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Britt Towery's Columns published in the Brownwood, Texas, Bulletin

Published Friday, January 16, 2004


Last Monday I began my 74th year. That is nearly three-fourths of a century. That is longer than my father or both my grandfathers lived on God's green earth.

I was born at 5 p.m., Sunday, January 12, 1930 (1810 Seventh Street, Brownwood). My parents were renters at the time and the house is still there, but vacant the last time I drove by. No one has yet put up a historical maker in the yard. I suppose that will come later. (Robert "Conan the Barbarian" Howard has a national historical marker in his yard in Cross Plains.)

In 1930, Brownwood had 12,789 people. The city had 3,450 telephones, two railroads, the Frisco and the Santa Fe; four theaters; three hospitals and two mammoth rock crushers

The first time my writing potential became apparent was in 1937. My letter to Santa Claus was published in the Brownwood Bulletin. Here it is direct from the 67-year old newspaper clipping I found with my mother's things:

"Dear Santa Claus: I am a little boy almost 8 years old and in the second grade. Please bring me a dump truck, some books, a gun, a pair of gloves and a pair of house shoes. Your friend, Britt Towery, Jr, 607 Fifth Street. P.S. -- Please don't forget my little sister."

I doubt anyone living today has written for the Bulletin as long as I have. I was a free-lance writer (meaning it was all free to the newspaper) until I began writing this column in 1998. (For those keeping record, this "Along the Way " column is number 281.) Other articles in 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, and 1997 were done for the fun of it.

Among the millions of people born on the January 12th date (besides me) were some famous and infamous personalities, and some very special people.

To mention a few: John Hancock (1757) the first signer of the Declaration of Independence; Jack London (1876), who did a lot more with his writing talent than I have; and Hermann Goering (1893) the Nazi Germany Reichsmarshall and Commissioner of Aviation. He created Hitler's secret police and together with Himmler set up the early concentration camps for political opponents. The most infamous character born on January 12th is the right-wing radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh. "Cheers" actress Kirsty Alley is another celebrity born on this twelfth day of the year.

There are three friends with whom it has been an honor to share the same birthdate: Lloyd Womack, Nita Smith and Barbara Cunningham.

Brownwood's Lloyd Womack was always there when you needed him, even back to teenage years. Along with Mary, who recently went to be with the Lord, the Womacks were pillars of strength to the First Baptist Church and the city.

Nita Smith, who died last year after suffering a great deal with Alzheimer's, was one-of-a-kind special. She and her husband Don visited us in Hong Kong and I was honored to be the associate pastor of their San Antonio Trinity Baptist Church for a time. In our home hangs a painting she gave us many birthdays ago.

Barbara is the wife of Dr. Milton E. Cunningham, retired Baylor University chaplain and a former vice president of the university. He was also President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and contributed greatly to the building of the Westbury Baptist Church of Houston. Barbara and Milton were also media missionaries in Africa. Milton could not have accomplished half of all that work without Barbara. He will be the first to admit it.

Lloyd, Nita and Barbara will always be special people with whom I have been privileged to share a special day.

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"Along the way" Column Friday, October 17, 2003

Faces on a long train ride

The 19-hour China train trip from Shanghai to Zhengzhou, is not the fastest way see China. But it is a great way to observe some of the one billion-plus Chinese people.

A young lady, forehead slightly knitted, sits a few seats from mine. The train has stopped at one of the many towns on the route. She could be worried about any number of things. All are probably more important than my wondering how much longer the train will sit at the small Fengyang station.

The lovely farm girl holds a neatly tied cloth package in her lap. A common means of carrying a change of clothes or purchases made on the trip. With the country having 800 million farmers it is a safe guess she is from a farm somewhere.

She straightens her hair in her reflection in the window. Does she expect some one to be there? The vendors are busy selling all kinds of snacks from peanuts and candies to local sodas and steamed bread, fresh and ready to eat.

From a bottle she drinks some water, crosses her legs and frowns some more. She looks across the train to the other side. Looking into the distance with a seemingly lost gaze. Or is it into another world?

Her white blouse with blue trim and short blue jean skirt show she is not an ordinary peasant farm girl just off the farm. Her hair is pulled back in a pony tail of sorts and a simple small gold chain hangs around her neck.

She drinks some more water from the bottle that has the English word pure on it. With pursed lips she reads the label on the bottle, puts it down and leans out the window and calls for a vendor. She buys a couple of small rice cakes.

