The night before my mother died, Kay and I were watching the Oscars. I intended to go to bed after the first hour because of an early rehearsal call the next day. When J.K. Simmons won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “Whiplash,” he praised his wife, kids, and then his parents in his acceptance speech.Mr. Simmons praised his mother and father for their contribution in shaping him into the person standing on that stage. His final words were, “…Go call your Mom and your Dad and thank them. Don’t text or e-mail them, but call them and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.” Conviction came, and I went to call Mom.
When Mom answered the phone in her bright, cheery voice, I naturally thought she was watching the Oscars and was anticipating this call. However, she informed me that she had just come in from having dinner with one of my siblings, thus the vibrant “hello.” So I explained to her how Mr. Simmons had inspired me.
“Mom, I wanted you to know how thankful I am for your love and encouragement over the years. You and Dad always cared for me and supported me. Whatever good qualities I may have, I know in large part it is because of you and Dad.”
Per Mr. Simmons’ instructions, I was about to settle in to “…listen to [her] for as long as [she] wanted to talk to [me],” but she responded: “Oh Sweetie that is so nice. I love you too and am proud of you and appreciate what you’ve said, but “Downtown Abby” is about to start, and I need to go to the bathroom, so can we wrap this up?”
A perfect Mom response. Believing there would be other opportunities for a mutual-admiration-society chat, we said our goodbyes. Some time that night, I hope after watching “Downtown Abby,” she went to sleep and her body released her spirit. What an extraordinary gift God gave me. To share mutual love and a big laugh with my mother before she shuffled off her mortal coil. For days following, I would whisper my thanks to God for heeding Mr. Simmons’ admonition.
My mother and father did so much to mold and shape my character, mostly for the better. I don’t understand how it all worked except that on my best days I am willing to receive the goodness, the kindness, the faith, the love these two people gave me and allow those qualities to sink deep into my soul. I am a fortunate man.
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September 15, 2021
Barry as J.J. and Chip as Mark outside the Cathedral.
My dear friend passed into eternity a year ago. We spent so much time together on and off stage telling stories, sharing burdens, dreaming of heaven. In this one-year anniversary of Barry shuffling off his mortal coil, I want to share the final story Barry shared with me just a few days before he left us.
The last time we spoke just days before his passing he said, “I got a story for you.” He was energized. His voice was a mere rasp of its former power, but the joy he was feeling at the moment gave him strength. “You ever heard of the Kings of Junk?” I told him no. “They came to my house today. I had a bunch of stuff in my garage and they came to clean it out. A few minutes before they were to arrive, I went out to the garage to open it up. I had to climb about three steps to get to the door to unlock it. I got to the bottom step and I couldn’t lift my leg to start to climb up. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t climb. I didn’t have the strength and my brain wasn’t communicating to my leg. So I sat down and used my arms and climbed up the steps backward on my butt. But when I got to the door, I couldn’t stand up. So I sat there and waited for the Kings of Junk to arrive.
When they arrived the man in charge came around to the side entrance and I told him the situation. He asked what he could do for me. I told him I need to be carried into the house. So the King of the Kings of Junk wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up and he helped me back into my house. Once in the kitchen, the King held me against his chest. He just held me, until he gently sat me down in a chair. Then he knelt in front of me and looked into my face, really looked at me. He saw me, saw inside of me, saw the broken me, and he said, ‘Can I do anything else for you, Mr. Scott?’ I swear, Chip, it was like I looked into the face of Jesus.”
I told Barry this story would be added to his collection of great stories. He needed to tell that story. He said I needed to come to church and we would tell our stories together. I said, who would listen to two old men telling stories? He said, “Men need to hear our stories together. Men need to tell their own stories to one another. Men need to hear and know that they are loved by God and that they are loved by us. Men need to look other men in their eyes and ask is there anything else I can do for you? Men need to know that in weakness they have strength, in pain they have power, in sorrow they have joy, and in God they have love everlasting.”
I miss my dear friend, but I will see him again. Death has its sting, but it is not forever.
I spent some years tossing about in the world. “He’s finding himself,” was the euphemism offered when explaining why I was expelled from or flunked out of more than one educational institution, or “let go” by employers. Not a time I’m proud of, and the strain on family relationships was evident. I needed rescue, but didn’t even recognize it. My father did.
