Seventy-four degrees feels a bit chilly after the heat wave we experienced this summer. I have often said that I feel a hint of fall in August. I spoke with my old friend Jeff who lives in the United Kingdom, yesterday. We had a lovely conversation and reminisced about our adventures across Europe last decade.
This summer has been full of my traveling to many small towns and villages in Southern Illinois. I have been snapping photos everywhere I go. I seldom saw people…it was too hot. I did see many proud communities that had been somewhat ravaged by the sluggish economy of Little Egypt.
Fall is my time of year. The cool days and the chilly nights are what I like. I love the changing of the leaves and Pumpkin Spice. Southern Illinois University will begin its Fall Semester next week. The beginning of the Fall Term never ceases to excite my mind and stir my emotions. SIUC is the Door of Opportunity for our entire region. During the over 32 years that I was employed at the University, I was energized by the plethora of opportunities that returned anew each Autumn. I recall so many years ago when my good friend Jackie B. was enrolled in the Accounting Program at SIUC. I had been working a variety of jobs after my graduation from Eldorado High School…and I was quickly finding that the doors that were open to me seemed limited by my education. Jackie B. on the other hand was moving forward on what appeared to be the road to success. Sadly Jackie B. chose to not attend college…and I ultimately did… part-time as I worked for the School.
As I spoke with Jeff Lestz…the years melted away. We have been friends for over 50 years. How time flies. I have been impressed with the slipping away of time and the joy of living every minute to its fullest. I remember conversations that Jeff and I had in the early 70s and they seem like yesterday… I reflected on the shortness of life when Jeff and my mutual friend Doug passed away just the other day. We plan on building bigger barns and never think that tonight our souls may be required of us.
Anger and hate and strife and violence have become commonplace in our country. We have become entrenched in our tribes and our political/religious dogma and many of us want to lash out against the world. Have you ever seen the movie, The Wicker Man? The movie illustrates a pagan ritual by an island community of offering a human sacrifice that they place in a giant Wicker Man. I wonder if we are seeking a sacrifice to offer up in a burning effigy of our own Wicker Man to ameliorate the frustrations of so many that have seemingly been forgotten by society. Mom used to say that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Join that frustration with the heated blatant lies that many people embrace as truth…and you have a Wicker Man that is waiting for a Match…
Hannah Arendt coined the term, ‘The banality of evil.’ Evil acts are not always perpetrated by evil people but often by bureaucrats dutifully obeying orders…according to Arendt. Safety in numbers or going along to get along…or is it fear of stepping out and saying that…’The Emporer has no clothes…’
‘It is a hot day for the first day of school,’ Chet said as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand. ‘Did you see the ambulances come to the High School as we were walking home from Hillcrest,’ Jane asked the group. ‘Was someone sick at EHS,’ Darryl asked. ‘I heard that Mrs. Pickle got stuck in the jar,’ Gary S. laughed. ‘Gary…you are such a Bozo…where do you come up with all of your one-liners,’ Jane laughed. ‘I learned several of them while I was taking Karate… every time that the instructor flipped us…he told a joke,’ Gary S. replied. ‘I am excited about our class visiting Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale on Monday,’ Billy B. said with a grin. ‘The Wiz says that it is never too early to develop a familiarity with College,’ Chet observed. ‘The University is on the last week of their summer break before the fall semester begins and we are going to tour several of the buildings and have lunch at the Student Center and even see a Play at the McLeod Theatre,’ Jane commented with delight. ‘I hear that they have pretty girls there,’ Gary S. smiled. ‘After they meet me…I hope they will remember my name,’ Gary S. continued. ‘I will have several new jokes for them…if they like to laugh,’ Gary S. said with confidence.
‘What a humongous College,’ said Billy B. ‘Actually Billy B…SIU is a university and it is comprised of several colleges,’ Chet dryly observed. ‘Thank you, professor,’ Billy B. smiled. ‘Where are the pretty girls,’ Gary S. inquired. ‘Cheese-It here comes one now…she is one of the Theatre students…I hear that she is in the play…Peter Pan and that she is portraying Wendy,’ Tommy C. said. ‘Greetings students of Hillcrest School…I am Wendy and soon we will take a magical journey…with Peter Pan,’ the actress said. ‘Why did the chicken cross the road,’ Gary S. asked Wendy. ‘Could it have been to get to the other side,’ Wendy replied. As Wendy walked to the large stage at the front of the Theatre…Gary S. said, ‘I am in love…’
The Wiz was smiling as he sat down with his new 4th-grade class. The house lights went down and the band began to play…and the scene opened with Wendy and her siblings and Peter Pan and Billy B. and Gary S. and Jane and Darryl and Tommy C. To their dismay they were no longer in the audience…they were in the Play…soon they were flying with Peter Pan…and Gary S. said…’I must remember to tell the pretty girls that I meet about this story…’
So the weather was pleasant and I am told that there is no time like the present…thus another trip to Eldorado for a few more photos. It will not be long before I will have graduated from Eldorado High School for 50 years. The school began in Eldorado today as it did in Carbondale. Two ambulances had their sirens blaring and were headed somewhere in a hurry. This was somewhat unusual for the 8 to 10 visits that I made to my old hometown in 2022. Each time that I return to Eldorado I see something different and from a different point of view.
