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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Build a bridge and get over it

Forgiveness: what a word!!!

I stood before the thirty summer staffers in the camp dining hall. We had all just returned from a great weekend in Houston. It was now time to return to the world of camp and get ready for 400 campers arriving the next morning.

During our Houston weekend I'd shared mini-devotions on Joseph. After returning to the camp and observing the happy but tired faces of these teens and college students, I had hesitated to continue these studies on the attributes. But in my heart I felt God tugging telling me to share.

The subject of tonight’s devotion was forgiveness. As we reviewed the long laundry list of injustices brought down on Joseph in Genesis 37-50, I was once again amazed at how this story touches listeners of all ages.

As we shared about the importance and necessity of forgiveness, I noticed one of our counselors, Ashley. She was sitting on the front row weeping quietly. I wondered as to what had been said that upset her. For the rest of the devotion she cried with her head down.

It was later that evening that I learned from her about why she was crying. She related a sad tale of being sexually abused as a young preteen. The fact that it was a trusted family friend and nothing had been done to bring about closure or justice only added to her pain as she cried.

Ashley told how she had been the cabin counselor in last week’s camp. Under her care was a group of girls who had just been part of a terrible sexual molestation situation in their church. As Ashley began to minister to these girls, many "deep below the surface feelings" began to bubble to the surface of her consciousness.

And Sunday’s night devotion on forgiveness brought these deep emotional hurts to her heart where they came out as tears.

That week, and in the remaining weeks of camp, Ashley taught me a great deal about forgiveness. I was reminded that of all the human actions/reactions/emotions- the ability to forgive may be the greatest.

It is true that to err is human, but to forgive is divine. Who else but the powerful hand of God can move a human heart to forgive a terrible sin?

It was during these weeks of August that I came to, for the first time, truly realize what forgiveness is: It is not forgetting….

God gave us a wonderful gift called the human mind. It is created to remember. That is both good and bad. But he also gave our human heart an equally amazing gift- the ability to forgive and move on.

God taught me a lesson through Ashley: We are to build a bridge of forgiveness and “get over it.” By that I mean, the bridge of forgiveness allows us to walk away from the bitterness.

To get over it. Both literally and figuratively.

You see, forgiveness is not forgetting. It is reaching the point where you say, “It doesn’t really matter.”

When you can state that, the healing power of forgiveness sweeps over us.

On our hero, Joseph: I believe it is when he saw God’s hand working in, and around him.

How many nights did he look up at the night sky and stars and wonder why his brothers had done this to him?

How many nights did he stare up at the blank ceiling in Potiphar’s house and wonder where God was and why he had allowed this to happen?

Forgiveness is a process. Not overnight
It starts when you can pray for the offender by name (and not pray that God will strike him down)

For two years in the dirty prison as he waited day by day for the King’s cupbearer to return and free him, did he silently want to curse that man, Potiphar, the wicked woman, and maybe even God?

However, that same God who helped Joseph is standing ready to help you forgive.

His Son Jesus, who cried out, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do" stands ready to help you.


Monday, October 26, 2009

What causes depression?

I'm often asked, "What causes a person to become depressed?"

My answer is often, "No one knows."

One of my wise doctors, a psychiatrist, once said, "Curt, we don't understand as much as we'd like about exactly how the brain, and its chemicals, work."

That being said, I think there are Biblical examples of depression that give us a peek. (Normally in the traditional versions, depression is often called "despair.")

Moses showed signs of it during the 40 years in the wilderness. It was due to being overwhelmed and the daily pressures of a huge number of people pressing on him for their every need.

David definitely was a person who understood about the highs and lows. His depression was related both to his sin (Bathsheba/Uriah) the sin of others (Absalom) grief (the loss of a child)
and oppression (Being hunted like a dog by his many enemies.)

Elijah in I Kings 19 shows classic depression caused by exhaustion. He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted from three years of battle with Ahab and Jezebel, running hard for God, and after the greatest victory in his ministry, the cookout at Mt. Carmel where God showed up to vindicated Himself as well as Elijah's ministry.

Often, depression and low times slips up on us after our greatest victories. Beth Moore, in her book Praying God's Word, speaks of depression being a challenge for her after finishing a large project or book.

Once again, sin can cause depression. Judas' betrayal brings on despair and suicide in the life of a disciple.

A good question here is: "Is depression a sin?"

No, depression is not a sin.

Can sin cause depression? Sure, being out of God's will and the resulting sin can cause depression. I've given you examples above.

But the dark times of Moses and Elijah, two great men of God who were in the center of God's will, reveal that depression can have all types of causes and backgrounds.

However, at the time of Jesus' greatest challenge: preparation for the cross, Moses and Elijah were sent by God to encourage and comfort Jesus. (on the Mount of Transfiguration)
These two men who'd been through the fire and found faithful were sent for this heavenly pep talk to the very Son of God.

After my precious friend, Ricky Gallien's death by suicide, I was asked repeatedly, "How could this happen to a great man of God?"

Ricky was (and is still rightly remembered as) a great man of God, a committed pastor, successful high school principal, committed father and husband. Depression and its results can happen to any person, including steady Christians and gifted leaders.

Don't believe it? Look at the Biblical examples above.
Study the lives of great Christian leaders like Martin Luther and Charles H. Spurgeon.
Read the biographies of legends like Lincoln and Churchill.

They all dealt with the "black dog of depression."
But with the help of God, they overcame it to lead strong lives that still call out to us.

May the same be said of each of us.


A good game plan

Once, in the heat of the last minutes of a close NBA playoff game, Boston Celtics coach K.C. Jones looked into the faces of his team during a timeout. According to those in the huddle, he looked at no. 33, Larry Bird, nodded and said, "Give him the ball and get out of the way." They did, he did, and the Celtics won.

What a fine story. What a good lesson for those of us who follow Jesus. As we face the challenges of life, the best thing we can do is "give him the ball and get out of the way." Surrender our life to him and "let go and let God."

Under the Broom Tree with Elijah

Tonight in revival, I'm speaking from I Kings 19:1-18, specifically verse 4, "He (Elijah) came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die."

Elijah, after the greatest victory in his life (the BBQ on Mt. Carmel where God "showed up and showed out) is running in fear for his life. He goes to the desert sits under a broom (juniper tee) and asks God to 'kill him.'

I understand this story.
I've been under the broom tree and wished to die.
I've been out in the desert where it's dry, life seems dead, and one feels completely alone.
It's called depression. It's one of the "D words" and travels along in a pack with its cousins, discouragement, despair, disillusionment, defeat, disgust, dejection, and distortion.

A Middle Eastern Broom Tree

Under the broom tree, you can't seem to hear God's voice and your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, or in Elijah's case, off the limbs of the broom tree.

You feel that God is a million miles away, even though he's as close as your heartbeat. It's a matter of perception.

Depression, or despair as the Bible often calls it, does that: it clouds and blurs one's perception.

I call it "The Great Liar." It tells you lots of things that aren't true: there is no hope, life will never be good or happy again. No one cares, including God. You'd be better off dead. Everyone else would be better off with you gone.

These are all lies, and I believe they come (especially "you'd be better off dead) directly from "The Father of Liars," Satan. Jesus said "The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy."* He was referring to Satan. *John 10:10

Depression not only tells your mind lies, but it clouds the truth. Wonderful truths of hope: God is for you, not against you; He is carrying you through this time; (The wonderful poem, "Footprints" sustained me during my dark days.) You will get better and the joy of life will return.

I'll be adding thoughts and stories on this subject throughout the coming days.

Looking up.

