Monday, December 14, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

"To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Once again, it's time for the next incarnation of my blog. Not to worry - I'm not taking my blog down again; I'm just moving. I've been thinking for a while that it's really time to take this little blog in a more 'public' direction, to make it more 'accessible' to my family and friends. And so, I'm moving to The Yard Next Door. Which, I hope, will be a lot like the yard we've all been running in for the past few years, with a few modest changes (which I'll leave the observant and/or clever among you to notice). . . And if those of you who have links to this blog could change the link to the new one, I'd be grateful.

This blog will still be here; I've still got to have something to link to, when my stories cross-reference each other, right? But as of this post, I won't be posting anything new here. Just to let you know.

And, since it's how I'll be posting on the new blog, I can 'pull the curtain aside', just a little bit. Some of you already know, but 'Desmond Jones' isn't my real name; I'm Craig. And 'Molly' is my wife Jen (OK, she's really Jennifer, but her mother doesn't even call her that). I could give you the names of our eight kids, but that would probably be more confusing than just continuing to use the birth-order/gender nomenclature that I've always used. Heck, I've got to be a little bit careful, right?

Anyway, you can all watch the 'new blog' for signs of activity, and before long, we'll all be comfortable in the new digs, I hope. And, if a few of my friends and family start dropping in, maybe you can even make a new friend or two. . .

See you there. . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Keep Reminding Myself, This Is What I Signed Up For. . .

Arriving at home after work last night, I pulled the car into the carport. Before I could even turn the engine off, my ears were seared by a piercing, wailing howl, as 7M ran screaming out the back door of the house, followed closely by 6F. He was obviously in pain, and I tried to get him to calm down enough to tell me what had happened, to no avail. 6F finally explained that they had been making dinner - a ham roast - and, taking the pan out of the oven, 7M had spilled a bit of the liquid (mostly water, with a bit of grease) on his foot. So I quickly removed his hot-liquid-soaked sock, and ran him inside to get some cold water on his scalded foot, while he wailed the whole time. . .


It's always so nice to come home to the peaceful, happy bosom of my family, you know?

(And of course, yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (one of those Catholic Holy Days of Obligation), which, for purposes of this story, meant that Molly was gone to church at the time. And after that, she had her Women's Group meeting, so I was kinda 'winging it on the fly'. . .)


Once he got calmed down a bit, and the immediate, searing pain gave way to something a bit more endurable, we saw that he had sustained second-degree burns on two of his toes, and a small portion of the top of his foot. Which ain't gonna maim him for life, so that's good. But, in the immediate near-term, it still hurts like hell. And feet being what they are, associated with how we usually transport ourselves from one place to the next, the consequences of the injury sort-of radiate out. Just getting him comfortable enough to fall asleep last night was a project of more-than-modest proportions, involving duct-taping an ice-bag to his poor scalded foot.

And then this morning, we had the whole question of what to do with it, so 7M (who is well on the way to adopting as his personal motto, "Why Does This Stuff Keep Happening to Me?") could go to school. We finally settled on a fresh ice-bag, with a fresh batch of duct-tape, all wrapped in a towel, secured by more duct-tape. We retrieved a pair of crutches from the attic, and he was good to go.

Except that last night, we got our first snowfall of the season, and everything was a slushy, sloppy mess. So that, by the time 7M made his way up to the second-floor classroom, his improvised ice-bag/towel/sock/boot arrangement was soaked with black slop, and the school (understandably, I suppose), concerned about it getting infected, called Molly (who had one of her rare early-morning shifts of work) to come and pick him up. (I mean, don't these folks know that we've got a life beyond bouncing back and forth to pick up and drop off our kids?) (I'm kidding, in case anyone is wondering. . .)


So now the poor kid gets to go see the doctor this afternoon, and get a real dressing put on his injured foot, so perhaps he can play in the school band's Christmas concert tonight. But he's probably gonna have to miss his basketball game this weekend. . .


La-la, how the life goes on. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blast From the Obits

For the past few years, I have acquired the habit of daily checking the obituaries in my hometown (Up North) newpaper's website. From time to time, people will show up there who I remember - people from the church my family belonged to, parents of my friends, old teachers/coaches, and increasingly in recent years, my friends and classmates. It's always a little bit jarring to see one of my classmates in the obits; we're in our mid-50s now, so collectively, we've got a few miles on us, so to speak, but we're not as old as all that, you know?

Even as far back as when I was in my 20s, though, I remember hearing about a guy who'd been my brother's best friend, and with whom I'd played many a game of backyard football, being killed in a drunk-driving accident. Another guy who I'd known since my grade-school days was run over by a car, just crossing the street on his lunch hour. It does remind you of how fragile, and how precious, human life is.

Whenever I see someone with whom I went to school in the obits, it always piques my curiosity a bit - what kind of life did they have? Did they die of a sudden, catastrophic illness or accident? Or did too much hard living catch up with them (I've known of a few of those, too)? What about their families - their spouses and children? Sometimes, I remember seeing them at a class reunion; sometimes not.

Just recently, as I was doing my regular Up North obit scan, I noticed a 54-year-old woman with the same last name as a guy I'd gone to school with, so I clicked on her name, to see if she might have been related to the guy I was thinking of. She might have been his sister, or possibly married to his brother, or something (and of course, just because she was my age and living in my old hometown, doesn't have to mean anything; people even move up there, from time to time).

But what I found made me sit back and stare at the screen, for a couple seconds. It was Bev, the girl I'd taken to the prom, and who'd left with another guy. It was a very odd sensation, and all the moreso because it was only a few months ago that I blogged about her. I sure don't remember her fondly; the brief interlude in which our paths crossed is mostly an occasion for rueful, or embarrassed, recollection, when I think of it at all. Heck, in describing the story of how she treated me at the prom, I said I wasn't really all that interested in what had become of her. And I really wasn't.

But now, I was finding out, for free, without having to look it up or anything. The obit mentioned her husband, who turned out to indeed be the brother of the guy I'd been thinking of. She had three kids, and her son had a different last name than her husband; in fact, he was 'junior', with the same name as another classmate of ours, who I'd known in passing. So she'd had at least two husbands, and had kids with a guy I remembered. Both her parents are still living, likely in their late 70s or 80s by now.

I'm hard-pressed to account for the odd emotional reaction it provoked in me to hear of her death. In the grand sweep of my life, she's really not all that significant, notwithstanding what happened around the prom. She was never my girlfriend, although for a couple weeks, way back when, I was fairly head-over-heels on her account. I didn't know her all that well before then (if I had, I might not have asked her to the prom), and I had even less to do with her afterward.

But you know, she might have been my First Kiss. I'm honestly not sure, but I can't think of any other likely candidates for the honor. It's a little sad, though, if she is. I'd like to think of my First Kiss fondly; not that she was a skank who cynically used me.

Not that it matters all that much by now, anyway. It is what it is. There's nothing to do about it, one way or the other. And may God have mercy. . .

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hook, Line and Sinker. . . Well, Except for the Line and Sinker

In our previous house, the one we lived in before we moved into our current house nearly ten years ago, the mailbox was strategically situated on the facing of the porch, for ease of the mailman's access. Unfortunately, that also meant that it was more-or-less directly beneath the edge of the porch roof. Which was not a problem, most of the time. But on rainy/snowy days, water would drip off the edge of the roof, directly onto the mailbox. Which, again, was not a problem, so long as the mailbox remained closed. But, lacking one of those nifty red flags to indicate that we had outgoing mail, the way we signaled to our mail carrier that we had outgoing mail (utility bills, and such inconsequential items as those), was to leave the stamped end of the letter sticking out from under the lid of the mailbox. So now, perhaps, you can perceive the problem. Rain, or snowmelt, would drip onto the portion of the letter that stuck out from under the mailbox lid, and made the printing run (or, even worse, the ink on the enclosed check), or worst of all, in the days before self-adhesive stamps, it might wash the stamp off the envelope entirely, resulting in a three-digit electric bill falling down the postal service's Black Hole for Unstamped Letters. Not that that ever happened, or anything. . .

So, on rainy/snowy days, if we had outgoing mail, I would often just take it with me when I left for work in the morning. Some days, my route to work would take me past the main post office, and I would just drop our letters in the box in the lobby there. Otherwise, I would look for one of those blue letter-boxes that one finds on the edge of the curb, which used to be way more common than they are these days. Thus protected from the elements, our bills could wait in the relative comfort and security of the blue curbside letter-box until the mailman came along with his key to speed them to their intended destination.

All of which is an elaborate setting of the stage for the real story of this post. . .


One such snowy day - it had snowed a foot or more in OurTown, and the snow was still coming down furiously as I left for work - I had a fistful of letters to send off, and I was working in a part of town I wasn't very familiar with, so I was going slowly, peering through the snow, trying to find a blue letter-box. I finally spied one, on the corner of a fairly seedy side street, next to an old drug store. In order to get myself out of the flow of traffic, what with visibility and traction both being pretty seriously diminished, I turned onto the side street and maneuvered my car around so I could pull up near the letter-box. I hopped out of the car, deposited my letters into the blue box, and got back into the car.

I was just about to pull back onto the main street, when a woman I'd never met got into the passenger seat of my car. She was blond, and looked to be around 40 years old, not unattractive, but bearing a 'hard-life' sort of demeanor. She was wearing a leopard-print winter coat. "Hi!" she greeted me, cheerily.

"Uh, hi," I replied, wondering just what the hell this was about.

"So - where do you wanna go?"

"Um. . . excuse me?"

"Where do you wanna go?"

"Uh. . . I'm going to work? Is there some way I can help you?"

"Well, you pulled in where I was standing! Why did you do that, if you didn't want something?"

