Today In Former Years
This section of my website traces a day, or related set of days, from my diary over a span of years. Each change to a different year is marked by a yellow highlight. -- jwc
Excerpts From John Cowart’s Journals:
November 2nd, 1991 to 2002
John W. Cowart
Saturday, November 2, 1991:
This morning I drove Eve to Upward Bound and picked up Donald at JU. Donald and I ate breakfast at Burger King then drove to Regency Square. I wanted to go alone, but since this is the only day I think I can get away without Ginny, I had to take him with me. And it's a good thing I did; he was fun company and a great help in my shopping.
I wanted to buy a diamond to give Ginny for our anniversary next week but I had no clear idea how to go about it. The last time I walked into a jewelry store was to get her engagement ring 23 years ago.
Anyhow, Donald and I looked at a couple of places and chose a tiny-tiny 1/6th carat diamond on a gold chain. Now, Ginny needs a diamond like a ... whatever ridiculous analogy you can imagine, but I wanted to give her something special that is not for the house, or of necessity, but purely for herself and she deserves more than just a costume piece. For anniversary last year or the year before, I had nothing to give her but dinner at Famous Amos, the cheapest sit-down restaurant in town.
Anyhow, today I spent $160 on a little single diamond on a chain. I could have gone a little cheaper (or a WHOLE LOT more) but this felt not too extravagant and not too stingy. Donald was tickled to death!
Next at a novelty shop I bought him a $20 watch which pleased him. Then we walked down to a tuxedo rental shop where I bought a tee-shirt on which is imprinted the outline of a bow-tie and tuxedo.
I haven’t seen one of these since the 60s.
Of course, Donald has no idea of why I wanted such an odd thing. Truth is, that is my idea of lingerie for next weekend…
Here's a funny thing. Later in the day, Gin took Eve and Pat to shop at a thrift store to spend their allowances, and she bought a business suit for herself-- as well as a flaming red harem-girl outfit of see-through lace… She took it from the bag and held it up saying it is for our trip...
Tickled me to death.
While I was out shopping to please her, she was out shopping to please me... Donald saw the transaction between us and seemed pleased at his old parents' foolishness. Dear God, give him and the girls such happy marriages.
While the girls were out, Donald and I vacuumed down thick patches of spider web around the jalousie windows in the tv room and washed the windows. A nasty, rugged job. I was happy he came home this weekend especially to help me get it done.
Monday, November 2, 1992:
Ginny & I got the girls off to school this morning and then retired to our own bed for a relaxed loving time together.
She, off to school; me back to work on Glog (a novel I was writing).
Thank God the long weekend is over. Today the airplane will attack Glog and drive him from the island back into the bay.
Worked on Glog for a few hours but still didn't get him off the island before rain started and I had to shut down the computer because of lightening strikes -- which could wipe out all my work.
Read Peter Benchley's JAWS. Glog could gobble that sucker down.
After supper, I watched a lot of tv political stuff. I switched between channels gathering information about how to vote tomorrow; I've read Wall Street Journal and Times-Union campaign coverage as well as a few Time and Newsweek articles... the more I learn about the views and practices of the candidates, the less sure of how I will vote.
About 12 different state and local offices are up for grabs as well as the presidential; there are also ten or twelve referendum questions on the ballot.
Ginny attended class today and took one test but she did not have the spirit to give a report to her controllership class and so will loose a few points on that grade.
I have felt sick all afternoon and I've been irritable and prickly all evening snapping at Gin, the girls and the dog.
Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, 1992:
I saw a wonderful thing this morning.
Gin & I spent an hour or two going over the sample ballot to determine how we were going to vote on all the different people and issues confronting us.
Using all the information we've gathered from tv news coverage, newspapers, magazines, mailings, conversations, our knowledge of political records, and our prayers, we decided on certain votes. On some things we both vote the same; on other decisions, we vote differently. Then even with all the information gathering we've done, the ballot offered us some names and offices we'd never even heard of before! For instance, apparently there is an office called Soil/Water Conservation Officer; four guys are running for two openings. What is it? Who are they? We exercised the right of all intelligent voters: we voted for the two guys whose last names began with C -- the same letter as ours.
Anyhow, when we arrived at the poles, the place was packed!
First time we've ever seen more than a handful of voters there.
Today there were lines of people.
The sight brought tears to my eyes.
