A Little Bit of Correcting

            I don’t post much on Facebook, even though I have a page. I don’t even use the other so-called social media. I manage my church’s website and Facebook page and I have a website and Facebook page for my children’s books as well as a personal blog. Most of what I am about to address comes from scrolling through Facebook and reading articles and comments on various religious views.  Much of what I read is wrong, some of it downright absurd! It is hard for me to even imagine how anyone can print most of it. I would think that if one were going to post something related to the Bible, that he or she would have at least read portions of it that relate to the post. Even a low degree of understanding should have kept most of the posts from happening since what gets posted is so clearly NOT what the Bible says! Yet, there it is in black and white. Nonsense!

            I believe that “a little bit of correcting” might be in order. Let me just deal with a few specifics as a way to correct the nonsense as well as point readers to the importance of going to the source – the Bible – rather than merely accepting someone’s social media comments. You might be asking what makes my comments more reliable than those to which I am referring. Let me just say that when my arteries clogged and caused chest pains that could have led to serious illness or death, I did not consult my mechanic, grocer, gym buddies, a politician, an actor, a dentist, nor my Facebook friends. Instead, I saw a heart doctor and heart surgeon.

            So, where do I begin? Well, I see lots of posts about heaven gaining angels when someone dies or even specifically that “so and so” became an angel or got their wings today… Clearly, those people did not get their information about death, the afterlife in heaven, and angels from the Bible. It seems more likely their ideas came from Hollywood. Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a former clockmaker on earth. Michael Landon traveled the “Highway to Heaven” on tv without ever revealing who he was supposed to have been in his earthly life, but that he had one was never in dispute. Many people seem to feel that their departed loved ones are always looking down at us, watching over us, and apparently are likely the guardian angels the Bible does address. There is no scripture to support any of this and there is scripture that refutes it all. Alas, either people don’t read the Bible or dismiss what it says. That alone boggles my mind because there would be no reason to have any beliefs in an afterlife with angels or the concept of guardian angels without the Bible! So, apparently, it is “get an idea from the Bible then fill out the concept with your own ideas ignoring the Bible from there on!”

            I could go into a lengthy explanation of how one gets to heaven in the first place but let me just say that the Bible is very clear that NOT everyone does. It specifically covers what must be done to get there and it is NOT good works, being religious, nor a million other man-made ideas.  That explanation is for those posts about being good enough to go in the first place! This is about becoming angels. According to the Bible, angels are created beings who serve God as messengers who help people according to God’s ways and purposes. People on the other hand go to heaven when they die if they have previously trusted the work of Jesus Christ – His perfect life as the one and only God/man, God in the flesh which leads to His perfect sacrifice on the cross which paid for man’s sins, and His subsequent resurrection proving He is indeed who He says He is. When a person repents of sin and trusts Jesus as God’s one and only way to heaven, that person is spiritually adopted into God’s family and therefore gains entrance into heaven upon death. This is all clearly spelled out in the Bible. Angels are ministering servants – saved people are part of God’s family – NOT angels!

            Every post or article about some friend or family member dying and becoming an angel in heaven is wrong. Every post about some friend or family member returning to earth to help out is simply wrong. Or else the Bible is wrong, in which case there is no reason to believe in angels or an afterlife in the first place!

But aren’t we all going to the same place – just getting there different ways? There’s another serving of baloney that finds its way into minds and social media. People post such nonsense with conviction and authority. Be careful when you do for leading others astray will likely, according to Bible teachings, bring even more punishment than just unbelief!

            Jesus clearly states that He is the only way to heaven and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. The Bible is replete with references to trusting Jesus. It clearly refutes getting there by good works. It points that many will even have done religious deeds in the name of Jesus and not get in! Jesus responds that He never knew them – clearly speaking of a personal relationship.

            Jesus refers to two paths – the wide one that many find leads to destruction, the narrow one that few find leads to life. Clearly, not even most people, let alone all people, will get to heaven! Even a casual reading of the New Testament will reveal that salvation, and therefore a place in heaven, is obtained by grace through faith and not of works. I could say more, but surely you get the point.

            But there’s a little bit of good in all of us isn’t there? Won’t God just weigh the good and the bad and judge us by that? First of all, I for one do not want Him to do that! How arrogant of anyone to think that their life consists of more goodness than badness when the goodness must be measured against the goodness of Jesus Christ. Oh, when compared to some other person, I might do very well – unless you’re going to factor in selfishness, poor motives, personal agendas, hidden sins, and so forth! But then God would of necessity factor those things in! Oops! I might not make it after all. Not to worry, though, because that is NOT how it works and once again the Bible is clear.

            There is no one righteous, no not one. It’s in both the Old and New Testaments. Our righteousness is as filthy rags! No one does good. There are simply too many passages that refute the idea that mankind could possibly be good enough to get to heaven on his own merits.  And think about it – IF you could be good enough to get there on our own, would God have gone to the trouble He went through to save you? Would Jesus have suffered and died after lowering Himself to become a man in the first place, if you could just be good enough anyway?

            But Jesus was just a good man, wasn’t he? Of course, he may have been crucified, but still just a good man, a prophet, a religious leader, albeit a good one – right? Wrong! If that were true, then why post anything, right or wrong? In fact, there would be no right or wrong, no standard of truth. I would not need to correct anything related to matters of faith because Jesus would not then be God and the whole idea of sin and the need for salvation would be moot. If Jesus was not God in the flesh, His death did not pay for your sins, there wasn’t a resurrection then and therefore isn’t one in your future, no heaven to gain or at least no way of getting there that we could know about. No – the Bible is clear, and you simply need to acknowledge that and begin to live accordingly or take your chances. What you do not get to do is take its concepts and make up your own variations as to how it all plays out. Why not post with integrity and say, “Hey! I don’t know or care what the Bible says, but here’s my opinion…”? But then you might not get many readers, would you?

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It’s Not That Simple

Over the years, my wife has created many little jobs for me to do around the house and yard. Actually, some were pretty big jobs! But regardless of the size of the job, and especially despite the fact that many of them seemed small at first, I developed a number one rule about them all. “It’s never as easy as it seems!”

She comes up with a new task and asks, “That won’t take much, will it?” Or “That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?” To which I point out, “You remember the number one rule, don’t you?”

Well, that’s life in general. Seems no matter what, there’s always more to it. More work than expected. More to the story than you initially heard. More expenses than expected. More problems – and on and on it goes. Why then, do so many fall for the lines of those purveyors of the false gospel that says being a follower of Jesus is easy – there are no rules to follow, no expectations from him, and so on?

My same number one rule applies: there is always more to it. Jesus never offered “easy believe-ism” or a life with no responsibilities or accountability, no matter what some folks seem to preach. Oh, it’s easy to cherry-pick a few nice sounding verses and hold forth the message of ease and no muss-no fuss Christianity. Just believe, love, and live and let live – that’s what Jesus did, they say. But there’s way more to it than that. Read the whole book! Look at Jesus’ whole life. See what the Bible really says.

Jesus said, “Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me.” “If you love me, keep my commandments.” “Be a servant of all.” “Do good works.” “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees.” “Go and sin no more.”

Ah, yes – and much more. If Jesus is who he said, and who the Bible says he is, then he is God. If the Bible is what it claims to be, it is the inspired word of God. That means whatever the Bible says is what Jesus said!

That means Jesus said to study the Bible, pray without ceasing, bear one another’s burdens, exhort, admonish, worship, evangelize, disciple, give, care for, teach, work – do I really need to keep going!?