"Uh. . . I pulled off the main street so I could drop some letters in the blue box."

Now both of us are a little flustered, as I'm suddenly realizing what's going on with this woman in my car, and she's suddenly realizing that I'm not the 'customer' she took me to be.

"Sorry. . . " I mumbled, "but I'm not in the market. Can I drop you somewhere where you'll be warm?"

"No," she replied. "I'll be fine right here. Sorry to bother you. Have a nice day."

"Um. . . you too. . ." And she got out of my car, and back to plying her trade. . .

And that, along with the story I told from the summer when I was 17, is the sum total of my lived experience with prostitutes.

And just for what it's worth, Molly thought it was hilarious when I told her the story when I got home at the end of the day. . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Open Letter to My Children

In the three-and-a-half years I have (intermittently) been posting to this blog, I have taken many, many opportunities to express my gratitude to and for my beloved wife, our marriage, and the life we have together. And I have told quite a few stories from the lives of our kids – some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. But I have not often expressed my gratitude for them. . .

Molly will often admonish me that, as much as I dote on her, and shower her with affection and appreciation, our kids need those things even more than she does. Early on in our life as parents together, I came across something that said that the most important thing I could do for my kids was to love their mother. And I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that. And I’m sure that our kids have gotten their share of the benefits of my ardent love for Molly. But they do need my love for them on their own behalf, and I have not always been so expressive of the love that I do, in fact, hold for them in my heart.

But, all this is becoming a pretty rambling preamble; let’s get to it, shall we?


My beloved children,

At this time of year, we take a day aside to focus on gratitude – those things in our lives for which we are thankful, and perhaps most particularly, those things which we might normally be inclined to take the least bit for granted.

And this year, I want to say that I am grateful for you. I am grateful for each one of you, and for all of you together. Each of you is a particular gift to me – each of you brings your own particular bits of joy into my life. And all of you together make our family uniquely what it is.

I confess that, in my wildest imagination, I never thought I would be the father of eight children. God has given me more than I ever imagined I could handle (of course, it often seems a bit hubristic of me to think that I’m ever actually ‘handling’ anything, but I try my best). I confess, too, that I’ve sometimes felt overwhelmed by the sheer ‘volume’ of our family, and out of that overwhelmed-ness, I’ve not always given you all what you’ve needed from me. And for that, I ask your forgiveness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .


I am grateful that each of you, in your own way, loves the Lord Jesus, and aims to live for Him. Just to have us pray The Hours together brings a layer of richness to our family life that is precious to me. But to see each of you pursuing the Christian life in your own way, and on your own initiative, gives me a deep, nearly-inexpressible joy. My one greatest hope is for all of us to one day be together in Heaven (if ‘days’ can be said to have any meaning in the context of Eternity). . .

I am grateful for the character that I see manifest in your lives, to ever-growing degree. And I hope that it will continue to grow, and bring prosperity to your lives (and you understand, right, that by ‘prosperity’ I mean something much more like ‘blessedness’ than ‘wealth’, don’t you?)

I am grateful for the music that flows from our family. It is a gift from God that, in one way or another, every one of you is musical, and we can take joy in our individual and common musical gifts. I have loved the times, few as they’ve been, where we’ve all been able to sing and play music together. Let’s try to do more of that. . .

I’m grateful that, in the past year or so, we’ve been able to have you all (or at least, most of you) together for Sunday brunch, most weeks. It is good, on a very fundamental, human level, for us to be together like that, and just be a family together.


For the times I’ve been too aloof, and haven’t given you (any of you individually, or all of you collectively, as the case may be) the attention and affection you’ve needed, I ask your forgiveness. When I was a kid, I tended to live a lot inside my own head; and that’s been a hard habit for me to break. Throughout my fatherly life, God has consistently, and persistently, called me more and more out of myself, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he gave me so many of you. Mother Theresa often said that our main task in this life is to learn what it really means to love, and for me, that involves getting out of myself, and giving myself for the sake of others whom God has given me to love. That would be you all. And I am all too aware that I have not always responded to God’s call to me to love you, as freely as I should have. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

For the times I’ve been harsh and demanding, I ask your forgiveness. We parents harbor dreams of raising our kids to be better than we are. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t fair. But we do. We – I – want you to be the best you can be, and I’m all too aware of my own failures and weaknesses, and I would hope to keep you from them, as much as I’m able to. But my desire for you to be excellent, even better than I am, is no excuse for failing to love you, and appreciate you for who and what you are. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

The Truth is, I love you – each one of you, as a unique instance of the Image of God. I regret that I have not always demonstrated that love to you as I should have; that, in my fallen-ness and weakness, I have fallen short, both of the love that I have owed you as your father, and even of merely giving you the love, meager as it is, that I actually hold in my heart for each of you. But I do love you. And I’ll try to show it to you more effectively, as I go along. (“Deeds, not words” is a worthy motto I saw somewhere; I’ll try to do better at that, too)


As I said above, I never, in my wildest imagination, thought I would ever be the father of eight children. But I wouldn’t trade being your father for anything – not for any amount of wealth, or power, or prestige. Being your father, I have learned something of what holiness is, as I’ve had to come out of myself (imperfectly as I have managed to do so); and I’ve learned something of what it means to love – and of how really little I have loved up to now. So, for those things I thank you.

And I thank you for making my life rich. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without any one of you; but it would be poorer – that much I know for certain.

So – thank you, one and all. Thank you for making me a father; and, in my case, at least, becoming a father has meant pretty much the same thing as becoming a grown-up – which is to say, a man.

I couldn’t have done it without you.

In love, and gratitude
Your Dad

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisdom, Beauty and Truth. . .

A friend of ours wrote this to us in a card she gave us on our wedding day, way back when. . .

(From the biblical Book of Proverbs; chapter 5, verses 18-19):

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving hind, a graceful doe - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you be ever captivated by her love.


Oh, I am; I truly am. . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paychecks, Menopause, and Pathetic Husbands; Drama in Three Acts


My wife Molly has a BS degree in Child Development. When we first started dating, she worked at a childcare center which our community ran for many years. After we were married, she was a sort-of gofer/secretary for one of our community's 'elders'. When she was six months or so pregnant with 1F, she left the for-pay workforce, and took up the ultimate 'Job In Her Field' - developing children of her own. So for the next fifteen or twenty years, when folks would ask me, "Does your wife work?" I'd answer, "Not outside the home for pay."

And so it went. About ten or twelve years ago, she got in on a very part-time gig proctoring state licensing exams. Guys who want to get licensed as plumbers, or electricians, or whatever, have to take a state exam to get licensed, and Molly is part of a crew of women who do the check-in procedures, and then walk around during the test, making sure everyone stays on the straight-and-narrow. Her proctoring gigs are two or three days in a week, three or four times a year, so it isn't too demanding in terms of family time.

The proctoring gigs sort of came and went; whenever we had another baby, she'd have to take a year or two off from proctoring, until the baby could be left for a whole day. Even so, as sparse as the jobs were, it was a fairly benign thing.

In 2000, she got in with Board of Elections (or whatever it's called), and started working elections (yeah, Bush v. Gore was her 'learning curve'). She's one of those folks who checks your name against the list of registered voters, and hands you the ballot, and gives you the little 'I Voted' sticker when you're done. She also gets to be in on taking the ballot box downtown to get counted by the official vote counters. Those are pretty long days, and thus fairly demanding on the rest of the family, but it's only for one day, it pays really well, and it only comes around every couple years.


Last year, when my employer's continuing viability became suddenly very uncertain, it seemed prudent for Molly to get more regular employment, just in case I suddenly had none. So she looked around a bit, without much success (the same economic forces which were placing my continued employment in doubt were also rendering available jobs for her scarce). One day, she subbed at the daycare center attached to the Catholic school our kids attend, and that resulted in an offer for a regular job at the center there. It was only eight hours a week, and the hourly rate was pretty low, but under the circumstances, it was better than nothing.

She got a line on doing some house-cleaning, which in turn led to a gig with a friend of hers, who brought her in for some jill-of-all-trades work doing cleaning, administrative, and even some handy-woman stuff. Which was maybe half a day per week, but again, better than nothing.

This fall, the childcare center increased her hours from eight to fifteen, and gave her a small raise. And then, another friend of hers, who has multiple sclerosis, asked her to come in for a few hours every morning to help her with stuff around the house. It's not really nursing-type care (and Molly is not a nurse, so that's cool), but it does include bathing her and getting her to the bathroom. Molly couldn't do every morning, but she and another woman share the hours. And (say it with me, now) it pays pretty well.

So, if you're keeping score at home, Molly is now up to something like 25 hours a week of outside-the-home-for-pay work.



Molly is 53 years old. She is very bright and energetic, but her energy levels have abated some from what they were in her 20s/30s. She is at the age at which women commonly experience menopause, aka 'The Change of Life'. And she is showing signs that 'The Change' is just around the corner. . .

One symptom of the impending (or, more truly, ongoing) hormone shift has been that she is tired. Way more tired, way more often, than I've ever known her to be. And both of us have struggled just a bit in adapting to this new, less-energetic state of affairs. The day-to-day parameters of our lives have been remarkably stable for many years, but we find that we can't just take a 'business as usual' approach. She needs more sleep than she used to, and she can't cram her schedule quite as full as before. Which winds up putting us in a bit of a bind, because the day-to-day needs of our family life aren't any less than they ever were. The kids and I have gotten used to Molly carrying a pretty large share of the load, and when she can't carry as much as she used to, it's a challenge to 'redistribute' the work-load to account for her new energy level.

Which brings us to the present day. Molly has less energy than before, and she's working more hours outside the home than ever before, but the demands of home life are the same as they ever were - the same number of meals need to be prepared, the same amount of laundry needs to be done, the same number of kids need to be chauffeured to doctor appointments, sporting events, etc, and etc, etc, etc. . .

