Where Everyone is your Uncle or Aunt

 

“Where Everyone is your Uncle or Aunt”

I grew up in a rural community where it seemed every adult was my uncle or aunt. I knew they couldn’t all be kin, although they seemed to be. 

They’re two of the sweetest words in the English language:

Uncle.

Aunt. 

In Dry Creek, these terms of respect were given to our elders. I knew them as Aunt Mary Jane, Uncle Jesse, and dozens more. They’re all gone except in my memory. 

These folks reached their big arms and hearts around us with love. That’s how they became everyone’s uncle and aunt.

About twenty years ago, I made a trip to China. The language was difficult and my phrasebook was of little use. One of my new Chinese friends taught me a word: Aie. It was Chinese for aunt. He explained, “China is in the second generation of its one-child policy and an unintended side effect has been the disappearance of uncles and aunts. We’ve lost the word Aie.”

Two thoughts saddened me: Children never knowing an Aunt or Uncle,

and Uncles and Aunts who never had the chance to love on their nephews or nieces.

For the rest of my trip, I addressed older women with a respectful nod and “Aie.” I still feel emotion when I recall their joyful faces.  My Yankee dialect was poor, but their smiles testified I’d gotten through.

Aie. I hope I never forget that word.

I’ve buried most of my biological aunts and uncles.  How I thank God for each one and how they guided me in love.

Every culture and language has a tender term for aunts.  I have a granddaughter of German heritage who calls every female family member TanteI easily fall in love with the strong Aunties of our American Black culture. 

My Ugandan friend, Joseph, lives in the middle of a circle of thatched huts. Several dozen family members pour in and out of the compound. I’ve yet to sort out who really is a brother, sister, child, uncle, nephew, father, or aunt. 

In the compound, it’s easy to spot the wizened old Mzees. These uncles or grandfathers are treated with the utmost respect. Joseph tried to explain the term Mzee to me. It seems to be a stronger version of Uncle. Mzee. 

 

It’s how we addressed the male elders of my childhood. They were our Uncles. They were our Mzees. 

That’s the mid-century culture I grew up in a small community called Dry Creek, Louisiana.

A place where everyone was your uncle or aunt.

 

Enjoy your elders.

 

They honored me by calling me Mzee.

 

Mzee Curt

Patterans

A Patteran for others to follow.

I’ve always been fascinated with Gypsies. There are so many stories, tales, and legends about these traveling people. My favorite story is about patterans.

Gypsies (known as the Roma in Europe) had a unique method of communicating with fellow travelers. At a crossroads, Gypsies would build a small pattern of twigs, leaves, or grass. This was called a patteran and would guide the following Gypsy bands for the direction of their travel.

Patteran is a term most of us are not familiar with. The dictionary defines a patteran as  “a handful of leaves or grass thrown down at intervals by Roma (Gypsy) people to indicate their course.”

As I stand at the crossroads of a new year called 2023, I want to leave some patterans for those who follow. Here are several I’ve jotted down:

  1. Love. Love leads us, lifts us up, and is always welcome. I will choose to be more loving in this new year.
  2. Kindness. Always be kinder than necessary.  Everyone needs a good dose of kindness, and we can each spread it.

 

  1. I want to leave the patteran of integrity. “Integrity is who you are when no one is looking, and what you are willing to stand for even if you’re standing alone.” It’s a trait that sticks out in the 21st century.

 

  1. I want to grow spiritually. If we neglect the spiritual side of our life, it is to our own peril. The growing man or woman is always maturing spiritually.

 

These are some patterans I hope to leave at this crossroads called life. I bet you’ve your own list. Write them down. Share them. Live them.

 

Yours for the journey,

 

Curt Iles

 

“Follow the Roma patteran

  West to the sinking sun . . .

Follow the cross of the Gypsy trail

  Over the world and back!”

“The Gypsy Trail”

 Rudyard Kipling

One of my favorite Louisiana books is Patteran: The Life of Paul Leeds.

Rev. Leeds was a pioneer circuit-riding preacher in Southwest Louisiana.

Learn more at https://www.wisepublications.biz/product-page/patteran

 

What is Class?

What is Class?

“Class can walk with Kings and keep its virtue and talk with crowds and keep the common touch. Everyone is comfortable with the person who has class.”  -Ann Landers

I’ve been thinking about class this week. It’s such a fine word, and it’s a fine trait.  The Oxford Dictionary defines class as “Showing stylish excellence.”

I find class difficult to truly define. I know this for sure, you’ll know it when you see it. Sadly, it’s also pretty easy to spot the absence of class.

 Class walks on a level field with everyone and never views anyone as beneath them.

Albert Einstein said it well: “I speak to everyone in the same way whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

As I thought this week about folks who exuded class, I thought of Erik Pederson.

The son of Danish immigrants, Erik grew up in Lake Charles. When he moved to my hometown of Dry Creek and opened his business, he and his wife Yvonne became cherished friends and neighbors. 

Erik Pederson showed class in a variety of ways. My favorite trait was how he was the same no matter where he was. I’ve always said that Erik would’ve been just as comfortable in the Oval Office as he was drinking coffee at Foreman’s Grocery.

Another way my friend showed class was his friendliness to everyone. Erik Pederson had an impish smile and a twinkle in his eye that he shared wherever he went. 

Finally, Erik was comfortable in his own skin. There was no pretense about him. He wore his “uniform” every day: Wrangler jeans, a tan snap button work shirt, and boots. His wardrobe was completed by a Gospel of John he carried in his shirt pocket. He was a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. That’s what I loved about him. It’s one of the reasons he was loved by so many.

You see, class has nothing to do with fame, riches, or position. Class is about the inner person and who they really are.

. . . like my friend Erik Pederson.

 

“Class is an aura of confidence that is sure without being cocky. Class has nothing to do with money. Class never runs scared.”

                                                             -Unknown

Moses’ Baskets

A few years ago DeDe and I spent time in the country of South Africa.  There were several things that affected us deeply on this trip.  It was in the middle of their AIDS epidemic, and we saw death up close and personal. There were fresh graves everywhere.  I’ll never forget visiting the homes of men and women just waiting to die.

 

In spite of this despair, we also saw a ray of hope. We visited a number of orphanages that were filled with babies and small children. Many were orphaned due to the epidemic.  It was at one of these orphanages that I first learned about what they called Moses’ Baskets.

 

The South African Moses Baskets were carefully woven and lined with handmade blankets. African women can make anything beautiful and these baskets were no exception. 

 

The baskets were placed outside churches, schools, and orphanages. A mother could leave a baby, no questions asked, and the baby would be taken care of.

 

The baskets got their name from the story of baby Moses being placed in a basket in the Nile River reeds where he was discovered there and saved by Pharaoh’s daughter.

 

The South African baskets were used quite often. In a land of death, mothers either cannot or will not, take on a baby.

 

This week I read how the state of Indiana is gaining notoriety for an effort to place what they’re calling “Safe Haven boxes” at public places.  (Louisiana has a law allowing these Safe Haven boxes.

 

Like our Moses baskets, babies can be left and cared for.

 

This is definitely an alternative to the devastating process of killing a baby. For those of us who are pro-life (and there are many of us), we must support any and all ways of promoting life.

 

It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

Tarnished Trophies

    I grew up in a wonderful basketball culture at East Beauregard High School. From the early 60s when the school was opened until the mid-70s, were the heyday of basketball for the school which I attended for all of my education. It’s the same school I later returned to as a coach, teacher, and principal.

There was a fine trophy case in the lobby of the East Beauregard gym. It was filled with championship trophies of all heights and years. Because my Dad seldom missed a game, I fondly recall most of those championship games.

There were several trophies that had the team’s players engraved on the plaque. I would walk through the lobby, look at the full trophy case, and recall those names and players that were part of my childhood and early teen years.

Years later I visited East Beauregard gym and noticed most of those great championship trophies were missing. Further investigation revealed that they’d been moved under the home side bleachers.

Later, I crawled through a cubbyhole under the bleachers. I shined a flashlight on all of those trophies that’d meant so much to me. Sadly, they were tarnished, dusty, and unseen.

East Beauregard now has a newer gym. I’m not sure about the condition of the old gym, but I suspect those trophies are still gathering dust in the darkness under the bleachers.

It reminds me of the words of Jesus, “Don’t store up treasures on earth. Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.”  (Matthew 6:19-21).

