Ricky Bobby

Ricky Bobby
If you ain't first you're last

Monday, August 2, 2010

High Tide

The rushing of water through my ears settled, and the millions of bubbles all around me were slowly fading away...drifting back to the surface. I could feel the mucky bottom oozing up between my toes and some of the sea grass wrapped itself up around my feet. Like so many times before, the water found its way into my mouth....salty and bathwater warm. I was close enough to the surface I could see the rim of the sun sliding into the gulf straight ahead. It was awfully quiet and peaceful; not even a minnow stirred 'round. Only nine more days left of summer break, we'd soon be going back to school. What a great day it had been....and... where was Roy anyway?


Sleep was fitful , as it always is with a bad sunburn. Lying there in a half slumber, I could hear the thunder in the distance as...I slowly waft into wakefulness, I realize the thunder is actually fishing boats starting up in the canal just outside the open window. The raw skin of my back is prickling up under the heavy force of the fan running next to the bed. The sheets are stuck to me in places where the small blisters on my skin have popped overnight. Oh, yeah....Dekle Beach... ten days of summer vacation left. My cousin Roy was in the bed next to mine. Looking over, I could see he was already awake. Roy's family usually came to Dekle Beach for a month and then my family would come for a month. It worked out for us, because we then ended up staying with each other and getting the whole summer at the beach. We had been coming to Dekle Beach for the summer as long as I could remember.

We both climbed out of bed and watched the boats for a while out the window. The rest of the house was still quiet, so we pulled on shorts and shirts ...never mind shoes, and slipped on out toward the canal. I was feeling better, still a bit sore from the spill I had taken the week before. Riding my bike over crab creek bridge, my bike tire had gotten caught between two of the planks on that old wooden bridge and I went right over the edge face first. It was about a ten foot drop into the barnacles below. Fortunately, some lady was driving up at the time and had seen me go over. Guess she didn't have any trouble hauling a skinny 11 year old boy out of the water. I didn't remember a thing after seeing the tire get wedged. That happened on Sunday Morning, next thing I remember it was Monday Afternoon. But kids were made of tougher stuff those days, and it didn't keep me down. Anyway, the fishermen were all climbing in their boats talking back and forth. Our boat was sitting on down the bank a ways....I briefly wondered if we'd get to go out later....that's what my Dad usually said....later. The boats were all idling out the canal now, pushing up muddy water behind them. The tide had just turned on it's way in and should be full late in the day. Roy and I were standing in the black ooze that lined the water all down the canal edge. Back then, who knew the consequences of all the open septic tanks dumping into the water. I just knew the canal was STINKY at low tide. We contented ourselves chasing fiddler crabs for a while and soon found ourselves staring across the main canal toward Jug Island. About that time Roy Taylor (not my cousin) came putt-putting up the canal in his little boat. He was always quiet....I don't ever remember him saying more than three or four words to me. Just small and quiet...and brown....That boy was dark as the inside of a cow. I don't know how young he was when he got that boat, but I don't remember a time when he didn't have it. He was only my age but had his own boat which just turned the ole green eyed envy monster loose in me. As he passed, by and waved, our eyes again came right across Jug Island. Roy (cousin Roy)was just beginning to say "let's go over there" when I heard the screech right behind me. "Young Mr. Gutshall, what are you boys up to" I didn't have to turn around to know it was Janie Hamilton, who along with her husband "Hamp" had founded Dekle Beach. They also own the general store "on the railing of which she was presently screeching from" as well as the rental houses most of us were staying in. Well, there wasn't much that didn't catch ole Janie's eye. Her voice was like a rusty nail being pulled through a tin roof. Ole Hamp never bothered nobody. As a matter of fact, most of us kids enjoyed hopping into the back of his old pickup for a trip to the dump, or back to the woods to feed his hound dogs. Anyway, I shouted back "nothin" to Janie and Roy and I drifted on back toward the house. She retorted with a "I got my eye on you two" and disappeared through the back store room door. Come on, Roy lets go....

