I have arrived, or at least, that's what United Airlines has told me. You work hard your entire life with high expectations of hearing those beloved words. You brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, go to church, buy Girl Scout cookies even if they're out of Thin Mints, pay your taxes, help old ladies across the street, stir your coffee clockwise, and get to work at least ten minutes early every day. While these things are notable, they have nothing to do with my "having arrived". I just happened to have traveled enough air miles to finally, for the first time, attain that glorious status of Premier Silver.
Getting status doesn't mean that much. Five dollars and my United Airlines Premier Silver Access Card gets me a grande latte' at Starbucks. Of course, Starbucks really doesn't care about seeing the card they just want their five bucks! Maybe that's why they stare at me funny when I show it to them with that stupid grin on my face. All joking aside, the real glory in achieving status is finally getting to walk across that beautiful, high-end, industrial-strength, well-vacuumed, navy blue rug with the silver letters across one end that reads: "United Premier Access". That rug gets more attention at airports every day, than Lindsay Lohan gets in the news on Monday mornings! Questions about the rug are forbidden, it's roped off like a bengal tiger cage at the San Diego Zoo, and God forbid you step on it if you don't have status! Since getting status I've actually stopped in the middle of the rug, while boarding, just to see if I could hear angelic host of heavenly beings singing the Doxology.
Something happens to you when you gain status. Every other traveler—besides the first-class passengers and the brave men and women of the military—seem a little lower on the totem pole. It's not an intentional attitude, it just happens. You stand up straighter, tilt your nose a little higher in the air, and take great delight in squeezing your way through the Group 3,4, and 5 boarders crowded in front of you at the gate. I've found myself unashamedly relishing those moments. Then you board the plane and get a few arrogant looks right back at you from the first class passengers sitting snugly in their excessively comfortable, over-priced, padded thrones. Isn't it humbling to know that in arriving you still have not fully arrived at all?
The Overs. No, it's not the last name of a wealthy philanthropist and millionaire socialite family like the Rockefellers. The Overs is my reference to leftovers and layovers. I am not a fan of either one. Are you? I guess there might be that occasional person who likes pulling a cold slice of week-old pizza from the refrigerator and eating it for breakfast, or that unique individual who enjoys being stuck at an airport for hours between flights and twiddling their thumbs.
First, are the leftovers. They stare at you from inside their Ziploc bags and multi-colored storage containers when you open the refrigerator door. There's the large tub of mashed potatoes under the red lid. They went nicely with the pork chops last Tuesday, but now they're all alone in excessive amounts, begging to accompany your chili from a can on Thursday. That will never happen, so the mashed potatoes wait in silence for the moment they'll be dumped in the sink and ravished through the garbage disposal. There's also the small round container of black-eyed peas under the orange lid. The peas would actually go nicely with a lot of things, but there's just not enough of them. They're about thirty-seven peas short of being reheated on your plate of enchilada casserole on Friday. So, the peas just stare at you with their beady black eyes from their little glass prison. It's just creepy!
I like a nice, hot, freshly cooked meal steaming with all the enticing smells of delicious yumminess. Mmhmmm! The main course is getting along with the side dishes, and the side dishes are getting along with the dessert. Meats, fruits, vegetables, spices, sauces, starches, calories, cholesterol, and fat, abiding in beautiful harmony as one delightful collaboration that is dinner. It's one big happy family of prepared foods until they all get swooped up, slopped into storage containers, and stacked precariously on death row in the cold, dark fridge.
Then, there are the layovers. I absolutely and unequivocally do not—with a feverish and distasteful passion—like layovers. Layovers are those completely unpleasant stops at airports between flights. Some layovers are too short to do anything entertaining like: eating, writing, drawing, solving, playing, reading, planning, developing, snoring, or organizing. Other layovers are so long that you've already eaten, wrote, drew, solved, played, read, planned, developed, snored, and organized, and have nothing else to do but wait.
What could be worse than waiting at the airport between flights? Oh, you can count ceiling tiles, watch the arrival and departure screens flash with updates, or count the number of hyperactive children running back-and-forth on the people movers while their parents chase and yell at them. That gets boring. To make matters worse, there's that overbearing aroma of those extra-large, excessively iced, ginormous cinnamon rolls from the food court, circulating through your nose as you do everything humanly possible to fight the urge to devour them all. I rest my case.
The bell rang... Kkkkllllaaaannnngggg! Kids flew in every direction as Mrs. Shirey, our grumpy old school teacher, barked at us to form a single-file line next to the classroom door. Mrs. Shirey had puffy, gray hair with white streaks in it and wore cat eye glasses. She gripped a wooden ruler in her hand and waved it around in the air like Darth Vader with his lightsaber. We dodged that ruler's fiery furry like Jedi Knights and hurriedly scrambled into place as if our lives depended on it. It was almost impossible for second graders to stand still knowing that we only had thirty-five minutes of recess ahead of us. We couldn't contain our hyperactivity.
