“Fight Ye Panthers for Ol Wesleyan”
Only a few memories remain from that night fifty years ago. What once was a detailed video I could play over and over in my mind has diminished to a few fading mental snapshots. Today, I remember only bits and pieces of being in Roberts Stadium on that night in March of 1968 to watch my beloved Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers play for the national championship against Indiana State. Along with my dad and brother, we watched as KWC came back from a huge early deficit to win their second national title in three years. They would repeat as champions the following year in 1969 and over the next several decades be crowned champions five more times.
Kentucky Wesleyan basketball was one of the key connectors between my father and I (with Owensboro High School athletics being the other) and it helped bridge a communication divide between the two of us that we never overcame. It gave us a common interest and provided him with a vehicle to be a dad in a way he had never learned from his father, who left him as a little boy to be raised by a grandmother. We sat together and watched hundreds of games from the same wooden bleacher seats in a corner section of the Owensboro Sportscenter and almost always went home winners. For us, Kentucky Wesleyan basketball was more than a game – it was celebration for our lives.
In March of 1987 Kentucky Wesleyan won their fifth national championship and I was lucky enough to be present in Springfield, Massachusetts to see that game and celebrate with the team and other KWC fans. I regret my dad was not with me. The following day I flew home and my dad and I joined a few hundred others on the KWC campus to greet the team as they arrived by bus. As the team mingled with the fans, John Worth, a star guard on that team, walked over to my dad and gave him a huge embrace. My dad cried. It would mark one of the final truly happy moments in my father’s life. A few months later we would learn that my brother had passed away suddenly in Frankfort and my dad never recovered. The heartbreak of losing his oldest son seemed to trigger multiple health problems and soon after resulted in him having to be placed in a nursing home. He passed away in November 1988.
I share those stories today because I wanted to express the important role Kentucky Wesleyan basketball has played in my life. It has been far more than merely a small college basketball team. It had an impact on the way I lived and the way I learned to make sense of my world. During a time as a child when my home life was somewhat unstable, Kentucky Wesleyan basketball gave me a place of comfort. Those winning teams and star players opened up for me the ability to imagine myself as someone else and helped me survive the painful challenges of growing up. Hour after hour I would escape to my backyard and play basketball while dreaming of being Dallas Thornton or John Duncan or any of a number of Wesleyan stars and allow my mind to shut out the confusion of my young world. I’m not sure how or if I could have survived without it.
The storied past of Kentucky Wesleyan basketball and the importance it has been in my life, is now shadowed by the harsh reality that KWC basketball is in trouble. The difficult subject no one is willing to write about in the local print media or admit publicly is that Kentucky Wesleyan basketball is at a serious crossroads in which, in my opinion, it may survive and thrive or perhaps be diminished to an unrecognizable level. I am saddened by the condition of the program and concerned for its future. Whether or not Kentucky Wesleyan basketball will ever regain its prominence as a Division II power remains to be seen and my opinions expressed here are just that – my opinions. I come at this as a layman of sorts, a fan, a life-long citizen of Owensboro who has grown up with this program – not as a basketball expert. I am also a proud 1984 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan and was a member of the “Yell Leader” squads in the early 80’s. Admittedly, I have very little insight into the inner workings of the program or the state of the college in general and my opinions may be so far off base that I risk embarrassing myself. But that is a risk I am willing to take as I jump into the deep waters of this subject.
It is not necessary to rehash the issues that fell upon the program following the incredibly successful Ray Harper years. Without question, the program has struggled to recover from those penalties and reputation damages that were a result of poor management and inadequate program oversight. Since that downfall over a decade ago, Kentucky Wesleyan has had limited success and only a handful of NCAA tournament wins. The measuring stick of NCAA wins that KWC has long been known for and of which they have led the Division II world, now seems alarmingly unattainable. Fans familiar with Kentucky Wesleyan have been spoiled to their winning history and have their own history of abandoning a team that does not compete for championships. In the Owensboro basketball world, failure is simply not an option. I am offering five ideas or comments that I believe may help or, at least start a discussion, in regards to the Kentucky Wesleyan basketball program. Again, I admit not being an expert, these are just my opinions born out of being a life-long follower and fan.
