Christmas Land – Chapters 1 & 2

Christmas Land the novel is coming to Amazon this Christmas season. You can be the first to read it here on Tripp Blog. Please be advised that this version is the rough draft, so suggested corrections or typos are appreciated and can be emailed to the following: terrytrippwriting@gmail.com

Christmas Cindy

Chapter 1

“I’m serious; it really talked to me,” Candy exclaimed. Her real name was Candace, but everyone called her candy.

“Yup, okay. I hung out with the monster under my bed last night. We drank some hot coco and played on our phones for a good hour or so,” Cindy replied to her friend.

“Cindy, I’m serious.” Candy let her know she wasn’t joking around.

A moment of silence went by.

And then another as Cindy steadily steered on the evening road. She finally responded, “Was this a real snowman? Like made of snow or someone in a costume?”

Candy pulled back her curly, blonde hair back to explain, “I was walking back home from checking my mailbox, and I went past Mr. Elwood’s old house—you know, Grace’s late grandfather—and there was a snowman in the front yard, probably made by the Gustafson’s kids. So I walk past it, and I hear in a voice that was more in my head but not my own say—.”

“What the heck!” Cindy yelled as she slammed on her breaks. The cute car slid wildly on the icy asphalt until it crunched into a short wall of fresh snow. “Stupid idiots on their phones!”

The two got out of the tiny, red car that Cindy got five years ago when she was in high school. After examining it for damage, she saw it was just a little powder snow that she had ran into. The car in front of them had driven off like nothing had happened. The two girls got back into their car and drove off, talking about how they just almost died.

Cindy dropped Candy off in her front yard. It was almost night now, and Candy’s foot slid a little on the icy sidewalk as she began to walk to her house.

“Shopping tomorrow after work?” Cindy asked.

“Of course, but let’s go down to West Gate again.” West Gate was a large mall about 45 minutes out of town down in the valley.

“Stay dandy, Candy!”

“See you, skinny Cindy.”

Cindy wasn’t the skinny, little girl from their childhood, but the nick name stuck. She had filled out into a still thin but womanly figure, her eyes large and blue with mid-length, wavy, light brunette hair. She had always secretly envied Candy’s golden curls since her own blonde hair darkened and straightened when became a teen. But she hated her nose. It wasn’t the cute button nose that other girls had; it was long and pointed—not ugly but just unique.

Cindy pulled off back into the street as snow began to lightly fall onto her windshield. As she passed the Gustafson’s house, she looked across the street to the abandoned house where her old friend’s grandfather once lived. Grace had grown up with Cindy and Candy but had gone off to college by the beach and never returned to their little, country town of Timberton Heights, as a lot of young people did. When the old man died, no one moved into the house, and it slowly died too.

The Gustafson family were a different group of people. The husband and wife had five children, and like their parents, every single child had fiery red hair and a face full of freckles. They always seemed to get into any mess they could find. A few years ago, they started kidnapping dogs and then waited for reward signs to go up in the town. As soon as the signs went up, one of the children happened to find the lost dog and happily collected the reward. After several dogs people began catching on, and the kids were eventually found out. The owners of the kidnapped dogs demanded their money back from Mr. And Mrs. Gustafson’s, but no one ever received anything.

As Cindy glanced in her rear-view mirror, she noticed a peculiar snowman—sticks for hands like he was waving, rocks for eyes, carrot for nose, and an old scarf wrapped around its neck. It even had an old top hat like the epic children’s tale. She thought if it just had a corn cob pipe, it might even come to life.

At 10:00 that night, a buzzing came from Cindy’s phone on her nightstand. It was a text from Candy’s mother asking if Candy was with her.

Cindy sat in bed that night disappointed that she had nothing helpful to offer Candy’s mother. Candy didn’t have a car. She didn’t appear to be texting anyone else that night. Cindy and Candy shared an honest friendship where she would have mentioned any plans of meeting up with anyone else. She texted Candy’s mother back an empty answer and stared at the shadows on her wall that came in through the window’s curtain from naked, swaying trees.

While the dryness of her eyes scratched against her closing lids, Cindy finally began to drift as her head weighed heavily into her pillow. Fading images flashed through her mind in the silence of her bedroom until one stuck. It was a childhood memory of her, Candy, and Grace at her elementary school’s Christmas performance when she was in the first grade. It was a special year because her class was telling the nativity story, and Cindy got to play the Christmas angel. All the other girls wanted to play Mary but not Cindy. She had no real memory of her father because he didn’t stay around after she was born. But this Christmas he was in town, and she was going to meet him for the real first time. She didn’t want to wear the rags that Mary wore. She wanted to wear the pretty white dress and the halo that the angel wore. She wanted her father to think she was beautiful and decide to stay in town to be with her.

