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James R. Stout


Barney Fife and The Watusi

            There’s a highway overpass that crosses over some railroad tracks not too far from where I live. When I was growing-up it was the other way around. The train tracks were on a bridge over the highway, but sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s the railroad bridge was torn down and the highway bridge built in its place. I must have driven over that pass a hundred times. There’s no other way to go from Trinity to Lovelady than on that highway. Not unless you want to drive 50 miles out the way.

            I always felt completely safe riding or driving over that bridge. Not so much anymore, but like I said, there’s just no other way to go south than on Highway 19. So, I drive over that bridge at least once a week and sometimes more. What changed, you ask? Well, it was about 2007 that I decided that I wanted to take some pictures of the railroad tracks from atop that bridge. I had previously noticed that the tracks made a pronounced curve leading up to the bridge from the east and then another curve leading west after going under the highway. It was late spring, and the flowers were blooming beautifully along that way as well making a picturesque view of wildflowers around the rail tracks and those curves. There’s not much of a shoulder on the highway leading up to the bridge and there’s no place on the bridge park at all. Therefore, I had to park in the grass about half a mile from the bridge and walk up the small shoulder to the bridge to get the pictures that I desired.

            I got up to the top of the bridge and started to snap pictures. Traffic was very light that day and I was easily able to take pictures from both sides of the highway. After I had been up there for a few minutes a regular passenger sedan crossed over the bridge. That’s when the bridge shook like it was afflicted with St. Vitus Dance. Which meant I felt like I was afflicted with St. Vitus Dance as well. I don’t mind telling you that it made me want to get off that bridge post haste. It also made me think twice about walking down through the tall grass to the rail tracks to take pictures from the vantage point beneath the bridge. In all the times that I had driven across that bridge I never felt it shake. It was only when standing on top of it when a car drove over it that I felt it move. Perhaps an engineer would explain the perfectly good reasons why such a bridge would move like it did, but as my Dad used to say, “That don’t cut no ice.” It was unnerving. Period.

            Let’s go south by about 110 miles. Downtown Houston, Texas has a lot of tall buildings. I used to keep up with which ones were the tallest when I was a kid and in my early adulthood. The Neils Esperson building is 32 floors high or about 410 feet from street level to the top. It was completed in 1927 and for a whopping two years it was the tallest building in Houston. But in 1929 The Gulf Building, now renamed the Morgan Chase Building, was completed and it stands 37 stories high. It was not only the tallest building in Houston for a time, it was for a while the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. A side note to this is that during the late 40’s and then in the late 60’s my mother worked as a secretary in both of those buildings. But by the 60’s The Humble Building expansion (later named Exxon/Mobile and then recently purchased and remodeled with apartments and a hotel) that was 44 floors high was briefly the tallest building. I remember going to the observation floor in 1968. It was something that I had wanted to do ever since a friend of mine had gone a couple of years before and had bought a replica of the building in the tourist shop. The replica wasn’t quite so tall. Perhaps 10 inches or so. Over the next 20 years new buildings were being built regularly in downtown Houston. The Shell Building, Pennzoil Building, Tenneco Building (I’m sensing a theme here), and then there were the big two buildings that still rank as the two tallest buildings in Houston. These were originally known as The Texas Commerce Tower and The Allied Bank Building. There’s about 10 feet difference in height between the two. The Texas Commerce Tower is now known as the JPMorgan Chase Building and is the 16th tallest building in the United States. It’s this building that I want to mention. Trust me, there is a connection with that little bridge near Lovelady, Texas.

            In the mid-80’s I had to go to many of the buildings in downtown Houston for business. I likely went into most, if not all, of those buildings. I could name them, but I will save you that misery. On one such occasion I had to go to what was then The Texas Commerce Tower. The meeting was on the 73rd floor. Holy moly is all I could think at the time. There was an express elevator that takes you up to the observation on the 60th floor. That was the highest that I had ever been up in a building in my life. For that matter, it still is. I got to the 60th floor and looked out the big glass wall and could see a great big swath of Houston and outlying areas. For that moment, I thought it was pretty cool. But I needed to get to my meeting and that meant taking another elevator up to the 73rd floor. I got off the elevator on the chosen floor and was ushered into a fairly small yet functional conference room. The room was rectangular, about 15 feet long and perhaps 12 feet wide, with one of the walls being the exterior glass. Another stunning view. So far, so good.

            The two people that I was meeting with came in and we shook hands and then sat down to discuss the business at hand. It didn’t take long. About 15 minutes or so. The meeting was over and when we stood up to shake hands and leave, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. The Building MOVED! And it wasn’t just a little movement. Well, I guess my eyes fairly well bugged out and I probably looked like Barney Fife when he would get surprised by something. The other two guys looked at me and just laughed. I didn’t see what was so funny about this giant skyscraper swaying in the wind. They told me that it happens all the time. Something to do with the way the building is built and a “floating” foundation. Just for the record, where I come from, foundations aren’t supposed to float! The Bible verses about building a house and the foundation being built on rock instead of sand came to mind. I know there are architects with perfectly good explanations why these big buildings are built on such foundations and the safety aspect etc. Did I mention what my Dad used to say about, “That don’t cut no ice”?

            So, what have these two incidents have in common? First, things are not always what they seem to be. You can’t see that building swaying in the wind. It is basically not visible to the eye when gazing at the building. You can’t feel that bridge doing the Mashed Potato or The Wah-Watusi when driving over it. But that doesn’t mean those things don’t happen. Second, like it or not, we have to trust the architects and engineers. They are certified and went to school to learn what they needed to learn to make sure things that are being built are safe. If we’re going to trust those people with our lives, then it also means that we are going to place our faith in their abilities. Here’s the final thing in common. Sometimes they make mistakes and it costs lives. Bridges have collapsed and people killed. Buildings have collapsed or become unsafe due to mistakes in either the way they were engineered or not built correctly.

            All this said, on this Easter Sunday I think about who I place my faith in and who I will never have to worry about His plan for my life failing. Sometimes I might feel some trepidation about something in my life, but I have faith in Jesus that no matter what may happen, His plan for my life is not flawed. He will see me through. He is the rock, the foundation on which I need never worry about. In Jesus, I have complete faith. Things may happen in my life that are nothing more than a part of being human and living a human life. But through it all, I know that my eternal life is secure and only because He lives.

The Old Cottonwood

            In 1950 my grandfather purchased the last part of his farm. He paid $22 an acre for the adjoining 100 acres to the rest of his farm. I sure wish I could buy land like this for $22 acre today! When he purchased the land about 30 acres of it was already cleared by the previous owner. Grandpa’s plan was to clear another 50 acres to plant corn and grow hay. It took about 3 years for him to get it done, but when he was finished, he had 5 large pastures and two sections of trees. Most of the trees were along the two main creeks that run through the property. By the time I can remember, sometime in the late 50’s or about 1960, he had about 30 acres of corn, 40 acres of hay, and a 1-acre garden in which he grew vegetables for my grandparent’s consumption. I remember walking through the corn fields and being small enough that I couldn’t see any more than down the row I was on. During the late summer and fall my grandmother would take me and my sisters with her to the garden to pick the various ripe vegetables. We set on the front porch shelling peas, snapping beans, washing potatoes, and shucking the corn on the cob. This would usually be late in the afternoon when the sun was in the west and the front porch was bathed in shade. We would talk about the events of our lives, the weather, and we would listen to the various birds singing their late afternoon songs. It was a peaceful and contented time. Grandma would spend an entire week canning vegetables for the coming year.

            The first time I remember seeing the old cottonwood tree was in the summer of 1966. I spent three separate weeks at the farm with my grandparents that summer and during the day I would explore until I was caked in dirt and happy as a hound dog running through the trees. The old cottonwood was in a section of thick woods along one of those creeks on the last 100 acres. That creek is about 2 football fields to the west of where I am now sitting as I write this. What drew my attention to the thicket was several huge vines that hung down from several trees. They reminded me of something you would see in an old Tarzan movie. It was fairly dry that August and there were parts of the creek bed that were dry and easily crossed. I got to that creek bed and there it was. A huge old cottonwood. The trunk was gnarly, and large roots dug into the soil around the creek searching for water. I was amazed at the size of that tree.

            When I got back to the farmhouse, I asked Grandpa about that tree. He knew immediately which tree I was talking about. I asked him how old it might be. He said it was at least 100 years old and probably a good deal more. He remembered it being big when he was little! He and some friends whose family lived on that land at the time had played in that same strip of woods. The next day when we all went over to the garden, Grandpa and I walked over and looked at the tree together. He stood there looking at it for a few minutes and I could tell he was thinking back to when he was my age, some 55 years before around 1910.

            The winding road of life keeps going. The year was 1994. It was the last week of April and I took my son, who was turning 10 years old that week, to the farm and we spent a weekend together. Just father and son. On one of those days we walked the entire 360 acres of the farm. We got to that section of trees and it was evening thicker than before. I showed him the old cottonwood and told him about when I had first seen it nearly 30 years before. We crawled under the barbed fence and headed back to the farmhouse. I sure wish I had that kind of energy today!

            The road continues to wind and curve. The year was 2006 and I was spending a weekend at the farm and had brought along a friend. We used an ATV to get around this time! I showed my friend the old cottonwood, took some pictures of the vines and thicket, and we went on our way. Three years later I moved to my new house that is on part of that 100 acres. I put a gate near the area where the creek was most shallow so that I could drive through in my UTV. Every time I would drive through there I would stop and gaze at that old cottonwood. It was like a dear old friend. The week that I moved into the house, the first week of May 2009, I walked down to that tree and measured it. It was 19 feet in diameter! I did some research and learned that it was most likely about 250 years old. Boy, that got me to thinking. American Indians had likely walked by that old cottonwood. It probably sprouted up around the time of the French and Indian war in the 1750’s. What a great sentinel I had to watch over my little piece of heaven.

            Over the next five years I did several improvements to the property. I had a 3-foot diameter culvert brought in with a rock base around it about 30 feet from that old cottonwood. I had a berm built up to keep the pass through from washing out so that I could easily drive my truck from the 6 acres where my house is and the other 39 acres that I have inherited since my mother passed away. Each time I drove through there I couldn’t help but look at the old tree.

            One morning in early 2015 I came out on my front porch to admire the sunrising over the large pine trees to the east of my house. As I stood there looking out at the hay meadow and the trees surrounding it, I looked over to the west and there was something different. I couldn’t quite place it at first and then it hit me. The old cottonwood was gone! Well, not really gone. Sometime during the night, it just fell over. I got in my UTV and drove down to look. There it was laying over on it’s side pointing to the Southeast. The huge ball of roots were sticking out everywhere. It had simply fallen over. I guess it may sound silly, but I got tears in my eyes. I had been looking at that tree for over 50 years. I thought about the history of it and I was sad. It was much too big for me to try to cut up. It would just have to return to the Earth from where it sprouted so many years before. For another two years there were still green leaves on the old cottonwood. But finally, about a year ago it started to decompose. In fact, a lot of brush and smaller trees have sprung up around it and you can’t hardly see it without getting almost on top of it now.

            Every time I drive through the pass I think about that tree and the shared past we had. I haven’t had a chance yet, but soon when my granddaughters visit again, I will take them down and show them what remains of that old tree and I’ll tell them the history behind it. Perhaps when they are old, they’ll remember seeing it and they’ll know the history of it. By the time they are about 50 years old it will have been 300 years since that tree first sprouted and was about the size of a twig. Half of that time the tree will have been a part of our family’s life. Well, that’s the story of the “Old Cottonwood”. I hope you enjoyed it.

            PS: The attached picture shows the old cottonwood about 7 years ago. The picture doesn’t do it service though. You can’t see the trunk down at ground level and get a true idea of how big it really was, but this is the only picture that I have that shows it in full height. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my computer photo files I believe there is a photo that I took of it around 2006 from fairly close-up showing it at ground level. If I ever find that photo, then I’ll add it to this post.

The Valley of Indecision

              In late 1980, John Lennon along with Yoko Ono, released their “Double Fantasy” album. There is a Lennon song on that album that I very much liked called “I’m Losing You”. I always thought it was musically in the same vein as his 1971 recording, “How Do You Sleep?” There’s just a feel to those songs. Anyway, there’s a line in “I’m Losing You” that I always liked. Probably because I understood what he was saying all to well. The line goes, “Well, here in the valley of indecision. I don’t know what to do.” Yeah, I know just how that feels.

              Over the years since that song came out, I have come to think of a period of my life as my own valley of indecision. I’m sure everyone has been through an experience in which you just don’t know what to do. You can sit there and weigh the merits of this solution or that solution, but then you find yourself not coming up with what feels like the solution to the given problem or issue. And if you’re not careful, you don’t make any decision. In the military, that’s a deadly problem for an officer to have. Sometimes no clear decision seems to present itself, but you can’t wring your hands and worry about it. You make a decision and then move forward. But that’s in battle. Life may seem like a battle at times, but its way more complicated than that.

              Now that I’ve set this up for you, let me tell you about my valley of indecision. It all started in June of 1974 and would last for the better part of two years. At times I felt like a rudderless sailing ship. The wind would blow the sails and move the ship, but there was little direction. What direction there was kept changing on what sometimes appeared to be a whim. I had just graduated from high school. On the day that I graduated, I would have told you that my plans for the future were clear cut. I was going to be a successful singer-songwriter. I had already proven I had the ability and talent, but what I didn’t know is ability and talent mean very little in that business. The key word there is “business”. At 18-years-old I had no idea what the business was all about. But then, how could I at that age? There were other parts of my life that were in flux and at work in the background. I had ended a two-year relationship with my high school girlfriend in April. I won’t get into the all the reasons and facts. But it was a decision that I thought I made properly at the time. I had started dating another girl later in April and things got too serious too quickly. The fact was, I wasn’t over my high school girlfriend. I still loved her. So, by the first of June I had started to realize just how much I missed her. Meanwhile, the other girl that I had started dating was a terrific girl. I would even say that there were moments that I believed I loved her too. But the two girls were totally different from one another. I had not seen the old girlfriend for nearly two months and I sorely missed her. I felt guilty too. I felt like I was being a real jerk to the new girlfriend. Not that she knew how I was feeling. No, that was coming, but wasn’t quite there yet.

              Let me recap. The two things in my life that meant the most at that moment in time were my music and a girl. Oh, that it had been that simple. By the time June 11, 1974 rolled around I was feeling pretty miserable. I had an audition at a nice club on the other side of Houston that day. It could mean a lucrative and lengthy gig. My duet partner and I packed up the gear and drove about a mile when my car started to spit and sputter, and it was obvious there was a problem. But we had to be at that audition on time. So, I limped over to my mother’s work and we transferred all the gear from my car to her car and she let us use her car to go to the audition. The audition seemed to go alright, but I was out of sorts in more ways than one. The aforementioned problems and now the problem with my car. I was concerned about how much money it was going to take to get the car repaired. We finished the audition and packed up the gear. We hadn’t gone very far down I-10 East when a flatbed truck about 200 yards ahead of me hit a bump and some kind of object bounced off the bed of the truck and then started to bounce down the freeway. It was closing fast. I was in the inside lane of three lanes and there was a vehicle in the lane to my right. I had nowhere to go. As this metal object came bouncing towards me, I made a split decision. I could speed up and let it bounce under the car or I could slow down and pray it bounced over the car and NOT through the windshield. I decided to let it bounce under the car. I didn’t like the idea of that object crashing through the windshield. So, it bounced under the car and there was a loud bang as it impacted the undercarriage. For about 10 seconds I breathed a sigh of relief and I figured it had likely just put a dent in the undercarriage. Then my eyes saw something in the rearview mirror that immediately alarmed me. A trail of fluid was escaping from under the car. Well, I put on my blinker and as quickly as possible I moved over two lanes and onto the shoulder of the freeway. We jumped out of the car and looked underneath. A huge gaping hole had been torn in the gas tank and all of the gas had leaked out. Well, thanks a lot.

              A tow truck was called, and my mother’s car towed to the mechanic that did all of our car repairs. My father came and gave us a ride back to my mother’s work. I got my car started, but I had to drive it over to the mechanic shop for it to be check out as well. And the day wasn’t finished yet. That night I was feeling completely mixed-up. I was thinking about a close call with death on that freeway, about the girl I missed, about the girl that I knew I was going to hurt at some point, and about a music career that seemed stalled out. About 11 o’clock that night I got hungry. My feet would have to carry me though. There was just no way I was going to ask to borrow my Dad’s car! We decided to go to a nearby convenience store and buy some junk food. For all I know now it was a craving for chocolate milk, Fritos, and bean dip. Barf. The store was down a stretch of a road that had no street lights. It was a two-lane road with deep ditches on both sides. And I mean deep ditches. You could have taken a car and stood it on end in those ditches and maybe be able to see the rear bumper sticking up. There were no sidewalks either. There we were walking down that dark road when there arose a loud clanging and metallic noise that was getting closer by the second. We looked down the road from the direction we had just come from and in the distance all we could see was a bunch of large and moving sparks headed our way. What on Earth? As it go closer and closer and louder and louder it appeared to be headed straight at us. We both moved as close to the ditch on one side as possible and when it was almost on top of us, we saw that it was an old car speeding down the road with a muffler and tailpipe bouncing off the road underneath. No lights were on the vehicle at all. Neither headlights nor taillights appeared to be working. We quite literally dove into the ditch at the last moment before being hit by the car. As I dove into the ditch, I caught a glimpse of someone sitting inside the trunk and I could hear them laughing loudly as they sped by. Charles Manson must have been out on furlough that night.

              There was water from recent rains in the ditch and a good amount of it was now soaking me and the clothes that I wore. It was the second time in one day that I had a close call with death. To say that I was shaken up would be putting it mildly. I might add that my duet partner was not thrilled with the day’s events either. That’s another thing. The duet partnership was shaky already and we never played a gig together again.

              Another recap. It was June 11, 1974 and I was mixed-up about what to do in my music career. I was mixed-up about what to do about my girlfriend situation. I saw a partnership unraveling at the speed of sound. I had nearly been killed twice in one day. I was worried about my car and the cost of repairing my mother’s car as well. I had not been living the way that I should have been living and I knew it and I was feeling completely and totally undone. That was the day I entered my valley of indecision.

Evil Meets Jerry, Karl, and Jimmy

            It was the first week of summer vacation 1971. I was 15-years-old and I was looking forward to a great summer. My oldest sister invited me to come and stay with her and her husband in Huntsville, Texas that week. I knew that starting the second week of June I would be taking driver’s education classes everyday for 3 weeks and that I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere during that time period. So, I was happy to go stay with them. I think my mother was happy as well because she was getting ready for my other sister’s wedding that was coming up in August. Apparently, there is a lot of planning and preparation for such things and to have me out of the way for a week was likely a relief. I must admit I wasn’t in the least bit hurt by this. I knew that I would get away with a ton of stuff at my sister’s that I would never get away with at home!

            The week started out pretty well. I hung out with Barbara, 6 years older than me, and she let me drive her car around the neighborhood with her sitting in the front passenger seat. That was cool. They were both still in college and living in a mobile home near the Sam Houston State University campus. They didn’t have a washer or dryer, so I would go along and be her beast of burden. We watched a couple of movies at a nearby drive-in and we generally just hung out. They came and picked me up on a Sunday afternoon and the plan was for them to bring me back home the following Sunday.

            On Friday morning I woke up and felt weird. I was dizzy and I kept walking into things. I didn’t tell Barbara about it until that afternoon. She figured it was just some minor little thing and that I would be fine the next day. Then that night I had a nose bleed. And I do mean a NOSE BLEED. I laid on the couch with a wet washcloth to my nose and waited and waited and waited for it to stop. Finally, it did stop.

            Now, you would think given those events my brother-in-law would not even consider the two of us going and doing something that would jostle you around a lot. You would think. But the next morning he said he had a surprise for me. So, we got in his car and drove to a nearby go-cart track. I had never ridden a go-cart, but even with my dizziness I was more than willing to give it a try. What transpired over the next 30 minutes was nothing short of an outtake from a Jerry Lewis movie. Felix paid for our tickets and then our turn to go came. The track ran through a bunch of woods and through a field and the entire track was roped off with poles set into old tires and between the poles those multi-colored plastic flags were strung. Felix was ahead of me. I was already very dizzy and then taking off on that go-cart just sent me into a full-blown spastic wonder. I ended up taking out (as in running over and demolishing) about half the poles, tearing the flags off and somehow getting them snagged up in the rear wheels of my go-cart causing them to trail behind me, whipping the air with mad abandon, and came to a screaming halt after nearly running over several stunned bystanders. Then, as I sat there turning red from embarrassment, I realized that I couldn’t get out of the go-cart any other way than to fall out onto my knees and it was only through the kindness of a stranger who helped me to stand up, weaving like a drunk sailor. I looked around for Felix and finally saw him walking away towards the car shaking his head and mumbling. He didn’t speak a word to me all the way to their home.

            When we got to their home I stumbled inside, and Barbara asked how it went. Felix just shook his head and said he was going to get something at the store. I collapsed on the couch. That’s when my nose started to bleed again. After about an hour it finally stopped, but I felt like it could start again at any moment. I was still dizzy and by this time Barbara started to get worried. So, she called Mom and Dad and they said that they would come up and get me. I laid on the couch and slept until they got there around 5 p.m.

            We got my suitcase and I got into the back of the 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 and laid down. I could hear Mom and Dad talking, but I was really feeling completely out of it. About half of the way home I was laying there, and I suddenly screamed which made Dad swerve the car which made Mom scream. Dad pulled over and ask me what on Earth was the problem. All I could tell them was there had been a loud noise in my head that sounded like when you dropped a guitar amplifier that has a spring reverb unit in it, and it twangs loudly. Looking back on it now, they must have thought I was losing my mind.

            Well, we got home, and I went straight to bed. I ended up having several nosebleeds during the night, but short in duration. The next morning, I thought I was feeling better. I didn’t feel quite as dizzy, but my ear hurt. Then around noon the big gusher came. Old Spindletop would have been proud. It was a nosebleed of epic proportions. Mom was worried and told Dad to take me to the emergency room. We got to the ER and after waiting a few minutes I was taken into an examining room and a doctor came in to check me out. What we found out was that there were two things, not related to each other, that had happened. First, a vein in my nose had ruptured for no apparent reason. Second, I had a really bad ear infection. He gave me a shot of penicillin for the ear infection and then he said that he could only do a temporary fix on the vein in my nose and that I would need to go to my regular doctor the next day and have the vein cauterized. The temporary solution was probably the worst part of the entire ordeal. I kid you not.

            Like most 15-year-old boys I was sensitive to how I looked. I was still at the tail end of my “awkward” stage. Little did I know that there would be an “awkward” stage when I got into my 60’s, but that’s another story. The temporary fix? He took a roll of gauze and started to stuff it up inside the offending nostril. He was applying what I think was Vaseline as he stuffed my nose. It was quite possibly the most disgusting thing that I can recall ever having crammed inside my nose. Crayons didn’t come close. Not even snot. When he finished. I looked in the mirror in the examining room and nearly started to cry. I felt like I could have given the actor Karl Malden a run for the money in “The Ugliest Nose In History” contest. I seriously wanted a bag to wear over my head to go home.

            That afternoon I was inconsolable. I stayed in my room and didn’t come out until I finally got hungry enough to get something to eat in the kitchen. I tiptoed down the hallway, hoping I wouldn’t be seen by my other sister Debbie because that could only mean laughter at my pathetic appearance, and just as I walked into the kitchen who should be standing there? No, not Debbie. But instead it was her really good-looking friend Brenda, who I had a crush on, looking at me with what I have all these years felt must have been the way Beauty looked at the Beast (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). That’s when I did the only thing that I could do. The only thing that my personality has ever been able to do. I made a joke out of the situation. I looked at her, with those big blue eyes looking back at me, and I turned my head slightly to one side and scrunched up my proboscis and while doing my best Jimmy Durante impression I said, “Ha-chi-chi-cha”! She laughed, I laughed, and then she gave me a big hug. It was all worth it.

            The next day Dad took me to the doctor’s office and the poor nurse had to extract that role of gooey gauze from my nose. The doctor came in and had some little instrument that he stuck up my nose and for about a second it hurt and then it didn’t. I worried for a week that my nose would stay misshapen, but such was not the case. I can’t tell you that I have always made the best of everything, but I did that time and I learned that it’s really the best way to handle things. You might say that there’s just no use in getting your nose out of joint.

A Different World

            It was in the spring of 1946. My Dad was footloose and had three weeks to kill before his new job began. He was only 23-years-old, yet he had already seen service in the U.S. Marines during WW2, and it was a time when boys were men by that age. A friend of his was going out to live with his sister in California and work on the ranch that she and her husband owned. He asked Dad if he would like to go and Dad said he was up for an adventure. When the time came for them to leave in his friend’s 1941 Ford a third person was added to the entourage. A mutual friend had been invited to come out and stay with an aunt and uncle for a while and help with their dry goods store while his uncle recovered from a broken leg. Now, I could go into all the events that they encountered on that road trip and perhaps I will in a later post, but for now I wanted to tell you about Dad’s trip back home.

            Dad had stayed a couple of days at the friend’s sister’s ranch and then it was time for him to get back to Houston to start that new job. Dad didn’t have much money at the time and the cost of a train ticket or bus ticket was out of the question. But it was a different world then. Dad had his clothes and other possibles in his old Marine duffel bag. He started walking. He had decided he would get from Northern California to Houston, Texas by way of his thumb. It wasn’t uncommon at the time and safety just wasn’t a concern. Like I said, it was a different world.

            Dad hadn’t gotten more than a couple of miles down the road when a brand new 1946 Plymouth Business Coupe slowed down and the driver, a man in his 40’s, asked Dad if he wanted a ride. Dad was more than happy to take him up on the offer. As they drove down the highway introductions were made, and general conversation ensued. The owner of the car explained that he was a sales representative for the Chrysler Corporation, and he was on his way to Atlanta, Georgia to introduce the upcoming models to dealers at a regional convention. By this time, Dad had explained that he was on his way to Houston.

            When they stopped for lunch at a roadside café the gentleman made a proposal to Dad. He said that if Dad would help with the driving, then he could get Dad to Dallas. It was going to take about 3 days of driving to get there. This was a time when the speed limit was 45-55 mph and cars mostly didn’t have the ability to go the speeds of today’s cars. Dad agreed and thought to himself “how lucky can you get?”. So, for the next three days they drove. Dad talked about some of the sights that they saw on the way. They drove through Arizona and he saw the Saguaro cactus that seemed to go on forever to the south of the highway. He said that they took a highway in Northern West Texas that partly followed the old Butterfield Stagecoach route. They stopped once to check out the ruins of an old stagecoach station.

            By the time they got to Dallas, Dad was about out of money. He knew he didn’t have enough for a bus ticket to Houston. He would have to thumb his way down Old 75 that final 300 miles. As they got into Dallas the businessman pulled over to the side of the road.

            “Jack”, he said. “I really appreciate you helping with the driving and being such a good traveling companion. I’m sorry that I can’t get you all the way to Houston, but I have to be in Atlanta in two days. But I want to help you out.”

            “Well, I sure appreciate you getting me this far.” Dad replied.

            “Here’s what I’m going to do for you, son. I’m going to take you to the Greyhound Bus Station. I’ll buy you a ticket to Houston and to help you along the way, here’s $20 for food and such.” He said as he handed Dad a $20-dollar bill.

            Dad didn’t know what to say. He started to say no out of pride, but what the man said next changed his mind.

           “I lost my son two years ago and he’s buried over in France. He was killed in the Normandy Invasion. You remind me of my boy and if you’ll let me do this for you, then it sure would make me feel good.”

           Dad shook the man’s hand and agreed to accept the kind gift. They got to the Greyhound station and Dad went in with the man to get the ticket. A few minutes later Dad stood outside the station entrance with his duffel bag in hand and waved goodbye to a man that he would never see again. A man who had lost his son in the war but had a chance to enjoy a few days with his son vicariously through someone who reminded him that son.

           Dad was back in Houston the next day and would start his new job two days later. It was indeed a different world then. Dad didn’t recall the man’s name when he related this story to me decades later. But he certainly remembered the man and the moment in time when he was young, and America was kinder gentler place to live.

Artifacts and Ownership

            One thing that most people don’t ever really grasp is the fact that while we may “own” something, the reality is our ownership is temporary. Some things are temporary by nature and only exist for a short period of time. I wore a very wide leather watchband that was much in style at the time when I was about 17. I doubt that I wore it for more than a year or two. By the end of its run, it was a worn-out piece of leather that I threw away without a thought. It likely ended up in a Houston landfill and by the time I was in my mid-20’s it had likely rotted away. But it was never really meant to last forever or for even a long period of time.

            In 1977 I purchased a new Dodge van. It was a panel van with two side doors that each had windows, two rear doors the same as the side doors, and only two seats for the driver and a front passenger. I bought it for work. I think that I paid about $4500 for it new. That price included two dealer upgrades that I felt were absolutely necessary. An A/C for the hot and humid Houston weather and an AM radio to keep me company in Houston traffic. Oh, I would have loved to have a great stereo, but money was tight. I only owned that van for about 7 months. I think it had about 11,000 miles on it when I sold it. I sold it because my job changed, and I didn’t need a van anymore. I have no idea what became of that van. The odds are pretty good that it no longer exists today. It’s not like it was something special. A slant 6-cylinder engine that made going over the Houston Ship Channel Bridge exciting, a “3 on the tree” standard transmission, plain white, and about as plain inside as you could get. It likely died sometime in the 80’s and was parted out for other vans to be repaired with the parts. I doubt seriously that the Chrysler Corporation felt that particular van was going to last very long and one day become a “classic”. It just wasn’t meant to be something that lasts.

            One thing that does last, but wasn’t made by man, is land. When we buy a piece of land, we may think to ourselves that we’re the owners of that land, but we’re really just the caretakers for a little while. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In about 1912 my great-grandparents bought some land in Houston County, Texas. You can trace it’s ownership back to the original Spanish land grant in the 1700’s. My grandparents were gifted 100 acres of the land as a wedding present in 1921. My mother used to say that it was my great-grandmother’s way of keeping my grandfather nearby!

            One of the first things that my grandfather had to do with the land was to clear it of trees and brush. My grandmother used to talk about those early days and how she would look out their kitchen window and see smoke from some of the burn piles that my grandfather had going. After Grandpa cleared the land, he had to plow it and level it for growing crops. His main crop in those days was cotton. Of course, he also grew corn, peanuts, had a huge garden, potatoes, and various other crops. But that land had to be plowed well. He didn’t have a tractor until 1939, so he plowed the fields with a mule. Here’s where history came into play. The history of the land, that is.

            During those first couple of years and likely for the next 15 years or so, my grandfather walked along behind the mule with the plow straps around his shoulders. As he plowed the fields, he would plow up arrowheads and spearheads. Over the years he had quite a collection of these artifacts. I remember as a kid looking at them with wonder. He kept them in a big glass jar. The jar was probably a two-gallon jar that had originally held a grain of some kind such as rice. There must have been several hundred arrowheads and spearheads. Sadly, all but a very few of them do we still have. My mother had taken 7 of them and had them on display in a shadowbox. Sometime during the 80’s thieves broke into the farmhouse and stole several items including that jar of artifacts.

            The point is that as my grandfather would pick up each of those arrowheads and he would be reminded that he wasn’t the first human being that ever “owned” that land. Far from it. I’m no expert on how old these artifacts are, but my best guess is that they are hundreds if not thousands of years old. I know that in the area where the farm is located the Caddo Indians were prominent for several hundred years. As late as the 1840’s the Comanches would attack white settlements in the area. Going back to the 1600’s they were known as the Komanche Indians to the Spanish. But humans have been living off that land for a very long time.

            There’s a particular place on the land that I like to go to and just sit and think. It has two very old oak trees and a creek with a wide wash area. I’ve set there and had a picnic lunch and while munching on a sandwich I would think about who might have sat there 200 years ago or 500 years ago for that matter. I can just imagine a prehistoric human chipping flakes off of a piece of flint making an arrowhead or spearhead. Perhaps he stops and digs into a small leather pouch filled with pemmican and eats while he continues to chip flint. These were the people who “owned” the land then. Some people of today think that white Europeans who came to America stole the land from the Indians. Well, perhaps they did, but the truth is the Indians stole it from someone who was there before them. This has been the way of mankind from the beginning of human history.

            And so, today in 2019 I “own” some of this land. It’s not only a part of my personal heritage, but it is also part of mankind’s heritage. My job is to care for the land and make sure that it is still worthwhile to those that come after me. The best way that I can do that is to leave it alone for the most part. Yes, there are some cattle that graze on the land and there will be remnants of my being here years from now. But the fact is I likely won’t leave as much of a mark on the land as many of my predecessors. What I hope is that a hundred years from now it will not be much different than it is now. Trees will come and go, but a small oak tree now may become an old oak tree then reaching outward and upward showing off its beauty. That wide wash and creek will become deeper and wider than now. There’s a creek on the property now that didn’t even exist 100 years ago. After a big rain, water would pool over the lane that children would walk to the one-room schoolhouse on. My grandfather got his plow and mule and dug a small trench across that lane, now a county road, and for a hundred yards or so on both sides of the road. This was to allow the water to flow off of the lane making it so the children didn’t have to walk through water. Over the years that trench became a creek. It is now a very long creek that winds around for miles. There are parts of it that are 25 feet deep. In his own way, my grandfather left his mark on the land. A mark that will continue to be there for a very long time. In the 10 years that I have lived on my part of the old farm land, I have made some changes that will leave a mark. My house stands on what was a pasture for the past 70 years. It still is a pasture and part of it is planted with hay. I have maintained the land here and built upon it. I cleared a large swath of trees (mostly yaupon) and brush which now allows me to see the majority of my land on the other side of a creek from my house. When I moved here you couldn’t get from the pasture where my house is located to the rest of my property any way but by hiking through that thicket. Now I have improved the creek, installed a large 3-foot diameter culvert with rock and installed gates with fences that allow me to drive to the rest of my property. The fences are to keep the cattle from getting at the hay in front of the house. The point is I have already left a mark on the land and I consider it a good mark. I haven’t scarred the land.

            I’ve attached a couple of pictures to this post. One is of those is of the 7 arrowheads and spearheads that we still have that my grandfather found. The other is a picture of the same type of mule and plow that my grandfather cleared his original 100 acres with. I’m not some kind of tree hugging nut, but I do love the land and it is my goal to do no harm to it and to leave it in better shape than when I got it. I’m thinking of burying a time capsule somewhere on my land with some “artifacts” to be dug up some day long from now that will tell the people who “own” this land then a little about who once lived here. Any ideas for what to put in that capsule?

 

The Last Ride of the Thomas, Pounders, and Stout Gang

            It was early 1966 and as John T. Booker said in “The Shootist” it was a period of false spring. Warmer than usual temperatures had given the leaves a jumpstart and most of the trees were already budding out. It also meant that baseball could be played. So, one Saturday afternoon my mother dropped me off at a park where there were several baseball fields. Well, to tell the truth, it was more like there were several backstops and open fields. No bases per se nor were there any fences. Not that any of us were apt to knock one over a fence. There was me, my best friend Ronnie Thomas, his little brother Terry, and a few guys we didn’t know, but it was a pick-me-up kind of game.

            The game went well and about 4 o’clock Ronnie and Terry’s older brother Wayne showed-up with his buddy, Ernest Wayne Pounders. They had come to tell us it was time to get home. “Home” for the Thomas’ was about 2 miles away. I lived about 5 miles away. Wayne was sporting his new Honda 50 motorcycle. Despite its lack of power, it was the coolest thing around which meant that Wayne was the coolest guy around. All you had to do was ask him and he’d tell you all about it! When I had been dropped off at the park by my mother it with the understanding that Ronnie’s parents would bring me home. However, his dad was having to work late, and his mom was in the middle of cooking dinner. So, she had sent Wayne down to get me and take me home on the Honda. There was just one problem. Wayne and Ernest Wayne didn’t want to have to make several trips to take me home and to take Ronnie and Terry home. Never fear, teenage boys make up for their lack of brains with their apparent daredevil skills.

            Let me set this up for you. Terry was 8 years-old. I was 10. Ronnie was 12 and Wayne and Ernest Wayne were both 14. Yes, in those days 14-year-olds could get a license to drive both cars and motorcycles. The fact is they shouldn’t have been allowed such then nor now nor ever. Wayne came up with the idea on how to get us all home the quickest way. Remember, the motorcycle was a Honda 50. Look it up on the internet and you’ll see what is by today’s standards a toy. Dirt bikes of today are double or triple the power and much bigger. It was designed for no more than two people at a time. The driver and a passenger. I might add that according to the magazine ads for the Honda 50 the passenger was usually a very pretty girl wearing go-go boots and either Capri pants and a top or, GASP! - a bikini. Thankfully, none of us were so attired. Here’s the way it went. Terry sat on the handlebars, Ronnie on the gas tank, then Wayne, then me, then poor Ernest Wayne was hanging on for dear life on back. After taking our places on the bike, Wayne headed for the Thomas’ house. We went two miles down a busy street and garnered much staring, pointing, laughing, and in some cases headshakes by many adults. We lucked out in not being seen by the police. But our luck ran out when we thought that we could all get off the bike before Wayne’s mother saw the overloaded Honda. There she was standing on the front porch, hands on her hips, a serious scowl on her face, and lips pursed to give Wayne a tongue lashing. A lashing he deserved.

