We lived in a lot of houses in a lot of Missouri cities as I grew up, but my favorite is the house on Arapaho Lane in Hannibal. It was a ‘split-level’ house, very common there but just about unheard-of in Texas. The front of the house appears to be one story but from the back it was a 2-story home. When you walked out the downstairs door into the back yard, there were no fences. The two houses to the right were home to boys a little older than me and we played football across the three yards. I’m sure my memory is fuzzy here but I can see myself five feet off the ground, laid out, flying through the air, making fingertip grabs only Randy Moss can make now. I was fast, tough, and determined. Or something like that.
Straight out of the back door, walk about 75 feet and you come to a steep grassy hill. Forty feet below you are the houses on the next street—still no fences. At the time it never occurred to me to wonder how someone would mow that grass. Come out the door, turn left, and in about 100 feet there is a long slope that descends into an undeveloped wooded area. Just inside the trees is a small creek. Playing in those woods and in that water was all a boy needed. I was a pioneer settler hunting game, I was an Indian taking care of my village, I led my squadron into pitched battle--I was filthy and I was in heaven.
When we began planning this trip, my folks said they would have a few jobs for us to do. I was looking forward to that. I can remember far too many times growing up that I was, let’s just say “not in the mood” to do much work around the house. I regret that and as my parents have aged, I have looked for ways I can help them. Living a very long day’s drive away means I don’t get to see them near as much as I would like to, and I want to take advantage of each opportunity to show them my gratitude for all they have done for me over the years. The jobs turned out to be not very difficult or time consuming.
The biggest job was turning a flower bed back into the yard. I had actually helped build the bed years ago. It was an oval in the front side yard, on the corner of Jefferson and Eleventh St. The week before we arrived, Dad had another heart attack and so he wasn’t doing much but he pulled up a lawn chair and we talked as I worked. I don’t remember what we talked about, probably just bulbs and rocks and dirt—but the topic wasn’t important. I was with my Dad, we were outside, and it was my turn to serve. My heart was full. The temperature was probably in the 70s, with a bright sun shining gently in a sky as blue as you’ll ever see. It actually seemed a bit chilly as we started. I could feel soreness creeping into my back as I handled the tools and got a little sweat going. I filled the wheelbarrow with small red decorative rocks several times, and on the last trip the low tire finally let go. When I had first grabbed the wheelbarrow earlier I thought we should put some more air in that tire, but didn’t say anything and now we had to struggle to hold the tire tight to the wheel to air it up.
Then it was time to dig up the bulbs. This turned out to be the hard part. I think I’ve seen a bulb two or three times in all my 50 years. They were mostly on the edge of the bed, so I worked my way around. As I moved, Dad moved his chair. He had a tub and I pitched the bulbs there. He picked up my misses and made a snide remark or two about my basketball skills. There were a lot of wild onions in the area so it was tough to tell the small bulbs from the onions. Onions got thrown in the street and bulbs were to go in the tub. The big bulbs were obvious, but I probably tossed a few good into the street thinking they were onions. Some of the bulbs were replanted elsewhere, some came home with me, and most were still in the tub when I left.
Using a pick, I pulled up the landscaping timbers. I thought this was going to be the tough part of the job but it was incredibly easy. They were staked down and hadn’t moved an inch since I installed them but they just came right out of the soft ground. I tossed them to the side and later we got out the chain saw (now there’s a manly phrase—anytime you get to use the chain saw it’s a good day) and cut them into pieces small enough for the city to haul away. Two days later they were still stacked on the curb when a car drove up and two guys asked if they could have them to build a patio. Dad and I were sitting and talking on the front porch and we were very glad to see them go to a good home.
As I worked on the flower bed, Dad sat and watched and talked. He caught the bulbs. He found the right gas and oil for the chain saw. He suggested using the fork instead of the shovel to dig up the bulbs, and he was right. He directed me on where to stash the rocks and the bird bath that had sat in the middle of the little flower garden. He knew the rules about how long the landscaping timbers could be for the city to pick them up. He had a better view of the whole area than me, so as I smoothed the dirt to wrap up the job he pointed out high and low spots that needed attention. He had the whole job planned out, so all he had to do was coach and all I had to do was follow the game plan.
It was good to be outside. It was good to sweat a little. It was good to be with Dad. Most of all, it was good to be helpful. It was a pleasure to serve. As Christians, God calls us to serve Him, and we do that by serving people. Developing a servant’s heart is one of the most important things I think a Christian can do, and it always amazes me to see so many people in our churches who don’t serve.