When he was cast as Don Quixote in a production of “Man of La Mancha,” Dad thought his wayward son might benefit from having an experience on stage. In my underdeveloped, idiot brain, Dad’s coolness factor was deficient, but he cast me a lifeline, and got me to audition. In spite of my being solidly mediocre (the bar was low), I landed the role of Paco, muleteer #5.
In the process of rehearsals and performances, I watched how my father took direction, how he paid attention to what was going on around him, how he reacted to what other actors gave him, how he made manifest his physical, vocal, and interpretive choices for his character. He was gradually transforming, and I began to experience my own small transformation.
Dad was leading me into a dream, an “impossible” dream of the possible. Night-after-night I saw my father transform from Henry Arnold into Miguel de Cervantes, and then into Don Quixote as he followed his beautiful quest jousting against evil, seeing the beauty in all things and in all people, even his enemies, until his eventual “stage” death.
When I was a child of four, I was traumatized when I saw my father’s stage death as Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel.” This time I was not traumatized. I was in awe of my father’s skill as an artist who used his imagination to create transcendence, a sublime moment of truth and beauty.
The reestablishment of the father/son filial bond after our “Man of La Mancha” experience was not an immediate success. Estrangement continued for a few more years. Some of us are not easily rescued. For some, the lifeline for rescue can require miles of coiled threads stretched to the limit. But in time, I came to realize my quest to find a hero was over. It was Don Quixote and my father, for they were inextricably linked.
A few years ago we hosted several counselors who work with Kay in our home. After eating a delicious brunch, one of the younger couples with small children asked the “elders” around the table the names their grandchildren called them. A few shared their “grand” monikers before me, and when it was my turn, I had a story to tell.
I happened to be in a production of “All My Sons” for Nashville Rep when the call came that our youngest daughter in Chattanooga had gone into labor. Kay and I hopped in the car and drove down. We stayed long enough to hold the child, “oo” and “ah” over the perfection of this newborn, and head back.
I returned with cigars for all the members of the cast in the play. When one of the actors asked if I had thought of a grandfather name by which I would be called, I said, “I don’t know, but it sure as hell won’t be ‘Pee Paw.’” Polite laughter from the brunch guests.
The next “elder” at the table to reveal his grandfather name happened to be an esteemed clinical psychologist and chair of the psych department at a university. He was silent for a couple of seconds—the genius of comic timing building—and then he said, “Pee Paw.” Guffaws from the brunch guests, all at my expense.
The next time we paid a visit to see the new grandchild, I shared my story with our youngest daughter. She pushed back saying, “Well, Dad, what if your grandson decides to call you ‘Pee Paw’?” I too paused before I spoke; the comic timing from the clinical psychologist not lost on me. “Well, that’s all right, if you don’t mind me calling him ‘Little Brat.’”
End of discussion.
I solved the dilemma by creating the sobriquet of “Dachi” (pronounced “Da-chee”), “Da” for the Irish “Da”, and “Chi” for the first three letters of my nickname “Chip.” It has since morphed into derivations like: “Dachi-man,” “Dachi-mingo,” and my favorite, “The Dach.” The omnipotence of “The Dach” can strike fear and trembling in the hearts of men.
After I traded in my Superman towel cape and my father’s ragbag shirt with the red “S” my mother painted on the front, I was at a loss to find a hero that inspired me. For years I struggled to find the personality that I could emulate and model. And after years of wandering in the wilderness, the new hero arrived…007. Cue the guitar licks for the James Bond theme music. Not only could I save the world, but I had theme music I could hum as I vanquished all of the villains SPECTRE could throw at me.
Now in the early days of my Secondary education, I was not a model student that “wowed” my teachers with scholastic enterprise. Days before I had to show my parents the report card marking my progress or lack thereof, I was consumed with anxiety. Once, in a moment of panic, I tried to transform a “D” into an “A” and an “F” into a “B”. Not a very “Bond” move. My penciled-in upgrade did not fool anyone; my dyslexia could not be hidden.
So when “Goldfinger” was released, and my mother and I were watching a trailer on television, I asked her what it would take to become a double 00 like James Bond. Mother did not even have to think of her answer. The words flew out of her mouth, “Well Honey, you gotta start by making better grades in school.” This from the woman who had enabled me to become Superman, now speaking truth. I was brought low.
I will always be grateful to my mother for her grounded realism, and not inflating my imagination with “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” Some things were clearly out of reach. So the quest to find a more accessible hero continued.
However, my sweet wife Kay has reminded me on occasion that I still harbor a secret desire to to be “Bond…James Bond.” Some fantasies are worth holding on to.
How many times have you said it or heard other people say they don’t like surprises? This phrase is as common as the head cold. Merriam-Webster defines surprise as “an unexpected or astonishing event.” I’ve had my share of those events, and not all of them pleasant.
I love author Alice Walker’s quote, “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.” So when the occasional surprise finds me, and it also happens to be an enjoyable one, I try to “live” on it sparingly and appreciate the joy that comes with it.
I received some news that was totally unexpected and it astonished me. The K-LOVE Radio Network has placed my novel, “A Voice Within the Flame” on it’s recommended summer reading list. So grateful for the shout-out, and I am humbled and honored to be on a list with such esteemed authors. I will live frugally on the pleasurable taste of this surprise for as long as I can.
If you are still looking for that summer read, then “A Voice Within the Flame” might be your cup of tea. This is the first volume in my historical/biblical fiction series entitled “The Song of Prophets and Kings.”
In this first volume, we take a 3,000 year leap back to the tenth century B.C., when prophets and kings vie for power in ancient Israel. Royal dynasties clash with prophets of God in a brutal and bloody time; a time of conflict between religion and politics, between God and man. “A Voice Within the Flame” is now available in ebook, print, and audio book wherever books are sold.
Look for the second installment in this series, “Crown of the Warrior King”, to be released by WhiteFire Publishing on December 1, 2021.
We are told that words are powerful, that words matter, that a spoken thought has a ripple effect in the world whether for good or ill. The main character in my novel, “A Voice Within the Flame,” is Samuel, the last great judge and prophet before the monarchy was introduced in Israel. There is a descriptive phrase written of Samuel that is used nowhere else in Scripture, nor is it used to describe any other character. It is stated of Samuel that God “let none of his words fall to the ground.”
This is biblical poetry and does not just refer to Samuel’s prophetic declarations. Those pronouncements, while profound in effect, were infrequent and not the everyday life that Samuel led. This idiomatic expression reveals Samuel’s deep and knowing character rooted in truth. Whatever Samuel spoke, either in the sacred language of God or the common communication of man, it could be trusted.
The ancient Hebrew phrase “fall to the ground” means that something is useless and carries no weight or power. In Samuel’s case, his words did not fall to the ground like “precious liquors if spilt upon the earth, or like an arrow shot from a bow not arriving to the target,” as one commentator wrote. As spilt liquor upon the ground or a missed shot of an arrow are useless, and so are thoughtless and foolish words when spoken.
When Samuel spoke what he said carried the full weight of truth. Many times people did not like what Samuel had to say, or the way he said it, but the measure of everything he spoke was bathed in the oil of truth and the people trusted him.
To expect the truth in others, we must first be truthful. To expect trust in others, we must first be trustworthy. Like Samuel, the truth flowed in his bloodstream; the truth was his core nature. If our words do matter, and if we want those words to produce positive outcomes and not fall useless upon the ground, then we must be devoted to the truth and walk in its light.
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July 15, 2021
Whitland Ave. July 4th, 2021; Photo by Michael Scott Evans
A family tradition began 44 years ago on Whitland Ave in Nashville, Tennessee. My father and mother were a part of a small group of people who wanted to celebrate each July 4th in a special way. Over the years the program varied, which included my sister Nan Gurley singing patriotic songs.
But there was always one constant: my father would read from the Declaration of Independence while members of the Nashville Symphony would play Aaron Copeland’s “Ode to the Common Man.”
When Dad departed this life, the mantle was passed to me. I still wear the shirt he wore, read the same words he read, and experience the same thrill he experienced each year. I could not be more proud of my parents, Bud and Bernie Arnold, and the great legacy they left their family and the community they loved.
A shout-out to Wayne Gurley for the photo of Dad at the July 4, 2000 celebration (his last time), Nan Gurley in 2018m and to Michael Scott Evans for this cover photo of me at the 2021 July 4th celebration at Whitland Ave.
