Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a “pre-ministerial student” at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with “Old Grit,” his profound professor of New Testament Greek. “You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.” “And how long is that going to take?” “I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.” “That could be a long time.” “I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.” Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.
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A damp and soggy weekend followed close on the heels of Joaquin – a blessing in disguise for the Blackmon clan. Most all of our activities were cancelled in anticipation of bad weather. We ended up spending the entire weekend together, as a family should. With each peek out the window to check the weather I stared at another house, which caused me to pine for the South. I was reminded of the late Charles Kuralt who wrote:
“In the South, the breeze blows softer than elsewhere through the pine trees, and accents fall softer on the ear. Neighbors are friendlier, and noiser, and more talkative. (By contrast with the Yankee, the Southerner never uses one word when ten or twenty will do.) The spring is prettier, the summer hotter and happier, the fall longer and sadder, the winter shorter than elsewhere on the continent. This is a different place. Our way of thinking is different, as are our ways of seeing, laughing, singing, eating, meeting and parting. Our walk is different, as the old song goes, our talk and our names. Nothing about us is quite the same as in the country to the north and west. What we carry in our memories is different too, and that may explain everything else.”
The colorful crescendo of fall is nigh at hand. Certainly, the Old Dominion State will be draped in beautiful color soon, but I find myself longing for the smell of Tennessee tobacco barns. I’ve been so busy I almost failed to recognize that my favorite season is upon us.
We can get busy in this rat race if were not careful – neglect that which is most precious. In 1990, Barbara Bush gave us some sage advice. She told the ladies of Wellesley College, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”
In the coming weeks I hope we all carve out a little time, steal a few hours, to strole along a scenic byway with someone we love. It’s medicinal, I assure you.
There is something incredibly special about learning to ride a bike. That first sense of freedom comes when a child rounds the curve, out of sight from their parents, and ventures out on their own for the first time . I vividly recall my father running along beside my wobbling bike as I struggled to maintain my balance. “Keep pedaling. Don’t stop pedaling,” he huffed through winded lungs, yet he never stopped pushing. Not until I could ride.
It wasn’t long before my friends and I built a feeble ramp and pretended we were Evil Knievel. Skinned knees and elbows came next, even a few tears were shed, but oh the joy of riding a bike.
Today I reported to work. It was my first day at the Pentagon, and I was quickly overwhelmed by the Joint Staff/Pentagon acronym centric vernacular known only to “The Building.” It was one of those first day, drinking from the fire hydrant, kind of experiences. At the end of the day, I boarded a bus bound for Egypt (Manassas/Bristow and beyond) exhausted, and it occurred to me – John Cougar Mellencamp is the greatest artist in the universe.
I’m serious. I sat staring out of the window of the bus, as we crawled along I-66 West, and I was reminded of a time when I wore a Levi jacket and soaked my permed hair with Aqua Net. Yes, I literally sported a perm at one time. I was reminded of an era long since faded with time when Harris Jones and I sat in his basement bedroom in complete silence, staring at each other through thin lipped grins, as Cougar wailed out poetry to our young ears. We listened to the seemingly endless intro to, “I Need A Lover” through Bose speakers that I was convinced would blow themselves or our ear drums at any moment.
John Cougar captured lightening in a bottle.
He sang, “Well there’s a young man in a T-shirt
Listenin’ to a rock ‘n’ roll station
He’s got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: “Lord, this must be my destination”
‘Cause they told me, when I was younger
Sayin’ “Boy, you’re gonna be president”
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went
Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses, for you and me, oh baby for you and me”
And of all people, an icon himself, John Fogerty, said, “It was perhaps the greatest song ever written.” I think he got it right. Now to bed. And back to work on the bus.
Well, the evening was wonderful. What an honor to stand among 101st Airborne Division Veterans spanning 75 years and sing the national anthem. The gentleman in the picture is Mr. David Wisnia. He was born in Poland. During WWII his entire family was killed and he, an able-bodied 18-year-old boy, was put into the concentration camp, Auschwitz. Some time later, the Germans were moving the prisoners to Dachau. During the trip Mr. Wisnia miraculously escaped. He had not gone far when he ran into a column of men from the 101st Airborne Division. Mr. Wisnia spoke six languages. He joined the 101st that day and never left them throughout the rest of the war. “I had no family,” he told me tonight. “They became my family.”
If you do nothing else today read my story and watch the video. It will be the best 11 minutes you give away this year. I promise. Three years ago I was the guest speaker at the 101 Association reunion and that was the first time Vinny told his amazing story. It has since been recorded, and I have attached it below. Watch it. You won’t believe the ending.
Now, to get you there…
It is truly an honor to be the guest speaker, again, at tonights 101st Airborne Division Association Snowbird dinner. There are hundreds of veterans here who have served in our great division since WWII. Here are a few of the remarkable American’s present. I am pictured with Pat Macri and his wife in the first picture. Pat jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st. He jumped with two carrier pigeons under his arms. One pigeon had a message attached to its leg that said, “The jump was a success.” The other pigeon’s message said, “The jump was a failure.”
When Pat landed on the LZ the “success” pigeon was dead. It had been killed on impact. He removed the message from its leg and replace the failure message on the other pigeons leg, and then he set it free to fly back to England, reporting the mission a success. I literally had tears in my eyes as this dear man told me how he prayed that the Lord would help him endure.
In the other photo I am standing between Richard Pack and Tom Sewell. Richard went to Baylor H.S. in Chattanooga, and dated a girl from Ranger, GA – my hometown. He first commanded an infantry company in Vietnam and then commanded Charlie Company, 101st Aviation Group. Charlie Company (Black Widows) is now a company in my brigade. Tom was Richard’s operations officer. Richard would go on to serve as the 1st Ranger Battalion Operations Officer and was the Army Aviation planner, whiles serving as the Ranger OPSO, for Operation Eagle Claw, the attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran.