Search This Blog

Friday, September 20, 2013

God Bless the Maytag Engineers......

And I am not being flippant!

Our Trusty Maytag!
My wife and I went upscale a few years back and bought ourselves a Maytag. We'd bought the commercials and the old girl proved herself over more than a decade.  To understand how amazing that is, you have to understand how the King family washes.  For that entire time, we ran about 5 loads a day and 6 on Sunday.  The washer had Sabbath's off, but that's it.  My Sweet Baboo believes in cleanliness - before, after, next to and as a fundamental part of practical godliness.

So the first time I smelled burned rubber and saw blue smoke emanating from beneath the washing machine, my heart sank.  Every washer we'd ever know, had thrown a belt at least once, if not two or three times while we owned it. Like I said, my sweetie puts a lot of miles on a washer.  

Every time prior to this I'd spent most of a solid day taking apart the washer, removing the old belt and reinstalling a new one.  Generally this involved disassembly of the transmission, support structures, removal of the water pump and a lot of bruised knuckles and cut hands.  I HATED replacing belts.

So when I contemplated tearing into the Maytag, I was, to say the least, less than pleased. I ran into town to the parts place to buy a belt.  When I gave the man my model number, I was horrified when he brought back, not one, but two belts. The parts guy assured me I'd need them both.  As I drove home, I was calculating how many days of work I was going to lose and whether I had enough left in the bank account to call for professional help when I inevitably screwed the job up.

I took off the back panel and to my utter dismay could not find the belts. Were they inside the transmission housing?  Would I have to remove the tub or disassemble the entire machine. I was just about to dial for help when I noticed that there was a drive shaft extending down through the bottom of the machine.  The bottom also seemed a bit higher off the floor than the other machines I'd worked on.

Curious, I tilted the machine up so I could see underneath.

"Oh, joy!  Oh Rapture!"  I quoted the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz in my excitement. Okay, I admit it. I'm weird, but that's not the point of the story.

There on the bottom of the machine in plain sight, unblocked by any struts, supports or anything that required unbolting, were the belts, worn slick from constant abuse by our resident Laundry Nazi.  I didn't even have to unbolt anything.  They were held taught by a spring tension pulley.  All I had to do was roll off the old belts and roll on the new.  No wrenches, not banged knuckles or bloodied fingers save the ones I got trying to take the back off the machine for no reason.

I don't know who the engineer at Maytag was who designed the drive belt pulley system on Maytag Washers, but I could kiss him full on the mouth!  I don't care.  When we moved to Washington and eventually out onto our own, our apartment came with a washer and dryer in our bedroom.  It's a small apartment.  It's nice. The dryer keeps us warm in the winter.  Both are Maytags.  

So last Thursday, when acrid smoke began billowing from underneath the overloaded washing machine and the wife began hyperventilating, I was able to say with confidence, "No problem, I've got this."  I tipped the machine up, pulled off and cleaned the old belts making them good for another day or so and ordered new belts for 8.95 online.  They arrived this morning and it took me 2 minutes to swap out the old ones and voila!  The machine is working and I am a hero around here.

If any appliance maker makes it to heaven, I do believe it will be the guys from Maytag who had the good sense to design that drive belt system for their washing machines.  I wonder if there's a path to sainthood for appliance design engineers?  I'm not Catholic, but I know people!

Just one man's opinion,

Tom King
© 2013, Puyallup, WA

I'm Not a Physicist, But I Play One in My Head.......

Naming the stuff of the final frontier
I am not a physicist as the title to this piece suggests.  I'm a writer.  That said, since when has a lack of credentials ever stopped a writer from naming things. The term "robot" was invented by a writer. A "waldo" is a mechanical hand, named after a sci-fi story by Robert A. Heinlein.  Writers also gave us words like zero-G, gas giant, terraform, android and its diminutive form - "droid", deep space, computer "virus" and a host of other words.  Even the very idea of orbiting telecommunications satellites, sprang from the mind of a scientist turned writer, the inimitable Arthur C. Clark of "2001 a Space Odyssey" fame.

