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James R. Stout


Time and Tide . . .

            Fifty-seven years ago, today, September 30, 1963, our family moved into a new (to us) house in Bryan, Texas. We would live there for just over 3 years. On the day that we moved into that house I was 8 years-old. My sister Debbie was 11, my sister Barbara was 13, my mother was 34, and my father was 40. As I have previously told you about our family, we were a remarkably close and loving family. Only my sister Debbie and I remain in this world today. The house itself was the best house that I lived in during my growing up years. It was primarily brick, it had two bathrooms (the only house we had with two), three bedrooms, and the usual other rooms. It was at the end of the street and there were vacant lots behind and to the side of the house on one side. The roads in the subdivision were gravel, including our street and the street that ran down the other side of the house. Across that side street it was wooded and a place of adventure and mystery for the neighborhood kids. And there was the creek.

            The creek wasn’t a huge creek, but it had some areas that were fairly wide and deep. There were well worn trails throughout the woods and most of them ran through the woods on our side of the creek. One of the first things that I did after we moved in was to explore those woods. The “mystery” part of the woods revolved around a large hole. There didn’t seem to be a reason for the hole to exist. But exist it did. You had to stay away from the edge of that hole because it was probably about 20 feet deep, usually had standing water in it, and getting out of it if you fell in would be a serious issue. About 200 yards down the side road there was a trail that I discovered that lead up to the creek. It became one of my favorite “thinking” places. The banks had a soft and green moss carpet. It was perfect for laying down on with my hands behind my head and a great view through the canopy of trees of the perfect blue fall skies. I would frequently go there by myself and commune with nature. There were squirls and rabbits galore. There were huge pinecones strewn about on either side of the creek and the water would gurgle as it made its way across the stones laying about in the creek bed.

            Another mystery of those woods were the perfectly placed large steppingstones that allowed you to cross the creek without getting your shoes wet. I used to wonder who had placed those stones across the creek. All these years later the answer seems obvious. The land that the subdivision was on and the pastures on the other side of the woods must have once belonged to a farmer or rancher. He no doubt placed those stones in the creek to make it easy for him to get from one part of his land to another. The stones were simply too large and heavy for a child to have placed.

            We got a dog in December of 1964 and named it Rex. A full-blood Rat Terrier it was. Rex would accompany me on my exploration of the woods and many times he would sniff out squirls and rabbits and once a fair-sized rat (just to prove his heritage!). That dog had the most incredible olfactory glands ever. I could take a small rock and throw it into a thicket in those woods and he would bring back that very rock. I used to put a scratch on the rocks for identification with my Cub Scout knife. Once in a while Rex would have a hard time finding the rock. But he never gave up. Sometimes he’d be out there for half an hour searching. Given he was short, and the grass and greenery was taller than he was, you could hear him thrashing around and see the vegetation quaking in his path.

            We moved away from that house in November of 1966. Some changes had already been afoot. The roads had all been paved in 1965 and talk of a city park being built was in the air. I made a visit back there in 1970 to see some old friends and the park had just been finished. My friends told me that they heard the woods were going to be cut down and another subdivision built.

            The last time that I drove through that neighborhood it was barely recognizable. The woods are gone, the creek is now made out of concrete, and there are a hundred or so houses on the other side of the creek. There are roads with bridges that go across that creek now. Our old house looks much the same other than the trees are much larger now. When I drove through there about a year ago, I stopped on that side road and just sat there for a few moments taking it all in. In my mind’s eye I saw me, ages 8-11, running and playing where houses now stood. I remembered events that took place in another world than the one that I live in now. I am reminded of the 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer who said, “Time and tide waits for no man.” He spoke the truth.

The Forever Spring

            I decided to go out to eat for a late lunch or early supper. You choose. So, I went to a Tex-Mex restaurant that I haven’t been able to go to in several months. Just me by myself. I truly don’t like to do sit down eating in a restaurant by myself, but there just wasn’t anyone else to go with. As I sat there in a booth, I took notice of some people sitting at two different tables across the way from me. It became a study of the young and the old.

            At one table two older women, probably in their late 60’s or early 70’s, sat. I noticed immediately that they neither one smile at all. At the other table sat two young women, probably late teens or early 20’s, and all that they seemed to do was laugh and talk. The older women were both dressed in modest clothes while the two younger women were both wearing shorts that I would never have allowed my daughter to wear and tops that matched.

            The younger women seemed to be constantly moving and fidgeting. It was obvious that they had enough energy to power California. The older women didn’t move other than to drink out of their glass or lift a fork to their mouth. That’s when I first noticed something. One of the women had extremely deformed hands from arthritis. I’ve seen it before, but she must really be suffering from the effects of the condition. Meanwhile, one of the younger women must have been a drum major because she kept twirling her fork through her fingers and her joints were anything but arthritic.

            Finally, the two older women got ready to leave. That’s when it truly became obvious that they both suffered from physical ailments related to the elderly. One of the ladies reached around and took hold of a walker that I had not noticed before. One of her legs was wrapped in some kind of bandage and she got to her feet in an unsteady manner and wheeled her way towards the check-out station. The other woman, the one with arthritis, slowly got to her feet. She was taking a to-go cup with her and she couldn’t hold it in her hand. She had to balance it between her forearm and her side. She stood up and when she began to walk it was more of a slow scoot toward the door. With each step she was obviously in pain. As she passed by my booth, I looked at my cane and thought to myself that my problems weren’t so big after all.

            A couple of minutes later the younger women got up and left. They both fairly well bounced out of their chairs and made their way to the check-out station at roughly the speed of light. After seeing all of that and comparing the two sets of ladies, I realized that I had just seen something very important. Most of us had those days of being unencumbered by physical restraints. Jumping, running, skipping, and all that goes with being young came to mind. Those two young ladies still have their lives stretched out in front of them. The two older women not so much.

            I remember when I was young, I would roll my eyes when the older people would do what older people do. Complain about their aches and pains and ailments. I used to wonder why they did that. Well, there comes a time when you get old enough and your body is wearing out that you are sometimes consumed with how you feel. For a young person who hasn’t gotten there yet, have you ever had a bad toothache? Or perhaps you took a spill on your bike and skinned your knee. You most likely thought of nothing else but that skinned knee or toothache until they were healed. For many older people they just don’t get healed from their aches and pains. Their bodies are just worn out.

            My last thoughts of what I had witnessed were that some day those two young women, if they are so blessed with a long life, will understand why the older people shuffle when they walk or walk stooped over or complain about their joints hurting. If there’s one thing that we learn by getting old, then it’s the fact that there truly is a time for everything. We don’t really remember the beginning of our lives, but when our spring is in full bloom, we are running through the fields of budding flowers and loving it all. Then the summer of our lives comes and we’re at our strongest. These are the years that a man builds muscles and works as well as plays hard. It’s a time for women to bear children and amaze the men in their lives at their strength. It is a time for soaking in the energy of the sun. Next comes the autumn of our lives. It creeps up on us. A little ache here and there, but at first, they go unnoticed. We’re still doing things, but we start to notice that we’re not as fast as we used to be. Bending down and kneeling may be accompanied by a popping knee and a backache that requires a couple of Ibuprofen to make it go away. By the end of our autumn our eyes are not seeing as well, our hearing starts to fail a little, and those aches and pains appear to be there for good. Finally, we live the winter of our lives. We start to really slow down. Naps are our friends. We keep on moving for as long as possible, but in the end, we can’t do much moving at all. My father was 93 and had just had his leg amputated. His heart was working at about 25%. It was a miracle he was still alive. I sat with him at the hospice facility and one day he looked at me and said, “I’m never going home, am I?” That’s when I had to tell him the truth. His life here on Earth was about over. In fact, he passed away 3 days later. But I also told him something else. As a man of faith, I knew he knew this already, but I felt compelled to remind him. I said, “Dad, you’re about to go to Heaven. You’re going to have a perfect body and it will NEVER deteriorate. You will be able to run and jump like you did when you were a child. You will be in the presence of God and your advocate will be Jesus.” I thought about it a little more and then said, “You’ll next be experiencing the forever spring.”

            To all my friends and readers, no matter where you are in the stages of life, you too can one day experience the forever spring. When you see someone much older than you, then know that they are that much closer to eternal life. When you see someone much younger than you, don’t be jealous because you had your time. Pray for each other and ask for God’s blessings for the people that you meet. Share Jesus with them and make it possible for them to one day experience that forever spring.

The Night The Beast Bought The Farm

            I was 9-years-old and had a yearning to be a woodsman. I had been enthralled with the movie tales of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as well as the many western movies and television programs of the day. I had won first place in a contest in The Cub Scouts and the prizes were an official Scout knife, a flashlight, and a pup tent. I must have bothered my mother for 3 or 4 months begging her to let me sleep out in my pup tent. She wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I Dad was sold on it. After all, he had been in the Boy Scouts back in the 1930’s and had been in love with the camping and outings that were part of the Scouts. Finally, my mother relented one Saturday night when we were visiting my grandparents on their farm. There was a cedar tree to the right of the front porch that was just big enough to pitch my tent under. I think that there was a wee bit of betting by the Baptists in the house that night as to how long I would last out in the tent.

            When it came time for everyone to go to bed, I dutifully gave my parents a kiss goodnight on the cheek and headed out to my tent. Our dog Rex would be my companion on this adventure. I had already set the tent up, put a quilt and pillow (my groundsheet and saddle bags) in the tent, and had my trusty dog to warn me of any potential bears or mountain lions. Of course, there were neither of those critters in that part of East Texas anymore, but it was an adventure to be sure. I had my Boy Scout flashlight as Rex and I made our way out to the tent. It wasn’t long before the lights in the house started to go out. My grandparents turned out their light first, then my sisters, and finally my parents. It took about 3 or 4 minutes for my eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. Did I say darkness? It was more like being in a closet. There was no moon out that night, but the stars were incredible. I laid on my back with my head outside the tent and marveled at the night sky. This was long before there was light pollution like there is today. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face without the stars in the background. Rex curled up beside me with his head resting on his paws and we both started to doze off.

            Sometime later in the night Rex started to growl and awoke me from my slumber. When he stood on all four legs with the hair on his back bristling and his lips drawn back in a grimace, I knew that there was something outside and likely awfully close. I listened. At first, there was no sound. Then I heard the sounds of an animal nearby digging in the dirt and making enough noise to set me to worrying. Was it a raccoon? A rabbit? A SNUNK? I was afraid to turn on my flashlight for fear it would cause the unknown animal to attack me. I laid there listening to that animal for what seemed forever. It sounded like it was getting closer to the tent!

            There I was stretched out with my feet against the back of the tent when something on the outside of the tent started to poke against my feet. Well, I froze at first. Then the better part of valor took over and I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped out of the tent. Rex started to bark loudly and ran around the tent in hot pursuit of whatever animal was trying to consume me. I probably looked pretty silly doing an impression of the Wildman From Borneo with my flashlight bouncing light here and there and Rex literally going crazy. Well, this was not going to go unnoticed by the folks inside the house. In what seemed like an instant the place was lit up like a Roman candle. I hightailed it up onto the front porch and out stepped my grandpa with a .22 rifle in hand. Dad was right behind him and shined a floodlight onto the yard. Within seconds the .22 banged out a couple of shots and the doggone biggest armadillo that I had ever seen flipped on it’s back and promptly died.

            Meanwhile, I was standing there in abject fear wondering how I was ever going to go back into that tent and sleep. It turns out that was an unnecessary pondering. Out stepped my mother in her yellow robe and she made the announcement that I would be spending the night on the couch that made into a bed in the living room. No argument from me. I still wonder who won the pool on how long I would stay out in the tent. I must admit that I had conflicted emotions at the time. On the one hand, I felt like it was silly to have gotten so scared and end up safe and warm on my grandparent’s couch. On the other hand, I was mighty glad to be inside the house. Keep in mind, I was only 9-years-old. With all these years to reflect on that event I think it was pretty brave of me to take on that task.

            So, here I am safe and warm in my house on the last night that I will spend in it. Moving time is hours away. I’m going to miss living out here in the sticks. I’ll be going out on the porch in a little bit and look at the stars, try to nail some armadillo’s hide to the wall, and listen to the night sounds in the country. Oh, I’ll get back to visit my sister and brother-in-law out here in the country and from time to time get to enjoy this life. I feel a little bit like I did that long-ago night. I’m a little bit scared of the new life to come, but awful glad to be on a new adventure. Here’s to all the adventures that you experience in your life and if you ever get a little afraid, then embrace the fear and move on down the road a bit more.

The Contraption

            If you’ve been reading my recent blog entries, then you are aware that I am moving. One of the things that has taken a great deal of time in preparing to move has been packing boxes with all my worldly goods. I must admit that I learned quickly that I have been something of a pack rat over the years. Now, it’s great to keep things that truly mean something to you, but a certain kind of laziness tends to overtake us in our daily lives, and we keep things that we will likely never use or want again. I mean, how many back issues of magazines does one need? Did I really think that I would one day want to read them again? No, I mostly just found it easier to throw the magazine in a box, cabinet, or stacked on bookshelves. That’s just one example. I have gone through everything that I own in the past few weeks and while I am keeping quite a bit of “stuff”, I have literally filled a utility trailer twice (with the help of my brother-in-law) and hauled the stuff off to a landfill. I filled up 5 or 6 lawn & leaf sized bags with clothes alone. I have lost about 70 pounds in the past year or so and that means I had a lot of clothes that were way too big. I won’t be gaining the weight back given my lifestyle changes that are for health reasons, so the clothes needed to go. The worst of it was I had some clothes that were nearly 20 years old. I had this one green long-sleeve shirt that I used to wear quite a bit. It was still hanging there in my closet and it had to go. I have pictures of me wearing that shirt in 1998!

            Having said all of that, I also found some treasures. Oh, I knew that I had them, but they were in the top of a spare closet or stacked in the antique chifforobe that I inherited from my grandfather. When I came upon these certain items a flood of memories came my way. Let me tell you about some of those memories.

            First, let’s go back to some of my earliest memories as a child. It was the late 50’s or perhaps 1960, but I remember my grandmother making me take a nap one afternoon. I don’t know why, but in this particular case I took my nap on her big bed. As I laid there trying to get sleepy my eyes were focused on the darndest thing that I had ever seen up to that point in life. Hanging from the ceiling was some sort of wooden contraption. It was pretty big at that. I made a mental note to ask Grandma about it after my nap. Well, I took my nap and when I woke up that contraption flew out of my consciousness when I spied a 3 Musketeers bar at the foot of bed. But that contraption came back into focus a day or so later.