1) The Need for Local Talent. History can teach us an important lesson here. In the mid 1970’s Kentucky Wesleyan basketball fell on some hard times and just a few years removed from their 1973 championship, fans turned their backs on the program. That all changed in the spring of 1979 when the program turned to a new head coach and master promoter, Mike Polio. Polio convinced Owensboro to come back to the Sportscenter and used every promotional method and gimmick available to make that happen. But, perhaps the greatest lesson learned from the Polio era was in recruiting local talent. When Owensboro High School stars Rod Drake and Dwight Higgs signed on to help rebuild the Panther program, everything changed. Fans returned to not only watch the new recruits and this new promoter/coach, but to support local kids. Ray Harper and Todd Lee both brought in some local talent but had to mainly rely upon junior college and other college transfers to build their teams. One would have to wonder if taking a chance on local talent that will be around for a few years would be more beneficial than the one and two-year transfers. To be fair, local talent may have been lacking in recent years. However, history has proven that taking chances on local kids can, over time, not only fill a team’s roster but be valuable asset both on the floor and in the stands.
2) What Happened to Four-Year Players? If one looks back on all the great Kentucky Wesleyan teams, you will find that all of them had a number of contributing four-year players. I have to question why KWC has begun relying almost entirely on transfers – many of whom are single season players. It is difficult, if not impossible, for fans to get to know and embrace teams with such transient rosters. One of the great joys of college basketball is watching a team develop and mature over time. The “quick-fix” method of building winning teams is the trend in colleges at all levels. I just don’t think it is good for the fans and I’m not sure it really works over the long-term for a program – especially smaller schools like KWC. A healthy blend of four-year players and one or two year transfers seems to be a more stable model for building a program and maintaining success. Fans will be far more forgiving of the struggles of a young team with young players than a struggling team made up of one and two year transfers. I would love to see KWC recruit more high school seniors.
3) How to Compete Against BBN? In recent years the growth in popularity for University of Kentucky basketball has been remarkable. UK fans have now become “Big Blue Nation” and coverage and interest in UK has swallowed up local sports. Throughout the history of Kentucky Wesleyan basketball there has been a healthy balance of fans willing to support both UK and KWC. That seems to have changed in recent years. It is understandable that Owensboro basketball fans will be drawn to the Big Blue. UK’s basketball success has been second to none. But isn’t there room for both? Our local paper, social media, television and other media outlets are inundated with news from UK while, often, giving second-rate coverage for local sports including Kentucky Wesleyan basketball. I have even noticed many KWC home games with limited coverage by our newspaper and no game pictures – something that once never happened. I get it! Newspaper businesses have to sell newspapers and University of Kentucky basketball is the cash cow. But that has hurt the exposure and publicity of local sports and, in particular, Kentucky Wesleyan, who is desperate for fans and building local interest.
I challenge anyone to go to our public library and look at copies of our local newspaper from forty and fifty years ago. In those days the local paper printed full stories and multiple pictures of KWC games including the day of the game previews. Some may also remember a daily feature at the start of each season called “Panther Profile” – where individual players would be introduced with a picture and a short bio. I mention this to point out that at the same time UK was winning and competing for national championships year in and year out and the newspaper managed to cover both. It can be done.
4) Need for the Right Leadership. This past season KWC basketball was forced to endure the difficult transition of one coach suddenly resigning mid-season and replaced by an assistant. From all I understand the assistant coach (Jason Mays) did a fantastic job of playing the remainder of the schedule having to endure that difficult change, player injuries and lack of talent. Jason Mays could very well be the best person for the job. I really have no idea. However, I hope and fully expect that the KWC administration will vet out every possibility of coaches and explore every option before making a decision. It is my read that is exactly what is going on.