A little envy goes a long way. The knowledge that Roy Taylor was kin ( I think Grandson) to Janie Hamilton, was not lost to me. The night before while we were following the mosquito spray truck on our bicycles, I had remembered seeing a dead possum near the end of the road. Roy and I scooted back to the house and in the door. Mom was up and getting breakfast ready and told us to give her ten minutes and she would have something for us to eat. As soon as her back was turned, I snatched a paper bag from under the counter, and we were out the back door. Five minutes later, that dead possum had been neatly "delivered" into Mrs. Janie Hamilton's mailbox. We were back to the breakfast table before Mom ever missed us.

With a full stomach we were soon back behind the store and swimming the canal toward Jug Island. The swim across was easy enough, but once we were across, Jug Island looked a lot further away. The water over to the island was only a couple feet deep, but man was that hard traveling. After a half hour or so, we gave up and headed back. Our path back brought us out farther down the canal and the swim across found us near the mid way steps of the boardwalk. By then we were close enough to see the "girls from Live Oak" were heading out the dock and they settled down for sunning right next to the steps. Roy and I were nothing if not shy in those days, so there was nothing for us to do but turn toward the beach and slog on through the water. We eventually made it back and climbed the steps next to the store and on up to the store balcony. Mrs. Janie was waiting on us, and screeched through the screen door...."Mr. Gutshall, I saw you swimming that canal and I've already told your mother"...that old bat! I shrugged, and Roy asked her if the mail had come yet...She frowned and said, "I don't know, why do you ask"? "Oh no reason", Roy said, and we walked on past her into the store. The old screen door slammed behind her as she followed us in..."I've got my eye on you two"... her voice made my skin prickle up again. We didn't have any money, so we got a deck of cards out and began to play. Polly Ferrell and Lee Ann Hardee were at the other end of the room with a couple other girls from town. We knew who they were, but like I said before.... we were painfully SHY. Sometimes when Lorrie Parker was with them we might offer a quiet hello. After all, Lorrie was mine and Roy's cousin...that made it some easier. Anyway, the "new store" as we called it was much better. If you dropped money on the floor, it stayed on the floor. I remembered the old store, you could see the water through the cracks of the floor. If you dropped a dime, well, you lost a dime. We soon had enough of the cards, and started out the door. Janie had gone home by then and Mrs Mullinax was at the register. She was such a nice lady...she called me and Roy over to her as we got to the door. She handed us each a fudge cicle and dropped a couple of quarters into the register....like I said, sweet lady.

As we made our way back out the door, the "Girls from Live Oak" passed by, so we took the opportunity to go down the dock. We always took the time to find "our board" on the dock. Everybody carved their name in the dock somewhere, sometime. I don't know what had ever posessed me, but at one point I spent three days carving..."DON GUTSHALL SR.80 "If I don't fail". It took up almost a whole length of one of the old cypress boards. Anyhoo, we were about halfway down the dock again, and decided to swim / walk to crab creek....so there nothing to do but hit the water. Off we go back down the mid way steps and into the water.. It's a hard walk across the water and mud, but about an hour later we walked out of the water behind Doctor Parker's house and onto the rock road leading around to crab creek. A few minutes later we were standing in front of the "Spook House" Well, we never made it to crab creek that day. We spent the rest of the afternoon crawling through the shell of that ole house over the water. It was fun to "haunt it" and make scary sounds when the girls walked by.

Somewhere around seven o'clock or so we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast and let our empty bellies lead us home. Walking back up the rock road, we passed by the "Live Oak House" and could hear the squeals and laughter coming from inside. We made up a million reasons why we couldn't go to the door and speak to them....just shy I guess....Painfully Shy. We met Polly and Lee Ann coming up the road the other way and pretended we didn't see them. I guess they didn't see us either cause no one spoke. Shy I guess....Painfully Shy. There was this story I heard about Lee Ann and Roy Taylor taking a bath together when they were tots....guess they just weren't so shy at that age...