We waited in line about 30 minutes to vote and while we were there we saw election officials instruct eight first-time voters in how to cast a ballot. One of these was a young mother, 18-20 years old, with a babe in arms; another was an old lady, in her eighties, hobbling on an aluminum walker. How wonderful!
I felt so proud to be an American.
The line of voters included business men in suits and construction workers in sweaty tank-tops; fat broads and sexy babes; old guys and teenagers...
And we talked while waiting in line... we talked about how good it was to stand there waiting to chose a leader... no specific names mentioned by anyone.. but all thrilled with the privilege of being able to vote.
Jennifer and Mike say it was the same at the poles where they vote in Baymeadows.
Donald says it was the same story at the Arlington Poles: he arrived at 6:30 a.m. to vote early and there was already a line of people waiting for the poles to open.
Tv news says Clinton won. Over 100 million Americans, 82% of the population, turned out to vote today.
Tv also says that Duval County had a 98 per cent turn out of all registered voters! That's the highest turnout in history! Usually a minority of voters show up at the poles -- sometimes it's been as low as 28 %.
I attribute this surge of interest in America to Ross Perot's giving us the feeling that we have a voice that counts.
I voted for Perot; even though I think he will do me the worse damage of the candidates, I also think he may be best for the country as a whole.
Monday, November 1, 1993:
Slugged around all day.
Another wasted day in a wasted life.
Tuesday, November 2, 1993:
Wednesday, November 3, 1993:
Gin & I took Mike out to lunch at Blue Boys. Then we drove over to an Ortega park to watch fishermen lure mullet to the un-baited hooks with chum tossed out onto the water. A very interesting way to fish.
The three big things in the news recently are: Senator Packwood's diary, the California fires and teen crime.
Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon has been charged with screwing a bunch of whores and bimbos who decided -- years later -- that they were sexually harassed, or not paid enough – whatever.
Proof of this alleged misconduct may perhaps be found in the senator's private diaries in which several thousand pages cover the past ten or fifteen years. The investigators want to read the diaries -- which no one, even Packwood's wife or children, has ever read -- in order to see if the senator has violated any laws. Packwood contends that his journals are private papers, not documents related to his government job, therefore no outsider has any right to see them.
Besides, to give them over would violate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. And beyond that, he says the diaries record not only his own sexual exploits but the adventures of other senators whose behavior would be revealed if the papers are made public.
Of course, people (too lazy to keep a journal themselves) demand to see the Senator's. Anyone who actually keeps a personal journal -- such as my own -- feels that the private, personal record of a person's life is the property of that person and that no one else has any business reading it without permission.
In my own case, this record is for my own spiritual development. Ginny is free to read it at anytime. My children are free to read it after both Ginny and I have died; then they are free to decide whether or not people in the future might be helped by it.
Or, of course, all these pages may end up in the garbage can.
I doubt that my journal is of any historical significance because I am a nobody; but it may help somebody in a future generation who is struggling to be a Christian also.
Good luck, future guy; Hope you make it…
November, Summary, 1995
Right before Easter last year, our fortunes sank so low that I took a job as night janitor at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church where we have been members for about 20 years. My duties consisted of cleaning toilets, moping floors and setting up for meetings.
While Jim Dannals, our rector, was away in England for four months on sabbatical leave, he asked me, the church janitor, to teach his Bible class.
We studied the Gospel of Luke. One of the things I discovered in scrounging around for visual aids for teaching this class was that out of 25 stained glass windows in our sanctuary, 16 of them portray scenes recorded in Luke. I took our class on a tour of our own church one Sunday morning and presented the entire Gospel from the angels appearing to the shepherds to the Resurrection using quotes from Luke and scenes from Good Shepherd’s windows.
Another high point of my time of janitoring happened one night during a violent rain storm. Good Shepherd's AIDS support group was scheduled to meet but at the last minute the leaders had canceled the meeting because of the storm. Six people with AIDS showed up at the church. They knew the support group normally met there but since none of them had ever attended, they did not know about the cancellation. Betty Crowel, the parish nurse, and I called all over trying to locate a leader and finally I contacted an associate priest who said to sent the people home and tell them to come back in two weeks!!!
By this time the group had grown to about 30 people.
