What’s in a name, part 3

(This is the final installment of a three-part series on why we gave each of our boys their name. Barron’s birthday is Feb. 6, so today’s post is timed to coincide with that wonderful, life-changing event. Happy 22nd, Barron!)

What’s in a name? For us, it’s family.

Our three boys are roughly four years apart in age. We wanted each to have a strong, distinctive name. Carla and I always thought names had more meaning when they came from beloved and respected ancestors. Passing on their names extends the memory of those who have gone before and gives our children a differentiator in a world where so many boys their age bear trendy names.

Naming was the opposite of parenting. It became harder as we had more children. With each child we learned how to be better parents, but with each male child, we had a more difficult time selecting a name we liked with a meaningful family connection.

Collage of photos of in a frame of Barron Wallace as an infant with his mother, Carla Wallace.
Carla and her first baby, Barron Elliott, 22 almost 22 years ago.

Our first born is Barron Elliott Wallace. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say we decided what our oldest son would be called about six minutes after we got engaged. As soon as we started talking seriously about our future, we settled on family names like “Ruth” and “Helen” for a girl and “Barron,” Carla’s maiden name, for a boy.

Continuing Carla’s family name is a lot for Barron to carry, but since she was an only child, we both felt the urge to give her family name to our firstborn. “Elliott,” his middle name, originated with my grandmother. Her maiden name is both my and my father’s middle name. It rolls off the tongue in combination with “Barron,” and it pays tribute to my father’s mother’s family.

Barron likes the distinctiveness of his name. He appreciates his connection to his roots. As his college studies focus on furnishings and interiors with an emphasis on historic preservation, he lives into his name. He is pursuing a career restoring objects and structures from the past.

Barron Wallace grinning from ear to ear in his Redcoat marching band uniform at the 2023 college football National Championship game at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
Don’t he look like a Barron?

Whenever anyone brings up the youngest child of former president Donald Trump, our Barron is quick to point out, “I had the name first.” He’s soon to be 22 years old, and I cannot imagine Barron having any other name.

What I learned from my parents

Dad was a preacher and Mom was a teacher, so many of life’s lessons were given to my brothers and me explicitly and directly.

They were not shy about telling us exactly what to do, both in the moment with an assigned task and in the future with big life decisions. I still remember the speeches on saving money, dressing well to earn respect, eating my vegetables, getting enough sleep and brushing my teeth. It was all helpful and sound advice.

Larry and Sharon Wallace
Dad and Mom have aged (only slightly) since this photo was taken, but their wisdom and advice has been timeless.

But what I remember most from my parents came from their example. Here are the most impactful lessons I learned from my parents that have stuck with me to this day:

Cleanliness. I’ve heard my dad tell the story so many times I can recite it from memory. When they brought me home from the hospital, my mom was overly concerned for my hygiene. She bathed me two or three times a day. She disinfected every implement or toy I could touch, and she worked diligently to ensure my environment was as germ free as possible. Throughout my youth, keeping my room clean and assisting with the household chores like emptying the trash, vacuuming the floors and doing the dishes, were all non-negotiable tasks on my agenda. To this day, I remain fastidious about my hygiene and keep a clean house. Carla often accuses me of being unable to sit still and relax because I’m always wiping a surface, sweeping up the crumbs or picking up fallen tree branches and leaves from the yard. I don’t know if it was instilled from infancy, but it’s a lesson I learned well from my parents.

Responsibility. Our first house in Bedford, Texas, had a two-car garage, and we kept at least one side cleaned out for parking. Automatic garage door openers were a luxury back in the 1970s, so when I got big enough to hoist the door open, that was my job. My dad would pull into the driveway, put the car in park and announce, “Garage door opener, ho!” I jumped out, ran to the door, heaved and tugged at the handle until it got to eye level and pushed it over my head in triumph. This was my job, and I learned to do it consistently and without complaint.

It was also an opportunity for a lesson in economics. A few months into the assignment of this new chore, my dad called “Garage door opener, ho!” and I paused.

“Dad, I think I should be paid to open the garage door,” I offered, a little hesitant.

“Sure! Glad to pay you!” was his surprisingly enthusiastic response. “How much do you want? A nickel? A quarter? How about a dollar every time you open the garage door?”

“Yeah, a dollar sounds good,” I replied, a huge grin emerging at my successful negotiation.

As I opened the car door to rush to earn my first dollar, my dad offered one more point.

“One thing, though. Dinner tonight will cost you $3.50.”

I paused, thought about it, and realized I would quickly be in the hole financially.

“I think I’ll just open the garage door for free,” I said and never again demanded higher wages.

In my lifetime I have earned promotions and pay raises, but I have always been more motivated by trust and a sense of responsibility than accolades or money.

Faithfulness. My parents brought me to church just a few weeks after I was born, and I have missed few Sundays since. We never questioned church attendance in my family, even before my dad went into the ministry. Before he joined the staff at our church, he did everything he possibly could as a volunteer – teaching Sunday School, visiting prospects and the sick, assisting with construction projects and cleaning the church. My mother was just as committed, singing in the choir, playing the piano, keeping the nursery, and teaching adult women’s Sunday School. They were unbendingly and unerringly faithful to the church. As my dad used to say, “Jesus loved us so much that he gave His life for us. The least we can do is show up at church a few times a week.”

I am just as serious about my church attendance and involvement today. My family has made it just as habitual as I did growing up. They have learned to expect worship to be a part of our Sundays even when we’re on vacation. That can mean an intimate service with just our family or at the church with the people we are visiting. Love of the church is hardwired into my who I am, and I can’t imagine life without it.

Hard work. From the time I was big enough to push a mower, yard work has been the instrument to teach me the value of hard work. I can still hear my dad’s voice, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Raking, pulling weeds, digging lines for a sprinkler system, push mowing, picking up tree limbs and Spanish moss, cutting back bushes, pruning trees, and weed whacking on a nearly three acres of Central Florida property taught me to be diligent in gathering facts, conducting interviews, making calls, writing, editing, re-writing, taking pictures, updating web pages, meeting deadlines, responding to emails, drafting speeches, hosting media, creating integrated marketing communications plans, posting to social media, compiling budgets, building presentations, speaking to groups, doing on-camera interviews, managing a staff and much, much more. A good work ethic has been universally helpful to me. Seeing both of my parents work hard taught me that it should not be dreaded or avoided. Hard work should be the norm and the fruits of that work should be enjoyed.

Unselfishness. Both of my parents in different contexts put others first. My dad had a congregation of people for whom he would drop everything and go to the hospital to visit, pray with or counsel. He would show up in suit and tie to my games and performances, never complaining that he was too busy or too tired to watch yet another basketball game. My mom worked all day and prepared us nutritious meals every night, rose early to fix our lunches, and went without a lot of sleep to take care of us. I can also safely say she cared nothing for the hours of sports she endured on television or the hundreds of arcane conversations on the nuances of “Star Wars.” As a result, I rarely think “What do I want to do?” but instead try to anticipate what my family needs or wants, and I work to make that happen. I have learned to give up food on my plate, take the broken chair, pass up the game on TV, and even, on occasion, shop for home furnishings on a fall Saturday. I strive to be unselfish in my decision making and focus on putting others first.

Don’t follow the crowd. I have been taught to “take the road less traveled” since I first heard “broad is the way that leadeth to destruction” from Matthew 7:13 as a child in church. It was always more important to my parents that we do what was right than what was popular. This was true for fashion, music, movies, going to prom or anything that could be detrimental to our Christian witness. It started out for me as avoiding “the appearance of evil,” but I have more universally applied this principle to life decisions requiring a moral choice. I learned to avoid situations where people are behaving inappropriately or illegally. I try to choose what’s right vs. what’s convenient. These lessons have given me a spirit of independence and the ability to think for myself.

Laugh. My dad remembers jokes even when he can’t remember the day of the week. He has always displayed a knack for humor. My mom’s sense of humor can be off beat, but I can still hear the sounds of her laughter when she got together with her sister, Wanda. When my brothers and I were old enough to get away with it, we worked at making my parents laugh when we were around the dinner table. We saw how much joy it gave them. These days I don’t laugh enough, but repeating that scene around my family’s dinner table with my boys is hopefully teaching them how life-giving joy and laughter is.

Have adventures. The year my parents packed our car in secret and took us to Houston and Galveston on Thanksgiving has been forever imprinted on my identity. They taught me that anything can happen when I least expect it and it can be amazing. Dad explained the trip as we got in the car as “We’re going on a drive.” For almost the entire three-and-a-half hour trip we asked “When are we turning around?” to which my father replied, “Do you want to turn around?” I learned that sometimes it’s better not to turn around. It’s better to discover the adventure around the next bend. Having adventures, not knowing what is coming next, building anticipation and injecting surprise into life adds depth and meaning to our existence. It’s essential when life gets too predictable and hum drum. I try to remember to give my family little adventures whenever possible, and I got that from Dad and Mom.

I’ll bet some of these on this list have already filtered their way down to my children. At least, I hope they have. And I hope my boys know where these qualities and habits come from. Their grandparents are remarkable in ways they may not have fully appreciated.

Appreciating my brothers, part 2

In honor of my youngest brother’s birthday yesterday, here is the second part of an appreciation of my brothers. If you missed part one back in March, you can catch up on my thoughts about my middle brother, Lee, here.

Lyle Elrod Wallace joined our family January 13, 1981, disrupting the roles and responsibilities each of us understood. Lee went from being the baby to the middle son, and I went from carefree older brother to frequent caregiver and babysitter. His birth came with complications, but not long after, he was thriving and playing his part as the baby absorbing all of the attention.

three brothers on the porch. Lyle Wallace. Lance Wallace. Lee Wallace.
Can you guess who’s oldest? Lyle, Lance and Lee, slightly out of age order.

Dad often resorted to a rhyme when introducing us for the first time, particularly to older people, who visited the church — “We’ve got Lance with the ants, Lee with the fleas and Lyle with the smile.” Maw Maw, my mother’s mother, frequently told people without apology, “Lyle is the best behaved and best looking of the bunch.” The baby of the family always comes out on top in familial comparisons.

By the time he became aware of social hierarchies, Lyle understood that our household was divided into two classes: royalty and the serfs. He, of course, was royalty, and Lee and I were the serving class known as “the brothers.” When chores were handed out, he just assumed they were meant for “the brothers” and did not apply to him. He calculated, correctly, that if he just waited, the compulsion that had become ingrained in Lee and me to accomplish assigned tasks would take over, and we would do the chores without him lifting a finger.

This may have caused resentment at the time, but it didn’t last. Maybe it was that smile. Or maybe it was his low-key, cool personality. Whatever tools and tricks he employed, I liked that he rolled with punches and took life as it came to him. He didn’t seem to get worked up about anything.

Lyle Wallace in a cap and gown holds his master's degree diploma in a blue leather folder with his mother, Sharon Wallace, in front of a light brown brick wall.
Maw Maw always said he was the smartest, best behaved and best looking of the three of us. He earned his master’s of divinity a few years back and is now working on a Ph.D.

One day when he was in elementary school and I was off at college, Dad rushed out of the house, late for some commitment for the church. He forgot to take Lyle to school. When Lyle came downstairs and realized he had been left at home alone, he didn’t panic or go into hysterics. He just settled in for an unscheduled holiday.

When Dad came home for lunch he was shocked to find Lyle on the couch watching TV.

“What are you doing here?” Dad asked in amazement.

“Eating a popsicle,” Lyle casually responded, TV remote in hand.

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“You left me.”

Neither Lee nor I would have had the courage to confront the truth of that circumstance or sit by so calmly when an obvious catastrophe befell us. Lyle took it all in stride.

I also admire Lyle’s pursuit of education and adventure. After high school, he took a year to work and study at Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, N.Y. Born in Texas but Central Florida-bred, Lyle had barely seen snow in his life. Word of Life afforded him the opportunity to run games at “Snow Camp” for churches and youth groups. Lyle confessed it was the coldest year of his life, but I respected the boldness required to immerse himself in such a contrasting climate to his upbringing.

He went on to complete his undergraduate degree at Arlington Baptist College and started working in churches immediately, starting with the church I grew up in, First Baptist Church of Richland Hills, Texas. When he finished college, he married and took on the pastorate of a small church in Junction, Texas. A couple of years later, he was back in the Metroplex getting his master of divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary. When that project was completed, he started his Ph.D. studies and accepted the call to pastor Talty Baptist Church southeast of Dallas.

Talking with him now, I get the clear sense that he’s a deep thinker. He’s open to new ideas but understands what he believes and why. He doesn’t pick fights over theology or politics, but always seeks to learn and teach. I don’t think it’s just his type “B” personality. He’s driven to know more and comprehend better, a trait we could use more of in today’s polarized world.

Lyle isn’t just a career student, though. Like Lee, he, too, learned — eventually — the value of hard work. To support his family and pay for graduate school, he worked nights as a janitor at the Birdville School District. Humbling and grueling, Lyle listened to class notes on his headphones while scrubbing toilets, sweeping gyms, and polishing floors. He no longer believed he was immune to dirty work. He stuck it out when many people would have given up. When the boy commits to a goal, he sees it through.

In ministry, many of the pastors I’ve known were always looking for the next, bigger church that could pay them more. When opportunities arose, they followed their ego and blamed the “call to a new ministry.” Lyle sticks to his word. He stayed at the small church in the middle of the Hill Country of Texas much longer than anyone else would have, making way less than anyone else would have, to make an impact no one else could have. Now, he’s building a church at Talty, patiently helping his congregation to grow in faithfulness and in size. Now that the world has emerged from the lockdown phases of the pandemic, Talty Baptist is poised for explosive growth. I believe God is blessing that church through and because of Lyle’s dedication to them.

Always able to express himself through photography, music, drawing, graphic art, and well-constructed sermons, Lyle is excellent at gift giving. I love to see the joy on my boys’ faces when they open a special graduation, Christmas or birthday gift that is obviously a hand-crafted item that speaks to their interests and passions. I am grateful Lyle cares enough to create gifts that connect with people, and I envy his creativity and craftyness.

Lyle Wallace holds a sand bass
Lyle with a sand bass on Cedar Creek Reservoir.

As the years and miles between us pile up, I find I am drawn to reconnect with my brothers and rediscover the bonds we forged growing up as preacher’s kids. I look forward to creating new memories and taking the opportunity to let them know just how special they are. Happy birthday, Lyle!

My favorite joke

When I was a cub reporter at The Macon Telegraph back in the early 1990s, copy editor Randy Waters once gave me a backhanded compliment that has stuck with me:

“Lance, you’re the funniest guy I know who can’t tell a joke.”

Randy was right. I’ve never been good at remembering jokes, but as a middle-aged father of three, I am gaining proficiency in the stock-and-trade of dads everywhere… the dreaded Dad Joke.

To help me in this pursuit, my own father gave me three joke books for Christmas, which I have already begun to study intently, much to my family’s chagrin.

A doctor joke book, lawyer joke book and dad joke book lined up next to each other on a glass table top.
I’ve started memorizing the contents of these Christmas gifts from my Dad. Nothing can stop my rise to comedic stardom now!

Growing up in church gave me an appreciation for emotional storytelling and the use of humor.

Good preachers have a knack for remembering and telling jokes, both from the pulpit and in social settings. One of the first jokes I ever remember my childhood pastor, Bro. Billy Mauldin, telling went something like this:

A man goes to prison, and the first night while he’s laying in bed contemplating his situation, he hears someone yell out, “44!” Uproarious laughter erupts from the other prisoners.

He thought that was pretty odd. Then he heard someone else yell out, “72!” That was followed by even more laughter.

“What’s going on?” he asked his cellmate.

“Well, we’ve all heard every joke so many times, we’ve given them each a number to make it easier.”

“Oh,” the new prisoner said. “Can I try?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

So he yells out “102!” and the place is dead quiet, save for a few groans. Confused, he looks at his cellmate who is just shaking his head.

“Hey, what happened?”

“Well, some people can tell a joke, and some people can’t.”

I puzzled over that joke for a while. Like most kids, I was a literal thinker. I thought it was funny because what made the prisoners laugh was the way the joke teller pronounced the numbers. I didn’t get it until I was in my teens, much older than I should have been to understand a joke as basic as this one.

I don’t remember jokes very well, but this one has stayed with me. It’s both a meta joke — a joke about a joke — a proverb. The truth is, some people can’t tell jokes. Spend two minutes with a comedian you’ve never heard before on YouTube, and you will see what I mean.

Humor is something I’ve always appreciated and tried to bring to my conversations. I hope this year to prove Randy wrong… not by being unfunny but by adding joke-telling to my humor repertoire.

But then again, some people can tell a joke, and some people can’t.

What’s your favorite joke? Leave a comment below to share. You can credit the source or rely on the old adage that originality is the ability to forget where you heard it. Clean jokes only, please. This is a family blog.

Simple pleasures

For me the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a re-evaluation of life’s big questions. One of my discoveries is how the simple pleasures contribute to my quality of life. Here are the little things that have come to mean a lot to me:

The Wallace family play a card game sitting around a wooden table in their kitchen.
Laughter around the table is a simple pleasure that happens frequently when we play a family game.

Cup of coffee. I drink coffee twice a day. I have a cup when I first get up in the morning, and I have another cup around 3 in the afternoon. I drink coffee black with the rare exception of adding a flavored creamer to a cup of decaf on winter nights. I joke that I drink coffee for its medicinal effects rather than the taste, but the fact is, I have come to appreciate strong, smooth coffee. I like it hot, not warm and never iced. The experience is best when it’s quiet, and my brain sparks to life as the warmth of each sip washes over me.

Hot shower. I confess: I take long showers. When the weather is cold, I take even longer showers. Even if my skin is pruning, and I risk being late for work, it’s harder to get out when the temperature differential is greater than 10 degrees. Our house has a tankless hot water heater, and for the first time in my life, I can take a 20-minute shower without running out of hot water. It is a luxury I enjoy. When I have to cut my shower short, it’s an inconvenience that influences my mood negatively, as much as I hate to admit it. Relaxation and deep thoughts make the hot shower a daily ritual that contributes to my well-being.

A nap. I function best on eight hours of sleep. I rarely get seven. My best compensation is a 15- to 20-minute power nap, which I typically only get on weekends. If office culture every changed to embrace a post-lunch quick snooze, I’d be great. Instead, I rely on that afternoon cup of coffee to get me through the workday. It’s a great feeling to wake up refreshed after just a few minutes of sleep, and I am never tempted to stretch a nap. Those longer naps interfere with my night’s sleep and disrupt my circadian rhythm. I nap best reclining rather than prone, and I enjoy being able to nap warmed by the sun.

Going for a run/walk. In my heyday, I ran 6 miles five days a week with a long run one day a week. I was out the door by 5:30, and taking the 45-50 minutes before my day started felt essential rather than extravagant. Over time, injuries and aging forced me to alter my routine. I ran every other day and mixed in cross training and strength training. Various injuries since turning 40 like plantar fasciitis and hip flexor pain prompted prolonged layoffs, but I was eventually able to resume running. Two years ago, though, was the permanent end to my running for fitness. Knee pain from March to July sent me to the orthopedist, and an October diagnosis of a meniscus tear was finally cured with arthroscopic surgery in November. When I fully recovered, I wasn’t able to hit the roads with the same speed and endurance. I eased back into walking, which includes a two-mile walk on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and a five-mile walk on Saturdays. I it less exertion but it still helps me clear my head. The slower pace has the added benefit of helping me notice more about my surroundings and conditions. I see and appreciate the sunrise, feel the breeze and smell the honeysuckle. I have learned not to take pain-free movement for granted, and the mental and emotional aspects outweigh the cardiovascular benefits now that I’m over 50.

Conversation with Carla. Having an uninterrupted conversation with my wife was one of the most elusive activities during the lock-down phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. We spent more time at home and around each other than ever before, but so did everyone else in our house. This deprivation illuminated just how much I value and enjoy our talks, no matter the topic. Whether it’s planning the next household project, dreaming of the next vacation, working through our worries for our boys or planning for our future, these dialogues fuel our relationship in a way that draws us closer and connects us. They tend to happen when we’re on a date at a restaurant or on the balcony of the beach condo on vacation. Getting away was difficult under quarantine, but it showed me the acuteness of my need for it. I am my best self when I’m grounded in my relationship with Carla.

Laughter around my table. The best antidote to the pressures of life is the tension release brought on by laughter. When bickering is replaced by heartfelt laughter, all is right with my world. No matter who induces it, laughter injects my spirit with a hopeful enthusiasm. It gives me perspective. It helps me see the blessings rather than the challenges. It washes the negativity out of my system and clears the air in the relationships in our household. I find that humor gets harder with age. I’ve heard it all at this point, and I’m harder to impress. Refining the comical helps me appreciate the deep, authentic laugh more and makes its effect on my mood more dramatic. Laughter is truly the best medicine for keeping my family positive and supportive of each other.

There are many other moments that bring me joy, but these are the simple pleasures I find most meaningful at this stage. If I have these in my life, I am truly blessed.

Things I can’t live without

Survival depends on very little – food, water, shelter, clothing. Fulfillment requires healthy relationships, meaningful work and serving others. Convenience is more complicated.

Reflecting on what I cannot live without is an examination of convenience. Everything on this list contributes to my comfort, productivity, or entertainment, but it isn’t necessary for survival. That said, this list says a lot about me.

Lance wearing a blue vest and red checked shirt clutches a white mug of coffee
My drug of choice requires a machine that I cannot live without.

Coffeemaker. I had my first cup of coffee as a sophomore in college in 1989 at the appropriately named Coffee Kettle restaurant in Troy, Ala. I drank coffee then as now – for its medicinal benefits. Then, I relied on the caffeine boost to power through all-night study or paper writing sessions. Now, it helps me wake up in the morning and it fuels me past my afternoon lull. When I first started the habit, I was like a lot of newcomers to the beverage. I added copious amounts of sugar and cream or creamer to my coffee. That changed in the fall of 1991 during my journalism internship at Knight-Ridder Newspapers’ Washington Bureau. On a crisp fall morning I was at the office coffee station filling my cup with sugar and creamer when the bureau’s office manager came in to get her morning coffee. A refined and attractive middle-aged British woman, she always struck me dumb when she spoke to me. She looked at my coffee accessories and declared “That will kill you.” Internalizing her disapproval of my doctoring, I ceased at the moment to add anything to my coffee and learned to drink it black. When I set up housekeeping for the first time in the summer of 1992 at an apartment in Macon, Georgia, I purchased my first coffeemaker. It wasn’t top of the line, but it got the job done. Even when I go on camping trips, I make sure to bring along a kettle and the easy “boil in a bag” coffee. It’s a dependency and a creature comfort not required for life, but it’s an addiction I choose not to forsake at this stage of my life.

Hot water heater. I have taken cold showers in my life, and with the exception of the time I was in Lake Wales, Florida, helping my parents clean up from the damage of hurricane Charley, I did not welcome the experience. Even during the summer, I like to take long, hot showers. I think deep thoughts. I have good ideas. It’s relaxing. But the temperature really matters. One of the best amenities our current house possessed when we bought it in 2013 was a tankless water heater. Only when the power is out do I have to forego hot water, and in those rare instances, I have chosen to postpone showering until the water is hot enough to turn my skin pink.

Air conditioner/heater. My father-in-law, Lanny Barron, believed the most significant culture-changing invention to impact life in the South was the invention of air conditioning. It’s hard to argue. Air conditioning has turned us into indoor people, lowering our tolerance to temperatures that in the past would have been ideal for outdoor play. Lately, my preferred indoor temperature is a higher than it used to be. I can live with 75 or 76. When the AC goes out completely, it quickly feels unbearable when temperatures reach 82 or 83. A couple of years ago we replaced the main AC unit in our house. Supposedly more energy efficient, the new system controls the humidity indoors as well. That’s a welcomed innovation that adds to our summertime comfort. Of course, these days the air conditioner is dual purpose and has a heat pump as well. As I age, I find that I am more susceptible to cold and probably need the use of the heater as much or more than the air conditioning. The lower range of comfortable temperatures for me these days is 71 or 72, and I confess to having to wear a fleece pullover and sit under a blanket while watching TV at night from fall to early spring.

Refrigerator. Whenever thunderstorms render us powerless, we must contemplate the question of whether the food in our freezer will thaw or the contents of our refrigerator will spoil. In those cases, my under-appreciated fridge takes on greater importance. We have leftovers after nearly every nightly meal. I rely on the bounty of the Tupperware-enclosed morsels tucked away in the refrigerator for my lunches. Our refrigerators allows me to get the most mileage out of our meals and feel thrifty in the process. I have a simple standard for selecting my lunch menu: the food in the fridge that is oldest and will spoil first. I eat that, racing the clock (or calendar) to consume the substances quickly deteriorating, When going to the office, I carry a large lunch bag with the plastic ice blocks to keep my plate of leftovers safely chilled before warming them in the microwave. 

Microwave. Speaking of microwaves, it goes hand-in-glove with the fridge. The bounty of leftovers cannot be properly enjoyed without a microwave. I still remember the late 1970s when microwaves started appearing in people’s kitchens. It was an unfathomable innovation that reduced meal preparation times to minutes. There are a still some dishes better heated up in the oven, but if I’m honest, I will often sacrifice quality for timeliness. There are a few foods that are improved by a few seconds in the microwave. At my age, I try to limit my carbs, but occasionally, a pastry or doughnut warmed for 10 seconds or so in the microwave really hits the spot.

Smartphone. As much as I hate to admit this, I am dependent on my smartphone. Not only do I make use of myriad apps for daily conveniences, if I have a moment of unstructured time, I look at it for no good reason. On the plus side, it serves as my alarm clock, and the time function comes in handy with my workout routines. Speaking of working out, the Run Keeper app and an app from the physical therapist helps me track my fitness and rehab from recent knee surgery. The calorie counting app has helped me maintain a healthy weight for more than two years, and the weather app is the first one I open each day. I use my notes app for keeping up with my “to-do” list, movies to watch on family movie night, TV shows to enjoy with Carla, and other essential data I need to keep at my fingertips for odd moments, like my license plate number. The texting function keeps me connected with family and friends, especially during the isolation of the pandemic, and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) app means I never have to wonder where I’ve seen that actor before or if this movie will have inappropriate content for my children. I can “doomscroll” through the news and fake news, wasting time, or, on occasion, see what my friends and family are up to. The ESPN app lets me see the scoreboard of whatever sport is in season, and my podcasts are never far away, giving me hours of good content to absorb. On the downside, my phone also has my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Reddit accounts just a click away. I recently deleted all of the time-wasting games, and I really have tried to cut back on the amount of time I stare at my phone. I am glad that I now only have to carry one smartphone having ditched a separate work phone. I can’t live without my smartphone, but there are many days I fantasize about trying.

Toothbrush. Last but certainly not least is a device so simple and basic, I take it for granted most days. Good dental hygiene has been instilled in me since childhood, and with the combination of my mother’s good dental genes and my dad’s insistence on brushing and flossing, I’ve managed to live 50 years on this planet without a cavity. On those rare times I’ve been without a toothbrush, I’ve resorted to using my finger, but nothing beats the plain ol’ toothbrush at keeping your teeth clean and healthy and your breath fresh.

There are a lot of climate control, food storage and preparation, and hygiene-related items on this list. I’m sure there’s more I could include, but for now, let’s leave it at that.

Thankful for great memories

Memories are fleeting. They come and go on their own timetable. I treasure my children and different memories of them flash into mind at seemingly random moments. Here are memories I cherish and hope revisit me often as the boys grow into adulthood:

Barron

Parents know the least with their firstborn, and we didn’t even know what we didn’t know. We had to pull over during our drive home from the hospital because our newborn was crying in his car seat. We weren’t out of the parking lot five minutes before our circumstances outstripped our knowledge. We were pretty clueless.

Carla Wallace gives infant Barron Wallace a bath in a plastic baby tub on the kitchen counter.
Amazingly, Barron didn’t like bathing on the kitchen counter in the middle of February.

Barron was born in early February. He spent a lot of time in his footed pajamas and snuggly blankets as we conscientiously tried to keep him warm. For some reason, though, we never seemed to care how his body temperature dropped during bath time.

“He must really hate baths,” we thought. “He shakes and cries a lot.”

While we had fun playing with our newborn in the baby tub on the counter top in the kitchen in the middle of winter, we had the benefit of wearing clothes and having adult layers of built-in insulation. He was 10 pounds and completely exposed to the elements. Even with warm water and a strategically placed wash cloth, he shivered every time.

It was only in hindsight that we realized he was probably just cold. First born babies have a lot of teaching to do, and Barron’s brothers benefited from that and other lessons he taught us.

But he was cute, flailing his little arms and legs and splaying his fingers and toes, splashing us.

Harris

Our family has made many lasting memories at Santa Rosa Beach. One of my favorites is the summer I spent intentional time teaching Harris to ride a bike without training wheels.

The school year had proven too busy between Harris’s studies and my work schedule to make much progress on teaching him to ride his bike. Barron tried teaching him, too, using the methods his friend, Tyler Bennett, had used in helping him get the hang of it. It mostly consisted of Barron riding his bike down the hill in the grass in our backyard, giving him a soft place to crash and enough of a slope to help him build forward momentum.

Harris Wallace wearing an orange t-shirt, khaki shorts and a blue and orange bicycle helmet stands with his red bicycle among palm trees and palmetto bushes in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
Harris learned from his big brother that crashing on grass is a lot better than crashing on concrete.

Crashing was Harris’s biggest fear, so the grassy location was key. That year we stayed at a beach house in Old Florida Village, a community of vacation rentals with streets ideal for kids to bicycle. But the pavement was intimidating to Harris, and there were occasional speed bumps that had to be negotiated in the street. There were two grassy lots used for overflow parking, and Harris felt safer trying out his wobbly skills in those softer areas. Of course, the pedaling was more difficult, but when he fell over, all he got was dirty and not skinned up.

The missing ingredient was a slope. Florida is notoriously flat, and it was hard for Harris to gather much speed to learn how to keep his bike moving forward through the grass. We decided to load his bike in the back of the van and drive down 30A a mile or so to Gulf Place, a mixed use development with shops, cafes, condos and a large, grass amphitheater for concerts and shows. We began our 30A vacations staying at Gulf Place, and we always visited the artists’ booths, ice cream shop and the pizza place whether we stayed there or not. And when our vacations coincided with concerts, we took our beach chairs and towels and listened to live music on the lawn.

The lawn was the perfect place for Harris to complete his training and forever throw off the shackles of his training wheels. Mostly flat, the lawn sloped very subtly to a drain in the center. If you started in the corners of the field, you could get a good head of steam to go down through the middle to the opposite corner. The low-cut, bent grass helped Harris feel good about falling over, if it occurred, and I ran along behind him, my hand on the back of his seat to steady him.

Always hot at the beach, I worked up a sweat running after Harris as he made repeated trips from corner to corner of the lawn. After a half hour or so, Harris was making the trip himself, grinning from ear to ear. Before that vacation ended, he was cycling around the perimeter of the lawn on the sidewalk, and navigating the streets of Old Florida Village with a new found confidence and sense of freedom.

Carlton

As the youngest, Carlton has both benefited and suffered from being treated like the baby. He was cuddled and kissed long after he needed it or wanted it. My fondest memory with Carlton was the day I had the opportunity to drop him off and pick him up from the Salud Cooking School at Whole Foods and witnessed him as a fully capable human being with talents and tastes all his own.

By this point in his culinary education, Carlton had already taken six or seven of the half-day cooking classes for kids at Salud, and he was on a first name basis with Chef Scott. We were among the first to arrive, and though no other kids were there yet, Carlton insisted I could go ahead and leave. He found the aprons and helped Chef Scott lay out the utensils as I lingered by the door. It made me happy to see him in his element, comfortable in his surroundings and feeling confident with his abilities.

Carlton Wallace in a blue T-shirt holds a fork of french toast ready to eat it with wooden tables and chairs in the background at the Salud Cooking School at Whole Foods in John's Creek, Georgia.
The best part of the Salud Cooking School at Whole Foods was the tasting!

I went across the street to Panera and had a leisurely breakfast, working on a writing project on my laptop. Leaving myself a little more than an hour, I headed back down State Bridge Road to Kroger where I completed the family’s weekly grocery shopping. I arrived back at Whole Foods in time to see them finishing up with the “Special Weekend Menu” breakfast and prepared to serve us.

Carlton attentively showed me to the buffet where he and I fixed our plates. He breathlessly gave me the rundown on each item and the special tricks they had employed to make them just so. There were blueberry pancakes with buttermilk syrup; baked eggs with sausage, spinach and cheese; easy breakfast potatoes; candied bacon (Carlton’s favorite) and homemade buttermilk biscuits (my favorite.)

It smelled and tasted delicious, and I savored each bite as Carlton and I enjoyed the food and each other’s company. I knew Carla would be jealous, so we scraped together some leftovers to bring to her.

As much as I enjoyed the food, I relished the time with Carlton even more. I was on his turf in a place unfamiliar to me but very familiar to him. He knew some of the other kids in the class and felt at home with Chef Scott and the other adult volunteers. He beamed with pride at having created such satisfying food.

I will never forget the feeling of deep joy of experiencing him doing what he loved and sharing it with me.

These are three memories I should reflect on more often when circumstances seem dire. They will sustain me, lift my spirits and help me reconnect with my boys. Memories such as these have cemented our bonds to withstand the inevitable trials that will strain them.

Putting the ‘grand’ in grandparents

I was blessed to know three of my four grandparents well.

Minnie Ruth Elrod, my mom’s mother, whom we called Maw Maw, was always a part of my life. We had frequent visits with her when we all lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She eventually followed us to Lake Wales, Fla., and moved in with my parents for the last 11 years of her life. She passed away just before her 95th birthday in 2003. My mom’s father, Arthur Lee Elrod, passed away when she was 17, so I never had the opportunity to know him.

Ernest and Addie Wallace were my dad’s parents, and I was their first grandchild. I saw them once or twice a year when we would trek from Texas to their home in Columbus, Ga., or vice versa. By all accounts they spoiled me with gifts and attention. I always felt close to them despite the miles that separated us. I was in my senior year of college in 1992 when my grandfather, whom I called Paw Paw, passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Granny, as I called her, lived two more years before succumbing to bone cancer. Because I lived in Macon, just a two hour drive from Columbus, I was able to visit a few times and have precious one-on-one conversations.

I have almost nothing but fond memories of Maw Maw, Granny, and Paw Paw. These are among the best:

Two portraits side-by-side of Lance Wallace's grandparents. The image on the left is of Ernest Wallace in a navy suit and striped necktie on the left and Addie Wallace in a rose-colored dress on the right. The image on the left is of Minnie Ruth Elrod in a green suit seated in a chair and wearing glasses.
Left, Ernest and Addie Wallace, my dad’s parents, and on the right is Minnie Ruth Elrod, my mother’s mother.

Maw Maw. Because her husband died so young, Maw Maw used her entrepreneurial spirit to support herself and her two daughters. She started and operated Elrod Florist in downtown Fort Worth, and I have many fond memories of visiting her shop. Any time I step into a florist today, the smell of fresh cut flowers takes me back to her shop. One of the grandest events of my childhood was Rodeo Day in Fort Worth. We would have a holiday from school and go downtown to Maw Maw’s shop to watch the rodeo parade from the elevated walkway. Though she was extremely busy, she always made time for us, usually letting us get an ice cream from the cafe next door.

We spent the night at Maw Maw’s house on Astor Street in Fort Worth on a Friday night some point before my youngest brother, Lyle, was born. It was just Lee and me, but we could be a handful. Maw Maw had no trouble handling us, however, and she was the kind of grandmother who didn’t mind telling her beloved little darlings to “shut up” if we were making too much racket. On that Friday night, she made her famous potato burgers, a recipe she perfected as a Girl Scout leader. She peeled and shredded potatoes, mixed them in with the ground beef, rounded them into patties and fried them in a skillet. They were served on a bun.

Her house held many objects to fascinate us, including a real cuckoo clock she purchased on a trip to Europe, a kiln for her ceramics, and a strange rubber toy that when squeezed, its eyes, nose and mouth would bug out.

Lee and I slept in her den with the TV. She let us watch our favorite Friday night programs, “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

Spending the night away from home, even if it was just on the other side of town, was a treat, and Maw Maw’s potato burgers were made with love.

Granny. My dad’s mother had a gift for telling stories, and on our visits to her home in Columbus, I remember her sitting in her chair, playing solitaire on a TV tray, watching the news and telling us story after story. I’m sure it was her laugh and zest for life that initially attracted my grandfather, and those same qualities made her a delight to listen to, even when I was too young to really understand the point of her stories.

Her go to expressions were “tickled” to describe someone who started laughing, “pulling your leg” to describe someone playing a joke on you, and “and uh” as an almost melodic linking phrase to let you know the story was still going on. I knew when the story was over when she burst into laughter or narrowed her eyes and pointed her finger.

During one of my last visits with her, I brought her a photo album of pictures I had taken in and around Macon based on the settings of stories I had heard her tell. She was from McDonough, north of Macon, and had met my grandfather while he was in the Army stationed at Camp Wheeler just east of Macon. Their first apartment was in Macon, and my father was born there. It was a moving and powerful experience to sit with her, though wracked with pain, as she re-lived her courtship and early days of her marriage. We connected in a way few people have a chance to with their grandparents — as adults. We both started our adult lives in Macon, and we could relate to one another’s experience through a common location.

Paw Paw. I admired my grandfather greatly. Now that I’m over 50, I admire even more that he and Granny took my brother, Lee, and me to Walt Disney World around 1980 while they were in their late 60s. My mom worked for American Airlines at the time and was able to get us airplane tickets to fly to Orlando. Paw Paw and Granny drove their golden brown Cadillac down from Columbus and met us there. We stayed at a hotel with a pool, and after a night, we all went to the Magic Kingdom for the first time.

It was no doubt hot and crowded, but Paw Paw endured it all, smiling at our joy and amazement. The moment from that day that is seared into my memory happened on the first attraction we rode, the Star Jets. Located in the Tomorrowland section of the park, these rockets were white and black with red nose cones, painted to resemble Apollo-era ships. Riders could pull the throttle back to make their individual rocket move up and down as it circled a central replica of a Saturn V rocket.

The line formed under the base of the rocket platform. There were only 12 rockets holding two people at a time, which restricted the number of riders to 24 every two to three minutes. Riders were taken from the line beneath the platform to the platform itself by an elevator. If I had to guess today, I’d say we probably waited 45 minutes to ride, but as a small child, it seemed like an eternity. Paw Paw stood with us in the line, waiting the whole time without complaint, though he would not be riding. And when our rockets “landed” and we raced down the ramp to breathlessly tell of our experience, he was the first to greet us with a laugh at our excitement.

Paw Paw and I had many more memories together before he passed away in the winter of 1992, but that day at the Magic Kingdom is one I treasure.

Mom and math

Throughout my formative school-age years, my mother was very engaged in my academic career.

She expected her three boys to make all A’s and excel in everything we put our minds to. A mathematician, she worked to ensure that we take the highest levels of math available to us, believing that the knowledge and the resilience built by those courses would make us better people.

When I transferred into Lake Wales High School at the beginning of 10th grade, she advised me to take the math I needed in order to complete Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. OK, it wasn’t really advice as much as it was a statement: you will take the math you need in order to take calculus your senior year. She made it her mission to see to it I would follow through. It wasn’t easy for her or for me.

Math teacher Sharon Wallace holds papers while standing in front of a chalkboard.
Mom’s favorite class to teach was Honors Geometry, but she really excelled as a math tutor to her math-challenged son. This was an action shot of her from the 1988 Lake Wales High School yearbook.

First, I was transferring in from a private school that lacked the resources or academic rigor in mathematics to give me a good foundation. I took Algebra I in 9th grade, while most of my peers in public schools who were aiming for Calculus their senior year took it in the 8th grade. I had a lackluster teacher who taught me very little of the algebraic foundational principles I would need to master in order to take advanced math courses.

Second, math was not my best subject. I made A’s in math. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do well, it just required effort. I still have vivid memories of workbook pages of repetitive math problems of long division, complex multiplication and even addition and subtraction with large numbers. It was tedious and boring and required focus I didn’t want to give to it. I can still hear Mom, in her frustration with my lack of progress on the homework in a very out-of-character outburst, “Ninny! Ninny! Ninny!” She was right. I was being a ninny. I needed to learn discipline to complete a task rather than whine about its tedium and difficulty.

Third, in order to catch up and get on track to take calculus, I would have to take both Algebra II and Geometry in 10th grade. Without the benefit of a strong foundation in algebra, this was a daunting task. Adding to the challenge was Mom’s insistence that I be in the honors sections of both courses. To her, I was an honors student and should be in honors classes. She made it her personal mission to battle the guidance counselors and administrators until they put me in those classes. To her credit, when school started and the homework piled up, she was with me every step of the way to help make up for my lack of algebra knowledge.

Fourth, I was transferring into the large public high school after spending eight of the previous 10 years in small, private schools. There was something about a big, public school that was intimidating. I had one friend who was in a similar boat who had gone to the same private schools I had from the time I moved to Florida at the start of 7th grade. I had one friend while most everyone else had long established relationships dating back to elementary and middle school. I wanted to play sports and take advantage of other extra-curricular activities, too, placing even more pressure on myself to excel in every area of teenage life.

The double math classes made socialization that much harder because I was with my on-track 10th grade peers in Algebra II and with the 9th grade honors math students in Geometry. It’s hard to say I felt like I was “left back” a year in school because, after all, it was an Honors Geometry class. The freshmen were bright and engaged students. They happened to be just as new to Lake Wales High School as I was. It was just a little socially awkward.

Fifth, although I was extremely goal-oriented, it was hard to keep my eyes on the prize when I understood the process as undergoing extreme math torture for the right to get more torture. Giving up was never an option, but my sophomore year of high school was not a cake walk. I learned in that year to trust Mom, not only for her understanding of mathematic principles, but also her wisdom in seeing this goal through to completion.

As it turned out, after earning A’s and B’s in both Algebra II and Geometry that year, it got easier my junior year. I got on track for Calculus, so I was with my grade-level honors student peers in Trigonometry first semester and Analytical Geometry second semester. With Mom’s help, I had learned the Algebra I had missed in 9th grade, and though I still had to work hard at it, my grades were consistently A’s throughout the year.

When I made it to AP Calculus, I knew I was biting off another big challenge, but I was buoyed by the knowledge I had already survived the worst. I focused on passing the AP exam, earning college credit and reducing or eliminating my need to take another math class ever again.

Mom knew I wasn’t headed to a career in math, but the wisdom of her insistence I get AP Calculus in high school cannot be disputed. I managed to pass the AP Calculus exam and earn a year’s worth of college math credit. I did not have to take another math class every again…  or, at least until I enrolled in the MBA program 10 years after I graduated college. When we derived formulas for calculating risk in investments in my Corporate Finance class, my calculus came back to me — not so much like riding a bike but more like a ghost haunting me from the pages of a textbook.

Even more valuable than the quadratic formula or Pythagorean theorem was the character-building that took place. I learned resilience. I learned perseverance. I learned how to push through mental blocks and cope with frustration. I matured. I experienced the joy and exhilaration of completing difficult tasks. I experienced one of the most powerful feelings a human being can have: accomplishment.

Thank you, Mom, for the advice/command/willing it to be. Math did not kill me. It made me stronger. You deserve all the credit.

‘Stranger Things’ and nostalgic fads from my childhood

As my family indulges in season four of Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things,” I’m once again overwhelmed with ’80s nostalgia. It has led to many conversations with my boys about which fads of the era I embraced.