I don’t know who is the best person for this job. I just feel in my heart that this hire is crucial to the program’s future. I’m not sure KWC can afford to get this one wrong. That person will be required to win basketball games and to do that they have to recruit talent. They also need to sell the community on this program all over again. I know Owensboro and it’s fans and do believe that winning will bring people back into the Sportscenter – maybe. The basketball landscape is so different from twenty years ago that I am not sure Kentucky Wesleyan will ever see a sold out Sportscenter again. Twenty-four hour sports programming and finger-tip access to every game and play in the world has changed live sporting event attendance forever. But, I still believe that in a town of fifty-thousand, KWC should be able to draw at least three thousand for every home game and, who knows, maybe a sell out every now and then. I look at Bellarmine University and remember they brought in Scotty Davenport, an older, experienced coach and have done remarkably well under his leadership. On paper, he may not have looked like the right candidate. But his success is undeniable. There are interesting possibilities out there that I hope KWC is exploring. Young coaches, older and experienced coaches, people with ties to KWC and perhaps former KWC or UK players should all be considered.
5) Re-Think the G-MAC Conference. When KWC lost rivals such as Southern Indiana, Lewis and Bellarmine, it lost fans. That is undeniable. I understand the reason for organizing the new G-MAC conference was monetary and that decision may very well have been the best at the time. One of the reasons given initially was the problem with excessive travel that the GLVC caused. However, teams are now traveling to West Virginia, northern Ohio and Michigan. I fail to see the benefit. And, as a fan – it took away a lot of history that will never be replaced. KWC fans have very little connection with the teams competing in the G-MAC and although that history will build over time – I’m concerned that the fan connection to the new conference will never rise to the level that existed with the Great Lakes Valley Conference, of which KWC was a charter member.
Leaving the GLVC was a huge mistake. In the years since leaving that conference, I’m not sure KWC has won a single game against a GLVC school in head to head competition. It would seem that KWC has “played down” to the level of competition in the G-MAC conference. They’re lack of success in the NCAA since joining this new league would bear that out. The GLVC presented a brutal challenge for basketball teams but was the best possible preparation for the national tournament. Kentucky Wesleyan was successful in the NCAA tournament primarily because they withstood the challenge of playing really good teams in the GLVC. I would rethink the decision to be part of the G-MAC and would like KWC to explore rejoining the GLVC.
I love Kentucky Wesleyan College and KWC basketball. It has shaped who I am and carried me through good and bad times in my life. Listening to Joel Utley describe games through the years has brought me countless joy and I can’t imagine going through those cold, difficult winters without his voice in my ear. Kentucky Wesleyan basketball made me feel like a champion. Throughout my life I have celebrated all their victories and at times cried when they lost. I want to never see that come to an end. These five ideas are certainly not the entire answer to the challenge facing Kentucky Wesleyan basketball. Life for small colleges and their athletics is a tenuous business. The fact that KWC has been able to maintain its level of excellence is a testament to some dedicated individuals who through the years have worked to see that tradition continue. It is my hope that the difficult crossroads awaiting this beloved program will not end tragically at a dead-end.
Let’s Go Panthers! “Til every foe in vanquished”
It was the tradition in my home growing up that a prayer be given before every meal. My father offered the same blessing every evening for (I suppose) the thousands of meals my mom prepared. It went like this: “Oh Lord we thank you for this day, for this food. Forgive us of our sins and watch over us throughout the night. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.” I can close my eyes and still hear his voice decades following his passing as if he was still sitting at the table about to partake of my mom’s delicious fried chicken. I never forgot his nightly prayer. I suppose knowing how good the meal was going to taste made thanking God that much easier and although my dads prayer was simple, routine and somewhat stale, it taught me the importance of raising a Christian family that paused each evening at the table to thank our Lord for what we had.
We should always thank God for His providence, knowing it is by His good will and pleasure that we have the things we have. The scripture declares that God sends both the cloud and the rainbow. And though thanking God for the hardships of our lives may be difficult, thanking our sovereign God for the good things in our lives is so easy it seems like an almost natural, innate response. How many times have we said or heard said, “Thank God!” when something good happens? The most unbelieving of our society can find reason to say “Thank God!” when things go their way and just as easily curse Him or declare Him non-existent when things do not. I too am guilty of that behavior at times.
