Posted in memories, teaching

The worst way to die

The question seemed simple enough. “What do you think would be the worst way to die?”

It’s like I flipped a switch. The room full of fairly disinterested 7th and 8th graders came to life with a flood of macabre methods of taking human life. Clearly I was not the first to ask them this question, and they excitedly offered up these horrible ways of killing, some of which I’ve never heard of before.

  • Put someone in a hollow brazen bull and light a fire under it until the person bakes to death.
  • Stuff someone in a barrel and nail the top shut, simply leaving them to die and slowly rot away.
  • Impale the victim on a sharp stick which would slowly pierce the length of their body.
  • Dip someone in the Amazon River, allowing the piranha to eat away their flesh.

I’ve been teaching this age group for a long time, but I’ve never had a class so fascinated with death and dying. I doubt many had even been to a funeral or seen a corpse, so this was all theoretical.

I remember doing a play in Junior High school called “The Lottery” based on a story by Shirley Jackson. It was about a small town that annually chose the name of one citizen who would be stoned to death by everyone else. The tradition provided a communal outlet for hate and anger. When everyone you know takes your life, that seems to be a pretty bad way to go.

Posted in memories

What did we do all summer?

I’m a boomer who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My dad left for work at 6 am and got home at 6 pm for supper. My mom was a pretty typical housewife, cooking, cleaning, sewing, reading and making sure the three of us (my brother, sister and I) didn’t kill each other. But I don’t remember her entertaining us all day. She pretty much wanted us to stay out of her hair.

Plus, it’s the 1960’s and 70’s. No iPhones. No computers. No internet. No videos, no DVDs, No VHS, no CDs. No cable TV. Our family TV didn’t even have UHF capability. Our black and white TV could pull in four TV stations from the roof antenna. One of them, channel 12, was PBS (Public Broadcasting System). I even remember that channel three was NBS, channel 6 was ABC, and channel 10 was CBS. Daytime TV was mostly soap operas (yawn).

What in the world did we do all day? What did we do all summer?

We played outside. We had a big backyard, big enough to play catch with a baseball. If we could find a third, we played “run the bases”, trying to slide in safely and steal a base. If you were alone, you played wall-ball in the driveway, throwing the ball at the wall and either catching it or hiding when it hit the neighbor’s house. I don’t know how my parents endured the constant thud-thud-thud of hours of wall-ball.

At least once a week we would jump our back yard fence into some private property that was basically a massive un-mown field owned by Boeing. The plant had long since closed, so no one was there. With a bucket of baseballs, we would hit fungos, field fly balls, and then peg throws home to the plate. The hitter had to quickly transition from batter to catcher. We lost a lot of balls in the long grass, but would find them again when someone occasionally mowed the field.,

One summer, we took the 4×8 piece of plywood that we had used for a model train setup and made a ping pong table. It was on the small side, but it worked for our basement. We painted it blue because my dad had come leftover blue paint. We lined the edges and center line with white tape. We added a net, ping pong balls and paddles, and we were all set. We played many, many games with spins and slams, just about the time President Nixon’s ping-pong diplomacy was a thing.

We also had a dart board. We hung it on the concrete block wall of the basement, which was soon surrounded with hundreds of marks from darts that missed the board altogether. Why so many misses? We wound up and tried to throw them at the board as hard as we could.

A big amusement was Strat-O-Matic baseball. Strat-O-Matic baseball was a game played with Major League Baseball player cards and dice. You set a line up, rolled the dice, and the card for each player would tell you the out or hit result of that at-bat. OMG, we played that game for hours and hours, summer after summer. We had current teams. We had classic teams like the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1954 Philadelphia Phillies. We kept box scores. We compiled statistics. We typed up the stats. We were into it.

When the heat or summer showers kept us inside, we would pretend we had a restaurant, the Historian. We used mom’s old manual typewriter to type up menus featuring outrageous entrees with outrageous prices, and then pretend to be either waiters, cooks or diners.

