There’s an old song about going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. I think about it when I travel for the holidays. My bride and I headed south to Charleston SC to see my favorite daughter and her dashing husband for Turkey Day.
At the last minute, my favorite daughter asked if we could bring a Christmas tree with us. Of course! The tree is one of those convenient holiday inventions that fits into a bag, and we happen to have one more than we need. So, Engineer Chip decided to find a way to put the tree in the Lexus RX350 boot.
Everything seemed to go well. The bag, bigger than it needs to be (thanks Amazon), nestled into the hatch area. This of course meant that all the suitcases needed to go into the back seat area. Someone brought only one suitcase. A large one. Purple. Someone else brought only one suitcase. A large one. Black. And, a Wild Dunes athletic gear bag. And a laptop backpack. And a camera bag. And a tripod. And…well, suffice it to say that in this family it is not the woman who brings too much gear.
So there it is, all packed up, and we go to start the car. It’s our first road trip with this SUV. I’m looking forward to the ride. I mash the start button. Nothing. The starter solenoid won’t even engage. Now Engineer Chip has a real problem. The battery voltage had been checked earlier that day, and registered 12.2 vDC. Why did Engineer Chip check? Well, it has been starting slowly the past couple of days. But the battery is dated March 2020, and is a name brand. How can it be bad? Now!
I pulled the battery out, and put it in the 1995 F150 floorboard. The battery dealer closest to me would not touch the battery without paperwork being presented. I couldn’t help but think of every WW2 movie where the good guys are on the train and the bad guys want to see paperwork. What would he recommend? Try the distributor. They are only a few miles away. So off I went. A few miles turned out to be at Ashland Road and Pouncey Tract. But, there, like magic, customer service appeared in the form of a quiet young country man. He took the battery, found it to fail the load test, and brought me a new battery in about three minutes. That’s service. What was written by the manufacturer on the battery label — 24 month free replacement — was just what they honored. No papers!
So, new battery in, we headed south. About 90 minutes behind schedule. On the way, I stopped at a major chicken fast food for fuel. For me. And some high quality premium gas for the RX350. At the counter I stood in line for a few moments, and then waited for my wife’s fresh onion rings and my sandwich order. Standing there I couldn’t help but notice other customers. An older lady walked in. She was wearing those cheap fabric shoes, with a printed pattern that reminded me of a baby room wallpaper, skin tight pants stretched so tight, and a black tentlike blouse. Her freshly colored red hair was pulled back just far enough to see her frown as she walked up to the counter.
“How much is a chicken breast?” she asked.
“What?” replied the truly helpful older woman manning the cash register.
“How much is a chicken breast?” she yelled through her mask. The nice counter clerk replied “$2.41 with tax.”
“I’ll have two mild chicken breasts. And two chicken sandwiches, spicy. And a serving of creamed potatoes with gravy. And beans.”
“What?” asked the helpful counter clerk, as she leaned under the plexigas barrier. “The kitchen is making too much noise.”
The lady repeated her order, with some displeasure, and louder. Having two older people with masks on in a noisy kitchen didn’t help.
The order was placed, and the clerk turned to the kitchen and asked when her mild chicken breasts would be ready. “Nine minutes!” yelled the cook. I’m hearing everything, but no one else seems to be able to. “Nine minutes!” came the call again.
“Ma’am, we don’t have plain chicken breasts right now, it will be a while. Would you like spicy?”
The red-haired customer shook her head as if she had been asked the stupidest question ever. She scowled back and sputtered “No! I have to feed them to a dog!”
So, there on the side of I-95, I saw what this current health crisis has done to us. No one can understand each other through masks. Restaurants are running flat out and can’t keep food prepared. The tension of life seems to create ill will that spills out when people don’t get what they want. Even if the nice lady behind the counter is trying her dead-level best to get you on your way, some customers respond in anger. Anger, plain as day on her face, even behind her cheap sunglasses. Why?
Let’s try to remember that we walk this earth at our peril, and by the grace of God we somehow survive another day. When we face challenges, let’s try to be gracious, to remember that we may not have all the facts. Let’s try to respond with kindness rather than ill will. As the holidays are upon us, let’s try to recall better days, and carry that spirit into these harsh times.
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” – Winston Churchill
Today, I sat astride my horse of aluminum, steel, and plastic for 100 miles. The K1600 GT has a mind of its own, like a real horse, particularly when you come to a stop and need to wheel to the left or right. It also wants to run fast, and feel the wind blowing its mane back.
Here in the greater Richmond, Virginia area, we have many excellent opportunities to ride. Yesterday, we went out to West Broad, and turned west towards Centreville. Along the way, right near Mellow Mushroom we passed through the plastic debris from yet another three car fender bender so common on Broad. Will people just stop driving with their phones in their hands? Probably not.
Northward on Ashland Road, past Bogey’s Sports Park, then west on I-64, we sped along towards US 522. I opened up the fairing scoops thoughtfully provided by BMW engineers, which directed 75 mph air right at my chest. Better than air conditioning? Maybe not. But, better than still air.
Exiting on US 522 South, towards the rivah, we decided to go west on VA 673 Whitehall Road. Never having been on that country road, it was nice to have a BMW Nav IV GPS to show me the upcoming curves and intersecting roads. A quick glance told me if I needed to slow down or just cruise on. Even this road seemed too major for the ride today. At an abandoned building, we turned left on VA 615 Chapel Hill Road, and threaded our way past Hewitt Lane, and many other lesser-traveled trails. We made it to US 6 River Road and waited for traffic to clear. Here, the K1600 GT’s 763 pounds and the sharp left turn brought to mind the YouTube channel “Ride Like A Pro” where I was admonished to never turn first, but to roll first, then turn. Seemed to work just fine.
Along US 6 we faced the typical Goochland traffic, and one gold Ford Explorer with Sheriff decals. But, it’s not hard to behave at 35 mph through Goochland, where you feel a sense of community and peace. At US 522 again, we turned south and sped over the river bridge. On the right, at the Maidens Loop, hundreds of people with watercraft were enjoying the James River in the 90 degree heat.
US 522 led to US 60, of course, and we passed familiar byways of Hugenot Trail and Three Bridge Road. At Mechanicsville Turnpike, a Honda Goldwing pulled in behind us, and followed us eastward towards town. We slowed to allow the Wing to pass, to observe how it handled. Clearly an inferior stallion! Suitable for mere mortals, we supposed.
Then, at US 288, we screamed around the on-ramp at 80 mph, scraping the footpegs as we leaned over and showered the car behind us with sparks of steel. OK, maybe that was a YouTube video I saw; we just trotted around like a minivan driver. Because a minivan driver was in front of us ruining our chances to create sparks. Really. We could do 80. What, you don’t believe me?
And, back towards US 6, we opened it up to cruising speed. Patterson Avenue brought us to Pagebrook Drive, and southwards we climbed over the hill to River Road. We cruised in first gear around James River Estates, waving back at the Mayberry-esque neighbors. Some were on their porches just like Andy and Barney after church. And one woman was wearing a Hope Kids church tee shirt. It’s a good church, Hope Church. You should go there. http://www.hopecentral.com
After all those miles, and close to home, we found ourselves bearing down on a tiny fox crossing the four-lane highway. The blast from the dual-tone air horn encouraged him to skedaddle into the creek bed, while the prodigious disk brakes whoa-ed us down to avoid certain disaster.
Finally, back to the stable, and back to a reality we all share. 100 miles took far too little time. 100 miles seemed like a walk around the neighborhood. This steel horse is so amazing, so comfortable, so capable, 1000 miles in a day seems possible.
Sandy The Little White Dog was glad to see me, but sad she couldn’t ride with us. Lynn Weber Hewette gave me various chores to do, like putting aluminum foil up on the top shelf and returning the packing tape up high in the box over the washing machine. Someone has to do it. Might as well be me. But, I had to sneak away to tell you…Winston Churchill was right. The outside of this horse is good for the inside of this man.
You know how sometimes you wake up just enough in the middle of the night. Something makes a noise, or maybe you have to get up. On June 19, 2018, sometime, in the darkness, a thought came to me, as I was not fully awake, but not asleep…
When love ends, judgment begins.
I hope that I can remember this, and when I sense myself judging someone else, that I try my best to stop and love them.
The Bible gives us these commands:
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)
Do not be judged, or you too will be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
And, as we wonder how to love others, the Bible teaches us:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
May I know God more today, that I may love others like Him.
A man’s got to know his limitations. I’m exploring mine with a well-maintained 2013 BMW K1600 GT.
I didn’t expect to buy a motorcycle this year. It’s my third purchase from Morton’s BMW. First BMW. Fifth motorcycle, as I think back.
It all began many years ago. My mother’s boss Sue Miller was a friend to the family. We went camping together. She had a Winnebago and a Honda Trail 90 motorcycle on a bumper mount. I think it might have been 1974 when I whizzed around a campground on it. She also let me ride her Yamaha 180cc street bike a few times, after regaling me with stories of her riding a Harley.
In the 1980s I found a 1972 Yamaha R5C with 350cc of two-stroke power. A colleague had a similar 1974 Yamaha RD350. It was a great starter motorcycle for a single man. My metallurgist friend helped keep the antique running. Even after I ran it out of oil, on the interstate. Yes, that was stupid.
Another good friend, soon to be my best man, had a very nice 1983 Honda Nighthawk 650cc. He decided to purchase a 1985 BMW K100RS. After riding alongside I realized I had to buy his Nighthawk just to keep up. The K bike would leave me. So I forked over the cash and rode his old Honda for a while. It was blue. It was so nice. But circumstances changed, and I sold it. I put the money towards a honeymoon in Hawaii.
For some years, 1991 through 2008, I didn’t ride. During the gas price craziness in May of that year my massive Toyota Tundra made my wallet thinner than I wanted. With my bride’s acceptance, I found a Suzuki SV650S at Morton’s BMW priced to move. In May. It nearly fit me. It was the perfect “reentry” bike for a mature gentleman. I loved getting around the countryside on it, but it was just too small and uncomfortable. I rode it for four years.
In April 2012 I went to Morton’s for their BMW Days. I got to ride a S1000RR, R1250, and a GS850(?). Great experience as it showed me that bigger and more powerful bikes are good. In May I went back thinking I would get a Yamaha R1 but the used one they had didn’t track straight. I saw the 2002 Honda Interceptor there and tried it. I couldn’t walk away. Custom paint, sized for me, and all the records this engineer craved. I’ve ridden it for eight years.
For some reason, this year, I’ve been watching touring motorcycle reviews on YouTube. I imagined myself on a Goldwing, but saw repeated comparisons to the K1600. In each review it became apparent that such a driving machine would match my goals of riding further with more comfort and luggage capacity with sporting style. Wouldn’t you know it, but Morton’s had a K1600 GT on consignment. And it is May.
I went up Saturday May 23, 2020 for a test ride. I have never felt so much excitement before a trip. I was literally buzzing, a physical sensation I couldn’t shake as I loaded up the Honda luggage cases and rode away. I was first to the dealership. And, I got to try the K1600 GT out for about 40 minutes. NoVA is not a good test site but I learned I could make u turns on residential streets, navigate city traffic, and enjoyed the power of the inline six-cylinder engine.
I paused in the showroom to think about it. I chatted with a very helpful sales associate who happened to be there that day. He is retired LEO, so my being affiliated with Henrico Police made a connection easy. He showed me a few unusual items about this K1600 that weren’t obvious, as he rode the same model and could see the differences.