Betty and I felt that if the need was compelling enough for these people to come out in the storm, they ought to be given something. So the two of us, who had neither one ever been to an AIDS meeting, led this group of dying people. I presented a gospel message from Luke and Betty facilitated the discussion.
One of the persons in the meeting was Dolorous, a gorgeous young woman who attracted my attention. The group was so taken with what we were doing that they lingered for close to four hours before they left for home.
The following Sunday, two people from the AIDS group attended my regular Sunday School class on Luke. After class a young man identified himself as Dolorous, the young woman from the AIDS group!
At a loss, I said, “Well, you’re the first transvestite I’ve ever had in my Bible class”.
He replied, “John, you mean that I’m the first one you know about”!
He got me there.
Within two weeks, two people who attended the impromptu AIDS group meeting that night were dead; one of AIDS; the other, a suicide.
By and large, the highpoint of being janitor at Good Shepherd lay in two areas: virtually every night I used the huge wooden floor of the fellowship hall to practice aikido, and virtually every night, I used my pass key to open the church pool and swim alone in the dark.
The main difficulty was living with a foot in two divergent worlds:
I was at church as a servant there to clean toilets, at the same time I served as a church leader, vestryman and teacher of the adult Bible class whose members included several physicians, bankers, attorneys, architects, and other professional people. Keeping my balance between these roles proved harder than I thought it would.
Incidentally, my pay as janitor was $4.25 an hour, the minimum legal wage.
During this time, Jennifer continues her up and down stormy relationship with Pat. Donald married Pandora Fuller in August; both of them now work at America On Line, a computer company. He says he plans to finish at JU and go on to graduate school. Eve again spent the summer at that camp in the Pocono Mountains. Patricia again went to summer school for failing algebra and she continues at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Ginny has not found a full time job yet and continues to work part time as a secretary.
Because of Donald's marriage, HUD decided that our family is now too small to qualify for the house we have lived in for the past ten years. HUD requires that we move to a two bedroom place.
At the urging of our pastor, and with the help of several anonymous church members, a county down-payment assistance program and the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society, Ginny and I are attempting to buy a home closer to church. We looked at 46 places before signing a contract on a place on Ernest Street about 15 blocks from church. We await the bank's approval of our mortgage loan application.
About ten weeks ago, the pastor asked me to serve on a team of Good Shepherd members to care for Sam, a stroke victim who appeared to be dying.
Sam and I have a long-term acquaintanceship; we’d talk about movies and such when we chanced to meet.
I had visited Sam a few times in the hospital while he was mostly comatose and I assumed this was to be a volunteer effort similar to what Good Shepherd members did with the AIDS patient on Mallory Street; but the work with Sam proved so labor intensive that his trust fund is now paying me $7 an hour as one of his caregivers.
Labor intensive hardly describes it!
Sam, whom I have known both at church and at Presbyterian House for many years, was injured in a childhood accident suffering brain damage. Even at his best, his right arm and leg are practically useless although he can limp along to get around. His parents set up a trust fund which has supported him close to 50 years; they appointed the pastor of Good Shepherd as his medical guardian.
I’m told that Sam drank although I saw no sign of it all the years I've known him.
I’m told that drink conquered him. He went to an alcohol treatment hospital in Minnesota. There he suffered a couple of massive strokes which caused even more brain damage.
The strokes affected his thinking and his physical abilities.
For a long time it appeared that he would die within days, but with intensive treatment of a huge team of people, including me, he is now in his childhood home again where I tend him daily. This includes lifting him from bed to wheelchair, administering medicines, setting up his feeding tubes (he is unable to swallow and receives nourishment thru a tube in his stomach), changing his diapers, trying to teach him living skills such as combing his hair, listening to his talk which makes sense about 50 % of the time, etc.
The hardest part of the job is trying to keep him from ripping out the feeding tubes and catheter; he picks at them constantly. I try distracting him with other hand activities, giving him hand exercises; I also try to stabilize the tube where he can't get to them; and as a last resort, restrain his good hand by using a sock as a sort of mitten.
It's an all day -- 9 hour -- job. Except for last pay period when because of the Thanksgiving holiday and because of a trip, James Baker, who lives in Sam's house, had to take I worked 114 hours.
In my spare time I'm supposed to be a writer.
