Talking Kiwi, short wave radio, and avoiding pine tar

My dad is climbing to the top of a 40-foot pine tree beside our house.

But there’s no reason to worry.

He has emphysema, a bad heart, 40 years’ worth of very hard living, an unfiltered cigarette addiction, and clearly a lack of trust in others.

It’s all good.

The pine tree is close enough to the house that you could climb onto the roof and then simply step onto the tree halfway up.

The roof will save you a lot of pine tar grief.

And here’s the thing, anyone of us could have done it.

My brother, a few other guys working for my dad, or even I could have accomplished this difficult, but doable task.

But at approximately 51 years of age with the aforementioned maladies, he was clearly the right one for the job of installing a new 20-foot CB/short wave antenna on the top of the aforementioned 40-foot pine tree.

CB radios were a big thing then. Once he installed it, he could talk to new friends as far away as New Zealand.

He’d sit in his room with a large radio shouting: “Skip land, skip land, skip land.”

A few seconds later, you’d hear the reply from the other side of the world:

“Go ahead skip land” in a cool Kiwi accent.

And so it went four months.

It was cool having a short-wave base station. I still remember our FCC license, which we were required to get to operate a CB radio.


One of my friends made his license into a sign-song every time he signed in to talk.

The K da Q da K …  Something like that. I don’t remember the whole thing. (To be honest, I never completely understood his call sign.)

As a teenager, I became proficient at CB lingo.

Once, I carried on a conversation with a guy while riding west on Highway 84 towards Monroeville. Dad was driving and mom was in the passenger seat. I had control of the CB radio with the mic in my hand. I think a sister or two may have been with us. I asked the voice about the possibility of “Smokey” being in the vicinity. I suppose this would have allowed dad to speed even more than he normally went. After a few minutes, the voice decided to tell me exactly where Smokey was. Right behind us. I threw the mic down and crawled under the back seat. Everyone else got a good laugh.

The CB also became a way to meet other people – besides the police that is.

So, my friend and I were talking to anyone who’d listen one day after school. To our surprise, a lovely female voice echoed back to us through the CB radio speakers. And we spent the next 30 minutes or so flirting with this lovely voice, whoever she was. Turns out she sat right across from me in one of my classes at school. But I never had the intellectual capacity to actually talk to her in person. Maybe this explains why some disc jockeys or talk show host sound so bold on the air, but not so much in person.

Anonymity allows for a certain level of bravery/arrogance/stupidity.

And instead of merely acknowledging her the next day at school we probably just hurt her feelings. I don’t remember, but I am pretty sure that I said something stupid. Or failed to say anything.

I’ve remained surprisingly competent at saying the wrong thing through the years.

Dad finished his precarious high wire act to the relief of my mother and all of the other able-bodied men who should have been up there in the first place.

Did we really need a high-powered shortwave antenna?


With only three TV channels, it was unlikely I’d get a real life Kiwi accent piped into the room talking specifically to us.

As he eventually weakened from the reduced lung capacity and other maladies, my dad continued to talk to people all over the world.

That is, until September 1979 when Hurricane Frederick came ashore and had the audacity to uproot all of our 13 majestic 40 foot plus pine trees.

And although they all scattered like tooth picks poured from a jar onto a table top, none of them touch the house.

After that, the shortwave and CB experience stopped. Well, except for the small unit in the Pontiac Bonneville. But it wasn’t near as strong as that antenna on the top of that pine tree next to the house above the wisteria vine that dad put up on a hot summer afternoon so he could talk to people from New Zealand.

“Skip land. Skip land. Skip land. Come in Skip land.”

“Go ahead Skip land.”



Auditions, locked keys, and roadside debris

Near Columbus, MS:  I auditioned for a job near here once.

I stopped at a gas station just a mile or so from the church building where the audition was to occur. It was winter and cold, even for Mississippi. I got out of the truck, spun around, and the door shut. This was not part of the audition.

A feeling somewhere down in the far reaches of my stomach told me that the keys that would have normally accompanied my hand on the way from the ignition to my pocket lay, not in my then empty hands, but still in the ignition.

I just locked the keys in my truck. The engine was still running.

I started doing what any sane person about to audition for a preaching job, cursing at the top of my lungs.

OK, I didn’t.

Tony Campolo may be able to get away with colorful language to make a point but I wasn’t trying to make a point.

My keys were still in the ignition laughing at me.

I was supposed to be at the church building in 30 minutes or so and my only mode of motorized transportation was slowly burning the gas out of the tank.

Here’s the thing that fueled my anger: Church people came and went from the store. They drove up, parked, looked at me, and continued on their way.

A little old lady, maybe 80, asked if I had locked my keys in the truck.

I punched her.

No, I didn’t, it was actually a gentle nudge and I really don’t see why she had to make such a big deal about falling. It was only a sprain.

I explained the situation to one person. And through the help of a delicate instrument specially made for such situations, I used my skill to free the keys from the ignition.

We made it to the audition.

Fast-forward a few years: I was driving to Fort Smith, Arkansas for court (somewhere along the way I stumbled through law school).

I noticed a discarded box of electronics lying on side of Interstate 40. The box had fallen from a satellite TV service truck or from a truck of thieves, not to be redundant there.

Either way, I decided that the box of stuff was fair game.

I stopped with plenty of room between westbound traffic and me. I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of turning off the ignition and putting the keys in my pocket.

Who would?

That was way too much work to ask of a busy attorney – on a busy interstate – with big trucks and all.

I was only going to be a minute gathering the “lost” property from the highway.

This happened in a split second: As I exited my truck, my right elbow caught the door as gale force winds from a passing semi truck pushed against the door.

My elbow brushed the lock, ever so slightly.

The door shut.

Confidently – just like the church audition.

Seems that my truck has a healthy self-image.

Standing outside the truck, engine running, the keys locked inside, I was not happy.

I tried not to look as stupid as my actions clearly indicated I was. So I walked towards the discarded electronics and threw the box into the truck bed, feigning interest in the satellite instruments that I would never use and only recently gave away to a Salvation Army Thrift Store.

I walked up and down the interstate looking down for something that might help me open the door.

There’s a lot of stuff alongside an interstate highway.

Praying that God would be merciful and look beyond my stupidity and greed, I asked for a way inside the truck.

Several times.

No one seemed the least interested in why I was walking back and forth on the side of the interstate while a perfectly good truck sat idling nearby.

I had tried many times to pull the door open. There was a space to work with as the door had not shut completely.

I had even taken a large rock and began trying to smash the passenger window.

Auto glass is tough.

That didn’t work.

Then I looked down by the driver’s door and saw the metal remains of a windshield wiper.

It was perfect for sliding into the small space and pulling up the lock.

Rarely had I been so happy to sit behind the steering wheel and drive away.

Still made it to court on time.

Russia winters, hot tea, and avoiding glass in your cup

“You’re probably doing this wrong.”

Don’t you get tired of these stupid headlines?

I too!

  • You’re Eating Apples All Wrong
  • You’re Making Beans All Wrong
  • You’re Eating Pizza All Wrong
  • You’re Eating Tofu All Wrong

I could go on.

Why would you eat tofu?

Regardless, let me share why you’re probably making sweet tea all wrong.

You’re welcome!

Once, I was in Russia and I just wanted sweet tea.

That’s all.

As it turns out, they don’t drink cold sweet tea in Russia.

I don’t know why?

Maybe the communist indoctrination against all that’s good and right.

We stayed in a dormitory in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic (or state) and home to a university full of Russian and Komi students studying foreign languages. There was one Princess in the whole lot. Could things get any better?

But that is another story.

Like most Alabamians, I love snow – for about 10 minutes.

And then it’s time for short pants and flip-flops.

After being in the apartment for a while, what I really wanted was cold Sweet Tea.

Of course, it’s assumed to have ice. Who’d drink tea hot?

Apparently, Russians and, well, a lot of the world.