The evening of the Christmas performance, her class was doing one final rehearsal. She, Candy, and Grace were playing near the stage, but Cindy made sure to be extra cautious not to get her white dress dirty. Their teacher moved them all backstage. Cindy peaked through the heavy side curtains and found her mother and grandmother in the audience. She looked at all the men sitting out them and wondered which one was her dad. She worried about what she would call him. Father? No, Daddy? Dad?

The teacher motioned them to move out onto the stage to take their positions. The stage lights burned bright, and all the of the audience slipped into darkness. She stood up straight and smiled from cheek to cheek like her grandma had rehearsed with her. When her lines came, she said them from memory with absolute perfection. The audience applauded cheerfully as the holy nativity was performed with such brilliant innocence. After the other classes all performed their skits, the principal made his concluding seasonal speech, and the students were released to go back with their parents. The skinny, little angel searched through the tall towers of adults looking for her mother and grandmother eager for the moment that she would see her father. Any one of the grown men around her could be him. She stood straight and walked as she had seen proper little girls on television walk, not knowing if her father was already watching her.

“Absolutely wonderful, my dear!” her grandmother bend over to hug her.

“You were the perfect angel. So beautiful,” her mother sweetly said as she got down on one knee to be on her level.

“Where’s my dad?” she asked with eyes moving back and forth to all the movement around her.

Her mother’s smile turned into a straight line. “Honey, he didn’t make it.”

His name was Jack, and he didn’t make it. That’s all she ever knew of her father. That and supposedly they had the same nose.

Just like that childhood night many years ago, this night was going to be one of those nights as well, where Cindy knew she would sleep without sleeping.

Chapter 2

Cindy woke up to the 6:00 alarm that was set on her phone. She quickly noticed three new text messages form Candy’s mother. She scanned through them and texted her back quickly explaining how she really had no idea where Candy was. She figured their plans to go to West Gate would be canceled because Candy’s parents were going to be furious when Candy finally did come home. Although Candy was 22, living at home meant living under her parents’ rules, and staying out all night was inexcusable, if she was okay. Cindy worried a little, hoping that Candy would text soon.

Unlike Candy, Cindy lived on her own in a small apartment. The word her landlord called it was tidy. She grew up in a house with her mother and grandmother. As soon as Cindy graduated high school, her mother married a man named Zack and decided to move away to the coast, which was a few states away. They offered for her to live with them, but it all seemed too different, too weird, and she didn’t want to leave her grandma alone. She liked living at her grandma’s house. There was history to it, and it was on the outskirts of town. The backyard opened up to trees and mountains, and there was an old wedding alter back there that was once hung over her grandma and her grandpa some long history ago. Through years of rain, snow, wind, and sun, her grandma added support to it in the winter and grew vines and flowers on it during the spring. She always called it her magical doorway to the past. She would sometimes go out just to stand under it and smile as if she could see a world of past memories.

Last November, her grandmother suffered a sudden heart attack. She spent three weeks in the hospital trying to cover, but her body began to fail one part at a time until there was no hope.

That house now lay abandoned.

Cindy didn’t want to leave Timberton Heights; she didn’t want to leave her past. She moved into her apartment when her mother sold the family house to an investor from out of town, but no one ever moved into it. No one visited it. It now joined the collection of the other abandoned houses in Timberland that were left to ruin until the land was worth enough to tear down and build something else.

Mostly alone now, Cindy refused to leave her hometown. The original buildings that lined the downtown area contained both wooden logs and red brink, and they made up most of the downtown area with the mom and pop stores and restaurants. Hills and mountains surrounded the town with snowy caps for half the year. This year, Timberton Heights had already experienced early snow that came right after Thanksgiving, making the town already feel like Christmas.

Cindy’s grandmother, who she called Nana loved Christmas, and Timberton Heights was what people called a Christmas town. Cindy had a year to prepare on how she would celebrate Christmas this year without Nana. She finally decided on putting up a waist-high Christmas tree in her apartment, a wreath on the front door, and a few other Christmassy decorations around the small space, which wasn’t much at all compared to how Nana would decorate. But like Nana, she did put out cinnamon scented pinecones, which made her white-walled space feel a little more like home.

It was 6:15 now, and she finally pushed through her weighing blankets to get out of bed. She turned on her Christmas tree lights and went to her refrigerator for a class of cold milk, ignoring the cold chill that broke through the thin walls of her apartment. She stared at the colorful lights on the little tree, and thought about how Nana would be proud of her. After making her bed and waking up in a warm shower, and getting ready for the day, she stepped out into a few inches of fresh powder snow. The streets were already plowed, so she would be fine getting to work this Friday morning.

She worked for a small app development company that was working hard to take off. They were called Alter Dimensions, and they were the most technological company in the town of Timberton Heights. The town was known for its distribution of firewood throughout the country, so an app company was rare and unusual. There were only five employees who were a part of Alter Dimensions. Cindy was one of the two graphic designers, so she spent most of her time behind a computer screen on Adobe Illustrator meticulously creating vector images for every part of the company’s newest app.

Alter Dimensions’ work space was simple with one enclosed office for the owner Cliff and open wide desks for the rest of the employees. Cliff was about forty and known for his multitasking. He always appeared to be busy but not necessarily always productive. The other graphic designer in the office was Tyler Jamison. People called him TJ. It wasn’t really shorter than Tyler, but it’s what people did called him. He was really into video gaming and running his YouTube video game channel, and he always wore his red hoodie over his head. There were also two programmers who sat in the corner and didn’t really speak that much to anyone. They did the crutch of the work of the company, but you wouldn’t even know they were there most of the time.

Right before lunch the door burst open, and Mr. Woolworth came pushing through with his arms holding warm drinks. “Merry Christmas!” he hollered. “I have hot chocolates for all of you.”

Mr. Woolworth was Alter Dimensions’ main and only investor. He was in his sixties and retired. His wife ran off after her retired, and he never bothered to go after her. He was now obsessed with the youthful app company and wanted to live vicariously through its success, so he normally came in on Friday’s for a few minutes to hang out and steal some of the youth of the office.

Cindy said, “Thanks, Mr. Woolworth, but it’s only December 1st today.”

“Exactly, and the Christmas season started after Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sorry I’m late.”

TJ went for his hot chocolate, “Hey, I’m not complaining. Let’s have Merry Christmas all year long.” He lightly toasted his drink to Mr. Woolworth.

After the usual greetings, Mr. Woolworth always shared his newest idea of an app, although he barely used his own smartphone; he was still fascinated with the idea of technology and its association with youth.

“So I’ve been thinking …” is how he always started. “How about an app for walking your dog? We can call it Dog’s Best Friend. It can include GPS maps of all the streets and trails that are dog friendly.”

And after these weekly ideas that almost never got carried out, the entire team would nod and agree excitedly as if they were eager to drop everything they were doing to take on a whole new project.

What was really special about Mr. Woolworth was that he came in each year and decorated the workspace with for the Christmas season. This reminded Cindy of Nana.

During her lunch Cindy texted Candy multiple times to try to find out where she was last night. She never received a text back. She really started to worry now, but maybe Candy’s mom took away her cell phone, or maybe the battery died. She tried to reason with herself all the possibilities of why her friend wasn’t texting her back. She finished out her long day with all of this on her mind and went home.

It was one of those Friday nights that you look forward to until it actually arrives because you remember that there’s nothing to do. There wasn’t really much to do at all for a single girl in her twenties in Timberton Heights. Cindy decided that she would walk around the corner to the local bookstore. At least she wouldn’t be alone.

She crunched her way through the flattened snow as it reflected street lights mixed with the Christmas colors on houses nearby. This street, like many streets in Timberton Heights during the Christmas season, exhibited stringed Christmas decorations hung across it, garland with bells and angels; the decorations varied from street to street.

The bookstore was an old bank building converted into a welcoming bookstore. Different rooms were set up for different genres of literature. This was an amusing setup that the locals in town enjoyed, especially since the horror and suspense novels were kept in an old safe with the thick door unhinged but still leaning against the wall for nostalgic purposes. As Cindy walked through the bookstore, the old wooden floor creaked with every step and even sank in a little. A section of the bookstore featured used books that smelled like ancient libraries, but most of the books in the store were new.

She walked around as her hand lighted grazed the illustrated covers on the bookshelves. She thought about all the stories. Each with a character. Each someone a little bit like her. She wondered if she would ever have a story, or would she just design apps for people to entertain themselves to escape life a little more.

A Christmas display caught her eye, and near the top of the display was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, along with other popular classics like The Gift of the Magi and Twas the Night Before Christmas. Elaborate Christmas cards sat at the bottom on the display featuring scenes of painted snow and lights—not too different than Timberton Heights. It was littles things like this that made Cindy like her town, and if Nana were there with her, she would marvel at the display with her and probably comment about the first time she read A Christmas Carol and talk about an old Christmas painting that her father once painted that was similar to the cards.

Cindy couldn’t image a Christmas without snow, especially one at the beach. Yes, she enjoyed the beach in the summer and definitely went out to visit her mother and stepdad, but it was Christmastime, and at Christmastime she wanted to be in a Christmas Land. Nana understood this; her mother, not so much. This brought Cindy an odd sense of abandonment—not because her mother moved away but because she actually didn’t care too much for Christmas.

Cindy would agree with her mother that the snow was sometimes hard to live in, and it was definitely cold, but that’s what brought people together—the cold.

Christmas was an odd sort of paradoxical holiday for Cindy. What should have been a dark, cold, and bleak time of year was actually warm, as people would come out and be with each other around a fire. It was colorful, as people put up bright lights that reflected off the snowy grown to create even more light. It was hopeful and full, and streets, homes, yards, malls were all decorated with icons of seasonal stories that pointed to hope for all.