So in the grand tradition of writers poking their noses into areas they know only enough about to get themselves confused, I am proposing a new handy term for physicists to use for something they don't yet understand.  I know, thoughtful of me, right? 

Here's the problem.  The universe seems to be expanding at a rate that is not so fast that it tears itself apart, nor so slow that gravity collapses everything in on itself but at a speed which, for the sake of a stable cosmos, is "just right".  Physicists have a lot of theories about why this is so, but they don't have a really good term for it, so I am wading into the fray to help at least give us a working word to use when we're talking about it.

I propose we call this "just right" speed of cosmological acceleration the "Goldilocks Expansion Constant". I know, cool right - the whole fairy tale imagery and stuff?

And as to all that so-called "dark energy" they say is driving the Goldilocks Constant?

I call Him God

© 2013 by Tom King

Monday, September 16, 2013

Facebook Guilt Trips & True Friendship

I get tired of the guilt trips people on Facebook keep trying to put on people who are supposed to be their friends. It's all about love people and about understanding what that truly means. If you have "friends" who never "like" you or send you Farmville bunnies, don't get all in a snit and delete them because they aren't "true friends".

Instead, ask yourself, "What have I done to be a true friend to them?"  Do I send them stuff designed to make them feel guilty and force them share my stuff or say nice things to me so I won't delete them? That's not friendship. That's blackmail and incredibly self-centered. 

If that's what your friendship is about, then delete me, but know this. I won't delete you because you don't have time to read my 5 blogs or my interminable Facebook posts on politics, religion and banjos. If I make you smile once in a while or feel better, then that's fine. It is what I intend to do. I don't need you to pat me on the head for it. My self-esteem is quite intact, thank you.

Just read and enjoy and perhaps smile a little - it's all guilt free.

With love and understanding,


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Proper Use of Campfires

Throughout history, there has been no more iconic human experience than that of singing and telling stories around a campfire. Since pre-historic times, the campfire has drawn us together in the darkness. The campfire was the basis of the tribe. As humanity spread out and our population grew, the fires got bigger, but they were still there.  We looked into the fire and found a common impulse, a shared dream if you will and we passed along the dreams of our fathers and mothers, our own dreams and the dreams of our children. For most of us who gathered round the fires, it was a dream of peace.

Not so for those who gathered outside in the darkness.

The campfire is a wonderful metaphor for the way that God works in us to change us. The fire is the center of the circle, within our very hearts. It warms us and binds us to itself and to one another. If we join our neighbors, friends and loved ones around that fire, we are inevitably changed by it. It draws from us depths of love, kindness, empathy and comradery we may not even have suspected were there in the first place. Worship as an act of faith in God works the same way. It is no accident that the imagery for the Holy Spirit of God is often depicted as a fire.

There are those who reject the fire. Their goal is to draw us away from the fire and to themselves. They delight in making themselves the center of gatherings. What they lack, however, is the power of God, symbolized by the fire - the power to warm those gathered about them.  They attempt to change those they seek to lead by external means - by force, threats or by enacting LAW and penalties for disobedience.

Changing man from without, by force of the will of another, is always doomed to failure. A movie filmed by German director, Leni Riefenstahl, documented the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It is called, appropriately enough, "The Triumph of the Will".  The film was honest about how the German nation was expected to be changed - externally, by the power of the will of the Nazi leaders. Ironically, within a dozen years, Riefenstahl could have just as well done a sequel to her first movie and called it "The Defeat of the Will".  Forcible change from the outside inward never works.

Man can only be changed from the inside out by the submission of the will to God. It is the transformative power of a relationship with Him and spending time around the fire of His grace with others that works the change. Over time, mankind has been changed by this principle despite a long and bitter ongoing war against the lust for power and the exercise of the human will to dominate and coerce.  

Our time at the campfire must be inclusive if it is to be effective. We must draw people to into the circle, not push them away. There is no place for hard words, name-calling, strong-arm tactics or bullying in our prayer and worship circles. We are told not to even call another person a fool, lest we endanger our own souls in the process. We are told that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there amongst us. It is not accidental that Jesus, Himself, performed his first miracle at a celebratory gathering. Throughout His ministry, He was criticized for hanging out with sinners, tax collectors and harlots.  His own circle of followers were a mixed political bag to say the very least.

And finally Christ was murdered by those who believed there were people in their communities who were not good enough to join their circle; who resented Christ's invitation to all and sundry kinds of sinners to "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." 

Some of my conservative colleagues ridicule the idea of sitting around the campfire, holding hands and singing "Kum-ba-Yah" as a way to change the world.  They forget that Kum-ba-yah is a Christian song that invites the lost, the sad, the lonely and alone to join our sacred circle. Perhaps if we all spent a little more time around the campfire; if perhaps we spent more time including our neighbors instead of pushing them away; perhaps, then, we could get past our differences and find that common faith that could bind us all together in peace.  

We surely aren't going to get there by passing dueling House Bills.

I'm just saying,

© 2013 by Tom King

Thursday, September 12, 2013

World Peace Through Nomenclature Change

 A friend's little boy the other day, stumbled over the pronunciation of the Czech Republic in his geography lesson.  He called it the "Quiche Republic". His mom, of course, dutifully posted the incident on Facebook. I though about it for a bit and am now convinced the kid was really on to something; something that could bring about world peace in our lifetime.

I now believe that every country in the world should be named after food. I think the political ramification of such a policy would be far-reaching.  I mean how hard would it be to stay angry at your neighbors in, say, Pizzaland or Hamburgerslovakia.  Would you really want to shoot missiles at Mashed Potatopolis or Chocolatecakehastan?

There are a few countries that already tried naming theselves for food - mostly smaller city-state style countries. Unfortunately, history proves that everybody needs to participate in nomenclature change or the delicious-sounding countries will be snapped up by countries with more war-like sounding names.  The Sandwich Islands, for instance, have always been a peaceful garden spot in the Pacific. They were at one time an independent nation till they were gobbled up by the more war-like sounding "United States".  And we all know the fate of city-states like Bologna, Neufch√Ętel, Roquefort, Worcester, Weiner and Asiago. Swallowed up by Italy, Germany, England, France and Austria - all hungry countries with non-food related names.  Turkey has long had to fight for it's independence and Greece has managed to keep clear of dominations since the Goths and the Vandals forced them to cut their cholesterol way back.

How much better would it be if every nation was named for something tasty?  Deutchland could become Sauerkrautland - still with the attitude, but more digestible. Switzerland would become Schnitzeland and as suggest, Italy would become just plain Pizza or possibly Pasta. China could indulge its need for world domination alive by calling itself Top Ramen.  The United States could still be united, calling itself "Cornutopia" or the "Onion Steaks of America". Canada still "could" by retaining the "can" part of it's name but make it "Canasalmon", since we don't know what a "can o' da" is. |

Isolationist nations could name themselves Brusselsproutia, Liverland, Broccolikia or Beetavania. The states could name themselves for condiments - Mustardia, Ketchupstan or or Saltundpepper. Mayonnaisia would get along with everybody. Every country could have it's own unique array of cheesy provinces.  

Instead of Peace Conferences or Summit meetings we could have Pot Lucks and Smorgasbord's. Everybody at the conference would have to bring enough to feed their own family plus enough to share. We could have cookoffs instead of wars. Picnics instead of invasions. We'd always invite Chile to the Barbecues and failing to bring along Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne would be considered impolite.

Instead of fighting AGAINST global change, we could fight FOR change.  We'd educate children to support Global Nomenclature Change.  We could rewrite history books in order to highlight the peacefulness of food-related geography. We could ridicule anyone who didn't accept the idea that Global Nomenclature Change was the wave of the future. And if, indeed the world is getting warmer, we'll all just bake to a nice golden brown together in peace and harmony.

