Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Rev John Lewis Floyd - A Green Minister?

Rev. John Lewis Floyd

Gentle, intelligent, humble, and green.  GREEN?  Yes, now that I've had time to think about it, my father was as green as they come.  But first, let me back up a bit and write a little more background material.

My dad came from the other side of the tracks.  His father died when he was about 10 years old, and his step father, not a gentle man, was a share cropper in a part of Appalachia where that meant just enough acres to grow some corn and beans and run a few hogs and chickens; at least enough to feed a small family and trade or sell for a few essentials.  You think of Lincoln reading by the fire light . . . so did my father.  (It seems he may have had some part in a corn mash still operation in the Virginia woods according to an African American man that I met and who knew my father when they were boys, but that information is otherwise indirect and sketchy, and completely denied by him when I asked.) 

Somehow he escaped this bastion of poverty and non-education through being valedictorian of his class of 16, and going on tuition and books scholarship to Duke University and subsequently Texas Christian University.  At both institutions he earned room and board working dual jobs as a school janitor and being the equivalent of a bus boy in the dining halls.  He also was tasked with polishing the silver when he lodged with one of his professors, and he never was impressed by the sterling at a table setting after that; only thinking that someone had to have done that polishing before the table could be set.

In the fall of 1966, I was given an insight into his life when I went to have my transcript sent from TCU to the U of Texas medical schools as part of the application process.  At the registrar's office, they brought out my transcript and asked me to review it before sending it out.  Wow!  I had nothing but "A"s on every class! Not a single "B" or "C."   A small problem however . . . though the name was correct, the date was for the late 1930's . . . it was of course my father's transcripts.  Forever after it was very difficult to view myself as in any way intellectually superior to him.

As you could reason for yourself, his background in Appalachia and university socialization limited to talking to people as he cleared their plates or excused himself when taking out the trash or dusting imbued him with a general air of quiet humility which I think many interpreted as inferiority.  He either refused to, or didn't know how to, present himself nor the church as something that made one better than or above others socially.  Twice he was displaced from the pulpit of a church because of this.  In each case, he refused to support the push by a small, but socially cognizant faction of the congregation for building of a new church building, first because the congregation couldn't afford it, and second because they had not outgrown the existing church structure.  In each case, the new replacement minister led a building program, stayed for the construction of the church, and then moved on to a bigger church, leaving the local congregations with a large debt, which in one case ended in the dissolution of the congregation.  From talks with him when I was young, I know he would have liked to experience leading a large church, but he never had that chance.

And on top of that, both he and my mother were totally, completely tone deaf . . . couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  Being a good singer seems to be part of the ministerial job these days.

He was intelligent, as I suggested.   In addition to the transcript experience I noted above, I remember book after book arriving from the University lending library by mail every week (the library in Spur was lucky to have a 10 year old Britannica encyclopedia set and a paperback copy of the latest Gothic romance thriller.)  In his prime, with his depth and breadth of knowledge, I think he could stand and argue on level ground with most any philosopher or theologian.  I am certain most people never realized it though.

Oh yes, the green part. . . 

As noted, he was a heavy user of the library for sharing rather than acquiring books, but his conservation went much, much further than that, most often driven out of necessity.  Wood pencils in our house were generally not discarded until (a) they were less than an inch long AND (b) the eraser was completely used up.  Whenever possible, things were not replaced, they were repaired.  I remember replacing the heating element in a toaster.  A butcher knife wood handle was wired together when it fell apart.  When the 1953 Plymouth engine was worn out, my father did some reading, bought parts (rings, seals, etc) and tools (hand cranked valve/valve seat grinder, block and tackle, etc) from the Sears catalog, and in the detached garage with a dirt floor he removed, completely rebuilt and reinstalled the engine.  It ran well for many years.  When a bar of soap became too thin and small to hold, he put it in a box.  When he had enough, he would press them together to make a new bar of soap, saving the purchase of one.

We always had a garden; occasionally a very large one with peach and apple trees.  The left overs or unused peels, etc that I routinely put down the disposal or in the trash, my parents would dig into the fallow part of the garden for next year's plantings.  Canning was a summer and fall ritual; Ball mason jars were a part of our life.

With his cast iron cobbler's last and wooden handled awl (both which I still have somewhere), he allowed both of us to walk on 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th replacement shoe soles until the uppers were completely tattered.  I remember thinking of him when reading Shakespeare's Julius Cesar -  "Truly sir, all that I live by is the awl. I am indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes: when they are in great danger, I recover them."

Perhaps the most outrageous example of getting the maximum use of anything was my father's conservation of dental floss.  He would use the same length many times before pulling a new one.  I know this sounds disgusting, but I have a parallel story in that vein.  When the Viet Nam POW's came home in 1973, the Air Force members were initially, for their own sanity and protection, isolated in a single ward in Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center in San Antonio, where I was Chief Resident in Internal Medicine.  There they received full physical exams and psychological counseling.  All of these men had parasites, poor nutrition, and terrible dental condition with cavities and missing teeth . . . except for one officer.  During his 7 years as a POW in Hanoi, though denied a toothbrush or other elements of dental care, he would remove a thread from his prison garb (or mattress when he had one) and use it to floss 2 or 3 times a day.  Only when it wore to the point where it broke would he find another thread to use for another few weeks.  This one officer returned with almost perfect teeth!

At times I berate myself for not keeping my father's tradition of self-reliance and conservation.  I am trying to be better, but I have a long way to go.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Coyote Special - What A Blast!

The "Silver Solarium" rail car bringing up the rear

A couple of weeks ago we had a wonderful experience, recreating an historic rail trip from LA to Chicago and return to Denver.  The trip was with a party of 9 people riding, sleeping, and dining in a restored Pullman rail car, seen at the end of the Amtrak train in the picture above.

The trip was a new book release promotion by our Estes Park next door neighbor Walt Borneman.  It was a modern re-creation of a notable trip described in Walt's latest book, Rival Rails.  If you click around his website, you can find links to this trip and some pictures on the "Rival Rails" tab.

Here are a few pictures, but they are all from my cell phone camera and of limited quality.  Left-click on any picture to enlarge it.

 We assemble in the new entrance to Union Station, Los Angeles

 The LA Station is remarkably clean, open, and well-lighted

 We arrive at our historic rail car, the Silver Solarium.

 Walt doing a long distance interview with the BBC

 Walt and me in the lounge room

B and Walt, waiting to be called to dinner as the countryside glides past.
 Absolutely the best rack of lamb I've ever eaten!

 The rail car's heritage in the sign at the rear of the car.  Note the Golden Gate Bridge in the background of the sign.

Formal dress not required for breakfast!

 Left to right:  Bernd, our chef, Burt, historic rail car owner/manager, William, our Steward, Barbara

 View from our hotel room at the Drake on our Chicago stopover . . . NICE!

 On our free morning in Chicago, Barbara and I enjoyed a wounderful Sax player while we waited for the Art Institute to open.

 Back on the train and headed for Denver, Walt chats with William as he pours wine.

Formal settings for all three meals each day.  I could have gotten used to this very quickly.

 Menus printed for each lunch and dinner

 My picture is not very good, but this is a sterling bookmark with a period ATSF sterling steam locomotive and 4 cars  that Barbara made and gave to Walt.

 Again a poor picture.  Barbara made a necklace and bracelet of turquoise from Kingman, AZ (one of our stops on the route) with a sterling rail car clasp for Marlene, Walt's wife.

An NPR story and very nice 7-minute interview with Walt:

The book: