Of Cheeseburgers & Dive Bars


Seriously, is there anything more American than the cheeseburger? Sure, we have hot dogs, baseball, and apple pie … but we live on cheeseburgers.

Our family lived in Ferguson Missouri for thirty something years. Yes, that Ferguson. No, not the Ferguson you have read about in the media, which is a conversation for another day, because today we are talking cheeseburgers, dive bars, and the characters that form the personality of those bars.

The Golden Greek’s was a bar and grill on the corner of S. Florissant Road and Paul Avenue, housed in a turn of the century brick building. The front door was set back from that intersection at a 45-degree angle to those streets. I don’t recall anyone ever entering through that front door unless they were returning from a smoke break. I parked and went in through the side entrance, like everyone else.

Nobody would accuse Golden Greeks of being a “Fern Bar.” It maintained a degree of cleanliness just above a level to avoid any serious letters from the health department. The wall behind the bar contained a potpourri of inspirational quotes like; “In God we trust, all others pay cash,” and “Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”

If you wanted a glass of wine, you were in the wrong bar. They kept a small stock of Sutter mini bottles for those few customers silly enough to order wine at the Greek’s.

As you sat at the bar the large walk-in fridge with its antique brass hardware was on the right. The kitchen was on the far left of the building. Efficiency experts were not a thing at the turn of the century. The layout did, however, provide the patrons at the bar with a sneak preview of the goods being delivered to the kitchen. Periodically someone from the kitchen would walk behind the bar, into the fridge, and emerge with a platter containing a heaping mound of ground chuck. This was not a collection of perfectly formed beef circles of an identical thickness, unloaded from the back of a Sysco truck. That mound of raw meat was the foundation for some of the best burgers in the region, soon to be formed by human hands before being tossed onto the ancient griddle. The patties were often misshapen, of inconsistent weight, but consistently tasty.

Any good dive bar should also provide a group of entertaining regulars, and the Greek’s was no exception. It didn’t matter which night I was on hand for take-out, the cast of characters remained constant. Two or three off duty postal workers, still in uniform. A couple of mature ladies, who in my imagination were retired roller derby players, broad of shoulder, muscular, and always attired in jeans and flannel no matter the season, and several construction workers wearing the makeup of drywall dust. The most interesting though were the two who blurred the lines between employees and customers, Carol, and Chico.

I was never sure of Chico’s specific job duties at the Greek’s, he worked some in the kitchen, did various odd jobs and his bartending was limited to twisting the tops off beer bottles. Chico was Hispanic, Mexican to be precise. I know this because I overhear Chico telling another patron as he laughed, “All those people who say Mexican’s are hardworking, well they never met me.” From Chico’s stories he was on a first name basis with every police office in Ferguson. He walked a fine line between being a productive citizen and incarceration, but his laugh was infectious.

Carol worked days and moved back and forth from the kitchen to behind the bar as needed. Her shift ended at 5:30 and that’s when she moved from one side of the bar to the other, switching roles and becoming a customer rather than a bartender. Carol was of medium everything; height, weight, build, hair, and face. She could have disappeared into any crowd, anywhere and not be noticed. The only thing not medium about Carol was the ease of her life.

Dropping in 3 or 4 times a month for take-out did not qualify me to be a regular. I rarely joined in any conversations, I was content to be a listener and observer to this wonderful kaleidoscope of humanity swirling around me.

One Friday night I took a seat two stools removed from Carol. She was deep into customer mode at that point. She was engaged in conversation with Billy, one of the regular construction workers. Carol was relating stories of the cruelties inflicted on her by her ex-husband. She described how he would push her up against a wall and hold an unloaded pistol to her head while he pulled the trigger. Billy nodded sympathetically while Carol paused, taking a sip of her beer, before continuing. “You know the funny thing is,” she said calmly and matter-of-factly, “That was the same gun I shot him with.”


The Golden Greek’s has been closed for years now and we have moved to another county. Over the years I’ve learned to make a decent burger at home. My secret is using a super-hot cast iron skillet to quickly sear the burgers. They aren’t bad, but I still miss the cheeseburgers from the Greek’s … but not as much as I miss the stories and the characters.