Kinda like those family Thanksgiving dinners when you were a kid......

© 2013 by Tom King

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ernie McQueen - A Teacher of Tenacity

An old schoolmate of mine passed away this past week.  A big (actually very big) good-humored guy, Ernie was one of my teachers in a way.  When Ernie was in 10th grade at Keene Public School I was in 7th.  I weighed about 95 pounds soppin' wet. Ernie weighed rather more.  We all had PE together and played flag football during September through December. Flag football at KPS was something of a contact sport which we played in those white PE uniforms that look like underwear - no pads, no helmets.

Following the mysterious reasoning of adolescent males, my quarterbacks decided that, since the skinny kid with the horn-rimmed glasses was useless for anything else, I should become a lineman.  Ernie always seemed to line up across from me whenever we played.  The teams were usually the same guys with a few exceptions. Being last chosen, I would always wind up on pretty much the same team every time - those destined to lose.  I never asked.  I just took up my place on the line.  During baseball season, it was deep right field where I couldn't do much harm. Ah, well....

Blocking Ernie was a challenge to say the least. He used to go over me like a freight train.  I'd throw myself at him with all I had and Ernie would swat me aside like a pesky fly and go clobber my quarterback.  When I was on defense, I could outmaneuver him so long as he didn't get a clean hit, but it took so long to get round him I seldom was able to get a hand on the quarterback or whoever had the ball. If Ernie did manage to get a solid block on me, however, I would wind up flat on my back in some sticker patch deep in my own backfield watching little birdies circle my addled brain.

Ernie once told me, "King, I admire your stubborness." I'm actually kind of proud of that. Ernie taught me a lot about tenacity that season.

© by Tom King

Monday, September 09, 2013

Pet Peeve: Spamming for Jesus

I find no record of God ever having hired a PR team.
One of my pet peeves is using Jesus to promote spam. It happens a lot and many people who are insecure in their relationship with Jesus seem to take the command to share a Facebook post, e-mail or Tweet if you aren't afraid of Jesus as a heavenly command.

Fair Warning: I ALWAYS delete anything I receive that ends with some version of "Share this if you are not ashamed of Jesus".  As anyone who reads my stuff is well aware, I am NOT ashamed of Christ. I am openly Christian and take a good deal of abuse for it in the forums.  I do not have any need to prove I am not ashamed by passing along somebody's attempt to arm-twist for Jesus. If I find the post to have exceptional value, I delete the "not ashamed" bit and pass the post along on its own merits. Otherwise it goes straight into the dumper.

I find that a good deal of the share-if-you're-not-ashamed posts I receive contain a disturbing level of lies and misattributions.  People write up something that makes God look like He's not fooling around and really means it and/or attributes the quote to someone who never said it, then tack on the "not ashamed" bit and send it to people who trust them.

Or, they get some of this stuff in their email box or see it posted on Twitter and feel like poor old Jesus must need a PR boost.  It was this very kind of nonsense, human beings thinking God isn't doing well public relations-wise that gave us things like these:

