Today In Former Years
This section of my website traces a day, or related set of days, from my diary over a span of years. Each change to a different year is marked by a yellow highlight. -- jwc
Excerpts From John Cowart’s Journals:
June 6, 1991 to 2003
John W. Cowart
June 6, 1991 – letter to a family friend, a serviceman fighting in Desert Storm:
The other day we got a letter from your mother telling us that you were called up for duty.
With that kind of luck you should win the Florida lottery. Want I should buy a ticket for you? This week it's up to $97 million for a single winning number. Let me know your six lucky numbers between 1 & 49 and I'll buy an entry for you.
We can not imagine what's happening to you there, so about the only stuff I can write about are the things happening to us here:
Our family stays in happy turmoil which I enjoy but which drives me nuts. Last weekend Eve went off to Disney World with a church group; Donald had to have his senior class pictures taken; Patricia went to a birthday party; Gin did 8 loads of washing; people dropped by for supper; and I tried to catch up on my sleep.
Since January, I have been working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at an old folks home and trying to sleep during the day. Fat chance. The phone rings every 20 minutes, the neighbor decides to wash his car to rap music beside my window, the owner of the lot behind us cranks up his chainsaw to cut branches... and on it goes.
Consequently, I am always neither awake nor asleep. I live in a constant stupor. The heck of it is that nobody notices. Maybe I've always been like this.
Gin is back in college where she's majoring in business administration. This semester she's taking accounting, computer science, analysis, and social Psy.
Donald, though still in high school, has also been taking college courses. By the time he's old enough to get into college, he'll already be a sophomore. This summer in the Upward Bound program at Jacksonville University he won awards in physics, advanced math and six or seven other things -- including Most Outstanding Student In The Program. His College Brain Brawl team won the state championship match in Miami and will go on the regional matches in Atlanta this fall. When he's not doing all that stuff he sits with his nose in a comic book. He must have every issue of Conan the Barbarian, Donald's role model.
Eve reads all the time too. She consumes 10 or 12 books every week, reading everything from Nancy Drew and torrid romances to the Tragedies of Sophocles. She went to Camp Weed (named not for camp conditions but for Episcopal Bishop Edwin Weed) a place with Olympic pool and air-conditioned cabins. She also taught vacation Bible school at our church and at a local soup kitchen.
Patricia is now in 5th grade and is a member of the School Safety Patrol. She supposedly sells candy for the patrol trip. HA! She came home with a box of 20 bars of the stuff Friday and now the box sits empty in the refrigerator without a single bar having been sold. My dear family ate it all! Leaving me with a bill for $20.
Hey, this is the America you guys are fighting for. Right?
As my contribution to the war effort I am going to make a peace gesture by donating my 1970 Cadillac to Sad Damn Insane for his personal use.
He deserves it.
Since it only gets about 6 miles per gal., before long he will run out of gas and have to import foreign oil.
About 3 a.m. the other morning while we were all cooking chickens for a Boy Scout Bar-B-Q, a drunk driver ran into our parked Cadillac. The impact dented our left front fender and knocked off the little Cadillac emblem; it totaled his 1986 Buick. His car had a fiberglass body; the steel in our fender must be a quarter of an inch thick. We are still driving ours.
But, about six weeks ago, one night a wind storm knocked a huge limb out of a tree in our yard and it landed on our parked Cadillac. Smashed out most of my front windshield. Not covered by insurance. "Act of God," the agent said. Jesus loves me.
"The most dangerous thing you people do with this car is park it," the agent said.
Well, I did not have money to fix the windshield even if I could find glass to fit. So I sneaked around driving only at night to get to work. But one day Eve needed to go to teach at her Bible school and I drove her over during daylight. The cop stopped me right outside the church. Eve ran across the street to meet her class. As the cop wrote the ticket, I looked up to see that the children (about 30 of them) had opened all the windows along that side of the church and were all hanging out watching and waving at me and commenting, "Look, He's arresting Eve's Daddy! -- Is he going to shoot him? -- Is it a drug bust; Is Eve's daddy a pusher? -- Is he going to jail?"
The ticket gave me 10 days to fix the glass or the fine tipples; and a policeman has to inspect the car before I can pay the ticket.
I called all the junk yards in town and finally found a 20-year-old Cadillac windshield. Borrowed a friend's car to go get it. Too big to go in the trunk. Borrowed another friend's truck. Got it home. Yanked out old glass slivers. Put in new glass. Replaced chrome strips, except for one. Cracked new windshield putting that last strip of chrome on.
Still haven't paid that ticket, which will soon total up to more than the car is worth. Tell Saddam that he can pick his Cadillac up from in front of my house anytime he wants.
Tomorrow, Patricia and I plan to go down to the soup kitchen. We have been going once a week for about three years now. The place is called Circle of Love and it's located in one of Jacksonville's worst slums. The people we serve there have just about bottomed out. About five of our customers die each month. Most of them have no home, no job nor prospect of getting one, and most have nothing to eat each day except for the tray they get at the soup kitchen. Some of our customers are drug addicts, most are alcoholics, a few are mental patients who wander the streets; many are just folks down on their luck. We often see whole families who have been reduced to living in their cars.
The soup kitchen is run by a pastor and his wife and they support it mostly from her salary; she has a super good job with Southern Bell. All of the resident staff workers have been on the streets themselves and are working their way up and out. There are a handful of outside volunteers who enjoy doing this kind of work. It is a different world down there and I'm pleased that Patricia takes to it so well. She has a real heart for the people and she works like a dog to serve them.
It's not unusual to serve 200 people in the two hours we're open each afternoon. The mission also has about 35 overnight residents in the men's shelter and 20 or so in the women's & children's shelter. Right now we are in the process of fixing up an old house as a hospice for AIDS patients so they will have a clean, decent, place to die (we already have a medical shelter with 10 or 15 patients but we'd like to have a separate place where we can care for the AIDS patients because they need more attention; besides, there seem to be more of them every week.)
Anyhow, that's about it from the home front here in Florida.
Every night after supper, it's our custom to stay around the table for a few minutes to talk about the day's activities, tell jokes, read the Bible and pray together. During this time we are keeping you in our prayers daily, that the Lord will keep you safe and faithful in your duties, that He will bless your family while you are gone and restore you to them with joy.
Saturday, June 6, 1992: (In Maryland celebrating the 50th Wedding Anniversary of Ginny’s parents).
Kathy puttered this morning while Gin and I took the girls to a nearby mall to walk and window shop. Gin and I both made ourselves some business cards on a computerized machine in the mall.
In the afternoon, we all went to the hall where the surprise party is to be held to meet Ginny's other brothers: Jackie and Sue, Mark and Joanne, Rick and Stephanie, Danny and Linda, Jeff and Rene, and assorted other people. then back to Kathy's to dress….
The party-givers had all the immediate family line up on the sidewalk in front of the hall to greet Jack and Alva when they arrived with Mark and Joanne -- who were supposedly taking them out to dinner.
Lined up inside the hall were about 150 friends, neighbors and well-wishers to greet them when they entered.
Pat and Eve were official photographers for the event, snapping pictures with someone's Polaroid and posting the developed shots on sheets of poster paper as the dinner progressed. They did a fine job and had a blast doing it. Eve danced with some of the brothers and once with Kathy. She was the best dancer on the floor and Kathy, who once had dancing lessons, appeared to have a great time with her. Sue grabbed my arm and tried to make me dance but since it makes my skin crawl for someone to touch me, she did not get much response and finally, Thank God, gave up.
Oddly enough, Ginny's great-aunt Katherine, who is 89, seemed delighted to meet me; she's read some of my articles and People... and liked my work.
When the party finally broke up about midnight, we all went to Jack and Alva's house where our family stayed.
Sunday, June 7, 1992:
Sunday there was a huge picnic party for the 22 members of the immediate family down at the river near the house. This was the first time all of Jack and Alva's family has been together at the same time in over 15 years. Joanne asked me to say grace for the picnic meal; and using the same technique I used to use at the rescue mission I gave thanks and prayed for each person in the circle by name while the others looked at that person. Then everyone ate and drank and played ball and took pictures all afternoon.
In the evening, Alva broke out albums of old photographs to show everyone. I was trapped at the table by the crowd and almost went crazy. A night or two after my father died, my mother sat me down at her table and took out all her old family snapshots and proceeded to tear up individually one by one every single photograph which pictured me. She even ripped me out of any group shots where I appeared. I was trapped at that table too. And ever since then, looking at family snapshots has not been my favorite activity. I'm afraid my revulsion showed and I apologized to Alva with as little explanation as possible later.
Friday, June 4, 1993:
I got home from shrimping about 8 a.m. and cleaned my catch.
I tried to sleep but I kept stopping breathing and woke up every few minutes.
Donald and Gin went to the bank and cashed his advance check. He gave her $20 to run the weekend.
He packed this and that and we spent the day waiting for Jennifer to bring the car so we could take off.
Jennifer finally got here at 11 P.M.! She had had to run errands and visit a friend. Donald and I finally got on the road at 2 A.M. Saturday...Saturday, June 5, 1993: Drove all night arriving at the University of North Carolina about 1 p.m. having driven a distance of about 500 miles. Donald is staying in University Towers, a lovely facility with pool-lounging bikini-clad beauties right out side the door, weight training room, volleyball court, high-speed elevators, semi-private bath, lavish computer room, luxurious tv lounge on each floor -- and within a block of the towers are dozens of fast-food restaurants of every sort. The campus is a huge, lovely, hilly, landscaped estate with museums, art galleries, book stores, monuments, flying-saucer foot ball stadium... every amenity. All set in a section of lovely Victorian homes, well-kept, neat shrubbery and brick inlaid streets. We drove all over campus getting Donald oriented. Then I turned around and drove back home through a massive hail storm at the NC/SC border finally arriving back in Jacksonville about 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 6, 1993: having driven 979.6 miles.
I climbed into bed …
I saw some deer beside the highway on my trip.
The other noteworthy thing I saw happened in one of those little town highway exits somewhere in Georgia between Savannah and Brunswick:
I was falling asleep at the wheel and pulled off at the next exit to get out of the cramped car for a few minutes and I arrived at a Waffle House restaurant, one of those bland Formica counter places that dot the Interstate and prey on tired travelers. When I walked in I noticed the place was full of young people, loud and in high spirits. As I ate my eggs, I listened and soon discovered that the local high school had held graduation ceremonies on Saturday night. These kids, having no place else to go, all assembled at the Waffle House. Some of the graduating kids worked there and many were customers -- sort of. The manager tried to keep it from the paying customers, such as me, but she was slipping free food and drinks to the graduates. And they played loud rock music on the juke box and celebrated for all they were worth with juvenile jokes, plenty of flirting and chatter.
This was a big deal to these kids.
It made me very happy to see them celebrate their graduation. Yet it was a little sad that they had no better place to go than the Waffle House. I thought it a happy commentary on the indomitable Human Spirit that they did what they could with what they had. God bless their wholesome little hearts.
I slept fitfully, too tired to rest, all day.
Ginny drove Eve to her Baccalaureate Service where Jeannie Blaylock, TV-12 news caster, gave the address. Gin says it was the best baccalaureate service she's ever seen.
Patricia has won a science award for being the "Most Individualistic"; she also has brought home some excellent art work projects: a cylinder with a triangle through it, an underwater seascape, a vegetable still life, etc.
Gin & I stayed up late dozing to E.T. on television.
The girls slept late and I drove them to school. A batch of kids were out in front of Stanton showing off, or admiring, the decorated new cars their parents had given them as graduation presents.
Poor Eve. She has done excellent work in school. She's caused no one a minute of trouble. She's walked miles raising money for cripple children, cancer patients, and what-have-you. Yet, I had nothing whatsoever to give her as a graduation present. And she won't even have a party because Mike and Jennifer and Donald are all out of town and Eve appears to have virtually no friends who are not doing other things for their own graduation celebration. We had planned to take her out to dinner, but I have only a few dollars at all and virtually no food in the house for normal eating.
To Hell with it!
Gin and I drove to several thrift stores and finally found a second-hand diamond-like necklace for a present for Eve. We fixed up an Eve Museum with some of her awards and work -- including a paper she did on her first day in first grade. And we set out a table-full of her trophies -- beauty contest, physics award, Library trophy. We draped a bunch of tee-shirts she's won over the fireplace commemorating her participation in cancer Society Walks, Habitant for Humanity, Flag Team, Camp Weed, etc. -- It certainly makes a bright happy display of Eve's Triumphs. WHAT A GREAT PERSON!!!
Then Ginny baked her a cake and we spent out last dollar on Ice Cream so we can celebrate when we return.
Eve's marks the eighth graduation we have attended in the past few years: Johnny's Jackson, Eric's Jackson , Jennifer's Stanton, Jennifer's FCCJ, Jennifer's Nursing School Pinning, Ginny's FCCJ, Donald's Stanton, Ginny's UNF.
Eve's was the best to date -- and the most colorful.
She graduated in the Civic Auditorium. Eve wore blue and white robes with a gold tassel. She was awarded a weighty gold-colored medallion and she has a pin commemorating the fact that she spent six full years in America's toughest high school. She is among the last students to be able to do this because of program cut backs now in place.
Her classmates include students from Viet Nam, Croatia, Russia, Italy, France and Holland. Collectively, the students won millions and millions of dollars worth of scholarships including 112 Florida Academic Grants (the speaker said it's unusual for more than one to be awarded in a single graduating class!) But then Stanton is comprised of the smartest, best-behaved, classiest students in Florida. I am enormously proud of Eve's holding her own and excelling among them. I think that only two others in her class won the $12,000 JU scholarship like Eve did.
The seniors chose Mike Jackson, a former Stanton history teacher, as commencement speaker. He spoke about his own high school graduation and about the things they told him that he wished they hadn't (You don't get your diploma till you've turned in the robe, cleaned and unstained), and the things they did not tell him that he wished they had (The best graduation party is going to be at so and so's house -- her parents are out of town!). A very personable, lovable, humble man, he spoke only on a humanitarian level without offering a glimmering of real hope; yet, his was the best speech of that sort I've heard.
After a cool-off walk around the Landing river front, we came home for cake and ice cream... I think we invested our last dollar well.
I just wish we could give Eve goodies close to what she's earned and deserves -- but it would take a Lotto winner to do that.
***** called this morning saying her mother died last night. Her brother **** was working offshore and none of the other relatives are in town, so all day it looked as though Ginny and I would have to drive her to Savannah and bring the body back to Jax in our car for burial.
Many phone calls back and forth finally got it straightened out; we don’t have to transport the body – but, even though I’m not a minister, I do get to conduct my first funeral!
None in that family are active in any church though the background of some is Seventh-Day Adventist, and of others, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of some others, Roman Catholic. Since they could not agree on what kind of minister (because they really don’t know any), they asked me to conduct the funeral as a compromise. **** said they picked me because, "You go to church a lot, but you aren't very religious".
I think that's meant as a compliment.
Monday, June 6, 1994:
Called B**** this morning about his commitment to keeping the agency going, (he says it accounts for 70% of his income so he wants it afloat); about his recommending another agent to handle my fiction (he'll think about it); about getting my copies of Glog and Lazarus back along with a list of where they have been submitted (he says he'll mail them); about the Cook's Book (he says he'll look over the preliminary materials); and about the IVP/Zondervon deal (he says hang in there).
Now, in the midst of this one-long-day since Patricia ran away, Ginny conferred with D****** from church. D******* works as some sort of personnel official in a state agency. D******* says that the major drawback in Ginny's getting a job is her appearance! Nonsense! She's beautiful. Nevertheless, when you seek professional help, it behooves you to pay attention to it. So, through our Pastor's good graces, Ginny made a dental appointment with Dr. Rupert Bliss (who recommended me for vestry) and is having her teeth worked on so she will have a bright beautiful smile...
That's good news...
On the other hand that D***** woman is taking my poor beautiful Ginny to a beauty (HA) shop on Friday to have her lovely hair cut off "for a professional appearance".
In the long history of the world no male on earth has ever recommended that a woman cut off her hair; only demons and other women ever suggest such a sacrilege!
Question -- Know what men call an ugly woman with long hair?
Answer -- Beautiful!
Besides, Gin & I have felt that cutting a woman's hair is contrary to God's rule “because of the angels” (whatever that means) according to Paul's letter to the Corinthians and according to Peter's letters about braided hair and gaudy jewelry.... but, nevertheless, we have abandoned our faith and submitted to the apparent necessity of the moment in order for Ginny to get a good job.
Judas had good reasons for his actions too.
In June, 1999, In summary, Ginny and I drudged through the month: she working; me pittering in the yard and trying to get grass and flowers to grow. Fridays we meet for supper, Saturdays we bike to yard sales; Sundays we bike to church then work with the flowers for pleasure ….
On June 20th, Father's Day, ---- A GRACKLE JUST FLEW IN THROUGH MY OFFICE WINDOW, HIT THE ROTATING CIELING FAN ABPOVE MY HEAD, FLOMPED DOWN ONTO MY COMPUTER THEN FLAPPED OUTSIDE AGAIN! DOES STEPHEN KING WRITE UNDER SUCH CONDITIONS??? --- As I was saying, On June 20th, Father's Day, Jennifer gave me a large wooden statue of a mermaid. It's almost five feet high, carved from a log. She was driving in Arlington when she saw the artist carting it to the curb for the trash men; he'd started carving the wood when it was still green and as the statue dried the wood began to split so he trashed it. She stopped and asked for it and brought it to me. I love it!
I called Dr. B******, a physician who carves wood as a hobby, and he came over and advised me about how to preserve my mermaid. I bought spray polyurethane and sprayed it deep into all the cracks, then coated the statue several times with liquid polyurethane. We posted the mermaid in the garden amid periwinkles and marigolds. Her face tilts upward as though she were pushing off from the bottom of the sea scooting upward through the water to reach the sunlight. I treasure her.
June 6, 2000 --
After the last Job class I taught on April 30th, Gin & I expected that I would be able to channel the energy I'd been expending on lesson preparation into my writing... It didn't happen.
We decided that I need help.
To see if there is something physical the matter with me, I made an appointment with a doctor, and an appointment with a councilor from the city's Employee Assistance Program, Ray Hellier.
My first session with Ray was on May 15th.
He is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in business productivity problems. He uses a system called cognitive therapy.
Essentially cognitive therapy says that negative ways of thinking influence feelings and behavior. By changing the negative thought patterns, productive behavior can result.
One of the first tests given reveal that I suffer from severe depression; I scored a 59 when a normal person (such as Ginny) scores in the range of six to eight.
I thought I was down a little but I have been suffering from depression for so long that it just seems like a normal outlook on life to me. I did not realize I was in such bad shape.
Anyhow, Ray is having me work through Dr. David D. Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook and it is proving helpful.
Because one of my basic assumptions is that I'm a sorry, no good, shitty piece of vomit, Ray had me write a paper containing only good things I have done; I titled it GOOD STUFF ABOUT A BAD GUY and an un-edited, un-spellchecked first draft copy is attached:
GOOD STUFF ABOUT A BAD GUY:
An Exercise in Cognitive Therapy
John W. Cowart….
Note: In my journal there follows a list of all the good things I could think of. Since Jesus said, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men… That thine alms may be in secret” (Matthew 6:1-4), I don’t think it appropriate for me to publish this list on the web. Cain’t write Christian if I don’t at least try to live Christian in a few areas of my life. Besides, I think the reason Jesus wanted his followers to keep the good we do a secret is so that no one will know just how little good it is that we do.
They say that one picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s the picture that sums up this omitted journal entry:
Wednesday, June 6, 2001:
Read all day.
Sunday I took the last pill of Paxcil (a sample bottle Dr. R***** gave me) and I feel irritable having been disturbed by odd dreams again. I think my behavior is linked to going off the Paxcil -- or maybe just my usual cussedness -- but I feel as though I'm walking on eggs.
I even snapped at Ginny tonight before supper over which container of mustard to use!
We talked it over pro and con: with the Paxcil I am more laid back, but suffer what the tv euphemistically calls “sexual side effects”. Without the medicine our sex life improves but I have great trouble sleeping. Neither with or without am I getting the book written which was the primary reason for asking for an antidepressant in the first place. We can't decide which is our best course.
Wait and see if things improve, we suppose.
I certainly don't want my brain messed up by something stronger or by one of the addictive medicines. Gin says that I'm not as screwed up as I think I am; too introspective, she says, but she supports me no matter what.
This week she has been checking the Internet for more books by Fenelon in New York, Los Angeles and at LC. His work has helped my spiritual life more than anything I have read in ages.
This morning Dr. R***** said the only thing my lab tests show is a shortage of good cholesterol and to get it I need to exercise more. There is no physical reason for my dizzy spells.
Since my doctor’s appointment shot the morning to hell, I decided to mow grass – our yard and W******’s – for the rest of the day. While getting the weed-eater out of the shed, much to my delight, I encountered a large red rat snake. I’d found these years ago when I was in Boy Scouts.
Once on Fort George Island, in the slave cabins, I actually saw an intense battle between one of these snakes and a rat. High drama in a life or death struggle; the rat chewed a hole in the snake’s as the snake had the rat’s hind quarters in its mouth. I was thrilled to watch them fight rolling over and over, intent on nothing but each other. I’m glad one of these noble creatures lives in our shed.
From a Website called www.floridabackyardsnakes.com/ Non-venomous.HTM :
Elaphe guttata guttata
Average size: 18-44 inches: Record 72 inches. Young are 9-14 inches at birth.
Range: Throughout Florida
Diet: Rodents and birds. Young will eat lizards and frogs.
Makes an excellent pet.
Tonight I called Donald asking him to take over my student loan account to the tune of $100 a month. He agreed instantly! This will free the hundred dollars we have been paying for the parents’ loans we took out while he was at JU (Donald actually got a minuscule amount of this because he used the lion’s share to support me and the family in those hard hard times). Back them I appreciated his sacrifices for us so very much; and now he’s going beyond the second mile to relieve me of this heavy debt. Thanks be to God.
I devoted today to routine yard work which had fallen way behind while I’ve fiddled with the fence project. Heavy rain yesterday afternoon and today and by working in wet shoes I managed to rub huge blisters on my left foot so between the blisters to the left and the hip arthritis to the right, I don’t know which side to limp on most.
Gin got home exhausted. She napped in front of tv news and we decided not to go out to eat tonight but warmed a tv dinner.
-- 30 --
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