Oh yes, the church has given me a second floor office for writing. It was a store room, without heat or air conditioning, which had not been used by anybody for much of anything for many many years till I cleaned it out removing 12 garbage cans full of old newspapers (latest date 1991), lunch bag, carpet samples, hundreds of tin cans (God only knows why they were there), a bag of rocks (yes, rocks) and much plain old garbage. Now that you can see the floor, the Episcopal Church Women express a desire to reclaim the room for their meetings but sadly -- Ha -- most of the ladies are too old to climb the stairs up to the office so they have to meet in Crain Lounge on the ground floor….
I guess that's about it for bringing this journal up to date. What a life. Jesus loves me. I guess.
Monday, November 2, 1998:
Read. Straightened house a little.
This afternoon's mail brought a check for $70.05 from the Curtis Bruce Literary Agency, my royalties from the IVP book on prayer; and a copy of e-mail from IVP in which the pastor of San Raymon Presbyterian Church (San Raymon is up near San Francisco, California) invites me to "do something on prayer" at his church. Both letters were unexpected.
I know what we will do with the one; I'm not sure about the other.
Is this invitation an opportunity to spread the Gospel and the fame of John W. Cowart, teacher extraordinary, to the far reaches of the earth? Or has satan sent me another really good excuse to do something instead of writing?
Tuesday, November 3, 1998:
Spent the morning making phone calls to get our room in Savannah. On the 11th & 12th Gin and I will stay at the Bread & Breakfast Inn using a Riverview Romance package which includes luxury accommodations in a suite overlooking the river, flowers for Ginny, a fruit basket, champagne, and a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city -- all for just $20 more than we pay a month on our home!
But I suspect it is going to be worth it. For the 13th &14th we will pick a cheaper motel while in the city.
I am not a telephone person.
The guy from San Raymon presumed that I should contact him via e-mail but my wood-burning computer does not have that capacity. He did not give a phone number. So I called long distance information which is 555-1212. Then the phone book says you have to dial the area code first, that's 912, for San Francisco. And I thought information was supposed to be a free call, an 800 number, so I dialed 1-800-555-1212 -- turns out to be a porno phone sex line! A sultry female voice came on telling me how glad she was that I called to fuck with her. I hung up the phone immediately as soon as I realized what I connected with and dialed 0 to get an operator. She said I'd have to call AT&T to get the charge removed from my bill and explained that the local information number can give no phone numbers in California. Anyhow, I finally got the church and spoke to an answering machine. I left my number. If there's anymore calling to be done, the pastor can do it. I hate telephones.
Sunday I saw an ad in the paper for a place selling a Christmas pattern of Johnson Brothers' china. I called asking if they also carried the Friendly Village pattern and THANKS BE TO GOD they do!!!
And it's on sale!!!!
On our honeymoon/working trip in 1969, Ginny and I bought a complete set of these dishes, a service for eight with all the accessories, in Canada.
She loved that china.
Over the years of children and tribulation her set of china has been reduced to three plates, one cup and a platter. Ginny has searched for these dishes, even trying to order them from out-of-state, without success. She combs the estate sales and thrift store for even a single saucer.
I could not resist.
I called Barbara White to drive me out to the store, Wackamas in Mandarin, and I bought two each of soup bowls, cake plates and small dinner plates. Barbara bought us two coffee mugs. Actually, I would have bought a matched set but Barbara took charge urging me to buy these as a better value. Ginny will be so surprised and pleased.... I hope.
Today is election day so I met Ginny after work and we walked to the pole to vote. We were so pleased at the lines of people who showed up. Old and young, mothers dragging toddlers, fathers showing daughters how the voting booths work -- all this gave me goose bumps. I feel so proud to be an American and see democracy in action.
Apparently the Clinton vs the evil Republicans conflict brought people out in unexpected numbers and, last I saw on the news, Democrats gained five seats in the House -- Republican spokesmen were back-peddling about that impeachment thing already. But some say they plan to ignore the voice of the people and press ahead….
Wednesday, November 1, 2000:
Called library to renew books due; we are too busy to take them back today.
Moved furniture around in our house to make room for stuff from church office (which I’d had to give up). Before I can move anything, I have to move something else first and on and on and on.
There ain't no room here to make room.
In preparation for the Jacksonville Billy Graham Crusade I went to church to check the van for gas and parking permits which I'd made arrangements to get a month ago. (To see why I was driving the van, please see my article Confessions of a Crusade Reject ).