I was sitting in Eldorados’ lovely pavilion when an old gentleman, who was younger than me, asked me if I had forgotten a coke that he was carrying. I said that I had not. He then asked me if I had a cigarette. I noted that I had just finished my last cigar. Gary S. sat down next to me and asked me what the food was on the table in front of us. I said that it appeared to be some type of coffee cake that had been left. He went over and retrieved it and opened the plastic lid and smelled it and deducted that it smelled alright…and thus he had a piece…he commented that it was hot. Gary asked me where I was from and when I said Carbondale…he asked if the University was still there. I said that it was and he observed that there were a lot of pretty girls there when he visited. Gary S. then asked me if there were still pretty girls there…and I said that there were but that there were a lot fewer students than in the past. Gary S. was originally from Carmi and he had taken a Karate Course in Mt. Vernon many years ago. Gary S. asked me if I attended church and when I told him that I attended First Presbyterian in Carbondale he commented that Presbyterian is a good church. Gary S. asked if I had the time and when I told him that it was 12:10…he said that he must be on his way as he got a cigarette at 1:00. He then told me to not forget his name and to tell the pretty girls at SIU that he said hello.
‘Tomorrow we go,’ said Chet. ‘Tomorrow is the First Day,’ Jane agreed. Tomorrow we are in Fourth Grade, noted Billy B. ‘No more…’ Schools Out…Schools Out…Teacher Let The Monkeys Out…,’ laughed Neva J. ‘What will we do for fun,’ asked Darryl? ‘Well we can still go to Pounds Hollow until Labor Day…and there is a John Wayne movie on at the Orpheum…The War Wagon…and it should be good for a thrill,’ Chet replied. ‘I am looking forward to our annual trip to DuQuoin for the State Fair,’ grinned Billy B. ‘I hope Friday is a bit cooler…it is so hot in the classrooms at Hillcrest when we first return,’ Jane opined.
‘We will go to Pounds Hollow on Saturday and spend the entire day,’ Neva J. promised. ‘I can not wait because my new diving suit arrived in the mail this morning,’ Chet replied. ‘I will snorkel with you, Chet, and we will see what the depths of Pounds Hollow have to offer,’ Billy B. replied.
Pounds Hollow was especially chilly on August 13. There was almost no one present for the last swim before Labor Day. Billy B. was surprised that the usual old man that took his money and issued him a wire basket to place his clothes in…was not present. In fact… no one seemed to be working at the little Dressing Room and Store at the Hollow. Chet simply climbed over the table in the open window and retrieved he and Billy B. a wire basket. Billy B.’s cousin Brenda had come along and she laughed when she saw Chet take command of the situation and in turn, she did the same thing for her and Neva J.
Chet and Billy B. lost no time in exploring the murky depths of the Hollow. As they dove for the sixth time…they saw a brilliant light at the surface of the water. It was so bright that they could see clearly the bottom of Pounds Hollow. When they came up from the lake…Neva J. said that they must get out of the water and leave Pounds Hollow. There was a brilliant light in the distance…that looked like a…mushroom…
Over the past few days, I have lost two friends. Both were fine men and ‘One of a Kind’…if you ever met them you did not forget them. Have you known someone who captivated a room…by their presence in it? Doug left us this week. He was a humble man and I do not know if he ever realized the powerful good influence he had on those who knew him. We knew each other best when we were teenagers and starting out on our Christan Walk. Doug hails from a wonderful family of whom many are my friends. For the past several years I have known him through Facebook and every time I see a photo of him…I recall my friend who was strong of faith, full of life, and passionate about scripture and serving God. Doug had a Big Heart and it was full of love.
Every day is golden. Each day counts. We are all making a difference in countless people’s lives…and we may not realize it. As I am seeing each of my human family as special and unique and understand that they have something special for my life…if I am willing to receive it. It is easy to go about our daily routine believing that others are out to get us or have a different politics or faith than we do. It takes more effort to look at our fellow travelers as our brothers and sisters…our family.
My life is not a segmented and forgotten series of events…it is a linear progression of friends and loved ones…of people who added to my living experience and who helped me along the path. I can not forget anyone…no matter how long ago we fellowshipped together. Each of us is a player on the Stage of Life…and our life whisks by like a weaver’s shuttle. While we are on Stage…let us love our family…and learn from them …and appreciate them…
‘I can not believe that School starts Friday, Billy B. said to no one in particular. ‘It seems that we just got out for summer…and now they ‘pull us back in,’ Chet laughed. ‘One thing for certain…it has been a hot summer,’ Jane said with a sigh. ‘Well…it is raining now…and I like it,’ Darryl said. It is 80 degrees and it is one of the cooler summer days that we have had for some time,’ Neva J. noted. ‘Pounds Hollow will be closed on Labor Day,’ Chet mused. ‘Why don’t we all load up in my station wagon and take a trip to the Hollow,’ The Wiz announced! ‘I will pack a picnic basket and some bottles of Red,’ Neva J. exulted.
The Wiz always had a lot of money. One time he asked Neva J. and Billy B. to keep ten thousand dollars that was in a little suitcase for him while he went out of town…and he often was out of town. Once Neva J. had asked him where he got all of his money…and he replied that he had many business ventures and also…he was a bit good at magic. Neva J. had opened the suitcase and let Billy B. peer in at all of the $100 bills…Billy B. had never laid his eyes on so many greenbacks. The Wiz spoke little of his life outside of the classroom…but he was extremely generous with his friends. He provided Christmas Dinner for every family in Eldorado…with all of the trimmings. If The Wiz heard of someone who was having their power shut off for lack of paying their bill due to their simply being poor…he paid the bill and kept paying it until they were back on their feet.
When the station wagon arrived at the Hollow…there were several of the kids from Special Education having a picnic…and sitting alone with a meager fare of baloney sandwiches and Kool-Aid to drink. Immediately The Wiz invited the kids over to join him and Neva J. and Billy B. and Chet and Jane and Darryl. As they enjoyed the hamburgers and hot dogs and a little sip of the Red Wine…they laughed and clapped while The Wiz performed a magic act for them. At the conclusion of the Magic Act…The Wiz asked each child what they wanted for the New School Year…one wanted to be able to read better…another wanted to understand arithmetic…and yet another asked for a friend… The Wiz had tears in his eyes…and he said all of their wishes were granted…and that this would be the best school year that they would ever have. Donnie Latham asked The Wiz,’ Will you watch over me and my classmates and ensure that people are not mean to us…and that they do not laugh at us…and that they accept us?’ ‘I will watch over all of you every day…you will be safe…no harm will come to you,’ promised The Wiz.
‘Suddenly I am happy that School begins on Friday…I am going to help The Wiz watch over our friends…and I will be their friend…if they will have me,’ said Billy B.
I love the woods. I have been enjoying Campus Woods @ Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale for 45 years. Today I drank in the splendor of Giant City State Park. Giant City is only a few miles from my home. When I am in the woods…I feel close to God. The splendor of his creation envelopes me. I think that if I ever see my Guardian Angel…I will see her/him in the woods.
I wonder if we do not tend to live too much in the artificial. Television and movies and Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu. The political pundits that we agree with are on our radios and TVs and we identify with their heated rhetoric and hidden agendas…that usually involve how much money that they can glean from us. Do we forget that we are Dust to Dust…and we came from the earth and to the earth, we will all return? Yesterday Pastor Kerry likened the Christian walk more to a riding lawnmower than a motorcycle through a humorous anecdote. Are we content in puttering along on our riding lawnmower…or do we want to take Christianity out on our motorcycle and see what the ‘Old Girl’ can do?
Little Egypt is a group of small towns and villages…and hamlets…that comprise Southern Illinois. Riches and economic prosperity have not been widely known in our region of the nation. I have traversed the towns and villages of my home place. Sweet honest and faithful people abound. We wait for the hope of the Gospel. We wait for Christ’s words to take root in the hearts of mankind. I used to tell my friend, Brent, who was also my supervisor at SIUC…that all of us native Southern Illinoisans learned to make our entertainment without the aid of monetary resources. I remember playing with sticks that I found in my yard. I recall catching Lightning Bugs in a jar. I played and rode my bicycle until dark and then went into the house to listen to the Joey Bishop Show from my little bedroom. Regis Philbin was Joey’s Co-host. We waited patiently for someone in power…who was interested in us…
Jesus’ love was the answer. Not his wrath…his love. Quartet Gospel Music was a solace. The Statesman Quartet and the Blackwood Brothers spoke to our hearts. When we listen to Gospel Music…we knew that God loved the Poor Of The Earth. When Big Chief of the Statesman Quartet sang… his resonate with Base voice…we understood that God had not forgotten we former Coal Miners and Farmers of Little Egypt.
I have met many people in my life…but only a handful that was memorable. John Holt was memorable. John was the genuine article. I first became acquainted with John when I accidentally became a member of our church’s governing board called the Session. I had been asked by a friend if I would submit my name for consideration for an elder position on the Stewardship Committee. I had been a trustee many years before and I assumed that the job was somewhat similar to what I had done previously. My friend told me that the Stewardship Committee only met a few times per year and that I would not be a member of Session. I consented and the next thing that I knew I was a member of Session for a three-year commitment. After a few weeks, I thought that I would bow out quietly…but John asked me to stay. I respected him to the extent…that I stayed.
John seemed to have more duties in the church than anyone that I knew. He did everything from operating the sound system on a weekly basis…to locking the church nightly…and even changing the light bulbs when they burned out. I joined him on the church lock-up duties as well as many of the physical needs of our church. John challenged my faith…he made me want to be a better Christian. John was not afraid to disagree and when he told me something I took it to the bank…he was the real deal!
Jonn was my idea of a Renaissance Man. He could speak widely and with considerable knowledge on a variety of subjects. I have never met a greater example of a Servant-Leader.
John has often been called the ‘Go-To Guy,’ due to his intricate and vast knowledge of not only the sound system of our church but almost any Physical Plant needs for First Presbyterian.
John was known by many and respected by all. I have listened with rapt attention to his explanation of our Presbyterian Faith…I have never heard a better or more detailed council of what it meant to be a Presbyterian. He was unassuming and a bit quiet…but his eyes held a world of knowledge and understanding…and love for the fellow members of the human family.
Not long after John and I met…I was involved in a retirement business adventure…I had an Opportunity Meeting in Carbondale…invited many people…almost no one came…John was one of the few that attended. John admitted that he did not want to sell insurance…but he wanted to support me…
John Holt did not talk about being a Christian…he showed us…
When I was a supervisor and then a manager in the housekeeping industry I learned to look up. It is well known in cleaning that we tend to see areas that need attention if they are directly in front of our eyes or beneath us. Cleaning professionals rarely look up unless trained to do so. If you do not believe me just go into any restroom and look at the ceiling vents or run your hand across the stall tops or the top of the door. We see life from a bit of a myopic view like horses with blinders on.
Recently Jonathon purchased the book, Flip It Like This by David Hayward who is also known as the Naked Pastor. His cartoons shine a light on the cold and cruel results of many of our religious dogmas.
Many who leave churches suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Much of what churches are requiring of their parishioners or congregants are the fruits of the leadership’s narrow bias and prejudice and fashioning a god after their political and fever dreams of control. The old adage has never been more true than today when the profiteering of the poor Christian is at its zenith; ‘Do as I say…not as I do.’
‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
‘Just where does our 4th Grade Teacher come from,’ asked Jane. ‘The Wiz is from Bath, England from his teenage years but was born in Chicago…and he was a professor of Medieval Literature at Oxford for 10 years prior to moving to Eldorado,’ Chet replied. ‘He and his son Darryl moved to Eldorado to be near his sister Prudence who has lived in Eldorado since her early childhood when the family was split by the divorce of their parents,’ continued Chet. ‘Prudence is our Town Celebrity as she is a best-selling author,’ Neva J. remarked. ‘She writes the most engaging Murder Mysteries that take place in Eldorado…and Little Egypt…I have read all of her books,’ Neva J. said with a wide smile. ‘Prudence is often referred to as the Agatha Christie of America,’ Billy B. offered. ‘But…in any case, The Wiz always dresses in black clothing and often wears a traditional Wizards Hat. ‘It is said that he was trained as a magician by Harry Blackstone the famous magician who was born in Chicago…and he and his sister Prudence were born in Chicago and when their parents divorced he traveled with his father to Bath, England…where is Dad was from…and Prudence moved with her mom to Eldorado where her mother and sisters lived and Prudence’s grandmother and aunts resided, Neva J. said.
‘Well…I suppose we must begin…is everyone present…if you are not present…please say absent,’ The Wiz said with a sly grin. ‘This year we will study arithmetic and spelling and improve our cursive writing and time travel and history and health and magic,’ The Wiz announced with some Chicago…Bath…Oxford…flare!
Have any of you ever been to Maine…and seen the Lighthouses and enjoyed lobster…or seen the great sailing ships,’ The Wiz asked with a wink as he looked directly at his son, Darryl, and Jane and Billy B. and Chet. ‘You know Maine is the home of the great Horror Author…Stephen King…although you will not hear of him until 1974 with his first published novel…Carrie,’ said The Wiz.
Mysterious magical Maine was now firmly planted in the minds of our intrepid travelers. ‘I can not wait until we move to the Artists’ House near Ocean Point,’ Jane proclaimed. ‘I have been making arrangements with the Artist…who is a bit mysterious,’ noted Neva J. ‘She did say that we could stay rent-free as long as we took care of the house and grounds,’ Chet asked. ‘Yes…and she wants us to all try our hand at painting in her studio and she has left many blank canvases and a multitude of paints and brushes…she says that her Studio has been used as a School for New Artists for many years and that she has chosen us as this years class,’ Neva J. said with a quizzical expression.