            I had been playing cowboys and Indians on the front porch and had worked up quite a sweat in my make-believe skirmish. I had both a cowboy holster and cap gun and a bow and arrows. I took turns wiping out either the “pale faces” or the “injunes”. Well, I worked up a powerful thirst and a yearning for a cool fan blowing air in my face. In the house I did go and while on my way to the kitchen to get a cold drink of water (from a jug in the refrigerator with my name written on it) I saw my grandmother sitting in a chair beside her bed and darned if that contraption from the ceiling wasn’t pulled own and she was making something with a lot of material and some kind of white fluffy stuff. I had to ask her what she was doing. She informed me that she was making a new quilt. It had never occurred to me that all of those quilts in her house weren’t store bought. Nope. She made them all and that contraption, which I learned was called a hanging quilt rack, was a big part of how she made them.

            OK, so there’s the background for you. Let’s get back to the last couple of weeks. I started to pack those quilts (also about as many afghans that she made later after she was no longer able to make quilts due to mobility issues) in boxes and my goodness the memories came back. They are all in mint condition, so they appear to be the exact way that they were when I was a child. I must have about 20 quilts. As I would pick up one to put it in a box, I would see a piece of scrap used in the quilt and I would remember the shirt that she made for me made out of that material. She usually made us about 5 shirts for the beginning of the school year and then a few more for Christmas. I was amazed how much material from those shirts were used in several of the quilts. I remembered one in particular because the shirt had been brand new and I had a bad nosebleed that day at school which resulted in blood all over the shirt. My mother was not amused. Thinking of those shirts also brought back the memories of the jeans with the cuffs rolled up so that they would still fit me if I had a “growing spurt”.

            Grandma stopped making quilts when she was about 67. That’s when she took up making afghans. I showed one of the quilts to my sister and she pointed out several scraps from material that Grandma had made dresses for her. Grandma has been gone now for 31 years, but a part of her is still in my life and that part gets to move with me to wherever I land. I’m also thankful to my mother who lovingly took care of those quilts for decades. She had three or four hope chests filled with quilts, afghans, doilies, crocheted potholders, and coasters that my grandmother had made. I believe that I will need to purchase something that will allow me to hang a quilt on a wall in my new place. I can then change out the quilt every month and every time that I see it, I’ll think of my grandmother and mother. Grandparents and parents are the gifts that keep on giving.

Class picture from 2nd Grade. I'm the second from the left in the middle row. I'm wearing one of the

shirts that Grandma made me for school. Note the jeans are cuffed and, typical for an 8 year-old boy, one cuff is crooked.

 

 

Snoopy Vs. The Wicked Witch of the West

            In February of 1967, our family moved into the house that I would do the remainder of my growing up. I was 11-years-old at the time. I moved out of that house in September of 1976, but my parents stayed there until 1979. When I was growing up, I mostly had good teachers. Some were better than others, but only a very few had no business teaching kids. When we moved into that house, I only had 3 months of elementary school left. I would be going to junior high school that fall. I’ll never forget that first day at Ridgecrest Elementary. It was an eventful day in my life. I met several kids that I am still friends with today. I was also assigned to a teacher who was about as nuts as a barrel of Planters. Frankly, I had never met an adult like her.

            My father took me to school the first day to get me registered and the principal took us to my class to meet my teacher. I had been very fortunate to have had some great teachers since 2nd grade. They were loving and helpful besides being terrific at teaching us. The principal introduced me and my father to the teacher and she seemed to be a sweet and wonderful lady. But it was all an act for my father’s benefit. She was personable and friendly and appeared to be another great teacher in my life. Dad said goodbye when the bell rang and the teacher (I’ll not name her despite the fact that she is likely long dead. I don’t want to get some kind of lawsuit!) assigned me a desk.

            So, it’s time for roll call and I’m thinking things couldn’t be better. When she gets to my name she calls out “James Stout”. Well, I’ve always gone by Randy and she had just been informed of that when we were introduced. I said “here” and then added, “I go by Randy”. That’s when I first heard the cackling that she displayed so well. She scolded me for talking and it was extremely embarrassing which I believe was the point. What I quickly learned was to never speak unless asked a direct question. She would pace the floor and I have no doubt had she had the proper attire could have been the Wicked Witch of West’s twin. Over the next three months I was afraid to ever ask a question because it might illicit ridicule. She walked around the room with a wooden ruler and would slap it on her thigh for effect. I would quickly learn that the only thing she appeared to love was her horse. She drove a Chevy Nova and the back seat and trunk was full of hay for Old Pye.

            The fifth-grade classes all ate at the same time in the cafetorium. Each class had a couple of long tables and I sat with a couple of guys that I had become friends with. Guy and Bobby were their names. If it was possible, they were even more scared of Mrs. A. than I was. One day we were talking about our favorite current records. There was “98.6” by Keith, “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees, “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Kind of a Drag” by The Buckinghams, and a recent favorite, “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron”. At the mention of that final song the three of us started to sing it. We all had the lyrics memorized. It’s not like we were singing loud and disturbing anybody. However, a very disturbed one-eyed girl who was about as wild as any hyena the Serengeti ever saw, went to Mrs. A and told her that we had been SINGING AT THE TABLE! Heaven’s no! So, Mrs. A came over and made us stand up in front of the other kids while she gave us a tongue lashing. We were punished by having to clean off the tables after the other kids all went back to class. She left us with strict orders to clean the tables and then come straight back to class.

            So, there we were cleaning off the breadcrumbs, spilled milk, and a stray green pea or kernel of corn and our fearless hero came to the rescue. Yes, Snoopy took on the Wicked Witch of the West. How? Well, he convinced us that we should sing his song while we worked. It felt like being untied and set free. The best part of it was we garnered an appreciative audience. The cafeteria ladies all came out and listened to us sing and then applauded enthusiastically when we finished. I’ll forever be thankful to Snoopy for his support!

A Gravel Road

            Our family moved into a small neighborhood in Bryan, Texas in October of 1963. Each street had roughly 4 or 5 houses on each side of the street. Not all of the streets were filled with houses. There were vacant lots spread out among the streets. Our street had 5 such lots. Our street had 7 houses and 5 vacant lots. When we moved onto that street all of the streets were still gravel streets. While this made riding a bike a bit more difficult, it also had one major good thing.

            In warm weather and especially during the summer of 1964 we went to bed with all the windows open. We didn’t have AC. While we did have an attic fan, it was necessary to have the windows open to keep from sweltering through the night. It may sound gauche to some people; but we didn’t bother sleeping with a bedspread or blanket. It was just too hot. We merely slept on a fitted sheet and the matching cover sheet. I remember the cool feeling when I would move my feet over to the side of the bed that I wasn’t sleeping on. It was a wonderful feeling. The windows in that house were designed so that they were high up the wall instead of typical windows. It was a popular design feature in houses in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My favorite part about those nights was after all the lights were out, everybody was in bed, and the house was quiet. I could hear the crickets and tree frogs singing in the strip of woods to the right of our house and the sounds of a freight train in the distance with the clickity-clack it made while making its way down the line. Perhaps the best sound was when an occasional car would drive down our street. I will forever remember the crackling of the gravel as the car would drive down the street.

            In the fall of 1964, my best friend’s family moved into the house catercorner from our house. We became the neighborhood Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. We explored the woods, played “army” and cowboys and Indians, gave sock puppet shows to whoever was unlucky enough to be suckered into watching, and played sandlot baseball with the other neighborhood kids.

            In June of 1965, a major change came to our neighborhood. The city started to pave the streets. Eddie and I would sit in my front yard and watch the big earth movers, backhoes, dump tracks, and assorted road construction vehicles as the workmen went about transforming our street from gravel to concrete. There was a vacant lot next to Eddie’s house and the workers had piled several huge mounds of dirt to be used for the roadbed on that lot. It became irresistible for us to ignore those mounds of dirt after the workers were gone. It made our make-believe games all that more real. I have no doubt our mothers wondered how we could get ourselves and our clothes so dirty.

            I had no idea at the time how much I was going to miss the sound of that gravel road once it was paved. But miss it I did. Even now, 55 years later, if I see a gravel road (not dirt, mind you) I have to roll down my window and drive down that road just to hear that nostalgic sound. It’s like taking a trip back in time to hear the crackling of the gravel under the tires. There was still the sound of the distant trains and the nighttime insects, but the sound of the gravel was gone from my nights. Its interesting how the memory of something so seemingly innocuous can become a major part of our lives decades later. But maybe its just me that something such as this carries such wonderful memories. I can still remember the feeling of being 9-years-old and laying in that bed with those sounds from outside as well as the attic fan in the hall ceiling lulling me to sleep. I dreamed of days to come and looked forward to making the journey into the future. Yet, all of these years later it is those simple nights and a simpler life that I think about while trying to get to sleep at night. A Bible verse comes to mind as I think about all of this. Luke 2:19 – “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I guess I ponder these things and treasure them. I’m not living in the past at all. I’m just thankful to God for giving me a life that has been filled with wonderful moments that I can treasure as I continue to move forward into the future.

The Haunted Elevator

            We were expecting our second child, my daughter Hayley, and things were tight financially speaking. Our son was about 7 months old at the time. The job that I had went away with the downturn of the construction industry in Houston during the mid-80’s. It was a good job with excellent pay and a fair amount of esteem attached. But the company was family owned and the first employees to be let go were non-family members. This included me. So, I took what I thought would be a temporary job just to pay the bills. I ended up working there for nearly 3 years. It wasn’t in the trade that I was trained in and lacked any esteem at all. But I had to have something coming in and given the situation I took what I could get. I began working for a delivery service. The pay turned out to be dismal given I was a “contract” employee and all of the expenses were on me. All that said, I found myself making deliveries in my pick-up truck all over the greater Houston area. A good day was a day where I didn’t have to go downtown. The parking and hassles associated with going to the skyscrapers were nerve-wracking. The pay was also considerably less because there was no mileage charges for delivering from one building to another in downtown. I got to where I hoped for a run with three or four delivery points that would have mileage between them. The truly terrible deliveries were the ones where I had to park underground at a high rise and take a freight elevator up several floors with large boxes on a two-wheel dolly. It was on one of those deliveries that I thought I was going to be on the evening news that night.

            The building had about 40 floors and the load of boxes I had to deliver was going to the 35th floor. First, I had to circle through the underground sub-level and back onto the street several times before I could find a parking space available at the loading dock. This was very irritating. I finally found a space and parked. Second, I had to unload the boxes onto the dolly and make my way to the loading dock office to be checked-in and cleared to deliver. It was not as security conscience as it is these days, but it was still a time-consuming process. Finally, I wheeled the boxes into a freight elevator and selected the 35th floor. The trip up was no problem. It was just a typical trip to the chosen floor where I wheeled the loaded dolly to the customer’s suite and got a signature. Like I said, no problem so far.

            I wheeled the empty dolly back to the freight elevator bay and pressed the button for the sub-level loading dock. After a short wait, a bell rang signifying an elevator was about to be free and available. The elevator door opened, and I wheeled the dolly into the elevator and pushed the button for the loading dock. The doors closed as usual and then the elevator just sat there. After a minute or so I pushed the button again and the elevator still wouldn’t budge. So, I figured that I would get off that elevator and take another one down. Something was amiss. I pushed the button to open the door and nothing happened. I’m not exactly at ease in closed spaces and especially while in a box that is dangling 35 floors off the ground. That’s roughly 500 feet up in the air!

            After another minute or so the elevator started to move, but it didn’t feel like it was moving at the typical speed. I looked at the floor counter and the elevator seemed to be crawling down. And then it wasn’t crawling. It was freefalling and there was a loud grinding-squealing sound. Well, I was being shaken and definitely stirred. At about the 20th floor the elevator suddenly stopped. Then it fell another two floors or so. I kid you not when I say that I was praying earnestly at this point. The floor counter said I was at the 18th floor. I pushed the “open door” button and the door opened with only about a 2-foot opening. The elevator was also not level with the foyer floor. It was about 3 feet below. I called out and nobody was there. I tried the emergency phone in the elevator and no answer. The way I saw it, I could either exit the elevator by climbing out or I could close the doors and hope the elevator would get me down safely. I looked at the opening and the 3-foot difference and steeled myself for an escape. The first thing that I did was lift the dolly up and out of the elevator into the foyer. I pushed it away from the opening giving myself plenty of room to get out. Now, 3 feet may not seem like much, but it seemed like 10 feet to me at the time. I put my hands on the threshold between the elevator and the foyer floor, bent my knees slightly, and hoisted myself up and literally dove through that opening. I stood up and looked back at the elevator door and that’s when the elevator jerked and dropped about 5 feet with the door still open. I was already sweating from the ordeal, but it became a cold sweat when I realized what would have happened to me if I had been in that opening when the elevator fell those five feet.

            I immediately sat down and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I also thanked God for my safe exit. Well, I wasn’t about to go down one of those freight elevators now. Despite the rules in place prohibiting deliveries via the tenant elevators, I wheel that dolly to one of them and with a couple of timid steps got on one and chose the ground floor. There were a couple of people onboard and I figured if the worst happened, then I wouldn’t die alone!

            For a few weeks I refused any deliveries to high rise buildings if it meant taking an elevator. I eventually pretty much got over that phobia, but even 35 years later I don’t like riding in an elevator. However, as the old saying about a dark cloud having a silver lining goes, something good did come out of that experience. I wrote one of the best short-stories that I have ever written (maybe I’ll post it a chapter at a time someday) about a haunted elevator named Grover. But Grover was a good ghost and, well, you’ll just have to wait for the story. Try to find something good in everything when you can. Especially people.

The Blue Hydrangea

            As the story goes, my great-grandmother would go and visit her two daughters from time to time. She was a widow of five years when she made one of these visits. My grandmother and grandfather drove her over to one of her daughter’s homes about 75 miles away. This was likely quite an interesting drive given the three of them were scrunched together in the cab of my grandparent’s 1958 Chevrolet pick-up truck. It had no air conditioning other than what my grandfather referred to as his “240” AC. That would be two windows down at 40 mph. I have no doubt that there was much complaining by the ladies as they would have been concerned with their hair and their hats.

            While they were all visiting for the day, drinking mint julips, and nibbling on homemade sugar cookies, my great-grandmother was enthralled with the decorations and amenities of her daughter’s home. I remember hearing about the louvered windows with exterior awnings painted to compliment the color of the house and the fine china that my great-aunt had. She even had a custom-made china cabinet. So far as my great-grandmother was concerned, her daughter had done well when she married my great-uncle Joe. Her other daughter paled in comparison given she lived to fish at every opportunity and her husband was a failure in my great-grandma’s eyes. But they lived in an old house near a large creek that supplied hours of fishing enjoyment for my great-aunt Ruby.

            At one point in the visit they all went outside so that my great-aunt Omi could show her visitors her great variety of blooming bushes and well-manicured trees. One of these in particular caught my great-grandmother’s eye immediately. She had never seen a blue-hydrangea bush. The ones that she had seen and had at her own home were red and sometimes a pinkish color. Well, Great-grandma was amazed at the blue hydrangea. My grandfather asked if he could make a cutting from the bush and said that he would be glad to take it back and plant it in Great-grandma’s flowerbed. Omi was more than happy to allow this. So, before they left to go back home, Grandpa made a cutting. I am decidedly not a horticulturist and I have no idea how he managed to do this so that the cutting would survive until he could plant it the next morning, but Grandpa knew how and that’s what mattered. They said their goodbyes for the day and made their trip back home.

            The next morning my grandfather transplanted the cutting into Great-grandma’s flowerbed. My great-grandmother’s home did not have a well that produced water sufficiently and they relied on a cistern to catch rainwater in order to have water to bathe, boil for cooking, and to water her flowerbed. The well water was used for drinking water but having experienced the delightfully strong sulfur odor that accompanied the water, I rarely was thirsty enough to drink that water. Every morning my Great-grandmother would fill a bucket with water from the cistern and water the cutting. She knew that it would be another year before she saw those wonderful blue blooms, but it didn’t stop her from caring for the plant. By early fall the plant had taken root and was growing strong enough to no longer need watering other than the rainwater that was naturally delivered in abundance that fall. When the first freeze came along, she wrapped that bush in a wool blanket. She wasn’t taking any chances that it would freeze to death. I was told that she had to do that several times in the winter of 1959.

            April was about to turn into May and my great-grandmother checked her blue hydrangea bush every day. By mid-May buds started to appear and she was excited knowing she would soon have the only blue hydrangea bush in her little farming community. Then one day in late May she went outside to check the bush and there it was. A bloom. A nice red bloom. She thought at first that maybe the blooms started out red and then as they fully opened became blue. But that wasn’t the case. Before long she had a beautiful hydrangea that was full of red blooms. Not a blue bloom in sight. How could this be?

            Well, at first, she queried my grandfather as to if he might have taken the cutting from the wrong bush. But he assured her that was not the case. Despite the beautiful young hydrangea bush with bright red blooms garnering praise from friends who stopped by, Great-grandma was most definitely disappointed. Well, my grandfather being in possession of not one, but two green thumbs, decided to research the issue. He had grown all kinds of crops through the years and knew something about soil and how it could make a big difference in what or if something would grow in it. He learned this through trial and error mostly. He had a patch for growing peanuts, a pasture best for corn, a very special acre that produced a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and his knowledge of plants was great. He used to walk with me down the country road and point out plants and trees and explain their uses. There was a tree (I wish I had paid better attention) that he said that if you had a tooth ache, then you should shave off a slice of the bark, clean it of the hard part and then roll it into a small ball. You then put that ball in your mouth next to the tooth that was hurting and before long it wasn’t hurting. He showed me a bodark tree once and said that while the wood was extremely hard to cut, it was the best tree for making fence posts. Some of the bodark fence posts that he cut 70 or 80 years ago are still on the farm and still in use. He also said that despite the fruit of these trees not being edible per se’, you could dig out the seeds and eat them in a pinch. We always called the fruit of a bodark “horse-apples” because of their size.

            So, Grandpa went to the big library in Huntsville to do some research on the hydrangea situation. It didn’t take him long to know what the problem was. The higher the PH level in the soil (higher alkaline content) the blooms will be pink or red. The lower the PH level (a higher acidic level containing a stronger concentration of aluminum with a PH of under 6) the blooms turn purple and then blue. Well, Grandpa knew how he could fix this little issue. He went to the feed and garden supply store and purchased a bag of aluminum sulphate. He then dug up the plant and added this into the mix. From what I was told, the bush never wilted or had a problem with this operation. Within a few weeks the blooms started to turn violet, but the bush only blooms for so long in a year and Great-grandma would have to wait another year to see if she would have blue hydrangea blooms.

            Time passed and life continued onward. Finally, in late May of 1960 the much larger than it had been a year before bush, started to bloom. My great-grandmother was brought to tears when she saw the first blue blooms. Before long she had the bush heard round the world! Well, round the community at least. People came from 5 or 10 miles away just to drive by and see the blue hydrangea bush. Great-grandma would proudly stand next to the bush if someone wanted a picture of the blue blooms. Grandpa, always a subdued and quiet man, was just pleased that his mother was happy.

            As I think back on that story, I think of how simple things were then. That story could have been a script from an episode of The Waltons. Great-grandma’s health was failing though. After all, in 1960 she was already 82. Starting in 1964 she had to move into a “nursing home”. She would pass away in December of 1966. Sadly, so much was going on at the time that nobody thought to cover the bushes when a “blue-northern” blew through on Christmas of that year with a hard freeze. Great-grandma died on December 28, 1966 and her blue hydrangea bush went with her.

            It’s not uncommon to see blue hydrangeas these days. People have learned how to cultivate them and prepare the soil to ensure the blooms are of the desired color. And, every time that I see a hydrangea bush with blue or purple blooms I think of my great-grandmother and I can see her in my mind’s eye wearing a big shady hat and her moo-moo from Hawaii that had been a gift from Aunt Omi standing outside beside that hydrangea. I may have only been 11-years-old when she died, but I have fond memories of spending time with her. Isn’t it interesting how you get to missing someone that you haven’t seen in more than 50 years?

My Final Commision?

            I know some people who believe that you should never look back on your life and that you should only look forward. While that sounds like a positive thing, the truth is that if you’re lucky you’ll get to an age where the majority of your life has been lived. I’m 65-years-old (well, I will be in 5 days). We’re not promised another day and we should be prepared for life to end. That’s not being negative. It’s just realistic. My grandfather died when he was 67. So, when he turned 65, he had lived 97% of his life. He didn’t know that at the time, but it is nonetheless true. I know that he had to look forward to some things at 65, but he was also a realist. He knew he had a heart condition and that he likely didn’t have much life left.

            So here I am at 65. I am certainly looking forward to what time that I have left in life. I am looking forward to a new chapter in which I will get to spend a great deal of time with 4 of my grandchildren. I still have things that I would like to accomplish including writing a second book, photography jaunts, and musical endeavors. I’m also a realist in that I understand that I may not get to complete all of the things that I want to complete. That’s life. The thing is that in quiet moments when I’m alone and just “thinking” I often think back on my life. The things that I accomplished. The things that were joys and the things that were sorrows. The people that I loved who have gone ahead of me to be with God. The places that no longer exist except very vividly in my memories. The places that still exist but have changed incredibly. The friends that I have known for decades and the friends that I have only known for a short time. Perhaps what I reflect upon the most is the way things were at a given point in my life. From my earliest memories as a young child to memories from the recent past.

            I have been blessed to have experienced some of my early life before things got nuts. Here we are in 2020. In the music business of old if a record failed to chart or sell, then it was considered a flop. Well, 2020 has been a flop. I try really hard to be positive and mostly I am, but for crying out loud 2020 has been a complete mess. It’s hard to understand a lot of what has been going on. I don’t care what age you are, if you have any decency at all, then you can’t understand what has been going on either.

            I could go on and on about all the bad stuff we’ve seen come to pass, but I won’t. What I want to do is point out that a person needs to cling to God and to his family during this unstable time in America. We also need to stand up against tyranny, propaganda, violence in the street, and the attack on what was once the American way of life. I will soon be living next to my grandchildren and my daughter. I want to be the influence on their lives that God would ask me to be. I want to show them the values that God would want them to have. In short, I believe that my main focus and goal for the remainder of my life is to be a positive influence on those precious children and to demonstrate to them the correct alternative for life versus the bombardment that they receive from ungodly and sinful entities on all sides. I ask for your prayers in this new chapter and if you’re my age and have grandchildren, then I’ll pray the same for you.

Take A Sad Song

            7th grade began for me on September 3, 1968. I turned 13-years-old six days later. I was initially excited about the new school year because I would no longer be in the lowest class in junior high. However, the year turned bad quickly and it was a year that I prefer not to think about. But I can’t help myself. The reasons for this are tied to the things that saved the year from being a total loss. For this blog entry, I am going to focus on those good points and leave the bad stuff for another time.

            To begin with, being 13 is hard on everyone. It doesn’t matter what era you were in when it happened. It’s at the very least an awkward year. You’re still a child and sometimes it’s hard to leave behind the pleasures of our childhood, but then you’re also going through puberty to some degree even it started before your 13th birthday or not until later. The changes were being felt. Boys tend to be all elbows and knees about the time they are in their 13th year. I can’t speak for girls, but I am sure that there is some of that for them as well. The truth is girls start being of much more interest to guys during that year. They certainly were for me. What were the things that allowed me to have something fond to look back on for that year? Let me tell you about them.

            First, there was baseball. MLB wasn’t like it is today. The game was still mostly pure in those days. The big story that year was the Detroit Tigers. They had a heck of a team. The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t exactly slouches. These two teams met in the World Series about a month after 7th grade began. It was a great series. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals out-dueled Denny McClain twice in the series. It looked like the Cards would win it there for a while. But the Tigers also had Mickey Lolich pitching and he won 3 games out of the 7. Denny McClain had been something of a phenom during the season by being the first pitcher to win 30 or more games in a single season in over 30 years. Not since the days of Dizzy Dean had we seen that kind of numbers. The Tigers ended up winning the series in 7 games. It was a terrific distraction from the other stuff going on around me. As it turned out, it was the last year for Mickey Mantle to play and the rookie season for Johnny Bench. It was also the first year that my hometown team, the Houston Astros, would come in last place.

            Second and probably the most influential thing in my life at the time, was the music. It was an incredible year for music. And it wasn’t just one genre that was firing on all cylinders. It was truly a classic year in most genres. 7th grade started the day before “Hey Jude” ascended to #1 on the Billboard Chart where it would stay for 9 weeks. The months of my 7th grade, September 1968 - May1969 had an incredible number of classic recordings. And I bought as many 45 rpm records of those hits as I could afford. It was the year we first heard of Creedence Clearwater Revival via their hits, “Suzie Q”, “Proud Mary”, and “Bad Moon Rising”. Besides “Hey Jude”, the Beatles also gave us “Get Back”. Tommy James and The Shondells gave us “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, and “Sweet Cherry Wine”. Glen Campbell crossed-over with both country and pop hits, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”. Donovan gave us “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Atlantis” while Elvis Presley gave us his comeback record, “In The Ghetto”. There were country classics such as “A Boy Named Sue”, “Stand By Your Man”, and “Harper Valley PTA”. I think that I bought all of those records and then some. It was a time when musicians and actors, for the most part, kept their political beliefs and leanings to themselves. This allowed us to like their work without it being colored by their beliefs. Oh, there were a few who spoke out, but for the most part it was all about the music. Whenever some of that negative stuff that was happening around me during that year started to get me down, I just put on one of those records and things were suddenly better. I danced to the records in my room and lip synched to them with a comb. I also started to play the guitar. I was lousy at first, but in my mind, I wanted to be like one of those artists that I listened to.

            Finally, reading became a great escape from the “stuff” that got me down. I started reading books like “Ivanhoe”, “Robinson Crusoe”, and a series of books sponsored by Alfred Hitchcock that were mysteries written for guys my age then. They were known as “The Three Investigators”. It was about three friends who begin to solve mysteries as a team. The boys were all about 13 or 14 years-old. I also started to pay closer attention to the lyrics of some of those songs. In particular, “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel was very influential to me.

            Life that year was difficult. I can’t put it any other way. There were some physical ailments that I suffered, a bully, the awkwardness of puberty, and the loss of a friend that I had to contend with. School was a horror for me due to the above-mentioned things and because I was struggling that year in two of the subjects, math and French. I got my first ever F that year. But all of those things, as bad as they seemed at the time, were overcome with one of the positive things that I have mentioned. I think about my granddaughter who will turn 13 in January. She’s in 7th grade right now. She no doubt is facing some of those personal issues that all of us do at that age, but she’s also facing the effects of Covid-19 and a nation in serious decline and unrest. Just the Covid-19 thing has been hard on her. She is homeschooling which means her friendships are now via a computer. She, like all of us, is having to wear a mask when going somewhere. At an age when your appearance is so important to you it must be difficult to have to wear a silly looking mask. But then she also has the worry of catching this thing and that must be a heavy thing for a 12-year-old to bear. She loves her younger siblings and it shows, but I can only imagine (given I was the youngest kid in my family) what it must be like to be the oldest of 4 with one of them being only 5 months old and another 2 years old. She is a great aid to her mother with this regard, but she’s still just a child herself. To her credit, I have never heard her complain. She loves her little siblings and it shows.

            Here’s the point. We all go through times in our lives when things aren’t the best. There will always be things that get us down or make life more difficult. But if we focus on some of the things that make us happy, then it will make those bad things not seem as bad. That’s what I did 52 years ago and have been doing ever since. Yes, even now. As crazy as this world seems to be getting, as difficult as the physical ailments that any 65-year-old goes through, the joys in my life are those grandkids, my daughter and her husband, my sister and brother-in-law, and the handful of friends that I stay close to. Oh, and there’s still that music. I can still listen to those songs and feel good. What was it Paul McCartney said in “Hey Jude”? “Take a sad song and make it better.” We can learn from those simple words.

It's Never Too Late To Dream

             My grandmother used to tell us about her walking to the one-room schoolhouse in the rural community where she grew up. The same area where I have lived for the past 11 years and have been coming to since I was two months old. The name of the community was known as Prairie Point and the school was simply named The Prairie Point School. My mother also attended that school through the 8th grade. Grandma would talk about the path that she had to walk daily from late September until early May. There were no actual roads at that time. This would have been during the years of 1908-1918. They only had 10 grades at that time. She would tell me about the land that she crossed through, who owned it, and what the trail was like. It was fascinating to me to hear of her experiences that were merely everyday life. She always referred to such routes as “lanes”. They were used by local farmers for going to church, town, and visiting neighbors. A great deal of the land that Grandma and Grandpa ended up owning as their farm was land that this particular lane cut through.

            By the time I came along, the lanes were replaced by county roads and most of the lanes were no longer used by locals as they were now on private property and the county roads were far better to travel. Sometimes we’d be going to their big garden or to part of the farm and she would point at an area and tell me it was part of the old lane. You could see that it was once traveled by the way the trees had been trimmed or cleared.