Since Barbara came by for lunch, I had her drive me on a dry run around the stadium to see which roads to take and where our reserved parking area is located. All checks out OK.
This afternoon a little girl I’ve never seen before, about 8-years-old, knocked on our door asking if I had any left over Halloween candy. I had nothing left but I asked her if she were hungry. She was and I gave her an apple which she munched as she walked away.
Exhausted, Gin & I watched West Wing.
Thursday, November 2, 2000:
Moved more stuff closing down my office at church, found it didn't fit where I'd moved it to and so I moved it back. He that increases goods, increases trouble.
Now, in preparation for the Billy Graham Crusade, knowing that the van needed to leave church by 5:30 each evening in order to make the 7 p.m. start of the meetings, Gin & I planned our menu long in advance. We planned for a sandwich alone in the church courtyard then a bowl of soup after the meeting.
I was cutting up vegetables for the soup early this morning when June called asking what we planned to do for super. I said I was making tomato sandwiches to eat at church before we left. "O wonderful," she said, "I love tomato sandwiches". June assumed that I was making sandwiches for everyone going. "But that's awful light," she said, "What about after the meeting?..."
Anyhow, on the spur of the moment, I ended up preparing sandwiches for before, and soup for after, for ten people, a surprise dinner party.
A surprise to me at least!
I arrived at church early to make coffee and check everything out. The parking permits were missing... chased them down. Somehow, instead of their being in the van or in the church office or in my mailbox, they were on top of the dishwasher in the church kitchen. Anyhow, I found them.
I listened to a long litany of excuses from people around church who just could not find time to go to the crusade for some reason or the other.
Gin was not on her usual bus, or the one after that. or the one after that. People began to arrive for the van ride. I wondered if I should assume that Gin had gone home and I should drive without her or if I should give my van key to one of the old ladies and let her drive while I waited for Gin or what...
Not only that, but my hip began hurting big time; the worst flare up of arthritis I've experienced so far. I hurt worst than ever. The pain and ache reached from my right femur all the way to my left clavicle!
When Gin arrived (having had to work late) and the eight ladies who'd signed up for the van ride got there, I found that I could not eat my own sandwiches because I was so self conscious about my missing teeth (I always avoid ever eating in public). But the women dug into the sandwiches.
Then we drove.
Zipped down to Interstate Ten, Up 95 to Union Street exactly as I'd done in the dry run yesterday. Took the stadium exit...
And came to a dead stop.
No traffic moved anywhere.
Solid, bumper to bumper cars turned Jacksonville into a parking lot. Total gridlock for an hour and ten minutes... with eight ladies telling me to change lanes (the cars parked beside me didn't matter), that we were going to be late, that I should call the mayor on a cell phone, etc. etc.
And my arthritis causing pain worse than ever before.
One "lady" who appears to be Somebody In Society had been to a reception with Mayor Delaney the night before on the occasion of Jacksonville's Super Bowl bid being accepted. She is a Person unaccustomed to having her will thwarted. We were stopped on the Union Street exit on a hill raised high above streets lower down. A state policeman was 30 or 40 feet down this embankment trying to direct buses but with nowhere for them to move. This dear lady saint got out of our van and began yelling insults down at this poor cop demanding to know his badge number and threatening to report him to the mayor if he did not clear traffic out of our way!
I prayed that the people in surrounding cars would think that she was a Baptist from the other church vans and busses stuck around us!
A frustrated guy from one van in front of us got out and walked back asking about the cause of the delay. He speculated that witches and atheists who opposed the crusade had driven up on the expressway, blocked the traffic lanes, got out of their cars and locked them just to keep people from getting to the crusade. Pure speculation; he knew no more about the traffic situation than I did.
I reminded him and the ladies in our van of the scripture which says, "Be still, and know that I am God".
Now, none of the foregoing hassles were unexpected. I had anticipated that the prince of this world would not be crazy about the crusade and would attempt to frustrate people's attendance. I have seen this sort of thing before in God's work. So I felt a calm peace in the midst of complaining ladies, frustrated drivers and honking horns. My own worst trouble was the pain in my hip, chest, arms and shoulders (that was bad, real bad). But I also felt content.
Eventually the traffic began to inch forward bit by bit. We finally got to the entrance to our reserved parking.... to find it blocked. The cop directing traffic turned us away saying the lot had been full for two hours even though I'd paid for our space a month in advance.
