The Prodigal Team

Mark Wohlers threw it. Marquis Grissom caught it. The Atlanta Braves won it. The year, 1995.

It took the Braves six games to defeat the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series. The demons — a pair of losses to the Twins in 1991 and the Blue Jays in 1992 — were squashed and tossed in the corners of the champagne stained locker room, the moment Fred McGriff commenced the dog pile on Javy Lopez. The Atlanta Braves were World Champions.

I’d like to think I kicked in my mother’s stomach that night.

While she watched from a two-bedroom home in Shelby, North Carolina, my dad was just down the road, broadcasting a high school football game on the radio. In between breaths, he leaned over trying to catch a peek of his Braves on the television strategically placed in the booth.

When the baseball landed in Grissom’s glove and Fulton County Stadium went delirious in uproar, my dad couldn’t help but let out a yelp on air — I’d like to think he wished I was with him that night.

***

I was born in March of 1996, just five months after that October celebration. As I was being passed around from one relative to the next, the Braves were at Spring Training and had been dubbed “the team of the 90s.”

It couldn’t be a better time to be born into Braves fandom. In that decade Atlanta went to five World Series’, boasted three hall of fame pitchers and drafted a franchise player in Chipper Jones.

So as soon as I could walk, I was reaching for a baseball and dragging a glove everywhere. My dad would back the car out of the garage, and I would throw the ball against the wall for hours.

I was playing for the Braves, you see. I was the star pitcher, the clutch hitter and the revered manager. I was the Most Valuable Player. I was the baseball card every kid dreamed of unwrapping from the pack.

My parents had to haul me in from outside every night. They would bathe me in my Braves colored bathroom, tuck me in under my Braves bedspread, and help me say my prayers, all under a Chipper Jones poster.

My first pilgrimage to Atlanta came in the summer of 2002 with my dad and granddad. It was an out-of-body experience. Chipper was feet away from me. Marcus Giles signed my book “Best Wishes, David!” Atlanta’s stadium, Turner Field, was so much bigger than my garage.

I still have the ticket stub. First base line. Row 7. Seat 5. Section 119. God, is this what Heaven is like?

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***

This isn’t a story solely about games and numbers, but they have to be included. The arc doesn’t make sense — the narrative is incomplete — without understanding the agony.

The Braves weren’t a bad team. And that’s the thing. They were great. They were promising. They were fun to watch. They won at least 88 games for 11 years in a row. They have been to two World Series since I’ve been alive. But they just couldn’t win them. And that — that is worse than anything else.

The first playoff game I ever went to was on October 7, 2002, for the final meeting of the Braves-Giants Divisional Series. Dad and I piled in his 1996 Honda Accord and drove 211 miles in brutal interstate traffic to Turner Field. My excitement was unparalleled. Christmas morning joy couldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath.

At least that’s what it felt like when I took my seat for the first pitch. Because after the Giants won 3-1 behind a Barry Bonds home run to win the series, it was like Christmas morning with lumps of coal under the tree.

But the nightmares didn’t end there.

There was 2004, when the Braves blew a 2-1 divisional series lead at home to the Astros. There was 2005, when the Braves played the Astros again in the divisional series and took the final game to 18 innings, but lost on a walk off home run. There was 2010 when Atlanta second baseman Brooks Conrad made two errors in the bottom of the ninth in what felt like a sealed game against the Giants. The horror stories continued to pile. There were playoff losses to the Dodgers and Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion, too. There were trades, free agent signings, management changes, and everything in between. It was simple: the Braves couldn’t finish. But dad and I couldn’t seem to stop caring.

***

For me, life as a Braves fan revolved around three things: My dad, Chipper Jones and losing when it counted.

I was only a Braves fan because of my dad. I didn’t choose the Braves, I was born, bred and baptized as a Braves fan. It was dad who drove while I slept on the way to Atlanta. It was dad who threw ball with me in the backyard every night. It was dad who taught me to appreciate the sport, the team and even the misery.

 

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If dad made me a Braves fan, Chipper Jones kept me a Braves fan. I played third base not because I wanted to, but because Chipper did. I put a wad of sunflower seeds in my mouth when I stepped to the plate because Chipper did. I tried to be a switch hitter because Chipper was.

And as for the losing, that was just part of the game. It was always just a series of tumultuous events that left me in tears every season, but it was nothing that would stop me from finding a new team. That wasn’t an option.

So in 2012 when Chipper decided he was going to retire, my dad, brother and a few of my friends made the trip to Atlanta to see our hero play in person, once more.

After $20 worth of hot dogs and sodas that September evening, the Braves found themselves down four runs going into the bottom of the ninth. Again, it felt as if the four-hour drive to Atlanta was for naught. But a rally emerged.

I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a Reed Johnson base hit. Then a pair of walks to Paul Janish and Michael Bourn. Yes, then a lucky error by the Philadelphia defense. And all of a sudden two runs scored and Chipper had a chance to win the game with one swing of the bat.

Of course, you know the story. I wouldn’t be telling the story if he struck out. Chipper hit the ball a mile into the right field bleachers. I don’t know if it ever landed, to be honest. It may still be in orbit.

Dad was on the ground in a matter of seconds. He was rolling down the steps, losing his glasses and his sanity. I did the opposite, collapsing into my seat, praying to God I wasn’t dreaming. And after collecting ourselves, we hugged. We hugged for what felt like an eternity. I cried, because we won. And Chipper hit it. CHIPPER HIT IT. We won. Really, WE WON.

The Braves could have lost every game for 16 years, and in that moment it wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing mattered. It was just a normal, unimportant, regular season game. Just one of 162 they played that season. But to us, it was the game. It was the game I would tell my children about one day to remind them there is hope as a Braves fan.

High school graduation could come knocking. College could come knocking. The real world could come knocking. And eventually I would have to answer. Eventually, the little boy snoring in the sleeping bag, sprawled out in the back of the car on the way to Atlanta would have to sprout from his Braves colored room for something bigger. And we both knew that.

So we hugged, cried, and never wanted to leave Turner Field.

The Braves won. And not another damned thing mattered.

Because tonight, we were together.

David Ray Allen Jr.

 

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‘People Don’t Know Nothin’

The Avett Brothers released their ninth studio album Friday, sending myself and many other fans into an emotional coma. Some will criticize the sound, as they flirted with some electronic noise, but no one will ever complain about the lyrics. Scott and Seth have produced some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard.
I tried ranking them and that was like picking between my brother and my sister, so that was impossible. Instead, here are the best 60 lyrics (I couldn’t get it down to 50, I’m sorry) from their past work, in my opinion. Agree, disagree, yell at the screen, get a song stuck in your head. Do as you please!
Bolded are my 15 favorites. Italicized are my Avett Brothers loving friend, Kristen Roehrig’s 15 favorites. And obviously, if it’s in bold and italics, we agree on it’s greatness.
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album: “Country Was” (2002)

Pretty Girl From Matthews

You’re rising like a sun
That pulled the curtain on the night
Coming through the window
To brighten up my life.

November Blue

Your yellow hair is like the sunlight, however sweet it shines
Bit by the cold of December, I’m warm beside your smile.

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album: “A Carolina Jubilee” (2003)

 

Pretty Girl From Annapolis

And if I don’t make it to the spring
May you catch the joy that a melody brings from my brother’s ragged six string.

My Last Song to Jenny

Did you sleep?

Not a wink.

Well neither did I.

Smoke in Our Lights

You’re not a girl, you’re a waltz
You’re a canopy bed
You’re June to August
You’re the back and forth sway of the hammock all day

*I scream this every single time.

Offering

And I’ve known others
And I’ve loved others too
But I loved them cause they were stepping stones
On a staircase to you.

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album: “Mignonette” (2004)

Swept Away

Who cares about tomorrow?
What more is tomorrow?
Than another day.

Please Pardon Yourself

Do the best you can and that won’t go unseen.

Pretty Girl At The Airport

For all the hardest roads we have to walk alone.

But everyone I know out here is lonely, even those that have someone to lie beside at night.

*Best Avett Brothers song that no one knows about.