Will the train never leave this spot? Yawn. The 12-minute stop seems like an eternity. She rubs her right eye with her forefinger. She adjusts her open-topped billed cap and yawns again.

She apparently is not only worried, but tired. But the hurt in her eyes will not let her sleep.

An older woman and little boy are seated next to her. Both are sound asleep. As the train jerks forward as if to continue the journey, the old woman wakes. She stretches and says something to the girl. The remark makes her smile for the first time.

With another jolt the train begins to move. As the train speeds up she leans on the little table in front of her and resumes her worrying. She pulls a strand of hair from in front of her face, looks up at the wayward hair and smoothes it back into its proper place out of her eyes.

We whiz past fields where old tombstones lean as they mingle with new upright ones. Folks still like to be buried near wheat and corn fields of home. The aroma from the freshly fertilized fields wafts its way into the train. (If such a bad smell can waft?)

It is almost dark but the fields are busy with the farmers continuing what they began at dawn. The girl nibbles on a rice cake as the fields give way to rock-strewed hills. Did the fields remind her of years of such labor.

She holds the second rice cake for a while before eating it. I am reading too much into the scene, but she appears to remember the labor by looking at the rice cake.

Does she possibly think, as did Bao Yu in China's most famous drama, The Dream of the Red Chamber that: each grain of rice we ever ate / cost someone else a drop of sweat.

Not hungry, and possibly more bored than worried, she opens a plastic sack of zheng lin guazi, watermelon seeds.

But there is no time for eating the seeds or worrying for apparently the train is approaching her stop. It is Bengbu, where the train crosses the Hwai River.

As the train slows to a stop she helps the old woman bundle up the still sleeping boy in her arms. Together they push through the aisle and down to the dark, crowded platform.

Along the way there are encounters that have no meaning to us other than what we make of them. New faces fill the car. I still have nine hours before I get to Zhengzhou.

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"Along the Way" column for Oct. 10, 2003

Pick-up trucks and 'marrying your own kind'

I never had a pick-up. Not having ever driven one makes me feel disadvantaged on the roads and parking lots of West Texas. I do believe there are more pick-ups than cows and goats.

Guy Henderson, who married one of my college girl friends, had a way with words as well as pretty girls and pick-up trucks.

In "Fragments," a book published not long before his death, Guy wrote about "Me and my Pick-up Truck." He told of having his first driving lesson in an old pick-up. The truck had no flashy molding or fancy stripes, not even any windows.

The 75 selections of Guy's memories are more like precious gems than fragments. With his widow Lois' permission here is the rest of his pick-up truck story:

"It was never intended for cruising, dating, nor racing; you could haul a cow or a half-cord of wood in it. No fancy ZX-800 numbers were on it, but it did have three vents that would open.

"A pick-up to a man is what a diamond is to a woman. Knowing this, needing one, wanting one, I decided to go into a half-and-half partnership with a brother. I sent in my $300 and was the proud half-owner of a mud-splattered, fender-dragging, LAMB-tough machine."

"Soon I was told that my half needed tires. At first I thought of my half being the right side or the left side. It didn't take a rocket scientists to figure out that my half rotated to whatever was in need. Add a fuel pump, and it was on my half; back into a fence post, and 'You bent your half.'

"However, I have to confess, I got my money's worth. Just to drive through my hometown and sense the envious stares, the prestige-building looks, and the 'local-boy-makes-good' atmosphere was well worth the price."

Guy had a sense of humor that was drier than a West Texas creek bed in 1957. I met him soon after he and his bride arrived in Asia as Baptist missionaries. After lots of years in Korea and the Philippines he became the editor of The Baptist Record, a Mississippi weekly.

I quote from another item of his: "My father believed in marrying your own kind. Thus when I began courting a city girl he sadly shook his head but said not a word. I invited her over to meet the family. I dropped a huge pear out of a tree which she failed to catch and it struck her square in the mouth. Papa was a tad suspicious then.

"Later, while picking bunch beans, someone suggested we go check the peanuts. My would-be-bride raced ahead, looked all over the peanut vines. With the authority of a county agent, she declared there were no peanuts. Papa tried unsuccessfully to brush away the tears. He surmised then that it would be a long haul for me, but as he said, 'Every fellow has to hoe his own row.'

"In spite of all this, love won out and I married the city girl. Papa loved her by then, as did all the family. Her education began in earnest.