Are you really so easily swayed by others that you would throw out most of God’s word and Jesus’ lifestyle for the few handpicked verses offered apart from the rest of the Bible? Are you so determined to live so self-focused and contrary to God’s word that you will even try to use Jesus’ own words to justify yourself? Many are just that selfish or easily duped. I hope you are better than that. Don’t take up the mamby-pamby, shallow mantras of those who want you to support their own limp version of Christianity, but rather, take up your cross and follow Jesus!

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Songs Of My Youth

I remember buying my first transistor radio. Can you believe I could carry it around on my paper route and listen to music while walking around town!? Otherwise, you had to listen to a plugged-in radio (What do you think? KXOK or WLS?) or use a record player to get your music. Music was a big part of growing up in Forsyth, IL in the 50s and 60s. I spent lots of time listening, but I NEVER let it influence me too much! However, I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately and it got me to thinking about The Green Green Grass of Home!

It’s Not Unusual to spend a little time Every Day thinking about the good ol’ days. I Heard It Through the Grapevine that some of you like the music these days, too, so I thought I might warn you that the stuff these songs are about – well, It’s Only Make Believe! I Can’t Get No Satisfaction from this newer music.

I listened when I was young and I’ve heard some of the new, so I’ve heard it played from Both Sides Now and I’m a Believer that the old songs are the best! Some say the new stuff is better, but I just say, “That’ll Be the Day!” The oldies got us through life.  All I Have to Do Is Dream about it all and the whole era brings me Good Vibrations.

I just want you to Try to Remember if there was ever a better time. We were all so Happy Together. It seems like only Yesterday you were A Teenager in Love. We all know that Breaking Up is Hard To do, but we had our music. And before we knew it, some of you had to Hit the Road, Jack and we saw you Leaving On a Jet Plane to become a Soldier Boy! Times were tough and Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This, but we had our music.

And Great Balls of Fire that was some good music back then! Oh Boy, I’ve done it again and taken up too much of your time. I’m sorry, but it’s just My Way. I hope it’s been fun and even though I tend to get a bit Windy, believe when I say that I Sincerely hope and can’t help but wonder, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Winter – It’s Snow Fun!

I remember… NOT getting very many snow days from school, so walking to school all bundled up, walking backwards to keep the biting wind out of my face (it was NOT uphill both ways!); that’s what the coatrooms were for in the classrooms – boots, coats, and gloves; and you had to get up early anyway and watch the news to see if school was canceled because they NEVER called it off just because of the threat of snow!

            … sledding and having to push each other because the only “hill” in Forsyth was at David Grimes house; we did go there to slide downhill, though.

            … yes, being pulled behind a car or truck on foot, sleds, or toboggans! Yeah, I know that’s not safe.

            …of course, making snowmen and snow angels; we made snow ice cream once (not from the yellow snow!); now that conjures up images of trying to write your name in the snow!

            … building snow forts and having snowball fights.

            … building a big igloo with Curt Greene; so big we got floor rugs for inside where it was not nearly as cold as outside.

            … helping push cars out of snowbanks; one year my dad and I actually pushed people into them out at the entrance to Hobb’s Addition west of town! When folks came home from work, the streets were drifted over and no one could get beyond the entrance to the neighborhood; so, we just pushed them to the sides of the street to make sure there were no fender benders; they got stuck in the snow and they walked home!

            … before moving out west of town, Dad rented one stall of a three-car garage about a block south of us (he later owned that house and garage!); he would walk the half block from home, get in a snow-free car, and go to work at the Herald and Review in Decatur, then return home in the evening and do the reverse.

            … sledding by the RR tracks at the north end of the lumber yard; there was a small rock hill up to the tracks; I have a vague memory of several neighborhood kids joining in, but I don’t know who for sure – my memory, like the TV reception during those times, is “snowy!”

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Did You Watch TV Commercials in the Old Days!

Raise your hand, if you’re Sure!”

If you didn’t catch my post about listening to music on my transistor radio back in the 60s, scroll through this Good Ol’ Days category to find it and enjoy some musical memories. Just for fun, I thought I’d do a post on old television commercials and double your pleasure, double your fun!

I like to watch TV, but I hate commercials. When it comes to the ads, I believe a little dab’ll do ya, but the stations disagree. They do love their ads. It seems to get worse all the time. I start watching a show and then comes the break and it’s one commercial after another. It seems like when it rains it pours. Anytime I can watch a commercial-free show – oh what a relief it is!

So, I’ve chosen a few ads to remind you of the oldies. They weren’t hand-picked by Juan Valdez, I chose them myself. I did it just for you because you’re worth it! Some of the old commercials were the best. Many of them were Mm Mm Good. As for others, I’d say, “They’re grrrrrrrrreat!”

But nowadays, I just can’t take them. When I’m watching a really good show and a commercial comes on, I want to take it off, take it all off! I know I could just change the channel but I’m stubborn and I’d rather fight than switch!

As for some of you, well, you pay for premium channels and watch commercial free. You’ve come a long way, baby! So, enjoy! And if being reminded of these ads makes you feel old, well you can be mad at me for that, just don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!!

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Easy Riders

It’s me again, Margaret! I mentioned in an earlier post that as a kid in Forsyth in the 60s I bought and traded bicycles with neighbor Cliff McCay. It set me to thinking about the evolution of kid-transportation in the 60s. So, here’s my “Easy Rider” post:

I learned to ride on a 20-inch red bike when I was little. A few years later I moved up to a 24-inch blue and gold bike with a huge basket that was perfect for carrying newspapers. I got that from Cliff. Later, I traded that and a little cash to him for a 24-inch green 3-speed bike. Then the Stingray craze hit! Back to the 20-incher. I saved up and bought a metallic purple Stingray at Rupert’s Sport Shop in Decatur. High-handlebars, banana seat – oh, yeah!

I remember watching what others did, too. Older neighborhood friend Gale King had a bike with no brakes! More than once I saw him just hop off while still moving and let the bike coast to a stop and fall over. Once he fastened a block of wood on the front fork and would reach a foot up to press the block down on the front tire to gradually slow the bike to a stop! I guess that’s one way to improvise.

We used to attach an old playing card to the bike with a clothespin so that the spokes made it flap. The faster you rode, the louder the “engine” noise! Billy Norfleet got a Vroom Engine for his bike. It made your bike sound like a motorcycle! Kind of.

I rode my Stingray several times to Brettwood Village in Decatur to go to Shoppers World (don’t try that today!) to buy the latest 45 – The Supremes, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Beatles, whoever. After a Mr. Misty at the DQ, it was back home to Forsyth. Except for one trip. I came out of the store to find my bike had been stolen! The police found it a couple of weeks later and I got it back.

The Stingray was the ultimate. My brother Mark could “pop a wheelie” and ride clear down the street, even turn corners, riding on only the back wheel while holding the front end up in the air. I could do shorter rides, but he was bigger and stronger and could hold the front end up longer. I remember once he rode across town with four of us on his Stingray! No – not with a “Wheelie.” He pedaled, another kid was on the crossbar, a third was nestled in the high handlebars, and I was up on Mark’s shoulders! I don’t remember who the other two were, but we all survived.

Dick Schwartz had a crazy bike. He took a second frame and welded it on top of the other one, extended the chain, and had a tall ride! He had to mount it from a porch or stump or the bread box in front of Granddad’s store. It took a little fancy maneuvering to dismount without falling over, but it was a cool ride!

The craziest though was my dad. He could ride a bike backwards! He sat on the handlebars facing the rear and would glance back over his shoulder to see where to go. He pedaled backwards to go forwards. He could ride anywhere and fast. He raced all the kids and could outride anyone in town. I learned to do it a little bit, but not nearly like he could. How about it, Dewayne Matthews?

So, all you “Easy Riders” out there – what was your favorite ride? Got any interesting biker stories?

