Thursday, June 29, 2006


This piece should greatly interest folks who regularly drive around Framingham, Massachusetts, and for those who live far from Framingham, it may make you thankful that you DON'T have to regularly drive around Framingham, Massachusetts!

We're coming upon Fourth of July fact, as the Fourth is on a Tuesday, it ends up being a very long "Fourth of July Weekend" this year.  I absolutely love Fourth of July Weekend, but I do remember that when I was a kid, my mother did not like Fourth of July Weekend.  My father was a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles Inspector.  (By the late 1970s, they were called the "Registry Police" and by the mid-1990s, they had merged with the Mass. State Police.)  Every Fourth of July, Dad, like many law enforcement officers was doing "holiday road enforcement".  In most communities, road enforcement is "stepped up" during certain times of the year such as this coming weekend.  In Framingham, highly stepped up road enforcement goes on ALL the time.  The part about that which I DON'T like is that there are a number of "tricks" when it comes to driving around Framingham and trying to avoid getting a ticket.

My own street (Harrison Street) was for years a "short cut" from Hartford Street to Route 126.  Neighbors complained that there were far too many cars on our street and some were going too fast.  That's true, but the Town's initial action around 2000 was to post "Do Not Enter" signs two-thirds of the way down the street (with no actual barriers).  Everybody kept driving down the street as they always had.  The police had a "field day" stopping and ticketing car after car, day after day.  Finally, the Town installed "Jersey Barriers" making Harrison Street sort of a mini version of Berlin during the Cold War, and that pretty much fixed that problem.   In 2001, a flashing red light was installed at Blandin Ave. and Beaver St.  Like most locals who had forgotten the light had been installed, I accidentally went through it one day.  A Framingham cop stopped me and I got a $50 ticket.  (Incidentally, it's now a permanent "regular cycle" traffic light which works much better.)   In the most bizarre, convoluted traffic change I've ever seen the Town of Framingham come up with, about two months ago, signs suddenly appeared regulating turns onto Howe Street.  (Howe Street is a secondary road which runs east-west between Bishop Street and Hartford Street- intersecting with Grant Street.)  Motorists traveling toward Natick on Hartford Street can no longer make a right turn onto Howe Street.  Motorists traveling toward Natick on Grant Street can no longer make a left turn onto Howe Street.  Lately, a number of confused motorists have been getting ticketed for making those turns.  There is a house on that stretch of Howe Street which has been for sale for several weeks.  It will probably be for sale for quite awhile, as people who are not familiar with the neighborhood will GIVE UP on trying to get onto the street!  Honestly, I am familiar with the neighborhood, but I had to take a minute or so to work it out like an algebra problem and realize that with a little thought and planning there IS a way to get on and off that section of Howe Street.  But who needs THAT!  As it is, I've had all sorts of friends and family complain about trying to get to MY residence with the Jersey Barriers in the way, etc., but I'd HATE to try to get a pizza or Chinese food delivery on that weird section of Howe Street.

Finally, some people think downtown Framingham should be named "Little Brazil".  I think a much better name for it is "No Left Turn"!  Ever try to get through downtown Framingham...or to get where you're going in downtown Framingham?!  If it isn't "No Left Turn", it's "One Way", OR it's "Road Closed-Under Construction"!  Recently I was walking downtown and a motorist stopped me and asked me how to get to SMOC Headquarters at 300 Howard Street.  At that time Howard Street was in the midst of heavy construction.  I almost told her "You can't get there from here- give up!"  Sadly, my statement would not have been much of an exaggeration!

Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go:  I will guide thee with mine eye,"

To successfully get around Framingham without losing your sanity and without getting a traffic ticket, you will genuinely need Psalm 32:8!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables;  and without a parable spake he not unto them:”  (Matthew 13:34)

Recently I was asked to name my favorite film.  As syrupy as this may sound to some, I answered that my favorite film is, “Field of Dreams”, starring Kevin Costner.  There are many reasons why I love that film, and perhaps I’ll talk about them in a future posting.  “Field of Dreams” is my favorite overall film, but my favorite DOCUMENTARY is David Sutherland’s “Country Boys”.

“Country Boys” was taped between 1999 and 2002 in rural Kentucky.  It’s a six hour documentary.  “Country Boys” was shown on the entire PBS television network this past January.  Over the past month it was repeated on Friday nights on Boston’s channel 44.  The documentary focuses on the struggles of two teenage boys, but there’s FAR more to it than that.  The boys attend “The David School” an outstanding evangelical Christian private school for “at risk” teenagers.  The school’s facilities are absolutely first-rate.  I assume it’s funded by grants and private donations.  I suppose the students pay SOME tuition, but considering it’s located in one of the poorest counties in the country, I doubt the local families can afford the school unless the tuitions are heavily subsidized.  One of the boys is active in a local evangelical church and plays in a Christian rock band.  