There’s nothing wrong with earthly treasures unless we put them ahead of the things that really matter: the spiritual things of God as well as relationships with those around us.


A good lesson for all of us from a stack of tarnished trophies.

 

Joseph on Forgiveness: Part 4

Joseph on Forgiveness Part 4
 
Folks ask, “When did Joseph forgive his brothers?”
 
The rational answer is that this forgiveness occurred years later when the brothers show up in Egypt. However, the forgiveness was even now taking place after arriving in Egypt. . Here’s why: a person full of unforgiveness and bitterness will never be described as “The Lord was with Joseph.”
 
Bitterness, which is hate well-done, is the worst of all human emotions. Nothing good can come from bitterness. Bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping it kills someone else.
 
There’s a saying, “Bitterness is a liquid that harms the vessel in which it is stored more than the person on which it is poured.
If anyone had reason to be bitter, it was young Joseph. Spoiled by his father, hated by his brothers, betrayed and sold as a slave by those same brothers. I’ve always visualized Joseph in the dry cistern crying out for help as his brothers sat nearby eating supper. I can see the bound Joseph being led away toward Egypt, calling frantically for his brothers.
 
That’s the recipe for a good helping of bitterness, but there is no trace of it in any of Joseph’s actions in Egypt. He seems to be free from bitterness. Suffice it to say, the Lord is with Joseph.
Over time, Potiphar gave Joseph more and more responsibility until as his house manager, he decided to place everything in Potiphar’s life.
One more thing on forgiveness: it lightens the load.
Joseph, being free from bitterness and resentment, carried a lighter load.
Forgiveness and grudges are a heavy load to carry.
Traveling light is the best way to a happy journey.
 
Our hero Joseph was traveling light. There is no self-pity or bitterness evident in his life. That got unloaded from his pack somewhere earlier on his personal journey.
 
We must ask ourselves: what am I carrying that is weighing me down?
 
Jumping ahead about twenty years in our story, Joseph who is now vice president of Egypt, encounters his brothers who’ve shown up in the midst of a great famine. He now has the power and authority to pay them back for their long-ago mistreatment.
 
But he doesn’t.
 
Instead, Joseph puts the ten older brothers to a series of tests that prove they have changed. Then in the climactic part of the story (Genesis 45), he emotionally reveals himself to the brothers.
 
The ten brothers shrink back in fear. Their so-called goose has been cooked.
 
Joseph says, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”
 
No scent of bitterness . . . only a full-fledged, overflowing forgiveness
 
We jump to the conclusion of Joseph’s story in Genesis 50. After their father’s death, the brothers come before Joseph unsure of his complete forgiveness.
 
Joseph weeps and says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is being done, the saving of many lives.”
 
Joseph, a man of God.
An example of total forgiveness.
A man who never forgot where he came from.
Joseph, a man who never forgot to whom he belonged.
Joseph, a man of forgiveness.
If you missed previous posts on Joseph, visit www.creekbank.net

Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness: Lesson 3 on Joseph
“Joseph got in prison, but prison didn’t get in him.”
-Chuck Swindoll
When we last saw our hero, Joseph, he had been framed for attempted rape by his bosses’ wife, the evil Mrs. Potiphar.
When Potiphar returns that evening, his wife is waiting, Joseph’s cloak in hand, screaming bloody murder. Her accusation is worth noting, “That Hebrew slave that you brought us tried. to take advantage of me. I screamed and he ran, leaving his cloak behind.
Her lust had turned to anger. As they say, “A woman scorned. . .”
She wasn’t the only one angry. Genesis 39 says that his master burned with anger. Potiphar took Joseph and put him in prison.
I’ve always wondered who Potiphar was angry with. I’m sure that he was mad at the Hebrew slave, but if there was more to the story than we’re told. Potiphar was described “As the captain of the guard and the chief executioner for Pharoah”. At the flick of a wrist, It’d been easy for Potiphar to simply behead this slave.
But Potiphar instead put him in the King’s prison. I’m sure he was angry at losing the best slave he’d ever had. Maybe he was also angry at his wife. As one rural philosopher once told me:
“I bet that wasn’t her first rodeo.”
Well, let’s climb out of that rabbit hole and get back to Joseph. He’s in prison but evidently doesn’t let prison get in him. Listen to this: “But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.”
Soon, just as in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was soon running the prison. And that leads to an observation: Joseph was trustworthy in every situation and job.
1. He was trustworthy in Potiphar’s house, assuming the head servant as well as C.F.O. roles.
2. When Joseph got into the dark prison, he eventually became the associate warden.
3. Later in our story we’ll see Joseph rise to be the de facto vice president of all Egypt and help save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Joseph was trustworthy no matter how dreary the task was. God’s blessings coupled with Joseph’s gifts of administration/dream interpreter, led to a succession of promotions.
From the pit to Potiphar’s house to the prison and eventually, to the palace. Joseph had a proactive habit of being trustworthy.
It’s a good lesson for all of us. Trustworthiness in small things, especially in difficult situations always leads to eventual
blessings for us and those around us.
I’ve always wondered about Joseph’s first job as he arrived as a dirty tired slave in the house of Potiphar.
I’m sure of this: it was a dreary small job, but our hero did it in a trustworthy, passionate, and hard-working way.
Trustworthiness must be earned, and it always starts with small things.
This statement, attributed to Mother Teresa, ‘is worth remembering, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”’
Even the Lord Jesus spoke of this in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much.”
Our next and final lesson is my favorite trait of our hero: Joseph was a man of forgiveness.
This is lesson three. If you missed either of the first two, go to www.creekbank.net/blog and scroll down. I’d also encourage you to read the full story of Joseph in Genesis 37:50.

A big word called Integrity

Joseph: Part 2 Integrity
The best definition of Integrity I’ve seen is by author John Maxwell: “Integrity is who you are when no one looking, and what you’re willing to stand up for even if you’re standing alone.”
Joseph’s Old Testament story reveals these maxims.
Today, we’re going to look at one example of integrity in Joseph’s life: Resisting Temptation.
First, let’s take a snapshot of Joseph’s life as a seventeen-old- young man.
In our earlier blog, we studied how Joseph was a pampered son of Jacob. He had ten older brothers. Let me just say that the brothers hated him with a deep bitterness because of Joseph’s favored son status as well as his irritating way of telling dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him.
Later, the jealous brothers caught him in the wilderness and planned to kill him. Instead, they threw him in a dry well, then later sold Joseph to a traveling caravan on its way to Egypt. It’s more than ironic that they sold his brother for twenty pieces of silver.
Joseph makes the 250-mile journey from Canaan to Egypt, probably shackled behind a dirty camel.
Meanwhile, Joseph had been taken down to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar.
Meanwhile. That word, meanwhile, jumps off the page. There’s a world of truth in that simple word. Meanwhile, Joseph was sold to an important Egyptian official, a man named Potiphar.
Joseph begins his life as a lowly foreign slave. I’ve always wondered what his first job was. He was at the bottom end of the pecking order. I’m convinced it was something like mucking out Potiphar’s stables or worse.
But Joseph didn’t stay there. Soon Potiphar noticed something: The LORD was with Joseph and everything he did prospered. Potiphar soon realized he had a cash cow in this Hebrew slave.
Over time, Joseph was placed in charge in charge of Potiphar’s house. Things picked up for our hero.
Then trouble showed up and her name was Mrs. Potiphar. Scripture states that “Joseph was well built and handsome.” My generation would have used the word “Stud”. Today, he would be called “hot.”
Mrs. Potiphar, who could be called a “cougar”, wanted to get her claws in young Joseph.
This PG-13 part of the story is clear
She made it clear what she wanted: to go to bed with Joseph.
This wasn’t a one-time proposition but occurred day after day.
I once shared this story at a rural church. During a break, a country farmer said to me, “Well, you can say the ol’ girl didn’t beat around the bush.”
She didn’t beat around the bush because as a powerful woman she was used to getting what she wanted, and she was obsessed with Joseph.
When she propositioned Joseph, he spoke one of the memorable parts of the story.: “My master has withheld nothing from me except you his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
As I read this part of the story, I’m reminded of several points worth mentioning:
1. Joseph hadn’t forgotten where he came from.
2. Joseph remembered who he was.
3. Joseph knew that sin was against his God.
Back to our story: Joseph was in a pickle. He was a foreign slave hundreds of miles from home and the bosses’ wife wanted to have sex with him. Egypt had different morals and culture from how he’d been raised.
However, Joseph began a game of hide and seek in the house. He avoided Mrs. Potiphar whenever possible.
One day she evidently concocted a plot. All of the other household servants were gone and her husband was away at work. She cornered Joseph, grabbed him by his cloak, and said, “Come to bed with me.”
Joseph ran for his life, leaving his cloak behind. (He had a bad history with his coats!)
Here’s another lesson: Joseph didn’t tiptoe around sin. He ran.
So often, regardless of the type of temptation, men and women tiptoe around the edge and are surprised when we fall in.
The best thing to do when temptations show up is to follow Joseph’s example: run for your life.
One of my favorite stories comes from my friend, Dr. Bill Thorn. He was speaking in a church that had children’s church. This is the portion of the worship service when the children gather on the steps for a mini-sermon. Dr. Thorn related that he was telling the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. He asked the children, “What would you do if you saw a lion?”
A precious little girl in a starched dress raised her hand and Dr. Thorn gave the microphone to the girl. She said, “I’d scream and run like hell”.
Dr. Thorn replied, “That sounds like a good thing to do.”
Our hero Joseph, when Mrs. Potiphar grabbed his cloak and pulled him toward her bed, he ran like hell.
That brings us to a final lesson from Genesis 39: Joseph had made us his mind ahead of time to do the right thing.
I have a list in my journal of “My Irrevocable No’s.” Here are two of mine:
1. I will not cheat on my wife.
2. I will not mishandle God’s money.
These are decisions I made a long time ago. Writing them down serves as a mirror in my life.
Joseph made the right decisions. If you read the remainder of Genesis 39, you’ll see that instead of being rewarded, Joseph’s right actions led to a prison cell.
I’m reminded of the quote, “What’s right is not always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right.”
We’ll pick up his integrity of being trustworthy in our next blog.
If you enjoyed this blog, please pass it on to others. It’s too good of a story not to share.
 I’d be so appreciative if you shared it with others.