Curt Iles

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Whatever it Takes

La Esperanza, Honduras

From the book by Curt Iles, The Old House copyright 2002

I stood in muddy water in the middle of what was now a raging stream. Only an hour ago this spot was the middle of a dirt road on the side of a hill in northwestern Honduras. We’d arrived here at the home of a family to set up our video equipment and screen to show The Jesus Film.

Upon arrival a few hours before dark our team was met by a group of smiling dark Honduran children. Setting up our screen and tarps, we kept an eye on the sky above the surrounding mountains. It was May and that meant the beginning of the rainy season in Central America.

Tonight’s language, of course, Spanish. Randy Pierce sets up the large screen and adjusts the video projector, DVD player, and generator.

As dusk approaches, a small crowd of forty or so has gathered. Most perch on benches in the roadway or sit with us along the ditch bank. Off in the surrounding darkness I can make out the forms of people, mostly men, who will not come closer, but sit at a distance under the trees.

As the film begins, every eye is on the screen. We are miles from any electricity and I wonder if any of these folks have ever seen a movie. The quietly humming generator runs the DVD player as the light of the movie reflects off the rapt faces of the Hondurans.

The movie continues. Just about the time that Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the first raindrops fall. Then a clap of thunder introduces the real rain and the bottom drops out. Everyone runs for cover under the two tarps. Within minutes the road is running inches deep in water. The wind blows rain in on the huddled women, boys, and children.

Finally, after about twenty minutes of raining hard, it slackens. By now Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. It’s still raining hard but not nearly as hard as it was earlier. I slip to a drier area under the tarp and sit on a log.

On my left side I feel the warmth of another human body. A Honduran woman is sitting beside me. It’s very dark but I can make out her smile and tell her hello, as I return my attention to the film. On the crowded log we are tightly packed and I feel the woman’s body against my shoulder. From her side smacking sounds distract me, and with my eyes now adjusted to the darkness, I see that this Honduran mother is nursing her infant child, oblivious to this embarrassed Yankee seated next to her. My only thought is, “I’m sure a long way from home here!”

Finally, through an hour of steady rain, the film ends. The Jesus Film features a wonderful invitation at the end giving each viewer the opportunity to invite Jesus into their life. Alexis stands in the rain and issues a call for all who’ve made this decision to come forward. From back in the crowd a young boy steps forward. Soon there is a small group of teenage boys who came forward one by one, standing in the pouring rain.

As long as I live I will have the picture in my mind of these seven boys gathered around Alexis as he prays with them. They had made a decision to come to Jesus and were going to do whatever it took to receive him, regardless of the rain or what anyone else thought.

Then I recalled the story of the four men in the second chapter of Mark’s gospel who brought their lame friend to see Jesus. Finding Jesus in a crowded room teaching, they went to the roof and after cutting a hole, lowered their friend to the wonderful Savior. They had a “whatever it takes” attitude to bring their friend to Jesus. Isn’t that exactly what we should have concerning the Savior? There is no distance too great, no weather too bad, no obstacle too large, and no wall too high. Whatever it takes, we need to bring others to Jesus.

This night reminds me of how we in America really don’t know what commitment and sacrifice are about. Here are people who’ve walked miles to see this film. Some of them are willing to stand in the pouring rain to show their desire to follow the amazing Son of God, Jesus. After the film, many will make long walks in the dark and up slippery muddy mountain paths as they trudge homeward. It humbles me as to how I take so many things for granted and often do not really show gratitude for my blessings.


Across the Pea Patch: A story on my hero, Don Hunt

I often write about traveling to far off places to share the good news of Jesus. Whether it’s Africa or Honduras, I always feel privileged to “go and tell.” Acts 1:8 tells us to “go to the ends of the earth.”

However, the greatest mission and ministry opportunities are right where we are. In the same verse in Acts, Jesus called it “Jerusalem.”

It’s the place we are.
Where we live.
Where we already know the culture, don’t have to learn a new language, get immunizations or a passport.

I was reminded of this today as I talked to Don Hunt.

Don Hunt is one of the people I admire most. He was my pastor for ten years, but he is much more than that.

He is my friend.
He’s also one of my heroes.

He refreshed my memory about this story I’m sharing. It’s a “Jerusalem” story. In this case, Jerusalem is a purple hull pea patch in Dry Creek.

When Bro. Don became our pastor in 1992, he began doing what he does best: building relationships. After he’d been in Dry Creek for a few weeks, he walked across the adjacent field to meet his neighbor, Arthur Crow.

Mr. Arthur’s wife, Annie Mae, was already a member of our congregation at Dry Creek Baptist Church. Mr. Arthur, now retired from driving the road grader for the police juror, was not a church-going man. He was a good man, but seemingly had no interest in church or outward spiritual things.

When Bro. Don walked over, Mrs. Annie Mae directed him to the pea patch where her husband was working. Don Hunt introduced himself and they visited as Mr. Crow said, “Let’s walk to the end of the row here.”

It was there that our pastor asked, “Mr. Arthur, I’ve just come to introduce myself and share Jesus with you.”

“I’m ready for Jesus. You just need to tell me what I need to do.”

There between the rows of peas Arthur Crow, in simple faith, turned his life and heart over to Jesus. He asked for forgiveness of his sins and “a new start.”

And that’s just what he got. He became a new man. It was evident to everywhere. He had a quiet joy in the Lord and became a faithful member of our church.

When Mr. Arthur was buried this week, Don Hunt couldn’t be there. He’s battling cancer and has been sick. *See photo below.

I called Bro. Don this morning and listened as he joyfully told me what I’m now sharing with you. I reminded him, “Arthur Crow is in heaven because of your witness.”

His reply was, “I just arrived at the right time. He was ready due to a lifetime of praying by his family and church.”

I know he’s right on that, but Don Hunt had the courage and love to step across the field to share with his neighbor. And on that day, a man was ready for new life and new birth.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to fly to Africa to share about Jesus than to walk across the pea patch to a neighbor. It shouldn’t be, but it can be.

However, it’s no excuse for me not to.
Jesus talks about it in Acts 1:8 Jerusalem, Judea (our area), Samaria (anywhere where it’s difficult), the ends of the Earth.

It’s not a multiple-choice quiz. He calls us to be involved in some form in each area.
It may be the bush of Liberia or a piney woods pea patch.

Either way, it’s a privilege.
It’s also a responsibility.

July 5, 2009 Don and Ginny Hunt prays with the Liberian team as they leave for Africa.
M.D. Anderson Hospital Houston, TX
(L to R) DeDe, Curt, Gordy Glaser,
Mrs. Ginny, Colleen Iles Glaser.
Pray for Bro. Don. He has leg surgery on Oct. 27.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Curt in one of his "offices" Thur. Oct. 22
Lake Charles, LA

A Day in the Life of a Writer

I am so privileged to write for a living. It is my calling, but I try to never forget what a joy and honor it is to write. You see, I'm "writing for a reason."

My reason to write is to honor God and connect to the hearts of readers. To all of you who read my blogs and encourage me, I say thank you!

This morning (Thur. Oct. 22) I'm writing from one of "my offices": the lobby of the Best Western Richmond Suites Hotel in Lake Charles. When I'm here in town (one hour from Dry Creek) I stop in to write and catch up on paperwork. As you can see from the above photo, I have a corner (notice it's near the Community Coffee urn) where I can write in glorious seclusion.

It's more than ironic that yesterday I wrote in the woods: on the porch of "The Old House" in Dry Creek, slapping at mosquitoes as I typed away on A Spent Bullet my current "WIP" (Work in Progress).

Back to the Richmond Suites: It's located at the intersection of Hwy 171 and I-10. It has a lovely lobby and friendly staff.

In the past I always parked my truck in the front parking lot. Once while here, my wife DeDe called on my cell, "What are you doing at the Best Western Suites?"

I could hear several of her teaching friends giggling in the background. They were returning from a teacher's meeting and saw my iconic truck (Tan 2001 Dodge Dakota) in the parking lot.
Fortunately, I'd told DeDe before that I sometimes used the hotel lobby as my office.

Her friends got a kick out of it. DeDe made me promise to "park around back where the whole world won't be talking."

It's raining hard here today with a tornado watch until the afternoon. I have four meetings later in the day (I'll keep you posted) I've sitting here writing as the rain pours outside. Soul music is playing over the lobby sound system. (They have two CD's. I've memorized most of the songs from days in the corner.)

Write on.
I'm thankful.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Tale of Two Caps... a story on racial understanding.

I cringed when the national news last Friday led on a story, "From Louisiana, a justice of the peace has enraged... " I knew it was going to be something that put my beloved home state in a bad light... and it did.

I'm not going to even dignify that man's prejudice and insensitivity. I'm going to talk about how far we come (even while realizing how far there is to go, but it's doable.)

I grew up in a home where my parents never judged people by the color of their skin or the money in their bank account. My dad and mom taught us, by word and example, to deal with all people with respect.

Even though I grew up in an all-white community, my parents taught us how to respect others. I never heard my parents use any racial slur.

When the first black family came to our school, I sat by one of them, Wilford Goodley, at lunch and received taunts from prejudiced classmates. It only made me more determined.

The story below, A Tale of Two Caps, shares about a racially divisive issue we dealt with at Dry Creek Camp. I thought this would be a good time to pull out this old story about dealing with an old problem.

It's a story about understanding and flexibility.
It's about putting yourself in another man's shoes, or in the case of this story, another man's cap.

A Tale of Two Caps

Eight years as a high school assistant principal come in handy at summer camp. From dealing with discipline and roaming the hallways of a school, I developed a sense of “smelling trouble” just by walking past a group of teens. You can often sense that tempers are hot and trouble is brewing. Most of the time, if you can walk the potential combatants away from the crowd, most fights can be averted.

Now this “school fighting resume” is told to illustrate this: a disciplinarian, even at church camp, can often smell trouble brewing. That was the case on a recent 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. 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 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 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…

When I became manager at Dry Creek Camp, I set the goal of attracting black churches in the Lake Charles area to come for weekend retreats. Even as I developed friendships among the churches and their pastors, no one would come.

Finally, one of the pastors said, "We'd like to come, but we're just worried about bringing our folks up in your area. We've heard stories."

I understood this very well but promised them that we'd take good care of them.

Finally, a brave ladies group came to Dry Creek for a weekend. I remember the pastor calling me on Friday afternoon still concerned if they were going to be all right.

That was the first group, but they weren't the last.

We quickly found that the most gracious and kind guests we ever had came from our sister churches in Lake Charles. Our staff just fell in love with them and they fell in love with the Dry Creek experience.

Last weekend I drove by and saw that our black friends from Progressive Baptist Church in Lafayette were staying in Dry Creek's "White House." (There is some irony there.) Their couples come yearly and have a great retreat in what was once Dry Creek High School. The members of this church have become members of our Dry Creek family.

Monday as I was thinking about the Justice of the Peace disaster, I had an eye appointment in DeRidder. As I sat in the waiting room, a young military couple with two beautiful children sat across from me. Next to them was a couple about my age.

One of the couples was white and the other was black.
It doesn't matter which was which.

What matters is what happened.
The older woman, who obviously had a great love for children, took the oldest child on her lap and played with her for thirty minutes. There was a bond between the families that was cemented by their love of these children.

When the older couple left for their appointment, another woman my age came in. Soon, she had the child on her lap, showing the same kind of love.

I saw a deep love that was not hindered by race, pedigree, background, class, caste, financial status, education, or status.

The kind of deep love I see daily in the community I live and love.
A place called Beauregard Parish. No, it's not perfect, but it's my home and I'm proud to call it and Louisiana my home.

For every ignorant person who makes the national news in my home state, there's a thousand more who are getting along and making where they live better.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As promised, here is a light-hearted cemetery story about the fear we all have: someone being buried in the wrong grave.

“Six Foot Deep” in Trouble

One of my ministries is to work with people in selecting their grave sites at Dry Creek Cemetery. I’ve found that this is a time when we can really help people. I call it the “open window of opportunity.” Whether it’s a kind word, a hand on the shoulder, or a whispered prayer, people are always open to help during their time of grief.

The openness of people to being helped is because the loss of a loved one, and the accompanying grief, brings forth such strong emotions. These emotions may vary from tears, regret, anger, and sometimes-even laughter. Because the emotions at this time are so raw and close to the surface, anything that creates extra stress can really affect people.

For many years my partner in grave marking was Mr. Jay Miller. He took me under his wing and taught me how to find the corners of a families’ grave plot and reminded me of how families were kin to each other and where they should be buried. Last November, Mr. Jay was buried in the very cemetery he loved so greatly.

He had died in a way that touched everyone who knew and loved him. Early on the morning of his death, he went deer hunting with his daughter and pastor. After putting each of them on a stand, he was walking to his deer stand when he fell dead. I heard several men in Dry Creek say, “I can’t think of a better way to go than how Mr. Jay did.” He was healthy at eighty-three, with the ones he loved, and able to be still doing what he enjoyed most.

I miss him, especially when it comes time to mark a grave. I depended on him for his experience and wisdom in handling touchy matters at the cemetery. However, most of all I miss his friendship. I still look for his red truck to pull up at the post office like clockwork each morning at precisely 8:30.

Mr. Jay’s grandson, Mark, has taken his job as the grave marker. Mark is great and we’ll enjoy working together on this, but we both know that so much knowledge of this cemetery left us last November.

Probably because of that, we’ve both been concerned to get each grave in the right spot. We have a deep fear of messing up. And if you mess up on the placing of a grave, real trouble and pain can result for the families involved. So, these anxious thoughts came to me last Thursday when I was called on to mark not one, but two graves. Both of these burials were to be on Saturday, with both being handled by the same funeral home, Labby Memorial of DeRidder.

The thought hit me that it was essential to get each grave marked clearly so there could be no confusion. In the back of my mind, I imagined what it would be like if they got confused and put one of the deceased in the wrong spot. It was not a pretty thought to entertain as I imagined the chaos and chagrin that would result from a mistake like this.

I used special care in marking each grave. After driving the markers down, I put flagging on each one with the family names on each one. To be sure everything was right, I called Mrs. Labby and explained to her exactly where each grave was located. She said Roy, their usual gravedigger, was off work on Saturday. She informed me that Roy’s helper, Willie, would be coming.

It’s a country tradition that normally they don’t “open a grave” (that’s what they call the process of digging a grave) until the morning of the funeral. This is to avoid problems in the event of rain. I think it’s also to avoid all of those stories about people falling in open graves.

A fictional story has always been told of a village which had a shortcut path through the local cemetery. One evening, just at dusk, an elderly farmer was walking this path just as night fell. In the gathering darkness, he got off the path and fell right into a freshly dug grave. After much effort, he realized he couldn’t get out of the six-foot deep hole. Finally he gave up, sat down, and waited for daylight and rescue.

Eventually a second man, the town drunk, staggered along this same cemetery path and he fell into the same grave. In the darkness on this moonless night, the drunk struggled with all of his might to get a toehold and climb out. Finally, exhausted, he also sat down to wait for help the next morning. It was at this precise moment the old farmer put his hand on the drunk’s shoulder in comfort and said, “There’s no use trying, neither one of us can get out of here.”

Yet, the farmer was wrong, because the drunken man, fueled by both fear and adrenaline, climbed right out of the grave and ran for his life as he stumbled over headstones and markers. I smile slightly as I remember this story. It is one more good reason not to dig these two graves until Saturday, the day of the funeral.

On Friday, the day before the two funerals, I go to the cemetery just to check the markers. Everything is just exactly as I’ve marked it. Just to be sure, I call the funeral home one more time and double check ensuring that we are all on the same page.

It is at this point I make my biggest mistake- I relax and tell myself that it’s all straight and taken care of. With all of my calls and clear markings at the cemetery, there is no way they can get it confused. Therefore, I don’t feel I need to be present for the grave digging the next morning.

That Saturday dawns as one of the prettiest days of the year. March always has some of the best weather in Louisiana. The dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom. On this day, the sky is a perfect blue and a cool pleasant wind blows.

At the Camp where I work, we are hosting a Deacons Conference. It’s an event I’ve really been excited about having. After breakfast I join the men for the morning’s first session. It is a wonderful time as these men share and pray together.

It’s about mid-morning when Linda Farmer, one of our cooks, calls me out of the meeting. I think to myself, “Now what in the world could be so important right now?” Linda’s words shock me and send a literal chill down my spine: “They’re on the phone from the funeral home. They think their man has dug the grave in the wrong spot.”

My son Clint has my truck today, so I’m on foot. I quickly borrow Linda’s van, grab my cemetery map from the office, and rush the two miles to the cemetery. As I glance at my watch it is already 10:45. The first funeral, at a church about thirty miles away, starts in fifteen minutes.

As I approach the cemetery, the first thing I see is the bright orange grave marker and the opened grave, and instantly I can see it’s been dug in the wrong spot. The grave has been dug one row to the south from the spot I originally marked it. There, right next to the grave of my Papa’s best friend, Luther Spears, is a yawning six-foot deep by seven-foot long grave. It’s dug right in the spot where my beloved first grade teacher, Mrs. Ora Spears, will one day be laid to rest next to her husband.

On the other side of the grave is a three-foot high pile of sticky red clay. I’m thinking to myself that we’ve got a lot of work to do to get out of this mess.

The gravedigger, Willie, an older black man, is standing right beside the grave. He is nervously jumping from foot to foot as if he is standing on hot coals. Next to Willie is a younger man who is leaning on a shovel. Willie, sweating profusely, begins explaining how the marker was placed right against the Spears headstone. To prove my point, I show him where I had originally placed the marker.

Over and over he repeats himself, “I just dug it right where the marker was!” I answer back with, “Well, it’s sure not where I marked it!” Quickly I realize that we’ve got to stop arguing, think fast, and work together. Looking at my watch, I’m shocked to see it is now after 11:00. The first funeral has started. Mentally I try to estimate the time needed for the service, family time, and twenty-mile trip to the cemetery.

I put my hand on Willie’s shoulder and say, “Look, it’s neither one of our faults this grave is in the wrong spot, but we’ve got to work together to get it in the right spot. You need to start digging the grave in the right spot. We’ll fill in the other hole. Do you think we can get it ready?”

Willie shakes his head doubtfully. “I’m not sure there’s enough time. And then I’ve still got to dig that second grave.”

I try to comfort Willie by saying, “Look, I read in the obituaries where the 11:00 funeral was going to be led by four preachers. I’ve been around preachers enough to know it’ll be a while before they get here. We’ve got plenty of time to straighten out this mess if we work together. Then, the second funeral is not until 3:00 anyway. We’ve got time.”

I think to myself, “I’m sure going to be here when you start on that second grave over in the northwest corner.”

Then I say to Willie, “Let’s pray about this.” There right by the open grave we pray. Willie holds his hat in his hands and passionately “amens” every sentence of my intercessory prayer for these two families and our task in front of us. Then we go to work.

Willie gets back on the backhoe and pushes some of the red clay back into the open hole and quickly moves to begin the new grave site. I get the other worker to help me and we begin filling in the first grave with our shovels. Over in the other corner of the cemetery two of the caretaker’s sons are weed eating around graves. I call for them to come help us. Gladly, these two strapping Mennonite boys come over, grab a shovel and go to work with us.

I can’t help but occasionally look up to check on Willie. He really is an artist with the backhoe. He expertly maneuvers the scoop up and down until a deep rectangular grave begins to emerge.

Willie is still sweating heavily, and it’s not really a warm day. Every once in a while, above the noise of the backhoe, I hear Willie saying, “Help me Jesus. Lord, help me Jesus.”

From time to time he nervously takes a sideways glance toward the entrance road. I know he is fully expecting a big black hearse and a line of cars to come around the curve at any moment.

The other worker keeps the sides of the grave straight. He puts his shovel handle into the grave to mark its correct depth. Soon the grave is finished. We all help move the funeral home tent and they begin setting up the equipment and boards for the coffin to lay on.

Willie moves his backhoe across the cemetery to the 3:00 grave site. I stand under the tent and sincerely thank God as to how this mess got straightened out before either family arrived. My head hurts just thinking of the chaos there would have been if they had arrived and found a grave in the wrong spot.

Right there I came up with a plan. From now on, in addition to the marker, I will use a can of spray paint to outline a grave on the exact spot where the grave is to go. In addition, I’ll write the name of the family inside the rectangle so no miscommunication can take place.

Seeing that Willie is now happily digging the second, or if you want to be exact, third grave of the day at Dry Creek Cemetery, I’m satisfied that this day of calamity is going to turn out all right in the end. Finally, after watching Willie long enough to feel comfortable, I leave.

I drive back to work in my “stolen” van. Back at the camp I don’t even think they even noticed I was gone. I’d like to slip back into the deacon’s meeting, but I have to go to the kitchen to tell Linda and the other cooks this story. Some things, especially those embarrassing to you, need to be shared so everyone can enjoy it. It’s so important for us to laugh at ourselves, because everyone else is already laughing at us anyway.

That afternoon, the funeral procession from the 11:00 service doesn’t get to the cemetery until 3:00 PM. Someone told me it was a wonderful service celebrating a rich life lived for God. Instead of four preachers speaking, there were eleven speakers!

The second burial took place at about four o’clock without a hitch. Neither family even knew about our close call with calamity, and that is all right with me.

The next day, Sunday, I woke up with my head hurting. I’m not talking about a headache. I’m talking about the pain of what I quickly realized was sunburn. Right on the top of my head, where I once had hair, was badly sunburned. I asked myself, “Now, how did my head get sunburned?” Then I realized that yesterday in my dash to the cemetery, I had left my trusty baseball cap behind. Even though I was not in the sun more than two hours, it was enough for a hairless scalp to burn pretty bad.

As I dressed for church, I looked in the mirror at the sunburned top of my head. I thought to myself, “I’ll never hear the end of it about my sunburn when I get to church.” The thought of Sharon Swisher, one of our deacon’s wives, made me cringe. Every Sunday morning she greets every one of the bald men in our church with a lipstick-smeared kiss on the peak of their head On this particular Sunday, I don’t want anyone touching or kissing my painful crown.

Going out the door, I looked in the hallway mirror for one last inspection. I
realized that my head and face was really pretty red. However, they weren’t nearly as red as if
we’d buried someone in the wrong grave...on that beautiful spring day at Dry Creek
Cemetery when we were... “Six foot deep” in trouble.

This story is from The Old House by Curt Iles Copyright 2002 Creekbank Stories


The Evergreen Cedar Tree

This story, from my second book, The Old House, tells about a sacred place in our community: Dry Creek Cemetery.

Later in the story, I share the touching and heroic tale of my friend and neighbor, Arlean Crow Courmier. Yesterday, we buried her father, Arthur Crow, beside Arlean's grave. As we stood by his grave, several folks pointed out the old cedar tree that is the touchstone of the following story.

In the next day or so, I plan on sharing a hilarious story from the cemetery. Today's story is much more serious.

I tell it in honor and memory of Arthur and Annie Mae Crow, married for nearly 66 years. He was a WWII airman from Idaho. He met Mrs. Annie Mae while stationed at the Alexandria Air Force Base, married her, and never left Dry Creek after the war's end.

The Evergreen Cedar Tree

I was born in a small town.
And I can breathe in a small town.
Gonna die in a small town,
That’s probably where they’ll bury me.
- John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

Driving through the fog of an October morning, it is hard to see very far down the narrow paved road. My truck windshield fights a losing battle with the Louisiana fog and humidity. As I near my destination, Dry Creek Cemetery, I can barely make out figures walking in the cemetery amidst the thick fog, but I know Mr. Leonard Spears is out there.

Today is the second Sunday in October, which is always an important day in Dry Creek. On this date the annual Dry Creek Cemetery memorial service is held. Hundreds of people will travel from as far away as California or Florida to be present for this special day. Today, I'll see folks whom I only see once a year when they return on this day to their Dry Creek roots. However, most of those here today will be like me—country people who've never flown far from the nest in Beauregard and Allen Parish.

Of all the people who will make this a special occasion, there is no one this day means more to than Leonard Spears. Here’s why:

Dry Creek Cemetery was originally called Spears Cemetery. The land on which our cemetery now sits was owned by Mr. Leonard Spears’ grandfather, Leonard “Len” Daniel Spears. This plot of land, located near the forks of two streams, Bundick Creek and Dry Creek, became a cemetery through a long ago heart-breaking event linked with an act of kindness.

During the nineteenth century, the settlement of Dry Creek was on the main road used by many early settlers as they traveled between the cities of Lake Charles and Alexandria. About twenty years after the Civil War ended, a migrant family headed west to Texas, stopped their wagon in our area due to a very young daughter. While camped here, this child died. Mr. Len Spears went to this family and offered to let them bury her in a corner of his field. Because no permanent headstone was available, a small cedar tree was planted by the wooden grave marker. That old and gnarled tree, now over a century old, still stands today in the center of what is today called Dry Creek Cemetery.

The grave of this pioneer child became the first of many, in what originally became known as Spears Cemetery. It soon became the primary burial spot in our community. Years later, its name was changed to Dry Creek Cemetery.

It is a special and sacred place for those who have buried the bodies of loved ones here. Just last week some volunteers at the camp from Minnesota drove to the cemetery. Upon returning, they told me, “I’ve never seen a more well-kept cemetery than the one in your community.”

So on this October morning, it is with pride and deep reverence that I approach the cemetery. In the fog, I can barely make out the farthest tombstones and the background of pines and oaks beyond the south fence line. Through this mist, I can barely make out the huge cedar tree standing among the oldest graves in the cemetery. Its limbs are now twisted and the bark shows the signs of surviving years of storms and weather extremes. Yet, despite the toll of the years, it stands nobly as a silent reminder of a rich history.

This big cedar tree seems to be saying, “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen a great deal. Yes, I’ve lost many limbs and may look decrepit, but I’m still standing.”

In the South, most old cemeteries have a cedar tree growing in the area near where the earliest graves are. The early settlers, very familiar with death, would plant a cedar tree to symbolize everlasting life. With its year round green needles, the cedar tree bore stark testimony to the belief of life after death.

This cedar at Dry Creek Cemetery has survived the changing seasons, droughts, storms, and sits in the middle of an increasing number of surrounding tombstones. It serves as a reminder to each visitor here of how death is not the end- death is only the end of life as we know it. This tree seemed to be saying, “Look at me. Look at my evergreen needles. What you are looking at around you, these graves, are not the end, but only the beginning.”

About two years ago, a fast-moving spring storm blew through our community. The strongest winds were in the cemetery area, where numerous large trees were blown down. Someone called and said that one of the largest limbs on the old cedar had broken off and fell right on about a dozen old graves.

In mind I imagined broken headstones all over that area of the cemetery. Arriving, I was shocked at how large the broken limb was. On the upper trunk of the cedar, you could see where it had broken off. The loss of the large limb left the tree looking lopsided. As reported, it had fallen right on a large number of tombstones.

To our amazement, not one marker was broken by this huge twenty-foot long limb. Several headstones were pushed over, but none were broken. If was as if the old tree had carefully lay down its lost limb among the graves.

Within a week, the limb had been cut up and the area cleaned. The only reminder of what had occurred was the fresh wound down the cedar’s trunk. There was some talk of cutting down the tree before other limbs fell. However, our cemetery board decided to leave the tree as it was for now.

Today, on memorial day, as I stand under the cedar and look around at the hundreds of graves in every direction, I’m so glad the old cedar was given a reprieve from the chainsaw. I know one day it will fall and the cemetery will seem bare without it, but its demise will once again be a reminder of the temporary nature of our lives.

I’m reminded of how our former pastor, Logan Skiles, referred to cemeteries as “the city of the dead.” As I look at the markers of various sizes, heights, and ages, it really does resemble a city. There are passageways like streets, and the markers from a distance line up like the tall buildings of a large city.

My primary job at the cemetery is to help families pick out their gravesites. It is both a labor of love and a ministry for me. It is humbling and sobering to stand with a family as they grieve and make final plans on the resting place of a loved one. Thinking of this, my mind immediately goes back to my friend, Arlean.

Arlean is ten years older than I am. We grew up together in Dry Creek. Arlean’s grandmother, Aunt Annie Mercer, cooked in the camp kitchen during my young teenage years. Aunt Annie took me under her wing and just loved on me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Arlean and her husband, Jerry, live just down the road from my house. They are my neighbors and friends. One day, Arlean phoned me with the call I’d been dreading. She was ready to go to the cemetery and pick out her spot.

So on this day, I found myself standing with Arlean in Dry Creek Cemetery. But we aren’t alone- Jerry is with his wife. Also present was their daughter Dana and Arlean’s pride and joy, her granddaughter, Olivia. Arlean’s parents, Arthur and Annie Mae Crow, stood to the side as we gathered in the southeast corner of the cemetery.

Arlean had battled cancer enduring a long and heroic fight. She had inspired everyone as we saw how tough, resilient, and positive she had been in this fight. She was aided in this by her family, church, and her deep faith in God.

Standing there today, we all make small talk, but everyone knows the reason we are here. One by one, each family member points out their requested spot as I record it in the record book. Annie Mae Crow wants to be placed next to her mother, and the rest of the family selects spots close by. Arlean walks to the place where her baby, who died in childbirth, is buried. She tenderly stands near that small tombstone and simply points to this spot beside her child.

As we silently stand there, it’s evident this trip has exhausted Arlean, so the Crow and Courmier families get in their vehicles to leave. I walk over the truck window and look into Arlean’s eyes. There is a look of peace in her eyes that says more than words could ever describe. I put my hand on her hand and we smile. To me, this is one of those moments where reverent quietness speaks loudest. Words are not appropriate, nor needed, right now.
Everyone waves as four generations of the Crow family drive back to their homes. I am left alone among the hundreds of surrounding tombstones- each one a silent and mute testimony to the life of a human.
# # #

Two weeks later Arlean died at home with dignity and peace. The next day I met the gravediggers at the cemetery and pointed out the spot for Arlean’s burial. Her funeral, held two days later at our church, was a beautiful celebration of her life and love of family. I chose not to go to the cemetery for her burial later that afternoon. I knew the recent time we had spent there together was much more important.

A week later, I went to the cemetery. The first thing I noticed as I walked
to Arlean’s spot was not the flowers, or the fresh dirt on her grave, or the nearby graves of my beloved grandparents, or the even the open area where I will one day be laid to rest, but my gaze was fixed on something else.