Mom had been over to Jabo and brought home fish for us to eat from Howards. Janie Hamilton was storming out of the house when we came up. She was so torqued up, I don't even think she saw us. Dad was sitting on the front porch as we came in (I think the was fairly torqued up himself) and I asked if he would take us out in the boat real quick.....later, he said. We scarfed our dinner down and headed for the store before anybody started asking questions. On the way we passed the Moody boys who were pulling a giant Jew Fish onto the back of a pickup truck at the boat ramp. They had been out spearfishing all day. We admired the fish a while and headed on to the store. No one was inside yet when we got there, so we kept going right on out the dock. We walked quietly absorbed in the thoughts of preteen boys. Every now and then one of us would stub a toe, or step on a sharp crack in a board. The day was nearly done and the sun was just about to touch the horizon as we walked directly into it. We were halfway between the mid steps, and the end of the dock. No words were spoken between us, but suddenly we were sprinting for the end....we always did that. Just see who could be there first. I was always a little faster than Roy and hit the end of the walk running as hard as I could go. The last step I jumped as hard and far as I could go out into the full tide...


My breath is spent and the water all around is still....the sound of a boat motor is drumming closer and louder now. Pushing off the bottom, my feet sink further into the mud. Reaching then for the surface my head clears then another wave hits me in the face, salty warm water...and the boat coming...louder and louder...I shake my head trying to clear the water from my eyes....warm salty sweat dripping down into my eyes. The mower vibrating under me and a retreating sun straight ahead sliding down the edge to the sky....The grass is neatly cut again. Daydreaming....I do that sometimes when I cut the grass. Just a memory, so rich I can feel it, so real I can still taste it. Life's like that, you know. You jump off the end of the dock, and when you come up for air, thirty-eight years have rolled by. I wonder where Roy is.........

I never did hear what happened when Janie opened her mailbox, but I knew it wasn't pretty. Mom knew everything I'm sure, but she never said a word (to me anyway)...Lee Ann Hardee's Mom told me once that Mom had told her that whole story back when they were nursing together. Dad didn't care either way I'm sure. There's so many more stories to tell about Dekle Beach. Like Vance Burford skiing by the ski ramp spraying the girls with water...getting closer and closer each pass until he got close enough he hit the side of the dock and broke his leg....yeah I remember. Days when me and Roy stood under the store spying on (I won't call his name but his initials are Wes Blue) smooching with his girlfriend on the bench after dark. Lee Ann Hardee and Polly Ferrell were so helpful in sparking many of my memories of those days. Thank you guys so much. Most of these memories are probably collective to all who grew up there.

Think I'll go shower now before Tilena gets home. If she catches me sitting here so dirty and smelly I'll be in for it. Besides....I think I've got a little seaweed wrapped around my ankle...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dark Nights and Dusty Roads

This week has been one of those unbearably hot streaks. Temperatures have roared into the upper 90's every day for nearly two weeks now. It's actually quite an unusual phenomenon here in South Florida. Usually by the time the mercury creeps into the low 90's, along comes a thunderstorm and cools everything down. The storms are coming still, but they don't seem to roll in this year until near dark. By then....whew! The last couple weeks here have seemed to me more like the days in North Florida when I was growing up....summers like this were the norm up there...HOT and DUSTY.

So, anyway...that all put me in mind of those days gone. School was out and once my daily duties "tending tomato plants, feeding the stock, and cleaning out the steer pens" were done...the day was mine to do with whatever a twelve year old boy could come up with. The dust from that old dirt road still wafts up in my nose when I think of it. It took about fifteen minutes of hard traveling to get down to Roy's house. He usually had more free time than me and would be out and about 'time I got there. Thinking back now, I realize that most day's it was hotter than a humming bird layin a goose egg..., but I also remember that it was "no big deal"...that's just the way it was. Roy and I would leave his house mid morning and head for the woods and fields to see what devilment we could find in the day. Occassional dips in the creek or pond would be followed by tree climbing, rock throwing, hole digging or maybe fort building. We worked awfully hard at playing. The next thing you know ol Sol had set and we knew Mama was mad cause we had missed supper again. I think those days are why food still is no big deal to me. Roy and I both are still pretty much the same size we were back then. Aside from cutting open an occassional palmetto fan and chewing up the bud, breakfast may be all we ate some days.

