9 05 2011

Assuredly it wasn’t easy presiding over, residing in, training up and remaining alive in a household overrun with testosterone.  But for Becky Angeline Pierce I – those accomplishments alone weren’t enough.  Her goal wasn’t to just survive (well, sometimes it was. Ex; when dad made us all slingshots out in the woodshop).  Her goal all along was to take her three young rapscallions and knead the roughlings into men who in their own sometimes odd, sometimes obvious ways would serve the world around them and be spiritual and societal contributors.

I, as possibly the roughest of the roughlings, was chosen (by myself) to attempt to document instances of this molding – timeline style.

July 12th, 1979; She birthed me, named me, fed me, and didn’t (to family knowledge) drop me all in the same day.

Circa 1981; She began forming my keen fashion sense by allowing my hair to grow out into curls and then dressing me in what I call a “sailorette” uniform (or sailorhett more accurately) for my 2 year old pictures.  This ensemble thereby caused the infamous family memoir of a woman at Wal-Mart commenting to my parents. “What a beautiful little girl you have!”  This is the day I began wearing my signature t-shirt (masculine colors only) and ballcap.

Circa 1983; My name is Rhett, my older brother is Ryan, my younger brother is Reid.  I couldn’t pronounce my R’s.  This was a problem.  Realizing quickly that this could have a long term effect on my self esteem and hers (who wants three sons named Wyan, Wet and Weed?) she lovingly enrolled me in speech therapy where I remember doing activities like touching my tongue to my nose.  This not only corrected the speech issue prior to me going to Kindergarten and facing grammar bullies, the tongue trick has proved handy working with children all these years.

Circa 1984; Instead of taking us to see 1984 classics like Children of the Corn or Firestarter – she put her interests aside and bought tickets to a movie that would forever change the way her sons interacted – The Karate Kid.  Daniel son and Mr. Miagi so inspired us that I can remember roundhousing my way through the theater lobby after the movie and was honestly convinced that the crane kick was the weapon of the future (hey – it worked on 2 year old Reid).  This began a sequence of events that would later cause her to enroll us in Tae Kwon Do taught by none other than Brian Bryan (  Just the fact she was willing to give us actual skill in beating each other up shows how willing she was to let us be boys even to the point of more frustration.

Circa 1985; She came up with a behavioral correction plan with my dear teacher Mrs. Costley (whom I may or may not have had a crush on) as I was evidently becoming quite the tricker (as I like to call it) or as they would say, quite the liar.  Each day when I came home I had to present to my parents either a smiley face or a sad face that Mrs. Costley had given to me.  If I came home with a happy face, all would be well in my world.  A sad face?  I had the choice between going to bed early, writing sentences on my Big Chief tablet or getting swats from Daddio when he arrived home from work.  I think I tried out all three before realizing they all sucked.  Have I lied again?  Sure.  Did it teach me a real lesson about interacting with my elders?  Yep.  (for example, “interacting” with my dad on these days was not pleasant).

Circa 1987; My mother went to fashion college for a while.  Typically if you read the listed passions of people who are that interested in fashion, the other listings will not include camping, fishing or accepting cicada moltings as gifts (which we surprised her with any chance we got).  However, she consistently went along on these trips and maybe even enjoyed them for our sakes.  She even used her fashion knowledge and helped me out on one of these such trips by not making me tuck my t-shirt into my shorts like Ryan.  This ensured, even if it was just fashion, that I was better than him at one thing during our childhoods.

Circa 1987; Again denying her own interests, she and my father took us to our first major league baseball game to see the KC Royals defeat the Seattle Mariners (or Mareeners as I called them).  The 1985 World Series had made me a KC fan but going to this game and many many others throughout my childhood cemented my allegiance to the Royals.  Likely an unintended byproduct, this allegiance has taught me perseverance, dedication and how to fight against odds.  Thanks for not taking me to see the Yankees making me spoiled or to see the Cubs making me pathetic.

Circa November 7th, 1991; Now as an adult I have several of those moments where people might ask “where were you when this happened?”  (Osama Bin Laden’s killing, September 11th, etc.).  As as kid however the biggest news story wasn’t necessarily that memorable for most but I remember my mom sitting me down and really hyper-sensitively re-telling the news story of the day because she knew it, like no other story before it, would genuinely upset me.  She knew that this one would change my little 12 year old world and therefore it would change hers too.  That day you see, my basketball idol Magic Johnson announced he was retiring from basketball due to HIV.  Would your momma have sat you down like that?  Doubt it.

Circa 1991 on; My frugal nature comes from both my mom and dad.  Our family saved money for the right things – vacations, college, pogs for Reid.  Therefore every year when it came time to get my basketball shoes and I insisted that better shoes made me a better player she chose not to laugh at me but instead did what she could to procure the latest and greatest shoe for TLC Extreme Couponing like prices.  To this day I can proudly say I was the first kid at Carl Junction Junior High to sport Reebok Pumps thereby making me the B-Team starting point guard and playing 4 minutes of A-Team ball that season.  Without the Pumps?  I hate to even think about it.

Circa 1994-1997;  I figured I’d learned everything I needed to learn by the time I reached high school so I approached this time of life a little differently than most.  Ryan for instance used this time to procure scholarships to the most prestigious engineering school in the world.  I used this time to procure In School Suspension (ISS) about once a year.  Reid used these years to gain the confidence of his classmates to where they would vote him Student Body President.  I used this time gain the confidence of my teachers that I was behind anything mischievous that happened.    This is why I don’t blame my teacher and principal for giving me a suspension punishment I honestly didn’t deserve.  My mother (and father) had every reason to not trust my word but she believed in her version of the Problem Child and went to bat for me.  Thankfully she was better at batting than the Royals and my suspension was all but cancelled.  I didn’t and still don’t deserve the amount of faith I receive from her.

Circa May 1997;  She framed my Southwest Baptist University acceptance letter just as she had framed Ryan’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology acceptance letter.  I knew there was a big difference in the two schools (though with me as an alum SBU is closing the gap) but she never acknowledged that fact or even acted like that fact existed.

Circa 1998-Present; After my freshman year of college I decided to work at a genuinely upstanding Christian camp with true Biblical beliefs that just happens to have a name, New Life Ranch, that sounded a little too cultish for my mom’s comfort.  Committing to spend one summer there was one thing but when I returned to college and soon after changed my major to “Recreation” (#yesitsarealmajor) so I could go into full-time camp ministry my mom’s slight concern molted into slight panic.  I can understand this completely now.  I mean, to this point in life the only things I’d taken seriously were little-brother abuse (resulting in Reid on a frozen pond with an armload of bricks to test to see if it would hold me), mischief (resulting in a callused rump) and basketball (resulting in expensive shoes, a torn ACL, and a career average of about 5.4 ppg) and now I’m telling my parents I’m committing to a life lived at summer camp and a major whose name translates directly to amusement, jollity, relaxation and mirth.  Come to think of it – she and my dad responded more than appropriately – they accused me of being crazy.  It was and in many people’s minds still is crazy.  But where she succeeded is looking beyond what the world considers successful and by asking the questions she did, researching the topics she did and by initiating the conversations she did – came to change her perspective and now supports me fully in what I do.  Why?  Not because of the money (that still sucks) and not because she was “wrong” to question it in the first place but she supports me because she has lived the last 34ish years in this way.

By putting her love for Wyan, Wet and Weed and desire for our happiness above her own she has thus accomplished just what she set out to do.  Ryan is engineering things that are literally saving lives ( -watch for the white guy), Reid is shaping junior high minds and winning teacher of the year awards while doing it and I like to think camp is more than just fun for the 2000+ kids that come during the summer.  All three of us rapscallions are putting others before ourselves because that is the only example we grew up seeing.

For these are just some of the many reasons why I love my momma (and because she buys me Peeps every Easter).



Love All Around (an ode to February)

27 02 2011

February 14th of 2001 in central Oklahoma was a blistery cold overcast day that fit the Valentine moods of singles across the nation. But for those whose hearts were feeling the searing pierced sensation of Cupid’s arrows it was going to take more than the weather to unflutter their hearts.  Myself and a young sir Thomas Graney the III were in a different state altogether – a incognizant state of cluelessness that would serve us poorly on this night but would serve us greatly in the lifetime ahead.  You see, love was quite literally all around us – we just didn’t know it.

Oklahoma Baptist University sits in a droll and therefore classic Okie town called Shawnee.  Like citizens of most towns with not really much to offer to non-citizens, the people of Shawnee will be quick to point out the series of oddly painted concrete horses they have spread around their burg (their version of art culture), will show you the worlds first Sonic Drive In (though the citizens of nearby Stillwater refute this claim) and if those aren’t enough to make you admit that you are now under the spell of Shawnee’s magnificent charm, they’ll break out the greatest fact of all.  Get ready…Brad Pitt was born here.  THE BRAD PITT.  What they won’t tell you is that his family moved to Missouri very soon after his birth.

My goal here is not to trash Shawnee or OBU.  I like them both.  I know many good people who live there but even they would likely not deny any of the previous paragraph.  As my faithful readers I tell you these things to explain why Tom and I saw the need to leave “Shawmpton” as OBU students have renamed the town, to go to Oklahoma’s capitol city for our evening entertainment.  We had been on the OBU campus all day recruiting students to come work as summer staff at NLR (see link to right if unfamiliar) and thought we’d enjoy a night in OKC before returning to OBU for recruiting day #2.  I mean why not?  In our minds there was absolutely zero reason to not do this.  And as it turns out this was about the last bit of thinking we accomplished on this day.

At this point in history, Ted’s Escondido Cafe had acquired fame in both NLR and OKC circles.  It was the local hotspot known for it’s homemade tortillas, over-the-top service,  authentic Meximerican atmosphere and unfortunately long lines.  Tom had dined at Ted’s many a time, I however was a Ted’s virgin – all of these factors making it the obvious choice for the supper portion of the evening.  After the half-hour drive from Shawnee we pull into Ted’s to find the full lot and long line we’d expected.  As determined individuals, this did not deter us (this quickly becomes a recurring theme for the evening).

We enter together and amid stares approach the little stewardess station.  Something was odd about it but I honestly just chalked it up to the fact that when you are waiting over an hour for dinner, you pretty much inspect every animate and inanimate object with your view.  Even when you’re with a great friend or even a wife you say things like,

“You see that picture on the wall?”  -Rhett
“Which one?” – Tom
“The one of Ted, the owner.” – Rhett
“Yeah. Why?” – Tom
“Was a little surprised he is a brunette.” -Rhett
“Why?” – Tom
“I went to college with a guy named Ted and he was blonde.” – Rhett 
“Hmm.  Me too.” -Tom

The first hint of what-the-heck-have-we-done came at the point when the stewardess eyes us and doesn’t respond with a simple “Table for two?” but instead greets us with a quizzical “Just the two of you?”  As Tom puts our name on the list, I turn to meet the 140 eyes looking our way, it hits me.  We are in potentially the most popular restaurant in the largest city in Oklahoma, on Valentine’s night and we alone are skewing the previously even number of male/female constituents.  In simpler terms – out of approximately 70 couples, we are the ONLY couple without estrogen.  In even simpler terms – we’re the only couple that looks gay.

We sit down to stares, joke with each other to stares, point out pictures on the walls to stares, tickle each other to stares until finally they call our name (to stares).  We proceed to our table (to stares) and then settle in for a great dinner (I would say “to stares” but I believe you’ve received the point).  The Ted’s service and food met all expectations but for some reason the aforementioned atmosphere was a little chilly.  Oh well.  All of these things did nothing to deter us and honestly probably just spurred us onward. Therefore, over our romantic dinner we made plans to extend our date by taking in a movie, an obvious next step. (Exit to stares)

Not being a fan of musicals and fearing further humiliation, I was against the idea of seeing Moulin Rouge but being a sensitive married man Tom knows how to enjoy a good chick-flick and thus was rather insistent.  With a stroke of luck, the earlier arriving couples had drastically limited our choices by purchasing virtually every ticket available…except to one movie…Hannibal.  Potentially the only good thing about this was that it relieved quite a few stares and it was the only theatre in the joint that wasn’t full of male/female pairs.

People throw this statement out in exaggeration quite a bit, “That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”  But I’m telling you folks, Hannibal is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  At this point I should give a spoiler alert but if me spoiling the movie saves even one poor soul from ever watching the movie it is worth it.  This is how ridiculous a movie this is.  The climactic scene has Ray Liotta (some dimwitted detective) seated at a formal dining room table as Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal) stands behind him, removes the top half of his skull, then begins to slice, remove, cook and eat small portions of Detective Dimwits brain all while Dimwits is still talking.  Meanwhile Julianne Moore (Hellooo Clarice) stands by and converses with the both of them – thereby making it the 2nd most awkward dinner of the night.

Now remember the opening line of the story where I foreshadowed weakly that this was an overcast dreary day?  Well during the movie, unbeknown to us, the atmosphere finally decided to act upon it’s day long threats.  When we exited the cinema (to stares) we realized that maybe, just maybe we should have stayed put in Shawnee and just went on a concrete horse guided segway tour.  You see – something like 5″ of snow and ice had fallen in the previous two hours causing roads to be mighty dangerous (obviously this was pre-global warming).  But not to be deterred we pressed onward, home toward Shawnee in our trusty Chevy Astro Minivan.

We make to the interstate without a problem and are feeling pretty good about ourselves when less than a mile ahead on an overpass a 19 car pileup including two 18-wheelers ensues.  This of course blocks traffic ahead of us and with the traffic of the interstate continuing behind us, we become part of gridlock.  Seeing it as an entirely fitting end to the night, Tom and I just kind of laugh about it.  At first we sit there with the van running to stay warm.  An hour passes.  Gas is getting lower.  Traffic is not moving.  Another hour passes.  It turns 1:00 AM.  We shut off the van.  Continue to talk.  Decide to lay back our van seats to relax.  Cover up in our coats to say warm.  Traffic continues to not move.  We fall asleep around 1:30 AM.  We are enjoying our sleep maybe too much.

I never enjoy being woken up.  Never.  But on this night, I was at least appreciative of the Good Samaritan who decide to honk his horn at us.  I groggily thought, that was rude!  Why would anyone do that?  And then I realized why anyone would do that.  You see – it was 2:30 at this point and I shoot up in my seat to find that we are still sitting in the middle of the interstate, right where we’d stopped 3 hours ago, except there was one major difference.  We were the only car on the highway not moving and when you wake up to find yourself sitting in the middle lane of a 3 lane interstate with cars bustling past you on both sides – you would expect this person to act irrationally and a lesser man would have.  I however acted responsibly by smacking Tom awake and then joining him in laughter at the absurdity of our night.  I don’t know how long we’d been sleeping in the middle of moving interstate traffic but I do know that absolutely none of the cars we’d stared at for hours were in sight and the interstate ahead and behind was nothing even close to gridlock.

I would never have believed that I would be able to honestly and openly say that my most memorable Valentine’s day was spent solely with a man, 10 years my elder, at a place called Ted’s, watching a Ridley Scott film and then sleeping next to him in a minivan. But alas, tis true – every bit of it.

Fields of Gold

17 05 2010

When a housing need arose 9 months ago, I invited the legend who is Nathan Fields to live alongside me in my humble dwelling.  With almost daily shakes of my head, countless utterings of “You really did that?” and about 633 belly jiggling laughs between then and now, our housemate trek ends come tomorrow.

I’ve been accused before of being able to keep people entertained but comparing me to him would look like a snapshot of Eddie Gaedel (wikipedia that guy – he should not be forgotten so easily) standing next to Manute Bol.  He has a flare for the flamboyant and the extraordinary naturally taking day to day undertakings and making  them bloggable (if that ain’t a word, I call the copyright).  If you know him at all this fact comes not as a surprise but more of a tell me something I stinkin didn’t know already.  Well, I’ll give you a few story tidbits and then elaborate on our latest laughter-soaked evening together.

Ask Fields about the shoplifting heist he single-handedly shut down at the Norman Oklahoma U2 concert he attended in the Fall.  Using his Broken Arrow Tiger football honed speed and textbook tackling form, he resecured a lifted t-shirt from a man who evidently believed Bono & the Edge owed him something.  Fields not only returns the shirt to the relieved vendor, he also rejects the $5 reward she offered.

Ask him about our roadtrip to Missouri where he brushed his teeth using toothpaste, toothbrush and the rainwater he could gather in his mouth by sticking his melon out the window as I drove approximately 77 miles an hour down I-44.  Evidently raindrops “sting like bullets” on your face at that speed.  Whoda thunk it?

There’s also the time I came home to find him sprawled asleep on the living room floor in only his boxers with cold hard cash lying all around him and on his bare chest.  I didn’t ask questions.

For the sake of my time and your sanity however, I’m going to leap over all the other memories (like our obsession with Falcon Heene, aka Balloon Boy) and jump on to Friday May 14th, 2010.

Nathan being the tenderhearted fellow that he is asked if he could treat me to a night on NWA to memorialize our year together. Never one to pass up free things or time with a good man, I quickly agreed and the plan was made to eat dinner at the Ranch, head to a Razorbacks baseball game and then a surprise dessert location that Fields was extremely excited about.  We ate a seemingly non-descript dinner in the dining hall and then each topped it off with a slice of cheesecake of which’s size rivaled Kevin Dutcher’s head.

We rush to the house to change into our Hog gear, me going conservative with just a Razorback shirt, Nathan going liberal with my UofA hat, my Arkansas shirt and a pair of cardinal dress pants he’d purchased at JC Penney because they were “a great deal.”  Each item of clothing was a different shade of red but a guy like Fields doesn’t let that discourage him and besides, I’ve seen many a frat boy at the UA dress not all too differently.

Things in the Land of Nathan’s Abdomen soon hereafter began to go awry.  “That cheesecake, ugh,” and “I knew Kevin Dutcher would someday try and poison me,” are a couple of the quotes I remember.  But in addition to the gutteral rumblings there was an even deeper (colon maybe?) longing for the night to continue.  By the time we arrived at Baum Stadium, Fields was moving rather slowly and when we got to the ticket window only to find out the UA accepts “no plastic” I honestly thought our night may be finished.  I love baseball and love my Razorbacks (though I often wonder why) but Nathan was looking beyond putrid and the only speech coming forth from his lips was slurred.  Knowing my love for the Swine however, Nathan refused to go home and insisted we attend the game. After retrieving my wallet from the car, we were in and snagged seats about 10 rows back near home plate.

Now I’ve been to multiple baseball games with Nathan before and if there were a heckler hall of fame, he’d be in the first induction class.  Coining terms such as “Designated Sitter” for opposing players and there has been not an umpire who has finished a game unaware of his presence.  This night however was different.  Nathan sat quietly.  He sat gazily.  He sat still.  So quiet and still in fact that when he rose to Call the Hogs with me I knew it was only for my sake (Sorry ladies! He’s taken).  We again settled into our seats to enjoy or endure the evening.

Then, with a sudden flash of movement so fast I recalled visions of him on the basketball court – he reaches down and grabs our stranger neighbors coca-cola cup and into it regurgitates the first of many portions of the adulterated cheesecake.  Amazingly, he catches it all in the cup and when I try to comfort him, he just lazily smiles and says, “that’s better.”  Ready to watch baseball again, Fields sets the cup back on the ground and turns his attention back to America’s pastime.  I saw three problems with this.  One, what if the neighbor picks up the cup and unknowingly decides to partake.  Two, if you weren’t aware, puke reeks.  Three, due to his weakness I may have to be the one to trash the vomit.

Unsensitively, I asked Fields if he’d go throw away the cup.  He did.  This is the point where I realized that I needed to up my rating on the friend chivalry scale and see what I could do to take care of the guy.  He of course refuses to leave the game early (likely for my sake) and we remain at the park for the last couple of innings to watch the Hogs lose.  The long walk back to the car goes slowly but uneventfully and at this point we decide that no more dessert is needed for the night (where was the surprise location you ask?  He was gonna take me to Outback Steakhouse because of my interest in Down Under and my recent sabbatical there.  Again, sorry ladies, he’s taken).

He does however want to stop in Best Buy to look at laptops as he’s in the market.  I think this is a bad idea.  There are no coke cups to be stolen at Best Buy.  True to his word that he’d be okay, there are no spewcurrences while shopping.  I’m beginning to relax thinking that maybe, just maybe he’s all good.  30 feet outside the door however I realize he’s no longer walking beside me.  He’d hightailed it for the bushes, giving them some cheesecake nutrients.  I head back and walk with him slowly to the van.  Wal-Mart was across the way but he refused to let me buy him any meds.  McDonald’s was across the other way and he thankfully did let me buy him a Sprite as everyone knows Sprite is the cure all for barfing (my server was named Tequilla btw).  I got an ice cream cone.

We made it from Best Buy to the intersection of 412 & 540 without any more upheavals.  But as the light turned red signaling us to stop, he reached for the button to lower the window.  He hung out the window and with a grace only Fields possesses, smiles at me and then proceeds to hurl cheesecake version 3.1 onto the road.  This latest installment was met with a carload of teenage girl screams as the car next to us contained all estrogen and no testosterone.  How does Fields respond to the screams, he slowly raises his head with a smile and a wave.  He then looks at me and mischievously smiles.  “Did you hear them scream?”  Yep, I respond while laughing quite hard.  “That was awesome.”  Yes, yes it was Nathan.

We pull on down highway 412 and Nathan has yet to bring his head back into the safety of the car (oh, and btw it’s raining this whole time).  We pull into a gas station on Nathan’s insistence (because he didn’t want me to pay for gas) and the patrons of Conoco received a show they weren’t expecting.  These were adults however so instead of being met with screams, Field’s deposit onto the sidewalk was given quiet, sheer looks of disgust.  I’ll have to admit, if I didn’t know better I would have thought he was drunk and had brought this on himself so their glares were fairly expected.  I put in about 3 gallons of gas to cover my costs of gas for the night and begin speeding back to NLR to get this boy into his bed for the night.

I’d told him multiple times to let me know if he wanted me to pull the car over.  He’d politely only puked at places where we’d already stopped…up until this point.  After a quick, short ralph out the window of the moving car I pull into a used car lot and then and there Nathan finishes off the cheesecake that had been trying to finish off him.  Knowing that he’d been injured but not killed, punched but not knocked out – Nathan reclines the seat, curls into the fetal position and falls deep asleep for the remainder of the ride home to Colcord and our shared abode.

As I type this, the man has just loaded his final possessions into his vehicle and will be heading to Tulsa for the summer and then to China for the next three years.  I’ve had the blessing of knowing a whole lot of people in my life and cherishing most of them but of all of them, only this guy could retch with grace, humor and care.  He’s honestly as pure-hearted as they come and has challenged me in the way I care for people and the way I pursue my Lord.  His genuine brotherly love for the preppy, the athletic, the nerds, the scholars and anyone else he comes in contact with is a model we should all seek to emulate.

I’m gonna miss having you around buddy but I know that even if the next time I see you is a few years down the road, you’ll still give me a great big hug and want to know all about how I’m doing without any expectation of me asking those questions back (though I’ll want to).  Thanks for being exactly the unique person who God made you to be.

Rhett (on behalf of Falcon, LLM, Granny Henderson and Barack Obama)

A good man.

9 03 2010

So my grandpa died Saturday.  Thankfully it wasn’t a surprise – in fact the most surprising thing about it was that it didn’t happen a week earlier when the doc said he had but hours to live.  But when I think about it, even that wasn’t a surprise.  This was a guy who cheated death quite a bit and lived to tell stories of him doing all those things that our mom’s tell us not to do.

I remember thinking, “I’m gonna do that someday,” when he talked about hopping trains as a teenager to travel around the country. If my memory serves me correctly he jumped off a watertower onto the train but I’m also aware this morsel of the story may be my imagination serving me incorrectly.  Either way though – I wanted badly to live this out.

I remember listening raptly to his story about being buried alive in his own foxhole by an explosion during World War II and picturing my Papa as as close to invincible as I would ever experience.

I remember thinking my Papa was the most talented old man in the world when my mom came home one time with an audio tape he had made for me and my brothers to play on Halloween night to scare the rest of the neighborhood kids.  “Come a little closer let me feel your eyeballs!” is the line that stands out.  Pure genius.

I remember never feeling more ashamed as the time that I kicked my little brother Reid in the chest knocking him onto and thereby breaking the small antique table that my Papa cherished.  I got a perty darn good tongue-lashing that day.  I deserved it.  I didn’t deserve the forgiveness he gave quickly.

I remember extremely vividly my family’s visits to Holt’s Guest Ranch in Colorado where my Papa and Gram worked for a few summers when I was a kid.  I so wanted to live at a Ranch after that.  Thanks for the inspiration guys, it’s a grand life.

I remember the excitement in my Papa’s eyes when he convinced me that the best way to wake my parents up at 5:00 AM on Christmas morning was to play my newly acquired snare drum as loud as I could.  I don’t know if he realized that my parents would interpret the beating on the drum as someone beating on our front door because our house was on fire.  If he did, he found the humor in it.  Kind of like I still do 19 years later.  My parents?  Eh, not so much.

I remember my Papa telling me to go to Australia and New Zealand and forget about the financial cost.  From his hospital bed he wondered, “Oh what experiences and memories your Gram and I would have had if I hadn’t been all worried about money.”  A few months later I went to Australia and New Zealand.  Maybe the best thing I’ve ever done.  Sometime not too far off I’m going to Argentina to visit my best man Dave.  Sometime after that I’m going to visit Africa, Europe, Asia and North Dakota.

I remember my Papa every time I watch the movie Saving Private Ryan.  Some because of the WWII connection but more than that because of the final scene in the cemetery where Ryan says to his wife, “Tell me I have led a good life.”  The hard of hearing wife says, “What?”  Ryan rephrases, “Tell me I’m a good man.”  She catches it this time and states simply, “You are.”

So my grandpa died Saturday.  I wasn’t there but something tells me that he didn’t ask my Gram to tell him he was a good man.  He knew he was a good man.  Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but boy was he good.  Really really good.


Day 1.2

11 02 2010

If you haven’t read the previous post, this one will not make much sense so I’d suggest scrolling down and taking a few minutes…ah, there you go.

Ok so now we’re at this overlook (Frank Thomson Reserve to be exact) and after taking a few minutes to enjoy the view, we make the move to start setting up our genuine Al Hercus model tent – a very popular explorer & thrill seeker from Down Under.  The tent is going up fine and our spirits are maybe starting to rise a little when the subject of Andrew’s forgotten sleeping bag becomes the topic.  Now those of you that know me well will find this shocking but Andrew felt I maybe went a little too far with the jokes – giving him one shot too many about his impending frosted face.  Now I’ve never had a problem knowing just when to quit with my wit so that’s why I blame Andrew completely for getting a little upset with me.  I mean seriously.  Can anyone out there attest to me pushing the line with a joke?  Thought so.  But I forgave him. (Editor’s note; Andrew graciously forgave Rhett’s idiocy).

So now we have the tent set up and the air is filled with a little maturely handled animosity, stomach growlings, teeth chatterings, continued thoughts of the devastation around us and not much else.  Andrew hands me the $17 K-Mart special (yep, they have K-Marts) stove we’re planning on cooking with for the next five days and he asks me to get the thing up and running while he grabs a few things from the car sitting 30 yards away.  I’ve done my fair share of camping in my time and operated my fair share of camp stoves so this job naturally fell to me, the guy with the Masters degree in Recreation and 7+ years of experience working in outdoor recreation.   I pull the stove out of it’s case, put it on the picnic table, grab the can of butane and then as a competent and conscientious adult would do, begin to read the stove’s instructions. Andrew, the young strapping theatre student calls out, “I’ll show you instructions” and slaps the butane into the slot, closes the cover and takes off back toward the car to grab the ravioli that is to serve as our sustenance for the evening.

Of course I as the experienced, competent and conscientious man decide to just start her up because I mean really, what is the worst that can happen.  Then, the worst that can happen begins to happen.  Right in the midst of maybe the worst fire ravaged town in the history of a continent that has more fires than the Boy Scouts – the stove explodes.  You know the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel?  Every time I hear this classic I picture all of the people or events he mentions in the song – thereby creating a superspeed slideshow of images in my frontal lobe.  This is honestly what happened at this moment except for two major differences.  1. The images in this slideshow were all of the townspeople we’d just met and of the pictures we had just seen at the hotel of this devastated town.  and 2. We DID start the fire.

I like to think of myself as cool under pressure but in this moment I’ll admit (because if I didn’t, Andrew would probably tell everyone anyway) that I froze.  Froze up bad.  All I could do was yell out “Bollom!”  He turned quickly to see, in his words, “flames twice as tall” as me (no short jokes please).  He begins yelling at me to get water, snapping me out of my delirium.  Instead of grabbing the water, I decide that it is a good idea to stomp out the flames that are beginning to spread in the grass underneath the table.  Not an altogether bad response but also not the altogether best response.  One of us (can’t remember which due to a adrenaline induced brainfreeze) soon grabs the water and begins to poor it on the stove.  It does absolutely nothing…except causes me to panic even more.

I really don’t think I’ve been more terrified in my life.  All I could think of was the nightmare that we had just unleashed (albeit accidentally) on this town and my impending jail sentence.  There’s no way the American Embassy would even be able to do anything for me after this screw up and why should they?  I wouldn’t exactly be a prime recruit to come back to America.  At the very least I’d be banned from California due to their wildfire problems.

Right as I was about to accept both my and Kinglake’s proximate doom – something happened that I’d heard of but never experienced for my self…an angel appeared.  This was no ordinary angel, this was Toyota Camry driving angel named Brent from the nearby town of Glenburn.  While Andrew and I are tensely stomping out fires, pouring water, trying to smother the fire with Andrew’s family heirloom blanket that was also supposed to serve as his bedding later, Brent pulls calmly into the overlook, steps calmly out of the car with his can of Coca Cola in a coolie, calmly walks down to us crazies, calmly sets his drink down on the inflamed table, calmly grabs our cooking pan, calmly begins digging in the dirt with it and calmly begins to pour the gathered dirt onto the flaming stove.

To my amazement and probably not to yours, the dirt didn’t burn.  Even the second scoop didn’t burn.  The third, the fourth, the fifth all didn’t burn.  This only went toward convincing me of his angel status.  I mean come on, who out there knew that dirt didn’t burn? See?  A gen-u-ine angel I’m tellin ya!

I’d never been so thankful for dirt and likely never will.  Andrew and I just stood there staring at the dying flames and the piling dirt like it was a Zamboni machine – we just could not divert our attention elsewhere.  Nothing else in the world mattered at that moment – just dirt.  Great…great…dirt.

Brent stayed and talked for a few minutes telling us that he had never stopped at this overlook before but had been meaning to for sometime (likely story for an angel).  Then, just as quick as his landing, he retreated to his Toyota (double check those brakes) and retreated to what he said was Glenburn but I know better.  To my knowledge, no one has seen him since that night at Frank Thomson Reserve – I know Andrew and I haven’t.

Today, Kinglake still stands.  Exactly one week after we were there they memorialized the one year anniversary of  “Black Saturday” as they call it.  This happened of course with them not knowing how close they came to facing the fire again.  What did I learn from all of this?  1. Bushfires are scary, bad and sad things.  2. Dirt rulz.  3. K-Mart camp stoves are faulty (because there is no way this was caused by user error) 4. “Touched by an Angel” just may have been a reality television show 5. Andrew’s knowledge of current events is lacking 6. I really know how to drag out a story.

Until next time,

Day 1; The Town Too Tough to Die & The Boys Who Tried Their Darndest

5 02 2010

And here begins the recalling of my final week in Australia…

I, being quite the guesstimator, am going to bravely say that not one of my American readers (now estimated at 29 including the dude monitoring the site from the Australian Embassy) has ever heard of the small borough of Kinglake, Victoria, Australia.  Be that as it may, I’d also bravely say that every last one of my Australian readers has heard of this small, but important town.  You see, that’s because 99.999998% of Aussies older than the age of 4 are familiar with this place.

You’re probably reading this saying, “Rhett.  Come on.  That leaves .000002% of the entire population of Australia that hasn’t heard of this town.  With their small population that must equal like 1 person.”  To this I would answer – you couldn’t be more right.  Now I only know ballpark 174 people from the Land of Aus.  When you combine that miniscule number of people with the miniscule percentage I mentioned above, the odds of me knowing the sole person down there who has not heard of the famous town of Kinglake – you get odds that only my brother Ryan and his Putzes from MIT could figure out.  But the odds in this instance have fallen in my disfavor.  I mean, I love the guy, seriously I do – but golly gees Andrew Bollom – really?  You’re the one bloke who doesn’t know about Kinglake?

Andrew and I had planned a roadtrip for my last week in Australia.  And by planned I mean that we decided we’d drive a car down to see the Great Ocean Road and take some food and supplies with us.  We’d seen tents signifying camping sites all over the map we were navigating by so neither of us were concerned about where we’d sleep each night – we even set a goal of finding free camping for at least 3 of the 5 nights we were to be gone (there I go setting goals again).  So as the first day, which we’d spent solely on the open road, began to hit mid-afternoon, we began to discuss where we would sleep that night.

A few weeks before our trip, we’d visited the swell sheep farm of Andrew’s grandparents Arthur and Adrienne Bollom.  While on the farm (one of my favorite experiences of my Sabbatical by the way) Miss Adrienne lent us her Great Australian Gazetteer to help us with our travels – what we thought originally to be better than any plan we could have laid.  I decided to consult the Great Australian Gazetteer to see if it had any advice on things to see, places to eat, sites to sleep and so on.  That’s what it’s for right?  The Great Australian Gazetteer suggested the town of Kinglake; not for the national forest, or for the multiple campsites, or for the great overlooks, or for the scenic drive into Melbourne.  What did it say we should make a sidetrip to go see?  The House of Bottles.  You read it right.  It’s a HOUSE made out of BOTTLES.  I immediately got excited about this House of Bottles and when I blurted it out to Andrew, he too got really excited about the House of Bottles.  Why?  Simple really – because that’s what you do on a roadtrip.

All was calm on the Southern front until right about this moment.  What happened you ask?  Bollom realizes he forgot both his sleeping bag and pillow.  Around the Sydney area where he lives and where I spent the majority of my time, this wouldn’t be that huge of deal but we were heading south…10 hours south…to a higher elevation…towards Antarctica…and as it turns out to a place with absolutely ZERO live trees to block the wind.  At first this is pretty funny to the both of us.  I mean, it’s not like he’s gonna die from the cold, he just might get hypothermia, chilblains or even trench foot but there’s no way he dies.  We do decide however to check Kinglake for alternative housing – like a motel or even a trusty looking bogan.

As we approach Kinglake we pass through a few small picturesque Australian bush communities nestled amongst rolling green eucalyptus and gumtree covered hills and at I’m thinking – we’ve got a nice little night ahead of us.  Bring on the House of Bottles! Then, as if it’s a scene out of the latest natural disaster movie, the landscape drastically changes.  There are still hundreds even thousands of trees but instead of a pretty green, everything, and I’m serious when I say everything, was char black.  The trees, the rocks, the signs, buildings, everything except the dirt was black.  Burned and completely.  Believe it or not, it didn’t hit us yet that this was the forest we planned to camp in.  We were both just really enthralled with the devastation this fire had caused.  Massive devastation.  Heartbreaking devastation.

The town of Kinglake and the thousands of surrounding acres had at some point recently been wiped out by bushfire – Australia’s main natural disaster.  We stopped at the local Hotel (which often means pub/hotel) to enquire about rooms because by this point we’re realizing that Kinglake ain’t so kingly after all.  We decided against getting a room at this juncture but while we were there we perused all the pictures on the wall detailing the fires.  It was crazy crazy stuff.  Over 500 homes were destroyed (in a town of 1400) and 42 people died.  We were both kind of overwhelmed at these stories and pictures so we soon left to drive around and explore more of the town – and look for our campsite.

We’re both feeling a little dejected and depressed by this whole thing and at least I was thinking – what a great start to what is supposed to be a sweet, joyous road trip.  And then, a beacon of light shines through, right when we’re needing a pick-me-up, the ultimate happens…we see a sign directing us toward none other than the House of Bottles.  After a quick shared smile, Andrew makes the Easterly turn heading us toward the jewel of Kinglake.  Some of you smarty pants’ are probably thinking right now that all the glass from the bottles melted in the bushfire but this is where you are wrong.  I don’t know if the people of Kinglake make extra effort to save this treasure or what but it was still there in all of it’s beauty…still closed for the weekend…still protected by a large picket fence…and a cast iron fence…and obscured by large plants.  After all of this, we could see only the 26 bottles that made up the small section directly under the eave of the roof.  There were supposed to be like 8000 bottles total – we saw 26.

Though it was to be the highlight of our day, we were able to laugh it off.  We’re both fun-loving guys – we knew this series of unfortunate events had to end soon.  I mean really, how bad of karma could two guys have.  Right Andrew?  Andrew?  What are you pointing at man?  What’s the sign say?  This stinks.  This stinks royally.  We just got hit with everything and the kitchen stink.  This is like Stinko De Mayo.

The sign we were looking at, just down the road from the Bottle Fortress was marking where we’d planned on camping for the night but more than that, in not so many words it said “Warning! Run for your lives!”  Every word was like danger, unstable, damage, H1N1, falling, chemicals, yeti – you know, things that make you really not want to camp there.  There were trees everywhere wrapped in yellow tape exclaiming ASBESTOS HAZARD.  In America that stuff can cause cancer.  Without testing it, I assumed it can do the same in Kinglake.

So now it’s getting pretty dark, we have no place to stay, we’re both cold, the House of Bottles was just a lure, and we haven’t eaten. After getting back in the car to avoid any life altering airborne pathogens, we head back to town while discussing our options.  We pulled into a village looking area – then realizing it was a temporary housing area for bushfire refugees who lost their home.  More evidence of the devastation.  These people went through it I’m tellin ya.  But hear is where we found our first good news of the afternoon.  A bloke named Brett gave us a tip to camp up at the Frank Thomson Reserve.  He said we’d find some grass there and that though the sign said no camping, the rangers were fine with it due to it being the only grass left in the area.  Jackpot – thank you Brett.

The reserve is as pretty as it gets in this 20 mile radius.  Fairly nice grass, not too many trees around to remind us of the tragedy surrounding us, great overlook of the upcoming sunset and also a nice panorama of the Melbourne skyline 60 km to the south, there were even wildflowers down the hill.  A real nice spot.  Literally the best spot left in town, no exaggeration.

What happens next?  Well a Smoke Monster comes out of the Temple and attacks us throwing us around like ragdolls and but luckily a huge overweight dude takes us via VW van to the temple and drowns us in the fountain of youth to revive us and then… ok, that’s not the real ending but you are going to have to wait because this post has drug on way too long and it’s after midnight and my eyes are starting to stare at each other.  I’ll finish it off soon and promise the rest of the road trip stories won’t be near this long.  Then again, dragging things out ridiculously seems to be working for Lost so I might just try it.

Until next time…

Tears from Australia

29 01 2010

I’ve finally sifted through the hate mail I’ve received over the past two weeks due to a grand total of zero new blogs being posted and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.

I have to tell you though, if you’re one of the 24 wanting a new entertaining post, this probably isn’t going to suffice.  BUT – the Last Hurrah Road Trip of this past week has given me plenty of ammo for some good posts once I return to the states tomorrow (or yesterday for me).  For starters – we almost started a bushfire in a town already ravaged by bushfire, we joined the Lorne Trampoline Gang, paid exactly $0 for lodging/campsites for the week and lastly, finished off the trip with a stop at the Mirdle store.

But, more importantly at this late hour, I need to get some rest so I’m shutting off the lights and look forward to waking up to sunshine and warmth for the last time for at least a couple of months.  What’s great is the fact that my January 30th, 2010 is going to last about 41 hours versus the normal 24 and what do I get to look forward to for this day?  Planes and an Ice Storm.  Joy.

G’day Australia.  Howdy Oklahoma.