Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I recently spent three days in a fiction writing clinic with writer Diann Mills. Eight of us met in her Houston home and had a great time working on our novels.

Diann and her husband, Dean, were gracious hosts and it was a wonderful experience. Diann is an accomplished Christian author.

Visit her website to find out more at

Our writing group .

Front:Bronwyn, Debbie, Diann Mills

Back: Danny, Lisa, CeCe, Karen, and Curt

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Caps

Years as a high school administrator taught me to "smell trouble."
That was the case on a night of summer youth camp.
The evening service had just ended and campers roamed the area around the snack shack and main road. There was a large group of about twenty-five campers near the road. I could tell something was up. Tension could be felt just walking past this group.
I walked over and tried to say politely, “Hey guys, what’s going on here?” The crowd parted slightly but no one was willing to tell me anything. Then I saw "Randall" and figured he was the person everyone was gathered around.
I’ve always liked Randall. I had gotten to know him better the previous summer when we made a late night emergency room visit.
Randall is what I call a “man-child.” Although only fourteen at the time, he was a big boy-- about six-foot-two and a good 250 pounds. He had the look and size of a high school football lineman. I pulled him to the side and said, “Now Randall, I know something is going on. Tell me what the trouble is.” He hesitated but finally began, “Brother Curt, I’ve had trouble with some of those boys in cabin 7 and they won’t leave me alone.”
Looking at Randall and then thinking of what groups were in cabin 7, I knew what the trouble was probably about. Randall was wearing a cap with the Confederate flag on it. One of our groups in cabin 7 was an inner city youth group from the Alexandria area. This group, which had had a great time this week, was composed entirely of black teens.
I turned to Randall and said, “Hey, let’s go over here where we can talk.” I told him to take off his cap and put it in his pocket. “Randall, does this trouble have anything to do with your cap?” He kind of mumbled a denial but I now knew at least part of the basis of this problem.
I sat him in one of our outdoor pavilions and went over to cabin 7. Outside, the campers were still milling around and talking. I tried to think of how to defuse this situation. That was the exact moment when I spotted the solution to this problem - It was a young man named Ty. He was the oldest and tallest camper from this inner city group. I’d spoken to him several times this week and he had responded with a quiet nod and a shy smile. I just had a feeling that he could help solve this problem.
I walked over and spoke to the guys. Then I called Ty over and asked him if he could help me. He was nice looking and athletic. I had watched him on the basketball court and he could sure play. Ty looked at me suspiciously as we walked away. I told him that we had a problem that I could use his help on. He cautiously said that he would try, but still seemed non-committal about getting involved.
Ty was also wearing a type of cap, but it sure wasn’t a rebel cap. It was a thin black nylon stocking cap that many black teens wear.
Bringing these two guys together under the pavilion, I looked at both boys and their caps - Ty’s black cap on his head and Randall’s confederate cap sticking out of his back pocket. There was a wide chasm that these two caps represented and I knew my work was cut out for me.
We sat down in the pavilion and I introduced the boys to each other by name. They had probably spent most of this day glaring at each other. Now they were no longer nameless but instead were sitting by each other in the darkness on an old church pew. I asked them about their problem but neither guy was willing to say much.
I turned to Ty and asked, “Ty, does Randall’s hat bother you?” After a brief silence, his reply was slow and measured, “Well it doesn’t bother me too much, but there are some of the guys in our group that are pretty hot and upset by him wearing it.”
I asked Randall if he knew why this rebel flag cap bothered these guys from Alexandria. He kind of hemmed and hawed before shrugging, “Well, I just don’t think it ought to bother those guys.” I shared with him how the same flag that meant freedom and Southern pride to him meant something completely different to a black man. To them it was a symbol of slavery, oppression, and prejudice.
With that I switched on my flashlight and turned to I Corinthians 8. In this passage the Apostle Paul addressed the problem in Corinth of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul clearly stated that the actual eating of the meat was in no ways a sin, but he added a passage of wisdom that is still a good rule of thumb two millenniums later. In verse thirteen, he states,
“Therefore if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
Two chapters later Paul adds,
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God.”
I turned to Randall and asked, “Do you see any correlation between your rebel hat and this passage in Corinthians?” Reluctantly he agreed with Paul’s wisdom on not being a stumbling block with our actions.
I told Randall of what God had done in my life on this same issue. I am a true son of the South. My great great great grandfather, the first in our line to settle in Dry Creek, joined the Confederate army and later died near Opelousas. All of my life I’d proudly displayed the stars and bars. Then about ten years ago this changed when the realization came that this same flag, which I took such pride in, offended my black friends.

