Hand on a Wall

mene mene Rembrandt-Belsazar

logoDo you recall hearing the phrase, “We see the handwriting on the wall?”  It is used in the context that someone knows something is about to happen, implying, “they know where this situation is headed.”  I do not hear it in conversation much now, but it still occasionally pops up.  I confess it is one that I have always liked because I know where the phrase originated from.  Travel with me for a moment as we go back in time; a time when the world was ruled by empires, a time when kings had absolute power.

Our journey goes back to ancient times, many centuries before the Roman Empire.  Long before the time of Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire.  Even before the once mighty ancient Persian Empire that the Greeks conquered.  For a moment we will explore the ancient Babylonian Empire, around the 6th century B.C.   The one that had the famous, “hanging gardens of Babylon,” one of the eight wonders of the ancient world. A kingdom whose ruins are situated in present day Iraq.  A mighty empire that ruled over many other kingdoms.  The walls around Babylon were over 100 feet high, 30 feet wide, and circled the city state for miles.  Babylon ruled the Middle East for about 70 years and it’s power was unprecedented.  It  ruled it’s conquered subjects very harshly.  Most empires slowly decline.  This one came to an abrupt end all in a single day.

The story is told in the book of Daniel of the Old Testament.  gutenberg-bible-book-of-danielA short book whose author Daniel talks about a number of kingdoms past, present and future to his day.  Daniel was a very high ranking official who served in the King’s court.  He is also the one who you may have heard about that was thrown into a den of lion’s, but that is another story for another day.   Although Daniel honorable served the King, he revered and served God in his heart.  Daniel was blessed with much knowledge, wisdom, management skills, and the unusual ability to interpret dreams.  He served in the King’s court for many years under a number of successive kings.  He was old when the following event took place.

King Belshazzar held a great feast attended by a thousand nobles.  Much wine was flowing and the King ordered the gold and silver cups that had been removed from King Solomon’s Temple when Babylon conquered Jerusalem years before under a different Babylonian king be brought to the feast.  As they drank toasts from these goblets in honor of the gods of Babylon, they mocked the gods of their conquered peoples including the God of King Solomon.  At that very moment the fingers of a human hand wrote on the palace wall the following words,  Mene Mene Tekel Parsin.  No one knew what the words meant and King Belshazzar was filled with so much terror that his knees buckled under him.  None of the King’s enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could decipher the meaning.  Someone recalled a wise older official named Daniel who had been known to interpret dreams.  He was summoned.

BelshazzerThe King promised Daniel a gold necklace, a royal purple robe, and the third highest position in the land if he could tell the meaning of the words.  Daniel told the King to keep his gifts but he would reveal the message.

Mene means numbered:  God has numbered your days of your reign and has been  brought it to an end.

Tekel means weighed:  you have been weighed in the balances and have failed the test.

Parsins means divided:  your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

The book of Daniel records that very night Babylon was conquered, Belshazzar killed and Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.

Footnote:  For many centuries scholars debated if Babylon actual ever existed.  The ancient ruins of the city were discovered in the desert north of Arabia in the middle of the 19th century.  Historians and archeologists believe the Medes and Persians dammed up the river that flowed underneath and through the city allowing their soldiers to enter the fortified thought impregnable city.

On the game board for Treasure Trove one of the treasure spaces is titled “Kings and their Kingdoms.”

To learn more about the game go to www.TreasureTroveGame.com  boxtop

Pawn Stars

I love history.  I like reading about history and I like hearing stories about history.  Probably my most favorite form of entertainment is a good movie based on historical facts.  Secondly, I like historical documentaries such as the ones I watch on the history channel.  One day as I scanned the TV guide I noticed a show on the History Channel called Pawn Stars.  I did not pay much attention.  Months later I’m flipping channels and I watch a little of it because it seemed a little like Antiques Roadshow which I enjoy.  I did not connect at first with Pawn Stars because I did not see the connection to the History Channel.  More months went by.  After about a year on another occasion while browsing the TV I caught a transaction between the pawn shop and someone wanting to sell some buttons that supposedly belonged to George Washington.  I was skeptical but kept watching.  This was not the East coast, this is a pawn shop in Vegas.

            By the end of the episode I realized the owners of the pawn shop were good at dealing with people and were presented with a lot of interesting stuff.  Some of the viewers may like seeing them restore classic cars, speed boats and dirt bikes, but for me I love seeing the old valuable stuff that comes through their place.  People wanted to sell items such as a document with an actual John Hancock signature, ancient coins from India, old weapons from centuries ago in Europe, and so forth.  It actual amazes me and I find it quite entertaining.  The owner of the shop, Rick, convinces me he is pretty good when it comes to making an initial assessment of old artifacts.  I also am impressed with his wealth of consultants to advise him on just about anything that comes his way.  Like I said this Las Vegas, not Boston or Philadelphia.  He is quite often assessing American artifacts from hundreds of years ago.  I’m not sure how they wind up in Vegas, but they seem to.

            I am also impressed with the people he works with to help him restore old vending machines, cars, boats, and even an airplane.  Seeing people work with their hands to fix or improve what the pawn shop brings them brings a healthy dose of respect from me.  The Old Man, Rick’s father puts up a rough image, but he knows the pawn shop business.  I also suspect he is a pretty decent man.  I realized this when I saw the episode where Rick and his son Corey restored an old Chrysler Imperial for the Old Man’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.  That was cool.

           At first I was not sure about Corey and his friend Chumlee but I have grown to like them.  They are all quite entertaining.  When I run out of episodes of Pawn Stars I will anxiously await any new ones.  Pawn Stars is one of my all time favorite shows and I have been watching TV for over fifty years.  A lot of treasure is brought to their shop with a treasure –trove of stories to go along with it.  If you like valuable old stuff and a little history behind the stuff, you will like Pawn Stars.  As for me, I am going to treasure every minute of the show as long as it runs.  If I ever go to Vegas I hope to visit his shop.  I wish I had something cool for him to appraise but I don’t think that is going to happen.

Solomon’s Treasure


Solomon_Dedicates Temple_at_Jerusalem

           The fabled wealth of King Solomon is legendary.  He is thought to have been one of the richest men to have ever lived and many believe he was perhaps the wealthiest of all time.  If what he possessed in his time was compared to today’s prices, his net worth would easily outpace the richest people living in modern times.  He would have been richer than the oil baron John Rockefeller at the turn of the 20th century or the computer billionaires of the early 21st century.   

Israelite Temple

    His kingdom is written about in the Old Testament books of 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles.  The vastness of his wealth and how he managed the Israelite Empire he ruled over is quite detailed in these accounts.  He lived almost three thousand years ago.  He oversaw the building of the Temple in Jerusalem for the Israelites to honor and worship God.  It was probably one of the most expensive architectural accomplishments ever completed.  Rulers from distant places, such as the Queen of Sheba, traveled to visit him and marveled at his great wealth.  It has been recorded that the utensils and drinking cups of his palaces were only of gold.  It was plentiful enough in his household that silver was not considered of much value.  (1st Kings, chapter 10, verse 21)


    Hundreds of years after King Solomon lived, the Babylonian Empire(located in present day Iraq)destroyed the Temple and looted the treasures.  Archeologists discovered Babylon in the mid 19th century but no treasures of King Solomon.   Yet his greatest treasure remains with us to this day:  his wisdom.  He is regarded as the wisest man who ever lived.  The recorded writings of his wisdom are in the book of Proverbs of the Old Testament.  The following is a sample of his inspired words:


                      “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.  For wisdom is more profitable than silver and her wages better than gold.  Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.  She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left.”   

   Proverbs 3:13-16

       When players compete in TreasureTrove, they are trying to collect as many treasures as they can as quickly as they can.   Included in the playing of the game are situation cards that by chance allow players different options.  Some of the cards allow players to acquire more treasure, some cause a lose a turn, while some send players to different places on the game board.  There are also some cards that offer a quote of wisdom to remind of us life’s true treasures.   A sample of one of such card reads as follows:


            A card such as this one is not going to help one win the game but reminds us hopefully that  treasure is held in our hearts not just in our hands.


To learn more about the game go to www.TreasureTroveGame.com

History Fairs


           Science fairs are still are held in school districts but I don’t think they have the participation that was evident decades ago.  I always envied the students who could come up with a research project for science and carry it through to completion.  I do not know if history fairs are still held.  I doubt it.  When I was in junior high in the 1960’s there was a history fair each year.  I really enjoyed participating in them.

            The first year I entered the competition it had to be on Texas history.  I elected to make a small log cabin and wanted to build all the furniture myself.  I had always been intrigued with miniatures and had completed my share of models ships and planes.  One of my favorite models was one of an Apollo rocket.  It gave me a good sense of just how small the capsule containing the astronauts was compared to the size of the rest of the rocket needed to propel the spaceship out of the earth’s gravitational field. One summer at grandma’s I had put together a wooden model airplane and although it was a kit you still had to cut and make most of the wooden pieces.  Only the propeller was plastic and the large rubber band needed to wind up the propeller.  I found myself enjoying working with the wood and paper to create the plane.  It flew quite well.  I looked forward to making the wooden furniture for my log cabin.   


