4002 – Without The Field, There Are No Champions (All Super Heroes Need A Nemesis)

Strength of the champion is determined by strength of the field

Competition is a dirty word among a large number of younger entrepreneurs. Admittedly, I don’t get it. But I’m no longer a young entrepreneur. Besides that, I grew up in retailing where it was dog eat dog.

When I was about 27 I was courted by a large retailer out of the west coast. During an interview at DFW International Airport I was asked about how I viewed merchandising. In particular, I was asked how I felt about retail pricing. Not knowing exactly what the CEO meant, I paused and listened. Without allowing time for a response, and realizing that his question was clear as mud, he said, “We want our competition to open the paper and choke on their coffee at how low our prices are.”

Even though I had over a decade of retailing expertise by this point, I had a keen awareness of how to be profitable in retailing. I knew if you were not the low cost leader, with all the associated scope and scale kind of advantages (think Wal-Mart), then it was a losing game. By the way, without answering his question, I politely informed him that I wasn’t likely the guy he was looking for. After a nice visit we boarded our respective planes and went our separate ways. Within a few years his company filed bankruptcy.

There are winners and losers in every area of endeavor. We see it most vividly in sports because there are televised games that have a beginning, an end and a scoreboard. We know who won. We know who lost. Some games come down to the wire. Others appear to be over early on.

Championships, on the other hand, are usually determined over a prolonged series of competitions. Wal-Mart began in  a little Arkansas town, Rogers, back in 1962. By 1980 they had reached the billion dollar mark, the fastest any company had reached that milestone. In 1983 the first Sam’s Club was built in Midwest City, OK and in 1988 the first Wal-Mart SuperCenter opened combining general merchandise with a full-blown grocery store. In 1990 Wal-Mart was the champion, the number one retailer! It took them 28 years and during that time they bested various competitors. Today, they’re still battling hard against discount chains and grocery chains. In retailing, champions don’t last forever. Study a company you’ve never heard of called Korvettes.

Champions need competition. Good competition. If the competition is weak, the championship is considered weak.

Already I’ve heard some in tennis talking about the men’s and women’s Wimbledon champions. Many big name players were eliminated early on. A few commentators have noted that the current champions had a path to the championship that may be unlikely in the future. I don’t know about that because I’m not a tennis expert, but I understand the concept. If the field is weak, the champion doesn’t stand out quite as much.

Fact is, champions need the field. If there is no field – no competition – then there can be no champion.


Of or being a situation in which the outcome benefits each of two often opposing groups

Guaranteeing a favourable outcome for everyone involved

I have no idea who first came up with the “win-win” phrase, but it was likely a politician or a savvy negotiator. Whoever it is, I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them. They’ve likely set the world record for duping people.

It’s a pleasant thought. Nobody loses. Everybody wins.

It’s a lie.

No, it’s  not impossible for everybody to come out ahead in a single scenario, but we can’t all be champions. A few weeks ago the Dallas Stars Hockey Club facillitated a trade with the Boston Bruins. Both teams traded away skilled players in order to get from the other, different skilled players. Most hockey experts felt each team did well and improved their roster. However, many feel Dallas may end up with the better of it IF the main player involved, Tyler Seguin, pans out. He’s only 21 and has a reputation as party animal. Minor details, right?

The point is, even in a situation like this, where people feel it may have been a win-win, most believe one team got the better end of the deal. True win-win scenarios seem quite impossible.

Not everybody can reside in first place. That podium only has room for one team, one company, one person. Only one champion.

Life Is Not Fair Or Equal

I’m guessing it may have been about the same time, but I can’t be sure. Somewhere along the way the collective idiocy began to concentrate on Little Johnny. You know, Little Johnny, needs to feel better about himself. We need to boost Little Johnny’s self-esteem. It’s really not right for him to play soccer (or any other sport, or any other endeavor whatsoever) and not get rewarded for it. After all, life rewards us all for just existing, right?

We need to teach Little Johnny that he can feel good even if he did finish last. Or make the worst grade. Or fail to learn. Or disobey his parents. Or break the law. Or lie, cheat and steal.

“Oh, Little Johnny, here’s your trophy. You did so good.” Parents line up lying like Rocky and Rosie on the floor of The Yellow Studio. Johnny got soundly whipped. In fact, he didn’t even make a very good showing, but we lavish him with praise because we need to teach him that in the real world, everybody wins!

The problem is, Johnny is going to grow up, get slammed in the face with reality, then wonder why the adults in his life lied to him. And he’ll hate them for it, too if he’s got an ounce of self-respect.

Here’s the deal.

If everybody wins, does anybody really win?

No. If everybody wins, then there is no winner. Everybody can be a loser though, and there we go. That’s the point of it all, don’t you see. To elevate losing to the status of winning so everybody can feel better about themselves.

I encountered some new Discovery Channel show called Street Outlaws. It’s about illegal street racing (is there any other kind, really?) in Oklahoma City. There’s a top 10 list. There’s a race master who keeps track and coordinates it all, including handling securing a place where they can conduct business. Guys on the list can “call out” the guy ahead of them and the race master will schedule the head to head challenge. These guys are serious street racers investing thousands of dollars into their vehicles.

In one episode the #2 guy calls out the #1 guy. Seems the #1 guy has been the top dog for about 3 years. Mr. #2 has worked for a long time to prepare to knock off the champ.

The first scheduled race can’t happen because the champ has a mechanical problem with the car. According to the rules these guys live by, #2 guy can assume the top spot, but he confronts the champ and tells him, “I don’t want it like that. I want to beat you.” What a guy. But I admired him for it. He’s an idiot for street racing, but he’s got principles. Oh, he’s got a wife and teenage daughters, too.

Well, the second scheduled race can’t happen. Tire problem for the champ. Again, #2 has the chance to snag the top spot without even firing up his car. He refuses.

Is this making sense to you now?

Mr. #2 knew that being the champion was worthless unless he beat Mr. #1. What good is the championship if somebody gives it to you, or if you get it without really earning it? It’s not and he knew that. At some point he expressed his desire to be the best by defeating the best. There it is.

If the top dog beats the #10 guy, farmtruck – big deal. He’s #10, you should beat him. But that’s not how champions are made.

So #2 finally races #1. And #2 won, ending the 3-year reign of the existing champ. After the race he said, “I’m gonna enjoy this for as long as I’ve got it.” He also indicated he’s going to work like crazy to keep it. That’s what competition is all about.

He could have had the championship two weeks earlier, but it would come by forfeiture, not by beating the existing champ. That’s no way to win.

It’s about as unsatisfying as getting a trophy simply because you showed up.

But before you go throwing rocks at me because you ignorantly think my philosophy is win at all costs — hang on! The field matters. The champion on Street Outlaws, or your rec softball league, or your bowling league, or anything else is determined by the strength of the competition. The competition matters!

Without all the guys under the champion, the Street Outlaw champion has nothing to brag about. If he’s fast as a blue blaze, but the other guys are all wannabe Speed Racers, what good is his championship?

We want the strongest field possible to compete against.

Every super hero needs a nemesis.


4001 – Mini-Bikes, Stereo Gear And Microphones: A Love Affair With Gadgets


“I’m not young enough to know everything.”
― J.M. Barrie, The Admirable Crichton



They’re synonymous.


Two of my favorite G words, although I am particularly fond of the word gynotikolobomassophile.*

Gadgets and gizmos, as I use those terms, don’t refer to things with names I don’t know, or can’t recall. Rather, gadgets and gizmos are cool tools and useful, if not necessary, items. I’m thinking of sunglasses, pens, watches, bicycles, flashlights, headphones, recorders and so much more!

Inside The Yellow Studio

Today I’m surrounded by gadgets and gizmos. A quick cursory count of buttons on my audio mixers and processors inside The Yellow Studio reaches 160. There are 142 sliders or knobs and well over 80 jacks. These are just some of the components that make up gadgets and gizmos. It’s impossible to have a good gadget or gizmo in a studio that lacks buttons, knobs, sliders or jacks!

I’ve got four microphones around here: 2) Heil PR40’s, 1) EV RE50B and 1) RODE NTG2. I’ve also got at least 2 lavaliere mics: 1) Audio-Technica ATR-3350 and 1) Giant Squid (you gotta have a gizmo named, Giant Squid).

I’ve got an Edirol R09HR digital recorder. Somewhere I’ve got a little Olympus digital recorder. Headphones abound. A Jawbone blutooth device is around here some place…and so much more!

I got to looking around here, thinking about my life with gadgets and gizmos and all the fun times I’ve had with them. I’m not a terribly materialistic person, but I confess that I’ve had a lifelong love affair with gadgets and gizmos.

Two Of The Most Important Gadgets Of My Childhood

See that Deluxe Schwinn Sting-Ray® in the upper lefthand corner of that ad? I had one just like that. Same color and everything. Ten bucks more and I could have the Super Deluxe, but it was a gift from my parents. They weren’t Super Deluxe kind of people, but I was thrilled anyway.

No matter, my mobility factor skyrocketed since I had been previously been limited to using my PF Flyers to get about. Now, me and my PF Flyers could ride in style and comfort that only a banana seat on a Sting-Ray could provide.

When I was 15 I saved my money for what seemed like forever so I could buy a GAF Super 8 movie camera. It was among the first major purchases I remember making. It was almost $200 so I vividly remember going to the store to buy it. One 40′ roll of film, which required professional processing, would last about 2-1/2 minutes. Then you had to have a projector and a screen (or a white sheet hung up on the wall) to show it. If you wanted home movies, you needed lots of gadgets. And time. And money. That was the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Today, I’ve got at least 5 digital video devices within reach of me as I type this. A built in webcam (that’s 1). An external webcam (that’s 2). An iPhone (that’s 3). A Kodak Zi8 sitting nearby (that’s 4) and a Canon point and shoot camera that will also shoot video (that’s 5). Three of the five (maybe 4) will shoot in HD.

We don’t make home movies any more. We shoot video.

This Magazine Was A Game Changer

A classmate showed me a Playboy magazine when I was in 2nd grade, but that’s not the magazine that was a game changer for me. Well, at least I don’t think it was. I was mostly horrified at the time because I knew it was wrong. I told my parents about it when I got home. My dad and I drove to the kid’s house who brought it to school. I sat in the car while my father confronted his dad. The kid’s mom was our 2nd grade teacher. I’m guessing that’s why my dad decided to confront the boy’s father. It didn’t go anywhere. Turns out his dad didn’t much care.

Few things fascinated me more than the cool stuff you could buy in the back of Popular Science magazine. Pages of little classified ads and small display ads filled with terrific items that every boy just had to have. Mostly, I lusted after the mini-bikes, telescopes, stereos and recording devices. Thus began my fascination with things I could ride, see and hear. Not much has changed really.

Popular Science was great for gadget seeking. I loved that magazine. It was always full of futuristic, cool stuff. Fascinating stuff. Stuff you didn’t see any place else. Gadgets and gizmos. Cool stuff. The kind of stuff you could do cool things with. Xray glasses and everything.

It was the kind of magazine that could fuel a young imagination. And at times, it could fool our imaginations, too.

There was the time Stanley and I gave serious consideration to digging a tunnel between our two houses. Only a city park separated our houses. Why not? We’d make it a railway tunnel. We’d seen those hand trucks on the railroads and figured we could single-handedly work one of those babies to and from each others house.

“Why a tunnel?” you ask. Because it would keep us off the street, where our parents forbade us to go. When you’re not yet in first grade you’re only left with two options, dig or fly. We didn’t know how to fly.

Why we thought our parents would allow us to embark on the dangers of tunnel digging when they wouldn’t let us cross the street alone…well, preschoolers lack such logic. Our leaning toward wisdom was a very minor tilt at this point in our lives.

Fast forward a few years and you could understand how mini-bikes rose to the top of the lust list for useful gadgets. We could ride bikes. One with a motor would be all the better. Way more fun, too. And mini, too. How cool is that?

Our parents never allowed us to have a mini-bike. I’d be older, another state away in a new city living next door to a pack of renegades before I’d ever sneak my first ride on a mini-bike. It’s fun to live next door to kids whose parents aren’t as careful as your own. Dangerous, perhaps. But fun. I became a mini-bike riding fool. The neighbor’s backyard was like a dirt track for the mini-bike. Except with pine trees.

By the way, those ads touting how much fun mini-bikes were? Man, they weren’t lying. Most truthful advertising known to man!

You Gotta Have Tools…Okay, You Want The Tools

Tools soon became convenient, if not necessary, summer time gadgets. No fort, treehouse, boat, scooter, cart or animal trap could be built without them. Some days we spent more time scavenging for just the right gadget (i.e. tool) than we did using them, but that was half the fun. Or more.

We used gadgets daily in our houses. Everybody I knew had a TV set with a pair of Vice-Grips® . The channel knob got the most use, so it broke the most often. When it did, dad got the Vice-Grips and we were up and running again. When electronic tuners arrived on TV sets I’m certain the sale of Vice-Grips® fell dramatically.

Every child of the 50’s and 60’s was happy to see the TV remote control become commonplace. That gadget replaced forever more the human TV remote, kids.

Me, My Dad And A South Carolina Hillbilly Know Cool Lights

I love flashlights, lamps and other cool lighting. You know a cool lighting gadget? Those desk lamps on NCIS. TV shows have some of the coolest gadgets on the planet. It helps to have a hi-end production budget.

There have been many noteworthy lights in my gadget life. An early one was a Valentine’s Day present from my dad. He brought home a flashlight that had a red flashing bulb on one end of the handle. Every kid needs a cool flashlight. It seems I always had a few. That one was special.

During junior high I had a different kind of light that got heavy daily use. It was a light box connected to my stereo system. It had about 6 different colors inside that pulsated with the music. Since I was a headphone freak from an early age, that was the only disappointing thing…the light only worked through the speakers. That box got hours and hours of daily use because my stereo system was playing a lot. My record albums wore out from repeated plays, but that light never did burn out.

A few years ago I bought some speakers from a South Carolina hillbilly named Ed Schilling. Talk about a gadget freak. Show me an audiophile though and I’ll show you a gadget freak. My hand is in the air!

