It’s a Snap

Lego creation

It’s a Snap

I grew up before the creation of the internets. Since there  was no internet, there was no eBay, no Amazon, and no online shopping sites. Not only did we not yet have internet, but there was also no cable or satellite television. All we had were ABCNBC, and CBS. With only three networks, programming was quite limited. There was no time for television shopping channels such as QVC and HSN. What we did have was the Sears Wishbook Christmas Catalog. Once a year around Thanksgiving and what is now Black Friday, the mailman would deliver the 300-page catalog to our front door. This was a very exciting time for my sister and myself.

Ninety percent of the catalog was worthless. Full of boring things like blenders, toaster ovens, fruitcake, socks, underwear and pink bunny pajamas. However, in the back half of the catalog after the order form and section with fake Christmas Trees and holiday decoration was the toy section.

All year long we looked forward to scanning through the toy section of the Wishboook. It had everything that a kid could dream of. The start of this section was normally suitable for either boys or girls. It contained bicycles with banana seats and ape hanger handlebars. There was all manner of sleds including the famous Flexible Flyer. It contained pogo sticks, jump ropes, baseball gloves and other items for the active child. For brainy and artsy kids there were chemistry sets and woodworking projects.

Those pages were just the warm-up for the real toys. What came next were the two sections that put the “wish” in Wishbook. The creators of the first section targeted all of their marketing efforts directly at little girls. In it, they placed every manner of Barbie and baby doll. They led off with the Dressy Bessy. She was full of buttons, zippers, and snaps that taught little hands how to dress. Next, they placed bath time baby which girls could take into the bathtub without ruining the doll. The coup de gras was a life-sized disembodied Barbie head that came with all sorts of makeup and hairdressing product.

After the girly section of toys were ten to twelve pages of sheer bliss. The catalog creators targeted little boys with electric train sets and race car tracks that twisted and curved over and under in what seemed to be a mile of track that took up an entire living room. They added vibrating electric football fields with little plastic quarterbacks and linemen that marched across the metal field when you turned on the switch. Tonka trucks and bulldozers that could dig sand in the Summer, or plow snow in the Winter came next. There were COX Cars and Airplanes with tiny gas engines. We called them remote control. In my day, that meant they were attached to the end of a string because radio transmitters were still much too big to fit in toys.

My favorite three pages of the entire catalog were the building toys. There were Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Erector sets, Girder and Panel skyscrapers, and brand new in the 1972 catalog was a plastic building block called Legos. Imported all the way from a place called Denmark, this set of over a thousand bricks with a hundred different shapes and sizes could be snapped together to form anything that the creative young mind could think of.

How old were you when you first learned that Santa Clause was not real? For me, it was just a couple of months before my 6th birthday. My sister and I had circled several of our favorite toys in the 1972 Wishbook. Mom and Dad explained that Santa sometimes needed to consult with parents to find out what the elves should build for each kid. We were a little puzzled that Santa could tell if we were naughty or nice, but didn’t know what our favorite toys were.

My sister and I kept the faith until one morning a couple of weeks before Christmas. We were in the living room waiting for the school bus. Mom was in the kitchen, and dad was in the bathroom. Dad must have thought that we were already out the door because he started telling mom what presents he ordered for Christmas. The mailman had already delivered the disembodied Barbie head and the Lego blocks from Sears. We were happy to hear what we would be playing with on Christmas morning but were somewhat disappointed to find out that the whole Santa thing was just a charade.

I tried to act surprised when I opened my Legos on Christmas morning because I didn’t want dad to get in trouble. That afternoon and for many years later, I built many creations with the Lego bricks. I would build cars, tractors, boats, houses, pyramids and with Dad’s help towers that touched the ceiling. After each creation, we would tear down and put the blocks all back in the buckets where they belonged.

It has been forty years since that Christmas. The vacuum cleaner claimed many of those Legos. The ones that did survive are still in buckets in mom and dad’s closet. The grandkids still play with them when we visit. Not once have we emptied out the bucket of bricks and had an already built creation spill out. Everything that was ever created with Legos has been thought out, designed, and snapped together by human hands. The Lego sets that my kids buy today even come with books that have step by step instructions to create a specific model. It would be absurd to think that you could shake up a tub of loose Legos and the pour out a fully formed model. Even if you shook for a million years, you would still just have a bunch of random bricks poured out on the floor.

Many people believe there is no God and life just accidentally came into being over millions of years of elements being shaken up and poured out on the Universe. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my Legos it is that every creation has a creator.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

Hebrews 3:4
For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.

Psalms 139:13-14
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

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The Road Trip


The Road Trip

Growing up five hundred miles from my grandparents meant I was afflicted early and often to excruciatingly long road trips.  Every Christmas we would make the pilgrimage to mom’s homeland in the great white North.  The adults ate, drank and were merry while the cousins checked each other into snow banks and called it hockey.   In the Summer, dad packed the family into the old Plymouth and traveled five hundred miles in the opposite direction to spend time with his family on the beaches of Delaware.  Rehoboth Beach was a great place to transform my pasty white Canadian skin into a nice crispy shade of red.  I didn’t know it at the time, but these trips would eventually teach me a great lesson in forgiveness.