It was surprising to me that the conservative evangelical school, church, pastor, and teachers are presented in a very positive light.  (I’ve found that with the media, especially the liberal media, this is not usually the case.)  There are SO many dynamics going on with these kids!  Their homes are broken.  They are receiving a number of conflicting messages- the church and the school are telling them one thing, their parents are often telling them another, their friends still another.  As a pastor, I’m “pulling” for the local pastor who is trying to mentor one of these boys, and for the teachers at The David School who are trying to mentor all of their students.  Watching the documentary can be depressing because at times it SEEMS as though the Christian adults are fighting a losing battle.  One of the toughest parts of “Country Boys” is that a few times the language presented is VERY salty- you’ll hear the “f” word.  I could not be more conservative about language, and I find swearing very offensive; but I can see why Sutherland left the language in there:  it’s reality.

“Country Boys” presents young people who want to be good Christians, and want to be good students, and want to have fun, and want to be cool, and want to be accepted by EVERYBODY, and have been deeply hurt, and want to lash back and hurt others.  They’re young people who are filled with contradictions.  They’re what the Book of Revelation calls “lukewarm”- and they’re (sadly) like most born-again Christians in America today.  Yet, these kids are QUITE likable.

Most people have a VERY hard time seeing themselves as they are.  Most people can’t see their inconsistencies.  Many times born-again Christians are the worst of all when it comes to that stuff!   That’s why I’d love to have every evangelical Christian in America (and every other kind of person, for that matter) watch “Country Boys”.  The D.V.D. can be ordered from PBS.  Just enter a search online for “Country Boys”.  You’ll quickly find the documentary listed, then there are links for Shop PBS, and you can find out how you can order the D.V.D. (actually it’s a set of 2 D.V.D.s.)  “Country Boys” is real life, but it’s also a parable.  MANY of us struggle with trying to be good Christians, trying to be Biblical, and yet trying to embrace this world and be liked and accepted.  Honestly, prayerfully and thoughtfully watching “Country Boys” a few times could be very educational and life-changing.  Straddling the world and the Lord does not work.  Trying to be a Biblical Christian and following your own lusts does not work.  Truly honoring God and saying “yes” to Him no matter what DOES work- and pays dividends for time and for eternity.  Again, if you carefully watch “Country Boys” while you also spend a lot of time in the New Testament, it could change your life!  

Saturday, June 24, 2006


"And Jesus answering said,  Were there not ten cleansed,  but where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17)

That passage comes from the story of the healing of the ten lepers.  Jesus told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests.  In starting off to GO to the priests, they HAD to assume that by the time they arrived, they'd be healed.  Otherwise, the priests would not want the lepers anywhere NEAR them.  In fact, the lepers, WERE healed and long before they arrived at the Temple.  ONE decided to go back and show Jesus his appreciation for the healing.  Even Jesus seems to have been surprised.  You'd think ALL of the lepers who'd been healed would have come back to Jesus with an "attitude of gratitude" but only one out of ten did.

My experience in the Twenty-First Century is that things aren't much different.  Only about ten percent of people show any GENUINE appreciation for what you do for them.  I'm an avid e-mailer AND I'm still a pretty faithful writer of cards, postcards, and even "snail mails".  There's an entertaining recording I made in early 2005 entitled, "My Calling Card" which contains several of my best stories.  I've made over seventy copies of that tape and have given them out to various friends and acquaintances.  Statistically, only about one out of ten have communicated with me in ANY way to express any feedback about the stories on the tape.  E-mails after e-mails to folks go unanswered.  Same with letters.  I wonder, "What am I, a LEPER?"  (oops, this piece has come full circle!)

We're all so busy.  We're all so self-absorbed.  Honestly, we're TOO busy and TOO self-absorbed.  I marvel at all the clergy running around entering "stuff" into their "Palm Pilots".  (I don't have a Palm Pilot.  I just use a pen and little calendar as though it was the year 1966!)  Over the past two weeks, two of my pastor friends have rattled off stories of their Palm Pilot failures.  One TOTALLY crashed.  The other malfunctioned in one area only but caused him all kinds of consternation.  As long as I hear those stories, I absolutely will NOT have a Palm Pilot, but it amazes me that guys will give so much attention to their Palm Pilots, but can't answer an e-mail, or can't say, "Hey I got that tape you sent me-thanks!"

It used to really annoy my late mother that my Dad did a lot of favors for people and many never showed any appreciation.  One exception was Italian immigrant Carmelo Felice of Hyde Park, MA.  Dad did many favors for him, and he was most grateful.  A housepainter, Carmelo painted my parents' house in Canton several times for NOTHING.  My mother used to call Carmelo, "The one leper who came back."

I shouldn't even have to write this, but here goes:  Acknowledge gifts to you.  Answer e-mails promptly.  Answer mail.  Say thank you.  Act like other people matter to you- even if they don't at least ACT like they do.  If I convince most of the people who read this piece to DO this stuff, I will be so moved emotionally, I'll probably be sobbing like a baby, and I'm serious!