            After several choice words from Mrs. Thomas, she told Wayne to take me home. I must admit that while she was giving us all the “what for” our heads were bowed as though praying in church. Wayne got back on the motorcycle and I got on behind him. Frankly, I had a blast on that ride home. I don’t think Wayne was too thrilled at his prospects upon returning home. My mother and father never knew about The Last Ride of the Thomas, Pounders, and Stout Gang. It was probably better that way.

The Time The Flash and I Rode Out the Storm Together

            Recently I went to a “fair on the square” in a small town in East Texas. There were many booths with vendors selling their many wares. Arts and crafts of all kinds, homemade jewelry, photography and frames, tools all of all kinds, cookware, knick-knacks, antiques of all sizes, and then there was one booth that was filled with old books and old comic books. It was this latter booth that got my attention. I love old books. Heck, I love books no matter when they were printed. I also like many of the old comic books. Not this newer stuff of the past 20 or 30 years though. I mostly like the comic books from the era when I bought them and thought that they were the best 12 cents you could spend.

            The two main genres that I enjoyed were the DC comics featuring superheroes such as Superman, The Flash, The Green Lantern, The Green Arrow, Batman (in the days before he was the Dark Knight), The Legion of Super Heroes (my personal favorite along about 1967 and 1968), and then I liked what was in many ways the precursor to the graphic novels of today. These were known as “Illustrated Classics” and they were basically classic novels that were illustrated like a comic book. Books such as “Ivanhoe”, “The Time Machine”, and “The Last of the Mohicans”.

            So, there I was thumbing through the several boxes of comic books, most of which were too new for me to be interested in, when I came upon an issue of “The Flash” from 1966. I found myself looking at the cover and I remembered owning that comic book when it came out. In fact, I remembered buying it. I was staying with my grandparents for a week that summer and one day Grandma and I went to Huntsville for her to get some sewing supplies. Doggone if it wasn’t even the same square where I would stand looking at that comic book nearly 53 years later. There was a 5 & 10 cent store on the square then. It’s some kind of nail salon now and I cringe every time I drive by it. It just isn’t right being a nail salon. Grandma gave me a quarter and I walked over to that little store to see what I could buy. I had plenty of marbles (I hadn’t lost them yet!), there was no concrete to play with a spinning top and Grandma would never allow me to scar up her floor in the house, I never was a Yo-Yo fan, but there was a display of comic books and like a big ole piece of steel I was drawn to that display as though it was a powerful magnet. There was The Flash beseeching me to “Stop! Don’t pass up this issue. My life depends on it!” It was the August of 1966 issue. Well, The Flash needed my help and what was 12 cents anyway? I also managed to buy 2 packs of baseball cards.

            While I stood at that little booth recently holding that comic book in my hand, I suddenly smelled the strong odor of burning coal oil. They say that sometimes the sense of smell can trigger memories better than just about anything. But in this case the comic book did the triggering and I could smell coal oil burning. This took me back to that day in August of 1966 again.

On the way back to the farm I opened the baseball cards and started to pour over them. About the time we got to Trinity the sky had grown very dark outside. I could tell Grandma was worried. About the only thing that my grandparents feared was bad weather.

            When we got to the farmhouse, I saw the door to the storm shelter was open. That meant that Grandpa was getting ready for a bad blow. Grandma and I parked the truck inside the garage and made our way inside with our few purchases. The old saying about “taking one step forward and two steps back” was just about the way it was with the way the wind was blowing. We got in the house and Grandma hurriedly put her bags down in the dining room. She took off her “go to town” hat and then told me to go around and close the windows almost all the way. You had to leave them open a little to allow for the pressure not to build up and cause them to just shatter inwardly. Grandpa came inside the house from the back and said that he already had some food, a lamp, extra coal oil, and other odds and ends in the shelter. Grandma grabbed some extra blankets out of one of the chifforobes and told me to get three pillows. I stuffed my new comic book inside my pillowcase along with a change of clothes, and I headed for the shelter. Grandma shut the back door and followed me, bent nearly double-over by the wind.

            The storm shelter was a homemade kind of thing. Grandpa had a great big 6-foot diameter metal culvert delivered one day. He had a friend who owned a backhoe come over and they dug a big hole in the ground that was just big enough for that culvert to be rolled over into. It was about half in the ground and half above. Grandpa’s friend then scooped up all the dirt that he had excavated and heaped it on top of the culvert. Grandpa had also gotten a load of dirt from the “John Russell Flats”, a strip of land that just seemed to grow dirt no matter how much you took out of it. He climbed up on top of the culvert and drilled and sawed two openings for vents to allow fresh air to circulate. Then he covered the rest of the top with more dirt. He also built a big wooden frame that fit in the back opening of the culvert. He filled it in with heavy boards and then bricked in the gaps above, below, and on each side. They took that backhoe and packed in dirt on the backend making it pretty much impossible for anything to be blown into that opening.

            Grandpa built a door and door frame and put it in the middle of the front of the culvert. He bricked in around the door frame and also put brick barriers on either side of the door way. After it was built Grandma and Grandpa put a couple of cots, a small table between the cots, and Grandpa built a couple of shelves to stack supplies on.

            And so, it was that day in August of 1966 the three of us piled into that storm shelter. Grandma lit the lamp and set it on the table between the cots. It was positioned so that the fumes would go right up and out of those vents in the roof. Grandpa closed the door and put a wood bar across it. I sat down on one of the cots down by the lamp and took out that Flash comic book. It was a good thing I was young, and my eyesight was good. I don’t think I could read it today under the same conditions! About the time I finished that comic book and had me Three Musketeers candy bar, Grandpa opened up the door and peaked outside. The storm had blown over. Those storms usually didn’t last too long. Still, Grandpa told us to stay put and he went out and surveyed the sky. Then he went and checked to make sure the house was OK. A few minutes later he came back and said it was all clear. The adventure was over.

            Well, it was over until I stood there holding that issue of The Flash a few weeks ago. I could smell that coal oil burning, I could hear the wind howling through the vents in the roof, I could feel the tension that my grandparents were feeling that day, and I had the strangest sensation of the taste of a Three Musketeers bar. I liked to tell you that I bought that issue of The Flash. I was sorely tempted. But the guy in the booth wanted $40 for it. Granted, it was in mint condition, but $40 was just too rich for my blood. I might have paid him $25. Maybe. But I laid it back down in its protective wrapper and walked away. I didn’t find anything that day that I felt I just had to have. Check that. There was one thing that I had to have. I stopped at a little convenience store and got me a Three Musketeers bar. It was sure tasty.

White Dog Road

            In the mid-80’s I started writing a book. I got as far as a first draft, but you have to understand a couple of things to know why the book never got completed. First, it was during a time when I was going through a significant rough financial stretch. So, I had to work up to 12-hour days and some weeks 7 days a week. Our first child was on the way and then after he was born what time that I had to write shrunk even more. Second, I was writing the book by hand during breaks and lunch time and then coming home and late at night typing that day’s output on an old Smith Corona typewriter. The days of a laptop were years in the future and even if they had existed then, I wouldn’t have had the money to buy one. In the end, the typed and handwritten pages of the book were put in a box and shelved for some future day to finish. But first there were kids to raise, school to finish, and a whole lot of living to do. The box sits in an even larger box in the spare bedroom closet to this day.

            Now, all of that having been said, I found that there were times when I had enough free-time to write a short story. Those stories have collected dust mostly and will likely never be published. But there was this one story called “White Dog Road” that was kind of special. I may publish it yet. I wrote that story in about 1985. It was the story of a man who was driving late at night on a long journey. He was rural East Texas on a state highway and it was very late. He began to get sleepy and decided that he would pull off on a side road somewhere, find a nice and lonely place to park, and snooze for an hour or so. That’s how he came to turn onto “White Dog Road”. He thought the name of the road was kind of interesting as well. Here’s where I tell you that in my mind as I wrote the story, I was thinking of an actual road that I know of that isn’t far from where I now live. It is a road that I drive on quite often these days. It was also the same road that we would take to get to my grandparent’s farm when I was growing up.

            I won’t tell you the whole story here but suffice it to say the man found himself in a kind of “Twilight Zone” in which he encounters two White Pyrenees dogs and an unknown creature that nobody would ever want to meet. Cue the “Twilight Zone” theme now. In 2009, some 24 years after I wrote “White Dog Road”, I decided to build a house on part of the old homestead and to move up to the country. One evening after work I decided to drive to where I was thinking of putting my house. Yep, I had to drive down that road to get there. In actuality, the road starts out as a Farm-to-Market road for about a mile, then becomes a county road for about 3 miles in one county and then turns into another county road after crossing into the county that I live in. On this particular evening I was about to the county line when sitting in the middle of the road were two White Pyrenees dogs. I told you. Cue to “Twilight Zone” theme! If you have never seen one of these dogs, then you need to know that if you hit one with your car your vehicle will likely be severely damaged. The dogs are huge. I was having a déjà vu moment of sorts. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t kind of creeped out. There I was in my car sitting still on the county road with two White Pyrenees staring back at me. The worst of it was I was remembering the other creature from my long-ago short story. I did NOT want to encounter that creature.

            Well, about the time I was ready to back-up and go back the way I had come, an old man stepped out from behind a big oak tree and I just about had an accident. Not a car accident. The kind of accident that little kids have. I nearly screamed, but I didn’t. The old man waved at me and then shooed the two dogs off the road so that I could get by. I would have stopped and thanked him, but he looked a little bit like Rory Calhoun in “Motel Hell” and I just waved back and kept-a-goin.

            I still find it “funny” that I wrote that story in 1985, with that road in mind, with two White Pyrenees in supporting roles, then everything but the other creature coming true 24 years later. To this day, I call that road “White Dog Road”. Both dogs have gone to dog heaven since that evening in 2009. I know this because I ended up getting to know Rory (not his real name) and he told me. He went to the little church where my mother grew-up going to and would be a member of the last 10 years of her life. Oh, cue that theme one more time. Every time I would run into him, he would ask about my mother. Nothing strange about that other than the way he asked. I asked my mother about the guy and she said that he had a crush on her going back to when she was in high school in the 40’s. Now that’s creepy!

Annie's Song and Imagery

            In the fall of 1974 John Denver released what some people believe to be his best song. To tell the truth, up until the album that it was on came out, I could take or leave John Denver’s music. I liked some of it and some of it wasn’t that interesting to me. But with the release of his album, “Back Home Again”, his music came to mean a lot more to me. It still does. The first single on that album was the title track and it was far and away better (my opinion) than anything he had done previously. It spoke to my heart. But it was the second single when he knocked it out of the park. “Annie’s Song” became a huge hit, topped the Billboard record charts at #1, and was one of those songs that everything about it just seems to be a gift from God. I would end up performing that song many times when I was playing and singing for a living.

            But at the time that it came out I was just a lad of 19. I hadn’t really experienced much in life yet even if I thought that I had. I listened to the lyrics of that song and then memorized them. Those lyrics were filled with wonderful imagery. I loved them, but I didn’t honestly have a clue about their reality. There’s a line that goes, “You fill up my senses, light a night in the forest”. I had never really spent a night in the forest at the time. I had camped a time or two with my cousins, but not in a forest. It was usually beside some lake where the fishing was good. I didn’t know what a night in the forest was actually like. Now, I could imagine it, but that’s about it. Another line goes, “Like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean.” Sounded great. Sounded really cool. But I had never seen a storm in the desert. In fact, with the exception of a couple of days in Ft. Davis, Texas when I was about 6-years-old and on vacation with my family, I had never been in any kind of desert. Ft. Davis is in the high desert of far West Texas. When it came to a “sleepy blue ocean”, well, that was completely unlike the only ocean that I had ever seen up until that time. The Gulf of Mexico around Galveston and Freeport is anything but sleepy and a muddy green as opposed to blue.

            Now, I had seen movies or pictures of places like these, but that’s just not the same as being there. As the years passed, I always had a great love for that song. I still do. But it wouldn’t be until I was 50-years-old that I would experience a storm in the desert. As good as Mr. Denver did in using the imagery of a storm in the desert in his song, it just didn’t compare to what I experienced. It was an incredible and awe-inspiring thing to see. I had parked my car up on a bluff in Utah in order to get some good photos. For as far as I could see in any direction there were bluffs and mesas and very little in the way of vegetation. You could see for many miles in all directions. To the east of where I was standing a violent storm was on display. It was too far away to hear the thunder, but there had to be thunder given the lightning and the vast dark clouds that I witnessed. As I watched the storm moving south, the rain was a dark blue monstrous thing to see.

            I was on a two-week road trip by myself. For Father’s Day that year my daughter had bought me a boxed-set of John Denver’s studio albums. Four CD’s worth of about 80 songs. Of course, I spent much of that trip listening Mr. Denver. And “Annie’s Song” was on my mind when I saw that storm in the desert. In fact, I stood there watching the scene play out in the distance and I started to sing the song. It just seemed to be the thing to do. It’s a memory that I will always hold dear. John Denver had died nearly 9 years before that day and despite having never met him, I felt like I knew him after I saw that storm.

            Now, let’s go forward about 2 years. It’s May of 2008 and my son is getting married on the beach down in South Padre Island. On my way down there by car the day before the wedding I came to the bridge that goes over to the island. It was the first time for me to see the famous turquoise blue water that the island is known for. What song came to mind? Yep, “Annie’s Song” played in my head. This was a sleepy blue ocean on that day. I had been out to the Pacific and the Golden Gate, but that water was anything but peaceful! I had seen the Atlantic from the air in Northern Florida, but it was barely visible given we landed about dusk. But there I was at the age of 52 and I was seeing the rest of that line in the song.

            As a songwriter myself, I have written about things that I have both seen and haven’t seen. I’ve imagined how some things might be and much like an actor who has never been a policeman pretends to be one in a movie roll, I have pretended or acted a part in some of my songwriting. But the best songs that I have written are about the things that I have actually experienced. I could be wrong, but I would be willing to bet that when John Denver wrote a lot of his songs they came from real experiences. I know for a fact that was the case in his classic, “Rocky Mountain High”, because in an interview he explained how he came to write that song. I’m guessing that when he wrote “Annie’s Song” it was from experience. I can only imagine how having such a song written about you must have felt to Annie. Even though they would eventually divorce, I can’t imagine that when she hears that song on the radio in her car or in an elevator or store in some mall that she doesn’t get a warm, loved feeling.

            Next time you hear a song that you’ve loved for years and it means something special to you try to imagine how the writer must have felt when they wrote the song. It may give you a better idea of what the song is about. Hey, and if you haven’t listened to “Annie’s Song” in a while, then go listen to it. Close your eyes and think about the words. It’s a beautiful song.

Time Capsule

Date: August 19, 2025

What follows is a letter written by James Russell in 1925 that was placed in a time-capsule to be opened and read 100 years later.

Dear People of 2025,

            It was in February of 1854 that I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Austin, Texas. My ma and pa died in a yellow fever epidemic that spread through our little town of Cincinnati in East Texas. My little sister Cassandra also died. They said it was brought into town on a riverboat carrying a load of cotton up to Dallas on the Trinity River. Nearly half of the town either died or got sick and many others moved away due to the epidemic. Within 15 years or so the town was abandoned. I was 9 years old at the time that I went to live with Aunt Betsy and Uncle Dolph. Dolph was my father’s brother and they had 6 children of their own. I was younger than their kids, but Stephen was only 3 years older than me. Dolph was 15 years older than my father and was his oldest sibling.

            Uncle Dolph was a good man and would end up being like a father to me. Aunt Betsy was very sweet to me and treated me like one of her own. That’s what families did in those days. Dolph was what they called a “cooper”. It was a good trade and skill to have. He was a master at his trade. They opened a small general store when I was about 12 and besides the various items that are found in such an establishment, they featured Uncle Dolph’s buckets, barrels, cups, tubs, troughs, and various instruments such as rakes and shovels. Just about every trough in most of the towns around Austin were built by my uncle Dolph. I started working in the store at 12 by sweeping, cleaning, stocking, and occasionally helping customers with their purchases. Aunt Betsy ran the cash register and made the sales.

            In 1861 the war between the states started. It was a horrible thing to see when families were divided by their beliefs and loyalties, but to tell the truth, most Texans sided with the Confederate States. Uncle Dolph was not only too old to go fight, but his skill was much needed. The local militias and the Confederate army needed many of the items that Dolph made. By the time I was 17 all of my friends had joined up and were off to fight the Yankees. But the year before that Aunt Betsy had died from consumption and I was needed to run the store. My cousins, the male cousins that is, had already left home years before and of the three of them, two lived out in California and Stephen left home in 1859 and we never heard from him again. Uncle Dolph needed me to run the store for him and I owed him so much I couldn’t say no. So, I sat out the war as a clerk in a general store. But when it was all over, only one of my friends came back home and he had lost a leg after being shot with a mini-ball and the wound got infected. I heard once that about 600,000 people died in that war. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, then it just doesn’t seem possible. Brothers killing each other? It just didn’t make any sense.

            Well, the war was over and then we survived the aftermath too. The carpetbaggers and thieves on the Union payroll who stole so much from the people of not only Texas, but the southern states. And you know what? It wasn’t much better for the freed slaves. They had to deal with the Democrats who made sure the freed slaves were kept in poverty. Heck, some of them took to wearing silly looking white robes and pointy hats that covered their faces and they did all kinds of horrible things to freedmen. Just ‘cause they were black. Never has made a bit of sense to me.

            Uncle Dolph got to where his hands shook so much that he couldn’t be a cooper anymore. Then one day in 1873 he was trying to walk down the stairs from the living quarters on top of the store and he fell. He must have broken several bones and he lingered for two days before he died. I couldn’t believe it when they read his will later. He had left the store to me. I was 28 years old, married, and had two kids of my own by then. It meant I could afford to provide a better life for my family.

            Life marched on like it always does, and the years just seemed to fly by. Suddenly we were in a new century. I was 55 years old and we had 8 grandchildren by then. I had expanded the store back in the 80’s and then opened a second store in 1894. Two of my kids had gone to college and were doing right well for themselves. My oldest was now a professor at Baylor up in Waco and my middle child went on to be a doctor. My youngest had a head for business and in 1905 I decided to retire (well, sorta) and I let him start running the stores. By 1915, when I was turning 70-years-old, he had 6 stores doing big business and he had also branched out into selling gasoline for them new fangled automobiles.