This particular K1600 GT was likely owned by a very wealthy man with style and taste. And a garage. It has only 4,760 miles in seven years. The features engineered by BMW are quite sufficient but he had a custom Corbin Smuggler seat added, and custom paint for the top case, Smuggler case, side cases, and mirrors. It’s all matched to the factory Montego blue. And of course he added a special BMW emblems to the fairings on either side that light up. To make shifting more secure he put a billet aluminum shift peg on the lever. To ensure optimum handling he had Michelin 2CT tires recently installed. To keep the headlights protected he added a special clear cover. To light the night he added penetrating fog lights down low. It is a one of a kind machine.
I had to make a decision. To many of you it would be obvious. Buy it! To this engineer, decisions are never easy. But riding back on my Honda I knew it was the right motorcycle for me, at this time. I called the dealership from a gas station near home where I was refueling the Interceptor and made a deposit. I couldn’t go another minute without making this big move.
For two days I waited for a chance to drive up to Morton’s to pick up the machine. It’s worse than Christmas. It is like a hot fever that won’t break. Chores at the house and a day of working from home were punctuated by tasks to get on the road up to Fredericksburg. I could hardly wait for all the conferences to end. Thankfully a good friend in my subdivision was able to carry me up there. It was great to share my excitement with him and to see his reaction. We made it up there in about an hour.
After a good ninety minutes of paperwork, and a tutorial on the many electronic features of the K1600GT, I was ready to go. The sales manager took the picture you see here. I couldn’t wait to swing my long leg across the saddle and see what it could really do.
It was so different than the Interceptor. In a good way, of course. Fast. So very fast. 160 hp fast. I set the cruise control at 70mph and found myself really focusing on traffic safety rather than my speed. But when I needed to get clear of the people in cages, the available power was amazing. It handles like an extension of your mind, even as large as it is. Radio, GPS, glove boxes, cases to hold everything, adjustable windscreen. Who dreams up this stuff?
It’s sitting in the garage here now. It fits right where my beloved Interceptor did. I can’t believe I have a nearly new custom machine with 4,800 miles here. I wonder at times how my steps are ordered. My AGVSport leathers even match the Montego blue. These things can’t just happen.
I’ve spent a few days with the K1600GT now. A few adventures. Most of the rides have been to carefully explore its capabilities. It is, to overuse a word, astonishing.
My bride of 28 years is amazing, as she puts up with all this. I know she understands, and I am grateful every day for her trust in me to ride safely and return home. I love you. Thanks for allowing me be the adventurous man in this lifetime together.
Father’s Day brings back memories, if you let it. My memories of my father are over 45 years old, but remain vivid. Today, I see my childhood through father’s eyes, having raised two incredible daughters.
Dad was born very late in his parent’s lives. His childhood was not easy. His mother died early in his life. He was raised by a sister 14 years older than him. His father ran a couple of businesses in Kingsport, Tennessee, and was locally famous. In 1966 his father died, of a blood clot formed in a lower leg. I remember Dad crying at the funeral, my first observation of his tears.
Dad played football at Dobyns-Bennett High School, then for the University of Tennessee. He was a lineman. Back then, you could be a lineman at 5’10” and 195 pounds. While there, he realized that his true calling was to be a metallurgical engineer. He was the first and only graduate with that degree that year.
Dad worked for America at Oak Ridge National Lab. For many years he helped design materials and coatings for nuclear reactors. He even worked on a reactor for satellite power. He was always wearing a dosimeter, being exposed to radiation at the lab.
Dad was a camper. He had a family camping rig all figured out. We had a big blue tent, bought from Sears, with Ted Williams image on a little white label in the lower right corner. He had a ground tarp made out of canvas material so thick I don’t think any rock could ever pierce it, custom cut for the tent dimensions.
He had a picnic table awning, light green with an orange stripe, to keep the eating area dry. He had Coleman lanterns for the evenings, and flashlights to use on the path to the bathroom building.
He had special foam mattress pads made to fit the two “bedrooms” of the three section tent, on which we placed our sleeping bags. He bought a Coleman icebox, like a little refrigerator, that kept food cool and gave us ice water through a little spout inside as the ice melted.
Dad was a craftsman. He could make anything that he found of value. He made badminton net support poles out of two coffee cans, two cake pans, galvanized steel poles, and concrete. Those poles lasted for a decade. He made a car top carrier out of plywood to contain camping gear. He made a camping kitchen box that held the stove, the nested pots, the silverware tray, and other miscellanies. Of course, everything had its place. And, the box was perfectly designed to fit on the opened tailgate of a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon.
Dad was a leather artist. He created holsters, scabbards, sheaths, and slings in his den. Lots of people can stitch a holster together. His were decorated with stamped borders, filled with stamped basket weaving patterns, and often hand-carved imagery of flowers or animals. I still have one of two holsters he made for my Lone Ranger cap pistols.
Dad was a hunter and shooter. I think he was more a shooter, as we rarely ate anything he hunted. His den was arrayed with trophies and medals from the U.S. Army Reserve, for whom he competed. He practiced in three places. After work, I sometimes found him “dry firing” an Anschutz 22 rimfire rifle laying down in the living room. He would wear a leather coat, sling, and glasses just like he had to in the matches.
In the basement garage, I could hear him shooting a 22 rimfire pistol into the earthen bank below the kitchen, some ten yards from the garage door. At Volunteer Rifle & Pistol Club, he shot infrequently, but at long ranges. I got to go with him. I still have my Youth Hunter workbook from when we went to that weekend instruction class.
