Thursday, April 30, 2015

Papa Jack

"Good & bad in all. Good & bad in Black...Good & bad in White."

The above quote is attributed to the man in the photo. He was my Grandad, Jack Rogers. Many people referred to him as Papa Jack and that was not limited to family members. The dog in his lap, Tootsie, was my dog but make no mistake she loved Papa Jack more than anyone. I was not even a close second.

Papa Jack wore a white shirt & tie daily as he is in the photo. This was even after he retired in the early sixties from running the Fish Market on Oleander Drive in the community of Sea Gate. He & my Grandmother, Ruth Rogers owned the store together. Those of you that have read The River Hideaway might recall I based the character of Vicky on my Grandmother.    

Papa Jack had little in the way of education and he was a simple man in many ways. Look at the photo again and look at his right hand. That is a Tampa Nugget Cigar. It was also part of his daily routine to enjoy a few of them each day.

There was much racial conflict in this area when I was a boy. Wilmington was in the national news for being placed on curfew after a riot broke out. If memory serves me correctly I believe the National Guard was brought in just as it has been this week in Baltimore.

I lived right across the field from my Grandparents and I often sprinted to spend time with my Grandmother. She was my hero. She still is. 

On this particular night my grandparents were watching the news and I recall seeing fires and racial conflict play out on the little black and white screen. I can't say for certain what event this was. But I do recall with clarity that my Grandad, as he was watching, very simply stated,  "Good & bad in all. Good & bad in Black...Good & bad in White."

I have never forgotten that statement. Very simply stated, true, & full of wisdom. That was how he viewed things. I wish everyone might have seen things that simply.

As a little boy, I don't think I was aware & even if I was I don't know if I would have grasped the magnitude of something my Grandad routinely did as part of his business. He delivered fish to black neighborhoods. He often sat and shared coffee, or a meal.

My sister Kay, the family historian, added another part to this story. Grandad treated all of his customers fairly and that included extending credit regardless of race. 

Mom often remarked that she believed that Grandad truly did not see color. I think considering the times, it is easy to say that is remarkable but I also just believe that it is right.

I was a young man when Grandad passed away. My Grandmother, preceded him in death. One particular memory that brings a smile to me was during my early years as the Park Supervisor for the Town of Wrightsville Beach. I was enjoying a conversation with an older black man, who worked for the Public Works Dept. He was from the area as most of us were back then. We swapped stories of where we grew up and I asked him about the fish market. I don't recall much of the conversation but I do recall what he said when he discovered that I was the grandson of Jack Rogers. "Mr. Jack was your Granddaddy! He was a fine man."

I wish I could write that in my youth I saw no color-that I never joined in nor spoke some of those horrible words that flowed so freely and sadly still do. Deep down I did not hate because of a difference in color but I also was prone to believe some of the stereotypes expressed by those around me.

I have shared liberally that I had a powerful Damascus Road moment as a young man. In the blink of an eye I encountered God, or more likely He encountered me. As I began my often failed walk with Him-from that moment the light went on in my heart I knew without anyone telling me that God did not see color. His love shared equally and gracefully. Nothing else could possibly make sense.

One of the greatest blessings for me is hearing comments from people-even Christians that I know & respect, who have read The River HideawayThey have said things like it made them question whether they truly believed that hearts have no color.  Were they without prejudice in the eyes of God?

I spoke to a group recently about my novel and I was approached by a man afterwards. He was nice-not contentious in the least. He said he grew up here just as I did but he still believed in separate but equal. He was not angry. He was just sharing and he did so quite cordially.

Later that night my wife, Julie and I discussed this encounter. She had witnessed the entire conversation. I wondered why he felt the need to share his views. Julie looked at it far differently. Jule's viewpoint was yes the man & I grew up here during similar times & obviously we viewed things differently. But maybe, just maybe, the man went  home and thought about the conversation.

Papa Jack did that for me once. He said something that made a little boy think and I have never forgotten it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bless the Broken Road

As I pray about the next steps in this writing journey and trusting God, I am at peace with however the road turns out. I have older works and if they get published eventually that is good and if not that is good as well. My main proof reader has read one of those & believes it is better than The River Hideaway. If other works get published I won't be able to say that. The River Hideaway, will always be my baby that I wrote long ago, reworked it several times and then finally was published by a small press.

Being a published writer was a long time dream that only occurred when I stopped placing my dream in front of God. It is hard to release what we want so badly or what we think defines us. We can want something so much that we convince ourselves that God is fueling the dream when it may well be our own desires. Those desires may not be anything bad but if I place them before God it will not be what I hope it to be even if it comes to fruition.

Right now for the first time in nine years I am writing something new. Their are parts that I think are funny if Julie's laughter is any indication. Some of it carries some sadness and though fictional there are elements of true feelings mixed in. There are times like right now when I have to break from it because it derives from too deep a place.

I don't know that I will ever have another fresh idea to write a novel, or I may have twenty more. I did not plan to write, The River Hideaway. It was just an idea that emerged while watching a movie. The other manuscripts I have came to me in similar fashion. I observed something and an idea floated out and once there never left.

I was writing something earlier in this story about the man's wife. This time it was personal and I was seeing Julie. She would love this part. She is on horseback. The man thinks back to their wedding day and the song that they slow-danced too. For us it was Storm, by Lifehouse. That is our song but my song to Julie will always be, Bless the Broken Road, by Rascal Flatts. 

There have been many broken roads in my life and most were because I made poor choices. I had to have what I thought I needed. I asked God for help in situations that deep down I knew He would say no. It was hard to believe through much of the heartache that he had something far better in mind for me than I could ever dream of. He had Julie.

God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.