Salvation Song

And they may pay us off in fame
But that is not why we came
And if it compromises truth then we will go.

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album: “Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions” (2006)

Talk On Indolence

Readin’ and writin’ and readin’ and thinkin’
and searching for reasons and missing the seasons.

Now I’ve grown too aware of my mortality
To let go and forget about dying
Long enough to drop the hammer down
And let the indolence go wild and flying through.

Colorshow

Be loud let your colors show.

Left On Laura, Left On Lisa

And I gave to you my ugly brown coat
You made it pretty when you put it on

And you made it clear it was strictly a deal
Of springtime love and that’s how I should feel
So I set the clock back an hour my girl
I set the time a just right.

*Yes, I love “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa.” It never gets old.

Matrimony

My dog is loud and my dog is wild
We’re too young to have a child
Can you keep the dog next week?
I’ll be gone the next three.

Famous Flower Of Manhattan

Cause blue birds, Don’t fly without their wings
And when we put them in a cage
The world can’t hear them sing
So selfish when greed sets in
Possession, the king of sin.

Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer)

So I looked ahead to the open road, thought about the people and what they know,
and wrote a book called “People Don’t Know Nothin.”

*”November Blue” and “Denouncing November Blue” are both in my top-10.

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EP: “The Gleam” (2006)

Sanguine

Kill the doubt that strangles my self-worth.

Yardsale

The guitar I am holding is way out of tune
The neck it is warped and the saddle is through
I wonder if sweet music ever was played
From the hands of a boy to a girl in the shade
From this rickety ghost of a song
Here at this yardsale.

Backwards With Time

Some say with age that a purpose comes clear
I see the opposite happening here
Are we losing the fight?
Are we growing backwards with time?

If It’s The Beaches

If it’s the beaches
If it’s the beaches’ sands you want
Then you will have them
If it’s the mountains’ bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it’s the wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever what you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Pack the old love letters up
We will read them when we forget why we left here.

*Just going to go grab a tissue right quick.

 Find My Love

How can you tell when goodbye means goodbye
Not just for now, for the rest of you life
How can you stand there with love in you eyes
And still be walking away.

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album: “Emotionalism” (2007)

Paronia In B-Flat Major

But if love is a game, girl, then you’re gonna win
I’ll spend the rest of my life bringing victory in
If you want me to.

The Weight Of Lies

So, when you run make sure you run
To something and not away from ’cause
Lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere.

Will You Return?

I wish you’d see yourself as beautiful as I see you
Why can’t you see yourself as beautiful as I see you?

The Ballad Of Love And Hate

The clock in the kitchen says 2:55,
And the clock in the kitchen is slow.

He says “Love, I’m sorry”, and she says, “What for?”
“I’m yours and that’s it, whatever.
I should not have been gone for so long.
I’m yours and that’s it, forever.”

You’re mine and that’s it, forever.

Salina

I’m changing the plans I’ve been setting on
I’m scared by the way that my life’s getting gone
Carolina, one day I’ll, someday I’ll come home.

*My anthem.

All My Mistakes

I have some “friends” they don’t know who I am
So I write quotations around the word friends
But I have a couple that have always been there for me.

Go To Sleep

I hope the people in the crowd will understand.

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EP: “The Second Gleam” (2008)

Tear Down The House

Bulldoze the woods that I ran through.
Carry the pictures of me and you.
I have no memory of who I once was,
and I don’t remember your name.

Murder In The City

Always remember there was nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.

The Greatest Sum

Not even the clouds
Not even the past
Not even the hands of God
could hold me back from you.

Souls Like The Wheels

Souls like the wheels
Turning, taking us with wind at our heels
Burning, making us decide on what we’re giving
Change this way of living.

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album: “I And Love And You” (2009)

I And Love And You

One foot in and one foot back
But it don’t pay to live like that.

Your dreams to catch the world, the cage.

Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise

If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it.

The Perfect Space

And I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.

Ten Thousand Words

Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin’ in the swarms
Still can’t find out how to hold my hands.

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about.

But their good times come with prices
And I can’t believe it when I hear the jokes they make
At anyone’s expense except their own
Would they laugh if they knew who paid?