            Well, here it is 1925 and I’m 80-years-old. My wife passed away two years ago when her heart just gave out one day. I’m now a great-grandfather to 5 little girls and I dote on them almost as much as they dote on me! I’m having to use a cane these days and my eyesight ain’t what it once was, but I seem to be doing OK. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I might make it to 100! But who knows what the 1930’s and 1940’s will have in store?

            I got one of my grandsons to take me on a trip recently. We went in his fancy Buick. That fella Mr. Ford may outsell most of the other automakers, but that there Buick is some automobile. They call it a “Master 6” and would you believe that thing can go about 50 mph? Not that I would suggest doing such a reckless thing! Anyway, we drove over to where Cincinnati, Texas used to be. About all that’s left is a few remnants of the old buildings, mostly big river rocks used for the foundations, and you can still see some of the pilons where the docks used to be. But the prairie has pretty much taken the land back to itself. As we sat there on the big running board of the Buick eating a picnic lunch, I thought back to those long-ago days when I had lived there. It hardly seems real now. That got me to thinking what it’s going to be like in 2005 or 2025 for that matter. Will there be as many changes as I’ve seen? I’m betting there will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sending men into space, cooking meals in some kind of oven at 10 times the speed, and flying from Texas to California in a matter of hours. I just hope that we don’t have any more wars. That last one, the one they are calling “The War to End All Wars” was so senseless. Maybe it will be the end of wars, but in my heart of hearts I don’t think so. Mankind has been finding ways to fight wars for thousands of years. Why stop now? But one can always hope. I hope this letter finds a peaceful world when it’s opened in 100 years. They’re going to bury a bunch of letters from us old-timers in a safe and then pour concrete on top of it. Then they’re going to put a big plaque on it instructing whoever the Mayor of Austin is in 2025 to open it and have these letters published. I’m betting that’s going to be an interesting thing to read. Heck, maybe before I reach 100 in 1945, they’ll come up with a potion to make you young again and I’ll be there to read this letter. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Yours Truly,

James Russell

Sweet Pea and Billie and Me

            The summer that I was 10 years old was a great summer. Well, great for me personally, but perhaps not so great for others. Young American servicemen in jungles on the other side of the world probably weren’t having a good summer. For that matter, 30 or so young college students at the University of Texas didn’t have a great summer due to a sniper’s bullets. And, there was a sick and warped man up Chicago way that made for a terrible summer for several young women. But, for a 10-year-old boy with a great homelife in a small town in Texas life was pretty good.

            Big events in my life that summer included attending my first Major League Baseball game at the Houston Astrodome. The hometown beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-3 which included a 3-run homerun that set-off the famous scoreboard and thrilled me more than you can imagine. I also spent 3 weeks at my grandparent’s farm and learned to shoot my grandfather’s .22 rifle. Grandpa was more than happy to set me lose on his 700-acre ranch to kill as many armadillos as possible. They dug holes in the pastures which could cause expensive repairs to his truck or even worse, those armadillo holes were just waiting there for a cow to step in and break its leg. Grandpa spent a goodly amount of time teaching me gun safety and he was very specific about what I shoot at. Armadillos and crows were allowed and encouraged. Crows because they would get into his corn fields. But I was never to shoot other birds or any other animal that I didn’t plan on eating. Well, that meant that squirrels and rabbits were safe because I wasn’t about to start skinning one for dinner when Grandma had dinner taken care of and her dinners were far and away better than a tough old squirrel or rabbit. Raccoons were nocturnal and left them out of the mix. Besides that, grandpa’s old hound dog was apt to beat us to it anyway.

            I spent a week with my cousins down in Houston that summer and we had a great time doing things like going to the local public swimming pool, going to see a double-feature movie, playing all kinds of games, and we even built a couple of treehouses in their 1-acre backyard. It was also a summer filled with great music. We had “Summer in The City” by The Lovin Spoonful, “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles, “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and The Shondells, “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle, “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, “The Pied Piper” by Crispin St. Peters, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by The Animals, and then there was a bubblegum (before the genre was so named) hit called “Sweat Pea” by Tommy Roe. And this brings me to Billie.

            Billie was a cute little girl my age who lived across the street. Her family moved into their house at the end of May after school was out. Billie was a brunette and she rode a nice little “Stingray” bicycle that was about the same color of green that her eyes were. I was in “luv”. Over the next couple of weeks, I had a mini-foreshadowing of what was to come later on down the road where girls were concerned. You know, that was 53 years ago and so far as I can tell girls/women are still pretty much the same – confusing.

            It all started very innocently. In fact, it would become my modus operandi for years to come where cute girls were concerned. I sat on the curb in front of our house and my lips were sealed with some kind of out-of-this-world superglue. If I were going to be able to talk to Billie, then she was going to have to start the ball rolling. In other words, I was shy. Well, at first anyway. One day Billie came outside and got on her bike and started to ride around in circles on the street. I sat there making sideway glances and wanting so badly to say something, but I had absolutely no experience with girls. Hey, I was only 10! To tell the truth, I was like that for years to come even after I had some experience under my belt. Finally, Billie said “Hello”. It was my turn, so I say, “Hi” Within a few minutes we had introduced ourselves to each other. Things moved rather quickly after that.

            By the next day, I was riding my bike along with Billie on her bike and that’s when it happened. We were just tooling along on Alabama Street and I did the old “Look ma, no hands” routine which Billie then copied and wonder of wonders our hands met. Billie either started to lose her balance or feigned losing her balance, one never knows given feminine ways, and I dawned my good guy hat and saved the fair maiden by grabbing her hand. Superglue again.

            Well, over the next two weeks we talked about all kinds of things. I had a little transistor radio on my bike handlebars, and we would listen to the hits of the day. That’s how “Sweet Pea” became “our” song. I can only imagine the laughs of other kids and probably a parent or two at the sight and sound of Billie and me riding our bikes, holding hands, and singing “Oh, sweet pea, won’t you be my girl? Won’t you, won’t you, won’t you be my girl?”

            We would get a couple of lawn chairs and sit in them and talk about “stuff”. Sometimes we played house. Now, get your mind out of the gutter. We were only 10. By playing house, Billie would pretend to be cooking dinner and I would pretend to be reading the afternoon newspaper. It was all very innocent and, dare I say it, sweet. But the little lovebirds were not destined to grow-up together and become “real” boyfriend and girlfriend. Not even close. We made it about 2 weeks and then I said something that she didn’t like. This too was a foreshadowing of things to come where girls were concerned. I still don’t know what I said that made her mad. But she sure did get mad.

            She didn’t call me names and I just sort of stood there in a confused state of mind. Yea, that happened a lot with girls for me. What she did do though was point out that I had freckles on my nose. This was apparently supposed to hurt my feelings or make me mad. In today’s vernacular, it was a “fail”. I could have cared less if I had freckles. All three of them. When this didn’t seem to illicit the response that Billie desired, she said she never wanted to see me again. I was a little hurt, but more wondering how that was going to be possible given we lived across the street from each other. Before you knew it, the neighborhood kids had taken sides. It was like “New Kid in Town” by The Eagles, but that song wouldn’t be out for another 10 years.

            Alas, I was due to go to my grandparents for a couple of weeks and that was pretty much the end of Billie and me. By the time I came back détente had formed and then Mom and Dad told us that we would be moving back to Houston as soon as our house sold. Billie would no doubt find someone else to ride bikes with and I was quite prepared for a new adventure. From time to time I would think about Billie, the first girl that I ever held hands with, and wonder what ever became of her. But things were moving fast in my young life. There was junior high school, high school, music, baseball, cars, and girls that made me forget all about Billie. I sure hope life turned out good for Billie. She really was a sweet kid. I think about that innocent stage of life and it makes me long for the days when things weren’t so cynical and messed-up. I hope that kids of today get to experience innocence like those days and before things start to get crazy. Billie, if you’re out there, then I hope you’re doing well, that you have a bunch of sweet grandbabies, and have had a full life. We were lucky to live when we did.

The Great Clipper Caper

            I’ve talked about it before and I suppose it’s one of those things that I will just keep coming back to. The subject is perspective. Our perspective on a given event or issue quite often changes with time. I’d like to tell you about one such event in my life. I call it “The Great Clipper Caper”. First, let me set this up a bit for you. The year was 1964. The time was August. We were living in Bryan, Texas at the time. One of the most fun things that our family would do in those days was go to a drive-in movie on a summer night or sometimes on Friday nights during the school year. We had a blast. Yes, there were mosquitos to be fought and of course the Texas heat in the summer. But those things just didn’t seem to bother us back then. You haven’t lived until you and your family all pile into the car and go to the drive-in together. Ahh, the smell of the mosquito coils that had dubious effect, but we learned to be positive about it. The sometimes-tinny sound of the movie coming out of the odd-looking speakers that would extend out and fit onto a window (usually my father’s) may not compare with the surround sound and digital soundtracks of today, but we thought they were cool at the time.

            In those days, it didn’t cost much to take a family to a movie at the drive-in theater. Mom, Dad and my oldest sister Barbara’s tickets were $2 each. Ages 5-12 got in for 50 cents each. Under 5 kiddos were free. So, for $7 we all got in to see not one, but two movies. There was the new “feature presentation” and then usually a movie that was a couple of months old and now relegated to the “second feature”. The truth is they were almost always ALL good movies. An example might be the feature presentation would be the newest John Wayne movie such as “In Harm’s Way” and the second feature might be “Donovan’s Reef” from two years before. Both movies were fantastic. We didn’t go to Elvis Presley movies (Mom and Dad were not Elvis fans), but no doubt you could see two of his movies in such a scenario. In fact, much later in 1968 I remember going with a friend to an Elvis double-feature which included “Speedway” and “Spinout”.

            We didn’t have much money and these little outings were a big treat. One way that Mom saved us money was she would pop popcorn at home and bring a big bag of it with us. She also would have a 2-quart cooler filled with ice and some kind of soft drink along with some plastic cups. But one thing we all learned early on was that Mom had a sweet tooth. About the time they announced, “The snack bar will be closing in 10 minutes”, Mom would say she was going to go buy a candy bar for each us. Yee-haw! I always volunteered to “help” her, but my services were generally not needed. Back then you could buy a candy bar for a dime. So, add another 50 cents to the cost.

            I’ve set this up for you pretty well now. Here’s what happened on this particular summer day. Mom had told us that we would be going to the drive-in that night. The deal was there were chores to be completed in order for that to happen. We kids had to clean our rooms thoroughly. For me that meant putting all the army men that were hiding under the bed in their place in an old peach bushel basket kept in my closet for all manner of toys. I had to make my bed, sweep the hardwood floor, dust the chest of drawers, and generally straighten my room. Clothes were to be hung properly, shoes put away in the closet, etc. I have no idea what my sisters had to do to their room, but I have no doubt there were icky things like hair curlers, make-up, and nail polish remover to be put in their places. The only thing in their room that I envied was they had a radio. Totally unfair! At least they listened to the kind of music I liked. Well, except for some slow songs like “Today” by The New Christy Minstrels. To this day I have that silly song stuck in my head wrong. Instead of singing the words, “I’ll taste your strawberries and drink your sweet wine”, I somehow got it backwards and would sing it “I’ll drink your strawberries and taste your sweet wine”. So, now I sing it wrong every time and usually in my best goofy voice.

            Mom’s big chore for that day was to mow the yard. Now we’re getting to the important part of this story. We didn’t have a fancy schmancy mower or anything. Just a power mower that you had to push yourself instead of the self-propelled kind. Mom had already done the edging of the front sidewalk and was ready to mow. She pulled that string on the mower about 20 times and the darned thing wouldn’t start. She tried adjusting this and that and nothing worked. Dad was gone to work for the day and was therefore not around to help. Well, my mother was darned near a saint, but that day her halo hung a little crooked. She would never cuss, and I mean never. But she mumbled a lot and then finally after about the 20th time of pulling on the string thing she bounced the mower across the driveway with verve. She was red in the face and I think it was both anger and the muggy August heat that was the cause. Well, to say she was upset was putting it mildly. That’s when she made the proclamation that shook the neighborhood and in particular me and my sisters to the core.

            She said, rather loudly I might add, “We are not going to a movie tonight if we can’t get this mower to start.”

            Say it isn’t so! Call the sheriff’s office and report this heinous crime in the offing! Well, no amount of pleading from her three angels (a-hem) could change Mama’s mind. No mowed yard? No movie! My sister Debbie and I sat on the front porch stoop dejected and ready to sing “Doom, Despair, and Misery on Me” except it wasn’t written for another 5 years. Then Thomas Edison visited us right there on the front porch. Well, not actually Mr. Edison, but one of his greatest inventions. A great-ole big lightbulb appeared out of thin air above our heads and suddenly bloomed with light. We devised a way to get the lawn mown. There were two sets of hand clippers for cutting weeds sitting inside the little shed behind the carport. We could cut the grass with those! Genius, pure genius. We got those clippers and set about “mowing” the yard with them. About two hours later we had a 5-foot square area done. Perhaps this wasn’t as brilliant of an idea as first believed. At some point in time Mom came outside to see what we were doing, and I figure she was filled with mixed emotions. How stupid are my kids after all? How sweet of them to try to help. I’ll have to tell them this won’t do. But first, how stupid are my kids after all? Finally, Mom spoke and said, “Y’all stop doing that now. You’re only cutting the grass uneven and we’re not going to the movie tonight no matter what.

            Well, dejected, rejected, and bluer than blue we put away the clippers. I hate to admit it, but there were some negative words exchanged between me and Debbie regarding Mom. What’s the big deal with the mower not working and why would that make any difference on going to a movie tonight? Later that afternoon Dad got home, and we heard Mom telling him about the mower. Given he was a dragon-slayer we figured he’d have that mower running and Mom would relent. No such luck. Dad tugged on the string thing several times, took out the air filter and cleaned it, adjusted the little carburetor, and several other things with no luck. The dragon would not be slayed. Now, Dad probably loved going to the movies as much if not more than we children did. We figured he might be able to dissuade Mom’s stony proclamation. Wrong. When Mama made up her mind there was just no way to change it. Like crawling on a ledge on a mountain and coming face to face with a bear. You just couldn’t ignore the situation. Therefore, there would be no movie on that hot August Texas night. Tears, wailing, moaning, renting of clothes, and gnashing of teeth were only a few of the sounds pouring forth from our house that night.

            I told you in the beginning this was about perspective. You’ve just been told about the perspective that I had at the ripe old age of 8 years and 11 months. I’ve lived a little since then and my perspective has done a 180 degree turn. I understand something now that I just didn’t understand then. Money was tight in those days. Sure, I knew that to some degree back then, but not really. The hard truth was Mom knew that if the mower had to go to the repair shop it was going to cost money. We likely just couldn’t afford to pay for an outing to the drive-in, which would cost about $10 including the homemade popcorn and the brought from home soft drinks, and to have the mover repaired. Mom had no way of knowing at that point what it would cost to be repaired. It could be something simple, but it could have been something that cost $25 or $30. A lot of money at the time to my parents. So, the smart and reasonable thing to do was to not spend any extra money until whatever was wrong with the mower could be determined. I just didn’t have the ability to figure that out at 8 years old. I would go through some similar kinds of dilemmas when I was a young father. Perspective evolves over time. That’s just the way it is.

            Now, for those who might be curious I’ll tell you what the end result of “The Great Clipper Caper” was. Dad took the ailing mower to a friend’s filling station in town. The friend had a mechanic who also knew his way around small engine repairs. It turned out to be a $2 part and $2 tip to the mechanic. What was the problem? The spark plug was bad. It didn’t take the guy 10 minutes to figure out and fix it. The little mower ran like a champ after that. In celebration of the return of the mower to working status we ended up going to the drive-in movie the next week. What did we see? The “Feature Presentation” was “The Patsy” starring Jerry Lewis. The “Second Feature” was from a few months earlier called “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” starring Don Knotts. A great time was had by all!

All Keyed Up

            The month before I turned 25, I was offered a sub-contract job that needed to be completed within 6 weeks. The job entailed devising a Grand-Master keying system, rekeying the locks in a group of 12 apartment complexes, and the installation of the keyed locksets and deadbolts for what amounted to about 600 apartments. It was a very big job and I was only going to make enough money off of it to pay for my own labor. So, no additional help would be available. It was for one of the largest property management companies in the Dallas area at the time. It took me about 4 days of non-stop planning and cyphering to come up with the key system. There would be a Grand-master key that would open every lock in all of the complexes. A master key that would unlock each lock for each complex and individual key combinations for each apartment of all 12 complexes. It was expected that there would be roughly 48 of the apartments that would need new locks due to there were still some old locks that wouldn’t work with the new system. Therefore, after coming up with the keying system, I rekeyed the new locksets and matching deadbolts to use as a kick start on the job. A great deal of time was also needed to make the keys required. I used roughly 1200 new key blanks to make the keys necessary. Two keys per unit would be needed as well as the additional grand-master keys and master keys.

            I was told from the beginning that there had been a situation where the existing grand-master key had somehow or other been stolen and several apartments had been broken into. Things were stolen and in one case a woman was sexually assaulted. The guy who got the contract to do the job didn’t have the time to do the job himself and he came to me and offered me the sub-contract job. He would get 40% of the payout, allow me to use his key machines to go along with my own making it possible to cut three keys at the same time, and he put up the money to buy the 48 new locksets and deadbolts (which he would get back with profit once the job was done). I figured 60% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I needed the work because the locksmith supply company that I had been working for was being shut down by its creditors.

            For the next 5 weeks my typical day started at about 6 a.m. I would drive to the area where the complexes were, the infamous “Oak Cliff” area of Dallas where Lee Harvey Oswald had been captured after killing a police officer about an hour after he reportedly shot JFK, and be ready to start installing the new locks and deadbolts. The first day I did just that and I took home the old locks and deadbolts to be keyed for the next day. The truth is I was only able to get about 15 apartments done in a day. I would rekey the locks that I took home and have my stock for the next day to install. I have to be honest here and tell you that it was a rough area of town. I was warned by the guy that I was sub-contracting for and by the apartment management to be very careful. They were straight-forward with me and given they were all black, I don’t believe that they were in any way being prejudiced when they told me I was the wrong color to be “walking around” the complexes. I was given a large badge with the property management company logo on it to wear and I was told to knock loudly on all doors before entering and to also speak loudly once opening the door alerting anyone inside that I was with the complex etc. It was somewhat unnerving. Many of the residents were not at home, in fact most of them were not at home when I knocked on the door. However, many of them had left their stereo systems blaring loudly to make a thief thing that someone was home. There are three songs that to this day that when I hear, I am taken back to those weeks in 1980. You might say that they are burned into my memory. Those songs are “Give Me The Night” by George Benson, “Upside Down” by Diana Ross, and “Once In a Million You” by Larry Graham.

            For just over a month I worked on that job night and day. I barely took off time for anything else. It was a big job. I had decided that the best way to do it was one complex at a time. I’d finish one complex and then start the next. Finally, about the third week of September I finished the job. Boy, I was proud. I had done a huge job all by myself and had proven that I had the ability to devise the key system needed (unless you’ve done one, then you don’t know how intricate the math is for doing it) before computer programs would do it all for you. The guy I had sub-contracted for was happy and promised me more work. He came through and I was kept busy for another 3 months.

            Now, for the rest of the story. About the time John Lennon was shot I was over at the contractor’s shop and working on a small job for him. He came into the shop and sat down to visit a few minutes. So, I turned off the key machines and picked up a cola and sat down to visit. That’s when he said, “You ain’t gonna believe something.”

            I said, “Surprise me!” and he did indeed surprise me.

            He said, “The grand-master system at 12 Hills is already out and someone has been using it to burglarize apartments.”

            You could have knocked me over with a feather. All that work and now it felt like nothing.

            “You gotta be kidding me!” I nearly shouted.

            He explained the bare truth. Someone had a copy of the grand-master key and was using it to break into people’s apartment. At first, I thought they might blame me. But I had been very specific about how I handled the whole thing just in the event something like this happened. I made only two of the grand-master keys in the contractor’s presence and then gave him those two keys. I didn’t have a copy and couldn’t make a copy without the special keyway that was used. There was no way I had could have a key or make a key. I was sure thankful for that foresight.

            He told me that it was most likely an employee of the property management company who was either doing the burglaries or was in cahoots with the person doing them. By the end of December, the owner of the property management company had hired a private security company to investigate and sure enough one of the employees was working with a boyfriend and together they had been doing the burglaries. They were arrested and the last that I heard back then was they were going on trial in the summer of 1981. By that time, I had moved back to the Houston area and pretty much put my Dallas “experiment” out of my mind.

            The last time I was in Oak Cliff was in July of 2017. Not so long ago really. My oldest sister was in the hospital in a medical center not far from Oak Cliff and near to downtown Dallas. I decided to stop and buy some flowers to take to my sister and the nearest place to find a florist was in Oak Cliff. It sure looked different. But then, it had been nearly 40 years. I was visiting with my brother-in-law this past January and I mentioned that when I had gone to see Barbara in 2017 I had no idea her time was so short. She would pass away within 6 months of that visit. This caused me to remember the whole key job from back in 1980. I started to think of what a waste it had been and then I realized that while it was certainly an expenditure that the property management company shouldn’t have had to bear, it wasn’t a waste.

            It helped me stay afloat financially for several months following the collapse of the company that I had moved to Dallas to work at in the first place. It paid rent, a car bill or two, bought groceries, paid electric, water, and phone bills, and generally gave me a sense of accomplishment given how difficult the job had been to do. As for the property management company, it ferreted out a dishonest employee and allowed them to be used as an example to other employees of what could happen to them if they decided to pull something similar. So, the whole thing had not been a waste at all. But I wouldn’t do it again. Not today. No way. I don’t think I have to explain why. Things are different today than they were then. Very different indeed.

            I’m reminded of watching an Ed Sullivan Show back in the early 60’s when he had The Everly Brothers on not long after they had both spent 6 months in training for the U.S. Marines Reserves in 1961-1962. They were dressed in their Marine Corp Dress Uniforms and there was a few minutes in which Ed Sullivan asked them about having gone through boot camp. They both agreed that it was an experience that they wouldn’t trade for anything but wouldn’t want to go through again either. That’s kind of how I feel about that those 6 weeks or so back in 1980. But isn’t that the way life is? We go through a lot of things that are hard and yet we come out of them better for it. Stronger for it too. If you’re going through something now that seems so very hard and is making you have to reach down deep and pull out reserves that you didn’t know you had, then be thankful. It’s going to be one of those times that you’ll look back on and be glad you went through it even though you wouldn’t ever want to have to go through it again. Life’s funny that way.

Annie and Me

 This is a fiction short story. I get the notion to write these from time to time. I hope you like it.

 

           I had just mustered out of the army in July of 1952 when I met my Annie. I was 21 and she was 18. I had spent the last 6 months of my time in the army recovering in two different V.A. hospitals. Those months were pretty rough with two of them spent in Germany and then the last 4 in Houston, Texas. I had been shot while on a night patrol in Korea. A dang good M.A.S.H. surgeon saved my right leg and it took a while to get back on my feet. When I mustered out, I had managed to save a tidy sum for that time. I never was one to spend my money on frivolous things. I also had received a small inheritance from my grandpa would had passed away while I was in Korea. Between the two totals, I had over $3,000 saved-up.

            I knew who Annie was when we were growing up, but she was three years younger than me and when I joined up at 18, she was just a slip of a girl at 15. Well, when I got off that old Greyhound hump backed bus in Trinity, Texas I walked over to the little café on main street. My mom and pop had a little farm nearby and they would be picking me up within an hour or so. In the meantime, I was hungry, and that little café made some mighty good lunches. I sat my duffle bag down inside the entry and walked over to the nearest empty table. That’s when Annie came over to take my lunch order. I about lost the ability to speak when I saw how pretty she had turned out to be. She seemed to remember me and was all smiles. You might say sparks were flying between the two of us right off the bat. I looked at her left hand and was pleased to see no ring on her finger. I suppose I looked pretty spiffy in my uniform and all, but to tell the truth it was the only thing I had to wear until I could get me some store-bought clothes.

            Well, it wasn’t long before Pop showed up in his 1948 Chevrolet Truck and after I tossed my duffle bag in the bed I turned back and waved at Annie who was standing just outside the door of the café. I took off my cap and smiled and then I just up and said, “Would you like to go to the movie show on Saturday night?” Doggone it if she didn’t say yes and a shook her head with a big smile. Things sort of moved fast after that. Three months later we stood before Brother Kee, the pastor of the little country church we grew up attending, and he married us there under the big old cedar trees in my Mom and Pop’s yard.

            We took a little honeymoon and went up to Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had just spent $500 of my money on a 1949 Ford truck (my Pop was put out that I didn’t buy a Chevy!) and it was meant to be our ranch truck too. I bought the old Miller Place near my parent’s farm for $2000. It was 100 acres of good land and an old farmhouse on it that would do until we got things going. I took out a loan with the ranch land as collateral and made a deal on a small herd of cattle. They would be delivered the week after we got back from Arkansas. We started out with 80 head of cows including what turned out to be a prolific bull we named Abraham. Oh, the first couple of years it was a little rough given we were going through a statewide drouth, but by the time our first baby was born in 1954 we were on our way.

            There would be three more babies born within the next 8 years. We also saw our cattle herd increase by another 200 head including the herd that I bought in 1958 from a neighbor who was retiring and moving to be near his kids down in Houston. Those were some great years for me and Annie. By 1962 when we were celebrating our 10th year of marriage we had bought up adjacent property and were running our nearly 300 head of cows on 500 acres. We kept talking about building a new home to replace the old farmhouse, but the land and cattle and kids seemed to always come first. Still, Annie and I used to like to dream. There was this sweet little hill on our property that looked out upon the majority of our land. A 5-acre pond or, “tank” as we called them, was in the foreground and every spring a field of the prettiest yellow wildflowers would bloom there all around the pond. Annie and I would take a couple of folding chairs and pile into the truck, kids and all, and go down there to that spot-on summer evenings after supper to watch the sunset. We would get to talking about the kind of house we wanted to build, and we did the kind of dreaming that most couples do.

            The years just seemed to fly by. Before long it was 1977 and we still hadn’t built that new house. Oh, we did some adding on to the old farmhouse and there were improvements made, but it wasn’t our dream home. But by then we had one kid a year out of college, another one two years from graduating from Texas A&M, and two in high school. Joe was the oldest and he decided to be a teacher. He graduated from Sam Houston State and got his first teaching job up in Ft. Worth. Annie and I would still go down to our spot and talk about the house that we would build there someday.

            The 80’s were a hard time for us. Our boy Denny, just a month away from graduating from Texas A&M was killed in a car accident coming home for a weekend. It took the wind out me and Annie. But like all kinds of sorrows, time seemed to make the hurt a little less painful. Our youngest child, Tammy, was diagnosed with cancer in the late 80’s, but with a lot of prayer and a lot of grit on that little girl’s part, she got clear of the cancer by the early 90’s.

            Before you knew it, we were grandparents. Annie still looked like the girl I fell in love with 45 years before. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! The truth is we were both starting to slow down a bit. We weren’t ready to be put out to pasture yet, but things like feeding those cattle on a cold winter day when the high temperature was only 36 degrees got to be more of a chore than it used to be. Then something wonderful happened.

            It was in the fall of 2000, I was 68 and Annie was 65, and an oil company came around and before we knew it, we had made a deal for them to drill for oil on our place. Well, it turned into a pretty big strike. On our 50th Wedding Anniversary I told Annie we were going to build that house, sell all the cattle, and spend more time looking at the sunsets. Annie about hugged the life out of me with that! I won’t say we became millionaires after the oil came in, but we made enough to be set for the rest of our lives as well as build that dream house. The planning of it was probably the most fun. We’d sit up at night and talk about what kind of kitchen there would be, a big dining room so that all our kids and grandkids could come for Thanksgiving and Christmas, a little studio with lots of windows for light so that Annie could paint the pretty pictures of flowers and landscapes that she just seemed to have a natural knack for, a small wood shop for me, and 5 bedrooms so that all the family had a place to sleep when they visited. Annie wanted a yellow house with white trim and a great big window that she could look out while standing at the kitchen sink with the pond and sunset in full view.

            They started building the house in May of 2004 and it was finished by October. We had our first Thanksgiving with all the kids no more than a month after the house was finished. I still had my tractor and a trailer, and I filled that trailer with fresh hay and took all the young’uns on a hayride that year. It became a tradition for the next 10 years. Annie and I had 10 great years in the house. But then in the winter of 2015 I came home one day after running into town to get some things at the grocery store and I found Annie slumped over in a chair in her studio. Her heart must have just up and quit while I was gone. She was 80 years old, but she was still my beautiful girl. After the funeral and things had gotten settled down, my kids tried to talk me into selling the place and moving close to one of them. I just couldn’t do that. Not while I could take care of myself.

            So, here it is the spring of 2019 and Annie’s been gone four years now. The house is so lonely though without Annie. I haven’t touched her studio since she died. I left it just like it was. Every evening, barring it’s too cold or raining, I sit out on the porch in the rocking chair that Annie painted “His” on and I look at the sunset and that pretty little pond. The flowers should be blooming soon. From time to time I turn and expect to see Annie sitting in chair next to me with “Hers” painted on it, but it’s empty. Except tonight. I was just about to go in for the evening and I looked over and there was Annie sitting in her chair with a great big smile on her face. Well, it scared me for a minute, and I felt the oddest pain in my chest. Annie looked over at me and said, “It’s good to be with you again, Ford.” I knew it was really her when she called me by the nickname that my Daddy gave me when I bought that 1949 Ford truck. Only he said it like he was spitting out the word! But when Annie said it, she said it with so much love it sounded like a song. I think I’ll sign-off now. My left arm is hurting a little and I’m getting a cramp in my right hand. Besides, I want to spend some time with my Annie. Bye for now.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

            From an early age I loved to read. I remember some of the books that I first had such as the ”Little Golden Books” and books about dinosaurs, the animal kingdom, and fairy tale books. By the time I was 6-years-old I was doing my best to read some of my father’s science fiction novels. There were some big words in those books, but my Dad was more than happy to tell me what they meant, and we would have animated conversations about the stories in those books. When I was about 9 or 10 the Bookmobile would come to our school and I started to gravitate towards what would become one of my favorite genres - Biographies.

            I started with the biographies of people like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Jim Thorpe – All American. It wasn’t long before I read every biography I could get my hands on. I read about sports heroes such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, our founding fathers including President Washington, President Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and many others. I read about famous people from all over the world and many nations. I would read practically anything about people of the Bible. In Junior High School each grade had a certain area of history that was studied. In 7th grade we studied Texas History. Of course, I already knew of Jim Bowie, William Travis, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and I had gone to elementary school at James Bonham Elementary. A junior officer who died at the Alamo. In 8th Grade we studied American History. In high school there was World History in 9th grade, American History again in 11th grade, and in our senior year we had Government and Economics or what was earlier known as Civics Class. I’ve always thought of history as the biography of a people or society.

            I became enthralled with historical fiction along the way. My favorite authors of that genre included Louis L’amour, Zane Grey, and other writers like them. I ended up majoring in History and Christianity in college. A Christianity degree was basically another history degree. It is the history of the people of the Bible. Yes, it is much more important than that alone, but studying the lives of Biblical characters was right up my alley.

            All this reading about history and biographies inspired an interest in philosophy as well. One of the first Bible characters whose life caused me to start thinking about life in general was King David. We first hear of him when he was about 15-years-old and, like a biography, we learn of his life until old age and death. I remember in my early years seeing pictures of a young David standing across the way from Goliath armed with a stone and a simple sling with which he fells the giant. The last we see of David is as an old man barely able to walk. It would take me a few years to figure out that all of us, if we live a long life, will experience many of the same things that David did.

            I have come to love reading books such as “Sackett’s Land” and “To The Far Blue Mountains” by Louis L’amour because they tell the life story of the fictional character. In this case, Barnabas Sackett. The books start in about 1580 when Barnabas is a boy and end with his death sometime in the 1630’s They are well-crafted books and I enjoy them immensely. Books such as these have caused me to ponder the lives of many a person both real and fictional. I remember the first time I read “To Kill A Mockingbird” one of the characters that I initially didn’t like was Mrs. Dubose. I read that book the first time when I was about 12. I thought she was just a grouchy old woman. A mean old woman. By the time I had read that book several times and I had aged somewhat I came to understand what Mrs. Dubose was all about. Yes, she was old, but she was encumbered with the ailments of being old. She wasn’t really mean. She just didn’t feel very good. She knew her time on Earth was short and she didn’t want to be addicted to the drugs that they were giving her for pain. Her way of being distracted from her pain while she went through withdrawal from the drugs was to have Scout read to her. I’ve thought about Mrs. Dubose a lot over the years. I can imagine her as a vibrant young woman perhaps 50 or 60 years before we knew of her in the book. Maybe she was thrilled at going to a dance when she was 17 and being “courted” by her future husband. Perhaps she wore a dress that she daydreamed of later in life and remembered how  her body was young and pretty and how she was before the ravages of time that comes to us all if we live long enough came to her. When I was twelve, I didn’t understand those things the same way that the character of Scout didn’t understand them. Now that I am in my 60’s I understand them all too well!

            Now that I have read many biographies and the stories of many characters, I have come to understand that while we live our own individual and specific lives, we also share many things in common with each other. I remember how great it felt to run and jump and play as a child. The energy I had then amazes me now. I played hard and grew tired, but I slept better too. When I was 13-years-old I got a splinter in the heel of my right foot. Try as she might, my mother just couldn’t seem to get that splinter out. But she figured it would work its way out on its own soon enough. Two months later the pain in my heel was terrible. Any pressure at all on that foot brought a lot of pain. The splinter was impacted, and it was going to take a doctor to remove it. So, the first day of our Christmas holidays I went to the doctor’s office and he performed minor outpatient surgery to remove that splinter. There I was on the table and Dr. Spears came into the room with a needle that was about three inches long. That was just for numbing my foot so that he could do some cutting and digging around. You might say that I learned the hard way about wearing shoes while outside! I didn’t cry, but I sure didn’t enjoy that hour or so in his office. But as I hobbled out to the car, I knew that it wouldn’t be too many days before I would be back to running and doing all the things a boy likes to do. I tell this story to show that we all go through such things in life. Some kids I knew broke arms and legs. I felt sorry for them. One guy I knew was doing his best to be Tarzan and tried to swing across a bayou on a rope. He was only 10 years old at the time. He misjudged things when he let go of the rope and ended up crashing into a big drainage pipe. The result? Both arms broken. I still cringe at the thought of how it must have been for him to rely on his mother to help him go to the bathroom for the next three months!

            All too soon we start to age. By the time we’re in our 40’s things aren’t working quite as well as they once did. I had perfect eyesight until I was 40. I mean, when I was 37, I had to have a complete physical for a new job. My eyesight was 20/18 and 20/17. Better than 20/20! But three years later I started noticing that book publishers were printing their books in smaller print. Or were they? It started with reading glasses. Now I’m basically blind without my glasses. I can’t see to read billboards without my glasses now. I couldn’t enjoy all the books that I love to read without my glasses. I’ve also noticed that people seem to mumble more now than they used to. Or do they? The jury is still out on that one. I wake up every morning to the sound of music. There’s a whole percussion ensemble that welcomes me to each new day. They’re all invisible though. I haven’t seen them yet. I only hear them. There’s a guy that snaps. Someone else pops. Several members of the ensemble crackle. There’s a guy that beats a big bass drum. Curiously, I only hear him in my right ear. Even more curious is he beats right along with my heartbeat. Weird, huh? At least I don’t have pimples like I did 50 years ago. That would be totally unfair.

            I joke a lot these days about this stuff, but it’s just more proof that our bodies age and wear out. We can’t believe it’s going to happen to us when we’re in our 20’s and then we’re incredulous when it does happen to us. The deal is all those stories about people in all those books highlight what life is all about. There’s the physical stuff as just mentioned, but there’s the other stuff too. The joys, the sorrows, the happy times, the sad times, the crushing defeats, the soaring heights of success, the moments of quiet, the cacophonies that gives us headaches, the depths of despair, the cherished moments of contentment, the love, the hate, the symbolic, the surreal, and all the emotions that span the years of a life are seen more clearly at the end of a life than at any other time.

            I think that if it is true that we gain wisdom as we age, then maybe the wisest thing that we can come to know is that despite our differences we are more alike than not. And, if this is true, then we should be learning the beautiful act of compassion for one another. Next time you see an old person who has trouble walking or standing or hearing or seeing, have compassion for them. If you live long enough, then you’ll appreciate it when someone has compassion for you. The next time you see anyone who is bearing a burden that you have been spared of having, have compassion for them. It could be you next week. When we leave this world, we don’t take anything with us except our souls. All the things that you covet and strive to gain in life will stay behind. Within a hundred years or less they will likely not exist. What will remain is how we treat each other. The child that you love and give encouragement to will remember how you loved them and helped them when they were small. The friend that you were to others will be remembered fondly and with love. Consequently, if you leave a legacy of hurt or pain, then this will be what you are remembered for. I for one want to be remembered as someone that had compassion for people. I want to be remembered for my capacity to love and lift up rather than anything negative. How about you?