A Man named Joseph  Part  1

“The story of Joseph is like the buffet at Golden Corral. There’s so much to choose from.”

 

There are many outstanding characters in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there is no one who shines brighter than a man named Joseph. His life is truly a “riches to rags to riches” story as found in Genesis 37-50.

 

We’ll focus on three aspects of his story:

  1. The Lord was with Joseph.
  2. Joseph was a man of integrity.
  3. Joseph was a man of forgiveness.

 

 

In this blog, we’ll look at how the Lord was with Joseph despite his being a slave and then a prisoner.

 

You’re probably familiar with this story. I won’t take long to go over the background:

 

Joseph was one of twelve sons of a man named Jacob (also known as Israel). He was the eleventh brother. Because he was his father’s favorite, Jacob lavished his attention on Joseph (you’ll remember that “coat of many colors.”) Joseph also told a series of dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him.

 

This led to a deep hatred from the ten older brothers.

 

Our story jumps ahead to when Joseph approaches the ten brothers in a pasture far from home. When they saw him coming (probably due to that problematic coat) they decided to kill him. After discussing their plan, they instead threw Joseph into a dry well.

 

Deciding not to kill their brother, they sold him to a traveling band of traders bound for Egypt. The brothers returned home without Joseph, thus beginning a twenty-year lie to their father.

 

Our story picks up with Joseph being sold as a slave to a high official named Potiphar. Genesis 39:2 says the “The Lord was with Joseph, and he prospered.”

 

What a statement. Joseph had been dragged from his country and sold as a slave in a far-off foreign place. Despite his circumstances, the Lord was with him. Despite the betrayal by his brothers, the Lord was with him. Despite being far from home, the Lord was with him.

 

Potiphar soon noticed that everything the young Hebrew touched turned to gold. Potiphar put this seventeen-year slave in charge of his entire estate. It seemed everything Potiphar owned prospered due to Joseph.

 

This was all great until someone else noticed Joseph. Her name was Mrs. Potiphar. We’ll save this sordid tale until our next blog entry when we’ll look at Joseph’s integrity.

 

In spite of his success at Potiphar’s house, Joseph is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

He is cast into prison. Once again his life takes a dramatic left turn.

 

But scripture reports (in Genesis 39:20-21) that while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord

was with him.

 

Once again, just as in Potiphar’s house, the Lord used and blessed Joseph. I’ve heard it said that “Joseph got in prison, but prison didn’t get in him.”

 

I want to mention several thoughts on Joseph’s story:

 

  1. The Lord is with us regardless of where we are.

 

The Lord is with you in every circumstance no matter how dark it is. Notice that the term “The Lord was with Joseph” occurs in these two bleak situations: as a lowly foreign slave and then when he is unceremoniously dumped into a dungeon.

 

We all feel as if we’re in that dungeon at times. Most of you know that I suffer from mental health in the form of depression.  When I’m in the midst of these bouts, I often don’t feel the closeness to God I desire. However, when the dark clouds lift, I understand how close my God is to me. In fact, I realize He’s been carrying me.  The Lord is with me.

 

  1. The Lord is working good in our lives.

Also, note that Lord is constantly working for good in our lives. It was no coincidence that the traveling caravan to which Joseph was originally sold was headed to Egypt. It would be the place where Joseph would be used to save thousands of lives, including his own little ragtag Hebrew family back in Canaan.

  1. The Lord always looks at the big picture.

The Lord always looks at the big picture. While we’re slogging along with our feet in the mud, He has what I call the thirty-thousand-foot view. He is working in us, around us, and ahead of us. As we look at the full story of Joseph, we see God’s hand at every turn.

 

The Lord was with Joseph … and He is with you.

“T.O.B.”

T.O.B.

 

I’m part of a Friday morning Bible study led by Warren Morris. Warren is the former LSU player who hit the famous walk-off home run to win the 1996 College World Series.

 

He is a great teacher and leader. Most of all, Warren is one of the humblest men I know. From time to time, he’ll share a story about his college coach, Skip Bertman.

 

Recently, Warren shared one of Coach Bertman’s maxims. He called it T.O.B. and it stands for “Transfer of Blame.” This is the human tendency to always blame someone (or something) else for the failures, disappointments, and difficulties of our lives. You can go all the way back to the Garden to see Transfer of Blame:  Adam: “The woman You gave me.”

 

Just because something is a human tendency doesn’t make it right. Transfer of Blame is a weakness that the mature person will seek valiantly to resist.

 

One of the most disturbing trends in today’s culture is the victim mentality. It’s the habit of always being the victim and not taking responsibility for things around us. T.O.B. is a bad habit some folks learn as a child and never leave behind. However, it is a habit that can be broken.

 

The flip side of transferring blame is to take personal responsibility. It’s the mature person’s way to react. It’s reflected in the maxim, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

 

A story from the college career of quarterback Tim Tebow is worth telling. Tebow’s 2008 Florida Gators were upset in an early season loss to Ole Miss. At the postgame press conference, Tebow sat behind the microphone and said emotionally, “I’m sorry . . . I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this.  You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will for the rest of this season . . .”

 

Tebow’s half-minute speech is referred to as “The Promise.”  It’s not surprising that Florida won its final eight games, resulting in the National Championship. “The Promise” is a shining example of taking responsibility and moving forward.

 

I’ve just finished a fascinating book called One Hundred and Forty Days until Hiroshima. It is a behind-the-scenes look at both the American and Japanese governments in the final months of World War II.

 

One of the central characters in the book is the new American president, Harry Truman. Facing many doubters, Truman reveals a strength of character and willingness to take personal responsibility when making difficult decisions. This is evidenced later by the famous sign on Truman’s desk: “The Buck Stops Here.”

 

Basically, our life choices run from “The Buck Stops Here” to “Transfer of Blame.”  We’ll be wise to make the correct choice.

The Best Christmas Present

This story, written years ago, is still my favorite Christmas story. Enjoy and Merry Christmas to

you and your family.  -Curt Iles

 

The Best Christmas Gift

 


“The only true gift is a portion of yourself.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson.


            With sweaty palms, I wheel my pickup onto Eleanor Andrews Road. I feel as if it’s the first week of fifth grade.

Why am I nervous? I’m a man on a mission: delivering a Christmas tree to my favorite grade school teacher. I fell in love with Eleanor Andrews during my fifth-grade year at East Beauregard School.