‘Cause the clothes I wore out there I will not wear ’round you.

*OK, OK, I know. Four lyrics from one song? I’m sorry, this one is just brilliant.

Kick Drum Heart

I won’t look back anymore
I left the people that do
It’s not the chase that I love
It’s me following you.

Laundry Room

Stop your parents’ car
I just saw a shooting star
We can wish upon it
But we wont share the wish we made
But I cant keep no secrets,
I wish that you would always stay.

Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics,
‘Cause every chorus was your name.

I am a breathing time machine,
I’ll take you all for a ride.

*Kristen swears she is getting that last line tatooed on her at some point.
Slight Figure Of Speech

They said “I hope that you will never change”
I went and cut my hair
They say “Don’t take your business to the big time”
I bought us tickets there.
Incomplete And Insecure

What is important
What’s really important
Am i not to know by my name?

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album: “The Carpenter” (2012)

The Once And Future Carpenter
If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.

Winter In My Heart

They say flowers bloom in spring
Red and golden, blue and pink
They say seasons turn in time
Theirs are changing, why won’t mine?

February Seven

I went on the search for something real
Traded what I know for how I feel.

Down With The Shine

I would voice my pain but the change wouldn’t last
All that comes, it comes here to pass.

A Father’s First Spring

Oh I have been homesick for you since we met.
I have been homesick for you.

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album: “Magpie And The Dandelion” (2013)

Open Ended Life

I was taught to keep an open-ended life
and never trap myself in nothin’.

Bring Your Love To Me

Bring your love to me
I will hold it like a dandelion
One I want to save, one I want to keep
from the breeze that follows me and no one else.

Part From Me

And all our clothes were washed in gray
All our buildings and our cars
As the fluorescent light of day
Bleached the sky and took the stars.
The Clearness Is Gone

Well your hair fell on me like I dreamt that it would
When I dreamt your hair was long.

Hope you enjoyed!
-DA

-25-

It started with an oatmeal cream pie and a glass of chocolate milk. At least that’s what she claims.

She ate his favorite snack every day for a year — 8th grade — trying to get him to notice her.

He didn’t. So she had to take the initiative herself, asking him to go on a hay ride. December 3rd, she recounts off the top of her head, some 30 years later. Some days you just don’t forget.

With only one bump in the road, the summer where he wanted to watch Atlanta Braves baseball and didn’t have time for a girlfriend — at least that’s what she claims — the rest was, as they say, history.

The pair went to different colleges after graduating high school. He went to Chapel Hill, while she went down Highway 74 to Charlotte. That didn’t last long. She enrolled at UNC soon.

And after four years of college they wed at Eastside Baptist, her home church that he started going to as the relationship had progressed. Her father walked her down the aisle, and the soon-to-be-husband smiled from the front of the room under his mustache. They kissed, danced, threw the bouquet, ate some cake. To Disney World they went.

A few years passed and then came David Jr. They were 28 on that March afternoon. He was a cone head of a baby with the bluest of eyes. They held and marveled at God’s creation. He was theirs.

He would walk and talk like his father, share a passion for sports and writing. He would favor his mother, with his nose and thin hair, share a passion for reading and a penchant to cry.

Then came Michael. They were 31 on that January evening. He had a head of blonde hair, and an infectious smile. They held and marveled at God’s creation. He was theirs. This time around, David Ray waited in the wings. He had a new friend. And he was certainly getting too much attention. (Some things never change.)

He would favor his father, thick hair and a set of dimples pulled from a magazine. He would spoil his mother rotten, quick to tickle and the fastest to make her double over in laughter.

Then there was Kathryn Rose, they would call her Katie. They were 36 on the August midnight. They held and marveled at God’s creation. She was theirs. This time there were two big brothers anticipating the arrival. She had a red birthmark that scared them, and those red cheeks. Truly, a rose.

She was her mother’s child, undoubtedly. Her brown hair and charming smile. And that giggle. A ray of sunshine to all she came in contact with. She would be a daddy’s girl, too, though, often found asleep on his lap or in a tickle fight.

