What’s Over the Next Hill?

“Daddy, what’s over that hill?”

“What do you think you’ll see?” Dad chuckled. He must have been humored at my numerous questions. He continued, “If you sit still for a minute, we’ll be on that hill, then we’ll both find out.” Dad knew but wanted the view to be a surprise.

From my earliest memories at almost 3-years old, I’ve always wondered: What’s around the corner? What’s in the box? How did the mountain get there? What’s fire made out of? What’s over the next hill? I’ve always had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I still do.

That was a special trip for me. I was 5 years old, and seldom had the privilege of spending time with dad and mom by myself. Eventually, I had five sisters and four brothers, and this trip would be the first of three trips where I was the only one dad and mom took with them.

Mom was taking a nap in the front seat of the Hudson Hornet, my four sisters (two older and two younger) were left with elders in the church, and I was leaning over the front seat looking with eyes wide open. I had never seen mountains and valleys like this. Seat belts hadn’t been invented yet, but we never had a problem.

There were no freeways where we lived in 1951, and our highways allowed us to travel at the break-neck speed of 55 miles per hour. However, some of these mountain roads allowed only 35-45 mph. Our destination was about 400 miles away, and we left home long before daylight.

As we approached the crest of the hill, dad asked, “Eugene, do you know where we’re going?”

“Yes, we’re goin’ campin’.”

“That’s right. But do you remember where mother said we’re going?”

While I was trying to remember that hard word, we reached the top of the hill. Dad pulled over to the side of the road.

“Ooooohhhhh Daddy! Someone broke that mountain in half!” I was stunned to see half a mountain standing on the side of the valley.

Dad already had his camera in hand and was opening the door. “Son, that broken mountain is called ‘Half-Dome’ and this is called Yosemite Na… Eugene? Where are you?”

Dad found me hiding inside the car, not wanting to get out. I was scared spitless of heights, and when I saw the valley floor WAY DOWN THERE, I panicked. But peeking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off that broken mountain.

“Okay, Eugene. Would you get out of the car if I hold your hand?”

I shook my head, “Hu-uh.”

When mom said, “Daddy will let you look through his binoculars if you get out of the car,” I agreed to hold daddy’s hand and get out.

That was my introduction to Yosemite National Park.

We drove down into the canyon and dad took me on a few short hikes. I enjoyed playing in the heavy mist of Bridal Veil Falls, then helping dad set up camp. I don’t remember how much of a help I was, but it was fun being with daddy and mommy.

My favorite part was watching the fire fall down the face of Glacier Point. The park ranger gave a talk each evening, and an entertainment group sang as others prepared a roaring fire on top of Glacier Point. Then at 9:00 PM, the ranger hollered, “Let the fire fall!”

Several men then pushed the burning material over the edge with bulldozers, and a river of glowing embers fell more than a half mile (some 3,000) feet to the valley floor. Little boys never forget things like that. (The final “fire-fall” was on January 25, 1968.)

The question of “what’s over the next hill” has never left me. I might see an elk, a river, a glowing sunset, the wide expanse of the ocean, or another mountain. I never tire of it. And I am blessed with a wife who shares the same adventurous spirit.

We’ve been in every state of the Union and have driven over many hills. But there is one “hill” I cannot experience yet, and I can only imagine what the other side looks like. I’ll go over that hill after I take my last breath here on earth and enter heaven. I’m not in a hurry to get there, but God, dad, and mom are waiting for me, and I won’t be afraid of that height. Who knows: God might have thousands of hills over there for me to experience.

Memories of Dad

I was five years old, we lived in El Cajon, California, and the church building dad and the deacons built was completed. I was allowed to run in and around the building during certain phases of construction; but after completion, running in church was not allowed.

But I didn’t always obey my parents.

Reddy was my best friend, and when daddy wasn’t watching, we liked to run up the long flight of stairs on one side of the sanctuary, race in the upstairs hallway, and run down the stairs on the other side.

Dad warned me with, “I’ll tan your hide if you don’t obey me.” But for some reason, I did it anyway. I also went into his church office whenever I wanted to. After all, I was the pastor’s kid.

One Sunday morning dad had a personnel issue to handle, and told me to stay out of his office. I could obey that order. Until …

I told Reddy that Daddy was busy so we could run. “Goody!” Reddy almost shouted.

Up one side we ran, down the hall we raced, and ran down the steps on the other side. But getting ready to run down the steps on the second round, I tripped on the top step.

I tumbled head-over-heels all the way down. Miraculously, not a bone was broken and I wasn’t even bleeding anywhere. But my breathing mechanism had totally shut down!

In that situation, there was only one thing to do – Go See Daddy!

Not breathing, I burst into his office. Dad turned and was about to order me back out but saw that my face was turning blue and my mouth was wide open.

“Oh, my Lord!” I remember hearing dad say.

He quickly placed me over his knee, gave me a hard whack on the back which restarted my breathing, and said, “That’ll take care of you ‘til we get home!”

Now I had a different problem.

Back home after the church meeting, dad asked me what had happened. Fearfully, I admitted that I disobeyed him and tumbled down the stairs as I was running. (The picture is dad holding my sister, Sharon.)

I was amazed – and relieved – when dad pronounced, “Tumbling down the stairs was your punishment – this time.” Then pulling me to himself and wrapping his arms around me, he gently said, “Eugene, that fall was a hard lesson. Do you think you can remember not to run in church?”

There was only one answer: “Yes, daddy. I won’t run in church again.”

And I never did.

Three years later, we lived in Baldwin Park, California, and dad was in his final year of preparation to re-enter the US Navy as a chaplain. His schedule of seminary classes, being a pastor-husband-father, and sneaking in a few hours of sleep whenever possible, was quite full.

One Friday when I was sitting at the kitchen table with dad as he was finalizing his sermon for the coming Sunday, mom told me it was time for bed.

“Can I stay up with Daddy for a while?”

“No; it’s time for bed. Come on.”

“Can I PLEASE stay up for a little while? I don’t get to see Daddy very much.”

Dad looked up and said, “Eugene, if you want to stay up with me, you need to be very quiet. Don’t make a sound.”

“I’ll be quiet.” I never said something that fast before in my life.

Mom gave me a pencil (no pens back then), and dad gave me some paper. I was in heaven for another hour with my daddy. I have no idea what I wrote, scribbled, or doodled that night, but I remember the extreme joy of being with my daddy. And the well-worn Bible that dad was using that night is now in my office.

Dad is in heaven and our communication is over until I get there. But I do have the extreme joy of spending time with God – my eternal Father in heaven. He enjoys my visits.

God has an open-door policy, and continually invites us into His presence. Have you visited Him lately?