Our book is done, so Ace and I — Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — are starting a new chapter.
For two years — yes, two — I’ve been assembling the book version of “Travels with Ace,” which documents the year my dog and I wandered the country, tracing the path John Steinbeck took with his poodle Charley and venturing down some of our own.
Unlike “Travels with Charley” (the literary classic), ”Travels with Ace” (the book in search of a publisher) is a more lighthearted account of road tripping with a dog across America. It’s more laden with dogs, dog lore and dog facts, and delves more deeply into just what it is that makes you, me and America so bonkers over dogs.
Written by a former newspaper journalist (that would be me) whose massive mystery mutt altered the course of his life, the book looks at how we and our country have changed in the 50 years since Steinbeck and Charley circumnavigated America in a camper named Rocinante.
One recurring theme — as you might expect from a newspaper guy who watched his industry shrink and crumble, and who’s approaching old manhood — is my grumbling and anxiety over technology, and where, besides unemployment, it might take us.
That theme showed up in my first book, too – about cloning dogs, a technology that, at least when it comes to pet owners, would be better off never having been invented, in my opinion.
It was, in large part, that first book that led to the second one. Seeing the lengths to which dog owners go upon losing, or learning they’re about to lose, their dog — cloning being probably the most extreme of them — I decided that the best time to celebrate one’s dog (and one’s people) is while they’re still alive.
So I showed my dog America, and came to the conclusion, among others, that while full speed ahead is sometimes fine, slowing down (which dogs can help with) and stepping backwards can be good, too.
Ace and I ended up in North Carolina — moving, backwards, into the same apartment unit my parents lived in when I was born. We stayed there until last week when — because the landlord sold it to a new owner — we were required to vacate the premises.
It was by accident, or maybe fate, that we ended up in Bethania, the oldest planned Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established in 1759.
Looking at boring apartment developments, Ace and I made a wrong turn, or two, or three, and found ourselves going down its bucolic Main Street, which is lined with historic homes. Bethania, while surrounded by Winston-Salem, is an independent jurisdiction, with a population of about 350. It feels like another world, and a very peaceful one at that.
Bethania is not to be confused – but often is — with Bethabara, which was the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established by 15 church members who walked here from Pennsylvania. Fleeing religious persecution, the German-speaking Protestants first came to the U.S. when it was still a group of British colonies. Once Bethabara became a thriving village, and became overcrowded with refugees, a second Moravian settlement was laid out — Bethania
After that, a third settlement was founded – Salem, which would become the congregation’s headquarters and the biggest and best known of the villages of what was called Wachovia. Today, Bethabara is an historic park, Bethania is a little town, and Old Salem is a tourist attraction, where one can learn about the old ways
The Moravians were known for doing missionary work with local Indian tribes, and avoiding, on principal, violent conflict. Their cemeteries, such as God’s Acre in Old Salem, are highly regimented affairs where the grave markers, in addition to being in neat rows and grouped according to the Moravian choir system, are all of the same size — a reminder that, as much as we might like or think we deserve a big ostentatious tombstone, we’re all equal. I like that.
Bethania seems to reflect an attention to detail as well. Church members built their houses in the middle of town, and the orchards and farms they worked were on its periphery. I’m pretty sure my house was once orchard area.
It’s quiet, and it feels like I’m out in the country, even though it’s only 7 miles from downtown.
I knew I made the right decision on our new location when, at the town’s visitor center, I inquired whether it would be okay to take my dog, on a leash, down the hiking trails behind it.
“You don’t need a leash,” came the reply.
Almost every home in Bethania has a front porch with two rocking chairs — and, while I’m pretty sure it’s not required by local ordinance, I plan to follow suit
My little white house with a green tin roof has a fireplace in the living room, a grapevine in the backyard, room to plant lots of vegetables and a shed in which I plan to tinker with things. I’m not sure what things, but I definitely want to tinker.
I have a neighbor to one side, an empty lot on the other, and judging from the vines in the trees, I think I’ll have some kudzu to look at, which some of you might remember I have a thing for.
In addition to the visitor center, and the trails, there’s a public golf course, Long Creek Club, just down the road (owned by my landlord); and the old mill in the center of town has been refurbished and sports several shops, studios, and the Muddy Creek Café, a dog friendly spot with live music on weekends.
I’m just a newcomer, but I suspect the biggest social hub is the Moravian Church, just a few hundred yards from my home. (In a bit of a coincidence, it’s interim minister once graced the pages of ohmidog!)
