Teach The Angels How To Fly


“We’re gonna teach the angels how to fly.” So uttered June Montgomery one second before she died in a car crash at the end of the book, “CigarBox.” There was some literary license taken in that book. Through all the edits over the years, the final version is vastly different from the first draft, but there is a back story within the pages that has remained constant, and a central character who was a real person, silently growing up in the shadow of events swirling around him.  The truth behind CigarBox boiled down to a simple ring, and a little boy who never forgot.


In the late nineties a young woman, her three-year-old son, and two girlfriends were racing across Jonesboro, Arkansas to a Christmas party. They apparently ran through a stop sign, crossing into the path of an SUV, which slammed into the side of their small car, killing the mother, one of her friends, and pitching the baby out through a side window, skidding him across the highway, bouncing him off a chain link fence, finally depositing in a field with two broken legs. The car spun and objects within it flew out into the road. One particular object was a cigar box, resting on the seat. Inside were pictures, letters, and then there was a ring. The first responders gathered up as much as they could, removed the dead, and the cigar box.

His parents were divorced. His father was staying with us in Texas. It was a bitter divorce; with all the frills you’d expect on “Dallas.” We got the call at noon, during Christmas dinner. The information was confused, and we were sure little Michael was dead, as was his mother. I stayed back in Texas to maintain the house, but everyone else rushed to Arkansas. When they got there the doctors told them that the baby, while being scraped up a bit, and with two broken legs, was going to be fine. There was no logical explanation as to how he got out of the car during the impact. The doctors said he just flew across that highway like Mighty Mouse. The baby became known as “Mighty.” Mighty came home to Texas, as did the cigar box.

Mighty’s dad became a police officer. He tried to join the Marines, but a bad ear kept him out. Later he would go to the Middle East to fight terrorists as a private contractor. He could hear terrorists just fine with his right ear. We raised Mighty in the big house at Berry Creek. He walked slightly bow legged, due to his injuries, and he loved to eat. In later years it was hard to get that boy up for school, and if you didn’t stay right on him he’d miss that bus every time. On the shelf of the study sat the cigar box.     Our family was Catholic. In the second year of my marriage to Mighty’s grandmother I had become Catholic. I wanted the four boys we were raising to have a good moral structure, and I found that attending Mass provided for that need. My boys fell right into the flow of the church. They had Father Everette, and all the people there, and Sunday was actually fun. My wife was divorced from Mighty’s grandfather in Arkansas, and the family was filled with hate. I had two boys, and she had two, and there was much animosity between them, animosity that remains until this day, but Mighty didn’t know about all that.

Years and tears went by, my wife’s son Bobby died, my son Timmy turned to drugs and went to prison, Wilbur did well in the Navy, but he lived in California so we rarely saw him, and Michael went over to Afghanistan to find Bin Laden. A girl named Jackie came and went, and there were five new little guys, but in spite of Jackie’s story there was another one, one we didn’t talk about, and on the shelf, in the study, was the cigar box. And so it came to pass, between my wife’s heart attack, and Jackie’s legal problems the family was torn apart. The house in Berry Creek was reduced to “empty chairs.” But, Little Mighty grew.     We hardly noticed little Mighty quietly growing up, not attracting much attention to himself. He loved to run up to the Country Club where there was a concession stand that served burgers outside, and Mighty had an open account. I had been very strong in my faith, but after all that happened I fell away. I still believed in God, but all the trappings of the Church were not as important to me anymore. I never questioned what had happened, I just adjusted and went on. I grew very used to being alone. Women can have emotional problems, men are not afforded that luxury.

IMG_2498Mighty eventually moved into his father’s new house about sixty miles away. While his dad worked his job overseas, he lived with his dad’s girlfriend. I don’t know her, but I understand the anger of the years has rested on he Her now, so the animosity lives on. Mighty began to go to the Church. Then, quietly, he began to take his classes. Then, he brought the family together to witness his confirmation. They all stopped and watched as Mighty made his mark on the family.  During that ceremony, he showed my now ex-wife a ring. I wasn’t there. I’m very distant from the family now, and haven’t been to church in years. The hate finally won, and my thirty years of marriage dissolved like cotton candy.  The ring he showed her was a simple thing. A little silver thing with a cross on it. He told her, “Grandpa gave me this when I was a little boy. I saved it for this day.” Then, he slipped it onto his finger. I didn’t tell him where that ring came from. During the confusion of that awful Christmas I opened the cigar box on my desk. Inside were simple things. A lock of hair, a child’s drawing, and a little silver ring.  I had never seen it before, but I kept it in a desk drawer until the boy was old enough to keep up with it because I suspected that someone else had worn it on that eventful day so long ago in Arkansas.


Mighty recently completed his USMC basic, and went to his assignment with the Corps. On his finger was a little silver ring with a cross on it. A gift from his mother, before she taught the angels how to fly. And, Mighty’s gift to me, from a little boy who never forgot. The cigar box has long ago been lost, but no matter. “June Montgomery” made her mark.


Whatever Happened to Mary?

Whatever happened to Mary? If you want to start an intense debate among Christians, just bring up Mary. Her position in the great cosmic story of salvation has been elevated, and minimized accordingly, depending upon which theologian is commenting at the time. As Catholics repeat the “Hail Mary,” Baptists pray that she’ll just go away. Much contemplation, and commentary centers on this little girl.
So who is Mary? According to the Bible, she was the mother of Jesus Christ. She received a visit from an angel, was informed that she would have a child, and that child would be the son of God. Mary was practical. She felt as if she had to educate the angel a bit, i.e. she wasn’t married, and she was still a virgin. Now, this is where the theologians get petty about things.
Theologians are like lawyers. The only time they twist the truth is when their mouths are open. Breaking down the Greek, they interpret the word, “virgin” as everything from absolutely as pure as a five year old Shirley Temple all the way up to someone who only had one husband and hasn’t had a child yet. I, personally think it meant Mary was a good little girl. She made it very clear to the angel, and he basically agreed with her on that point, but told her not to worry about it because God had her back.
Mary was probably around fourteen years old. Before you start throwing tomatoes at me please understand that in this era people lived to up around thirty, or thirty-five, so at fourteen or so, little Mary had most likely lived around half of her life. At any rate, she became with child, which freaked her fiancé completely out. He knew it wasn’t him, and he also knew that the result of such a thing could be stoning. He decides to put her away “privately,” as opposed to the strip to the rock yard. Joseph was a good old boy.
Nothing ever came easy for Mary. Nowadays, women get wheeled into an operating room, given pain killers, and smile for the camera holding the new addition to the family. Mary got about a seventy mile trip on a jack-ass, did her labor in a barn, and the king tried to kill the baby. And you think you’ve had it rough!
The Nativity scene we’ve all come to know is actually a composite of the Gospels, and little tradition thrown in. Was she really in a stable? There was no room at the inn, but consider; if Joseph was returning to his tribal home to register for taxes, wouldn’t you think he’d have had at least a cousin in town somewhere. I mean, it was Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. These people all knew each other. Staying in a stable was not the raging insult that we think. First off let’s look at timing. Although we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, the Bible says that shepherds were “abiding in the fields.” Now, I’m just a Simple Ol’ Body from Austin, but Shepherds don’t “abide” in the dead of winter, they abide closer to the equinox, say, Passover maybe? House full of relatives, lots of people in town, fourteen year old girl about to have a baby, do you think?
So, Mary has her baby, raises Him, and presents Him to the world at Cana. Joseph died early on so it was she who formed Jesus’ personality, it was she who gave him concept, it was she who knelt before the angel, and finally, before the cross. Whatever happened to Mary?

Simple Ol’ Boy From Austin


The Unanswered Door

It’s been eight months since we lost Joe. I still remember that night. His request for his dog, Cleo, and an order of chicken wings. It had been a long year. Feverishly rushing to Salt Lake City for one treatment, and back to Austin for another. He resisted using oxygen, and hated the Hoveround. I finally convinced him to use the motorized chair by showing him it operated like a tank. After that he, and New Baby would do figure “8’s” in the living room.

He’d sit on the back porch. There wasn’t much room, and we had to put a little ramp down to accommodate the chair, but he’d find his way out there most days. There were good days, and bad days. Bad days he didn’t leave the couch. Good days would see him sitting on the porch. The neighbor behind us was building a shed. Joe had a wood shop at his house. Before his illness he would spend hours working there. Joe wasn’t a carpenter, he was an artist! The front door of his house didn’t come from Home Depot, he carved it from Redwood. He carved portraits into wooden planks. His brother in New York had sent him all the special woods. They didn’t look like much, about the size of a floor tile, but when he was done something would be immortalized in the grain. He explained the grains and different woods to me, but I was clueless. He wasn’t, though. To him wood was forever alive.