Most of the children in our small town elementary school had been diagnosed with hyperactivity. The teachers said we were infested with it, especially the boys. Adults had the daunting task of determining if a kid couldn't stand still because they were hyper, or just had to go to the bathroom. Jumping to the wrong conclusion could be disastrous!
My hyperactivity caused me to dance uncontrollably in my Toughskin jeans with the reinforced knees. Moms dressed their kids in Toughskin jeans from Sears because they were rugged and cheap. My mother dressed me in Toughskin jeans because they were practically indestructible and came in all sorts of cool colors like denim blue and magenta. Toughskins were required active wear for kids who played outside from sunup to sundown. I wore Toughskin jeans inside the house, outside the house, to play, to school, to church, to McDonald's for Happy Meals, to Vacation Bible School, on campouts, and would have slept in them if I could have gotten away with it.
Mrs. Shirey, after corralling us for five minutes, finally gave in and led us down the long, noisy hallway and out the side door of the school building to our beautiful, gravel-covered playground. Once we cleared the threshold it was a mad sprint to claim one of the highly coveted seesaws, swings, or a place on the multi-colored, nauseating merry-go-round. Not my friend Matthew and I. We had our eyes fixed on the twisted web of gray steel that rose high into the sky like a cloud-splitting skyscraper, forming the greatest set of glorious monkey bars the world has ever seen!
I was Batman and Matthew was Robin, at least in our vivid childhood imaginations. The monkey bars was our Batcave and Monday through Friday it was our crime fighting duty to protect it against the evil villains who were out to expose its hidden secrets. Our friend Rodges was our archenemy The Joker. He and his mischievous gang of criminals came at us from every direction. Matthew and I would swing down from the top of the monkey bars using our Batropes and the fight was on. Bam! I raised my arm to block a swing from The Joker. Pow! Matthew countered with a punch to his evil sidekick. Boom! The Joker sent me to the dirt with a last-minute trip.
Every once-in-a-while a Catwoman would appear from nowhere to join the action. That meant all the seesaws and swings were taken and some stinky girl decided she wanted to climb the Batcave. Knowing we would get in trouble if she squealed on us, we would quickly call her "Batgirl" and let her on the monkey bars. Yuck!
Thirty-five minutes seemed more like only ten, and before we knew it the bell rang to announce recess was over... Kkkkllllaaaannnngggg! The playground superheroes were done for the day. Matthew and I dusted off our Toughskin jeans and jeered at the villains to let them know we'd be back tomorrow. The Joker always leaped on the Batcave as if he'd won the brawl, but we knew better. The good guys always win in the end and save the day. We growled and snarled at each other as we walked back to the school to get in line. Swoosh! We all dodged as Mrs. Shirey swung her monstrous wooden ruler. Wack!
* This story is taken from the Memoirs of a Red-Headed Preacher’s Kid writings. Read more:
More great writings at: www.jimedhardaway.com
There was no snow on the ground that Christmas Eve night, nothing but a wind that whistled through the panes outside my window. I could see the stars through my bedroom curtains. They dangled from the sky just as the colored lights hung from our Christmas tree. I was supposed to be asleep, but my toes wiggled inside my footed pajamas because I was filled with uncontrollable glee. My baby blue eyes produced a soft glow on the ceiling. Static electricity drew thin strands of my red hair across the pillow, turning my bowl-cut hair into an electric halo over my head. It was a symbol of how nice I had been all year, and Santa Claus was sure to make good on it tonight.
A gentle smile pushed my cheeks aside. My tongue emerged through the space where my front teeth used to be and found a few crumbs stuck to the corners of my mouth from my mother’s holiday cookies. She had baked vanilla cookies cut in the shapes of trees, stars, stockings and candy canes, glazed with colorful icing, and topped with delicious sugar sprinkles. They were my favorite. I would have happily survived on them all year long, but my childhood was often disrupted with my father’s favorite blend of sauerkraut and weenies. Having to eat that detestable entrée was right up there with stepping in a fresh pile of doggy poo while playing in the yard. Both were major kinks in my quest for a perfect childhood.
I thought about my magnificent Christmas list as I lay there in bed. It was at least a hundred miles long. I imagine that if it had been dropped over the edge of the Empire State Building it would have stretched from top to bottom, then rolled into a manhole and landed in the abyss of the New York subway system. I could have easily just submitted the JC Penney catalog.
We always received our copy in the mail around Thanksgiving. I would find a spot on the floor and drag that paper monstrosity across my lap, using every tiny muscle in my body. With a crinkled nose reflecting my disgust, I would flip the pages past the bras and girdles to get to the toy section. Mr. Penney probably fired the person who was responsible for putting that most beloved section all the way in the back.
