Pine wood derby races have changed since I was a kid. In 1991, my son was seven, in cub scouts, and time for the races. He brought home the box that contained the rectangular box of wood to be designed and carved into a car in order to race down a track. I don’t know the exact dimensions but I guess the wood was about 2 and half inches wide, 2 and a half inches high, and approximately 7 inches long. I immediately flashed back to 1964 when my scout master handed me the same thing.
At the time I was 10 years old and was looking forward to putting it together. I had just seen Viva Las Vegas with Elvis Presley. I do not remember what color his car was in the movie but I choose to do a silver race car. It may have been the only color I could find after I went down into the basement. I found my dad’s toolbox and went to work. I used the wood shaver to round the corners and then figured out how to put the wheels on. I glued them on. That afternoon I was proud of myself that the wheels spun. After painting it silver I put a big 8 on the hood. It did not look anything like Elvis’ car, more like a 1910 boxey race car. The next week was race night.
I could not believe how real some of the cars looked. They were shiny, smooth and sleek. Mine looked uneven, rough and dull. I watched as the other cars sped down the ramp. I had raced mine across the kitchen floor but it didn’t seem to fly like their’s. My concern was not unfounded. Sure enough, when my silver car was pitted against the shiny red car of a 7 year old, his was finished while mine slowly crawled to the finish. I had noticed the room got a little quite. It was pitiful to say the least. I think they were worried I would be upset losing to a younger kid, but I wasn’t. I knew the dad had helped and that was OK. I also knew the car had weights, which was legal. I just didn’t know how to melt the lead to add weight. I was fine. I had done it myself and still liked my silver car. I remember some of the parents trying to encourage me asking if I had put the pine wood derby together by myself. “Yes,” I responded, thinking to myself, “ wasn’t I supposed to.”
Now that my son was seven I wanted to help him. He was into sharks and dinosaurs at the time so I suggested we make it look like a shark. We used a lathe to sand it down and added some fins. I meticulously put the wheels on and then added weight. The next day I went to the post office and had it checked to make sure we were not over the weight limit. We named the race car, “Jaws.” On the night of the races I was hopeful we would win at least one race before being eliminated.
On the first race my heart sank as jaws just seemed to sit still at the start. But then, yes, oh yes, he sped down the track for the win. If we didn’t win again I would have been fine, but he kept winning race after race finally losing to the eventual winner by a whisker. Jaws turned out to be fast. I still recall my son gleefully showing mom later that evening his second place trophy in addition to his first place ribbon in the category for most unique design. At that age he used to hop up and down when he was excited. My wife and I cherished seeing “hoppy.”
I could tell all the seven year olds had perfect cars while those of the older kids looked more like they had done the work. That is the way it should be, the kids doing most of the work, not the dads. Jaws rested on our mantel for several years. He’s banged up a bit now, tucked away in a box, the trophy gone, but I hope my son has some treasured memories. I know I do.
History has always been interesting to me. Military history for most of my life has been my favorite. World War II has drawn my most reading but I often find the Civil War inviting me. My interest in history started at a young age with my brothers and I playing with toy guns, knives and hats. We also had a bunch of toy soldiers.
My oldest brother had a set of Indians and Cowboys. My next oldest had some WWII soldiers, as did my younger brother. I had a Civil War set. I played with toy soldiers countless hours. I still have my Civil War soldiers.
I grew up in Texas and attended family reunions in the Hill Country of central Texas. Many years ago when I was a kid I heard my aunts debating the color of a uniform in the attic of a house back East in West Virginia. My great, great grandfather had come to Texas in a covered wagon right after the Civil War. Since he had come from West Virginia there was some debate as to whether or not he was a Yankee or a Rebel as they talked. “That uniform was blue,” one would say while another replied, “no it was grey.” I didn’t give it much thought. That was in the early 1960’s.
One of the women I work with is into genealogy. She has been so for a many years. The old fashion way; visiting distant relatives she had never met, visiting gravesites, locating documents of birht and death, etc. With the internet and a number of websites dedicated to genealogy it has become much easier to gain knowledge of one’s ancestors. I asked her one day if she could find out about my great, great grandfather. I was surprised with the amount of information she was able to retrieve. She informed me he had graduated from medical school in 1861 in New York City and she noted he was at Gettysburg. That piqued my interest. I assumed he served with the Union but was not totally sure. She added his younger brother served in the Confederacy and died of disease in southern Virginia at the young age of 17.
I had heard of families being divided but living out in Texas I just assumed that was for families located back East. Wow, brother against brother in different uniforms. It seems fairly easy now to assume one was wrong to have worn the gray uniform but it would have presented a dilemma for me, especially in western Virginia where so much harsh fighting took place during the war. Even if you did not own slaves, or were actually opposed to slavery, what would you do if an invading army destroyed your crops, burned your homestead and perhaps threatened your wife and family. If an intruder breaks into my home today and threatens my family, I would defend them. The law allows me to do so. General Sherman rationalized his burning of Georgia saying, “war is hell.” Can you imagine what the North would have done to the South if General Lee had allowed his soldiers to burn parts of Pennsylvania. They were not even allowed to steal shoes which they desperately needed. Of course men were drafted into service, but would an individual have been evil to have actually worn the grey uniform if he were trying to defend his land, his home, his family. Those are some very hard choices I am thankful to have never been challenged with.
In 2010, my daughter did some genealogy research for a school project. She checked into both sides of my family. I had told her about my great, great grandfather on my mom’s side of the family. Other than him, I told her I knew little of my heritage. She verified all that had been told concerning the two brothers. “Do you think the doctor was in the blue uniform?” I asked her. “Yes,” she replied, “he is listed as one of the speakers at a pro union rally in New York City in 1861 condemning the rebellion.” That sounds pretty convincing to me he indeed was a Unionist as were many people from the western part of Virginia. The little town my family comes from is located on the eastern fringes of what is now West Virginia which became a state in 1861. I’m not sure why the younger brother went with the South, but remember, he was very young and probably impressionable. Union troops had invaded that area many times and towards the end of war had burned most of the land to prevent Lee’s forces from having food. He died at the very end of the war. Maybe he felt he was just protecting his home. Maybe he was forced to serve in the Confederacy. We will never know for sure.
I told my daughter how men who participate in Civil War reenactments have to prove their heritage. “I guess I can do that now,” I told her. “Be odd having a Texan at one of those reenactments back East wearing a Union surgeon’s uniform,” I added. “That’s not all to the story,” she replied. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your dad’s mother’s side of the family came from South Carolina to Georgia and eventually to East Texas. During the Civil War you had a great, great grandfather who was a doctor in the Confederacy serving in the Carolinas. They had different last names but they had the same first and middle names, Benjamin Franklin………….and Benjamin Franklin…….. “So, I suppose you could wear either the blue or grey uniform, which ever you wanted,” she added.
I still haven’t decided. I fly the Stars and Stripes in front of my house on certain days of the year. I still get tears in my eyes at the singing of the national anthem. I have never owned, much less flown the Confederate flag.
I think all of us have some interesting stories from our heritage worth exploring. A wealth of stories, perhaps. To each of us our past presented to us by our ancestors offers a treasure-trove of life experiences.
I can still hear my wife saying, “There is precious cargo in the back seat.” She would occasionally remind me of this if I was getting short tempered on the freeway because someone cut me off intentionally or thoughtlessly. “It is not worth an accident, just let it go.” Then to help defuse my temper she would add, “They are driving like a jerk.” It was a way of acknowledging that she was aware I was not the one at fault, but be mindful of the kids in the back seat. Our families are our most valuable assets; precious cargo indeed.