  • The Crusades:  An early version of the if-you're-not-ashamed-of-Jesus tactic.  The pitch went something like, if you're not ashamed of Jesus, you'll pick up you sword and go take Jerusalem back from the Muslims since apparently God couldn't hold onto it on His own.
  • Sunday Services:  An early church PR committee changed the ten commandment Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, something for which there is no scriptural authorization.  It was a PR gimmick by the Roman church to attract more pagans to services. The priests figured that since the pagans were already going to temple on the "venerable day of the sun", they would be less inconvenienced in converting if the Christians worshipped on the same day everybody was used to.  Moving the day of worship also distanced the early church from the Jews - a double bonus considering the bad press the Jews were getting at the time.
  • Hell:  The priests were having trouble with all the emphasis on love and mercy in Christian theology. As the church became more a government than a faith, the theologians were tasked with finding a tool in scripture they could use to keep the troops in line.  By twiddling with the nuances of Greek and Hebrew and ignoring virtually every scripture that clearly described the how the gift of eternal life is given, the priests borrowed the Greek idea of Hades, something the pagans they were trying to convert were familiar with and gave it a more diabolical twist.  The doctrine of an ever-burning hell and eternal torment has been used for more than a thousand years with suitable embellishment as an effective tool to scare people into showing up on Sunday and making regular contributions to the church. Don't believe me, shop around some of the churches out there and you'll hear sermons as scary as a Freddy Krueger movie. In high school, I read Cotton Mather's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". That sermon made Puritans weep and faint from terror all over New England in colonial America and had the added benefit of increasing attendance and the weight of the contents of the offering plate. It also increased Mather's power over the colonists and there, my friend, is the link to the dark side.
  • The Military/Governmental/Religion Complex:  It started with Constantine marching his army through a handy river and proclaiming the all "baptized".  At one time the church political held frightening power over the Western World, with the power to elevate and destroy kings and princes.  A Muslim Fatwah was amateur stuff next to a Papal Bull. During all of this, the faithful were treated to the spectacle of church bishops, cardinals and even popes with stables of mistresses, incredible wealth and political power.  Cardinal Richelieu was responsible for a great deal of the corruption in the French government that brought on the horrors of the French Revolution. When ever you get some megalomaniac or gang of politicians trying to "take over the world", the first thing they do is make sure everybody knows that God is on their side whatever hellish business the politicians are fixing to get up to.
In all of this mess, however, the church invisible - made up of the humble faithful sons and daughters of God throughout the ages - has continued to thrive and grow, not by beating it's collective chest and proclaiming, "I'm not ashamed of Jesus," but by study, prayer and sharing their faith. The true church, the golden thread through the tangle of denominations, factions and sects, moves forward ever growing, not through political manipulation nor by misguided attempts to make God "look better", but by living by the Golden Rule and loving God with all their hearts - walking with Him in their daily lives.

Why should I need to say "I'm not ashamed of Christ," much less send often-poorly written and even misleading spam to ten friends within the next 24 hours so that God will send me money if I do and so He doesn't strike me with cancer if I don't?

People who tell me they are "not ashamed of Christ" sound disingenuous. As Shakespeare once eloquently put it, "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

I'll let God handle his own public relations thank you very much and I won't participate in your efforts to fix up his "rep". I don't feel at all qualified to appoint myself his press secretary, especially if I'm going to have to use guilt, shame, intimidation, lies and bullying to do the job. Jesus described the scene at the judgment where God's PR guys would show up and say, "God I did all this stuff for you, I got you some really good press on Facebook and wrote thousands of tweets to boot.  Let me in." 

And God looks 'em in they eye and goes, "Funny, I don't remember hiring a public relations team."

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Parallel Parking - It's Not Her Fault She Can't Do It

Men like to rub it in that a large number of women have difficulty parallel parking. Actually, it's not their fault. In IQ testing, women tend to do more poorly at spacial-perception and mental rotation tasks in 3 dimensions (Linn and Peterson, 1985) .  It's a biological thing. Men naturally do better at mentally perceiving paths through three dimensional space. God apparently meant for us to be adapt to different roles we would have to assume by giving us different skill sets or at least the ability to develop those skill sets.

Visual-spacial perception is just one type of intelligence at which some people do better than others. Mentally calculating the path your car will take to arrive in a spot between two other cars is something that draws on that brand of intelligence. It's useful in sports, engineering, driving, hunting or any human activity that requires planning how you or something you are manipulating will move through 3 dimensional space.

The increasingly slim male dominance in this area might be a result of some element of natural selection dating back to when men were the hunters of the tribes. If you didn't have very good visual-spacial intelligence, you would have trouble aiming a spear or arrow and hitting your target. You'd be a lousy hunter and no woman would want to marry you because you couldn't put enough meat on the table to feed the kids. So over time, guys with good aim did better at winning mates, feeding their children and passing on their genes to the next generation.

