Friday, November 17, 2017

Remembering Leroy


When I was a young boy, I used to eagerly read the “My Most Unforgettable Character” story each month in the Reader’s Digest. I read the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, but I always looked forward to reading “My Most Unforgettable Character.” In real life, my most unforgettable character is Leroy Borton.

Leroy spent many years in Mena, Arkansas and was a big part of our lives. He spent most of his time while he was in Mena at our shop. He loved to be involved with cars. In the days before the internet, Leroy was the internet for many of us in the car business. He had a little black book of contact information for most of the salvage yards in the Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas area. He would find, order and pick up parts for me, my Dad, my Uncle Delbert, and many other friends from the Mena area. He knew just about anyone who was in the car business in Mena and offered his services to anyone. Many days I saw him sit in my shop and spend the entire day on the phone with salvage yards hunting parts.

For the past few weeks, whenever someone who knew Leroy would come to the shop, we would remember Leroy fondly, and everyone had a few stories to tell about him. Dale Moll was one of the good friends the Leroy made in Mena. While Dale and I were reminiscing, he told me the story of the first time he met Leroy. Dale had a body shop in Mena and rebuilt a lot of wrecks. He had just purchased a car in Dallas and asked my Dad if he knew anyone who would be willing to haul the car to Mena. My Dad said that he had a cousin who would probably be able to get the car. Dale talked to Leroy on the phone and made the arrangements for him to pick up the car. When Leroy pulled up in front of Dale’s shop with the car, before Dale noticed that someone was there, Leroy was out of his car and unloading Dale’s car off the trailer. Dale had no idea that Leroy was in a wheelchair when he had hired him to pick up the car. It was a big surprise to see a man in a wheelchair unloading the trailer. Dale went outside and asked Leroy if he needed help getting the car off the trailer. Leroy answered matter of factly, “no, I’ve got it.”


Dale had lots of stories to tell. He and Leroy became good friends, and Leroy spent a lot of time in Dale’s home. One of Dale’s favorite stories was about the time that Leroy was driving a Mazda RX-7 cross-country to deliver it to California. As he was driving across Arizona, the road was straight, and you could see for miles. The was no traffic, and Leroy liked to drive fast. He had the cruise control set at 110 mph. Leroy never saw the cop, but the cop saw him and pulled him over for speeding. When Leroy handed the cop his driver’s license, the cop noticed that the license was for hand controls only. He asked Leroy about it, and Leroy showed him the sawed-off shovel handle that he used to press the pedals. The cop just shook his head and told him to slow it down a bit and let him go on his way.

Not all patrolmen were as understanding. For several years whenever Leroy was driving between Hot Springs and Little Rock he avoided Highway 70 and drove 20 miles out of his way to avoid that section of highway. He had a couple of encounters with a hard line patrolman who had no mercy for the fact that Leroy drove without hand controls. The last time he stopped Leroy, the cop wasn’t going to let Leroy leave because he didn’t have hand controls. As Leroy politely conversed about the situation with the cop, (I wasn’t there, but I’m sure Leroy was very polite) the cop said, “I should just take you to jail.” Leroy answered, “why don’t you just do that. I’ve got nothing I have to do, and I could use a place to stay and three meals a day.” When the cop couldn’t get ahold of anyone to impound Leroy’s car, he let him go but said, “if I ever catch you again I will send you to jail.” Leroy must have believed him because for several years he would not drive on that stretch of road.


Another mutual friend, Bob Baker, remembered the time that his daughter was born. Bob and his wife Judy brought their new baby daughter to our house for a visit. Leroy was there visiting at the time. We all made over the baby and commented how cute she was. Leroy wanted his picture taken with Judy and the baby. He had Judy sit on his lap in the wheelchair holding the baby. When the picture was taken, Leroy said with a wry smile, “I want a copy of that picture to send to my ex-wife.”

I was thankful that my kids knew Leroy and got to grow up with him around. To them, the wheelchair was quite normal, and they loved it when he would take them for a wheelchair ride. Because of Leroy, when they saw someone else in a wheelchair they were neither afraid nor were they intimidated or overly curious. At a local Mom and Pop restaurant that we went to, the owner's son, Sid, was severely disabled and in a wheelchair. Many patrons would stare, and some people would not go to the restaurant because Sid’s presence made them uncomfortable. My son Gavin would always talk to Sid just as he would talk to anyone else. The owners mentioned to us several times how much they appreciated Gavin.


As I sit at my computer writing, I can see a Governor Winthrop Desk in the corner of the living room. That desk will always be a reminder to me of Leroy’s thoughtfulness and generosity. When Leroy was in Mena, he spent a lot of time in our home. He loved to come over for a meal and visit with us. During one of the visits, my wife Gina was talking with him about the desk she was saving up to buy. She wanted a special kind of desk called a Governor Winthrop Desk. The next time that he came over Leroy asked Gina, “have you found the desk that you want?” Gina said that a furniture store in town had one that she liked. “I would like to buy it for you, “Leroy said. When Gina protested, Leroy said, “You have fed me many times, and I made good money on the car that Richie just built for me. I want to do it.” That desk will always be a reminder to me of the kind of person that Leroy was.

Whenever things are a bit tough and aren’t going the way I would like them to, I always think about Leroy and how he handled the challenges that life gave him. His optimism and cheerfulness in the face of very difficult situations impressed me. His determination to do things for himself and not be a burden to others was evident to anyone who knew him. I’m sure that I am not the only person who counts Leroy as their most unforgettable character.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Warning Labels

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


In my occupation as an auto bodyman and painter, I have painted many unusual things. One of the most unusual was a Bandit Wood Chipper that I painted for my cousin. Wood chippers have powerful feed systems with large chipper openings that allow you to break down limbs and branches. One of the things that I had to do before I could paint the wood chipper was to remove all the decals and stickers. So that I would know where to put the new decals when I finished painting, I took pictures of all the decals and locations for reference.

Wood chippers are very dangerous machines. I have never used one, but after reading all the warning decals, I have a new found respect for the dangers involved.


One warning label reads “DANGER! STOP TO THINK!! Reaching or kicking into the infeed spout can cause serious injury or death! DO NOT reach with your hand or kick with your foot inside the feed spout. The feedrolls are very powerful. Once your hand or foot is grabbed by the feedrolls, you can be pulled into the chipper. Do not think you will be able to pull yourself out of the feedrolls. They will not let go!” Another one reads “DANGER! SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH CAN OCCUR! UNLESS THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED.”


Do you think that Bandit Industries Inc. is serious about their warnings? Are they plain enough for you to understand? The wood chipper was covered with these warnings. I took 30 pictures of warning labels. The manufacturer wants to make sure that you understand the dangers of working with this machine.


The wording on this label made me smile; the company is very serious about their warnings. “BRUSH CHIPPERS ARE VERY DANGEROUS MACHINES TO OPERATE! READ AND BELIEVE THIS WARNING DECAL!” They want you to read and believe. One line on this warning decal reads "There have been MANY ACCIDENTS involving the feed rolls, resulting in the amputation of hands, arms, feet, legs, and DEATH. DO NOT let this happen to you!”

These warnings made me think of the Bible and all the directions and warnings that God has placed in it. In Jeremiah 6:10 (NET) the prophet says, “Who would listen if I spoke to them and warned them? Their ears are so closed that they cannot hear! Indeed, what the Lord says is offensive to them. They do not like it at all.” Why is it that we don't want to listen to the word of the Lord? When I read the warnings on a piece of machinery, I take them seriously, but if I read it in the Bible, I don't want to listen.

It seems that all products come with warning labels. Some of them seem very silly. A can of air freshener has the warning, “do not spray on face or eyes.” That seems reasonable, but I couldn’t quite understand why it contained the warning, “keep out of reach of children and teenagers." Nytol sleep aid tablets have the warning, “may cause drowsiness.”  Vidal Sasson hair dryers want to make sure that you “do not use while sleeping.” A Superman costume comes with this warning; “This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”


Some warnings are very obvious such as, "May irritate eyes,” found on a can of self-defense pepper spray. Or, "do not use orally," on a toilet bowl cleaning brush. A hammer manufacturer thought it was necessary to include the warning, "may be harmful if swallowed." A bag of peanuts has the warning, “may contain peanuts.” But other warnings make you scratch your head and wonder why. Like the bottle of shampoo that contains the following warning; “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” Or the clothing washing instructions that say, "do not wear for sumo wrestling."

Because of these often silly warnings, Most of us don’t pay any attention to the warnings placed on the products that we use. But some of them are very important, such as the ones found on the wood chipper that I painted.

The Bible contains a clear warning in Romans 6:23 (KJV).  As clear as the warning decals on a wood chipper. It says "The wages of sin is death." That is clear. Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. It also says "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."


The warnings on the wood chipper were not placed there because Bandit Industries Inc. doesn't want you to have any fun. They were not placed there just to restrict the user. They were placed there for the benefit and safety of the user. God's commandments are like the warnings on the wood chipper. They are not to restrict us; they are for our benefit. They are to keep us safe.

Gentle Reader, many times we look at God's law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. 1 John 5:3 (NKJV) tells us "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” God’s warnings aren’t there to keep us from having fun. It is just the opposite. “Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” Psalms 119:1,2 (NLT)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day



Veterans Day is a day to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.  In 1954, President Eisenhower published a proclamation in the Federal Register, instructing citizens to recognize Veterans Day on Nov. 11. He wrote: “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” This year the Department of Veterans Affairs is broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November.



According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Data Report, the veteran suicide rate averages 22 per day. Many more come home with significant problems as they try to return to non-military society. On this Veterans Day, please don't forget our veterans and the sacrifices they have made.

One of my ancestors who served his country is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.


According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777 and several others.  He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment was up, he came home to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781.  After the wedding he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown.  After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County Virginia where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.


My great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history.  He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war.  He helped America gain its independence.  He was a true patriot.  I’m proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

James Vowels served valiantly and did more than he was asked to do.  After the hardships he had gone through, I find it amazing that he left his new bride and re-enlisted in the army.  He was a man who definitely believed in what he was fighting for.

A local hero that we remember in Mena is Herbert A. Littleton.


Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950 until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.


At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen.The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.


Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.





On this Veterans Day I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country and I will also remember my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels, and the multitude of other men and women who have sacrificed so much serving their county.  Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and especially those who sacrificed their lives.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Hammered Dulcimer

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 8, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri I visited the Butterfly Palace. As I walked into the butterfly aviary, I saw hundreds of butterflies of all sizes and colors flying everywhere. As I was taking it all in and watching the butterflies, I heard beautiful hammered dulcimer music. I assumed that music was being piped in through a speaker system. As I walked around a corner, I saw that the music was coming from a woman playing a hammered dulcimer.

I love hammered dulcimer music, so when she had finished the song, I approached her to talk to her and tell her how much I appreciated the music. She plays on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at the Butterfly Palace and has Cd’s for sale in the gift shop area. Her name is Ilace Mears, and she is an award-winning hammered dulcimer player. In 2016 she was named the National Hammered Dulcimer Champion at the 46th Annual Walnut Valley Festival. As I visited with her, I told her my experience as a wishful hammered dulcimer player.


Several years ago our family made a trip to Branson Missouri to meet my sister and her family. We had a delightful weekend, enjoying everything except the Branson traffic. We especially enjoyed going to Silver Dollar City.

While we were at Silver Dollar City, we listened to traditional mountain music. I like to listen to mountain instruments, especially the hammered dulcimer. There were vendors selling instruments, and I stopped at one of the booths to look at the hammered dulcimers. The salesman showed me the different dulcimers that he had and assured me that with the materials he had, I would be able to learn to play. In the excitement of the moment, I purchased the hammered dulcimer.


When I returned home, I got the new hammered dulcimer out and tried to play it. Somehow I just couldn't get the hang of it. I watched the video that the salesman had included. I still couldn't make music. All I could make was horrendous noise. I read the book that came with the instrument, but it didn't seem to help. I came to realize that I just wasn't musically talented. I would probably never be a hammered dulcimer player. I put the hammered dulcimer with its zippered case and its wooden stand in the back of the closet. The only time I thought about them was when they got in my way as I was trying to get something out of the closet.

Several years later I was in a financial pinch. Among other things, our heat pump was struck by lightning, and I had to replace the compressor. As I was thinking about how I was going to pay for the new heat pump, that hammered dulcimer came to mind. I wondered if I could sell it. I thought about selling it on eBay, but I never got around to it.


One day on an impulse I called the swap shop at noon on KENA radio and listed the hammered dulcimer. I had heard a lot of unusual things for sale on the swap shop, but never a hammered dulcimer. The day went by, and I did not receive any calls about the dulcimer.

That night there was another small crisis at home. The washing machine wasn't working properly. I don't know about your house, but at my house, that was a crisis. Where were we going to get the money to pay for the repairs? We hadn't recovered from replacing the heat pump. Call the appliance repairman I told my wife, we have to get the washing machine fixed. That night we prayed that God would help us out of this financial problem.

The next day around noon I received a call from Waldron. The caller asked, "do you have a hammered dulcimer for sale? I have been looking for one for my daughter, and a friend told me they had heard one for sale on the radio." I assured her that I did, and made arrangements to meet her so that I could show her the dulcimer. When she saw the instrument, she gave me my asking price immediately. It was almost exactly the amount that the repairman needed for fixing the washing machine.


As the buyer was leaving, I told her, "I don't know if you are a Christian or not, but I have to tell you something." I was so excited by how God was taking care of my financial problem that I had to tell her the whole story of the dulcimer and the washing machine. After I had told her the story, she replied, "I am a Christian, and I have to tell you a story. My daughter has wanted a hammered dulcimer for some time. I have been to several music stores, but the cost of a hammered dulcimer is more than we can afford. My daughter has been praying that God would help her find a dulcimer she could afford. I told her that used ones were very hard to find, but she continued to pray about it. Finding this dulcimer at a reasonable price is an answer to our prayers."