In Hot Pursuit

            I graduated from high school in May of 1974. I was about in the middle of my class rankings in a class of 726 graduating seniors. To be honest, I didn’t do my best throughout high school. I didn’t have to study much to “get by” with a B. I remember in my sophomore year being asked about my plans for college. I fended off the question with answers that basically avoided the issue. I already had it in my mind that I was going to be a successful singer/songwriter. Music was my passion then. I took the SAT test in the beginning of my junior year and again made an average grade. I didn’t prepare for the test at all. I only took it to please my parents. I was convinced that I was going to be rich and famous making music and that it would all happen by the time I was 22.

            By the time my senior year rolled around I dropped all pretentions of seeking a college education. Well, I suppose that I did still leave room for my mother to hope. I spent my senior year playing in “nice” clubs and restaurants making a decent amount of money. I took the bare minimum of required classes at school and managed to graduate as previously mentioned. When I graduated, I figured it was going to be easy-peasy to make it in music. I was writing songs, recording demos at home, and believed that somehow someway a big shot record executive was going to happen to be walking down my street one day, hear me playing my guitar and singing while sitting on my parent’s front porch, and immediately sign me to a record contract. Reality didn’t take long to make an appearance.

            So, by the summer of 1975 I decided that maybe I should go ahead and get a college degree just to hedge my bets. I enrolled in several classes at the University of Houston. But by the time the end of October came around I was bored, and the call of music was still too strong. I dropped out. Being young and dumb I didn’t bother to officially withdraw from my classes. I just quit going. That little mistake would come back and haunt me later.

            I started working up a “single” to play in clubs again. That simply meant that I would play in small clubs by myself. Just me and my guitar. I secured a multi-week gig at a nice place in Southwest Houston by April of 1976. I did pretty well there, but after 8 weeks the management decided to put in a dance floor and capitalize on the burgeoning disco craze. I started making plans to form a trio. I would play bass and sing, my sister Barbara would play keyboards and sing, and we would find a guitar player who could double on percussion on the piano songs. That plan lasted about two weeks. I suddenly found myself in turmoil. My girlfriend and I were having quite a problem with her parents. They hated me. They had no real reason to hate me. Mainly the problem was that nobody was good enough for their daughter. Well, how many ways can you be a fool? She turned 18 in September and I turned 21 three days later. We got married two weeks after that. No money saved up. I had taken a “day” job that I hated, but it would pay rent for a little apartment and buy us some groceries. But we were “in-luv” and that was the important thing. It was our plan for me to still make it in music. But the responsibility of a wife and all that goes with being married made it very difficult to have time to work a regular job all day and then play music at night.

            Fast-forward two years. Now it’s the spring of 1978. I had not played live in many months. I was working in a job that I hated. I felt bogged down in a rut and I guess that I truly was. So, I started thinking about college again. I enrolled in classes at the University of Houston Downtown campus for the summer. I had to overcome the “F’s” that I had from the fall of 1975 when I just quit going. So, I was allowed to take those same classes again and erase the “F’s”. I ended the summer with 9 hours credit. I enrolled for the fall, but then conflicts at my job made me have to drop the classes (the right way this time). I started thinking about music again. It was like being addicted to drugs. This time I decided to concentrate on my songwriting rather than playing in clubs. In early 1979 I recorded some demos at a studio in Houston and then in June we took off for Nashville where I had several appointments with publishers to show them my songs. Armed with a bunch of demo copies, I met with several publishing companies. I got some tepid responses from a few publishers, some encouragement from others, and one bonified job offer. MCA had a publishing house and the guy that I met with liked my songs. He offered me a job as a staff songwriter. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of what that entails, but it was a good offer. A foot in the door, so to speak. There was just one itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie little problem. Well, it wasn’t a problem for me, but it was a really huge problem for my marriage and my wife. The job required me to move to Nashville. Hey, I was already packed in my mind. But my wife didn’t want to move from the comfort zone of Houston where she was near to her parents (yes, the same parents who still hated me). There was quite a tense “discussion” on the drive back to Texas. The result? I called MCA and declined their offer with much thanks. That was that. I found myself adrift. I hated my job and even though I was only 23, I felt time slipping by faster and faster.

            We ended up moving to Dallas later that year with the hopes of putting together a band with an old friend. That turned out to be a great big dud. The old friend and I couldn’t seem to get along very well. The friendship had been a lot stronger with 250 miles between us. So, I had a new job, a job that I didn’t like any better than the one before it, and I made home demos. I formed a duet with a friend of my sister’s and that lasted about 5 months. We were struggling financially and nothing good seemed to be on the horizon. I turned 25 and was no nearer to success in music than I had been at 18.

            By May of 1981 I took another job back down in Houston. So long Dallas! The job was OK, but not what I really wanted to do. I was still writing and recording and hoping for something to happen. But things don’t just happen. For the next two years I worked my job, wrote new songs, recorded in my modest home studio, and hoped. In the summer of 1983, I decided to make one more big push. I started working up my set lists and I secured a couple of really decent long-term gigs. I had spoken to a local agent and he was interested in helping me form a band and to start playing the kind of gigs that would feature me as a songwriter and performer. Not just cover material anymore. I had enough bookings to last about 3 months and after much discussion with my wife we decided that I would leave my job, a job that was probably going to go away on its own due to a huge downturn in new construction in the Houston area, and put 100% into my music career. But the week I started my first gig we found out we were expecting our first child. We didn’t have insurance and in those days most health insurance policies didn’t cover pregnancy and childbirth anyway. My wife started to have a difficult time and had to quit her job. Let me lay it out for you. We were down 40% of our income. My music gigs were sporadic. We had expected that to begin with, but we thought we would have my wife’s income to fill in the gaps until I got set up firmly. We were informed we would need an additional $3,500 cash up front to pay for the doctor’s and hospital bills. That was a fortune in those days. I decided to take a temporary job making deliveries on a contract basis with the belief that I would still be able to play music at night. Except the delivery job soon required me to work 12 hours a day. Well, it was a mess is what it was.

            Our son was born in April of 1984 and I thought that maybe I could get back on track with the music. Except my wife couldn’t work because we couldn’t afford day care, nor did we really want to use day care for our new precious son. Still, I worked up new sets and made new demos and was getting prepared to get back out there and get things going finally. And then we were expecting again. Second verse, same as the first. My incredible little girl was born in August of 1985. I now had a wife and two precious babies to care for. I was 30 years old. Music was going to have take its rightful place in the back of the bus. But I soon realized that I couldn’t provide for my little family the way that I should on the meager salary of what amounted to a dead-end job. Something major needed changing.

            That’s when I decided that the only way that I could provide for my family properly was to have that college education that I should have gotten years before. By May of 1986 we had a plan. We sold our little house and moved into a much cheaper lease house. We didn’t want our babies raised in day care if at all possible. We worked out a plan that was going to be very difficult, but with determination it was doable. I started back to college at the age of 31 in September of 1986. The truth is I was only allowed to keep 6 hours from those 9 hours that I took back in 1978. So, for all intents and purposes, I was starting college from scratch. I worked delivering pizzas 4 nights a week, my wife worked a regular job, I stayed home with the kids during the day (I became Mr. Mom) and went to school three nights a week. That was just the first semester. Over the next 3 and a half years it was one semester at a time. I worked delivering pizza, doing inventory work from midnight to 7, had newspaper routes 7 days a week, worked part-time as a youth director at two different churches, and basically did whatever it took to work around my school schedule and to continue to make sure our kids were raised by either me or my wife and not some day care. For a goodly part of this time we only had one car. An old beat-up 1975 Toyota. There were two semesters where I would be waiting at the door for my wife to get home from her job so that I could either rush off to classes or to one of my many jobs. I even took classes on a Saturday one semester.

            I had accumulated 57 hours by August of 1988. A chance meeting with a great guy who was an administrator at Houston Baptist University lead to me being awarded a full-scholarship for my final two years of college. I transferred to HBU, changed my majors, and set about getting that degree. I had been managing to pay my way as I went at the University of Houston. Now I only had to pay for my books at HBU. What a deal! I had worked hard at getting my G.P.A. to a very respectable 3.5 which I maintained through my graduation in August of 1990. Within a month shy of 4 years the goal was reached. I graduated Cum Laude with a dual major in History and Christianity. I was even awarded a full scholarship to go to any of the then 6 Southern Baptist seminaries. Sadly, I had to decline that gift. Oh, I wanted to go, but my family had suffered enough getting me through college. It was time I got down to making that better life for my family that had inspired me to seek the college degree. Within two years while working a decent, but not well-paying job, I finally got a job that could turn into a career. At the age of 37 I started to work for a major insurance company. I would work in that field for the next 25 years and then I took early retirement at 62. But that’s another story. The main thing is I was able to provide a decent living for my family along the way and to also be able to afford to retire at 62.

            I would be remiss not to mention a couple of things now. First, music has never left me. Over the years I have continued to write hundreds of songs and I have recorded many of them. I even released a CD in 2010 called “Sojourn of Love”. Go to YouTube and search that title or my name and you can hear most of the songs from that CD. Hey, if you like them enough, then buy it at Amazon or iTunes etc. I am still recording and writing. I just had to get my priorities straight. No, I never “made it” in the music business. But I do have two wonderful children and 5 beautiful granddaughters. I earned an education that is priceless. Sadly, the marriage ended in 2003 after 27 years. I can only wish her well and hope that she is happy. I have remained single all these years and I am happy. Except for the rain. I’m not happy about the rain. Way too much rain lately!

            Finally, I want to point something out to anyone out there who thinks that a higher education isn’t attainable. It is. It may not be easy. It won’t be for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of work, sacrifice, dedication, a little luck, and lots of prayer to accomplish any goal worth having. That most definitely includes getting an education. If there is any piece of advice that I would give to a young person who is about to finish high school or just recently graduated, then it would be get that education NOW. Don’t do it the hard way like I did. Do it while you’re young, have the energy, have the freedom, and before the responsibilities start to pile up on you.

            Someone once asked me if I would do it all again the same way. The answer is no. I would be smarter if I could go back in time and do it again. I would have gotten that degree by the time I turned 21. I would have then had plenty of time to try my hand at music or any other dream (writing, photography, art) and I would already have that education to fall back on if needed. But the main take away here should be to never give up. The old rhythm and blues hit from 1974 said it best. “Keep on truckin’.”

It's No Circus Either

            When I was growing up my father had two responses that he would give if we complained that something wasn’t fair. The conversation might go something like this:

            “That’s not fair!” I complained.

            “It’s no circus either.” Dad replied.

            “That’s not fair! I complained.

            “Life’s not fair. Get used to it.” Dad replied.

            The implication was pretty clear. Dad was making sure that we knew that life is indeed not “fair” with respect to what we believed was fair. I don’t have to look far to find someone who is richer than me or someone who is poorer than me. Someone who is more attractive than me or someone who is not as attractive as me. Someone who is taller than me or someone who is shorter than me. Someone who is fatter than me or someone who is thinner than me. But none of that means it’s unfair. It’s just the way things are.

            Another saying that we would hear a lot was, “They’re trying to keep up with the Jones’s.” I remember we had these neighbors that my parents didn’t much care for. Why? Well, when Dad went and bought a new lawn mower, a simple push lawn mower, but new nonetheless, our next-door neighbor went out the next week and bought a self-propelled lawn mower. When my parents bought a 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 demo with 3,000 miles on it our next-door neighbors immediately went out and bought a new 1962 Chevrolet Impala with all the bells and whistles. When my mother bought her first new winter coat in several years, a J.C. Penney’s special, the lady next door bought a new fur coat. But you know what? My parents weren’t in debt up to their ears. Our neighbors ended up losing their house and that Impala because they couldn’t pay the bills. Mom and Dad didn’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. Yet when I got a used bicycle, one that my Dad tuned a couple of pianos so that I could have a bike at all, Johnny got a brand-new Sears bike with a horn, a basket, and little red and white streamers on the handgrips I complained it wasn’t fair. Dad set me straight. He worked half a day just so that I could have that used bike. I should be thankful just to have it. I felt ashamed which was completely appropriate. Dad did the best he could for us and that was more than fair.

            So, all this stuff about what’s fair and what isn’t fair has really gotten out of hand these days. Life isn’t fair, but then it shouldn’t be. Not if it means taking something from someone who worked hard to get it and giving it to someone who doesn’t work at all or is satisfied with just getting by. You want to know what’s not fair? Socialism and communism aren’t fair. We all understood that very clearly 50 years ago. But now we’ve got a significant portion of our society, and you no doubt know who I’m talking about, who believe that it’s fair for a government to take from one person and give it to another. In other words, they think socialism is the answer to all our woes. The worst part of this is most of those people have more now than I could have ever dreamed of having when I was their age. When’s the last time you met someone who didn’t have a cell phone that does everything except cook dinner for them? Some people still drive old clunkers, but most of the people complaining that things aren’t fair drive cars that are far nicer than anything I had for most of my adult life. Old clunkers were about all I could afford until I was in my late 30’s and even then, when I did buy a new car, I couldn’t afford to buy what I really wanted. But I was glad to get a car that had a working AC unit, a radio of any kind that didn’t quit working when I hit a pothole, that had a paint job that didn’t resemble a car with leprosy, or that I worried wouldn’t pass the state inspection. I also had the completely fair monthly payment for 4 years. It was MY responsibility to pay for the car – not someone else’s.

            Another thing is the insanity over TV’s these days. Every Christmas all the stores are trying to get you to buy some gargantuan wide-screen TV with a surround sound system. And what the heck is 4K? My old flat-screen TV that was about 10 years old gave up the ghost last year. The darn thing just quit working. Which also begs the question, are there TV repairmen still? I doubt it. I went down to the Walmart to get another TV. For crying out loud. There were all kinds of TV’s and I can’t even begin to tell you what some of them do. Some were curved and some were whatever that 4K thing is. I just wanted a darned TV that I can see. Well, they had 28”, 32”, 35”, 36”, 39”, 40”, 50”, 55”, 60”, 65”, 70” and they even had one that was 80”. The deal was you could find a 32” TV that cost more than a 55” TV. What’s with that? Oh, I suppose the 32” would turn itself on and off and you could just tell it what channel you wanted, and it would take you there. I don’t know. But I have no problem pushing in a couple of buttons on a remote (something that I didn’t have until sometime in the 90’s) to get my channel. So, I bought what is likely beneath most of our younger crowd. I got a 55” behemoth that didn’t cost much. And maybe someone out there can explain to me what Hulu, Sling, and Vudu are. On second thought, don’t tell me. I don’t watch enough TV for it to matter. BTW – I’m not a technically illiterate “Old Fogey”. I know my way around a computer well, I am proficient with several makes of professional digital cameras, and I have all kinds of musical instruments and software programs that go with recording. It’s just that I believe that a TV should be pretty basic. Oh, and the furthest that I ever got with video games was Nintendo. The 8-bit variety. As far as I’m concerned, they should have quit while they were ahead. Super Mario Brothers 3 is as good as it gets.

            I apologize for digressing. Back to my point. What’s fair and what isn’t fair. The fact is life isn’t fair. Some of us are born pretty and some of us are born pretty ugly. If you think that’s unfair, then take it up with God. But you know what? I bet none of us are ugly in His eyes. It’s completely normal and OK to want to do better and achieve goals. To move up the ladder of success as long as we don’t kick someone else off the ladder while we’re doing it. The deal is we have a couple of generations now that believe they are owed things. They feel entitled to things. I don’t know how that happened. I really don’t. I’ll leave figuring that out to the experts. Things are all twisted up today. I’m retired. I worked hard for over 40 years in jobs that I didn’t particularly like. I paid into Social Security, with no choice, I might add, and now that I have reached an age where I can see some dividends from paying in all of those years and all of those years of hard work, there are younger people telling me that my paltry dividends (compared to what I paid in) are an unfair entitlement. That’s nuts! Some of them look at me and see that I have a paid off house (however humble it may be), a paid off truck, and that I am enjoying these years that I worked so hard to get to, and they think that is unfair. Well, it’s no circus either! These people don’t want to work and invest in their future or have to wait until they are old to enjoy the benefits. I’ve got news for them. Being “old” isn’t a party. A lot of my peers didn’t make it. They died before they got here. For many of us who have made it this far we wake up every morning in pain. We have ailments that go with being older. You know what? I’d take feeling young again in exchange for all of my “entitlements”. But guess what? Life’s not fair. As the old man on the front porch in “It’s A Wonderful Life” said, “Ahh, youth is wasted on the wrong people!” There’s wisdom in those words.

            The point is things are all turned around. But the fact is that if these younger generations live long enough, then they will finally understand what my generation knew all along. There’s a natural order in life whether you think it’s fair or not. Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper? The ant works hard all summer long in the heat collecting food and storing it up for the winter and he works on his house making it better to withstand the coming winter. The grasshopper plays all summer and doesn’t do any planning for the winter. Then the winter comes. The ant is safe and warm with plenty of food to get him through the winter, but the grasshopper has nothing and ends up dying from the cold and from starvation. When I heard that story as a child, I understood what it meant. I took it to heart. Even so, it took me a few years as a young adult to start doing the work needed to make sure that when I reached the winter of my life I would survive. Some of the younger generations today want to play and not work hard enough make sure that they will be OK when they get old. For crying in a bucket, boy they are going to think things are really unfair when they have to figure out how to work at 75, with all the ailments that come with it, in order to survive the winter of their life.

            Don’t get me wrong on something here. I love many of the people in those younger generations and many of them have their heads screwed on right. But too many don’t. I don’t want to see them have the hardships that I know will come their way unless they change their attitude. I wish I could wave a magic wand, and everybody has perfect health, plenty of the things that we all need, and were filled with love for one another. But wishing won’t make it so. Sooner or later we have to understand that life isn’t fair. But we can do things to make our lot in life better. We can plan, work hard, care about each other, and help each other without being unfair to each other. What I would like to see is an America that is a beacon of light for other nations instead of seeing the light go out. Because then there’s only darkness. Let’s all be like Motel 6 and keep the lights on for each other.

A Boy Named Curtis

            I want to tell you about a boy named Curtis. I was in 4th grade when I met Curtis. I went to Bonham Elementary School in Bryan, Texas. It was a small school with a total of 12 classes. There were two classes per grade from 1st through 6th grade. My teacher was a terrific teacher named Mrs. Dahlberg. She was one of the older teachers in the school. I have no idea how old she was, but I would guess that she was already in her 50’s by the time I was in her class for the school year of 1965/1966.