Women on the other hand blow men out of the water at social-perception - reading social situations, interpreting nonverbal cues, etc.. And why not?  For all those millenia they had to run things back in the village while the menfolk were out stalking wild game. Their ability to read body language and intonation helped in managing social interaction between families within the villages and with raising children who are pretty much only able to communicate through nonverbal means for most of their first two years. It's why my wife could hear a baby cry and know exactly what it wanted, while I had to wait till they were 2 or 3 years old and could tell me in plain English. It's why I have to count on her to stick an elbow in my ribs when I'm being awkward in social situations.  It requires acute social perception to manage interactions between groups of women and children.  I know.  I managed a day care center with over a hundred kids and 26 female employees. I finally hired a couple of males to work the after school program so I'd have someone who worked for me who would tell me what they wanted and not expect me to guess. Like spacial perception, social perception developed more strongly in women because that ability made them more successful mothers, wives and family management specialists.

Women also have developed generally better verbal skills which could explain why they talk so much and why many men talk so little. If we were talkative, we'd have spooked the game!

So how about let's ease of on the parallel parking jokes? Remember, you can't read a 3 month old's mind and she probably can.

Now that's a real trick.

© by Tom King

Thursday, September 05, 2013

My Favorite Uncle Bobby Story

My Uncle, Elder Bobby Rider, passed away this past week. He was a lovely man.  He served as an SDA pastor and conference worker all his life, continuing to preach the gospel and minister to others long after he retired. He was a gentle good-humored man whom I always admired.  At Friendship Camp one summer, I saw an example of his low-key leadership style in action. It was a typical Lone Star Camp Summer - damp East Texas heat that sapped the energy out of you. We, camp staffers ran around in soggy cutoffs all day and beat the heat by hitting the lake, whenever we couldn’t stand it any more. Running from classes to meals to camp councils, you didn’t have time to change, so we stayed wet most of the time. As a result, most of us suffered from a condition known by the indelicate euphemism, “Crotch Rot”.

You get “Crotch Rot” through a combination of an energetic life style and damp blue jean cutoffs. The guys that wore regular bathing suits never had this problem and you would think the rest of us would have figured it out. But it was the 60's and cutoff blue jeans were what everyone was wearing, so, like fashion slaves in every generation, it never occurred to us to go out and buy swim trunks. Swim suits where what you wore if your mama packed your clothes for the summer. Instead, we just fought the rash as best we could and endured constantly damp shorts for the sake of being like everyone else, a practice we thought of as expressing our individuality. Most of us accepted rot as a normal condition of camp life and dealt with it without complaining. You slept naked and Vaseline was your best friend. Sleeping in the nude was the most widely accepted treatment for crotch rot and only caused us concern on one occasion that I remember. 

During the summer of 72, I bunked with the bachelor waterfront staffers up at the old North Cabin, a screened lodge overlooking the row-boating area at the upper end of the lake. It was a lovely spot. We had an indoor fireplace, huge shuttered screens that we kept open to compensate for the lack of air conditioning and steel WWII surplus U.S. Army hospital cots with extra long legs that lifted the mattress to the same height as the windows. The tall beds allowed us to sleep directly in the cross draft between the two 15 foot wide screened windows - one on the lake side of the cabin and one on the side facing the road. The high beds also meant you were entirely visible from the paths on either side of the cabin. This might have been a problem except that all of us worked on the waterfront and to a man had contracted varying stages of crotch rot. The discomfort associated with the rot had taken us long past caring about trivial things like personal privacy.

My roomies, Tim Ponder and Bill Taylor and I had developed a system that allowed us to sleep naked (part of the prescribed treatment for “The Rot”) without disturbing the delicate sensibilities of the young lady staffers who, in an explicable outbreak of administrative trust in our youthful dedication to abstemiousness, had been assigned to a room in the northernmost wing of the lodge. The new boarders next door needed to be able to get past our windows and around to their cabin door without being flashed, so we made allowances for their delicate sensibilities and tilted the roadside screen so that it was mostly closed but still allowed the breezes from the lake to pass through the cabin, while still blocking the view of the girls passing by. Then, we warned our new neighbors to stay off the lakeside path around the cabin in the early morning and to use the slightly longer (and less "scenic") front path to get to their cabin door.