            It had always been a goal of mine to hike through the wooded areas that had once been that lane. But life gets busy when you get married and have children and a job. When I moved out here in 2009, I made it a goal to finally follow that old lane as far as possible. So, one day in the fall of 2009 I loaded up my side-by-side with some snacks and iced down water and determined to drive as far on the lane as possible and then walk as far as possible. The starting point was where a current county road that became the last leg of the lane. I knew from days of my childhood that I wouldn’t get far that way due to a large and deep creek. So, I drove into the pasture (now owned by a cousin and dear friend) up to the tree line and then walked up to that creek. It was actually a retracing of steps that I had taken many times when I was a kid. There really wasn’t much to see at that point. I got back in my vehicle and drove a long way around through the old farm up to where the lane went through and joined my cousin’s property. I remembered walking that way as a child and there was obviously what appeared to be a naturally cleared pathway that had in reality been groomed a hundred years before as the lane.

            I crossed the big pasture and then went by foot through a section of the lane that was mostly grown over with bushes and trees. However, you could still see the remnants of that old lane in places. Once again, I got on my vehicle and drove out of the farm property and followed another county road that we called “The Tree Army” road. So named due to it being cleared and made by a CCC unit in the 1930’s. In reality, they cut through the existing old lane, cleared it for automobile traffic, brought in rocks and dirt to fill in low spots, and graded it into the shape that a county road needed to be. As I drove down that road, a road that I have driven countless times and still do at least once or twice a week, I started to picture in my mind my grandmother walking to school down that now improved lane. Her walk to school was about 3 miles. It’s no wonder people were in better shape back then! I could see in my mind’s eye my grandmother dressed in the homemade dresses that my great-grandmother would have made for her with a matching bow in her hair. She’d be carrying a few books tied together with a leather strap. I wondered if she ever kicked rocks along her way to see how far she could kick them or if that was simply a boy’s thing to do. I imagined that she stopped along the way to get a drink of water from an old tin dipper at a neighbor’s well.

            Remember I mentioned that first county road that had once been the last section of the lane? Starting in 1912 she would have daily walked past my great-grandparent’s house and most likely was joined in her walk by a boy named Tom who lived in that house with his parents. He was three years older than her. They would end up getting married in 1921. It was his parent’s land that a part of that lane passed through. Can you imagine how my grandparents in 1963 had fond thoughts and memories of those days 50 years in the past? That house built in 1912 by my grandparents is now restored and owned by my cousin. What a treasure it has become and to have survived over 100 years!

            There must be countless stories similar to this one. Time changes and things evolve along the way. I remember the neighborhood that I grew up in and the way that it was in the 60’s and 70’s. There are some things that still look the same, but a whole lot of change has happened there over the years. The house we lived in was about $8,000 new when it was built in the late 50’s. My parents did some additions along the way and sold it in 1979 for about $50,000. A friend recently sent me some pictures of the house and a computer link to see it as it was for sale. That house was given the full “Fixer-Upper” treatment. The inside had no resemblance to the house I lived in, but the outside still had the look despite added landscaping, new sidewalk, and an added shop building on one side. The asking price? $330,000! Most of the stores that were two blocks away are now gone. Some of the buildings are still there with new proprietors, but where there once was a busy shopping strip center with a K-mart is now expensive condos. Those differences are much the same as the grown over foliage in that school lane.

            I challenge you all to write down the places where you grew up and spent so much of your young life traveling by foot or bicycle. Tell the coming generations about how something was that no longer appears to exist, but if they look closely enough, they’ll see the remnants of a life now faded into the past. History itself is important. I think that the history of each of our lives is also important. You should read a book about the 400,000 American pioneers who braved the Oregon Trail. Read about their lives on that journey. Their hardships, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrows, and their joys will come to life. Did you know there are still deep wagon ruts in places of that trail? Look it up online and you’ll see the deep ruts as they appear today in Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. They are remnants of not only a major historical period of time in American history (1830-1860), but the lives of individuals who had a dream and set out to see it come true. It’s never too late to have a dream and to set out to achieve it. There’s an old cemetery a few miles north of Huntsville, Texas. It’s down a pretty rough dirt road, but it’s worth the trip. Inside that cemetery is a small fenced off area of one man’s grave. When you look at the dates on his headstone you may do a double-take. He was born in 1750 and died in 1850. He managed to live a century in a time when most people were lucky to see 50. But that’s not the really cool thing about this man. He was from Missouri and had a farm there. He had several sons and at the age of 97 he got a dream. He wanted to move to Texas. Imagine this 97-year-old man sitting on the hard wood seat on a covered wagon next to one of his sons and making a journey with all of his earthly possessions from Missouri to Texas. He managed to do just that and to live another two years as a Texan. He became a Texan only 3 years after Texas became a state. Hey, if you’re going to dream, then dream big and then roll up your sleeves, hitch up your drawers, and go for it.

It's Never Too Late To Dream

             My grandmother used to tell us about her walking to the one-room schoolhouse in the rural community where she grew up. The same area where I have lived for the past 11 years and have been coming to since I was two months old. The name of the community was known as Prairie Point and the school was simply named The Prairie Point School. My mother also attended that school through the 8th grade. Grandma would talk about the path that she had to walk daily from late September until early May. There were no actual roads at that time. This would have been during the years of 1908-1918. They only had 10 grades at that time. She would tell me about the land that she crossed through, who owned it, and what the trail was like. It was fascinating to me to hear of her experiences that were merely everyday life. She always referred to such routes as “lanes”. They were used by local farmers for going to church, town, and visiting neighbors. A great deal of the land that Grandma and Grandpa ended up owning as their farm was land that this particular lane cut through.

            By the time I came along, the lanes were replaced by county roads and most of the lanes were no longer used by locals as they were now on private property and the county roads were far better to travel. Sometimes we’d be going to their big garden or to part of the farm and she would point at an area and tell me it was part of the old lane. You could see that it was once traveled by the way the trees had been trimmed or cleared.

            It had always been a goal of mine to hike through the wooded areas that had once been that lane. But life gets busy when you get married and have children and a job. When I moved out here in 2009, I made it a goal to finally follow that old lane as far as possible. So, one day in the fall of 2009 I loaded up my side-by-side with some snacks and iced down water and determined to drive as far on the lane as possible and then walk as far as possible. The starting point was where a current county road that became the last leg of the lane. I knew from days of my childhood that I wouldn’t get far that way due to a large and deep creek. So, I drove into the pasture (now owned by a cousin and dear friend) up to the tree line and then walked up to that creek. It was actually a retracing of steps that I had taken many times when I was a kid. There really wasn’t much to see at that point. I got back in my vehicle and drove a long way around through the old farm up to where the lane went through and joined my cousin’s property. I remembered walking that way as a child and there was obviously what appeared to be a naturally cleared pathway that had in reality been groomed a hundred years before as the lane.

            I crossed the big pasture and then went by foot through a section of the lane that was mostly grown over with bushes and trees. However, you could still see the remnants of that old lane in places. Once again, I got on my vehicle and drove out of the farm property and followed another county road that we called “The Tree Army” road. So named due to it being cleared and made by a CCC unit in the 1930’s. In reality, they cut through the existing old lane, cleared it for automobile traffic, brought in rocks and dirt to fill in low spots, and graded it into the shape that a county road needed to be. As I drove down that road, a road that I have driven countless times and still do at least once or twice a week, I started to picture in my mind my grandmother walking to school down that now improved lane. Her walk to school was about 3 miles. It’s no wonder people were in better shape back then! I could see in my mind’s eye my grandmother dressed in the homemade dresses that my great-grandmother would have made for her with a matching bow in her hair. She’d be carrying a few books tied together with a leather strap. I wondered if she ever kicked rocks along her way to see how far she could kick them or if that was simply a boy’s thing to do. I imagined that she stopped along the way to get a drink of water from an old tin dipper at a neighbor’s well.

            Remember I mentioned that first county road that had once been the last section of the lane? Starting in 1912 she would have daily walked past my great-grandparent’s house and most likely was joined in her walk by a boy named Tom who lived in that house with his parents. He was three years older than her. They would end up getting married in 1921. It was his parent’s land that a part of that lane passed through. Can you imagine how my grandparents in 1963 had fond thoughts and memories of those days 50 years in the past? That house built in 1912 by my grandparents is now restored and owned by my cousin. What a treasure it has become and to have survived over 100 years!

            There must be countless stories similar to this one. Time changes and things evolve along the way. I remember the neighborhood that I grew up in and the way that it was in the 60’s and 70’s. There are some things that still look the same, but a whole lot of change has happened there over the years. The house we lived in was about $8,000 new when it was built in the late 50’s. My parents did some additions along the way and sold it in 1979 for about $50,000. A friend recently sent me some pictures of the house and a computer link to see it as it was for sale. That house was given the full “Fixer-Upper” treatment. The inside had no resemblance to the house I lived in, but the outside still had the look despite added landscaping, new sidewalk, and an added shop building on one side. The asking price? $330,000! Most of the stores that were two blocks away are now gone. Some of the buildings are still there with new proprietors, but where there once was a busy shopping strip center with a K-mart is now expensive condos. Those differences are much the same as the grown over foliage in that school lane.

            I challenge you all to write down the places where you grew up and spent so much of your young life traveling by foot or bicycle. Tell the coming generations about how something was that no longer appears to exist, but if they look closely enough, they’ll see the remnants of a life now faded into the past. History itself is important. I think that the history of each of our lives is also important. You should read a book about the 400,000 American pioneers who braved the Oregon Trail. Read about their lives on that journey. Their hardships, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrows, and their joys will come to life. Did you know there are still deep wagon ruts in places of that trail? Look it up online and you’ll see the deep ruts as they appear today in Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. They are remnants of not only a major historical period of time in American history (1830-1860), but the lives of individuals who had a dream and set out to see it come true. It’s never too late to have a dream and to set out to achieve it. There’s an old cemetery a few miles north of Huntsville, Texas. It’s down a pretty rough dirt road, but it’s worth the trip. Inside that cemetery is a small fenced off area of one man’s grave. When you look at the dates on his headstone you may do a double-take. He was born in 1750 and died in 1850. He managed to live a century in a time when most people were lucky to see 50. But that’s not the really cool thing about this man. He was from Missouri and had a farm there. He had several sons and at the age of 97 he got a dream. He wanted to move to Texas. Imagine this 97-year-old man sitting on the hard wood seat on a covered wagon next to one of his sons and making a journey with all of his earthly possessions from Missouri to Texas. He managed to do just that and to live another two years as a Texan. He became a Texan only 3 years after Texas became a state. Hey, if you’re going to dream, then dream big and then roll up your sleeves, hitch up your drawers, and go for it.

Changes - Part 4 . . .

            It was August of 1967 and things had recently changed a great deal in our family. My grandfather had died suddenly from a heart attack on April 22. It’s amazing how the loss of one person can change the lives of so many. The first realization after the funeral was that there was just no way that my grandmother could live alone on the farm. As I have previously written in prior blog entries, I am going through that very same thing. Oddly enough, I am the same age that my grandmother was at that time.

            My two uncles, one of them my grandparent’s attorney, helped to liquidate the livestock, farming implements, and generally help my grandmother through that transition. They helped her to find a house in Trinity, Tx. She would be close to church, the grocery store, her doctor, and her bank to name a few. She would also be only 11 miles from the farm itself which would allow her to spend a day or two a week at the farm and make for a better transition. Not only could she keep the place clean and so forth, but she could visit her home of nearly 50 years and also be near to her mother’s homestead that Grandma had grown up on.

            So, there is was August and she was settled in her new house, the major liquidation had been affected, and she settled into what would be an all too short 18 months of living near her home. She could visit my grandfather’s grave easily as the cemetery was only 8 miles from her new home and on the way to the farmhouse. My sisters and I went to spend the week with her. It would be the last time that all three of us spent a week with her and also spend time together at the farm. One of my sisters and I did spend another week with her the next summer, but my oldest sister had graduated from high school and was working during the summer of 1968 and preparing to start college in the fall.

            It was decided that we would spend a couple of days at the farm and three days at her new house. Nothing was really mentioned, but the absence of my grandfather was strong. After all, it had only been 4 months. My sisters took the spare bedroom to the right of the living room and I stayed on the “sleeping porch” on the other side of the living room. So far as I was concerned, I got the better deal. There was still no AC in the house and that meant that the windows were all open (we had screens though) and we had fans to keep cool. Cool is a relative word in this case. August in Texas without AC is never “cool”. But I loved it. I liked the breeze through those windows, there were 9 of them, and the whirring of the oscillating fan on the bedside table. It was the kind of fan that they would never be able to sell today. The blades were metal, the screen on it had openings big enough to stick your fist through, and the plugs were not grounded. Thankfully, we had been raised with a brain and sticking our fingers into the fan just wasn’t going to happen. The motor on that fan could have powered a lot of cars today! There wasn’t one part on the thing made out of plastic.

            School was about to start and that was going to be another big change in my life. I was going to begin junior high school. I was partly thrilled and partly scared witless. One of my most unpleasant memories of starting junior high had to do with P.E. We had gotten a list from the school of supplies we would be required to have for when school started. One of those things was something called “a jock strap”. I mean to tell you that I was flat out flabbergasted when we went to K-mart and I saw that thing in its package. When we got home, I tried to figure out how the darned thing worked. It was beyond my ability. Well, true to form, my parents waited in the hall to see if I could figure it out. For crying in a bucket, couldn’t a guy get any privacy? After a few minutes, my father says from the other side of the bathroom door, “Do you need some help?”

            I begged him to go away and that didn’t do any good. We didn’t have a privacy lock on the bathroom door and dear old Dad just walks in, takes a look at my abject failure in figuring the thing out, and laughs his head off. To his credit, he used hand gestures to show me what I needed to do and then left the room. Well, I figured it out, but I don’t think I wore it more than half a dozen times over the next year.

            Back to the farm. I enjoyed those two days a great deal. The meals were just as good as always, the exploring of the property was just as fun, and the little things that Grandma did for us were just as endearing. But I missed my Grandpa. It wasn’t the same at the farm without him there. Two or three neighbors stopped by to say hello and you could feel the awkwardness that just seems to happen when someone dies. I think in their way, they were also saying how much they miss their friend. Grandpa had always been someone that helped his neighbors when it was needed. This endeared them to him all the more.

            The last day there we packed up our little suitcases and loaded them in the car. That was another change. Grandma had bought a car. As long as I had known my grandparents, they had always owned trucks. But a car was better suited for her usage and the trucks had been sold. I remember so well driving down the dirt road that I have come to know so well these past 11 years and looking in the pastures, now empty of cows, and thinking how much had changed that year. As we reached the top of a hill where the main entrance to the main pasture is, we met an old man driving towards us on his tractor. Grandma stopped as did the man and they visited for a few moments. He looked like the oldest man alive to me. I would later learn that he wasn’t nearly as old as he looked. It was just that he had spent a lifetime working in the sun on his farm. After we said goodbye and drove away, Grandma told us that the man was her cousin. She had known him all of her life. I remember thinking it just didn’t seem possible that you could know someone that many years. Yet, here I am the age my grandmother was then (almost to the day) and I have my sister and a couple of cousins that I have known all of my life. Not so strange after all. And as I write this, I am thinking about what changes my grandmother and her brother and cousins had experienced in their lives at my age. I also wonder if they thought about those changes. I’m betting that they did. I mean, who doesn’t?