I am not now a Moravian and have never been one, but I do have a family connection. She was considered my great aunt, though she wasn’t a blood relative.
Kathleen Hall was born to another family, but grew up as a sister to my grandmother. We called her “Tan,” believed to be derived from a mispronunciation of “aunt.”
Every Easter, my mother instructs me to put a flower on Tan’s grave at God’s Acre in Old Salem — preferably purple, Tan’s favorite color. I did that on Easter, and noticed, as in previous years, another flower, a white lily, was already there. Who leaves it every year is a mystery to us.
There’s also a memory of her in my living room — her stitchwork covers a footstool my mother passed along to me years ago.
Given that connection, and the fact that the Moravian church is just a few hundred yards away from my new home, I may check it out — at least once I get my boxes unpacked and my Internet set up.
They do have that here — even though several internet/cable companies told me my address in Bethania doesn’t exist.
One who uses Bethania as their mailing address can’t get mail delivered. I could use Winston-Salem or Pfafftown as my mailing address, but I’ve opted to go with Bethania and avoid getting a mailbox. Instead, I’ll walk three houses down to the little post office when I want my mail, which, given it’s mostly bills, I usually don’t.
Other than that, Bethania isn’t one of those places stuck in the past, just a place that honors it. It’s not like an Amish community. I’m pretty sure people aren’t churning butter and blacksmithing. But there does seem to be a respect for times gone by, and the older I get, the more frustrated I get with my computer, and apps, and talking to robots on the phone, the more important that has become to me.
Despite my growing techno-anxiety, I will admit — after moving 20 or so boxes of books — that the Kindle might not be an entirely bad idea.
After the Saturday move, I woke up pretty sore on Easter Sunday.
I’d fully intended to take Ace to the Moravian sunrise service here in Bethania.
But the sound of rain on my new tin roof lulled me back to sleep.
Once I did wake up, Ace and I had Easter lunch with my mother, then dropped by God’s Acre in Old Salem to pay respects to Tan and drop off a purple hyacinth. Then we headed back home.
So that’s the tale of our new place, and a long way of saying our new address is:
PO Box 169
Bethania, NC, 27010
Posted by jwoestendiek April 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, bethabara, bethania, church, dog inc., dogs, hiking, history, home, house, john steinbeck, mill, moravians, move, moving, muddy creek cafe, north carolina, ohmidog!, old salem, pets, religion, salem, settlement, simpler, technology, trails, travels with ace, travels with charley, walking, way of life, winston-salem
A dog in Italy who attended his owner’s funeral has been showing up at the church where it was held everyday for two months.
Maria Margherita Lochi died late last year, and her funeral was held at the same church she regularly attended with her dog – Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci, Italy.
After her death, Tommy, her 7-year-old German shepherd, followed her coffin as it was carried into church and sat quietly through the funeral.
And ever since, Tommy, a stray who was taken in by Lochi, has been showing up when the bell rings out to mark the beginning of services, according to the Daily Mail.
“He’s there every time I celebrate mass and is very well behaved,” Father Donato Panna told the newspaper. “He doesn’t make a sound.”
None of the other parishioners has complained, Panna said, and villagers give the dog food and water.
“I’ve not heard one bark from him in all the time he has been coming in,” Panna added. “He waits patiently by the side of the altar and just sits there quietly. I didn’t have the heart to throw him out — I’ve just recently lost my own dog — so I leave him there until Mass finishes and then I let him out.”
(Photo: Tommy at Santa Maria Assunta church (Nikonarte Fotografia / Daily Mail)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 18th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopted, animals, church, daily, death, dog, dogs, funeral, german shepherd, italy, loyal, loyalty, Maria Margherita Lochi, master, owner, pets, San Donaci, Santa Maria Assunta, stray, tommy, visits
A dog park next to a church? Heaven forbid!
The leaders of New Hope Baptist Church say a dog park that has been proposed across the street would disrupt their services and pose a safety hazard to parishioners.
“It upsets the dignity of our worship services,” the Rev. Rodrick Green told the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission last month. “It’s going to be a noise problem because we’re conducting our services at the time when people are going to be bringing their dogs, and dogs make noise. You can’t control dog noise.”
Green and church trustee Thomas Miree have both spoken out against the city’s proposal to establish a small off-leash dog park at the Chapin Street entrance to West Park, directly across the street from the church.
The city council will take the matter up at its next meeting, on Jan. 22, according to AnnArbor.com.