I’m thankful for those road trips of my early years.  They helped develop skills that would serve me well later in life.  I learned that a pound of bologna and loaf of bread can feed an entire family for two dollars.  That same meal also shaved thirty minutes from a long road trip.  Bologna sandwiches are much faster food than McDonalds or gas station roller dogs!

On one trip to Canada, my dad and sister taught me how to smuggle illegal contraband across international borders.  The contraband was my sister’s cat, but it could have just as easily been a box of Cuban cigars, citrus fruit or some other item that our governments don’t like to share at border crossings.

On the same trip, I learned that contrary to popular belief, cats can make potty without squatting.  Once on the road, dad rarely stopped to allow us kids to relieve ourselves.  He definitely wasn’t going to stop the car when the cat needed to make a stink-pickle. “Hold it up. Cats need to squat in order to poop”, he said to my sister.  Well, we found out that the urban legend of squatting cats is a myth. The old Plymouth smelled like cat doody for months.

Perhaps the most useful skill I acquired was the ability to fall into an instant catatonic state of sleep.  This skill was necessary to escape long hours of boredom or fighting with my sister.  Kids today have no hope of developing this skill.  They have a plethora of electronic gadgets and built-in entertainment systems in modern vehicles to keep them awake.

By the time I was college age, I had a million miles worth of road trip experience under my belt.  Because of the skills I learned from dad, I was able to continue traveling as a poor college student.  Paul and Buzz, two of my college roommates were from the East coast.  We made several trips across the Appalachian Mountains to their homelands of Delaware and Pensylvania.

One trip I remember well was in Buzz’s hometown of Kensington, which is one of Philadelphia’s slums.  The neighborhood consists of long rows of houses all attached to each other. There are no garages or driveways and very few parking spots in a row house neighborhood.  Looking for a parking spot, we drove more laps around the block than a NASCAR driver.  We had wasted all the time we saved by not stopping for Big Macs or bathrooms.  When we did finally come to rest, it was right in front of several vandals who were busy smashing the windows out of the house on the end of the row.  I was trying not to make eye contact with the thugs.  No sooner than we came to a halt, the lead vandal without missing a swing of his hammer looked up and said “Hey Buzz, welcome home.”

Another speed trip we made to the East coast was to meet Paul’s girlfriend.  Laura K Brenner lived in Delaware, so when Paul suggested we take a road trip out to see her, I figured it would be a great chance to get the red tinge back on my pasty white Canadian skin.  I also looked forward to a game of left-handed wiffle ball which was our beach tradition.  Leaving Columbus, I never imagined that Paul could teach me road trip skills that I hadn’t already learned from dad.  I was wrong.  The closer we got to the beach, the more anxious Paul seemed to be reunited with his love.  When we started to get into beach traffic about twenty miles out, Paul taught me that you could easily shave thirteen minutes off of an eight hour trip by driving sixty miles an hour on the right-hand berm.

We made several other college road trips, but the most infamous was the trip we made to Virginia for the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Steve Shreves.  As you may remember from other bedtime stories I’ve told, Steve was the person who vacated the house at Rotunda Court in order to make room for Thor and I. I made the ten hour trip partly out of obligation for his sacrifice, and partly due to the fact that his home was only an hour from Virginia Beach, and I thought there may be a chance to bake my pasty white skin in the sun and play some left-handed wiffle ball on the beach.

Curley had just purchased a 1980 Cutlass, so Buzz and I convinced him to chauffeur us all the way to Virginia even though he had never known Mr. Shreves.  Brian Myers was in the National Guard and stationed in New Jersey. The plan was for him to come down the coast and meet us in Virginia in time for the wedding.

The day of the big trip, we loaded up the Curl mobile after our morning classes and left for Virginia.  Since I had worked third shift the night before, I decided to crawl into the back seat.  It wasn’t long before I was in a state of suspended animation.  The sweet smell of fried chicken awakened me from the coma after about seven hours of ugly sleep.  It may have been because I hadn’t eaten all day but this was the best chicken I had ever smelled.  Its aroma was much better than KFC, Churches or any other chicken that was served in Ohio. I was hungrier than a bear after a long hibernation. 

Buzz and Curl didn’t immediately offer up any chicken, but I Noticed three boxes and assumed one was for me.  They were a little hesitant, but eventually handed back one of the bright yellow and red boxes with the words Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits.  In all of my travels, I had never experienced a Bojangles restaurant.  My normal road trip fare was a slice of cold bologna on stale bread, so I was starting to get really excited about this meal.  I took the box from Buzz.  Compared to the KFC boxes I was used to from Ohio, it felt a little light.

When I opened the box, I was shocked to see one shriveled, cold wing and some biscuit crumbs.   I inquired about the rest of the five-piece meal box and they explained that they held out as long as they could.  The more they tried to justify and make excuses, the angrier I became.  When I asked for the drink that came with the meal, Buzz sheepishly explained that my biscuit was a little dry, so he had to drink my soda to wash it down.  That was all I could take.  I said some things that I shouldn’t have said.  Buzz returned angry words, and things escalated until we found ourselves grabbing each other by the collars ready to throw punches.  We came to our senses before that happened, but didn’t speak much until late that night when we pulled in to a roadside rest to get some sleep.