Something Wicked This Way Comes


May 24, 2022.
Evil entered the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas. Evil can take many forms, sometimes it’s obvious, almost cliche-like: the Nazi concentration guard ushering hundreds of Jews and undesirables into the gas chambers, dad or stepdad abusing their own children, but often it is more subtle; the scam artist preying on the elderly, seeking to rob them of their life savings, those spewing hatred and vitriol on social media in some perverted dogma or twisted religious idea.  This time it came in the form of a deranged, demented 18-year-old armed with a rifle. An hour later 21 innocent people, children, and teachers are dead. We grieve as a nation, we struggle to understand, to wrap our head around how and why this is happening. Both political parties and all media channels, take positions, issue statements, and offer endless criticism and solutions without acknowledging that evil exists.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the war in Ukraine rages on with untold innocents killed and all but forgotten as this latest tragedy rolls onto our front porch. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home.” The Ukrainian crisis in no way diminishes the horror that occurred in Uvalde, the causes are different, but the loss of innocent life remains tragic whether it’s one life or hundreds, every life is precious regardless of age, nationality, or religion.

Evil will never be a popular topic at a dinner party, it’s unpleasant and for the most part, we want to believe it doesn’t exist. If we acknowledge evil, it forces us to accept that it’s part of our existence, but out of our control. We want to believe that we are in control, that while things are not perfect, the next ordinance, law, or legislation will bring us closer to perfection and peace. History has taught us differently.

Ironically as it sounds there is a positive side to evil. The design of the universe and nature teaches us that where there is darkness there will also be light. Recognizing evil is not a loss of faith or condition of hopelessness but rather an embrace of something even more powerful. Romans 5:20 “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

I love this from Henri Nouwen, “But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet surprising voice. It is the voice of the one who says:  ‘Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted.’ That’s the unexpected news: there is a blessing hidden in our grief. Not those who comfort are blessed, but those who mourn! Somehow, in the midst of our mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. Somehow, the cries that well up from our losses belong to our songs of gratitude.”

“Lord have mercy.” A short prayer, three simple words, a prayer of a contrite heart, acknowledging no goodness within us, and that God owes us nothing, but hearing a quiet voice saying, “My grace is sufficient not just for you, but all of my creation.”

The Joy of an Incoming Storm (and lack of control)


Obviously, We don’t mean a tornado or damaging storm, but those sudden spring shifts in the weather, where a cold front moves in, and minute by minute the skyscape changes until the swirling dramatic clouds are replaced by a wall of solid grey, the rain descends as the wind whips the trees back and forth and they sway as if hearing the beats of distant samba drums. Here at the Four-Acre Wood, the back deck and the view of the valley below us provide a great perspective for that drama.

To be honest our favorite vista for incoming storms has been Sanibel Island and the view across the Gulf of Mexico. Unobstructed by trees, the demarcation of the approaching cold front is visible miles away. Suddenly you feel the temperature drop 10 or 15 degrees and at the same time, the wind picks up … gathering sand from the beach and blasting any exposed skin. Seconds later the rain arrives at a horizontal angle, pelting and stinging. The wind roars in your ears as you laugh, running for shelter, never feeling more alive.

Is part of that exhilaration an acknowledgment of a lack of control on our part?

We, humans, want to be in control. Intellectually we know that storms will be a part of our life, both in nature and emotionally, yet we plan, devise, plot, and worry endlessly …borrowing trouble from a future that has not yet occurred.

How much better if we could surrender control over things that we have no influence on and just say a simple prayer … “Lord, I’d love a life of ease, with no problems and no worries, but that’s not what you promised.  What you promised is that you would never leave us or forsake us … not through loss of job, divorce, financial hardships, or cancer. You play the long game, not through the pop-up storms of our life as painful as they may be, but through the eternal.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Vespers and Birthdays at the Four-Acre Wood

We are one day short from the middle of May. Okay, technically (since May has 31 days) a day and a half for all you sticklers to details. Let’s not quibble, it’s the middle of May. Winter has relinquished its hold on the northern hemisphere (at least in the midwest). Everything is green and growing, our weeds have never looked healthier. 

Today we celebrated the birthday of our youngest daughter (since we are being technical, one of two). It was a simple and relaxed meal. The convenience items were the store-bought birthday cake and the potato salad. The burgers, baked beans, and deviled eggs were homemade. Our two daughters and three grandchildren were in attendance, and no one complained, especially when it came time for cake and ice cream. It was a time to count your blessings.

Twilight descends on the Four-Acre Wood. The air softens, and the edges of the tree leaves begin to blur just slightly. The village of Kimmswick, so visible during the winter has now disappeared from view.

Vespers, a time of evening prayer, a time of reflection. The world’s problems and ours do not stop at twilight, but it is a time to set them aside. Our work is done, the day is done, and tomorrow holds the same promises that we held today.