The park commission is recommending approval of the dog park — it would become the third in the city — under the condition that it be reviewed one year after it opens.
City park officials said the proposed dog park is a response to public demand that one be located close to downtown. Ann Arbor’s existing dog parks are located at Swift Run in the southeast part of the city, and at Olson Park in the northeast part of the city.
But church leaders at New Hope Baptist are still hoping the city will rethink the location.
“We have a situation where children, who are sometimes afraid of dogs, are put at risk, and maybe now they have a disincentive to use the park because of the dogs,” Rev. Green said. “There are so many reasons for them not to do it, and only a couple of reasons in favor of it.”
City Council Member Christopher Taylor says the dog park would be fenced, with a double-gated entry system.
“As for the noise and so forth … dog parks … are not particularly disruptive — certainly less disruptive than unsupervised dog play,” Taylor said.
Green says the church would have no complaints if the dog park would be located farther back on the piece of property.
“West Park is a large park,” he said. “There’s no reason why it has to be placed in an area that’s going to be offensive to us as a people and as a church, and right now it’s offensive.”
(Photos: New Hope Baptist Church and the proposed location of a dog park, across the street; by Ryan J. Stanton / AnnArbor.com)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 15th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, ann arbor, church, city council, dog, dog park, dogs, michigan, new hope baptist church, objections, parks, parks advisory commission, pastor, pets, proposal, proposed, reverend, West Park
Reverend Richard Herrin — after a four-year stretch without one — now has a service dog to help him serve God.
Herrin, a Baptist minister who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, lost his most recent service dog in 2008.
After moving from Texas to North Carolina earlier this year, to be closer to family, he began looking for funding to help cover the $25,000 expense of getting a trained service dog and bringing it home.
His new community kicked in $6,000 of that — through a campaign drive headed by a Moravian church in Winston-Salem.
Herrin went to North Dakota in July to pick the dog up from the Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation Inc., the Winston-Salem Journal reports.
Now, Dakota, a 3-year-old black Lab, is at his side, helping him with everyday tasks and in his ministry.
Due to the costs, Herrin had gone four years without a service dog since his last one, a golden retriever, died when he was living in Texas.
Not long after moving to North Carolina, Herrin visited Trinity Moravian Church, several blocks from his house. The secretary there referred him to the Rev. Russell May, interim minister at Bethania Moravian. May coordinated the fundraising effort, and Trinity Moravian accepted the checks and sent them on to North Dakota.
The dog’s main job is to pick things up and give them to Herrin. She’s learning to help Herrin take off his shirt, and has mastered bringing items to him from the refrigerator. She has also chewed up the television remote, but that’s part of the learning curve, say Herrin and his wife, both of whom are professional dog trainers.
“The dog has to know who you are,” Herrin said. “Can they look into you? Can they trust you are going to be honest? Are you going to be who you are? Without building a relationship, you might as well hang it up.”
On top of the chores a service dog helps with, he says, ” the value is the relationship with it.”
Dakota has made several visits to Herrin’s church, Southside Baptist, but Moravian congregations and others are pulling for him as well.
“The support of the Winston-Salem community has enabled him to get a tool that will challenge him, and that empowers him,” May said. “This is not simple charity. They have given him a responsibility, too… He wants to do ministry. This dog will help him in that.”
(Photo: Andrew Dye / Winston-Salem Journal)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 16th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: baptist, bethania moravian church, black, cerebral palsy, church, dakota, disabilities, fundraising, funds, great plains assistance dogs foundation, lab, labrador, minister, money, moravian, north carolina, raised, retriever, reverend, richard herrin, service dog, southside baptist church, trinity moravian church, winston-salem
Whether you’re Catholic, Presbyterian or just plain gullible, you might have seen and fallen for this series of photos that seems to capture two neighboring churches having a theological debate, via their church signs, on whether dogs go to heaven.
But nay, my friend. Do not be decieved. See the light, which, you might notice, is exactly the same in each shot, as is the cropping, as is the background — including one car that is parked in the same place the whole time the alleged sign debate is going on.
Yea, verily, the devil’s workshop (now available online).
This particular one — the place where these false images are fashioned — is called Church Sign Generator. You can find it on the Internet, should you care to venture into that sinful rat’s nest of temptation, deception and pop-up ads. (May God strike me down if I ever resort to them.)