 One day in the spring of 1966 Mr. McGowan brought a new student to our class. Well, to be more precise, he stopped by the classroom to let Mrs. Dahlberg know that she was going to have a new student. Curtis stayed out in the hall while Mr. McGowan brought in some paperwork for Mrs. Dahlberg. While he was talking to Mrs. Dahlberg one of the other boys in our class whispered something to a couple of us. He could see Curtis out in the hall, but we couldn’t. He softly said, “That kid isn’t wearing any shoes!”

            Well, that got our attention. Like a typical 10-year-old boy I had to crane my neck to see. What I saw has stayed with me all these years. There was this new kid standing in the hall with his head bowed and he was staring at the floor. He was wearing an old pair of blue jeans, a dirty t-shirt, his hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a week, and he was definitely barefoot. It was obvious that he was embarrassed.

            After Mr. McGowan finished talking to Mrs. Dahlberg he left, and Curtis went with him. Some of the boys were snickering about Curtis and Mrs. Dahlberg did something she rarely did. She got very stern with the whole class. She had heard what the boys were saying, and she put us straight. She told us that not everyone had what we had. To tell the truth, none of us were from rich homes either. I only had three pairs of shoes at any one time. An old pair of sneakers for playing, a new pair of sneakers for school, and a pair of dress shoes for church. It wasn’t like any of us had a closet full of shoes. And boy would we get into trouble if we messed up our school shoes or church shoes. Replacing them was a financial burden for our parents.

            About two hours later Mr. McGowan and Curtis came back to our class. Curtis was wearing a brand-new pair of sneakers, a new pair of blue jeans, a new shirt, and his hair had been cut. The difference in Curtis was amazing. He held his head high. Mrs. Dahlberg introduced him to the class and asked me to welcome Curtis to the class and help him out that day. I was glad to do it. I remember asking Curtis is he had any brothers and sisters. He said that there were 6 kids in his family. He was the second to oldest. They had just moved to Bryan from a small farm near Navasota, Texas. His father was looking for work and his mother, like most mothers at that time, didn’t work outside the home. By the end of the week I asked Curtis what church he went to. In my world then, everyone went to church. He said that they didn’t go to church because they didn’t have good enough clothes to wear. Well, he did now, so I invited him to visit our church. He didn’t right away, but by that summer he started to come to our church. I was in what was called the “Royal Ambassadors” which was an organization for boys our age sponsored by the Baptist Church we went to. Our adult leader was a church member who was in his late 20’s and he and his wife had not had any children yet. His name was Mr. Courtney. Mr. Courtney invited Curtis to start coming to our meetings. We would meet every Tuesday night at the church, and we did Bible studies, played games, and we made schedules to be helpers in the church. We would sometimes be ushers for the elderly folks on Sunday mornings or we might lead a church clean-up day doing things like cleaning out the storage building and picking up any trash thrown out from cars that ended up on the church grounds. Frankly, it was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about being good stewards of the church not to mention learning Bible verses and applying things learned from the Bible to our lives.

            Curtis’ family didn’t have a car at the time, so Mr. Courtney started to chauffer all of us boys on Tuesday nights to and from the church. Sometimes there were 8 of us boys in Mr. Courtney’s station wagon and I can only imagine how loud we must have been! Curtis took to the “RA’s” immediately. In fact, he became the first one of us to be promoted to the next level in our Bible studies. But things were very hard for Curtis at home. They lived in a house that most of us today would not even consider fit for humans. It seems that Curtis was always dealing with things that most of us didn’t have to deal with. I remember one week when we went to pick him up for our meeting he came out and his head was shaved. He had gotten ringworms, and this was what they did to treat it then. Shave your head and apply a topical medicine. It was another tribulation for Curtis.

            Fifth grade came around and while Curtis and I were friends, we weren’t close friends because he lived too far away for us to walk to each other’s houses. Then in early November our family moved back to Houston, Texas. I never saw Curtis again after that. But I’d like to think that things turned out good for him.

            I have to say that people like Mr. McGowan (we later heard that he had paid for Curtis’ new shoes and clothes out of his own pocket), Mrs. Dahlberg, Mr. Courtney, and others showed Curtis that he could overcome things beyond his control. They also were all Christians and they exemplified what it means to be a Christian by caring enough about a little boy who badly needed some encouragement and leadership. I’d like to think that Curtis’ life took a different path, a better path, due to those people willing to be there for him. I do know that Curtis gave his heart to Jesus in the summer of 1966. I know it was genuine and I firmly believe that Curtis has had Christ in his life no matter what life brought his way. I’m reminded of a wonderfully affirming Bible Verse as follows:

Romans 8:38-39

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Was It A Dream or Was It Real?

            What follows is a work of fiction, but a wonderfully pleasant fiction . . .

            I awoke to the smell of bacon and biscuits cooking. It was a wonderful aroma that stirred my stomach with anticipation. As I laid there in bed enjoying the moment my eyes suddenly opened wide with alarm. I live alone and I had no guests at the house. Where then was the enticing aroma coming from? I swung my legs off the bed as I sat up and I braced myself for the early morning arthritic aches that I knew would come when I arose from my slumber. I stood up and I was amazed that there were no aches or pains like there usually are when I first get up in the morning. That’s when I involuntarily looked down at my legs. I nearly screamed at what I saw. These weren’t my legs. They were the legs of a 9 or 10-year-old boy wearing a pair of pajama bottoms with cowboys and Indians colorfully displayed. That’s when I also noticed something else. I could see them with crystal clarity. No blurred vision that usually accompanied me before I dawned my trifocals for the first time for the day. I hadn’t seen that well without glasses for 30 years.

            I literally jumped out of bed and ran to look in the mirror that hung over my chest of drawers. But before I got there, I stopped cold in my tracks. I remembered that I didn’t have a mirror like that. I hadn’t looked in that mirror for nearly 50 years. What on Earth was going on? I stepped over and looked into the mirror and that’s when I nearly passed smooth out on the floor. I was looking at myself, but it was me sometime in 1964 or 1965 instead of the 63-year-old me of 2019. It was a face that I remembered mainly from old photographs, but there I was staring back at myself. The freckles on the bridge of my nose that went away in my teens, the “regular boys” haircut cut short and showing my ears before they grew enough for me to want to cover them up with longer hair, the clear hazel eyes, the impossibly small nose compared to what I have become accustomed to, and the thin body were all there to see. I gingerly touched my face and it was all real. I thought that maybe I was going nuts. Was I dreaming? I pinched myself hard and winced at the pain. I even slapped myself leaving a red mark on my right cheek. It wasn’t a dream. It was real.

            I became aware of the sound of music coming from the bedroom next to mine. If this was real and I had somehow gone back in time, then my sisters were likely listening to music while getting ready for the day. I listened closer and the sound of Herman’s Hermits made me smile. Peter Noone was singing “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”. I could almost picture my sister Debbie swooning while listening to Peter. I had to smile at that. I opened the top drawer of my chest of drawers and removed a clean pair of underwear and socks. I opened the second drawer and took out a black “muscle shirt”, the kind with no sleeves, and a pair of blue jeans. I opened my door and crossed the hall, entered the bathroom, and closed the door. This may have been the house of my childhood and my family within, but I was reticent to be seen without a shower.

            I quickly took a shower, dressed, combed my hair, and was satisfied with my appearance in the bathroom mirror. Then I opened the bathroom door and found myself staring at my mother and both sisters who were all standing there with their arms crossed and looks of abject wonder on their faces. I suddenly remembered that when I was a boy it took an act of Congress to get me to bathe or comb my hair. My actions must have alarmed the ladies of the house. My sister Barbara rolled her eyes and said, “I need the bathroom!”

            I quickly moved out of the way as she entered the bathroom and nearly closed the door on me. My sister Debbie just shook her head, a head still laden with curlers, and turn around and went back into the bedroom that she and Barbara shared. Then I looked at my mother. She was so young! A pain in my chest, a pleasant kind of pain, arose and I quickly stepped over and gave my mother a fierce hug. I realized that tears were forming in my eyes. I haven’t been able to hug my mother since the day before she passed away. If this wasn’t real, and I wanted for it to be real with all my heart, then it was a wonderful dream. I looked up at my mother and she was looking at me like I had lost my mind. Perhaps I had. She just didn’t quite no what to do with her 9-year-old son willingly giving her a hug. I could tell she was at a loss for words and then she finally said, “Breakfast is ready.”

            I followed her down the hall and noticed the framed needlework panels on the wall. I remembered them and had to smile. One said, “Travel East, Travel West, After All, Home Is Best”, and another said, “Home Sweet Home”. I hadn’t seen those in decades. We entered the breakfast room next to the kitchen and the table was set. Mom started to put the biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon on the table and called out, “Girls, breakfast is ready!”

            I sat down at the table on one side by the end where my father usually sat. There was a glass of cold milk waiting for me. Then I heard the front door close and a few seconds later my father walked into the room holding the morning paper. I jumped out of my chair and ran to him and hugged him tightly. A crazy mix of emotions flooded my mind. I could feel his strong arms around my shoulders, smelled his Old Spice after shave, and I also clearly remembered holding his hand and kissing his cheek before whispering in his ear that he could go to Heaven now. I would take care of Mom for him. It was a memory of something that wouldn’t happen until June 14, 2016 – 52 years after the moment that I was living through. I stepped back and caught him and mom looking at each other with wide eyes and baffled shrugs.

            My sisters came into the room and we all sat down for breakfast. Dad asked who wanted to say the prayer and I quickly raised my hand. Another exchange of glances between my parents and then we all bowed our heads. Then I prayed what I hoped would be a prayer expected of a 9-year-old boy, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for my wonderful family. Thank you for giving me loving parents and such dear sisters. Please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and please keep us safe throughout our busy day. In Jesus name, Amen.”

            Well, I opened my eyes and found 4 pairs of eyes staring at me in disbelief. I guess I had kind of overdone the prayer for a young boy. All that my Dad could say was, “That was a nice prayer, Randy.” My sisters both looked at me like I was an alien and my mother just sat there with a blank look on her face. I don’t think she had a clue what to do or say.

            I decided that perhaps I should shut up and listen to the talk around the table to get a feel for exactly when it was. I quickly learned that it was a Friday. Good Friday, 1965. April 16, 1965 to be exact. We were out of school that day. No wonder my mother was surprised that I had taken a shower. We would be leaving after lunch to go to my grandparent’s farm for Easter weekend. Mom reminded us to get our suitcases packed and she would get our Easter clothes together. Dad said that he would be taking the car down to the filling station after breakfast to get gas and have the oil checked and so forth. I asked him if I could go with him and he said that would be fine if I had my suitcase ready to go. Barbara talked about the choir concert at her high school that would be the following week and Debbie talked about Wayne Thomas. I remembered her crush on Wayne and I had to smile.

            Breakfast was soon over and we clearly the dishes. I was tasked with wiping down the table and the girls went back to finish getting their suitcase packed. Mom cleaned the dishes and I hurried to my room and packed my suitcase with what I figured would be the clothes that I would need. Dad was ready to go to have the car serviced and I put on a pair of old Converse tennis shoes and followed him out to the car. I decided that I would confide in Dad what was going on. I was searching my memory for some event that would occur in the news that would prove what I would be telling him about my time traveling. I remembered that it was decided the roof of the Astrodome would have to be painted to stop the glare that was causing the players to lose sight of the ball. I didn’t remember the exact date, but I knew it was sometime late in April. I figured if I had to wait a few days for the proof that would be OK. I also thought about some things that Dad had told us much later about his youth. I could always tell him something that he would know he hadn’t told us yet.

            As we drove to Steel Conner’s Shell Station, I worked up the nerve to tell Dad. But when I tried the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Something was keeping me from telling him. I knew that he had a notepad and pen in the center console of the car, so I got them out and tried to write down what was happening. The words vanished as soon as I wrote them. Something was going on for sure. Instead, we talked about the Astros, the Gemini Space Program, and the upcoming “Wild Wild West” episode that night on CBS. I found myself looking at my Dad and thinking how young he was. He was wearing his sunglasses that made him look so cool. I inadvertently said, “I love you, Dad”. He looked at me, grinned a huge grin, and said, “Well, I love you too, Randy.”

            We got back home and loaded the trunk with our suitcases and then ate a quick sandwich for lunch. It was time to go. Somewhere on Highway 21 between Bryan and Madisonville I dozed off to sleep. When I awoke something was different. A heavy weight was on me. I rubbed my eyes and realized I was back in 2019, sitting in my recliner, and feeling the aches and pains that I was more accustomed to. Was it a dream? I don’t think so. I think it was a wonderful blessing and gift from God. The experience has filled my heart with love, with thanks, and with a new vigor for life. I was given an opportunity to spend time with my family again. Mom, Dad, and Barbara are all gone, and I know that they are experiencing the joy of being in Heaven with Jesus. Debbie and I will join them someday, but not today. Not yet. There’s life to live, grandchildren to love, children to cherish, and the sure knowledge that all is well despite it appearing bleak in today’s world. As George Bailey would say, “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

Maple Street Memories

            From May of 1963 through October of 1966 our family lived in Bryan, Texas. We moved there because my parents wanted to escape the big city of Houston and all that goes with living in a big city. Dad started his own piano tuning and repair business when we moved to Bryan. He had been working for two major piano companies for the previous 14 years, both located in Houston. He wanted to be his own boss and to do more piano refurbishments as opposed to being the shop foreman for the company he was at.

            Bryan, Texas is about 80 miles from my grandparent’s farm. So, we were actually closer to them by about 30 miles after we moved. We went to my grandparent’s and spent a weekend with them about every 4 or 5 weeks. It was always looked forward to by us all. Not only did we get to visit Grandma and Grandpa, we also got to be out in the country and experience some the simpler ways of life. Those trips from Bryan to the farm took about 2 hours to drive due to it was mostly two-lane highways, 65 mph speed limit (60 mph at night), and the last 5 miles was on dirt roads. We loved those drives. One of the highlights on those trips was my mother reading us short stories from assorted collections. Our favorite two books of short stories were “Alfred Hitchcock’s Collection of Short Stories” by various authors and “Twilight Zone Short Stories” that were the short story form of several of the old “Twilight Zone” television series episodes. Some were just good ole suspense stories and some were science fiction. I always had to sit in the middle of the back seat between my older sisters which they felt was only fair. Truth be told, I didn’t mind at all. Why? For one thing I could lean forward and rest my head on my arms on the back of the front seat. This allowed me to get the full effect of the under the dash A/C in our car. It was a dealer add on and a lifesaver in the hot and humid air of East Texas. The other reason I didn’t mind sitting in the middle was I could lean forward and listen all the better to my mother as she read to us.

            This may sound antiquated to you today. My granddaughters have some kind of iPad or Kindle thingamajig each and they wear headphones when my daughter’s family drives somewhere. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that and I certainly remember how nice it was to get some peace and quiet on road trips when my kids were young, but those things by design separate families in these situations. Having my mother read those stories to us was a family bonding time. There’s just no comparison.

            One of the stories that I remember best was called “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”. It was originally an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in 1959 and it was written by Rod Serling. It was all about a nice quiet small-town neighborhood that gets invaded by aliens with two heads. You read that right. It may sound silly, but you really should read the story. It is consistently voted as one of the Top 10 best episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and as everybody knows, reading a story is always better than the movie or TV version. That story had us on the edge of our seats. In my case, quite literally. I remember Mom reading it to us and she always made the stories come alive. Once in a while Dad would make a comment or two about something that happened in the story. When Mom finished reading the story it left us all with a great feeling. We would talk about the story, rehash it a bit, what-if it a bit, and generally relive the telling a bit. We barely noticed that an hour had gone by and we were that much closer to the farm.

            I guess my point to this blog entry is that families of today are missing out on wonderful times and memories to be made by not doing simple things like this. I know some retired people who purchase CD’s of books and listen to them on road trips. That’s a pretty good way to get close to what I’m talking about, but there’s something so very special when a loving parent reads aloud to their children. It’s even more special when it’s done on a road trip inside a car because there’s a camaraderie that is enjoyed.

            When my mother passed away a year ago, we had to go through all of her stuff and decide what to keep, what to give away, and in some cases who to donate some of it to. She had quite a library packed into two large built-in bookshelves in her house. When I went through those books two of the books that I found were those two short story collections. Well, you can probably guess who got to keep those! I’m thinking that perhaps there will be a time when I can read some of those stories to my granddaughters. I can only hope that I can read them as well as my mother did and make some wonderful memories for those girls. They both already have a love for reading and perhaps they will enjoy having their Paw-Paw read to them the same stories that my mother read to us. I urge all young parents to take time out of your busy lives and do things like this with their children. I know that it’s tempting to put a DVD on and let the kids watch that while you do something else. But I guarantee you that if you read to them and create that bond you will enrich not only your own life, but your children’s lives for the rest of their life.

Paw-Paw Gonna Fall In The Low!

            When I was a growing up our family made a once a month trek to visit my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. It was always something that we all looked forward to. In those days, we lived about 120 miles from the farm and in the very early years the trip was made on two-lane roads with speed limits not exceeding 55 mph. We generally would leave our house on Friday evening after Mom and Dad got home from work and a quick sandwich for dinner. Money was too tight to spend on eating out. It usually took us about 2 and a half hours or so to make the trip. It depended a lot on how much traffic there was. Those drives are great memories for me. We would play games such as the “alphabet” game in which we would look for letters of the alphabet on billboards and road signs. We started with “A” and of course ended with “Z”. The winner was the first person to get through the alphabet. You had to be the first person to point out a letter in order for it to be “yours”. We also would sing songs and harmonize. The songs were usually either hymns or American standards such as “Little Annie Rooney” or “In the Good Ole Summertime”. My sister Barbara would also insist on singing her junior high school “fight” song!

            We would sometimes listen to the radio, but generally we made our own music. We each had opportunities to share about our day or the week that was just ending. I was the youngest of we three kids and I was always relegated to having to sit in the middle of the back seat or sometimes my sisters would get the seat and I got the floor, hump included! Note we didn’t even think about wearing seat belts. In fact, our first car to have seat belts in the rear seat wasn’t until much later when my parents bought a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 in June of 1967. Most of my memories of those drives were in our 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 that my parents bought as a demo in the spring of 1962. I loved those cars. They were roomy inside and very sturdy. I do have some of my earliest memories of those trips when we still had a 1956 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon. Dad was a Ford man up until the early 80’s.

