Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery – Chapter Two

CHAPTER 2—LARRY MURFIN 

  

Smivey Stepward and Larry Murfin have been best friends since second grade.  They sat on opposite sides of the room and had never spoken to each other until after Tuesday, October 23.  That was a day they will never forget, and probably no one else will either.  Their second grade teacher, Miss Haverts, will always remember that awful Tuesday. 

It was the middle of the afternoon just before second recess.  Smivey and Larry both threw up all over their desks at the same time.  That made other kids get sick too, especially the girls.  The janitor, Mr. Berkey, had to come to the class with that sawdust stuff and spread it around to clean everything up.  Everyone thought maybe there was something wrong with the food in the cafeteria because it happened so soon after lunch,  but no one else got sick in other classes, and the boys brought their lunch boxes from home just like they did every other day. They both sort of felt sick when they left for school in the morning, but neither wanted to stay home.  They were best friends after that day.  It’s not very often that two boys throw up in class at the same time. 

Smivey and Larry have a lot in common.  They both wish they lived somewhere else, and their birthdays are on the same day.  Smivey wishes he could live with Larry.  His parents have a van and a truck, and they live on a farm.  He wouldn’t have to ride in the old green station wagon anymore and he wouldn’t have to live in town.  The best part is Larry’s mom can whistle so loud it makes the dogs on the next farm start barking when she calls everyone to the house for supper.  Smivey asked Larry’s mom to teach him how to whistle.  He practices all the time, but so far he has only managed to spray spit all over the front of his shirt. 

            Larry hates living on a dairy farm.  “Cows are so stupid” he often complains to Smivey.  “All they do is eat, sleep and poop all day.”  Larry hates getting up every morning before 5 o’clock to help with milking.  He has been out in the barn, helping his dad and “Cob,” the other man who works on the farm, every morning since he was old enough to carry a bucket.  After all this time it is still Larry’s job to wash the cows’ bags and udders before the men begin milking.  “Why can’t someone else do this now?” he once asked his dad.  “That’s your job, son.  You should be proud that you have your very own job.”  He didn’t argue.  It never does any good to try to argue with his dad. 

            “I have a great idea!” Larry shouted. “You come and live at my house and wash udder bags every morning and night, and I will live at your house and ride in your green station wagon!”  

Smivey thought about it for a while.  “My parents would never let me do that.  Besides, I don’t think your mom and dad would let you leave either.”  

“Wouldn’t it be neat though if we could trade places?”  

“I suppose” Smivey replied, kicking a stone across the driveway.  He doesn’t really like the thought of having to get up early every morning and shovel manure, but he does like spending time with Larry at his house.  At least it gets him away from his own spooky house. 

            Larry’s parents like Smivey.  They’re happy Larry finally has a best friend.  After school, Smivey rides his bike over to Larry’s house almost every day.  The only time he doesn’t is when his mother has to go grocery shopping.  She makes Smivey go with her to help carry the bags.  

“Couldn’t I go over to Larry’s house and then help you with the bags when you come home?” Smivey protests.  

“Smivey Stepward, I look forward to the time we spend together grocery shopping.  You can tell me everything that happened at school, and I can tell you everything that happened at home.”  

He already knows everything that happens at home while he’s at school.  It’s the same things that have happened every day since he was born.  It might be different if she bought interesting things at the store, but his mother always buys a half gallon of Haverson’s 2% milk, one loaf of whole grain Homeworthy Bread, Spunker’s Bran Cereal, Baker’s Brown Eggs, celery, carrots, and a pound of Wertzer’s Balogna, sliced thin for sandwiches.  

Every week at the meat counter Smivey’s mother says, “Please slice the baloney thin.  If it’s sliced too thick it gives my husband gas, and we don’t want that.”  It drives him crazy.  

On the way home, Smivey is always nervous because he is afraid his mother will talk about how important it is to have healthy bowels.  His grandma said something about bowels once at the dinner table on Sunday afternoon, but Smivey wasn’t really paying attention. He was shocked when his mother started talking about it.  She went on and on about fruit and vegetables.  He wanted to jump out of the car. It almost made him sick to hear his mother say the words “healthy bowels.”  He didn’t want it to happen again.  If it gets too quiet Smivey tries to think of things to say before she has a chance to bring it up. 

“Why can’t we drive to Parkersburg once a month and buy all the groceries we need like other people do instead of going to the same place in town every week?”  Smivey asks.  

“It’s important for us to shop right here so people will see us and continue buying at your grandpa’s store too.  And just because other people do things doesn’t mean we should do them” Vivian calmly replies.  

He wants to say, “We don’t do anything anyone else does, so I don’t think it will be a problem” but he doesn’t.  Smivey thinks it would be a good idea for everyone to go to Parkersburg for hardware so he wouldn’t have to hear about owning the hardware store anymore. 

“What do you wanna do Smiv?”  

“I don’t know, what do you wanna do?”  

“I asked you first” Larry answered.  