When my kids were young, an acquaintance of mine named Preston Harper wrote a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, Warlords of the West: A Story of the Comanche. I loaned the book out and unfortunately it has been lost for many years now. As one who has lived many years in West Texas, my imagination has been captivated by this group of Indians who were feared by all who encountered them. They were highly regarded horsemen, perhaps the best the world has ever known except for the Mongolian conquerors. They originally came from northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, migrating south into eastern New Mexico, the rolling plains of Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as the vast open prairies and deserts of West Texas. It is believed they began migrating in the late 17th century. They drove out other Indian tribes and resisted the Spanish and Anglo incursions for hundreds of years. They resisted white settlers after Texas became a Republic in 1836. After Texas became a state in 1845 they fought effectively against the U. S. Army until the 1870’s, only being subdued after the buffalo were slaughtered.
Harper did a good job of allowing you, the reader, to live among the Comanche as they rode vast distances hunting and raiding other Indian settlements. Horses were their prized commodity. The author took time to describe their lifestyle, including how they were raised as children, how they courted, how they honored each other, how they fought. One aspect that intrigued me was how they were named. Just as other Indian tribes had interesting names such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or White Feather the book also mentioned some. For example, one of the main characters is named Talks to Horses. I wish I could remember some other names but it has been over 20 years since I read the book. Immediately after finishing the book I pondered what I would name each of my family if I were to give them Indian names. Here is what I came up with:
“….They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
“A live oak tree is sturdy, provides shade, acorns for the squirrels, and a refuge for the birds. You are a strong and dependable husband to me and father to our children. You are the live oak for our family,” she told me. I tried to convey an Indian voice as I replied, “My name Live Oak.” Twenty years later I still secretly like the name she gave me.
In reality I very seldom refer to any of my family by their Indian names but I sure enjoyed the opportunity to come up with some names for them. I also encourage you to read Dr. Harper’s book. I hope my grammer is correct because I had him for an English teacher in college in 1972. I also wish I knew how to say goodbye in Indian but about the only Indian word I know is a greating, “how” (hau).
Does your family have something of value that has been kept in the family heritage for years? Is there a cabin retreat or beach house getaway that has been in the family for generations? Does your family keep heirlooms, collectibles or grandma’s jewelry? Perhaps you have a special portrait or a painting hanging over the fireplace mantle in your parent s home? What would come to your mind if someone asked, “What is your family treasure?”
Most of us would chuckle and say, “Nothing that I know of.” I recently watched a movie that helped put this idea of family treasure into perspective. The name of the movie was called, “The Couple,” made in 2004.
The drama stars Martin Landau as Joseph Krauzenberg, a wealthy German industrialist. The movie takes place during World War II and is based on the true story of Mr. Krauzenberg’s dilemma of trying to save his Jewish family from being sent to the concentration camps. I don’t know how true the specific details of the movie are, but I enjoyed it. I like most movies regarding the second World War.
The Krauzenberg family possessed several large estates, one of which housed many art treasures worth millions. The family owned several industrial factories which brought them their wealth. They also employed a large number of household staff such as cooks, maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, and so forth. This was a way of life that seems alien to us today, but was more evident in the early 20th century. Joseph was aware of what was happening to the Jews of Europe under the Nazi reign and struggled with how to save his family. Joseph was even aware that the Jews were being killed in the extermination camps. He came up with a plan to rescue his family. However distasteful it may be he had to do something. His beloved wife could barely bring herself to go along with the dreaded scenario he revealed they would have to go through.
The Krauzenbergs invited none other than the devil for dinner, that being Heinrich Himmler, head of the detestable SS. Joseph knew the SS had the power to blatantly take all of his possessions anytime they wished. He hoped that by negotiating in a respectful manner he would be able to salvage something of value for his family to keep. It was difficult for his wife to bring herself to be in the presence of Himmler but out of trust and respect to her husband she forced herself to entertain Himmler and his staff in their beloved country estate. The home was filled with numerous priceless art treasures. It was a collection that had taken many decades, perhaps generations to accumulate, and yet could be gone in an instant.