Occassionally, our cousin "city boy" Donnie would catch a ride out with somebody to spend the day or weekend with us. Roy and I took great joy in "funnin" with ole Donnie. He just didn't know no better. My kid sister somedays tried to keep up too. Although she could stay closer with us than Donnie. She was meaner than a just cut hog. I ain't fussin about that... cause I made her that way. I remember gettin her all wound up one day and turning her loose on Roy. Boy, she had him huntin bigger country. If you want an idea how bad she was...just take a couple jabs at a bobcat with a sharp stick. I mean she would trim your tree tops. Kinda like fighting a windmill in a tornado. Anyway, back to Donnie....when he came over we usually wound up camping out with the mosquito's, bugs, bats and bobcats...we just didn't know any different. Campfires and coon hunts, bare feet and baseballs. Too busy being boys to get into trouble. Days were hot, nights were dark and the stars were bright. Life was good...I can't help but drift back there sometimes. The view bobs around in my mind; sort of like looking back out of the truck window as you drive away. Scenes and memories bouncing around in and out of focus...one unfinished memory gives way to another...never quite playing through.

So now I see Ryan coming in the back door. He's no longer a 12 year old of course, but his job does keep him outside in this heat all day. Its good for him though. Keeps him focused on school and a future. At 20 years old he is much a man now. Big muscle bound fella six feet long and somewhere north of 275 pounds. He's always reminded me of myself (if I weighed a hundred pounds more) and given the choice I know he would have led my childhood instead of his own. Unfortunately, my work has moved us a couple of times and we've had to live in town most all of his life. But none of it has kept him from "being as big a red neck as his daddy was "or is"....not sure if there's any cure for that disease. When he's not at school or work, he's in the woods. I badger him about it now and then, but there's more dangerous animals in town these days than in the woods...He'll be OK. I just want him to "keep his options open"

I think I'll go talk with him a little while now. Those opportunities are quickly evaporating.....one day soon, he'll be looking back at his own dusty roads.

Monday, May 17, 2010


These days I feel like I've been pulled into a whirlpool and sucked down into the sea....days are clicking by and years streaking past. Just five days ago I posted on Christy's birthday, and today we have Nick turning 19....what the heck happened? Where did it go? I bent over to change a 3 month old's diaper, and when I got done he was a 19 year old man. And he still don't smell much better. As Christy left home it just seemed a natural process we didn't think about too often. But here now, our baby is ready to fly. I'm NOT ready for this.

Nick was not so different from Christy growing up. He was every bit as challenging, every bit as mule headed and every bit as ornery. As a matter of fact, I could just go back to the last post and exchange Nick's name for Christy's to this point in his life and have a reasonable expose' on him....we just don't yet know where he'll go from here or what person he's going to become. Of course Christy has given us hope for both of these boys....but the jury's still out on both of the guys. Nick's tree will just have to bear it's own fruit. There's not much more wisdom a Mom and Dad can impart from here; that hay is already in the barn. He's not so young that we can't leave him home and know he'll take care of himself....but he's not so old that we don't come home and find Tilena's car parked sideways in the garage either (a good story for another day).

We just continue to pray and hope. Nick's remained faithful to Christ so far. Always in Church and regular in Dad's sunday school. Jesus is an anchor that will always hold fast....if Nick just doesn't let go of the rope. Happy birthday Nick-Nick. We love our baby.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yeah, But

My Christy.....Happy Birthday Love.

One hard nut to crack that girl was. It was a challenging road; there were days I even wondered silently if I had driven off the cliff. There were days I would literally bang my head against the wall with pure frustration with that child. Her Mother taught her well how to push buttons...(that's a story for another day). I'll never forget day one with her....my shins still feel the bark of that little wooden bat. At times she could be the most obnoxious, ornery, mule headed, belligerent, cantankerous, impertinent, malicious, argumentative(X2) and devious brat created under Heaven....But somewhere between then and today, she would take that bat and stand between me and the world.

It was nothing I ever did to deserve it mind you. I just didn't know how to go about it. She just grew in heart and mind....eventually teaching Daddy Don a lesson about love on the way. She became the daughter she didn't have to be...and taught me to be the Dad I didn't know how to be. I wish I had appreciated her as much in the earlier years as I do today. The impertinence has given way to loyalty, obnoxious settled into unequaled devotion. The mule headedness and argumentativeness may never have completely subsided....but a gal's gotta be who a gal's gotta be. Otherwise she just wouldn't be my gal now would she?