“Well, we don’t have much time before you have to help with milking…” 

“You mean washing” Larry interrupted.  

“Yea, I know.  Let’s go up in the haymow.”  Smivey loves playing in the haymow.  Even though Larry doesn’t live far from town, to Smivey it’s a different world when goes to Larry’s house. 

The two boys walked into the barn through the milk house.  That’s where the big tank is that holds the milk and chills it.  Smivey likes to look in the tank and see the milk swirling around.  

“At least we have automatic milkers” Larry said.  “It would be awful to have to do it by hand every time.”  The boys walked through the barn and climbed the wooden ladder leading up to the haymow.  Crawling through the trap door, they stepped out onto the floor.  The smell of fresh hay greeted them and they both took a deep breath.  

“I love to smell the hay” Smivey said quietly.  

“I know.  I would miss it if I didn’t live here” Larry said looking up at the mountain of bales. 

The haymow is huge.  One end of the barn is stacked high with straw, the other side with hay.  There is a wide space between, large enough for a wagon full of bales to be pulled in behind a tractor.  High up near the roof there is a clamp that looks like a giant spider with long legs.  It drops down on the bales and lifts them to the top where they are pushed over on the stack, eight bales at a time.  It takes a lot of hay to fill the mow, and it’s scary to be way up on top. 

“Let’s play wrecking ball.  Want to?” Larry asked. “Wrecking ball” is a game the boys made up where they build two walls of bales, then swing across the barn on the rope and knock them down.  Larry and Smivey each chose a side and climbed the ladders leading to the top.  There is a thick rope hanging down from the spider.  When the walls are finished, the two boys take turns swinging across the wide-open space to try to knock each other’s wall down. 

The first time Smivey tried this it took him almost an hour before he found the courage to take hold of the rope and swing out over what seemed like a bottomless pit just waiting for him to fall.  He almost wet his pants, but he didn’t tell Larry.  Now the higher he swings, the better he likes it.  

 Another thing Larry and Smivey love to do is tunnel through the hay.  They have built tunnels all the way across the barn through the straw, complete with side alleys and small rooms to stop in.  It’s dark in the tunnel so the only way they can find their way through is by feeling.  It’s scary to think what might be in the tunnel.  

One time, Smivey was crawling through the tunnel and his hand landed on fur.  The cat squealed and it scared Smivey so bad he tried to stand up, which he couldn’t do because of the bales above him.  He was glad it wasn’t a skunk or a raccoon which Larry has seen before in the barn. 

Just as the boys were getting ready to rebuild their walls they heard Cob’s voice boom up from downstairs.  Neither of the boys knows where Cob got his name, but Larry thinks it’s a nickname, probably for corn on the cob.  Cob is creepy.  He’s tall and thin, and always looks like he needs to shave.  Larry doesn’t know where Cob lives, but he has worked on the farm with his dad for as long as he can remember. 

“Larry!  Are you up there?”  

“Yes!”  

“Come on down, it’s time to get started. Your dad will be out in a minute” Cob yelled.  “Darn it.  I wish I didn’t have to do this all the time.  It’s not fair” Larry grumbled.  

“I should probably go home for dinner anyway” Smivey said.   

 Smivey and Larry swung across the hay mow one more time before climbing down the ladder.  They slipped through the trap door and went down the second ladder.  Larry headed for the milk house to retrieve his bucket and sponge. 

“See you at school tomorrow, Larry” Smivey said.  

“Okay, Smiv” Larry answered without looking up.  

As Smivey started his ride home he thought about how neat it would be to live on the farm with Larry. 

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 27: The Pancake-Off Fiasco

So much has happened in Maple Valley it’s difficult to know where to start.

Here we are in the dog days of summer, and Maple Valley School is already preparing for the first day of the new year. Students can’t wait to get back in the class room.

We are obviously well into the tourist season, and so far, the numbers have been good to Maple Valley businesses. Karpin Nickwall at Nickwall’s Genuine Maple Valley Candy has reported sales surpassing last season by 7%.

Hupgern’s Dairy has completely sold out of their famous homemade cheese curd ice cream twice. The next most favorite flavor is oyster on the half-cone. Marv Hupgern makes all the ice cream at the store and visitors can watch him.

The Founder’s Day celebration was a huge success. The Old General performed beautifully. Visitors can’t get enough of the General whether they’re watching or riding. I can’t either. I’ve been able to sit at the throttle twice and it never gets old.

The featured band was Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns. It always amazes me that my neighbors in Maple Valley know the words to all these country songs.

By far, the most requested song of the night was, “I’ll Bet You Three Biscuits!” Other great hits were, “Don’t Waste My Lard”, “Fry That Fish One More Time”, “Boot Fuzz Whiskey”, “She Loves Me For My Grits”, “I Can’t Help It If My Horse Likes Beer”, and finally, “You Ain’t Better Than My Ma”. It was a fantastic show that lasted well beyond ten o’clock.

