Convertible

Convertible: (adj) having a folding top, as an automobile or pleasure boat.

One of the nicest things my father-in-law did before he decided he hated me was allowing me to drive his 1967 silver Corvette with a convertible top to the prom. He did this because I was taking his daughter, of course.

Matter of fact, I don’t remember him being that nervous about it. I think it’s because he had already decided not to like me, and figured if Ifunny wisdom on words that begin with a C brought the car back intact, what’s the harm? And if I was killed driving it, what’s the harm?

The day of the prom I had free use of the vehicle, preparing for the evening’s festivities. I took it out on the old 3-C Highway, on a stretch of road that was pretty deserted, and for the first time in my life, I drove a hundred miles an hour.

I suppose I should tell you it was invigorating, and I felt like a real man, but actually, it scared the shit out of me. I had the top down, and it happened to be one of those days in the Buckeye State when the sun was willing to shine without regret.

By nightfall, as I put on my tuxedo for the ball, I had sprouted a huge sunburn. A normal person would have been upset about this, but I was young, foolish and still engaged in the craft of stupidity. I thought I looked cool. I thought when you compiled my tuxedo plus the Corvette plus my sunburn, which I declared to be a tan, that I had a slight (ever-so-slight) resemblance to James Bond.

Yet, after picking up his daughter and going to the prom, I discovered that everybody spent the evening deeply concerned about my scorching. And even to this day, you can look in our class yearbook and see a picture of me with huge dark-red cheeks.

It turns out, I was not James Bond. Instead, I was his younger dopey brother, Dirwood, who had not yet discovered the wisdom of sunblock.


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Cobalt

Cobalt: (n) the chemical element of atomic number 27, a hard silvery-white magnetic metal.

My dad decided to die when I was sixteen years old.

He had planned it for nearly thirty years.

As a cigarette smoker who actually bought tobacco in the can and “rolled his own,” he had pretty well determined the end of his story long before he’d lived out all the plot lines.

I was one of the plot lines.

Before I found out that he had terminal lung cancer which had spread to his brain, there was a brief, three-month period when he became warmer, more tender–wanting some closeness with me.

Unfortunately, by that time I had created so much distance there was no way for me to transport myself to his side–even when I discovered he was dying.

They sat down and explained it to me, pointing out that he would be going through radiation treatments, which involved cobalt. He did.

Yet he barely survived the only cure they had available. When he returned home, he could barely walk and had trouble breathing. His skin was red like he had a deep sunburn, and he smelled like the trash we burned in the back yard.

Being around him just scared the hell out of me.

Everyone wanted me to turn into the devoted son who held the hand of his ailing father up to death’s door.

I just couldn’t do it.

Even when his breathing became so heavy that I could hear it through the walls while sitting on our porch stoop, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I loved him or even be present when the last gasp escaped his being.

This is my memory of cobalt.

It was used in the early years of radiation treatment, and left the patient nearly vacant of the resources to think and move.

As I sit here today, I can wish that I had been a better son and he a better father.

But that is because I have an older mind, and sometimes find it difficult to regain the fury involved in being sixteen.

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Breeze

j-r-practix-with-border-2

Breeze: (n) a gentle wind.

I had absolutely no right or wisdom in hopping into a brown Dodge van and heading off from Ohio to Oregon.Dictionary B

I was twenty-one years old, had a music group and was convinced that the only way to prove to myself or anyone else that this was a viable occupational choice was to go out and try to make money doing it.

In my not-yet-formed brain, the logical step was to drive to Oregon, where two people had promised us a place to perform–as long as we understood there would not be much money.

Who could pass up such a bonanza?

I have mercifully had most of the trip wiped from my memory and relegated to oblivion–but I do remember driving through South Dakota, where the temperature had soared well over 100 degrees, and being so hot in our un-air-conditioned confines that we stopped in a small town at a public pool to cool off.

Even though the sun was blistering and scorched our skin, the water was ice cold, so we were a little deceived by the fact that we were actually being poached.

I got the worst sunburn of my life.

It was so bad that when we went to the drug store and bought one of those spray treatments, my hot skin turned the liquid into little scraps of paper.

I was miserable.

On top of that we had no money–procuring lodging in a motel was completely impossible.

So we found a park just outside that little town, pulled the van over, opened up all the doors, perched on some bean bag chairs we carried with us, and lay there, broiling in our burnt flesh, surrounded by humid air.

I was so miserable that I prayed.

I didn’t know if I wanted God to kill me or peel me like an orange.

About twenty minutes after I finished my little supplication, a breeze came up.

I will never forget it.

Because my skin was ablaze, the air was chilly–and felt so good. That breeze stayed with us all night long, so we didn’t swelter in our van or die of sunburn.

Now, some people probably would say that wind was a natural phenomenon of the South Dakota wilderness.

Others might insist there were three exhausted angels blowing in our direction all night long.

It doesn’t really matter what you believe, because God made the breeze … just as surely as He made the angels.

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Ablaze

by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

Ablaze: adj. 1. burning fiercely: his clothes were ablaze 2. brightly colored or lighted: New  England is ablaze with color. 3. made bright by strong emotion: His eyes were ablaze with anger.
“Let me stand next to your fire.”
That’s what Jimmi Hendrix sang in an attempt to seduce a woman.

But let me tell you–if you have ever stood next to a building ablaze, you won’t soon be requesting to return. Fire is one of those entities that cannot be captured on film, written into books or even viewed at a distance to determine its magnitude and intensity.

I’ve only been involved in one fire in my life. It was at a motel and I realized that if I moved in closer than a hundred feet, the combination of the burning air, smoke choking my lungs and the ferocity of the flames would drive me back, keeping me from the searing danger.

You can certainly understand why Biblical writers used the intimidation of “the fires of hell” to frighten people into good behavior. The next morning after this fire that I witnessed, even though I did stand way back from the peril, I still ended up with what appeared to be a sunburn from the heat. So I have great respect for ablaze.

And even those people who decide to be ablaze with personality can certainly burn you–or choke the life out of you.