Christy, I love you dearly....thanks for the lessons. Happy Birthday...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Remember When.....

My memory sometimes plays tricks on my mind. As I age my long term memory seems to grow richer, deeper and more alive; while my short term memory is sometimes almost non existent. This week, I've had a couple of old friends post comments or send me messages and it has seemed to trigger a virtual waterfall of "back in the day" memories....or what I profess to be memory...I've been accused of remembering things that never happened. But more often these days I find myself standing in the middle of Wal-Mart with absolutely no recollection of what Tilena sent me there for. Then I realize I also forgot to bring my phone. Which also reminds me of the point...I can't remember my own phone number. Heck, I often walk into one room from the other only to...ah...ummm...err.. now what was I saying???

But forty years ago, now that's another thing altogether. Some things are so heavy and rich in my mind it almost hurts to dig them up. I have noticed that I can see, hear, feel, taste and even smell the memories through four plus decades of mist and dust. I can still see my Mom's shape standing in the kitchen while I'm outside on a cold winter day at dusk....the window is foggy with condensation and the smell of fried chicken wafts out of the house. I can still hear the sound of the shovel as I clean out those steer stalls and can still feel the heft of a pitchfork handle in my hands. In the spring those same hands would turn green from tending the tomato vines, and I can still smell the acrid scent it left behind. Do you remember the sensation of morning dew on bare feet? How about the smell and silence after a hard rain or the taste of saltwater at Dekle Beach? Even today, I don't know if my ears are ringing or if I'm remembering the sound of Cicadas singing on a hot afternoon. Sometimes if I sit still, the sound of my Dad's footsteps still echo down that dark hallway at night and I can hear those floorboards creak in that one spot. Cold weather makes me think of those frosty mornings when all us kids would fight for space on that cold wood floor in front of our single gas heater...yeah, I can still smell that gas from the old pilot light too. My Mother's voice floating on the breeze calling me to dinner is still fresh in my mind. Nobody ever called my name exactly the same way she did. Any mention of the 70's makes me instantly feel polyester pinching the hair on my legs, the flop of a ponytail down my back, and the roll of "earth shoes" under my feet... Anytime I hear the names Tammy, Billy Joe or Dobie I'm reminded of three lives snuffed out way too early. I can still see each one of them and wonder....

The memories all jumble up in my mind, each with a photograph attached. Some still hurt to look at, but most give off a warm glow and some even evoke a rich belly laugh. Many are likely modified by faulty memory and a young fellow's embellishment, but I wouldn't sell a single one even if it were possible. Some are desperately personal and not another soul will ever know...Sometimes I yearn for someone to share the others with, but unless you were "in the picture" it probably doesn't mean anything to you. We each have that private photo album in our own head. Different sounds, feelings, tastes and sights. Nectar of the mind. I think I'll sit down and flip through a few pages....I think my Mama is calling me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Joe Arpaio where are you?

I think it's high time we had a blog to create some thought, if not downright controversy. Hope you'll all read this thoughtfully and come up with opinions of your own. Please remember to be considerate of others and tolerant of their views. You and I may not share the same view...but you do have the right to be wrong.

Arizona has held sway in the headlines this week. At contention here is immigration, privacy concerns, safety, taxes, healthcare and the always polarizing issue of racial tensions. If you've been living under a blanket this week, Arizona has passed into law a bill which not only allows, but requires Arizona police officers to ascertain the legality of any person's presence within the boundaries of Arizona. Prior to this enactment, police officers there, as in other states were not even allowed to ask a person if they were in the country illegally.