No, I did not have Steve Harrington hair. Yes, I was a high school journalism nerd. No, I did not kill monsters with a baseball bat filled with nails. Truthfully, I did not grow up in a fad-following family, but there were a few fads that slipped through.

As independent, fundamentalist, Bible-believing Baptists, we were taught to “be in the world, but not of the world.” We were expected to separate ourselves from the culture around us. I learned at an early age to mistrust anything that was too popular or seemed to be counter to my religious upbringing.

The list of prohibitions was lengthy and included rock and roll, Christian rock, any music with a beat, movies, playing cards, dancing, swearing, books with swearing, TV shows with swearing, immodest clothing, long hair (for males), sex, discussions of sex, nudity, alcohol, going to bars, eating at restaurants that served alcohol, drugs, smoking, dipping, any activity on Sunday other than church, and many others that I’m not remembering at the moment. You can rest assured I abstained from all of them.

Still, no one is an island. I was not immune to the cultural forces at work during my formative years in the 1970s and ‘80s. The first popular culture phenomenon that captured my attention was without question “Star Wars.” I didn’t see it when it was first released the summer of 1977, but I distinctly remember having a “Star Wars” lunchbox in the second grade. By the time I saw it in 1978, every kid I knew was conversant on the plot and characters. While not the first movie I saw in theaters, it was the most influential. It captured my imagination in a way nothing else had, and my parents fed my fascination with action figures and toy spaceships. My brother and I would play “Star Wars” as well, acting out scenes or creating new ones with our favorite characters. We even started writing our own space adventure movie, using our names spelled backwards for the characters. In hindsight, this was probably the first spark of an interest in writing and creating that would later shape my career choice.

A wall of Star Wars movie action figure toys fill a wall.
This display of “Star Wars” action figures would have made my younger self ecstatic with greed. I sold my brothers and my collection in the mid-1990s, just before the prequels. Probably should have held onto them. Photo courtesy of KennerCollector.com

It wasn’t just the story of “Star Wars” that appealed to me. I loved the characters. Initially, I was all “Team Skywalker,” sharing Luke’s naïveté about the universe and his yearning for adventure. As a pre-teen and young teen, I shifted my loyalty and appreciation to the roguish Han Solo. His brashness stood in stark contrast to my shyness, and I secretly wanted to be able to have a “shoot first” and fly by the seat of my pants approach to life.

Upon further reflection, it was most likely my admiration for Han that led me to partake in the fad of parting my hair down the middle. As I grew into adolescence and actually started combing my hair, I traded the bowl cut of childhood for an attempted feathered middle part like Harrison Ford wore in “Empire Strikes Back.” At the time, I never considered my hairstyle to be fashion forward, and our conservative views ensured my hair would never be so long as to touch my ears or my collar. The fact my parents permitted such an overtly worldly hairstyle was either a function of ignorance to the trend or relief that I finally wanted to comb my hair at all. I had dueling cowlicks on either side of my bangs, so the center-part cut worked as well as anything could at the time. I began carrying a comb in my back pocket, even before I had a wallet. It was 8 to 10 inches long, cream colored, and plastic with a wide handle for easy grasping when the need arose to style my hair with dramatic strokes.

We moved to rural, central Florida the summer I turned 12. My dad was called to pastor a church in Lake Wales, a small town known for humidity, orange trees, retirees and cows. It was hardly the center of the cultural universe, and my location reinforced my lack of participation in fads. I also went from being a kid no one really paid attention to, to the preacher’s oldest son. Expectations increased. Perception became crucial for whether or not parishioners criticized my dad’s ministry. My appearance and clothing took on greater importance at the exact time I crossed the threshold into adolescence.

It was at that time I began to embrace the footwear fad that swept through the 1980s – the boat shoe. We were not a yachting family, but few were who wore the dark brown shoe with rawhide laces and white plastic soles. My first pair of boat shoes were hand-me-downs from my Uncle Rocky. I thought they were tremendously cool. The only problem was that they were tan and not dark brown. I wanted to tell people that even though they weren’t the “right” color, they still counted as boat shoes and, therefore, by extension, I was still cool. I was outgrowing clothes quickly at that age, so it wasn’t long before I left Rocky’s tan boat shoes behind. The “preppy” look became the fashion fad of the mid-1980s, so plaid button up or polo shirts with Levi’s 501 button fly jeans and dark brown boat shoes without socks became my uniform. Fortunately, my look was conservative enough to pass muster with the church folks and the preppy teens of Central Florida. I’m not sure if it added to my self-confidence, but it certainly helped me blend in. Others may have embraced ripped jeans, mullets, and rock band T-shirts, I basically dressed like most of my friends.

A red-haired, teen-aged girl in blue pants, a yellow shirt with a navy sweater wrapped around her neck and Sperry Top Siders talks with a young man in a light blue polo, white pants and brown boat shoes. They are both holding books. She is sitting on a brick wall in front of a school, and he is leaning against the wall.
One did not have to own a boat to sport boat shoes back in the day. It was my footwear of choice for probably longer than was fashionable. Source BestLifeonline.com

Being a preacher’s kid was isolating. My brothers and I naturally gravitated toward video games. From the first Atari we received at Christmas around 1980 to the Atari 800 XL computer that showed up around 1986, we embraced video gaming at home as a hobby. We spent hours with those early games – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command and Pitfall. High scores were bragging rights between my middle brother and me. Video games occupied us for hours, kept us out of trouble and made sure we didn’t succumb to the list of sins enumerated above. The computer games that consumed us as the technology improved and our tastes matured included M.U.L.E., Archon, Zork, and sports games like “One-on-One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird.” There is no sound in contemporary life that mimics the whirring of the floppy disk drive as a game loads.

An original Atari video game controller with a game cartridge inserted
Too many hours to count of my childhood and teens were lost to this device, the original Atari. From Space Invaders to Asteroid to the Activision games of Pitfall and Starmaster, that little box and its joystick controllers were my brother, Lee, and my constant entertainment.

At the time and now, that combination of fads seems pretty nerdy, but the rise of nerd culture makes it easier to admit what my life really looked like growing up. The church was a constant, good grades were expected, chores and yard work were character-building. But an honest assessment of cultural participation during my formative years is incomplete without “Star Wars,” a middle part, boat shoes and Atari. And you know what? I don’t regret it.