The Annual Pancake-Off is a favorite event for residents and visitors. This year, the pancake-off played a more significant role because the funds raised were donated to the cause of finding Sylvia Meisner.

The event is a competition between all those who believe their pancakes are the best. Large griddles are set up on the front porches of the contestants and folks can go from porch to porch to sample the pancakes.

Shorty Cloverton always expects to win but never does. Clem Bittlefin is the champion, three years running. His batter is a secret even Mara, Clem’s wife, doesn’t know.

This year’s contest became something of a fiasco when Mayor Thrashborn and Sheriff Terkinberry, two of the four contest judges, got into a heated discussion that seemed to have nothing to do with pancakes. Those who were close by said they were arguing about a phone call. That’s all anyone knows. The mayor walked away from the sheriff and the contest. It was embarrassing.

After the pancake-off was over, when asked about the confrontation, Pete Terkinberry said it was nobody’s business. That answer seemed out of character for a man so well respected as the sheriff.

The prize for the fifteenth annual Maple Valley Founder’s Day Celebration Pancake-Off, to everyone’s surprise, was awarded to Ver and Vee Burthrap for their Jalapeño Surprise Buttermilk Pancakes. Photos were taken and will appear on the front page of the Kertok County Advertiser.

As a result of the pancake-off being used as a fund raiser, three thousand seven hundred and five dollars was added to the Find Sylvia Meisner Fund.

A hearty “Thank You!” to all who participated in and donated to the Founder’s Day Celebration Pancake-Off.

Te Deum and The Renfro Valley Gatherin’

This post is different from my normal goofy, tongue-in-cheek stuff. I just thought you should know.

Sundays for me were a mixture of anticipation baptized in dread, inspiration wrapped in insecurity, and anxiety that has a life of its own. I didn’t look forward to Sundays at all, and I was the pastor.

I was like that story about the mom who woke her son.

“Honey, get up.”

“I’m not going to church,” her son mumbled.

“Please get up, you’re gonna be late,” she said a little louder.

“Mother, I don’t want to go! I don’t like going to that church!” the son said loudly and covered his head with a blanket.

“You have to go! The people aren’t going to understand if their pastor doesn’t show up.”

My favorite time of the week was Sunday night after church. I had seven whole days before I would have go through it again.

The preaching part was easy. I’ve never been afraid of getting up in front of groups large or small. Singing and playing the piano was also easy. I’d performed in front of thousands in the past. However, it was actually being close to people that was my problem.

Trying to be helpful, a fellow pastor gave me a book called, “They Smell Like Sheep,” that described a shepherd’s love for his people. I never read it.

Once during a meeting with a group of pastors, someone mentioned another colleague who had recently retired. When asked if he was enjoying retirement, the former pastor said, “I miss the burden of the people.” I thought he was crazy.

I remember a conversation with a talented pastor and friend who told me, “If I could just visit my people and preach I’d be the happiest man in the world.” He hated administration. He was my mirrored opposite. He died suddenly at the age of fifty-one while on a mission trip. I preached in his pulpit for five months, trying to help the congregation heal while they searched for a new pastor.

A church we attended for several years had a wonderful pastor who once lamented, “My biggest challenge is staying away from the church on my day off.” I just didn’t understand that.

I genuinely admire and envy pastor-pastors. The ones who eat, sleep and drink their love for ministry and people.

For me, surviving Sunday mornings was hard. Each week I had to get my mind and emotions in the right place.

I got up at 5:30 and listened to a music program on WJR with the theme song, “The Little Lost Dog.” I don’t know why I listened to it because the song made me feel sad to think about a puppy wandering the streets alone. But I liked listening to the voice of the host.

The Renfro Valley Gatherin’ came on next. The show featured a combination of old hymns and country mountain music with lots of dobros and harmonicas. I pictured myself there in the hills of Kentucky.

I had two hours to prepare myself for what was to come. It was like hiding behind the cereal box fort before going to school when I was a kid.

Setting the mood was very important and routine helped make it happen.

Eventually, we moved to a bigger church with many more people and responsibilities. The more administrating I had to do, the happier I was.

My Sunday morning routine remained the same, but I used different music. Every week I listened to John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers’ “Te Deum”, an album that included the beautiful “Prayer of St. Francis.”

“Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.

“Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy, and all for Thy mercy’s sake.

“Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love.

“For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

After another eight years of personal struggle and a year of weekly counseling sessions, I decided to retire. I was in ministry thirty-one years in various capacities, including seventeen years as a pastor.

Maybe I would have been okay if I could just preach and go home week after week, after month, after year. But then, that’s not a pastor, is it? Pastors smell like sheep from living among them. Preaching is farther down their list, trailing behind loving, visiting, and caring for people.

I went back to school at a local university for teacher certification in secondary Social Studies and Psychology. I completed a year of student teaching with two hundred and seventy-five eighth graders.