Changes - Part 3

            This getting ready to move is like Eddie Haskell giving me the biz. I have lived here for a little over 11 years and it’s amazing the stuff that you can accumulate. I got the spare bedroom packed and ready to go. It took me a week and a half to do that one room. After packing several boxes with my books and DVD/Blu-ray collections, the desk that I’m not even going to keep, the file cabinet that I’m not going to keep, a secretary desk/chest of drawers that I’m not going to keep and it was full of my CD collection, I then groaned aloud when I opened the walk-in-closet door. But it’s done now. There’s about 50 boxes filled just from that room. I’ve also managed, with a little help from my brother-in-law, to get the kitchen packed with the exception of a skeleton crew of dishes and so forth that I will use until I move out. But there’s still the pantry. Another groan.

            I still have my studio room to pack and that closet in there is wall to wall stuff too. There’s my master (I’m still calling it that because doggone it I’m the master of this humble abode!) bedroom which won’t be too bad, the master bath (way too many cabinets), and let us not forget the shop out back. The garage is mostly done and that’s a blessing. The amazing part of all of this is that I haven’t lived here nearly as long as my parents had lived at their last house, yet it feels like I have as much stuff as they did. That was fun packing it all up, selling some, giving away some, and generally paring it down much as I am now doing for myself. My father was the King of Stuff. Seriously. He had about 7 bottles of Old Spice that were all opened and used to some extent. It’s amazing the things you learn about a loved one after they are gone, and you have to go through their stuff. Dad had a fetish for electric razors. He quite literally had 22 of them. I feel sure that a couple of them were old enough that Santa Clause used them to go snow sledding on in those old commercials. Another thing about Dad was the catalogs. Not great big catalogs like a Sears catalog, but those kinds that come in the mail and they’re about the size of a small magazine. You know, the type that your see, “As Seen On TV”? He had enough to fill a large garbage bag. And he bought things from them frequently. There were some things still in the package and never opened that were duplicated, triplicated, and even more. Why? Because he would forget where he put the first one and then order a second one. Then he would forget where both of them were and so on and so forth. There were the one-time used items that he couldn’t part with either. He bought a tabletop shuffleboard game. We played it once and it sat in a corner of his shop until it was rediscovered upon his passing. But Dad wasn’t really so strange. We all have our little idiosyncrasies. I’m sure that when I die my daughter will wonder what I was thinking with my collection of what-nots.

            There was a time in my life when moving was commonplace. From birth through my 11th year we lived in 8 different places. It wasn’t that we were vagabonds or anything like that. Most of the time there were very good and valid reasons for the move. The house that we lived in when I was born was a 2-bedroom VA wood frame house. Since I was the third kid and the only boy, it was decided a 3-bedroom home was needed. So, we moved to one of those. We didn’t stay there long though. Within a few months Mom became alarmed with the pollution that the Goodyear Tire plant was belching out along with the disgusting smell of a big paper company. The pollution quickly turned our light blue house into a dirty brown with patches of black. So, after only 9 months at that house, we moved to yet another home. It was by all appearances a nice place. It had great curb appeal. It had those large awnings over all the windows that remind you of a Hollywood bungalow, it had a front breezeway, three bedrooms, a nice sized kitchen and dining room, and a detached two car garage. What could make us want to move from there? We soon learned that the foundation was in bad shape. Awfully bad shape. It was going to cost a small fortune to repair it and the money just wasn’t there. So, we moved to our fourth house. It was a decent house with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and breakfast room, a dining room and living room, but only one bathroom and one car garage. We stayed there for 3 years though. A record at that time. Then Dad and Mom decided they didn’t want to raise their family in the big city. They wanted the peace of a smaller town, but one big enough to support my father’s business. The town turned out to be Bryan, Texas which also meant there was the sister city of College Station to help support Dad’s business. We first moved into a temporary house while my folks searched for a permanent home. That temporary house was old and lacked most of the amenities that lower middle-class families were accustomed to. It was small, creaked in a strong wind, had no AC of any kind, a tiny bathroom, and generally an old feeling to it. The permanent house (which wasn’t as permanent as we thought it would be) was the nicest house that we lived in during my growing up years. It was brick, three-bedroom, two bath, large dining and den, large living room, the laundry room was inside the house instead of being in the garage, and we added a large workshop for my Dad’s business. It was truly a nice house. But it lacked something that we needed just as bad as a nice house. Nice neighbors. They were extremely clannish, difficult to get along with (we were outsiders pure and simple), and in a couple of cases downright hostile. After 3 years there Mom and Dad decided that they made a mistake moving to Bryan and we moved back to Houston. This time on the northside instead of the southside. Again, we lived in a temporary house while the house that we were going to buy became available. The temp house wasn’t too bad itself other than it was located on a busy street. It did have two baths, but it was rather small. Finally, we moved into the 8th house. It would be the house that we lived in for the remainder of my years of living at home. I moved out to get married 3 days before I turned 21.

            Now, I’m sure all of that useless information has lulled some of you to sleep. But my point of telling it is to show that moving and all the changes that come with it are sometimes just part of life. I haven’t known too many people who lived in only one house from birth until leaving home. Even after leaving home the moves continued. There were the early marriage years of living in apartments and always wanting something better. I moved 9 times from the age of 21 to 27. There were another 5 moves from 30 to 37. Then we stayed in one place for 11 years. I’ve tied that record now. After the divorce in 2003 I moved 5 times including the house that I am about to move away from. If you’re counting, then that’s a total of 27 moves in my life of 65 years. That’s a lot of moving. But I bet a lot of people my age can claim similar totals. Moving and all of the changes that go with a move are simply a part of life. You have to learn to roll with punches or whatever metaphor you wish to use.

            So, now I’m rolling again. I’ll be living in a temporary situation while my “permanent” living quarters is ready. Some things don’t change after all. The funny thing is that as I look back at all those moves, for the most part I was excited about each move and the new path that I was about to embark upon. When we moved to Bryan, I was excited. When we moved back to Houston, I was even more excited. Moving out to get married was obviously exciting. Moving into our first house was exciting. Moving here on the farm was beyond exciting. And, I am extremely excited about the move to come. I’ll miss a lot about living out here, but there are things that I won’t miss. I won’t miss the upkeep. Mainly because of my physical limitations of the past 2 years and how they have made doing some of the things that I once enjoyed not so enjoyable now. I’ll miss the quiet and solitude and scenery, yet I can’t wait to be there to hear every noise made by my grandchildren (especially when they say, “Paw-Paw this or Paw-Paw that). No it won’t be as quiet and certainly won’t have the solitude of living in the sticks, but then there’s being close to my grandkids and my daughter and her husband, being closer to my doctors, closer to necessities, and when this Covid thing is over and done, I will enjoy a plethora of restaurants that I just don’t have up here on Green Acres.

            So, bring on the changes. I’ve had them before and if I live long enough there will be even more somewhere down the line. The fact is that one of the things that I have learned as I have grown older is that when it’s all said and done family is the most important thing we can have here on Earth. It’s not the cars, houses, guitars, and “stuff”. I’m going to be fortunate enough to have much more time with my family and what could be better than that? I mean, my daughter isn’t Mama June, my son-in-law isn’t Meathead, my grandkids weren’t cooked in the same oven as the Bundy kids, and if anything, they are truly blessings to this old man’s life. Every major league pitcher needs a good change-up. It looks like I’m going to have the best one of all.

By the sweat of your brow . . .

            My grandparents were married in July of 1921. My great-grandparents owned about 300 acres of land that they farmed with the aid of their son, my grandfather. As a wedding gift, they gave my grandparents 100 acres of their farm. My mother always said it was my great-grandmother’s way of keeping my grandfather nearby. The 100-acres included an old house built sometime in the 1880’s. For the first two months of their marriage, my grandfather remodeled that old house to make it livable. Over the next 10 years my grandfather did all that goes with farming, but a great deal of the land was heavily wooded. It had to be cleared and this meant that the clearing of it was by human and mule power.

            In that ten years they also had three children, including my mother who was born in September of 1929. To say that they were busy is a gross understatement! My grandmother used to talk about how hard my grandfather worked to clear that original 100 acres. She would take the laundry out to hang on the clothesline and see smoke in the distance and knew that Grandpa was burning brush and felled trees. He would use chains attached to leather halters on his two mules and wrapped around large logs to drag the them into piles for burning after cutting them down with an axe or saws.

            By 1935 he had managed to clear the land and was growing cotton, sugar cane, peanuts, potatoes, and various other crops. They also had a garden for growing vegetables for their own usage. They had come into a bit of money the year before when oil was discovered on my other great-grandmother’s land about 2 miles away, but not enough to make them rich. My maternal great-grandmother shared the oil money with her 6 children including my grandmother. It was enough to purchase a new car to go with the 1928 1-ton farm truck that they owned as well as the purchasing of what they called “The Wiggins Place”. It was another 160-acres where a family named Wiggins had farmed. Guess what? It needed clearing too! Grandpa cleared the land with mules at first but bought his first tractor in 1939. It was a 1939 Allis-Chalmers. The two aging mules were mighty pleased. My mother talked about picking cotton and digging for potatoes on this land in the late 30’s and during the war years of the 40’s. It was all hands-on deck one year when it was time to dig up the potatoes after a three-day storm dropped 8 inches of rain. Mom said that they crawled around in the mud and dug up the potatoes as quickly as possible in order to save them from rotting in the wet soil. Fortunately, it wasn’t cotton growing season. Mom remembered picking cotton and having backaches during those years. This work was done when she wasn’t in school. School was a welcome relief to most of the kids in the Pleasant Grove Community.

            By 1946 only my Uncle Tommy was left at home. He was 8 years younger than my mother. Grandpa made the switch to raising cattle as a main source of income in the late 40’s. This meant that he need more land for growing corn, hay, and pastures for the cows. In 1949 he purchased the last 100 acres of his 360-acre farm/ranch. Guess what? That new purchase was heavily wooded. It was owned by a family named Conley and only a few acres had been cleared to grow a garden. I have no idea what Mr. Conley did for a living. Grandpa enlisted some help for clearing the land this time though. He hired a couple of brothers to clear the land while Grandpa dug post holes and put up barbed wire fences as the land was cleared. If you’ve never done that, then you have no idea how much hard work that it takes. The land that I inherited and have lived on for the past 11 years was 45 acres of that 100-acre tract. I’ve previously mentioned that I am selling my land in another blog entry and why. Please see that entry. While the majority of my land is pastures today, there’s still 8-10 acres that are heavily wooded. Those acres are a thicket growing around tall pines and a mixture of hard woods.

So, why tell you all of this? I wanted to explain that things were different in the past 100 years. The land wasn’t free. Yes, my grandparents were given that first 100-acres by my great-grandparents, but it was by no means “free”. Grandpa paid for it by doing a lot of the work on my great-grandparent’s farm. He also drove them to wherever they needed to go because they neither one drove a car. In many ways, he was their caretaker. As for the other 260 acres, it was bought by my grandparents for the going rate per acre at the time. It was cleared and made ready for farming or ranching. The land was plowed, seeds planted, crops tended to, and then the crops were harvested when ready. If a corral was needed, then Grandpa built it. When the current house was built in 1933 my grandfather and his best friend harvested huge wooden beams and other useful components from the old house and then built the new house. In 1921 my grandfather dug a well 30 feet deep by hand and struck an underground spring that was tested by Texas A&M and certified 99.7% pure! The meals that were cooked by my grandmother were vegetables, chickens, hogs, and beef grown and raised by my grandfather. In other words, there was a time when people did for themselves. They actually lived out the scripture from Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food . .”. What they didn’t grow or couldn’t grow they bartered for or purchased with the bounty from their farm. These included dry goods, flower for baking, and items needed such as shoes.

            I must admit that I have not lived off of the land here. It’s been more like a park to me. I made a living doing a necessary job, but I purchased from stores the things that my grandparents once grew and supplied for themselves. The good news is that there are still farmers and ranchers who provide the food and goods that we need to live. The scary part is there are a couple of generations that have never worked and lived off the land. It’s becoming a lost art. Even most of my generation only witnessed that way of life by spending time with our grandparents on their farms and ranches. When you see teenagers involved in raising livestock or growing crops, then encourage them and support their efforts. I would hate to see America dependent on farmers and ranchers who are part of conglomerates from such places as China. It’s not just farmers and ranchers that this work ethic includes. It’s also the trades and industrial entities. When I was born America was the top steel producing country of the world. This production had allowed America and her Allies to defeat the evil Axis powers. America is #3 today. India and Japan (one of the Axis powers during WW2) are #1 and #2. China is #4, and Germany (another of the Axis Powers) rounds out the top 5. It was rare to see a foreign car in America up until the 70’s. As Marty McFly said in 1985, “What are talking about, Doc? Japan makes all the best stuff!” This “stuff” includes cars. The “Big Three” American automakers that ruled the industry for decades has had to discontinue several makes in the past 20 years or so. These were cars that had once ruled the roads in America and included makes such as Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Mercury, and Plymouth.

            I guess my theme in this entry is that America needs to become self-reliant again. We have incredible resources and despite the state of things in this era of Covid-19, I still believe that American workers can return to their once greatness. I’m not going to get all political on you, but I’ll say that we need to return to the values, work ethic, and mores that brought God’s blessings to America before we can return to that greatness. I’m getting too old to do the physical work that it takes, but there are generations still young enough who could. What I can do is impart a small bit of wisdom learned in 65 years of living onto those young enough to make this country great again. If they will only listen.

A Piece of Heaven

            I’ve been reflecting on the years that I have lived in the country. It was always a dream of mine to one day live on my grandparent’s farm. However, it didn’t seem like it was ever going to be possible. In 2007 my mother and her siblings finally divided the 360 acres that had been inherited from my grandmother after her death in 1989. I won’t go into how it came about, but the land was not divided equally. Well, sort of. My mother did receive 89.4 acres which technically was ¼ of the farm. There were four siblings, but one had sold his portion in 1990 to my aunt and uncle. So, they each got more land than my mother.