Well, Ed calls me up one day and says, “You got a hundred bucks laying around?” He proceeds to tell me about this ridiculously cool green laser pointer that had insane power. He sounded more excited about that green light than anything we had discussed about audio gear. And he was amped up (pun intended) about the First Watt amps, but this green light trumped them. Ed had convinced me to buy some of those amps and those investments proved to true. Boy did they make his speakers sing! He had never steered me wrong and when a South Carolina gadget nut who reminds you of Hunter S. Thompson tells you, “You gotta getcha one” – well, you gotta get cha one.

So I get this little green light. That was long before authorities were arresting idiots for shining them at airplanes blinding pilots.

The first night I got the light, I went outside, shined it up into the sky (making sure there were no airplanes) and the beam of green light just seemed to go on and on and on forever. It was truly amazing. Ed was onto something. Again.

Pen lights, tactical flashlights, LED lights, fluorescent desk lamps, key chain lights – I’ve been fascinated by them all. And more.

There Is No Cure For Gadget Lust (not that I’m looking for one)

I still love gadgets and the fun stuff you can do with them. Not much has changed for me. It’s still about riding, looking, listening and recording. It’s about building and creating.

My wish list over at Sweetwater changes pretty regularly. Okay, it doesn’t so much change. I add to it.

I’ve got a rather long Amazon wishlist, too.

Here’s the thing – the quality of my life is enhanced by gadgets and gizmos. 

Some have been expensive – stereo gear and the professional audio gear Inside The Yellow Studio – but even that stuff is less money than a basic car or a room full of cheap furniture.

Many of the gadgets of my past were stereo or audio related. I’ve owned some terrific audio gear. Most recently, a pair of Ed’s speakers, a few First Watt amps, a heavily modified Sony CD player with a tube output section and more. I don’t own any of those things now. I sold them when I could no longer use them because I just didn’t have a room where I could use them. It doesn’t seem right to have cool gadgets boxed away. They need to be able to do the cool things for which they were designed.

I miss the stereo gear very much. But having stereo gear that can’t be used – regularly – isn’t right.

Lots of people buy gadgets, use them once, then forget about them. That’s not how it should be. Gadgets need to be used. Ongoing. Repeatedly.

Gadgets need to be put to work!

The work is mostly creative and fun.


one who nibbles on women’s earlobes

Men Who Influence Boys

Men Who Influence Boys

Men Who Influence Boys 1This time of year I’m approached by numerous charities to make a professional contribution (i.e. donation). Sometimes a personal story is used to inspire. And sometimes the stories are sad tales of a neglected child. A boy who has no father. And so I’m reminded of the role men play in the lives of boys.

Pictured above is Max in the arms of his father. Cale will be the largest male influence on Max. Hands down. From Cale, Max will learn how to treat women by how he sees his father treat his mother. Max will see and learn how marriage works by watching his mom and dad interact with each other. He’ll notice when they touch, how they greet each other, how they show they care about each other.

Max will learn from Cale how important Church and God are in the home. He’ll know if other things crowd out spiritual things. He’ll learn how decisions are made at home. He’ll see how dad handles situations – good or bad. And he’ll learn.

Max will learn how to manage Cale, his dad. He’ll be able – as all kids are – to read the signs of dad’s bad mood, or happy mood. Will he run into his room, close the door and hide? Or will he sit on the sofa doing his homework unfazed? We don’t yet know, but he’ll find a way to cope. All children do.

Men Who Influence Boys 2Cale will likely teach Max how to drive. And he’ll learn how to talk to other drivers. I talk way too much when I drive so I’ll make sure Max doesn’t learn from me. I’ve got a son, Ryan, to prove it. Cale had best keep me and Ryan away from Max when the time comes to learn driving.

“Little pictures have big ears,” is an old-fashioned phrase used by folks of my grandparent’s generation. It means watch what you say and what you do around children because they mock what they see and hear. It’s quite true. Little pictures (children) do have big ears (they hear and see everything).

Men influence boys. Boys need the influence of men. Too numerous are the boys who have insufficient male influences for good. Most boys – even young men – need men to show them how to be men. Moms can teach an awful lot of great things, but it requires a man to teach a boy how to become a man. Problem is, the world is full of grown boys who never learned how to be men. There are too many homes where there is no dad, granddad, uncle or other positive male influence. There simply aren’t enough good men capable of passing it on. Or so it seems.

Dads don’t have the exclusive rights on influencing boys, but they surely own the lion’s share of responsibility and authority. Other men have a lesser share.