We took a lot of bike rides. I had a 26-in one-speed Schwinn. My best friend had a ten-speed Schwinn Stingray. We would go out for hours, riding all over Delaware County.

One summer my dad put in an above-ground pool, which occupied us on all the hot days.

Once I got to Junior High School, there was a summer band program for a month or two. I loved summer band. It’s still a favorite part of my childhood memories. Combined with some high school students, we mostly just played through all kinds of concert and jazz band arrangements. I learned a lot of classic marches, show tunes and big band pieces during those years.

I still smile when I remember how I spent my summers fifty-plus years ago. Mom was blessed, too, because most of the time we stayed out of her hair.

Posted in Moments of grace

What if no one shows up?

I usually get to church about 6:30 on Sunday mornings. I like to be there early to run through my sermon once, make sure everything is set up for the morning and enjoy some quiet before the church comes alive when everyone arrives.

The first wave of people to show up is usually some of our musicians, followed by other volunteers who help make Sunday mornings possible. But yesterday, 7:30 am arrived and no one had arrived. No one was tuning, warming up or setting up music. I was the only one here.

7:35. No one has arrived. This is really strange. Now the thoughts start racing through my head. Is someone sick? I check my phone. No calls or texts. Is my watch right? The time on my phone matches. It’s not the fall equinox, when if you fail to turn your clock back, you are an hour early. It is Sunday morning, right? My guitar is at home. Are we going to have to sing a cappella this morning?

7:40. The bass player arrives with news that dozens of police cars had closed off the interstate and one of the main thoroughfares through town. He had to take several miles of detours to make it to church.

7:41. Music director arrives with a similar tale of diversions and detours.

Soon after, others arrive, all of them taking different routes to church.

When our church was closed for COVID quarantine, I had indeed worshiped all by myself in front of my iPhone set up on a tripod. But that was over a year ago. A weird flashback to a time I hope we never have to repeat.

Later that afternoon, I learned that the highway and bridge going over it were closed as sheriff’s deputies rescued a suicidal woman attempting to jump. They saved her and made it a much better Father’s day for her family.

Posted in memories

Is it warm in here?

What feels better than nice warm air blowing up through your chilly toes on an ice-cold winter morning? Not much, which is why we liked camping out on the heater vent in the living room of the house where I grew up.

This vent was located right over the natural gas furnace in the basement, which meant it produced the best blast of heated air in the entire house. The kid bedrooms were all on the chilly second floor, where warm air should have risen, but never quite make it. So when we heard the furnace come on, we gathered around the floor vent behind my mom’s recliner. It was barely big enough to accommodate six little feet, so dueling toes was the name of the game.

The vent had the added feature that you could see the TV from there, too. I wish we had a photo of my brother and sister and I sitting over that wonderful flow of air.

I remember my mom talking about the time she caught either my brother or sister sitting on the vent eating ice cream from a carton. Best of both worlds, right?

Posted in questions

Early morning school bus?

I did a double-take early one Sunday morning when I saw Flagler County School Bus drive by. I rarely see another car on the road when I’m driving to church about 6:15 am, never mind a school bus!

So I wondered, “What in the world is a school bus doing out at this time of the day?” I’m going to play with that question and see what answers I can come up with.

1. It was stolen. Someone broke into one of the busses lined up behind the middle school, hot wired it and simply drove away when they thought no one would be up and around. What better time than early Sunday morning?

2. The game went into triple overtime. We won, but it was a long drive home and now the driver is headed for the bus barn. Hopefully, he got paid some overtime, too.

3. Someone got their days mixed up. What? What do you mean it’s not Monday morning?

4. It really wasn’t a school bus. Someone bought an old de-commissioned school bus, refurbished it, and now drives it around for fun.

5. t’s a touring band, on the way to their next concert venue. Instead of advertising who they were, they travel incognito, preserving their privacy.

6. A driver-in-training took it out for a few extra hours of practice when the traffic was light.

7. It’s a team of researchers, testing to see if their algorithm for the most efficient route really adds up to time and fuel savings.

8. It was an experimental self-driving school bus. Better to work out the bugs early in the morning rather than with a load of students.

9. An arch-criminal had rigged the bus to explode when it stopped moving. The driver had to keep driving or…kaboom!

10. It wasn’t actually a bus, but a hologram of the bus. Fooled me.

The possibilities are endless.

Posted in memories

We’ll have the “Zoo”

One of the places where my friends and I used to go for something to eat after football games, concerts or other events was Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant at the Granite Run Mall in Media, Pennsylvania. Farrell’s was a west coast franchise that made its way to the east coast in the mid-1970’s.

We mostly went for the interesting ice cream creations, but you could also get burgers, sandwiches and fries. The really big deal dessert was called the Zoo, a sundae that consisted of two and a half gallons of various kinds of ice cream, all the ice cream toppings and syrups and whipped cream. It was designed to be eaten by a group, not an individual. Ambulance sirens would blare as the servers carried the enormous bowl on a stretcher to your table with a bunch of long handled spoons. Of course, everyone there cheered for those willing to take on way too much desert.

The Zoo at Farrell’s.

Ridley and Springfield High Schools were intense rivals in the 1970’s. On one occasion, nine of my band friends and myself challenged ten of their band members to a Zoo eating contest. The challenge ended in a draw, as each team of ten consumed two Zoos.

I’m not sure if my mom and dad knew where we were going when a bunch of my friends loaded up into our car, a bare bones 1970 Ford Falcon station wagon, and I drove us all to Farrell’s or other places where we liked to hang out. It’s probably better that they didn’t know exactly how many friends were loaded into the car. It’s only by the grace of God we all got home safely every time.

The last Farrell’s closed in 2019.

Posted in Moments of grace

How about a jump?

I had just parked the truck in a spot at Home Depot when a woman came up next to me and asked, “Excuse me, sir, would you be able to give us a jump?”

Well, she got a jump out of me! I was startled because I hadn’t seen her come up behind me. I’m usually more aware of those around me. She seemed to be a few years older than me, was dressed like she had been out working in the yard, and seemed friendly enough. Unfortunately, the folks who come up to you in parking lots are typically selling something or asking you for money. I really hate the fact that I’ve become wary of everyone around me.

I stuffed my fear and put on my “be strong and courageous” pants and said, “Okay.” She pointed to a van a few parking lanes away where her husband stood with the hood up.

“Do you have jumper cables?”


“OK, I’ll pull over in that spot right next to you.”

I had only had my truck for a few months and I don’t think I had even opened the hood yet to know which side the battery was on. I’ll figure that out when I get there. I pulled up as close as I could, popped the hood and felt around for the latch. I felt pretty foolish when I had to get the manual out of the glovebox to see where the latch was. Apologizing for my ignorance, I propped open the hood only to find that the battery was on the opposite side. Sigh. Maybe it will reach. It did! Just barely. Whew.

Their battery must have been really dead, because it took about five minutes of idling to get the engine to turn over. Everyone’s face lit up when the engine turned over and roared to life.

We chatted for a little bit. They had a home in the Hammock (part of our town on the barrier island), but were spending most of their time at their place in Colorado. Because of the COVID quarantine, they hadn’t been back for nearly a year, and they had a feeling the battery didn’t have too many starts left in it. But they had made the run to Home Depot anyway.

As they and I pulled away to go about our errands, I thanked God for the reminder that most people aren’t up to something. And even if they are, they’re worthy of a few amps of help. Oh, and thanks to all who have and will give me a jump start, too.