I have no idea how he found us, but around 1:00 AM, Brian Myers, came tapping on our window.  We were sleeping pretty well and were not happy to wake up.  His intentions were good.  He explained there was a hotel room with soft beds down the road.  We followed him there, only to find out that there was no vacancy.  Finally, around 3:00 AM, Steve arranged for a bed at his Aunt’s house.  Buzz was really excited to get back to sleep.  He ran across the room and did a Superman dive onto the bed.  Launching several feet into the air he came down with a thud on top of the bed which quickly collapsed.  Now we not only had to apologize for waking everybody up, but we had to apologize for breaking their bed.  Could this trip get any worse?

I don’t remember much of the actual wedding.  I wanted to get home as quickly as possible and forget the whole trip.  While we were packing up the car, Brian told Buzz and I that Curl agreed to drop him off in New Jersey.  While Buzz and I were discussing it, Brian went to Curl and said that Buzz and I agreed to drop him off in New Jersey.  Curl, not realizing what was going on, or how far out of the way it would be said that if Buzz and I agreed, it must be fine.  With the detour to drop Brian off, the return trip would be about a sixteen-hour drive.  Nobody talked the entire trip home.  Curl drove the whole way tapping his finger on his angry red temple.  I slipped back into a long hibernation and Buzz stared out the window looking for Bojangles.

The book of Mathew in the bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. In chapter six Matthew says that if we don’t forgive people who have sinned against us, God cannot forgive us.  Later in chapter eighteen, Jesus tells a story to Peter about a man who was not willing to forgive somebody who had done him wrong.  That man became tormented because he did not have forgiveness in his heart.

By the end of the road trip, I had forgiven Buzz and Curl for eating my chicken. Steve’s Aunt forgave us for breaking her bed.  We all forgave Brian for waking us up in the middle of the night as well as tricking us for a ride back to the army base.  Choosing forgiveness over torment that weekend led to relationships that have lasted a lifetime.

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The Santa Letters

faith in Santa

The Santa Letters

Twenty-Fifteen was the first Christmas that the Mullett household did not have to keep up the Santa charade.  Our eleven-year-old Milca was the last believer of our seven children to lose faith.  Despite my good intentions and best efforts, I was the one to let her down.

It started the year before.  At ten years old, we could tell that Milca was starting to have doubts about the man in the red suit.  I intercepted a letter that she sent to the North Pole.  I knew that I needed to take immediate and drastic action if I was going to keep her faith alive.  The letter expressed her doubts and requested a blood sample which she could use for a DNA test to determine once and for all if Santa was real.  The mailman delivered Santa’s response several weeks later.  In the letter, St. Nick explained how he was afraid of needles, but was sending a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Clause along with fingerprints which would hopefully be enough proof.  I was happy that the Wal Mart photo center printed pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Clause that were obviously stock photos from Google Images.

When I intercepted the second letter to Santa that year, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.  My return letter had obviously averted her doubts.  In her second letter, she added a picture of herself along with a long list of items she wanted Santa to deliver.  Not only did her faith in Santa return, but she even seemed to believe in flying reindeer as she had some flattering comments and questions about Rudolf.

The mailman soon delivered a response to Milca’s second letter. This time, however, Rudolf wrote as Santa was getting very busy, and just didn’t have the time to write.  Cheerfully, Milca accepted the letter which Rudolph signed with a hoof print.  Milca didn’t question the how thumbless reindeer can hold an ink pen or type on a keyboard.  Milca sent several more letters to the North Pole that season.  I was especially happy when I read the thank you cards sent to Santa and all of the reindeer after Christmas.  Not only was Milca still a believer, but she was grateful as well.

I knew the letters couldn’t be kept at home where Milca may find them, so I tucked them away safely in a desk drawer at my office.  Months passed and I forgot all about the Christmas correspondence.  It was now April and time for American Electric Power’s annual “Take your daughter to work day.”  I imagine even the slowest of you readers can see the disaster that is about to unfold.

We started the day by getting sugared up with donuts and hot chocolate. Milca went to several classes to learn how AEP turns old fossils into electricity. Then it was out to a downtown pizza joint for lunch.  After lunch, we returned to the office.  Milca didn’t have another class until late afternoon, and I had a meeting to attend, so I left her unsupervised in my cubical.  We’ll spare the gory details, but when I returned from my meeting, I found Milca sitting in my chair holding all of her letters which were supposed to be in Santa’s desk at the North Pole.  She had a very disappointed look on her face.  I knew right away the mistake I had made, and that all future Christmases would be a little less magical.  My last holdout had lost her faith in Santa, and it was all my fault.

Jesus’ disciples once asked him who will be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus answered by showing them a little child. A little child who has blind faith and doesn’t question who he is or what his mission on Earth was. A humble, needy child who does not put their faith in himself. A child who has not been tainted by the unbelievers around them.

Mathew 18:4-6 Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone was hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Milca’s 1st letter to Santa

Milca’s 2nd letter to Santa

Santa’s response

Milca’s 3rd letter to Santa

Rudolph’s response

Milca’s 4th letter to Santa

Milca’s thank you letter

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Two things that I’ve read about white German shepherds is that they are smart and they are peaceful.  The only one I ever knew was Thor, and he was neither smart nor peaceful.  In fact, he was just the opposite.  He was stubborn, stupid and mean.

Growing up in the country, I was exposed to quite a few different breeds of dogs.  My friends across the street had a cute little red cocker spaniel.  After visiting the cute little redhead, dad decided he was going to become rich by breeding and selling puppies.  He chose miniature Schnauzer which is a breed of cute little indoor dog similar to my friend’s cocker spaniel.

For some reason that I didn’t understand yet, liter after liter of dad’s puppies tuned out to be mutts that looked more like the neighbor’s long haired Siberian Husky than a Schnauzer. Both the neighbor’s husky and our mutts had the prettiest blue eyes you ever saw on a dog. One thing I learned from dad’s puppy mill was that purebred dogs with papers can be worth hundreds of dollars, while mixed-breed mutts are only worth whatever love and affection a kid can get out of them.

I also learned that most country folks prefer larger dogs such as the Irish Setters who marched into church one day right in the middle of our vacation bible school.  Country people also like big dogs like the Dobermans at the local junkyard or my friend’s German Shepherd which could take a baseball size chunk out of an intruder’s fleshy hind parts.  My first hint that Shepherds are not as smart as many people think is when my friend’s Shepherd confused my hind parts to that of an intruder.  After that experience, I didn’t care much for dogs.

It wasn’t until the roommate merger after my first year at DeVry that I would once again have a dog around the house.  Phil Hughes and I lived the first year in housing that the school recruiter had arranged.  To get to Greenbriar apartments from DeVry, you had to drive through Bexley.  Bexley is one of the fanciest neighborhoods in Columbus. There are huge stone-faced houses with a beautifully manicured landscape. The mayor of Columbus at the time lived in a huge mansion in the middle of Bexley. It was a beautiful suburb and right next door to where we would be living.

Little did we know that Greenbriar Apartment complex was the center of the drug trafficking trade of Columbus.  Phil and I rarely ventured out of the house except to go to school for fear of being murdered.  Hardly a day went by when there were not several police cruisers or fire trucks in the complex.  We never hinted to our mothers that we lived in such a dangerous place.  Anytime they came to visit, we drove through the heart of Bexley and then locked them in the apartment hoping they wouldn’t notice the gangs of murderers and drug dealers in our back parking lot.

The day that our one year lease expired, we both moved in with my buddy Brian Myers and his roommates.  Steve Shreves had just moved home to Virginia to get married and fulfill his lifelong dream of raising enough kids to start a football team.  That left only Brian, Buzz and Paul E Bratz Jr. in the house at Rotunda Court.  With Phil and I, it was a little cramped, but splitting rent 5 ways, and getting out of the war zone at Greenbriar was good.

Soon after the merger, Paul decided that we should have a pet. Paul was a city boy from the state of Deleware and wasn’t quite as experienced in the knowledge of dog breeds as I was.  Instead of a cute little indoor breed such as a Schnauzer or cocker spaniel, he chose a Shepherd.  Given my previous experience with Shepherds, I was not too keen on the idea of having a large dog living in an already crowded townhouse. Even though he was a cute little white fur ball when Paul brought him home from the pet store, I knew that he would grow up fast.

In the country, dogs have wide open outdoors to run and play. Thor was destined to be a city dog, but he wanted to run like a country dog.  From the first day Paul brought him home, he turned our house into his own personal race track.  Starting at the top of the basement stairs, he sped down the front stretch into the dining room.   Quickly he flew around turn one under the dining room table, then turn two into the kitchen.  He ran down the backstretch into turn three through the living room.  In the living room, he would run under the coffee table, out the other side into turn four and back to the front stretch.  He would run laps around this circuit every day.  Day in, day out. Week in, week out.  Thor continued running laps as he began to grow older and taller.

I’ll never forget the day he grew a little too much to fit under the coffee table.  That morning, he ran the course the same as every other day until he came out of turn three. He sped to the coffee table tunnel the same as every other day. Today, his head went smack into the side of the table. Seeing as how white shepherds are supposed to be a smart breed of dog, you would think that a headache would teach Thor to go around the table, but this wasn’t the case.  Every day on the racecourse brought the same results, the same headache, the same THUMP into the coffee table.  Another day, another headache.  Day after day, headache after a headache he continued.  Despite the pain of the coffee table, he continued willfully thumping his head because of his stubborn habit.

We may think that we’re smarter than dogs, but don’t we sometimes do the same stubborn things over and over even though we know better? Hebrews 10:26 tells us that if we continue willfully sinning, that there will be no sacrifice to cover that sin.  How does a child learn what is right from what is wrong?  Good parents will allow a little pain to discourage bad behavior, and offer some positive feedback to reward proper behavior. THOR ignored the pain over and over and continued the actions that brought more pain. God sometimes will use the painful situations in our lives to change our behavior. When God reveals the truth, we need to turn from our sin and walk in the light.  Ignoring the prompting of the Spirit will only lead to continued pain and separation from God.


Hebrews 10:26
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

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The Blizzard of ’78

Flexible Flyer sleds

The Blizzard of ’78

The original forecast sounded harmless enough: ”Rain tonight, possibly mixed with snow at times.  Windy and cold Thursday with snow flurries.”  People who went to bed early missed the bulletins at 9 PM Wednesday.  They woke up to a howling nightmare.  A monster blizzard with hurricane-force winds slammed into Ohio early January 26, 1978, spreading an icy coat of death and destruction.  The Blizzard of 1978, often called the Storm of the Century or the white hurricane killed more than 50 people in Ohio and caused over $100 million in damage.  Ohio residents will never forget the blizzard of 1978.

When I woke up on the morning of my 10th birthday, mom informed me school was canceled for the day.  In fact, it there would be no school for the rest of the week, and most of the following week.  By the end of my birthday, over a foot of snow had fallen.  The snow was the least of the problems.  Wind and bitter cold kept everybody locked in their homes for the next few days.

It wasn’t until the following Monday that the weather permitted us to venture outside without freezing to death.  Conditions still were not right for school, but they were perfect for sledding.  Southern Ohio has some of the best sledding hills in the whole state.  One of the top three was in the pasture field behind my house.  Due to an incident that required several stitches in mom’s nose, that hill was deemed much too dangerous for unsupervised children.

Another of the top three was the tallest peak in Glenroy.  We named it Pariseau Peak after the family whose house sat atop the hill.  The Pariseau kids, all twelve of them were very good friends of mine.  Even though it was the tallest peak, we ruled it out for post blizzard sledding for several reasons.

Number one was that sharing one sled with 12 other kids made for more watching than sledding.  I loved those kids like brothers and sisters, but the white hurricane had created a once in a lifetime opportunity for the sledding aficionado, and I wasn’t going to miss out by sharing my ride with 12 other kids. Sledding the front slope of Pariseau Peak was difficult because it was paved and residential.   The back side was very steep and was a favorite for sledders throughout the entire region. However, when the snow was more than a few inches deep it was no longer possible to slide under the barbed wire fence at the bottom of the hill. Attempting to do so would only result in stitches.  We couldn’t afford to add another hill to mom’s blacklist.

The third hill and our destination for that day would be Skull Hill which lay directly behind Brian Myers house.  Brian was my best friend, and more importantly, he had his own sled.  The only reason that Skull Hill did not rank higher than the other two hills was due to what happened there in the Summertime.  Every Summer, a local farmer had the audacity to plant corn on the entire face of the mountain.  If you are asking yourself how a Summer crop can affect a Winter sport, you have obviously never gone sledding on a washboard.  For years to come, we would petition the farmer to plant parallel to the slope, but every year he insisted on planting perpendicular which turned our perfect sledding hill into quite a bumpy ride.

After being cooped up in the house for the entire weekend, I was very anxious to finally be cleared for outdoor activities.  Immediately after breakfast, I grabbed my sled and headed for Skull Hill.  By the time I got there, Brian and several other kids were already working trails into the snowpack.  Like Pariseau Peak, Skull Hill also had a fence line.  This one was about halfway down the slope.  It divided the upper washboard like cornfield portion of the hill with the lower smooth backyard of Brian’s neighbor Mr. Binion.  Brush and small trees grew up along the fence leaving a narrow gap only a few feet wide. The small break in the tree and fence line would be difficult to navigate on a normal hill but washboard-like features of Skull Hill made it impossible for all but the most experienced sled rider to navigate.

Over the weekend, the hurricane winds added a new feature to the hill. The wind had created a  natural ramp several feet high right in the middle of the only gap through the tree line.  The experienced sled rider now not only had to control of the sled through the ruts and troughs of the cornfield to hit the narrow opening, but he had to launch over a massive jump which required a perfect landing in order to ride the smooth lower portion of the slope.  Most bounced through the ruts and into the trees.  Some got scared and ditched before reaching the narrow gap.  Only the most skillful and lucky riders were able to navigate through the eye of Skull Hill.  The mountain rewarded very few with a smooth ride down the bottom half of the slope.the smooth ride of Mr. Binion’s backyard.

The most important aspect of a positive sledding experience next to the weather conditions and the slope selection is the equipment used by the rider. The white hurricane had provided once in a lifetime snow conditions. Through the process of elimination, Skull Hill was the chosen terrain. The only remaining decision would the equipment.  Skull Hill ate sleds that had no rudder or other steering mechanisms.  The tree line was littered with cardboard boxes, old rusty car hoods, and shards of shredded plastic saucer sleds that rookies brought to the mountain.  My selection for the day was a five-man wooden toboggan.  Brian selected a flexible flyer rudder sled.  Brian made the perfect sled selection for this slope and snow conditions.  Where he fell just a bit short was his selection of personal protective equipment.

