Halloween in middle school

One of my favorite Halloween memories is from way back in middle school. I was living in Stafford, Virginia and I think that year I was either dressed in my dad’s camouflage gear or maybe dressed as a baseball player. We lived in a the perfect neighborhood for trick-or-treating so I was allowed to walk around with a group of my friends.

I can’t remember why, but for some reason I had to go back to my house to get something. My friend Luke Miller came with me. After retrieving whatever it was, he and I went around door to door getting candy and it was so fun. I don’t think we ever caught up with our group of friends but it didn’t matter to me.

I thought it was cool that he was fine hanging out with me, since he was much cooler and I always thought of myself as just a shy kid with super crooked teeth.

Many Halloweens have come and gone since then, tons of candy consumed, but that one was a favorite Halloween from my school days!

-Out of the Wilderness

My very first Tom Petty memory

News broke today that Tom Petty has passed away so I thought I’d share my first memory of him and his music.

I was in middle school in the late 80s/early 90s and our family had recently moved to Stafford, Virginia. Our next door neighbors had kids around my sisters ages (high school) so they naturally became friends pretty soon after we arrived. At some point they started talking about music and my sisters’ new friend gushed about Tom Petty. I couldn’t help but laugh and think, “What a dork!” Who would like Tom Petty or his music? I thought I was so hip and evolved and my neighbor was out of touch.

Boy, was I wrong!

As I got older, my exposure to music expanded. It was probably some time in college or just after college that I thought back to that middle school Virginia story and was embarrassed again… but this time it wasn’t for my neighbor, it was for me. I was the one who needed to learn more about good music and it wasn’t just limited to the tiny handful of songs or groups I liked.

Tom Petty is a legend and sadly, it took years for that to become a reality for me. He was singing adult music and I was just an immature little child. Here’s a list of my favorite Tom Petty songs:

Free Fallin’

Don’t Come Around Here No More

You Don’t Know How It Feels

I Won’t Back Down

Learning To Fly


-Out of the Wilderness

That time I thought my dad was gonna freak out!

I’ve been nervous around my dad many times. And for all sorts of reasons but as a youngster it was mostly because I had done something wrong and punishment was coming down, sooner or later. Or other times growing up like when he was teaching me and my brother and sisters to water ski or basically teaching us to do anything near the water. That was his domain, hey he was in the Coast Guard for 27 years! If we couldn’t get it, we were sent to the poop deck!

As a young adult it was less about discipline coming from the former Coast Guard captain, and more about what he might say in front of friends about his single sons! “Any single girls out there… with insurance??” he would say. 

That line of questioning is an ongoing saga/joke in our family, but ya know what? I’m really happy to have a dad who cares about my life, even when he tries to play matchmaker. But I promise this isn’t about my life as a Hallmark movie, so moving right along…

This post is about back when I was in middle school in Stafford, Virginia. The years we lived there we attended Mount Ararat Baptist Church pastored by Dee Williams. We were faithful churchgoers on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights, too. My brother, who was year and a half older than me back then, and I had a lot of the same friends, and one was Daniel.

Daniel was out riding his bike one day. I think it was some kind of bicycle ride fundraiser thing. He had a 10-speed so the tires were really skinny. Well, partly because of that, when Daniel’s front tire hit a rock, Daniel went over the handlebars. It was bad. He hit the pavement face first and was rushed to the hospital. He had to have surgery, stitches, all that, but I don’t remember the exact extent of his injuries, except that it was bad.

So the first weekend that Daniel was back home, my brother and I wanted to visit him. He lived across the street from the church. Sunday we all spilled out of the van but instead of going to Sunday School like we were supposed to, my brother and I went over to see Daniel. Well, long story short, we ended up hanging out with him and missing church completely!
The Horror Omg GIF by Red Fang - Find & Share on GIPHY

We were in for it.

“What, you don’t love God anymore!???” our dad would challenge.

“You’re terrible people.” he would say.

“Wash the van with your tears and a small rag!!” he would demand.

But it wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it was so much the opposite. Our dad was actually proud of us.