Posted in Stories

The day we discovered the United States Pipe Organ Company

I grew up in the southwest corner of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, and in throughout my elementary years, my friends and I would frequent a creek about a quarter-mile down Chester Pike from my house. It’s official name was the Little Crum Creek through which Ridley Park Lake emptied into Crum Creek and out into the Delaware River. We simply called it the “creek.”

I remember spending amazing amounts of time catching minnows, building dams using all kinds of rocks in and around the creek, and tossing the biggest rocks we could find off the bridge to see how big of a splash we could make. Every once in a while we would explore a little further down the creek which ran alongside an old Boeing plant.

One exploration took us through a fence to an abandoned building that was littered with old wood and metal organ pipes. We blew through some of them and made all kinds of sounds. We didn’t take any of the pipes and didn’t stay very long, which is good because we were probably trespassing. I didn’t realize then what we had stumbled upon. Later when I went to churches that had actual pipe organs, and saw all the ranks, I had a better idea of what we found.

Every once in a while that memory pops back in my head, and I wondered who had left a bunch of organ pipes in an old building somewhere near Ridley Park. The Organ Historical Society has a database of pipe organ companies, and sure enough, the United States Pipe Organ Company had a theater organ fabrication plant in Crum Lynne, a tiny town and a train stop adjacent to Ridley Park. They build about 200 theater pipe organs, then spent time maintaining them till about 1970. We had stumbled upon what was left of that company.

I’m not sure why we never went back there. We either forgot about it or got interested in something else. I kind of wish I had brought home a few relics from our very cool discovery that day.

Posted in Moments of grace

For the first time in forever

Photo by Daniel Lee on Unsplash

Now that folks are vaccinated and venturing out again, I’ve got another wave of people I’m visiting that I haven’t seen in fifteen months. Every church has what I call “homebound” members. I used to call them “shut-ins” but I found out people don’t like that label. It makes them feel old. Anyway, as the pastor, I try to visit my homebound members about once a month and bring them communion since they can’t be with the congregation for Sunday worship. It seems like everyone has a recent story about seeing friends and family for the first time since COVID quarantining. Here’s one of mine.

So B. is going to turn one hundred years old this fall. Her daughter, whose name also starts with a B, so I’ll call her B-two, is her caregiver. The last time I saw them was February 2020. Fifteen, no wait, sixteen months ago. Wow, that is a long time. That’s just nuts. Because of B’s age, B-two was hyper-cautious about going out and bringing home germs of any kind. B-two went to the grocery store twice a month. When she got home, she took off her clothes, put them in the laundry, took a shower, and wiped down her purchases. She brought the mail in from the mailbox wearing latex gloves, and let it sit on the dining room table for a day or two before opening anything. Hyper-cautious is an appropriate word. They went nowhere and saw no one for over a year. They are not tech-savvy, so they did not watch any worship services online. They just. Stayed. Home.

A few weeks ago, their elder let me know that they were ready for a visit. They were vaccinated. I was vaccinated. The door was open. (Elders are folks in our congregation who help me keep in touch with all our families.) Nice. I called and set up a time to visit. Bonus: they would have lunch for me, too!

When I walked in the door, it seemed like no time had passed at all. I felt like I had just been there one month ago. At the same time, I could see (and they could probably see too) how much we had aged. So much and so little time had passed! A time-space anomaly (as often said on Star Trek).

We talked about my grandchildren that had been born, church members who had died and some who were still alive. B is the oldest member of our congregation. I asked her what kind of party she wanted this fall. She’ll probably have a weekend drop-by event for all those she hasn’t outlived. That’s the problem with living a long life. You outlive everyone who you wanted to celebrate with you!

I was there for about 2-1/2 hours today. Lunch was shrimp cooked in a wine sauce, with a green bean bacon side, a nice spinach salad, some peas and rice, and a frozen angel food/sherbet cake for dessert. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I made sure I did a thirty minute Peloton ride when I got home.

Fifteen months later, I got to see a few members of my church again. They got to see me. I think I got the greater blessing today.