The Unfolding Highway…part 1

I remember watching my Dad fold a road map on vacation while driving the highway. It is a lost art and the original texting while driving. Those maps had memory, and if you ignored the memory creases, there could be a thousand ways to fold the map, but only if you got in a hurry. So you looked or felt the memory at the fold line, the crease.

My family has always loved maps and the great American car vacation. Sometimes we unfold that highway map and see Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, the Gateway Arch, a Disney cup in a small world after all and a runaway mine train in Silver Dollar City. I saw the folded paper and squiggly lines as a treasure map and the longing for the highway was passed down from the ghosts of Okies travelling route 66 to California. Dad and Mom have always enjoyed driving vacations and seeing the country and the sights.  

This love came mostly from Dad because he was afraid to fly. That was my theory anyway, but he would insist that driving the highways of these United States is a love affair, topographical intimacy at 70 MPH that goes deeper than asphalt, into the soil of our nation and those who have built cities and bridges and monuments and National Parks. I inherited this love like a dog in a Norman Rockwell station wagon, head out the window and tongue flapping in the breeze.

Although, I must confess my sins of omission, that I skipped a family frontier photo shoot at Worlds of Fun and I also skipped a Washington state vacation to play in the Little League state championship. Once, while vacationing in Orlando my junior year of high school, I flew back alone to Tulsa for a golf tournament. That first airline trip was a rite of passage, a happy moment. And even as I felt a bit alone leaving my family in Orlando, I felt a sense of independence, that my Dad and Mom had confidence in me to let me fly back on my own. I flew Delta Airlines and listened to canned airline music on my headphones, Eric Clapton’s Layla and Marry Me Bill by the Fifth Dimension. It wasn’t as manly as the Inuit Indians sending off a sixteen year old brave into the Arctic Sea in a sealskin canoe to hunt for caribou on a distant island, but it made me feel grown up.

My penance though, for missing those vacations is to write about the moments I remember.

I remember vacationing with the Davis cousins in Washington state and playing whiffle ball with Mark, Brooks, Greg and Toby, and riding a pony. Listening to Mom read doses of literature, her medicine from Reader’s Digest or the Bible was enabled by captive attention, our ears within the sound of her voice for extended hours as we drove. This was her highway pulpit encased in steel and glass, and as we listened, we were oblivious to the fact that the fuel needle was below “E” and Dad had speeded up to accelerate the resolution of out-of-gas suspense. Mom used teachable moments before anyone thought to call them teachable moments.

Sister Terri two-stepped and fell down the steps in front of 35,000 fans at Busch Stadium, the same place a $5 bill was pilfered from my 9-year old fingers at the hot dog stand. I was fascinated by a thousand cars leaving a stadium parking garage descending a corkscrew driveway, and addicted to chocolate malted ice cream frozen like arctic ice, and the ubiquitous lyrical serenade of wandering vendors, “Hey, ice cream…hey, hot dogs, hey cold beer.” At the Houston Astrodome I snagged a foul ball hit by Jesus Alou on a pitch by the Cardinals Nelson Briles.

Before Ralph Nader and the NHTSA, all 7 of us could fit in a red 1967 Ford Mustang driving to church and we piled 8 into a Chrysler Imperial for a vacation to California. We drove west a lot in those early years, to California, Colorado, Texas, and we once calmly watched a twister travel across a plowed field in west Texas like it was an antelope running across the prairie.

Once in Texas, after staying overnight at the Cochran’s in Spearman, Texas, Mom left a 10 dollar bill stuck in the door as some kind of tip or bed and breakfast fee and Aunt Nordeen took offense and they passed back that 10 dollar bill back and forth, screen door to wiper blade, through the mail slot and back to the car visor…I thought we’d never leave because these two children of the Depression were fighting over $10.

To be continued (part 1 of 2)


Icebergs in Corn Fields

When Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s sings “Heaven is a place on earth” I stop whatever I’m doing and sing along. ‘Ooh baby do you know what that’s worth, you make heaven a place on earth’ It happened today, in my truck while driving to Tulsa and a blue-haired lady with a handicap sign hanging from her rear view mirror stared me down as she passed on the left. I guess my singing slows my driving and octogenarians humming Sinatra pass me.

Is Heaven revealed in common moments, unassuming revelation, like Belinda Carlisle singing about love? Is Heaven a place on earth? Not all the time, but rather in tip of the iceberg moments we see now and then, understanding the ice flow is mostly under the surface of the ocean, unrevealed.

Which reminds me of my favorite baseball movie, Field of Dreams.
Field Of Dreams 5
Ray Kinsella walked out the door of his childhood home at the age of seventeen and he never spoke to his Dad again. He tells Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones, “By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.”

His Dad died before they reconciled. And now, on a brilliant green baseball diamond in the midst of Iowa corn Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, sees his Dad, and as the catcher’s mask comes off they have a catch as I struggle to swallow. Every time I see that moment in the movie a baseball leaps from the screen into my throat and I can’t swallow and my eyes mist over.


John Kinsella (father): Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

Robert Farrar Capon likes to suggest as the image of God’s providence and mercy an iceberg. For, like the mighty expanse of ice from the polar caps the ice extends out into the ocean in all directions, and the sailors of those areas have to be on guard and alert for the tip of the icebergs where the grace of God makes a brief revelation of its power, light, and love. The iceberg seen is not all there is and someday when the ocean is drained we may see the full extent of the ice, but for the time being all we see, if we are alert, are the iceberg tips. Those who are a part of the people of the light have to keep watch for the icebergs so that they might continue to know and to see the nature and purpose of God and to encourage each other with stories and testimonies about the icebergs.
Perhaps while preaching the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” he was talking about being watchful for the tip of the iceberg, a son and father having a catch, a moment swinging on the front porch with someone you love, holding your child seconds after she is revealed as not only a miracle but a miracle in which you were asked to participate, or moments when the world is turned upside down and the poor become rich and the weak become strong, as Heaven breaks out on Earth.

I once thought Knute Rockne was the author of The Lord’s Prayer, but it wasn’t prayed by Jesus so football players would have something to say in those awkward locker room moments just before kick off when frothy violence and masculine intimacy touch and recoil. It’s a prayer about the intersection of Heaven and Earth, where the dirt road of earth dwellers intersects the street of gold, a place that should have a stop sign. And, if you have ‘ears to hear’ as Jesus encouraged, perhaps like Ray Kinsella you will hear voices and build ball fields in corn as high as an elephant’s eye, while singing out loud a Go-Go’s song about a four-way stop where Heaven meets Earth. It’s the place dreams come true and mountains begin to move and rivers change their course.