Who knew?

I need to get out more.With this desire for sweet tea, I plundered through the communal kitchen and found a Siberian sized glass jar.

With this desire for sweet tea, I plundered through the communal kitchen and found a Siberian sized glass jar.


I boiled some water, threw in some Lipton tea bags that I had smuggled into the communist enclave (for emergency purposes), and emptied a five-pound bag of sugar into the boiler.

It’s a Paula Deen recipe.

Then, I needed a cool place to complete the whole sweet tea cycle of life. The refrigerator in the kitchen was either too small or too crowded to house my newly created sweet tea. I wasn’t deterred. I knew a cool place.

Did I mention that I was 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle?


I was.

The good thing was that I got to see Polar Bears wander occasionally out the window.

There was one window in the room; a double window. You open one window and there’s another window about a foot away to open, if you dare. The only problem was that your skin would freeze and fall off your face when you smacked it on the window frame upon your quick retreat.

But don’t get ahead of me.

The jar of sweet tea sat on the outer window ledge for less than an hour waiting for me to bring it in from the cold and enjoy sugary sweetness.

Let’s just say that placing the hot Siberian jar in the sub-zero weather turned out to be a tactical error. Obeying the laws of science (which happens in Russia too – who knew?), the glass jar failed to adequately contain the quickly expanding tea, water, and sugar, which, not surprisingly, had a beautiful crinkly-crushed-cellophane pattern.

It reminded me of my daughter’s screen on her iPhone after a face-first landing on the pavement.

You get the idea.

So, no sweet tea, unless I wanted it with crunchy glass crystals.

I decided that it was probably a good time to join the rest of the world and learn to drink hot tea.


Dad, Bud Rose, and Machine Gun Kelly

To successfully navigate the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, one must have a sponsor to keep the drunk from continuing on this path.

My dad’s sponsor is the guy in this photo.

I’ve listened to my dad, through smoke-filled rooms, give testimony to his life with and without alcohol.

I preferred without.

Thankfully, he did too.

After sitting through more than a few AA meetings, I’m convinced that all alcoholics really just trade the alcohol for coffee and cigarettes. For those familiar with the area, the house on Bayou Sara Avenue near Cedar Street, was where I heard him talk the most and not coincidentally where I learned to drink coffee.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the guy standing to the right of my dad was actually, Colonel Sanders.

It sure looks like him.

I halfway expect him to pull out a bucket of fried chicken – original recipe!

He’s actually a man named Bud Rose.

He lived in Memphis and I remember him talking to my dad in our house in Saraland about getting sober. He had a Big Book and spoke about admitting that he was “powerless over alcohol … and that his life … “had become unmanageable.

Yes. It was.

Dad drove to Memphis a lot to speak or to listen to Bud speak.

But Bud had a secret (sort of). And I’m hoping that this doesn’t constitute some old FBI secret.

Bud’s claim to fame was being a body guard for the American gangster from Memphis, George Francis Barnes Jr., better known as Machine Gun Kelly. Then he’d lift his shirt and display a large and gruesome scar on his stomach that was produced, allegedly, by a machine-gun.

For a similar visual, see Lyndon Johnson showing off his surgical scar to reporters.

Sometimes I get the chance to talk about terrorism and its history in the U.S. And Bud’s story makes for a nice introduction to the topic.



Living on Russian Time

Searcy, AR:  Last week we had some nice folks from Harding University for a Russian dinner. I suppose American suppers were out of the question. But, because we’ve got a few Russians hanging around, one of whom can cook, we opted for the Russian cuisine.

And as everyone knew would be the case, my wife’s mom executed almost all the cooking duties flawlessly. Then we sat around and talked about Russia.

My father-in-law, who usually inserts a story or two from the Motherland, recounted a tale about a building project. He was a pretty important person in Russia and was involved in a lot of the building projects. I’m not sure if his work included the statute of Lenin near the airport (or the one at just every street corner in town).The project he described was scheduled to be completed by the end of the calendar year.

The project he described was scheduled to be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Which sounds reasonable. Unless there just isn’t enough time to complete said project by the end of the year.

Then, there could be problems.

He explained that the government was making an addition to the hospital and it was crucial that the project must be completed before December 31.

BEFORE the end of the year!

I don’t know why this project had to be completed by then. Maybe communism would, like a famous carriage, turn back into a pumpkin.

Who knows?

If you’re looking for logic, you’re looking in the wrong place.

But, when it became clear that the project would not be finished by the end of the year, the communists did what any communist would do.

Simply accept reality and plan accordingly that the project would run into the new year.


Of course not.

Their solution? Extend the year.

One of the communist’s slogans was that “communists didn’t need the sun because communism made its own light” or something like that.

If they could control the sun, then they controlled the calendar.My father-in-law finished the story by saying that he signed the paperwork himself that “extended” the year.

So, my father-in-law finished the story by saying that he signed the paperwork himself that “extended” the year.

The completion date?

December 44.

The power of the pen has no boundary.

Who knows what would have happened if they had actually finished the project January.

Just don’t tell them that they did.



The 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment Company K

This is a picture of my dad’s jump school class at Camp Campbell, KY in 1950. Sixty-five years later, I would make my way to this same happy place on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. I never once considered jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. I am currently studying the Korean Way and the Cabanatuan Raid in the Philippines, which occurred in January of 1945.

I spend a lot of time scouring the internet for pictures of my dad’s unit. If you know someone in the picture, please leave a comment. You’ll also notice that my dad’s photo is crisper than the other photographs. The reason is that I also have the 8×10 of my dad. The photographer just compiled all the students’ 8x10s and made this collage. I just placed the better version of the photo over his picture.

One more thing, you’ll notice that some of the men are “x’ed” out. In the late 1970s, dad was looking for surviving Army buddies who could corroborate his military injury to help with his application for VA disability. The men with the X had passed away by that time. I don’t think he was able to contact but just one or two former classmates. Dad injured his head in a jump in Germany, which required a metal plate in his skull. I always knew he was hard-headed.


Law School, Barbie Dolls, and Maternity Riders

Fayetteville, AR: There are a few things that professors will tell you not to do when you are in law school.

Don’t get married.

Don’t have a baby.

Don’t rob Federal Reserve banks.

Crazy, right?

Thankfully, my experience in these endeavors is limited.

And the statute of limitations hasn’t run yet, so…

I’ll just stick to my story here.

At the tender age of 33, I went back to college. Before that, I’d been preaching for small conservative churches and wanted to get away from all the legalism.

So, I went to law school.

Anyway, my bride and I found ourselves at the University of Arkansas where one of the benefits of attending is free health care.

Well, it’s only free if you don’t count the millions of Arkansans whose involuntary taxes contributed to the costs.

Thank you fine Arkansas tax payers for your generosity!

One of the riders to that health insurance was that pregnancy was covered. For some reason, I think this was a popular addition.

We already had an 18-month-old girl when I started law school.

But my wife wanted two girls, not just one. And she wanted them to be about the same distance apart in age as she was from her sister.

Law school is stressful enough so don’t complicate it by doing more stressful stuff.

Which is apparently why we decided to have a baby in my second year of law school. I even missed a final exam to welcome our second girl into the world.

I think that some classmates got married.

But that’s still not the point.

At the appropriate time, we went to the university health clinic for a pregnancy test.

At the time in the late 1990s, when a student visited the campus medical clinic, he or she would have been greeted with a life-size Barbie doll staring like a crazed zombie at the sick students waiting to receive Benadryl or other life-saving medicine.

Let me say that again: A life-sized Barbie doll. Well over 6 feet tall.

She was creepy.

I don’t know if it is still there but it was not very appealing, unlike the Mattel Russian Barbie I had purchased for my bride.

Which was pretty and stayed that way until one of our girls gave her a hair-cut years later.

Now, for reasons I can’t go into here, we were pretty sure that my bride was pregnant. But we had to get the official test from the clinic so some insurance official could make a car or house payment that month.

A few minutes later a young woman sits down in front of us with a stern look on her face.

And I could tell that she didn’t want to tell us the results of her findings.

Just tell us the news.

“Well,” she began. She was nervous.

“The results are back and, well… Well, um,  you’re pregnant.”

(Actually, only one of us was…)

But we both breathed a sigh of relief and happiness.

The worker, for a nano-second, was confused but then sensed our happiness and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, good.”

She was visibly and sincerely relieved to see that we were happy.

I suspected that this announcement wasn’t always met with happiness.

I wouldn’t want her job.

We said thank you to the nice clinic worker and goodbye to the creepy Barbie as we exited the clinic and went shopping for diapers and baby clothes.

“Hey, Honey. Nicole sounds like a good name for a girl, don’t you think?”


Reading to Love

I learned this bit of information from my wonderful Aunt Dola in Washington, KY recently. When married, in 1903, my grandfather (Ollie Manning) couldn’t read. My grandmother (Mary Jones Manning) taught him to read. She was about 15 years old and he was about 26 on their wedding day.
This picture shows them on their wedding day (and it seems strange to me that the man is sitting down, but at least it’s not a selfie with duck lips). (The reason for sitting could also be that he is just so much taller than she. Sitting was better than making her look so short in comparison – even though she was short).

The other photo shows my grandfather reading the Bible to his sweet wife after her eyesight diminished later in life. Sadly, I never knew either one of them as my mom was the baby of 13 kids.


Colluding with Russians

For a long time, after the (evil) American embassy worker in Moscow denied her request for a visa, I thought about getting my fiancé (somehow) to Mexico. Then she could easily cross the southern border into the USA.Texas.


I honestly didn’t care if I got her here legally or illegally.

I didn’t care because I didn’t know the implications of the illegal method.

Now I do.

But if she could just get here, we could get married and everything would be perfect.

I’ve no idea how I would have gotten her to Mexico. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought.

You see, I had fallen in love with my translator in Russia and had asked her to marry me that August at a park in Satsuma, Alabama. The park was once the site of a house that we lived in when I was four.

I thought that’d be romantic.

The only problem (and this has been a major theme in my life) was ignorance.

I just didn’t know about fiancee visas.

So, I did the only thing I knew to do.

First, a little background: All the guys with whom I traveled to Russia did so on business visas. We went as missionaries but had business visas.

You get there any way you can right?

So, to get my fiancé here, we applied for a business visa.

I could feel the wheels of brilliance turning.

So, this 18-year-old stunningly beautiful Russian woman sashays into the American Embassy in Moscow and applies for a tourist/business visa.

The striking problem was that such a visa means you’re going to return to Russia when you’re done with your, um, business.

But that wasn’t the plan.

And that was patently obvious to the mean American Embassy workers.

I thought it didn’t matter how she got here, just that she got here. And the ceremony would have fixed anything wrong with any possible illegalities of an invalid border crossing.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Did I mention ignorance?

So only after long waits at the embassy in Moscow with the aforementioned rude Americans turning down her request for a visa, did I learn about the “K” visas.

Not Special K mind you.

Turns out all I had to do was to apply and – voila – it was approved.

Who knew immigration could be so easy?

A year and a half after I’d met her, and after lots of anguish at trying to get here the wrong way, we married in Alabama.

I don’t know the answer to the problem of millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. I just know that we got the right paperwork – eventually – and were patient. Of course, if she were here illegally and I met her at that point, I’d probably have a different attitude.

Love conquers all.



The Yugo and a bad day in battle

I’m at Vacation Bible School on a Tuesday night in central Arkansas.

I love going to VBS.

When our girls were little, we’d take them to every possible VBS we could find. Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Church of God, Catholic, Free Range, Wiccan, didn’t matter.

Just kidding about the Wiccan, although I once saw a surrogate mom who was a Wiccan.

Maybe she was fictional.