Dad was a dog lover. We had two dogs growing up. Freckles and Troubles were their names. Troubles was a slow-moving beagle, with black and tan coloration over the white fur. He barked all the time. He got into fights with other dogs, at least once, and had a nasty wound in his belly from that excursion. Freckles was a reddish brown long-haired dog, probably a setter of some sort. I remember Freckles bit my left knee area one afternoon, and my skin was punctured. I see a tiny freckle there today, and always thought they renamed him Freckles because of what he did.
Dad was a hunting dog lover. He hunted doves, mostly, at Fulton Bottoms. To retrieve the fallen birds, he decided to get a hunting dog. He chose a Weimaraner. This sleek grey dog was named Reuben. Dad tried to train it to retrieve. The breed, after all, is supposedly able to do anything a hunter needs — point, flush, retrieve, and even water retrieve. I remember that Reuben was supposed to return the birds without crushing them or eating them. Dad tried teaching the “soft mouth” to Reuben by having him retrieve large pine cones, with those sharp points on the edges. Reuben ate the pine cones. He never worked out as a hunting partner, but Dad loved him regardless.
Dad was an archer. He used an English long bow. He gave me a youth fiberglas recurve bow. We would go into the big backyard, set up a round target filled with straw, and shoot. I marveled at the ability he had to draw the big wooden bow back, and his accuracy. He also had a special setup with fiberglas arrows, white shafts with red plastic fletching, along with a reel to hold fishing line. With this rig, he hoped to harvest fish in shallow waters.
Dad was a fly fisher. He had wading overalls, those plastic coated cloth pants that come up to your chest. The shoe soles were covered with felt, that could add traction underwater. He would go to nearby rivers and try to catch trout. I don’t think he was ever successful.
Dad was a freshwater fisherman. He learned this hobby from his father. One day the three of us were out on a lake in middle Tennessee, in a campground boat, fishing. I remember that I caught one fish. They caught a lot of fish. The stringer had 36 fish on it, by the end of the day. We ate some later that evening. I still have a few of his lures in my garage. Hard to believe a fish would be attracted to these wooden plugs, covered in shellac. One day, out on Norris Lake, we were together on a boat. Towards the end of the day, he flipped open a can of coke. In those days, the cans were opened with a pull-ring and a tab that separated from the cans. Dad always dropped the ring into the can, so as not to litter. Drinking the coke, he gulped a bit, and grimaced. I asked what was wrong. He let me know that he had swallowed the pull ring and tab, accidentally. No stress, just matter of fact. He reasoned that the stomach acid would process the metal, and no harm would occur. Being a metallurgist, and using acid to etch metal, I suppose he knew what he was talking about.
Dad was an car nut, I think, albeit a practical one. Our first car was a 1958 Chevrolet, in which I managed to scar my forehead when he made a sudden stop and I slammed into the rear edge of the front seat. Our second car was a 1963 Chevrolet Impala he inherited. Our third car was a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville wagon, which was a step up. It was white with a blue vinyl interior with many chrome knobs and buttons.
Later, he purchased a VW van, light blue with a white top. When Mom needed a car, he chose an Audi Super 90, the only one in town. He was always proud that he put Mom in a safe car with front wheel drive. No one else had front wheel drive.
Dad was a mechanic. He could fix anything. One day I remember that he pulled the Pontiac Bonneville wagon into the garage. A few days later, it came out with a new paint job. He had purchased a small air compressor, paint sprayer, plastic sheets to surround the garage walls, sand paper, body putty, and a respirator to protect his lungs. How long it took to prepare the car and paint it, I don’t know. But, he made the car last a few more years with his hard work.
Dad was a teacher. Working on the VW van, one evening, he allowed me to help. I looked into the engine compartment and saw a corrugated silver pipe. Being about eight years old, I grabbed it and said “What does this do?” At that moment, I ripped it into two pieces. I was a bit scared of the consequences, but Dad explained what the pipe did, to cool the boxer engine, and simply purchased a replacement part.
Dad was an architect, of sorts. He had a drawing board, with a T-square, and all sorts of triangles and templates. He created designs of buildings, homes, and projects. I remember marveling at his precise draftsman lettering, and emulated it. Still do.
Dad was a language scholar. I remember him when at a church the Apostle’s Creed is spoken. At Saint John’s Lutheran Church, he would always loudly speak the word Pontius with careful enunciation, pon-tee-us, instead of the common pon-chus heard from all other voices. He knew that Latin was a precise language and did not have the smushing together of sounds. I was always embarrassed to hear him say it differently than everyone else, and loudly. He also spoke German, being from Saint Louis, where German culture dominated for decades. He had quite a few German language textbooks. I think he also had the Bible in German.
Dad like bicycling. He bought me the absolute coolest bike in the neighborhood, one that looked exactly like a motorcycle. It was called the Mattel V-RROOM! It had a plastic engine below a hollow gas tank, pedals that spun where the transmission would be, wide tires, a real handlebar with plastic grips, a headlight, a tailight, fenders, a long banana seat, and it even had a sound generator to simulate the engine noise. For some reason, I wanted Hot Wheels cars and track, and didn’t have enough in my collection. I traded away that bike for a full complement of Hot Wheels cars and track and all sorts of things to go along with them. He was sad to see the bike go.
Later, Dad and Mom bought me a Schwinn Apple Krate bicycle. It was, again, the coolest bike in the neighborhood. Somehow they hid it in the attic, and brought it down to surprise me at Christmas. That bike was amazing. I kept it for years.
Dad also bought a ten-speed for him, and a five-speed for Mom. The bikes had matching dark green paint. Of course they were Schwinns. I think he wanted biking to be a family hobby, and to grow our family closer together. I don’t know if he ever rode his Schwinn Continental, though. It stayed in the basement a lot.