Do you perceive the problem? We've been trying various approaches to the 'distribution' problem, mainly involving the kids doing their own laundry (we've even instituted a Sunday evening 'Family Fold-In/Movie Night'), helping with the food-prep, and things of that sort, which, in the past, Molly could easily handle all by herself, but not any more. And I've tried to pitch in more, where I'm able; which is a large part of why I used to read three or four books a month, but now struggle to keep up with my two remaining magazine subscriptions.

But, asking people to make new sacrifices which they've never had to make before, can take a while to get 'institutionalized', and at least at first, they can be somewhat, um, uneven in the execution.



One of the starkest ways in which this hits home for me, personally, is that, at the end of the day, Molly is much more likely to be tired, than what I've been used to. For many years, we've had a regular pattern of Monday evening husband-wife meetings. Not 'Date Night' (although that could certainly qualify), but mainly just some dedicated time to touch base with each other on the things we need to be in communication about. Schedules, budgets, the kids' lives, goals we have for the family, etc. And heck, just for the two of us to sit down and talk to each other about anything at all, is a good thing, and setting aside some committed time for it, helps to ensure that it actually happens. . .

In recent months, however, our husband-wife meetings have been a bit less regular than is good for them to be. Some of it couldn't be helped - other things came along, at school or wherever, to usurp the time. But sometimes, we just weren't very diligent to make it happen, and the time slipped away.

After 29+ years of marriage, we're pretty familiar now with what happens when we miss too many of our husband-wife meetings - things get out-of-sync, stuff that should run smoothly starts being frantically thrown together on the fly at the last second, and we start getting cranky and irritable with each other. We've been through a few cycles of it, and by now, we recognize the symptoms.

And, by a couple weeks ago, we were recognizing the symptoms. And so, we agreed that that week, we would make a concerted effort to have our husband-wife meeting, and to have it be a good one, not slapdash or careless. I made a point to leave work in a timely fashion, not staying late to 'tie up the loose ends', we had dinner together with the kids, the cleanup got done, the next day's lunches were made, Molly read to the little guys before bed, and all was in readiness for our meeting. So, we retired to the bedroom (which is virtually the only 'private space' we have these days), and stretched out for some relaxed meeting-time.

And Molly fell asleep.

(You could see that coming, couldn't you? Yeah, well, I didn't.)

All the good vibrations, all the concerted effort, all the we-need-to-reestablish-communication-so-we're-not-all-cranky-with-each-other. . . gone, with the Sandman.

And, I'm sorry. . . I got pissed.

Not that I should have. Not that her falling asleep wasn't completely understandable in the context of what-all is going on in her life. Not that it was remotely constructive of anything. But I did.

And so, in the time-honored tradition of mature husbands down through the ages. . .

I pouted.

(Some of you may recall the last time I posted about pouting; and you know, don't you, that I post about ALL of my whiny, self-centered pout-fits, whenever they happen, every three years or so. . .)

And it was a goooood pout. A full-bore, I've-got-a-good-head-of-steam pout. The next morning, I walked out the door without kissing Molly good-bye, leaving the breakfast she'd made for me sitting on the table, not even taking the lunch she'd made for me (because, you know, I didn't want her to put herself out on my account) (you know, it never makes nearly as much sense in hindsight). And I stayed late at the office, so she'd be gone to her women's-group meeting before I got home. Then I went to bed early, and was asleep before she got home (and Molly, in the best tradition of The Golden Rule, will NEVER wake me when I'm sleeping). And the next morning, I repeated the cycle.

I didn't stay quite so late at the office that day (she had nothing on her calendar for the evening, so she'd be home no matter when I arrived), and as I drove home, I took some of my idle drive-time to turn to prayer, and I 'heard' God speak to me.

"You're being stupid," He said. "Stop it."

Oh. OK. I guess I am, aren't I?

"Yes, you are."

OK; I'll be done now.


God can be so Paternal with me, sometimes. . .

And so it came to pass that I walked in the back door, through the family room, and into the kitchen, where Molly was busy making dinner. She looked at me, warily. I greeted her, sheepishly.

"Hi," she said. "Are you done being mad yet?"

Yeah, Sweetheart, I'm done.

"Oh, good!" Then, "What the heck was that all about?"

And I suddenly realized - she didn't even know what I was upset about! Sheesh! What's the good of a pout, if the person you're mad at doesn't even know why you're mad? I mean, it's pretty pathetic when you invest so much energy in a good pout, and all you get for it is, "What the heck was that all about?"

(*sigh*) I know; I'm such a Drama Queen, sometimes. . .

So, we had our dinner, we fixed our relationship, and even covered most of the husband-wife-meeting stuff that we'd missed two nights previously.

And it was very good. . .

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jury Duty, Chapters 3 & 4

In my previous post, I told you about my first two experiences of sitting on a jury, and how, to varying degrees, neither of them had been a happy experience for me. Particularly my second trial, in which we had acquitted a guy of rape, when it was clear as day (to me, at any rate) that he had certainly done something for which he deserved to be punished. . .


It was a few years before I received my next summons, and this one was also a criminal case, with a charge of attempted murder.

The defendant was a dumpy-looking 19-year-old black kid. I found myself wondering how this kid had gotten himself charged with attempted murder; he looked like anything but a badass. And his father was in court every day of the trial, sitting behind the defense table.

The bare facts of the case were that the defendant and a buddy were walking down the sidewalk one day, when they encountered the would-be victim, sitting on a friend's porch, while the defendant and his buddy walked by. Words and insults were exchanged, and the defendant and his friend walked on. A few minutes later, the WBV drove his car around the corner, onto the street where they were now walking, and the defendant jumped out into the street, pulled a gun from his pocket, and started blazing away at the WBV's car. Those are the essential facts of the case. (As an aside, this all happened about six blocks from where I lived; the judge instructed us not to make any 'personal side trips' to the crime scene, and in my case it almost meant that I had to take an alternate route home at the end of the day.)

The defense claimed that the WBV threated the defendant with his car, driving up onto the sidewalk, and that the gunshots were defensive (which strained credulity a bit, but that was the claim). It was probably unfortunate for the defense that the defendant's buddy, when he took the stand to testify, was enchained, and dressed in a prison jumpsuit (since the incident in question, he'd been convicted in a separate case).

When the jury took up our deliberations, I was again chosen to be the foreman. After my previous experience, I was not about to volunteer for the job, but it had come out, in our earlier casual conversations, that I had sat on a previous criminal jury, and I suppose that my fellow-jurors thought of me as a kind of 'voice of experience'. But, as irresponsible as my previous jury had been, this jury was admirable in their determination to execute their duties with all due seriousness. There were people who had strongly-held opinions, including one woman who felt that 'the system' sent far too many young black men to prison, but they were all able to objectively consider the facts of the case, and render a decision based on those facts.

We deliberated for something like six hours, meticulously considering all of the testimony, and analyzing the photographic evidence of the bullet holes in the WBV's car, and what that meant for where the shots were fired from, and the possible angles of things, etc. Two of the bullets left marks on the windshield just above the edge of the hood, directly in front of the driver. If the gun had been more powerful than a .22, the windshield would have shattered, and the driver would have been killed. It was clear enough that the shooter's intent had been to kill the driver.

So, after many hours of deliberation, we finally voted to convict. And again, as the foreman, it was my duty to inform the judge, and the court, of our decision. And, even as I was utterly satisfied that we had done our duty as a jury, it broke my heart - as he had been every day of the trial, the defendant's father was sitting directly behind his son, and I was acutely aware that, in announcing our verdict, I was telling this father who, as far as I could tell, was admirably conscientious, that his son was going to prison for quite a while.

And it broke my heart, because that young man had no business being in that position. It came to seem that here was a young man who was perhaps insecure in his budding manhood, and had fallen in with some badass friends, in an effort to enhance his own sense of manliness. Perhaps I was mistaken, but that's what it looked like.

And again, the judge and the prosecutor came back to the jury room for a 'post-mortem'. They confirmed what many of the jurors had suspected - that this was an instance of 'gang-related violence'. The defendant (and most especially, his walking-buddy) and the WBV were members of rival gangs, and this was not an isolated incident 'from out of the blue'. But, for whatever 'legal' reasons, that fact couldn't be introduced into the trial.

So, I was completely satisfied that we had done our duty, but it gave me no joy whatsoever to have done it. . .


My fourth case was another civil case - a retired army sergeant and his wife had purchased an RV, but from the very beginning of their ownership of it, it had leaked, and suffered from a plethora of other defects. They sent it back to be repaired under warranty on multiple occasions, and finally lost patience and demanded their money back, under a new 'Lemon Law'.

Without spending undue (and boring) time on the evidence, I'll simply say that the jury interpreted the evidence as demonstrating that the RV manufacturer hadn't been good to their own word, and hadn't dealt in complete good faith with the plaintiff, and we decided the case for the plaintiff (minus the punitive damages the plaintiff sought).

And again, the 'post-mortem' with the attorneys was frustrating in the extreme. We were told of additional facts, which, for whatever reason, had never been introduced in court, which might have demonstrated that the plaintiff was engaging in a bit of bad-faith of his own, and which, had we known of them, would have cast the other evidence in a very different light.

By that point, I expected that the 'post-mortem' was going to muddy the waters of our decision, and I could just walk away, shaking my head. At least, in this case, nobody had to leave town, or go to prison. . .


And that is the sum-total of my experience as a member of various and sundry juries. Early on in my experience, someone told me that engineers are rarely left to sit on juries; that, for various reasons, one side or the other prefers jurors who don't think analytically, who can be easily swayed by emotional appeals. But just from my own experience, I wonder how that could possibly be the truth of the matter. Four times I have walked into a courtroom in a pool of prospective jurors that was at least triple the number of jurors that would ultimately be required. And I have never failed to end up on the jury; there is at least some finite probability that my name wouldn't be drawn, but even that has never happened. There have been ample opportunities for the attorneys to remove me from the jury, but they never have. I must have some kind of 'innate magnetism' that just draws me inexorably into jury boxes. . .

Yeah. . . 'magnetism'. . . that's it, for sure. . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jury Duty, Chapters 1 & 2

My new friend Michelle Hickman, over at The Surly Writer (and don't let the name fool you; she ain't as surly as all THAT) (hope I didn't blow your cover, Michelle), recently wrote a five-part series of posts about her experience of jury duty. And that spurred me to tell you all about my own experiences of jury duty. . .

I have been summoned for jury duty five times in my young life. One of those times (the fourth, I think), I went to the courthouse downtown and spent the day reading in the 'jury pool waiting room', after which I was sent home without ever seeing the inside of the courtroom. The other four times, I was sent to the courtroom as part of a pool of prospective jurors for a trial. In each of those cases, I ended up being empaneled on the jury, even though the pool was at least three times as large as the actual number of jurors to be empaneled. Twice, I was selected to be the foreman. So, at this stage of my young life, I've amassed a fairly substantial body of juridical work (if that's the right word for it).

Molly, on the other hand, has been summoned exactly once, and much as she'd love to sit on a jury, the week she was 'on the hook', she called the 'jury line' every day, but her number never even came up to go downtown and wait in the room. Such are the random fortunes of doing one's civic duty (I was sorely tempted to title this post 'Jury Doody', but that would be just a tad too cynical and disrespectful, even for me). . .


My career as a juror got off to a rocky start. I received my first summons about a month after I started my first job out of college, and I was so dialed-in to getting off on a good foot on my new job, and I was so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, that I completely lost track of the day I was supposed to report for jury duty. Not good. That little indiscretion won me a personal face-to-face with the judge (which I did NOT forget), in which he demanded an accounting for why I had blown off my sacred civic duty (yeah. . . "I forgot" doesn't cut much ice with your average judge; and this judge was definitely on the 'stern' end of the judicial spectrum), and impressed on me most forcefully (including threats of future incarceration for Contempt of Court if such dereliction were to be repeated) that jury duty, and his court, were not matters to be trifled with. Lesson learned, and I received another summons a few weeks later.

This time, I appeared at the appointed time, and was ushered into the courtroom with a group of prospective jurors. My name was drawn, and I answered all the voir dire questions to the satisfaction of both attorneys, and the judge, and so I was ensconced as a member of the jury.

The case was a civil one - a Chinese woman, the wife of a doctoral student at MegaState U, had taken a job at a small import shop run by an immigrant Chinese gentleman, and she was claiming that he had reneged on several of her paychecks. Since neither the plaintiff nor the defendant spoke unbroken English, the court hired an interpreter (who was herself a graduate student), and virtually all of the testimony was given in Chinese and translated into English for the benefit of the jury.

The case itself devolved fairly quickly into a variation of 'he-said-she-said', with the plaintiff presenting her side of the story, supported by cancelled checks, and other forms of confirmation that he had acted according to a stated agreement, and after a certain point, the checks came farther apart, and for less money than was agreed. The defendant, on the other hand, presented himself as a large-hearted individual who was only trying to help his fellow-countrywoman, and this is the thanks he gets. And so on, et cetera. . .

Since it was a civil trial, there were only six jurors, which was probably just as well, all things considered. Our foreman was a university professor, who seemed temperamentally incapable of rendering any form of definitive judgment. All of our attempts to pin down a decision based on the evidence at hand were met with a whiny, "But you just don't know for certain, do you?" or somesuch, from him. The evidence was pretty clearly on the plaintiff's side, or so, at least, it seemed to five of us, after an hour's discussion or so, and then we spent two more hours trying to get Dr. Dithers to land on one side or the other (preferably the one we all agreed on, but even just to get him to commit to something over which we could argue with him would have been progress). At last, he allowed as to how it seemed most likely that the weight of the argument was on the plaintiff's side, and so we had our decision.

I had no problem with the decision we'd rendered, but the experience left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Mainly that both sides had presented their case, and we were basically left to choose which side we thought was lying, and which was telling the truth (or, which side was telling more of the truth than the other). And besides which, our judgement in the plaintiff's favor was small enough that it wasn't certain that it would even cover what they'd end up paying their lawyer, who probably should have told them that. . .

I wasn't very happy for the experience, but I was satisfied that I had done my civic duty, and that was good enough.


The second case I sat on was a criminal trial - a rape case. A woman and a man were co-workers at a small manufacturing company, and they both worked the second shift, getting out of work around midnight. He invited her over to his house after work, she agreed, and between the two of them, they killed a twelve-pack of beer, after which he thought the stars were aligned for some sweet lovin' between the two of them. She disagreed, and he decided to, uh, press the issue. Among the evidence for the prosecution was a photograph of a hand-shaped bruise on the inside of her thigh.

The evidence was so compelling, to my mind, that, when we retired to the jury room for deliberation, I volunteered to be the foreman, just to save the time it would take to choose one, and my fellow jurors were only too happy to agree. With that piece of business out of the way, I took an initial straw vote, just to see where things stood. As I perceived the facts of the case, I thought it was possible, even likely, that we could have a conviction without having to spend too many hours in deliberation. The vote was 6-6 (I tell ya, life is just crammed full of 'learning moments').

I was stunned. I had thought that this was as cut-and-dried a case as it could be, but my education was just beginning. That jury of my peers (and even the realization that they were, and are, my peers, still causes me to shudder) still stands in my mind as a ruefully fascinating study of human nature at its very worst. . .

One woman announced, in the first minutes of the deliberations, that she wanted no part in any of the discussion, and when the rest of us got to 11-0, she would just vote with the majority. She then proceeded to lie down on the couch and take a nap. Sweet; I hope that, if you ever find your life in the hands of a jury of your peers, they take your case more seriously than you're taking this, Sweetheart.

Another woman had herself been a rape victim (and had baldly lied when asked during the empanelment whether she had ever been the victim of a crime). Which, you might think, would bias her against the defendant, but no. She had been an idiot to let herself get raped, she said, and this girl was an even bigger idiot than she was. Besides which, it became clear that she had some kind of 'identification' with the defendant; she didn't know him personally, but somehow, he was 'her kind of people', and she wasn't about to see him get sent off, just because some bimbo was a moron one night.

Yet another juror was a college guy, whose essential position, from which he wouldn't be moved, was that, basically (without saying it in so many words), there is no such thing as rape - all sex is consensual, but sometimes the girl regrets it later, and accuses the guy of rape. And so, as far as he was concerned, all charges of rape are de facto bogus. And there was another guy, just out of college, who wasn't quite so adamant as he was, but who basically sympathized with his point of view.

So then, out of the twelve of us, there were four who, right off the top, were more-or-less firmly disposed to corrupt the process.

But they weren't even the worst of it. One of our members was himself an attorney. And that, of course, was known right up-front, when his name was first pulled from the hat. But, as I recall, he was one of the last jurors selected, and both sides were running low on peremptory challenges, and so, much as they might have wanted to remove him from the jury, they didn't. The judge was sufficiently concerned about his presence on the jury that he gave us special instructions that, just because he was an attorney, he didn't know the law as it applied to this case, any better than any of us did, and we shouldn't give his thoughts any more weight than any other juror's, in our deliberations.

Yeah, fat chance of that. He played it very cool, and said very little at first. But when he did decide to speak, he just said, "I don't know - they both had an awful lot to drink. . ." And just like that, four of the jurors who had been inclined to convict, changed their vote, because, see, this guy was a lawyer, and he knows the law better than we do. . . (*sigh*) (*very EXASPERATED sigh*). So just that fast, we were 10-2 to acquit.

It took the majority another hour to convince the other 'convicting' juror, so that we stood 11-1, with me the only remaining vote to convict. The basic line of reasoning in favor of acquittal was that, since they'd both had so much to drink, how could anyone know where consent may or may not have been given? And there was a strong sentiment that for her even to go to his house after midnight carried with it a certain implied consent. And all I could say in response was that being an idiot doesn't mean you deserve to get raped. And a hand-shaped bruise on her thigh looked to me a lot like a lack of consent.

I'd like to tell you that, right out of Twelve Angry Men, I carried the courage of my convictions, and single-handedly convinced all the other jurors of my point of view, but I didn't. Eventually, I let myself get worn down on 'reasonable doubt', related to the large volume of alcohol consumed, and we voted to acquit. And I, being the foreman, had the duty and privilege to announce to the judge and the court what our verdict was, when, even as I said it, I knew in my gut that, whatever the law was here, this guy had done something that he should be being held accountable for, and we had let him off.

We returned to the jury room to gather our things before we left, and the prosecutor and the judge came back to us to discuss our decision with us. And I have to tell you that those little 'post-mortems' are one of the most utterly frustrating aspects of being on a jury. Because then the prosecutor told us the facts of the case that couldn't come out in court. This dude was a bad guy - a BAAAAD guy - who'd been in prison before, and just an all-around badass. "She's gonna have to leave town," the prosecutor said, regarding the victim. I was sick to my stomach.