Men Who Influence Boys 3Grandfathers have some share. Great-grandfathers have a share. But so do uncles. (Pictured is Max in the arms of one such uncle, Ryan.) And these are just the men of the family who will influence Max – and all boys. There will be teachers, coaches, preachers (that’s Max in the arms of Ronny Wade below), men at church, at school, bosses, men at work – all the men in his life will influence Max’s learning to become his own man.

Max will likely hear his first cuss-word from the mouth of a man, or another male. He’ll likely see his first dirty picture because another guy showed it to him. He’ll see his first fist-fight at school, likely between two boys. Males will show Max the gritty side of life, the not-so-nice part of life. But on the good side, Max will remember sermons taught by men. He’ll learn church songs because of the men who lead them at church. He’ll learn public prayers from men. There are countless good things he’ll learn from the males in his life. Hopefully, the good things he’ll learn will prepare him to better cope with the evil things he’ll learn.

Men Who Influence Boys 4Like all boys – all children – Max is a live recording device. He’s taking it all in, even though he’s not yet able to process more than basic things. That will quickly change. Soon enough he’ll be able to process more information than the world’s grandest computer. His brain will grow and expand as he absorbs all the new information presented by the world. The world of men will largely determine the man he’ll become.

This means the men in Max’s life have to live responsibly. We have to be careful to make the recording in Max’s life the very best possible. It’s up to us to give him the right start, middle and finish of life. Lord willing, none of us will survive to see his finish. He’ll have to go that stretch of road without us. But by then, the work of the men in his life will likely be completed. We’ll have influenced him sufficiently to make him the man he’ll always be.

Begin with the end in view. What kind of man should Max become? Men, it’s up to us. And Max isn’t likely the only boy we’re influencing. Men influence boys. We influence boys to become the men we are. If we’re not the men we should be, then Max is sure to follow. We need to be the men God wants us to be so we can help Max be the man God wants him to be. It’ll be up to Max to learn and follow.

Men Who Influence Boys 5
Some men are more influential than others. M. Lynwood Smith pictured with young men who were once boys.



Lynwood Loved The View From Home

Lynwood Loved The View From Home

This is for Max. It chronicles the trip Ryan and I made to Lynwood’s funeral on Friday, October 26, 2007. This post first appeared on Max’s site, MaxMcAlister.com.

Ryan spotted a mullet-wearing old man with a guitar case while we were waiting to board a 7:45am American Eagle flight from D/FW to Jackson. Such scenes make for humorous times between me and Ryan. But quickly I spotted an older black man and asked Ryan, “Do you know who he is?” “No idea,” said Ryan. “Charlie Pride,” I said. Mr. Mullet must be his guitar picker. I wish I would have gotten Ryan’s picture with him. Lynwood would have appreciated the brush with country music’s greatest black star. They were sitting at our gate, but never did board our plane. As the door of the plane was being closed I wanted to shout out, “Wait for Charlie.” Better judgment prevailed.

We arrived at the Jackson Airport around 8:30am. We rented a car and set out toward Brookhaven. Within an hour we were there. By cell phone Ronny Wade directed me toward the Brookhaven Funeral Home. We weren’t yet dressed for the funeral, but wanted to see Darrell and Diane Smith, Lynwood’s caretakers in recent years. Kevin Presley and others were there as we entered.

Lynwood’s hands were folded around his Bible and a rose. The paleness of death was a stark reminder that only his body remained. His spirit had parted long before. I was made to realize that the spark of a life – that quality that attracts us the most – has very little to do with the physical. Lynwood was gone. The reality only then began to hit me, but not fully.

A brief visit in the funeral home and we were gone – headed to Jay and Dee Dee Culbertson’s where we would don our funeral attire. We hijacked their sons’ room to use as our dressing room.

I had left home without any handkerchiefs – an item I knew I’d need today. A brief stop at Wal-Mart garnered a pair of bandannas, my favorite type of kerchief. One black one to be used by me. One white one to be used by Ryan.

By noon we approached the New Salem Church of Christ building. Glen Smith, brother to Jimmie, was there making sure all things were ready. We greeted him before he parted and entered the building, the second to arrive.

The building has seen significant renovation, but it looked almost as I had remembered it when I saw it last – about 30 years ago. The front entry is large and neat. Wooden floors give the large building a warmth. The bottom four feet of the walls is dark stained pine wood. Above that is a pale yellow paint that gives the building a nice brightness. The ceiling crests to an apex where a center row of ceiling fans are vital to combat the summer heat. Along either side of the fans are light fixtures reminiscent of a by-gone era. They’re large half-globes made of soft white glass. Around them an antique brass/gold finish metal ring with multiple bevels. A center post fastens the fixture to the ceiling while three support rods run from the top of the center post to the metal ring. Windows add even more light to the building. No window coverings are needed because the glass is made to appear as though rain is falling down. Only the colors of the outside are visible – you can discern the green grass and blue sky, but not much else. Along either side of the pulpit are three rows of pews that make up the “A-men corner” not found in most modern church buildings.