Today I considered all of these intricacies of prayer as Lisa went for her six month mammogram check-up following her bout with breast cancer two years ago. The horror of hearing the words “breast cancer” was something neither of us wanted to endure again and it was with great joy and relief that we recieved the news that test results determined she remains cancer free. Thank God!
There have been many life lessons learned through Lisa’s breast cancer experience. We appreciate life a little more, we love our family and friends a little more intimately, we say, “I love you!” more often. But another powerful learning has been to thank God for the things we don’t have. To wake up in the morning cancer free is God’s gift to us and should be celebrated and prayed over and talked about and posted on Facebook and billboards. God has done a great thing by not allowing into our lives those things that destroy us.
At that first Christmas long ago, some probably questioned why God did not provide better accomodations for the Son of Man to be born. I probably would have been one of those. I’m ashamed to admit that too often my evaluations of God’s blessings has more to do with my personal comforts and material possessions than the fact that He has prevented horrors from attacking my life that I hear about for so many. With that in mind, I consider that first Christmas and then find myself wanting to thank God for the child – not complain about the conditions, for the joy of God becoming flesh – not bitch about a dirty, smelly animal stall. On that first Christmas it became necessary to look way beyond an unsanitary stable and that which was lacking and thank God for the very things we did not have – namely, a world without grace, a life without hope, and someday – a wife having to hear again the word, “cancer”. We should remember to thank God for not only the things He provides, but, also what He takes away.
I’ve never been one to set New Years resolutions but I may consider this next year resolving to be more aware and more thankful for the things I don’t have rather than all the things I do. Our God is a God who provides, but He is also a God who prevents – and that may be His greatest gift of all.
So let me get the approaching new year started by saying, “Thank you God for the things I don’t have!”
My wife Lisa is the best gift giver of anyone I have ever known. Her gifts are thoughtful expressions of knowing the people she is buying for and finding the perfect gifts to match. Left to me, our Christmas shopping would take place around ten o’clock on Christmas Eve and everyone would get a gift card from the never closed gas station down the street. Not my wife. Lisa starts Christmas shopping as soon as the weather hits into the seventies, whether that be August or September. And by the time Christmas draws near, we have forgotten half of what has been purchased and must gather all the items from every nook and cranny of our home and start the process of sorting through the bounty.
With the advances in online, free delivery commerce, Lisa’s shopping stamina and gift buying prowess have made Christmas shopping almost painless. Almost.
There is just one problem. When you combine smart phone technology, online buying options and ones love of soaking for hours in a tub, you have a problem. Lisa’s long soaks are relaxing for her but can be expensive. I estimate that during Christmas shopping season her long soaks cost me about a hundred bucks an hour. While she is upstairs soak shopping, I’m down below moving what little money we have from one account to another trying to keep up. It would benefit me to have multiple computer screens and turn my little man cave into something akin to the set up of a Dow Jones investor. It would also help me to have a monitor set up so I can be alerted when Lisa is in the tub. I better get home quick or else we may lose the house and the socks I’m wearing.
It has always been our set up that I take care of our bill paying and finances. I know that for many families, the wife is the caretaker of everything to do with money. Our arrangement works fine for us. Recently. Lisa and I discussed our bills and she made a statement that may have been the most telling, honest comment of our 34 year marriage. She said, “I can’t be worrying about the bills and shop too.”
With that, she headed to the tub for another expensive soak and I started digging in the couch for lose change.
Merry Christmas and happy soaking!
“hist whist little ghostthings”
When I was still of age to trick or treat, there would come that blissful moment when my brother and I would dump our pillow case Halloween bags onto the living room floor and inspect our candy bounty, separating the good from the not-so-good. Today I am dumping out my Halloween Bag (so to speak) and sharing several things with my readers. I hope you find the good stuff.
“tip-toe twinkle toe”
Lisa and I have been fortunate to remain here at home for over a year now as she continues her work in Newburgh, Indiana, a forty-five minute drive from our house. Although it is a “travel job”, the close proximity to our home has been welcomed after nearly five years away. She is now under contract through December.
