Table in the Son

When you are young and the world is your oyster, older folks are wont to lend much wisdom thus rendering the use of knives to open the sublime stubborn shell, rather useless. As if allowing youngsters to pry open oysters in search of a beautiful pearl is beyond their ability and to wield sharp objects to crack open a shell might be better left in the hands of experienced oyster crackers. After all, as a good friend of mine often says, “It’s all fun and games ’til someone puts an eye out.”

My son, Brandon, will be living and studying for six months at the University of Hamburg, Germany in the Meteorological Exchange Program of Oklahoma University. His coursework will be presented in the native German language, so he’ll spend the first months studying the German language, how to hear and comprehend as well as speak Deutsch, and then begin classes in April. And so as we dined in my parents sunroom at the tabelle in die son (table in the sun) with several experienced travel guides who had been to Hamburg, I listened with interest to the advice offered to my son.
Hamburg University School of Meteorology University of Hamburg

Someone asked if I knew what was in the middle of Hamburg? I thought maybe it was a pickle, but was corrected. Apparently there is a lake called Aussenalster, which means “Pass me a pretzel” in Deutsch.Germany Hamburg Aussenalster Lake
Aussenalster

And so with fascination we listened to the collected wisdom of the table giving advice about what to do and what to eat. Beer is almost akin to water and the children drink it because it’s alcohol content is less than 2 point. I didn’t know that, but I did look up annual beer consumption per capita by country and the Republic of Czechoslovakia has everyone beat and it isn’t close. They consume 137 liters annually per capita, Germany 107, USA 79. Although the USA has everyone beat at the cost of television beer ads which equals roughly the Gross National Product of Austria, $310 billion dollars. Oddly enough, Americans eat 12 billion cattle cars more of hamburgers than the Germans who founded the city named after Ray Kroc’s favorite sandwich and who also made an urban-locked lake to slake their thirst from eating too many pretzels which are abundantly subsidized and distributed by the machinery of industrial beer makers to make Germans thirst for more beer, as if they need help. Germans are hard to figure out, I mean Beethoven couldn’t even hear my son’s subwoofers playing Metallica if he put his ear next to the woof, and he still came up with that Fifth Dimension song, “I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All Last Night.”

And so my advice to my son is to carefully weigh advice given by anyone who claims to have been in Hitler’s bunker when he ended it all by drinking a finger of dark Munich malt lager and finished it with a Luger to the temple. For instance, one lady at our table who actually took Deutsch lessons and traveled extensively in Germany, said she always listed on job applications, “Fast” under Race, and “Good” under Sex. Now why hadn’t I thought of that before. And another time under race, frustrated with the need to reveal such personal information, she listed her entire family tree of ethnicity, “French Huguenot Germanic Hungarian Austrian Danish English American Indian and Just American.” Again, why didn’t I think of that and…aren’t we all?

We also learned that Danish women are tall, blond and beautiful, warranting a side trip to that country since the men there are all short, balding and fat. Those odds look good to any man with any prospects or physical attractiveness or hair (which my son has), so he has that to consider, although he has an American girl friend already, so that could get dicey.Brandon Surfer Ocean City

The conversation continued and meandered into the realm of milking cows and it was determined that all at the table had indeed milked a cow, except Brandon. And so, one particular anonymous gentleman regaled us with his legend, that of holding firm to the cows, well, teats, and that was what made him such a good wrestler in his Montana high school, the tenacious experience of locking onto the teats and not letting go, which I found to be udderly fascinating.

And so go to Germany, my son, with our prayer and blessing, bring back a Stein and a silver bratwurst, maybe a pair of those alpine baby boy suspenders with shorts, swim in the middle of the Aussenalster with a pretzel in your mouth, learn to speak the Deutsch and learn some Thermodynamics from those high falutin techno-smart geeky-efficient Germans. Eisenhower sure loved them. Ike returned from Europe after World War II with Autobahn envy and he spent ten trillion dollars building Interstate 40 and it’s still under construction. Anyway, I abschweifen die thema. Back to the point.

Have fun and remember, they still think they won the war, so be sanft wie ein Lamm, gentle as a lamb, with their Deutsche psyche and don’t bring any Danish girls home…although a good danish and a bag of pretzels sure would be good. Remember to keep a journal and someday, you can sit in die son at some tabelle and pass out your own sharp oyster-opening knives.

