She was a black-haired beauty with big, dark eyes

by the Night Writer

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the real Bob Seger is now on iTunes in epic fashion, rolling me away with a 26-song collection entitled “Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets” for just $9.99. And just like Bob when he climbed out of his Corvette to watch the long train roll by in the classic video, I’ve had some time to think about his music and my life.

I liked Seger well enough when I was growing up but I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan. Perhaps it was easy to take him for granted because he was so ubiquitous.  It seemed as if he always had a song on the charts and playing in the background of most of my memories from my teens and into my 30s. They were songs of wheels and women, of loving and leaving, and of doing whatever it takes to have a good time that became an American bushido of masculinity for an era. The style was gritty but not too deep and it was a match made in Marketing when Chevy hitched it’s truck line to the Detroit-born and bred Seger’s “Like a Rock” hit, almost turning the song into a parody of itself. It did sell a lot of quarter- and half-ton trucks, though, and Seger sold a million tons of records as Americans found a certain resonance, real or hoped-for, in the words and images.

Yeah, I could picture myself taking a look down that westbound road and making a choice to get up with the sun and be gone with the wind all the way to Katmandu (but not to Fire Lake); of being rock hard and hard-rocking, and thinking that while I wasn’t good-looking I wasn’t shy and wasn’t afraid to look a girl in they eye, even if they all wanted to change me

Somehow it seems like yesterday, but it was long ago.

Because somewhere along the line I wanted to change, needed to change, and met the woman who could do that, the woman I could love and never leave, the one who still causes me to sit up at night marveling at the traces she’s left on my soul.

And those, my friends, are the memories that truly make me a wealthy soul. And I still believe in my dreams.

 For my money, “Like a Rock”  is one of the most creative and well-crafted music videos of all time. Though Seger was in his 40s when the video was released, it resonates more for me in my 50s. 


10 years ago, and 10 years on

by the Night Writer

Ten years ago I wasn’t blogging, but I was writing. On Sunday, September 16 I published the first essay below –  “When the Towers Fall” – in the monthly handout I prepared for our men’s ministry at church. It was based on my observations of the past few days and the role of faith and biblical understanding in those circumstances. A month later I followed up with a second essay, taking off from the words of a certain televangelist to examine the nature and purpose of judgment. I share these two essays below for a picture of that time. Later this week I’ll come back and share how I think things have – or haven’ t – changed for me and my nation in the intervening years.

When the Towers Fall

Ultimately, America’s secular façade crumbled even before its material symbols collapsed. I first turned on my radio – and heard the first words regarding Tuesday’s disaster – moments before the second tower was struck. The voices of the national news team were already urging Americans to pray for the safety of those involved. It sounded almost glib at first, but as the unreal became real and the horror increased by the minute, the references became more heartfelt, even desperate.

As our true helplessness and vulnerability became apparent, the call to pray was in every report and every story. And pray we did: alone, with our families, and in special services and vigils that themselves became news. All of this flying in the face of a culture and media that has said for years that faith and divine intervention are, at best, inappropriate if not impossible. It must have been like discovering that the kooky old aunt you’ve been keeping in the attic is the only one who knows where the family silver is buried.

But which is the true picture of America? Are we a secular society that merely pays lip service to faith when a crisis looms, or are we a nation of quiet faithful who allow ourselves to be cowed by society until circumstances give us a chance to break out? I know how our attackers would describe us.

Continue reading

The reason for grandchildren

by the Night Writer

Down among the reeds and rushes
A baby boy was found
His eyes as clear as centuries
His silky hair was brown

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

Our pastor likes to say, “God gives you children so that you can grow up.” The point is that your thinking changes when you realize the long-term responsibility you have, and your behavior (hopefully) changes when you start to recognize your less admirable traits showing up in your children. Unless, of course, you don’t mind your child turning into a despicable evil genius.

watching the game blog size

A second thought along this line occurred to me the other day: “and God gives you grandchildren so you can mature.” By that I mean the satisfaction that comes from seeing all the things you worked so hard to put into your child manifest itself in and around your grandchild. It’s the pay-off for the blood, sweat, tears and unpopular decisions you made to strengthen your own character as well as your son or daughter’s and it comes when you see how they love and teach their own children in turn, perhaps even with a greater patience and discipline than you yourself possessed at the same stage in your life. It’s at this point that you realize that your hopes for the future are bearing fruit and your work has passed from your hands.

I also realized that the same thing applies not just to the natural children you’ve borne or created, but to the “supernatural” or spiritual children you’ve discipled in the faith. How warm and glorious a feeling it is to see these children living on and sharing the things they’ve learned with others. Whether with natural or supernatural children, this is the point where you are truly overcome with the realization that something of you really is going to live on.

As an aside, this revelation may have germinated with me last week at the Bible study I lead at the Red Wing correctional facility. As it happens, each of the men in the study will be released at some point this year and I was moved to read the short chapter of Isaiah 61:1 to them. The first verse — “the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” — was what had first caught my attention, but it was the rest of the chapter that was the most powerful because it deals with what can happen for those that receive that word and that liberty. Among these is in verse 3 — “that they may be called trees of righteousness” — and especially verse 9: “Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, And their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, That they are the posterity whom the LORD has blessed.”

The mens’ faces were a bit gob-smacked as I challenged them to be those trees and I saw the realization soaking into them of the effect they could have into the next generation and the next in the families they had yet to create. “You have the chance,” I told them, “to have your grandchildren say of you either that ‘Grandpa did 10 to 20’ or that ‘Grandpa was a mighty man of righteousness who was an example to our family and set my feet on the path.'”

And T. added, “Or they could say both.”

As for my own grandson, now five and a half months old, his face often has gobs of different things on it, but it is almost invariably smiling. And why shouldn’t he? He is literally surrounded by people who love him and are happy to see him and quick to want to hold him. As Paul Simon said at the beginning of this post, he’s never been lonely, never been lied to, never had to scuffle for fear or had anything he needs denied to him.  If called upon I would gladly and readily pour everything I am and everything I have into him, but I can relax because I see that my daughter and her husband already know what it is they have to impart. My heart overflows with joy when I watch my grandson or hold him close and at the same time I feel an ache knowing that every day the news brings stories of babies that are resented, cursed and abused.

I look into his eyes, as clear as centuries, and stroke his silky brown hair and think of those born into suffering now and the deprivation they face that goes beyond mere food, clothing and shelter. I think of their lives and future paths leading into captivity and the need for someone, someday, to bring the words of liberty. And I hold my grandson even closer and whisper into his ear, “Born at the right time.”


by the Night Writer

I am not a particularly handy man when it comes to fixing things. In fact, I’ve often said of myself that I can do in half-a-day what it takes two men working all-day to undo. Nevertheless, I love going into old-timey hardware stores. There’s something about the faded floors, jumbled shelves and the scent of grease, oil, wood, copper and sweat that is hard-wired (or hard-wared) into my soul and stirs my imagination. The sight of rows of tools and implements made to fit the hand just make me feel useful and like I want to start some kind of project, even though I may only be able to tell you the true function of a mere fraction of these tools. For some reason I never feel this way when I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, even though most of my “home improvement” shopping is done at these big box stores. Perhaps it’s because somewhere along the line “home improvement centers” replaced “hardware stores”.

I thought about this yesterday after reading that my local hardware store, Langula’s, is closing after 96 years and three-generations of being in business. I first wandered into Langula’s some 10 years or so ago because I needed my mower blades sharpened and they were the only place around that still did that on site, while you waited. The owner of the shop, Gary, usually did the sharpening himself, ensconced in his grungy workshop at the back of the store where you had to step down into an area  delineated by the original foundations of his grandparent’s store. Gary’s a phlegmatic guy, not much of a talker, but he can find parts and tell you how to use them. Sometimes I’d watch as he’d run the blades along the grinder in a shower of yellow sparks but usually I’d wander around the main part of the store, hefting this tool or running my hands over that piece of equipment. Somehow it all reminded me of when I was a boy and my grandfather would take me around with him when he’d go to visit his many friends who were fuel oil jobbers and mechanics. I remember their twill work pants, Eisenhower jackets and their billed caps with the ear-flaps on the side … and always the smell of petroleum. Okay, it wasn’t frankincense, but these men with their look and jargon seemed to me to be part of some esoteric priesthood of arcane knowledge.

If not a priesthood, it was certainly at least a club. My grandfather would tell me stories of a hardware store in his home town that was run by a couple of friends, one of whom had some talent as an artist. The men in town would congregate at the hardware store and drink coffee from mugs hand-painted for each man by the owner, usually in a risque manner. The men always left their cups in the back of the store, never to be seen by the casual public and definitely never by the wives or women-folk.

Another old hardware store that did things its own way was on Payne Avenue when I lived on the east side of St. Paul. It looked as if it could have been the model for a Norman Rockwell calendar. Hell, I think it probably still had a Norman Rockwell calendar on the wall from 1957. The aisles were narrow and things stacked on the upper shelves seemed to lean over my head like tree branches in an arbor, while the hardwood floor running down each aisle was worn into a smooth trench by generations of work-boots shuffling along, making it all feel as if I was in a tunnel. The haphazard clutter of odds and ends led me to suggest to the clerk helping me that it must be fun to do the annual inventory. “Never happens,” he replied. “When the old man dies, they’re just going to burn the place down and start over.”

Langula’s doesn’t have quite as much “character” as that place, and Gary never offered me a customized coffee mug, but the store is still a true, funky, living artifact of another time, complete with a shop cat that lounges about the place and often naps on the counter next to the cash register. Whenever I’d take a deep breath it seemed as if I could still smell the ghosts in their work-clothes. My grandfather and his friends all passed on long ago and the hardware stores they would have felt at home in are dying out, too. After nearly 100 years in the same location, this coming weekend will likely be the last for Langula’s.

I plan to drop in, browse the aisles, breathe deeply. I’m sure they’ve got something there I need.

Running with the storm

by the Night Writer

I’m cruising west on the two-lane County Road 50 heading out of Miesville and making for Hwy. 52. When I had stepped out of King’s Place moment’s before the northern and western skies were luminous despite it being after 9:00 p.m. To the east and south, however, lay Mordor with lines of lightning crackling non-stop between walls of bruised eggplant. I had turned toward the light instead.

Now, ahead of me, the sky is a dingy parfait of blue and pink with gray-brown clouds striated across like a relief-map of the Hebrides archipelago. Appropriately, George Mauer’s “Running With the Storm” shuffles up on the stereo and the piano pounds as rain-drops start to gravel on my rear window. Looking to my right the dark green farm fields hold houses, barns, silos and electrical towers that all seem to glow from within. To my left, the sky looks like an overturned basket of eggs. Still ahead of me, the glowing sky is smaller but even in the face of the inevitable it is not going down without a fight. Not tonight.

Highway of death

by the Night Writer

In the last 30 years I’ve driven between Minnesota and Missouri in all kinds of weather and in all seasons. Spring and early summer are the most scenic times. Missouri has always seemed to be kind of a brown state to me: mud and wet clay in the winter and baked dust in the summer, while in the fall the leaves seem to turn dry and brown all too quickly. It is a hilly state, however, and a welcome contrast to the flat lands and straight roads of Iowa that we aim our way across to get there. In the spring time the hills are green with trees, turning blue-gray as they hump their way to the horizon. Come summer, a humid haze hangs over these hills like an old gym sock, making your mouth dry just to look at them.

Spring, however, also seems to be the time when various critters get a touch of the wanderlust and a desire to see what’s on the other side of the road – especially if it’s female. Disney would say they are twitter-pated, but they are often twitter-pasted. Whether because they are distracted or, conversely, perhaps too single-minded, the animals don’t pay sufficient attention to what must be the mind-boggling closing rates of oncoming metal and rubber monsters. This particular trip seems gorier than most as we see a steady collection of gob-smacked fauna on the shoulders of the road, in the medians, and often on the highway itself. Dogs, cats, deer, ubiquitous raccoons, rabbits and sometimes unidentifiable flats of fur are garnish for the vultures we frequently see loafing in the skies ahead of us, recognizable by the spread, finger-like feathers at the ends of their wings. From the time I spent working on a road crew in this state, however, I know this is also the season for the most unlikely of road warriors: turtles.

When you think of how many swift animals such as deer and rabbits get turned into pizza it is strange indeed to ponder what impulse could incent an unimpulsive tortoise to cross the road, and the ugly odds against a successful arrival. Still, they are shattered left and right this time of year. Does Darwin know about this?

At one point, I’m driving as we cruise down a relatively straight stretch of two-lane Highway 63 when we see a black shape that looks like a large serving platter in the middle of the oncoming lane about 100 yards ahead. It could be a piece of rubber from a blown tire. I’m trying to categorize it as my wife asks, “Is it roadkill?” I’ve noticed, however, that it has actually moved a little closer to the other side of the road as we watched, and I’ve also noticed an empty flat-bed truck with a red cab coming our way. “Not yet,” I reply. “Snapping turtle.”

Sure enough, the truck has edged over and I think it’s trying to straddle the snapper; turtle shells can be hell on tires. Instead, about 50 yards ahead of us the left front tire hits the turtle at 60 miles per hour. I’m expecting squish but instead it’s boom as the turtle blows up like a grenade; blood, parts of shell and parts I don’t even want to try to describe go flying up into the air as high as the roof of the truck. I’m too shocked to look at anything but the road so I don’t see the face of the driver as the rig sweeps by us so I don’t know if he’s smiling or gulping.

It’s probably two miles before I reach back into the box of ju-jubes on the console next to me.

Which connection I should cut

by the Night Writer

Earlier I posted about the time the godly hole got punched in the wall of my world-view. It was a dramatic example, but not necessarily the first time God tried to get my attention. Looking back now I can see numerous nudges, nods, winks and taps on the shoulder when I was a boy and later a young adult. Not that I’m anything special, mind you, or that God isn’t trying in multiple ways to reach all of us. In my life, however, certain things have resonated, even when I didn’t understand or want to admit what invisible mallet struck the chime to make it vibrate.

For example, back when I was in college I was browsing in a used record store as the local alt-rock campus radio station played in the background. A song came on that immediately pricked my ears. I’d never heard it before and though I could make out the words, I couldn’t really understand them. I just knew that the melody got a hook into me. About all I could remember was part of the chorus: “My heart going boom, boom, boom….”

The station didn’t say the name of the song or the artist, and though I’d hear the song occasionally at random times in the next few years I still didn’t know anything about it other than it strangely moved me every time I heard it. After I moved to the Twin Cities in the early 80s I finally got the name of the song and artist: “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, and then spent several months trying to find a copy of it in those pre-Google, pre-Amazon, prehistoric days. It finally found it on a live album and could listen to it to my heart’s (boom-boom-boom) content. Even with that I still couldn’t grasp what it was about. Some friends told me it was a song Gabriel wrote when he was trying to decide whether or not to leave Genesis, and that seemed to make as much sense as anything even though the lyrics were mostly obscure (it was a great time for obscure lyrics).

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”

Then, along about the time I was discovering I was to be a father, and was rediscovering my faith, I heard the song again and it suddenly became clear to me. Had Gabriel written the song to describe his break-up with the band or, as I was doing, to come to terms with a spiritual reawakening (I knew he had become a Christian about the time he left Genesis)? I had heard a profound voice with information that by “reasonable” standards I could scarcely believe…what could I, or should I, do about it? Which of two seemingly incompatible worlds would I choose, and at what cost?

Could I trust my eyes and…imagination?

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho’ my life was in a rut
‘Til I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”

The earlier, mysterious appeal of the song became a confirmation to me that there had been a plan for my life all along, even if I was slow in picking up on it. Still, it was hard to think of giving up one life for another, but I knew the direction I had to go. In doing so, however, I came to realize that there is just one life; the difference is in how you will approach it.

Peter Gabriel didn’t stop recording music, he just went about it in a different way, with a different sense of mission. It wasn’t a matter of me withdrawing from the old world, but embracing it with fresh eyes and new arms. Nor was it about what I could get or become, it was about what I could give and be to others (my daughters, for example).

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me

Physical separation is an illusion. I once told a men’s group that we were not monks who should seek to withdraw from the world to pursue and preserve our piety, but men who will pursue the world with our piety so that none may perish, “giving up” our lives in order to save and disciple the lives of others. If we withdraw then certainly people won’t see our failures or weaknesses and we can hope to keep them from pointing and laughing. But they also won’t see our tests and testimonies, and we keep them from a chance to see something in our lives that makes them consider their own lives and say, “Wait a minute….”

Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
They’ve come to take me home.”

Days with my father

by the Night Writer

Buffy Holt linked to this profound photo essay the other day, saying:

Days With My Father is Phillip Toledano’s evocative photo essay of his 98-year old dad and their struggle with memory loss. But it’s so much more than that too. Five minutes of your today…and it will move you beyond words.

I’d gladly give Buffy more than five minutes just on her word, so I went to the link…and was moved.

Photo (c) Philip Toledano

Photo (c) Philip Toledano

For some reason, however, my browser (IE) would show the photos but not the full text, cutting off the far left hand side of the page. Even in full-screen mode the text ran off the page and couldn’t be slid into view. Three-quarters of a line, half-a line, was all I could make out. God, it was frustrating …  and it reminded me of my grandfather, aphasic after his stroke, when all he could get out was half a sentence, leaving you to guess or interpret the rest. It reminded me of my father, weak and tired and barely able to breathe, speaking a minimum of words, trusting to memory and context and a shrug to supply meaning.

Then, reading the snippets of text again, and remembering how this was an account of struggling with being able to remember. How perfect, then, for meaning to be found outside of syntax! You can’t use your brain, only your eyes and your heart, to feel, not to know, what is meant…and then still being able to understand it!

Just like with my grandfather. Just like with my father. Days that I will never have again, but days that will never leave me.

(By viewing the link now in Firefox I can  read everything, so it wasn’t a deliberate technique for telling the story. I almost wish it was, but take my word that you wouldn’t want to miss a thing.)

After the fall

by the Night Writer

Two years ago today the 35W bridge collapsed, drawing attention not only from across the state of Minnesota but also across the country and even the world. When I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago I was talking to an engineer from Madrid and when he found out I was from the Minneapolis area the first thing he wanted to talk about was the bridge collapse. Since the collapse a new bridge has risen, bigger and stronger than the original, the marks of the disaster now largely out of sight underneath the waters of the Mississippi River, just as the scars in the lives of those who survived — or in the lives of the loved ones of those who didn’t — are largely lost to our sight now.

At the time I suggested here (see below) that in the fall of concrete and metal something better and purer might arise, not made by the hands of man, but in the way those hands reached out. Today a new bridge stands, better than ever, where the old one fell. Two years later my question to you is, “Can we say the same thing?”

The bridges of Minneapolis and San Luis Rey, and the Tower of Siloam
Who, what, when, where? Those are the first things we want to know when a disaster makes the news. Close on their heels comes the question hardest to answer: Why?

That question breaks into two parts, the physical and the metaphysical. Why did the bridge fail structurally, and why were these particular people apportioned to survive, die or be injured? The first question will eventually be known to the millimeter; the second will remain fuzzy. Implicit in the second one, however, is the fear that everything is random, that there is no justice, or that justice is applied on a scale so grand that we can’t calculate it; either way we are left with uncertainty as to just what measure is due us personally. The thing is, we want there to be a reason and order to things, and optimistically assume (or hope) that our own accounts will balance to the “good”; promising or justifying our own deliverance from calamity.

We easily extend our version of grace to others (as long as they’re victims and not members of the opposition party), generously judging them good or innocent by the most general of categories: he was a “nice guy”, she was a young mother. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” we cry. Other people, or other times, might view calamity as judgment or karmic justice.

Similarly, was it chance or God’s plan that resulted in the deaths in the collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis? Was it God’s indifference that lead to the fall, or God’s providence that the calamity was not more catastrophic? If there is such a “goodness” scale, by what measure can the survivors claim deliverance and what comfort can be given to the families of those who didn’t? How can a former missionary go missing while a child abuser survives?

People didn’t start asking these questions just when President Bush took office, either. In his 1927 novel, “The Bridge at San Luis Rey,” Thornton Wilder tackles similar questions and circumstances in the person of Brother Juniper who tries to ascertain the central failing in the lives of five people who perish when the titular bridge falls into a chasm. (He could come to no conclusion). Going back a bit further, in John 9:2, Jesus was asked about a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Whereupon he made mud and put it in the blind man’s eyes and then sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam, healing his blindness. Interestingly, Siloam is mentioned again in Luke 13 when people suggest to Jesus that calamity overcame certain people as a judgment. His response: “… those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Or, (excuse my jump in character but not in context), in the words of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “We’ve all got it coming.” The point being made was that no one is innocent, but each may come to the revelation of salvation by grace; by the work of God, not man.

I’m not trying to be dark. In fact, I believe that there is an order and justice in the universe even if we can’t see it all at once. I believe that because, in fact, we are able to see beauty and justice from time to time. If it weren’t so, all would be chaos and despair. Instead, in the midst of the refining fire of a disaster there are gleaming streaks of gold rising through all the impurities; the acts of courage, altruism and goodness in the survivors and rescuers (perhaps even unplumbed in their lives up until that point), and of a community pulling together in empathy and faith.