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A Crime Spree in Forsyth!

Preface

Reading a Facebook page called “Forsyth – Then and Now” has caused plenty of reminiscing. Looking at old photos posted and reading the comments, making many myself. It has all stirred lots of memories and has been a pleasant diversion. It also got my creative juices flowing!

I love to write. I always thought I might write a novel someday. I read somewhere once though that a novelist is just a “failed short-story writer!” I liked that. That suits me just fine. I have several short stories on this blog now. Here’s another one!

It is what you would call historical fiction. I made the main story up but based it on some real places, people, and events. The story takes place in 1967 Forsyth, Illinois – my hometown. It’s a crime mystery. Though the main plot is a work of fiction, much of the story is based on truth.

For instance, the main characters were my family members, and the places and locations were real. The names have been changed to protect the innocent though – and maybe even the guilty! Grandma’s name was Effie – for real, not as a nickname like in the story. Hobos rode the rails back then and we did find a campsite along the tracks.

My Granddad really did fall asleep with a lit cigar and burned a hole in a living room chair. He did eventually get sick and had to live in a nursing home in Decatur gradually losing control of his faculties, as they say. Grandma did keep the store going for a while and we did all try to help her. I worked in the store sometimes and my older brother Mark, younger sister Cinda Kay, and I took turns sleeping over.

Granddad did have a stash of old coins – a five-gallon bucket full of old pennies and a jar of Indian head pennies worth quite a bit more than face value. In truth, they were stashed on the back porch out of sight and as his mind began to get bad, he believed people were out to steal his coins, though there was never a real attempt like in my story. However, the incident with Grandma and the would-be burglar at the window really happened!

Forsyth didn’t have their own police force back then and did have to rely on county and state law enforcement. Rumor mills in small towns have always been fact! 

I did watch Perry Mason reruns with Dad late at night and have always liked solving mysteries, puzzles, and such. So, yes, I am the hero of this story. Hey, it’s my story. If you want to be a hero – write your own story! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading a little about life in Forsyth in the sixties with a little murder thrown in for good measure!

– Terry E. Walters

*****

There was always something going on in the town of Forsyth, IL in the 1960s. Well, actually, there was hardly ever anything going on but the usual, so people made things happen out of sheer boredom. The sleepy village just north of Decatur boasted nearly five hundred people but was not much of a business mecca anymore. It was mostly a residential community, but it had what the folks needed to get by – a gas station, a lumber yard, its own post office, a grade school, a cabinet shop, a wholesale warehouse-style grocer, and a mom-and-pop grocery store. As far as Ted Walden was concerned, it was a “grandma and granddad” store. Walden’s Grocery Store was owned and operated by his grandparents and Ted lived next door.

His dad, Ralph “Buckey” Walden and his wife Felicia Ann were raising their four children next door to the store where Buckey had been raised. The store was in the front half of the old building on the corner and the residence was in the rear half and above the store. Wilton Halverson Walden and his wife Florence Elizabeth had raised five children there while running the grocery store, as well as an ice delivery service in days gone by.

Buckey bought the property next door north and built a house there to raise his four children in the same town where he had been raised. His oldest brother Harold lived across the street with his wife Marjorie Mae. Their two kids were married now and had left Forsyth. Buckey was 15 years younger than Harold. The next son older than Buckey had passed away in the early 1950s. The other brother and sister had moved away several years earlier. Most folks called Wilton “Bill,” but his wife called him by his initials W.H., which sounded like “Dubya H.” He returned the favor by calling her Effie (F.E.). The name Effie stuck and most everyone in town called her that. By the late sixties they were getting on in years and business was grinding to a halt. Wilton was no longer healthy, and his mind was starting to drift away from him. He eventually had to go to a nursing home in Decatur.

Effie tried to keep the store going for a while with the help of Buckey and his three older kids. Harold helped some, too, but the store’s days were numbered. Buckey’s three older kids, Mac, Ted, and Kay took turns spending the night with Grandma. She was a tough old bird and fearless, but everyone felt better if someone was with her through the night. You know, just in case.

It was on one of those nights in the fall of 1967 when the first of several things did happen in the sleepy little town of Forsyth that began a season of fear for the town. It was Mac’s turn to sleep over at Grandma’s but for some reason couldn’t and neither did anyone else, so Effie was alone that night.

There was an empty lot just north of the store that separated Buckey’s home from the store, the place he had grown up in. From the outside, one couldn’t tell where the store ended, and the residence began. All along the north side of the building was one long room inside and finally the bathroom in the northwest corner. The long room held Effie’s bed along the north wall by the first set of windows, then a living room space, followed by a dining area by the second set of windows. Then came the bathroom.

That particular night, Grandma was asleep in bed with her head not more than three feet from the windows. In the wee hours of the morning, Effie was startled awake by someone outside trying to pry open a window! She sat up in bed to stare right at the man, nearly face to face, and yelled! The man dropped the knife he was using to try to pry the window open and ran for the hills!

Effie rushed to the phone to call Buckey. He called Harold and rushed right over. All was well. The man had not gained entry to the house and Effie was just fine. Not scared – just mad!

 Harold had called the county deputy and he and Buckey scouted the area for signs of the intruder. They found nothing but the knife which they left for the deputy to deal with. There was no local police protection in town, and it took time for a county patrol car to respond. He took Effie’s report and packaged up the knife for evidence but was unable to do much more. He was pretty sure there would be no prints or tangible evidence that would lead to an arrest. Everyone figured the man probably thought he was breaking into the store and was just as surprised as Effie when she sat up in bed and stared right at him!

It was the talk of the town for a few days, but things soon settled down. What the rest of the town did not know was that THAT was the second incident in less than two weeks! Only Effie, Buckey’s family, and Harold and Mae knew about the first one.

It was a couple of weeks before, after a couple of days of heavy fall rains, that it had happened. Grandma Effie was gone that afternoon with a couple from her church. The store was closed, the house was empty. Ted had been dispatched to go to the store for a grocery item or two, which happened a lot in those days. He discovered the incident or the evidence of it and ran back home to get his dad, who called his brother. Mac and Teddy accompanied their dad back to the store.

Absolutely no one but Effie, Harold and Mae, and Buckey’s family – not even Kay and Greg because they were too young – knew this! Bill had some old coins stashed in the bottom of a cabinet that sat along the west wall of the bathroom in their residence. Hundreds of coins- Indian head pennies, Buffalo and Indian Head nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and even some silver dollars! Several new ones, mostly old ones – some very old. It was a well-kept family secret that there even was such a stash, much less where it was kept.

What Ted saw when he entered the door to the back porch which led to the back door of the kitchen, was that the door was ajar and muddy footprints led through the house. Careful to avoid the smeared prints, Ted traced the smudges to the bathroom and back. Nowhere else, just straight to the cabinet in the bathroom and back out. The cabinet had been rifled and after Buckey checked it out, he stated that the tins were gone!

Brother Harold soon arrived and followed the muddy steps and voices to the bathroom. “Deputy’s on the way,” he affirmed as he cautiously stepped around the drying mud spots. Buckey informed him that the coins were gone. The boys pointed out that someone came straight to the cabinet and left. They had to have known where the coins were stashed! Harold said, “Well, where they used to be stashed. They didn’t get them.” Buckey and the boys were dumbfounded.

“What do you mean?” Buckey asked.

“I was gonna tell you but forgot to, but just the other day I felt like this wasn’t a good place for the coins, so I came in and moved them,” explained Harold.

“You mean they’re still here?”

“Should be. The steps don’t go anywhere else,” he said, pointing to the muddy footprints. “They should be stashed away behind the upright piano for now. That’s where I put them.”

