Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sept. 29, 2019, column:
By Mike Haynes
            Music can be powerful, and if you watched Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “Country Music,” on PBS the past two weeks, you saw – or more important, heard – several examples.
            The fun songs – Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa” – and the fast songs – Flatt and Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – certainly can raise spirits. But musician Emmylou Harris said this: “For me, the sad songs are the best, because they make you feel better, because somehow, they connect you to the world, like we’re all in the same boat.”
            Country music has plenty of sorrowful songs, many dealing with heartache, cheatin’ and alcohol. But some of the most moving moments in the Burns film series come in segments on lives that ended too soon and the hopeful music that followed.
Jimmie Rodgers
            Jimmie Rodgers, “the Father of Country Music” was 35 years old when he died in 1933 of tuberculosis. His music on the radio and on records had heartened many during the Depression, and crowds lined the railroad tracks as he was taken from New York City to his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, for burial. Rodgers had just recorded a tune with the lyrics, “yodeling my way back home.”
            He hadn’t been forgotten 20 years later, when 30,000 people attended a memorial in Meridian, including A.P., Maybelle and Sarah Carter of what could be called “the Founding Family of Country Music.”  The Carters’ song, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” still is a standby at memorial services with its ending:
            “There’s a better home a-waiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”
            The documentary recalls that at Rodgers’ 1953 memorial, it had been said  that the country music mantle had been handed over to Hank Williams – who had died a few months earlier at age 29.
            Much of Williams’ music reflected his life, made difficult by alcohol, two divorces and the drugs that apparently killed him. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is one example of why he was
Hank Williams
called “the Hillbilly Shakespeare.” But his granddaughter pointed out that under his anguish was a definite faith in God and redemption that you can’t miss in “I Saw the Light.”
Williams wrote that song after he and his mother had been in a car approaching Montgomery, Alabama. Lilly Williams had remarked that she saw the light of the airport, indicating they were almost home. Son Hank turned it into:
“I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin, I wouldn’t let my dear savior in.
“Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night, Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”
After Williams died in the back seat of another car, country stars Roy Acuff, Red Foley, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce and others sang those lyrics at his funeral in Montgomery to 2,750 people while another 20,000 waited outside.
Patsy Cline
No secular music genre is more spiritual than country music. Maybe that’s because its roots are in the South, considered the Bible Belt, and in the hope that many songs offered during hard times. Burns’ series narrator said that “according to a song by the Carter family, the only place the Depression hadn’t reached was heaven.”
Of course, country music always has had another side. “In its infancy, country music came from the church with the Carter family and from beer joints with Jimmie Rodgers,” said bluegrass musician Vince Gill.
Patsy Cline’s melodic voice gave life mostly to jukebox, heartbreak songs such as “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces” and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.” Her fame wasn’t on the “church side” of country, but the Virginia native who crossed successfully over to the pop charts fit well into the tight-knit country “congregation” that was at home with faith. Her first singing experience had been in a Baptist choir, and she and her mother had sung at church socials.
Cline’s death at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash, along with singers Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and her manager, Randy Hughes, again brought the country music family together, as shown in Burns’ series. Roger Miller, a native of Erick, Oklahoma, and later a recording star, was one of her friends who searched for the plane wreckage in Tennessee. The Grand Ole Opry hosted a memorial service in which many of the stars of the day participated.
The Opry venue itself, the Ryman Auditorium, was a fitting venue for such a service. It had been built in 1892 by Thomas Ryman, a riverboat owner who, according to Burns’ series, “had undergone a religious conversion and wanted a place he called ‘purely an outpost to catch sinners.’” As the Opry’s home from 1943 to 1974, the Ryman became known as “The Mother Church of Country Music.”
The 16 hours of PBS’ “Country Music” cover much more than sad songs and faith in God. But throughout, the series shows how this home-grown genre “reflects experiences of everyday Americans.”
And it shows that many can identify with these words from Roy Acuff’s 1936 “The Great Speckled Bird,” seen as a reference to the church:
“She is spreading her wings for a journey, She’s going to leave by and by,
“When the trumpet shall sound in the morning, She’ll rise and go up in the sky.”

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Sept. 1, 2019, column:
Saying goodbye bittersweet with thoughts that all pets go to heaven
By Mike Haynes
            Driving an hour and a half to Spearman to pick up a puppy isn’t something I ever had pictured myself doing.
            I had grown up with outdoor ranch dogs who rarely went in the house. When Kathy and I got married, she had a gray Pekingese named Hannah – an indoor dog. If I wanted Kathy, I had to take the package deal.
            I got used to our slightly aloof pet and after 13 years of marriage, I was sad when she died in November 2004. But I wanted to wait awhile before getting another one. Then Kathy started looking at puppy pictures online, and I realized I needed to change my thinking.
            I found a little Pekingese, white with tan patches, on the internet, made a deal for her and
Abbey three days after
we got her in 2004.
printed a picture that I gave Kathy early for Christmas. She said it was the best gift I’d ever given her. We left on Christmas Eve morning to go meet her.
            We separately thought of the name, Abbey. That November, we had been in Ireland when Hannah had died. We had visited Kylemore Abbey in Ireland, and we also are ardent Beatles fans and have walked across Abbey Road, so Abbey’s name was pretty well set.
            We met a man in Spearman who had brought Abbey, about 10 weeks old, from her birthplace in Oklahoma. Once we had her, Abbey became our girl.
            We took her to obedience school, where she learned to walk with us and that’s about all. She did pretty well with potty-training, going in the back yard. She never was a chewer.
            Through the years, we pretty much became known as Kathy, Mike and Abbey, although I had to compete with the little white dog for Kathy’s affection. She stayed with Kathy’s mom, Peggy, during our vacations and barked and squealed when we came home, especially when she saw Kathy.
            She was more affectionate than most Pekingese, sitting on the couch with Kathy and actually watching TV at times. She slept in our bed until she had back surgery and then her leg bones started deteriorating. We couldn’t risk her jumping off the bed, so she got her own bed next to ours. She lost the lens of one eye in a scuffle with another dog, so she got eyedrops every day.
            I made monthly trips to our vet’s office for Abbey to get allergy shots. She would get tired of whatever we were feeding her, so we made several changes over the years, and I bought a lot of sliced turkey that we used for sandwiches and to supplement Abbey’s supper.
            Those bones started making it hard for her to walk, but she managed. She started bumping into walls, and we figured she was losing her sight. She couldn’t race through the house like she used to, but occasionally she got energetic and gave it a go. Seizures that had started a few years ago became more frequent.

Abbey after a trip to the groomer
in November 2018.
           Last month, we noticed that her breathing was labored. Our kindhearted vet, who knew Abbey well, said it could be a tumor pressing on her lungs. Her weight was down from 11 to seven pounds. We had to make a tough decision.
            I knew I wouldn’t like Abbey being gone, but it hit me harder than I expected. Kathy and I both cried. For the first time, I wondered seriously whether pets go to heaven. The Bible doesn’t say.
            I read Billy Graham’s opinion: “Heaven will be a place of perfect happiness for us – and if we need animals around us to make our happiness complete, then you can be sure God will have them there.”
            In his book, “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis described a fictional woman who on Earth had loved both people and animals. He portrayed her in heaven taking care of the same animals she had on Earth.
            John Wesley preached a sermon contending that because animals suffered from the fall of man in Genesis, they, like us, will be restored to paradise when all are resurrected.
            And that guy who never met a man he didn’t like, Will Rogers, said, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Randy Alcorn, author of the 516-page book, “Heaven,” devotes two chapters to the afterlife of animals and pets. He focuses on the biblically supported premise that there is a temporary heaven but that after Christ returns, eternity will bring the New Earth, similar to the current Earth but much better.
Among many scriptures, he quotes Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I am making all things new.” “It’s not just people who will be renewed but also the Earth and ‘all things’ in it,” Alcorn writes.
            He sees no reason to doubt that our animals will be part of that restored Earth just as we will. “…The question of whether  pets will be in Heaven is not, as some assume, stupid,” he writes. “Animals aren’t nearly as valuable as people, but God is their Maker and has touched many people’s lives through them. It would be simple for him to re-create a pet in Heaven if he wants to. …
            “If it would please us to have a pet restored to the New Earth, that may be sufficient reason.”
            Kathy’s grief at Abbey’s passing was no surprise, but my own reaction took me aback. As we touched our pet’s paw for the last time, on a veterinarian’s table with Peggy behind us, I said, “Bye, Abbey,” as I had for 15 years every time I left the house. Kathy said, “Goodbye, sweet girl.” I couldn’t resist adding, “Good girl, Abbey.”

Sunday, August 04, 2019

In August 2019 issue of Upbeat Reporter (available free at Toot 'n Totums and at Amarillo and Canyon United Supermarkets). This column is different from the one about Israel published in the Amarillo Globe-News.
Walking where our faith was born

By Mike Haynes
The Islamic Dome of the Rock dominates the Temple Mount
in the Old City of Jerusalem. The golden dome is believed
to be on the site of the Jewish temple destroyed
by the Romans in 70 A.D. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
            When I pray, I often thank God that Jesus came 2,000 years ago to teach us how to live and to save us from sin. I also offer thanks that even though Jesus no longer is on this Earth in bodily form, he still is with us in at least three ways: through God’s Word, the Bible; through Christ’s body, the church; and through the Holy Spirit.
            My wife, Kathy, and I were blessed this year to be able to visit the land where Jesus lived, died and rose, and it struck me that this small country – the size of the Texas Panhandle – is where all three of those manifestations of God’s presence were born.
Visiting Israel can provide new perspectives. Just standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is an emotional experience, because you know Jesus and his disciples were at or near the same spot, and when you read scripture such as Matthew 1:16, you know what it looked like when Christ
summoned Simon Peter and Andrew as they cast nets near that rocky shore.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the oldest known copies
of the Hebrew Bible, were discovered in caves in the Qumran
area of Israel. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
Looking up at the lofty, green hills at Tiberias or standing in the deep Jerusalem valley between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount help you visualize the rugged terrain Jesus and his followers had to deal with as they walked between those locations whose names are so familiar to Bible readers.
And it’s remarkable to think that God’s Word took physical form in that place. From Moses to Matthew to Paul, scripture was created or first circulated in the lush hills of Galilee to the desert of the Dead Sea.
Our group of 75, most from Washington Avenue or Hillside Christian churches in Amarillo, saw some of the caves near the salty Dead Sea where the oldest known copies of Hebrew scripture were found by a shepherd boy in 1947.
Looking for a lost goat, a Bedouin boy stumbled upon clay jars that contained leather scrolls in a cave of the barren Qumran mountains. About 1,100 more documents, some made of papyrus and a few of copper, and 100,000 fragments from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. eventually were found in 10 more caves. The most impressive is a 24-foot scroll that contains the entire book of Isaiah. Its text is virtually identical to the previous oldest copy of Isaiah, from 980 A.D., proving the reliability of scripture through the centuries.
Visitors from Amarillo take in the scene
at the Tabhga shore on the Sea of Galilee.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
Kathy and I also visited the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, where the Isaiah document and other Dead Sea Scrolls are stored. Seeing such physical evidence brings thoughts of the care and sacrifice that God’s followers have given through the millennia to pass the message from generation to generation – copied by hand, then printed and now transmitted digitally.
And those words first were recorded in this small country on the Mediterranean Sea.
A tour of Israel takes you to scores of sites where Jesus’ first followers lived, walked, fished and preached. It’s easy to picture the charismatic son of Joseph and Mary standing near the top of a grass-covered hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee with thousands of people taking in the words that we call the Sermon on the Mount. Tour guides point out a location where the acoustics are perfect for Jesus to have declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Archeologists have uncovered a house in Capernaum, also near the Sea of Galilee’s shore, that most agree was the residence of the apostle Peter and where Jesus stayed after he made Capernaum his base of operations. A modern church has been built over the site, but it is suspended over the ancient stone-and-mortar ruins so that this house, turned into a church after Jesus’ time, still can be seen and studied.
The original Christ-followers – later to become the church – lived in that spot and worshipped
Tourists from Amarillo view the remains of a first-century house
and church at Capernaum, next to the Sea of Galilee. The house is
believed to have been the residence of the apostle Peter and a location
where Jesus spent time. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
at the synagogue a stone’s throw away. And many consider Jerusalem, 120 miles south, to be the site where Christ’s church officially began (Acts 2).
The church exploded from Israel to its current worldwide count of 2.3 billion, according to the Pew Research Center.
The event that Luke recorded in Acts 2 was the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had predicted. The disciples heard a sound like a violent wind, saw “tongues of fire” resting on each of them and spoke in languages that foreign visitors could understand.
God had sent the Holy Spirit to be with his people after Jesus was resurrected to heaven. And as miraculous as that day was, it happened in a physical place on the same Earth where we live, in the city of Jerusalem, which we can visit and where we can see some of the stones and stairs and building foundations – and the same steep hills and deep valleys – that were there on that historic occasion.
Tour groups, including one from the Texas Panhandle, join
together to sing a hymn in St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
Our group from Texas sensed the Holy Spirit in St. Anne’s Church, built in the 1100s a few feet from Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda. Sharing space with other tour groups – from various countries, like those present on Pentecost – one group began singing “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” in English. We joined in, as did other groups, and the voices sounded angelic in the perfect acoustics in front of the altar.
I’m thankful that we got to see the oldest example of God’s Word that scholars know about, walk where the first believers walked and feel the same Spirit that first descended from heaven to the Holy Land.
You don’t have to visit Israel or see physical proof of the locations, people and events described in the Old and New Testaments. But when you do, it can add a dimension to your Bible study, to your understanding and even to your prayers.
And it can be a reminder that Christianity is based not on fanciful stories or on farfetched mythology but on events that happened to real people in real time in a real place.

Aug. 4, 2019, column:
What if no one had heard of Jesus until now?

By Mike Haynes
            When Jack Malik quietly sings one of the Beatles’ masterful ballads at a picnic table on an English beach, his friends stare at him and his guitar, mesmerized. As he finishes with “Now I long for yesterday,” his longtime mate Ellie can say only, “Oh, my.”
            It’s the first time any of Jack’s listeners have heard the song, and they assume he wrote it.

            The scene summarizes the premise of this summer’s film, “Yesterday,” in which the world has experienced a global blackout at the exact moment Jack is hit by a bus. Out of the hospital, he soon discovers that he apparently is the only person on Earth who has heard of the Beatles.
            When he reminds his friends that Paul McCartney wrote “Yesterday,” one replies, “Who?” Jack goes home to Google “Beatles,” and a picture of a creepy-crawly beetle pops up. He searches for “John Paul George Ringo,” and he gets a photo of Pope John Paul II.
            It’s the movies, so if you suspend belief and go with the science fiction/magical plot, you can have a fun time seeing how people react joyfully to the explosion of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which they think is Jack’s new music.
            The story is a “supposal,” a term C.S. Lewis used for his “Chronicles of Narnia.” What if something similar to Christianity happened in a land called Narnia?
What if a struggling musician claimed the Beatles’ music as his own and everyone believed him?
            And what if no one had heard of Jesus until now?
            Seeing the excitement on people’s faces as they first hear “Help!” or “I Saw Her Standing There” must pale compared to the joy and exhilaration of Galileans when they witnessed Jesus’ first miracle or those in Jerusalem when the Messiah rode into the city on a donkey. Or even more mind-boggling, when the disciples saw and touched the man they had seen die on a cross – alive after three days.
            Two thousand years later, we too often take for granted who Jesus is and what he has done.
Yes, many are elated when they first see the light of salvation, but then we sometimes become too laidback and apathetic about the greatest news in history.
            What if the Christian message had not been passed down from generation to generation? What if we had never heard of the Bible? If suddenly, this Jesus showed up with his message of love and hope, if we heard his Sermon on the Mount for the first time, would we be amazed? Maybe.
            The Spirit of God does still inhabit Christians and does inspire us to do great and loving things. But we humans don’t always let the Lord lead. We forget how energizing Jesus was in the first century and how he can be today if we let him.
            Whether we hear about Jesus for the first time or we’ve grown up in church, we do need to be sure we get the message right. In the “Yesterday” movie, Jack is recording his supposedly new song, “Hey Jude.” His pop music benefactor, Ed Sheeran, suggests that a better title would be “Hey Dude.”
            No, that wouldn’t do.
Someone unwittingly messing with the Beatles’ words is funny, but distorting God’s Word would be serious business. We’re blessed that we don’t have to guess. Scripture hasn’t been erased by a global outage. We have it in writing.  
            Like the first, lone, chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” spurs musical anticipation, it would be nice if hearing Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) would fire us up to spread the Good News today, tomorrow and beyond.
                                                                * * *
            Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016. He can be reached at Go to for other recent columns.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

July 7, 2019, column:
Rodeo ministry helps develop good character in the arena of life
By Mike Haynes

            Fourteen young people, half male and half female, stood in a semi-circle, their feet in the deep dirt of a rodeo arena. All their eyes were on a man in a black western hat, black vest and blue jeans.
            Three other men wearing similar hats stood nearby under the bright lights of the indoor facility.
            The young group, most of them members of the Clarendon College rodeo team or the ranch horse program, all were bareheaded, and they tended to have on shorts and T-shirts instead of their normal Levi’s and button-down shirts.
            They were about to get wet in a small, metal stock tank.
Fourteen young people connected to the Clarendon College rodeo team listen
as the Rev. Thacker Haynes of McLean explains the significance of baptism
before they experience it April 30 at the college Livestock and Equine Center arena.
(Photo by Bobbi Stalls)
            A few had attended high school in the Texas Panhandle, and more had been recruited to Clarendon by Bret Franks, director of the rodeo and ranch horse programs, from as far away as Iowa and Alabama.
            Their paths to these baptisms on April 30 had started with attraction to a quality rodeo program, from a years-long Christian ministry and from a tragedy involving one of their friends and teammates.
            Two years ago, a potential student and his parents visited the college. “They said they wanted to come on a Tuesday night, because that’s when we have church,” said the Rev. Thacker Haynes, the guy in the black hat and vest who from the beginning has helped coordinate a ministry that now feeds about 75 people with a hot meal and the Good News of Jesus weekly during the school year.
            Haynes (this writer’s cousin) is pastor of the Methodist churches in McLean and Heald. He said 85% of those congregations’ members participate in the rodeo ministry or a multi-church youth ministry, mostly on cooking teams. Also involved in the eight food teams are One Way Church in McLean and the Methodist church in Clarendon.
            “It’s home-cooked food,” Haynes said. “Hamburgers and hotdogs but also sausage-potato casserole, enchiladas and banana pudding.” Bobbi Stalls keeps the meal ministry going, and her husband, Randy Stalls, helps with the evangelism.
            Almost a decade ago, the rodeo coach at the time, Cody Heck, told Randy Stalls, a McLean cattleman, he needed help getting his students on the right track as some were tempted by drugs, alcohol and partying. Stalls and Haynes came up with the weekly meetings at the rodeo-ranch facilities.
            Stalls and Haynes bring in people, primarily with ranching and rodeo backgrounds, to talk to the students about their lives and how faith in God can give them direction. They range from Cowboy Church pastors such as John Paul of Woodward, Oklahoma, to world champion roper Stran Smith of Childress and his wife, Jennifer Douglas Smith, an ESPN rodeo commentator.
            Haynes said a central theme tends to emerge each year without the speakers consulting each other. “This year it was relationships, whether with each other or with God,” he said.
            Franks said the ministry has played a major role in his programs’ success, which included Clarendon College placing third last month at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming.
            “It was the first time we’d been able to send a full team,” Franks said. 
            Riggin Smith, who Franks had recruited from Iowa, won the saddle bronc competition, and his cousin, Teagan Smith, placed third in saddle bronc. Dylan Jones finished fourth in team roping.
            That kind of success in the rodeo arena stems from developing good character in the arena of life, according to Franks, and he credits the rodeo ministry for building that foundation.
            “My role is about trying to influence these kids’ lives, make them better citizens,” he said. “A lot of them come from broken homes; their parents weren’t there. We need to face those problems first and foremost.
            “When I recruit kids and have their parents here, one of the first things I tell them is that we’re a family, just like a church. We’re together from 2 o’clock in the afternoon to dark every day, we meet together, we have fellowship on Tuesday nights. It’s more of everybody helping everybody than a lot of other places.”
            That family came even close together on March 18, when 20-year-old Dalton O’Gorman of Shamrock, Dylan Jones’s roping partner, was killed in a skid loader accident.
            “Not making light of the tragedy, but it turned into a huge blessing for most of the kids when they realized everybody was backing them,” Franks said. “When you’re a family living with each other for a couple of years, you have a lot more than most.”
            Franks said Jones also was O’Gorman’s best friend. “When Dalton passed away, every time Dylan got on a horse or picked up a rope, it brought back all the memories. He never talked about quitting, but he dang sure wanted to step away from it for a while.”
            Franks convinced Jones to compete at nationals. “That was a huge blessing in itself. It got him back on a horse, and he got to go up there and represent the school and Dalton’s legacy and memory.”
            The night of O’Gorman’s accident, “within a couple of hours, we had Thacker and Randy and John Paul and people in the community and administration here consoling those kids and praying with them. We were pretty fortunate to have that ministry in place, because it held us together.”
            The heartbreaking experience helped focus the students on life’s priorities, leading some, which included O’Gorman’s high school-age sister, to request baptism. Haynes said that before granting the request, he, Stalls and Paul asked each one, “Why?”
            “Man, they gave some good answers,” Haynes said. “And we spent a lot of time crying with them.”
            On June 6, Haynes and the Stalls couple received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award at the annual meeting in Lubbock of the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. They had been nominated by the Rev. Kirk Watson, a former Clarendon pastor who assisted the rodeo ministry for three years.
            Watson wrote in his nomination form, “They are building relationships with these students on a name by name, event by event basis. They invest in the lives of these students. …
“These students get a sense that they matter to the people involved in this ministry, and through that they start to believe that they matter to Jesus.”