We (by which I mean me) are not truly bothered by Internet-generated church signs, though we’d argue that being able to put any words you want on one takes away some of the thrill of spotting real church signs that contain humor, wisdom or interesting typos. (Like seeking kudzu dogs, that’s one of my hobbies.)
Some of the Cumberland Presbyterians — especially since they seem to come out on the losing end of the debate — are less than thrilled with it though, calling the text that appears on the signs “inappropriate.”
The misleading series of photos is most often passed along via the forwarded email — forwarded emails being the Internet equivalent of swarming locusts.
“This forwarded e-mail continues to rear its ugly head time after time,” writes editor Pat White in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church newsletter, “so I am resurrecting this message that explains that this is not a theological issue for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.”
“These signs are a prank,” he adds. “If you receive one of these forwarded e-mails, please respond to the sender to be sure they understand that this is not a true Cumberland Presbyterian church sign.”
Alas, his remarks are too little, too late.
As with with locusts, once forwarded emails go viral, the damage is done, and the Presbyterian Church, or at least the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, or at least the Beulah Cumberland Presbyterian Church – if there really is one — is left looking God-fearing but dog-hating.
White does not address whether all dogs go to heaven, but we are quite certain they do.
We read it on a church sign once.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 27th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: all dogs go to heaven, beulah, catholic, church, church sign generator, church signs, cumberland presbyterian, debate, deception, devils workshop, dishonest, doctored, dogs, email, engineered, forwarded, hands, heaven, idle, internet, misleading, our lady of martyrs, photos, photoshop, presbyterian, religion, sign, signage, signs, viral, website
One of the reasons Ace and I are lingering in this town – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is so that I can reconnect with my roots here in my birthplace. An opportunity to do that arose last week.
Tan, or Tan-NEE, as her nickname was pronounced in full, was Kathleen Hall, who, though not related by blood, grew up as a sister of my grandmother. As my mother’s aunt, she babysat me before I turned one – here in the very same house Ace and I recently moved into. Never married, she was a schoolteacher and administrator. She died in 1983, at the age of 92. An elementary school in town bears her name.
Putting flowers on her grave is a family tradition at Easter – one that, if I ever was aware of it, I had forgotten.
Aunt Edna Faye explained that Tan was buried in the Moravian Graveyard, in what’s known as “God’s Acre,” near the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She didn’t know exactly where the gravesite was: “It’s behind the church, on a hill sort of to the left, near the sidewalk. It’s on the side that’s towards Salem, not towards Krispy Kreme.”
She asked, when she called on Friday, that I get some flowers and place them at Tan’s headstone.
“There are no containers there, so it needs to be something in a pot, and not a very tall one because it would tip over. Just sort of press it in the ground and stabilize it as much as you can,” she said. Last year, Edna Faye got Tan a pink hydrangea.
When I told my mother – who is Edna Faye’s sister — of the mission, she said she had thought about asking me to do it, but didn’t want to bother me. When I finished reprimanding her for that – explaining that the main reason I’ve temporarily moved here is so she can bother me — she asked if she could come along and quietly watch from the car.
“Hell no,” I answered.
On our way to buy the flowers, she told me a little about Tan, most of which I’d forgotten. She considered Tan one of her four aunts, and perhaps the one to whom, as an adult, she was closest. When my father shipped out to Korea, Tan was there for her, and for long after that. She babysat my sister and me – I being born about nine months after my father returned. She was a much beloved teacher. Her nickname, Tan-NEE, apparently derived from a young nephew’s mispronunciation of Auntie. Her favorite color was purple.
Leaving Ace and my mother in the car, I surveyed the flowering plants outside a grocery store, opting for a delphinium because it was purple, with shades of blue. Ace approved. More important, so did my mother.
At God’s Acre (or Gottesacker, in the old German) members of the congregation were there in droves. The day before Easter is what’s known as decoration day – a time when relatives and church members tidy up the graves, and place out fresh flowers – partly because it’s tradition, partly because a huge sunrise Easter service takes place there the next morning.
People were hauling in plants, pouring bleach on gravestones to remove grey mold, and scrubbing off the grime, some using toothbrushes. All of the headstones at the Moravian Graveyard are exactly the same shape and size – Moravians being big on simplicity and uniformity. The departed are buried chronologically, in the order in which they are “called home to be with the Lord,” and there are no statues or monuments to distinguish the graves of the rich from those of the poor.
Normally, that would have made finding Tan’s grave difficult. But I’d gone on the graveyard’s website the day before, typed in her name and gotten the precise location: Section 1AA, Row 02, Grave 04. Between that and the map the website provided, finding her was easy.
She was buried alongside other women — that, too, being the Moravian way. Men, women and children are buried in separate sections, which stems from the church’s “choir system,” introduced in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf, the renewer of the Moravian Church.
The congregation was divided into groups according to age, sex, and marital status so that each individual might be cared for spiritually according to their differing needs. At worship the “choirs” also sat together – boys on one side, girls on the other.
When death comes, members are buried not with their families, but by the same choir system.
God’s Acre is still used by the Salem Congregation, comprised of twelve Moravian Churches within the city of Winston-Salem. Members of the church gather there the day before easter to ensure that all of the graves have flowers by Sunday.
Other than her grave location, there’s not a lot of information on Kathleen Hall on the Internet, her death having preceded its rise. Even with an elementary school named after her, there are few references to be found, other than a 1939 Winston-Salem high school year book for sale on eBay – one page of which is dedicated to her for her “friendly, untiring and unselfish services.”
My parents left North Carolina when I was one, so, except for a few visits over the years, I never got to closely know Kathleen Hall, who my sister, with slight variation, was named after.
My mother says that when my sister Kathryn was an infant, and wouldn’t stop crying, Tan would take her for car rides, and that made her finally shut up. (I’ll need to remember that next time I visit.)
When my mother moved back to Winston-Salem, in the late 1970s, I’d gone off to college, followed by my first job, far away in Arizona. My younger brother got to know Tan better than me, visiting her, after her retirement, at the Moravian home, where he remembers she liked watching professional wrestling on TV, and drinking banana milk shakes, which he’d always stop and pick up on the way.
I was hoping to introduce Ace to Tan, as I introduced him a few months ago to John Steinbeck, but I decided to obey the “no dogs allowed” signs. I didn’t want him squirting while everyone else was sprucing. He waited patiently in the car, watching from the window, as did my mother.
At Tan’s gravesite, someone had already left a lily, I set our contribution next to it, pushing it down into the moist earth as instructed. Contrary to Aunt Edna Faye’s advice, I picked a flower that grows tall. But I figured even if it toppled, it would keep growing, albeit sideways.
The hillside was filling up with people, armed with scrub brushes, bleach and Comet, and flowers in buckets and wagons and wheelbarrows, paying respect not just with their presence, but with their sweat.
Slowly, the cemetery took on more and more color, as if blooming — with lilies and azaleas and hydrangea and tulips and geraniums and daisies and daffodils.
And, amid the crowd, at least one purple delphinium.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 24th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aunt, burial, church, cleaning, custom, decoration day, delphinium, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, easter, family, flowers, gods acre, gottesacker, grave, gravestones, graveyard, hall-woodward elementary, home, kathleen hall, kin, memories, moravian, moravian graveyard, old salem, pets, purple, relatives, salem, schoolteacher, tan, teacher, tombstones, tradition, travels with ace, winston-salem
It’s dark down here. Even with every light on, even when the sun’s up, the temporary home Ace and I have landed in — a cellar apartment in an old southern mansion — is, given its subterranean location, something less than bright and cheery.
I have window wells, but little light shines through. I look out and assume it’s a rainy day — only to step outside and see that it’s as sunshiny as it can be. Down here, it’s as if it’s always 3 a.m. Ace wakes up, looks around, and — like me — assumes it’s not morning yet.
I haven’t been cursing the darkness. That’s best reserved for internet connections. But I think it has been keeping me from being awake as I might be, and I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done. Instead I’ve mostly been oversleeping, setting up housekeeping and visiting my mother. She lives about a mile down the road, so Ace and I have visited almost nightly — conveniently around dinner time. I mentioned to her how dim things were in my apartment, and she, being a former newswoman, felt the need to share that — at least with my sister.
I’ve introduced you to my sister before, when Ace and I passed through Madison, Wisconsin. She’s prone to random outbursts of karaoke singing, sermonizing, deep thoughts and good deeds, and I was about to be a recipient of one of them — luckily the latter.
She called to tell me she had found four lamps on Craigslist, and that she was giving them to me as a Christmas present. All I had to do was drive to some town called Midway, and find the home of a man named Ken. She sent me an email with the directions. Like all her emails, it ended with the same quote from Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Buying lamps via Craigslist wasn’t an option in Edith’s day.)