            In 2007 I moved from Houston to Huntsville in order to be closer to my parents and therefore be a help to them. I was fortunate enough to have a job that allowed for me to move out of Houston. The idea started to take hold again on living at the farm. I could cover the same territory from the farm as I did from Huntsville and since my “office” was wherever my home and car were located, there was no reason that I couldn’t move to the farm. Mom and Dad were excited about the prospect. They knew that I would be able to keep an eye on things and enjoy living on the farm. So, in early 2009 my mother gave me 6 acres to put a house on and homestead. I moved into my new house later that year and for the past 11+ years I have lived on the farm. I pass by the old farmhouse every day and I have explored the entire 360 acres relentlessly in my side-by-side. I have documented the land and remnants of the farm (house, barn, shacks, and old corrals) with my cameras.

            My father died in 2016 and my mother followed him in early 2018. By that time, I inherited half of her remaining land giving me a total of almost 45 acres. When my mother died, I was in good physical shape. No problems with my health other than the usual aches and pains of being in my 60’s. But something went wrong. Within a year I started to have some issues with balance and mobility. Now, 2 years and 6 months after my mother’s death, the nerve damage that was discovered has worsened with leaps and bounds. Pardon the pun. I no longer can hike on my own land. I no longer can do the many things that are necessary to maintain a small ranch. I can’t build fences or repair them when needed. The strength in my legs just won’t stand for it. So, what has been a difficult decision was to sell my land and house and move closer to my daughter, doctors, and places such as a decent grocery store. I will no longer have to drive 72 miles round trip to go buy groceries. I prayed about this decision and asked God to show me his will where this is concerned.

            In early July I contacted an old friend from high school who is a premier realtor in the Houston area. She referred me to a colleague in my area. Within two weeks the house was listed. On the 9th day after it was listed, I had an offer to buy the house and land. I don’t have the closing date yet, but it will likely be no later than the middle of September. A big change is coming my way.

            I sat on the front porch the other evening and watched as 7 deer grazed in the meadow in front of my house. The scenery once again gave me a sense of peace. The pastures, the trees, and the wildlife were soothing to my soul. But I also thought of the many things that over the next few years will need to be done. Things that I won’t be able to do. I considered the joy that will be mine when I get to see my grandchildren daily. I thought about the convenience of stores, a bank, and other necessary places that will be a welcome change to my life. Our lives are filled with changes. Sometimes they are so innocuous that we don’t realize that they have happened. And, sometimes they are momentous changes that are pivotal in our lives. This new change is one of the latter.

            I will miss this place. I will miss it a lot. But I’m ready for this change and I will embrace it as part of life and a change sanctioned by God. I’ll leave you with a little list. A list of the wildlife that I see or have seen while living here. Some of them are in the city too, but most are not. And even those that are seen in the city are not as abundant as they are here. Here goes!

  1. Squirrels – lots and lots of squirrels. Gray ones, brown ones, black ones, and I even saw an albino squirrel one day.

  2. Rabbits – lots and lots of rabbits. I’ve even made friends with a few along the way. They would come up to my back door and I would feed them lettuce and those little baby carrots.

  3. Birds – there are times Alfred Hitchcock could film a movie here when it comes to birds. And the variety! Gobs of cardinals, wrens, mud swallows, blue jays, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, bluebirds (they are so beautiful), Baltimore orioles, crows, pelicans, mallards, hawks of different types, vultures, and I even had a bald eagle build a nest in the top of a dead tree a few years ago. However, the tree was downed by a storm and the eagle went wherever he went. There are also seasonal birds such as Robin Red Breast. Sometimes these Robins are so thick that they carpet my yard. There are doves aplenty as well. And the majestic owls. Barn owls and screech owls are the most plentiful. To tell the truth, there are many other species of birds and too long to list here.

  4. Coyotes – spotted them many times but hear them many more times. There’s usually two packs involved. I have no idea if they are calling each other names or just passing the latest news along, but the sound is both lonesome and peaceful.

  5. Foxes – the gray foxes (I belong to this group!) are larger, but the red foxes are astonishingly beautiful animals.

  6. Armadillos – I do not like these critters and there are way too many of them. They dig holes and mess up the yard. They are one of only two animals that I will shoot on sight.

  7. Wild Hogs – this is the other animal that insights me to get my gun. They are extremely destructive to the pastures. They will literally dig holes 3 feet deep and 6 feet wide. I had to have a hog wire fence put up around my yard to keep them from continually digging up parts of the yard during the night.

  8. Bobcats – these cats are not exactly prone to let you see them, but on many occasions, I’ve caught them in my headlights on my way home after dark.

  9. Cougar – to tell the truth, I haven’t actually seen one here. However, I have seen the evidence of one and a few years ago my uncle hired some guys to repair fencing on his part of the land. One of the workers lost a few years when a full-grown cougar jumped up from behind a large log that the worker was heading for to sit and eat his lunch.

  10. Racoons – lots of these critters. You have to make sure and have a good tight lid on a garbage can. They will chew on anything.

  11. Beaver – there are two large creeks nearby that have beaver dams and occasionally you’ll get a glimpse of one. If you are patient and willing to stand quietly for a while, then you’ll hear the slap of their tails on the water.

  12. Deer – there are an abundance of deer. So much so that you have to keep a sharp eye out when driving down the county roads because they will run out in front of you and they are prone to lose their minds when they do! The biggest buck that I’ve seen up here was a 12-pointer. I love to watch the fawns trailing behind their momma’s in the pastures. On more than one occasion, I was out on the tractor mowing and a fawn suddenly jumped up and ran away. Their mothers sometimes hide them in tall grass while they are doing the laundry or something or other.

  13. I know that I’ve already mentioned birds, but there are quite a few road runners around here. They don’t fly, but besides their running, they also can jump pretty high.

  14. Snakes – yes, there are a few snakes around here. But in the 11 plus years that I have lived in my house, I have not seen a poisonous snake near the house. But you’ll see copperheads a lot on the roads, water moccasins in a creek or tank, and I once saw a timber rattler, but it was three miles from the house. I did see a coral snake once about a mile from my house. I sent it to live with another snake. A place much hotter than Texas! There are also plenty of snakes that pose no harm to humans. Chicken snakes, blue streaks, king snakes, and brown garden snakes.

  15. Besides the wildlife, there are also plenty of horses and cows that you can see and show your grandchildren. My closest neighbor has several of both.

      Well, I know that I am forgetting some of the animals, but the new owners will no doubt enjoy spotting the animals and watching them.

The Treasure Chest

            It was early September of 1963. I had just turned 8 years old and my older sister promised me something special for my birthday. Our family was living in an old wood frame house in Bryan, Texas awaiting my parents to find a permanent home after moving to Bryan in May of that year. The house was a modest home most likely built in the 1930’s. Behind the house was a strip of woods about 50 feet wide and it ran behind the houses all the way down the block. It was a great place to play. A neighbor friend and I would play “Combat” and pretend to be fighting the Germans in WW2.

            The day after my birthday my sister told me that my birthday surprise was ready. She had gone to great links to fill a small plastic treasure chest with pennies, nickels, and dimes. It was money that she had earned babysitting. Thinking back on it now, it was an incredibly sweet thing for her to do. She had hidden the treasure chest somewhere in that strip of woods behind our house and my job was to find it. I had a blast searching under bushes and in low hanging tree limbs. With each stop my excitement grew. Finally, after about 20 minutes of searching I found the treasure chest. Yo-ho-ho! I lifted the little clasp on the plastic chest and looked inside. I was speechless when I saw the pile of coins. To tell the truth, it probably wasn’t more than $2.

            Now I’m going to tell on myself. As glad as I was to get this sweet gift, I was disappointed to see that most of the coins were older coins rather than shiny new coins. Shiny new coins just seemed to be better to me at the time. But the old coins would spend just the same. That night before bedtime I sat on my bed and emptied the chest of its treasure and looked over my loot. There were several Indian head nickels from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Three or four Liberty Dimes several decades old, a couple of Indian head pennies from the 1910’s, several pennies from the 1930’s and 1940’s, a steel penny from 1943, and a couple of Barber Quarters from the 1910’s. And yes, there were a few new 1963 pennies, nickels, and dimes. Those dimes were still silver dimes in those days.

            I’d love to tell you that I saved all of those coins as keepsakes, but that’s just not what an 8-year-old does. No, I bought a balsa wood glider airplane, the newest issue of “The Flash” comic book, candy that probably helped create my first cavities, and one of those paddle balls. Over the years I’ve thought about that event in my life a lot. Now that I’m a month away from being 65 and 57 years older than I was then, I’d like to share a few insights about it with you.

            First, how unselfish was it that my sister, a mere 13-years-old, gave her mostly bothersome little brother a gift without being prompted by a parent? I must tell you that the older that I get the more I come to appreciate my two sisters. We lost Barbara 2 years ago and I miss talking to her, hearing her voice, listening to her thoughts, hearing her beautiful singing voice, and just spending time with her. My other sister Debbie is just as incredibly sweet and a pure joy to still have in my life. Debbie is the last person alive that shares many of the unique memories of places and events in our young lives.

            Second, those coins were merely a way to obtain a few momentary pleasures for an 8-year-old boy. But thinking back on it now and remembering those coins I realize that the old coins were so much more valuable than the new ones. Kind of like life in itself. We love the children, especially our grandchildren, because they are ours, they are shiny and new, they give love without thinking about it, and we live vicariously through them. But the old friends and family, as well as elderly strangers, have lived such rich lives. Those old coins passed through the hands of thousands of people, became worn, and the shine was lost. The elderly may not be computer savvy, able to walk faster than a turtle on valium, and remember what day it is, but they have experienced years of life that we haven’t yet. They have become worn and their wrinkles and gray hair are evidence of that, but each wrinkle and gray hair added to their wisdom and their worth. They have learned so much by meeting thousands of people from all walks of life.

            Now, you may be thinking that I’m an old guy trying to boost his standing in the eyes of the young. Wrong. Even though I’m nearly 65, I’m not “old”. I was in the grocery store today, all masked-up and making my way down the dairy aisle. Just ahead of me was a woman that is likely in her 80’s. Well, she made me feel young is what she did! She wanted a carton of milk from a shelf too high for her to reach. She was stooped over and obviously unable to reach it. I may not be the spry young man that I once was, but I happily got that carton of milk for her. My reward? The prettiest smile in the world. I lost Mom two months after Barbara in 2018. This lady could have been Mom. The doggone masks kept us from having a conversation.

            Thinking about it all now, the years gone by, the people now gone, the grandchildren who fill my life with love, I realize that I have a truly special treasure chest now. As great as that plastic chest filled with coins was in 1963, this new treasure chest is filled with love. It’s not made of plastic. It’s made of pure gold. And, I’m keeping the treasures inside the chest this time.

Barbara, Dr. Jekyll, and Mr. Hyde

            Barbara, my oldest sister, was born on December 8, 1949. She was not only my parent’s first child; she was my grandparent’s first grandchild. So, she got quite a bit of attention in her first couple of years. Then starting in 1952, my parent’s and my aunt and uncle got busy giving my grandparents 4 additional grandchildren. Back to Barbara. It was in the spring of 1952 a few months before she became the older sister of my sister, Debbie. Easter came and a very popular thing to do at the time was to give children little chicks. Oh, they were cute, soft, and downy, and seemingly sweet as can be. Well, Barbara was given a chick. She was enthralled with the little critter. She fell in love immediately. However, it wasn’t long before the little chick began to grow bigger. It was then decided that Barbara’s chick should go live on my grandparent’s farm where the little critter could be amongst his own kind. I do not know the name that had been given to this little fellow. I’m telling this story as it was told to me by my mother. She never mentioned if the chick was given a name.

            One weekend in early May, Barbara, Dad, and 7 months pregnant Mom went to the farm for the weekend and took Dr. Jekyll to his new home. I have so named him for what will be soon understood. On that Sunday afternoon Barbara tearfully said goodbye to Dr. Jekyll but was assured that she would see him again soon. From what my mother told me, Barbara asked about Dr. Jekyll every day over the next few months. They were not able to go visit due to my mother being so pregnant. Sister Debbie arrived on July 19, 1952. Finally, in late September the family of four (I wouldn’t come along until 1955) went to spend a weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. It would be a chance for my grandparents to meet Debbie and perhaps more importantly, for Barbara at least, was the fact that she would finally get to see her dear little chick, Dr. Jekyll.

            As soon as they got out of the car, Barbara gave a quick hug to my grandparents and then asked to see Dr. Jekyll. Grandpa took her into the back yard where the chickens all roamed and pointed at a rather large rooster and said, “There he is!” Barbara looked at the big rooster and then at Grandpa as if he had gone mad. He assured her that the big strapping rooster was indeed Dr. Jekyll. So, Barbara ran over to give her old friend a hug. Bad move. Dr. Jekyll wasn’t having any of it. He began pecking at Barbara and when she screamed and ran back to Grandpa, Dr. Jekyll, now known as Mr. Hyde, gave chase and attempted to hitch a ride on poor Barbara’s back, pecking all the way. From what I was told it was a squally scene. Barbara was quite traumatized by the event and it took quite a while to console her. She spent the afternoon occasionally breaking into tears and crying. The memory of the sordid affair was hard for her to get out of her head.

            Finally, she did calm down and by about 6 p.m. it was time for supper. As they all sat at the table with Debbie in a small cradle, Barbara on a booster seat, and my parents and grandparents, my father said the prayer asking for the food be blessed to the nourishment of their bodies. After the prayer, Barbara meekly said, “I don’t ever want to see that chicken again.”

            To which my grandfather replied, “You don’t have to worry about that mean old rooster, sweetheart. That’s him on the table and we’ll all do some pecking on him now!”  Well, Mom, Dad, and Grandma all laughed loudly and when Barbara ate that drumstick, she was all smiles because Mr. Hyde had been fried.

The Best and Worst of Times

            The following is a quote from the beginning of the classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”.

            It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

            I first read those words when I was 15-years-old. We were studying the book in 9th grade English class. The book became one of my favorite books of all-time. That preamble has meant a lot to me over the years. It seems that life is replete with moments in which we are simultaneously on top of the mountain and yet deep in a valley of despair. I’d like to talk for a few moments about one such period of time in my life. As it turns out, it was from 5 years prior to me ever reading those famous words. So, it is a reflection borne from the wisdom of those words that I look back at such a period of time in my life.

            It all began on July 23, 1966. I was about 6 weeks away from turning 11-years-old. It was a golden summer. One of my very favorite summers. It was also a very disturbing time in America and therefore in my life as well. On that particular Saturday I began a three-week stay with my grandparents on their farm. For the first week my sister Debbie also stayed. We had some great times that week. I remember riding in the back of my grandfather’s 1961 Chevrolet Pick-Up every day around 4 o’clock as we went to his large garden. We helped picked the ripe vegetables, watermelon, and especially the corn. I loved and still love fresh corn on the cob. The Despite the heat of the day, it was cooling off by that hour. The roads were shaded by a canopy of trees and we also looked forward to “playing in the water” in the back yard of the farmhouse to wash off the dust and dirt accumulated during the day. Grandma always prepared a large cooked meal for lunch. No sandwiches in those days. She made enough so that all she had to do was warm up the leftovers for supper with perhaps freshly made-from-scratch biscuits or cornbread as well.

            As happy as those days were, and make no mistake, they were happy, the evening news brought us disturbing images. There was the ongoing fighting in Vietnam, but the most recent headlines revolved around a mass murderer named Richard Speck. On July 13th of that year he murdered 8 young nurses. While he was caught on the 15th, the news of his spree and the horrible details of it were splashed on the black and white television screen. Frankly, it was scary for me at the age of 10. I was awakened to the realities in life that there is evil and sometimes it knocks on your door with a pleasant smile bent on fooling you. On Friday, July 29th, the first of what would turn out to be two very disturbing issues of Life Magazine came out. On that Friday, I stood my post at the mailbox awaiting the mail carrier. He was almost always on time and I could pretty much count on him bringing the mail to my anxious hands. There would be a letter from my mother, various bills for my grandparents, perhaps a letter from my uncles to my grandparents, and at least two magazines. Reader’s Digest was generally delivered on Friday’s along with the TV guide and most importantly, that week’s issue of Life Magazine. I munched on a peppermint stick and played on the iron mailbox post until the mailman in his modified pick-up truck could be heard coming around the corner at the nearby intersection of two county roads. On that day, he handed me a big stack of mail. The magazines, a couple of letters, a couple of bills, and a new Sears catalog were among the treasures handed me that day. But the big grin on my face turned a little sour when I saw the cover of Life Magazine. It was a special issue dedicated to those mass murders. But like a fly drawn to flypaper, I was unable to not look at the cover as I walked back up to the house. The picture of Richard Speck seemed like a picture of Satan to me. As disturbing as the whole thing was, it just wasn’t talked about. It was on everyone’s mind, but it was a taboo subject. That was the way things were then.

            Mom and Dad came and picked up Debbie the next day and I had decided that I wanted to stay longer. So, they let me stay for another two weeks. It was an amazing time in my life. My grandfather taught me to shoot the bolt-action .22 Remington rifle which included a lot of safety information. Within a week he set me loose on 360 acres to roam with that .22 (I’m quite literally looking at that very gun leaning against the wall across the room from me. It is in perfect working order despite being 75 years-old.) looking for armadillos. Grandpa told me to shoot as many of them critters as possible because they dug holes in the pastures that cows could break a leg in as well as they were constantly raiding the garden. By the end of the week, I was shooting up to as many as 10 a day! I would carry a canteen of water with me and walk through all of the pastures, through the wooded areas, and down the country lanes every day.

            Then August 1, 1966 happened. We first heard reports on the Paul Harvey midday news report on the radio station out of Crockett, Texas. Something bad was happening at the University of Texas. Someone was shooting people from high up in the Tower on campus. I was suddenly conflicted. I’d been out that morning shooting armadillos with that .22 rifle and now I was hearing about someone with a more powerful rifle shooting people. I realized that while those armadillos were destructive and ultimately needed to be gotten rid of, death is death. I killed armadillos while someone else was killing people. I took a couple of days off from killing armadillos. Before it was over with there were 17 people dead and another 31 injured. Charles Whitman, the killer of those people, had finally been taken down and his life also taken.

            Of course, it was all over the news that night. Special reports were on CBS and it was very disturbing. What on Earth was going on in my America? It was the sound of a baby’s first cry after a slap on the bottom. 54 years later and the sounds are of people screaming and yelling amid violence in a country that is barely recognizable from those long-ago days. We’ve collectively experienced more mass murders, crimes too disgusting to talk about here, and a wholesale change in values.

            Back to August of 1966. The last Friday that I was at the farm was August 12th. The Life Magazine issue was all about the mass murders at the University of Texas. Pictures and commentary abounded while families grieved and everyone else scratched their heads wondering how such an atrocity could have happened. The next day my parents and sisters came, and we spent Saturday night at the farm. My folks and my grandparents talked about how crazy the world seemed to be getting. Meanwhile, the pablum that was suckled by Americans in an effort to change the focus of our minds was Luci got married. Luci Johnson that is. President Johnson’s daughter. We heard the baseball scores and all about Sandy Koufax’s amazing year, The Beatles were on what would be their last concert tour, and the latest movies “NOW SHOWING” at a drive-in near you!

            As disturbing as the events of the previous three weeks were for me, my sister Debbie couldn’t wait to tell me the big news in our house. We were going to move back to Houston as soon as our house in Bryan, Texas was sold! This was indeed huge news. I was excited about the move. It didn’t actually happen until November 9,1966, but it did happen, and life changed in a major way for our family. When I think back on that summer I immediately think of those famous words by Charles Dickens. The innocence of a 10-year-old boy was being peeled away one thin layer at a time. I have great fondness for that summer, yet I am so deeply sorry that countless families were forever changed in a worse way via two mass murderers and a war being fought in a small nation in Southeast Asia. The changes in my life would come in an avalanche of time lasting only a few months. We moved to a much different place in November, my great-grandmother died in December, and my grandfather died in April of 1967. And, it was really only the beginning. As I write this, I am also thinking of the changes that continue to happen in my life. I will shortly be 65-years-old and on Medicare. I’m dealing with all that comes with aging while I have the pure joy of watching my grandchildren grow. I’ve gone from being a grandchild to being the grandpa and it really didn’t seem like it took long at all. Yet, I wonder what America will be and life in America will be like when my grandchildren are the grandparents. I won’t live to see it. Maybe that’s a good thing. I think that if you live long enough, then you’ve seen about all that you want to see. In the meantime, let’s make it the best of times even if it seems like the worst of times.

Instrumentals

            I have always liked instrumentals. The fifties had quite a few great ones including songs like “Pour People of Paris”, “Tequila”, and “Sleepwalk”. But in my opinion the golden age of instrumentals was during the sixties. The decade started with an instrumental reigning the number 1 spot on Billboard for 9 weeks. It was only matched in number of weeks at number 1 by one other song during the entire decade. That song was “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. That top instrumental was by Percy Faith and His Orchestra and it was “Theme From A Summer Place”. It was by no means the only huge instrumental hit during the decade. Every year from 1960 through 1967 had instrumental hits. These ranged from classics such as “Green Onions” to several top hits by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. In between those were such hits as “Memphis”, “Telstar”, “Out of Limits”, “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In”, “Music To Watch Girls By”, “The In Crowd”, “Exodus”, “Miserlou” “Wipe Out”, and “Wonderland By Night”.

            The breath of styles on these songs was wide ranging from a pseudo big band sound to out and out rock and roll to rhythm and blues. As many instrumental hits as there were during those years, there’s one year that to me stands out as the diamond of all time. The year? 1968. It was a stellar year for music overall. I think it was perhaps the single greatest year in popular music. I understand that is just my opinion, but when you look at the records released that year it’s awesome to contemplate. It was a great year to be 12 and 13 and buying 45 rpms. Huge songs by The Beatles, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, The Grassroots, Bobby Goldsboro, Glen Campbell, Tommy James and The Shondells, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Doors, and one hit wonders such as The People, The Human Beinz, and Blue Cheer. And, I haven’t even mentioned the instrumentals for that year yet. They were many and perhaps the best of the best all-time.

            The year started with “Love Is Blue” which was number one for 6 weeks. For most of us, it was the first time to hear the melding of an orchestra with rock drums and bass guitar. I bought it after hearing it one time. It was followed by such incredible classic instrumentals as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “Grazing In The Grass”, “Soulful-Strut”, “The Horse”, “Classical Gas”, and “Hang ‘Em High”. There were other instrumental recordings featured on albums that are now considered classics including several by David Axelrod and Spirit.

            One oddity and somewhat ironic is that the “King of Instrumentals”, Herb Alpert, scored a number 1 hit on Billboard with a non-instrumental hit called, “This Guy’s In Love With You”. Most of us were shocked that he had such a pleasing voice given we had only ever heard him play his trumpet. To his credit, he did finally score a number 1 instrumental 11 years later in 1979 with the hit “Rise”.

            I miss that era of instrumental music. I have personally written and recorded several instrumentals that were inspired by all of these mentioned here. Instrumentals still reached the top of the charts for years to come, but by the time the 1980’s came along the gold was turning green. From 1969 through 1975 there were several excellent instrumentals, but they were fewer and farther between. I particularly enjoyed early 70’s instrumentals such as “Joy” by Apollo 100, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter, “Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group, and a pair of hits by Dennis Coffey, “Scorpio” and his version of “The Theme From Enter The Dragon”.

            Why write about these songs and instrumentals? Well, because it was a special time in America and in my life. The music still speaks to me today. It’s not just nostalgia either. I listen to those songs now with a different ear. I hear things that I didn’t hear 50+ years ago. Back then the songs just sounded good to me. But now I hear them and I hearing the bass players doing an amazing bass line. I hear the keyboard players doing intricate melody and counter-melody lines. I hear some of the best guitarist of all-time playing parts that were incredibly original. I hear the horn sections and the string sections and realize not only were those people top-notch, but the arrangers and composers were second to none. Just last night I was driving down the country road going home, and I had XM tuned to the 60’s channel. They played “Last Date” by Floyd Cramer and I had to crank it up. Sure, it’s been played a million times and I’ve heard it too many to count. But the way Floyd Cramer could bend notes on a piano coupled with the backing instruments and their spot-on timing and originality always grabs me. It doesn’t hurt that it was also my father’s all-time favorite song. I think of him sitting at their piano and playing that song by ear and knocking it out of the park every time. I guess it is partly nostalgia, but there’s nothing wrong with admiring the craftsmanship and musicianship that all of those records featured. Go out and listen to one tonight. Enjoy it. Oh, and while you’re at it, go to https://soundcloud.com/jrsojourn/darwin-rosies-theme and listen to my personal favorite instrumental of mine. I wrote this one and recorded it in 2016. Thanks!

One of Life's Mysteries

            Life is filled with mysteries. Some of them are fascinating and thrilling to ponder, while others leave a burden, no matter how small, for us to consider for decades. It’s one of the latter that I will tell you about today. Maybe you’ve had something similar in your life and you can enlighten me on why this mystery exists. But first, let’s go back to 1982. I was still 26 years-old in the spring of that year and my then bride was 23 years-old. We did not have children yet, but we had been married for 5 and ½ years. Yea, we got married young. Too young it would seem. But there we were having bought our first home. It was extremely modest despite being new. It was a tract house built by a well-known home builder. Did I say very modest? It was a wood frame home, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, 1 car garage, two trees, and only the front yard sodded. But it was exciting for us to own. I say own, but the reality was the mortgage company owned the darned thing and the then interest rate was unheard of before or sense. 14.5% interest was the best we could get at the time. The house was 25 miles out of Houston in a new addition in Hockley, Texas.

            One of the first person’s that I met after moving in was our backdoor neighbor. They moved into their home about a month after we moved into ours. They had just started a family and had a son that was about a year old at the time. I watched as they unloaded the rented truck and filled their house with worldly possessions. I was perhaps most impressed by their two cars. A 1973 Ford Mustang and a 1970 Ford Ranchero. I would later learn that Mike was an excellent mechanic and worked for a well-known auto repair chain. He maintained their two cars beautifully. We had a 1981 Chevrolet Chevette (I have since referred to it as a “Shove-it” because it was a horrible car made poorly by Chevrolet) and a 1972 Plymouth Fury III Station Wagon. The latter of these two cars looked great and had low mileage on it, but it was constantly needing repairs due to age related issues. But it was the right size to carry my musical equipment, PA system speakers, and all my gear when I would play gigs.

            Over that first summer Mike and I began a good friendship. We had similar interests such as baseball and music and while our wives planned Home Interior parties and oohed and awed over their little boy, we would play darts in our garage, play catch like two kids playing catch, listen to music (he had a few rare LP’s that we enjoyed as well as my extensive collection) and Mike would come into my little home studio to see how music was recorded. We’d all four order a pizza and watch a movie together. In other words, we became great friends. Then in the fall of 1983 my wife was pregnant with our first child. However, it was a difficult pregnancy for her, and she spent most of the first 5 months with severe morning sickness and all that goes with that. She would go to bed early every night (before dark) leaving me to having to be as quiet as possible. Recording was severely limited for a while for obvious reasons. I had been given a game system for the TV that Christmas. It was called, “Intellivision”. It was quite antiquated by today’s standards. It was on par with the Atari 2600. I had one of those too. My son has it now. But that Intellivision had one game that Mike and I came to enjoy very much. It was the baseball game. It was far better than the Atari baseball game. We got into a habit of Mike coming over after dinner and playing a full 9 inning game every night. We were evenly matched in our abilities and it was a lot of fun. Often, it was pleasant enough outside to have the windows open and a slight breeze wafting in and giving us the right atmosphere for a baseball game. We had to be quiet though so as not to disturb my wife in the other room.

            Mike and I did a few other things together such as a weekend hunting trip to my parent’s the year that they lived at the old farmhouse. Mike had a great interest in handguns and the one that was most impressive to me was the .44 magnum just like Dirty Harry’s. That thing was LOUD too. In the spring of 1984 we were still good friends and fortunately my wife was feeling better. She was expecting our son in April. I wanted to get some songs recorded before he came along, and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Mike owned an Epiphone Violin Bass that had belonged to his father. Mike couldn’t play it, but he let me borrow it. I put some new strings on it, and it was good to go. During March and April, I managed to get 13 songs recorded. I had a friend come in and while I played a ghost guitar, he played the drum tracks that I showed him I wanted. I would then lay down separate tracks for guitars, bass, and vocals. Mike would come over most evenings to hear what I had finished the previous night.

            Then the baby was born. What a change that brought to our lives! I was immediately thrilled with being a father and my music started to fade into the background for a time. There were diaper drills, 3 a.m. formula runs, and all that goes with having a newborn. Over the next year Mike and I continued to do things as friends, and he was a great friend to have. He was a bit more experienced with babies which helped, and he had an ear to lend to my questions about fatherhood etc. We went to an Astros game in the spring of 1985 and he got to hear all about my worries of how I was going to support my growing family. My daughter was on the way by then and would be born in August. Yes, the two kids were only 15 months apart.

