Thursday, December 28, 2017

At the dude ranch …

At the dude ranch …
One spring break, our family traveled to a dude ranch
and late one afternoon, as we were finishing up a long and dusty ride
the cowboy in front turned around and said
Well, we can take this here trail, which will get us back in about 15 minutes
or we can take that one over there, which will have us back in 45
and Kate and Cal and I said, in unison
The 15-minute trail!
And Cheryl, at almost the same instant, said
Let’s do the 45-minute one!

At Walt Disney World …
Another time, our family spent a week in Orlando
devoting an entire day to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
We arrived when the gates opened
and frolicked until dark
and as we slowly shuffled our way down Main Street toward the exit
Cheryl made us stop for a photo and said
Who wants to ride Space Mountain one more time?

In Paris …
We spent a whole day walking around Paris
from our hotel to the Notre Dame and Louvre
from the Eiffel Tower back to our hotel
Miles and miles
and then, finally, after settling in to a comfortable chair
with my aching feet propped up on a footstool
Cheryl says
How about we go to a souvenir shop and pick out some things for my students?

You see … in the end
We did not choose the 45-minute trail
and we did not ride Space Mountain one more time
but Cheryl and I did go out to a souvenir shop and see Paris at night

and it was one of the most memorable evenings of our lives

Do you know someone
who tries to squeeze an extra 30 minutes of joy out of every single day?
Well …
I hope you do.

At the dude ranch

Monday, November 27, 2017

After the preaching

Photo on
After the preaching
and the invitation song
and the standing in the foyer and shaking everyone’s hands
and telling toddlers, “Well hello, Pumpkin” and pinching their cheeks
After the local preacher or elder turns off all the lights
we—Dad and me—
get into the car and drive back to the motel
where we park
and walk over to a dimly lit corridor

It is well past my bedtime, but we stop at a vending machine to buy a couple of Dr. Peppers
This will be our treat at the end of a long day

And standing in that corridor, far from home
surrounded by shadows
in a lonely motel
I am not afraid, because my father is there
He is strong
and He will take care of me. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Big Sis

One of my earliest memories of my big sister Cindy is this …

I’m standing on the back patio, in my sock feet, playing some sort of game where the patio is a safe place and all the surrounding area is dangerous

The grass is not really grass, but it is fire or water or something like that

And the problem is, it’s time for me to go back inside, but I “can’t” because I’d have to cross over the grass

And then Cindy comes out, and I explain the situation to her

And she doesn’t roll her eyes

And she doesn’t say, “That’s dumb”

She just picks me up and carries me around the house and into the carport where the ground is safe

I think about this story now …

As I’ve watched my big sis, over the course of the past several years, “carry” our parents

Take care of them

Meet even their most basic needs

And I can say …

I’m not surprised

No, I’m not surprised one bit.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

3 brothers and 2 sisters

Mom had 3 brothers and 2 sisters
a good-sized family
at least, that’s how I always thought of it

The oldest sibling being Melvin
who had a bad back, but a wonderful sense of humor
Plain-speaking is how I'd describe him
“Why I wouldn’t name a dog Francis,” he once said
which was funny, because Melvin’s first name was Francis
and it was his father’s name as well

And next there was Pete
whose real name was Estel
a form of Estella, which was his mother’s name
Pete was a successful businessman
who carried a plastic change purse in his pocket
and he was always generous with his nickels and dimes
I learned to tie my shoes in Uncle Pete’s home

And then there’s Marciele
Sweet Aunt Marciele
who lived the longest of the bunch
She was strong in spirit and faith
That’s how I remember her
And she had a garden and a tower in her back yard
yes, a tower
I will show you a picture, if you don’t believe me

And Jim
I thought of him as quiet and kind
a mailman who did some farming too
I rode in a big tractor with Uncle Jim
I don’t think I’ve ever done that with anyone else

And Madge
who I saw more than the others
because she lived only 50 miles down the road
She’d invite us over for holidays and such
and there was always plenty of food
and Razorbacks sports watching
and laughter
She beat cancer and taught music
and had 6 children
and so many grandkids and great grandkids
that you couldn’t even count them

And coming back to Mom
Marilyn, the youngest
as sweet as the day is long
I miss them all, but I miss her most
She loved Jesus, this I know
and her family
every one of them
from Kansas to Oklahoma to Arkansas
and wherever the world had carried us

Pete, Marilyn, Madge, Melvin, Marciele, and Jim

Monday, August 28, 2017

Aunt Madge

When I was 14 or 15
my mom
and her sister Madge
decided to take my cousin Jon and me
to Kansas for a family visit

500 miles to get there, by car
and 500 miles back
and for some reason the sisters
Marilyn and Madge
decided to let Jon and me do all of the driving
All of it
I didn't even have my license yet
Only a learner's permit

And on the way back from Kansas
on a long and dry stretch of highway
with me planted behind the wheel
Mom decided to take a little nap
and I felt myself getting a little drowsy as well
and the drowsier I got
the heavier my foot weighed on the pedal
until Aunt Madge spoke up from the backseat
with a voice that sounded like a smile
"Michael, don't you think we're going a little fast?"
And looking down, I noticed the speedometer needle
approaching 80
so I slowed down
Way down

And that day was a reminder for me
that if, for some reason
Mom couldn't be around
there was another "mom" standing by
who was ready to protect and love me as well.

Marilyn and Madge

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Poem for my mom ... by Cheryl Allen

You look beautiful in that cancer bed
next to the IV stand

One of your best brave faces
sticking up above the warmed blankets
tucked under your chin

Wearing make-up
and an armful of delicate bracelets

Commenting “the nurses
must have to take a sweetness test
to work here”

Handling the whole situation
with courage and grace.

Monday, June 12, 2017

First date

Heading over to Sears dorm

in the red Ford Courier that I’d just bought that summer for $2,000

Dressed casually

but with a touch of Quorum cologne on each side of my neck

to impress my date

and a country music cassette in the stereo

because I’d heard, from a mutual friend, that she liked that kind of music

A 3-minute drive from my dorm to hers

and then a 1-minute walk into the lobby

where she’s waiting

as cute as the day I first saw her

about a year before

And then back to my truck and off to Andy’s restaurant for a Coke

We listen to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

and to the constant squeaking of a loose part in my dashboard

and we talk, a little bit nervously at first

until we fall into a rhythm,

a rhythm that will carry us for decades

Her soft voice next to me

which, even on this first night,

I know I could listen to

for the rest of my life

Monday, May 15, 2017

This little light

Just after Thanksgiving in 1964

James and Marilyn Allen,

husband and wife,

purchased a plot of land

(lot 67 of the Faculty Addition)

for $1,425.00

from Harding College

The house they built,

completed in 1965,

was ranch-style with 3 bedrooms

2 bathrooms

a kitchen (and small dining area)

a den, living room and storage room

The Allen family,

husband, wife, daughter and son,

moved in

and soon welcomed a new addition

a baby boy, born in 1966

This would be the only home the boy knew

for 23 years

And during the early years

the boy happened to be sick quite a bit

and the dad would sometimes say

“Why you could have made a mountain out of all the pills that boy took.”


“Why you could have floated a ship with all the medicines that boy drank.”

And the boy would remember those times of illness

especially the nights

waking up

sick to his stomach

and creeping outside his parents' bedroom

to call for his mother

And the two of them moving quietly to the kitchen

where the mom would flip on the light above the sink

and begin to calm the boy

by first taking his temperature

and then administering gentle words

and appropriate medications

And the light above the sink

in that small, cookie-cutter house

would cast a warm yellow glow

on top of the mother’s head

and the shoulders of her night gown

And the boy would begin to feel better

almost right away

every time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A good friend

In the Spring of ‘85

I pulled down my college catalog and wrote down all the classes I would need for the next semester

Then I swung by my advisor’s office and asked him to sign my course card

The whole process took about 30 minutes

if that long

and on my list, was a class titled COMO 210 – PUBLIC SPEAKING

taught by Dr. Evan Ulrey

It would be late into the next term

or some time after that

that I would realize I’d written down the wrong course number

that I didn’t need COMO 210

I remember that fact

But I also remember this …

There couldn’t have been more than 10 of us in the classroom

and one day, we discussed friendship

and Dr. Ulrey said, “A good friend is someone with whom you can be completely quiet, and it’s not awkward, not even one bit”

or he said something very close to this

and all these years later, I think back to that lesson

on the days I’m on a long road trip with my wife

or when I’m sitting at a baseball game with my college roommate

and there’s quiet

and there’s contentment

and it’s not awkward, not even one bit

And so, I’m grateful for that class I didn’t need

for the lessons on public speaking

and for the warmth and wisdom of Dr. Ulrey

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mighty to Save

Sitting at the kitchen table, as a kid

surrounded by my family

Sister on one side

Brother and me on the other

Dad at the head of the table

and Mom at the other end

We're eating and discussing

and Dad begins to make a point about the church

“Why, I’d estimate there are about 3 million members,” he says

3 million?

That sounds like a lot to me

but dad explains it’s not really that much, when you consider the population of the world

This is something for me to think about

to ponder

And I do consider it, from time to time, for many years

Why are there so few of us who choose to follow God?

Why only a handful in this great big world?

It affects me, in a way

affects my view of God

If He is so big and so merciful and so powerful

why doesn’t He save more?

And I think about it, until I come up with this …

God is mighty to save

That—way back when—Dad was talking about a portion

one tribe of followers

a part of a larger body

That God is greater than we can imagine

and His kingdom is as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Walking to school

Out the side door and through the carport

A right turn at the Ganus’ hedge

Tramping over dew-draped grass

and green apples fallen from our neighbors’ trees

Taking a left turn at the Thompson’s hedge

Heading through a narrow path

                under pine trees and past a small compost heap

Making my way into the Jones’ back yard

                where—during hunting season—

                there might be a deer or two

                hanging from a tree

Cutting a diagonal line over to Cross Street

                (which is sometimes busier than you might think)

                and looking both ways

                just like Mom taught me

                on my very first day of first grade

Glancing over at the Harding tennis courts

                to see if anyone’s out playing

Arriving at the playground and the open field

                where we play football or soccer or kickball at recess

Jogging now—if I’m running late

Seeing the high school kids streaming in the back door of their wing

                knowing that my brother and sister are already inside for chorus practice

Moving on to the gravel lane which will take me to the elementary school

Passing the part of the building which houses the little gym

Pulling open a back door and moving quickly down steps

Hearing laughter and shouts of kids in the hallway

Seeing my friends

and my teachers

Being in the place where I belong.

From the 1974 Petit Jean

Monday, January 23, 2017

The waiting room

Flickr photo by thekirbster
I sat in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office

I’d been waiting for a good while when an older couple walked through the door

They looked to be in their 80s, but I’m not very good at guessing things like that

The woman seemed to be in better shape, and the man leaned heavily on her arm

He was stooped, with a head full of silver hair and bushy eyebrows

She was smartly dressed, with a buttoned-up navy coat and a candy-cane-striped pin on her collar

The woman took a seat across from me, while the man continued to the counter

I was afraid he might fall


If I had one word to describe him, that would be it

I heard him tell the receptionist that his glasses were broken, and she pointed him to a young man behind a table

That left the woman and me, looking across at each other

“Are you from around here?” she said loudly

She beamed as she talked

A face like an angel

“Well, yes ma’am I am,” I replied

And I told her where I lived and then asked her where she was from

She mumbled something and then said, “We go here and there and do this and that and go around and round”

It was then I knew she was having trouble with her memory

When she finished talking, she paused, giving me a turn

I told her that my wife was a teacher

That there were a lot more people in this city than there used to be

That I had a niece who lived in Chicago

Anything that came to mind, I shared

And her responses were generally about the same

“We go here and there … and do this and that … and go around and round”

I finally noticed that her husband was wrapping up his business with the glasses

He was slowly making his way back toward us

The woman noticed too and said

“My husband … he’s a good guy”

He grinned at the woman and said warmly

“Who are you bothering now?”

He nodded to me, and the two of them walked slowly out of the waiting room

Arm in arm