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Dancing Around the Costume Chest

Family 1430 nook kidsBack in the days when my kids believed in Santa and my words had the force and weight to either bless them or crush them, our daughters and son indulged in make-believe, dressing up to become the character of their dreams through the magical powers of the family costume chest. It was magical only in the sense that this chest of clothes, accumulated from garage sales and bad Christmas gifts, held the power of transformation. Our children became Andrew Lloyd Webber’s costume designer leading friends like pied pipers to the costume chest where they transformed into eye-patch pirates wearing tricorn hats or boa feather divas. Family Dress Up Sofa

Sir Kenneth Robinson, the English author and advisor on education in the arts, talks about our education system as one that teaches from the waist up and mostly above the neck and favoring one side. He tells a story about a young girl drawing a picture at school. Her teacher noticed her drawing and asked what she was drawing. The little girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher intoned, “But we don’t know what God looks like.” The girl replied, “We will in a minute.”

Sir Robinson comes from the same town in England which produced the father of William Shakespeare. We don’t think of folks like William Shakespeare having fathers nor do we think of William Shakespeare as a child. Can you imagine a teacher’s notes about William, “Bill must try harder.” or Bill’s Mom sending him off to bed with, “Put that pencil down and off to bed with you…and quit talking like that, it just confuses everybody.”

Family Brandon Tutu

My son loved to mimic his sisters which led him to dance in a tutu. His favorite song was These Are Days by 10,000 Maniacs and that song and dance was his first connection of mind and music, emotion and energy and the education of his feet. Maybe I should have had him take it off, but he really was a dancing prodigy and accomplished showman, and he turned out just fine despite the abuse he received from two older sisters.

Sir Robinson goes on to say about education that most of us have had all our creativity educated out of us by adulthood. Our educational hierarchy elevates mathematics and literature, below that is the humanities, and at the bottom of emphasis is the arts with music slightly ahead of dance in the pecking order. Ken Robinson says that all of formal education is tailored to producing professors and that we all can’t be professors, not that there is anything wrong with being one. Robinson has a great line about professors, “They think of their bodies simply as transport for their heads to get to classes and meetings.” He also says our system of education is currently producing a kind of academic inflation graduating kids who go home and play video games. It seems that in this academic inflation, a Master’s degree is the new Bachelors degree.
Family Beach w Liz
My daughter Jenna is studying Dietetics and is considering an advanced degree and internship. She asked me today, “Dad, should I get my Masters degree?” I didn’t know how to answer. We discussed and explored the topic but in the end she has to wrestle with the worthiness of investing in another forty hours of graduate work. Will further education make her a better person, a more productive and efficient purveyor of information about what we stuff into our mouths every day?
Family Washing Dishes

One thing is sure…children are extraordinarily creative and talented. Education often educates the creative brilliance out of childhood hearts and we are left with nothing but adult heads walking around on flaccid bodies looking for the next great idea or software app. Family Beach Castle

Should Jenna get her Masters Degree? My advice to Jenna is to take a chance, keep dancing, keep running, keep singing…see your whole life as a canvas to explore and create, not something to mess up. Just like you did making castles on the beach, drawing tattoos on your little brothers face with permanent markers of many colors, washing dishes even when you needed a chair to stand on…you are filled with extraordinary creativity so whatever you decide, keep nurturing the creative spirit of your professional, athletic, romantic and spiritual nature.

Family Costumes KidsIt’s remarkable how much the world has changed since I graduated college in 1981. No cell phones, no internet, ESPN was a minor blip in the cable tv world, the World Trade Center twin towers stood tall over Manhattan. You have no idea what the world will look like in five years, much less when you retire in 2065, so don’t get too hung up on a formal education. Your entire life is an education and it begins with each sunrise. And if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything inspiring or original.

So, sling a little paint on that canvas, dance a little jig and keep hitting those books…just do me a favor and don’t write on your brothers face anymore. Family Jenna writes on Brandon

Skimming Along Old Man River

This weekend the Sooner football team defeated Notre Dame and I skimmed along the mud flat shoals of the Red River in an air boat with four college buddies. We powered upstream through the shallow grassy sandbars pausing to shut down the engine to chat with our guide. We then headed downstream until we reached a giant dredger pulling sand from the river. We wore no seat belts, no life preservers, there wasn’t any safety railing…just the wind in our hair, or in my case on my head. We did, however, don ear protection against the roar of the aft engine. We’ve all operated mowers, chain saws, weed eaters and tractors, sans ear protection, yet felt strangely compelled to protect our hearing against the roar of the engine and fan blades. It might be too late, like applying sun screen at midnight, but we do what we can. Sometimes we protect less vital parts of our bodies, like ears, because it’s easy and convenient. But power is fickle and sometimes it reminds us of our tenuous hold on this earth.
Red River Cabin
My friend Kelly Kemp just turned fifty-five but he looks forty, like he could run his college event, the 800 meters, in two minutes. Living with Kelly in Rector House at Harding University, I had seen him often in running shorts, but on this day, I looked down at his thigh from my catbird perch on the air boat. There was a scar across the meat of the left thigh, running side to side about a half-inch wide, a toothy serration longing to tell a story.
Longhorn Kemp
Saturday afternoon we sat in the living room of the Kemp’s home south of Bonham, Texas, watching football games, east and west windows affording views of Texas grassland and Longhorns, the herd spiced by a lone donkey. I had forgotten about Kelly’s scar but the subject eventually arose through our meandering conversations. Kelly and his wife Lee Ann were out near the highway on their property and Kelly was chain sawing a tree and the blade struck an adjacent metal fence post which instantly kicked the saw down to his upper thigh. Once Kelly realized the cut had not just torn his jeans, but had sliced into the thigh, he grabbed both sides of the wound and told his wife, “I’m hurt bad, call 911.” They had no cell phone so Lee Ann ran to the highway and flagged down a passing car, occupied by two trained emergency responders. Upon reaching Kelly and coaxing him to take his hands off the wound, they began to care for him and when he released his hands, blood jetted high into the air. The EMT shouted, “Catch her!”, as Lee Ann went all woozy. Kelly stayed amazingly calm as the EMT took his pulse and told him, “Your pulse is 48!.” Kelly was life-flighted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and they cared for him and he came home the next day. Just another inch and the saw would have severed the femoral artery in the inner thigh, and the story would have ended differently.
Bonham Texas 2013
Kelly, Jinx the dog, Mike Howell, Ralph Rowand, Brent Taylor, Alan Adams

It’s an illusion that time passes more quickly as we grow older. I can remember sitting in grade school watching the minute hand pass from 2:00 to 3:00, days when I was bored to tears. Today, a week passes more quickly than that glacial hour of waiting in my youth, a time when everything I could see was in front of me. At my age more of my life is behind me than ahead, in proportions I can never know or understand, since tomorrow isn’t any guarantee. As we said goodbye today, someone remarked that our last gathering was fifteen years ago…and if we wait another fifteen, Kelly would be seventy.

And so we went to worship service Sunday morning with Kelly and Lee Ann in Bonham and I was thinking thoughts about time and our place in it and how we grasp for these moments, ephemeral, holy moments, sometimes unexpected, moments that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. As we worshipped at the Bonham, Texas Church of Christ this morning, I noticed a lady sitting just ahead and slightly to my right in a break between the pews, in a wheelchair, perhaps ninety years old. I looked at her profile, at her jaw jutting prominently through her translucent vanilla skin, projecting through sagging cheeks like the rock of ages. The congregation sang Paradise Valley a capella and I watched her jaw move like a stone through time… “As I travel through life, with it’s trouble and strife, I’ve a glorious hope to give cheer on my way, soon my toil will be o’er, and I’ll rest on that shore, where the night will be turned into day.” I couldn’t hear her voice but she sang the words like she was seeing an old friend again after fifteen years. I caught myself missing the entirety of verse two watching her sing, and shamed, sang verse three loudly to make up for missing verse two.

She was sitting next to a lady directly in front of Ralph and me, her friend or perhaps her daughter, younger, seventy? Who can tell anymore? We had spoken to the younger woman before the service began and she had told me about growing up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and I asked her if she had gone to Edmond High School. She said, “Yes.” I told her there were three high schools in Edmond now.

During communion, the lady in the wheelchair received broken bread from her friend, making a cup of her hands, collecting it and tossing it into her mouth as best she could, with all the dignity and reverence she could muster. When the juice came, the younger woman took the cup and tilted it into the mouth of the older lady, like a momma bird feeding a baby sparrow. Her mouth was wide open, probably as wide as she could make it, and she swallowed the juice like a wandering nomad swallowing rain drops in a parched desert.

We are all collectors, dealers in memory. Keepers of time and space. It’s really all we have. Our money doesn’t travel well, our stuff gets put in dusty garages, our houses need painting, our cars break down, our clothes wind up at Goodwill. But moments in time, that’s the stuff we keep.