The brothers moved quickly to the piano, moved it aside, and there sat the two coin-filled tins, safe and sound. “What possessed you to move them?” Buckey queried.

“I don’t know. I just had a feeling. You know, we talked about having them appraised and locked away somewhere. I don’t know – I just got to thinking about them and came over and moved them!”

The deputy arrived, Ted gave his statement, and the two boys headed home after being instructed not to tell anyone about the incident. The sheriff took pictures, but the footprints were smeared, and the intruder had likely worn gloves so there probably wouldn’t be any evidence. The brothers decided on a plan to safeguard the coins until they could be properly protected. Everyone keeping quiet about the incident would hopefully keep Effie safe from a repeat burglary attempt.

Buckey cleaned up the mess after the deputy left and before his mom returned. He assured her that the coins were safe, and the thief would likely not try again, realizing the coins would not be there after this. Now that there had been a second attempt to break into the store, everyone in the family had their guard up. No one in town was the wiser about the coin incident and things were quiet for those few days after the attempt at the window.

*****

It was about a week later, just a block down the street from the store, that another attempted break-in occurred. One block to the south and a half a block east was the office and store of the Forsyth Lumber Company. The son of a neighbor, home from college for the weekend, was awakened by the sound of breaking glass. Their house was just south of the entrance to the lumber yard. Jerry VanAllen quickly sprang out of bed and looked out his bedroom window. He thought he saw movement over by the lumber yard but wasn’t sure. He called out to his dad who called the County Sheriff’s Office.

Twenty minutes later, Arnold Jones was roused from sleep by a loud knock on his back door across town. Arnold pulled on some pants, turned on the porch light, and seeing the officer, opened the back door. “What’s wrong?” asked Arnold.

“It appears there’s been an attempted break-in at the lumber yard. You’d better come along,” the deputy said. The manager of the lumber yard grabbed a jacket and his keys and drove over to the yard, following the deputy.

When they arrived, Jerry VanAllen and his father waited with another deputy. Jerry explained to Arnold what he had heard and thought he had seen. The deputy showed Arnold the broken glass on the ground near the front door to the store. The window of the door was broken in the bottom corner near the lock, but the door was still locked. Whoever it was must have spooked at the sound of the breaking glass and ran away.

Arnold nodded in agreement and added, “First the grocery store – now us. What’s going on?”

“Not sure, but we’ll beef up night patrols and look into it. You can go ahead and fix the window. We’re done here for now.”

Everyone eventually dispersed and by noon, nearly everyone in town knew about the latest incident. No one had been hurt and nothing had been taken, but “What?” they all wondered, “was happening to their sleepy, safe little town?!

It was all anyone could talk about for the next week, but then it began to die down. No new evidence, no suspects, nothing. But the very next weekend, on a Sunday night, there was another break-in! This one was successful.

Faithful, trusted employee of C&R Pumps, Alfonso Staggs reported to work early Monday morning to find the rear door of the business, located near the north entrance to the lumber yard, had been jimmied open. A quick look around told Alfonso that a box of tools was all that was missing. He alerted his boss, who in turn called the County Sheriff, who quickly dispatched a deputy to the scene. Pictures were taken, the place was dusted for fingerprints, and an inventory of the stolen tools was made.

The rumor mill started up around town immediately and once again fear gripped the tiny town. Kids talked about it at school. Sunday School classes at the Methodist and Baptist churches discussed stealing. The few businesses in town found it hard to mind their own business! Everyone was asking the same questions – who is doing this and are they ever going to catch them? Theories abounded, but few solutions were offered. Ted Walden decided to set his mind to the task. After all, he watched “Perry Mason” reruns every night before bed and usually figured them out. He watched all the Sherlock Holmes movies and had read Doyle’s books. He loved solving mysteries and puzzles and was good at it. And he was privy to two of the crime scenes- one of which few knew about.

*****

Ted decided to talk to his grandma after school on Thursday. When he entered the store, she was talking about the robberies to a man he didn’t know. He drifted around behind the counter but listened to the conversation. The stranger seemed very interested in the robberies, but especially in the attempt at the store. It seemed to Ted that the man was probing as if he suspected there had been other attempts or at least there was more to the story of the incident everyone knew about. Finally, learning nothing new, the stranger left.

“Who was that?” Ted asked his grandma.

“Well, you know Burl Cutler, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I used to deliver his paper until he took sick. Why?”

“That man is his nephew Carlton,” Effie explained.

“He seemed pretty interested in the burglaries for a stranger. Don’t you think?”

“It’s all anyone who comes in the store wants to talk about!”

“I guess.” Ted paused, then went on. “Have you thought more about that night you scared off the burglar?”

“Some,” his grandma said. “Why?”

“Just wondered if you had any ideas about the guy now that you’ve had time to think about it. You know – what he was wearing, how he ran when he left, stuff like that.”

“Well, I have thought that he seemed to look a little like the hobos I’ve seen in here before. Kind of dirty, baggy clothes – he wore a cap like I’ve seen some of them wear.”

“A hobo, huh? Makes sense, I guess. All three of the break-ins happened right here near the railroad tracks.”

“More than one customer has suggested it. Maybe they gave me the idea. I can’t say for sure,” Effie went on to explain.

Ted looked around the store to make sure he hadn’t missed seeing anyone else in the store. Then he quietly commented, “But that wouldn’t explain the attempt at the coin stash. How would they know?”

Effie thought it over. “They wouldn’t. Maybe they’re not related.”

“You mean two different crooks?” asked Ted. “I guess that’s possible.”

Ted thought about that for a moment and then said goodbye and headed out. Exiting the store, he ran into a couple of friends on their bikes and mounting his, said, “Follow me!” He led them over to the railroad tracks near the north entrance to the lumber yard. As the three of them stopped up on the rocks near the tracks, one asked what was up. Ted explained the theory that the burglary attempts could have been done by a hobo or hobos from the trains. He thought they might scout around a little.

The railroad right-of-way between the tracks and the fence bordering farmland to the east was completely overgrown. There were small trees and saplings scattered around. Tall grass – taller than the boys even – tall reeds everywhere. It was a jungle all along the tracks. They dismounted their bikes and headed south along the tracks looking for anything out of the ordinary. One of the boys picked up some rocks and randomly tossed them into the underbrush as they sauntered along looking for clues.

Presently, one of the rocks hit something that clanged like metal! “What was that?” asked Ted. “Where did you throw that last rock?”

“I don’t know. Just over there somewhere,” Chet said, pointing to the weeds.

Ted started down into the weeds in the direction Chet Roberts had indicated. The other boys followed. Just ahead of them, Ted stopped and called out, “Hey! There’s a path cleared out down here!”

By the time the other boys got to the path Ted had followed the path into a clearing cut out in the middle of the weed patch. You couldn’t see it from the tracks, but once inside the boys saw a campsite. There was a clearing about eight or ten feet in diameter. A fire pit had been constructed out of large rocks and the remains of burnt wood lay in the middle. There was a pot and pan and some utensils lying around, a beat-up old duffel bag, and an old pair of rubber boots. There was trash strewn around – paper goods, empty food cans, and other assorted trash.

“A hobo camp!” they all said at the same time.

“Yeah,” Ted said, “and look at this!” With his toe, he poked at a box of tools marked C&R Pumps. “It’s the tools stolen from C&R!”

One of the boys said, “Let’s get out of here before they come back. Let’s go call this in.”

The boys hustled out of the camp, back up the embankment to the tracks, and back down to their bicycles. They quickly rode around to the front entrance of C&R and burst into the office, excited and short of breath. Alfonso was there. Surprised, he said, “Whoa, there! What’s up?”