Eventually I found a parking spot (for $5) about six blocks from the stadium. The service had already started since we were about 30 minutes late. I hobbled on my cane as fast as I could to keep up with the old ladies who ran toward the entrance gate. June was so winded by the time she got there, the Crusade attendants had to put her in a wheelchair and roll her inside to the handicapped seating on the ground floor.
Immediately, when I walked inside Gate Three, a great sense of release and peace settled on me. I felt a sure knowledge that my job was done; I had got my little flock safe inside. I imagine my feeling was the same as a cowboy's when he finally herds the last cow into the coral; I did it. I got them here. I've done my job. My part in this is over.
Gin & I relaxed on a walkway smoking and praying and talking about the view of the lights on the river bridges and the boats cruising by. Then we strolled hand in hand to an upper deck where we could be far away from other people and look down at the 42,000 worshipers gathered to hear the prophet's message. We felt proud to have played a tiny part in the coming of this moment.
Dr. Graham spoke on the passage where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to..." and Graham enumerated reasons why Jesus had come to earth. Thousands of people responded to the invitation to receive Christ as savior and live for Him without reservation.
Afterwards I choked and panicked as people surging from the stadium brushed against me (makes my skin crawl!!!!!) but I made it out alive and relocated our ladies and drove them home in spite of their directions. We brought them to our house and fed them soup and, when they finally left, I ate some soup and collapsed in bed after midnight.
It was all worth the trouble.
Thursday, November 1, 2001:
Up at 4:30 and fooled around till Ginny woke at six. We rode the bus together to Five Points where I left her, withdrew some cash from the bank, and walked home.
I caught up some household chores, read a little, napped a little, then attempted to work on the will of God book. I wonder if it's God will that this book ever be written???
A new hurricane, Michele, has formed below the gulf. O but I hope it does not spoil our anniversary vacation; I look forward to this time with Ginny so much. We have scrimped and saved and plotted and planned and dreamed and anticipated this so much. I'll be heartbroken if we have to forgo it. We made reservations and paid our deposit on the cabin months ago. We've already paid for our boat tickets to Cumberland Island. I want this so badly I'm afraid of loosing it simply because I want it so much...
Does God snatch away things just because we want them?
Sometimes it sure looks like that.
Faith says that when His plans override ours it is for the best. Sure. I can believe that in inverse proportion to how much I desire a given thing. I'm willing to have my plans interrupted by God or anyone else only when I'm not too keen on what I have planned anyway. But when it's something I really want, then I resent being thwarted by anyone. Even God the Father Almighty.
My idea of best and His idea of best are not necessarily the same.
Of course, this thought process reveals how utterly self-centered my view of the universe is. Do I really think God causes wind to swirl off the coast of South America devastating Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rico, and a bunch of other banana republics, then strengthen into a hurricane sweeping along the entire length of Florida wreaking havoc from the Keys north into Georgia -- all just to ruin the vacation I have planned?
What kind of God do I believe in anyhow?
What kind of me do I believe in?
I'm sure my vacation plans are one of the billions of factors God takes into consideration, but to sulk thinking that the whole show runs on my behalf is the height of egocentricity. Sometimes I wonder if I'm even a Christian at all.
Speaking of plans, and lives, being disrupted:
The tv news says that yesterday everyone in Clay County received a recorded telephone message alerting them that anthrax spores had been found in the local post office and all mail was to be sealed in plastic bags and taken outside homes immediately!!!
Scared the crap out of everyone in Clay.
Turns out that the Clay County Sheriff's Department was testing an anthrax alert system which would automatically call if the germs really were discovered. Unfortunately in testing the equipment somebody pushed the wrong button and actually sent out the message to all telephone subscribers.
Thrill of the day.
Friday, November 2, 2001:
I walked over to St. Vincent's Hospital to visit Bubba only to find that he'd been released yesterday.
After that futile errand, I cleaned house and washed clothes preparing for the weekend trip to Gainesville.
Gin & I met at Kosta's for our Friday date.
Donald called this evening asking if I would teach his Bible class at Gainesville's First United Methodist Church. He wants me to teach Matthew 5:1-16, the Beatitudes...
