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Janice Crow: ” Bottle Dash, Stink and Smoke”

Bottle Dash, Stink, and Smoke

When the sun hit it, it was beautiful.  There were glittering quartz-like rocks and clear “stones” that looked for all the world like diamonds…or at least what a seven-year-old thinks a diamond looks like. There were green and blue bits like emeralds and sapphires and a lot of translucent yellowish-brown “sparklies”.  There was an occasional seashell, which seemed oddly out of place for my simple understanding of how near the ocean… wasn’t.  I picked at the rocks and sparkly nuggets with my fingers hoping to loosen some until Mom called a halt to it because some might be sharp.  But I have to admit, when she wasn’t looking, I would steal away and do a little “gemology”.  I thought we were rich and that our house, with all its glistening jewels on the outside was the absolute best.           

I must have been about that same age when I remember returning home from a  trip to grandma’s house in Southern Illinois and seeing from a long way off a magnificent orange glow in the  night sky.  It would flicker then swell brighter and brighter and then flicker again.  When we crested the last hill, I could see hundreds of bright white lights piercing what seemed to be fog.  It had to be New York or some other big city, I thought.

Well, imagine, if you will, the night I learned that those bright lights and that beautiful glow in the distance was not New York or Chicago  or any other place I had seen on our sometimes  working television.  It was the Standard Oil Refinery.  That flickering glow was a flare burn reflecting against the smoke and  gaseous steam.  Those brilliant lights were just illuminating the grounds, tanks and towers  of the hideous plant.  And to add insult to tremendous disappointment, its putrid chemical stench assaulted my tender olfactory glands.   In later years, when my cousins would come to visit, they called my hometown “Stinkville”.  

Well, somewhere along the line, I learned that our bejeweled bungalow was simply made of sandy brown stucco, a variety called “bottle dash”…. a more polite reference to “beer bottle dash”.    As I understand it, two or three coats of stucco was spread over either lathe or chicken wire.  Apparently, it’s called “dash”,  because when the last coat of stucco was applied and still wet, scoops of rocks,  glass, marbles, black obsidian,   sea shells, and sometimes even crab legs (what?)  were slung against the wet stucco….all over the house.  And there you have it…hobo chic.  I guess it was popular in 1930 when the house was built.  

So those “diamonds” were just shards of clear milk bottles.  The “emeralds” were chunks of pop bottles.  The “sapphires” were bits of old Vicks jars and Milk of Magnesia containers, and the translucent brown “jewels” were crushed remnants of somebody’s Saturday night bender…beer bottles.  All in all, pretty worthless.  Just junk.  How disappointing… to learn that your “beautiful” home was made up of somebody’s refuse.    Say what you will, Upcyclers, but sometimes that gar-BAHZH is just garbage. And I can tell you firsthand that Mom was right about it being sharp because scraping your knuckles or falling against it was no fun. 

 I wish I could tell you that was the last time I was ever taken in by some glow or mesmerizing shiny object.   Fast forward a few years and sometimes those shiny objects were two-legged.  Oh… so marvelous to look at.  Such colorful personalities…what testimonies that glittered in the spotlight.  What a gem they appeared to be.  Fast forward a few more years and see that car…that beautiful cranberry red car, the first I ever got on my own credit….all mine.   Fast forward a few decades and life crests a hill and you see what you think is your hope of the future off in the distance… that situation you’ve dreamed of your whole life.  What an aura! What a glow! That must be it up ahead, if you just stay the course.  

But here’s what I’ve found.  Those people… those things…those circumstances… that I put my faith in often turned out to be nothing more than bottle dash.  Not at all the treasure I’d hoped for and yeah, it hurts when you scrape against it.

This is a world of uncertainty, but this I can tell you.    People will let you down.  Always.  They will disappoint you….always.   They will say one thing and do another.  Proclaim loyalty while plotting against you. Declare devotion to your face but undermine you behind your back.  Does that sound harsh?  Maybe.  Humanity is flawed.  We are made in the very image of God, yet we are miserably flawed.   It is the height of foolishness to expect perfection from the imperfect. That’s just what people do.

 What is truly sad is that more times than I would like to count some glowing objects have been church folks,   preachers, friends, and yes, even some engaged in full-time sharing of the gospel.   That’s a killer to me, and the thought that a ministry or a  performance might be just bright lights, smoke and hot air is disturbing.  

Dreams collapse. Circumstances change.  Money and fame are deceptive.  They allure, but can’t satisfy.  You keep picking at them, digging for them, trying to pry them loose so you can hold them just for a moment,  but they’re elusive.  Just smoke.  Elevated position, notoriety, celebrity, influence…it all looks so inviting and yet it just might be shiny sharp stones that only serve to cut you.

Stuff is unreliable.  Things rust and break and corrode.  That beautiful cranberry paint did not prevent the engine from seizing on my beloved car, leaving me stranded right smack dab in the middle of Stinkville…yet miles from home. 

All that said, it is more important than ever to keep our eyes on the right things….and the right person.   Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….”    It is so easy to be distracted by things… things that seem good, things we want, things we think we need,  as well as the bad stuff…the people who don’t do right by us, devastating situations not of our own making that leave us hurt and confused enough to lose our way.  But Proverbs 4:25-27 (NIV) tells us “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.  Do not turn to the right or the left. Keep your foot from evil.”

I could have saved us all a lot of time by simply saying….forget about the people who did you wrong,  the stuff you want and can’t get, the plans that don’t pan out, the beautiful dreams that just won’t come true. As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  

Everything else is just bottle dash.

Staff writer Janice Crow – Singer – Songwriter

Janice Crow

Janice Crow is an accomplished singer/songwriter.
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