Brian was an avid Ohio State fan, so much so that he let his fanaticism cloud his judgment in proper headgear.  Instead of wearing a properly fitting helmet and goggles, he chose to wear an old worn out stocking cap with a block O embroidered on the front.  This minuscule seemingly un-important decision led to the sled ride that was talked about for many years to come. Starting belly side down and face first, he positioned the sled at the crest of the mountain.  He carefully aimed at the small opening in the tree line far down the slope.  After making a few final adjustments of his coat, gloves and stocking cap, he pushed off. mimicking a swimmer, he pulled his sled down the hill until his arms could no longer keep up with gravity.

Ten yards down the slope, he started into the corm field washboard bumps.  With each bump he hit, his Ohio State stocking cap slipped a little farther down his forehead. Twenty yards down the slope, the stocking cap was at the top of his eyebrows. With every bump, it slipped a little lower.  There was no way he could take his hands off the rudder in order to pull the cap up away from his eyes.  Doing so would send him careening into the tree line.  He struggled to tilt his head up enough to see out from under the cap.  Another twenty yards of bumps and he would be running completely blind.

Other kids who were pulling their sleds back up the hill could see the peril that Brian was in.  They scrambled screaming and running to get out of the way of the missile that was now hurtling down the hill at incredible speed.  With the last bit of vision he had, Brian pointed the flexible flyer in the direction of the small opening in the trees and breathed a quick prayer.  With his eyes completely covered, the treeline was quickly approaching. Seconds later, he hit the ramp in the dead center of the slot.

Despite the equipment malfunction, Brian had perfectly navigated the most perilous part of the hill.  He took a deep breath thinking he was in for a nice smooth ride through Mr. Binion’s backyard.  That split second of relaxation and loss of focus was enough for the mountain to take control.  It was a rookie mistake that separated Brian from his sled.  The sled made a perfect landing ten feet in front of Brian and made a smooth run on the bottom half of the mountain all by itself.  It came to rest just feet from Mr. Binion’s house.

Brian’s landing was a little less graceful.  He hit the ground, belly down and face first.  He bounced a couple times, still in the sledding position but with no sled under him.  His stocking cap was now all the way down to his chin.  The impact of the last bounce jolted his legs up over his body.  I’ve never known the human body to create a “U” shape bent backward at the waist, but Brian was pretty flexible.  His feet dangled limply over the back of his head while sliding smoothly down the hill on his belly.  He came to rest 60 yards downhill from the ramp that dislodged him from his sled.  A steady stream of neighborhood kids ran down ready to administer CPR.  By the time they reached him, Brian was standing with his eyes uncovered.  He felt for broken bones, but to his amazement, everything was intact.

There has never been a more talked about sled run than this one. To this day, when the snow starts to fall in South Eastern Ohio, kids re-tell the legend of the boy who threaded the needle of Skull Hill completely blindfolded.

Matthew 7 talks about a narrow gate much like the opening in the Skull Hill tree line.  Consider your life for a moment.  From the day you are born, your body begins a slow descent to the grave like gravity pulls a sled downhill.  It is slow at first but picks up speed along the way.  Like the tree line of Skull Hill is littered with broken sleds, rotting cardboard, and rusting car hoods, our lives are littered with mistakes, regrets, and rotten beans.

All this adds up to death and destruction if not taken care of.  There are ruts, bumps and many other forces pulling us all toward that destruction.  There is a way of escape.  A narrow path which leads to life.  Those who find that path are rewarded with eternity in God’s presence.  You can’t buy your way through the narrow path. You can’t make it through by your own strength, skill or good work.  Brian didn’t avoid the tree line by his own sight or actions.  It is only by faith in Jesus and what he did on the cross that leads to life everlasting.

Matthew 7:14
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight:

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The Beans

spoiled beans

The Beans

Growing up, I had an addiction to baseball cards.  Whenever I found a quarter in my pocket, I biked three miles to Glenroy store to buy ball cards.  By the time I was in High School, my addiction had grown worse.  I was no longer buying in packs of 15 cards at the drug store, I was buying cases of 12000 directly from the factory.   I know you are probably asking yourself “what does a baseball card addiction have to do with beans?” Hang on and we’ll get there.

As with most addictions, I was spending every penny I could get my hands on.  When I was in grade school, my only source of income was the few dollars a week my parents gave me to buy milk at school.  I never confessed that I took my milk money to the candy store every week.  The habit continued and grew stronger as I grew older.  I have no idea how many lunches and afternoon milk breaks I skipped before  junior high school.  I do know that I was a very skinny young boy.

The Summer of my 8th-grade year, I started mowing grass for our neighbors.  I now had a real income of seven dollars a week. Combined with my milk money, I could now feed my addiction properly. The baseball card collection started to grow.  I was buying other peoples collections by the shoebox full.  I picked up several other mowing jobs that Summer.  While in 10th grade, I landed a contract at the nursing home where my sister worked.  It was a large estate on the side of the tallest hill in Wellston.  Since it was a difficult yard, it paid quite well.  I made twenty-five dollars a week on that lawn. That is when my addiction went full tilt.  I now had enough money to meet the $1000 minimum order from the factory.  By the end of high school, my collection consumed most of the attic closet.

We’ll get to the beans soon.  Please be patient.  Until this point in my life, I could always count on mom and dad to feed me.  Even when I had spent all of my lunch money to feed my baseball card addiction, I could count on a good breakfast and good dinner at mom’s table. After graduation from high school, that changed.  I moved to Columbus to attend DeVry Institute of Technology.  Columbus was two hours away from mom’s bountiful kitchen table.  I had no job, and now I was responsible for rent utilities, tuition, gas, car payment and a thousand dollar a year habit.  I needed a job fast.  Landing a job at the local grocery store, I had dreams of cheap food and enough money to support my habit.

Well, the job didn’t pay enough to cover all of the new bills let alone support the baseball card habit. I started selling cards in order to put food on the table.  I needed to take quick action to prevent my precious collection from dwindling. The plan was to find more roommates to help with rent and make more trips home to mom’s kitchen on weekends.  At the end of my first year at DeVry, I moved in with my buddy Brian Myers and his roommates Brian “Buzz” Green and Paul E Bratz Jr.

We now had more people sharing the rent, but that also meant more mouths to feed. I guess we didn’t think that one through too well. Monday meals were always the best since I usually went home on weekends and raided mom’s kitchen. By Wednesday, we were normally eating beans and rice or ramen noodles. By Friday, it was just a potluck of everything left in the cupboard. One such Friday meal was shake and bake rice which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

One Monday night while unpacking from a trip home, I found a jar of mom’s beans.   I had somehow missed the jar when unpacking the night before.  I was a little skeptical about opening a jar that had sat in the hot car all day long, but Buzz was really hungry, so he decided to risk it.  He opened it, put the contents in a kettle and set it on the stove hoping they would smell a little better after they cooked for a while.  Taking a bite of the warm beans, he officially declared them to be spoiled, and not fit for human consumption.  He ate several more bites before placing the kettle back on the stove.

What happened next is something that I’m not proud of, and don’t speak of often.  It was common practice to leave clean pots and pans on the stovetop until there was enough food to cook a meal.  When it was time to cook, we would clear the stovetop, and only the pots needed to cook our rice or ramen noodles for the day would remain.  You need to realize that when there is no food in the cupboards, there is no cooking in the kitchen. You should also realize that the only thing college boys hate more than cooking is cleaning the kitchen.  Well, that bean pot sat there on the stove all night.

The day after the spoiled bean incident, nobody ate.  Buzz was sick, and the only food in the house was a pot of spoiled beans.  At some point, clean pots and pans were returned to the stove top. Whoever did it failed to realize that the pot that was already there was far from clean.  Over the next few days, dishes came, and dishes went from the top of the stove, but the pot of beans remained at the bottom of the pile.  By the end of the week, a somewhat unpleasant smell started emanating from the kitchen area.  The bathroom was on the second floor directly above the kitchen, and there were always strange smells coming from upstairs, so we thought nothing of it.  Over the next couple weeks, the smell became stronger and stronger, and we came to the realization that something unnatural was happening in the house.

By week four, after searching under the sink for rotten potatoes, cleaning out the empty refrigerator, and even searching behind the upstairs toilet for a dookie that may have escaped the bowl,  we began hearing popping noises from the stovetop.  Brian Myers was the first in because he could hold his breath longer than the rest of us.  Everybody else stood back and watched in horror and disbelief.  There at the bottom of the pile was the pot of beans that was already rancid four weeks earlier.  Maggots and all manner of malodorous organisms now covered the fuzzy beans.  Not only did they reek, but they danced and made noises like a bowl of Rice Crispi’s.

We lined up like an old-fashioned fire bucket brigade from Myers in the Kitchen to Buzz at the back door. We handed the pot and its contents like a hot potato from person to person down the line until it reached Buzz.  He slung the door open and holding the pot like an Olympic hammer thrower, threw it as far as he could into the backyard.  Two years later when we moved out, the pot was still lying untouched in its original landing spot.  We never told the landlord the story of the beans for fear that he would keep our deposit to pay the hazmat unit.

Exodus 12:15 commands God’s people to prepare for Passover by removing all yeast or leaven products from their homes seven days prior to the Passover meal.  Leaven in the old testament is a symbol of sin.  As Christians, we need to remove all sin from our lives.  To God, sin stinks worse than those rotting beans on my stove.  We need to search every nook and cranny of our lives.  When we find something  not pleasing to God, we need to throw it as hard and far away as possible.  We must not pretend that the stink doesn’t exist.  We cannot hide our sin under a pile of clean dishes or good deeds.  Only if we confess and renounce our sin, will we find mercy from God.

Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

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Chimney Top


Duniskwalguni is a Cherokee Indian word that means “forked antlers”.   It is the name that they gave to the Chimney Tops mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains.  My college buddies and I hiked to the top of the Duniskwalguni on a sweltering Summer day in 1992.

Brian Myers was the outdoorsman of the group.  Brian was a husky young man.  He was the type of boy that was always picked first for backyard football games.  He enjoyed fishing, camping, starting forest fires, sinking boats and other such fun activities.  I’ll write more about those adventures with Brian in other childhood stories.

Arron Crailie aka Curley got his nickname from grandma Isabel.  The first time they met, grandma couldn’t pronounce Crailie, so she said Curley.   The name stuck.  From that time on, everybody at DeVry, and half of Columbus, Ohio knew him simply as Curley.  Curley was a fairly sizable young lad.  We rarely played football when both Curley and Brian.  I knew I couldn’t pick both of them for my team, and I didn’t want to risk being smushed.

We referred to Brian Green simply as Buzz.  We did this mainly because there was already a Brian in the group, and we needed a way to differentiate between the two.  I’m not sure where the name Buzz came from.  He already had the name when he moved from the Philidelphia slums to Columbus.

Greg Wine was known as the Weasel.  It wasn’t a very endearing name to call somebody, but we all felt comfortable using it since he gave it to himself.  The Weasel wasn’t as large as Curl and Brian, but compared to my 150-pound physique, he was a hulk.

This trip started much like many of the other getaways.  Our very first vacation together in 1990 was to Toronto Canada.  That was not a Myers type vacation as the only thing he hated more than big cities was Canada.  Being half Canuck, I could have taken that as an offense, but I never did.   The next year, we went on a beach vacation to Bar Harbor National Park in Maine where the water temperature was 55 degrees in the middle of Summer.  Being half Canuck, I didn’t find it too uncomfortable.  The other boys would have likely preferred the warmer waters of Virginia or some other Southern State.

At any rate, 1992 was Brian’s turn to plan the vacation.  Being the great outdoorsman that he was, he decided that we should have no beaches, no funny Canadian accents and no cities with a population larger than our school. This vacation would be all about tall trees, tents, campfires and cool Mountain streams.  The theme that stuck from the previous year was the return to a National Park.  After minutes of deliberation, Brian finalized our destination.  We were headed for the Great Smoky Mountains.

Being poor college kids, none of us owned a vehicle reliable enough or big enough to take four husky boys and a toothpick on the long drive from Ohio to Tennessee.  We saved up enough money to rent a Jeep Cherokee for the week.  Driving a Cherokee into Cherokee Indian country wasn’t intentionally planned, it just worked out since that was the cheapest vehicle we could get that would fit four colossal boys, a bean pole, and our bulky camping gear. With all our money spent on transportation, the rations for the trip consisted of frozen hot dogs, stale buns and a few ketchup packets that Buzz snagged from his job at Ponderosa.

It was my idea to leave camp early in the morning and head for the Chimney Tops.  My only hiking experience in the Smoky’s prior to this was twenty years earlier.   That’s when dad pulled me up the paved Clingmans Dome trail in a little red wagon.  I was now older and in much better shape, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard.  Despite the sign at the trailhead that described the strenuous nature of the hike, I was able to convince the others that I’ve hiked in these mountains before, and they are not nearly as formidable as the warnings make them out to be.  It didn’t hurt that Curley didn’t see the signs at the trailhead or read the pamphlets at the ranger station.

Curl was a city boy, and not as excited about a hike in the mountains as I was.  In fact, he wasn’t a big fan of hiking, camping, or frozen hot dogs on stale buns.  He just wanted to get the two-mile hike over with so he could return to the hot tent after a sweaty hike on a sweltering day.  What better comfort for a back and legs made sore from the trek could there be than a nice thin sleeping bag rolled out on the sharp Tennessee rocks where we had pitched our tents. Since it was a short two-mile hike, we didn’t bother bringing snacks or a lunch with us. The frozen hot dogs that awaited us back in the camp were all the nourishment we should need after a quick jaunt up the mountain.

After an hour of climbing, Curley stopped to catch his breath and threaten to throw me off the mountain.  We convinced him that the summit was just around the bend.  We failed to tell him which bend it was just around and we hiked upward.  The next hour brought more aches, pain, sweat, and threats, but by now Curley was too exhausted to actually pick me up and throw me off the mountain.  We were two hours into the hike and the rocky peaks which looked like forked antlers were within sight.  All of us including Aaron Curley got our second wind and would be standing on the top of the Chimney Peaks within a half hour.

There was no trail for the last fifty yards.  A hazard sign at the end of the marked trail suggested you not proceed onto the rocky cliffs to the summit.  The climb was much more difficult than the brochures and signs had described, but the view from the top made all of the aches and pains worthwhile. The view transformed Curley from the inside out.  His anger melted away as he stood there looking out over the valley below.

Mark 9 tells a story about when Jesus took his boys for a hike up a tall mountain.  The bible doesn’t describe the mountain or the difficulty of the hike, but I imagine it was not an easy walk.  The story focuses on the great reward the disciples had for following Jesus up the rocky trail.  What they saw on top of the mountain made all of the aches and pain of the hike so insignificant that it wasn’t even mentioned.  If you decide to follow Jesus, life will not always be easy. Times may get rocky along the way, but if you do follow him, the rewards will be so awesome that you will not even consider what you went through to get to the mountaintop.  Only He can transform your pain and suffering into joy and gladness.

Mark 9:2-4 The Message

Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

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