In the opening chapters of my historical novel, “A Voice Within the Flame,” the character of Hannah suffers under a terrible burden. She has one desire and she is obsessed by this desire. Hannah is able to function in her day-to-day world, able to care for and love those around her. But the one thing she wants most dominates her heart and remains illusory.
After years of being denied her one hope, the agony Hannah suffers becomes too great to endure. Nothing brings her comfort. Not the doting attention of a loving husband, not material luxuries, not food or drink, not personal sacrifice, not worship or prayer. Nothing can raise Hannah from the dust of her despondency.
Yet Hannah is bold enough to call upon God to look upon the “bitterness of her soul.” Through tears, she makes a vow. If the Almighty would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord “for all the days of his life.”
It would be easy to be critical of Hannah. She is desperate and foolish to make so rash a promise. Contemporary culture does not understand an ancient time that placed such a high value on having a child. And yet, if we have lived long enough on this planet, we all have experienced times of desperation. We all know what it is like to obsess over a desire of the heart. And whether we want to admit it or not, many of us have made those bargains with God or the universe or another human being.
This is what gives us empathy for Hannah. Our individual circumstances can be much different, but the human heart is a great equalizer, and we understand the pain that brought Hannah to this place of last resort…the vow—a thing promised. Now imagine the pain she would feel if the Almighty agreed to the terms of her vow.
There were some “escape clauses” when it came to making vows (Numbers 30). But in the novel and in the biblical account, when it came time for Hannah to keep her end of the bargain, she chose not to take an option that would nullify the vow.
What great courage. What depth of character. When Hannah could not know the consequences of her decision, she kept her vow. The power of such dedication to one’s word can have a ripple effect across space, time, and history.
It was a Dad/Daughter time to celebrate Father’s Day. Our hike had been planned for weeks, and I had dreamed of taking this trek forever. A few years ago one spring, I did a solo hike from the Fiery Gizzard trail-head, beyond Sycamore Falls, up to Dog Hole trail following the ridge to Raven’s Point, and then down into the gorge circling back along the river. This section of the trail is beautiful but rugged. The ranger warned I’d be climbing over rocks and boulders beside the river, and that the trail was not well marked. He spoke truth. A few times the path disappeared into the landscape and I had to backtrack to find the blazes marking the trail. On one of my wrong turns, the ground was so wet from spring rains, that what I thought was a trail began to give way, and I had to grab a sapling to keep from sliding down the hill into the river. All a part of the great adventure.
To be able to trek the length and breadth of the trail required us to park a vehicle at either end. From the Foster Falls entrance to the Fiery Gizzard trail-head is thirteen miles, and when you add the spur trail to Raven’s Point, which we did, the hike is fourteen miles. This trek offers the verdant splendor of forests so thick that the sunlight struggles to get through, scenic overlooks along the tops of mountain ridges that inspires dreams of a homestead with a back porch full of rocking chairs, and gorges that descend so deep you swear you’ve stepped into the imagination of Jules Verne in “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” What better companion to take on this Father’s Day hike than my daughter, Lauren.
I am a firm believer in preparation, especially when it comes to planning hikes. While no Boy Scout, I do study maps and watch the weather, and try to anticipate any possible contingency. I will bring plenty of water and food, walking sticks, braces for my aging joints, mole skin, extra shoe lace, matches, Swiss Army knife (I still carry the one given me as a wedding present). I even have duct tape wrapped around my walking sticks in case something needs binding; preferably a shoe or an article of clothing and not a broken body part, though a splint could be fashioned if necessary. When trekking solo, I stick my phone in my backpack, but on this day, I chose to leave it locked in my car since Lauren was taking her high-tech phone for picture opportunities. And since we were going to have a vehicle at either end of the trail for our shuttle, I brought along my extra car key.
My car was left at the parking lot at the end of the trail, and we drove Lauren’s van back to the starting point at Foster Falls. Before Lauren locked the van I took out my car keys and dropped the first one into the pouch beside the passenger seat. I remember holding that second car key in my hand and thinking “Aren’t you clever.” Both keys would be safely locked inside Lauren’s van. No chance of losing them on the trail.