Yes, this was Christmas.

Where people say, “God bless us, every one!”

Where people sing that war is over.”

Where people dream of the pure snow washing over the town.

Where people go rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

It truly was the most wonderful time of year.

But Cindy looked around the bookstore and didn’t see anyone. The music that was on when she first walked into the store was turned off. She thought that maybe they were closing.

It was silent now.

She decided to go back home.

Cindy was careful not to slip on the outside sidewalk that was bordered with snow. As she walked only a few cars drove by, and it felt much darker than it had before. Her footsteps echoed on the cold concrete. Her hands sunk deeply into her coat pocket, wrapping her coat tightly around her.

She felt something nearby.

Behind her.

But when she looked, it was nothing.

Her speed increased, and she glanced more quickly this time to find a figure behind. She looked around for nearby cars or other people walking on the street, but there was nothing.

Her body shivered with the cold. She looked behind her again to check on the figure. It appeared to be a man in deep, dark clothing, hood hanging far over his face.

She sharply turned the corner of her street and walked even faster.

The figure did the same.

Her shoes tapping the ground echoed off the quiet building walls, and the sound soon doubled with his. Looking over her shoulder one last time, he was there.

To Think and to Live 

blog car

Austere seat belt rules seemed to be less meticulous back in the 80s as I loosened up the tight restriction from my waist to lay my head against the boxy side window of the backseat. The telephone pole lines seemed to sway up and down with foothills blurred behind them as the car drove steadily on the two-lane road 

The Game Boy hadn’t been invited yet, and only the rich had televisions in their cars. My parents sometimes had the radio playing oldies quietly in the background on that enduring drive from Derby Acers to Bakersfield and from Bakersfield back to Derby Acers. And simply sat in the backseat of our long, white car with maroon seats and Life Savors dried into the matching floor mats and stared out the window, attempting to avoid car sickness.  

But I really did so much more than just stare—I thought.  

I thought about everything a small child could possibly think about. I wondered if I could strain my eyes hard enough to faintly see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I reflected on cartoons I recently watched. I debated with myself the possible birthday presents I might get months down the road. I revisited confusing feelings I had about that one special girl at school. I anticipated the next time my best friend would come over and how we would team up to fight off imaginary alien invaders or protect our castle from medieval soldiers and dragons. I analyzed the lyrics of the quietly played tunes and tried to make sense of what was being sung. I soaked in the notes and the melody and felt the music.  

I thought. 

Those long drives were some of the best gifts my parents ever gave me because they gave me so much more than a ride from one point to another; they gave me time—free time.  

Time to think. 

Time to live. 

There were no cell phones, email, or social media. Video games were only in 8-bit. And television was something watched with my mom and dad on the couch.  

There was time to play. There was time create. And there was plenty of time to think freely. 

All of those minutes of thinking added up to make me who I am today. 

Someone who thinks. 

I didn’t need programs and lessons on the practice of thinking. I didn’t need an educational mindfulness curriculum. I just needed time. 

I hope I can someday give my children the same gift in this technologically packed society of today. I hope they can sit back and watch the telephone pole lines sway in the sunset and observe the mountains around them. I hope they can ponder what is beyond our visible sight. I hope that they can be still and know that God is God. I hope they can learn to hear that still small voice through the deafening static of our society.   

I hope they can think so that they can truly live. 

 

The Worst Job, Temporarily

 

blog

My parents always had to work jobs in high school, so they missed out on the many common high school activities that are normally associated with the typical, American, high school experience. They made the most out of it with each other, marrying instead of graduating and starting a family a few years later.

They wanted my sister and me to have a different high school experience. As long as we were involved in school activities and earning good grades, we didn’t have to get jobs. Thus high school, for me, was some of the best years of my life, full of new experiences, unfamiliar adventures, and social challenges.

The summer after I graduated high school, my parents informed me that it was time to get a job. And when you’re an 18-year-old with no previous job experience and no employment connections, you don’t get to be picky.

I spent the early days of my summer as a high school graduate driving around in the increasing heat in a long sleeve dress shirt and tie, dropping off resumes at any and every place that looked tolerable.

I recalled my nanny and papa telling me how my dad used to make the best pizzas when he was a teenager working at a pizza parlor when dating my mom. He would bring them over on the nights he closed after loading up the pizzas with the best combination of cheese and toppings.

I can still hear my nanny say, “Best pizza I ever ate!” as she sat on his couch reminiscing back to the past as my papa nodded in agreement.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I drove to a pizza parlor near my house. After introducing myself to the manager and asking about employment, I was turned away with the common “We’re not hiring right now.”

After a few days of more rejections all around town, I decided to go back to the pizza parlor again to ask if they were hiring now. This time the manager said, “We’re not hiring right now but maybe later.”