After a few years of substitute teaching, I returned to school again for a Master of Arts Degree in Educational and Professional Counseling, which I received in 2011. Although I was studying to provide help for students and clients who were struggling in various ways, I was learning a great deal about myself. My master’s degree led to an opportunity to be a middle school counselor for five years. I dearly loved working with our middle school students.

The truth is, I still don’t like Sundays. It’s not church. It’s not people. It never has been. It is the interruption of my routine with the possibility of unexpected situations, changes, and demands. It is fear of the unknown and uncontrollable.

Everyone experiences life through the lens of their own personality and perspective.

It’s true what they say. Counselors become counselors because they need counseling. Been there.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 26: Events Turn

There’s good and weird news coming out of Maple Valley. Folks have been waiting for months to hear about the suit that was brought against Shorty Cloverton and several members of the town council including Sheriff Pete Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn.

For those who may not know, which, not ever wandering very far from Maple Valley, I honestly don’t know how that’s possible. But, last fall, a woman named Madeline Overweist stepped out of the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, walked a few steps, and a bat landed on her face. Mrs. Overweist, a visitor to Maple Valley who had come to town on The General, did not survive the shock.

Several weeks passed after the incident. Shorty Cloverton, owner of the cafe, was surprised by a stranger who gave him a large envelope from attorneys Skellson & Skellson. The family of Mrs. Overweist brought a suit against the town council and everyone on the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The papers said all of them were at fault because they knew there were bats in Maple Valley.

The defendants almost didn’t make it beyond the depositions. Quintin O’Dillmotte could have been a witness for Skellson. He kept saying too much when he was answering questions.

“Mr. O’Dillmotte, tell us, what is your responsibility as a member of the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team?” Mr. Skellson asked.

“Please, sir, call me Quintin.”

“Ok, Quintin, thank you. Would you like me to repeat the question?”

“No, I can tell you. I’ll be honest, I told everyone we have a serious bat problem and it’s going to be a sad day in Maple Valley when someone is attacked by one of these vicious creatures.”

“Quintin!!” hollered defense attorney, Kelso Mackverd. “Just answer the question, and nothing more!”

Quintin continued, “I have been on the BAT team for seven years. During that time we have literally done nothing to alleviate the bat problem in Maple Valley.”

“Quintin!! Stop!” demanded Mackverd. “Can we take a quick break?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Skellson.

When the process resumed, Quintin looked like a scolded school boy. From then on he said little more than “Affirmative”, or “Negative”.

To everyone’s surprise, the judge in the case dismissed the suit. He said, in spite of the tragic events, no one could have known, under any circumstances, what an individual bat would do at any time. Complete control is impossible. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The other news involves Sylvia Meisner, who has been missing for more than a year. Sheriff Pete received a phone call in the middle of the night. The female voice said, “What is wrong with you people? You can’t see the forest for the trees. Your answer is right under your nose.”

“Who is this?” Pete asked. The caller hung up. He spent the next two hours sitting on the side of his bed, going through scenarios in his mind of what the call might mean. Was it Sylvia? How could it be? If it was Sylvia, where has she been, and why? If it wasn’t Sylvia, who was it and what did she mean the answer is right under our nose?

At daylight, Pete called Alvin and told him about the call.

“The answer is right under our nose?” Alvin asked.

“That’s what she said.”

“Did you recognize the voice? Did it sound like Sylvia?” Alvin asked.

“She did, a little bit. Or maybe I just wanted her to sound like Sylvia,” Pete answered.

“This is so crazy. First don’t stop looking, now this,” Alvin said.

“Listen,” Pete said, “don’t tell anyone about this, especially Quintin. Don’t tell anyone. I want to wait and see if anything else happens in the next few days.”

“Right, right. No, I won’t tell Quintin, or anyone else,” Alvin said, thinking about who he could tell first.

“Alvin, please, I’m telling you as the sheriff. Don’t tell anyone. I mean it. I could actually charge you if it gets back to me that you talked about this.”

“What do you mean, charge me?” Alvin asked loudly.

“I could charge you with hindering an investigation,” Pete answered.

“You would do that?!” Alvin asked.

“I’m going to tell you again. Do not tell anyone about the call,” the sheriff said.

“Pete, you worry to much.”

“Alvin!! Are you listening to me?!”

“I hear you, Pete. Come on, we’re friends.”

“Yes, we’re friends, and I’m the sheriff, and I’m still investigating the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. Don’t mess this up!!”

“Thanks a lot,” Alvin said.

“I’m just trying my best to find Sylvia or find out what happened to her. This is driving me crazy. I think I might be getting somewhere and then I end up no where. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. If it was Sylvia who called me, why wouldn’t she tell me? She has to know we’re looking for her. Why wouldn’t she just say, ‘This is Sylvia, Pete, how are you?’ Sometimes I feel like giving up. But, somehow, some way, I have to find her,” Pete said. “Do you know what I mean, Alvin?”

“Alvin? Alvin, are you still there?”

Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery: Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1 – SMIVEY STEPWARD 

The house is haunted, there’s no doubt about that.  At least not for Smivey.  He sleeps on the second floor of the old funeral home all by himself.  He never goes to the third floor because of the tall shadow he saw standing on the narrow steps when he was much younger.   The voices he hears outside his bedroom door late at night wake him up.  They don’t come every night but he’s still afraid to go to sleep. 

Smivey has a double bed with a nightstand, an old dresser and a desk. There are several shelves on the wall holding some books, a picture of a dog he cut from a calendar, two bobble-head football players and a small plastic trophy he won for memorizing Bible verses in Sunday school. Several model airplanes hang from the ceiling. In the back of the large closet is a small door to the attic above the porch. Smivey keeps a small metal box there full of small pieces of paper and a few other secret possessions.

The darkness in the house is not relieved by the many large windows.  The floors, doors,  stairs and walls are all very dark wood.  The huge living room inside the front door is separated from an equally large dining room by double doors of wood and glass.  The small side room in the front is where Grandma Hippelmeyer’s pump organ remains after nearly a hundred years.  No one plays the old organ and Smivey’s mother won’t let him touch it. 

The long hallway beside the stairs leads to his parents’ bedroom and the kitchen.  When Smivey was small he used to run down the hall, through the kitchen and dining room and back down the hall.  The wide creaky stairway to the second floor has a thick banister. Smivey slid backwards from the top and hit his butt on the post at the bottom.  He did it one time. 

The kitchen is big enough for a table, even with many tall cupboards and countertops but the family eats at the long dining room table with heavy chairs that also belonged to Grandma Hippelmeyer. The big cabinet with glass doors is filled with dishes that are only used on Sundays and holidays when the house is filled with people.

Smivey’s great grandparents owned Hippelmeyer Funeral Parlor.  The house where Smivey lives.  Dead people in coffins were in the living room.  Undertaker Ira Hippelmeyer had a room in the basement where he prepared the bodies to be buried.  There is a rope elevator he used to lift the people to the main floor.  It opens through a small door into the kitchen.  Smivey believes the voices he hears at night are ghosts from all the bodies that were in the house. 

Smivey wishes he could live in a different house but he knows it will never happen.  He wishes a lot of things.  He wants his mother to learn how to whistle instead of screaming “weeeooooweeooo” when she needs him.  He wants his dad to buy a clothes dryer so his mother will stop hanging his underpants on a clothesline in the backyard two blocks away from school.  He wishes his father knew Smivey has no interest in Stepward & Sons Hardware.   His father talks about the store all the time.  “Smiver,” that’s what his father calls him, “Smiver, someday I’m going to own the store and one day I will pass it on to you.  You just wait.  It will be the best day of your life!”   

The store was first opened by Feniman Stepward, Smivey’s great great grandfather, just after the town was established in 1887.  The store has been passed down to the Stepward sons ever since.  It is one of a long line of stores along Main Street in Amshover, Missouri, a small town with not much happening.  On the big front window is painted, “Stepward & Son’s Hardware Established 1887, Feniman J. Stepward.  Just about anything you’ll ever need.”  Some of the letters are scratched and the paint has faded, but you can still tell what it says. 

The only time Smivey likes going to the store is when it’s very hot outside. His grandfather, known as “Archie” to his customers, has a soda machine just inside the front door. Though the store is old and messy, it’s funny how his grandpa knows exactly where everything is. When his father can’t find an item someone needs, Grandpa Archie knows without searching exactly where it is, buried under dusty things no one has touched for years.

Out on the sidewalk are four old wooden chairs.  Archie likes to sit out there during the warm months and visit with people who come by and have time to sit and talk.  They mostly talk about the weather, or fishing, and sometimes about baseball.  The big blue canvas awning hanging over the sidewalk keeps everyone in the shade. 

Some people like to go in the store just to look at all the old stuff on the shelves and walls. There are tools, oil cans, posters, fishing poles, bait boxes, a big barrel of old faded yard sticks (what Grandpa Archie calls “whippin’ sticks”), mouse traps, and many old books and newspapers. There are lots of things no one uses anymore but Archie keeps them on the shelf because they have always been there.

Smivey’s life is a mixture of old and older. His father drives an ugly green station wagon. No one drives station wagons. Larry Murfin is Smivey’s best friend. His family has a truck, which Smivey thinks would be great for his dad. He tried to talk his dad into looking for a truck but he said, “The old wagon just keeps going, no sense in thinking about a different vehicle when there is nothing wrong with this one. It’s important for us to save our money and take care of the things we have and use them as long as possible.”

Two wishes control Smivey. The very worst thing that keeps him from being everything he wants to be is his name. He hates it more than anyone can possibly understand. When he was born, his mom and dad combined their names, Smitty and Vivian. So they came up with Smivey. He thinks it’s stupid.

Smivey would love the name, Mack.  Mack is a football player’s name.  It’s tough, proud, bold and confident.  All the things Smivey isn’t.  Mack would be the sports star of the school.  Everyone would talk about him and all the girls would love him.  Everything would be perfect if his name was Mack. 

Smivey tried out for the football team at the beginning of the school year.  He is about average size compared to the other guys, so he thought he could make the team.  He didn’t really think it was important that he didn’t know anything about football.  He just knew that if he were going to be a star he would have to be on the team. 

On the first day of practice, he tried to catch a pass the coach threw to him and instead of hitting his hands, the ball hit him in the eye.  He had to leave practice and go home.  He arrived at school the next morning with his eye black and swollen.  It did make him feel a little important because everyone wanted to know what happened.  That was the end of his football career.   

Smivey’s best wish, the dream that will never come true, is to talk to Elizabeth Musker, the girl he has loved since first grade. 

Deadly Nicotine: The Mouse Didn’t Agree

I was probably eight years old when I saw a demonstration in Sunday School I never forgot. Why the pastor and church leaders thought this would be a good idea is difficult to understand. But, considering that smoking was fourth on the higherarchy of sins after murder, dancing, and buying on Sunday, I guess it makes sense.

It was normal for everyone to meet in the sanctuary before going to our individual Sunday School classes. Each week we heard a greeting from the Sunday School Superintendent, learned who got to have the award banner in their classroom for the highest attendance, and listened to Mrs. Guy play “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

That Sunday was different. There was a man standing near the communion table, in front of the engraved words, “This Do In Remembrance of Me”. I spent many Sundays trying to figure out what that meant. It was a little bit like trying to figure out how God got the money from the offering. I thought it probably disappeared from the safe during the week.

The man standing at the front had a small machine with a cigarette attached to it. He lit the cigarette and made the smoke go through the machine. He explained the evil of smoking and showed how nicotine and tar collected in the tubes of the machine. I was amazed.

The man disconnected one of the tubes clogged with evil, and used a small tool to collect it. He then proved smoking is not only evil, but deadly. He lifted a small white mouse from a cage. He touched the mouth of the squirming rodent with the black goo and the mouse died instantly. He held the dead animal high so everyone could see the cigarette had killed it. I’m sure folks in the room repented of ever having thought of putting a cigarette in their mouth. I know I did.

Mr. Miller was my tenth grade Biology teacher. I really liked him. He seemed friendly and he was funny. He had a full-size skeleton in his class room. A student once put a lighted cigarette in the mouth of the skeleton while Mr. Miller was out of the room. When he walked in, he saw the cigarette and the smoke rolling to the ceiling. He stopped, looked at the skeleton, looked at the class, and smiled.

He told us of a class project we each had to complete. He left the purpose and design of the project totally to us. I immediately thought of the mouse that died from the cigarette.

I don’t remember any of the other students’ projects except for the beautiful cross section of a tree trunk. It was about four inches thick and twenty inches wide. The labelled rings were clearly visible. The wood was covered with polyurethane, leaving a surface as clear as glass.

I didn’t know anything about the contraption I saw seven years earlier. I just knew I had to somehow trap cigarette smoke and collect tar and nicotine.

I asked my mother to take me to the store to buy cigarettes. She didn’t hesitate after I explained my project to her. I bought Camels, Winstons, and L&Ms.

What I built looked like a Rube Goldberg invention. I used a glass capillary tube to connect the cigarette. The glass tube was attached to small rubber hose. A baby nose suction bulb pulled smoke in, which rolled past the bulb into a clear plastic bottle.

I used the fireplace in our basement to conduct my experiments. I hoped the cigarette smoke would go up the chimney and some of it did. My machine puffed on a few cigarettes and the clear bottle turned brown. By the time I used all three packs, the tubes were clogged with tar. I knew my experiment was a success.

Mr. Miller said that if we demonstrated our projects in front of the class our grade would be higher. I was determined to do what I saw in Sunday School.

I talked my mother into buying some white mice for me. I’m still surprised she did it. I took my contraption and the mice to school.

I stood in front of the class and explained how my pile of tubes and bottles worked. I put a cigarette on the capillary and puffed it. I then told the class I would prove nicotine is deadly. I collected some of the tar, picked up a mouse, and touched the black gob to its mouth. Nothing happened. I put more in its mouth. Nothing.

Not only did the white mouse survive, it became the class mascot. It roamed the tables in class at will. Mr. Miller gave me a B-. He said I didn’t use a control, and my hypothesis was wrong.

I thought about the guy in Sunday School. Maybe he squished the mouse when he fed it the nicotine.

Painting Beautiful Backdrops for Your Model Railroad

One of the beautiful things about model railroading, and scenery in particular, is that beauty is in the eye of the creator. If you think it’s incredible, then it is. We all like to be told our work is terrific, but the truth is you are the only one to please.

I pondered backdrops for a long time before I actually started working on them. In fact, I kept putting it off because I just didn’t think I could do it. In addition to having no real artistic talent, I have a condition known as essential tremors. If I hold my hands out in front of me it’s difficult to see any trembling. But the minute I try to do something small or detailed, like just signing my name, I have difficulty controlling my hand.

I considered painting right on the cinderblock wall but finally decided against it. I was afraid the mortar lines would show too much. I also thought about using posterboard. Our daughter, the real artist in the family, said the posterboard would wrinkle. I used foamboard which has a very smooth surface and it is about 3/16 of an inch thick, which gave the paintings a little bit of extra depth.

As I said, I’m no artist. Thank heavens for YouTube! I found a basic list of acrylic paint to use on my backdrops. I collected a bunch of platic containers with lids because I knew there would be a lot of mixing involved.

I began by deciding how high I wanted my backdrops to reach. My model railroad terrain is a blend of mountains, hills, and rocks. I didn’t want the backdrops to overpower the scenery in front of them. I drew a rough pencil outline of the mountains on the horizon. I then cut the foam board in the same general outline, and inch or so above the pencil line.

I used a light mixture of blues and titanium white with some matte medium to prevent a glossy appearance, and painted sky in varying depths along the top of the foam.

The first layer of mountains on the horizon is a gray-blue mixture to promote the illusion of distance and haze.

The secret to creating distance is to remember the most distant areas are the lightest. Each layer of color is gradually darker as the trees get closer. For forest areas, the greatest distance is the lightest green. Be careful to avoid following the same outline as the color above it. Don’t hesitate to allow part of a color layer to rise above the edge of the color behind it. In the middle photo, the outline of the treetops rises above the outline of the mountains behind it.

Experimenting with color mixtures is the best way to create the scene most pleasing to you. Use some scrap foam pieces and paint some mountains and trees. Let the paint dry, then start on the real thing.

Blue-gray paint creates mountain range.

A real challenge for me was painting a river to connect to my Maple Valley River running under four bridges, including my scratchbuilt trestle. I put that job off as long as I could. For non-artists like me, a little practice with vanishing points is necessary. A vanishing point is the spot on the horizon where all lines meet. If you stand on a road and look to the horizon, the road seems to disappear, although you know the road is just as wide four miles away as it is where you’re standing. Where the road disappears is the vanishing point.

The white inverted “v” shape in the photo above is the area will the river is painted. The wide area in front is closest to the viewer. The narrowing will indicate distance.

Another trick to help create the illusion of shape and distance is to indicate a light source. By dabbing some lighter paint on the left side of the trees, it appears as if the sun is shining from the left. All light source direction shouild be consistent throughout the paintings.

Painting individual pine trees was another learning experience. I started with a straight line with brown paint. Using a fan brush, I dabbed a green mixture unto the trunk on each side. Larger branches at the bottom, smaller at the top.

Light paint dabbed on side of the trees indicates sunlight coming from the left.

I tried my hand at painting a cabin in the woods. The road leading to the cabin has some distance by being wider at the bottom, narrow at the top. The cabin and shed lines also have vanishing points to eliminate a flat appearance.

Painted river with rocks on the bank.

I’m happy with the final outcome of the painted river meeting the epoxy river at the back of the layout. The bridge will carry vehicle traffic. I removed a track girder bridge to give a clearer view of the river.

Paint colors should match at the corners.

To make corners less noticeable, it is important that color layers match. Different shades of green meeting make corner lines more obvious.

Acrylic painting of large rocks with shadowing for depth.

I am really happy with these rock formations. The shading definitely gives the appearance of a light source on the left and shadow on the right, also giving the illusion of depth. For an audience of one, I am thoroughly pleased with the artwork.

The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad backdrops are complete. I did have one hiccup after the painting was finished. The foamboard curled when the paint was completely dry. I placed the foamboard, paint side down, on the floor. I placed a straight-edge on the foam board perpendicular to the direction of the curl. I pulled the foamboard up, making a slight crease. I was afraid the paint would crack, but it didn’t. The effort straightened the boards and they were ready to be glued to the wall.

I glued the paintings to the wall with a hot-glue gun. I placed the boards on the wall to mark exactly where they should be positioned when glued. I worked quickly after applying the hot glue to keep it from drying and hardening too fast.

On the Road Again

In my last post, “Vacation Church”, I described my memories of our family going to strange churches while we were on vacation. Strange, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because we were going to a church other than our own. I felt weird, uncomfortable, insecure, and on display.

I had an enlightening conversation with our daughter after she read the post.

“How many times did you have to go to church on vacation while you were growing up?” she asked.

I thought for a moment, “Probably twelve or more,” I answered.

“I think I got that beat,” she said. Then she reminded me of all the times I preached or we sang at churches and conferences all over the country and she stayed with strangers while we were on the stage.

I have to admit I never really gave it a thought. We put a lot of trust in strangers who watched over our daughter while we were away from her. When I think about it now, it scares me.

We worked for a traveling evangelist in Fort Worth, Texas for three years, from 1977 to 1980. Mary taught in the school owned by the ministry. I was the crusade coordinator and led worship and performed in all the events around the country.