She was a legendary teacher who’d tutored two generations of Dry Creek and Sugartown children. Mrs. Andrews was from what we called the “Old School.” She had a well-deserved, fierce reputation of being stern and taking no gruff or lip off anyone.

I quickly saw how rigid her classroom was. Everything was “down the line.” She was the captain of the ship, and no one questioned that.

I also noticed something else: beneath that gruff exterior were warm, smiling eyes. She loved watching students learn and leading them into new knowledge.

I learned to love writing, and my love of reading deepened. Being the mother of three rowdy boys, she had the knack of letting country boys know it was okay to enjoy books and learning.

And I learned to love Eleanor Andrews. During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. Years later, she still is.

 

#   #   #

This December morning, I received the expected call from Mrs. Andrews.  “Curt, when you get a chance, drop by. I’ve got something for you.”

“Do you want me to bring your tree?”

“Yes, I’m ready for it.”

I know that the best present of the season is now ready.

It’s time for Christmas Jelly.
Back in October, I tagged a special Christmas tree for her. Knowing her exact standards in a tree, I carefully selected the one I thought she’d like best. Holding my saw, I walked around it one more time making sure it was the right height, width, and color.

That’s why I’m nervous. I want her to approve of the tree. I’m once again in the fifth grade waiting to hand in an essay.
I remove the tree from the truck, shaking it for loose needles.

“Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you.” She greets me with that special smile I’ve known over the years. She makes me feel as if I’m the most important person in the world. That’s why she’s always been my favorite teacher.
She nods at the kitchen table. “I’ve got something for you.”

I see the basket full of colorful jars of homemade jelly.

Muscadine, mayhaw, even crabapple. Mixed in are jars of green pepper jelly, and tomato chow-chow. Topping it off is a Ziploc bag of her specialty candy: chocolate—“Martha Washington’s.”
We visit over coffee in the manner that special friends do. We always seem to pick up right where we left off. That’s how the best friendships are.

After two more cups of coffee, I put her tree in its corner of honor. Nodding at her fireplace, I remind her to water it.

“Curt, it’s the perfect tree.”

“You really like it?”

“It’s just right.” We now enter the next phase of this yearly ritual. She reaches for her purse. “How much do I owe you?’

“Nothing. The best deal I ever make is trading a tree for the best homemade jelly in Dry Creek.”
We hug, and I leave with my armload of jelly jars and a lightened heart. At Highway 113, I pause as a log truck roars by. Emerson’s quote comes back to me. “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.

I touch the decorated jars and am reminded of what the spirit of Christmas is truly about.

It’s about giving.

Giving of ourselves.

Sharing what we have.

Giving handmade gifts that come from the heart.

 

A Thanksgiving Story

 

 

“In everything, give thanks.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

It’s always been one of my favorite stories, and I can’t think of a better time to share it than at Thanksgiving.

 

The only character in this story is a man named Vance. He’s one of my favorite Dry Creek friends. He told me this story years ago and I’ve returned to it many times.

 

Vance had one of those situations no one likes: a broken water line. As he struggled with it in the mud, he had one of those moments. I’ll let him tell his story from here:

 

“As I worked on the water line on my knees, I just stopped and thanked God for running water.”

 

There are times we must look carefully to count our blessings.

 

Here are a few thoughts on Vance’s story:

 

  1. Thankfulness helps us look at the big picture.
  2. Thankfulness is more of an attitude than anything else.
  3. Thankfulness is a choice.
  4. Finally, thankfulness is a habit that can be cultivated daily in our lives.

 

This story is short, but it packs a punch. It’s one I’ve returned to over the years. I hope it is a blessing to you as well.

 

My hope for all of us at Thanksgiving is that we’ll fine-tune the habit of gratitude in our lives.

 

A Thanksgiving prayer:

“Lord, you’ve given me so many things. I only ask for one more thing: a grateful heart.”

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

 

Curt Iles

 

 

 

John Wooden’s Socks

John Wooden’s Socks

 

“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”   -John Wooden

 

I was a college senior the year I met John Wooden in 1979. I was preparing to embark on my journey as a high school basketball coach. I traveled to Monroe, Louisiana to hear John Wooden speak at a coaching clinic.