Dad was a photographer. When he lived with us, he shot Yashica double-lens reflex cameras, with 120 mm film. I would sometimes find him loading unexposed bulk film into canisters in his bedroom, under the heavy bedspread which blocked light. He enjoyed shooting nature and buildings. I don’t remember seeing any portraits taken, but he did shoot hundreds of images of me and my sister, which made it into brown leatherette albums that had flipping plastic windows to hold the pictures.
Dad was a more than a photographer, having a full darkroom in the basement. He had a Beseler enlarger, chemicals in cabinets, a red safe light, and somehow managed to create 8 x 10 black and white images while processing them in an old metal double sink that held the trays of developing solutions. I think he traded a pistol for the developing equipment, as money was tight yet he wanted to do something new.
Dad was a musician. He played the piano, a baby grand Knabe with an incredible under keyboard Ampico player system. We had dozens of player piano rolls, but the mechanism was broken. The varnish on the piano was “crazed” with a million myriad cracks traversing the original black finish. It still sounded good, and he played Rachmaninoff, Tchaichovsky, and Beethoven. I always wanted to hear Moonlight Sonata, and I still have the sheet music he used. Dad encouraged me to be a musician, taking me to a violin group concert when I was four. I started that year.
For reasons I will never fully know, Dad and Mom divorced. They separated in 1972, and the divorce was final in 1973. The divorce was based in part on his inability to refrain from anger, and to be kind to Mom. I think seeing this behavior, at my young age, I had become angry with my father, and didn’t want to see him after the divorce.
He returned to our first home from our second home, which had been retained as an investment property. It was less than a mile away. Being the house next door to “Aunt” Reva and “Uncle” Jack, who were dear family friends, I had occasion to visit them as my Mom was often working late hours as a realtor. Aunt Reva would make dinner for us, and for dessert we would have vanilla ice cream scoops in Coca-Cola.
At my young age walking there seemed to take forever. But I would go there, sometimes stopping by after school. He lived in the apartment in the back of the house, and rented the main house out for income. I would sometimes see Dad at his house when I would visit them. It was not easy. I remember making excuses to visit Aunt Reva just to see my Dad walking around. It was hard on me. I can’t imagine what he must have felt.
Many years later, I reconnected with my father. I was in Ohio, married, with two kids. His manager, at TVA, where he was working, somehow found me and asked me to contact my Dad. I think my father wasn’t doing too well, emotionally, and needed someone. I imagine that his manager heard about the divorce, the kids, and made the effort to find me. It took some thinking, but I decided that I could completely dismiss the entire past, and just talk to him as engineers might talk. I remember the first conversation lasting some two hours. I told him of my career, my family, my hobbies, and he related well to these. It seemed like we were father and son, again, and I never asked anything about the past. I decided that the only thing that mattered was the present.
After that first connection, we had moved to North Carolina, and my father visited us there. He drove an ancient Ford Bronco across the mountains from Jefferson City to Kings Mountain, and spent the night with us. He brought gifts for our daughters, well-chosen books, for a man who had never seen his granddaughters or knew anything about them. One of the books was about Picasso.
The next day, we had a pancake breakfast, and he drove home. Today, recalling that visit, I can only imagine the heart-rending emotions of not being part of your own family he must have felt.
We stayed in contact. One day we had plans to see him at exit 417 on I-40, at a favorite restaurant. He didn’t show. I called his girlfriend of many years, and learned that his health was poor. He finally had to leave his home and go to a nursing home for care. We visited there once, escorted by his girlfriend, and had lunch together. It was so hard seeing him in decline. He couldn’t communicate verbally. He could barely walk. His weight had increased to life-threatening levels.
Some time later I learned that Dad passed away, from his girlfriend. He died December 30, 2009. It had been so many years since I had last seen him. The funeral had already been held. His body had been cremated. His remains were given to me. Being separated from him all those years, it seemed quite surreal to have the remains.
My Mom, who loved him, even after all this time, realized that he loved the water, and would probably love for his ashes to be scattered in a lake. We made a special trip from North Carolina to her vacation home on the lake. Out on the dock, in the flowing water, we sprinkled the ashes. I watched them drift away, slowly, between the shore and the island just a football field away. Tears flowed, as his tears had flowed at his father’s funeral.
Today, Father’s Day, I realize how influential my father was in my life. I am grateful, thankful, and somewhat amazed as I see so many parallels between he and I. Reflecting on these similarities, one could reasonably conclude that many are of “nature” rather than “nurture,” since he was not part of my life except the first ten years. At the same time, one could wonder if my life choices are in some way a quest for acceptance by a father I could not have. I think all children want to be accepted by their father, many times through emulation.
Thankfully in my growing up years, after the divorce, I had Uncle Jack who helped me learn to pitch a baseball, listen to sports radio, watch the evening news, and play cards. I also had Uncle Bob who married Aunt Reva after Uncle Jack died. Uncle Bob was an engineer’s engineer, a professor emeritus from UT, who shared life lessons for many years. He beat me regularly at chess, praising my middle game which of course was useless for actually winning. He showed me how to think about problems, like getting a washer and dryer down a double right angle stairway to his basement. I also had my Big Brother Lawrence, an engineer who retired from Robertshaw, who got me the introduction there for my first real job. Lawrence took me places for recreation, taught me to drive, shared his pontoon boat on the lake, fed me many dinners, and gave me great awareness of right living. These men filled the void left by my father, and in God’s Providence, gave me a new understanding of what it was like to be a man, a husband, a provider, and a father. Without them, I would surely be lost today.
So I’ve had four fathers here on this earth. Not many men are that fortunate. The love of Uncle Jack, Uncle Bob, and Lawrence for a young man not their own for so many years is a testament to God’s grace in their lives. My own father’s influences remain with me as well. I’m happy that I’m his son. I sometimes hope to see him again, and let him know that.
Most of all, on this Father’s Day, I am grateful that I am accepted and loved by my Heavenly Father. He alone fulfills me, redeems me, and carries me along this journey we call life. May I always seek to honor Him.
Some days are purt near perfect. Yesterday was one of those days. After being blessed with what may be the most incredible motorcycle I’ll ever own, I needed to take it out for a spin. What is this machine? A 2013 BMW K1600 GT!
Turns out a friend of mine in our volunteer police unit has a similar machine, so he graciously agreed to wander around the byways of our region of Virginia with me this past Sunday. He’s a great guy, who lives quite near me, and has retired as a successful finance executive. I got to meet his wife, his son, and his new dog over coffee this morning, and we headed out about 1020.
We went out US 6, Patterson Avenue, towards Scottsville, VA. The sun was to our backs, the temperature was a perfect 68 F, and the traffic was light. Patterson turns into River Road, which changes from East to West River Road a few times along the way. What determines east and west, no one knows. At one major intersection, we headed south on 15, through Fork Union, and continued west on 6 towards Scottsville. Right at the eastern border of this little enclave you find yourself diving down back and forth twisties as you enter this small town on the northern bank of the river. Of course, the BMW K1600 GT only asks that you think about where you want to go, and somehow it goes there. At the stop sign, a new K1600 GT rider managed to entertain the throng of Harley-Davidson riders at the patio with a somewhat amateurish launch and left turn, with a foot down for a save. It reminds me of a launch and left turn I experienced in 1980 at Vanderbilt, where a friend and I gave the Kappa Sig fraternity brothers a laugh as we fell over on his Yamaha RD 350 in front of their porch. Thankfully on this day, I made it across the busy intersection and into the Farmer’s Market shed adjacent to Tavern On The James.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Harley-Davidson riders in one place at one time. The weather and the cuisine offered there made a perfect storm of thunderous V-Twin rumbles, as gang after gang rolled in. Men and women riders stumbled across the parking lot, after swinging their kickstands out, most often because of age and some infirmity. Most were grey-haired, grey-bearded, and bespectacled. Even the women. OK, I jest, but only slightly. As the only BMW riders there, we hoped that we would survive without having to fight or flight.
We were greeted by a friendly manager, who wore his gold-rimmed sunglasses pushed up over his dreadlocks. His jeans, with saucy embroidered back pockets, sashayed around the patio as group after group made their way to the restaurant. One group of 12 bikers managed to rearrange all the available tables and chairs, while we hurriedly placed our order before they overwhelmed the kitchen. It was a fabulous lunch. My friend had a perfectly done cheeseburger, while I stuffed a “Dagwood” club into my pie hole. The bacon was perfectly crunchy, within the mayonnaise-laden toasted sourdough trio. Real chicken breast and ham lay alongside fresh tomato slices. The French fries were wide, thick, and perfectly fried. We talked about life, family, and of course bikes. BMW bikes. I felt somewhat conspicuous in my sport bike leather jacket! We tried to avoid criticizing the H-D brand too loudly, given that we were surrounded by no less than 40 bikers. Four were wearing vests with patches, albeit patches announcing they were members of a police motorcycle club, the Blue Knights.
After the leisurely lunch, we headed back out towards the east, on US 6, up the winding road. Once we got to Fork Union, we headed north on US 15, towards Gordonsville. At the US 250 traffic signal, my friend congratulated me on a fine purchase, a fun ride, turned due east and headed home. I continued northward towards Gordonsville, where I wanted to recreate a photo from some years ago. Thankfully, the spot where I parked my beloved Honda Interceptor was still there, and I was able to park the BMW K1600 GT at about the same place. I took a few shots of the new ride, and met an elderly couple out for a walk with their dog. Although they live there, they for some reason took pictures of each other on the bench as if they were tourists.
I looked at the map, and saw I was near Culpeper, VA. My daughter lives there at present, with her husband and her dog. Seemed like a perfect day to ride up there and show her the new bike. After keying in their address in the BMW GPS, I found myself enjoying the quaint small town downtown, and then I was back in the generica of America with Walmart, Autozone, and McDonald’s on the main drag. Soon enough I was riding down their street. But, alas, due to their gravel driveway, I couldn’t visit them at home, and we had to meet for a moment on nearby Bradford Road. It was nice to see her again, if only for a few minutes, and I think I impressed her with my new scoot.
I headed back east towards US 29 south, and easily accelerated up to highway speed in about ten feet with the incredible 160 hp of the 1.6L engine. One exit to the south, and I hooked up with US 522 South, through Mineral, and on to US 64. There, on I-64, I zoomed along with the ancient Ford Rangers and new Mercedes sedans, until US 288 took me to Broad, Lauderdale, and home.
So, I rode 224 miles in one day. I’ve never piloted that far in one day. It was impossible, with my sport bike, just due to the riding position and the pain that follows hours in the saddle. I still had plenty of fuel in the 6.4 gallon tank. The entire experience filled me with astonishment. No matter what the situation demanded, the motorcycle easily fulfilled. At speed, the curves of the byways were carved by Teutonic precision. I think I get extra credit if I use that word with BMW, by the way. Maybe they will send me a free BMW Motorrad hat. But, without question, this motorcycle is simply amazing. Slight countersteering pressure on the grips leans the bike over with no hesitation, and at whatever speed you want to go around the curve, you go. The adjustable height windscreen moves up and down at the touch of a button, to set the protection bubble at your present speed. The GPS in the instrument panel gives you confidence in your course, and the suspension adjustments add comfort or handling prowess. All are readily adjustable, by a few button presses and twirls of the wonder wheel control on the left grip. I even got to listen to bluegrass music from the onboard stereo. The seating position is neutral, and actually promotes good posture. My arms don’t hurt from leaning forward (like on the sport bike), and my 198 pounds are suspended between compliant dampers and Michelin Road GT tires. About the only thing that is challenging, now, is dealing with the 679 pounds of engineered aluminum, plastic and steel at very low speeds. But, I can do it. I just have to think about my parking lot positions, my clutch and throttle coordination, and my entrances from a parking lot onto a roadway. It’s different than a 472 pound sportbike, but not impossible for this 58-year young adventurer.