Over hill and dale, down into gorges, huffing and puffing up the steep ascents, fording streams, traversing ridge tops, and continuing on the winding path through thick forests, Lauren and I were having the best time sharing family memories, dreaming of future travels, and solving the world’s problems since we decided for this day our troubles did not exist. Oh, the hubris.
We stopped to have our lunch at Raven’s Point and enjoy the stunning view. It was at Raven’s Point that we learned a significant difference between men and women: when a woman eats a fresh cherry she will politely remove the pit from her mouth with her fingers and discretely toss it away. When a man is ready to discard the pit, he just spits it out, and for extra measure, aims to hit something with it. Some lessons I tried to teach my daughters just didn’t take. Except for the cherry pits, we left our lunch site with no carbon footprint.
It was around mile ten when the epiphany struck. Lauren was in the lead, and when she didn’t hear my footsteps behind her, she turned around to see me frozen in the middle of the trail with an addle-brained expression on my face. Now let me be clear. What I was experiencing was nothing akin to the light that blinded Paul on the road to Damascus, or the flames of the burning bush that lured Moses, or Jacob’s dream of the stairway to heaven. No, my manifestation was more similar with Balaam’s talking ass.
The vision was so vivid: I saw myself standing inside the open passenger door of the Niedlov’s van removing the first car key from my pocket and dropping it into the pouch, and then removing the second key from my other pocket, holding it in my hand for a brief second and thinking, “I sure don’t want to lose this one on the trail, so let’s just leave it with the other one.”
Out of concern for her father, Lauren asked what was wrong, and I confessed that I had administered a self-inflicted blow to the back of my head with the stupid stick, and through no fault of her own, she was collateral damage. We were six hours into the hike, so there was no turning back. After expressing some non-church words of self-incrimination, we marched onward. Now was an opportunity to apply the art of solvitur ambulando and solve our dilemma by walking.
There was a lot of daylight left, but still our pace quickened as we played out the worst-to-best-case scenarios. Worst case: hike an extra seven-plus miles at the end of the trail back to Lauren’s car. Best case: hope to find a sympathetic hiker who might be willing to give us a ride. Problem was, we had only seen a couple of people on the trail all hiking in the opposite direction.
Then Lauren had a brilliant idea. My dear friend Steve Brallier and his wife Lynn lived just up the road in Sewanee, Tennessee. I could give them a call, and if they were around, they could meet us at the trail-head and drive us back to Lauren’s car parked at the Foster Falls entrance. Yes, brilliant.
“You’ve got his number, right Dad?”
“Yes, Daughter, Steve’s number is in my contact list on my phone SAFELY LOCKED INSIDE MY CAR!”
We paused once again for a second application of the stupid stick. Another few non-church words expressed, and we walked on in silence.
After a few moments it was Lauren who stopped on the path. She thought she might have Steve’s number saved on her phone when he had called her to place a special order at Niedlov’s bakery back during Covid. She whipped out her phone, found a “hot-spot” for the connection, and voila, Steve’s number appeared. The call was made. Three rings, and we heard Steve’s incredulous voice, “Lauren, is that you?” Yes, my friends, Steve had also saved Lauren’s number. All hail technology.
I quickly make my confession, and just as quick, Steve laughed and said, “Sounds like you hit yourself with the stupid stick.” Nothing like the insult of a best friend to keep you humble.
Steve was finishing a round of golf, and Lynn would pick him up. They would meet us at the Fiery Gizzard trail-head.
Speaking of best friends, I want to digress a moment and plug Steve’s book “Mitaka’s Secret.” Six years ago Steve and Lynn sat at our table, and over a long dinner, told us how they came to this incredible story. In the ensuing years Steve would occasionally read me a new chapter that he and Lynn had researched and written. This is a true story, brilliantly told. Release date is July 20, 2021, and will be available wherever books are sold.
The lesson learned from my Fiery Gizzard Epiphany was that all the preparation I need for these hiking adventures is to include my resourceful daughter who knows how to take care of her old man. And, of course, be lucky enough to have a best friend who lives nearby and will happily come to your rescue. Priceless treasures both.
Kay is always my first reader. When I came in this morning from exercise, I heard laughter from our bedroom. I walked into the room and found her holding the draft of this story. She looked at me and said, “This is so you.” I guess after all these years I have become predictable.