As far as I know, we had no problems that summer with Peeping Thomasina's (at least no one actually lodged a complaint) until Friendship Camp, when Mrs. Overby moved into the north wing. Mrs. Overby always came as a volunteer during the annual charity camp and was a regular feature of the hot East Texas summers--like drought and mosquitoes. As a Christian and a Goldwater conservative, she heartily disapproved of our hippie lifestyles, our music and our long hair. Of course, we gave her the standard warning about the lakeside path, and congratulated ourselves on being quite thoughtful and reasonable young men. Mrs. O., however, took exception to our sleeping attire and having to walk round the front path to get to her door. She had two impressionable and very proper young ladies staying with her that summer and the mere idea of three Bohemian nudists lounging about the next door cabin, cooling their chafed thighs in the night breezes filled her with Victorian horror. She decided to complain.

Now, every summer, Mrs. Overby went ballistic over some perceived outrage that one of us had committed and there was a sort of pool going about how many days she’d last before she’d lose it and come stalking up the trail to the camp director’s office in her flowered frock and Minnie Pearl hat to complain about us heathens next door. Uncle Bobby was the Texas Conference Lay Activities Secretary at the time and the one charged with organizing the weeklong camp for underprivileged kids. At his right hand was my aunt, the famous and feared Hattie Lee, who believed in a strict hierarchy of command and required instant obedience of us camp staffers. She put on a stern front, but could be incredibly kind and thoughtful as well. The two of them made an incredibly powerful management team.

One morning halfway through the week, I ran into Uncle Bob talking to a couple of pastors out by the cafeteria. He motioned me over and told me Mrs. Overby had been to see him. "She’s complained about you guys sleeping in the nude and wants it stopped immediately!” Uncle Bob said sternly. Next to my roommate Tim (who later became a pastor himself and actually worked for Uncle Bob), I was the one most intimidated by authority figures. I shifted uncomfortably on the hot sand, more from embarrassment than from the heat on my bare feet. I figured Aunt Hattie had passed along orders for us to immediately cease from “sleeping nekkid” and all such other ungodly behavior.

Uncle Bob let me squirm a bit, then broke into a broad grin. “Weeeeell,” he winked at the other snickering pastors. “I figured Mrs. Overby and the girls weren’t going to have a whole lot of other excitement up there this week, so I didn’t worry about it too much,” he chuckled. To my amazement, he never said anything else about it. I waited anxiously throughout the rest of the week. I just knew Mrs. O. would go over his head to my Aunt Hattie, but to my relief, I never heard another word about it.

I told the other guys about the complaint. Partly in fear of my Aunt Hattie, Tim & I adopted a basic beach towel loincloth for our sleeping attire. The loincloth was a compromise between modesty and comfort. It looked like a standard loincloth worn hanging over a leather belt strapped around the hips - kind of like Tarzan. You could drop the flap in case of emergencies or raise it up to catch the breeze. Bill, an ex-Army medic who’d just come back after serving a tour of  Vietnam and tended to be a little jumpy, refused to compromise at all and continued to sleep crotch-to-the-wind as usual, except that he inexplicably began leaving a light on beside his bed at night. He may have been using heat from the lamp as a drying agent. We weren't sure. Bill was a  little scary sometimes, so we didn’t comment on this unusual practice. On being told of our half-hearted compromises and realizing we were younger and had more energy to put into the struggle over the nudity issue, poor Mrs. Overby gave up complaining. I think she was afraid we’d stage a protest and burn some undergarments or something. Anyway, she chose to cope with us by refusing to even acknowledge our existence for the rest of the week. I don’t think she ever spoke to us again, at least not that I can remember.

