carpet stripes is one of the Rules of the Family That You Do Not Break.  It’s up there with Putting Bread in First When Bagging Groceries.  And Not Covering Chili in the Microwave.  Any of these offenses can bring about punishment worse than death.

But the house knows this and doesn’t care.  We’ve had ten showings and the only offer was over fifty thousand below what we were offering.   We sent back the contract proposal covered with cartoon frownies all over it.

“This last showing ended up with nothing,” I said, reading the Feedback Received report online.  “They said the downstairs shower was leaking when they came through. And the guest bedroom light was flickering…”  Our eyes met.

Jill spoke slowly.  “We’ve never had a problem with the downstairs shower. ” She gulped.  “And the guest bedroom…”

“… has never had an electrical difficulty,” I finished.  We looked around slowly.  A door slammed somewhere in the house.  Sweat beaded on my forehead.  Jill leaned forward and murmured.  “It’s like HAL,  You know, in your favorite movie.”

I blinked.  “You mean 2001 A Space Odyssey? The computer that figures out that the astronauts don’t trust it?”  Jill looked side to side and slowly nodded.  I can’t be sure, but it felt like the ceiling lowered a bit, as if it were trying to hear us.  I shook my head.

“It can’t be… I mean, the movie is about a computer that thinks and reasons and …”

Jill’s gaze stayed steady on me.  She spoke airily.  “Say, Brad, why don’t we go for a ride… or hey, don’t we need to go to Aldi’s or Kroger’s for some groceries?”  Fighting the impulse to scream maniacally and dash headfirst toward the door, we casually picked up our keys and strolled through the front door and got into the van.  Only until we left the subdivision did we breath out.

I shook my head.  “Look, we’ve got to be imagining this all.  A house can’t do this, can it?”  Jill giggled and we both relaxed.  We went down to Aldi’s and stocked up on groceries.  Nothing like some MacIntosh apples and Happy Farms mozzarella to get your spirits up.

The evening went great.

Until I pulled up and unloaded the groceries.

The front key wouldn’t work.  Neither would Jill’s.

I looked through the windows at all of the well-lit rooms shining into the darkness.

I stepped forward and cleared my throat.  “Open the front porch door, Pal.”

No response.  I tried the key again.  Nothing.

“Open the front porch door, Pal.”

The lights went out one by one.

I am currently writing this blog in the local library.  The ice cream in our van is melting. If anyone would like a nice large overly sensitive house, please call me soon.  Very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Love Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017

1aAs you know, on graduation day we teachers are honored to be part of the ceremony, wearing our robe and regalia as we march up onstage and sit at either side of the festivities. Last week I sat in the third row and had the honor of watching you get your diploma. Congratulations, good friend.
One year they allowed me to be part of the first row of teachers and get a close view of the grads stepping across the stage – in front of the packed auditorium – and receive that beloved piece of paper that says you have completed your secondary school education.

I was seated near the ‘entry steps’, the ones where you stand as you are about to ascend to the platform and make your walk.  Just for fun, a fellow teacher (who shall remain nameless) joined me in whispering to each of the seniors who stood waiting:
“Walk carefully.  Everyone’s watching you.  Don’t stumble.  It would be embarrassing  if you fell in front of all of these people.” 

It made a nervous wreck out of a few of the seniors, and I now regret these actions. Well, not really.

But as I watched you walk on Sunday, I began remembering my own high school graduation and the gentle fear I had of tripping over my own feet…not only onstage that day … but in the days and years ahead.

Well, I made it across the stage that day.  But as for afterwards  … wow, I did fall in the years ahead.  Mistakes, miscues and errors dogged me all along the path like so many tree roots.  It seemed like a monthly requirement for me, and I’m surprised I haven’t broken my nose, I face-planted so many times.

However…

… I realized that I wasn’t the only one stumbling on the path.  As I rose and rubbed my raw knees and elbows, I saw a lot of friends and co-workers and neighbors and family members … and, well, everybody.

This tripping business was more common than I thought.  

I began to understand the Necessity of Tripping.  In this life given to us by God, we will slip and trip more than we like, but it will be a learning process – to teach us to be wiser in the future and to be an aid to those alongside us.  It’s part of life.