A few more days went by with no luck on my job hunt, so I went back to the pizza parlor again. This time the manager asked, “Why do you want to work here so bad?”

I explained I thought it would be a neat job. And that’s how I got my first job. Or that’s how I got the worst job I ever had in my life.

I learned quickly that my dreamy idea of making pizzas while cracking innocent jokes with a new community of friendly faces was far from reality.

I was the joke.

The workers there were not what I would describe as people of high character, and I didn’t belong.

And they knew it.

And they wanted to make sure I knew it.

I seldom heard my name without profanity attached to it, and I was yelled at for questioning their disagreeable procedures, such as making salads with their bare hands directly after handling money and crushing the ice down with their foot when too much was placed into the soft drink ice machine tray. One of their favorite moments was when some kids set off a cherry bomb in the toilet, and they laughed hysterically as they watched me mop off the filth from the walls and ceiling.

The real humbling moment was when I saw my high school ex-girlfriend walk in holding hands with one of my old friends. I had heard that they were dating, but the moment of humility was when they saw me and uncontrollability let out a slight laugh of shock. My post high school life looked dim and lame as I stood there in a cheaply printed pizza parlor t-shirt with one of my managers staring down at me from the oven, looking for a reason to criticize me. When they had finished eating their pizza, my manager quickly yelled at me to clean up their mess as they were still walking out the door.

Now you might think one of the advantages of working at a pizza parlor would be getting free pizza every now and then. Not for me. I was allowed to buy pizza at a small discount, and when making minimum wage, I wasn’t about to spend an hour and a half of my wages on a pizza. During hungry evenings there was a real temptation to sneak a bite from unfinished pizzas left on tables. Being a rule follower, I would throw away half eaten pizzas that were still warm from the oven and leave work hungry.

It wasn’t long until I found a better job working at the bookstore on my university’s campus, which really was a breath of fresh air. My managers there appreciated my hard work and even rewarded it by increasing my responsibilities. I made friends there and got to meet many of the university’s professors before classes began. Plus, I enjoy books far more than pizza.

Eventually, the fall came, and a very special moment of my life happened.

I arrived on my university’s campus to be early on that first day of college, and as I stepped onto the white sidewalk and strolled over freshly cut green grass still wet from the morning’s dew, I took in a deep breath and exhaled in victory knowing that I had made it farther than anyone in my family.

I was a university student.

I was going to be the first in my entire family to graduate college.

And I did, and now I have a wonderful job.

The worst job was only temporary. And that’s something to remember when God has us walk through the valleys in lifeor through the pizza parlors.

It’s only temporary.

Even the good career I have now is only temporary.

It’s all only temporary.

This is why our focus should not be on what can be seen around us, for all of this is only temporary. Our focus should be on the things that are not seen, for those things are eternal.

Underarm Deodorant

Old Woman

Not everyone is lucky enough to know their great-grandmother, but I was. Grandma Patterson is what we called her. From Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, she and my great-grandfather brought their many children over to California for a better life. She spent her time working in the laborious fields and raising her 10 children.

When I knew her, she was already old. She wore her hair pulled back tightly into a brown bun that rested on the back of her head. She mostly wore long straight dresses that hung like giant t-shirts. She was overweight some, and she hunched over when she walked.

And her eye vision was failing.

Back then, people didn’t always wear sunglasses when working outside in the fields, and a lifetime of abuse from the unforgiving sun did a number on my Grandma Patterson.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was chubby with an acne covered face and a mouth full of metal. My undiagnosed OCD caused me to slick my hair straight down with a perfect part so not a single hair would ever dare go out of place. I was extremely shy, awkward, and my best friends went by the names of Nintendo and Sega. Needless to say, I didn’t have girls chasing after me, and I didn’t blame them.

For Christmas that year, I remember unwrapping a Christmas present from Grandma Patterson. I think it was the last one I ever remember receiving from her. It was a green bottle of spray deodorant.

Yes, underarm deodorant.

I opened it up not knowing how to react. I was still at the young age when body odor didn’t exist, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I forced out a “Thank you!” with a decent smile.

My great-grandma stood up and walked over to me hunched over. She leaned in close to me and said, “You spray a little of that here and there, and you’ll have to fight those little girlies off of you.” She motioned like she was spraying it on both sides of my neck.

It then made sense to me and my observing parents that my Grandma Patterson thought she bought me spray cologne. Like I said earlier, her eyesight was failing.

Not too long later, I visited her with my family, and she said to me, “Terry, I bet all those little girlies are after you now, aren’t they?”

I answered awkwardly, “I don’t know.”

She continued, “Well, this is what you do. You need to get yourself a baseball bat in one hand and a croquet stick in the other, so when the girlies come after you on the right, you can knock them off with the left, and when they come after you on the left, you can knock them off with the right.”

I thought she really must not be able to see the dorky looking kid standing right in front of her; the girls at my school didn’t want anything to do with me.

On our way home that night, I silently chuckled in the backseat of our family minivan. And after thinking about it some more, it was nice to have someone see something in me I didn’t see in myself, even if that person was going blind. It was encouraging that she saw something in me that she thought others would find attractive.

A few years later, my acne cleared up, my braces were taken off, and my hair hung more loosely and naturally as it grew out in a blond, suffer style. I lost weight and spent time outside swimming in my family’s new pool as my skin darkened into a healthy shade. With my newly gained confidence, I traded in my timid shyness for a gregarious, extroverted personality.

And the girlies started to chase after me.

My Grandma Patterson didn’t get to see me graduate high school or college. She didn’t live that long. But she didn’t need to see those events because even with her blind eyes, she saw me—the real me.

I pray to be a little more like her and see others not with my eyes but with something more. I hope to see their future possibilities. I desire to be a builder of people and error on the side of encouragement.

There’s already enough honest evaluation. There’s enough tough love. Even after the silly self-esteem movement in the 1980s and this crazy post-modern society we live in now, we still need people to see in us what isn’t there yet.

We all need a Grandma Patterson who will give us our own underarm deodorant.

Driving Home

Foothills surrounded the dry two-lane road that led home.

Oil rigs heavily pumped as some just sat in awe of the red sky as it began to take down some of the warm air with it.

Telephone poles connected together by hanging cords that appeared to move up and down if you watched from lying down in the backseat.

Somewhere on that drive, there was a burned structure of a historic hotel still standing, which was the last evidence that the tiny town had once flourished with people.

But to me as a little boy, it still flourished. Maybe not with people, but with sunsets, nightly stars, pet animals, young friends, old family, trees to climb on, grass to roll on, and time to spare.

Driving home from Taft to my home in Derby Acers, I remember turning my head and looking up to see my dad. He was younger then—not that tired from a hard day’s work in the oilfields.

Paper bags of mixed groceries sat together in the back, and I held a Happy Meal box in my hands, eager to get to the toy Hot Wheel that hid under the warm fries I was so eager to throw into my mouth.

After looking at my dad, I turned back to watch the road like he was. He seemed to keep a safe eye on that road. Or maybe it was that red sky falling over those foothills beyond it he so intently observed.

It’s now that red sky I envision on that road when I think about my childhood.

The sunset and childhood are both so full of wonder and both so fleeing.

Back then, on that road, with my dad, there wasn’t poppy music to occupy the calm silence. There wasn’t handheld video game systems with new levels to conquer. There wasn’t cell phones, texting, or email to communicate with people who weren’t there.

It was just us.

And I called it home.

It’s where my mind meditated. It’s where my imagination grew. It’s where I learned how to be alive.

Often times it’s where I would like to go back. And in a way, maybe I can.

Maybe we can.

Maybe that’s what reconciliation is all about—riding in a car with our father, going where he takes us, and trusting he’s going to get us home.

 

Becoming a Drummer

I was in the 6th grade when I attended my first concert. The 90’s Christian rock band played at small charismatic church my family had just started attending. The archetypal band members took the stage with long hair, bangs, perms, sleeveless shirts, shredded stonewashed jeans, and, of course, eyeliner. Playing at a church with an ethnically diverse congregation where men mostly wore a mixture of K-Mart polos and boxy suits that never fit right, everyone could easily tell who was in the band.

I intently observed the drummer. He played the simple 4/4 rock beat on his wrap around drum set with a double bass drum and a trashcan lid hanging as one of his cymbals.

Awesome. Cool. Sick. Rad. Amazing.

I don’t remember what colloquial adjective came to the forefront of my 6th grade tongue, but you get the point.

His high, exaggerated hits rebounded his big hair uncontrollably, and the wild mess filled in the void of the surrounding half circle drum set.

I think I can do that, I thought.

During the next week, I talked my parents into getting Chinese food because I had an idea in mind.

I went with my dad to pick up the food from the small restaurant next to a grocery store about two miles from our house, and on the way out, I grabbed a handful of chopsticks, even though my family ate Chinese food with forks back then.

When we arrived home, I excitedly wrapped up five chopsticks with electrical tape. I repeated this process until I had a pair of homemade drumsticks in my hands.

But they didn’t work. It only took a short moment for me to see they were obviously far too short, about half the length of a regular drumstick.

Since my idea failed, I did the only other thing I knew to do in order to get a pair of drumsticks; I called my Nanny and Papa.

A few days later, my Papa picked me up in his little, red pick-up and took me to the local music store to buy my first real pair of drumsticks. They were only about eight bucks, but it seriously made my day, probably my week.

I air drummed in my bedroom for a few weeks to the audio tape of the Christian rock band I saw in concert and hit on the back seat of my parent’s minivan whenever I was required to run errands with my mom, but besides for that, the thought of becoming a real drummer was eventually forgotten.