I popped open the back window of the jeep. He greeted Ace, noticed there was no air in the tires of my bicycle, still attached to the rack, and offered to pump some in. He helped me load the four lamps into the car, and told me to help myself to the kitchen items packed in boxes in his barn. They, like the lamps, had belonged to his mother, who died last fall at age of 98.
I tried to pay Ken $60 — $48 for the lamps, the rest for everything else I grabbed – but he insisted on giving me change. I stuffed as much as I could into the car — or at least as much as Ace would permit. Ace doesn’t like things rattling around back there, or any of the contents to shift while we’re driving, and given the back seat has been his home for most of the past nine months, I try to oblige.
After loading up, we stopped for lunch in Midway, which is next to a town called Welcome, at a place called The Dawg House, then headed down the road to the Midway General Store, where it was hard to find things because it was dark inside. But I got three copies made of the key to my new place, bought two plug adaptors, three packages of cuphooks and a big greasy hambone for Ace — all for a mere $11.
Ace nibbled his bone as I took the back roads home, passing church after church — all with marquee signs out front:
‘Hands joined in prayer are never empty,” one said.
“The church is a pit stop in the race of life,” read another.
“God’s plans for us are better than our own,” another advised.
Space being limited on church signs, attribution for the words of wisdom on them is seldom provided — so you never really know whether they come from God, the local preacher, Edith Wharton or some book, like “1001 Catchphrases for Your Church Marquee.”
Whether they are original words, or a reflection of somebody else’s, doesn’t really matter — as long as they are getting shared, because church marquees, even those that don’t light up, are all about spreading the light, giving life some meaning, tossing a little hope, inspiration and joy our way.
On top of that, never having lived in darkness before, I’ve learned that, much like a chili cheese dog, light – the non-symbolic, simple wattage kind — makes me happy.
For Ace, a hambone works just fine.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, basement, cellar, church, darkness, dawg house, dog's country, dogscountry, god, hambone, hardware, inspiration, light, mansion, marquees, midway, north carolina, phrases, religion, road trip, signs, spread, sunshine, travels with ace, welcome, wisdom
Names: Buddy Holly (named after the performer) and Peggy Sue (the fawn-colored one, named after Holly’s hit song)
Ages: Buddy is 3; pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue is 4
Encountered: At what’s billed as the largest free-standing cross in America, located near Interstate 40 in Groom, Texas.
Backstory: The two pugs, and the couple who owns them, were headed home to Hobart, Oklahoma after a Christmas visit to Arizona.
The owners of the pampered pugs planned a stop at the cross, which is 19 stories tall and, in the flatlands of the Texas panhandle, visible from 20 miles away.
They were big fans of God, Buddy Holly, pugs and, judging from their racing jackets, NASCAR.
Buddy Holly and Peggy Sue enjoyed a long potty stop on the periphery of the property, then jumped back in the car while their owners went to see the church and gift shop.
To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 1st, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, black, breed, breeds, buddy holly, church, cross, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, encounters, fawn, god, groom, largest, nascar, panhandle, peggy sue, pets, pug, pugs, road trip, roadside, roadside encounter, texas, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace
With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.
This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.
Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.
It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.
“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.
In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.
Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.
As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”
For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.
I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.
Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.
Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.
The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.
It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.
It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.
I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.
Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.
I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.
I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.
Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.
Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.
I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.
I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.
I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).
By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.
Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.
But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 31st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, amarillo, america, animals, bobblehead jesus, car, church, crash, cross, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, faith, god, god's country, golden spread, groom, hobo, ice, jesus, jesus christ, jesus christ is lord, largest, leap of faith, lord, pets, religion, road trip, route 66, texas, texasm panhandle, travel center, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, truck stop, trucks
Are Baptist pumpkins preachier? Do they go all fire and brimstone? Do they achieve life everlasting, or is that dream just pie in the sky?
I pictured a chapel filled with orange orbs, sharing fellowship, singing hymns. I wondered if other denominations of gourds had similar facilities — say, Catholic Cantaloupes, Jewish Watermelons, Seventh Day Adventist Squash?
What makes these Baptist pumpkins so holier than thou to think they deserve their own center, even their own exit sign, I wondered as I exited Interstate 55 in Louisiana, not far from Hammond.
Baptist was one way, Pumpkin Center the other. Less intrigued, I just got back on the interstate.
(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 30th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, baptist, baptist pumpkin center, baptists, church, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, exit sign, exits, hammond, highway, I-55, interstate, louisiana, pets, pumpkin center, pumpkins, religion, road trip. ace does america, signs, traveling with dogs