This weekend I talked to my good friends about work, children, wives and parents and we shared our memories of college when we were young and stupid. We told stories and white lies and we prayed and laughed a ton and we did nothing except be in each other’s company in the good graces and hands of Lee Ann who took care of us like we were kings. We ate delicious pie and cobbler, steak from the Kemp’s pastures, and fresh salsa and peaches from their cupboards. And for just a moment, time slowed down and we peered upstream and downstream along old man river, reflecting on the good stuff. Skimming along a river like modern-day Huck Finn’s, talking about our scars, looking at the stars and being thankful for our blessings.

The Funniest People I Know: Ralph Rowand

I left home in the stifling heat of August 1977 at the same time Elvis left the building for good. My destination was Searcy, Arkansas and Harding University. I had no inkling that the friends I made in college would affect my thinking, my life, my politics, my spirituality, my love life and my sense of humor…forever. Nor had I any thought about how the Civil War might affect some of my friendships with those above and below the Mason-Dixon line. One such friend from below the line hailed from Lake City, the same north Florida town that’s home to Pat Summerall. He’s still my friend even though we don’t see each other much these days. His name is Ralph Rowand and he’s one of the funniest people I know.
Atlanta Braves Helmet
Ralph and I were part of a very good unlimited arc softball team winning several club championships at Harding, a battery if you will. Ralph caught, I pitched. We warmed up before games and I’d try to get the arc of the pitch above the field lights so it’s trajectory was vertical as it crossed the plate and into the dirt on the back edge of the plate. We often had big crowds watching us and Ralph sometimes got bored during blow out games and wanted to do something other than just play ball in the traditional sense of hitting, catching and scoring runs. A faithful Atlanta Braves baseball fan, Ralph would wear a Braves helmet to the games often turning it around backwards when catching and forward when hitting. Before one game Ralph says, “I’m wearing my old Braves helmet to the game.” Ralph had a new shiny helmet and an older one, identical but scarred and slightly cracked. We decided to act out a melodrama on the softball diamond if we got way ahead. We got way ahead. Then he starts bouncing the ball back to me, throwing it over my head, to the side and I get increasingly agitated and yell at him several times about his limp arm and erratic placement of the ball back to me on the pitching rubber. Our ruse was that we would get into an argument and I would snatch the Braves helmet off his head and hurl it into the infield dirt smashing it to pieces. I could hear Kelly Kemp laughing in the stands when I smashed the helmet into the dirt. Mostly, people looked on in stunned open-mouthed wonder, because it was out of character for either Ralph or me to get mad, especially with one another…which was why, I guess, we thought it funny.
mason-dixon-map-650
Here are some other random things I remember about Ralph. He once broke his foot getting into the bathtub. On a dare, he threw a sixteen pound shot put ball through one of the interior doors in Rector House where we lived just on the edge of campus. He drove a white 1970 Dodge Charger and called it The General. He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but loved to sing anyway, and we sang Jimmy Buffet songs in the car…and he sang the National Anthem at ballgames ending the song with the words, …’and the home of the (Atlanta) Brave.’ It was kind of funny that he loved music. He didn’t seem the type to love music, but I often thought of Ralph later in life when I sang to my kids before I put them down for bed. I sang An American Trilogy, Dixie, All My Trials and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a trio of songs arranged by Mickey Newbury which originated as American folk songs from the 19th century and popularized by Elvis in the seventies. I don’t really know why I sang that trilogy to them. But I thought of the stories Ralph told me about being young and hearing about the Confederacy from his Mom and listening to songs about the South before bed. And so that song framed my memory connecting me to Ralph and my kids. I was from the Great Plains and thought all Americans were like me, and yet one of my best friends still spoke of the South, he may have even had a Rebel flag, and he spoke of the War of Aggression Against the Southern States and he laughed when he said it but I knew the truth buried in the humor was complex and textured and layered with pain, heartache, pride and honor. And of course I married a Yankee from New Jersey. And so I sang that Trilogy of songs to my kids and thought about how great our country was and is and how we are all different, yet the same…and how many have died for that ideal. And that Ralph and I are friends despite our being cut from such different bolts of geo-political-cultural cloth. We are unique…we are the same…and I sense that every time I hear An American Trilogy and every time I see the Stars and Stripes waving in the breeze while singing our National Anthem. old glory

Ralph was a master of the one liner:
“Restaurant buffets lose money on me,” spoken upon reaching the beginning of an all you can eat buffet line. It was true.

“My generation got cheated out of a war”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to admiring the Greatest Generation fighting World War II and to the draft ending just in time for our generation to enter the all-volunteer era.