There were a few staples in every child’s collection of toys. Although Slinkies were among the top, Crayola Crayons probably took the lead. I gripped my favorite blue one in my hand and circled all the toys that I deemed worthy to adorn my wish list. There were Nerf footballs and Hot Wheels cars, Star Wars action figures and laser guns. I wore that crayon down until I was peeling away the paper from around it. Then I reached the most coveted creation of plastic innovation ever imagined. Its picture glistened from among the outdoor toys, somewhere between the bicycles and trampolines. It was a navy blue and yellow Batman Bigwheel!
Nothing said cool like a Bigwheel. These plastic tricycles—with the pedals attached to the oversized front wheel—were built for speed. The adjustable seat sat between the back wheels just inches from the ground, giving its rider the look of pure street dominance. The caped-crusader colors and graphics only accentuated its greatness. There was no doubt that this speed machine would proudly grace the top of my list.
That Christmas was a bit different from the rest. My holiday break from school began early when tiny red spots started appearing all over my small white body. My view of chickens was never the same. Their annoying pox had disrupted my holiday plans. My mother had quarantined me in the house, and if Santa were to come through with the Bigwheel my chances of riding it looked slim. There was no way my mother was going to expose the world to that vile disease.
Being confined inside our house with the chicken pox wasn’t too bad. Not only was I missing a few extra days of yucky arithmetic at school, but I also managed to catch most of the holiday television specials. Our Zenith tube TV had rabbit-ear antennae that reached into the sky, with aluminum foil crinkled around their tips for better reception. They looked more like a device used to communicate with aliens from distant planets. Through lines of static the TV illuminated the familiar images of Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the greatest of them all: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I never understood why Dr. Seuss wasted his time on being a doctor when he was so good at telling stories. I’m sure his inspiration for Green Eggs and Ham came from his own childhood sufferings with sauerkraut and weenies.
The night seemed to go on forever. Then, suddenly, there were noises coming from the hallway. Rip! Clank! Tear! Clink! My ears bent from the sides of my head like panels on a satellite. Could that be Santa Claus in my living room? I crawled out from under the covers and slid along the shag carpet to my bedroom door. One squeak from my end and the whole operation would be thwarted. I had to be stealth. This was my chance to get a firsthand look at Kris Kringle, my chance to dispel all the rumors at school that the man in red didn’t exist.
Gently I opened the door and peered out. There was movement in the living room at the other end. I heard the sounds of shuffling boxes, rattling paper, and clinking and clanking! My full-bodied footed pajamas were the perfect camouflage for the Delta Force Soldier I’d just become. I crawled slowly toward the light. Our short hallway seemed like a quadrillion miles long. My heart was beating outside my chest, and at one point I had to remove it and put it in my pocket to stop the pounding. This was it. One look around the corner and my prayers would be answered.
I was taking an enormous risk. Sure, I had done other stupid things in my short life that bordered insanity. There was the time when I ran across the classroom like a wild animal during the pledge of allegiance in kindergarten. Or the time I stole bubble gum from an open package at the dime store, only to be caught by my angry mother. She made me apologize to the manager and pay him the handful of pennies I had in my pocket. Crime doesn’t pay, and neither did my mother. Being caught roaming around the house on Christmas night could be catastrophic. My curiosity seemed to outweigh my fear of certain death, and I inched closer to the living room.
I had reached the end. Visions of Saint Nick’s fluffy white beard and bright red suit circled in my head as if they were angelic beings. I moved closer to the edge. Had he already eaten the cookies and milk I had left for him? I saw our glowing Christmas tree, some unassembled plastic wheels, piles of wrapping paper, and his shiny black boots extending into blue jeans? I shook my head in disbelief. Buck Owens and his Buckaroos were right when they sang: Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy!
With a dash and a flash of lightning, I slipped back into the shadows unnoticed. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. My feet began to sweat as I shuffled them back and forth to my bedroom. I gently closed the door and jumped back into bed. Part of me went into utter shock, but then I remembered those wheels. A smile appeared again and my eyes slowly shut.
No one really knows the moment in time when a child finally falls asleep the night before Christmas, but somehow it miraculously happens. The house falls silent with only the sounds of crickets chirping in the wilderness outside, and of the imagined hoots of a night owl. The clock ticked on.
The next morning, the sun rose bigger and brighter than usual. Our neighborhood witnessed a polka-dotted kid, dressed in a dark cape, white helmet, and footed pajamas, cruising down the street on his navy blue and yellow Batman Bigwheel.
Buy The Chicken Pox Christmas Book: CLICK HERE to order at JimEdHardaway.com!