There is no doubting the impact of illegal aliens on our existence. Taxes, unemployment, the health care system, and even crime rate are all impacted in some manner. Drug trafficking and violent crime stats are exploding along the Mexician / US Border. Just to what extent these issues are affected are hotly debated. So we have the question of "What to do?" How about those individuals who have been living in the country for years, if not decades as honorable decent people? Is it the same to be an illegal immigrant from Great Britian, as it would be if you're from Mexico? How about Canadians? Remember the Mariel Boatlift of 1980? As many as 125,000 Cubans fled Castro's Cuba for Florida. That number pales by comparison to the millions upon millions of people streaming across the border into Texas, Arizona and California. But even at 125,000 people, there was no denying the dramatic change upon South Florida's economy, culture and even crime rate. The vast majority of those refugees from Cuba were honest hardworking, salt of the earth people who created opportunities for themselves and others. Some of them are among my very best friends who carry my greatest confidence. They made a positive impact on the area. But with them came a few criminals with a culture of crime Florida was not prepared for. Is this mass exodus from Mexico and all of Central America even comparable to the Mariel event? How about the mass exodous of Northern Europe into the US in the 1800's?

As he looked back over the events of his life, the wise Solomon remarked in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, "There is a time for all things and every purpose under Heaven..." Another wise man who's opinion I greatly value (my Dad) once told me..."Spend your time building bridges instead of fences. But if you find it necessary to build a fence, and you will, build it horse high, pig tight, and bull strong." Somewhere in this collective wisdom I think lies the answer...Pretending there is not a problem is not the answer. We know we have a problem....I'm just not sure we know exactly what the problem is, let alone what the answer may be. Has our world passed the point of open borders? Have we already passed the window of opportunity? Why is no one trying to flee the US?

Personally, I'd rather share a border with Cuba and Mexico than either California or Washington D.C. There is no doubt the ratio of crooks to honest folks is better in Mexico and Cuba than those other two places. To be up front with you, we elect crooks and then hire them lobbyists to help them make crooked ,biased, ill informed decisions.....but I digress.

Well, tell me what you think....we'll wash this pig and then I'll get back to my standard blogging. Every once in a while, I just want to hear what you think.

Please remember to keep it civil...

Don and Company

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bucket List

I've gotten into the Facebook groove with most everyone else lately. Its fun to reconnect with old friends and aquaintences. Let it be enough to say, time changes people. Time changes expectations.

One of those old friends has been exchanging a series of comments with me for weeks now. It's become apparent that he has "overcome his circumstances". Originally from a very humble childhood, my friend now enjoys a fine home, expensive wine tastes, famous friends, worldly travels and a check book to match them all. He's probably spent more money this week than I'll make this year. Although I'm sure he meant no harm, it made me feel somewhat an underachiever as I read his accomplishments. He's just become familiar with a financial lifestyle I'll never know. Today he posted about "Standing on the Great Wall of China at daybreak, and walking the Thames River at sunset" He went on to comment that he's "Walked around Stonehenge in the misting rain, visited Mozart's birth place in Salzburg, Austria and spent 12 straight hours in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam"....all of this in addition to his travels in Rome and visiting the grave of the famous poet John Keats.....Now I'm impressed with all that, I really am. I'm happy for him, because he deserves it...he obviously worked hard for it. Me? I've got less culture and more red on my neck than most anybody you know. I've hardly even been out of the Eastern United States. But let me tell you a little bit about what I have done, where I have been, and what I do know....