“little twitchy witches and tingling goblins hob-a-nob hob-a-nob”
Our third grandson, Knox James, arrived a few weeks ago. Due to a breathing issue, little Knox had surgery in Nashville last week to open his airway. The surgery was a success and, thankfully, he no longer sounds like he is gasping for air. Modern medicine continues to amaze.
“little hoppy happy toad in tweeds tweeds little mousies”
While in Nashville following Knox’s surgery, Lisa, Heather, the baby and I braved a trip to the Opry Mills Mall. If you have ever been there you know it is a massive place with more shopping possibilities than most bank accounts can accommodate. You will also know there you will encounter the most annoying kiosk sales people every few feet practically blocking your path trying to sell you some type of miracle salve, wrinkle cream, hair gel, and other life changing products. By the time we were leaving, after about thirteen encounters with these idiots, I had my response memorized: “Out of money and my credit card was cancelled”. Still, one guy said he would take a check.
“with scuttling eyes rustle and run and hidehidehide whisk”
One night while in Nashville for Knox’s surgery, knowing he was in such good care, we decided to give Heather a break and go downtown for supper. Parking in downtown Nashville is a nightmare but we found one of those ‘pay to park’ lots not far from where we wanted to eat. We thought the spot would be perfect and the $10 fee seemed more than reasonable.. I located the meter where the fee is paid, but was confused (not surprising) how to pay my ten bucks. While trying to figure out the code word for “Pay Here”, which was apparently in every language but English, I overheard someone say parking was free after 6PM. Sounded good to me. We ate, walked back to our car and did not notice the piece of paper flapping underneath our windshield wiper until we arrived back at the hospital. “Parking Fine – $60”. My meal started turning in my stomach. I wonder if there is a Rosetta Stone for Parking Meter instructions.
“whisk look out for the old woman with the wart on her nose what she’ll do to yer nobody knows”
The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville is an amazing place. Those who care for sick children are a special breed and their bedside manner is something special to behold. We saw doctors using “YouTube Kids” on their phones for their little patients to watch while being examined and children were wheeled around in toy wagons and push cars. It was heartbreaking seeing these extremely sick children but they are in great hands. I would move to Nashville because of that place.
“for she knows the devil ooch the devil ouch the devil ach the great green”
Lisa put up a “Harvest Tree” this year. It is decorated with fall colored leaves, little pumpkins, and other items she purchased that look like things I rake up out of our yard. While standing in our front yard one afternoon, a man walking his dog noticed the white lights through our front window and asked if we had our Christmas tree up. “No! It’s a Harvest Tree!”, I said with a tone like, “Have you not ever seen a Harvest Tree?” The next day I covered the thing in orange lights. Now people will know it is a tree decorated for Halloween. Either that or they will think major construction is taking place in our living room. I’m okay with either.
“dancing devil devil devil devil”
Losing the McDonalds at Wesleyan Park Plaza has thrown my life out of balance. Not that we eat there often, but the traffic pattern down South Frederica has taken another hit as people clamour for the next closest Big Mac. My son mentioned that the old McDonalds was a perfect two double cheeseburger distance to his house and moving it just a couple of feet in either direction will throw his life out of sync to the point he may not recover.
I have been reading Halloween books to our grandchildren Conner Jack and Thomas Lea. This year I shared with them the Halloween book I read to Heather and Justin when they were little. It is called “Hist Whist” by e.e. cummings. It scared the hell out of them and I had to put it up. Sorry kids!
Today (September 22, 2017) is my 58th birthday. Because I am 58, it takes me a minute to remember that I’m 58. The years are moving past me like a high speed train and the blurry view of the world outside my window is almost unrecognizable. Turning 58 has very little significance in my life other than knowing God has granted me another year on earth and a wonderful family that is soon to grow even larger with soon to arrive newborn grandchildren. As the world seems to grow darker and more difficult, my family and friends are the only things that really make sense and for them – I am glad to move into a new year. They give my life meaning that transcends the crazy world that I, very often, find impossible to understand. My life moves on and 2017 and 58 are nothing but numbers.