My eyes were riveted to only one thing
there in the cemetery- the bright green limbs of a stately old evergreen cedar tree, standing proudly in the middle of Dry Creek Cemetery.

Historical information from the "History of Dry Creek Cemetery" by Juanita Miller Brumley


Monday, October 19, 2009

A Spent Bullet

Readers: This blog contains a three-page synopsis (0verview) of my current work in progress. I've looked at it until my eyes are crossing. I'd appreciate any and all reader feedback for improvements before it begins its journey to publishers.

I'm looking for grammatical as well as plot ideas, weaknesses, or confusion.

WARNING: If reading the entire plot of a book keeps you from enjoying the book (like people who tell you the ending of a movie) don't read this.

SECOND WARNING: The final book will probably be completely different from this synopsis. That is one of the joys of fiction: a book "writes itself" and characters will often do things you didn't expect (or even want) them to!

Synopsis of proposed book by Curt Iles, Working Title:
A Spent Bullet

A Spent Bullet is a love story, but it’s a love story that takes place during an important but largely forgotten event in American history.

Setting and Background

A Spent Bullet is an historical novel taking place in Central Louisiana during the 1941 Army Maneuvers. With Europe and the Pacific embroiled in war, America’s leaders plan a series of large-scale war games to prepare for war.

Officers choose western Louisiana for several reasons: plenty of government-owned land, a low civilian population, and difficult terrain with few good roads. This latter asset will allow the military brass to settle a contentious debate: can modern mechanized forces defeat a traditional foe where there are few good roads?

In late summer of 1941, a half-million soldiers converge for the testing of men, officers, and equipment. Divided into “Blue” and “Red” armies, the unscripted battles soon rage up and down the Louisiana/Texas border.

Brilliant officers unknown at the time—such as Colonel Dwight Eisenhower and General George Patton—make names for themselves during these battles.

A Spent Bullet is not only a history of the Louisiana Maneuvers, but details a personal love story between a soldier and rural schoolteacher that draws the reader into the plot.


A Spent Bullet uses the 1941 Army Maneuvers to tell the story of an unlikely love between a rural Louisiana schoolteacher, ELIZABETH REED, and a Wisconsin soldier, PVT. HARRY MILLER.

The story begins with a chance encounter on September 1, 1941. As a convoy of military vehicles travels through a dusty small town, a note stuffed into an empty M-1 cartridge lands at Elizabeth’s feet as a soldier yells, “Write me. You’re beautiful.”

Elizabeth, a twenty-year-old schoolteacher, is standing on the corner with her ten-year-old brother, BEN. She has no interest in soldiers or tossed bullets and ignores both, but Ben, who will be a key player in this story, slips back and retrieves the bullet.

In the next chapter, we meet Harry Miller, and it is clear how he detests everything about army life. He is from a wealthy Milwaukee family and is not a soldier by choice. An arrest back in Wisconsin resulted in Harry joining the National Guard in lieu of a prison sentence. Shortly after his enlistment, all Guard units were nationalized, and Harry found himself in Louisiana as a full-time soldier.

Through the scheming of Ben and Elizabeth’s grandmother, a written correspondence begins between Elizabeth (with the grandmother writing “for her”) and Harry.
It was actually one of his “friends” who wrote and tossed the bullet with Harry’s address on it, and Harry is reluctant to answer “Elizabeth’s” first letter. Yet, in spite of his misgivings, Harry writes Elizabeth.

The story alternates between scenes of Elizabeth’s family and the soldiers who are preparing for the first “battle.” Harry’s division is part of the Blue Army that will fight against the forces of the Red Army, stationed farther north along the Red River. On the day before the battle begins, the weather turns foul, with a tropical storm settling over the southern half of Louisiana.

As Harry’s unit takes its battle position, he observes various events that tell much about the army and its men. We follow his unit as they march north, and Harry realizes that in spite of his dislike of military life, he is the type of soldier others look to in battle. This portion of the story reveals Harry’s growth from self-centeredness and self-pity to one of duty and discipline.

Back at his company’s bivouac after the first battle, Harry receives two letters in reply to his earlier letter to Elizabeth. The letters, both addressed to Harry, are in different handwritings with completely different messages. The first tells him “she is not interested in writing” and asks him to cease writing. The second letter (written by the matchmaking grandmother) warmly invites him to visit their church in Bundick the next day. Of course, Harry is confused, but the photo contained in the second letter wins out—it’s a school photo of a striking young teacher and he cannot get it out of his mind, in spite of his unease.

The next morning finds Harry hitchhiking to the crossroads community of Bundick. When he arrives at the church, the plot thickens as he is introduced to Elizabeth by Ben. As the day unfolds, everything that can go wrong does.

Even though this first encounter with Elizabeth and her family and neighbors (especially her family) seems like a disaster, the defining moment of their “first date” is a community singing on the porch of the Reed homestead. In spite of their diverse backgrounds, Harry and Elizabeth discover they have a mutual love of music.

Elizabeth’s family tree is full of musicians, with her instrument being the fiddle. After she plays an old mountain tune, Harry takes her fiddle and plays a classical waltz. The instrument he’s holding is no longer a fiddle; it’s now a violin. It’s the first time since leaving Milwaukee that Harry has touched a violin, and his playing sets loose emotions in both Elizabeth and himself. As he finishes, Elizabeth’s father sums it up, “The violin sings, while the fiddle dances.”

The only question is if whether the beautiful music developing between them can survive the future’s uncertainty. The next day, the Battle of Shreveport begins and Harry’s company joins the fighting. During their movement north, Harry observes what the “fog of war” does to soldiers and officers. This section reveals the humorous and touching true stories remembered by the soldiers who took part and the civilians who watched it unfold.

After five days of marching and battle, a truce is called, ending the great Louisiana Maneuvers. As officers evaluate the results, the soldiers are given a well-deserved furlough, allowing Harry to return to Bundick to see Elizabeth. This visit allows him to deepen his relationship with Elizabeth and her quirky family.

While there, a tragic accident occurs: an army truck strikes Ben, who dies soon after being rushed to a nearby hospital. Harry observes how this simple country family’s shaky yet solid belief weathers a crisis. He is especially touched by Elizabeth’s mother and her complete forgiveness of the soldier who struck her son.

Ben’s death is also the catalyst for both Elizabeth and Harry’s revelations of their past secrets. Elizabeth became pregnant while away at college and gave her baby up for adoption, something not even her family is aware of.

Harry’s secret is that while driving drunk in Wisconsin, he caused the death of two innocent people. Ben’s death opens up the still fresh wounds of Harry’s accident. In spite of Harry’s deep regrets over his past, he begins to see how his life can be different, especially as he looks at his future through the dark eyes of this beautiful country schoolteacher. As Elizabeth shares the source of her faith with Harry, she realizes the most difficult part of repentance is often forgiving oneself from past mistakes.

During this time, both discover that families draw a circle around themselves—not to keep others out, but to keep family in. Harry also realizes that God works the same way, as he recalls Ben’s earlier words to him, “You’re in God’s circle of love and can’t get out.”
Their relationship is cemented through this time of crisis. When Elizabeth must visit her school classroom to remove items from Ben’s school desk, Harry is the one who goes with her. He walks beside her during the days after the accident.

Harry also faces another conflict: he must choose between being with Elizabeth in a time of special crisis or being AWOL. He rejoins his unit, hours late. He avoids AWOL charges through the intervention of the very soldiers who’d most tormented him.

As army units begin breaking camp, the greatest obstacle to Harry and Elizabeth’s relationship now becomes time. Harry’s division has returned to Camp Livingston, near Alexandria, before heading back north. He uses every free moment to see Elizabeth, who is eighty miles away.

During the days leading up to his unit returning to Wisconsin, Harry proposes to Elizabeth, both shocking and delighting her. Initially, the shock is greater than her excitement, and her reply is evasive and careful. Harry believes he has ruined the relationship by pushing too hard, too soon. However, on his next visit, he is greeted by her question, “Do you think I could get a teaching job in Wisconsin?”

They eagerly make plans. With Harry’s discharge date approaching in just over one hundred days (February 2, 1942), the future looks bright.

However, their plans, as well as the plans of millions of Americans, are disrupted on Sunday, December 7th. As Elizabeth and Harry learn about the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, it becomes evident that all bets are off as to the future.

Against most everyone’s advice, Harry and Elizabeth are married. A Spent Bullet ends with their brief and happy honeymoon at the Hotel Bentley in Alexandria. Now, it’s off to war for Harry and back home to teaching for Elizabeth.

Only the future will reveal what happens next, and that future awaits readers in the next book of the series, As You Were.

The plot of this story is woven together from true stories told to me by the many “Harry and Elizabeth’s” who met, fell in love, and married during the 1941 maneuvers.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kojak the Fireman

The last two nights I've had dreams from my years as a school principal. I always wonder why I still dream of events of nearly twenty years ago. (In one dream I had an office full of students in trouble as well as angry parents waiting outside; Last night's dream had something to do with driving a school bus full of teachers and students while pulling a log truck behind it. Go figure.)

Maybe those dreams were why I thought about "Kojak" Williams today.
(The real reason was that I sat in a Sunday School class taught by his older brother.)

Kojak and his brother "Buckwheat" were real characters who fit well into the rural character of East Beauregard High. They were country, fun, friendly, and never dull.

Especially Kojak.

One of my major battles was with students smoking. It was an ongoing skirmish that never ended.

I have many stories I could tell, and students could definitely tell stories on me. (The most popular urban legend was that I once climbed a tree, while wearing camo, near the student parking entrance and caught students smoking as they drove in.)
Gabi Guillott Perry commented on your wall post:

"I remember you 'climbing the tree.' Everybody fully believed you did that!" - from Gabi 10 19 09

That story is not true. I stood under the tree and I was dressed in my coat and tie. I'd warned students repeatedly to "put out their smokes" before crossing the cattleguard where school property began. (East Beauregard was probably the last school in America to have cattleguards at its entrance. They were needed when stock still roamed "open range.")

Anyway, my battle with the smokers was always interesting.

One day, two of my favorite smokers came in to the office. They were covered in white powder and very upset. I asked what'd happened and got their answer, "We were in the stalls in the boys bathroom and someone sprayed us with a fire extinguisher."

As I realized what'd happened (and made sure they were OK) I wanted to laugh. They explained that evidently someone had climbed up on the sink and "sprayed over the partition down on us."

I sent them on the way promising to investigate. Before leaving the office, I sat down and had a fine laugh, already figuring out what'd happened.

In the restroom the evidence was all there: an empty fire extinguisher, white powder in the stall area, and two cigarette butts in the commode.

It didn't take too long for the grapevine to lead me to my major suspect: "Kojak" Williams.

Calling him in, I shut the door to my office. "Kojak, did you spray those boys?"

"I sure did, Mr. Iles. We guys were tired of them smoking up the bathroom for all the rest of us." He grinned, "I just decided to put out their fire." * See below for what we was singing as he went into the rest room.

Handling discipline at a high school calls for all kinds of decisions. This day was no different"
I made a decision not to make a decision.

I just told Kojak, "Don't do it again. Let me be in charge of dousing the cigarettes."

If I remember, Kojak cleaned up the mess. It seems as if the custodians did it for him. They'd heard the story too and were proud of him for taking care of the problem.

I'm not sure if it was my legend of being up in the tree,
or Kojak's fireman duty that day,
or when we shortly thereafter put teachers patrolling the restrooms during break time,
but smoking was never quite the problem again that it'd been.

I'll always believe the improvement against "smoking in the boy's room" was due to Kojak and his fire extinguisher.

The statute of limitations has run out on Kojak's offense.
They can't fire me (bad pun) for not taking strong action against Kojak. I left the school system in 1992.

But I still laugh when I think of Kojak's story.

Today at Friendship Church, I should have asked his brother what Kojak is doing now. I thought I'd heard he might be working for a fire department somewhere.

Naw, that couldn't be true, but I'd sure write him a good recommendation letter if he wanted to apply.

"Teacher, don't you tell you none of your rules.
'Cause everyone knows that smoking ain't allowed in school."
-"Smoking in the Boys Room" Brownsville Station.

Cough, cough.

A Postscript from Kojak's classmate, Michele Simmons Chapman:

*Oh, Mr. Curt I remember the day that happened and how funny it was!! I have even told my kids that story and how he went in singing the song "They Call Me The Fireman". Kojak was and still is a character!!"


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hurricane Season is winding down.

I know it's not officially over until November 30, but it's safe to say this will be a below normal season, especially for our battered Gulf Coast.

Shown are two of my favorite hurricane items. One is my can of Baptist Beer. I write the name of every hurricane that affects our area on this 2005 souvenir. You can read the fun story about what Baptist Beer is later in this blog.

At the end of this posting is the short video on the book, "Everything Good About Hurricanes." The book shown is a special prize of mine. You'll laugh and understand why after viewing the video.

Let's thank God for a quiet hurricane season. It's a blessing. Many have asked Him for this so let's "follow up" with sincere gratitude.

Tim Tebow when he helped dismantle my LSU Tigers last Saturday night sported eye black that said, "I Thess. 5:18" It's a neat verse, "In everything give thanks..."

Let's be thankful for the things that don't happen. Like hurricanes.

To see the video clip on the book: "Everything Good about Hurricanes"
click here to go to You Tube at

Baptist Beer

It's lunchtime at The City of Hope. It is the first Saturday after Katrina. Our evacuees have been with us for six days now and we are getting to know each other well.

The watchword of the latter part of the week has been, "When is FEMA coming? When will we see the Red Cross?" There is an undercut of tension that our shelter, being in an extremely rural location and not being an official Red Cross shelter, will be passed over and forgotten about.

In the middle of lunch someone cries out, "The Red Cross is here!" Outside the east window a red and white van pulls up. Three workers get out and are greeted by evacuees. Everyone quickly discovers they've not come with $1500 debit cards but rather supplies of food and water. Still they are greeted with warm smiles and handshakes.

I've been amazed all week that whenever any official comes, even if they have no pertinent information, they are greeted warmly. For all of the belly-aching about FEMA and the Red Cross, individuals from these groups are received respectfully. Most of them quickly tell the assembled crowds that they are "worker bees" or "lower echelon" and have no big news. But it is still reassuring to see someone in uniform. Another thing I notice is that every worker I've met from these groups has been extremely helpful and concerned.

I meet the Red Cross workers and then return to my meal. Suddenly someone charges over to my table, "Bro. Curt did you know they're bringing in cases of Budweiser water?" Someone grabs a six-pack off the dolly and delivers it to my table. Sure enough the white can is labeled "Drinking Water; packaged by Aeunhueser Busch, Cartersville, GA.”

I don't know whether to laugh or get mad. They quickly reverse the unloading of the high stack of Budweiser water and reload it for destinations where Baptists aren't in charge. Later I find out they inadvertently left two cases behind. I quickly commandeer them and begin planning some fun with them.

We Baptists have a well-deserved reputation for being teetotalers when it comes to alcohol. We like to say we are dry. In Beauregard Parish there is only one small area where alcohol is sold. In fact we are presently in the beginning stages of a liquor election created by a loophole as decided by the state supreme court.