The Sparrow’s Nest


A sparrow selected our front door wreath last spring as a prime spot to build her nest. In her mind I’m sure the location made sense, it was sheltered from rain and inclement weather. That it was a high-traffic area was beyond her understanding. Every entrance and exit from the front door set the nest in motion causing her to fly away. Understanding the situation we took to entering and exiting through the breezeway door or the garage until the fledglings had literally, “flown the nest.”

Fast forward to 2022 and a newly designed spring wreath is hung on the front door, and yes, Mrs. Sparrow came back.  The wreath was removed before she could take out any building permits for a new nest. Several days later we noticed the front porch was strewn with twigs and bits of evergreen. There is a reason the term, “bird-brain” exists.  She chose the next closest spot to build her nest, the blades of the ceiling fan on the front porch.  Day after day she worked on her nest until the next stiff breeze caught the blades of the fan, spinning them and sending her nest architecture onto the floor of the porch.

“Can you build something in the corner of the porch, away from the door where she can build her nest in peace,” Susan asked?

Every day we are bombarded with news of war, violence, refugees, famine, and cruelty beyond imaging. Closer to home we watch as friends and family deal with issues that leave us feeling just as impotent as the events on the other side of the globe. Our world spins like the blades of the ceiling fan, scattering our feeble constructs and there seems very little that is in our control. Some days the best we can do is to offer a smile to a stranger, a kind word when a sharp word is our first thought, and build a little ledge for a sparrow’s nest.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.  Psalm 84:3


Weeds Give Me Hope!


Here at the Four-Acre Wood we are ready for spring. Every season has its charm and beauty, yes even winter, though at times it’s a stretch to find that. The robins have been back for weeks now. Where do they go during winter? We could “Google” that to find the answer, but the mystery is more charming than an explanation. A little magic trumps a computer generated response every time.

The valley behind us spills into the Village of Kimmswick, then on to the Mississippi River. The trees lift their branches heavenward, still bare, but in supplication, knowing that new growth will come.

Our once carefully manicured and mulched flower beds offer the first hints of new growth and fresh green. No, not hybrid hydrangeas or hostas, but weeds.

Steinbeck wrote in Cannery Row, “.”Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth.”

We could add to that list, weeds.

Steinbeck’s observation is spot on. God did not give the gift of survival to the exotic and rare, the Siberian Tiger or Peacock, but to the lowly, the common … weeds … and me.

I’m slowly checking off things I won’t accomplish in my life time; brokering peace in the Mid-East, finding a cure for cancer, or balancing my checkbook. But I’m okay being a weed, so long as I’m a weed in God’s plan.

Our Father who art in nature.

(But God, we’ve got to talk about mosquitoes and poison ivy)

Inside and Outside

At The Four-Acre Wood tonight, there is the inside, then there is the outside. The outside … well it’s been 24 hours of sleet and freezing rain, nasty stuff, even Mimsy with her four-leg drive has slipped and fallen (me, let’s not talk about it … the video would have gone viral). Far from The Four-Acre Wood the world news seems even more dismal. It’s a time for perspective and faith. 

Inside we are blessed to have our oldest daughter, and youngest granddaughter with us while her husband is on the other side of the world on miltary duty. We have heat, we are safe, and we have have enough produce for a nice salad. We take none of these things for granted. 

Outside the trees lift up their bare arms, covered in a coat of ice, waiting for spring. Waiting. Spring will come as it always does. Bare limbs will become green once more. It’s ordained, it’s God’s design. 

Inside we finish watching “The Major and the Minor” a classic Ginger Rodgers movie. We dance with baby Adeline (not as smooth as Ginger) but dance we do. 

Outside we place the future in God’s hands and go along for the ride.

Poppy, SuSu, Erica, and Adeline

A Late Valentine’s Day Musing

I’m a guy. To say I’m a clueless guy would be redundant. Valentine’s Day is winding down at The Four-Acre Wood. The only roses present are the Don Juan climbing roses outside, trying to weather the winter. At this point we are all trying to survive the frigid temperatures. Soup is always in order in February. A quick pantry inventory directed me try potato soup: Yukon Gold potatoes, celery, sweet onion, white queso, bacon, etc. and we were in business 

Decades ago, I married my high school sweetheart and never looked back. Ups and downs, of course. Bumbling … to this day. But never regrets. 