* This story is taken from the Memoirs of a Red-Headed Preacher’s Kid writings. Read more:
More great writings at: www.jimedhardaway.com
One of Matt’s favorite things to do was talk me in to going to Taco Bell and placing an order at the drive-through window. Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? Except that my small, navy blue Chevrolet truck had wiper sprayers that squirted not only the front windshield, but also six feet passed both sides of the truck. We always had a good laugh, after receiving our food order, soaking the drive-through attendant before driving away. Those were good times.
Matt was a skinny junior high schooler, and he definitely acted like it. He was the prankster, the one that kept everyone laughing. He always had some creative idea of how to have fun. My wife and I were youth pastors at a small suburban church in the outskirts of Dallas where Matt and his family attended. He quickly latched onto us, and spent a lot of time with us outside of our youth group activities. On Saturdays the phone would ring at our house, and it was Matt calling to see if he could come over and spend the day. We would sit around the living room eating pizza, watching movies, and trading baseball cards.
Matt’s enthusiasm was contagious and people loved to be around him. He had a winning personality. Upon meeting him for the first time you would never have guessed that he had a life-threatening illness. All his life Matt fought Cystic fibrosis, also called CF. Its a hereditary disease that affects the entire body, causing progressive disability and early death. He would go months in remission, but then the ugly disease would manifest itself. During these relapses he would either be confined to his bed surrounded by medication, or in the hospital chained to I.V. chords and constantly monitored.
His symptoms were horrible and affected his entire body: difficulty breathing, digestive trouble, and poor weight gain. It strained his immune system and inflamed his lungs. It was a lot for a kid to withstand. Each time I entered his hospital room for a visit I expect to see him depressed and withdrawn. But most of the time he was either teasing the nurses, or talking about what he was going to do when he got out. He made it hard to complain about menial things, when he had such a positive outlook about his situation.
A short year and a half later we had moved away to be on staff at another church, but we kept in touch with Matt. It was a difficult separation. He continued on through high school, was actively involved in his church, and had plans to be a pastor. But he never saw his twenty-fourth birthday and is now in heaven going through some drive-through window and squirting the attendant. I can see his smile.
The years have passed since Matt left this earth but I still fight to hold back the tears, even as I write these words. His life serves as a legacy of determination and his memory will always inspire me to journey on. Friends, what can you do today to leave an irremovable impression on eternity?
*Taken from the Epic Trek writings.
It was one of the strangest brawls I had ever seen in all my years as a student in the public school system. It happened my freshman year of high school in the early Eighties, a year when parachute pants, Ocean Pacific t-shirts, checkered Vans, and every fluorescent color imaginable mingled through the hallways. Tension had been brewing all day between two of my classmates, Ron and Michael. Trash talk, pushing and shoving, and nasty verbal threats led to a head-to-head match after school.
I don’t remember what they were fighting about, or why they were so mad at each other. All I know is that they wanted to rip each other’s faces off! They crossed paths throughout the day, staring each other down and talking smack about who was going down after school. Confrontations and chest-bumps happened in the cafeteria, in the gym, in the library, and in the hallways between classes. Michael had his band of brothers with him all day, a group of troublemakers who acted like they wanted a piece of the action too. I don’t think they were sticking up for him, they just wanted to see a good fight. Ron had his following too and I was one of them, and I can tell you for a fact that’s all I wanted to see.
The final bell rang and reverberated through the school. We poured out of the building like the Israelites through the Red Sea, in a mass exodus to assemble for the duel. I was in the group behind Ron and across the parking lot came Michael and his gang. We walked across the street, off the school grounds, to an area in front of an apartment complex. We all made a circle around the two fighters to form a makeshift boxing ring.
There were at least a hundred students there. Talk spread through the spectators as to who would win the fight, and there may have even been a few bets placed on the side. Some hecklers chattered at Ron and Michael trying to fuel them on. The fighters exchanged some crass words and a slew of obnoxious profanities, the kind of words that get your mouth washed out with soap if your mother were to hear. The fight was on!
You won't believe what happened next.
I think it is safe to say that Ron outweighed Michael by at least 50 pounds. It was like a Rottweiler against a Chihuahua. Ron and Michael began dancing around with their fists in the air like Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns! After a few preliminary shoves and missed swings, Ron drew his fist back and punched Michael square in the left eye. POW! You could feel the reverberation and the crowd gasped. It was a direct hit! Michael swaggered back-and-forth like a drunken sailor then fell straight to the ground. BAM! He immediately grabbed his eye in pain and surrendered to his opponent. A one-punch knockout and this fight was over. Sadly, I think we were all a little disappointed.
Talk of the fight spread like wildfire the next day at school. Ron wore a gladiator’s smile, spreading his broad shoulders with pride, and relishing in his victory. Michael wore sunglasses and hid in the shadows, but nothing could hide his huge, swollen, black eye. He was embarrassed and defeated.
* This story is taken from the Memoirs of a Red-Headed Preacher’s Kid writings. Read more at jimedhardaway.com