When I was little, before I could ever read myself, I recall my father's reading Tom Sawyer to me... the place were poor Tom has to memorize the Beatitudes for Aunt Polly's Sunday School Class. I remember squirming in identification with Tom's agony over these verses...
Even though I have taught the Gospel of Matthew several times before, tonight was the first time I have even thought about Tom Sawyer in at least 25 years. I have never read the book myself.
Anyhow, I had the distinct impression that I am to use that passage in teaching Donald's class. I searched our shelves and, of course, we do not have a copy. I'll go by the library on our way out of town tomorrow.
I spent much of the evening reading the Beatitudes and looking up the meaning of various words in my dictionary. I decided that on such extremely short notice and to a class unfamiliar with my normal teaching methods, I would not dig out any visuals to illustrate the lesson. This makes me extremely nervous and uneasy.
Started this day earlier than usual. Gave Pat & Jennifer at wakeup call at 6 a.m. so they could pick up Ginny at 7 because Pat had to be back in Riverside at 8… But the girls did not arrive till 7:30. They drove Ginny out Beach Blvd to pick up our car from the garage.
By the time Ginny left, the phone was already ringing. Miriam needing a trash pickup before we can have picnic at her house. Then Warren. Then Dennis. Then Mike Robinson setting tree delivery. Then John Shellhorn to arrange trash pickup.
Met the tree guys and unloaded the 25 trees. Met Phil and arranged to deliver a load of play sand for children. Talked with old ladies, duplex owner, etc. etc.
Began staging equipment for Warren to pick up.
Waverly called. Went to lunch with him: he had intended to marry another guy last Wednesday but the guy jilted him. Again I found myself giving lovelorn advice to a homosexual who knows good and well that I’m against the practice – but I do try to accept the person. I told him that he’s my friend and I’ll support him even if he does what I think is abominable. That’s what no bullshit friends do.
Everybody is somebody else’s Babylonian Baby.
As soon as Waverly left, Warren and I loaded his truck and delivered equipment to Miriam’s. EVEN THOUGH the city guys had promised me without fail that they’d pick up the trash it was still in her drive.
I called again and got an answering machine. Therefore, I recruited Brian and the two of us moved the truckload of branches and clippings across the road to city property where they can rot as far as I’m concerned.
Did more preparations with Dennis and Warren.
Dashed to bathe and shave before Ginny got home.
How wonderful it was to see her.
More phone calls.
We went to supper at China Joy in Five Points and enjoyed a delicious meal and happy relaxed conversation. Because the No Smoking sign in the restaurant was attached to the bathroom door, I tried to convince her that that was the no smoking section of the restaurant. She got the giggles so bad she drew stares. Then we went out to a park bench to smoke, talk and love.
Back home to field more phone calls, draft a metal sign for tree workers, and learn to run a CD player. I put on Beach Boys’ Help Me, Rhonda on as loud as it would go and danced to the music till my killjoy wife came out and made me turn it off. Good things always happen when I hear that lucky song. Gin says she going to play it at my funeral!
I’m tired out and slap happy.
Loaded the car – which, Thank God runs fine now – for delivery to the site in the morning. Then lay in bed stroking Ginny’s back till we fell asleep.
Up at 4 a.m. hyper with plans and concerns about today’s tree planting project. I’d loaded the car last night but forced myself to wait till daylight (barely) to drive around to Miriam’s house to unload and begin set up of the staging area.
Returned home to wake Ginny for breakfast and forced myself again to calm down enough to drink a bowl of milk, then hurried her along to get back to Miriam’s . But we finally did get there to wait for anybody to show up.
Sometimes I envisioned 70 people milling around the roadway; sometimes I envisioned no one at all showing up, leaving me with 25 wilting, dying trees beside the road. I tried to reason with my emotions that reality lay between these two extremes; but my hyped emotions refused to believe reason.
Miriam came out of her house. Warren showed up. Rick ambled around the corner with his dog. Laura swung around her corner with her dog in tow. Here comes Ed and Carl and Brian. Then Judy and Nancy. Donald drove up from Gainesville bearing donuts..
Ginny did yeoman service signing people in, giving them orange safety vests, name tags, registering them on a metal plaque I’d improvised, welcoming everybody, issuing can grabbers. I gave a one minute safety talk (watch out for three things: traffic, fire ants, and traffic), said a prayer for harmony and safety, and sent them into the road on an initial trash run.