About a year later, I sat in the vast audience in my junior high school’s gym watching the older 8th graders receive their final congratulations before their official ceremony that night.

The school’s marching band performed for the graduates, and the principal gave a motivational speech that fostered excitement for the future high school experience while praising their current accomplishment. Being a 7th grader, I listened but was distracted by a group of teen boys who sat behind the band and were clearly not paying attention.
They were laughing at their own inside jokes and hitting each other on the shoulders, the polar opposite of the rest of the band sitting with perfect back posture and instruments in lap.

They were drummers.

When the band began to play again, some students picked up their French horns and clarinets to blow away with puffy cheeks and red faces, but the drummers… there was something seriously cool about them.

They hit things. They were loud. Just the way they stood commanded a kind of unique authority that comes with teenage rebellion. They were in the band but somehow not at the same time.

I didn’t want to be a bored number in the audience; I wanted to be one of them. I told myself that I would be the next year.

My parents paid for me to have a few private drum lessons over the summer, and my mother had the school’s counselor sign me up for band.

I was a drummer, at least on paper.

Not a good one, but I was figuring it all out. It was a challenge to learn how to read music over one summer and play with students who had been reading music for years, but I figured it out enough to get by, and I loved it. I got to march in the local Christmas parade, at the beach, and even at Disneyland. It was the first time I was able to go out of town without my family. I got to get out of class for special seasonal concerts, and I had a good handful of guy friends who were like the musical version of the kids from the movie The Sandlot.

But I was pretty far behind the other guys in my musical abilities.

I heard something about spring performances approaching. I then overheard the other band members sharing about how they performed last year in front of the judges.

From hearing bits and pieces of various conversations, I eventually put together that the spring performances were when students had the opportunity to play a solo musical piece in front of a panel of judges. Each student would get a score and then get an award based on their division and ranking.

I was quick at memorizing music, but reading from a spotted page of notes was pretty much impossible. I would learn music during class by listening to other students play it once or twice and then emulate them exactly. I would stare at the sheet of music to appear as if I was actually reading it, but I wasn’t.

The only good thing about the spring performances was that it was optional although most of the students were participating.

At the end of class one day, my band instructor, Mr. Wolf, took me aside and said, “Terry, I know you struggle a little with reading music, but I found a solo for you that I believe you can handle. It will be a push, but I can work with you after school to help you learn it. It’s up to you, but if you want to participate in the spring performances, just let me know. Here’s the music in case you want to take it home and think about it.”

With the solo in hand, I went about my day a little changed. Mr. Wolf believed I could do it. He cared enough to offer his time to work with me after school to teach it to me. He cared enough to notice that I wasn’t really reading music but just memorizing it.

I went over the music a little at home and really considered my instructor’s offer.

For a long while.

But in the end, I didn’t take him up on it.

I never participated in the spring performances.

But knowing that someone outside my family cared enough to offer to sacrifice his time for me stayed with me and made the difficulties of adolescence a little more tolerable.

At the end of that year, I played with the drummers during that end of year assembly. I laughed with them as the principal congratulated us 8th graders. I went on to play drums in high school while playing almost every Sunday at church.

Now I mostly play on my steering wheel during twilight drives to the outskirts of town as I ponder life in prayer.

Sometimes people won’t take you up on your offers of kindness. Sometimes people won’t let you know how thankful they are for you. Sometimes people won’t share with you how you made their life a little better.

On the bad days, know that you most likely made a difference in those times when you were guided by the Spirit to offer to help others.

To Mr. Wolf, I probably seemed like typical kid who didn’t care, but I was so incredibly thankful for him. And although you don’t know it, people out there are so incredibly thankful for you.

Guidance in Becoming a Teacher

It was after school one common day in the 5th grade when my mother sat me down and said, “Someday you’ll have a job that you’ll go to everyday for the rest of your life. What would you want to do?”

I know the 10-year-old me probably answered by saying a Lego designer or professional toy tester, but I really did think about her question. After a good amount of time of serious thinking, I went back to my mom and told her that I wanted to help people.

I wanted to someday have a job where I would get to help people everyday.

She explained that doctors help people, so I decided to be a doctor.

There was a problem with this plan though. I fainted if I saw blood. I don’t expect people to really understand this, and I have forgotten the official name of this diagnosis, but it had nothing to do with fear. My body would involuntarily faint all on its own.

When I was in high school, I took a health class in summer school to get ahead in my units. My health teacher was a mostly bald, elderly man with translucent skin, a pot belly, and bony legs that surprisingly held him up. Since it was summer school, he wore shorts and a collar neck shirt.

One day while he was teaching on the cardiovascular system, he described to us how he had heart surgery before and how the doctors went through an artery in his leg to get to his heart. Seeing his protruding blue veins through his fishlike skin was just too much.

I became lightheaded and felt a slight chill. My hands became clammy, and my forehead started to perspire. I leaned down in my desk and crossed one leg over the other to try to get some blood flow back to my head.