            All children are branded for life by things that they say when they are kids. For my sister Debbie it was her asking Dad, in a tearful voice, if she could have some Debbie-Q instead of “Barbara-Q”. She thought Bar-B-Q just wasn’t fair! Being the youngest meant that I got laughed at a lot by all hands-on deck. When I was about 3-years-old we were making one of our trips to the farm and as we crossed the Trinity River, I suddenly burst out with one of the sayings that I was stuck with for years to come. I loudly exclaimed while pointed at the river below, “Paw-Paw gonna fall in the low!” Well, my parents thought that was just hilarious. They had no idea where I came up with it. For that matter, neither did I. But I do remember being fearful that my grandfather would drive his tractor off the bridge someday and fall in the river. It apparently got to the point that every time we were in the car and crossed any bridge, I would repeat my exclamation of concern for my grandfather’s safety. It was soon relayed to extended family members and friends of my parents that Randy, as Art Linkletter used to say, “Said the darndest things”.

            Life marched on and even as a young adult my parents would occasionally remind me of my exclamation, “Paw-Paw gonna fall in the low!” Fast-forward to 1990. I was just about to finish my college education. I had started very late at the age of 31 and would graduate from Houston Baptist University two months shy of my 35th birthday in 1990. That spring, as I was finishing up my requirements for my B.A., I had to take 6 college hours of a foreign language to complete my credits. I wasn’t really interested in taking any particular language. Anything would do. I just needed to get those 6 hours. I decided on taking French. I soon learned how to order breakfast in French, count in French, ask for directions in the event I was ever in France, learn how to address someone properly in French, and generally get a taste for the language. Heck, I can still count to cinq (five) in French all these years later and I figure I’ll survive in Paris on “omelette au fromage” (cheese omelet).

            One day in French class we were learning about common words and imagine my surprise when I learned that the French word for water is “L’eau”. It’s basically pronounced “low”. Holy water buffalo, Batman! Apparently, I was speaking French at the age of 3. To be honest, it kind of freaked me out a bit. The next time I saw my parents I told them about this revelation and Dad started singing the Twilight Zone theme! Now, I don’t actually believe in nonsense such as reincarnation, but it is odd how such things as this happens to us in life. Coincidence? Maybe so. But then again, who knows? There’s no rhyme or reason that I can think of that would explain how a 3-year-old child born and being raised in East Texas, where twang is most definitely fixin’ to git er dun, could come up with referring to a body of water as “low”. Well, it does give one pause.

            Over the years I still think of “Paw-Paw falling in the low” when I drive over a bridge. Only now I’m the Paw-Paw. There’s a large creek that runs through the farm and there’s a county road that crosses that creek about 3/10’s of a mile from the farmhouse. I have crossed the wooden bridge over that creek countless times in my 63 years of living. I pretty much cross it every time I go anywhere. I’ve crossed it on foot, on a tractor, in several cars, a 4-wheeler, a “mule”, and in my trusty Dodge pick-up truck over the years. Every single time I cross it I think of my Paw-Paw either on his 1953 Allis-Chalmers tractor or in one of his Chevrolet trucks (a 1955, 1958, 1961 or 1964) crossing that bridge and I worry about him falling in the “low” or “l’eau”. Thankfully, he never fell in the l’eau-low. Isn’t it funny how we carry these things for life?

            How about you and any sayings that you made as a child that became family folklore? If you have one, then share it in a comment to this blog. I think we could have some fun looking back on those things. Now, don’t go fall in the l’eau, mes amies!

The Raid of Forgiveness

            Some of you may remember learning of the Doolittle Raid during World War II. It has been depicted many times in movies and books. It was a daring raid that was intended to let the Japanese military know that they were not invincible. It was led by Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle a mere 4 months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The effect of the raid on the morale of not only American soldiers, but the entire nation as well, was immense. Some say it was the point at which America determined to say “no” to defeat or even the thought of defeat.

            There were 80 Army Air Corps men who took part in the raid. 52 of them were officers and 28 were enlisted men. All of them volunteered to participate. It was considered that survival would be unlikely. These were America’s finest during a time when heroism was the norm rather than the exception. I won’t go into depth on the preparation for the raid or the raid itself. You can look it up if you wish to. What I want to do is tell you about one of those 80 men. I should mention that of the 80 men 3 were killed in action during the raid. An additional 5 died either from injuries sustained when they were forced to crash land or in the case of 4 men during imprisonment after being captured by the Japanese following their crash landing in enemy territory. 3 of those 4 men were executed for “war crimes” by the Japanese. They had committed no crime though. 1 of the 4 men died from malnutrition and beatings. The man I want to tell you about is one of the other 4 men who were tried and sentenced to life in prison. His name was Jacob DeShazer.

            Jacob DeShazer was a staff sergeant. During imprisonment as a P.O.W. he suffered for 3 years at the hands of cruel captors. He endured beatings and near starvation during those 3 years. However, for a 3-week period of time he was loaned a copy of the Bible to read by a sympathetic guard. After reading as much of the Bible as he could during that 3 weeks, he dedicated his life to Christ and became a Christian. He determined that for however long that he might live he would dedicate his life to Christ. In August of 1945 he was liberated from his imprisonment following the surrender of Japan. He returned stateside in early 1946 and decided to go to college at Seattle Pacific College. He graduated in 1948 and started a career that spanned the next 30 years. That career was as a Christian missionary in Japan. You read that right. Rev. DeShazer returned to the country where he had been beaten and mistreated to preach and lead others to Christ. That’s some kind of forgiveness, huh? He even started a church in Nagoya, Japan, the town in which he raided during the Doolittle Raid.

            Now, have you ever heard of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida? He was the man who lead the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Following Rev. DeShazer’s return to Japan the two men met and became close friends. In fact, Captain Fuchida became a Christian after reading a pamphlet that Rev. DeShazer had written. Captain Fuchida then became a missionary serving in both Asia and America for years. On several occasions the two men preached together in Japan.

            Among the medals that Staff Sergeant DeShazer received were the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and following his death at the age of 95 in 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor). All of that said, I have no doubt that none of these medals compares with what Jesus must have said to Rev. DeShazer upon his entry into Heaven. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

            After reading about Rev. DeShazer I had to marvel at his faith in Christ. After the brutality and mistreatment that he suffered while in captivity he could have hated the Japanese and his captors for life. But that isn’t what Jesus tells us we should do. Jesus told us to love our enemies. I can’t think of a better example of loving your enemy than the case of Rev. DeShazer. He had what my grandfather called “walking faith”. Grandpa said that some of us have “talking faith” and some of us have “walking faith”. It was his way of saying that we should put our faith into action. Rev. DeShazer certainly put his faith into action. Can you imagine how many people must have come to Christ due to Rev. DeShazer’s willingness to put his faith into action? Oh, that we all were as dedicated as Jacob DeShazer.

The Gift of Life

            It’s been a cold day here in East Texas. Cold for East Texas that is. The temperature at my house never got above 36 degrees. That may not be the below zero temperatures of some of our northern states, but for around here it’s cold. All that cold air outside went a long way in helping me decide to not go outside today. There was nothing that had to be done so bad that it required of me going outside. The only problem was that I found myself doing too much sitting in my chair bundled up and trying to stay warm. Oh, I could have done some things around the house such as cleaning it, but the fact is I just didn’t want too. So, I didn’t. I did manage to get some recording done, but I had to turn the heat off while recording so that the sound of the furnace wasn’t picked-up by the microphone. Although I have some soundproofing in my studio, it still needs a/c and heating. I recorded until my fingers got too cold and I was shivering then I stopped and ramped up the heat again.

            What ended up happening was I went back to my chair, bundled up, and did some thinking. I started thinking about my grandfather after a while and I realized that tomorrow (February 9th) will mark the day that I will turn 63 years and 5 months old. What does that have to do with my grandfather, you ask? Well, I figured out that on April 22, 1963 my grandfather turned 63 years and 5 months old. Stay with me for a little bit longer and this will all make sense. That fact made me think back on what my grandfather was like when he was my exact age. My perspective on him has changed over the years and the change has accelerated over the last couple of years.

            When I was a kid, I thought my grandfather was ancient. To be honest, most people looked older back then. Not just how I perceived them at the time, but also when I look at pictures from those days. Grandpa had thinning hair, had started to put on a little extra weight, and had quite a few wrinkles and age lines. To me he was old. I probably am diluting myself, but I don’t think I look as old at my age as he did at my age. However, after recalling his every day life in those days I realized Grandpa was in far better shape than I am now. At least, so far as we could tell. He got out and worked hard every day. I don’t. He raised cattle, built fences, did tractor work, chopped wood with an axe, and all the things that go into owning a real working ranch. He had no employees. He did the work himself. Frankly, I couldn’t keep up with him if my life depended on it. In many ways he was in far better shape than I am, and he certainly worked physically harder than I do. He still went to bed early but got up early too. When I would be visiting, he didn’t stay in the house on cold days. Wood had to be brought in and the stove tended too, but he also had to go check on the livestock, make sure that they were fed and not in distress, mend any fences that might need mending, and sometimes get on his tractor that had no cab and do whatever might need doing while cold winds blew in his face. I supposed if I absolutely had to do some of those things today, then I would. But I’m soft (most of us are these days) and I don’t have to do those things. Of course, in my defense I should point out that Grandpa never had to work in the corporate world and put up with the stress entailed with office politics, the politically correct police, or the stress of dealing with bosses. He never had a boss. He started farming his own land when he was 20 years old. He worked on his parent’s family farm before that. I worked in the corporate world for most of my adult life and the only time I didn’t have a boss was when I didn’t have a job. I worked hard in a different way for a long time so that I could retire at 62. Grandpa never retired. Interestingly enough, he died 4 years to the day after the day he turned 63 years and 5 months old. Gulp! Two days before he died, he was digging post holes and building a fence about 100 yards from where I am now sitting and writing this blog. If I only live as long as Grandpa did, then I have only 4 years left. Here’s hoping that won’t be the case. But it does give me pause.

            While I am ready to meet God and to spend eternity in Heaven, I’m not in a hurry to do so. This is the only life I get in human form. I want as much of the human experience as I can get. After all, I’ll have eternity for what comes next. When Grandpa died, he had 7 grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 17. I was smack in the middle at the age of 11. I have 5 grandchildren ranging in age between 7 months and 11 years. I get to see three of them very often, but there are two that I don’t get to see much at all. It’s not my desire for that to be that way and it is my prayer that I will get to see them more often in the future. I love them all so very much. Thinking about my mortality tends to make me want to see them all more and more. I suppose that is only natural. In a way, there is a fence that needs mending in my life too. I will continue to make that effort.

            My grandmother lived for 22 years after my grandfather died. She got a whole lot more of the human experience than he did. But in some ways that might have been a blessing for Grandpa. He didn’t have to go through some of the indignities that befall us in our old age. But still, Grandma got to see all of their 7 grandchildren become adults. She also got to enjoy all 4 of her great-grandchildren. She got to see many more sunrises and sunsets. She got to enjoy spending time with her 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. She got to sing praises to her savior that many more years. Life is so very precious.

            I also found myself thinking today about recent legislation in New York that allows the abortion of a full-term baby only minutes from being born. I won’t get into how on Earth our country could get to such a point, but I will say that it literally makes me sick to my stomach to think about. I mentioned that I have a 7-month-old granddaughter. I have a picture taken of her only minutes after she was born. The thought of such a precious life being murdered only minutes earlier is beyond reprehensible. Any baby whose life is snuffed out in such a way will never have the chance to be 63 years and 5 months old. That baby will never have children and grandchildren. That baby will never enjoy a single sunrise or sunset. That baby will never get to enjoy the human experience other than the 9 months spent in his/her mother’s womb. That baby might have discovered a cure for cancer or might have saved lives by being a police officer or firefighter. That baby might have been a teacher that profoundly touched and affected the lives of thousands of children over a decades long career.

            I’ll get off my soapbox now. This started out as a blog about how different the lives of my grandfather and myself are at the same age. But there are some similarities too. Probably more of those than differences. By the time I did all that thinking today two things happened. First, I got a headache from doing too much thinking! More importantly, I realized that I am so fortunate to still be alive and to have time to be a better person. Not that I’ve been a bad person, but I don’t have to look long at my life to know that I made some big blunders and missed the mark too many times. I still have time to do better. I said earlier that life is precious and that is a fact. I’d have to be some kind of colossal fool not to realize that life is a gift. I plan on making the most of that gift with whatever time I have left here on Earth. How about you?

History 101

            I started a new recording project about 6 weeks ago. It’s a massive undertaking. Why? Because when I’m done it will amount to about 40 new recordings of songs that I have written over the years. That amount of songs could easily be the equivalent of 4 albums. Why so many? Because I want to. I hope that’s a good enough reason! Most of the songs are songs that I have never had a chance to record or any existing recordings are demos or were recorded on inferior equipment decades ago and have needed to be recorded properly for a long time. The songs span a period of time from 1972 through the present. Why is it going to take me so long to record all of them? Well, first off hand I do have other things to do. As some of you may know, I am single and live alone on my small ranch. Simply put, that means that if something needs doing, then I’m the one who has to do it. Secondly, while I am like many men in that I don’t multi-task well, I do have a creative mind with the ability to have more than one project going on at the same time. Most notably for now is that I am also in the research stage for what will be either a collection of short stories linked together with the same main characters or it may turn into a couple of books. Thirdly, as my then 91-year-old father once told me, “You’re not a spring chicken anymore, son!” To be clear, if I were 25 years younger than I am, then I would have much more energy, and would no doubt get things done quicker. Alas, I am NOT 25 years younger now and that as they say, is that. Finally, and this is perhaps the main reason for the length of time that it will take me to complete these new recordings, is the fact that I am doing it all myself. All instruments and vocals will be done by me. That means I have to record individual tracks for each part (some of the songs will have as many as 32 tracks), do the mixing, and I have the equipment now to do professional mastering of the finished mixed songs. Look at it this way: If I had three other musicians working with me on a song, I would likely record the basic rhythm tracks all at once. The drums, bass, and rhythm instruments such as guitar and piano would all be recorded in a matter of a couple of hours. It would then require me to overdub additional instruments and vocals. But I don’t have three other musicians on 24/7 call which is what it would take. So, what would take only a couple of hours to accomplish may take me 2 or 3 days (providing there are no major interruptions). Generally, I have to start with a basic drum track. I play some percussion instruments myself such as a cajon, bongos, congas, tambourine, shakers, and assorted other such instruments, but I don’t have a drum set. I do have a snare drum, but it is better at collecting dust than anything else. What I have to do is make a scratch recording of the song on my guitar or piano. Then I experiment with drum set samples to get the correct tempo and style that works best. I do that using a variety of drum machines, pads, and loops. It’s darned time consuming is what it is. Once the basic drum track is done, I then record the main rhythm instrument which is usually either an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, or electric piano. Then I start stacking the parts. A basic bass track is recorded but may be re-recorded after the other parts are added. Why? Because if I record a cool bass track that just sounds great, then it’s liable to end up interfering with the vocals or another necessary part. So, after 45 years of recording I have learned to do the final bass track late in the process. It allows me to craft a bass part that stands out but doesn’t get in the way. Am I boring you? I hope not. There is a point to all this if you hang on.

            Okay, now more to the point of this blog entry. A week ago, I started recording a song that I wrote when I was 18-years-old. I had long ago buried it thinking it was just not mature enough for usage. But when I sat down and started going through songs to choose which one would be next, I came upon the original handwritten lyrics and chord sheet that I wrote in November of 1973. I started to play the song and things got interesting. Before long I had raised the key a couple of steps to fit my voice of today (I’m unusual in that I actually sing higher now than I did then – go figure). I also changed up the rhythm of the song by speeding it up and giving it a bit of syncopation that it had lacked. I kept the melody with the one exception of one line that just seemed to need to be changed and I suddenly realized that the song had a lot of potential. Well, before I knew it, I had a basic rhythm track worked out. So, I’ve been recording on it now for a week and it’s coming along quite nicely. I like it. But here’s the deal. I got the drums and percussion recorded as well as the bass, acoustic rhythm guitar, an opening electric guitar solo, a flute solo, electric piano (a sort of muscle shoals Fender Rhodes feel to it), a four-piece string quartet part on the chorus, a violin solo in the background on the chorus and violin ensemble that matches the acoustic rhythm guitar part, and a processed grand piano part on the chorus. I have also got the lead vocal recorded. Then I hit a wall. I like the lead vocal, but I kept thinking it needed some harmony. But every harmony part that I came up with just stunk the place up. What to do?

            So, I was just about to fade off to sleep last night and I was thinking of the problem. That’s when I remembered something. Somewhere in a box in the walk-in closet of the studio there was probably an ancient cassette tape with the only other recording of the song that has ever been made. We’re talking about a cassette that would be at least 41 or so years old. But I thought perhaps that recording could shed some light on the harmony part that I am missing. I vaguely remembered that the song had a good harmony part to it, but I just wasn’t remembering it. Therefore, I went to sleep with a mission on my mind for this morning: Find that tape.

            I got up this morning, bleary-eyed as usual, and after breakfast I went into the studio and opened the door to that closet. The closet that is wall-to-wall packed with boxes of old tapes, equipment, instrument cases, mic stands, the aforementioned snare drum, my baby high chair – wait – is that right? Yea, my mother kept it and now I have it. It’s 63-years-old, made of wood, and painted yellow. I must have been the cutest baby boy sitting in that thing! I digress. The point is the closet is packed. I began my search. Two hours later I found the tape. Ahhh. Yes, I still have a cassette player to listen to it on. In fact, I have three of those buggers. I put it in the one that is currently hooked up to my stereo system and after fast-forwarding and doing some searching, I found the ancient recording. What it lacks in quality was all worth the end result. The harmony part was there for me to hear and yes, by golly, it is a good harmony part. What I realized was that I had been trying to come up with an intricate harmony part above the lead vocal. But that’s not what I did 42 years ago on that recording. It’s a very tight harmony below the lead vocal. I listened to it several times and it all came back to me. It felt natural as can be. So, I went into the studio, que’d up the new recording, and sang the harmony under the lead vocal. Voila! By George, I think I’ve got it! Now, I’m waiting for the washer and dryer to finish so that I can go back into the studio and record that harmony vocal. I should have this one all finished by this Saturday. I still have to record a lead instrument part, then do the mixing and mastering.

            So, what have I learned? A few things. First, sometimes the simple way is the best way. Second, persevere until you get it the way you want it. Third, just because you have all the new up to date equipment it doesn’t mean that the old ways were bad. That old recording is pretty bad on the whole, but it has the perfect harmony vocal part saved for this project 40 plus years later. That’s really the most important thing I’ve learned. Yes, I have improved the song with some changes and obviously the recording itself will be far better than that old one, but there was a vital part on that old recording that is needed and if I hadn’t saved the recording for all these years, then I might not ever have come up with the harmony part again. We can all learn a lot about life if we keep history true and saved as it was. It’s not a good feeling to go back and look at our mistakes but knowing the mistakes should prevent us from making the same mistakes again. On the flip side of that coin, knowing the good things that were done in history can light our paths into the ever dark and unknown future.

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