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I’m one of those people who takes pride in a nice looking lawn.  In early April, I visited a local hardware store and stocked up on several varieties of grass seed as well as a new nozzle for my garden hose.  Most of the grass has come in pretty well, although as I mowed the lawn on Tuesday of this week, I noticed I still have a few bare patches, so I’ll have some planting to do in early September.  (For you novices, June and July are NOT good months to plant grass seed.)

I may write further about lawn care in a future posting, but today I actually want to deal with a simple solution to the problem of grass, crabgrass,  and various weeds growing where you don’t want them to grow, especially in cracks in your driveway, cracks in the sidewalk in front of your home, and most particularly along the edge of the curb between the sidewalk and roadway.  Many people buy expensive (and potentially dangerous) weed killers to spray in these problem places.  Until 2001, I used to do that, but I got a great tip from a guy I know named Dave Connell.

The solution is simple: vinegar.  Some diehard gardeners insist on using cider vinegar, and sometimes I’ve done that, but I find that white vinegar works just fine.  At your supermarket look for the gallon jugs of white vinegar in the salad dressing aisle.  If you’ve got quite a lot of growth in your driveway or curb area, you’ll want to buy two or three or even four gallons.  At home just pour it on all your unwanted growth.  (Note: be very careful about pouring it on your lawn because it will kill grass- I recommend only using it on asphalt, concrete, and granite surfaces.)  Within three days, and usually much sooner, your problem growth will be DEAD!  Over the Summer, just get in the habit of doing this three or four times to maintain the “neat pavement/neat curb” look.  I’ve also taken to doing this around our church’s old asphalt parking lot which is loaded with cracks.  

If you’re a neatnik, you’ll love how things will look and how well this works!
Back in the 1960s, my father used to pour gasoline on such unwanted growth.  This is so much safer and cheaper, and the vinegar won’t harm asphalt surfaces.  I’ve found that even if it rains a day or two after you apply the vinegar, the results are still great, and the rain doesn't seem to be much of a problem.

“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, hesaid, It is finished...” (from John 19:30)  Well, when you use the vinegar on your pavement the unwanted growth will be finished.

If you try this, I’d love to hear of the results.  E-mail me at  or write me at P.O. Box 4704, Framingham, MA 01704

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

At least ten years ago, I watched a riveting independent film on one of Boston’s PBS television stations (Boston actually has TWO such stations) late on a Saturday night.  This film had been an award-winner.  I do not remember the title of the film.  I do remember that it was probably shot in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was black & white, and it was short.  The entire film was only about fifteen or twenty minutes long!

The setting of the film is a Mobil gas station, late at night.  One and only one attendant is on duty.  A young woman pulls her car up to the full serve pump.
The attendant comes out and fills the tank.  His behavior is unusual, and unnerving.  This was long before Mobil started their “Speedpass- pay at the pump” service.  The woman very nervously hands her credit card to this service station guy whose body language gives every indication he may rape her or cut her throat at any moment.  The guy goes into the station office, and is in there a long time.  He comes back to the car to tell the woman there is a problem with her credit card.  It’s just obviously a phony story.  The annoyed and frightened woman tells him there is no problem, to try to put the card through again.  Again, the man is gone a long time, and is seen holding a phone receiver.  He comes back, insistent she come in and, “talk to the lady from the credit card company”.  She refuses.  He will not take no for an answer.  Finally, she says she will agree to this if he goes and stands at the far end of the station lot, as far from the building as possible.  He tries to reassure her, but she’s not buying.  Reluctantly, he stands at the entrance of the station by the Mobil sign.  Terrified, the young lady, exits the car and starts walking toward the gas station office.  Halfway to the office the gas station attendant charges her like a madman and forces her into the office.  She is hysterical.  As a viewer, you feel so sorry for her, wondering if it will be a rape, a murder, a robbery, or a combination of the three.

The guy insists she stop crying and screaming.
“Lady,” he says firmly, “I’ve been trying to tell you there’s a guy laying on the back floor of your car holding an ax!”  
The camera cuts to the maniac laying on the back floor, and that’s the end.

This past week, I received a mass e-mail retelling that story and warning young women to be careful.  Is that story an urban legend, or is it true?  I don’t know, but it does illustrate one of the life mottos of my late maternal grandfather:  “Things are often not what they seem”.  Life has taught me how right he was!

Some folks take people at face value.  I guess THEIR motto is, “What you see is what you get.”  In fact, they take life that way.  Very frankly, “taking things at face value” is not being very discerning and could get you killed!  It also is not walking in faith, for faith is  “...the evidence of things not seen”.

I’ve been a born-again Christian for almost thirty-six years.  In those thirty-six years, I’ve learned (as Isaiah 55:8-9 says) that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  There are times he seems like the MEANEST and most unreasonable and demanding God...times it seems like He’s trying to trick you into an awful thing that will harm you...times it seems like He’s trying to make a (frankly) stupid demand of you.

Sound familiar?

Yes, what I’m saying is there are times God’s a lot like that gas station guy.  At face value, He seems SO unreasonable that you want to just “chuck the whole thing” and become and atheist, or at least a Unitarian!  (Sorry to my Unitarian friends, but to Pentecostals and evangelicals reading, that was a very funny line that I couldn’t resist!)  The truth is, God brings some seemingly awful things our way to save us FROM ourselves and from things we would stupidly “walk into” that are a thousand times worse!  I’ve learned that over the years, and I’m still learning it.

Are you disappointed with God today? Frustrated with God?  Mad at God?   I’ve been there many times.  Then, I look back years later and see His hand, His wisdom, and His love.

If you have time, read ALL of Hebrews chapter eleven.  The latter verses talk about people who endured TERRIBLE things like being sawn in half...people who trusted God and their lives “stunk”!  But those people DON’T regret that today.  (One such example would be John the Baptist, but I’ll talk about him in a blog sometime down the road.)  

Nope, if you’re a Christian you certainly should not take life at face value.  If you do, you’ll probably be one confused, disappointed, and even dangerous soul!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

YARD SALE ON SATURDAY (special extra entry)

I usually post “entries” on this blog every TUESDAY, THURSDAY, and SATURDAY.  I will be unable to post anything on Saturday, so I’m posting this MUCH EARLIER.

Saturday, June 17 is my sister’s annual “multi-family” yard sale.  I’ll be sleeping over in Canton on Friday night and helping set up VERY early on Saturday morning.  I’m bringing an old gas lawn mower to sell.  It’s a push-style mower...a Sears...ten years old but works pretty well.  I’d be THRILLED to to get $10 for it!

I also put out a special mailing this week to “classic car buffs”- and I’ll have a special table geared to them.  Since there is a big car show in Canton on Saturday afternoon, this is good timing!  Those of you who are NOT classic car buffs will not see the draw of this, but I’ll have many classic collectible Massachusetts inspection stickers at ridiculously low prices as well as classic motorcycle and auto license plates at ridiculously low prices. If you are interested in any of that stuff or if you know anybody who is, COME ON DOWN!

I’ll be at Prospect and Independence Streets in Canton.  It’s only one mile from downtown Canton.  (The nearest landmark is the Dean S. Luce Elementary School.) Independence Street is easily accessed from Pleasant Street and Prospect Street is easily accessed from Sherman Street.  If you’re using MAPQUEST enter 99 Independence Street with the 02021 ZIP code.

There will also be FURNITURE - mostly desks and dressers, and all kinds of “odds and ends” REAL cheap.  

The hours at “Bob’s Table” are 8 to 12 in the morning.
Come on out and see me on Saturday morning in Canton!

“But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face ...” (from 3 John 14).


“And the rain descended, and the floods came, ... and beat upon that house...”  (from Matthew 7:17)

Unlike me, my father was quite a handyman:  a good auto mechanic, a good amateur electrician and plumber, a good carpenter, and a very good (but slow) mason.  Dad had a radical idea about homeownership that most realtors and financial planners would not agree with.  He believed that you should not own a house UNLESS you are a very good handyman OR you are very wealthy.  I live in a parsonage (church owned minister’s residence) and sometimes lament that I’m not a homeowner.  This week I’m glad I’m not!

My sister lives here in the Boston area slightly over twenty miles southwest of where I reside.  She lives in the house we each grew up in.  I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog that my parents were pack rats.  They never through anything out.  They’ve been dead six years this summer and we’re still going through their stuff- throwing some out, giving some away, and selling some.  We’re about 75% done at this point.  

Last Saturday I arrived at my sister’s a little after Noon.  She was flustered when she opened the back door.

”We’ve got a MAJOR problem!”  she announced.  (The “we” is she and her friend Robbie.)

I learned that a large amount of water had leaked into the light fixture in one of the rooms and that it had completely shattered.  There was visible water damage to the ceiling and a wall.  The room was on the first floor level.  It was a little scary.  This is a house that NEVER takes in water into the basement and was never known to leak anything but a tiny amount of water from the roof in the almost fifty years it has existed.  Where was the huge amount of water coming from in?  Robbie, who is MUCH handier than I, went upstairs to the room directly above the major leak.  Initially, he did not see any water or leakage there, at all.  He then proceeded to open the access door to one of the “eves” at the front of this “oversized Cape Cod style” house.  Water was POURING into the eve.  It was then draining down through the floor and into the room below.  Upon further investigation, the water was coming through a nail hole on the roof which had never been sealed properly when the roof was put on a few years ago.  

On Monday, my sister called her insurance company.  They sent out a professional “water damage” crew.  The crew opened up the ceiling and wall.  The area was SATURATED with water.  Insulation was SATURATED and ruined.  A large portion of the ceiling and wall had to come down, resulting in more damage and problems.  (Did you ever see the film, “THE MONEY PIT”?  That will give you some idea of what she is dealing with.)  The water was an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew.  Had this problem been “let go” for another 6-12 months, as bad as things are, they would have been absolutely catastrophic!

At this point, major repair work and renovations must begin.  Fortunately, all will be covered by insurance.  Dianne had this major problem and had no idea about it until Saturday.  What I didn’t tell you earlier is that Dianne and Robbie only discovered this when they went to change a light bulb in the ceiling light fixture!  Reader, here’s a cheery thought:  You may have a major hidden problem with your house that’s going to “trip off” some day and right now you’re blissfully ignorant of it!  Again, my father believed that unless you’re a good handyman or quite wealthy, you have no business owning a house.  Right now, I think he had quite a valid point!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


“...Friend, I do thee no wrong: ...” (from Matthew 20:13)

One of my sister Dianne’s “big” expressions is, “I didn’t see it comin’!”  It expresses her dismay, regret, and exasperation when there is a negative happenstance she just didn’t expect. That expression fits what happened to me this past Sunday:  I didn’t see it comin’!

If I wrote a book of “best of” and “worst of” aspects of being a pastor, this one would make the “worst of” category.  I thought we had a good Sunday School class on Sunday, a good “praise & worship” time of music and song, a good prayer time, and a reasonably good (albeit brief) Communion service.  Honestly, the sermon was just O.K.  I was not as well prepared as I could have been, and I kind of rushed through it- but it was not horrible.  Immediately following the service, my wife and I stood at the rear to greet “parishioners” as they left the church building.  The first person was a man.  I held out my hand to greet him.  He gruffly refused to shake hands, turned away, and marched up the stairs.  My wife and I were each puzzled to say the least.

A couple of hours later I went on-line at my home computer.  There was an e-mail from the guy who refused to shake hands.  I’ll call him Fred.  Fred is not a church member, but is in attendance probably two or three times a month.  He almost always arrives late for church.  Sometimes, he’s left the service quite early, usually in an abrupt manner.  Other times, he’s very cheerful, friendly, and talkative.  Fred’s e-mail was long, detailed, and very hostile.  To sum it up, I can’t do anything right as a pastor- I’m controlling, self-absorbed, manipulative, and have no real interest in the welfare of the church people.  Is that an exact quote of what he wrote?  No.  But it sums it up quite well.  The church itself did not fare well in this guy’s critique, either.  Essentially, he gave me an “F” and the church a “D”.  I know it’s not usually recommended that you fire an e-mail right back at something like that, but I did.  My e-mail was brief.  I told him I have a particular personality and leadership style that people either absolutely love or absolutely hate.  I am who I am.  I told him that when he finds the church that’s right for him, to let me know, I’d love to hear about it.  (There IS no such church.  I wonder how long it will take him to find that out!)

I know conventional wisdom says, “Consider the source”.  I really believe 95% of the people at our church would NOT agree with this guy.  At least 50% would VERY STRONGLY disagree with him.  I know I have to put it in perspective.  But it still hurts very much.  I want to stress something in this column that I hope my readers will never forget:  Never drop a negative “bombshell” on your pastor anytime during a Sunday or on a Saturday night.  NEVER!  

This guy should have called or e-mailed (preferably called) during the week.  He should have set up an appointment to come to see me and speak to me in person.  Maybe it would have been somewhat unpleasant for me, but it would be FAR better than what he did!  Will I get over this?  Sure.  I’ve experienced worse than this from disgruntled church attenders in the past...probably at least ten such negative “bombshells” since 1987.  I’ll get over it and move on, but somehow it still feels like a kick in the head.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


“... and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.”  (I Chronicles 21:2)

Six years ago today, I was picking up my father’s belongings from Charlwell House Nursing Home in Norwood and helping plan his funeral.  Eugene A. Baril died on June 9, 2000.  It was a Friday, just like yesterday;  thus June 10 was a Saturday, just like today.  The weather in 2000 was magnificent- unlike 2006.  There are so many things I could talk about regarding my father’s death, but I decided to talk about his passion:  license plates.  There is no way I could adequately do that in one column- it would take twenty-seven!  Dad was one of the most serious license plate collectors in New England, and one of the two or three foremost experts about license plates and “early motoring” in New England.  Today, I’m still driving his car which I inherited- a 1989 Volkswagen Golf- including the “low” Massachusetts plate that I inherited;  number 280.

There really is a political pecking order to license plates in Massachusetts.  To people who are serious about it, anybody with a number lower than 10,000 is of significance, and anyone with a two or three figure plate is sort-of a celebrity.  Now, plates that start with a “zero” do not count in that!  Yesterday, I saw a car with plate number 043.  That “zero” serious was created by former Governor Ed King.  It was a way to give his cronies and hacks low number plates instantly.  But “license plate nuts” know that, and are not impressed.  You see, to be one of those low number license plate celebrities, you DON’T want a “full plate” of numbers!

New York was the first state to register cars- in 1901.  The Empire State did NOT issue license plates, however. Rather, they issued brass discs.  Massachusetts was the very first state to issue license plates- in June of 1903.  Massachusetts may well have been the first entity to issue license plates in the world.  For many years, the Tudor family of Milton, MA had plate number “1”.  The story goes that a powerful Mr. Tudor in the Nineteenth Century kept Boston Harbor free of ice, and that this number was granted to him as a “thank you”.  (I know that story raises more questions than it answers.)  I don’t know if the Tudor family still has plate #”1” but they did into the early 1980s.  All early Massachusetts plates were made of porcelain.  The first series was dark blue with white numbers and letters.  The earliest plates did not list a year and read “Massachusetts Automobile Register”.  These plates were issued from 1903 through 1907.  In 1908, it was decided to issue new sets of plates, and to include the year “1908”.  The first 5000 numbers were kept “reserved”.  The 1908 plates were white with blue lettering.  Massachusetts issued porcelain plates through 1915.  The plates were manufactured under contract with private companies including Ingram-Richardson of Beavers Falls, PA.  In 1916, painted steel plates were issued instead of porcelain.  Many years later, the state switched to issuing plates every OTHER year and validating the “off” year with a windshield sticker.  The 1928 plates featured a cod fish logo.  People hated the cod fish logo and it was ultimately dropped.

Prior to the 1957 plates, Massachusetts plates came in many sizes.  A two-digit plate was little, a five-digit plate was medium-sized and a six-digit plate was large.  A federal law which took effect in 1956 mandated the standard dimensions of license plates around the country which we see today.  Beginning in 1967, MA plates were aluminum with reflectorized paint- white with blue, and later red, and later green lettering.  You probably know many of those “green” plates from the late 1970s and 1980s are stil in use today.  The state was VERY resistant to issuing any sort of “fancy” plates with slogans, but of course, all that changed with the “Spirit of America” series, the United We Stand plates and many others.  Today, much like a hundred years ago, plates are issued for many years and not just one or two.

I hope no one fell asleep reading this.  This stuff was my father’s passion.  I remember it proudly each time I look at #280 on my car.  Radio talk show host Howie Carr would love to have a prestigious plate- but as I’ve communicated to him, “Howie, you can’t have that one!”

Thursday, June 8, 2006


A couple of days ago, I was shocked to learn that Austin Davis (a.k.a. Austin of Boston) died on Sunday, June 4.  I was also surprised to learn that “Austin Davis” and “Austin of Boston” were just made up names for his profession, and that his real name was Malcolm Soll. Since I knew him as Austin Davis, that’s what I’ll call him in this piece.  

I say, “I knew him”.  Austin Davis was the “morning drive” D.J. on “Worcester’s Continuous Soft Rock 96.9 WSRS” for seven years.  As so often happens in radio, he suddenly disappeared from the airwaves about seven months ago.  (Before that, he was “Austin of Boston” on Boston’s “Oldies 103.3”.)  I never met Austin Davis in person, although I did see him “live” at Natick Mall about ten years ago when “Oldies 103.3” did a special Fourth of July event.  Radio is a much more intimate medium than is television.  There is a connection- especially when the personalities share “personal stuff” on the air, you start to think of them as personal friends.  I knew Austin Davis lived in Ashland.  He talked about Ashland all the time.  There were also references to places he went and things he and his family did in the area.   Austin Davis was a regular at the stores and streets of Ashland, Framingham, and Natick as I am- so I related.  He would speak of frustration with the traffic on Route 9 in Westboro, and I’d been in that same traffic the day before.   He’d talk of his son Danny being bummed out that school vacation had ended, and my kids were experiencing the same thing.  Austin Davis HAD to have been much more of a handyman than I was- there were the stories of cleaning the gutters the day before or various household projects he was involved in.  I knew his elderly mother lived in Florida.  I know he came to the U.S. from England as a small child and he grew up on Long Island, New York.  He was a Yankees fan.  I certainly did not like that.  It took some guts to boast of that in New England!  

Back around 1999,  Austin Davis broke a really bizarre story... a woman had been raised from the dead at Matarese Funeral Home in Ashland.  As wild as that story sounds, it’s true!  It was eventually covered on Dateline NBC.  Skeptics said she was just experiencing extreme hypothermia and came out of it, but the Ashland Police who were involved told a different story.  It kind of gave me the creeps that I happened to drive by Matarese Funeral Home yesterday and I realized that Austin Davis/Malcolm Soll’s body was lying there.  His funeral will be conducted there this morning.  I don’t expect any raising of the dead, however.

Now, YOU will probably think this is bizarre:  Have you ever fallen asleep when the radio was on and as the audio was blasting into your head, DREAMED a dream based upon that audio?  I have several times.  At least a year ago, and it’s probably longer, as Austin Davis was broadcasting on WSRS I fell back asleep and dreamed he had died.  Of course, it was a sad dream.  I awoke, realizing my mind had created a bizarre fantasy dream based upon the radio it was hearing, but I genuinely felt sad.  Well, now it’s no dream.

Austin Davis was pretty politically and socially liberal.  He was not the type to have any sympathy with the “religious right” and for that matter, was much more of a Henry David Thoreau than a Billy Graham when it comes to faith matters.  Some of you will not agree, but I don’t believe that bodes well for him as far as eternity goes.  

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment:” (Hebrews 9:27).

Tuesday, June 6, 2006


“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.  And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not:  for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Last night, I did something I never thought I’d do.  I spoke out boldly, confidently, and passionately on behalf of the (mostly) theologically liberal Grace Congregational Church of Framingham.  True, it’s something that quite a few  of my fellow evangelicals and Pentecostals probably would not have done.  I’m very glad that I did it!  Grace Congregational Church has been in existence in Framingham for over a hundred years.  For decades, the church owned a beautiful gothic stone facility on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham.  In the past fifteen years, the church has fallen on hard times.  The congregation which at one time numbered around six hundred has dwindled to about fifty.  They were renting their building to a thriving Brazilian Presbyterian congregation.  Ultimately, it made sense to take the painful step of selling the Union Avenue facility to the Brazilians and rent their old building from them.  Grace Congregational’s next step was to purchase the former Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall located in a residential neighborhood of Framingham’s northside.  The site is perfect for the much smaller but close-knit congregation.  The Kingdom Hall had a number of problems, including mold, and was really not worth renovating.  Grace Church legally demolished the former Kingdom Hall in January and well all “H-E - double hockey sticks” broke loose from the neighborhood.  It seems that having a church in the neighborhood is a TREMENDOUS burden and hardship.  For the past several months, there has been a fight to stop Grace Church’s project.  

Last night the proposal went before Framingham’s Zoning Board of Appeals.  Present were thirty-five adults from Grace Church (which is virtually all of their present adult membership), their attorney, and their architect.  On the opposite side were several angry neighbors and several neutral Town Meeting members.  I was a little disappointed that only two area clergy showed up to speak on behalf of Grace Church:  Father John Murphy of the (Roman Catholic) Sons of Mary and me.  Both Murphy and I spoke on Grace Church’s behalf.  I compared Grace Church’splight to “something you would see on a Hallmark T.V. movie” , commended their sticking together as a family, and complimented them for the many good works they have done in Framingham.  (As a good evangelical, I know that it’s not the works that get you into Heaven, it’s the blood of Jesus, but the fact is, they HAVE done many good works.)  When I finished speaking, I got a big round of applause from the Grace Church congregants who were present.  Afterward, several shook my hand.  Honestly, I couldn’t help but compare this with the lukewarm receptions I’ve received when I’ve spoken at Assemblies of God business meetings.  Well, that thing about a prophet not being honored by his own IS often true.  

I think the Z.B.A. will ultimately rule in their favor, but then it’s on to the Planning Board and a long tough fight ahead.  I’m mindful of Luke 9:49-50 and I wish Grace Church success regarding this project.

Saturday, June 3, 2006


April showers may bring May flowers, but if there’s one month in which people DON’T want rain, it’s June.  Well, maybe an occasional rainy Monday or Wednesday in June is O.K. - the lawns and flowers need the rain, but it’s certainly not O.K. to have June rain on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.  Couples plan that perfect wedding day months (years?) in advance, and they want the weather to be perfect.  Most high school graduations happen in early June- and everybody wants perfect weather for those, as well.  

As I write it’s a rainy Saturday morning which followed a rainy Friday.  I was supposed to be in Canton helping my sister with her yard sale which was planned for today.  Due to the RAIN, the yard sale is postponed until June 17.  Back to the high school graduation topic, I read an article in the newspaper about contingency plans for so many high school graduations planned for this weekend.  I couldn’t help but think of my own high school graduation in early June of 1972.  Our graduation from Canton High School was planned for a Thursday evening... (I know, I know, what high school would hold a graduation on a Thursday night?), but this was 1972 and it was not all that uncommon.  On Thursday it POURED rain.  The graduation was postponed until Friday night.  We were all kind of disappointed, but putting it off one more night was not a big deal.

The graduation exercises were held outdoors in front of the school on Washington Street, Canton.  Temporary bleachers and folding chairs were erected for the occasion.  One thing was missing:  one of those big tents like Framingham State College uses. There was no tent.  As we filed in to the traditional “Pomp & Circumstance” music the weather was partly cloudy and pretty pleasant.  One of the toughest “coolest” kid’s fathers was shooting home movies of him and you could tell he thought it was quite “uncool”.  I don’t know why I still remember that detail.  Maybe it symbolizes the quandary of that age where we were not really adults and not really kids but somewhere in the middle.  There were all the usual speeches- in fact, I think there was a (gasp) prayer!  Well, this WAS 1972.  About a third of the way through the ceremony some unexpected guests showed up:  raindrops.  No, it wasn’t HARD rain, but isolated drops.  In about five minutes, we had steady but fine rain.   Our principal was Mr. Joyce, a gray-headed guy of around fifty who was a chain smoker and had a voice about as appealing as the voice of the Lost in Space robot.  In that “Danger, Will Robinson” voice of his, Joyce said,

“I think I will ask the graduates if we should move the ceremony inside.”

In unison, each of us shouted, “No!”

“Well, you heard them.  We will continue outside.” he replied.

Five minutes later, the skies opened up to a “Noah’s ark” style of HEAVY rain.  

“I think we’d bet...”  before Mr. Joyce could finish his sentence, pandemonium broke out.  You had the graduating seniors in their caps and gowns, the parents, faculty, guests, and old ladies (including my poor 84-year-old grandmother) running for the school auditorium.  In another ten minutes we were on stage SOAKED in our caps and gowns.  Many parents (including my own and my grandmother) ended up standing- there were far too few seats available for this crowd.  In the confusion, the diplomas all got mixed up.  Everybody was handed someone else’s diploma.  After the ceremony, we all had to “kibbutz” and make sure everybody got their correct diplomas.

I can relate to Chris Rock’s childhood on “Everybody Hates Chris” because I was very uncool in high school, but I’m thought of very differently today.  I’m the only “clergyperson” of my class.  At our twenty-fifth reunion in 1997, I was asked to read the list of classmates who’d passed away, and to open the reunion in prayer.  As I did, I prayed that as it had rained on our graduation, God would rain His blessings on our reunion.  That evening, many of my classmates made a point to talk to me and compliment my prayer.  A few days after our graduation, the famous Watergate break-in took place,  but I’ll always remember June of 1972 for the rainy graduation.  You know, in a crazy way it’s a much more special memory than a sunny graduation day would have been.  So, for those of you who had your graduations messed up by rain this week, “don’t sweat it”!

“...he...sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  (from Matthew 5:45)

Thursday, June 1, 2006


The time goes by SO quickly!  I believe it was February when I started this blog.  The weather was cold and snowy. It was winter.  Now, less than four months later it’s June!  I know that summer “technically” doesn’t start until the “Summer Solstice” on June 21, but in the “world of Bob Baril” summer is June 1 through August 31.  My favorite seasons are spring and fall- for many reasons.  Church attendance is ALWAYS best in spring and fall.  People are actually more willing to serve the Lord and to seek God in spring and fall.  I like the climate of spring and fall.  Winter is just too dark and too cold.  Summer is too hot.

I used to be the biggest baby in the world when it comes to the heat!  If the temperature went above 75 degrees, I’d start complaining.  At above 85 and humid, I was probably a worse complainer than the Israelites at the time of the Exodus complaining about the manna and demanding quail!  If the mercury hit 100, I would be surly!  I craved air conditioning like a moth trying to penetrate an exterior light bulb.  

Now, I still don’t LIKE heat.  My ideal world would have low humidity- high temperatures of maybe 66 degrees and low temperatures of about 47.  But I took God’s crash course in not complaining about the heat back in 1990 and 1991.  I made two missions trips to Haiti - the first in the early Fall of 1990 and the second in March of 1991.  The groups I went with did not stay in Port-Au-Prince.  We traveled to some very remote areas over probably eighty miles southwest of the capital city.  In most of those places there was no electricity and no refrigeration.  Villages up in the mountains were actually not too bad as far as comfort.  The temperature would get to around 72 during the day and fall to around 60 at night with moderate to low humidity.   Coastal villages were a completely different story.  There, 92 to 102 degrees during the day and 80 degrees at night- all with very high humidity- were common.   In the country, “houses” (glorified huts) were NOT completely enclosed.  Typically, you’d have a gap of about 4 inches between the roof and the walls.  And the “doors” were anything but secure.  Bees (mostly wood bees) routinely flew in and out of the houses, as did flies and beetles.  Spiders were everywhere.  On each trip, we spent about a week living with those conditions.   You could NOT get a cold drink.  You could NOT get comfortable.  In the coastal villages, you just had to deal with the heat.  To the Haitians, it was normal.

No matter how hot and how humid it gets in Massachusetts or anywhere else in the U.S.A., air conditioning is available, as is refrigeration.  I can get cold beverages to drink.  I can take comfortable showers.  I can easily wash my clothes.  I can (usually) avoid having too many insects fly into the house.  No, summer is not my favorite time of year, but I can honestly say that I do not do any of the kind of complaining about the heat that I used to.  I’ve learned that it really isn’t too bad.  

The hardest part of summer for me is hearing everybody ELSE complain about the heat.  My late mother used to say that constantly complaining about the heat only makes it feel worse.  She was right.  My advice is, think about those Haitians.  Don’t complain about the heat.  Be thankful for air conditioning.  (Even our “crummy little old” church building is air conditioned- we’re really pretty spoiled!)  Something that annoys me is people frantically fanning themselves with the church bulletins when I’m trying to preach.  I can remember how hot the Catholic church was in the summers back when I was a kid.  Today, St. John’s in Canton is air conditioned.  It was not air conditioned until about fifteen years ago.  I can remember that church being STIFLING hot in the summer with big, noisy “industrial strength” fans running throughout the mass.  “The greatest generation” and their kids didn’t seem to mind that stuff back in 1966.  Again, today we’re SO spoiled.  So, try not to sit there (or at whatever church YOU attend) frantically fanning yourself with the bulletin.  And try not to whine too much about the heat.  Some people actually LIKE it hot!  And, before we all know it, it’ll be January 2007 and probably 3 degrees below zero outside!

“...I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  (from Philippians 4:11)