"Papa was a good butcher and he loved exotic dishes. One day we had tripe. Lois sawed on the tripe with a sharp knife but finally declared it to be the toughest piece of fish she had ever seen. Pa nearly fell out of the chair."

If there is a place in heaven for dry humor and lively sermons (and I believe there is), Guy will be as much at home up there as he ever was down here. And if there are pick-ups in heaven he might not have to share with a brother.

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Along the Way, Fri., Oct. 3.

Finding more in a back porch read than expected

With cooler days this week, I looked for a good book to read on my back porch.

Reading is good anywhere, but no place is better than an old fashioned back porch. My porch does not have the worn wooden floors, but the hail-torn screens are patched enough to keep the bigger bugs out.

I wandered through the city library looking for a good read. I ventured into a used bookstore. Nothing jumped out at me and said, "Read me!" Good bookstores are rare on the prairie.

I went home and thumbed through one of my many Bibles. Having made devotional Bible reading a habit, I had not considered it as a good back porch read.

The book of books fell open at Job. Job is fairly easy to read but difficult to understand. Besides being scripture it is great literature. Victor Hugo found it one of the best.

The book deals with some of life's most profound problems. Such as why is our planet invaded by physical and moral evil? How can an infinite God allow his purposes to be thwarted? Why do the innocent suffer along with the guilty?

As I read the first two chapters the story came alive again. Job is dramatic poetry. It is conversation and argument in both a common and a dignified language.

Job is pictured as a good and righteous man who has prospered. First we see a scene in heaven and a conversation between the Lord God and Satan. Satan says that Job is good because it pays well. Satan asserts that Job would renounce God if he should lose his possessions or his health. The Lord God gives Satan permission to test Job, but not to kill him. (The old devil is allowed to mess with our lives, but does not have the final word, believe it or not!)

All Job's possessions are taken. His seven sons and three daughters die but Job will not renounce God. Boils and other horrible diseases come over Job. It is so bad his wife, nags him to "curse God and die!" Job ignores her and remains loyal to God.

Four of Job's friends, hearing of his great distress, visit to comfort him. They sit with him seven days and nights in silence. (Sometimes silence is better than words.)

Most of the book has these guys sitting around arguing religion. The so-called friends are convinced Job is suffering because of his sin. Job refutes that and stands by his innocence. (Remember, Job and his friends were not aware of the scenes in heaven. They do not have a clue that this is a test, not a plague from God.)

Then they tell Job that his claim of innocence is an added proof of his guilt. Round and round it goes until the youngest man speaks up. (Youth sometimes surprises us old folks.) The youngester has been quiet for about 30 chapters, listening to the dialogue. He says Job is accusing God wrongly. He insists that suffering may help him to be righteous and prevents him from a life of sin.

The climax of the story is when God himself steps on the scene and confronts Job. Before you criticize the Almighty for the way he runs the universe, what makes you think you could do it better?

God continues to rub it in on Job: Where were you when I created this world of land and sea? Where were you when I set the universe in motion?

Job declines to reply but wisely repents in dust and ashes. Job's faith is not only strengthened but is reinforced. He is drawn nearer to God. Though God apparently allows wounds, he supports us under afflictions, and I believe he will never leave us or give up on us.

Job gets no answer. The Lord God rebukes the three friends and vindicates Job. The faithful servant is rewarded with even greater prosperity than before.

Believers are not to expect great wealth, long life, or to be free from trials. Our times are in God's hands; he knows what is best for us. My back porch read reminded me when tough times come, God may not give answers but be assured he still cares and is in control.

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Friday, Sept. 19, 2003


Time flies, but not the memory of a special moment. Details of our day-to-day experiences have long been forgotten. But we remember where we were or what we were doing when a historic moment occurred.

April 12, 1945. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies at age 63. The day he died I was coming out of the Bowie Theater on Center Avenue. I was an usher in that movie house palace. On the streets the newspaper EXTRAs were being sold.

I stepped from the make-believe world into the real world. FDR had been president for 12 years. I was 15.

May 8, 1945. V-E Day. I don't have a clue what I did on this day. My wife remembers the day. A celebration began on Farmersville's town square and she and some of her high school classmates continued their party at the neighbor Harris' back yard. Her mother was so concerned she came looking for her.

That was back when few single mothers had access to a car, and lived in rented houses. It was not uncommon for a mother to walk a few blocks to check on a teen-age daughter.

March 6, 1946. The passing of my grandfather was my first experience with death and dying. It was also the first and last time I ever played hooky as we called skipping school in those days.

Apparently the devil got the best of me and my girl friend Ardys Brown that day. We slipped off to see a movie at the Gem Theater on Center instead of being in class on the corner of Austin and Avenue B. I don't remember what was showing but will never forget the feeling when we stepped out of the theater and I saw dad's barber shop, 109 East Anderson, just off Center Avenue, closed.

It was Wednesday and dad never closed on a weekday. Then I saw the wreath on the closed door. I guess Ardys got home by herself as I was busy thinking how I was going to explain my truancy on the day my grandfather died. Be sure your sins will find you out.

October 22, 1962. President John F. Kennedy informs the world of secret offensive missile bases in Cuba. We were just back from five years in Taiwan and I was in a Fort Worth Sears store where the gun counter was crowded with people. They sold every gun they had that day.

On the brink of nuclear annihilation, and people are buying guns! Even if Cuba was blown all the way to Fort Worth, a .410 wasn't going to be much use.

Nov. 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. I had just completed nine holes of golf on the Tsoying Navy Golf Course in southern Taiwan. I was about to tee off for a second time around the nine hole course, when the caddie master told us of the tragedy.

We cancelled any more golf for that day. The U.S. Navy Chaplain was out of town and had earlier invited me to speak at the Sunday Chapel services the next day. I remember the attendance was good. (The notes of my tremendous message that day have been lost for all time. A gaping hole in the archives of our lives.) Times of national or personal trial tend to make us more serious about the gift of life.

Dec. 15, 1978. President Jimmy Carter recognizes the People's Republic of China. Jody and I had just finished an excellent Chinese meal in San Antonio. We heard the announcement on the radio as we left the parking lot. I wrote the president my approval of his actions. (Laura Kite, Staff Assistant at the White House wrote a note of thanks.)

I also wrote a piece for the Texas Baptist Standard extolling the new relation with China. That opinion piece brought a few letters, one condemning me as a Communist.

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Friday, September 12, 2003

High School football games are family reunion times

Last Friday night I attended my first high school football game since a Brownwood High School football team beat Temple in Temple way back in 2000.

I had just settled into my seat on the 50-yard line of San Angelo's Bobcat Stadium, watching the teams warm up, when a nice couple came up and asked if the seats next to me were taken. I said no, and invited them to sit down.

Looking out on the field I commented to the couple that the Brownwood player with the number 5 on his back was supposed to be a competent quarterback. The gentleman next to me said quietly, "He's my grandson."

Now in a stadium seating nearly 20,000 to find myself sitting next to the star's grandparents was a real treat. Had it been my son coaching and my grandson playing I would have been waving a six-foot long banner extolling our family greatness and lineage.

Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Freeman have more class. And they have become accustomed to sons and grandsons playing and coaching football.

First of all, Jerland F. Freeman and wife Elnor do not look old enough to have a son coaching a 4-A team. He and Elnor have brought the glory days back to Texas football with their offspring including two grandsons, quarterbacks Colby and Kirby and a whole host of grandson coaches.

Elnor Freeman was holding the three-week old daughter of grandson Colby Freeman, now quarterback of the Abilene Christian University Wildcats. Then Colby's lovely wife came by. At halftime the BHS coach's wife, Jani Freeman (also much too young to be a grandmother), daughter Kelsi and Gus came by. Gus is an English bulldog that wears a Harley Davidson cap and jacket. He belongs to Kelsi Freeman, the only non-quarterback in the family.

The elder Freemans live in Roscoe, Texas, and had driven the 75 miles to San Angelo for what looked more like a family reunion than a football game.

I asked Jani Freeman how she took all this football pressure week after week. It turns out her father was a coach. It's the only life she has ever known. Her father Ted Sitton, was coach at Abilene Christian University, when Steve Freeman played and where they met.

Jerland and Elnor had another game the next day in Abilene. Grandson Rian Freeman's team was playing in Abilene. Another grandson, Jake Freeman, is an assistant coach at near-by Early High School. Jake played for Hardin Simmons University.

Back to the BHS-Central football game. It was a solid win for the maroon and white, 28-13. I enjoyed the lack of taunting or hot-dogging by the players. Mr. Freeman told me a team could be penalized for such actions. Colleges and pro football players ought to consider such a rule. Makes the game a lot more fun without the clowns taking bows for simply doing what they are out there to do.