The boys started to blurt out the news together, but Mr. Staggs calmed them down. He knew Ted the best, so he asked him to explain. After hearing of the discovery, he called the Sheriff’s Office to report it. About a half an hour later, the boys took the deputy and Alfonso to the campsite. The deputy had the boys’ information and knew Ted from the Walden Grocery incidents, so he told them to head on home and he would process the scene.

Naturally, the boys told their parents and anyone else who would listen, and the news spread like wildfire. There were no hobos in sight, so no arrests were made – yet. The deputies would stake out the area and see who might show up. By the time a train or two had passed by, they figured the word had spread up and down the line and didn’t expect anyone to return to the camp. A few days later, they abandoned the stakeout.

*****

Then it happened! Having been alerted by the Sheriff’s Office, the railroad had become more diligent in watching for hobos riding their trains. They had cracked down some and run a few riders off but had no reason to suspect anyone in particular of being Forsyth’s burglar. But on Saturday evening that next week, one of the railroad detectives who had been tasked with patrolling the tracks along the east side of Forsyth, spotted a man on top of one of the cars as the train slowed to a crawl past the lumber yard. He noticed because the hobos seldom risked riding on top. He watched as the man stood up to run on top of the train, stumbled, and fell off! He cried out, but the cry was cut short!

The detective radioed to the engineer to stop the train. He ran toward where the man had fallen. By the time he got near the place, the train had ground to a stop. He climbed between two of the cars to hop down on the other side of the train. Quickly scanning the area, he saw the man lying on the ground about three or four cars back- pretty close to where the campsite was located. He ran to the man who had made no moves whatsoever.

He called out as he approached but got no reaction. As the detective knelt beside the fallen man, he saw blood and noticed the awkward angle of the man’s head. It appeared that the hobo had broken his neck and died. A quick search revealed no ID, a few dollars and change, and a screwdriver in his coat pocket with “C&R” etched in the handle!

Soon, the area was filled with sheriff’s deputies, state police, and onlookers, including Ted and his friends. No one was allowed close enough to see much. The railroad cars were processed quickly and released, so the ambulance drivers could get to the body. The whole thing was done quickly, and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the burglary cases had been solved.

Ted wasn’t convinced though. Others couldn’t know, but he did not believe that man had anything to do with the initial attempt to steal his grandparents’ coins. It seemed obvious that the hobo had done the other break-ins, but Ted wasn’t sure at all that this thing was over. However, he couldn’t discuss it with anyone but his family. No one else could know about the coins nor the attempted robbery.

*****

The next day, Ted was in the store after school when Carlton Cutler came in again. Ted was helping his grandma around the store, so he waited on the man. Carlton got a pouch of pipe tobacco, some matches, and a couple other things. He wasn’t in any hurry and began to talk to Ted about the accident the day before that seemed to have solved the recent crime spree.

Ted played along as he totaled up the man’s purchases. There was something about that pipe tobacco that bugged Ted, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Carlton paid, but continued to talk about all he had heard, playing up Ted’s part in the crime solving. Ted tried to pass it off and changed the subject to Carlton himself. What was he doing in town? How long did he plan to stay? How was his uncle? Anything to keep the man talking about something other than the hobo and the break-ins. Ted was suspicious of the man but had no idea why. However, his questions got nowhere.

A few minutes later, the deputy that had been in on the death of the hobo and both the attempts at the store walked in. Carlton took the opportunity to get his purchases and slip out as the deputy held the door. The deputy asked Ted how he was doing. Ted replied that he was fine and asked if there was anything new in the investigation. The deputy said it seemed all wrapped up. Ted shook his head. When the deputy asked what his problem was, Ted told him he didn’t believe the hobo was the one who had tried to steal his granddad’s coins. He just could not have known about them, much less have known right where they were kept. The deputy admitted that didn’t make sense, but there was surely no doubt that he had done the other crimes. Ted agreed but said there had to be more to it. The deputy agreed with that and offered that maybe the coin case was unrelated, which would mean there is still a thief out there somewhere. Ted said, “I agree that there is another thief, but I think it’s all related.”

“How so?” asked the deputy.

“I don’t know,” Ted answered, and then thought a bit. “Maybe the real thief hired the hobo to pull the other jobs to divert attention and suspicion away from the coin caper.”

“OK, I’ll buy that. Then what? He just catches a big break when the hobo falls off a train and breaks his neck?!”

Ted’s face lit up. “He killed him!”

“Whoa! Wait a minute.” The detective waved his hands to slow Ted down.

“That’s right,” Ted continued. “Think about it. He waited until the hobo finally stole something – positive proof he was guilty. Then our guy set up a meet to pay him off. He grabbed him by surprise and broke his neck. Took off the hobo’s coat and hat and put them on.” Ted was on a roll now. “He headed down the tracks a ways, knowing a train was due that would slow down by the lumber yard where the body lay. He hopped the train when it slowed and climbed up on top where he would be spotted. When he saw the detective, he stood up to run, faked a trip, and dropped off the car near the body. He put the hobo’s coat and hat back on him quickly and slipped off into the brush and got away. The rest we know for sure.”

Ted was beaming with pride. As far as he was concerned, he had him nailed! “Wow!”  The deputy admitted he liked the story. Maybe even believed it himself. “But who did it and how did he know about the coins?”

“Well, I have an idea who, but I have no idea about the coins.” Ted paused a moment, then asked, “What all did the hobo have on him, besides the screwdriver?”

The deputy thought a second or two, then answered. “A few dollars and some change and a box of matches.”

Ted turned to the shelf, picked up a box of matches, and laid it on the counter. “Like these?” he asked.

“Exactly,” replied the deputy, “but so what?”

“Did he have any cigarettes on him?”

“Come to think of it, there was a pipe in his coat pocket.”

Ted brightened up again. “Did he have any pipe tobacco on him?”

“No, he didn’t. A new box of matches and a pipe, but no tobacco.”

“At the campsite,” Ted hurried on, “I remember now.” He turned to the shelf, got a pack of tobacco, and laid it on the counter with the matches. “There was a partial bag of tobacco just like this there by the fire pit.”

The deputy thought a moment, then replied, “Yes, there was – same brand.”

“The most expensive brand we have,” Ted added.

“What are you getting at?”

“The man who just left here. He just bought a fresh pack of this tobacco and a box of matches, but he already bought the same thing last week.”

“And you think he gave the others to the hobo?”

“Exactly! The hobo wouldn’t buy the best and this guy wouldn’t be out yet!”

“Sounds plausible, but you can’t prove it,” said the deputy. “Who is this guy?”

“Carlton Cutler. He’s a stranger in town – been here about a month, visiting his dying uncle. He’s been hanging around, asking lots of questions.”

“And you think he’s the killer?”

“I know it. I can feel it.”

“How did he know about the coins? How could he possibly have known where they were? We’re back to that.”

“I know,” Ted said. “And I have no idea. But I’m telling you, he did it. He came in here after those coins and couldn’t find them. He hired that hobo to divert attention until he could make a new plan. Then he killed him to shut down the investigation.”

“But you can’t prove any of it.”

Ted replied, “Not yet, but I will. And it will need to be soon.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Think about it. His uncle is dying. He’ll have to leave soon. There will be no more nightly patrols. No more of everyone being on their guard now that the thief is dead.”

Effie came into the store from the residence. “Hello, officer,” she said. “Is Ted talking your leg off about the case?”

“No ma’am, but we have had an interesting conversation.”

Ted was thinking, and then turned to his grandma. “Grandma, how long since you’ve seen Burl Cutler?”

“Oh, over a year, I guess. Not since he got sick. Why?”

“Just thinking. When would Granddad have seen him last?”