            It was in the fall of 1985 that one of life’s mysteries began. For reasons still unknown to me, Mike started to beg off on getting together. There was a decidedly cooling off of that friendship. I didn’t do anything that I know of that could have offended Mike and the whole thing was a mystery to me. By early 1986 we were barely talking. It was like we didn’t know each other at all. I asked him if I had offended him or caused him to not want to be friends anymore and he said no. We ended up moving back into Houston in May of 1986. By that time, it was as though I had never been friends with Mike. He wasn’t hostile or anything, but he didn’t seem to be interested in talking to me at all. One day in the summer of 1986 my wife and I went to the S&H Green Stamps store to turn in stamps for several items that we needed for the kids. My mother had given us a huge jar filled with stamps and books of stamps and it was like money in the bank. The store was in the same center where Mike worked, and I walked down to say hello. He acted as if I was the last person in the world that he wanted to see. It was very awkward. That was the last time that I ever saw or spoke to Mike. I have no idea what ever happened to him. But it left me with a sad feeling knowing that someone who I had been pretty close friends with didn’t want to have a thing to do with me. I didn’t and still don’t have a clue as to why. It’s one of life’s mysteries. I can only guess that he changed and just didn’t want to be my friend anymore. Well, I got over it of course, but it still raises my eyebrows a bit when reminded of those years. I’ve had other friendships that ended or cooled-off and the reasons were truly clear. We all have some of those during our lives. But to lose a friend and not have a clue as to why is a mystery. I played the game of “what did I do?” or “was it my fault?”, but the truth is I don’t believe I did a thing to cause it. Mike just decided he didn’t want to be friends anymore and that was that.

            So, it’s one of life’s mysteries. Did you ever have such a mystery in your life? If so, then tell me what you learned from the experience. Perhaps you can enlighten me and solve the mystery. Or not. To all of my friends out there now, don’t just go away without saying anything. Tell me if I have offended you and I bet we can work it out. If not, then at least there won’t be another mystery in my life!

The What If Game

            Have you ever played the “what if” game? Of course, you have. I think that everybody has played that game at some point in their life. I know some people who claim to have absolutely no regrets in their life. While that would be nice, I just don’t think it’s possible to not have a few regrets. That said, I believe that John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival had the right idea when he sang, “I never lost one minute of sleepin’ worryin’ ‘bout the way things might have been.” Oh, if that were true.

            Playing the “what if game” can be addictive, and it can also throw roadblocks into your future’s path. If you start playing that game, then it just may end up being a loop in your head that can drive you nuts. But here’s the thing about that game. If you could actually go back and change something, then every time that you did it would likely erase not only the parts you wish to change, but also some good parts. Here’s a serious one. What if you wished you had never met your ex-wife? You might focus on all the bad stuff that came along and ultimately caused the marriage to fail. But if you really did go back and never met your ex, then you would miss out on all the good times that you won’t allow yourself to focus on. The fun times before the other stuff. What about your children? Your grandchildren? Would you go back and erase all of those things and more importantly, those people? I sure wouldn’t.

            I take a different viewpoint on regrets. First, you’re going to have some. They may be very minor or may be extremely major. But you’re going to have some. The key is not to dwell on them and, in turn, lose more than a moment of sleeping worrying about how things might have been. Second, if you’re going to regret something and it’s something that you really wish had been different, then try to figure out if there is a safe way to overcome the regret and rectify it. It is quite common for someone who is facing death to seek out the people that they have wronged and to apologize. The person may or may not accept the apology, but you did your best to show them that you’re sorry for having wronged them. There are times when a heartfelt apology can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Finally, no matter what else you do in life, you need to make peace with yourself and with the fact that life is linear and goes in only one direction. Ultimately, all the wishing in the world isn’t going to change what was and now is. So, learn to get over it.

            I spend a lot of time thinking about my life and my past. But I don’t play the what if game now. If you read my blog and writings, then you should already be aware that for the most part when I reflect on something in my past it’s done so with an attitude of “it is what it is” and I generally reflect on the good and positive things of my past as opposed to the negative things. Take my word for it when I say that there are a lot of negative moments that I could choose to dwell on, but I am not going there. It’s a waste of time and energy. Two things that we all eventually run out of in this life.

            So, dear friends, do what the old song says and, “Accentuate The Positive”. If you’re going to think about things in the past, then think about the good times and the good decisions that you made. Try not to wish that things were different, because the fact is this will not change anything. Stop pressing on a bruise. It only causes pain and makes you focus on the pain rather than the good things.

NOT The Deer Hunter

            It was November of 1969 and I was 14-years-old. I had never been deer hunting before and I went with my father, uncle, and two cousins to my grandparent’s farm on opening day of deer season. A cold front came through the day before, so we were prepared for a brisk first day. My father and uncle decided to hunt together that day and rather than sit in a deer stand they went to ground behind a slight rise that looked down on one of the stock tanks. The idea was they could see deer coming to the tank to drink. One of my cousins got up in one of three rather crude stands near another tank. These “stands” were basically some cross boards nailed to two adjacent limbs with more boards perpendicular to the cross boards making an area just big enough to sit on. No wind break, no comfy chair, or pads, and you had to sit with your legs dangling from the stand. My other cousin took the second of these “stands” next to fence that we had seen deer use often to go from one part of the farm to another. I was in the worst of the stands. I say worst because it had all of the same features of the other two, but the sitting area was slanted a bit due to the two limbs were not even with each other. I was given this stand because it was determined that since I had never been deer hunting before, I wouldn’t likely see any deer in that location.

            Well, they dropped me off at my stand around 4:00 p.m. and I climbed up in the tree and took my place. The weather was rather cold, and I was bundled up in a “CPO” jacket, a sweatshirt under that, and a flannel shirt under the sweatshirt. I had two pairs of socks on and while I wasn’t toasty by any means, I was not terribly uncomfortable from the cold. There I sat. You’d never know it, but I’m a talker. I like to talk to people and carry on conversations. Frankly, I’ve gotten worse with age. If we ever meet, then I apologize in advance. But even if there had been somebody there to talk to, it wouldn’t have been the thing to do while hunting. I didn’t bring a book to read and there were no such things as hand-held games with earbuds in those days. You might think that I got bored, but that’s not what happened. Given it was the day after the cold front, the sunset began as a bright orange ball just over the pine trees and then the rays hit the clouds and it was stunning. I started to listen to the sounds of nature all around me. Well, before long I dozed off. Some hunter! Then something, some little noise, brought me out of my light slumber. That’s when I looked down on the ground about 10 yards from the tree I was sitting in and to my surprise there were 8 deer grazing. Two were bucks. One of these was a young buck, but the other one was a 10-point buck. He was obviously the big dog of the bunch. I started to take aim and then I stopped. Those deer were beautiful and so peaceful. The big buck was majestic in my eyes. I couldn’t shoot those deer. I was mesmerized by God’s creation. The sunset, the trees, the sounds, and those deer.

            I decided right then and there sitting in that stand that I wouldn’t hunt deer or anything else just for hunting sake. I don’t fault anyone who does. It’s just not me. Now, if I needed to shoot a deer for survival or if I needed to shoot an animal that posed a danger to me, then I would do what is necessary. But that wasn’t the case that day. On that day in 1969 I learned something especially important that I haven’t forgotten. God’s creation is incredible and that studying it is food for our souls.

Reading

            I have often mentioned my love for reading. It’s been a lifelong love affair. I remember reading “Little Golden” books from about the age of 4 or 5. Big words sometimes got in the way and my mother repeated something to me from an early age that she did until the last year of her life. I would ask what a word meant and I would spell it to her. She would say, “Look it up.” Now, she knew what the words meant, but she also knew that if she simply told me that I would likely not remember the meaning. So, she taught me to look things up in a dictionary. She knew that I would remember the meanings better if I spent time to look them up. Before I learned phonetics, she would sound out the word for me. I remember one word in particular that I got wrong and with a chuckle she corrected me. The word was “Potomac”. I looked at that word and thought it would be pronounced POTO-MAC!

            By the time I was 10 years old, I was reading “The Hardy Boys”, Troy Nesbitt novels, and just about any biography that I could find. I was enamored with biographies. I read all about Thomas Edison, Jim Thorpe, Lou Gehrig, and Theodore Roosevelt. By the age of 12, I was reading the so-called “classics” which included, “Ivanhoe”, “Robinson Crusoe”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and “Huckleberry Finn”. I also enjoyed novels such as “The Time Machine”, “Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea”, and “Mysterious Island”.

            When I was 16 years old, I discovered a book called, “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank. It quickly became my favorite book and to this day is my all-time favorite book. By the time I was in my mid-20’s I was reading current novels such as the Dirk Pitt adventures by Clive Cussler. Over the years since then I have read thousands of books. Some are pure fiction and simply enjoyable while others are biographies, science-fiction, and westerns. My favorite two authors of all-time are Dean Koontz and Louis L’amour.

            So, why tell you all of this? Well, for a few reasons. First, if you don’t read for the sheer fun of it, then you’re missing out on something wonderful. Reading is fun. Second, reading is educational. I believe that the more that you read and the diversity of what you read will raise you IQ by many points. No joke. It’s the best classroom ever. Third, reading can take you anywhere in the universe. I remember the love for reading that my grandmother and I shared. By the time she was in her 70’s she was experiencing physical problems that prohibited her from going places. She couldn’t travel, drive, and in the last few years of her life, she couldn’t walk. But every time that I went to visit her, I would bring her a book. She loved books about the presidents. We would sit for an hour and talk about the presidents. Even in her 80’s she could tell you the names of all the presidents and vice-presidents in order of service as well as tidbits of information about their lives. Who their wives were, where they went to school, their age when elected, and how close the elections were and even who their opponents were. She might have been unable to physically go places, but she could go all over the United States by reading. She was born in 1902 to humble life in the country. But she was smart as a whip and she graduated from high school in a time when many people didn’t. She worked hard as a farmer’s wife through the roaring 20’s, the great depression, WW2, 7-year drought in the 50’s, and the onset of old age in the 60’s. But she always read. I remember the many books that she had, and I have some of those very books on one of my bookshelves yet. “Jo’s Boys”, “Pilgrims Progress”, and a 1918 textbook on the History of Texas. One of the highlights for both of us when I would visit them at the farm was the day of the week when “Life Magazine” would be delivered by mail. We had a great time reading those magazines.

            I guess my main theme here is that reading is something that you should start your children doing as early as possible. I read to my children before they could put two sentences together. I am constantly giving my grandchildren books to read and to call their own. So far, they love reading as much as I did at their age. It’s true that you have to be more selective these days in what you let your children read, but there’s plenty of great books that you can share with them. Reading will help educate them, make them better students in school, and spark their imaginations and perhaps even inspire them to follow an interest that becomes a calling in life.

            One final thing. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and have studied portions many times. I earned a degree in Christianity from Houston Baptist University which naturally required that I read and study the origins of the books of the Bible. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I have loved reading the Bible. There is much to learn in those 66 books. My other degree is in History. The Bible itself is a history book. While I love the depth and meanings found in the Gospel of John, I also love the books of Luke and Acts for their history and the telling of it. Reading will open the world to you. If you are reading this, then I’d like for you to leave a simple comment stating your favorite all-time book. This is just for fun.

This picture was taken of me when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I had just received a new to me "Little Golden" book (The Fire Engine Book) and had fallen asleep while reading it that night. I guess my mom and dad couldn't resist the photo op!

A Moment In Eternal Time

            Sometime in the mid-30’s my grandparents added on to their house a bedroom that became known as “the sleeping porch”. It was a real bedroom, but three of the walls were mostly windows. I have some of the old windows now with plans to mate them with my photography. The bedroom was shared by my mother and my aunt from about 1935 through 1945. My aunt lived most of the year from 1944 through 1947 in an apartment in Huntsville, Texas while attending Sam Houston State University. My mother had the room mostly to herself until she moved to Houston in 1947 for her first job. By that time, my aunt was living in Houston and they shared a garage apartment in the Canal and Navigation area of East Houston.

            Skip ahead to the 60’s. When I spent weekends and summer weeks with my grandparents, I stayed in the sleeping porch. I loved it. Especially the early afternoons and the nights. Everyone was required to either take a nap or be quiet for an hour after lunch. There was no air conditioning in the house, so there were fans throughout. On the sleeping porch there was a bedside table with an oscillating fan. This was when they made fans out of metal. It had three speeds and on hot summer days I had it set on high. I would lay there and read with that fan blowing air on me. All the windows would be open too. There were screens on them to keep out the bugs. The sheer joy of laying there and reading “Laughter, The Best Medicine” or “Humor in Uniform” from back issues of Reader’s Digest was so peaceful and I have never felt safer than those days. An occasional car or truck would drive by and I would watch as the plumes of dust billowed out behind the passing vehicle. Despite the sound of the fan, I could hear cows out in the field and the hum of the pump on the water well. I knew when I heard my grandfather leaving the house and starting up the work truck to go work in the fields it meant it was time to get moving.

            The nights were even better. This was during a time when there was no light pollution at all. Unless the moon was up, the skies were a canvas of a billion pins of light. Everyone would get quiet and start to fall asleep, but it was my time to enjoy the simple things that over the years have mostly vanished. I would lay there, with all the lights in the house turned out, and wait for my eyes to adjust. But they never really adjusted. You could put your hand in front of your face and barely make it out. I would sometimes pull a chair up by one of the windows and look for shooting stars. There were always several for my eyes to feast on. I could watch some of the early satellites as they swept overhead from one side of the sky to the other. And then there were the night sounds. Tree frogs or crickets harmonized with the nightingales, cows would murmur and low in the pasture behind the house, in the distance coyotes would have conversations amongst themselves, and the lonely sound of a train horn 8 miles away in Lovelady, Texas that highlighted the doppler effect all conjoined in a cacophony that lulled me to sleep. Once or twice I would be startled by the screeching of an owl from the eaves of the barn. It was kind of spooky, but I loved it the way you love to hear a scary story.

            So, why tell you all of this? Because I wanted to share what The Eagles would have called a “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The only thing is it was really more than that. It was actually a moment in eternal time when things were special. I wish for my grandchildren to experience life without all of the insanity that our nation seems to be infested with today. I for one will do my best to provide them with as much of the feelings and emotions that I had as a child. But in the end, they’ll have to deal with the world that they inherit the best that they can. If nothing else, when I’m gone, they’ll know that they were loved by me. That’s gotta count for something.

The picture below is from 1959. The southern wall of "the sleeping porch" is behind us. The western and eastern wall were the same. The picture is of my grandfather taking us all on a ride in his homemade utility trailer with his tractor. A "blue northern" came through that morning and we really weren't prepared for it with appropriate clothing. Thus, four of the cousins had to wear a diaper on their head to keep their heads warm! I'm wearing a cap and I'm in the very front in the middle next to my cousin David and my sister Debbie.

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