Talking with Coach Morris Southall this week, I learned his wife and a whole herd of their family were at the San Angelo game also. The Southalls have a grandson who is an assistant coach at Angelo State University and two grandsons playing with the Rams. Football time is family reunion time.

Tonight is a historic night for Central Texas. In addition to the regular family reunions, the Bloom Field is being dedicated at Gordon Wood Stadium. Four games are on tap Friday and Saturday with the climax Saturday night between BHS and Odessa Permian High School Panthers.

All this sports talk has me going back in time to when I got fifty cents a week for writing sports for the defunct Brownwood Banner! See you at the ball game.

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Friday, August 29, 2003

Which makes for a better world: Keeping the Ten Commandments or keeping a stone replica of them?

An Alabama Supreme Court Justice says he has his Ten Commandments Monument in the courthouse as an acknowledgment of God. To remove it would take away his acknowledgement of God.

So, should Christians put up stone monuments in their yards so God will know he has not been forgotten? Maybe I should put a big rock in my front yard to acknowledge my belief in God.

The Ten Commandments also say we are not to make "any graven image, or any likeness of anything … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them…" (Exodus 20:4-5)

In spite of that phrase, Judge Roy Moore puts up a 5,280-pound granite monument to his version of the Ten Commandments. That is okay in his living room, but not in the rotunda of the state judicial building in Montgomery, Alabama.

Judge Moore (who now considers himself a modern-day Patrick Henry) probably knew it was a no-no to put the monument in the courthouse. He and his TV preachers put it in there under cover of darkness. He didn't even tell his fellow justices.

The sculpture was paid for by a Religious Right group led by Florida-based televangelist James Kennedy. Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries filmed the monument's construction and placement. Kennedy sells the videotapes as fund-raisers for the judge's cause. Coral Ridge Ministries is also paying for Judge Moore's legal defense. Kennedy's non-profit status should be checked by the IRS.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled against Judge Moore, ordering him to remove the monument. They issued Judge Moore "a new commandment: thou shalt not violate the Constitution."

Judge Moore has now been suspended for refusing to obey the law we are all expected to observe. Those who should know better have rallied around his cause, cluttering up the Alabama Supreme Courthouse with their banners and blatherings about God being taken from America.

They must have a small God. Just like those who claimed God was being forced out of the schools because certain prayers were not allowed.

You cannot get rid of God so easily. He is not dependent upon stone monuments or prayers at football games. He is not pleased with such foolishness. But I think he has come to expect the worst even from those who claim to be his followers.

God created us with a free will; giving his creation the opportunity to worship him as Creator-God or turn away from him and worship some created thing -- like a monument to some scripture.

As I wrote last November and now repeat: "If we post the Ten Commandments in a public space, whose version do we post?"

There are many versions of the Ten Commandments. The ancient Hebrew text followed by Judaism is different from the English King James Version adhered to by most Protestants. The Roman Catholics follow yet another reading of the commandments.

The Ten Commandments, in any translation, is good. They are a reminder of a better way to live. Taken seriously, they can make life worth living. The Ten Commandments can make life a lot better for the people of a government that appreciates their basic tenets.

America's constitution broke with history in that churches would not be supported by the government. Government, in turn, would not promote religion. This is a Baskin-Robbins land. Many religious flavors to the exclusion of none. Pay taxes to the government and your offerings to your church-flavor.

Acknowledging God with a mere monument is idolatry. God looks on the heart, Brother Moore, and your televangelist Kennedy ought to tell you that.

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August 1, 2003

No horsing around with idioms?

Writing a couple of weeks ago about the popular movie on the racehorse Seabiscuit, I got caught up with the idiomatic use of 'horse' in our language. Horse expressions cover an area broader than a team of Clydesdales.

Wild horses could not keep me from asking, "what would our language be like if we did not have horses?"

You can back a dark horse or back the wrong horse and your meaning is always clear. Some people eat like a horse. While others get so hungry they could eat a horse! (Americans eat cows, pigs and chickens, but never a horse!) Some preachers get on a hobbyhorse with a particular subject. To overdo anything is like flogging a dead horse. (Like writing a column like this.)

Nothing gets boys in more trouble than 'horsing around.' This is open to many interpretations as is the at-times rowdy term 'horseplay.' When TV's Col. Potter of MASH said, "horse hockey," he was not referring to a sport.

