Sunday, February 13, 2011

Always Expect the Unexpected

I'm not sure where I first heard that phrase. “Always expect the unexpected!”, it sounds like the kind of thing Inspector Clouseau would say right before he broke something. I suppose it's good advice, although, I don't know if anyone alive could actually do it. My Dad certainly couldn't. There were plenty of times when Dad was going along, minding his own business, when the unexpected hit him like a freight train. The following two stories show my Dad's two basic reactions to unpleasant surprises.

The first tale begins with me deciding that we needed to dig yet another hole in the yard. On this particular occasion we made the mistake of digging it a bit too close to the house. We jammed our shovels into the ground around a hundred feet from the back door and began to dig with a will. In a few hours we had dug a mighty pit down into the earth. It was probably five or six feet across and perhaps five feet deep at the lowest point.

When Dad got home Josh, Chris and I were laying in the hole, resting and admiring our work. Surprisingly enough Dad didn't want that huge hole dug right in the middle of his back yard. He immediately went through the normal list of questions: “Why had we done it?”, “What were we thinking?”, “What was wrong with us?”, “Did our mother know what we were doing?”, etc. We, in turn, replied with the usual answers: “We don't know.”, “We don't know.”, “We don't know.”, etc.

On this occasion Dad decided that we needed to be taught a lesson. He insisted that we bury the hole immediately. He wanted the hole gone before the end of the day. We had no choice and so our lovely hole began to disappear one shovel full at a time. After only a few minutes we realized that the burying was going to be worse than the digging. We were already tired and we had a long way to go. Finally Chris chimed in with an idea.

“We should fill this hole with junk.” He said as he paused for a moment leaning on his shovel.

“What's the point of that?” I asked, throwing another pile of dirt into the pit.

“Well the more junk we throw in it, the less dirt it will take to fill it up.”

“I see that, but where will we get the junk?”

“From behind Uncle Fritz's shed! There's all kinds of junk there.”

I had to admit that he was right. Dad was a collector of all kinds of things that young boys might consider junk. Also, it was stuff that we were allowed to do basically whatever we wanted with, so I figured Dad couldn't have cared much about it. Within a few minutes we had dragged all the junk we could find across the yard and thrown it in the hole.

“That's hardly made a dent....” I said looking down at our micro-landfill.

“Well, it's not as deep as it was.” Chris replied.

“No, we've filled it up maybe a foot between the dirt and the junk, but we're out of junk.”

“No, we're not. What about those old freezer lids?”

Again, Chris was right. Dad had worked for years at a plant that made chest freezers. He had gotten a large number of defective lids and used them for all kinds of things. They weren't really complete lids, they were just the metal shells that would have become lids had they not been defective. They were both light and strong and we had a load of them sitting at the back of the shed.

“OK, so we have a bunch of those lids. They will never fit down in that hole.” I said, pointing out the obvious.

“They don't need to fit in it, just over it.”


“We can lay the lids over the hole until it's completely covered. Then we can bury the lids and we'll be done in a snap.”

I stood there thinking it over for a moment before I spoke.

“Brilliant!” was my simple reply.

We went to work and in moments the lids were laid across the hole. A few minutes more found the pit completely covered with a mound of earth. When we got inside Dad was surprised at how quickly we had gotten finished. He went out and looked over every thing and was completely satisfied. We felt that we had done a great job and had even out-thought our problems. Everyone was happy.

However, we now have to push on through time. The pit had been dug and buried in the fall and before long spring arrived. Grass had grown up in the back yard and it was time to mow. Dad got out the old tractor and began merrily cutting the grass. It was one of the rare times when he just walked out to the shed, cranked the tractor and began to mow. This should have tipped him off that something was wrong, but sadly it didn't.

He had no idea as he headed for that low mound of grass covered earth that he was actually heading for a pit trap filled with old junk. There was no way for him to know in advance that those earth covered lids wouldn't hold up the weight of the tractor until he was right over the middle of the hole. It wasn't until the lids buckled and he found himself, and two-thirds of his tractor, down in a pit that he knew something was wrong.

At first he was a bit stunned. He had just been driving along mowing a moment before. Now, he was sitting on a tractor that was sitting in a hole filled with dirt covered junk. The wheels in his mind slowly turned as he figured out what had happened. Here many people would expect Dad to have one of his explosions, but he didn't. Over the next few hours he got the tractor out of the hole, got all the junk out that he felt he needed to and then reburied the hole properly.

Josh and I had been gone the entire time, so we knew nothing about it when we got home. Dad began to tell the story and as he did so he got more and more excited. It all ended with him yelling “You will never be allowed to bury another hole in this yard as long as you live here!” It strikes me as an odd thing to say, but he stuck to it. Over the following years we dug a few more holes, but whenever it was time to bury them Dad took care of it himself.