Wooden, who’d retired five years earlier from UCLA, was the most famous basketball coach in America. His teams had won 10 national championships, including seven years in a row.

I arrived with my notebook and a desire to learn. The first thing Coach Wooden did surprised me. He sat down on the stage, took off his tennis shoes and held up a pair of new socks.

He said, “The first thing we did at the year’s first practice was to learn how to put socks on.” He then proceeded to go over in detail how to fit and wear socks where a player wouldn’t get a blister.

Coach Wooden tied his shoes and then launched into a wonderful time of telling stories about his years at UCLA, how he ran practices, and the setup of his famous zone press.

I’ve forgotten the rest of that coaching clinic, but I’ve never forgotten the socks. Here was a successful coach who paid attention to the details.

There are numerous theories as to how he put together his championship runs, but anyone who knew Wooden agreed that his attention to detail was a key to his success.

 

I learned a great lesson that day: doing the small things right is what separates the best from others. Thanks, Coach Wooden for that simple example that little things matter in the big picture.

 

In the forty-two years since that clinic, I’ve thought often about those socks. They are a reminder that attention to detail is a factor in success in anything.

 

 

“Great leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” -John Wooden

 

Postscript

John Wooden is the gold standard whereby college basketball coaches are still judged. During his tenure as coach at UCLA, his teams won ten national championships in twelve years, had three undefeated seasons, and had an unmatched 88 game winning streak. In the midst of this success, he maintained his humility and integrity.

 

My favorite Wooden book is They Call Me Coach.

Shake Like a Man

Shake Like a Man

As we’re slowly but surely passing up the restrictions of the Pandemic, it’s time to be reminded about the manly art of handshaking. A fist bump is a poor excuse for a firm handshake.

 

“When you give a man a handshake, make sure it’s firm because it shows you’re a man.”

-John Groves

When I was a young teenager, Tubby and Agnes King moved to Dry Creek and joined our church. I soon learned a valuable lesson about Tubby. He had a vise-like handshake and would hurt your hand if you didn’t get a good grip.

I’d been taught how to shake hands like a man earlier in life. It’s a proactive move where you ensure you get the webbed area between your thumb and forefinger right against the same part of the shakee, or fellow shaker’s hand. If you do this, you’ll get a firm grip and guys like Tubby can’t squeeze your fingers like wringing a wet dishrag.

I don’t think Tubby King meant to hurt other men with his handshake. He was a fine man, but his handshake brought tears to a generation of Dry Creek men and boys.

His handshake was hurtful only if you didn’t know how to shake like a man. It’s a learned habit:

Extend your right hand in a friendly forceful manner and give a firm handshake. It’s not a contest of the tightest grip, but men in the Louisiana Pineywoods (and much of the world) are judged by their handshake.

There’s no place for a dead fish handshake. Just as a firm shake gives a positive impression, a limp handshake gives the opposite impression. There’s no room in our culture for wimps or wimpy handshakes.

That handshake doesn’t have to last long. Neither does it need to be vertical. I’ve shaken hands with some fellows whom I thought were going to wrench my elbow out of socket shaking up and down.

But there is a part of a man’s handshake that doesn’t just involve the right hand but is equally impressive. In my world travels, I’ve been introduced to several cultural variations on handshakes. On the African Continent, it’s common to place your left hand on your right forearm during the handshake. It shows that the shaker isn’t holding a weapon behind his back with the free hand.

I learned another handshake variation in Indonesia in the aftermath of the terrible 2004 Tsunami. I was part of a Louisiana medical team that ministered to the refugees from this century’s worst natural disaster. The Indonesian Sumatrans would shake my hand while patting their heart with their left hand. The hand to the chest was explained as their way of adding, “I am connected to your heart.” Coming from the deeply Muslim people of Aceh, I always took this symbolic gesture literally to heart.

Worldwide, the handshake is a symbolic feature of introduction and connection.

So, shake like a man. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to have a firm handshake. It’s just a matter of practice and technique.

It’s part of a good first impression. It can open doors to strong friendships, jobs, open doors, and opportunities of a lifetime.

So, shake like a man.

“A gentleman is always ready to offer a hearty handshake.”

How to be a Gentleman by John Bridges

 

 

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