Embers burn a long time, they may not be flashy, but the heat is still there, in our case, decade after decade. It’s been a tough few weeks for my high school sweetheart dealing with elder parent issues. I can make a decent soup, solving other problems, not so much.

Note to self; next year make soup but buy some fresh roses too.

The Official News Source for The Four-Acre Wood


In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s been years since I’ve watched any prime-time network news broadcasts. That doesn’t make me superior to anyone and hopefully doesn’t make me inferior. I grew up with Walter Cronkite. He gave us the nightly news without biased commentary or inuendo. He left it up to us to interpret the local, national and world events without an implied agenda. It was a nod to the intellectual abilities of those receiving the news.

I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Fake News.” I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes both literally and figuratively. But it wasn’t long before I realized the landscape of reporting had changed and not for the better. Traditionally newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts made their revenue from advertising. Those media channels are dying, leaving the internet as their primary source of revenue. Clicks are now the source of income and survival. And in order to get clicks they must be out there first and be a little more sensational than their competition. Fact checking be damned. Headlines not factual reporting but teasing click-bait. Why would you say, “It’s Snowing Over Missouri,” when you can say, “Weather Experts Warn of Life-Threatening Conditions Across the Midwest?”

Enter The Leader.

The Leader is the weekly newspaper in our little corner of the world and fits perfectly with our new life on The Four-Acre Wood.  CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC, etc. provide an endless stream of drama, teasing and biased reporting that has no relevance to me other than an attempt to get me spooled up about an issue that I cannot possibly change and may not even be accurate or true.

In contrast, the lead story of the latest edition of The Leader is about a third grader from our local school district receiving an award from the Rock Community Fire Protection District. Next to that is an article about the city council debating changes to the floodway building codes. Since we are a community of flawed humans there are also these stories; “Couple allegedly steals from, damages rental home, “and SUV stolen from outside rec center.” But next is the gripping story, “Jefferson College Fieldhouse getting new gym floor.”

None of that is “Fake News.”

You might say, “You’re just sticking you head in the sand.”

You might be right, but in the meantime, it’s going to get into the single digits tonight. I’ve got to go and refill the bird feeder; they are counting on us. It’s a little act that I can affect.

Of Dreaming Dogs and Laughing Children

Happy Tate on beach 2

Anyone who has been owned by a dog has experienced this … fast asleep they chirp several times, back legs jerk, sometimes giving out a soft bark, a few more chirps, then become quiet again. We don’t know what they are dreaming about but imagine it’s something like this … “Someone left the gate open and there’s a rabbit on the other side … run, chase, run run run.” … or “After years of waiting underneath the dining room table, someone finally dropped a piece of roast beef on the floor.

The biggest trauma our dogs have faced is being left alone for a few hours, so we’re going to bet their dreams are happy ones.

Our first grandchild lived with us the first four years of his life. It didn’t happen often, but occasionally we would hear him laugh out loud in his sleep. It’s one of those rare moments when you believe all is right with the world. But it’s not just sleeping children that trigger that emotion. Our middle granddaughter can laugh and giggle while tormenting her older brother (the one who laughed in his sleep, probably because he didn’t know at the time, he would have a little sister to aggravate him). Our youngest granddaughter, nine months old, laughs, sometimes I believe she makes herself laugh just for the pure joy of it.

Retired now, we try to walk every day. Our route takes us out of The Four-Acre Wood and onto Waters Lane, a charming and infuriating one lane road. Charming because it’s a one lane country road, infuriating because while driving and meeting someone coming the other way, someone will have to back up or pull off the road. Then our walk takes us around the Windsor School complex, the first leg loops around the buildings for the youngest children.  If we time it right, the kids will be out on the playground; running, screaming, turning cartwheels, throwing a ball to someone, throwing a ball at someone, looking for the highest object to jump from in an attempt to break something, but the pervasive sound is laughter. We can’t speak for the teachers on playground duty, but it makes us smile, enjoying the pure joy, the exuberance, the innocence of being a child at play.

We made the mistake of visiting a “news” site the other day and read of career politicians attempting to draft legislation in bills long enough to make “War and Peace” look like a comic book (and cost a lot more than the first edition of “Superman”). A tome that no one will read or understand before voting on it, in an attempt to solve all of humanities problems, both real and imagined.

We have a simple two-part counter proposal.

Part one: Devote ourselves to creating a world where our pets have happy dreams and our children laugh in their sleep instead of crying out in terror.

Part two: Live your life like someone left the gate open.

Happy New Year, Tim, Susan and Mimsy

And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:16)