Sunday, June 09, 2019

June 9, 2019, column:
Memorial Day with family reminds why sacrifices are made and for whom we make them
By Mike Haynes
            Two numbers struck me this Memorial Day: three and four.
            Some say that deaths come in threes, and in World War II, that was the case for my family. While at McLean’s Hillcrest Cemetery May 27 for a Memorial Day ceremony, several of us walked over to a flat monument in the shade of a tree. It’s engraved with the names of a trio of cousins; one was killed in the air, one on land and one at sea. It’s inscribed:
            “Cpl. S.B. Morse, 1905-1943, U.S. Air Corps, England”
            “Sgt. Morse Ivey, 1918-1944, U.S. Infantry, France”
            “Jack Bogan, R.M. 1/C, 1922-1945, U.S. N.R., Pacific”
This cemetery marker for three cousins who died in World War II
was decorated for Memorial Day. S.B. Morse died in an air crash
in England, Morse Ivey on land at Normandy and Jack Bogan
in the Philippine Sea. (Photo by Mike Haynes)

            S.B. Morse died in a plane crash near Cambridge, Morse Ivey in the Normandy invasion and Jack Bogan in the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the Philippine Sea.
            On Memorial Day, three white crosses and three American flags backed up the monument, and as we looked around the cemetery, green and adorned with the white flowers of yucca plants from recent rain, we saw scores of other crosses and flags placed by Boy Scouts.
            The account of the three cousins is a dramatic and poignant one for our family, but just about every one of the people attending the morning ceremony had an equally heart-rending story of relatives who didn’t come back from war. In a small town, every name of a soldier, sailor or airman from the community can be read aloud, and my cousin Thacker did that Monday in a “Roll Call of the Fallen.”
            Hometown graduate Ricky D. Smith, himself a U.S. Army veteran, filled in an attentive audience on the town’s participation from World War I to the recent Middle Eastern conflicts and reminded us of the loss not only of those who died but of the lives they would have lived, the children they would have raised and the ripple effect they would have had on the world.
            Emcee L.H. Webb quoted John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The reminder, “Gentlemen, please remove your hats,” was unnecessary in the middle of cattle country, a place where reverence for presentation of the colors, the national anthem and prayer is pretty much automatic. Pastor Casey Carter cradled a sweat-stained western hat under his arm as he gave the benediction.
            The other number that struck me that day, four, represented something less weighty but reminds me of another significant part of life: family.
A family front-yard cornhole tournament on Memorial Day brought
home the meaning of what those killed in war were defending.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
            Memorial Day morphed into a small family reunion for us as 25 or so kinfolk drove out to Dad’s place for hamburgers, a snooker game and a tournament of the currently popular beanbag game, cornhole.
As we carried paper plates from the kitchen to the dining room, the big table filled up and four of the adults wound up at the smaller game table. Somebody noticed that Tex, Jenny, Ricky and I all were lefthanded.
We posed for a picture with our left hands raised, and then we were generous and let my righthanded wife, Kathy, sit with us. It was just a passing, fun moment, but the four lefties stuck in my mind as a reminder of what turned out to be a special day.
We ate birthday cake in honor of both my brother David and his wife Ginger, we watched my brother edge out our uncle Carey Don for the snooker game championship, and we spent a couple of hours in the front yard playing in or watching beanbags navigate the wind toward round holes in plywood.
I wondered what games Texas Panhandle pioneers played on similar days of recreation 100 or more years ago.
Our family gathering included the oldest, my 88-year-old dad Johnny, as competitive as ever whether handling a cue stick, a beanbag or a golf club, and 2-month-old McCrae Lee, now competing for attention with her almost 2-year-old cousin, Dallas David.
We ended the day with a short drive to the family cemetery to visit Mom, gone almost six years. Joyce would have appreciated that we took the time to come, and she would have seen that we hadn’t changed as we made jokes and my sister tossed a golf ball back and forth to one of the kids.
A less-often quoted verse, 1 John 3:16, reads, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Times at cemeteries, times at the table and times at play can remind us why sacrifices are made and for whom we make them.