Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Lucky Penny

Several years ago I was pumping my own gas in the Circle K convenience store location in my subdivision. While engaged in this mundane task I looked down at my feet and saw a penny. I am still cheap enough to stoop and pick up any and all coinage. As I examined this penny I noted that it was a 1946 plain. It even had the little wheat tails on it that we no longer see on pennies. Nowadays they have some sort of shield on the back of them.

Now there is another significant date that fell within the year of 1946. If you guessed that would be my birthday then you would have guessed correctly. I was born on May 27 in that exact year. I have not ever been overtly superstitious. But this event struck me with some sort of relevance. I decided that this was a special totem that had fallen from another era into my possession. I claimed the penny and dubbed it my lucky penny.

Now when you have the clumsiness and scatter brained tendencies that have always afflicted me, the logical question is how am I going to keep track of this special penny? I decided that one thing I have not ever lost is my drivers license. So I found some scotch tape and taped my lucky penny on the face of my drivers license. I made sure that it did not cover up any vital information on the license. I was asked occasionally by an airline agent or others what the penny was and I would give them a quick response and be on my way. They were assured of my identity, deemed me a little weird but I moved on down the road of life undetained. Never would I have guessed that this lucky penny would pay off handsomely for me in later years.

On December 5, 1995 I was on my way home from Pensacola having been on a business trip. Anyone who has ever driven that stretch of highway knows that it is the most boring drive on the entire planet. I was hastening home on this particular day to join my family around the dinner table in a birthday celebration for my middle child Beth. It was her birthday. I was making good time when all of a sudden I came to a halt. I was 4 miles from my exit to home. I-10 looked like a parking lot with some sort of untoward event having occurred in front of me. I was stuck. It was a few years before I purchased my first cell phone so no capability of calling and letting the family know of my whereabouts.

I sat there and contemplated my options. I had just passed under US highway 27. It was possible for me to access my home by that route. Lo and behold I noticed that some of the people in front of me were driving across the median and then across I-10 Westbound and up the ramp, accessing Monroe St. Processing this for a bit and assessing the relative safety aspect of this action I determined that was what I needed to do. I eased across the median watched for a break in the traffic and accelerated up the ramp. Half way up the median the blue lights went off to my rear.

I immediately pulled over and waited for the law enforcement officer to come to my car. A state trooper appeared and asked for my license and registration. I handed both to him through the window. He studied them and asked me why I decided to cross the median and drive up the ramp. I explained that I was late to a birthday dinner for my daughter. Everyone else was doing it so I decided to go along with the crowd. He told me that I just happened to be unlucky enough to do it in front of him. He then asked, " What is this penny taped across your drivers license.?" I responded with " Oh, that is my lucky penny." In light of his recent declaration I paused to think about the irony in that statement. He looked at me and I looked at him and we both broke out laughing.

He handed me my license and said Mr. Vass have a good evening, be safe and don't do that again. I then went on my merry way. I then realized that my lucky penny had just saved me several dollars in fines. Indeed, it had done its job. I still carry it today.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Religious Burning

When I was a boy I lived in a remote part of southern West Virginia. The little community I lived in was referred to as Hillsdale. Hillsdale was the site of the Hillsdale Presbyterian church. I happened to live right across the street from the church so, I was asked by the head Deacon, Mr Siebold, to build a fire in two old pot bellied stoves a couple of hours before the 20 or so parishioners assembled to listen to Reverend Shiflett, our circuit riding minister.

The old church was pretty typical of most churches that dotted the landscape of this area of the Appalachians. They looked very much like barns with a steeple on top. Later in life I would hear the term shotgun houses. The term referred to very simple looking homes that were occupied by the lower realm of society who could not afford better. The term applied meant that you could open the front door and the back door and stand in one or the other and fire a shotgun through the house and not hit anything. Well, the term applied to this old shotgun church. Heaven only knows what the vintage of this old place might have been. At that time it could have been 50+ years old. A virtual tinderbox.

This was approximately 60 years ago from where I currently stand in my sojourn through mortality. I remember what a great weight of responsibility I felt in the assignment to build those fires. There was ample kindling wood and kerosene that was stored right there in the church. Also plenty of coal to fuel the stoves with after the initial fire was set. I was being paid 75 cents every Sunday that I performed this task.

By the time I got those two stoves going in time for the Sunday school attendees to sit around, their underbellies would be red hot. That was the nature of an old iron, pot bellied stove. To me it was terrifying. I was convinced that the fire could get away from me easily. I envisioned a headline in the Watchtower of Union, West Virginia, our little regional newspaper, Local kid burns down the Presbyterian church in Hillsdale. 

I sweated bullets over that little job I had. It was pure angst that I felt every Sunday, November through April, when I was called on to build those fires and prepare the building for the preaching and teaching of the gospel.

I ultimately ended up having a career in sales with a huge, global company. I even lobbied the legislatures in 3 southern states toiling over issue after issue that came along that could have impacted our business by millions of dollars. I felt the heat in those assignments. However, I never felt more heat than I did as a ten year old lad building those fires there in the Hillsdale Presbyterian church on those frosty cold West Virginia mornings.