“I’m a Native American,” spoken in defiance of anyone claiming special privilege because of their lineage in this country. He was an American and he was born here so…Native American.

Ralph Rowand And if you asked Ralph what he did with his days, Ralph would reply, “I keep planes apart.” Which was a modest deferential aside to the fact that he was an air traffic controller and later a manager of controllers at a regional air traffic control center for the Federal Aviation Administration FAA. Lurking under his facade of deep south self-deprecating humor lies one of the most intelligent guys I know. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do dumb things though. We were club brothers and each fall we initiated into our fraternity of collegiate brotherhood lambs primed for slaughter…or at least a large dose of demeaning camaraderie. For several weeks leading up to initiation week, Ralph kept company with a one gallon plastic milk jug. The milk was mostly consumed, perhaps ten ounces remained in the bottom, but the bottom-of-the-jug milk would never see the darkness of a refrigerator for the two weeks leading to rough week. And ingredients would be judiciously added in the time of fermentation. Tobacco juice, garlic, motor oil, Tabasco sauce…and some gross stuff too. The jug would sit outside on the front porch for several weeks and when the time was ripe, the bond of brotherhood was tested in the enmeshment of Ralph’s organic milk jug recipe bonding brother to brother like shampoo-rinse-repeat on the golden locks of a sorority girl.

And so Ralph is one of my best friends from way back. We’ve played ball together, gone to church together, lived in the same house together, sung Jimmy Buffet together, but probably more than anything…we’ve laughed together. Sorry about busting that helmet Ralph. I think it was worth it though, even if we were the only ones who got the joke.

Mosquito Dancing in the Fire Hall

Dancing Quakers

Dancing Quakers

My wife Karen was born in Trenton, New Jersey and spent most of her childhood in the small town of Tabernacle on the edge of the pine barrens about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. I first visited her home during our courtship and I remember the drive from the Philly airport with Karen and her sister Dawn crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge, escorting me through my first impression of the Garden State which was Camden on route 70 and the neon bars and XXX dives that did not seem to reflect the state motto. We arrived at their home in the Mason family extra car, an early 1970’s faded green Chevy Nova that seemed to always be headed into the ditch due to an alignment issue and a front passenger door that was permanently stuck shut. That was the moment I met Ann, my future Mother-in-Law, exiting that car, there she was. I leaned in for a handshake, maybe a hug, didn’t know. Surprisingly, Ann kissed me on the lips because that’s how they roll in that neck of the woods. I had no warning, and coming from a staid Midwestern culture of smug restraint, my pupils dilated and I shrunk into a speechless stupor, which I slip into easily anyway…so…just sayin.

It was my first family clue…the first sign of what lay ahead and how the culture of my upbringing would collide with Karen’s culture of origination. Karen’s family is a party waiting to happen. My roots are firmly planted in the Midwestern loam of virtue, grounded in religious rationalism and the social gospel that harkens back to the 19th century. It’s sensibility is rooted in the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s Oklahoma panhandle and the hills and hollers of Northeastern Oklahoma. It’s mantra is a tight-lipped aversion to enjoyment, a cautious rationale, error skewed closer to sin aversion than unabashed fulfillment of the senses which isn’t to be confused with true inner joy (which has an unassuming quiesence…right?).

Lest you mistake my caution for shame, let me disabuse you of that notion. My prudish pragmatism is a mark of gentle pride, and in fact I embrace my social dysfunction. On the other hand, I have learned to greet and kiss other women with platonic boredom and disinterest. I also have adapted to the notion of life as a dance, understanding that all social functions in Tabernacle… dances, weddings, graduation parties, bat and bar mitzvahs…happened at the fire hall. Our wedding reception was at the Emergency Response Center, (Ambulance Building across the street from the fire hall) because Karen wanted something different, since every social function from 1st grade up was at the fire hall where her Dad spent time as voluntary captain. Karen once set the neighborhood on fire prompting a full fire hall response. Her Dad was never the wiser, but I do digress. The point is, the fire hall was the center of community for Tabernacle and the biggest social activity was dance. Karen grew up attending community dances, birthday dances, fund-raising dances, anniversary dances, Fourth of July dances, Beef & Beer Dances, Ground Hog Day dances and Bee Gees dances. Any excuse to dance. It was Bob Seger and “Give me that old-time rock-n-roll, that kind of music just soothes my soul…” and “C’mon let’s do the Twist like we did last summer” and the Mashed Potato, Wooly Bully, and the Locomotion. So Karen carries herself with a rich grace and fluid motion, all because of her roots in dancing at the fire hall.
Spring Sing 2013 Nephews Nieces Current Generation Spring Sing 2013