I sat in silence for almost 2 hours as others slowly filed in to take their seat. I wrote. I listened. I soaked in the moments. I remembered.

Some sat down and began talking. A few didn’t shut up until the service started. Some people have lots to say I guess. And I was reminded of a phrase I’ve heard Lynwood use many, many times – usually observing it about a woman, “She could talk the hinges off a door.” Another version I first heard from him, “She could talk the paint off the walls.” Indeed, in the audience were a few who could do both. I smiled.

Bruce Roebuck and family entered. A few snippets were exchanged about a recent rumor of his determination to grow his beard long. It was trimmed I was glad to see. I told him we might have to cancel his meeting next year at Fossil Creek if he didn’t look presentable. For all of his apparent gruffness, Bruce is a very sensitive man and I love him. I also laugh quite a lot with him.

Ryan was at the back door visiting with Kevin, Bruce and others. I continued to sit alone at one end of the pew where Bethany and the Culbertson’s were seated. Dee Dee mentioned that the boys thought I might be a terrorist. Puzzled, I asked, “Why’s that?” A young freckle-faced boy said, “You said you had hijacked our room.” Realizing he was serious I laughed and tried to explain my manner of speech. It’s been a long time since I was adept at speaking genuine Southern. I’ve been away too long. I often do miss it though.

More writing in my Moleskin notebook. Just listening carefully and looking at the things before me. I was on the 5th row back, along the outside aisle of the left side of the building. About the only people in front of me were the singers seated in the A-men pews along the left side of the pulpit.

The time passed quickly. Soon Stan Elmore and his family arrived. Stanley has been my best friend throughout my entire life. Like Lynwood, there’s not been time in my life when I haven’t known Stan – and been close to him. When he saw me, he approached. I stood and we hugged – something we’ve been comfortable doing for many years now. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we’d like. We exchanged a punch line of a recent joke we’ve shared – some odd habit we’ve had for as long as I can remember. A joke told once may have a punchline repeated thousands of times. Just the punchline. And we laughed.

Stan joined the singers, as he should have – and I resumed my seat left to my own thoughts and pen. Kevin came to sit down in front of me for a short visit before assuming his place with the preachers of the service. I observed to him how Lynwood had told me at the Oklahoma New Year’s Meeting in 1999 – the year he was abruptly ousted by a group of men who behaved more poorly than he had – but that’s a story for another day and is among the saddest times in the history of the Oklahoma New Year’s Meeting. Lynwood had recently been ill prior to the meeting. When I first arrived at services I saw him leaning against a wall. I hugged him and inquired of his health. He said he’d been fussed over by all the old women of the brotherhood. And more Lynwoodisms followed that created bursts of laughter on my part. I observed to Kevin the parallel of this event where folks were making a fuss over a man who pretended to not like it. We both knew he enjoyed it though – and we hoped the day’s events would be conducted in a way that would have met with his approval.

For years Stanley and I had been great audiences for Lynwood. We relished the role and so did he. It didn’t matter how often we may have heard a line, or phrase. They struck us funny as though we’d never heard them before – and often he broke out new ones that we’d not yet heard. I often wondered where he got them, or how they got started. One that confused me since childhood was talk of a man who had a lot of money. “He’s got enough money to burn a wet mule.” How much money would that require? And why would money be used to burn a wet mule? How come the mule was wet? Many questions, but none mattered because it was funny. It’s still funny. I’ve used it in my own speech for decades. I know it means a man has more money than he needs.

Soon, the funeral director instructed us to stand as the family members were ushered in. Entered Darrell and Diane Smith and a parade of other Smiths who comprised cousins and other relatives of Lynwood. The preachers took their place on the first pew of the other side of the A-men corner, to the right of the pulpit, directly across the pulpit from the singers. Johnny Elmore, Ronny Wade, Kevin Presley, Ricky Martin and Larry Thompson.

When everybody was seated the singers rose and began to sing. “Gazing Upward Into Heaven” followed by “A Lovely Rose” and “Lengthening Shadows.” No sooner had the first notes been sung – and the tears began to flow. I couldn’t stop them. Kevin and Ricky were both crying and that made my tears flow even more freely.

Larry got up first. Ronny worded the first prayer. Ricky Martin spoke, followed by Johnny Elmore who led the final prayer. No speaker made it through a speech or prayer without visible or audible emotions. My bandanna was barely large enough. Ryan was using his, too.

After an hour, it was over. As they opened the casket and the preachers filed past to assume their spot to greet all who passed by – Kevin began to lose it. Perhaps others did, too – but my focus was on him. I wanted to weep aloud, but worked hard to restrain myself. I was only moderately successful.

Our side of the building was first to proceed past the casket, starting from the rear of the building. Pretty soon it was time for our pew to go and I knew I’d have tremendous difficulty making this journey without incident. I shook Larry’s hand, hugged Ricky and embraced Kevin. And I lost it crying into his shoulder. He lost it, but composed himself enough to lean into my ear and whisper, “I love you.” I was unable to respond in kind, but he knew I wanted to say it back. I hugged Johnny – then Ronny. Putting on my Moscot sunglasses (they’re old school, which is why I selected them to make this trip) to cover my tear-filled eyes, I entered the sunshine outside the side door where folks were filing out toward the cemetery just beyond the parking lot of the church house.

Ryan was directly in front of me. Clint DeFrance and Clay Elmore (Joni’s boy) were behind me. We scattered to our own places of solitude. I walked far away from the crowd toward a grove of pine trees that ran all along the back of the church house – just across the dirt road. I gazed into the clear blue sky. The air was brisk and it was a gorgeous day. In Ronny’s prayer he thanked God for the sunshine that helped dispel some of the gloom of the day. I couldn’t have architected a better day – only God could do that. It was though God had given us this glorious weather because our grief was so heavy.

Soon I found myself embracing Joni. She kept saying, “It’s too hard. I don’t know what we’ll do.” I could only tell her what Kevin had expressed so often since this terrible news, “It’s surreal.” I had seen his body. I had just sat through an hour service, prefaced with two hours of thoughts – and still it did not seem real.

I made my way closer to the side exit as we all gathered in silence waiting for the family to emerge. Most of them soon exited, but then we waited a bit longer for Darrell and Diane – those left to make the funeral arrangements and handle the arduous affairs following Lynwood’s death.

They came out and began to walk toward the grave site. We all followed, then stopped, waiting for the casket to be put into place. The funeral director summoned us all to crowd under and toward the tent covering the grave. The singers were gathered on the backside toward the grove of pine trees I had earlier longed to run into so I could openly weep. There’s nothing like ground covered in pine needles. Every child should know the experience of playing among pines. I now wish I had gone into them at some point, if only for a few moments.

Kevin began his talk and it was beautifully delivered. Alan Bonifay worded the final prayer and the singers sang, “Glad Homecoming Day.”

Diane quickly approached me and said they wanted to take me and Ryan to the old home place. Bethany Presley was using my camera to take pictures of the flowers. I had told her to take it and capture whatever pictures she wanted. We were off to see Lynwood’s house – I knew Ryan would want pictures (and I certainly did). Ryan went to fetch the camera back from Bethany and we were soon off down the road – about 2-3 miles from the church house.

Darrell and Diane gave us a tour of the house and it was much as I had remembered it from about 30 years earlier – but neater and more organized (no offense, Lynwood). Diane had done a masterful job of making the place “tour ready.” They are good people and I always enjoy being in their presence.

As we entered Lynwood’s bedroom Darrell explained how he had arrived to find Lynwood laying in the floor of the bathroom. This was right before Lynwood was admitted into the hospital. Darrell picked him up and Lynwood told him, “Don’t worry. I haven’t been here long.”

On the back porch hung some old shirts. Ryan spotted one that had “M. Lynwood Smith” handwritten on the inside of the collar. “Look, here’s one that’s been autographed,” said Ryan. Ryan saw some shirts with pretty ragged sleeves. Darrell pointed out how Lynwood would take an old long-sleeved shirt and cut the sleeves off to make a short sleeve work shirt out of it. A few hung on a wire fastened to the ceiling of the back porch.

Books and photographs. Quilts on each bed. Old metal beds. A corded phone. A radio. Antique dressers and chests. The old wicker communion table that sat in New Salem’s building back in the 50’s. An old bench style table. A water heater sitting in the open on the back porch.

The house reminded me of one I had visited many times in my youth. The home of Mama Burns, my maternal grandmother’s mother – my great grandmother. A house situated a block away from my grandparents’ house in Ada, Oklahoma.

This was Lynwood’s childhood home. It served him well until his death. One life. One Mississippi community. One house. One church – that he loved. Throughout the house were signs of that love of the Gospel and photographs of “the brethren.”

Simplicity. At every turn I found myself full of envy – of a simpler time, an old home place where a lifetime of memories are centered. My son, my oldest, is now 27. He’s lived in four cities, three states and many houses. I dare not attempt to calculate the places of my life. They’ve been many. Not Lynwood. It was among one of many elements that made him strangely unique, if not eclectic.

The house was unlike anything Ryan had seen. He’s too young. For me it was nostalgic to see a home like so many I’ve seen through the years of my youth. A place that time forgot. A place full of character, memories and many lifetimes – including the life of a man who had so loved to look down the lane. It is a wonderful view.

On the porch was a cushion on an old green piece of outdoor furniture. Where the cushion sat was nearest the front door to the house. That was Lynwood’s spot. It gave him the best view of the lane.