That was an example of Dad calmly dealing with the unexpected. He got a little worked up after the fact, but at the moment of action he handled the situation very well. I don't think many men would have been nearly as calm about having fallen into a pit trap dug by their sons. Of course, where as Dad might handle an extreme situation with grace, there were other times when a much smaller problem would get a much bigger reaction. Needless to say this next story is about that.

During my teen years I constantly had self-induced car trouble. One day my Mustang might overheat because I hadn't put water in the radiator (It used to leak a little.) Another day would find me stranded on the side of the road having run out of gas (I broke the gas gauge at one point.) Most of the time I could sort these problems out myself with the help of whoever happened to be riding along with me. I did open the radiator when the car was hot once, but first degree burns on my face kept me from ever making that mistake again. All in all I rarely needed help to get my car back on the road.

On the day that this story takes place that was not the case. The car had overheated a little and wouldn't crank after I had given it some time to cool off. That struck me as a bad sign, so I decided to call Dad. We were right across the street from a gas station, so getting to a phone was no problem. He told me to wait with the car, so that's exactly what Brandyn, Ron and I did. We were only a few miles out of town and Dad got to us within about fifteen minutes.

He got out of his brand new car and closed the door behind him. (It was a hot summer day, so he decided to leave the car running and the air-conditioner on.) Having looked my car over calmly, he said he didn't think anything was really wrong, that we probably just needed to put some water in the radiator. It was decided that he would drive across the street to the gas station and get something full of water and bring it back over. He walked over to his car, pulled the handle and then it happened.

The door didn't open. He pulled the handle again and again with the same results. Then it struck him. He had locked the door as he stepped out and left his key in the ignition. Now, in most cases, this would be a minor annoyance, but not this time. Dad had just gotten that car and was filled with “new-car love”, he had also been working crazy hours and didn't feel like having to deal with any unexpected aggravations. What happened next was amazing to see. It began with Dad talking to himself.

“Of course! I've locked my keys in the car!” He said as he stood there pulling on the door handle.

“We can just call Mom to bring the spare set.” I suggested.

“Oh no! You see the car is running and it will overheat and blow the engine up before she gets here!”

“I don't think it will blow up that fast.”

Here Dad began to have a genuine meltdown.

“Oh yes it will! Because this is a new car! I'm not supposed to have a new car! I'm supposed to ride around in junk! I'm supposed to work all the time and never have anything!”

Keep in mind that he had been working inhuman hours at the plant for weeks at this point. He was so tired he couldn't think. In fact, as he was explaining how bad the situation was going to be I think the speech center of his brain must have shut down.

“Then we'll have to!! And that's going to cost!! How can we!! I don't believe!! And!!! New!!!! AHHHH!!!! AHHHHH!!!!”

At that point he jumped on the ground and started kicking his feet in the air and slamming his fists into the dirt as fast as he could. Even I had never seen Dad loose it to that extent. Brandyn and Ron looked at me hoping that I had some idea. Only one came to mind: “Run” I yelled as I set the example by flying down the side of the road as fast as I could. You see, I felt that Dad had actually lost it and that it would be better for us if we were out of the area. He had been a golden gloves boxer, back when he was younger, and could have easily killed the three of us if he wanted to. I wasn't sure how far off the deep end he had gone and, at the time, discretion seemed to be the better part of valor.

We ran for over a mile. Finally we found ourselves, panting for breath, at Brandyn's door. We were there discussing the situation and trying to get in touch with Mom for about ten minutes before Dad pulled up in the yard. He got out as if nothing had happened.

“Are you alright?” I said as he stepped out of the car.

“Of course,” He laughed, “why?”

“Well... I mean... I thought you might have had a heart attack. I've been trying to call Mom to tell her we might need an ambulance.”

“Because I got a little upset. No, we don't need an ambulance. Anyway, it was your mother that brought me the spare key.”

“How did she know she needed to?”

“I called her.”


It turned out that as soon as we had run off Dad decided that he was acting like a child. He got up, brushed himself off, walked across the street, and called Mom. She certainly drove past us as we were running down the road, but didn't even see us because she was so focused on taking the keys to Dad. He opened the door and turned the car off. Then he took the time to go get the water, fill my radiator and test crank the car. It started without a problem and so he came to get us. He knew to go to Brandyn's because the next closest house we could have gone to was miles more down the road. The entire affair was wrapped up in about half an hour.

As you can see he reaction to that particular unexpected event was a little more explosive than it needed to be. Although I had never seen Dad get that upset, and never have again, it was always the little things that upset him the most. Something big he could handle, because you have to handle it. With little things he gave an almost open vent to his emotions.

Although you can't expect a particular unexpected event you can come to understand that unexpected things are going to happen. Once you make the decision to deal with whatever comes your way calmly you'll be better equipped to do just that. We always need to keep in mind that whatever comes our way, the Lord has a handle on it. He, at least, always expects the unexpected.

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