New York & Toronto: journal 1

Tuesday August 22

When my brother the doctor is not on call, he decompresses by setting his smart phone to airplane mode. I am on airplane mode at this moment, serene at 39,000 feet viewing the fruited plain from a 737, untethered from the constancy of digital connection and liberated from the tyranny of the lightning rod phone collecting emails, instagrams, texts, and breaking blurbs from the The Huffington Post about what Donald just tweeted to a bifurcated nation. I am on my way to Philly via Southwest Airlines where Karen will pick me up and we’ll get a hoagie bigger than a football and eat it while driving north to Utica, NY. The view from the upper atmosphere is soft and slow, more ancient and eternal. Kentucky is a checkerboard of bluegrass and tobacco farms. I have a distinct sense that I’m calmer when disconnected from the technology that has reduced my social construct from handshakes and hugs, to something less, finger swipes and clicks.

Between the rolling hills of Kentucky and the farms of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania I read an article titled, “Has the smartphone destroyed a generation?” Jean M. Twenge, Atlantic September 2017

Here are a few compelling quotes from her article:

“In the early 1970’s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth.

The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yate’s camera with the self-confidence born of making their own choices–even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.”

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink - 1972-1973

“…the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives–and making them seriously unhappy.”

I listen to the blissful snoring of a rotund man in seat 6A, while musing about an unfettered childhood riding a bike without a helmet as the risk of cracking my skull seemed directly proportional to my joy and speed. I remember many of those kids in the roller rink with the liquor and cigarettes. I wonder where they are now.

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There is No Middle Ground

I’m sitting in skybox 306 in the BOK center and the Broken Arrow band is playing Pomp and Circumstance as 1,137 Broken Arrow Seniors stream down eight aisles like ants who have discovered a donut on the sidewalk.

This isn’t anything like my graduation except it was also in a gymnasium, where I sat by Howard who leaned over and said, “Tata bud, I’ve gotta pee like a race horse,” while Lt. Governor George Nigh talked about Pink Floyd as if he knew a thing or two about popular music and social upheaval.

No, this graduation is different. There are more goosebumps and technology, a huge video screen, nosebleed seats and more ushers here than graduates at most high school commencements, along with an audience of 10,000.

I ask our sky box usher about the carafe on the counter behind us. “Is the coffee fresh?” She replies, “It’s cold.” I press her. “What day?”  “Don’t know.” “Well, I’m having a cup anyway. My nephew Jacob is speaking because he is whatever they call 1 of 1,137 these days…Valedictorian or something like that.” She smiles and says that’s wonderful and I sit down next to Karen and Ray.

Ray was stationed in Hawaii with the Marine Corp before he got married. He says that he kept Wakiki beach safe the whole time he was there.

He is 83 now and he stands up when the band plays the Marine Hymn during the “Salute to the Armed Forces,” and Karen gets misty like she doesn’t even do watching Hallmark movies. 

Ray sits down and I tell him his grandson Jacob is walking to the stage and Ray leans over and says folks back home in Texas don’t believe him when he tells them Jacob got his academic chops from his pops who went to college on the G.I. bill.

Eric and Johna ring the old Broken Arrow High School bell for the 109th time…tradition.

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The choir sings, “I’ll Always Remember You,” and I think of an email I read this morning soliciting names for my 40th high school reunion and I can only remember half of the names from the list of 1977 classmates. I’m sure at one time I knew them all. A song from Seals and Crofts dances in my brain:

Dreams, so they say, are for the fools, And they let ’em drift away, Peace, like the silent dove, Should be flyin’, but it’s only just begun…We may never pass this way again.

Noah Osborne, class president has a velvet singing voice and he speaks, eloquently, but he finishes simply singing…Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound, and he stops before the line, I once was lost…and a choir of 10,000 sings…was blind but now I see.  