A black and white cat nibbled from a bowl on the front porch (you can see him sitting on the sidewalk in the picture), awaiting the old man who kept him company. Diane told us she didn’t know what would become of that cat. I’ll bet he hangs around for a bit wondering when the man is coming home. He’s a cat with no idea that the old man has already gone home.

Looking down the lane


Click here to see the photographs of the day.

M. Lynwood Smith

M. Lynwood Smith

This post originally appeared at MaxMcAlister.com, a website I created for my first grandson.

Max will never get to know Lynwood. It’s hard for me to imagine, having never spent a moment of life where I didn’t know Lynwood. He was larger than life to me. A fixture of our brotherhood. A man who terrified me as a child. A man who made me laugh as an adult. A preacher who could move my emotions. A storyteller without comparison.

Our phone rang around 4:30 this morning with news that Lynwood was gone. Dead from a bout of pneumonia, kidney failure and staph infection. Health had failed him in recent years. The road – and the millions of miles on buses and airplanes – hadn’t helped much. Like most, I knew it was inevitable, but as Kevin Presley said on the phone to me this morning, “It’s surreal.”

One of my earliest memories of Lynwood was when I was a child living in Ada, Oklahoma. My father owned a service station on Main Street. I was very young and enjoyed hanging out playing on the pinball machine and climbing all over the tires. This was probably around 44 years ago when cars would pull into gas stations and a bell would ring when their tires ran over a cable as they pulled up to the gas pumps. It signaled the gas station attendant that a customer was present. Old school. Nobody pumped their own gas in those days.

We lived on some acreage near Wintersmith Park in Ada. Johnny and Sally (and kids) lived across the park from us. Stan Elmore and I were – and still are – best friends.

I had recently been in trouble with my parents for lying. I was a child pyromaniac and refused to fess up to my fascination with fire. Lynwood was on a bus headed toward Ada. My dad was scheduled to pick him up that afternoon. The bus station was just down Main Street.

My mother informed me that as soon as Lynwood arrived she’d be telling him of my lying. Terrified, I ran to the men’s room where I promptly locked the door and crouched down in a corner. Adam and Eve hid from the Lord in the Garden. They had nothing on me.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I remember hearing a voice I knew very well. Lynwood knocked on the door – it wasn’t just a tap either – and said, “Randy, it’s Lynwood.” My heart stopped and I knew this was not a man who suffered stupidity – including stupid behavior of setting small fires in the yard. I also knew my hiding was over.

I have no recall of what he said. I don’t even remember opening the door of the men’s room. Perhaps that’s my mind’s ability to block out horrible experiences. I do remember that I didn’t have trouble with lying or setting fires any more.

For an unmarried man with no children of his own, Lynwood had a sobering affect on me – as he did all children back in the day. Most of us had witnessed him “calling down” some young person who was misbehaving in a worship service. Those of us with a brain in our head made sure it was never us! Stan and I sat as still as possible on the front row of church whenever Lynwood was in town. Occasionally we’d suffer the flick of an ear during services, but no such correction was necessary if Lynwood was in the pulpit.

I was born in 1957. The two Homers (King and Gay) weren’t so much part of my childhood memories. The prime of their life was past by the time I arrived on the scene, able to know which end was up. Fred Kirbo was a name I heard all my life, but alas – I have no memory of him either. Lynwood, I knew well. I’m sure I would have been a better person for knowing the Homers and brother Kirbo – but each generation has their own characters and for my generation none was bigger than M. Lynwood Smith.

Like most people who knew him, I have plenty of memories and stories involving Lynwood Smith. I’m glad I knew him. I’m thankful Ryan and Renae knew him. He baptized them both. I’m thankful he stayed in my home, and that I was summoned to the airport or bus stations to rescue him more times than I can count (sometimes not so willingly I might add – to my shame).

Lynwood was sentimental. He was talented with words and stories. He was gruff, impatient and abrasive. He was not hypocritical. He was not fake. He was not politically correct. He was old school, all the time. He always seemed old to me. He acted old – grumpy. But I loved him. And almost always I enjoyed being in his presence. Not always – some times I’d rather be locked in that men’s room. But mostly, he made my life better. He taught me to love the church by loving her so much himself.

Lord willing, Friday morning Ryan and I will board a plane to Jackson. We’ll drive down to Brookhaven and attend the funeral of a man who seemed impervious to death – but Lynwood was a mortal man subject to ill-health and death. As I sit in the New Salem building on Friday afternoon and soak in the scene – I’ll recall the man, his songs, his words, his stories and his sermons. I’ll thank God that I had the opportunity to know him and to be touched by him. And I’ll be somewhat sad for Max never having that chance.

Max will have his characters who affect his life for good. For me, Lynwood was as big as it gets.

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