I did not want to be known as the kid who fainted in health class.

I raised my hand and asked to use the restroom. The teacher motioned with his hand for me to go—his white haired, translucent skinned, blue veined arm.

I hurried out of the classroom as everything turned to white and then laid down outside next to the wall. With my knees elevated, I watched my vision return to me through the faded white.

I always thought I would grow out of this inconvenient condition, but I was slowly realizing I wouldn’t be able to help people as a medical doctor.

But I could help them with their psychological problems. Thus, I decided to become a therapist.

In my undergrad years, this was my vocational plan. I was a psychology major, but while plugging away at classes, I noticed I really enjoyed my English classes. I also enjoyed the overall college experience even though my university definitely lacked on stereotypical college living. (Note to high school students, if you feel ready to go away for college, do it. At least for two years after you finish your general education classes.) I learned double majoring would only take about a year longer, and I would then have two BA degrees, so I majored in both psychology and English.

It was when I was working in the English Tutorial Center that I first thought that maybe I could be a real high school English teacher. I was teaching English and writing to college students, so I figured why not?

My dad always suggested I should be a teacher. He would mention how teachers got off earlier than most other jobs and that teachers got the summers off. He brought it up so many times that I eventually became frustrated and told him, “Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher. I never said I wanted to be a teacher. I’m going to be a marriage-family therapist. That’s been my goal the whole time. I’m keeping to it.”

I remember him responding, “I know, but I just think teaching would be a really good job.”

After I graduated from college with my two degrees, I was about to start the application process for a master’s program in psychology when my mom showed me an ad by a private Christian high school looking for an English teacher. My mom suggested I just swing by and introduce myself. I didn’t have a teaching credential, but I was a little curious if they would even consider hiring someone straight out of college.

I put on a tie that matched my khaki pants and my light blue dress shirt, and I drove across town to the big church, which was also the campus of the small high school.

I marched up the stairs to the portable administration building and said to the principal, “Hello, I’m Terry Tripp, and I wanted to speak to you about applying for the English position.”

She looked surprised and invited me to sit down. She then asked about my teaching and ministry experience. I told her about my years of tutoring experience at the university and how I even taught a few English labs there. I went on to tell her my many years of ministry experience, leading worship, teaching Bible studies, and being on church leadership. She smiled, and told me to hold on.

When she came back into the room, she had an older woman with her. The principal introduced the older woman as the curriculum administrator. The principal asked me to say again why I came in today.

I restated that I was interested in the English position, and the two women smiled at each other.

The principal opened a filing cabinet to pull out a 40-page application and said, “This morning the pastor of our church came in and said if a young man comes in inquiring about the English position to hire him on the spot because he’s from the Lord.”

I responded, “Wow, that’s great. I guess it’s hard to argue with that. How many people have been applying for this position?”

“You’re the first one in weeks,” she answered.

I spent a few hours at home filling out the application. I think I had to write out about three different forms of testimonies, and about a month later, I stepped onto that campus as a fulltime English teacher.

Months later on the last day before Christmas break, I took a moment to go outside and just stand still and exist.

There was Christmas music playing on the intercom, and students joyously interacted with each other while eating their lunches outside in the light fog.

They were young. They were happy. They still had that childlike innocence about them—free from the calluses of life.

Although I was excited about the two week break, at that moment I realized something that I didn’t think would happen.

I was going to miss them; I was going to miss my students—the literature that we adventured through together, the inside jokes we developed, the encouragement of the good days, the counseling of the bad ones.

I was doing a form of therapy. Not therapy where I would see a patient once a month, but therapy where I see my students an hour every school day for an entire school year.

I registered for classes in a teaching credential program and a master’s program in education and never looked back. I eventually changed subjects to teach visual art, which was a great change for me, and now I’m able to see students’ more creative side in a relaxed learning environment with more time to counsel and interact with them.

Sometimes God makes decisions very clear in life, practically opening the door for us. Other times when choices are not that clear, we have to use the wisdom that God has given us along with the truth of his scripture to make a decision.

When I was living in Azusa for the summer while working on my MFA in visual art, Steven, a good friend and fellow student, and I got into a memorable conversation while driving to check out some LA art galleries.

I asked, “Don’t you ever wonder if you made the right choice? Don’t you ever wonder what if?”

He boldly said, “No, I don’t.”

“Never?”

He explained, “Why should I? If I’m walking in the Spirit and if I’m praying about every decision and if I’m not living in sin, why should I question past choices? If God is guiding me and if he was guiding me in the past, then questioning my choices guided by his Spirit would be questioning him, and I’m not about to question God.”

Steven’s answer was life changing for me, and it taught me that God is always guiding us in our choices and decisions if we’re in fellowship with him. Sometimes his voice is loud and bold while sometimes it’s in the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and the remembrance of his word.