Surely there were tough, arduous moments along the way, moments that all couples go through, but you would never know it. Not with them. Mom doesn’t complain about dad’s snoring — brutal, in every sense of the word — and dad doesn’t complain about mom’s dancing — which was passed down to her oldest son. Dad wakes mom up when she falls asleep on the couch during “Game of Thrones,” and explains what she missed. Mom takes dad’s side when the kids make fun of him. There is a sense that where one ends, the other begins.

As parents, they are flawless. The example to end all examples. What she can’t do, he can. And what he can’t, she can. A tough job, guiding three children, but for them, an art. A seamless portrait. A city skyline. A graceful waltz.

They have sat through every ball game, and coached quite a few. They have listened to hours of screeching instrument practice, and paid for the lessons desperately needed. They have loved unconditionally, and never thought twice.

Now the two sit together. Twenty-five years removed from that day at Eastside Baptist. Thirty-three if you go all the way back to that December hay ride.

The three children in between them sit, 20, 17, and 12. On the precipice of great heights in life. The oldest, two years from going into the “real world.” The middle child, a year away from graduating high school. The baby, a few months from being a teenager.

For their children there will be times of darkness, sorrow, and stress, as the mountain bluffs sprout skyward into deafening clouds. Darkness will prod and jab, and the world will certainly overwhelm and inundate them at times.

Luckily, in mom and dad, there are two pillars of love and bastions of strength alongside them. Keeping their distance, but watching over them earnestly.

And to think it all began with an oatmeal cream pie and a glass of chocolate milk.

-David Ray

 

Home? Home.

I should be studying.

No, really. I should. I’ve got an exam on media law and the history of drama tomorrow. I should probably be tucked into a Davis Library alcove covered with books towered up to my eyes. But for some reason, I have found myself here, attempting to put words on an impossible narrative, some incredible relationships, and the feeling of belongingness.

When I walk out of the Stone Center tomorrow I’ll have finished two years at UNC. Two of the best years of my life, my sophomore year being the pinnacle. Milkshakes from The Loop. Lectures with Bart Ehrman. A trip to a national championship. New friends. New family. Old friends. Tight family.

Often a year makes a huge difference; we find out new things about ourselves, grow physically and emotionally, deepen bonds, push limitations, and sneak outside of our comfort zone. And in two years in Chapel Hill, I have done all of these things.

I have hurt along the way and at times felt overwhelmed and stressed and sad and downcast. But the inevitable, irreconcilable nature in the power of this place — the people, the atmosphere, the qualities we cannot name — always calls me back in.

I hurt today. Not because of the daunting media law exam tomorrow that awaits me, but because I’m halfway there. Just yesterday it feels like I was moving in, holding back tears as my mom and dad and brother and sister walked out the door. Just yesterday it feels like I was sitting in Shelby High School with my brothers. Just yesterday it feels like the “real world” was far away.

But today I stand halfway there. With my family who have loved and supported me from 181 miles away. With some of those same brothers sharing a suite. With a freshly minted double major. With the real world knocking on my door.

So that’s why it hurts. It hurts to say goodbye to my friends and to a tiny dorm room. Sure, we’ll be back in Chapel Hill in a few months, but things will always be different. Pat and Paige won’t be here to keep me in line at the Daily Tar Heel. Will, Luke, and I will be in a new home, but we won’t able to harass passersby from the seventh floor. The basketball team will be excellent, but Marcus and Brice and Joel will watch from their TV screens.

But that’s life. And the beautiful thing is, I’m doing this in a place with the best people, who love and care and shine. In a place where passionate learners and meaningful teachers roam the same halls and call each other friends. In a place that I can, and will, call home.

–DA

“But it’s comforting, knowing that whichever direction I’m driving on the highway, I’ll be headed back to a place that I call home.” — My friend, and brilliant thinker, Kristen Roehrig

‘These will all be stories someday’

There have been some memories made at 1422 Stone Gate Drive. The Hayek family has lived at their estate for 14 years, playing host to a group of young boys for many nights. Now they’re moving on. To Winston-Salem to be exact. 1422 will be taken over by another family. Another set of lovable dogs. Another litter of kids.

