Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Count Your Children

My parents had piled the kids in the Plymouth station wagon and we were on the first leg of a long vacation trip, no doubt headed to a beach, with Dad driving late at night.  The back seats had been folded down, and the five kids were lined up like logs on blankets, trying to sleep.  Somewhere along the line, Dad stopped for gas.  Later, when he came to a toll booth, the attendant said, “Count your children.”
“Count your children.”  
Dad turned around.  “Ricky, Russy, Kenny, Dindy…Wait!  Where’s Dougy?”  

At the gas station, my brother Doug (I’m guessing he was 8 or 10 at the time) had awakened and decided to visit the rest room.  I suppose he used the back door (or hatch), or maybe just climbed through the back window.  In any event, his departure was not missed.  At least, it was not noted.  I’d like to think Mom and the rest of us were asleep, and that this was not a Hansel and Gretel, “we can’t keep all these kids” moment; or a cold-hearted sibling survival decision, as in, “If we leave that one behind there will be more food for the rest of us.” 
Dad paid for the gas, and took off.  Doug came out of the rest room to discover that his family was on its way to the beach without him.  I suppose he dissolved into tears (I know I always cried when my parents would leave me in strange places).  I would call Doug and ask him for details but he probably wouldn’t remember them.  This took place in the fifties, and after the fifties we had what we called the sixties, which for those of a certain age, interfered with recollections of anything that happened in the fifties. 
The gas station attendant was evidently a capable fellow.  If you wonder what I mean by the term, gas station attendant, then you are showing your age, and your age is young.  In those days, no sooner did you pull into a gas station than a man would run up to the driver’s window. 
“What can I get you?” 
A typical response was, “Five dollars worth of regular, please.”  
Back then, $5 worth of regular could mean 20 or 25 gallons.  He would insert the gas nozzle in the tank, and while you were getting your $5 worth, he would wash your windshield, check your oil and your transmission fluid, rotate your tires, and give you a manicure.  When things were slow, he would refill the soap and towel dispensers in the rest rooms, and scrub the phone numbers off the wall. 
Gas station attendants wore uniforms with cool patches of sea shells or brontosauri on their caps and their shirts, so we viewed them as authoritative representatives of the oil companies.  The particular attendant in our story must have received training to know exactly what to do every time a child wandered out of his rest room half asleep in the middle of the night to find that his parents were off to Florida without him.  He asked Doug which direction the family was headed, realized we would be coming to a toll booth, and somehow notified the proper authorities to be on the lookout for a station wagon loaded with logs on blankets; hence the odd request, “Count your children.”  

Presumably Dad went back for Doug, because I have distinct recollections of him growing up in our home.  I think he had a pet brontosaurus.   In case you’re wondering, I don’t think Doug is still in therapy over this incident---other incidents, perhaps.
Even loving parents may lose track of their kids.  But it’s comforting to know that the Lord will not lose track of his children.   Jesus said,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish: neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and my Father are one.”  (John 10:27-30) 
That passage is remarkable, not only for what it teaches about the security of the believer, but for Jesus’ striking claim that he and his Father are one.  Before his crucifixion He said to His disciples,
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”  Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”  (John 14: 7-9)
At first glance, the audacity of this claim is shocking.  Can you imagine some fellow you know at work or at school saying in all seriousness, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen [God] the Father; how is it that you don’t realize that after all this time?”  You would think him mad.  You would urge him to get counseling, and if you were as diligent as that gas station attendant was with my brother, you would call the proper authorities right away.  Meanwhile, you would probably distance yourself from him for your own safety, because you know that if a man is so delusional as to think he’s God, then he probably believes he has the right to give life and to take it away. (When you call the authorities, be sure to do it on a private line.) 
You might respond, “Well you said it yourself.  Someone walking around claiming to be God must be mad.  What does that say of Jesus?”  Well that’s not exactly what I said.  I said, “You would think him mad.” 
Suppose this one calling himself God actually did the things that God can do.  Suppose he gave sight to the blind, and healing to the lame, the deaf, and the diseased?  Suppose he calmed a storm with his word, and walked on the surface of a lake?  Suppose he raised from the grave a man who was known to have been dead for four days?  Suppose he spoke with wisdom and authority about things that no one could know without divine revelation?  Suppose the circumstances of his birth and life and death were precise fulfillments of prophecies written and widely circulated hundreds of years before?   Would you report such a man to the authorities (someone with a brontosaurus on his uniform, perhaps)?  Or would you fall to your knees and acknowledge him as your authority---your ultimate authority?


  1. Dougy says he still remembers the feeling of abandonment that struck him when he walked out of the rest room and found we had left. How that childhood trauma forever shaped his personality, I will leave for his sainted wife, suffering children and heroic therapist to determine.

  2. Oh my goodness Russ, that was hysterical. I've been laughing loudly and Gary keeps asking me what are you laughing at?! He'll love it too! Thanks for the gift of laughter today!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. You might also enjoy reading "Dougy's Big Adventure," if you haven't yet. Doug also has a cameo role in "Foxes, Beavers and Owls," and in "The Mouse That Roared."
      It's good to hear from you and Gary.

  3. Glad to know that Dougy survived his ordeal. Christy