It is my opinion that numbers really have no real spiritual or moral significance. Numerologists will suggest otherwise. There are those that place great importance on dates and times and construct theories of their importance and hidden meanings even using those numbers to predict the future. I don’t get any of that. For me, numbers help me remember things – like events, historic things, where I was when, and what I was doing. With that being said, there has never been a year that marked more significance for me than 2017. Here are some examples.
- Fifty years ago today (September 22, 1967) I turned eight years old and my dad took me to Union County High School to see OHS play the Braves. Owensboro scored 26 points in the first eight minutes, utilizing a mere nine plays from scrimmage and won 47 – 0.
- Fifty years ago, my father was 50 years old and this past July 5th would have marked his 100th birthday.
- This year during the Labor Day weekend, the 1967 Owensboro High football team had a 50th reunion celebrating the season I wrote about in my book, “A Glory Denied”. It was a thrill for me to meet these players and cheerleaders I had written about and was honored with a plaque declaring me an honorary letterman of that ’67 team. My childhood hero from that team, #24 Isaac Brown, presented me the plaque. It was a moment I will never forget.
But there is one more number that also means something to me. It was fifty years ago this fall that my dad took me to Owensboro High’s Rash Stadium to practice for the upcoming “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition. The contest was one that allowed boys to punt, pass and kick a football for distance and accuracy against other boys their same age. My football had seen better days and using a leather ball on Owensboro city streets would result in broken laces and a protruding inner tube that made the ball look deformed and almost impossible to grip. As the ’67 Red Devils wrapped up their practice on this particular afternoon, the head coach, Gerald Poynter, came over to me and offered me some kind and encouraging words. He then noticed the odd looking football that I was practicing with and then did something I will never forget. He walked into the teams locker room and returned to give me one of the OHS practice balls. He said it was mine to keep. It was the greatest gift I had ever received in my life. I cherished that football, slept with it, tossed it around my yard and bragged to my friends that Coach Poynter had given it to me. I never forgot him for his kindness. In some ways the gift changed my life in that it gave me a sense of self-worth knowing that the famous OHS coach thought enough to take time for me and give me such a gift. To him, I’m sure it was nothing – to me, it meant everything.
Yesterday, fifty years after that famous ’67 season, and the day before my 58th birthday, Coach Gerald Poynter passed away. He leaves behind a family that loved him, players that admired him, and fans like myself that marveled at him and his ability to coach football. I was so glad that I was able to get my book published and present him with the first copy before he became too sick to read and understand what I hope was a story that honored his legacy.
I never played football for Gerald Poynter, I never had him as a teacher. He was a man that I really never knew – except for my time interviewing him for my book and a brief encounter fifty years ago when he kindly gave a little eight year old boy a used Red Devil football and changed his life. I always wanted to tell him how much I appreciated what he did for me and that I never forgot his kindness, but I never got around to saying it.
Today, fifty years later on my 58th birthday and on this the coach’s first full day in glory, I can finally tell him, Thanks!
We once had a dishwasher that had a little clean-out basket designed to catch all the food particles that would not otherwise be churned up and drowned in the suds on their way to the Ohio River (or wherever they go). Our new dishwasher does not have that little basket and the large food particles now remain stuck to the plates and bowls long after the wash and rinse cycles – leaving us to scrape them away into the trash can where they will probably end up in the Ohio River. But our new dishwasher has that cool silver finish and it looks really good. Looks, you know, are everything – even when it comes to kitchen appliances. If it didn’t make me sound really old I would say something here like, “they don’t make things like they use to”.
Why all this about the the little dishwasher basket you ask? I have become that little basket for my family. I catch and do all the things that those who still work and have a real life cannot do because they have a real job and a real life. Now, I am not complaining – let me be clear. I love being able to do things for my family and being retired affords me those opportunities. If I can make their lives easier – I’m all in. Without that basket – our dishwasher would get clogged and probably quit working and so it is with the things I can do for the “fam”. Without me their lives would get clogged up with .., well, you get the idea.