Jacob approaches the lectern, and he steals this moment like his Biblical namesake whose name in Hebrew means supplanter, the one who takes the birthright. His words are hopeful, and my goosebumps are filled with pride as I watch Jacob who looks a lot like his Father on the big screen, and sounds like his Mother, full of passion and grace.

Jacob tells this to 10,000…

Choose.

Be a hero or a villain.

There is no middle ground.

There are moments when you realize that we may never pass this way again, and that it’s okay, the world doesn’t depend on you, and our children are becoming the heroes and the villains, their dreams on the clouds of hope, silent doves taking flight.

God, make us wind underneath their wings and give us the good sense to get out of their way.

His Folger’s Can is Empty

The man with the shepherd crook disguised as a dust mop has died. There is a melancholy in the closet where the mops lean against the wall and the Folger’s can is empty, no longer filled with Brach’s candy. Rusty gave it all away.

General Douglass MacArthur said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away,” except for one soldier in my youth who will never fade. Albert “Rusty” Matthews was a war hero, unbeknownst to me. I knew him as the custodian, the guy with candy who knew my name and treated me as if I was worthy of a grown up conversation although I was only ten years old. His office was a supply closet scented with pine cleaner. He was a guidance counselor in janitor clothing, counseling the shy and socially disconnected in a school hallway with a dust mop and pockets filled with hard candy waiting for an orphaned moment of childhood insecurity.
Rusty the Janitor
So many children loved Rusty. We knew so little about Mr. Matthews, except he loved us and watched out for the lost children, the quiet ones, the cast aways, the unpopular. He didn’t have an MBA, but he was a police officer, a lumber man, a janitor, a decorated war hero. My daughter recently asked about furthering her education and I told her a few things about getting an MBA degree, but I wish I had told her this.

Be like Rusty. Live your life with a sense of wonder, a gleam in your eye, and candy in your pocket. Love the gentle, the shy, the broken, the hurting. Do the menial, the necessary, the dutiful, and when you are able, the heroic. But mostly polish floors and sweep away dirt and shine your life with gems of friendship, hard work, and a reputation beyond reproach. And then people will judge you for who you are, not by what hangs framed on your wall. Get a long handle dust mop to guide lost sheep while you work, a generous pocket of candy, and speak with those who don’t know how to talk yet…those things are hard to frame and hang on a wall…but immeasurably more valuable than any degree.

Rusty, we’ll miss you old soldier, sweeper of floors, watcher over children. You will never fade away.

Saying Goodbye to Jimmy

My cell phone rang on a Sunday in May and I knew it was Jimmy. I said goodbye to Jimmy although I had no surety of goodbye, only the palpable sense of completion that comes with finishing a great book, that our friendship was graduating summa cum laude, and that we had both been blessed by our friendship beyond understanding.

Jimmy had just been released from OU Medical Center. He had been given bad news and his brother David had given me the details. I walked into my back yard and sat next to the pool and remembered another pool where I was baptized, at Green Valley Bible Camp on a sweltering July day in 1972.  

Jimmy and I talked like the old friends we are. We haven’t stayed in touch much through the years, but we melt back into conversation like warm butter on hot corn. We talked about his Dad, William, who is buried beneath a headstone that reads, ”A great man has fallen” II Sam, a reference to 2nd Samuel in the Bible, which was sounded out by his brother-in-law as “A great man has fallen, aye-aye sam.” In the face of grim news Jimmy still laughed like he did in the old days, when we were young and smart and knew things. His voice was peaceful, calm, measured, intelligent, even as our conversation was tinted with brokenness, our voices cracking with emotion, laughing and crying all at once.

He was my coming of age friend, the friend Richard Dreyfuss, playing a writer reminiscing about his youth recalled, as he typed on a crisp white page in the final scene of the movie, Stand by Me, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.” “Friends come and go in our lives like busboys in a restaurant,” wrote Stephen King. But the good friends never fade away. They live on, they inhabit our souls and our hearts as they touch us from a distance with the music we made together and when I hear that music, Jimmy’s full-throated laugh and dancing brown eyes light the hallways of my memory.

I feel Jimmy at my side when the church sings Just As I Am and it’s 1972 at Green Valley Bible Camp as Jim and I stand together singing, 

“Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down;

I hear Jim’s easy laughter as I tell stories, my first recollection that storytelling inhabits my soul, riding on a bus to that same church camp, two of my buddies, Jim and Tim, sat listening as I told a story fabricated from details I saw through the bus window. I was born a storyteller on that bus and I was born again in that camp pool a few days later, a story begun and a second birth, writ from places once dark, Jimmy by my side, helping to light a lamp in dark places with that laugh and gentle humor.

That summer we listened to The Eagles Take it Easy and Bill Withers Lean on Me on Jimmy’s low tech cassette recorder and it was my first memory of my own music…or at least my own through my friend Jimmy.

Sometimes in our lives, We all have pain, we all have sorrow But if we are wise, We know that there’s always tomorrow Lean on me when you’re not strong And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on For it won’t be long, ‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.    Bill Withers

Jimmy was a wonderful pianist and one of his favorites artists was Billy Joel. We hung out in his room listening to Joel’s The Stranger and the album Toulouse Street by The Doobie Brothers. Jimmy and I managed to float the Illinois River just about every year from 7th grade through my Senior year in high school. We once lost a canoe under a fallen tree in the fierce outer current of the river, we jumped from the trusses of the river bridge and lived, we talked about God and when we paddled past a couple of girls in a canoe, our senses heightened and we grew silent, waiting for conversational privacy to evaluate what we had just seen, and plan accordingly, perhaps to casually bump into them later downstream, maybe tip their canoe, what did we know, we just knew girls made us goofy.

We were two kids learning how to live without a filter, without someone peering over our shoulder, here on our swirling river, as beauty and hormones competed for our attention along with God’s great outdoors and our innate mischief. Jimmy was fifty-four when he passed from this life on July 14th at 9:00 AM surrounded by his family.

Jimmy Burns

He told his older brother Eddie, “I’m going to see Pop first.” He said goodbye in the same graceful and light-hearted way that he lived, reveling in his answers to aggressive sales folks on the phone when asked why he was cancelling his phone service or subscriptions, “The reason I’m cancelling is I’m dying, I’m going home.”

I miss my friend, although I still hear his tenor voice when the church sings Just As I Am, I still see his shining eyes when Lean on Me comes on the radio, I still see the back of his head every time I sit in a canoe, and whenever I hear the Eagles, I think of Jimmy and think I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jimmy lived with a faith that moved mountains and someday I’ll see him again, I believe that, and look forward to one day sitting on a crystal clear river floating in a canoe looking at the back of Jimmy’s head, wondering how he’ll be different, how he’ll be new, and how amazing the music will sound dancing off the sparkling surface of a perfect flowing river.

Until we sing again, Dr. Jim Burns, my good friend, may the Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face shine upon you, and give you peace.

The Heavens Dark Matter and the Andy Warhol Swing

Once in my youth, I felt heaven unreachable, sterile, a place of thou shalt not have fun, and my fervor was not equal to the pill-box hatted lady sitting in the pew in front of me blocking my view of a preacher imploring me to get right and ready to go home. Since I didn’t understand home in the theological sense then, I felt no longing for streets of gold, no thank you, I preferred dirt, wood, flagstone, or perhaps on a Sunday, asphalt.

In my neighborhood, my eyes were often drawn to the first heaven, this wonderful sky, filled with sonic booms, baseballs leaving yards, geese flying south, and like the dark matter confounding today’s scientists, I sensed something alive in the midst of the air I breathed, something not yet imagined, a force felt but not seen. My young mind felt this as empty air, boredom, nothingness, providing a seedbed to cultivate wonder and imagination out of which grew childhood masterpieces including battle scenes along forested creeks and sidewalks chalked with business plans to conquer the neighborhood one lemonade stand at a time. We painted broad swaths of our suburban canvas using paint flowing from vats of vacuous nothingness and our winters were warmed by a campfire lit from a gas wellhead.

It was my first heaven, a place where the air we breathed was not just oxygen but space, a canvas of time, sky painted Air Force blue brushed with ribbons of jet contrail, a three-dimensional palate we filled with Superman, pollution, and everlasting optimism. And in that atmosphere drifted inspiration enabled by a world that was bigger, bigger in the sense that we were further apart, informationally disconnected, less urgent, less immediate, living within broad swatches of space and time giving us the freedom to be bored and cured of boredom.

We watched Walter Cronkite interrupt As the World Turns with news that, “President Kennedy died at one p.m. central standard time,” then take off his big thick black glasses and pause for five seconds to gather his emotion, then put the glasses back on and try to speak again, emotion choking the words he said next, “Vice-President Johnson…,”and we all knew right where we were at that moment, because it felt easier to be one then and our grief and sorrow was one along with our sense of injustice and helplessness.

One hundred million of us watched Peter Jennings on ABC, Cronkite on CBS, and Huntley and Brinkley on NBC, as they delivered to us the newspaper for the day in images and soundbite commentary. We enjoyed three channel choices, so our news was common to everyone, bellowed from three town criers instead of a thousand, familiar voices, few choices, news and events funneled through three men behind the network curtain. In our neighborhood I saw the beginning of an unraveling, of hippies just a few years older than me yelling at America to pay no attention to those men behind the curtain. The yellow brick road still was the path for most, but I could see many of my generation veering from the gold bricked interstate, some into majestic byways and others into the ditches. Mostly though, we were happy as we lived in an atmosphere the ancient philosophers called the first heaven.

The neighborhood of my childhood was infused with a collection of sounds, a bit Nascar and Animal Planet, here a touch of ABC’s Wide World of Sports with the human drama of athletic competition writ into driveways and backyards, and there a touch of Ed Sullivan. And Saturday was our soundstage. Our neighborhood volume elevated on Saturdays and our sounds were truly shared because we weren’t immersed in unique playlists with headphones and earbuds, we shared one another’s noise like the constant droning of lawn mowers and Bob Barry’s play-by-play call of another Steve Owens Oklahoma Sooner touchdown coming from Mr. Johnson’s garage to the north and the lyrical droning of cicadas as they turned their vibrating tymbals to lazy summer dusk volume. From the Warner’s garage came the pleas of summer love in the amplified guitar riffs of our neighborhood band dreaming of the Ed Sullivan show and screaming teenage girls. Engines of all kinds whined and roared, a Shelby Mustang, a Yamaha 65 cc motorcycle with a duct tape seat, a Honda 50 minibike, the grinding gears of eighteen wheelers just a block east on state highway 75.

There now is the hiss of the mosquito truck spewing a final solution white fog into our neighborhood aspirations as mosquitos go limp like marathoners hitting the last finish line. The wind rustles the crimson and orange leaves, whispering restless notes, winters gentle hint in the rolling hills of our American suburbia mingled with oak trees, maple, and elm, lining asphalt streets. The creeks teem with crawdads chased by adolescent hands like Godzilla chasing victims onto the beach while stirring muddy bottoms and minnows into distressed eddies of malted milk. Bermuda lawns are dotted with limestone rock outcroppings where grass refuses to grow and goat heads thrive and kids dare not tread barefoot.

Roaming a dirt and rock dump one afternoon with my neighbor Dale, we discovered a baby blue plastic chair, body-conforming, chrome-legged right off the set of the Brady Bunch, which we claimed and toted home. Watching with amazement, Dale took a rock and hammered a hole in the seat, then threaded a stick and rope through to the bottom of the chair then flung the other rope end up across the meaty limb of a massive oak that stood on the east edge of our yard. After cinching the chair to the proper height and tying it off, he said, “Hop on,” as I stood looking at this great Modern plastic wonder. This was not my grandfather’s tire swing. It was designed by Andy Warhol and built by kids without a blueprint using tools of time and imagination.

I asked Dale in a tone of awe, “How did you do that?”, “Good ‘ole American ingenuity,” came the reply. I told him, “I’m American and a genius, but I couldn’t make that!” And he just laughed and we began swinging ourselves high and horizontal into the Oklahoma sky under this great oak, amazed at the wonder of what we had created. After a few days, we turned up the adrenaline by using a Schwinn Fair Lady bike with the front basket removed, Dale pedaling furiously down the hill and me grabbing the rope from my perch on the front handlebars while sliding into the Warhol plastic seat in one motion defying common sense but trusting in the youthful physics of eye and hand touched by a dusting of the angel of mercy, our top speed providing the force to fling us past parallel to the ground as the bike continued on down the hill, and I peered straight down into the lawn at great height until feeling a slight slack of rope tension, then retracing the arc of the swing in a tic toc that gradually lowered my racing heart.

We also knew how to slow down our hearts before New Age mysticism made it fashionable and high blood pressure prescribed it, and in our void of activity, like the rope swing at it’s zenith we sought our inevitable nadir of tension, we went slack and subdued our young minds like the gradual slowing of the swing, just letting gravity and a little lemonade and shade slow us down as we quit chasing and let life come to us. In my neighborhood we relaxed in the cool canopy of a forked elm tree which we called the Shady Rest, and from that shady hangout, I could see places and moments.

Just down the street from the elm tree is an oily spot in the asphalt road at the crest of the hill where neighbor Charlie once poured gasoline and then tossed a match atop just to watch it burn, and the neighbors driveway to our west was a place to ride our bikes where we wheeled around a 1922 silver dollar imbedded in the concrete using it as a lap marker, and across the street where Charlie lived, they didn’t lock their doors at night and Jana Wilkins sleepwalked right into Charlie’s living room apparently not satisfied with the accommodations of the slumber party at our house that night. Further east, from our elm, we saw the woods and dirt road down to the old gas wells where kids hung out at the perpetual flame campfire flickering from an old wellhead as they smoked cigarettes, the same woods where we built forts of timber and grass pretending we were American pioneers homesteading in the hills and hollows of our first heaven.

According to an ancient way of explaining the atmosphere, we humans occupy the first heaven. We don’t live beneath the sky, we live in it. I was reminded of this one Sunday morning sitting on the peak of a mountain with my son in the Boston range of western Arkansas. On a Sunday in this pinnacled cathedral, a storm blew in from the north. It was my first recognition of living within the cauldron of developing weather. Most weather is observed by looking up, but this was wondrous because we were literally stirred into the stew of weather, and a bit frightening as lightning crackled and blistered the air all around.

However, a neck-craning vertical sense of the sky is what most think of when considering the firmament, rather than thinking of it as part of their canvas of life. My neighborhood friends playfully imagined that a cloud was Dumbo or Mark Twain floating in the brilliant azure canvas of our first heaven, a place where I crossed two highways afoot with a dime in my pocket that would get me a handful of Jolly Ranchers or Atomic Fire Balls at the Ben Franklin 5&10 store. A place where we would race when we heard a misplaced noise, like a car wreck, and sprint to see the carnage, the girl sitting in the ditch with a blanket over her shoulders shaking and in shock, a neighborhood that smelled of cut grass, fireworks on simmering summer asphalt, flowering crabapple trees, and as the Monkees famously sung, charcoal burning everywhere.

Once I peered through the first heaven and into the second, looking for the man on the moon. And one Sunday evening on July 20, 1969, I stepped out of the back seat of a white 1968 Buick Electra and saw Neil Armstrong, who once told unfunny jokes about the moon following them with the real punch line, “Aaahh…I guess you had to be there.” Our driveway was surrounded by a cluster of scrub oak so I walked out to the center of our yard to escape the trees, and I peered into the evening sky as it gathered the orange creamsicle and blue day and mingled it with shades of gray, blue and black melding into dusty shades of infinite space. I saw Neil Armstrong in the Sea of Tranquility planting the American flag in moon cheese. At least I thought it was him. The shadows may have fooled me. I rushed inside to confirm my suspicions and watched a black and white TV image of Eric Sevareid declare, “We’ve seen some kind of birth here.” Sevareid, the CBS commentator, described Armstrong’s clumsy first moments on strange ground as a “clumsy creature, half-blind, maneuvering with great awkwardness at first, and slowly learning to use its legs, until, in a rather short time it’s running.”

Mr. Sevareid could just as easily been describing me, growing up in the schoolyard just down the street where I was taught to climb under the desk and curl into a tight ball on my knees and cover my head in the event of a nuclear blast…clumsy, half-blind, maneuvering with great awkwardness at first, then emerging from beneath my desk to peer into the atmosphere, through the mushroom cloud of humanity to find heaven, a place where I could drive about gilded streets in angelic golf carts like Mickey in the Magic Kingdom.

The ancients thought of the heavens in three senses. Neil Armstrong has seen the first two heavens, our atmosphere and the space beyond the air we breathe, but he hasn’t seen the third. The third heaven, maybe it’s the dark matter I couldn’t see but felt, as a kid growing up in the first heaven of a neighborhood in the middle of America.

I think the third heaven is a place I’ve imagined often but have seen only in flashes of brilliance in the first heaven, a place where justice prevails and forts always stand unmoved by the elements, a place where swings never go slack and our walks are wide-eyed and aware, a place where shade trees are shared and plentiful and the perpetual flame of restoration and goodness gathered around and never extinguished. A place where garage bands sound better than the Beatles and Elvis and where Ed Sullivan stands and applauds without ceasing at a really good show.

Telling Our Stories with Both Hands

thanksgiving 2013 leather sofa aunts kidsKaren and I have twenty-three children ranging in age from fourteen to thirty-three. We aren’t on the hook for college education on all of our children since twenty of them are nieces and nephews. But we do feel like they’re ours and that they bless us by calling us Uncle Brent and Aunt Karen. Sometimes I wonder if they will ever grow up…and sometimes I don’t want them to.

Thanksgiving 2013 White Sofa Toby Greg KidsAt the age of two, I scrambled up a ladder to the roof of the house next door and went to the highest ridge peering out at the world like Tevye’s Fiddler on the Roof, trying to keep my balance while scratching out a simple tune, except I forgot my fiddle. I’m sure my mom after helping me down off the ladder and hugging me, wanted to boot me across the yard. Remembering that helps me modulate my temper as a Dad/Uncle when I see my twenty-three children indulge in creative shenanigans.thanksgiving 2013 five girls bridge

In the midst of our Thanksgiving gathering, from where I stood in our living room I spied my son and his partner in crime, David Taylor, assembling tools and a truck and saws and rope next to our towering elm tree which we call the mistletoe tree, intent on ridding said tree of the parasite mistletoe, or claiming a bough for romantic purposes.
Thanksgiving 2013 Mistletoe Tree Episode
We watched from the window for a while but once my son’s feet came to rest on the unholy top step of the ladder and a rope was slung, all I could see was a noose, so I got involved and explained to them John Donne’s thought about how we reach divinity, not through rope and mistletoe tree climbing, but by reason and faith. “Reason is our Soul’s left hand, Faith her right, By these we reach divinity.” And so my brother Toby and I used our left hand to talk them down from the tree while praying with our right.
thanksgiving 2013 ashley jim deb
Which brings me to my brother Toby’s own story of misguided right-hand-only juvenile behavior. Sometimes our motives are honorable albeit mischievous, like the time Toby and his buddy Curtis Williams attempted to clothe the Bartlesville Community Center statue, Suspended Moment (we called the statue disrobed self-hugging humanity) in the holy name of self-righteous modesty, with a bed sheet styled Roman toga, only to be caught and tossed into jail.
Family Community Center Statue2
They spent a few humiliating hours there until my parents bailed them out.
thanksgiving 2013 four guys golf
Sometimes I marvel that any of us Taylor children even graduated from high school. Which reminds me that I’ve had similar thoughts about my children and most of my nieces and nephews, thinking them incorrigible and spoiled and selfish, wanting to drop kick them across the yard and tell them to sleep outside with the dog. And then I remember that me and my brothers spent most of our youth running around town with our left hand tied behind our backs.
Thanksgiving 2013 five girls swing

So how do we become fully functioning two-handed real life adults? I read recently that children nurtured within the context of families who tell and live out stories in their daily lives are more emotionally healthy.
thanksgiving 2013 toby deb
Maybe I climbed roofs and my brother dressed statues because we didn’t know the story yet, the story of my family and my parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts.
thanksgiving 2013 loy terrel greg

My Dad told a story at our Thanksgiving gathering about his Dad, Ross Taylor. Grandpa Ross was on the school board and there was a pie supper to raise money for the school at Bluejacket, Oklahoma. One of the patrons, drunk and bidding on every pie despite having no money and generally raising a ruckus, was a physically imposing man, while Grandpa Ross stood all of five foot six inches tall. Taking the drunken bull by the horns in his gentle way, Ross walked over to the man and whispered in his ear, then took him by the arm and escorted him out of the assembly. Many years later my Dad asked Grandpa Ross what he said to the man. Grandpa told my Dad this is what I said, “Don’t you think I should take you home?” Nothing magical, nothing profound, nothing threatening…just good ole’ common horse sense, which was something Grandpa Ross had in abundance.
thanksgiving 2013 toby david fireplace
At Grandpa’s funeral, Dad said that he was always proud to tell anyone who asked, “I’m Ross Taylor’s boy.” This Thanksgiving week we watched our children acting out the courtship of their parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents and saw first-hand the notion that retelling our stories within our families is healthy…boring to some, but compelling to those who grew from the fertile soil of those tales.
thanksgiving 2013 robyn luke toby david terri emma
I think that our children want true and noble stories filled with magic…even when they aren’t. We long to have a holy genesis and storied journey unmarred by scandal and ill-repute. We long to tell others that we are the sons and daughters of parents who stand for something righteous and good…sons and daughters who come from parents who fed them stories in the evenings at the table of their youth and where they didn’t really care about seconds or dessert, but just wanted to know that what they saw and heard and watched was true.

This Thanksgiving we packed twenty of our family around tables covered with rich food and remarkable legacy…and we told the old stories of our country and the pilgrims and the harvest. We ate sweet potatoes and kale with gravy and turkey as we explored our mythological DNA as we embraced the idea that memory is what we are and if we forget who we are we are nobody.
thanksgiving 2013 wayne hannah
Without memory we cease to exist and would still be climbing on roofs and adorning statues in a mad dash to experience the world without a framework of understanding. And my nephew Jacob would have no reason to tell tall tales and say, “My name is Jacob, I’m Greg and Jill Taylor’s boy.” thanksgiving 2013 Jacob RunAnd all of us roof climbing precocious children and statue clothiers from across the ages can now stand proudly and watch those same kids that we wanted to punt across the room, we can watch them and say they turned out ok…no, they turned out remarkably blessed and wondrously made…making it easy to say, “These are all my children and I am well pleased.”
Thanksgiving 2013 Group Carport

Several of these children are now movie directors, actors and actresses. If you want to take a peek at their interpretation of the stories we’ve told them, I’ve put a link here to a shortened version of the movie. This condensed version is about fifteen minutes while the longer version is twenty-six minutes and can be found with a youtube search “Tall Tales of Courtship”

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