I enjoy movies with dialogue, especially ones such as this. The words of their dinner conversation had to be carefully weighed so as not to upset Reich Minister Himmler. Mr. Himmler portrayed himself to the Krauzenbergs as a gifted art enthusiast, “one who knows good art when he sees it.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Everyone knows it was an opportune time for Himmler to acquire (steal) whatever he wanted, but the movie viewer is left in suspense as to why and what Himmler is negotiating for.
Joseph does well in maintaining his composure. Not so for Mrs. Krauzenberg. At one point when Himmler asks Joseph how long it took to build such a fine art collection she interrupts, “a lot longer than it will take you.” She forces a smile while trying to withhold her disdain. Himmler sheepishly smiles, but does not react. His arrogance is evident. Later that evening, in frustration she asks her husband, “Why are you doing this? Why do we have to give him anything, much less everything, as you intend to do?” If I don’t cooperate we will lose everything. At least this way we can keep our greatest treasure,” he responded. “Most others have lost everything, but if I give Himmler the estate, all of it, he promised me I could keep my family and receive safe travel to Switzerland. Our children and grandchildren are our greatest asset, our true treasure.”
Why did Himmler even meet with them? Perhaps Himmler wanted to present himself to the Krauzenbergs as a soldier, one of honor. Did he treat them honorably? I suppose you will have to watch the movie to find out the end.
We celebrated our youngest son’s birthday this past week as he just turned 19. My wife had been cleaning out some old pictures and going through some shoeboxes of keepsakes when she found this article she wrote almost 18 years ago. I would like to share it with you.
It had come. The report of 14-month old Jung Woo Lee, born in Korea was in our hands, complete with pictures. The report described him as “bright and active.” That sounded good. “He is pacified easily if only soothed, and tends to adjust to new places soon.” That was also good considering his age and all he had been through. Then came the unsettling part. “He is hot-tempered and stubborn so that he must needs do what he wants to do.” A stubborn temperament, several disruptions in his young life, and now the prospect of a new culture and language at a time when language development was critical were real concerns.
We considered our circumstances for the thousandth time. Keith and I were both nearing 40. This would be our third adoption, and the second of Korean origin. We were well aware of our weaknesses as parents. Did we want to disrupt the settled condition of our nice little family? We could refuse the referral, of course. But his little face looked back at us in his pictures with a look that was sadly endearing and seemed to say, “I am the one you have been praying for.” And there are simply times in your life, as you know, when you are certain God has spoken and asked you to join Him in His work, and this was one of those times. Keith phrased our decision well. He said, “When do we step out in faith to face the Goliaths in our lives?”
Three months later, I flew to Korea to bring home Jung Woo, whom we had named Timothy. The first day I saw Timothy at the Eastern Child Welfare Office in Seoul, I fell in love with him, no exaggeration. While his foster mother held him, I handed her a gift. It was a tile trivet with Texas wildflowers painted on it. Timothy reached out his little hand for it, and I grabbed the other corner of it to take it out of his grasp. Mrs. Kim, the foster mother, gently pushed my hand away and let Timothy have the tile. In a flash, he had taken the tile and thrown it across the room. Only a corner had broken off, and as Mrs. Kim, with not a word of reprimand, showed him how the edge was now rough and broken, I realized with a sinking feeling that some “Goliaths” are only two feet tall.
Through the adjustment period over the next two years, I learned an incredible number of things. I learned that a little child has the amazing power to alter completely the lives of everyone around him. I learned that I could not move as fast as he could. I learned that I was not nearly as patient or wise as I thought. I learned that interrupting a person’s sleep with screaming three or four times a night is a very effective way of destroying physical and mental capabilities. I learned the meaning of perseverance, and that obedience to God does not always look like success. And, finally, I learned that whether our giants are nine feet tall or only two, they are not overcome with strength or superior weaponry, but with small stones of faith in a mighty, promise-keeping God.
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