Sitting there in the dark with these two boys, I told how it took several years to make this decision: I had made a personal pledge not to display the rebel flag out of respect for others who might be offended. No flag or symbol is more important than people.

I shared with these boys a story I read while visiting Appomattox Courthouse in central Virginia. This crossroads village is where the Civil War ended. Being a lover of history, it was a great day to visit there and walk into the room where Generals Lee and Grant sat down to end our country’s bloody four year war.

The story I read was beneath a torn and tattered rebel battle flag. The day after the signing of the surrender, the Southern soldiers were under orders by General Lee to march in, stack and surrender their weapons as well as turn in all battle flags and regimental colors.

On this spring day in 1865, thousands of Union soldiers lined the picket fences along the narrow road through this village. General Grant had sternly ordered that nothing detrimental or disrespectful be spoken toward the defeated Rebels. Standing there at this museum in front of the framed Confederate flag, I could look out the museum window and see the long curving road where these men had marched on that fateful day.

The story in the museum told of how the Southern soldiers quietly stacked their weapons as the Union soldiers stood silently at attention.

As the regimental colors and battle flags were folded and placed on top of the rifles, Southern men wept openly. One soldier lovingly patted the flag and stepped away. As tears flowed down his gunpowder-stained face, he turned toward the Union soldiers and pointed to a United States flag blowing in the wind. Commenting to men of both armies within earshot he said,

“Men, you see that flag there. That’s my flag now.
Yes, sir—that’s my flag again.”

I’m not sure Randall fully appreciated my sermon/lecture/history lesson, but he did nod his head several times in assent. Then I asked Randall, “I’d appreciate you not wearing that cap again at Dry Creek Camp. I’d like to take it and keep it for you until the end of the week.”
Randall sat quietly for a few moments and said, “If you’ll let me keep it, I promise it will not be seen or worn again.” I told him that he needed to promise that to Ty, not me. He reached out his big hand and promised as he shook Ty’s hand.

However, Randall wasn’t quite through. He turned to me and added as he pointed directly at Ty, “There is one thing about those guys that bothers me.”

Had I been closer I would have kicked Randall in the shin as hard as I could. He continued, “It bothers us that we can’t wear our hats in the Tabernacle, but these guys can wear their black nylon caps.”

I turned to Ty who was listening intently. I asked him, “Ty, Randall has a good point. Could you take care of that for me?” Ty quickly answered, “That is no problem at all. I’ll take care of it.”
With that we stood and each boy stood in a circle as I prayed for them and all our campers.
I share the tale of the two caps not to make a political or racial statement, but to remind myself that no flag, symbol, or statement, is more important than the feelings of another person.
If I’m living right and have the right attitude, I’ll be careful not to insist on my own rights but think about the other fellow.

Randall and Ty both had a good week for the rest of camp. The two caps were not seen again. The heat from this situation was cooled simply by two young men looking into each other’s eyes, shaking hands, and having a willingness to look out for someone else’s best interests.

May the same be said of all of us…

This story is from my third book of short stories, Wind in the Pines. To learn more, visit


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sleepy Readers and Dumpster Libraries: Laughing and Writing, Writing and Laughing

“If you want to change the world, pick up a pen.” -Martin Luther

One of the joys of writing for the public is making friends and receiving feedback. While this feedback is often extremely rewarding, it can also be humorous—as well as humbling.
Last week, while at a restaurant, an older woman approached my table and loudly exclaimed, “Hello, Curt, I’ve read all of your books.” As others at nearby tables looked up, I felt that surge of pride that writers feel when recognized.
However, this bubble of pride was quickly burst by the woman’s next comment, “Every night I read a chapter, and it puts me right to sleep.”
Everyone within earshot had a good laugh, including me!
Several years ago, a man from another part of our state contacted me. He had read one of my books and wanted to meet me. Once again, I was flattered. Upon arrival, he shared, “Son, I found your book in a strange place: I was at the Grant Parish Dump and saw your book on top of a dumpster …”
As you can imagine, I was astounded. Who would ever throw away one of my books? The idea was preposterous! It was like someone telling you your children are ugly. The man grinned, “Well, at least they put it on top of the dumpster for me to find—and I love it.”
My first four books are short stories with a rural flavor. Due to that, they are popular among a group renowned for not reading: men. I love to hear comments from country men such as, “I haven’t read a book in ten years, but I read yours!”
A male hunter recently told me this (probably exaggerated) story: “I was sitting on my deer stand reading one of your stories. Just as I was at the conclusion, a buck walked out in the opening. I actually thought about finishing the chapter, before I shot. But I didn’t. I got him, but I did finish the story before climbing down.”
Knowing the typical deer hunter, I rather doubt the authenticity of his tale, but I do appreciate it.
Often I am asked why I quit a perfectly good job and went into writing full-time. I simply answer their question with this story: Last summer I received a message on my answering machine. In a hesitant and quiet voice, a man said, “I’ve just gotten out of prison—while there, I got hold of one of your books. It helped and inspired me. I’m out now. I want to get my own copy, signed by you.”
I have no idea how my book found its way into his prison cell. That is what I love about the written word: it can travel to places, and to people, we will never meet. In spite of distance and walls, something we have written can connect with a heart, and through God’s hand, a life can be changed.
That is why I write. In spite of the rejection letters, in spite of the frustrations, in spite of the moments of self-doubt, I write to connect with people’s hearts. To build a bridge that God can then use to walk across into that person’s heart.
So, whatever you write, whether it is published or just enjoyed by family, it has an effect on others. So write. Then, write some more. Keep sharing.

I'd like to hear your favorite humorous story. Send your story by the comments section on this blog.

Curt Iles, the author of six books, writes from his hometown of Dry Creek, Louisiana. His writing ministry, Creekbank Stories exists to “Connect Heart to God Through Stories.” To find out more, visit

How to Fight a Bear

I’ve got hiking fever. It’s strikes me several times a year and I find my heart, if not my feet, on a trail in Arkansas or the Appalachian Mountains.I’m planning 2008 trips to both.

In both of these hiking locales, encountering black bears does occur. I want to share a few good bear stories along with information from a “Bear Facts” brochure from one of my favorite hiking places, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

First of all, you don’t want to fight a bear. For one simple reason: you will lose. So this brochure is about safely encountering bears in their habitat of the mountains. At the end of these ramblings, I have a few spiritual insights to add.

1. Don’t turn your back on a bear. I’ll never forget my first bear encounter in the Smoky Mountains. I walked right up on one near the top of Shuckstack Mountain. There we were face to face and he seemed surprised, while I was terrified. Following the wise guidelines, I quickly backed away putting space between us as quickly as possible. I’m not sure if I wet my pants, but it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit!
I once saw a picture of a group of Asian natives in Bengal Tiger country. The native in the back of line had a human face mask worn on the back of his head. It was a guard against the tendency of a stalking tiger to slip up behind a person. They’d found that the face mask amazingly caused tigers not to pursue or pounce.
So don’t turn your back on a black bear, (or for that matter, a tiger either.)

2. Don’t get complacent. Most hikers and tourists get into trouble with bears because they get too comfortable and forget they are in the presence of a truly wild and dangerous animal.
I was told this story by an Appalachian Trail (AT) hiker: a group of tired hikers were cooking supper over a shelter campfire in the Smoky Mountains.
Suddenly a good-sized bear ambled out of the nearby woods. He had a comical gait and seemed to nearly be grinning as he squatted near the hikers. They were all amused and quickly got their cameras to take pictures of the friendly bear.
Just as quickly and suddenly, the bear charged the group. His intended target was not them, but a food bag beside one of the hikers.
The bag’s owner was just taking a photo of the bear as it charged. (The narrator called it a “true Kodak moment.”) Being a long distance hiker and low on food, the man diligently fought the bear over his food bag. Granola bars flew everywhere as man and beast vainly vied for possession of the bag.
The bag finally ripped and the bear happily trotted off with the bag and its remaining contents.
It all happened because they were complacent with an approaching (and granola- loving) bear.
A sidebar to this story. This bear had the appropriate nickname of “Sneaky.” Sneaky the Bear made his living by enacting this same scenario over and over at this campsite. He was eventually captured by park rangers and removed. (I assume he is now doing this same routine at Jellystone National Park.)
Don’t get complacent!

3. Beware of erratic behavior. I guess “Sneaky’s” above behavior was erratic. Once I saw a large bear eating berries. While a long distance away, the bear stood on its hind legs, snorted aggressively, and watched me. That was enough erratic behavior for me to choose another path. As I left, I then noticed two nearby cubs. They were the source of the mother bear’s behavior.