After the other jurors left, I hung back and told the judge and the prosecutor about the other members of the jury, and how I thought they had failed in their duty. The judge shook her head, saying, "You always hope that you'll get a jury that takes their job seriously, but there are no guarantees." The prosecutor then told me how, when I announced the verdict, the defendant had very dramatically said "Thank you!" to the jury (which I'd seen, and which turned my stomach), at which our erstwhile rape-victim-juror smiled, and blew him a kiss, mouthing 'You're welcome' (which I hadn't seen, but which now made me puke in my mouth a little). It took me a few weeks to more-or-less 'get over' that experience, and my own sense of having failed miserably in my responsibility to do justice. . .

I'd like to tell you that that's the end of the story, but it isn't; not quite. A year or so later, I ran into the prosecutor (her daughter and mine played against each other in a grade-school basketball game). I recognized her, and went to talk to her, telling her that I still regretted not sticking to my guns on that case. She remembered the case, and told me not to worry about it, that rape cases are notoriously difficult to get convictions on, and so forth. Then she told me another piece of information that utterly stunned me. Our lawyer-juror, the guy who'd done so much, with so few words, to turn the deliberations toward acquittal, had actually himself been, at the time of the trial, accused of a domestic-violence charge, but that information didn't cross paths with his jury summons. So he'd had his own incentive to subvert the process. As bad as I thought our jury had been, it had been even worse than I'd thought. . .


So at that point, my experience of jury duty was pretty uniformly unhappy. One way or another, it had left a bad taste in my mouth, and even left me sick to my stomach. But these are only the first two chapters of my jury story. I'll save my other two trials for the next post. . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sun and Moon, Bless the Lord. . .

Fall is my favorite time of the year - the crisp, cool air, and the multi-colored trees (like Nature's own tie-dye, eh Lime?) just quicken my steps and bring a joyful smile to my face. When I'm out on my bike on days like that, I simply can't keep myself from grinning as I pedal, just from the sheer joy of being alive in such a world. And I think of how, at the end of each Day of Creation, "God saw that it was good."

It calls to my mind our vacation this past summer, when Molly and I and our four youngest kids stayed for a week in a cabin Up North. A few times during the week, we visited the nearby Cross In the Woods, a Catholic shrine a few miles from where we were staying. The shrine is run by the Franciscan order, which organizes its life around the teachings and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is a very interesting man, eccentric and holy in the way that is almost unique to certain canonized saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

At the Cross In the Woods, there is a lovely little nature walk (and if you know anything about St. Francis, a nature walk is right up his alley, so to speak), with little stations along the way, each displaying a verse from St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun, a nature hymn which Francis wrote shortly before he died. I had generally ignored the Canticle, figuring that, as popular as it was among certain Catholics of an 'enviro-leftist' persuasion, especially back in the 60s/70s, that it might be somewhat dubiously 'orthodox'.

But, you know, I've grown in some ways, in the last 30 years, and I've come to appreciate many things of which my younger self was dubious. And I've always enjoyed walking in the woods. So, on our recent vacation, I happily set out to enjoy the shrine's nature walk, and the thought and spirit of St. Francis. And I found the Canticle, at least as rendered into English on the walk, to be utterly delightful. And so, I offer it here for the enjoyment of my friends:


Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis of Assisi; ca. 1225)

Most High, All-Powerful, All-Good Lord!
All praise, and honor and glory are Yours, and all blessing.
They are Yours alone, Most High,
And no one is worthy to mention Your Name.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through all that You have made,
Especially Brother Sun, who brings the day and the light.
How beautiful is he, and how radiant;
He bears Your likeness.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon, and the stars.
In Heaven You made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
And through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
By which You cherish all that You have made.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust and strong.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty,
And produces various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of You,
And those who endure sickness and tribulation.
Happy are those who endure in peace;
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through our sister, Bodily Death,
From whom no one can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
But happy are those whom she finds doing Your holy will;
The second death can do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
And give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.


St. Francis here is much more than a 13th-century proto-enviro-greenie. He rejoices in the Creation, and offers his gratitude to the Creator who shows His love to us, His creatures, in and through the goodness of the world He created for us to live in.

There are echoes here of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, especially Psalm 148 and the deutero-canonical Canticle of the Three Young Men (in Catholic/Orthodox bibles, it is placed in the Book of Daniel between verses 23 and 24 of chapter 3), which was sung by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from within the fiery furnace. Also the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King, which was a favorite of our minister in the church in which I grew up (and which, it turns out, was specifically intended as a musical rendition of St. Francis' Canticle).

God is good, and worthy of thanks and praise, for He made the world good, and gave it to us to live in. . .


(edit 25Oct) - I got out on my bike yesterday; the 27 miles I got in put me over 1200 for the year (for the third consecutive year). It was a damp, dank, dungy gray day, but these are the peak-color days around here; for mile after mile, even though it was gray and overcast and occasionally spitting rain, I was riding through brilliantly yellow, orange and red trees, mixed with the last remaining bits of green. And today, the sun is out and the colors are just luminous.

Did I mention that fall is my favorite season? . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Night Lights, Desmond-Style. . .

I have not spent much space in this blog on regaling you with tales of my athletic prowess of bygone days, and for two good reasons. First, I am all-too-aware of how pathetic it can be to listen to some middle-aged (or older) guy trying to recapture the glory of his younger days, and I don't want to inflict that pain on you, who might still count me as your friend. And second, I just don't have all that much in the way of Stories of Bygone Athletic Prowess. I suppose, in order to tell Stories of Bygone Athletic Prowess, it helps to have actually had some Athletic Prowess, once upon a time. . .

And yet, this time of year, I am always reminded of one particular football game from my high school days; you all would be very kind to indulge me. . .


In Michigan, for purposes of athletic competition, high schools are divided into four classes, according to enrollment. Class A schools are the largest, and Class D are the smallest. In the northern two-thirds of the state, which includes the town I grew up in, there were only five Class A schools, in my high-school days (there are a few more now), and my school was one of them. Which presented us with a bit of a challenge, when it came to competing against similar-sized schools. Typically, we wound up playing the other four northern Class A schools, maybe a Class B school or two, and then travelling 'downstate' for the rest of our games.

Another thing which we did, to save some travel costs, was to have our JV team play against the varsity squad of a few of the Class C/D schools, of which there were several, within an hour's drive or less of us. On this particular night, I was on the JV squad, and we were playing the varsity of a Class D school about a half-hour up the road.

I was the center for our team (that's the guy who initially lines up over the ball, and 'hikes' it to the quarterback to begin the play). Over the course of the season, the center and the quarterback develop an intimate, close relationship; I'll just say that Molly, and whoever changed my diapers when I was a baby, are the only other people in my life whose hands have spent so much time on that part of my body.

Anyway, before the game, our coaches were reviewing with us what to expect from our opponent that night, and how we were intending to deal with it. Speaking to our defense, the coach said, "Basically, their offense consists of one guy, and his name is Godfrey; they've only got three plays - Godfrey left, Godfrey right, and Godfrey up the middle." So apparently this Godfrey guy was quite a horse.

My best buddy (who was also my backup center) and I, being conscientious fellows, raised our hands, and asked, "This Godfrey - does he play on defense for them?"

The coach paused for a second or two, before saying, "I think he's their noseman, but I'm not sure."

Well, now, the news that Godfrey, who was already morphing in my brain into something out of a bad horror movie - more like Godzilla than Godfrey - might be the noseman - the defensive player who plays across from the center, and who I'd thus stand to spend virtually the entire game trying to block - might be the noseman, but my coach - my coach, who was charged, among other things, with assuring that I be safely returned to my parents after the game - wasn't sure. . . Well, this news suddenly became a matter of grave concern for my young life. Bearing in mind that I was a 14-year-old sophomore, and Godzilla was a senior. He might've been the only decent player on his whole team (as it turns out, he was a Class D all-stater), but he was gonna be my problem for the next 2-3 hours. . .

Our team won the coin-toss, and received the opening kickoff, and then our offense, including me as the center, took the field. And sure enough, there he was. I broke the huddle, turned and trotted up to my position over the ball. And there was this. . . this huge THING there, waiting for me, his malevolent breath panting over my ball. Red glowing eyes stared evilly out at me from inside his helmet, and a three-day stubble adorned his chin. "Senior, hell!" I thought to myself. This guy's a freakin' Vietnam vet, who's been beheading communists with piano wire, up until last week.

"What's your name, kid?" he grunted at me.

Figuring that he was trying to intimidate me, I gave what I thought would be a suitably 'tough' response - "What do you care?"

"I need to know what to put on your gravestone."

I wanted to congratulate him on his wit; you know, "Touche! Good one!" or somesuch, but before I could get the words out, he charged out of his stance and drilled me, sending me ass-over-teakettle about five yards into the backfield, taking out my quarterback as I flew past. The referees blew their whistles and threw their yellow hankies, and duly marched off fifteen yards against Godzilla and his teammates for the Unsportsmanlike Conduct of kicking my ass before they told him it was OK to do so. But the message had been sent, and, you can be sure, received. I was in for the ass-kicking of my life that night; my young manhood was about to receive its sternest test to date.

And, continuing from my first snap, it proceded apace. Godzilla, who outweighed me by something like 50 pounds, and out-meaned me by a much greater margin, whipped me up one side of the field and down the other. I became intimately acquainted with his right forearm, which smashed across the bridge of my nose on every play, within milliseconds of the ball smacking into my quarterback's hands (I should mention here that this was also our first game of the season, and we hadn't yet received all of the best equipment that was on order; so my facemask, instead of being a 'lineman's mask' with a vertical bar protecting my nose, was a simple 'two-bar' facemask, which afforded a space slightly larger than the width of Godzilla's forearm between the edge of the helmet, and the top bar of the facemask. So Godzilla's forearm, which I think was made of weapons-grade steel, or maybe depleted uranium, hammered the bridge of my nose on each and every play, the entire game long; by the end of the game, my nose was approximately triple its normal width).