Most of the VBSs were surprisingly homogenous. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they all bought their VBS material from the same place – maybe Nashville. But that’s just a guess.

There was one little Baptist church way out in the sticks east of Vilonia that we visited. Everyone just stared at us. They obviously had never had visitors, which made me wonder why they advertised in the newspaper in the first place.

But they had good cookies. That’s what I really look for in a VBS.

The church where I am tonight has, for the adult class, set up tents inside the building with tables of food. There are signs on each tent: Sweets, Drinks, Appetizers, Chips and Dips.  It is an efficient setup. The wall behind the podium reads “He-brews Café” with a large picture of a cup of coffee.

On the PowerPoint projector, the slide reads, “Foolish vows and their fatal consequences.”

And I start thinking about all the foolish promises I’ve made. As the list grows quickly, I realize this isn’t a good idea and return my focus back on the food.

With the notable exception of marrying a lovely Russian Princess, I can relate to making foolish decisions.

Buying a Yugo definitely rates on the top of the list. I got it from a car dealer in Daphne, Alabama, who obviously had no shame about selling the worse car in history in the first place. A close second is the purchase of new gray (black interior) Chevrolet S-10 from a dealer in Citronelle with no air conditioning.

Let that sink in for a sec… South Alabama in the summer and no AC.

I still think the dealership should have been prosecuted for cruel and inhumane treatment for selling anything without A/C.

These two decisions would rank high on almost anyone’s list.

The place is only about 20% full at the moment – but more are trickling in.

The chocolate chip cookies are excellent as are the rest of the dishes. I expected no less at a church potluck. I turned down a cup of coffee because I didn’t want to be up all night and instead went for the sweet tea.

I really need to work on my reasoning skills.

A few minutes later and we’re almost at 80% capacity. Almost everyone is balancing a Styrofoam plate, napkin, and cup as the speaker begins his lesson.

The guy in front of me reaches over to his plate of shrimp, which is sitting in an empty metal folding chair to his left and dips one of the crustaceans into some kind of red sauce. The professor steps to the podium.

I knew the guest speaker in graduate school in Nashville back in the 1990s. Which seems a really long time ago now. I say that I knew him because, well he’s pretty famous now. He went on from Nashville to do Ph.D. work somewhere. So, he’s a smart guy.

I just noticed that there are coffee pots and bags of coffee beans propped up around the room. Now the “He-brews” motif makes more sense.

I really need to work on my observation skills too.

As I recall, old Jephthah got into a bind, prayed to the Lord for help, and promised God that if God rescued him he would sacrifice the first thing that walked out of his house when he returned home.

Seemed reasonable. And generous. His making a deal with God seems a little like Burt Reynolds in the movie, “The End” where Reynold’s character tells shouts out, as he drowns, that if God would only save him, he would give God all of his money. Or something like that.

But here’s the big error message that should have been flashing in Jephthah’s mind: “what are the possibilities of things that can walk out of my front door?”

I am guessing that he didn’t consider that his daughter would be the “first thing” that sashayed out.

Just so you’ll be clear here: Jephthah supposedly agreed to sacrifice his daughter to God as a human sacrifice because…. wait for it…

She was the first thing (human actually) that walked out the front door of the house.

Wouldn’t he expect his family to greet him after a long absence?

I know I have been on the receiving end of a welcome home greeting many times after being away on government service.

But, would God even accept a human sacrifice?

I have my doubts that he actually followed through with this insane promise. But, hey, what do I know about ancient and near eastern religion and culture?

Regardless, it’s a serious lesson on making foolish and destructive decisions.

I remember years ago, trying to use the logic of Jephthah when I tried to get out of a contract that I had signed. The Air Force officer listen to me politely, but a contract is a contract, so no luck.

The book of Judges is just sad. And dysfunctional.

And this dysfunctional family of God never really learned: The Israelites rebel, God disciplines; Israel repents, God delivers.

Rinse and repeat.

Sometimes I feel a lot like the Israelites.

I think I will have that cup of coffee now.