A Step Back in Time
By Timothy W. Tron
“Thus, saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”-Jeremiah 6:16
Sitting under the overcast, gray sky, the river rolled past, heavy from the night’s rain. One could see their breath in the chill of the air; it was a wet, dampness that encompassed not only the body but the soul as well. Barney and Otis were my lunch companions, each patiently sitting apart, respectfully waiting without being imposing. I sat on the aged picnic table facing the Johns River, as it flowed beneath the bridge in Collettsville.
Once more, my mind sought a rest, something beyond what had become the daily grind, something that had the ability to enrich while reaching beyond the surface. Like the turbulent waters rushing past, time was fleeting. Should we pass from this life to the next without taking time to appreciate what God has made for us in this life, we fail to live to the fullness as He intended. Thrusting one’s hand into the confluence in an attempt to stop its advance was as fruitless as holding water between our fingertips; slipping away before its sustenance can press upon our parched, dry lips. Rather, it required an attention of fullness in order to find what it was that would find its permanence within.
The day before, as the gray light of dawn began to lighten my bedroom, there was a whisper to my heart about something so seemingly insignificant and frivolous, that at first, it was dismissed. However, it came again, accompanied by another likewise meaningless idea; wonder if they would ever get checkers and hot chocolate down at the general store? The thought caused me to chuckle. It had been over a week since I had stopped in to visit the store down in Collettsville. As a matter of fact, it had been at least that long since I had seen Barney and Otis, my four-legged friends who so loved to simply sit by my side and be petted; an inspiration in and of itself. It became a point of destination for my walk later in the morning after a sufficient amount of time had been spent encompassed by my studies and schoolwork. There I soon learned of two new additions to the store. You guessed it, checkers and hot chocolate.
The thought of the whisper to my heart returned, and it warmed my being. Too often we try to explain away the voice of God if we would only listen.
The children of Israel had fallen away once again, and through the prophet Jeremiah, he was speaking out to them, reminding them of the errors of their ways. He even gave them direct commands to follow, “Thus, saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” Unwilling to listen, they went on their own paths to destruction, disregarding the former and ignoring the law which God hath given them through Moses. Again, and again, they would face the wrath of God because of their own choosing. They pushed on, proving that there would be no rest for the wicked.
Yet, my journey was guided by His hands as the scripture tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”-Prv3:5-6
Once more, guided by that still small voice, I found myself nestling the head of Otis in my lap as he napped, while Barney sat faithfully at my side while we occupied the bench on the porch of the general store. Content to rest and take in the world passing by, like the waters of the Johns River behind us, my thoughts wandered as aimlessly as the twitching leg in the sleeping dog’s dreams. Our repose was interrupted when the son of the store’s owner pulled up, Garrett. The tall, thin young man looked scholarly in his black-rimmed glasses. He was already quickly becoming a good friend, and today would encourage that bond even further. Walking up, he held an armload of vinyl records.
“What you got there,” I asked while continuing to find Barney’s favorite spot to be scratched.
“Oh, just some old records I found at a consignment shop.”
“John Prine,” I read out loud. “Wow, you like the old stuff?”
Smiling broadly, he began to show me the rest of the collection; names like Cash, Jennings, Daniels, Miller, Nelson, and so on appeared. It was like a walk back in time. “I even found a Roger Miller Greatest Hits,” he said holding up the nearly flawless album. My mind flashed back to that eight-track player my dad kept in the back of the Prowler that sat in the driveway back in Booneville. The sounds of that album would play continually as long as the power was turned on. Us kids would play in the driveway to the sounds of, “Dang me, Dang me, they outta take a rope and hang me,” blaring no-stop, until the word had been forever etched into our minds.
“That was one of my dad’s favorites,” I answered, pointing to the Miller album. “You like vinyl?”
“Yeah,” he answered respectfully, “I’ve been collecting them since middle school.”
“That wasn’t long ago,” I chuckled. He laughed at that too.
“Do you have a way to play them here at the store?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a little turntable I brought to play them on.”
Our conversation continued on, and we soon found ourselves stepping inside. Garrett pulled out a little portable record player, one that was a vintage remake, something he had bought at a Barnes-and-Noble; quite a sharp little unit.
“Got time for a game of checkers,” I said pointing to the barrel with the board stretched across the top?
“Sure, he said,”
“Want to play a record we can listen too while we play,” I asked?
“Yeah,” he said, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Got a particular one you want to hear?”
“I’ve never heard that John Prine 71 album you’ve got there,” I answered, “How bout that one?”
“The only one I know on there is Paradise. It’s a Bluegrass Classic.”
“Yea, I know how to play that one too,” my young friend replied.
My thoughts rambled on to how we need to sit down sometime and just pick together. “This young man just continues to impress me the more I get to know him,” were my thoughts at that moment.
Not long after that, we settled into and began playing that ancient board game. In the background, the hiss and pop of the needle finding the groove in the record only added to the nostalgia of the moment. It was only fitting. The new owners had spent countless hours and dollars to remodel the store to resemble an old fashion country store, complete with hardwood floors, and ship-lap siding bare wood walls. Our checkerboard sat atop a seasoned antique wooden barrel, like one that might have held crackers in one of the old Carolina style general stores. As our play lengthened, we shared stories about places, times, and events in our lives. It wasn’t so much the game we were intent upon, but rather, the fellowship through its activity. Like those old days sitting on the porch at Sharpe’s Store back in Chatham, it wasn’t about why you came, but rather, what you learned through the fellowship of being there, and pausing long enough to take in life.
Daily, in my classroom, I watch as children try to keep up with the light-speed pace of the world around them; memes, social media, snapchat, viral videos, ad nauseam; many becoming frustrated and exacerbated by the feeling of being left behind. Their peers challenge them to keep pace, and if not, face ridicule if they don’t. Too few have any idea from whence they came beyond what the textbooks have told them. However, once in a while, you will find an old soul, an outcast of their own choosing; one who finds shelter in the old songs, old traditions, or ways of the past. Their upbringing often reflected in their manners.
The young man that spent time playing checkers; this past Saturday was just that, an old soul in a young man’s body. His upbringing has been well done, to which his parents should be congratulated. But even better, he shared with me his devout faith. Like a youth after my own heart, he plays music for his church and shares the gospel through the gifts by which God has endowed upon him. “If only there were more Garretts in today’s world,” I thought to myself as I pulled away from the store later on.
Yes, the whispers of frivolous things, as they appeared to me at that time, led to greater things than had been possible to imagine. Hot chocolate and checkers would find a way to replenish and refresh a weary soul.
“When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.”
That afternoon, we took time to step out of the torrent of the day-to-day grind and paused. There, a young man and an old friend stopped to step back in time, allowing their souls to rest. Like those moments of repose upon the bench with my friends Otis and Barney, Garrett and I chose to take the path God had intended, the old paths, the old ways.
Yes, there is hope for the next generation. It is up to us to pause long enough to spend time with them to share where we’ve been, and how God has helped us to get where we are. Like reaching into the roaring confluence of time, we can’t stop it, but we can grasp just enough to spill a few drops that may inspire those tender hearts who have yet to live.
Allow yourself to spend time alone with God and listen to that still small voice. What you might hear may sound insignificant and frivolous at first. But if you follow his call, the path you take may turn into some far more glorious and precious than you could have imagined. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.”-Heb.12:1
Thanks be to God.