Bridges are aspirational; tangibly they are an example of our ability to overcome an obstacle to achieve what we want. The failure of one is not just a challenge to getting what we want, it is a repudiation of our ability to even conceive of it; the cutting of the tightrope woven of our doctrines that we walk to find our own salvation. In Mark Helprin’s book “Winter’s Tale” the allegorical and eternal Jackson Mead, an engineer representing either Lucifer or man (I go back and forth on this), strives to bend steel, nature and his will into casting a tremendous bridge of light to Heaven that — like our human understanding — touches the far shore for a moment and falls. Yet one of the messages of the book is that the balances are exact; and one thing cannot fall without something else rising and even more gloriously.

The 35W bridge fell in a crush of broken steel, concrete and bodies — and though the dust sought to obscure it, we could suddenly see something clearly: we are the bridges, standing in or reaching across the gap for and to one another.

Standing, always.

The rain keeps its own sweet time

by the Night Writer

My grandfather was born at home on his family farm and the life there was soon ground into him like the loam on his bare feet. He worked the fields and the stock as he grew up and though he ultimately made his living in a suit and a tie, farming was always a part of him. One time I bought him a Stan Rogers CD that featured a song entitled “The Field Behind the Plow”. Rogers had a remarkable talent for getting into the heart of people’s lives and stories and his stoic portrayal of the farmer’s life resonated with my grandfather. He and my grandmother took a car trip out west with my parents shortly after he received that CD and he just about wore them and the CD out, wanting to listen to that song over and over. Part of the song goes:

Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight, dark rows
Feel the trickle in your clothes, blow the dust cake from your nose
Hear the tractor’s steady roar, Oh you can’t stop now

There’s a quarter section more or less to go

And it figures that the rain keeps its own sweet time
You can watch it come for miles, but you guess you’ve got a while
So ease the throttle out a hair, every rod’s a gain
And there’s victory in every quarter mile

The song, and memories of my grandfather, kept going through my head Sunday afternoon as I carved rows of my own across  my lawn while my tractor roared. The sky had been overcast and the clouds lowering before I started mowing, threatening an encore of the rains from earlier in the week that had already left my lawn on the verge of verdant rebellion.  I had measured the sky with my eyes before mounting up and knew it was an iffy proposition as to whether I could finish before the rain, but I had to try or else the neighbors were likely to start losing small dogs and children in my front yard. The rain was on its way, but every rod was a gain.

I stayed dry as I finished the front yard (I call it the “north 40”) and the side yards, and as I turned into the backyard with yet another look at the sky I thought I just might finish in time.  It wasn’t 10 minutes later, though, before the first, fat drops began to pattern the dust on the tractor hood and find the inside of my collar. I still had half-a-dozen passes to make, so I eased the throttle up a little higher and adjusted my hat, thinking of how much my grandfather would have welcomed the rain.

In an hour, maybe more, you’ll be wet clear through
The air is cooler now, pull your hat brim further down
And watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows
Put another season’s promise in the ground

I certainly didn’t have (or need) an hour, and I finished just as the rain started to pick up, turning into the dry darkness of the shed just as my shirt was starting to stick to me. After I turned the tractor off I stood for a moment , breathing in the smell of dried grass, old oil and the earthy moisture riding the breeze before I  trotted along the walk to the back door of the garage. The main door there was also open, framing a wide-screen picture of the front yard like a 300-inch plasma screen as the rain really began to pour. I felt a shiver of satisfaction even in the humidity as I stood just under the big door to  appreciate the perfect moment.

For some reason, my garage has always smelled just like my grandfather’s garage did when I was a little boy. No other garage at any place I’ve lived has ever had that same scent, but I noticed it when we moved in twelve years ago. Standing there, breathing in the garage and the smell of the rain, I could imagine Pawpaw standing behind me, watching as the grass turned even greener in the dimming light, admiring the straight tracks the tractor had left on the lawn and the silvery shimmer of sheets of rain waving toward the house, absorbing the white noise of water pounding the shingles, clattering through the gutters and babbling out of the downspout at the corner.

For the good times come and go, but at least there’s rain
So this won’t be barren ground when September rolls around
So watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows
Put another season’s promise in the ground

Photo by D-32

Photo by D-32

FYI: Stan Rogers died in 1983 but it is almost eerie how much his son Nathan looks and sounds like him today. You can listen to Nathan singing “The Field Behind the Plow” in this video: