Essay tTwo

peace like a river

When I remember the rivers of my youth, I hear Glen Campbell singing,

“…you’re movin’ on the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.”

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The Essay

Peace! Like a River…

I grew up on the Brazos river.

Well, not on it, but near enough. (Not near enough to suit me.)

I was somewhere north of my tenth birthday when I met Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I had never experienced the euphoria of being swept away by the great current of a well-spun tale. Black words on white paper never held such adventures, such experiences, such joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.

Nor did any ever make a river seem so magical. It would be several years before I would lay eyes on the Mighty Mississippi. Until then, my dreams, daydreams, and planned escapes to Adventureland would center on the slow-moving river just outside the Mineral Wells, Texas city limits.

All of my memories of days and nights spent on the Brazos seem to meld into one.

I remember the rope that dangled high above the water from a large, gnarly branch of an old Oak tree by the river’s bank. Or, at least to a 9-10-11-12-year-old boy, it seemed like it was high above. I remember the thrill of swinging way out over the water and releasing the rope to cannonball into the murky water below.

I remember catching Sun Perch at sun-up by the dozens in a nearby pond to use as bait on the trot line Big Granddad and I would later string across the river. I remember running that trot line in the middle of the night in a small, flat-bottom boat, stealthily paddling in the moonlight, checking each hook, adding more unfortunate Perch to the bare hooks where fishy thieves had stolen our bait. I remember Granddad wrestling greedy catfish from the barbed hooks and tossing them into the boat to flop about until we had time to pay them more attention.

I remember the chilling cry of the bobcat across the river from where we camped. It sounded like a child screaming. I remember Granddad, unbothered by the nightmare-yielding screams, shining his light across the water into the haunted tree. I remember the shiny flash of the cat’s eyes and the sudden disappearance. I remember how the big cat moved so swiftly without a sound that could be heard from where we watched. I remember the crack of Granddad’s .22 rifle and the sound of the bullet splintering a tree branch.

I remember the smell of coffee and fish frying in a skillet on an open fire. I remember the laughter and stories and roasting marshmallows. I remember sleeping on the cold, hard earth in a sleeping bag.

I remember the heavens bedazzled with a billion stars. I remember a shooting star. I remember stories my Uncle Troy and I would tell deep into the night. I don’t remember the stories, only the telling.

I was 15 the first time I laid eyes on the Big River, Mark Twain’s river, The Mighty Mississippi. I don’t remember where Dad was taking us, maybe to the Accelerated Christian Education national convention, where I was to represent Texas in the preaching contest. Or maybe it was somewhere else. Wherever we were headed, we went through Memphis to get there.

Mom was excited about that because she loved Elvis and she would see Graceland for the first (and maybe only) time. Elvis was still alive then. (Some say he still is now. Ha!)

I was excited about a river.

The Mississippi is a mile wide in places. The bridge over it seemed a mile high. I wished Dad could park the Chevy Suburban on that bridge. I wished I could run to the rail and stare down on the glory of the greatest American river. I wished I could watch that barge and the tugboat tugging it in from its ventures on the high seas until it was docked.

This was it! This was the river of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, the river of my boyhood fantasies winding its way to the Gulf of Mexico, supporting commerce, hosting vacationers, supplying fishermen, supporting childhood dreams.

At this writing, I am past the halfway mark between 50 and 60. I’ve traversed the fruited plains and mountains majesty from sea to shining see and border to border. How many rivers have I crossed? Too many to remember, but never enough. I still find my center. I still feel the power. I still crane my neck and slow my roll whenever I cross a river. No destination is too important, no appointment too urgent to interrupt my starry-eyed dreams or trump the sweet memories of a near-perfect boyhood.

My travels have taken me from one life to another, one profession to another. I was born to preach but screwed that up because I was also born to trouble. You can take the boy out of the preacher, but you cannot excise the preacher from the boy. God knows a few tried their best to rip it out of me. I took the bloody knife of defiance to my own soul, to boot.

Still, I find peace like a river…and hope…

…a river of peace and prosperity… ~Isaiah 66:12 (NLT)[1]

Scripture references the peace, comfort, and assurance drawn from the river in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
            A very present help in trouble.

      Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change
            And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…

      There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
            The holy dwelling places of the Most High.

      God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
            God will help her when morning dawns. (verse 1-5)[2]

 

I’ve been on the river at sunset, slept on its banks through the long, dark night, and wakened to its sweet morning song. I’ve felt joy and bitter sorrow. I’ve found peace…like a river.

 

[1] New Living Translation, ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation

[2] New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

essay Three Excerpt

He was in Jackson county when bloodthirsty locals assaulted a Mormon, intent on tarring and feathering the elderly Mormon leader. The young Texan carried an over-developed sense of justice and duel six-shooters. 

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