The day went on as a usual Sunday but I won’t ever forget the surprise of that day. I was expecting a fatherly fallout, a patriarchal poop deck punishment, a dad discipline to match the offense of missing a church service. Instead it was a pat on the back. He asked how Daniel was doing. He knew something I didn’t know way back then: relationships trump ritual every day of the week.

My relationship, and my brother’s, too, with Daniel was more important that day than going to Sunday School, than sitting to hear a sermon from Dee (sorry pastor, wherever you are!), than going through the motions of being a Christian. So on an pretty ordinary Sunday I learned something about my dad and from my dad:

  1. My dad is full of surprises.
  2. God is more interested in relationships than rituals.
  3. Sometimes it’s OK to skip church. 😉

Thank you Dad, and happy Father’s Day from your slightly more favorite son!


A 5th Grader’s Habit

There are scenarios where having your tongue out is a good thing. For instance, when it’s snowing and you want to catch the snowflakes. Or if you’re Jordan. Or when the doctor uses that wood stick to “get a closer look.” So can you blame Miley Cyrus for letting her tongue hang out like a labrador? Yes, yes you can. But as silly as she is, I’m a victim of the same exact habit.

Stafford, Virginia. It was my 5th grade year and I noticed I had a habit of sticking my tongue out when I was concentrating. Not knowing how to resolve this, I enlisted my friend Robin’s help.

me in 5th grade sporting a Semper Paratus shirt, next to Whitney Williams.
me in 5th grade sporting a Semper Paratus shirt, next to Whitney Williams.
Robin Wallis.
Robin Wallis.

I said, “Every time you see me with my tongue out, laugh.” I was sure when I heard Robin laughing at me, I’d know why and it would trigger a positive response. Let’s just say she laughed  a lot. In hindsight, I should’ve expanded the team of helpful volunteers to more friends. Like JR, Chris, Meghan (who I still owe $5,000), Michelle, Joey, Whitney, Heather (who I loved?), Carson, and Lisa. All that laughing surely would’ve helped!

But I guess if Aristotle is right, that “we are what we repeatedly do,” then I’ll always be exactly like Jordan, in every way, especially basketball.

-Out of the Wilderness

The Relevance of Cuss Words

A few nights ago I comically confessed to my parents, and other family together for the holidays, that my brother and I used to have cussing sprees on the golf course behind our house in Aquia Harbor. Oh, and he wasn’t present when I spilled the secret but I assumed he wouldn’t mind. Sorry if this throws a wrench in your style, bro! It’s not that there wasn’t anything else to do in Stafford, Virginia. I guess we were going through some sort of rebellious phase even at the young age of early high school (my brother) and middle school (me). I can’t remember what compelled us to start using profanity, but we’d leave the house, walk up the hill and through the small amount of woods separating us from the 4th hole tee, and let the foul words rip.

swear-words2So now I’m a taddle tail. Sue me. It’s not as if my parents could ground me. “I’m a grown man!” I don’t think they’d ground my brother either. The most trouble he can get in is explaining this to his church! Yes, he’s a pastor. But if anyone in his congregation is reading this, cut him some slack! He was a young whipper-snapper just trying to navigate high school life while trying to be as cool as his younger, middle school brother. Or so I assume. At some point we grew tired of our trips outside so we stopped. At this point in the story one of my sister interjects, “Was the only reason you stopped because we moved?” How dare she! But maybe. Either way, we turned from our evil ways and became wholesome again. It might have had something to do with the time I said the ‘s’ word in front of my dad. He was reading the newspaper while my brother and I were talking nearby. Somehow the curse word slipped out and I immediately jerked my head towards my dad, assuming he was going to ground me for life. He didn’t flinch at all. Are parents really able to tune children out that well? Amazing. And I was thankful for it that day.

I’m all grown up and can now say cuss words are more relevant to me, only because I know when they are appropriate to use. On the golf course as a middle schooler was completely out of context (because I wasn’t actually playing golf, anyway).  But am I the only one that thinks in the right scenario, certain words just work better? And by “right scenario” I mean “in traffic with bad drivers,” and more specifically, drivers in the south.

-Out of the Wilderness