After the first few plays, I was past the point of trying to block him. On a couple of occasions, Godzilla, who also had the reflexes of a nervous jaguar, was past me, into the backfield, almost before the ball. I only tried to get myself between him and where the play was going, hoping to slow him down a little in the process of steamrolling me. It very quickly devolved into a Rocky-esque scenario of just taking my beating, and staying determined to do what I could, and not quit until the game was over.

And that's pretty much what I did. By the third quarter or so, I was pretty much shell-shocked, and my coach took pity on me and sent my buddy, the backup center, in for a series. But my buddy was 50 pounds lighter than I was (which had something to do with why I was the starter), and Godzilla treated him like a chew-toy. But at least I got a few minutes' respite from the hailstorm, before I had to go back out into it.


Now, it really was true that Godzilla was virtually the only decent player on that team - I don't think they had a single other player bigger than 175 pounds, much less 200, and these weren't wiry-athletic skinny guys, either. Godzilla was pretty much playing us 1-on-11, and I was designated to absorb the full brunt of his fury.

One of his teammates, the defensive tackle who played the next position up the defensive line from him, was a tall, skinny guy - maybe 6-1 and 145 pounds or so - and as nearly as I could tell, his role on the defense was something like the Heckler. He had a whiny, nasal, high-pitched voice, and every play, as I once again assumed my position and steeled myself for yet another onslaught of Godzilla's rage, he would commence with the performance of his duties. "Center!" he'd yell, in his sing-song, nasal whine, "center, you're gonna get killed, man! He's gonna kick your ass, man! You're gonna get killed!" And he repeated that same song before every snap. Which, in a perverse way, motivated me to keep going. If this skinny dork wanted me to quit, he was having the exact opposite effect on my psyche. And pissing me off, besides - HE wasn't the one kicking my ass, but he was the one crowing about it, and I just wanted to say, "Bring it, Stick-Boy! Let's see how bad you are when it's you and me!"

And so it came to pass that lo and behold, for one play, late in the third quarter (and alas, it was the only such play the entire game), just as I was beginning to question my own sanity for continuing to submit to the every-30-seconds beatings, the clouds parted, and a light shone down from the heavens. We broke the huddle, and I trotted up to the ball, and lo! Godzilla was not there! Oh, Hallelujah! They were in a different defense, and Godzilla was playing a middle linebacker position, a couple yards off the line. And my skinny Yakker was across from me! At that point, I completely forgot what the play was that we were running, or what my blocking assignment was. For one play, my eyes flashed red and glowed. My voice dropped in pitch by at least an octave (even though I said nothing; strange how that worked), as I glared across the line. I snapped the ball and fired out, right through the chest of my erstwhile tormentor. I knocked him on his back, and ran up his chest, on my way downfield to find someone else (preferably, someone not named Godzilla) to block.

The next play, Godzilla was back across the line from me. But the Heckler was quiet for the rest of the game.


We actually won that game, narrowly - Godzilla couldn't whip our whole team all by himself, but he sure wreaked a lot of havoc by the time he was done. I was able to join my teammates in rejoicing over our victory, even while I absorbed some good-natured teasing over the ass-kicking I'd taken (not unmixed with a sense of relief on their part, that it hadn't been them). Even just by willingly taking my whipping every play, I'd made my contribution to our victory, and my teammates, and my coaches, were duly appreciative.

And, within a week, my nose was even pretty much back to normal. And I got my lineman's facemask. . .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thanks for Noticing

At one of our recent prayer meetings, Molly was wearing a sleeveless top, and the effects of her newly-rigorous workout program were showing on her lean, tanned arms and shoulders. One of the college guys stopped her for a second after the meeting.

"Mrs. Jones!" he exclaimed, "You're buff!"

That's right, kid, she is. And she's all mine. . .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


So, my Tigers will be sitting out the playoffs, after having led their division since the middle of May (OK, so it was a lousy division; so what?), having had a 7-game lead with 21 to play, and a three-game lead with four to play. It ain't quite the '64 Phillies, or the '87 Blue Jays, but it'll join the list of egregious late-season chokes, for sure. Take nothing away from the Twins, though - they were relentless, and finishing 17-4 in their last 21 games is simply astonishing.

But, aside from being a Tiger fan, that was an amazing 12-inning game last night, with Never-Say-Die heroics on both sides, from the 7th inning through to the end. But come on, guys - twice, you had a runner on third with less than two out, and didn't score (and Curtis Granderson, what were you thinking, getting doubled off first base on a one-out liner in the 9th, when the lead run was on third in front of you? That was horrible. . .). But Rick Porcello pitched like a veteran, not a 20-year-old rookie (and since when are major-league ballplayers younger than my own sons, anyway?); and Ryan Rayburn throwing out the winning run at the plate in the 10th. . . that was take-your-breath-away dramatic.

(*sigh*) Maybe next year. . .

But hey, at least my Spartans beat the hated Wolverines last weekend (and you can trust me when I say that the Wolverines are hated in these parts); so we've finally beaten them in consecutive years for the first time since I was eleven years old. . .

And Molly left a monkey in my lunch today. . .

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's In a Name?

A short (OK, maybe not so short) follow-up to the previous post on my reunion with my birth-mother. . .

I am now the same age my birth-mother was when we first met (since she was, for all intents and purposes, 20 when I was born). It is hard for me to describe what it has meant for me to have had her in my life these past 20 years. Just knowing where I came from, and that I didn't fall out of the sky (or, as my friend Lime is wont to say, that I wasn't hatched from an alien egg) counts for a lot. But having the kind of 'intrinsic' connection that flows from shared DNA has been a unique delight, all its own. Besides which, I really like her; she's a neat lady, and I'm glad I can know her.


One of the things that is on my mind as I ponder this anniversary is names. We all have one (heck, most of us these days have three of 'em, or more), and, in whatever odd and mysterious way, it identifies us uniquely. Parents give a lot of thought to naming their children, and the vast majority of those children accept the name their parents gave them as somehow intrinsic to their own identity. Having a name - being given a name - seems to signify our personhood (or somesuch hi-falutin' stuff).

In my life, I have had three names. Or maybe I should say, I've had three sets of names. The first was the name I was born with. A first name, a middle name, and a last name. Oddly enough, my first name has been one of the very few constants, that have inhered to my life over the full extent of it; there's a story connected with that, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. My birth-mother says that she gave me that name because it seemed a strong name to her (the 'Names' section in the back of our dictionary makes associations with mountains and rocks; FWIW), but beyond that, it had no particular significance; it wasn't a family name, or anything like that. Just a strong-sounding one, at least to her young ears at the time. My middle-birth-name was the same as her brother's (my uncle's) middle name. And my birth-surname was the same as hers. Which fact would come in very handy when I undertook to search for her.

When I was a child, I came across a baby book that one of my foster mothers kept for me (quite an unusual thing for an adopted child to have). In it, I was identified by my first and middle birth names, which was a little confusing to me, since, at the time I was seeing it, that wasn't my name. The first name was familiar, but I didn't know what to make of the other one. For many years, I thought that it was my birth-surname (it was one of those names that could have been either a first/middle, or a surname).

My adoption wasn't final until sometime after my first birthday, as attested by the date on the adoption order. I think my birth-mother was a little reluctant to once-and-for-all sign the papers relinquishing her rights to me. My adoptive parents may have had me as their foster son for a short time before the adoption was final, but that was when it all became official. Since I was a year old, they reasoned that they should leave me with my original first name, since I was, by that time, well used to being called by it (and all the moreso, if, as I believe, they had already had me in their home for a while, and had called me by that name themselves).

They gave me a new middle name, after a famous Supreme Court Justice (why my parents were so enamored of that particular Supreme Court Justice, I have no idea). I never particularly liked my middle name (and, in the fullness of time, once I learned a little about him, I wasn't terribly happy to be named after that particular Supreme Court Justice, either). Although I did get some amusement from people trying to guess my middle name from knowing the initial (no one ever did). And of course, I got a new surname. A new family name, signifying the new family that I was being brought into.

And the family identity that was signified by that name has come to be precious to me. 'Jones' (of course, that's not really my name, but for our purposes here, pretend that it is, OK?) is associated, in my mind, and in my psyche more broadly, with a whole set of 'family' things - my dad, most especially; his dad, my grandfather; my grandpa's farm, where we went for all the holidays when I was a kid, and which had my grandpa's name prominently displayed on the front of the barn; my brothers and sisters, and my cousins from my dad's two brothers, and the fact that everyone knew we were connected to each other because we all shared the same last name; and so on, etc, etc. Even when I went away to college, I went (almost in spite of myself) to the same school my dad had gone to (and his brother, my uncle), and I was well aware that I was not the first person named 'Jones' to have walked those hallowed halls.

And such was my name, through all of my living memory, and I had no reason, nor desire, to think that it would ever be otherwise. . .

Until I met my birth-mother. When I was first starting to think about searching for her, I spoke with my parents, to try to get a 'read' on where they'd be at if I decided to do such a thing. And, in the course of the conversation, my mom (my 'stepmother', though I've never called her that) produced a torn scrap of paper with three names on it. The first two, I recognized from the baby book. The third, the last name, was completely new to me. She went on to tell me that, when she'd married my dad, she'd come across the papers pertaining to my brother's and my adoptions, and had written down our 'original names', just in case, and then hidden that scrap of paper behind a picture that hung on their wall for years. And, as it turned out, within the first year that she and dad were married, our basement flooded, and all of those records were destroyed. So, for more than 20 years, that scrap of paper, hidden behind that picture, was virtually my only connection to my origins.

Anyway, when I asked my dad how he'd be disposed to my searching for my birth-parents, he was fine with it. "If you think it's something you need to do, then by all means, go ahead." And then he added, "Just don't change your name." And I assured him that I had no intention of doing anything like that.