I was blessed by God to be holding my Daddy's hand when he died, and eleven months later kissed my Mom goodbye as she departed this life. I know what it is to have to tell your Mama her baby girl is dead. I've got a couple of sisters who would still fight for me...Susan out of loyalty and Angie for the pure joy of the fight. I've witnessed my two boys birth, and had the joy of raising the most fiercely loyal daughter anybody's ever known. I've buried family and made new friends. My family and I live in a place where you can see the moonlight through the coconut fronds most any night. I know what Dekle Beach smells like when the tide is low, and I know how to find arrowheads off the Mouth of Fish Creek. I ate my first oyster at Howards Cafe...and if you don't already know where that is, you'll never know. Although my sunrises and sunsets have been mostly limited to Florida and Georgia, nobody anywhere watches them with greater relish. The sunsets I see these days are like the one in the picture up top...that one's from my front porch. I spent my entire childhood on a farm. To this day I still prefer animals over a lot of people I know. I've been rejected and loved when I didn't deserve either. I've got a dog that thinks I'm Superman, and a wife that IS a Superwoman. I grew up knowing how to skin out a hog, grow peas, build fence, pull crab traps, bale hay, cut swamp cabbage and pluck a chicken. I also hope I never have to do any of that ever again. I've sold coon skins for spending money and sat up many nights shooting rabbits in our bean patch. Most of the vegetables I eat have bacon fat and pepper sauce on them. I've hoed corn with one Grandpa, and cut hay with the other. My Uncle Clyde told more tales than Mark Twain, but he taught me things my Daddy didn't know; like how to hunt and fish....and how to spin a good yarn. I am not cultured enough to have ever developed a taste for caviar, but I do like catfish stew, cornbread, and sausage gravy. I know my mama and daddy had been married 48 years when he died...that in itself taught me one of my greatest lessons. I've never sailed on a cruise ship across the ocean, but I have spent the night on the Gulf of Mexico in a 14 foot fishing boat when I didn't plan on it, and I've swam with the dolphins a couple of times too. I've never been to Stonehenge, but my wife and wallet have. I've stood on the sidelines of the Orange Bowl while Ryan played in the state championship. The next year I got to watch him play in the State All Star Game. I've sat in the bleachers behind Christy through some games when she never got off the bench except for the National Anthem. She's taught me more about loyalty than anyone else in the world. I've traveled all over South and Central Florida to watch Nick play basketball...I even got to see him get hot one night and light up the scoreboard. All three of my children have never lived a day when they were ashamed to say "I love you" to their Mom and Dad in front of their friends. My grand children live too far away, but they do know their "Pappy". I've got a son in law that is willing drive them down to see me occassionally. He also loves my little girl. I've learned that love is not measured by what you can pay for, but what you're willing to give up. I'll soon be retiring from a job that has given me great satisfaction, but relatively little in financial gain. I knew that going in. I've been fortunate enough to brush a few strokes of paint on the wall of a lot of young lives, on both sides of the bars. I've been outside in the teeth of Hurricane Wilma and the Storm of the Century. Those two events taught me how easy God can humble man. I've lost a home to fire and one to flood. I know how blessed I was to lose only material possessions both times. I've lost as many battles as I've won...that is the taste of real living. I have two friends (Roy and Donnie) I believe would die for me. You just go make a jackass out of yourself and you'll find out who YOUR real friends are too.

Yes, it's safe to say that my Bucket List has changed a bit over the last thirty years. I don't think any of us leave high school with the intention of being average. Few people envy my bank account, my car or my house. I never made it to Europe or even to New Zealand where I once dreamed of going...the Everglades will just have to do. What earthly success I've enjoyed is due greatly to Tilena's grace and patience. Most of my failure I can claim from my own poor choices. But I do sit here today firm in the knowledge that I am the richest man on the face of this earth. Most of all I know this...Tonight I'll go to church with Tilena and later, lay my head on that pillow. The last thing I'll see before I close my eyes is Tilena's face... The last thought through my mind before I drift off will be the same as every other night..."When I wake up, I'll either be looking at her, or I'll be looking at the face of Jesus". That's something Europe can't offer. My bucket is full.....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Somebody's Gotta Paddle

Friday was a tough day at work. There is always much to be done, and normally not enough day to do it in. Have you ever had those days when your boss comes by and says....Chief, I'm under the gun today, can you take care of this little thing for me? About that time, one of the office staff calls in and says, "I won't be in today....little Jimmy has a snotty nose, and oh by the way, FDLE is coming to do an audit today." Then I call to check on the progress of an assignment I had given someone weeks earlier and they say "oops, I forgot...I'll get to it next week." Most often these days happen on Friday...everybody tries to avoid me on Friday afternoon anyway. After all, who wants to be caught working at 4:50 p.m.? Now there's a fate worse than death. So after a few hours of that, I sat everything down, got in the car and went out for a Coke and peanuts. (yes I do put the peanuts in the coke) So anyway, as I was enjoying a nice cold, crunchy beverage; I rode down by the boat basin and saw the image I photographed above.

That sight said to me what I had been thinking all day long..."Well guys we're all in the boat, we all wanna go fishing, but don't think I'm gonna do the paddling", "It's too close to the weekend". Isn't that like us sometimes? We all want to get somewhere, we all want to accomplish something, we all want a paycheck, but nobody wants to do what it takes to get us there. Work is not the only place I see that. It happens at home, at church, at the club....you name it. I must confess I'm sometimes guilty myself. More likely, when I'm viewed as lazy, its actually more a case of not giving a fat baby's behind...I'm truly a contented person...lazy sometimes, but contented nonetheless. So anyway, I worked late to catch up on some things. The beauty of working at 5:30 on Friday afternoon is that NOBODY is around to interrupt you. After work I came home and found out Tilena and Penny were going away for the weekend...It's Sunday now and I'm getting hungry. Haven't eaten since Friday, but do you really expect me to cook?

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Between

The holidays are all in the rearview mirror now, and a new year....even a new decade is at hand. Somewhere in between Mad Cow Disease and my home value falling 50%, our family underwent a major metamorphosis in the last ten years. Despite the disasterous overall events for the world at large, we were blessed. In January of 2000 this was our family's world:

1.) We lived in a 110 year old house in Georgia.

2.) The combined value of our two cars was less than my dog is worth today.

3.) Christy was 19, living at home,and I was unlocking her car door about once a month.

4.) Ryan was 9 and Nick was 8. I was coaching them in Dixie League football and baseball.

5.) We did not have King Bowden, but we did have Tobias Blue...he didn't care for visitors either.

6.) My Mom, my Dad and Tilena's Dad were all still alive...we didn't see a cloud on that horizon...

7.) I knew absolutely zero about tropical plants.

8.) None of us had ever heard of Emma Grace or Parker Clayton.

9.) The size of my police department? They averaged about 380 lbs. each...

10.) I had been to Clewiston only once in my life, Tilena had never heard of it.

I didn't realize just how much things had changed until I actually began thinking about this. God has taught me an awful lot personally since then. My temper has almost completely disappeared, and my judgement is lessening. Tolerance of others has certainly improved...except for when I'm in traffic (he ain't finished with me yet), but then, there was an awful lot of room for improvement in most areas of my life. Hopefully the next ten years I will learn even more. As far as change...who knows what will be? If you had told me ten years ago that today we would be living in a place where the grass never quits growing. Or how much I would love a grandchild. Or that I could love another dog as much as Toby...I just wouldn't have believed it.

Tilena has changed very little in ten years. But then she didn't need to. Well.....maybe if she wasn't quite so lippy... Otherwise, she is still as gorgeous as ever. She's as wise as ever. She taught me a lot about life and myself.

Christy went from being a child, to being married and having two children of her own.

Ryan and Nick went from being very small children...to being very big....children.

Ole Toby....if there's a dog in heaven, it's him. He suffered a Libby every where he ever went...that's a story unto itself and maybe I'll tell it on another day.

As for the rest of the world, it was a painful and crushing decade. Disaster upon disaster at every turn. My heart hurts for the people I see on TV and read about in the papers. As bad as the natural disasters were, they paled in comparison to manmade ones. Lies have been told and retold....we've allowed ourselves to be governed according to some of the largest lies in history. We've all suffered from them. The worst of it all is that the most vulnerable are the greatest believers in the lies. People like me who never believed a word of it will survive....maybe even thrive. But those who had so much to lose....and wanted so bad to believe such incredulous, fantastic tales, will be saddled with crushing lifelong debt. So sad...so very, very sad. How can we not understand the most basic principle of economics..."It profits the wage earner nothing, to destroy the wage payer, but it will cost both their livlihood"...OK, enough of politics...that temper thing does not appear to be completely cured...

So, my thinking is that we must surely have a better decade ahead than the one behind. Ten years from now I plan on being 3-4 years into retirement. But you know what God thinks of us making plans in advance...In the words of Robert Burns, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men, Gang aft agley"...bet some of you didn't know Steinbeck took those words from an old Robert Burns poem did you?

As for the next decade, 'twill be the teens...pray for us all, it's a difficult age.

Don & Co.