But it won’t be the same.

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It’s genuinely an impossible task to try and recap the days and nights we spent at the Hayek household. The late-night talks that lasted for hours. The laughs. Damn, the laughs. The Mountain Dew and Queso Dip from Don Ramon. The Dr. Hayek original chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. We have had some good times. I’m lying — we’ve had the best times.

Times we’ll never forget. Times we’ll tell about — and surely embellish — for years to come. Times we’ll tell our kids about. We’ll recount the time Uncle Luke almost killed me in a wrestling match for a fantasy football draft pick. Or the time a game of Risk lasted for a dozen hours.

_________________________________________________________________

Three years ago, the Lord above sent down a snowstorm that would paralyze the South. The planning started days in advance, as soon as the forecasts came out.

Our senior year of high school was winding down, and we wanted to spend as much time together as we could. So the night before the snow came, a group of us came together at 1422. Eight of us, to be exact. The snow did its job and got us out of school for three straight days, three days that we spent in that home.

Our mom’s called and begged us to come home. We got it. Sorry, mom. Today, was our day. And tomorrow, too. Oh, and the next.

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Hard at work.

We built a ramp. From scratch. Really. We waked into Lowes, bought the wood, came home and built a ramp. That night, as the snow began to fall over the quiet city, we drove to the golf course and hid our prized possession. It was stolen, of course.

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The infamous ramp.

 

After the blizzard made landfall, the fun began. We made an igloo of sorts. Named it Fort Naples. Some girls attacked it the next day. Luke got watery-eyed and legend has it that Will almost killed someone in battle that day.

We played a game of Risk that lasted 14 hours. Tears were literally shed and there might have been some blood. Tyler sabotaged his chances of winning to help out Luke. Chaos ensued.

Ben walked a half-of-a-mile, covering snowy terrain, to pickup “The Notebook.” That night we popped pop corn and watched the chick-flick together. Ben cried like a baby.

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Luke and I really enjoyed “The Notebook.”

 

The next morning we awoke to a clogged toilet. Charles produced one of the longest and most formidable turds in the history of mankind. An image I’ll never be able to shake. This is no joke — we tried to cut it in half to ease the tension on the pipes with a clothes hanger. Sorry, Mrs. Hayek.

We ran out of drinks and food, so we walked a mile or so to the Food Lion. Sam walked into the Food Lion with a sled full of snow balls while he had some deli ham in his other hand. The look on those employees faces.

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You thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t. Here’s Sam in Food Lion. With snow balls.

We did life right, those days. Nobody spoke about how much it meant. But I promise you, we loved every minute.

Charles said it best when we were recounting on Camp Hayek the other day: “That was one hell of a week.”

I would be remiss if I just harped on those three days — however incredible they may have been.

There were plenty of other nights.

Not always all eight of us.

Sometimes just two. Often four.

We almost got kicked out of Walmart on multiple occasions as we played a game of Assassin that didn’t bode well with their management.

We made Smores. Played Balderdash. Played Family Feud, and laughed at how bad Elliott was. Played poker and tried to not take all of Ben’s money.

We snuck out and drove to McDonalds for french fries and sweet tea. Just so we could.

We played dozens of games of whiffleball in the Marion Elementary parking lot, one ending with a walkoff homerun and a visit from a police car.

We held games of Capture the Flag. We had our Senior Dinner there. We parked our cars there for all of our traveling. Hell, we lived there half the time.

We played until we couldn’t play anymore.

For 14 years, 1422 Stone Gate Drive was our home base. Our center of life, in many ways. Our refuge.

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Seniors.

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Post 6:00 a.m. donut run.

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This wasn’t for you.

If you made it this far, I appreciate it. But this wasn’t for you.

Many of these memories were had-to-be-there moments. Many other memories we will never tell to anyone outside of the group.

But they mean the world to us. That house means the world to us.

The events its witnessed, I shutter to even think. I have and I know I will shed a tear. And I’m not one bit sorry. That house was a home. And it always will be. For me. For Sam. For Will. For Ben. For Charles. For Tyler. For Elliott. And, obviously, for Luke.

Boys, this is for you. This is for us.

For no matter where we go, or who owns that plot of land, we have each other.

And I think we’ll make it.

-DA

 

 

 

A Lost Son, A Patient Father, A Cross

This is Holy Week. A week where we remember the final days of Jesus, his death, and resurrection.

This week, for me, hasn’t been easy. For personal reasons it’s been a week that I wasn’t quite prepared for and one that kept me pretty bummed.

But waking up today, with a special emphasis on the death of Jesus, made things better.

We could take time today to focus on many things about the cross and its circumstances. We could speculate on the actual time Jesus died or maybe how it came about. Did Jesus go to a garden and pray or not? Did he carry his cross or did someone else? What did he say in his final breath?

You see, the Gospels tell us different things about Jesus’ final day(s). The Synoptics tend to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, the blood-sweating Jesus, the “Father why have you forsaken me” Jesus. While John’s Jesus says “who are you looking for” to those who seek him in the garden and says “it is finished” on the cross. An undeniable and interesting difference.

We could talk about Christology and adoptionism and all that good stuff, too.

But we’ll leave that for another time.

What matters is this: Jesus died on the cross for you and for me. As much as this may hurt you to hear, he died for Donald Trump and your mother-in-law, as well.

Our impressions of Jesus’ death and the significance have certainly changed since the Gospels were written, but one thing I have come to believe that is never mentioned in The Bible is actually very simple. If it was just me, or just you, or even Donald Trump, Jesus still would have died. In a strange, contradicting nature, the cross is universal, yet unequivocally personal.

And because of this, even in the worst of weeks and the toughest of times, Jesus towers over all. Because it was finished some 2,000 years ago on a cross. The cross.

This allows us to be free to choose and free to roam. To make wrong decisions and to feel pain. To have sleepless nights and to want to run and hide. This idea leads us to an image with unbelievable power and purpose.

I’ve been often quoted as saying that these are two of the most important sentences in The Bible.

It’s found in Luke 15, when Jesus is teaching to a crowd, and in the climax of a story about a lost son he says this:

“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

Let it sink in for a moment.

During those heartbreaking times, those moments where there seems to be no hope, those long, dark nights, this father is waiting and watching. He could be tending to his other matters, which he certainly has plenty of, but instead, he’s waiting.

Notice in Jesus’ parable he’s not waiting like we tend to do now. He’s not scrolling through Twitter in one hand and sipping his coffee out of the other.

He’s earnestly waiting.

He’s got his hand over his eyes to block the sun. Just wishing for a glimpse of David Ray in the distance, so he can double knot his shoes and make a run for me.

And as soon as he catches a glimpse. Though, we’re undoubtedly torn, and blistered, he runs to us.

There’s no catch.

He doesn’t walk, just hesitantly ready to forgive. He feels compassion, excuse me, he’s filled with compassion for us, his own, and he runs.

The cross is personal.

 

 

March 18

It’s been a year.

It’s been a handful of homemade ice cream churns on summer nights.

It’s been a dozen phone calls that start with “Look out now, Mr. David Ray” and end with “Alright, partner.”

It’s been a few letters to local officials who weren’t doing their job.

It’s been 365 walks around the block with a partner-in-crime named Sally.

It’s been numerous conversations about “what needs to be fixed around here.”

It’s been too many meals of barbecue sandwiches and sweet tea.

When you put it like that, it’s been an eternity.

Not a day goes by that my mind doesn’t float back to granddad. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night and sometimes it’s just the smell of grass. What I’d do to see him again.

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This morning, I sat in the front yard with my grandma, who was missing granddad a little extra today. She decided to throw on some work clothes and weed the garden, just like he would have. I know he smiled down on the two of us doing work he would have usually done. Even though the conversation steered from school to Braves baseball to my little sister growing up, it came back to A. Donald Allen.

We shared stories and memories and jokes and laughs.

“I miss him everyday,” she said. “It feels like more than a year sometimes and often a lot less.”

“Time is relative, I guess.”

It is.

I know that even though it might be decades of time here on earth–time is a relative thing.

And it won’t be long before I’m with you again, granddad.

DA