A horse of a different color is another matter. Different from whatever is being discussed at the time. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. How far will we get if we put the cart before the horse?

When Aunt Mae saw someone acting uppity or smug, she would say, "he's on his high horse." None in my family used the more vulgar, disparaging term referred to as a horse's hind end (This being a family newspaper, I substituted two words there for the one commonly used.) Other than a cousin or two, no one in my neighborhood acted that way.

Sometimes when there is need for restraint there is always someone around to stop the plans or action with, "hold your horses."

Television still runs a lot of 'horse operas,' once the term used for cowboy or western films. Kids play HORSE on the basketball court, seeing who can make five baskets first and spell out the word h-o-r-s-e.

To get something straight from the horses' mouth was unquestionably the truth. First-hand, completely correct information never came from a cow's mouth.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," comes from horse traders checking out the horse's condition before a sale. If somebody gives you a good deal, take it and run. There is no better compliment than being called "a good horse trader."

Our automobiles run on horsepower. A person with common sense has "horse sense" (Note: horsepower and horseradish are one word, while horse latitudes and horse chestnuts are two words.)

Incumbent political office holders tell us, in an election year, it is not a good thing "to change horses in the middle of the stream."

The donkey, a cousin to the horse, is also an idiomatic favorite. The male donkey is called a "jack," short for jackass. They are famous for being stubborn. When exasperated with someone, Jackass is sometimes the kindest of many expressions. The male donkey is often considered stupid.

Seldom do we read of a noble donkey. (One beautiful exception is the concert arrangement of "Donkey Serenade.") Many times in the "horse operas," the cowboy's sidekick rode a donkey. We always got a "horse laugh" out of the sidekick's antics.

When a donkey is mated with a mare an even more stubborn and stupid equine is born -- a mule. The mule gets the donkey's brain and the horse's stature and strength. (I have no scientific proof of this statement.)

Jennys, what we call Jack's counterpart, can also be stubborn, but they have a pretty name. Jenny is a pleasing name and associated with beautiful things. Jenny is also the name of a wren. (The female of all God's creatures, especially humans, are more lovely, wise and interesting than their male companions.) A young female horse also has a sweet sounding name: filly.

Without horses or their cousins, the English language would be short on idioms. Just as the Sport of Kings is about horses, horse sayings are the King of Idioms. Have you ever locked the barn after the horse got out?

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Friday, August 8, 2003

Being stubborn as a mule is not all bad

Don Smith, a long-time friend in San Antonio, read last week's column on idioms relating to horses, and took issue with some of my conclusions.

For those who missed my horse column, I made an unscientific observation that when a donkey is mated with a mare, the result is a more stubborn and stupid equine -- a mule. With the ignorance that is required of columnists, I went on to disparage the intelligence of mules.

Don wrote: "After reading your well-written and humorously interesting column on the subject of 'horse sense,' I'm afraid I'm going to have to call you to task over some serious faults in your observations regarding mules."

I felt Don's criticism came from a good heart. I know he has a good heart because he had chosen one of the finest women ever as his wife. Nita Smith, who passed away earlier this year, and Don became dear friends following a visit in Hong Kong back in the last third of the 20th century.

Don is one of finest photographers I ever met. Back when color slides were the rage (happier days for Kodak) he gave the best living room show for friends and relatives. Usually (even with missionary slides) the viewers suffered through it. But not with Don's slide presentations. I don't know of anyone ever walking out on Don's vacation slides. He not only knew how to get a good picture, but how to talk about it as well.

So when Don Smith wrote that I slighted mules and gave them short shrift, I thought his opinions were worth a wider audience. He had five good reasons that mules were smarter than horses. He has the pedigree to back up what he says.

He wrote that his father "was born and raised in Kentucky and considered himself somewhat of an authority on fast horses and beautiful women but he reserved his greatest admiration for the lowly mule. Dad believed that most horses were dumber than bricks while the average mule surpassed most animals in intelligence and ingenuity." Don gave some convincing arguments and I quote him:

"(1) A horse will run until if reaches a point of fatal exhaustion and then may fall to the ground and die; a mule, conversely, will only work or run to its own, personally-established limit and then stop and no amount of cajoling will cause it to go one step farther.

"(2) A barn, on fire, will cause a horse to panic and it will only attempt to get deeper into its own stall and thereby perish if it is not hand-led out of the barn with a cover over its head; a mule, caught in the same barn fire, needs only to see an open door and it will promptly exit in order to save its life.