“Longer ago than that. Why?”

“Who buys his groceries? Who took care of him before this nephew came around?”

“Sofia Cornthwaite – you know her. She buys his food, fixes his meals, and cleans his house. Why are you so interested?”

“Any chance you ever hired her here?”

“No, why?”

“I just thought perhaps she might have found out about the coins and for some reason mentioned them to Mr. Cutler.”

“Oh. No way she would do that even if she knew. Besides Burl knows about the coins anyway.”

“What do you mean he knows?!”

Effie explained how Burl Cutler knew about the coins. There are five special silver dollars among the coins that used to belong to him. Back before the turn of the century, when Burl and Ted’s grandparents were born, Burl’s grandpa was a captain in the union army. He led a squad of soldiers protecting an army payroll being transported from Saint Louis to Springfield. The convoy was attacked by outlaws – some even said maybe The James Gang! Well, they fought off the outlaws and saved the payroll even though only Burl’s grandpa and four others survived.

The army gave the five men each a newly minted silver dollar as a memento – only one hundred like them had been minted. The men made a pact that they’d keep them no matter what and then pass theirs to another survivor upon their death. Burl’s grandpa was the last one, so he had all five coins and eventually they passed down to Burl.

“So how did Granddad get them?” Ted interrupted.

 Effie continued her story. She said that during World War II, lots of people got into financial trouble. It was hard on everyone but worse for some. Burl was sick for a while and lost his job. They couldn’t pay their bills, so she and Dubya H carried them on the books for quite a while. Burl hated it but had little choice. Then one day he came to the house with those five silver dollars and told them their story. He gave them to Dubya H to hold until he could buy them back. Years passed and Burl never quite recovered financially, so he wrote a note to say the coins were theirs to do with as they wished. The note is in the bottom of the canister with the coins.

“And Granddad put them in the canister that day and Mr. Cutler saw where he stashed the tins, didn’t he?” Ted asked.

“Why yes, I guess he did at that,” Effie said.

The deputy added, “And now I bet his nephew knows, too.”

Ted looked at the deputy and nodded. “What do we do?”

The deputy said, “We’ll figure something out. Some way to catch him in the act. I’ll be around tonight to make sure nothing happens and give it some thought. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

*****

The next day, Buckey came home from work a little earlier than usual. He had taken the afternoon off to spend time with his dad at the nursing home. He usually visited with him after work several times a week, but with all the crime drama going on, he just had not had the time lately.

Ted was at the store helping his grandma close up when his dad came by. Ted had noticed before that his dad usually wasn’t all that chipper after being with granddad. The fact that his dad no longer recognized him took a toll on Buckey. It was hard for him to deal with emotionally. But that day was different. “You seem in a better mood than usual after seeing Granddad,” Ted said. “Was he better today?”

“No, not really,” his dad replied. “But we sat out on the back patio with Sam, the orderly, and Sam and I had a good long visit about Dad.”

Buckey explained that as they talked, Sam shared that every once in a great while Will – that’s what Sam called him – would seem to have moments where he was almost lucid. He could recall stories of his past, talk about his kids by name, talk about his Effie. Buckey said it made him feel better about his dad. He remembered and laughed about Ted’s granddad setting the chair on fire once when he fell asleep with a lit cigar in his hand and woke up to a small fire by his leg! Ted remembered it, too, and they shared another laugh. Buckey said he thought of it when Sam dropped his pipe on his dad’s robe there on the patio and had to douse it with his glass of water. He said, “Dad just laughed. It was good to hear him laugh.”

Effie kissed her youngest son on the cheek and headed into the back, to the kitchen, to fix supper. Buckey helped Ted close up the store and Ted filled him in on the plan he had devised that day with the deputy to try to catch Carlton Cutler stealing the coins.

Buckey wasn’t sure they could pull it off but listened anyway. They would need to wait and watch for the right time to set the trap. Surely the man would come snooping around the store for more information soon. Meanwhile, the deputy would keep watch at night, and everyone should go about business as usual, just as if it were all over, like most of the town thought.

The next time Carlton came into the store, they should try to steer the conversation somehow to the crimes. Then they could let it slip that they had a few things in the house they thought they should move out for safekeeping. They would do it on a Sunday afternoon, the next one after Carlton’s next visit to the store. They’d take Effie out for an afternoon drive and wind up at their house for supper. While she was there for supper, Buckey would slip out and meet Harold at the home place to take care of business without upsetting their mom. At least that was how the plan would sound to Carlton.

The real plan was to make sure Carlton knew the house would be empty all afternoon so he would make his move. A couple of deputies would have the place staked out. One would watch the Cutler home and the other would watch the Walden home. It sounded good. They decided instead of just a drive they’d all go with Effie to see Dubya H at the nursing home.

A few days later Carlton came into the store and the plan was hatched. It was easy to steer the conversation in the direction they needed it to go because Carlton was genuinely interested in the criminal activity of this small town. It seemed that he had taken the bait. That Sunday afternoon the family picked up Effie and headed for Decatur and the nursing home.

When they got there, Sam, the orderly wheeled Will out to the patio so the family could have a visit, then left them alone. They visited for more than an hour so as to give Carlton plenty of time to feel secure that the house was empty. Counting the drive into Decatur and back it would be at least two hours before they would return to Forsyth. Hopefully by then, Carlton would have made his move and the deputies would have him. The deputies had the number of the nursing home to call Buckey when it was done.

After about an hour’s visit, Buckey was called to the phone. The deputy said it looked like a bust. Carlton had just loaded his uncle into his car and headed north out of town. Looks like everyone thought it was a nice day for a drive. They would wait just a few more minutes to make sure Carlton didn’t double back and then they would call it a day. Buckey said they would head home shortly and went to relay the news to the family. Ted was puzzled. It was the perfect time to slip into the store and search for the coins. Why wouldn’t a man who had made such elaborate plans to steal those coins pass up this golden opportunity? Could he have been wrong? What was he missing? If not Carlton, then who?

He turned it all over in his mind – over and over again as they said goodbyes. An orderly named Alice had come to wheel Dubya H back to his room. Ted noticed her because his granddad always flirted with “Big Alice.” They loaded into the family car and started to pull away when the answer came to him. “Stop the car, Dad! It’s not Carlton!”

He asked his dad for the number to the Sheriff’s Office and after getting it, ran back inside the nursing home. He grabbed the desk phone and called. He told the dispatcher who he was and asked her to relay a message immediately to Deputy Johnson. He ran back to the car, got in and said, “Let’s go – fast! I’ll explain on the way!”

Buckey careened out of the driveway and sped out of Decatur toward home. Traffic was light since it was Sunday afternoon and Buckey set a new record for the five miles back to Forsyth. They hoped and prayed that the deputies had gotten the call from the dispatcher in time. As they raced down Ruehl Street in Forsyth toward the store on the corner, the flashing lights of the two sheriff’s cruisers came into view, but were they in time? As Buckey skidded to a stop in front of the Post Office just behind the store and his old home residence, Deputy Johnson came out of the back door of the store with the suspect in tow, hands cuffed behind him.

“Looks like you were right Ted,” Buckey said. “They’ve got Sam!”

Effie added, “And I always liked Sam. He was so good with Dubya H.”

They put Sam in the patrol car and Deputy Johnson came over to the Walden family. “How did you know, Ted? What tipped you in his direction?”

Ted explained to the deputy what he had already told his family in the car as they raced home from Decatur. Buckey was telling his brother Harold in the backyard at the same time.