Here are my memories of dancing. I was once a genie in a song and dance revue during the spring of 1978 at Harding University. I was awful. I’ve only recently begun to trip the light fantastic. I recently spent a weekend at my alma mater fondly reminiscing about my dance step ineptitude while attending Spring Sing. Harding is a bastion of lots of things but dancing doesn’t immediately come to mind. In fact, during my dancing days at Harding in 1978, the inoffensive term used to express the notion of Spring Sing was choreography, a decided repudiation of activities like Prom or movies such as Footloose. And so I watch Spring Sing and genuinely enjoy the talent and music and choreography. But there is a large unwashed swath of alumni who dance like me and Elaine on Seinfeld. Elaine Dancing We dance the mosquito dance which looks just like it sounds, a slappy, happy, arrhythmic collection of cattle prod moves to no recognizable beat replete with confused facial tics akin to one who has dozens of biting-mosquitoes on their thighs, arms and in their underwear.

Karen and I were enjoying coffee at Midnight Oil Coffee Shop near the Harding University Campus Saturday morning of Spring Sing Weekend and we had the pleasure of seeing a good friend who also is a Harding Alumnus, David Hall. Midnight Oil Coffee HouseWe were also sitting with another alumnus, David Fowler. And so we spoke about our dysfunction….our aversion to the spirit of dance. In the noisy din of coffee-house conversation, David Hall told us that he was one of those mosquito dancers. What Dave Fowler and I heard, however, was, “I am a Speedo Dancer.” And so we sipped our coffee and reflected on how people change when they leave conservative institutions of learning and tradition. The world is a crazy place. And David Hall is a Pastor in his home church who enjoys dancing in a Speedo. Will the sheep follow a Speedo Dancer? We had a good laugh when we realized what shepherd Hall had said. He is a mosquito dancer…just like me. God bless the mosquito dancers of the world like David Hall and me. All we want is a little rhythm, a little fluid motion and maybe some sense of community acceptance like my wife had growing up. Maybe they should start an alumni challenge for Spring Sing to let the mosquito dancers morph into butterflies. Meanwhile, maybe there’s a fire hall out there that has really low standards. One can only hope.

mosquito-jumping-and-smiling

Roots of Alabama’s National Championship in a full service gas station

Saban Gas Station West VirginiaAlabama football coach Nick Saban has guided the Crimson Tide to national championships in three of the previous four years. Mr. Saban is famously and professionally attentive to details.  Jason Gay recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about Coach Saban’s roots as a detail freak. Asked Sunday at a press conference about his father, Big Nick, and how he has influenced his life, Coach Saban answered the question by telling about working in his father’s West Virginia service station back when service stations were service stations…checking oil and tire pressure, cleaning windshields. He grew to hate black cars because of the difficulty in washing out streaks and if Big Nick saw streaks, Nick Jr. would have to wash it again. Coach Saban went on to say that the foundation of the Alabama football program began with his parents providing a model of striving. doing your best and getting the details right.

So, let me get this straight. The premier college football program in the nation originated at a full service West Virginia gas station as an 11-year old Nick Jr. struggled to wipe streaks from black cars? Alright…I’ll buy that. But that’s just perseverance and tenacity. The greater challenge is to know when not to work hard. Or as my Grandpa Ross Taylor would say, “I don’t want to work hard, I want to work easy.” Which was a great line from someone who had become an expert at moving furniture while running a furniture store. It doesn’t mean you are lazy. It simply means you’ve mastered the task and know the right and wrong way to move a Montana-sized leather sofa.

I’m also reminded of a story Robert Fulghum once told about taking a favorite pair of shoes to a local shoe cobbler to replace the soles. Fulghum dropped the shoes by the cobbler’s store and returned the next day to pick them up. What he picked up was a brown bag with his old shoes still in the bag unrepaired. Enclosed along with his worn shoes was a tasty chocolate chip cookie along with a note which read. “Anything not worth doing is worth not doing well.”
The shoes were past the point of worthwhile repair and the shoe cobbler still had the moxie to do what he did well…even when the right thing was nothing at all.

Sometimes doing things well and with attention to detail means working until our bones ache and our fingers bleed, but I’m praying for the wisdom to also “work easy” and to own the humble discretion of creative restraint that wields mouth-watering cookies and simple notes when nothing is the prescriptive choice.

Work hard. Work easy. Work not.
My guess? Coach Saban has mastered all three.