My most recent job has been helping out our daughter with her kids while her husband is out of town. Today, I took Conner to his pre-school and experienced the military-like precision in which children are dropped off in the morning. I had no idea things had changed so much since our children were in pre-school. By the time I was briefed on how, when and where this transfer would happen, my head was spinning and I found myself wrestling with the details as I tried to sleep the night before the big “drop-off”. Where do I go again? What happens if I’m too early? Too late? I was a nervous wreck. I was told not to have Conner there before 8:20AM but not after 8:30. That ten minute window had to be observed or something would happen – I suppose something really bad. It went through my mind to do a dry run the night before. I had no idea how long it would take to pick him up at home, secure him in his five-point harnessed – could be safe on the space shuttle – car seat, drive downtown to his school – get in line within that ten minute time frame – say the right thing – not have my truck breakdown while in line – get him out of his car seat like I know what I am doing without needing to call for the jaws of life – kiss him good-bye (is that allowed?) – and drive off with the appropriate speed and demeanor. In keeping with my earlier analogy of the dishwasher – I was a basket-case.
I woke up at 5AM to run through the checklist a dozen more times. Geez! What happened to the days when we would throw the kids in the front seat and practically push them out the door when we took them places. I’m pretty sure there were times my mom dropped me off places when I was a kid and never even came to a complete stop.
I paced the floor and watched the clock click down toward zero hour before heading out to complete the mission. I can do this! – I can do this! – we raised two children and I can do this! But, what if there is traffic? What if I hit every stop light? What if I get behind some slow driving old lady on her way to the beauty shop? Dear God, I thought, I’ll be late! I hurriedly got to my truck and rushed to get Conner. I managed to get him squeezed into his lunar capsule car seat (surprisingly not hanging upside down) without leaving an arm or leg hanging out and not disecting part of his stomach in the vice-grip-like buckles. We were on our way.
Traffic was actually not too bad and as we neared the dreaded drop off zone I, like a good soldier followed orders and made my way through the parking lot across the street. This part of the elaborate pre-school drop off plan was designed to reduce traffic jams along the side streets as other parents, grandparents and/or dishwasher baskets formed a perfectly straight line toward drop-zone “Alpha, Charlie, Bravo”. However, I quickly noticed that I was the only one driving through the parking lot. Just as I was feeling really proud to be the only one following orders, I realized I was the only one winding through the parking lot because I was thirty minutes early. There was no traffic jam because everyone else was just now leaving their house or eating at McDonalds. I was second in line.
Conner and I moved into position and waited. Being twenty minutes early, I was unsure what would happen when the door finally opened. Would I be disciplined for arriving before the ten minute time frame? Would Conner be kicked out on his second day of pre-school? Would I be the subject of a staff training video entitled, “What Not To Do When Dropping Off Your Grandson at Pre-school”? I was also unsure if I needed to take Conner out of his car seat. I noticed the people in front and behind had already released their children from theirs. Should I? But, would that not be a violation – even against the law? Perhaps I should wait and when it is my turn, then take him out. But how will I do that? My truck is huge and I would need to lay across the center console on my stomach and lean into the back seat in order to free him from his confines. My feet may hit the gear shift and cause me to ram into the car in front. Maybe I should get out and walk around to his side. But, that seemed slow and dangerous. Angry grandparents will be honking their horns and leaning out yelling at me – may cause one to stroke out or have a heart attack. Then we will have to wait for an ambulance. I didn’t know what to do.
Finally it was our turn. I pulled into place. A really nice lady opened Conner’s door, greeted him with a warm “Good Morning!”, and without any trouble whatsoever, released him from his car seat without breaking a sweat or dislocating his elbow. She then shut my door. It was over. Mission accomplished.
There is an old saying that things usually are not as bad as they seem. In other words, we tend to create problems in our minds by overthinking things. I have to quit doing that.
This old dishwasher basket can’t take it.