When Buckey had returned to the family at the nursing home saying the deputies were giving up on Carlton, Ted began to question his conclusions. All the clues were there, he just hadn’t seen them because he was so sure it was Carlton Cutler. As he replayed conversations in his mind certain things popped out at him. He remembered his dad saying that Sam had told him that Will had moments of lucidity and recalled lots of details of the past. He could easily have talked about the coins. And then his dad said Sam spilled his pipe on his dad and nearly set his robe on fire – Sam smoked a pipe, too! He knew the address from the nursing home records, got the details from one of Granddad’s lucid moments, and had tried to steal the coins earlier, but failed. Sam was certainly young and agile enough to have climbed around on the train and plenty strong enough to break the hobo’s neck. Then, when the whole family showed up that afternoon at the nursing home, Sam suddenly left work. It all fit.

The crime spree was truly over! Ted was the hero – after almost missing it. He had had all the right ideas, just the wrong culprit. Buckey and Harold eventually got the coins appraised and sold to a collector and used the proceeds to take help care of their mom now that she would be unemployed. Walden’s Grocery Store would officially close for good the next year after a big closeout sale! The town could go back to sleep!

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Filed under Short Stories, The Good Ol' Days

Growing Up “Then”

Recently a Facebook page was started about my hometown, Forsyth, IL – then and now. I joined the page and quickly posted a few pictures I have of the “then” part of the equation. My grandparents ran a grocery store from 1930 through the late 60s. My dad grew up in the residence in the back of the store. I grew up next door in the 50s and 60s and did lots of pop, ice cream, and candy shopping in that store, as well as worked in there once in a while. My pics and commentary stirred up lots of memories and comments from friends on Facebook. They remember, too.

It was a great time and place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody and even some of their family who didn’t even live there (they came to visit now and then and we’d meet them!). People watched out for each other; we felt like we had numerous moms and dads! We played in the school yard, the church yard, several backyards, and even in the streets. I walked to grade school or rode my bike. I mostly went home for lunch and went right back for the noon recess – it was just a few short blocks. We played Hide ‘n’ Seek, Ditch, Kick the Can, and all the sports – which in those days meant baseball, football, and basketball.

We played in the snow and since it was central Illinois, we had plenty of opportunities. We built forts and had snowball fights; we built igloos; we went sledding and even were towed behind cars through the streets of town! Yeah, I know, that’s too dangerous! We had the run of the whole town which cannot really be done these days – the town has grown and spread out in all directions and across the highway, which is more lanes and filled with much more traffic and business.

I was a paperboy for 4 years – from when I was only 7 until I was 11 years old. I did my own delivering either walking or riding a bike and did my own collecting for the cost of the papers on Saturdays making change and everything at 7 and 8 years old! Kids who rode the school busses were dismissed a few minutes before us townies, but my older brother and I got to go when they did during basketball season. We needed the extra time to deliver the afternoon papers and get right back to school for practice.

We had Little League Baseball in the summers with July 4th tournaments and fireworks afterwards. We played basketball with all the other similar sized schools in the area and rode the bus to and from the games. We didn’t have football until high school, just played it in our yards – usually just “touch” football, occasionally “flag,” but every now and then tackle. Once in a while we built high jump stands and did that. I can remember playing marbles, collecting and trading baseball cards, playing catch and “hotbox” for hours, often listening to the Cubs game on a radio. We played more softball games than I could count and possibly even more games of Indian Ball (you’ll need to contact me for a description of that game).

We would play after school, then rush home for supper. We often went back out until dark and many, many nights even later. Hide and Seek, Kick the Can and other such games were much better after dark. It was safe then and there. In the summertime, some of us would get our sleeping bags and sometimes a tent and “camp out” in someone’s back yard. We brought snacks. We talked much of the night yet slept a little. Don’t tell our folks, but we usually quietly snuck away and walked around town in the wee hours of the morning, just to do it. Aw, they probably knew it anyway.

Television was three channels if you could get them by antenna. I did well in school so my parents were not strict on me going to bed early. I would stay up with dad and after the news when most kids had gone on to bed, I’d be watching “Perry Mason” and “Tightrope” reruns or Johnny Carson or Joey Bishop. Summertime was reruns in prime time, so we didn’t watch much – we played outside. It was black and white shows at first – color came later.

We had radios and listened often. I even bought a transistor radio, small enough to carry around with me on my paper route! That was big deal! Music at home was provided by playing records on a record player. You younger ones may just have to google it to understand. Some of us would ride our bikes 5 miles into Decatur to buy the latest 45 record and go to the DQ before riding back home. No way should anyone try that there now!

And speaking of dangerous travel, I hitch-hiked a lot in my teens – back and forth to high school in Maroa or just to go hang out up there. One year I hitched rides home from the family vacation in Arkansas! I would rather not hitch hike nowadays either! Times have changed.

Phones were attached to the walls and cords were short. I remember when we finally got a long cord and could walk 10-15 feet away from the base! It was years before we had cordless ones. Long distance calls cost more so they were limited. No such thing as texts and emails. You COULD write a letter, put it in a stamped envelope and mail it though! Only took a week or so for the other one to get it.

On Halloween, we dressed up and went Trick or Treating all over town and made a haul! Back then, people tried to guess who it was behind that mask or makeup. Yes, we soaped windows, too. My mom even did that a time or two! The grade school always had a Halloween party and a fall carnival. Lots of fun and candy!

Christmas was great! There was always a Christmas program at school, and each class did its own thing. I remember playing a doctor in a play in the fourth grade. I have dispensed medical advice because of that experience (see my post Crayola Virus). At church we also had programs – carols, plays, and the nativity scene. Families had get-togethers, even extended families. We went into Decatur to our other Grandma’s or an aunt’s house for Christmas Eve. Sang all the way there and back in the car. Got home late. Our afternoon paper route was a morning delivery on weekends and holidays. A time or two, we went by the newspaper office after our family Christmas Eve time and got our papers before they were sent out to the routes. We could get them delivered really early in the morning before even going to sleep and not have to get up early on Christmas Day to deliver! Never did see Santa on his deliveries though.

Our church always went caroling throughout the town, stopping at all the senior citizens’ houses and more. One year, it was the last time I saw my grandma alive. She went to be with Jesus that night in bed after we left. Over the years, I mowed their lawn, helped out in their grocery store occasionally, and saw them often because I’d go buy things there on a regular basis. I had a charge account! I could buy pop and candy on credit and pay off the tab when I got my newspaper route money. When Granddad got sick and had to spend time in the hospital then the nursing home, us kids took turns staying all night with Grandma. I don’t think she was afraid of anything! It was just in case something went wrong, we’d be there to get a hold of dad next door. And maybe to keep her from being lonely.

Their residence was in the back of the store. One night some man tried to pry open the side window, probably thinking he was breaking into the store. It was a window right next to Grandma’s bed. She awoke and sat up and stared through the window right at the man! He ran for the hills! Probably a good thing because Grandma would have taken him on had he gained entry into the house and probably would have taken him out! She was a tough little bird. Reminded me of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies TV show!

My dad was a fastpitch softball umpire for 17 years while I was growing up. Decatur was a hotbed of ASA games. Teams from all over the country came to Decatur to play and I saw them all. Most Friday and Saturday nights during the summers were spent watching the games and Dad umpiring. I watched the best of the best. I also chased foul balls. You got a dime for each one you returned. I made more than enough to enjoy all the pop, popcorn, and candy I wanted! During all day tournaments I made enough for hotdogs, too!

A big treat was getting Dad to stop at the Dog n Suds just across from Chaps Field in Decatur after the games and get us a mug of root beer! It is still my drink of choice (in fact I have a case of it in glass bottles right now as a Christmas gift from my son’s family.). I skipped a couple of days of school in the eighth grade to go with my family to Indianapolis because Decatur was in the national tournament that year. My cousin Jack played. His dad and my dad are in the ASA Hall of Fame – my uncle as a business manager/coach and Dad for his umpiring.