As he fed the wings to the little dog, I wiped my eye.

“Men don’t cry,” he said. I did, though. To see this man, with three bronze stars, a silver, and a purple heart feed that dog at the VA was a little much for me. Joe was missing in action in Vietnam. Reported back for duty in black pajamas and sandals. Now he thought about his little dog, and yes, I cried that day.

The priest came in to administer the last rites. Joe didn’t have any sins to confess, and within the hour it didn’t matter anyway. I had taken the dog home, and was about to return to the hospital when I got a simple text, “He’s gone.” I stared at those words for a very long time. I still have a screen shot on my iPhone. How ironic for a man’s life to boil down to, “He’s gone!” In his last moment he looked at my ex, his wife, said, “Oh baby,” and just left us.

The months went by. We watched all his “Buddies,” to see how his death had affected them. You know, you can never tell what’s in a child’s mind, or what level of understanding they have, but sometimes it shows and will humble you. Joe’s favorite was “New Baby.” When he finalized the adoptions, New Baby took his name. Joseph Steven Tarajos. With all the ups and downs, the funeral, the probate, and all the rest, no one paid any mind to Joe, Jr. After all, he was just the baby.

Christmas approached. There were two more trips to Utah between Joe’s death, and then. The kids were back in Texas, setting up the tree and playing in Joe’s yard. Joe would usually be in his wood shop making toys. I heard a tap, tap, tap in the distance. It was then I noticed New Baby knocking on the door of the shop. A knock that would never be answered. He stood there perplexed staring at the unanswered door. I wiped another tear, but, men don’t cry.

Simple Ol’ Boy From Austin


A Christmas Story

At Christmas my mind always drifts back to the house at Berry Creek. Berry Creek Sits a fault line, Balcones. Georgetown is about twenty minutes from Austin, but Berry Creek is more of a country setting. There’s an eighteen hole golf course that winds through the neighborhood. We were on the tenth green. The first generation of grandkids played on the greens, ever vigilant for golfers teeing off. My granddaughter, Jo Jo would wear a little fireman’s helmet backwards and shout, “Incoming!” whenever a cart approached the tee box.

The house was large. It was one of three that we owned in the neighborhood, but it was the largest. It was a copy of Elvis’ Graceland. With four columns and a winding staircase. The entrance took your breath away. From the front door you could see all the way through and the huge picture windows afforded a view of the greens beyond the back yard. There were three living areas, an office and even a theater on the second floor. We would do evenings on the back deck, watching the golfers play through.

Christmas was a big deal in the house on the green. It would fill up with people. There was a sixteen foot Christmas tree situated by the curved staircase, and the grandchildren each year would use the stair case as an assist to dress the tree, which was spectacular! Every ornament had a special meaning from someone’s past from the ceramic angel on top to the “Wilbur” glass ball on the lower branches.

Christmas was twelve days, no ifs, no ands, no buts! With turkeys and hams and a full bar, the entire time was a feast. Guests would come and go, and sleep in the guest rooms, some spilling over to the two other houses on the same street. There was a golf cart and they would take moonlight drives on the course, and look at the Christmas lights which were beautiful. The season would extend until New Year’s, and sometimes the house never slept.

When Christmas was ended it would take a while to take down the tree, and all the decorations. Little by little Christmas would disappear until next time. The smells would linger, sometimes until Easter. When the tree and all the trimmings were finally gone the house would seem somehow empty. Life would return to normal.

I don’t remember the last Christmas. I don’t know if there was one. I think God fogged that memory so that only the good ones remained. I go by there now and again but it’s not the same. The house has been sold and resold, seems no one finds happiness there. It’s been renovated, of course, and I think that made the house angry so it took its magic and nobody can ever really fit in again.

In the end it was just Jackie and I. She called it our “pretty prison.” Where we used to have more guests than chairs there were now empty chairs covering the porches, and decks. It was a bit like sitting on the deck of the sunken Titanic. And we watched it sink. One day it was gone, and the Christmas house was no more. But, you know, love lives forever, and I think if you sit on the porch at night, when it’s quiet, you can still hear the children. The house is lonely, and waits for people who can never return. At Christmas my mind always drifts back to the house at Berry Creek