In this age of selfies and self-promotion, few of your generation want to harbor the thought that they could be anything less than perfect, but that’s just foolish.  We all falter, Christian friend.  We lose our balance more often than we’d like to think, but there it is.  And no amount of doctored Instagram or Facebook pictures will disguise the fact that we’re all folks created by a loving God who have faults – and that’s okay. One day we’ll reach perfection, but for right now we have a bit of a path to negotiate.

Boxing06.jpgMy prayer for you is this:  be honorable and stay true to Jesus, and don’t quit.  Be real, for goodness sake, and understand that failure opens up the opportunity for learning and courage.  2 Timothy 1:7 reminds you that God did not give you the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.  Well, use that sound mind to take a step up, not a step back.

I don’t want to hear of you quitting on life because you haven’t achieved perfection. Welcome to the world of the rest of all of us who live on this planet.   Get back up – you’re better than to crawl away, sniffling.  You’re made of sterner stuff.

The scholar of Proverbs wrote: “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…”  It’s not whether you will stumble – that’s a fact of life – but what you do when you are flat on your belly in the dust.  Some people will whimper and roll away.  Some will have a tantrum and start a blame game.  Others will get to their feet and shake off the dust.

And start walking again.

In the right direction.  I see you in this third category.

Now, go, my good friend.  I hope you remember some of the Biblical teaching I shared with you in the classroom.  Take God’s truth and get on with your life.  It’ll be a good life, I can assure you.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, don’t be afraid.

You can do it.

With love and great respect,

Dr. Brad Kent Zockoll,
a guy who is pretty dusty but still enjoys life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The time someone broke into our house

1a1Our off-kilter family had settled into the Delaware side of Delmar, having moved across the state line from Delmar, Maryland (Town motto;  “The little town too big to be in one state.”  Look it up.)  It was now time for Delaware to enjoy some of the Zockoll kids’ antics, whether the Diamond State wanted to or not.

We’d had some small incidents over on the Maryland side, like the time Gwen and Brent got into a shoving match and knocked a hole in the 50 gallon aquarium, and when my junior-high brain  mistakenly assumed that you could boil a two minute egg in a microwave.  Mom wasn’t home and I got the idea to explore various microwave possibilities.  Don’t laugh – I nearly went blind.  I can still feel the scalding of the egg white on my eyelids after the initial poke.  It was a traumatic experience, but over the years I’ve put it behind me and now use a microwave once again.  You gotta move on with your life.

We’d had some big incidents in Maryland, too, the kind that caused the townfolk to come running.  One was when we three boys – Bruce, Brent and Brad – were scooting all over the second story roof, scaling ladders and painting our home a fresh spring sky-blue color for Mom.  We had a twenty-something good-natured guy named Dave who gamely came along to help us finish up the top story in order to have some progress to show Mom before dinner.  Dave wanted to do the finishing touches on the very top lattice work of the roof and threw a short ladder on the second story porch roof, but he forgot to secure his ladder with chock blocks.  I was putting the finishing touches on a bedroom window when I heard a sickening scraping – his ladder sliding off the roof.  I looked up to see Dave in mid-air, flailing about.  He fell directly over my head, bounced off the porch roof with an “oof” and fell to the ground.  Miraculously, he only broke his foot.  As he was being put into the back of the ambulance, I could see neighbors nodding in our direction.  The Zockoll household again.  This time they’re slinging people off the roof.

Our move to Second Street on the Delaware side was relatively uneventful – only a few neighborhood scuffles with bullies and retrieving dogs who broke off of their leash.  Fairly calm.

Until a few months into the school year.

I walked home from a high school wrestling match on a dark October evening and came into a mess. The scene was bedlam. Middle schoolers Wendy and Sheila sat with elementary age Tammi and Kandy on the couch.  All of them were bawling like crazy.  Mom was livid over something, stomping about.  Bruce, the oldest of our siblings, was sitting at the dinner table, unusually quiet.  As usual, whenever there was trouble I ran upstairs to the boys’ attic bedroom and got the lowdown from Brent – he was the Associated Press of the household, always aware of every incident.

“Mom left Wendy to watch the three little ones while Mom went shopping,” Brent said.  “And somebody broke into the house and went after the girls.”  He paused.  “They came up through the cellar – broke through the basement window and then kicked the cellar door open.”

What?”  I was stunned.  Our little country town didn’t have this kind of problem. Maybe a speeding ticket on Bi-State Boulevard or a little vandalism at Flo’s country store, but not this sort of crime.

Brent raised his hands.  “Let me finish.”  He looked down and I could see that he was trying to measure his words.  “Sheila heard clawing on the cellar door and  starting screaming.  The wall phone was too close to the cellar door, so they couldn’t call the police.  Tammi and Kandy tore upstairs and hid under their beds, but were also screaming, so the intruder could hear them.  Wendy crawled out of Mom’s second story bedroom window and scrambled over the porch roof, screaming to people below to get the cops. The whole neighborhood was scrambling for help.”  He blew out a breath.  “Cops came.”

He paused.  I waited.

“It was Bruce.”  His mouth flickered.  “He thought it would be funny.”

He went on to explain that Wendy had gotten mouthy with him earlier in the evening before he went to a Scout meeting, so when he found out Mom was going to be gone until late, he unlatched the cellar window before leaving the house and under the cover of darkness when he came home, slipped through the basement window and began crashing and banging through the coal cellar and stomping up the wooden steps.

Pause for a moment:  For a deeper study on why my oldest brother would think this would be funny, please look up the psychological backgrounds of comedians Bill Murray, Jonathon Winters, and Moe, Larry and Curly.  Bruce had one comedic speed and it was wide open to Nearly Insane.

Why he thought that clawing on a cellar door while shrieking maniacally would be fun for a group of pre-teen girls on a dark October night, I’ll never know.

Man, did he ever get in trouble, but it actually could have been worse.  He endured the police lecture and the Wrath of Mom stoically.  He was dutifully remorseful, but I only think because it didn’t get the laugh he expected.

“Bad timing” was all he’d tell Brent and me.

Bruce is in Heaven now, having suffered a fatal heart attack years ago at the age of fifty-six.  We lost a dear brother and possibly one of the funniest guys to live on this planet.  We kids all grieved  … and we still do, but our comfort is in knowing Bruce is in the family of God in a much, much better place than this.

And even now, once in a while, we smile …

… because we can’t help but wonder if he’s not looking around Heaven, trying to see if he can pull a prank somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The time that Jill and I stopped traffic at West Town Mall.

1a1My wife Jill and I were walking through West Town Mall in the winter of the early 1990s with a lot of things weighing heavily on our minds.  I was changing careers, our house needed to be sold, and Jill’s fibromyalgia was escalating in alarming rapidity.   I did a lot of worrying; our future seemed uncertain and even tenuous, especially in the area of finances.  We sought the Lord’s directional signal but had not had any green light that was clear enough to follow with settled assurance.  Finally, we took a one-day break.  Exhausted, we walked through the mall, not intending to buy anything, really – we just needed to escape a fit of cabin fever, get out of the house and clear our heads.

We were silent most of the walk through Sears and the pet store.  My mind began to relax as we passed through the crowded hallways.  We took a collective breath as we were strolling past Barney’s coffee shop and Yankee Candle, and we didn’t even chat at that point; we knew each other’s thoughts.  God was going to take care of us – He always had, and no matter what lay ahead, we would be okay.

We walked through the Food Court and looked to the left.  A small piano and organ company had set up shop at that time, and they had some sort of a jukebox apparatus that filtered music out into the mall’s walkway.

I started and met Jill’s eyes.  She broke into a wide smile.  The strains of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” caught our ears – our song!

Jill looked at me as I stopped in the middle of the mall traffic and took her hands.

She never argued as I took her close.

And slowly danced with her.

The funny thing is, I don’t even know how to dance.  But I tried.

The foot traffic stopped.  We didn’t care.

As I slowly swung her around I caught a glimpse of a young African American couple moving near us.  The twenty-something young man gathered his wife into his arms and joined us, quietly dancing nearby.

An elderly man did the same, taking his delighted wife’s hand and moving onto the “dance floor.”  Before the third stanza, there were five couples all slow-dancing in the hallway of the mall.  The foot traffic slowed, and many stopped to watch.  Nobody said anything.  Perhaps we were all quietly lost alone in our own moments there, each couple.  I was actually quite surprised that the onlookers remained silent as we all danced.

As we finished, the shopping crowd politely applauded as each couple smiled to the other dance couples nearby.

And we then smiled to our partner.

And then we slowly melted back into the crowd.

And Jill and I held hands the rest of the afternoon.  Nothing else needed to be said.

Except that I knew I loved her even more than ever.

 

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