In the summer of 1980, I decided it was time for us to begin doing evangelism on our own. We sang at a conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July attended by thousands of people. As a result, our calendar was full for the next six months. We literally traveled from one end of the country to the other, from Sylacauga, Alabama to Portland, Oregon.

Our normal routine was to stay at a church for three or four days, preaching and singing every night and twice on Sunday. There were times we stayed in hotels. There were times we stayed in homes.

On one occasion our daughter was to sleep in the bedroom of the host pastor’s daughter. She locked our daughter out of her room.

Most of our hosts were more than kind and gracious. That didn’t minimize the discomfort our daughter experienced while I was busy with other things.

We did have fun traveling between engagements. Our new Olds Cutlass was packed to the roof with sound equipment and clothes. Our three-year-old usually sat on the armrest between us. If she got tired she climbed up on the speakers in the back seat for a nap.

When we purchased a new cargo van she had room to play with toys while we drove. After a year of travel and unpredictable living conditions, we decided the road was not for us.

Hats off to people who live on the road and are energized by opportunities to stay in strangers’ homes.

My childhood vacation Sunday School and church visits pale by comparison.

Vacation Church

When I was a kid, I always hated going on vacation over Sunday. it meant we would go to a church somewhere other than our own.

Going to a strange church was bad enough, but we had to go to Sunday School too. Having an extreme legalist for a parent meant church was lived out no matter where we were.

Walking into a strange Sunday School class is one of the worst tortures any kid can go through. I felt like I was wearing a sign that read, “I’m a dork, I’m no good at sports, I take piano lessons, and I haven’t earned my wolf badge in Cub Scouts.”

Sunday School kids are trained to stare holes into new kids. That’s why I always tried to sit in the back.

The next worst thing is during church when a pastor says, “We have some visitors with us today. Would you please stand and introduce yourself and your family?” What he is really saying is, “We would love to make your kids feel completely stupid, so please stand up and let us look at you.”

The problem was my dad was totally happy to stand up and talk to a room full of strangers, the more the better. I think if the preacher asked him to give an impromptu sermon he would have done it.

I had an attack of legalmania once when we were on vacation with our own family and I forced us to go to church. We didn’t go to Sunday School, but the embarrassment forced on us in church was plenty bad enough. When we walked in, someone walked up and started sticking little lighthouses on us.

All of a sudden I was a kid again and a loudspeaker blared, “Hey everybody! The dork family is here! Let’s stare at them!”

I should have excused us and walked out. After we left church my whole family stuck the lighthouses on my shirt. And they remind me about it nearly thirty years later.

Just a word of advice to church people. Say hi to visitors, that’s enough. Attacking them with church magnets or wallet size photos of the preacher isn’t going to make them come back. Don’t ask where, or if they normally go to church. Believe me, visitors can tell you’re desperate for new people.

Church is great. Something that important shouldn’t make visitors feel like they’re wearing nothing but jockey shorts.

Fire Damage Photos from Holly, Michigan

A few days ago, we visited Holly to take care of some business. It was the first time we have been to town since the terrible fire that took place a few weeks ago. Fire is awful when it’s somewhere it shouldn’t be. It has no respect for property, memories, or life. Luckily, this time, no lives were lost.

Beautiful entrance to Holly Hotel.

The incredible skill and work of the many dedicated fire fighters and community volunteers kept the fire from taking more than it did. The front of the Historic Holly Hotel, if it weren’t for escaping smoke leaving stains under the eves, looks almost unscathed.

I obviously wasn’t able to see inside the building. I imagine there is smoke and water damage throughout.

As I walked around, the faint smell of smoke followed me.

Complete destruction of Arcade Antiques.

All that remains of Arcade Antiques is what appears to be the entrance door frame and scorched rubble.

I know absolutely nothing about fighting fires, except the importance of killing the fire as quickly as possible. It seems to be an unmistakeable miracle the firefighters were able to stop the fire from consuming the old hotel. The brick wall, about eight inches thick, was the line in the sand where the firefighters said, “No more.” Yes, there is damage to the roof, but the hotel still stands.

Looking toward South Saginaw Street, you would never know the end of Battle Alley was nearly destroyed by fire. The business that stands next to what used to be Arcade Antiques promises its customers the doors will be open once again. The historic plaque describing events that took place many years ago still hangs on the Holly Hotel.

While I stood on Broad Street taking photos, I could see and hear workers on the second floor of the Andy’s Place building, shoveling debris out to a waiting dumbster.

The photo on the left is the view from Junction Street along the railroad track, looking toward the hotel. The middle photo is the Moose Lodge and Andy’s Place. The photo on the right is the lot between the hotel and Andy’s Place looking toward where Arcade Antiques stood.

As a result of the community of Holly standing together, and the bravery and tireless work of firefighters from home and many surrounding areas, Holly did and will survive and continue to be a favorite of visitors from near and far.