4. Don’t run
That is much easier written about than done. But running from a bear is an invitation to be chased. They can sense fear and when you run, they see fear and will react accordingly.
I always think of Shelby Foote’s anecdote in his book, The Civil War. He tells of a Tennessee Confederate soldier named June Kimball at the battle of Gettysburg. Kimball was part of the famous advance called “Pickett’s Charge” where the Southerners were repulsed by the union soldiers who shot from behind stone walls.
When June Kimball realized that to advance further was only to join the other thousands dead or dying, he said, “I began walking slowly backwards. I was determined if a Yankee bullet got me, it wouldn’t hit me in the back. I walked probably a half mile backwards, still facing the enemy, until I knew I was out of range. Then I turned and made tracks for the safety of our lines.”
If you come face to face with a bear, don’t run.

5. Talk strongly, but don’t argue.
Once, I was on the Appalachian Trail (AT) with my son Clay and nephew Adam. I had told them we would end our trip after we saw a bear.
We cooked supper one evening at our shelter as the sun went down and darkness came to the mountains. (The rock shelters on the AT had a hurricane-fence covered open front with a gate. This allowed hikers to sleep away from the bears. It was kind of a reverse zoo. The humans were inside the fenced area and the bears, who roam mainly at night, were outside.)
At dusk, Clay and Adam went to wash our supper dishes and soon came sprinting back saying they’d encountered a bear. I laughed at their fear until my flashlight shined the bear’s face as he came right into our campsite.
As we quickly gathered our cooking gear (and food bag!) and retreated behind the fence, I talked strongly to the bear letting him know this was our campsite and he was not welcome. This caused him to slink back into the dark.
He soon returned and quickly commandeered the campsite. The only strong talking was our hollering to get inside as we closed and locked the gate. I wasn’t going to argue with him. The campsite was now his.
As we watched Mr. Bear in the distance, Adam innocently asked, “Does this mean we can go home now, Uncle Curt.”
I had no argument with that either. We hiked out the next day and drove home to Louisiana.
I’ve been on more fine hiking trips since then. However, it was, to my knowledge, the last trip either Adam or Clay ever went on.

6. Travel in groups Most trouble between bears are avoided if hikers will travel in groups. One of the most recent human-black bear fatalities in the Appalachians was a female camper traveling alone. There is truly safety in numbers.

In closing, I’d to mention a few spiritual applications. The Apostle Peter wrote, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I Peter 5:8

If Peter had been in the Smokies, he would have compared the devil to a black bear. He calls him our adversary and tells us to be vigilant and on guard.

Don’t turn your back on the devil. He is real and active and always wants to destroy the lives of humans.
Don’t get complacent. When we picture Satan in a red suit with a pitchfork, we underestimate his intent. Like Sneaky the Bear, who looked friendly but was sinister, Satan can seem “an angel of light” but his motivation is always evil.
Beware of erratic behavior- the devil wants to attract and disarm us with his appeal and enticement. Beware and move back.
Don’t run. Stand your ground, but also don’t stay around waiting for trouble. Walk backwards and get away.
Talk strongly, but don’t argue. Jesus talked strongly to Satan. He used the powerful word of God to each of Satan’s temptation during the 40 days. We are best equipped against the enemy when we know, and use, God’s word against temptation. However, don’t waste your time arguing with the enemy. Get behind “the fence” and get safe.
Travel in groups. One of the reasons I advocate being part of a good church is there truly is safety in numbers. I need the encouragement and stability of a positive group to keep me safe and straight. I find that in my local church.

Monday, January 07, 2008

LSU Football , José Canseco, Terry... and Charlie

My youngest son, Terry, left excitedly this morning for the New Orleans Superdome. He was headed to the LSU-Ohio State football game. His cousin, Brady Glaser, is on the team and gave Terry a ticket.

The problem I have is who he went with: He left at daylight with José Canseco and I’m not sure I trust this man taking my son off.

Let me tell you about José and you’ll probably share my concern—In 1990, I served my one and only year as principal at East Beauregard High. The superintendent sent a teacher to our school who had “taught” at every school in the parish. He told me, “Get her to teach… or fire her.”

This lady, whom I will call “Mrs. Jones” was sad and pitiful. She could not, and would not, teach. She could not control even a small class of middle school students. That school year was fortunately her last year to teach in Beauregard Parish.

I spent lots of time in her classroom trying to work with her. I believe my year with “Mrs. Jones” is when I became fully bald!

About the end of the first six weeks, I visited her sixth grade enrichment class of about twelve students. When I walked in, the room was in chaos. The students were all over the room and Mrs. Jones was screaming at them. Seeing me, they quickly got in their seats and she quieted down as well.

I decided I would lead the class on this day, so I opened her gradebook and began calling roll. Amazingly, I looked down the list—there above the name of student Sarah Cooley was a familiar, but unfamiliar name: José Canseco. Below it were other names I knew, but did not associate with our school: Michael Jordan was on roll as well as his teammate Scottie Pippen, and followed by Jerry Rice. Becky Young, whom I had graduated with her mother, was followed by Steve Young, who just happened to be quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

I began taking roll with the first name, “José Canseco.” There was no answer and the students nervously began looking around.

“José Canseco?” Only silence.
“José, are you here?”

Every eye in the classroom, including Mrs. Jones, turned toward a skinny sixth grade boy. Finally, he sheepishly raised his hand, “Here.”

It was Charlie Bailey. I had attended school with both of his parents and knew his family on both sides for three generations back.

“Well, José, I’m glad you’re with us. How are the Oakland A’s managing without you in the lineup today?”

One by one, each boy answered by his ‘roll call name.’ I don’t remember much else, but Charlie Bailey says I took them all in the hall and tore their butts up. If I did, it was ‘just desserts.’

Why is this story on my mind? Well, this morning, my baby son, Terry, left for New Orleans with José Cansceo. Well, it was really Charlie Bailey. (Whom I often still call “José”.)

Charlie, a successful timber buyer with his father, is the youth director at our church. He and his wife, Meghan, are the parents of a year old son, Samuel. “José,” I mean Charlie, never made the major leagues, but he has done well. He is a fine man and I’m extremely proud of him.

I just hope José Canseco and Terry will behave themselves in the big city of New Orleans.
By the way, Go Tigers!

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Civic Center Doors

This is a warning: Be careful with the doors at the Lake Charles Civic Center! I was there last week and as I entered the men’s room, I recalled Roy Greene’s story.
The Lake Charles Civic Center opened thirty years ago. Amazingly, it was constructed on sand pumped out of the adjacent lake that gives the city its name, Lake Charles.
In keep with the French background of our area, it was christened “Le Civic Centre” In carrying out this Acadian motif, the restrooms were labeled as “Messieurs” and “Madames.”
The thoughtful architect also designed the “Messieurs/Madames” restrooms so there was one entrance door (with no handle on the inside) and a corresponding exit door on the other end of the restrooms. This wisely (or unwisely as our story will reveal) ensured that users moved in one direction.

And that brings us to Roy Greene’s famous story. Mr. Roy, a Dry Creek native, loved basketball. He had played on Dry Creek High’s famous undefeated 1931 state championship team, coached high school ball, and was the long time principal at Fenton High. He produced a line of great coaches including his son, Larry, and grandsons Mike and Chris Greene.
Mr. Roy loved the Sweet 16 State Girl’s Basketball Tournament, and never missed a game. On this particular year, it was held at the Lake Charles Civic Center.
During a halftime break, Mr. Roy, who was near eighty, shuffled to the restroom, hurrying so as not to miss a minute of action on the court.
Maybe it was his eyesight, or his preoccupation with the game—
But when he got to the door, he thought it was “Messieurs” but (I know you are ahead of me) instead it was “Madames.” However, Mr. Roy did not realize his mistake until he was inside and saw two things: there were no urinals and the room was full of women.
Of course, he did what any man would do: he discreetly retreated to the entrance door. However, there was no handle (there you are, ahead of me again.) He stood not quite sure what to do… and then did the only thing he knew to do—He shuffled along right through the restroom, past the throng of gasping women, and out the exit door.
His son Larry, who watched from the lobby, said, “I saw him go in the wrong door and tried to catch him, but I was too late. When he came out the other end, I told him, “You ain’t nothing but a dirty old man!”

Last week as I entered the Civic Center’s “Messieurs” restroom, I did a double take just to make sure. I laughed as I noticed there is now a corresponding “Men” sign below the “Messieurs.”
Probably put there in memory of my friend, Mr. Roy Greene.

If you’re familiar with my writing, you know how I like to find a spiritual meaning in my stories. Well, here goes: Once again, staring at a new year, I think about making good decisions. i.e. “going through the right doors.”
Life is a series of many decisions, most small, others huge, but all propelling us in a definite direction. We don’t get where we are by accident, but by decisions.

Realistically, many decisions, like Mr. Roy’s Door, offer no retreat, but a move forward. Therefore, I want to choose, and open, the correct doors to lead me into the right places.

Yesterday, I read one of my “life verses” (Proverbs 3:5-6) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

In my simple Dry Creek mind that means if I trust God, listen to him, and include him in my decisions, he will help me choose the right doors. That verse is a promise, and it is a promise for you too!

Have a great day, Messieurs and Madames!

Curt Iles