So, the sun is setting, the pinot noir is relaxing, and the machine is settled in the garage, waiting for the next sojourn. Where and when? Who knows. But, this gentleman will no doubt dream dreams of journeys far away, with the wind gently wafting over his Arai helmet while the cares of today fade behind him.
As an elementary school student, I looked up to the older students who served as “safety patrol.” There on the sidewalk of Shannondale Elementary Bryan and his brother T.J. directed students away from the danger of parents driving around the parking lot, while wearing an orange belt with a shoulder strap diagonally across their chest emblazoned with a silver badge. During the day patrol members wore their belts neatly rolled up, dangling from their waists. I was privileged to join the patrol later, and learned the proper way to roll up the belt so that the badge was protected in the roll. That badge meant a lot to me. Wearing a badge then led to Bryan and T.J. wearing real badges later, as long-serving members of the Knoxville Tennessee Police.
At Vanderbilt University, I needed a little spending money, and most of my friends were employed by the university security department. I joined up, and served about three years. Instead of an orange belt and strap, I was given a full uniform to wear. I proudly donned the grey pants, sky blue shirt with dark blue epaulets, and pinned on badge number 14 through the special grommets in the shirt. The uniform belt was broad, black, and capable of supporting a five-D-Cell flashlight, oak nightstick, and two large rings of keys for various campus buildings.
When I joined a large electronics retailer headquartered in Richmond, VA, I had to visit the county police headquarters to fill out some paperwork. There I saw a brochure about a volunteer program. I couldn’t believe that a real police department would have a unit of volunteers, and applied for membership that day. Soon enough a background check was initiated, and in time, a six-week training academy began. After the chief swore our class in, I was given a full uniform complement. The trousers and shirt were dark blue, woven of what felt like iron, and the shoulder patches announced that I was part of the county police. A matching ball cap detailed my role as motorist assistance. The black leather belt circled my waist, carrying a flashlight in a ring, a pouch for medical gloves, a stainless steel multi-tool, and the all-important police radio. Listening to the radio on duty, I heard dozens of calls for service for citizens in trouble, and for citizens who caused trouble.
Being associated with law enforcement, I often find myself watching TV programs that portray the realities of life on the road. Today a popular show is called “Live PD,” which illustrates what happens by recording multiple police departments hard at work and bouncing the viewers through all the exciting moments. Most often, I am left shaking my head as the “bad guys” are rounded up, time and time again. It seems that every car with a broken taillight that made an improper lane change could be the stop of an officer’s career.
In an episode from March 6, 2020 one such stop resulted in the arrest of three felons who had four handguns, drug smoking pipes, and a large quantity of poor quality methamphetamine. Obviously being a felon and incarcerated for some time did nothing to prevent future drug abuse and crime. Other segments highlighted mental instability, the abuse of women, vigilante justice, and ongoing drug abuse.
During the show, I found myself wanting to end all this crime by changing the way those arrested were processed and punished. As handcuffs are applied, it is obvious that people do not fear or respect authority. And, since most people on the show are repeat offenders, with outstanding warrants, it is also clear that incarceration does not change the individual. In my work with the county police, at road checks for driver sobriety, I see myself how many citizens are in some way misbehaving and a potential danger to the community.
How do we end substance abuse? How do we eliminate the danger from weapons used in crimes? How do we restore respect for marriage and all it means? How do we bring emotional stability to those who cry out in pain?
It may be best that we look at the particular crimes we see in each episode not as charges that would be filed against a statute, but as evidence that each individual is in need of God’s transforming power. God offers that to us, if we can accept His grace.
For people who abuse alcohol and drugs, we find in the Bible this admonition in Ephesians 5:18:
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For people who take the possessions of others, through force and intimidation, we see in the Bible these words in Leviticus 19:11:
“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”
For people who abuse the marriage relationship, we observe these principles in Proverbs 6:20-29:
“My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life, keeping you from your neighbor’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.”
For people whose mind is emotionally troubled, we find common threads in Bible heroes like David, who wrote these intense words in Psalm 38:5-10:
“My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.”
It seems clear that people who are able to draw close to God have a chance of living in hope. In this life, no one is without sin, yet those who trust in God find ways of restoration through His grace. Life remains challenging, at times searingly painful, yet in that pain those who trust in God are anchored by His love.
So while the police valiantly and courageously interact with people who need God’s love, can we serve alongside them, wearing a uniform and belt? In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in verses 6:13-19, we read:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Wearing the belt of truth, we can stand ready against the forces of evil, and like Paul, ask to be fearless:
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
Only God’s gospel can break the power of the evil we see in our world. Let us be fearless as we share His good news with anyone in need.
Today, Lord, we ask that You be ever more present for those facing the unknowns of this Covid-19 virus. For those who have the illness, for those who are caring for someone with the illness, for those who must work regardless of the virus, and for the many who remain isolated because of the virus, we pray.
We remember in Your Word “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuternomy 31:6)
We also know that You are our Healer, as You showed many times “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:2-3)
We know that when we don’t know what to do, You will show us the way. “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16).
Today and every day, until this terrible pandemic ends, we call on You in faith, expressing our pain, our fear, our sorrow, and our hope. Be with us now. We pray in Christ Jesus’s name. Amen.