While I was searching for my birth-mother, I made some use of the fact that my dad had a great-grandmother with the same surname as I had been born with (he and my birth-mother turn out to be something like 8th-cousins); I could credibly (and truthfully, if not quite 'the-whole-truth-fully') say that I was researching the family whose name happened to be theirs. I also spoke with a few of her friends and relations (none of whom, by the way, figured out my true intentions), and they duly recounted their conversations with me, when next they spoke to her. And she was extremely intrigued, when she heard the name of this young man who was asking about her - the first name was the same one she'd given her son, years ago (and 'Desmond' - again, not my real name, but we can pretend - is not the most common name in the English-speaking world). Which was most curious, since she assumed that, whoever her son was, his adoptive parents would have given him a different name. Even so, she had inklings that something significant was afoot.

Once we were well and properly reunited, and I had gone to visit her at her house, and it was well-established that we were going to have a long and happy relationship, I came to lament the 'broken connection' between us, and all the years we'd spent apart, and I wanted to have some tangible expression of our connection to each other. My dad having admonished me not to change my name, planted a seed for a possible resolution to my difficulty. I was pretty sure that the 'name' my dad was referring to was our family name. And, since my first name was the same, no matter what, I thought, I could change my middle name to coincide with my birth-surname, which was also my birth-mother's maiden name. That would 'complete the circle', capturing in my name all of my birth and familial connections (and would also shed me of a middle name that I had never liked). (And besides, I've always thought those 'mother's-maiden-name' middle names sounded classy).

When I checked my hunch with my dad, he agreed that it was the family name he was concerned about, and he didn't attach all that much significance to the middle name he'd assigned me, either (beyond the fact that he had, in point of fact, assigned it to me; but he didn't regard that particular assignation as binding). And so, in 1990, just before my 34th birthday (and just before my birth-mother's first visit to our house), I went to court and legally changed my name, so that now, my birth-family-name is my middle name, to go between the only first name I've ever had, and the name of the family I was raised in, and nurtured, the family whose name I've borne for longer than I can remember.

And it all just seems to fit. My whole life, and all of my circumstances, are accounted for in my name. And it seems very good.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today. . .

Molly and I had taken the kids (at the time, we had three) to the photo studio for a sitting. My search for my birth-mother had just recently come to a close - I knew who she was, and how to contact her. All I was waiting for was for my intermediary to make the first contact with her, and I wanted to have a current family portrait to give her, once it happened.

We walked through the front door after the sitting, and the phone was ringing. I picked up the phone; it was Annette, my intermediary. "You have a very happy lady on your hands," she said. . .


Earlier that Thursday afternoon, Annette had called my birth-mother. She was busy preparing her house to receive weekend guests at her home.

Annette identified herself, then said, "I'm calling concerning material of a very personal and confidential nature. Do you have time to talk?"

My birth-mother was beginning to get annoyed with Annette's slowness at coming to the point, but just said Yes, she could talk.

So Annette just plowed ahead. "I am involved in a search for the birth-mother of someone you might have known as [my birth-name], born on [my birthday]. Can you help me?"

She was stunned. She'd actually had some pretty solid inklings that I was on her trail - I'd been to visit her aunt a couple weeks previously, and her aunt had called her immediately, telling her about this 'nice young man' who'd been to visit her, asking questions about her family. Hearing my first name (which was the same one she'd given me when I was born), and my approximate age, she immediately suspected that her long-lost son was searching for her, and getting close. But even so, she hadn't allowed herself to really believe it could be true. Finally, she told Annette, "I'm the person you're looking for; you don't need to look any further." Sobbing, she assured Annette that she was OK, that these were tears of joy.

They talked at some length. Birth-mom was concerned that I was mad at her for giving me away, but Annette assured her that my motives were purely of gratitude. She also learned that she was three times a grandmother, which took her back quite a bit; she had only adopted her daughter Sarah three years previously, and the possibility of grandchildren had never even entered her mind. Finally, Annette declined to tell her any more about me, insisting rather that she should call me herself. Annette only asked for some time to call and let me know that she'd be calling. . .


After Annette called me, I was pretty completely distracted, waiting for The Call. A couple friends called with small items of business, and I jumped on the phone each time, before quickly shooing them off. Finally, about 8:30, the phone rang again, and a woman on the other end gave her name (which I immediately recognized as my birth-mother's), saying "I'm your birth-mother."

"I know," I answered. "I'm so glad to hear from you."

Even though I'd never heard her voice, it was very comfortable to me. And she was listening just as intently to me; one of her first comments was how much my voice sounded like her father's and her brother's.

As soon as Molly figured out who I was talking to, she ran screaming to the neighbor's house, her close friend from our community. "It's HER!" she shrieked. "He's talking to HER!"

We ended up talking for an hour and a half, and neither of us could bear to end the conversation - just let me hear your voice a little while longer. . .


That was my first contact with my birth-mother. In some ways, it was the beginning of a 'whirlwind romance' between my birth-mother and me. The following few weeks were a blizzard of letters and phone calls, every letter obsolete before it arrived, since we'd talk on the phone in the meantime. We dug through old photos to send to each other, and it was like we were trying to undo 33 years of separation in 33 days. A little over a month later, I flew out to meet her at her home, and the following spring, she came to our house to celebrate my 34th birthday with us. And just that fast, we became part of each other's lives and families.

But it all started September 28th, 1989, and for that, I give thanks to God. . .


(*edit*) As long as we're on the topic of significant anniversaries, last Thursday, September 24th, was also the 10th anniversary of 7M's accident, which is, of course, a major miracle in the life of our family. You'll have to forgive me for letting it slide past before bringing it to your attention; the date hasn't quite gotten seared into my brain the way other 'anniversaries' have, and I had to go back and look it up; we were a little busy, and kinda distracted that day. . .

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life Goes On. . .

It's been awhile since I gave a general update on the Jones kids, and now seems an opportune time to send out another one. . .

1F has been making steady progress ('steadier' at some times than others, but overall, the trends are all positive). She's been back in school for the past couple years, getting good grades, and slowly getting her head ramped back up into 'Academic Mode'. This semester, she's taking two classes, so she might actually finish her degree before she's 40. Her choices in men have also trended upward, although not quite to the level that Molly and I might have hoped for, just yet. Her last beau was a decent-enough guy, and treated her like a queen; he's also a 40-something divorcee who doesn't have his driver's license just at the moment (and you can read between the lines on that). Mostly, Molly and I would like to see 1F develop a stronger sense of her own self, apart from what any man thinks of her at the moment. She just recently moved into a house of single 20-something women from our community (including her sister), which is probably a good move for her. . .

2F is doing really well. Since she got back from Detroit, she's been working in the campus outreach that our community runs over at Mega-State U, and really enjoying it. She enjoys working with the college kids, and she really enjoys her friendships with the other staff. I know she'd like to get married at some point (there's the small matter of getting a suitable fellow to actually 'court' her, but, you know, all in good time), and Molly and I would like to see her finish her degree (just, you know, for the sake of having that done, and in her pocket). But on the whole, she just seems really happy right now.

3M is still pretty much scuffling. He has the sense that he really could, and should, be doing better than he is, but his own lack of self-confidence keeps him from aiming higher, a lot of the time (some low-grade 'mental health' issues haven't helped in that regard). He's been living with his girlfriend for the past year, which we're not very happy about. But she's a nice enough young woman, and takes good care of him. The longer they're together, though, the more it seems like they're both sorta feeding each other's 'issues'.

4M is newly off to college. Well, not actually 'off' anywhere; he's going to the local community college (on a full-tuition scholarship that will feed him into Mega-State U, if he keeps his grades up), and living in the basement apartment at home (when we bought the house nine years ago, that was one of the nice attractions of the house - a place where our college kids could be at home, but still have 'a place of their own'). The transition is the occasion for some anxiety on his part - he senses that he'll have to knuckle down on his schoolwork more that he ever had to in high school. But that's an entirely appropriate, and salutary, realization for him to arrive at. . .

The hits just seem to keep coming for 5M. He was promoted to the varsity football team in the middle of last season, and ended the season as a starting linebacker. So he was eagerly looking forward to this fall's season. But in one of the first practices back in August, he stepped in a hole, and ended up requiring knee surgery (I mean, come on - it would be one thing if he'd even been hit; but stepping in a hole? sheesh), which means football will have to wait for his senior year. Poor kid. But, he's mainly taking a pretty upbeat approach to it; he took an after-school job (since, what the heck, he doesn't have football practice), and is enjoying having money in his pocket. Still just a great kid. I hope he can maintain that when the world is buffeting him full-strength about the head and shoulders. . .

6F is a high-school freshman (freshwoman?) this year. And that is freaking me out, just a little. She has always been my 'Little Peanut', and getting my head around the notion of her as a high-school student has been quite a stretch. She seems to be doing OK, choosing good friends, and all that, although her tendency to be absent-minded and a little air-headed ends up causing her parents more heartburn than they'd hoped for. She's also developing a first-rate, 'Princess-level' case of teenage snottiness. Lord, have mercy. . .

7M is a sixth-grader this year, which means middle school. Lord, have mercy again. He has actually done some significant growing-up in the last year. He's as emotionally intense as he's ever been, but he's learning to do better at controlling himself when his emotions flare. Right at the moment, he's playing four musical intruments - piano, trumpet, recorder, and he's just lately taken up the guitar. When he's bored, or stressed, he'll just kinda rotate through the cycle, from one instrument to the next, and then start over at the beginning.