Friends from back then are still friends, even if we can’t be very close. Social media has helped us stay in touch. I try to get to as many funerals as I can and see them as they lay to rest their parents or a spouse or sibling. I am a minister and I have done a wedding for one of my high school friends and her mother’s funeral. Another friend or two have reached out over the years when they were hurting and needed a friend. The internet and cell phones have provided opportunities for staying in touch that we did not have back in the day.

God first, family next, then church and friends. Do your best in school, working, or playing. Treat people with kindness and your elders with respect. Be honest, helpful, generous, and polite. Have fun yet behave. Unfortunately, it seems that too many don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. My kids didn’t have it too bad growing up. We were able to keep lots of what I had in place for them despite the changes that occurred. They have tried their best to hang on for our grandkids to enjoy similar living, though the world is changing way too rapidly and mostly NOT for the better. I am sorry they can’t have it just like we did. I am especially sorry for those kids whose parents are clueless. I don’t know all that much about Forsyth “Now”, but I am thankful I grew up in Forsyth “Then.”

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2021 – A Blessed Year!

Happy New Year! 2022 – sounds a little like sci-fi to me, yet here we are! I have seen lots of posts and comments about being so glad to see 2021 leave. Lots of negativity. Not sure it really translates into hope for the new year. I saw the same things posted at the end of 2020! I do not at all want to make light of anyone’s sorrow, troubles, or problems from living through 2021, but much of it is about perspective and attitude. I would not have wanted to go back to the pandemic of the Spanish flu, or the Great Depression, or WWI or WWII, or even Viet Nam, etc. Terrible years with devastating consequences. Seems every year has its good AND bad times.

I for one want to be thankful for the blessings of 2021. Sure, I am hoping for and planning on more blessings in 2022, but I am indeed thankful for a pretty good year this past year. My wife and I started the year celebrating 45 years of marriage (I know, she should get a medal!). In Feb., our church enjoyed a Super Bowl fellowship of fun, food, and games. In March, we had a great family vacation to Orange Beach, AL enjoying the beach, pools and hot tub, mini-golf, go-carts, good food and more. In April, our church celebrated Easter with a full breakfast, fun activities for the kids, and a large crowd for worship. We had already been back to full a full schedule for a long time.

May brought us another breakfast for Mother’s Day and another great crowd of worshippers. By July, we had planned and worked toward what turned out to be another fantastic VBS, which ended with a pool party, several professions of faith, and a couple of baptism services. On Aug. 1st, we celebrated 20 years as a church with special music, slide shows, testimonies, a BBQ lunch, inflatables and a fire engine for the kids, games, and a great crowd! Two weeks later my wife and I spent a week with our kids and grandkids at a resort in Branson, MO – after the “Jesus” show at Sight n Sound theater, we also enjoyed a week of swimming, mini-golf, shuffleboard, fishing, boating and tubing, jumping off cliffs into the lake, playing and singing around the villa, and lots of good food and fun!

We returned in time for the Pana Labor Day Parade in which our church had a float and passed out tons of candy and brochures about our children’s ministry. Straight Street, revamped after a three-year hiatus, was up and running for its eighth season and is going well.

My wife and I took a quick unplanned vacation in October to Branson to celebrate my birthday and Pastor Appreciation Month. Besides having a relaxing time, we saw a couple of shows and enjoyed some great food and a round of mini-golf. I bought lots of new clothes since most everything I had was too big and I also got featured on the DVD made during “The Hits of the 60s” show we attended! Wow – my 15 minutes of Fame for my 67th birthday!

A big crowd came through our church’s Trunk or Treat event in October. We celebrated Thanksgiving with a good-sized crowd at church for dinner and a special service and all our family at home for the holiday – more good times with lots of good food and games as well as the addition of two children taken into our daughter’s family from an unfortunate homelife of their own.

For Christmas, our church had our highest attended adult party and good kids’ and youth parties. We went caroling to the homes of our own senior citizens and bought, wrapped, and delivered gifts to area nursing homes. Our family enjoyed a great Christmas with everyone there – again with lots of good food and fun. After Christmas, our church youth went to a huge conference for teens in Branson! My wife and I quietly ushered in the new year with a couple of old movies, pizza, and goodies.

Our church enjoyed its best year financially of our twenty years – so far! In 2021, we did ministry, supported missions and disaster relief, and reached and developed people for Jesus. Yes, we mourned the loss of one of our church fellowship, had a few others get covid and recover, prayed over other illnesses and troubles (like every year), and did our best with what we were given. So, despite living in the midst of an atmosphere of pandemic and pandemonium, illnesses and ill-will, negative news, nastiness and name-calling on antisocial media, and polarizing politics, I personally want to go on record as thanking God for all the blessings of the past year. I am indeed looking for an even better year in 2022, but that is always the case with a new year starting! What a mighty God we serve!

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Filed under Holidays, Personal Thoughts

Twenty of Plenty!

We moved into the house in Pana, IL, that is still our home, on the last weekend of July in 2001.  The very next Sunday we had a worship service in our house with 30 people and Celebration Community Church was born! A couple of months later we rented “Danceland” where folks were going on Saturdays and Sundays to dance to various area bands. The former skating rink would be our church “home” on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights for nearly a year.  We then rented the former Grandpa’s Hardware on Hwy 51 at the south edge of town.  We renovated that space and operated there for the next 14 years!

During that time, besides continually redoing the facility to meet our needs, our church was involved in such things as VBS each summer, children’s camps, youth activities, Disaster Relief ministries, kids’ carnivals, Trunk or Treat, nursing home ministries, all kinds of worship and fellowship opportunities, a mission work in Peru, and our very own children’s ministry called “Straight Street.”  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

God has blessed us tremendously, and we believe others through us, over these past 20 years!  We bought our own property 5 years ago and totally remodeled that. By God’s grace we are debt free and are contemplating adding more to our building. We have seen God’s hand in our own ministries and programs, but more importantly in lives touched.  Our stated purpose has always been to “reach and develop people for Jesus!”  We have and will continue to do just that.

We are planning an all-day celebration on Sunday, Aug. 1st (2021) to testify to God’s goodness and power for these past 20 years.  As I have gone back through our history and photos and worked on presentations for that day as well as for our You Tube channel, I have reflected on those people and ministries. It has been my privilege to pastor a great group of people for these 20 years and watch them grow in the Lord and pour themselves out for others.  I’ve thought about the salvations and baptisms, the kids touched by our children’s ministries, the people encouraged and helped through Disaster Relief, the churches we’ve helped, the Quechua people of the mountains of Peru, and so much more.

  I’ve thought about our usual crowd each Sunday after all these years and recalled the weddings and funerals I have helped them through.  Their loss of a son, a brother, a husband, a father or mother, a grandparent, or another close relative or friend.  Every life has been touched by death or other drastic events, but these hit us close to home.  Yet, God has been there and seen us through it all.  It has been my privilege to try to do the same in some small inadequate way. 

It has been a fantastic “ride” so far!  I said the other day to someone that my job throughout these 20 years has been just to hold on to God’s hand yet stay out of His way!  He has done great things!  I expect He will do many more with and through Celebration Community Church.  I look forward to watching that happen.  I am getting a bit old now and my health is beginning to fade a little.  I never really thought I’d be saying that while still in my 60s, but here I am!  I do not know where it’s all headed nor how long God will have me continue as the pastor here, but I DO know that whatever lies ahead is in His hands, not mine.  It has been that way all along and it’s best to just leave it that way!

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Filed under Personal Thoughts, Religion