I stood there stunned as I realized that the great God that we serve had answered the prayers of two families that day. In Philippians 4:6 (NCV) the Bible says "Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.”

Gentle Reader, when we pray, God has promised to hear our prayers and give us good gifts. In Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV) Jesus said, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You can have confidence that God will hear your prayers. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Corn Maze

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


Have you ever experienced a corn maze? I recently had my first corn maze experience at Holly Springs Homestead, a local family farming operation owned by Luke and Deedee Alston. Both Luke and Deedee grew up on a farm. The land they farm includes land originally owned by Luke’s great-great-grandfather, and the very land where Luke’s father was born. Holly Springs Homestead is recognized as a Century Farm by the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

My wife and I made plans to go to Holly Springs Homestead for this year’s Fall Fun on the Farm. It looked like it would be lots of fun. We wanted our granddaughters from Louisiana to be able to go with us, but the timing didn’t work out. We decided to go even if our grandkids couldn’t. The website description of the event tantalized us. “You can get lost in the corn maze, enjoy a beautiful ride through the country and see the sights on the hayride, admire acres of the sunflowers, learn something new at the Crops of Arkansas display or one of our many on-farm educational events, step back in time for some old-fashioned play in The Kids Farm, and experience a real pumpkin patch – see how they are planted, watch them in various stages of growth and take one home!”


The day we planned to go to the farm turned out cloudy, breezy, and overcast. As we pulled into the parking lot, a few drops of rain started falling. We decided to go ahead and experience the farm and the corn maze even if there were a few raindrops. We headed for the corn maze, but at the entrance to the maze, they were getting ready to leave on a hayride. During the hours that the Fun on the Farm is open, there is a hayride every thirty minutes. Since the hayride was ready to leave, we climbed aboard. The hayride travels along the outside edge of the corn maze and through the sunflower patch, the pumpkin patch, the barnyard, and the crops of Arkansas plots where we saw rice and cotton growing.

By the time the hayride was over, the rain had stopped, and the sky seemed to be clearing. We made our way into the corn maze. The maze covers six acres and is covered from one end to the other with winding paths. The corn is very tall, and there is no way to see anything except corn stalks and the path you are currently on. It didn’t take long for us to realize that trying to figure where we were on the tiny map they provided was almost impossible. We ended up going around in circles several times. We thought we were in a completely different part of the maze when we turned a corner a found ourselves at the exit. We had been having so much fun that we turned around and tried to find our way back to the entrance. By the time we found our way back to the entrance, the sun had come out and we were hot, sweaty, and thirsty.


It may sound corny, pun intended; but our corn maze adventure has parallels with our Christian walk. While walking through the maze, we learned to be prepared to change directions. In this life, you are going to have to be willing to change your course. In the cornfield, if we had decided that we would only go straight, we would have never gotten out of that maze. We had to be flexible enough to move out of the area we knew into a new area to get to the end. In the same way, God doesn’t want us to become complacent as we go through life. He wants us growing, and often that means taking us on a new path, and learning new things.

It can be hard to understand where you are going when you are concentrating on what is directly in front of you. But when you rise above and see the situation from a different viewpoint, you will be able to see the path you have been taking all along. Once my wife and I found the exit of the corn maze, we were better able to understand the layout of the maze. When we knew where the exit was in relation to the treeline, we had a much better idea of our location in the maze as we made our way back to the entrance.

In Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) the Bible tells us to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” We can get bogged down in the worries and cares of this world and fail to see the way God is leading in our lives. The rest of your life is just like a maze. There will be many times that you will have to decide whether to go left, right, or straight ahead. It is important to have a plan, to seek out help. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 (NIV) Paul said, “I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”


If you run aimlessly, make the wrong choices, and choose the wrong paths in life, you will waste part or all of your life. You will be angry and frustrated, and you will never reach the end successfully. But God has given you something to help you through the maze of life. You have the word of God, which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, you will be lost in the maze of life without God's word. It sheds light on all your decisions, so you can see what you should do. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19 (NIV) The word of God and the prophecies it contains are the signposts that keep you going in the right direction in life. The only way you can successfully navigate the maze of life and have a successful exit strategy is to read the Bible and learn of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what Jesus has done for you, and love and obey Him.  Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15 (NKJV) Don’t be lost in the maze.
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Additional photos from our day at the Holly Springs Homestead Fall Fun on the Farm.