"(3) A horse can be ridden straight down a steep hill where it cannot see its own feet and thereby risk a disastrous fall; a mule will only descend a hill by doing a "switch-back" which allows it to go down slowly and maintain constant surveillance of the path ahead and its feet.

"(4) In an panic situation, a horse will run into a barbed wire fence enclosure whereas a mule will walk up to the wire, inspect it closely and refuse to get close enough to harm itself.

"(5) In the 'horse operas' that you mentioned, we have all seen the cowboy ride his horse off of a high cliff and both of them land in the (fortuitously placed) lake below. Try that with a mule and you will find that he will walk, cautiously, to the edge of the cliff, back up and, from that point forward, nothing on earth could persuade him to jump off voluntarily."

As I read I kept expecting Don to break into a Tennessee Ernie song about mules. Having been thought of as "mule-headed" by West Texas Democrats and members of the NRA, I am no longer ashamed of being compared to a stubborn mule. Folks more fully appreciate the Grand Canyon riding mules into the heart of the canyon. The town of Muleshoe, Texas, is famous for its solemn statue of a mule. Being "mule-headed" is not so bad after all.

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Have we learned anything over the last forty years?

A Sunday night in June, 1962, I was invited to speak in the services of the El Bethel Baptist Church in downtown San Francisco. Rev. D. Manning Jackson was the black pastor of this predominately black church on Golden Gate Avenue, not far from Chinatown.

At a youth group meeting before the worship service I spoke on Baptist mission work in Taiwan. It was a first for them to hear about foreign missions and a first for me to speak to a black congregation.

Before the evening worship service, everyone gathered in the basement for a question and answer time. As we came to the end of the session, the pastor said to me, "You are not white," then touched his white shirt collar and said, "That's white." I agreed. He then called a little boy over to him and put his arm around the four or five year old boy. Pastor Jackson turned to me and said "anybody, even this boy, could become president of the United States." I said "A-men" along with everybody else.

The pastor and I went into his study while the rest of the folks prepared for worship. He shared how fearful he was of the turmoil that was boiling over in many young black's hearts and minds.

"They's going to be some bad trouble soon," he said. Remember, this was 1962. It was a rebellious time for blacks and whites. He said he had angry and confused young men coming to see him all the time. Most of them filled with hate for the racial injustice they were experiencing. He was a burdened man working with a burdened people.

The worship service that night was one filled with the Spirit of God. After I spoke they "laid" a table for me. I had no idea what that meant. They cleared the communion table and ushers with white gloves prepared the people to come by the table and leave an offering. They were not obligated to give me anything. But they did, over and above their regular offering.

In spite of my poor preaching most of the congregation of over 200 came forward giving an offering. It totaled $27.05 (that was a lot of money forty years ago). I was in San Francisco attending a convention and had run out of money. No one knew that all I had left was my train ticket back to Brownwood. My money gone, I had no plans to eat the next few days. But God once again moved in his mysterious ways, as the saying goes.

Pastor Jackson and I didn't solve any inner city problems but I gained a bit more insight to problems of the inner city. I was reminded once again that God loves all his creation, "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world." (Someone once added: the problem is the adults, stupid!")

The following year, 1963, I was back in southern Taiwan, when word came that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas. Rev. Lu, pastor of the Kaohsiung Church, came to our house with some genuine fears and serious questions. (Would America back away from being Taiwan's friend?)

The experience of most Asians has been that when a head of state was killed more bad things followed. Governments changed hands, and people did not know who was in charge or what was happening. The roof usually caved in on the ordinary citizen. Chaos reigned. Lu asked if American democracy might crumble as it appeared to be doing in South Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asian nations? Pastor Lu's fears were valid.

I understood his background and thinking. I assured him that the American Constitution was stronger than one person. I told him that a new president was already in charge and relations with Taiwan and ties with America's friends would not change.

The smooth transfer of government in that crucial time was a great example to the rest of the world. America was based on law, not on a personality.

In the late 1960s America began righting some wrongs and setting some good examples. If we learned anything back then, why are our domestic and foreign policies crumbling over our heads? Maybe the 1960s were not as bad as we thought.

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For more "Along the Way" pieces CLICK on these earlier columns first published in the Brownwood Bulletin (Brownwood, Texas, USA)



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