Nothing else interesting happened the rest of the week until Mrs. Overby’s young roommates startled a sleeping "deadly snake" on the lakeside path at 3 o’clock in the morning the last night of camp. They said they had quietly sneaked out to the ladies’ shower building early, so as to enjoy a warm shower and so as not to wake Mrs. Overby.  Coming back, they claim to have "accidentally" taken the wrong path in the dark. On the trail, they said they saw a "snake".  Startled by their flashlight, the "snake" apparently rushed at them, and then crawled off into the bushes. At least that’s how they accounted for all the screaming and giggling outside our window in the middle of the night. The girls weren’t bitten, but their screams startled Bill who sat straight up in bed, decided the V.C. had sneaked inside the perimeter and reached instinctively for his M-16. Not finding it, he swatted the bedside lamp into his lap instead. Unfortunately for Bill, the lamp was still on. The light bulb was also naked. Fortunately for Bill, the layers of Vaseline protected him from serious injury. The bulb made a little sizzling sound and then blew out. The "snake", as far as we can tell, got away clean!

We were never able to confirm what exactly what sort of "snake" startled them. I'm sure Uncle Bob heard about it, but he never said anything to us, though there was a lot of snickering and meaningful looks among the pastors the next morning at breakfast.

Uncle Bobby was a problem solver of the first order. The previous summer at Friendship Camp, we had a larger number of campers than usual. These were under-privileged kids that churches throughout the state paid for so that they could attend summer camp at Lone Star. I was rowing instructor that summer and the first morning of Friendship Camp, I came to rowing class and found 27 campers crammed on the benches ready and waiting to go boating. I had 5 boats and 9 life-jackets. When I polled the group, I found that half could not swim at all. The other half couldn’t speak English. I delivered the safety drill and sent as many kids, as I could get lifejackets on, out in 4 boats with two each aboard. No one got much on-the-water time that day and someone, probably the counselor, who had to sit on shore with the kids that were waiting for their turn, apparently complained bitterly to my Aunt Hattie. 

Meanwhile I compared notes with my buddy Mark Miller over in canoeing and discovered he had  the same problem I did. While we were having a good old gripe about it, Aunt Hattie came by. My Aunt Hattie is something of a force of nature. She was dreaded and feared throughout the conference by all evil-doer’s and shirkers. Even I was a little intimidated by her and I was kinfolk!  She promptly order Mark and I to "take all the kids out on the water the next time." 

“Without life-jackets?” we asked incredulously. We’d seen most of the kids’ swimming prowess demonstrated, usually after they fell into the water getting out of the boats. 

“You’re both being insubordinate,” she snapped.  She spun on her heels and went looking for Uncle Bob. We ran into him later in the day and he called us over. My Uncle Bob, always a problem solver, asked us if we could handle the group if we had enough life jackets. We shrugged and said we supposed so, but we wouldn’t be able to do much teaching with that many kids.

Here I learned a most powerful life lesson

Uncle Bob smiled at Mark and I in that benign, pastoral way of his and asked, “Can you make sure they have fun?”

My Uncle Bob changed the way I thought about camp and teaching and almost everything else I ever did in my life. He drove straight to town and bought enough life jackets for everyone and the next day, Mark and I dutifully loaded the kids up in every boat we had that would float (and in some cases gave brief instruction in the fine art of bailing) and set sail with the most ragged, overloaded and joyful flotilla of campers I ever worked with. We kept the kids safe and we made sure they had fun. That was the point of the whole thing, after all as Uncle Bob explained to us. 

In the process of solving the problem, Uncle Bob managed to praise our concern for safety and at the same time to help us understand what we were really supposed to be doing with those kids. Then off he went to town to fix the problem. The lesson lasted me the rest of my life. Whenever I faced a problem or difficulty, I always hearkened back to Uncle Bob's question. "Can you make sure they have fun?" He never had to say, "Think about the real reason you're here." He didn't lecture.  He just grinned the way he always did and asked the question we should have been asking ourselves – "What's the point of what you're doing?"  

God go with you, Uncle Bob. I learned a lot from you.

Tom King