       I titled my project, “The Settlers of Texas,” and did some library research compiled in a notebook as to when the first settlers arrived in Texas form the Southern states of the USA.  I enjoyed going to the library looking through encyclopedias.  This was before most homes could afford a nice set.  I liked Compton’s and found Britannica hard to read.  My favorite was World Book.

            My father suggested making the logs out of paper.  He was creative with models.  I had seen him make small boat for my older brother for a cub scout project and he had helped me make a small covered wagon for one my scout projects.  We would use whatever wood was available in the garage, coat hangers, and so forth.

            I worked on my project every day for several weeks enjoying every minute of it.  Our home had a room where mom would do her oil painting and we could do our models and woodworking.  My friends would come over and compliment my work as I would create a table, a chimney, a bed or whatever I thought a homesteader’s cabin might have.  I had always dreamed of living in the loft of a log cabin.

            There were over 500 entrants and I was thrilled to get 3rd place.  I still have the book I received, a book about the American West, which I occasionally look through. First place went to a model of an oil derrick showing the different layers of rock and sediment needed to drill through the earth in order to reach the oil.  That was a neat idea.  Second place went to a bar of soap.  The student had made the bar of soap just as the pioneers would have had to do.  That was a simple but great idea for a history project.  Forth place went to model of Fort Davis, also a cool idea.              

            During the second year of my junior high experience the history fair was on American history.  Much broader, but unfortunately, a lot less participation.  Less than 100 entered the contest.  I had always been intrigued by the Mississippi flatboats such as Huckelberry Finn.  I chose to do my project on just that.  Dad cut some small pieces of wood in order for me to make a boat and I once again made all the pieces.  I also spent some time researching in the library in order to put together a notebook.  I was pleasantly surprised when I won first place.  I still have the book on the Civil War that I received for winning. 


     The next year mom and dad gave me a set of World Book Encyclopedias for Christmas.  That was a big deal in those days.  I still have them and over years I continue to read out of them.  I have also retained both my models as they meant a lot to me.  In high school I put together a model railroad and have recently again dabbled with model railroading.  Unfortunately I am now finding it hard to bring my hobby projects to completion.  Years ago I spent some time making a dollhouse for my daughter.  That was fun for both of us. 

            History has brought me joy as music does to others.  For some it is poetry.  For me it is history.  I see God working through history revealing his hidden mysteries.  I will always treasure my love of history.  I consider it a gift from God.

Civil War Doctors


1863 American flag

          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.

Indian Names


     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:

  1. Morning Glory would have been my daughter’s Indian name.  At that time my wife had a morning glory plant growing on the brick wall outside of our kitchen.  The flowers were a pretty pale blue growing on a vine.  They were splendid to look at as I watered my tomato plants just below the vine, especially when I watered in the mornings.  They brought me a lot of joy as my daughter has and I found that name appropriate for her. 
  2. My son at the time was a baseball player with a flame thrower for an arm.  The Old Testament says sons are like arrows in one’s quiver.  I named him Flaming Arrow.     
  3. My wife has always been a blessing to me, a very special person indeed.  One of immeasurable value, like a valuable gem you would not be able to put a price on.  I chose her Indian name as Precious One.
  4. A few years later we adopted our third child.  He was quite a challenge for us with all of his energy.  He was born in March 1991 during Desert Storm, the first Gulf War.  I’m not sure we were as prepared for him as I thought we should have been.  He hit us, as I would like to say, as a West Texas storm can strike suddenly and with fierceness.  It seemed fitting his Indian name would be Desert Storm.
  5. My wife spent some time pondering what Indian name might be fitting for me.  I looked forward to being called something masculine like Brave Horse or Fierce One.  At some point she, with great relish, said she had an appropriate name for me.  I anxiously waited without saying a word, hopefully conveying an inviting smile.  “Live Oak,” she confidently expressed.  I paused, trying to hide my hesitation.  “A tree,” I thought to myself.  “What kind of warrior is a tree?” flashed through my mind.  I tried to pretend it did not bother me by stalling.  “Hmm, a Huh,” I muttered, nodding my head.  Now I did know my wife loves trees, absolutely loves them.  I know because we have planted a number of them in the homes we have lived in.  We do not have an abundance of trees here in West Texas so we often have to plant our own.  She told me there are different kinds of oak trees but that she liked the live oak just outside the bedroom window of where we lived at the time.  She also mentioned the passage in the Bible from Isaiah 61:3

                         “….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).