And 8M is still the youngest. And still a chatterbox. He's growing by leaps and bounds right at the moment. Like his just-older brother, he's showing some signs of brilliance (Molly and I recently took him to a restaurant, and his meal cost $3.99; out of the blue, he said, "If I had two of these, it would be $7.98"; yeef). We'll see where that ends up.

Not much to report on my own behalf, right at the moment; I just passed 1000 miles on my bicycle for the year, last weekend. And, as of this moment, I'm still employed (and being paid!) by HugeMassive Corp., which is no small thing.

And that's the State of the Joneses, more-or-less up to the minute. It's nice to not have so much of the crazy drama and intensity that we had a few years ago. With eight kids (and, for the time being at least, it's still 'only eight'), just normal everyday life is plenty. . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

Another One For the Books

Finishing what I started in the previous post. . .

Before I get back to the book list ‘proper’, I’ll take a quick detour to mention a few authors for whom I’ve had various and sundry ‘fetishes’, and read large numbers of their books, just because I enjoyed their style, or content, or whatever. . .

When Molly and I were first married, a friend recommended that I read James Michener, so I picked up a copy of The Source, and I was hooked. Michener’s epics of historical fiction just absolutely grabbed my brain for a few years, to the point that Molly took to referring to Michener as my ‘other woman’ – I’ve probably read close to a dozen of his tomes. A Michener novel is quite a commitment – most of them are upwards of 1000 pages – but by the time you’ve finished one, you’ve just about had a college course in the history of wherever the subject of the novel is. The Source (on Israel / the Holy Land) is probably my favorite of his novels, although The Covenant (South Africa) and Hawaii are also tremendous.

I also went on a Michael Crichton jag for a while. I read Jurassic Park (before the movie came out, thankyouverymuch), which I really enjoyed. Just the whole premise of cloning extinct pre-historic critters was intriguing (dinosaurs are quite a stretch, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a cloned mammoth before I die. . .), but his comments on the possibility of ‘destroying the planet’ were pretty insightful, I thought. From there, I read The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and The Lost World before the impulse waned. Crichton is very adept at getting his readers to keep turning the page, but his books (at least, those that I’ve read) have in common that, after a certain point, the author seems to lose interest and just wrap up the story as quickly as he can. Especially for an author with Crichton’s story-telling gifts, his books have some of the worst, most clichéd endings I’ve ever read.

Going back to the beginning, when I was a kid, I read pretty much everything by Dr. Seuss that I could get my hands on. And what I didn’t read as a kid, I read to my own kids. My favorites are what I call his ‘imaginative’ books, especially McElligott’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra (because most people stop at the Z; but not me’) and If I Ran the Zoo (which has gotten credit for coining the word ‘nerd’, and thus is pivotal for my own life). One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (which is like an ‘early reader’ version of McElligott) and Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! are also among my kids’ favorites. And the books starring Horton the Elephant hold a special place in my heart – Horton Hears a Who! (a person’s a person, no matter how small’) and Horton Hatches the Egg (I meant what I said, and I said what I meant – an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!’). And pretty much anything else he wrote. . .

Lewis and Chesterton and Kreeft, whose books I mentioned in the previous post, would also fall into this category of ‘Authors of Whom I’ve Read Everything I Could Get My Hands On’. But, since I already mentioned them, I won’t repeat myself here. . .


Returning to the book list, a few books on science and mathematics (just to give a bit of air to my Inner Nerd) –

Faith of a Physicist, by John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne is a world-class particle physicist, and also an ordained Anglican priest. This is one of the best books I’ve come across, as far as presenting the deep harmony between the Christian and ‘scientific’ worldviews. Polkinghorne’s Belief In God In an Age of Science is also excellent. I’ll also mention a couple other books – The Road of Science and the Ways to God, by Stanley Jaki, develops the idea that the intelligibility of the universe points to its Creator. And Genesis and the Big Bang, by Gerald Schroeder, is especially interesting; the author is a world-class physicist, and an Orthodox Jew, and his Jewish presentation of ‘natural theology’ is wonderfully fascinating.

Fermat’s Last Theorem, by Amir Aczel. A stimulating account (OK, maybe just ‘stimulating’ to a certain type of mind. . .) of Andrew Wiles’ solution of one of the great, long-standing ‘unsolved problems’ of mathematics, which, by the time it finishes, provides a pretty comprehensive tour of mathematical history.

Beyond the Third Dimension, by Thomas Banchoff. I first engaged the concept of ‘four-dimensional space’ (or space-time) when I was in high school, and found it to be very ‘mind-expanding’ (sort of like LSD, without the flashbacks). I have carried that fascination with me through most of my life. Banchoff’s book is a solid, comprehensive account of four-dimensional (and higher-dimensional) space, and what it might mean, and how to think in (or through) it. . .


A few history books -

History of the English-Speaking Peoples, by Winston Churchill. This four-volume set fed my Inner Anglophile, and helped me understand my cultural heritage from even before Jamestown and Plymouth. It also helped me to better understand my 'cultural kinship' with folks like Aussies and Canadians (did you know that there were 17 British colonies in North America? But only 13 of them joined the 'rebellion'; the four that didn't formed the basis for what would become Canada), as well as to have a 'wider perspective' on history than is typically afforded students in American high schools (eg, the fact that England had a little thing going on with a fellow named Napoleon, might've had something to do with why the fledgling USA could successfully prosecute the War of 1812 against the 'superpower' British. . .)

The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin. A fascinating account of innovation and creativity, which wanders into a multitude of really interesting discussions, on mankind's growing understanding of time, space, the world, the universe, etc, etc. The history itself is simply fascinating, but Boorstin also develops a thesis of 'Illusions of Knowledge' - that when we think we know all there is to know about something, it becomes an obstacle to innovation and creativity. (As a footnote here, I’ll include To Engineer Is Human, in which author Henry Petroski gives a fascinating account of the role of failure in successful engineering design, including how the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster led to the design of my beloved Mackinac Bridge).

The Conquerors, by Allan Eckert. Eckert has written a six-volume set of 'narrative histories', which read like novels, but are in fact solidly documented histories, generally focused on the 'European conquest' of the United States (and not at all in a 'Euro-centric' manner; his respect and sympathy for the Indians are obvious, and he does not hesitate to present the dark side of the history we learned in school). The Conquerors (third in the series) covers the events that have come to be called Pontiac's Uprising, and so large chunks of the story take place in Michigan - most particularly Detroit and Michilimackinac, places I've been to, and so I can more-or-less easily imagine the settings for the stories Eckert tells. Any of the other volumes of the set are also excellent. . .

The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark. Stark's 'sociological history' of early Christianity is a fascinating account of how a small sect of a few dozen people in Palestine grew to the point of comprising a majority of the Roman Empire within barely three centuries. Stark's research methods are quite unique, and he ends up telling a fascinating story on a much more 'mundane' level than typical 'Names-and-Dates' histories. I'll try not to spoil it for you, but basically, Christians did two things significantly better than their pagan Roman neighbors - they took care of the sick (which, in a day of periodic pandemic plagues, was no small thing), and they welcomed children into their families (often taking in children who had been abandoned by their neighbors). Which seems like it might have pertinence to the present day and age. . .


And finally, a few of my favorite books of fiction –

Love In the Ruins, by Walker Percy; with this book, Percy earned a place on my short list of favorite authors. For having been written in 1971, this is a remarkably ‘current’ book; sort of the Culture War a generation in advance. Percy writes with wickedly wry humor, and he makes some sharp commentary on a wide range of topics, including sex, race, wealth, marriage, Christianity, etc, etc (which just happen to include several of my own favorite topics). . .

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky; maybe the greatest of all ‘Russian novels’, but even more probably the greatest of all ‘Christian novels’ (if there can be said to be such a thing). Dostoevsky presents deep insights into the ‘Problem of Pain’, and the ‘Mystery of Evil’, and the ways in which we’re all sort-of ‘walking blind’ through our lives in this world. . .

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller; James Michener actually put me onto this book in probably my least-favorite of all his books I’ve read (Space, if anyone’s wondering). On the face of it, it’s a fairly typical sci-fi book about the rebuilding of society in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, but it’s full of solid thoughts on human nature and some really sharp bits of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain; I’ve long considered this to be the absolute greatest of all American novels, by the greatest American writer. I’ve had a few arguments with folks at my kids’ school, who want to ban it over its use of the ‘N-word’. Try as I might to convince them that that radically misses the point, some folks are just hard to convince. . .

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien; this almost feels like what I said in the previous post about the Bible – it’s almost too ‘obvious’ a choice. But from the first time I read it, I’ve been blown away by Tolkien’s invention of entire languages and histories. And Frodo has always been the least bit ‘emblematic’ for my own life – much as I might personally despise ‘adventures’, they keep coming to me, whether I want them or not. . .

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; often paired with Orwell's 1984 under the heading of ‘Future Dystopias’, I’ve thought that BNW is a sharper statement directed at the modern West, and where a society motivated purely by pleasure, enabled by technology, leads. And what real Humanity looks like, in contrast. . .


And one more book - Another Sort of Learning, by JV Schall, a delightfully odd book (I mean, in the preface, he seamlessly connects Eric Voegelin, EF Schumacher, and Mad magazine), for people like me who got all the way through college without really getting 'educated'. It contains 21 essays, on an eclectic range of topics, and 37 associated book lists. Probably the book that got me started on the whole 'book lists' idea in the first place. . .

So there you have it. Books that have formed my mind, books that I liked, books that I recommend to my friends, whatever. Way more than fifteen, by the time it’s all said and done, but it is what it is (and, in the immortal words of Popeye, I yam what I yam. . .). And the thing is, a month from now, I'll probably think of a dozen other books that I should've included. Oh, well; for here and now, anyway, this is what you get. . .