I'm against the sale of alcohol for a very simple reason: I've seen it hurt too many families. I've helped bury way too many young people whose lives were snuffed out by someone driving while intoxicated. I've never seen alcohol do any good but I've seen it destroy many a man, woman, and family.

In spite of this, I still have a sense of humor about things and these Budweiser waters are passed out to every Baptist preacher I know when they drop by the camp. We have lots of fun with it.

Folks even start calling it “Baptist beer.”

It brings me back to the allegorical story I once read in the newspaper. It seemed in Texas they were having lots of trouble with the Johnson grass in their crops. The local sheriff had confiscated a huge shipment of moonshine whiskey. He came up with a novel way to dispose of the moonshine and eradicate the Johnson grass. He simply poured the whiskey on the Johnson grass and the Baptists ate it down to the roots.

Being a Baptist I'm used to being the butt of jokes like that and can laugh as loud as anyone.

My father-in-law, Herbert Terry, has a friend named David Patton. Although Mr. Patton, a former state legislator, is well known in north central La, his dog “Bo” is better known than he is.

My father in law told of going to David Patton's house and the dog being told, “Bo, Mr. Terry has come to go hunting, go get him some boots.” Soon the dog obediently returned with a pair of boots in his mouth. Then the dog was instructed, "Mr. Terry doesn't have a gun, go fetch him a gun.” Sure enough Bo came back dragging a gun in a carrying case.

Then he told him, "Bo, it’s hot today-- go get Mr. Terry something to drink.” Quickly old Bo comes back with a can of beer in his mouth. Mr. Patton then scolded the dog, "Bad dog, you know Mr. Terry's one of those Baptists. Now take that back." With that the dog left and returned, this time with a can of Diet Coke.

I didn't see this but my father in law is a good man and I know if he said it, it happened. In fact I'm so sure of it, I'll bet you a case of Baptist beer it happened.

P.S. Another new story from my current research (1941 La. Maneuvers in our area.) A customer from outside our area came to DeRidder's Royal Cafe during 1941. He asked the waitress for a "shrimp cocktail" with his meal and she curtly answered, "I'll have you know Beauregard Parish is dry and we don't serve no alcohol here."

As a fiction writer, I'm amazed daily at how it is impossible to make up anything better than the truth.

(Below) My can of Baptist Beer, side view showing 2008 hurricanes. Lord willing, I won't be adding to the names in 2009.

"Everything Good about Hurricanes" copyright 2006 Wise Printing, Sulphur, LA


Monday, October 12, 2009

More on planning and planting for the future.

Beth Koop is one of my Dry Creek Camp friends. Her parents are a classic example of a lifelong good marriage. Beth shared this concerning the future and tree planting.

"My daddy was talking about planting a tree a few weeks ago. My mama asked why he wanted to plant a tree because he is 89 yrs. old & would not get to enjoy it. I reminded her that he's been saying "I won't be around much longer" for at least 10 yrs. now. We all had a laugh. He's still planting a garden & she's still canning & freezing."

My goal: still to be planting trees at 89.

Lennie Hanchey told me the story last week about her father in law, K.R. Hanchey, planting a huge tract of pines in the late 1950's. Dry Creek legend has it that the seedling pines were burned by woods arsonists the first two years, but Hanchey kept planting until they survived.

Mr. Hanchey said, "I'll never see these trees grow big enough to cut, but they'll pay college for my grandchildren. Lennie added, "Not only have those trees paid for college for the grandchildren but now they're doing the same for great grandchildren."

True vision always looks beyond our own needs and life.
It looks ahead.
It plants trees under which we'll never enjoy the shade.


We get things done over time by working hard and showing persistence.

A wise quote: "People overestimate what they can do in five years and underestimate what they can do in twenty years." -Ligon Duncan

i.e. The twin powers of time and patience can crack mountains. See the Creekbank blog for more.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a simple country house painter named "Sonny" Green. In about 1994 we stood in front of Dry Creek Camp's "White House." I was seeking his advice on how to paint this huge tall building. As I shared my dreams, frustrations, and ideas, he put his hand on my shoulder.

"Son, remember this: Rome weren't built in a day."

His advice was simple. His grammar left room for improvement. His quote was definitely not original. Sonny Green wasn't famous.

But his wise words in that situation made a huge impression on me.
The right words.
From the right man.
At the right time.

Dry Creek's "White House" aka "The Old School"

From 1912 until 1962 this was Dry Creek High School where my grandfather and father attended. It is now a 26 room conference center belonging to Dry Creek Baptist Camp.

Sonny Green's been dead a long time but his wisdom lives on.
If you've got a big job to do, take it a bite at a time. It'll get done but don't expect it to happen overnight.

Thanks Sonny.

A closing quote:

"Best time to plant a tree: 20 years ago.
Next best time: Today."


Friday, October 02, 2009

A Prophet has no Honor in Dry Creek

From The Old House by Curt Iles Copyright 2002

This story is nearly too good to be true, but it actually is. The funniest things in life are not fictitious, but real events that take place all around us.

My next-door neighbors in Dry Creek are Mark and Mitzi Foreman. The Foremans, and their two children, Mavy and Mark, Jr. operate Foreman’s meat market at the intersection of Highways 113 and 394.

Curt and Mark Foreman September 2009 @ Bayou Writers meeting

Photo from The Times of SW La. Oct. 1, 2009

This story is not meant to be a commercial, but if you’ve never eaten boudin or sausage from Foreman’s, you haven’t lived. They are known far and wide for their wonderful Cajun-seasoned meats. My son, Clint, loves to get his mom’s shopping list and add, “Buy plenty of Foreman’s sausage.”

Famous all over our area also are their huge stuffed pork chops and chicken breasts. These delicacies, filled with boudin or sausage, are a feast by themselves. You can also get a greasy paper bag full of fresh fried cracklings, which are authentic crunchy pork skins.

The Foreman’s opened their Dry Creek store in 1993. They’ve been very successful due to a great location, a quality product, and lots of hard work. Mark and Mitzi are talented business owners and deserve every bit of the success they’ve had.

However, this story is not about them. It’s about their son, Mark, Jr., better known in Dry Creek as “Boom Boom.” For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call him Mark, but if you come in Foreman’s Grocery, ask for “Boom Boom.”

Mark Jr. is a businessman and sausage expert just like his dad. Presently, his responsibility is making cracklings at the store. He can also discuss, in detail, the fine points of red pepper, casings, and correct sausage cooking times. My boys sat with him on the school bus and loved to relate how he constantly sketched out notebook drawings of improved sausage making equipment. I predict Mark will one day be rich and famous as an entrepreneur, far beyond the confines of Dry Creek.

This specific story happened when Mark was about ten years old. At this age he began attending Catechism, which are the lessons where Catholic doctrine is taught. The very first lesson, from the Old Testament, told about the early patriarchs of the Bible. As the teacher introduced the stories of Moses, Abraham, and Isaiah, she asked this question, “Do any of you know what a prophet is?”

The children looked at each other waiting to see who’d answer first. However, they shouldn’t have waited, because Mark Foreman already knew the answer and was excitedly waving his hand back and forth.

The teacher asked, “Mark, tell us what a prophet is?”

Without any hesitation, Mark replied,

“A prophet is the money you have left over in your business, after you’ve paid all of your bills.”

Fully satisfied with his excellent answer, this future business tycoon sat down.

I’m not sure if he passed Introduction to the Old Testament, but I’ll bet you a bag of hot cracklings he'll pass Economics 101.

Mark Foreman Jr. is now a partner in Foreman's Meat Market. He is a wonderful father, husband, and gifted writer. I'm proud of him.