Peace! Steve Mc
It took only a moment, a flash of time almost too small to notice or calculate. And yet in that blink of an eye, my life and the precious life of my grandson, nearly ended. It was my fault that Conner Jack would experience his first, and God willing, only car crash. The mental video has played over and over in my mind for several days now and my sleep has been interrupted with the nightmare that, by God’s grace, never unfolded. How could I have lived had Conner been injured or killed by my pulling out in front of an oncoming pickup truck? Had the young driver not been alert and manage to swerve and brake quick enough, the result could have been tragic. His fast reaction resulted in two damaged vehicles but no injuries.
There are so many times in life when seconds and inches mean the difference between life or death. Had our two vehicles arrived even one second sooner, the impact would have been squarely on Conner’s door and the result unthinkable. Instead the impact happened just beyond the place Conner sat in his car seat. Was it luck or was it something more?
God’s grace is profound. The very idea of undeserved forgiveness is life changing. Knowing that scripture declares nothing can tear us away from that grace, that God has cast our sins as far as the east is to the west, washed whiter than snow, forgotten and remembered no more, is so hard to believe that many refuse to accept such mercy. We must earn it, they suggest. We must be good, do good, please God in some way in order to be accepted. It all sounds good but it’s not true. We are incapable of goodness, at least the level of good that God could accept. We are simply helpless. And that is the only way I can find peace in understanding the driving mistake that nearly took my life and my grandsons. I was helpless. I made the mistake of turning in front of an oncoming truck and all I could do was brace for the impact. In that horrific moment, grace found us. On a narrow two lane highway in the county countryside, we were given life, love, forgiveness and grace. God found us helpless and we found God.
There are seconds in life that change us, that teach us by revealing to us a God who may seem hidden for much of our days and nights. We are so consumed with our problems and the mundane thoughts about our lives that we forget we are living. Conner and I are alive for reasons I don’t understand and though the horrific images and booming sound of our car wreck replays over and over in my thoughts, I can accept it now as a blessing, even thankful for the experience. As if God slapped me across the face to wake up and embrace life, embrace family, friends, even the very problems I am so consumed with. He has my attention.
After a sleepless first night following the accident, I went to see Conner. I prayed that there would be no lingering effects upon him. When I came through the door he was playing with his little brother, Thomas. He was laughing, running around like the little boy I knew him to be, the accident the farthest thing from his mind. Upon seeing me, he ran and gave me a hug. I squeezed him tight like I’ve done hundreds of times before. But this hug felt different. This hug was undeserved, perhaps unlikely to have happened considering what we had lived through. God had given Conner and I one more embrace and a long lifetime ahead to thank Him for it.
On this thirtieth anniversary of his passing, I am sharing a post written a few years ago about my brother, Gary Lea McFarland.
Source: A Painful Day and a Future Glory
This is not fake news – this really happened and it is fascinating. In a small town in North Carolina, local law enforcement officers were duped into believing the bizarre scheme of a group of felons to rob the local bank by posing as Hollywood movie producers. Here is how they nearly pulled it off.
After reading an article in a police journal praising the small town police methods in which the officers refused to carry weapons while on duty, the crooks made their way to meet these brave men and pose as tv executives interested in producing a television show about their unorthodox, but successful law enforcement techniques. As the “would be” crooks befriended the officers, they managed to case the local bank and learn of the officers work schedules. Following a supper meeting with the officers and their families, the miscreants made their way to the bank thinking the officers were off duty. Unfortunately, the deputy sheriff, a slightly built single man, happened to notice a light on in the bank and went in to investigate. There he found the so-called movie producers with a suitcase full of stolen cash. The quick thinking crooks, fooled the deputy into believing they were “rehearsing a scene for their first episode” and even convinced him that he (the deputy) was being considered for a starring role. The robbers were just about to escape with thousands of dollars in cash when the chief of police arrived at the scene and spoiled their get-away, apprehending the trio with the help of some armed citizens. Apparently, the police chief began questioning the strange motives of the fake producers and figured out their bank robbing ploy.
I found this story interesting as it tells of old school police methods in which good common sense can often out-wit the ridiculous schemes of law breakers and in this case do so without the use of force. When news of the event reached CNN, the reporters were sad to learn that the sheriff was unavailable to comment on the story.
He had, apparently, gone fishing with his son.