I have never experienced the emotions like I have these past six weeks. I’ve resigned myself to being locked in my home like a prisoner. I’ve cried over the losses the world experiences. I’ve run the streets in anger, pounding the pavement with all the force and duration I can muster. I’ve smiled through the pain of not knowing when this will all end. I’ve raged at the loss of fundamental liberties. I’m sure you share these and other feelings.
As we struggle through what may be the strangest time in our lives, I am reminded of foundational verses we read in God’s Word, in Colossians 2:6-7
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
I learned these verses many years ago, in a discipleship study created by The Navigators called “The 2:7 Series.” My church singles group pastor, who studied under the founder of the Navigators, encouraged all of us to participate. It was a two-year small group study, requiring a strong commitment to completion. I had never been in a study quite like it, and remember the weekly meetings and going through the six workbooks and dozens of memory verses even today.
Today as I woke up from a peaceful sleep, I asked God to give me words to encourage others in our unusual and unsettling times. In this moment, Psalm 119:9-11 were the first words that I recalled. For whatever reason, I found myself climbing the attic stairs as quietly as possible while my wife slumbered, and retrieving my 2:7 workbooks from a bin marked “Chip’s Ancient Books.” There, I found in Course 6 “The Hand Illustration,” which had come to mind along with the verses in Psalm 119.
The hand illustration was meaningful to me. It describes a journey to greater and greater dependence on God, leading to a powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the illustration, each finger is associated with one of five disciplines. Looking at each finger, we see how each of the five activities has the strength of that finger, and from little finger to thumb the activities have more and more impact on us.
The five disciplines are based in God’s Word:
Hear [Romans 10:17]
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Read [Revelation 1:3]
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Study [Acts 17:11]
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Memorize [Psalm 119:9-11]
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Meditate [Psalm 1:2-3]
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers
No matter what, God is with us. God alone can carry us through this. God wants us to rely only on Him, in His providence and in His love. The principles of this hand illustration give us steps we can take to bring us greater and greater spiritual peace, even now. Let’s challenge ourselves to hold on to God’s Word in new ways, trusting Him in everything.
A few months ago we learned of an associate who unexpectedly experienced a heart attack over the weekend. Only a week ago a colleague’s new truck was robbed after a window was smashed. As conversations about suffering often go, we learn of even more pain among our family and friends. With the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering and death have become daily intrusions into everyone’s lives. These incredibly difficult experiences bring questions to mind that we have all heard, and many of us have asked ourselves. The questions usually begin with “Why…?” The questions naturally fit into two broad categories…
Why does God allow suffering?
Why does God allow evil?
When we try to answer these questions, we are left in an uncomfortable position. We end up, usually, with a disconnect. When we experience suffering, we doubt that God is merciful. When a horribly evil act is seen by everyone, we wonder if God is really in control and truly powerful. We find ourselves trying to answer these questions and most often failing. Here, in our failure, it seems that we can only move forward if we question the question.
The words of our question are important. Sometimes we use words we know make sense, but fail to realize what the words communicate. Looking at the three words found in our questions we see…
Why — the word suggests that we are unaware of a cause that truly exists
God — the appellation describes an omnipotent being of infinite capability
Allow — the verb describes a permissive decision by one in authority
The nature of our questions reveals two foundations. First, we express that we do believe in a supreme Being, who holds ultimate power in all things. Secondly, we identify that there is an ideal that is not achieved.
What about the structure of our questions? People who study language as well as people who program computers often find the structure to be vital to good communication. If we use logic words in our language, our questions would look something like this
IF God is all powerful yet suffering is not desirable THEN God allows suffering
IF God is all powerful yet evil exists THEN God allows evil
The Bible gives us the truth, as only the Bible can. We can ask “Is God all powerful?” and see clearly that God is. In Romans 1:20 we read
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Likewise we can inquire if suffering is likely. In Job 30:27 we find
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.
We can wonder “does evil truly exist?” Genesis 6:5 offers this evidence
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
In our questions, we reach that point where the conditional “IF” statements lead us to “THEN” results that can shatter our beliefs about God. Naturally, we struggle with what appears to be an inescapable conclusion. Most often, we find ourselves either choosing to ignore the inquiry or stating that it is an inexplainable mystery. In truth, we can explore what troubles us simply by adding one key logic word to our concerns…
IF God is all powerful yet suffering is not desirable THEN God allows suffering AND …
If God is all powerful yet evil exists THEN God allows evil AND …
AND is a small but powerful logic “operator.” In computer programming, AND allows us to move beyond conclusions based only on the IF-THEN statements. Let’s again look at the words of God in the Bible that might follow the word AND…
IF God is all powerful yet suffering is not desirable THEN God allows suffering ANDin our suffering, God both identifies with us, and restores us.
Christ Jesus, while on earth, experienced everything we do. His life of trouble was predicted in Isaiah 53:3
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
God promises to hear us in our suffering. Psalm 22:24 tells us of our God who listens to us
For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
As we suffer, God offers comfort and a vision for our future. In Psalm 119:50 we read
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
If God is all powerful yet evil exists THEN God allows evil ANDin a world of evil, God strengthens and preserves us.
Evil remains here, for a time, but as believers in Christ, we find God there with us. Psalm 41:2 offers us solace with this thought
The Lord protects and preserves them — they are counted among the blessed in the land —
In 1 John 5:18-19 we are encouraged with
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
For anyone who has suffered, for anyone who sees evil face to face, the question “WHY, God?” no doubt will come out with groans and screams of pain. Your pain is real. No one can truly know your pain. AND, God is with you in your pain. The Bible promises that in our suffering and amongst all the evil in the world, God is with us. In Romans 8:31 through 39, the Bible offers us hope
What then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In all our circumstances, in all our troubles, in all our pain, when we question “IF God…,” let us remember to add “, … AND God.”