Scott and Dennis showed up with the rented auger, a gas-powered drill with a 12- inch-wide bit… More and more people appeared. Bright orange vests lined the highway. Mounds of black plastic garbage bags began to rise. The grind of the auger vibrated in the air battling the loudest setting on Eve’s CD player with Beach Boy’s music shaking the block with Help me, Rhonda. Nancy started to shimmy and dance; I began to shimmy and dance with her – both of us far too old and decrepit to twist or shout. Well, maybe she’s not, but I definitely am. Other people laughed at our antics. Holes got dug. Trees got planted….
A car driven by a stranger appeared: Mr. Blackman, Assistant Principal at the high school! Last week I’d contacted him asking if he could recruit some boys from the football team to help us; He’d called me back saying no boys signed up for the project… But this morning he himself came with shovel and rake to help in person.
His arrival brought tears to my eyes.
And here comes Donald’s friend Anthony from Gainesville. And old lady on a walker escorting her granddaughters to work while she sat in a chair Ginny provided.
More trees go into the ground.
Guys almost pant when they see the auger. It’s so damn MACHO. Everybody wants to run this great toy; nobody wants to let go once he gets his hands on the switch. Here come Paul & Susan, who have reservations about the formation of Neighborhood Watch – Wow, when Paul saw that auger, you’d have thought he’d discovered Christmas!
Here comes a fire engine from Station 10.
Knowing that the fire department has refused to tie up equipment to water trees for Greenscape and other environmental groups, I’d asked the Lieutenant and Captain if they could schedule a training test of the Willow Branch/Ernest fireplug this afternoon. And, and if perhaps in the training exercise our trees got wet then well and good… and they were invited to the picnic. I really did not think they would show. But show they did. Not only did they show, but they even let the children hold the fire hoses and spray the trees. Those kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.
All 25 trees were in the ground and watered before noon. 29 community residents showed up to work and five firemen came with the truck. The youngest participant was an 11-year-old girl; the oldest was Mr. Wilkerson, 92, who hobbled down from his house to watch the activity. His arrival brought tears to my eyes.
Blacks, whites, and one Asian worked together. Curtis, a drugie recently released from jail, (the one who’d asked me to pray with him on the street last week) appeared to help out and be a part.
His arrival also brought tears to my eyes.
Late, as usual, Jennifer and Pat arrived on the scene. Their arrival brought tears to my eyes.
As grace before lunch, I gathered the people, quieted them, and read Psalm One: “Blessed is the man… He shall be like a tree, planted…”
The minute I closed the Bible I knew my job there had ended. I had not dug one single hole nor even planted one single tree; I just gave the people what they needed to do the job. And they did it.
Here comes the city trash truck with a gigantic claw to pick up debris. We’d gone through all kinds of hassle about trash pick up and now here it was on the site even as we finished clean up details. People clapped and cheered it’s arrival.
It’s appearance on the scene brought tears to my eyes.
The whole event brought tears to my eyes,
Hell, even writing about it brings tears to my eyes!
I have spent this whole day praying constant prayers of awed thanksgiving (this has been better than I could possibly imagined), crying silently, smoking my pipe – and laughing.
After lunch while a bunch of people were sitting around in the shade taking a break, Ginny noticed that a heavy iron grate over a storm sewer in Miriam’s yard was off center in it’s matrix and sticking up. She asked me to help lift and straighten it.
She got on one side and I on the other and lifted.
She raised her side, but I could not lift mine and had to ease it down.
“Get it up,” she said.
“I can’t get it up. I didn’t take a Viagra this morning,” I said. “Sometimes I can get it up and sometimes I can’t”.
Well, all those people overheard and nearly fell off their chairs laughing.
“Well,” Ginny said laughing so hard she could hardly speak. “You need to get it up this time because the grate is on my foot.”
At that, the guys who had stepped forward to help lift got to laughing so hard they could not help. I lifted harder and raised my half the grate and we placed it back where it belonged and fell into eachothers’ arms while our neighbors still laughed at our antics and Ginny made comments about “Geriatric romance”, which set everyone laughing again.
Finally the clean up was complete. People drifted off individually, in twos, in threes. The remaining few removed the traffic cones and last bits of trash. Gin and I packed our stuff, loaded it on Warren’s truck and came home to clean ourselves up and go out to Country Cabin for supper.
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